Jul 072018
 
 July 7, 2018  Posted by at 9:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Claude Monet Water lilies 1904

 

Fed Discards Flattening Yield Curve as Recession Indicator (WS)
Theresa May Secures Approval From Cabinet To Negotiate Soft Brexit (G.)
Boris Johnson’s Gang Outgunned By Theresa May At Chequers (G.)
UK Government Has No Clue How To Execute Brexit Without Harm – Airbus CEO (G.)
Despite 213K Jobs Gain, Unemployment Up by 499K (Mish)
Russia Hikes Duties On US Imports, Pledges More Retaliation (R.)
US Border Agents Stop Canadian Fishermen In Disputed Waters Off Maine (G.)
More Ways Your Phone Is Spying On You (ZH)
Summer of Tough Love (Jim Kunstler)
Twitter Suspends Over 70 Million Accounts In Two Months (R.)
Tax Arbitrage Is An Issue (Setser)
Mainstream Politicians Short-Sighted, Don’t See World Changing – Grillo (RT)
Number Of Planes In The Sky To More Than Double In Next 20 Years (Ind.)
Pope Warns Earth Turning Into Vast Pile Of ‘Rubble, Deserts And Refuse’ (AP)

 

 

Seems like a risky gamble.

Fed Discards Flattening Yield Curve as Recession Indicator (WS)

In the minutes of the FOMC meeting on June 12 and 13, released this afternoon, there was a doozie, obscured somewhat by the dynamics of the rate hike plus the indication that there would be two more rate hikes this year, for a total of four, up from three at the prior meeting, with more hikes to come in 2019, along with other changes [..] But the doozie in the minutes was about the flattening “yield curve.” The yield curve is formed by Treasury yields of different maturities: normally, the two-year yield is quite a bit lower than the 10-year yield. Over the last several decades, each time the yield curve “inverted” – when the two-year yield ended up higher than the 10-year yield – a recession followed. The last time, the Financial Crisis followed.

So this has become a popular recession indicator that has cropped up a lot in the discussions of various Fed governors since last year. Today, the two-year yield closed at 2.55% and the 10-year yield at 2.84%. The spread between them was just 29 basis points, the lowest since before the Financial Crisis. The chart below shows the yield curves on December 14, 2016, when the Fed got serious about raising rates (black line); and today (red line). Note how the red line has “flattened” between the two-year and the 10-year markers, and how the spread has narrowed to just 29 basis points:

The chart below shows the two-year yield (black) and the 10-year yield (red) going back to 1992. Note how the spread has been narrowing in recent months.

The chart below tracks this spread for every day back to 2008. Today, the spread, at just 29 basis points, is the lowest since before the Financial Crisis:

There has been a lot of handwringing about this being an indicator that the next recession is nearing and that the Fed should back off with its rate hikes. But this Fed is getting seriously hawkish: In the minutes today, it revealed that instead of thinking about backing off with its rate hikes, it’s throwing out the flattening yield curve.

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She’s threatened to fire them. But Brexit looks less likely to happen by the day.

Theresa May Secures Approval From Cabinet To Negotiate Soft Brexit (G.)

Theresa May has secured approval to negotiate a soft Brexit deal with the European Union, signing up her fractious cabinet at a Chequers awayday to a controversial plan to match EU standards on food and goods. The prime minister released a statement following the critical afternoon session of the long-awaited summit that alarmed Tory hard Brexiters, in which she confirmed she had won over the cabinet to new customs arrangements ending political deadlock on the issue. May said the cabinet had “agreed our collective position for the future of our negotiations with the EU”. That included a proposal to “create a UK-EU free trade area which establishes a common rule book for industrial goods and agricultural products” after Brexit.

Tory Brexiters voiced concern at the agreement, while soft Brexiters expressed relief. Andrea Jenkyns, a hardline MP, complained that “British businesses will continue to be a rule taker from the EU” and said she would “pray” that the detail was not as bad as she feared. Heidi Allen, a moderate, said she was “pleased to report Theresa May has secured cabinet agreement for a sensible, soft Brexit”. On Thursday, when the common rule book proposal was first leaked, hardline Brexiter cabinet ministers and Conservative MPs voiced alarm that it could prevent the UK striking a trade deal with the US, which has different standards in goods and foods, such as allowing chickens to be washed in chlorine.

But May was able to release the text of a three-page agreed statement before cabinet, following a relatively undramatic day of discussions, sat down for dinner to listen to No 10 communications chiefs make a presentation on how to sell the new proposals. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, appeared to react warmly to the proposals, noting in a tweet that the “Chequers discussion on future to be welcomed. I look forward to white paper. We will assess proposals to see if they are workable and realistic”. The prime minister made clear that she expected ministers would be sacked if they did not remain in line with her soft Brexit blueprint.

She wrote to Tory MPs to explain her plans and included a clear warning about discipline: “As we developed our policy on Brexit, I have allowed cabinet colleagues to express their individual views. Agreement on this proposal marks the point where that is no longer the case and collective responsibility is now fully restored.”

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It doesn’t matter one bit unless the EU agrees.

Boris Johnson’s Gang Outgunned By Theresa May At Chequers (G.)

Theresa May has won the battle with her Brexiter rebels in the cabinet, but the war will be a long one. She gambled that the Brexit purists – those who gathered on the eve of the Chequers summit at the Foreign Office with Boris Johnson – would be outgunned at Chequers when the full cabinet was assembled. The choreography was impressive – May locked her ministers inside the Buckinghamshire retreat without their phones or special advisers. The final agreement – sent out on behalf of “HM government” came to journalists an hour before advisers had even seen it – and before they could get in contact with their ministers to know what concessions had been made. Within the hour, out came a letter to Conservative MPs warning the days of debate over the government’s Brexit position were over.

“Collective responsibility is now fully restored,” May warned. The deal clinched with her most difficult members of her cabinet, architects of the leave campaign such as Johnson and Michael Gove, gave May the leverage to demand similarly hardline MPs get in line. Downing Street has been briefing in a strident tone, practically daring hard Brexiter ministers to give it all up to walk down the Chequers drive. The numbers that will matter now are those in her parliamentary party. Some will express predictable fury, though in the hours since the deal was reached, Jacob Rees-Mogg was telling MPs to keep their powder dry. Key will be whether this is a deal that can win over mainstream backbenchers.

In recent weeks, a number of Conservative MPs had begun to express frustration that the prime minister was not prepared to face down one side of her party and lead. [..] On Monday, the prime minister will address the 1922 committee of backbenchers, though the timing of the summit means angry MPs will have the weekend to either cool off or come to the boil. “I’ll wait to see if this collective responsibility lasts the weekend,” another MP said. Perhaps just as crucially there are still some concerns about the future deal for UK services, around 80% of the UK economy. The agreement states the UK would “strike different arrangements for services, where it is in our interests to have regulatory flexibility, recognising the UK and the EU will not have current levels of access to each other’s markets”.

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And that’s the whole point.

UK Government Has No Clue How To Execute Brexit Without Harm – Airbus CEO (G.)

The chief executive of Airbus has accused the government of having “no clue” on how to leave the EU without harming the economy, as the prime minister aimed at uniting the cabinet behind a Brexit plan. The criticism from the aerospace firm, which employs 14,000 people in the UK, is the strongest intervention yet from the business community on the risk of a hard Brexit and came in the same week that Jaguar Land Rover, Britain’s largest carmaker, warned its were under threat. Speaking at a briefing in London before the Farnborough air show later this month, the Airbus chief executive, Tom Enders, said: “The sun is shining brightly on the UK, the English team is progressing towards the [World Cup] final, the RAF is preparing to celebrate its centenary and Her Majesty’s government still has no clue, no consensus on how to execute Brexit without severe harm.”

Enders said Airbus, a Franco-German group that supports a further 100,000 UK jobs in its supply chain, was wary of all types of Brexit, including a worst-case no-deal scenario. “Rest assured that we are taking first preparations as we speak in order to mitigate consequences from whatever Brexit scenario may follow,” he said. “Brexit in whatever form, soft or hard, light or clean, whatever you call it, will be damaging for industry, for our industry and damaging for the UK, whatever the outcome will be.”

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600,000 more looking for a job. Out of 95 million not in labor force. All new jobs are part-time. Full-time jobs fell.

Despite 213K Jobs Gain, Unemployment Up by 499K (Mish)

Today’s establishment survey shows jobs rose by 213,000. Revisions were positive. The unemployment rate rose from 3.8% to 4.0% as the labor force rose by 601,000. More people are starting to look for jobs but employment only rose by 102,000. Nonfarm wage growth was +0.2% vs an Econoday consensus of +0.3%. The Phillips’ curve is a joke, but it’s still widely believed. The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for April was revised up from +159,000 to +175,000, and the change for May was revised up from +223,000 to +244,000. With these revisions, employment gains in April and May combined were 37,000 more than previously reported

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Putin meets Trump in 9 days.

Russia Hikes Duties On US Imports, Pledges More Retaliation (R.)

Russia said on Friday it was imposing additional import duties on some U.S. industrial goods after the United States slapped tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, and warned that more retaliatory steps could be in the pipeline. The economy ministry said Russia would impose extra tariffs on some goods from the United States for which there are Russian-made substitutes.The extra duties of 25 to 40 percent will apply to imports of fiber optics and equipment for road construction, the oil and gas industries and metal processing and mining.

The ministry said the measures, signed by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, were intended to compensate for $87.6 million of damage suffered by Russian export-focused companies as a result of the U.S. metals tariffs. The U.S. tariff hike will cost an overall $537.6 million and Russia has the right to impose more compensatory measures in the future, the economy ministry said.

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Feels like Python.

US Border Agents Stop Canadian Fishermen In Disputed Waters Off Maine (G.)

Canada’s government is investigating reports that US border patrol officers have intercepted and questioned crew members on more than 20 Canadian vessels in disputed waters off the coast of Maine. The reports have thrust a longstanding territorial dispute between the two countries into the spotlight; since the late 1700s tensions have simmered over a pair of tiny, treeless islands that sit between Maine and the Canadian province of New Brunswick. Primarily inhabited by nesting puffins, the islands of North Rock and Machias Seal remain the only disputed lands between US and Canada, with both claiming sovereign jurisdiction over the islands and their surrounding waters.

As a result, the area has long hosted lobster fisherman from both sides of the border. The question of jurisdiction flared up recently after the Grand Manan Fishermen’s Association said a Canadian vessel had been stopped by US border patrol while fishing in the waters near Machias Seal Island in late June. “He informed them he was a Canadian vessel legally fishing in Canadian waters,” wrote Laurence Cook of the association on Facebook. He said he was “not surprised to see the Americans trying to push people around”, describing them as “typical American bullies.”

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In ways we didn’t yet know.

More Ways Your Phone Is Spying On You (ZH)

For years, conspiracy theories about smart phones listening to users without their permission to show them advertisements have abounded. While some researchers have shown this could happen, a first of its kind study just found something far more insidious. Academics at Northeastern University have just proven that your phone is recording your screen – as in taking video – and uploading it to third parties. For the last year, Elleen Pan, Jingjing Ren, Martina Lindorfer, Christo Wilson, and David Choffnes ran an experiment involving more than 17,000 of the most popular Android apps using ten different phones. Their findings were alarming, to say the least.

As Gizmodo points out, during the study, the researchers started to see that screenshots and video recordings of what people were doing in apps were being sent to third-party domains. For example, when one of the phones used an app from GoPuff, a delivery start-up for people who have sudden cravings for junk food, the interaction with the app was recorded and sent to a domain affiliated with Appsee, a mobile analytics company. The video included a screen where you could enter personal information – in this case, their zip code.

GoPuff did not disclose in its terms of use that its app was recording users screens and uploading this data to a third party. What’s more, when they were contacted by the researchers GoPuff merely added a disclosure to their policy acknowledging that “ApSee” might receive users PII. The fact that these apps can record your screen without you knowing and use this data is chilling. It illustrates how easy it would be for a malicious actor to be able to look at your private messages, personal information, passwords, photos, and videos. None of this is stopped by your phone’s security either as it is a function built into the apps and you don’t have an option to disallow it.

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“Mr. Mueller will come up with someone to indict on something, even if it’s ninety-seven ham sandwiches.”

Summer of Tough Love (Jim Kunstler)

The blowup of the bond and stock markets later this year will put to a gloomy rest the ludicrous notion that America has been enjoying a great economic boom. It’s actually been an engineered hallucination, thanks to the global monetary authorities applying the magic of limitless credit to a bad habit of credulous speculation. The central banks have launched a program of so-called “quantitative tightening (QT)” — an idiotic phrase meant to counterpoise the equally fatuous “quantitative easing (QE),” PhD economist-speak for grotesque interference in the bond markets — that will choke down the credit supply at exactly the moment that governments and giant corporations need new loans to pay the interest on old loans. The trajectory there is obvious.

The big question, of course — hardly ever asked in the public arena — is what that will do to currencies, i.e., money. It can really only go two ways: either make money very scarce, in which case a lot of people and enterprises go broke, or, if the monetary authorities respond to the predicament by enabling a return to bottomless credit issuance, the money will become worthless — they’ll be plenty of it, but it won’t buy much. Such a turn of events will make an already-unhinged nation fly apart. [..] Oh, yes, there is also that Hieronymus Bosch Garden of Earthly Delights known as the Mueller Investigation, with its dreary outposts in the executive suite of the FBI, and all the tangled mysteries entailed there.

Mr. Mueller will come up with someone to indict on something, even if it’s ninety-seven ham sandwiches. I suspect Mr. Trump will manage to dump Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein. And then the pardons will fly, like so many winged demons flapping from the mouth of Hades. Constitutional crisis may be too mild a word for what ensues. By holiday time in early winter, much will clarified about the actual direction of the country. By then, the “Walk Away” movement may even include the obdurate shills at CNN and The New York Times, and the Intellectual-Yet-Idiots on the college campuses. And the Golden Golem of Greatness will lie upended in the swamp that he just didn’t try hard enough to drain.

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How many fake accounts do they have?

Twitter Suspends Over 70 Million Accounts In Two Months (R.)

Twitter Inc suspended more than one million accounts a day in recent months to reduce the flow of misinformation on the platform, the Washington Post reported. Twitter and other social media platforms such as Facebook Inc have been under scrutiny by U.S. lawmakers and international regulators for doing too little to prevent the spread of false content. The companies have been taking steps such as deleting user accounts, introducing updates and actively monitoring content to help users avoid being a victim to fake content. Twitter suspended more than 70 million accounts in May and June, and the pace has continued in July, the Post reported on Friday, citing data it obtained.

“It’s hard to believe that 70 million accounts were affected when Twitter has only 336 million monthly active users (MAU),” Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter said. Twitter’s MAU is expected to grow nearly 3 percent to 337.06 in the second quarter, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. “My guess is that a large number of these suspended accounts were dormant … it should have little impact on the company,” Pachter told Reuters. If the 70 million were mostly active accounts, the affected accounts would have been “screaming bloody murder”, added the analyst.

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Tax havens.

Tax Arbitrage Is An Issue (Setser)

The impact of the U.S. tax reform on the U.S. trade balance was a hot item of debate last December. There was an argument that reducing the headline tax rate—and creating an even lower tax for the export of intangibles—would reduce the incentive for firms to book profits abroad in offshore tax centers. Booking those profits at home would raise U.S. services exports—while the service “exports” of countries like Ireland and Luxembourg (really re-exports of intellectual property created in the U.S) would fall. This would have no overall effect on the balance of payments. The rise in the recorded exports of intellectual property from the U.S. would be offset by a fall in the offshore income of U.S. firms.

For example, Google (U.S.) would show a bigger profit as offshore sales would be booked as exports of IP held in the U.S. (a service export) while Google (Bermuda) would show a smaller profit —and that would translate both into a smaller trade deficit and a smaller surplus on foreign direct investment income.* But shifting paper profits around would bring down the measured trade deficit—a potential win for Trump. It is obviously too soon to assess the full impact of the tax reform. But it isn’t too soon to start looking for some clues. The q1 balance of payments data doesn’t suggest that firms have lost their appetite for booking profits abroad, or their appetite for booking the bulk of their offshore profits in low tax jurisdictions. This shouldn’t be a surprise—the lowest rate in the new U.S. tax code is the new global minimum rate on intangibles.

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The existing “ideologies have outlived their usefulness,” Grillo said. “There are just good and bad ideas..”

Mainstream Politicians Short-Sighted, Don’t See World Changing – Grillo (RT)

Mainstream political parties have outlived their purpose as they cannot adapt to the changes in the political system and are out of step with the voters, Beppe Grillo, the founder of the Italian Five Star Movement (M5S), said. “The world of the old politics and old political parties,” which expect the people to trust them with defending the public interests, is “slowly dying out,” Grillo, a former Italian satirist and activist, told Ex-Ecuador President Rafael Correa during the “Conversations with Correa” show on RT Spanish. People are no more willing to just blindly follow some political forces, they are much more informed now, they seek for information in the internet and want to form their own opinions, he explained.

“The world is changing at a fantastic speed. However, the current generation of politicians does not feel these changes. They just do not see it,” Grillo said, adding that the politicians are oriented “on a short-term horizon.” Meanwhile, the society, particularly the young people, is no longer attracted by the ideas propagated by the mainstream parties. The existing “ideologies have outlived their usefulness,” Grillo said. “There are just good and bad ideas,” he added, explaining that “they are not divided into ‘right’ and ‘left’ anymore.” The self-described anti-establishment activist then criticized the mainstream politicians for hiding their own inability to adapt behind the warnings about the perceived threat of populism.

As for the populism, I am proud to be a populist, if the word ‘populus’ (the people) is still of some importance,” Grillo told Correa. “Our goal is to reach out to people, to encourage them to think for themselves, to give them instruments to fulfill their own ideas,” he added. He agreed with Correa’s statement that the so-called “anti-populism” is what really poses a threat to the modern society as it seeks to keep the system unchanged. He particularly agreed that “anti-populism” is in fact a “means of attack” as it sees everything that challenges the system as populism and seeks to clamp it down.

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It’s going to be so annoying people will stop flying.

Number Of Planes In The Sky To More Than Double In Next 20 Years (Ind.)

The number of aircraft in the skies will more than double by 2037, according to the latest Global Market Forecast by Airbus. The Toulouse-based plane maker says half the present 21,450 aircraft flying will still be aloft in 20 years. With 37,390 new planes predicted to take off, the world’s total will increase by 123 per cent to 47,990. The expected total number of aircraft is 11.3 per cent higher than it was in the last big forecast by Airbus, a year ago. The vast majority of the new planes will be smaller, narrow-bodied jets. More than three-quarters of deliveries will be from the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 families, or aircraft of a similar scale from other manufacturers.

Assuming the 737 is still being made in 2037, it will be the most enduring aircraft in aviation history, having first flown 70-years earlier. Of the 28,550 predicted new narrow-bodied planes, one of Airbus’s leading hopes is the A321 NEO, a re-engined version of an aircraft that attracted little attention when it was launched as a stretched A320 in the early 1990s. The latest version can hold up to 244 passengers, and the long-range variant can fly 4,600 miles – the distance from Manchester to Seattle. The economics of the A321 are very tempting to 21st-century airlines, particularly for “long, thin” routes.

[..] Last month, Eamonn Brennan, director general of the air-traffic provider, Eurocontrol, warned: “On our most likely scenario, there won’t be enough capacity for approximately 1.5 million flights or 160 million passengers in 2040. “Many airports will become much busier, with higher delays. By 2040, 16 airports will be highly congested operating at close to capacity for much of the day, up from six airports today. “As a result of this congestion the number of passengers delayed by between one and two hours will grow from around 50,000 each day now to around 470,000 a day in 2040.”

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You’re going to need a lot tougher words than that.

Pope Warns Earth Turning Into Vast Pile Of ‘Rubble, Deserts And Refuse’ (AP)

Pope Francis urged governments on Friday to make good on their commitments to curb global warming, warning that climate change, continued unsustainable development and rampant consumption threatens to turn the Earth into a vast pile of “rubble, deserts and refuse”. Francis made the appeal at a Vatican conference marking the third anniversary of his landmark environmental encyclical “Praise Be.” The document, meant to spur action at the 2015 Paris climate conference, called for a paradigm shift in humanity’s relationship with Mother Nature. In his remarks, Francis urged governments to honor their Paris commitments and said institutions such as the IMF and World Bank had important roles to play in encouraging reforms promoting sustainable development.

“There is a real danger that we will leave future generations only rubble, deserts and refuse,” he warned. The Paris accord, reached by 195 countries, seeks to avoid some of the worst effects of climate change by curbing global greenhouse gas emissions via individual, non-binding national plans. President Donald Trump has said the US will pull out of the accord negotiated by his predecessor unless he can get a better deal. Friday’s conference was the latest in a series of Vatican initiatives meant to impress a sense of urgency about global warming and the threat it poses in particular to the world’s poorest and most marginalised people. Recently, Francis invited oil executives and investors to the Vatican for a closed-door conference where he urged them to find alternatives to fossil fuels. He warned climate change was a challenge of “epochal proportions”.

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Dec 252017
 
 December 25, 2017  Posted by at 1:04 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Giovanni Battista Tiepolo Allegory of the Planets and Continents 1752

 

Christmas Sounds A Clanging Chime Of Doom (Stewart Lee)
Cryptocurrencies Resume Selloff as Recovery Fizzles (BBG)
Once The Cryptocurrency Bubble Bursts, There May Be Real Innovation (CNBC)
China Needs Detroit-Style Bankruptcy – Central Bank Official (R.)
China Tightens Overseas Investment To Reduce Risks (F.)
China Likely To Set M2 Money Growth Target At Record Low Next Year (R.)
New York’s Vanishing Shops And Storefronts: ‘It’s Not Amazon, It’s Rent’ (G.)
The Meaty Side of Climate Change (PS)
Pope Compares Plight Of Migrants To Christmas Story (G.)
Greece Seeks To Tweak Refugee Deal As Island Tension, Criticism Grow

 

 

Who ever called these things smart?

Christmas Sounds A Clanging Chime Of Doom (Stewart Lee)

There is much we can learn from the ancient traditions of Winterval, each culture’s festive myths and rituals being equally valid, and equally instructive, irrespective of their veracity or worth. Upon the solstice night in Latveria, for example, Pappy Puffklap leaves a dried clump of donkey excrement on the breakfast table of each home. Is this so very different from the wise kings bringing the infant Christ sealed flagons of foul-smelling gas, the divine in harmony with the physical at its most pungent? There is only really one story this Christmas. The snow that decorates your cards will soon be a half-remembered folk myth. The arctic ice sheet is melting from underneath as well as above now. Did you notice, or were you grime-dancing to Man’s Not Hot at an office Christmas party, the annual arse-photocopier roped off with “police line do not cross” tape, management confused by the exact nature of their legal responsibilities to staff buttocks in the current social recalibrations?

My own Christmas sounds a note of doom. So far, I have escaped ownership of a smartphone or a tablet. With a deserved sense of superiority, I have watched the rest of you degenerate into being no-attention-span zombie scum, fixated on trivial fruit-based games and the capture of invisible Japanese imps, entirely unaware of the geography of your own surroundings, info-pigs gobbling bites of fake news headfirst from shiny troughs 24 hours a day, while our decaying planet performs its last few million fatal, and yet still beautiful, rotations before you. The screens of the iPhones of proud parents, their heads respectfully bowed, displayed pages from Facebook and Twitter. But now I must become one of you. Having abandoned paper letters, and now declaring even email obsolete, my nine-year-old daughter’s school has told me I need an iPhone to receive any administrative communication.

And so, with a heavy heart, I have asked for one for Christmas, a shire horse begging for harness, a hamster requesting its own torturous wheel, Robert Lindsay asking for another series of My Family. But perhaps, like Jesus renouncing his divinity to become a mortal, finally owning an iPhone will help me to understand Observer readers, and the trivial concerns and inundations of ignorance that drive you in your futile lives. Beneath a powerful enough microscope, even a cluster of wriggling threadworm can be beautiful. I accepted my iPhone destiny on the morning of last Wednesday, but by the afternoon I wanted to renounce it. I attended the carol service of my niece’s nursery school. Upon each carved pew, the screens of the iPhones of proud parents, their heads respectfully bowed, displayed pages from Facebook and Twitter, and twinkled throughout the ancient religious ritual like the stars that led the wise men to the very cradle of Christ.

As the lights dimmed and the candles flared up for a beautiful choral arrangement of the Coventry Carol, the assembled infant singers could look up and see that many of the grownups in the room, their lowered faces lit beatifically from below by the Caravaggio glow of their iPhone screens, were not the slightest fucking bit interested in them or their stupid fucking song.

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Losses persist.

Cryptocurrencies Resume Selloff as Recovery Fizzles (BBG)

The biggest cryptocurrencies resumed their decline on Sunday, failing to reverse a selloff that began when bitcoin’s unprecedented rally fell short of breaking above $20,000. A rebound on Saturday fizzled in the afternoon and traders turned pessimistic again, driving bitcoin down 13% in the past 24 hours. The drop among the 10 largest digital coins, ranging as much as 17% for iota, brings more end-of-year weakness to a market that just had its worst four-day tumble since 2015. “The West is what’s causing this selloff,” said Mati Greenspan, senior market analyst at Tel Aviv-based online broker eToro, pointing to increased trading in dollars and less in yen. The recent cryptocurrency rally was so steep that investors were prone to take money off the table going into the Christmas holiday season, he said.

The retrenchment isn’t typical for cryptos, which often snap back after a few losing sessions. The last time bitcoin dropped for five successive weekdays was September and, before that, July. While the market has been volatile for most of this year, the rapid run-up has made the recent selloff sting more for digital coin enthusiasts. Traders have knocked about $160 billion in market value off the biggest cryptocurrencies in about three days, according to CoinMarketCap data. The tumble coincided with several warnings in the past week from financial authorities about elevated risk in holding digital coins. “The crypto market went to astronomical highs, so it’s got to come back to reality,” Greenspan said. “Something that goes up 150% in less than a month is probably going to have double-digit retracement.”

Bitcoin was at $13,367 as of 5 p.m. New York time. That’s almost one-third off its record high of $19,511, based on prices compiled by Bloomberg. Ethereum, the No. 2 cryptocurrency by market value, dropped about 12% in the past 24 hours, to $663.77, CoinMarketCap data show. While “nascent blockchain-based cryptocurrencies are rapidly entering mainstream finance,” some of the second-generation digital coins have a better outlook than bitcoin, Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Mike McGlone wrote in comments published Sunday. The whole group is akin to internet-based companies a few decades ago and exchange-traded funds more recently, he said. “Bitcoin is the crypto benchmark, but not the best representation of the technology,” McGlone wrote. Altcoins “should continue to gain on bitcoin, which has flaws and where futures can be shorted,” he said.

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it’s always possible to imagine things getting better.

Once The Cryptocurrency Bubble Bursts, There May Be Real Innovation (CNBC)

The world of cryptocurrencies is one of the most divisive topics in finance right now. On the one hand, figures like J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon have called it a “fraud” and dubbed those trading it “stupid.” On the other hand, there are those who see cryptocurrencies as one of the most revolutionary forces in finance. But amid the debate, there are a lot of people asking how to value this stuff and why bitcoin has traded nearly as high as $20,000. The answer right now is simple: There are no fundamentals. Even Robert Shiller, who won the Nobel Prize in 2013 for assessing asset prices, recently remarked that the value of bitcoin is “exceptionally ambiguous.” There’s no doubt that there is immense amount of speculation in the cryptocurrency market.

But when the bubble bursts and the hype dies down, that is where we may find value and it all comes down to the use cases for the different coins on the market. When bitcoin was created in 2009, the aim was to be an electronic cross-border payments system. The problem now is that bitcoin transactions are at record highs with faster traditional payment systems actually proving a better means. It’s hard to say bitcoin has an inherent value beyond the belief of the people trading it. But as many have said, it could become “digital gold,” in which case the price is likely to go higher. But looking forward, it’s highly likely that other digital tokens could surpass bitcoin because of their utility. Take a look at Ethereum. The company bills itself as a blockchain platform for others to build apps on.

Blockchain is the underlying technology behind bitcoin and acts as a decentralized ledger of transactions. But its uses span far beyond bitcoin. Ethereum has its own blockchain which companies like Microsoft and J.P. Morgan are experimenting with. Ethereum is specifically designed for so-called “smart contracts” which are pieces of software that execute a contract once certain conditions are met by all parties involved. This removes the need for complex paperwork and errors. Ripple is another blockchain company that is working on cross-border payments across different currencies in seconds. The digital coin created by the company called XRP, acts as a bridging currency to help facilitate transactions. Both Ethereum and Ripple have seen stunning rallies this year, but both are in the early stages of their experiments. But in the future, valuing them could be easier. For example, if Ripple began to process a fraction of the trillions of dollars that is transacted across borders, we could start to put a price on one XRP.

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Let smaller units fail. That’s a nice idea, but how does it square with central control?

China Needs Detroit-Style Bankruptcy – Central Bank Official (R.)

China needs to let local governments take responsibility for their finances, including allowing bankruptcies, as part of an effort to defuse their debt risks, a central bank official wrote on Monday. Central government control of the scale of local government bonds should be eliminated, while responsibility to issue and repay bonds should be held by the city or county that will actually use the funds, Xu Zhong, head of the People’s Bank of China’s research bureau, wrote in a an editorial on the financial news website Yicai. “Eliminate central government control on the scale of local government bond issues, expand the scale of local government debt issues,” Xu wrote. “Whether (bonds) can be issued, and at what price, must be examined and screened by the financial markets. There does not need to be worry about local governments chaotically issuing debt.”

China’s top leadership decided at a meeting this week to take concrete measures to strengthen the regulation of local government debt next year as policymakers look to rein in a massive debt pile and reduce financial risks facing the economy. The government needs to clarify responsibility as it explores a bankruptcy system for local governments, Xu wrote, as there is still an expectation that the central government will bail out those that run into fiscal problems. “China must have an example like the bankruptcy in Detroit. Only if we allow local state-owned firms and governments to go bankrupt will investors believe the central government will break the implicit guarantee,” Xu wrote, adding that social services should be maintained.

The United States city of Detroit filed the largest-ever municipal bankruptcy in July 2013, with $18 billion of debt. Xu also said that China should dismantle the hukou system of internal migration control, as free movement of people promoted equal access to public services and helped resolve imbalances in finances. In a report published on Saturday, China’s National Audit Office said China should dispel the “illusion” that the central government will pick up the bill for local government debt. But China should also increase the limit for local government debt as general government debt is primarily used for poverty relief spending, while also controlling spending on new projects.

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Xi still has a huge reserves problem. The US tax bill and the Fed keep on making it bigger.

China Tightens Overseas Investment To Reduce Risks (F.)

China has followed up earlier restrictions on outbound investment with new regulations on foreign investment by private firms. The 36-point code of conduct for private firms seeks to ensure that overseas deals are rational and legal. This is part of an effort to regulate outbound investment, which had been strongly encouraged between 2012 and 2016, in order to reduce risks. The National Development and Reform Commission, along with four other agencies, released rules that require private enterprises to invest in overseas deals that are genuine and not meant to be used for transferring assets abroad or for money laundering. Private firms are now required to report investment plans to the government, and to seek approval if the investments involve sensitive countries or industries.

Investment in projects that fit within the scope of the One Belt One Road endeavor is strongly encouraged. Outbound investment reached $170 billion in 2016, but was curtailed at the end of 2016 as yuan depreciation pressures mounted. At that time, authorities cracked down upon companies with fraudulent or “irrational” foreign investment. In addition, this past August, specific categories were created to specify banned, restricted, and encouraged overseas investment industries for mergers and acquisitions. As a result, this year saw a decline in the value of outbound direct investment, dropping 42% year-on-year in the first three quarters of this year. The new measures imposed on private firms will further reduce capital outflows and debt used to finance overseas deals.

A code of conduct for state owned enterprises investing abroad will soon be published, as China’s government attempts to make sure that capital leaving the country is being invested in sound assets. These regulations have become necessary due to China’s struggle to reduce its debt load and due to the threat of currency depreciation. While the former represents a clear and present threat to financial stability, the latter has largely disappeared from the picture but apparently remains on the radar of government officials. Debt-fueled overseas acquisitions impose a drag on the economy, which contains high levels of corporate debt already. Acquisitions that are funded by debt must ensure that overseas investments are productive, so that firms can repay the debt in a timely manner.

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How much does such a target really matter?

China Likely To Set M2 Money Growth Target At Record Low Next Year (R.)

China is likely to set its 2018 money growth target at an all-time low of around 9% to curb debt risks and contain asset bubbles, the official China Daily reported on Monday, citing economists involved in high-level policy discussions. Financial risks have become the biggest threat to the country’s economic stability in the medium and long term, the China Daily said. In the past year, deleveraging efforts in the financial system have pushed broad M2 money supply growth to its lowest since records began in 1996. In November, M2 expanded 9.1% from a year earlier, below the government’s full-year target of around 12%. The central bank has said slowing M2 growth could be a “new normal” as the government cracks down on riskier banking activities. In the past decade, the government has set its annual M2 targets between 12% and 17%.

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Homes are no longer places to line in, and stores are not building blocks of a society anymore. Everything is captive to speculation.

New York’s Vanishing Shops And Storefronts: ‘It’s Not Amazon, It’s Rent’ (G.)

Walk down almost any major New York street – say Fifth Avenue near Trump Tower, or Madison Avenue from midtown to the Upper East Side. Perhaps venture down Canal Street, or into the West Village around Bleecker, and some of the most expensive retail areas in the world are blitzed with vacant storefronts. The famed Lincoln Plaza Cinemas on the Upper West Side announced earlier this week that it is closing next month. A blow to the city’s cinephiles, certainly, but also a sign of the effects that rapid gentrification, coupled with technological innovation, are having on the city. Over the past several years, thousands of small retailers have closed, replaced by national chains. When they, too, fail, the stores lie vacant, and landlords, often institutional investors, are unwilling to drop rents.

A recent survey by New York councilmember Helen Rosenthal found 12% of stores on one stretch of the Upper West Side is unoccupied and ‘for lease’. The picture is repeated nationally. In October, the US surpassed the previous record for store closings, set after the 2008 financial crisis. The common refrain is that the devastation is the product of a profound shift in consumption to online, with Amazon frequently identified as the leading culprit. But this is maybe an over-simplification. “It’s not Amazon, it’s rent,” says Jeremiah Moss, author of the website and book Vanishing New York. “Over the decades, small businesses weathered the New York of the 70s with it near-bankruptcy and high crime. Businesses could survive the internet, but they need a reasonable rent to do that.”

Part of the problem is the changing make-up of New York landlords. Many are no longer mom-and-pop operations, but institutional investors and hedge funds that are unwilling to drop rents to match retail conditions. “They are running small businesses out of the city and replacing them with chain stores and temporary luxury businesses,” says Moss. In addition, he says, banks will devalue a property if it’s occupied by a small business, and increase it for a chain store. “There’s benefit to waiting for chain stores. If you are a hedge fund manager running a portfolio you leave it empty and take a write-off.” New York is famously a city of what author EB White called “tiny neighborhood units” is his classic 1949 essay Here is New York. White observed “that many a New Yorker spends a lifetime within the confines of an area smaller than a country village”.

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And they have the most powerful lobbyists. Case closed.

The Meaty Side of Climate Change (PS)

Last year, three of the world’s largest meat companies – JBS, Cargill, and Tyson Foods – emitted more greenhouse gases than France, and nearly as much as some big oil companies. And yet, while energy giants like Exxon and Shell have drawn fire for their role in fueling climate change, the corporate meat and dairy industries have largely avoided scrutiny. If we are to avert environmental disaster, this double standard must change. To bring attention to this issue, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, GRAIN, and Germany’s Heinrich Böll Foundation recently teamed up to study the “supersized climate footprint” of the global livestock trade. What we found was shocking. In 2016, the world’s 20 largest meat and dairy companies emitted more greenhouse gases than Germany. If these companies were a country, they would be the world’s seventh-largest emitter.

Obviously, mitigating climate change will require tackling emissions from the meat and dairy industries. The question is how. Around the world, meat and dairy companies have become politically powerful entities. The recent corruption-related arrests of two JBS executives, the brothers Joesley and Wesley Batista, pulled back the curtain on corruption in the industry. JBS is the largest meat processor in the world, earning nearly $20 billion more in 2016 than its closest rival, Tyson Foods. But JBS achieved its position with assistance from the Brazilian Development Bank, and apparently, by bribing more than 1,800 politicians. It is no wonder, then, that greenhouse-gas emissions are low on the company’s list of priorities. In 2016, JBS, Tyson and Cargill emitted 484 million tons of climate-changing gases, 46 million tons more than BP, the British energy giant.

Meat and dairy industry insiders push hard for pro-production policies, often at the expense of environmental and public health. From seeking to block reductions in nitrous oxide and methane emissions, to circumventing obligations to reduce air, water, and soil pollution, they have managed to increase profits while dumping pollution costs on the public. One consequence, among many, is that livestock production now accounts for nearly 15% of global greenhouse-gas emissions. That is a bigger share than the world’s entire transportation sector. Moreover, much of the growth in meat and dairy production in the coming decades is expected to come from the industrial model. If this growth conforms to the pace projected by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, our ability to keep temperatures from rising to apocalyptic levels will be severely undermined.

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Wait a minute, that’s what I said.

Pope Compares Plight Of Migrants To Christmas Story (G.)

Pope Francis has likened the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem to the migrations of millions of people today who are forced to leave homelands for a better life, or just for survival, and he expressed hope that no one will feel “there is no room for them on this Earth”. Francis celebrated Christmas vigil mass on Sunday in the splendour of St Peter’s Basilica, telling the faithful that the “simple story” of Jesus’ birth in a manger changed “our history forever. Everything that night became a source of hope.” Noting that Mary and Joseph arrived in a land “where there was no place for them”, Francis drew parallels with today. “So many other footsteps are hidden in the footsteps of Joseph and Mary,” he said in his homily.

“We see the tracks of entire families forced to set out in our own day. We see the tracks of millions of persons who do not choose to go away but, driven from their land, leave behind their dear ones.” Francis has made concern for economic migrants, war refugees and others on society’s margins a central plank of his papacy. He said God is present in “the unwelcomed visitor, often unrecognisable, who walks through our cities and our neighbourhoods, who travels on our buses and knocks on our door”. That perception of God should develop into “new forms of relationship, in which none have to feel that there is no room for them on this Earth”, he said.

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Tsipras has lost control of the issue.

Greece Seeks To Tweak Refugee Deal As Island Tension, Criticism Grow

Pressure on the leftist-led government from the migration crisis is growing as it is faced with mounting tension at island hot spots, criticism from inside the ruling SYRIZA party, and uncertainty over calls to readjust the EU deal with Turkey. Under the deal signed by the EU and Ankara in March 2016, all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey to Greek islands are supposed to be returned to Turkey. However, during a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov earlier in December, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras requested that Turkey also accept migrant returns from the mainland in order to ease overcrowding at camps.

Sources said Merkel avoided endorsing the Greek proposal which essentially violates the core of the EU-Turkey deal. Rather, the same sources said, Merkel stressed the need to bolster the presence of EU border agency Frontex along the Greek-Bulgarian border to safeguard the so-called Balkan route. Although officials in Athens have suggested that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan acceded to the request during his recent visit to Greece, the issue has been deferred to ministerial-level deliberations. Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas visited Ankara on Thursday for talks, as Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias appeared skeptical whether Erdogan had the political will to go the extra mile.

Meanwhile, as island reception centers are bursting at the seams and pressure from SYRIZA officials is intensifying, the government has already green-lighted transfers of asylum seekers who it claims are minors or disabled. Speaking to party officials, Tsipras vowed that asylum seekers past the first stage of their application process would be relocated to the mainland. Government officials, on the other hand, offered reassurances over a recent proposal by European Council President Donald Tusk for the abolition of mandatory quotas on relocating refugees across the EU. The proposal is set to be discussed at an EU summit in June but administration officials say too many states are opposed to it.

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Apr 232017
 
 April 23, 2017  Posted by at 8:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


How we got here

 

Disintegrating Left-Right Divide Sets Stage For French Political Upheaval (G.)
The Main Issue in the French Presidential Election: National Sovereignty (CP)
ECB Stands Ready to Support Banks If Needed After France Vote (BBG)
It Is Time To Break Up The Fed (IFT)
China’s Credit Excess Is Unlike Anything The World Has Ever Seen (Brown)
The US Retail Bubble Has Now Burst (ZH)
UK Retail Sales Volumes Fall At Fastest Rate In Seven Years (Ind.)
BHS Crash Sets Trend For A Chain Of Store Closures On UK High Streets (G.)
German Intelligence Spied On Interpol In Dozens Of Countries (R.)
Pope Likens Refugee Holding Centers To ‘Concentration Camps’ (G.)

 

 

This is a global issue, the left has moved so far right it has no identity left. Nice detail: The Parti Socialiste of the current president could be bankrupted by its dismal campaign.

Disintegrating Left-Right Divide Sets Stage For French Political Upheaval (G.)

Do they vote for or against? Do they choose a candidate who represents their politics or one who, opinion polls suggest, is most likely to defeat the woman whose presence as one of two candidates in the second-round runoff in a fortnight seems a given, but whose name still provokes a frisson of fear for many: the far-right Front National leader Marine Le Pen, with her anti-Europe, anti-immigration, “French-first” programme? As election day has approached, and with the added complication of the terrorist threat following the shooting of a police officer on the Champs-Elysées in Paris, the dilemma has caused particular anguish for France’s mainstream leftwing voters, whose candidate is trailing in fifth place.

There are no certainties, but barring all other candidates “dropping from a nasty virus”, as one political analyst put it, Benoît Hamon is facing a crushing defeat in the first round, ending his leadership dreams and putting the future of the country’s Socialist party (PS) in question. In a decline that mirrors that of Britain’s Labour party, the PS is facing years in a political desert, if it survives. If Hamon finishes last among the leading candidates, as polls predict, the party’s only hope of salvaging a thread of power will lie in winning enough parliamentary seats in the legislative elections that follow to form an influential group in the national assembly. Even then it will most likely be part of a coalition rather than a fully functioning opposition.

Even worse, and even more unthinkable, if leftwing voters turn en masse to Jean-Luc Mélenchon as their best hope of a place in the second round against the frontrunners – independent centrist Emmanuel Macron, Le Pen or the conservative François Fillon – and Hamon polls less than 5%, none of Hamon’s campaign expenses will be reimbursed, bankrupting the PS. “Under 5% and the situation is really catastrophic,” Marc-Olivier Padis, of the Paris-based thinktank Terra Nova, told the Observer. “And it’s possible. We are hearing many socialists wondering if they should vote Mélenchon or Macron. The only thing that can save the party in this election is if enough socialists vote for Hamon out of loyalty.”

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It’s about the economy, guys. Too many people are left with too little. That’s when they choose to be their own boss -again-.

The Main Issue in the French Presidential Election: National Sovereignty (CP)

The 2017 French Presidential election marks a profound change in European political alignments. There is an ongoing shift from the traditional left-right rivalry to opposition between globalization, in the form of the European Union (EU), and national sovereignty. Standard media treatment sticks to a simple left-right dualism: “racist” rejection of immigrants is the main issue and that what matters most is to “stop Marine Le Pen!” Going from there to here is like walking through Alice’s looking glass. Almost everything is turned around. On this side of the glass, the left has turned into the right and part of the right is turning into the left. Fifty years ago, it was “the left” whose most ardent cause was passionate support for Third World national liberation struggles.

The left’s heroes were Ahmed Ben Bella, Sukarno, Amilcar Cabral, Patrice Lumumba, and above all Ho Chi Minh. What were these leaders fighting for? They were fighting to liberate their countries from Western imperialism. They were fighting for independence, for the right to determine their own way of life, preserve their own customs, decide their own future. They were fighting for national sovereignty, and the left supported that struggle. Today, it is all turned around. “Sovereignty” has become a bad word in the mainstream left. National sovereignty is an essentially defensive concept. It is about staying home and minding one’s own business. It is the opposite of the aggressive nationalism that inspired fascist Italy and Nazi Germany to conquer other countries, depriving them of their national sovereignty.

The confusion is due to the fact that most of what calls itself “the left” in the West has been totally won over to the current form of imperialism – aka “globalization”. It is an imperialism of a new type, centered on the use of military force and “soft” power to enable transnational finance to penetrate every corner of the earth and thus to reshape all societies in the endless quest for profitable return on capital investment. The left has been won over to this new imperialism because it advances under the banner of “human rights” and “antiracism” – abstractions which a whole generation has been indoctrinated to consider the central, if not the only, political issues of our times.

The fact that “sovereignism” is growing in Europe is interpreted by mainstream globalist media as proof that “Europe is moving to the right”– no doubt because Europeans are “racist”. This interpretation is biased and dangerous. People in more and more European nations are calling for national sovereignty precisely because they have lost it. They lost it to the European Union, and they want it back. That is why the British voted to leave the European Union. Not because they are “racist”, but primarily because they cherish their historic tradition of self-rule.

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French government debt could become ineligible as collateral if Le Pen and/or Melenchon do too well.

ECB Stands Ready to Support Banks If Needed After France Vote (BBG)

ECB officials signaled that their liquidity facilities remain available to counter any market tension that may arise in the aftermath of France’s presidential election, the first round of which takes place Sunday. “The central bank should be ready for any shocks that should materialize,” Governing Council member Ignazio Visco said at a press conference during the IMF spring meetings in Washington on Saturday. “And if there were to be such a shock, the instruments are the instruments that a central bank should use, which are liquidity provision, refinancing when needed. And intervening very quickly is really very easy now given the instruments we have.” Like the U.K.’s vote on whether to continue its membership of the EU in June, central bank readiness to support the banking system has been sought given the potential for such political events to create market turmoil.

In this case, a strong showing in the first round by anti-euro candidate Marine Le Pen could cast doubt over the future of the single currency. Visco argued that the presence of central bank facilities makes it less likely they’ll actually be needed. [..] The euro area has years of experience with banking freeze-ups and has multiple instruments to address liquidity shortages that strike otherwise solvent banks. In particular, in the event a sudden credit-rating downgrade made French government debt ineligible as collateral for normal ECB refinancing operations, so-called Emergency Liquidity Assistance may be available from the Bank of France. “If there should be problems for specific French banks, liquidity-wise, then the ECB has instruments to help solvent banks with liquidity problems,” Governing Council member Ewald Nowotny said on Saturday. “This is ELA, emergency liquidity assistance. That could be given of course. But we don’t expect any special movements.”

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“Donald Trump and the GOP need an easy, highly visible legislative victory. Breaking up the Fed meets this criteria.”

It Is Time To Break Up The Fed (IFT)

Donald Trump and the GOP need an easy, highly visible legislative victory. Breaking up the Fed meets this criteria. In the aftermath of the Great Financial Crisis, policymakers rushed out the Dodd-Frank Act. This Act increased the Fed’s responsibilities. However, policymakers did this without examining the Fed’s performance in the run-up to the financial crisis. Had they done so, they would have seen the Fed failed as a bank supervisor and regulator. This failure alone mandates breaking up the Fed. After all, why should the Fed be given a second chance given how much its failure hurt the global real economy and taxpayers? Furthermore, this failure strongly suggests policymakers shouldn’t have rewarded the Fed with additional responsibilities. After all, there is no reason to believe the Fed’s failure as a bank supervisor and regulator won’t be repeated with any new responsibilities.

To the extent these new responsibilities exist in the Dodd-Frank Act, they too should be stripped away. What the Fed should be left with is responsibility for monetary policy and the payment system. All of the Fed’s bank supervision and regulatory responsibility should be transferred to the FDIC. There are many significant benefits from doing this including it reinforces market discipline on the banks. Unlike the Fed, the FDIC is responsible for protecting the taxpayers and has the authority to close a bank. The FDIC’s primary responsibility is minimizing the risk of loss by the taxpayer backed deposit insurance fund. It achieves this initially through regulation and supervision, but more importantly by a willingness to step in and close a bank that threatens to cause a loss to the fund.

Shareholders and unsecured bank creditors are keenly aware they are likely to lose their entire investment should the FDIC step up and close the bank they are invested in. As a result, they have an incentive to exert discipline on bank management to limit its risk taking so the bank is never taken over by the FDIC. For those who would argue that it is important to keep bank supervision and regulation together with monetary policy, I would point out there is no evidence showing this produces a better outcome. In the run-up to the Great Financial Crisis, the Bank of England and the ECB did not have supervision and regulation responsibility. The Fed did. Talk about a perfect controlled experiment.

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China needs more than $13 to create $1 of growth.

China’s Credit Excess Is Unlike Anything The World Has Ever Seen (Brown)

From a global macroeconomic perspective, we encourage readers to consider that the world is experiencing an extended, rolling process of deflating its credit excesses. It is now simply China’s turn. For context, Japan started deflating their credit bubble in the early 1990s, and has now experienced more than 20 years of deflation and very little growth since. The US began its process in 2008, and after eight years has only recently been showing signs of sustainable recovery. The euro zone entered this process in 2011 and is still struggling six years onward. We believe China is now entering the early stages of this process. Having said that, we believe that Chinese authorities have a viable plan for deflating their credit excess in an orderly fashion.

Please stay posted as we will review this multi-pronged, market-based approach in our next column. For now, let’s turn our attention to the size of the credit excess that China created and why we estimate it to be the largest in the world. A credit excess is created by the speed and magnitude of credit that is created – if too much is created in too short a time period, excesses inevitably occur and non-performing loans (NPLs) emerge. To illustrate the credit excess that has been created in China, let’s review several key indicators, including the: 1) flow of new credit; 2) stock of outstanding credit; 3) credit deviation ratio (i.e., excess credit); 4) incremental capital output ratio (efficiency of credit allocation).

The US created 58% of GDP between 2002-07, and the global financial crisis followed. Japan created credit equivalent to the entire size of its economy between 1985-90 and subsequently experienced more than 20 years of deflation (admittedly reflecting the lack of restructuring). Thailand created a significant real estate bubble between 1992-97 and ended up with about 45% NPL ratios. Spain created credit equivalent to 116% of GDP between 2002-07 and still is trying to address a 20% unemployment rate. China created 139% of GDP in new credit between the first quarter of 2009 and the third quarter of 2014 (when GDP growth peaked), far greater than what was created in other major credit bubbles globally.

[..] Another important measure to assess the amount of credit in the economy which is “excessive” is the credit-to-GDP gap, as reported by the Bank of International Settlements. This ratio measures the difference between the current credit-to-GDP ratio in an economy against its long-term trend of what is necessary to optimally support long-term GDP growth. It is akin to measuring the amount of credit that is productively deployed into an economy. This metric is used by the Basel III framework in determining countercyclical capital buffers for a country’s banking system when credit creation becomes too fast (i.e., high credit growth requires higher capital ratios for banks).

Finally, to show that the pace of credit creation will necessarily slow, thereby exposing misallocated credit and driving the emergence of new NPL formation, we turn to the deterioration in China’s incremental capital output ratio. This ratio is the measure of the number of units of input required to produce one unit of GDP. For the 15 years prior to the credit impulse in 2009-14, China’s incremental capital output ratio has been consistently between two and four. Meaning that two to four yuan in fixed asset investment created one yuan in GDP. But as a result of the credit-driven economic growth model, and the excessive credit that has been created (and the subsequent excess capacity in the industrial economy), China’s investment efficiency has deteriorated to the point that its incremental capital output ratio is now over 13. Said another way, every 1 yuan in new fixed asset investment is now creating only 7 fen in GDP.

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Full employment, anyone?

The US Retail Bubble Has Now Burst (ZH)

The devastation in the US retail sector is accelerating in 2017, and in addition to the surging number of brick and mortar retail bankruptcies, it is perhaps nowhere more obvious than in the soaring number of store closures. While the shuttering of retail stores has been a frequent topic on this website, most recently in the context of the next “big short”, namely the ongoing deterioration in the mall REITs and associated Commercial Mortgage-Backed Securities and CDS, here is a stunning fact from Credit Suisse:”Barely a quarter into 2017, year-to-date retail store closings have already surpassed those of 2008.”

According to the Swiss bank’s calculations, on a unit basis, approximately 2,880 store closings were announced YTD, more than twice as many closings as the 1,153 announced during the same period last year. Historically, roughly 60% of store closure announcements occur in the first five months of the year. By extrapolating the year-to-date announcements, CS estimates that there could be more than 8,640 store closings this year, which will be higher than the historical 2008 peak of approximately 6,200 store closings, which suggests that for brick-and-mortar stores stores the current transition period is far worse than the depth of the credit crisis depression.

As the WSJ calculates, at least 10 retailers, including Limited Stores, electronics chain hhgregg and sporting-goods chain Gander Mountain have filed for bankruptcy protection so far this year. That compares with nine retailers that declared bankruptcy, with at least $50 million liabilities, for all of 2016. On Friday, women’s apparel chain Bebe Stores said it would close its remaining 170 shops and sell only online, while teen retailer Rue21 Inc. announced plans to close about 400 of its 1,100 locations. Another striking fact: on a square footage basis, approximately 49 million square feet of retail space has closed YTD. Should this pace persist by the end of the year, total square footage reductions could reach 147M square feet, another all time high, and surpassing the historical peak of 115M in 2001.

There are several key drivers behind the avalanche of “liquidation” signs on store fronts. The first is the glut of residual excess retail space. As the WSJ writes, the seeds of the industry’s current turmoil date back nearly three decades, when retailers, in the throes of a consumer-buying spree and flush with easy money, rushed to open new stores. The land grab wasn’t unlike the housing boom that was also under way at that time. “Thousands of new doors opened and rents soared,” Richard Hayne, chief executive of Urban Outfitters Inc., told analysts last month. “This created a bubble, and like housing, that bubble has now burst.”

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No matter how you try to explain it away, in the end it’s just people having less to spend.

UK Retail Sales Volumes Fall At Fastest Rate In Seven Years (Ind.)

Retail sale volumes slumped in March, seeming to confirm doubts about the robustness of the consumer-led economy in the wake of last summer’s Brexit vote. According to the Office for National Statistics, sales were down 1.8% in the month, against City expectations of a 0.2% decline. The monthly data can be volatile and March’s decline follows a 1.7% spike in February, but the ONS itself highlighted the weakening trend this year and noted that over the three months to March there was the first quarterly decline in volumes since 2013. In the first quarter of 2017 sales were down 1.4%, the biggest decline since the first three months of 2010 when they fell 2%.

Retail sales performed much better than expected in the immediate wake of last June’s Brexit vote, helping to boost overall GDP growth and confounding widespread expectations that the economy would fall into recession. But economists said the latest data suggested gravity was now asserting itself as inflation, stemming from the sharp depreciation of the pound since last June, eats into incomes and wage growth remains chronically weak. “We should see these retail sales figures as the start of a period of much weaker consumer spending growth – which will act as a drag on the overall progress of the UK economy over this year and next,” said Andrew Sentance, senior economic adviser at PwC.

“This is the clearest indication yet that the expected slowdown in the UK economy has begun, and we should expect to see this confirmed in other economic data over the next few months.” James Knightley, an economist at ING described the figures as “dreadful”. “The story for the household sector isn’t great right now. Inflation is eating into household spending power with wages once again failing to keep pace with the rising cost of living. There is also a growing sense of job insecurity highlighted in some surveys, which may also be making households a little nervous,” he said. The household saving ratio, the gap between the sector’s aggregate income and spending, fell to just 3.3% in the final quarter of 2016, the weakest on record, prompting questions about the sustainability of the rate of consumer spending. Retail sales account for around 30% of household consumption, which in turn accounts for 60% of UK GDP.

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“..1.5 million people work in low-paid UK retail jobs..” They can’t afford the products they sell. Henry Ford had a solution to that.

BHS Crash Sets Trend For A Chain Of Store Closures On UK High Streets (G.)

The fact that Britain’s unemployment rate has fallen to its joint lowest level since 1975 belies the experience of thousands of BHS staff, who have struggled to find an equivalent job with a contract and regular hours. The jobless rate may be just 4.7% but official records show the number of people on zero-hours contracts hit a record high of 905,000 in the final three months of 2016. That was an increase of 101,000, or 13%, compared with the same period a year earlier. Last year, research by industry trade body the British Retail Consortium (BRC) identified a “lost generation” of predominantly female shop workers who – as thousands of BHS staff would find out – risk losing their jobs as structural change chews up the high street. It estimated there were nearly 500,000 retail workers, aged between 26 and 45, many of whom have children and need to work close to their family home, who would find it hard to find alternative jobs.

Using the benchmark of those earning less than £8.05 an hour, the BRC says 1.5 million people work in low-paid UK retail jobs. About 70% are female and one in five receive means-tested working age tax credits. Norman Pickavance, chair of the Fabian Society taskforce on the future of retail, says the majority of companies in the sector are trying to save money by moving towards less secure employment models. “There are more and more zero-hours-type contracts and self employment,” he says. “A year on from the demise of BHS, most retailers are continuing down that route of flexibility but there is a risk to them from Brexit. They have only been able to use these methods because of the abundance of labour and might have to rethink.”

[..] This trend is writ larger in the US, where analysts are talking about a “retail apocalypse”, as main street veterans like Macy’s and Sears line up to announce major store closure programmes. With American Apparel, Abercrombie & Fitch and JCPenney also axing stores, hundreds of American shopping mall outlets are closing for good. The cost in job terms has been stark, with more than 89,000 retail positions eliminated over the last six months. New York-based Global Data analyst Neil Saunders says the US and UK retail markets are not mirror images, with the American woes resulting from the fallout from a belated move by store chiefs to address the threat posed by the internet.

With more than five times more retail square footage per person than the UK, American store chiefs have also got a bigger problem on their hands than their British counterparts. “In terms of online penetration, the US is where the UK was five or so years ago,” continues Saunders. “What we are seeing is large US retailers scrabbling to adjust.” He adds: “Generally, UK retail is at a much later evolutionary stage than the US. There has already been quite a lot of adjustment in terms of the closure and adaptation of physical space.

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Everyone spies on everyone. Growth industry.

German Intelligence Spied On Interpol In Dozens Of Countries (R.)

Germany’s BND foreign intelligence agency spied on the Interpol international police agency for years and on the group’s country liaison offices in dozens of countries such as Austria, Greece and the United States, a German magazine said. Der Spiegel magazine, citing documents it had seen, said the BND had added the email addresses, phone numbers and fax numbers of the police investigators to its sector surveillance list. In addition, the German spy agency also monitored the Europol police agency Europol which is based in The Hague, the magazine said. Der Spiegel reported in February that the BND also spied on the phones, faxes and emails of several news organizations, including the New York Times and Reuters.

The BND’s activities have come under intense scrutiny during a German parliamentary investigation into allegations that the US National Security Agency conducted mass surveillance outside of the United States, including a cellphone used by Chancellor Angela Merkel. Konstantin von Notz, a Greens party member who serves on the investigative committee, described the latest report about the BND’s spying activities as “scandalous and unfathomable.” “We now know that parliaments, various companies and even journalists and publishers have been targeted, as well as allied countries,” von Notz said in a statement. He said the latest reports showed how ineffective parliamentary controls had been thus far, despite new legislation aimed at reforming the BND. “It represents a danger to our rule of law,” he said.

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So what as the Pope done to alleviate the issue? How has he used the Vatican’s opulent riches to make life better for refugees?

Pope Likens Refugee Holding Centers To ‘Concentration Camps’ (G.)

Pope Francis urged governments on Saturday to get migrants and refugees out of holding centers, saying many had become “concentration camps”. During a visit to a Rome basilica, where he met migrants, Francis told of his visit to a camp on the Greek island of Lesbos last year. There he met a Muslim refugee from the Middle East who told him how “terrorists came to our country”. Islamists had slit the throat of the man’s Christian wife because she refused to throw her crucifix the ground. “I don’t know if he managed to leave that concentration camp, because refugee camps, many of them, are of concentration (type) because of the great number of people left there inside them,” the pope said.

Francis praised countries helping refugees and thanked them for “bearing this extra burden, because it seems that international accords are more important than human rights”. He did not elaborate but appeared to be referring to agreements that keep migrants from crossing borders. In February, the European Union pledged to finance migrant camps in Libya as part of a wider European Union drive to stem immigration from Africa. Humanitarian groups have criticized efforts to stop migrants in Libya, where – according to a U.N. report last December – they suffer arbitrary detention, forced labor, rape and torture.

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Apr 172016
 
 April 17, 2016  Posted by at 9:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Underwood&Underwood Chicago framed by Gothic stonework high in the Tribune Tower 1952

South Korea Exports To China Tumble 15.7% In Q1 (Yonhap)
Chinese P2P Shadow Lender’s Woes Expose Its Global Tentacles (WSJ)
Doha Oil Freeze Talks Face Last-Minute Trouble (Reuters)
Iran Central Banker Dismisses Idea Of Oil Output Cut (CNBC)
Greece’s Creditors Weigh Extra Austerity Measures to Break Deadlock (WSJ)
Panama and a New Copernican Revolution (Tett)
Wolfgang Schäuble Warns UK Of Tough Brexit Negotiations (FT)
BlackRock Wields Its Big Stick Like a Wet Noodle (Morgenson)
Foreign Investment Turns New Zealand Stock Market Into A Casino (BBG)
Free Trade Has Won: Adapt Or Die Is The Only Option Left To Us (G.)
Economists Ignore One of Capitalism’s Biggest Problems (Steve Keen)
Saudi Arabia Warns of Economic Fallout if Congress Passes 9/11 Bill (NYT)
Varoufakis Joins French ‘Nuit Debout’ Anti-Labor Reform Protests (AFP)
Pope Flies 12 Syrian Refugees to Vatican in Potent Symbol for EU (BBG)

China’s strongarming all of eastern Asia into submission to its exports. This could get very ugly.

South Korea Exports To China Tumble 15.7% In Q1 (Yonhap)

South Korea suffered a 15.7% fall in exports to China in the first quarter this year, data showed Sunday, deepening its overall trade woes. It marks the biggest drop in seven years in South Korea’s outbound shipments to China, its single biggest market. China accounts for about 25% of South Korea’s total exports. Exports to China stood at $28.5 billion in the year’s first three months, down 15.7% from a year earlier, according to the Korea International Trade Association (KITA). By item, exports of semiconductors, flat panel displays, petrochemical products, car parts and synthetic resins recorded notable declines. Experts cited a structural problem and suggested a shift in trade strategy. “Over 70% of South Korean goods exported to China are intermediate goods. China’s demand for those is diminishing,” said Park Jin-woo, head of KITA’s strategic market research office.

“In particular, China is making massive investments and expanding facilities in such sectors as semiconductors, while reducing imports.” He stressed the need for targeting the consumer goods market instead. South Korea’s exports to the United States also sank 3.3% on-year to $16.8 billion in the January-March period and imports were down 4.9% to $10.1 billion. Trade with Japan remains in trouble as well. Exports fell 13.1% to $5.5 billion, representing a double-digit drop for the sixth consecutive quarter, and imports dwindled 11.2% to $10.6 billion. In contrast, exports to Vietnam, which has emerged as South Korea’s third-largest exports market, maintained an upward trend. Exports grew 7.6% to $7 billion, although growth rates showed signs of slowing.

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Mom and pop, shadow banking, P2P, Hollywood, Ponzi, it’s all there.

Chinese P2P Shadow Lender’s Woes Expose Its Global Tentacles (WSJ)

A crisis rocking a loosely regulated lending network is underlining the risks of a financing boom that has channeled Chinese household money into Hollywood movies and Wall Street deals Droves of teary-eyed investors from around China have descended on Shanghai Kuailu Investment Group’s swanky offices over the past week to demand their money back after the firm halted redemptions on wealth-management products for the roughly 250,000 clients of the firm and three affiliates. The uncertainty around investments handled by Kuailu could force a re-evaluation of a financing trend that has become widespread, in the latest knock to a financial system damaged by months of stock-market turmoil and a slowing economy.

Kuailu is one of thousands of finance companies in a universe of Chinese “shadow banks” that funnel investors funds to businesses and individuals, often with an assurance of high returns. Moody’s estimated credit extended by nonbank financing companies in China stood at $370 billion in mid-2015. Many Chinese refer to the diverse industry using English: P2P, as in peer-to-peer lending, though that business of matching small lenders and borrowers is just one segment of operations at Kuailu. Kuailu isn’t the first such lender to leave investors hanging amid recent collapses in the sector. What is distinctive is how its problems are exposing an international dimension to the industry, which bankers said is common but little understood.

The Shanghai firm invested in at least 20 feature films, including the coming release of “The Bombing” starring Bruce Willis, according to the company. Client money holds a slice of a $9 billion deal to privatize NYSE-listed Chinese Internet-security company Qihoo 360 Technology, firm marketing documents show. A crisis-management specialist that Kuailu’s founding chairman this month put in charge of sorting through $1.5 billion in liabilities told the WSJ it wasn’t a Ponzi scheme, a fear some investors have raised with the company. “No cash flow. That’s the issue,” said Xu Qi, who estimated assets cover about 90% of what is owed to investors, but that most of it is tied up in investments or projects that can’t be quickly converted to cash.

Companies like Kuailu got their start in peer-to-peer lending, initially a modest effort to supply money to Chinese households and entrepreneurs that was endorsed by top government officials as a way to power new streams of consumer activity. But crowdsourced lending has quickly expanded and now powers financing across China, from wedding loans to land speculation. Like banks, but with less regulation, such lenders compete aggressively for deposits, often via online platforms. Many attract money faster than they can thoroughly research investments, according to analysts.

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B Movie.

Doha Oil Freeze Talks Face Last-Minute Trouble (Reuters)

A meeting between OPEC and non-OPEC oil producers on an agreement to freeze output ran into last-minute trouble in Qatar on Sunday due to a new request by OPEC’s de facto leader Saudi Arabia, sources told Reuters. Oil ministers were heading into a meeting with the Qatari emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani – who was instrumental in promoting output stability in recent months – in an attempt to rescue the deal designed to bolster the flagging price of crude. “There is an issue. Experts are discussing how to find an acceptable solution. I’m confident they will come up with a solution,” one of the sources said. According to another source, Saudi Arabia said it wanted all OPEC members to participate in the talks, despite insisting earlier on excluding Iran because Tehran does not want to freeze production.

Saudi Arabia has taken a tough stance on Iran, the only major OPEC producer to have refused to participate in the freeze. Tehran says it needs to regain market share after the lifting of international sanctions against it in January. Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Bloomberg that the kingdom would restrain its output only if all other major producers, including Iran, agreed to freeze production. More than a dozen nations inside and outside OPEC have officially confirmed they would attend the meeting in Doha but the role of Iran has been the key issue overhanging the talks. “We have told some OPEC and non-OPEC members like Russia that they should accept the reality of Iran’s return to the oil market,” Iran’s oil minister, Bijan Zanganeh, was quoted as saying by his ministry’s news agency SHANA on Saturday.

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Iran will go all out.

Iran Central Banker Dismisses Idea Of Oil Output Cut (CNBC)

Iran’s top central banker is adding to growing doubts about an agreement to freeze output at a meeting of oil producers in Doha, Qatar on Sunday. Ahead of a pivotal meeting that may determine the near-term outlook for crude prices, Iran on Saturday announced that it would not participate in the conference. The country, still trying to recover from Western sanctions, is seen trying to preserve market share, and has steadfastly resisted any suggestions that Iran should freeze or curb output in order to prop up prices. On the sidelines of an IMF meeting in Washington, D.C., Valiollah Seif, head of Iran’s central bank told CNBC that asking Iran to freeze output right now is unfair.

“What Iran is doing right now is trying to get back and secure its share of the market,” Seif said, adding that “what Saudi Arabia is asking Iran to do is not a very fair [or] logical request.” On several occasions, the leadership of Saudi Arabia has repeatedly said they would agree to an output freeze as long as Iran did too. Currently, analysts believe the two rivals are unlikely to reach a near-term consensus. Seif told CNBC that Iran, as a member of OPEC, has a quota of 2.4 million barrels per day. Under sanctions for its nuclear program, that quota went unfilled.

At the same other members used their output to fill the gap. “And right now, Iran is trying to just take back the quota it is entitled to get, so we are going to do that and this is the main direction of our economy,” Seif added. He went as far as to say other OPEC members are to blame for the sharp fall in oil prices, which are down more than 37% year to date. “This request is coming from those countries which are responsible for this surplus production in the market, because they have exceeded output beyond their quota, and I think this is not fair,” Seif added. He cautioned that this was his personal viewpoint, and the ultimate decision lies with Iran’s oil minister, Bijan Zangeneh.

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Predators experimenting on an entire nation.

Greece’s Creditors Weigh Extra Austerity Measures to Break Deadlock (WSJ)

Greece’s creditors are considering seeking extra austerity measures that would be triggered if Athens misses its fiscal targets, in a bid to bridge differences between Europe and the IMF and break a deadlock threatening to unravel the Greek bailout. Under the proposal, say officials involved in the discussions, Greece would have to sign up to so-called contingency measures of up to about €3 billion, on top of the package of about €5 billion in tax increases and spending cuts Greece and its lenders are already negotiating. The country would only have to implement the extra measures if falls short of targeted budget surpluses for coming years that were set out in last year’s bailout agreement, the officials say.

The idea, which has support from the eurozone’s dominant power Germany, hasn’t yet been agreed upon, and officials on the creditors’ side say it would be politically hard for Greece’s embattled government to swallow. Creditors say the contingency-measures idea could finally overcome the monthslong disagreement between European institutions and the IMF about the outlook for Greece’s budget. That disunity has paralyzed talks about what Greece needs to do to secure a new IMF loan program and unlock rescue funding from Europe. Without billions of euros in fresh bailout funds, Greece faces bankruptcy in July, when large debts fall due. Months of talks without agreement have stoked concern in Europe about another Greek debt drama this summer, reviving fears the country could tumble out of the eurozone.

Athens has argued that imposing even-more austerity measures would go beyond what was agreed in the July 2015 bailout deal, according to people familiar with Athens’s thinking. The deadlock among creditors since last fall stems from Germany’s insistence that Greece get no more money from the eurozone’s bailout fund until the IMF agrees to lend more money too. Since Greece’s bailout odyssey began in 2010, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has insisted IMF involvement is essential. But the IMF is unconvinced by the math of the eurozone’s July 2015 bailout plan for Greece. The fund says it can’t resume lending to Greece unless there is a combination of a credible fiscal plan for Greece and debt relief from Europe.

The creditors and Greece agreeing on a fiscal plan would allow for the start of concrete talks on a second thorny issue: debt relief for Greece. Germany is deeply reluctant to offer much debt relief, but tends to agree with the IMF about the weaknesses of Greece’s budget, rather than with the more upbeat assessments of the European Union’s executive arm, the Commission. The Commission believes around €5 billion of austerity measures would be enough for Greece to hit a key target in the bailout plan: a primary budget surplus, meaning before interest payments, of 3.5% of gross domestic product. But the IMF is more pessimistic about Greek growth and finances. It insists about €8 billion of savings are needed to hit the target. The European side’s proposed measures, the IMF thinks, would only get Greece to a primary surplus of 1.5% of GDP.

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Dream on.

Panama and a New Copernican Revolution (Tett)

The name Nicolaus Copernicus is not usually mentioned in the same breath as corporate tax planning or Mossack Fonseca. This month, however, it probably should be. Six centuries ago, the Polish astronomer formulated a model of the universe that put the sun, rather than the earth, at the centre of the solar system. It was a paradigm shift that led to a transformation in the way that we view the universe. I suspect something similar might be happening with global finance. This month, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) published some 11.5 million documents leaked from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. Among other things, these gave details about offshore companies the firm created for the elite.

The leak has already provoked a number of political scandals: last week, the Icelandic prime minister resigned after it emerged that he had an offshore company in Panama; and David Cameron, the British prime minister, has faced a steady stream of criticism about an offshore company created by his late father. Meanwhile, revelations about Chinese and Russian billionaires could spark further recriminations. To my mind, it is not just the revelations concerning the rich and famous that make the Panama Papers so fascinating; after all, it is not illegal to create such companies, unless they are used to evade taxes or launder money. Instead, the most interesting issue is whether this leak will create something akin to a Copernican moment.

Think about it. Most of us vaguely know that money flows through offshore centres but the details of this world are very shadowy and opaque. Thus, insofar as any of us have ever tried to visualise the 21st-century “map” of global finance, we assumed that the visible onshore activity was the “sun” that dominated this universe — and offshore finance just a fuzzy little planet, that hovered on the edge. But the Panama Papers have given contours to that fuzzy, offshore world. More specifically, anyone who wants to get a sense of what has been happening in Panama can now go on to the ICIJ website and search those 11.5 million documents with keywords. Try it out at home — it is as simple as a Wikipedia search.

As further details tumble out, it’s not just more names that will be generated but numbers too. Even before the data were readily available, activist groups such as the Tax Justice Network had claimed that some $21tn-$32tn was being stashed in offshore centres, but they had no real way of verifying the figure. With the Panama Papers online, more precise figures could emerge — and with that the ability to compare them with the overall picture of global banking. Could this spark a bigger policy change, such as a crackdown on tax avoidance or money laundering? A cynic might argue not. Remember, powerful vested interests are involved. But if you want to get a sense of what can happen when that mental map flips, think about how attitudes to shadow banking have changed in the past decade.

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EU does not rhyme with democracy, and never will. We’re going to see a lot of crazy claims and numbers pre-referendum.

Wolfgang Schäuble Warns UK Of Tough Brexit Negotiations (FT)

Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s finance minister, has warned British chancellor George Osborne that Berlin would be a tough negotiator if the UK votes to leave the EU. Speaking on the sidelines of the IMF spring meetings on Saturday, Mr Schäuble, one of the strongest forces in European politics, also jested that British football teams in a post-Brexit world should be excluded from the European champions league — something not actually linked to EU membership. His confirmation that Germany would not readily agree to an easy trading relationship with Britain after Brexit undermines the Leave campaign’s argument that the UK would be able to secure preferential EU trade deals without freedom of movement of people or the need for Britain to contribute to the EU budget.

The German finance minister, who is known for his unyielding negotiating positions, told German media that he wanted the UK to remain in the EU and did not want to inflame the British debate. But he added that if Britain were to leave, the process would not be easy. The Treasury confirmed that Mr Schäuble told Mr Osborne just how tough negotiations would be after Brexit during a bilateral meeting this weekend — and made the same joke about European football. In Washington this weekend, finance minsters from around the world have gradually been waking up to the possibility that Britain will seek to leave the EU within a matter of months. The IMF said it would wreak “severe damage” to the British and European economies.

Christine Lagarde, the IMF head, admitted this week that while she hoped Europe would avoid having to deal with Brexit, “the continued relationship with other countries in the EU would be at risk”. The difficulties of post-Brexit negotiations will be amplified by elections in Germany and France in 2017, European finance ministers said privately on the sidelines of the IMF meetings. With populist rightwing Eurosceptic parties threatening mainstream politics in both countries, the domestic incentives would prevent concessions to Britain as politicians would need to show their electorates that leaving the EU comes with a heavy price.

Many European officials and ministers have tried to avoid the subject of how they would negotiate with the UK after Brexit, saying instead that they hoped the British people would vote to remain. But some did speak out. Klaus Regling, head of the European Stability Mechanism, said that the leave campaign’s ambition to secure full access to the single market without accepting free movement of people and budget contributions “has never happened in Europe”. “I’m pretty certain [the negotiations ] would take quite a while — two years is not enough — so there would be several years of high uncertainty, which would have a negative impact on the UK economy,” Mr Regling said.

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BlackRock and ‘corporate responsibility’.. Yeah, sure.

BlackRock Wields Its Big Stick Like a Wet Noodle (Morgenson)

For several years, Laurence D. Fink, chairman and chief executive of BlackRock, the money management giant, has been on a crusade, exhorting corporations to change their short-term ways. Executives should forgo tricks that reward short-term stock traders, he argues, like share buybacks purchased at high valuations. Instead, corporate managers should focus on creating value for long-term shareholders. It’s an admirable argument that has won Mr. Fink wise-man status on Wall Street and accolades in the press. Hillary Clinton has echoed his ideas on the campaign trail. Certainly, as the head of BlackRock, Mr. Fink wields an outsize stick. With $4.6 trillion in assets and ownership of shares in roughly 15,000 companies, BlackRock is the world’s largest investment manager.

But if Mr. Fink really wants to get the attention of company executives on stock buybacks and other corporate governance issues, why doesn’t BlackRock vote more often against CEO pay packages of companies that play the short-term game? Executive compensation is inextricably linked to the shareholder-unfriendly actions Mr. Fink has identified; voting against pay packages infected by short-termism would help curb the problem. But BlackRock rarely takes such a stance. From July 1, 2014, to last June 30, according to Proxy Insight, a data analysis firm, BlackRock voted to support pay practices at companies 96.2% of the time. On pay issues, anyway, Mr. Fink’s big stick is more like a wet noodle. BlackRock’s “yes” percentage runs far higher than that of other money managers that express concern about corporate responsibility. Domini Funds supported pay practices only 6% of the time during the period, while Calvert Investments did so at 46% of companies.

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As if Auckland real estate wasn’t bad enough yet.

Foreign Investment Turns New Zealand Stock Market Into A Casino (BBG)

As fund manager Mark Williams deliberated from his London office where next to invest, the world’s most remote stock market was just too good to pass up. That’s worrying locals, 11,000 miles away in New Zealand. The S&P/NZX 50 Index is the world’s best-performing developed stock gauge this year, climbing more than 7% to a record after overseas buying of equities jumped 21% in 2015. That’s driven stock valuations in the South-Pacific nation close to a record high, leaving them more expensive than anywhere else in the region. Funds from Henderson Global Investors to Liontrust Asset Management are buying into New Zealand, lured by dividends almost double the global average, rising earnings and expectations the central bank will cut interest rates to maintain growth.

Yet with a market cap of about $75 billion, smaller than the publicly traded value of Nike, opportunities are becoming more limited, says Matthew Goodson, an Auckland-based investor. “We’ve seen significant offshore inflows into larger-cap stocks and that’s driven their valuations to unusually high levels,” Goodson, who helps oversee about $1 billion at Salt Funds Management, said by phone. “It’s swamped the market and it leaves them very vulnerable. We’re somewhat nervous.” Foreigners now own about one third of New Zealand’s market, about three times the overseas ownership of U.S. equities, according to estimates from brokerage JBWere. Mark Williams, a money manager at Liontrust, is optimistic, given he expects the nation’s central bank will cut its key interest rate from an already record-low 2.25%.

While New Zealand accounts for less than 0.1% of the MSCI All Country World Index, Williams said he has 4.5% of his fund invested in the country. He bought Spark New Zealand and Fletcher Building in March, attracted by dividend yields of more than 5%. Spark, a communications provider, is the largest member by weighting of the S&P/NZX 50 gauge. “We find plenty of opportunities in New Zealand,” Williams, who helps manage $6.7 billion running an Asian equity-income fund at Liontrust, said by phone from London. “Interest rates remain relatively high, so that could lead to further cuts.”

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This author gets it spectacularly wrong.

Free Trade Has Won: Adapt Or Die Is The Only Option Left To Us (G.)

The Tata Steel sale has revived the battle between protectionists and free traders, a debate that became particularly acute in the run-up to the creation of the World Trade Organisation in 1995, which marked the success of “free traders” all around the world. In the protectionist camp, there is now a wide range of political parties from the extreme left to the extreme right: from Syriza to Ukip, from the Front National to Podemos. The common element for all these parties is that they dream of returning to a time when “we were in control”; when we could easily open or close our borders; when the world was manageable and small and we did not have to compromise. That is why they want national rules rather than international ones; and that is also why ultimately most of them despise the EU, because it is based not on direct control but on compromise.

The problem with that notion is that such a cosy world does not exist any more. The new generations expect to talk, travel and trade with each other all over the world, no matter where they are. My children, for example, know more about startup products released for crowdfunding around the world than about what is sold in shops in our high street; they respond to fashions that are created thousands of miles away; and they expect products to reach them almost instantaneously, no matter where they are made. Fluidity, speed, seamlessness and complexity define the 21st century. Fighting those trends makes sense only if you are of such an age and means that you can afford the luxury of whingeing about the present and dreaming nostalgically about the past, but if you are still trying to make your way in life, you have to embrace change and adapt.

Companies are rightly responding as quickly as possible to those new demands and, as a result, we are witnessing a level of international outsourcing that we could never have imagined. “Made in” labels mean little nowadays: companies based in the west often have their production plants elsewhere and use components sourced from third countries; and are financed by investors in yet other countries. If that were not complex enough, when countries impose trade barriers and erect controls, companies simply move overnight. Regulators and governments often do not stand a chance. That does not mean regulators should let modern trade become the Wild West. But it means they need to have the flexibility and tools to react better and faster.

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Banks create money out of nothing. They’re not intermediaries.

Economists Ignore One of Capitalism’s Biggest Problems (Steve Keen)

I like Joe Stiglitz, both professionally and personally. His Globalization and its Discontents was virtually the only work by a Nobel Laureate economist that I cited favourably in my Debunking Economics, because he had the courage to challenge the professional orthodoxy on the “Washington Consensus”. Far more than most in the economics mainstream—like Ken Rogoff for example—Joe is capable of thinking outside its box. But Joe’s latest public contribution—“The Great Malaise Continues” on Project Syndicate—simply echoes the mainstream on a crucial point that explains why the US economy is at stall speed, which the mainstream simply doesn’t get. Joe correctly notes that “the world faces a deficiency of aggregate demand”, and attributes this to both “growing inequality and a mindless wave of fiscal austerity”, neither of which I dispute.

But then he adds that part of the problem is that “our banks … are not fit to fulfill their purpose” because “they have failed in their essential function of intermediation”: Between long-term savers (for example, sovereign wealth funds and those saving for retirement) and long-term investment in infrastructure stands our short-sighted and dysfunctional financial sector… Former US Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke once said that the world is suffering from a “savings glut.” That might have been the case had the best use of the world’s savings been investing in shoddy homes in the Nevada desert. But in the real world, there is a shortage of funds; even projects with high social returns often can’t get financing. I’m the last one to defend banks, but here Joe is quite wrong: the banks have very good reasons not to “fulfill their purpose” today, because that purpose is not what Joe thinks it is.

Banks don’t “intermediate loans”, they “originate loans”, and they have every reason not to originate right now. In effect, Joe is complaining that banks aren’t doing what economics textbooks say they should do. But those textbooks are profoundly wrong about the actual functioning of banks, and until the economics profession gets its head around this and why it matters, then the economy will be stuck in the Great Malaise that Joe is hoping to lift us out of. The argument that banks merely intermediate between savers and investors leads the mainstream to a manifestly false conclusion: that the level of private debt today is too low, because too little private debt is being created right now. In reality, the level of private debt is way too high, and that’s why so little lending is occurring.

I can make the case empirically for non-economists pretty easily, thanks to an aside that Joe makes in his article. He observes that when WWII ended, many economists feared that there would be a period of stagnation: Others, harking back to the profound pessimism after the end of World War II, fear that the global economy could slip into depression, or at least into prolonged stagnation. In fact, the period from 1945 till 1965 is now regarded as the “Golden Age of Capitalism”. There was a severe slump initially as the economy changed from a war footing to a private one, but within 3 years, that transition was over and the US economy prospered—growing by as much as 10% in real terms in some years. (see Figure 1). The average from 1945 till 1965 was growth at 2.8% a year. In contrast, the average rate of economic growth since 2008 to today is precisely zero.

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Time for Trump?!

Saudi Arabia Warns of Economic Fallout if Congress Passes 9/11 Bill (NYT)

Saudi Arabia has told the Obama administration and members of Congress that it will sell off hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of American assets held by the kingdom if Congress passes a bill that would allow the Saudi government to be held responsible in American courts for any role in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The Obama administration has lobbied Congress to block the bill’s passage, according to administration officials and congressional aides from both parties, and the Saudi threats have been the subject of intense discussions in recent weeks between lawmakers and officials from the State Department and the Pentagon. The officials have warned senators of diplomatic and economic fallout from the legislation.

Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, delivered the kingdom’s message personally last month during a trip to Washington, telling lawmakers that Saudi Arabia would be forced to sell up to $750 billion in treasury securities and other assets in the United States before they could be in danger of being frozen by American courts. Several outside economists are skeptical that the Saudis will follow through, saying that such a sell-off would be difficult to execute and would end up crippling the kingdom’s economy. But the threat is another sign of the escalating tensions between Saudi Arabia and the United States. The administration, which argues that the legislation would put Americans at legal risk overseas, has been lobbying so intently against the bill that some lawmakers and families of Sept. 11 victims are infuriated.

In their view, the Obama administration has consistently sided with the kingdom and has thwarted their efforts to learn what they believe to be the truth about the role some Saudi officials played in the terrorist plot. “It’s stunning to think that our government would back the Saudis over its own citizens,” said Mindy Kleinberg, whose husband died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 and who is part of a group of victims’ family members pushing for the legislation. President Obama will arrive in Riyadh on Wednesday for meetings with King Salman and other Saudi officials. It is unclear whether the dispute over the Sept. 11 legislation will be on the agenda for the talks. Saudi officials have long denied that the kingdom had any role in the Sept. 11 plot, and the 9/11 Commission found “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization.”

But critics have noted that the commission’s narrow wording left open the possibility that less senior officials or parts of the Saudi government could have played a role. Suspicions have lingered, partly because of the conclusions of a 2002 congressional inquiry into the attacks that cited some evidence that Saudi officials living in the United States at the time had a hand in the plot. Those conclusions, contained in 28 pages of the report, still have not been released publicly. The dispute comes as bipartisan criticism is growing in Congress about Washington’s alliance with Saudi Arabia, for decades a crucial American ally in the Middle East and half of a partnership that once received little scrutiny from lawmakers. Last week, two senators introduced a resolution that would put restrictions on American arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which have expanded during the Obama administration.

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French protests have been going on for a while. Not sure Yanis should desire a role in this.

Varoufakis Joins French ‘Nuit Debout’ Anti-Labor Reform Protests (AFP)

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis on Saturday addressed opponents of the French government’s workplace reforms at a protest in Paris, telling them the planned changes would “devalue labor.” “He (French President Francois Hollande) wants to devalue French labor… it can’t work,” Varoufakis told protesters as he paid a visit to the latest “Nuit Debout” (Up All Night) gathering at the city’s vast Place de la Republique. “Devaluing French labor can only deepen the crisis… I’m bringing to you solidarity from Athens,” he told the crowd. The labor reforms of France’s Socialist government aim to make it easier for struggling companies to fire people.

The government says they will make France’s rigid labor market more flexible but opponents say the reforms are too pro-business and will fail to reduce the 25% jobless rate among the young. Hundreds, at times thousands, of people have been demonstrating every night for the past two weeks at the Place de la Republique in central Paris. The labor reforms are a unifying theme of the gatherings but the so-called “Nuit Debout” movement is broader, embracing a range of anti-establishment grievances. The nightly protests have been marred by sporadic violence. The latest clashes erupted late Friday when, according to police, some 100 protesters set rubbish on fire and threw bottles and stones at officers, who responded with tear gas. Twenty-two people were arrested. The “Nuit Debout” demonstrations have spread to cities across France, becoming a major headache for the government.

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I still can’t muster much enthousiasm about this. He should have used much harsher words. There are still 3,000 people locked up there, including many children.

Pope Flies 12 Syrian Refugees to Vatican in Potent Symbol for EU (BBG)

Pope Francis made an emotional visit to the Greek island of Lesbos Saturday, plucking 12 Syrian refugees to take back to Rome with him and draw attention to what he called Europe’s most serious humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II. Francis, who has made migration a defining issue of his papacy, visited a refugee center as he appealed to the international community to deal with the migrants crisis as a humanitarian catastrophe. The pope said there was “reason to weep” on his visit to the refugees, and he brushed aside any political reasons for his invitation to have three families from Syria, 12 people including six children, accompany him on the flight home. “It is a purely humanitarian thing,” he told reporters on his chartered plane.

The Vatican will take financial responsibility for the families and an organization of volunteers, Comunità di Sant’Egidio, will initially host the groups, according to a statement. During the five-hour visit to Lesbos, the pontiff visited a refugee center with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos, the spiritual leader of the Orthodox Church, and was welcomed by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. He also criticized the use of walls to keep migrants out. “In reality, barriers create divisions instead of promoting the true progress of peoples, and divisions sooner or later lead to conflicts,” Francis said in a speech at the port of Lesbos.

The visit was made days after migrants to Greece started being sent back to Turkey under a European Union agreement that has been criticized by the Vatican and denounced by human rights groups as impractical and legally suspect. Lesbos has become a repository for migrants seeking a better life in the EU: there were 3,560 refugees on the island as of Wednesday morning with more arriving each day, according to a daily tally issued by the Greek authorities. As he began the journey to Greece, the pope told reporters on his flight that the trip is marked by sadness. “This is important. It is a sad trip,” he said. “Refugees are not numbers, they are people who have faces, names, stories and need to be treated as such,” the pontiff said through his Twitter account.

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Apr 162016
 
 April 16, 2016  Posted by at 9:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


NPC Pennsylvania Avenue storefront view, Washington DC 1921

ECB Sees No Evidence Of Asset Bubbles: Draghi (Reuters)
China Buys ‘Recovery’ With A Record Amount Of New Debt (ZH)
Flood of Chinese Cotton Exports Sends Global Prices Tumbling (BBG)
Greek Banks’ EFSF Notes Eligible For ECB’s QE Purchases (Reuters)
Startup Investors Hit the Brakes (WSJ)
Goodrich Petroleum Files For Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection (WSJ)
Saudi Prince Reiterates Oil Freeze Depends on Others Joining (BBG)
Neoliberalism – The Ideology At The Root Of All Our Problems (Monbiot)
Erdogan and the Satirist: Inside Merkel’s Comedy Conundrum (Spiegel)
March Global Temperature Smashes 100-Year Record (G.)
Pope Francis Flies To Lesbos To Highlight Humanitarian Crisis In Europe (G.)
Pope Francis Visits Lesbos, Frontline Of Europe’s Refugee Crisis (Reuters)
Lesbos Refugee Detention Centre Whitewashed For Pope’s Visit (Ind.)

Apparently not at all worried about credibility, then.

ECB Sees No Evidence Of Asset Bubbles: Draghi (Reuters)

The ECB will continue to do what is necessary to boost inflation and has not seen evidence so far that exceptionally loose monetary policies are creating asset bubbles, ECB President Mario Draghi said on Friday. Draghi added that the economic outlook for the euro zone faces uncertainty due to risks to growth prospects in emerging market economies, a clouded outlook for oil prices and geopolitical risks. “While accommodative monetary policies over an extended horizon may have unintended consequences for certain sectors in the form of excessive risk-taking and misaligned asset prices, we do not currently see any broad-based evidence of excesses in the behavior of banks and other financial institutions and valuations of euro area asset prices,” Draghi said in a statement. Draghi also repeated the ECB’s forward guidance that the key policy rates will remain at the current or lower levels for an extended period of time, well past the horizon of the net asset purchases.

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Over $1 trillion in just one quarter. My comment yesterday: “This is such a contradiction in terms it’s crazy the WSJ prints it: “China’s economy may have stabilized for now, thanks to gobs of new debt..”

China Buys ‘Recovery’ With A Record Amount Of New Debt (ZH)

When China reported its economic data dump last night which was modestly better than expected (one has to marvel at China’s phenomenal ability to calculate its GDP just two weeks after the quarter ended – not even the Bureau of Economic Analysis is that fast), the investing community could finally exhale: after all, the biggest source of “global” instability for the Fed appears to have been neutralized. But what was the reason for this seeming halt to China’s incipient hard landing? The answer was in the secondary data that was reported alongside the primary economic numbers: the March new loan and Total Social Financing report.

As the PBOC reported last night, Chinese banks made 1.37 trillion yuan ($211.23 billion) in new local-currency loans in March, well above analyst expectations, as the central bank scrambled to keep the economy engorged with new loans “to keep policy accomodative to underpin the slowing economy” as Reuters put it. This was up from February’s 726.6 billion yuan but off a record of 2.51 trillion yuan extended in January. Outstanding yuan loans grew 14.7% by month-end on an annual basis, versus expectations of 14.5%. But it wasn’t the total loan tally that is the key figure tracking China’s credit largesse: for that one has to look at the total social financing, which in just the month of March rose to 2.34 trillion yuan, the equivalent of more than a third of a trillion in dollars!

And there is your answer, because if one adds up the Total Social Financing injected in the first quarter, one gets a stunning $1 trillion dollars in new credit, or $1,001,000,000,000 to be precise, shoved down China’s economic throat. As shown on the chart below, this was an all time high in dollar terms, and puts to rest any naive suggestion that China may be pursuing “debt reform.” Quite the contrary, China has once again resorted to the old “growth” model where GDP is to be saved at any cost, even if it means flooding the economy with record amount of debt.

And to put it all together, the PBOC also reported that the broad M2 money supply measure grew 13.4% in March from a year earlier, or precisely double the rate of growth of GDP. This means that it took two dollars in new loans to create one dollar of GDP growth. With China’s debt/GDP already estimate at 350%, how much longer can China sustain this stunning debt (and by definition, deposit) growth continue?

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China has too much steel, too much cotton, and too much of lots of other things.

Flood of Chinese Cotton Exports Sends Global Prices Tumbling (BBG)

China is about to open the floodgates on its huge supplies of cotton, sparking a rout in prices. The country plans to auction about 2 million metric tons from May through August, a government statement showed Friday. That’s almost equal to total shipments expected this season from American growers, the world’s top exporters. The auction sales would represent about 14% of the 13.9-million tons that the U.S Department of Agriculture estimates that China has in its stockpiles. Cotton futures fell the most in six weeks. The price slid more than 7% in the past year in part because the large Chinese inventories curbed overseas purchases from the Asian nation, the biggest consumer of the fiber.

“We knew this was coming, but it’s probably a bit more than what people were expecting” and reduces the country’s import outlook in the near term, Keith Brown, president of brokerage Keith Brown & Co. in Moultrie, Georgia, said in a telephone interview. Adding to the outlook for bigger supplies is favorable growing weather in U.S. cotton areas. Rains in the next few days will boost soil moisture in Texas, the country’s top producer, according to MDA Weather Services in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Drier conditions will aid planting in the U.S. Southeast, the forecaster said. American farmers are expected to increase plantings in the season that starts in August as low prices for competing crops leave farmers with few options, the USDA projects.

“Any increase in production, as well as any volume pushed out of Chinese reserves, will be added to globally available supply in the coming crop year,” industry researcher Cotton Inc. said in a report this week. “High levels of available supply can be expected to keep downward pressure on prices.” Still, the auction sales come as China’s crop is set to shrink this year to the lowest in more than a decade, USDA data show. That’s reducing global output by more than 16%, the biggest annual slide since at least 1961. As the Asian country depletes inventories, in the “long-run it’s positive,” for prices because it means that there will be less supply further down the road, boosting the outlook for eventual imports, Brown said.

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Draghi buys anything now.

Greek Banks’ EFSF Notes Eligible For ECB’s QE Purchases (Reuters)

The ECB has included European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) notes in its list of eligible securities for purchasing under its so-called quantitative easing program, an ECB spokesperson said on Friday. “Up to 50% of the outstanding amount can be purchased as this is the limit applicable to securities issued by eligible international organizations,” the spokesperson told Reuters. With holdings of more than €30 billion of such notes after rounds of recapitalization, Greek banks stand to make gains on the securities.

Bank shares were rebounding 16.2% on Friday after losses in the previous sessions. “The market jumped on this one-off positive piece of news after days of negativity,” said Eurobank analyst Nick Koskoletos. Banks had not been not allowed to sell the EFSF notes in the market but they repoed them with the ECB to obtain cheap funding. Apart from capital gains, selling a portion of their EFSF notes to the ECB could reduce the amount Greek banks borrow from it.

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The focus on startups and unicorns smells of despair, a last ditch attempt to deny the demise of the economy.

Startup Investors Hit the Brakes (WSJ)

Venture-capital investors hit the brakes on investing in the first quarter, following a funding bonanza the past two years that pushed valuations of once-hot technology startups to soaring heights. Funding for U.S. startups fell 25% from the fourth quarter to $13.9 billion, the largest quarterly decline on record since the dot-com bust, according to data from Dow Jones VentureSource. The numbers of deals also hit a four-year low of 884. The drop threatens to hasten a slump rippling through Silicon Valley that is pushing startups to slash marketing budgets, lay off staff and dial back lofty ambitions. Investors such as mutual funds and big banks that pumped money into startups on the promise of big returns have since retrenched, as a punishing market for initial public offerings has spoiled the runaway optimism.

The sky-high valuations of last year have retreated as a result. In the first quarter, the median value of U.S. startups plummeted to $18.5 million after hitting a peak of $61.5 million in last year’s third quarter. “I think investors are nervous, sitting on the sidelines waiting to see what happens,” said Brian Mulvey at PeakSpan Capital, which recently raised a venture fund of $150 million. Investors caution the first-quarter data spans a relatively small period and that capital tends to fluctuate widely throughout the year. VentureSource counts funding rounds for U.S.-based companies with at least one venture-capital firm as an investor. It doesn’t include startups only backed by individuals or majority-owned by corporations or private-equity firms. Several other data providers with varying methodologies show less of a decline.

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Commodities break on plunging demand.

Goodrich Petroleum Files For Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection (WSJ)

Goodrich Petroleum filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy Friday with investment firms slated to pick up the pieces, as yet another company sought court protection amid the shakeout in the oil and gas industry. Houston-based Goodrich, an oil and gas producer which struggled to cut its debt as crude prices tumbled, has a deal in place that would erase $400 million in debt from its books through a swap with a group of investors that own bonds the company issued last year. The Goodrich bondholders, who include Franklin Advisors, Penn Capital Management and Jefferies, have agreed to forgive $175 million in debt in exchange for ownership of the company. The deal is part of a larger bankruptcy-exit plan that would pay off or carry over $40 million of higher-ranking senior bank debt and wipe out $224 million in unsecured bonds.

Goodrich’s bankruptcy deal mirrors those proposed recently by other struggling oil producers as the energy slump transforms a U.S. industry once dominated by Texas oil men into one controlled by financial firms from across the nation. Falling oil prices have roiled the industry since the summer of 2014. Since that time, about 60 North American oil and gas companies have filed for bankruptcy, involving nearly $20 billion in debt, according to the law firm Haynes & Boone. On Thursday, Houston’s Energy XXI filed for bankruptcy to complete a debt-for-equity swap with a group of bondholders that includes Oaktree Capital Management.

Denver-based Venoco filed for bankruptcy last month after striking a deal with Apollo Global Management and MAST Capital Management that will erase nearly $1 billion in debt. Energy & Exploration Partners, Magnum Hunter Resources and New Gulf Resourcesare among other energy companies that have brokered similar deals. The rising number of debt-for-equity swaps is due to lenders’ unwillingness to accept the fire-sale prices that potential buyers are offering for oil assets, according to Ian Peck, head of Haynes & Boone’s bankruptcy practice.

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Orchestrated theater. Too many producers can’t afford a freeze.

Saudi Prince Reiterates Oil Freeze Depends on Others Joining (BBG)

Saudi Arabia won’t restrain its oil production unless other producers, including Iran, agree to freeze output at a meeting this weekend in Doha, the kingdom’s deputy crown prince said. The world’s biggest crude exporter would cap its market share at about 10.3 million to 10.4 million barrels a day, if producers agree to the freeze, Prince Mohammed bin Salman said during an interview on Thursday at King Salman’s private farm in Diriyah, the original home of the Al Saud royal family. “If all major producers don’t freeze production, we will not freeze production,” said Prince Mohammed, 30, who has emerged as Saudi Arabia’s leading economic force. “If we don’t freeze, then we will sell at any opportunity we get.”

At least 15 nations including Saudi Arabia and Russia, the world’s two largest crude oil producers, will gather in Doha on April 17 to discuss freezing output to stabilize an oversupplied market. Prince Mohammed has said Saudi Arabia’s commitment to a production cap would depend on Iran’s participation. Iran’s oil minister has dismissed the prospect of joining the deal as “ridiculous” for now. A Russian official said it was possible to reach a deal in Doha to freeze oil output, regardless of Iran whose crude shipments have risen by more than 600,000 barrels a day this month. That increase has added to the pressure on producer nations to reach an agreement to prop up prices as economies from Venezuela to Nigeria reel from the market rout. The meeting in Doha is only relevant if no deal is reached, prompting a sharp selloff in the markets, according to Ed Morse at Citigroup.

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Promising, but incomplete.

Neoliberalism – The Ideology At The Root Of All Our Problems (Monbiot)

[..] It may seem strange that a doctrine promising choice and freedom should have been promoted with the slogan “there is no alternative”. But, as Hayek remarked on a visit to Pinochet’s Chile – one of the first nations in which the programme was comprehensively applied – “my personal preference leans toward a liberal dictatorship rather than toward a democratic government devoid of liberalism”. The freedom that neoliberalism offers, which sounds so beguiling when expressed in general terms, turns out to mean freedom for the pike, not for the minnows. Freedom from trade unions and collective bargaining means the freedom to suppress wages. Freedom from regulation means the freedom to poison rivers, endanger workers, charge iniquitous rates of interest and design exotic financial instruments.

Freedom from tax means freedom from the distribution of wealth that lifts people out of poverty. As Naomi Klein documents in The Shock Doctrine, neoliberal theorists advocated the use of crises to impose unpopular policies while people were distracted: for example, in the aftermath of Pinochet’s coup, the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina, which Friedman described as “an opportunity to radically reform the educational system” in New Orleans. Where neoliberal policies cannot be imposed domestically, they are imposed internationally, through trade treaties incorporating “investor-state dispute settlement”: offshore tribunals in which corporations can press for the removal of social and environmental protections. When parliaments have voted to restrict sales of cigarettes, protect water supplies from mining companies, freeze energy bills or prevent pharmaceutical firms from ripping off the state, corporations have sued, often successfully. Democracy is reduced to theatre.

Another paradox of neoliberalism is that universal competition relies upon universal quantification and comparison. The result is that workers, job-seekers and public services of every kind are subject to a pettifogging, stifling regime of assessment and monitoring, designed to identify the winners and punish the losers. The doctrine that Von Mises proposed would free us from the bureaucratic nightmare of central planning has instead created one. Neoliberalism was not conceived as a self-serving racket, but it rapidly became one. Economic growth has been markedly slower in the neoliberal era (since 1980 in Britain and the US) than it was in the preceding decades; but not for the very rich. Inequality in the distribution of both income and wealth, after 60 years of decline, rose rapidly in this era, due to the smashing of trade unions, tax reductions, rising rents, privatisation and deregulation.

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Lots of criticism of Merkel for this, not sure that’s justified. She must be careful when it comes to trumping the law. Let the courts decide. It’s not as if they’ll lock the guy up. Many EU nations have similar antiquated ‘insult to foreign leaders’ laws, by the way.

Erdogan and the Satirist: Inside Merkel’s Comedy Conundrum (Spiegel)

Jan Böhmermann has disappeared. He’s not giving interviews; he’s not answering his phone. Since Monday, he has also gone silent on Twitter, where he is normally extremely active. He has hardly left his home in Cologne in the last few days and he is also now under police protection. He had his Thursday show on the German public broadcaster ZDF cancelled and his Sunday radio show on RBB will likewise not be broadcast this week. It was cancelled last Sunday as well. Böhmermann was already in his home studio ready to record when he realized that he was in no mood to be funny. So he called it off. Friends and acquaintances who have had contact with him in the last few days are worried that he won’t be able to withstand the pressure.

The ZDF satirist is a sensitive person, even if that hasn’t always been part of his public persona. The scandal surrounding the disparaging poem he wrote about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has affected him more deeply than many have realized. Perhaps one has to be vulnerable to emotional pain in order to know how to inflict such pain on others. Two weeks ago, when he was still active on social media, he tweeted out the Beatles hit “The Fool on the Hill.” The song is about a simpleton sitting alone on a hill with a silly grin on his face – and everyone can see that he is a half-wit. It is essentially how people see Böhmermann, and it is how he wanted to be seen: The misunderstood fool. The tweet went out two days after his insulting Erdogan poem was broadcast on his ZDF show “Neo Magazin Royale” and one day after the broadcaster deleted the show from its video hub and distanced itself from Böhmermann’s verses.

And that was just the beginning. Prior to the scandal, Böhmermann had led a niche existence in Germany’s media landscape, but now everybody in the country knows who he is. The 35-year-old has triggered an affair of state, one which has served to demonstrate just how limited Chancellor Angela Merkel’s power really is. And how absurd German law can be. If Böhmermann intended to show just how powerful satire can be, he has been incredibly successful. The Böhmermann scandal is now entering its third week, and only now is it becoming clear just what the five-minute clip has set in motion. It didn’t just shine the spotlight on the Turkish president’s sensitivity and the limits of chancellor’s steadfastness, it has also unsettled all of Germany – a country which normally doesn’t spend much time thinking about satire and art and the freedoms associated with them.

On Friday, the need for doing so became even more apparent. Chancellor Merkel announced that the federal government had granted permission for criminal proceedings to go ahead against Jan Böhmermann under the controversial Paragraph 103 of the German Criminal Code. The law makes it illegal to insult the representatives of foreign countries. The federal government must approve the initiation of Paragraph 103 proceedings.

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These things take much longer to sink in then they do to happen.

March Global Temperature Smashes 100-Year Record (G.)

The global temperature in March has shattered a century-long record and by the greatest margin yet seen for any month. February was far above the long-term average globally, driven largely by climate change, and was described by scientists as a “shocker” and signalling “a kind of climate emergency”. But data released by the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) shows that March was even hotter. Compared with the 20th-century average, March was 1.07C hotter across the globe, according to the JMA figures, while February was 1.04C higher. The JMA measurements go back to 1891 and show that every one of the past 11 months has been the hottest ever recorded for that month.

Data released released later on Friday by Nasa confirmed last month was the hottest March on record, but the US agency’s data indicated February had seen the biggest margin. The Nasa data recorded March as 1.65C above the average from 1951-1980, while February was 1.71C higher. The World Meteorological Organisation, the UN body for climate and weather, said the March data had “smashed” previous records.

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Let’s see if this is more than just a show.

Pope Francis Flies To Lesbos To Highlight Humanitarian Crisis In Europe (G.)

Pope Francis, widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest defender of refugees, flies into Lesbos on Saturday to highlight the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Europe. The Roman Catholic leader will spend five hours on the island with the Ecumenical head of world Orthodoxy, Patriarch Bartholomew I, and Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, Ieronymos II. Imbued with added urgency on the frontline of the EU’s migrant emergency, the meeting is also being seen as a further warming of ties between the western and eastern branches of Christianity, almost 10 centuries after their bitter split in 1054. The pontiff, who has publicly criticised Europe’s “anaesthetised conscience” on refugees, will go straight to the menacing detention centre above the hilltop village of Moria where more than 3,000 men, women and children are held.

On Friday, just hours before Francis’ scheduled visit, detainees chanted “freedom, freedom” as demonstrators denounced their incarceration. Standing under the razor wire-topped fence, Sham Jutt, a young Pakistani, spoke of the refugees’ plight, saying he hoped the pope could intervene. “We expected a life of hope and now he is our only hope,” said the 21-year-old, adding that he had seen the camp change from being a registration centre to a prison following the controversial pact the EU signed with Turkey to stem the flows. “Now, with this agreement, we are very afraid they will deport us.” Greece’s leftist-led government described Saturday’s visit of religious leaders as “extremely significant”. Lesbos has borne the brunt of the refugee influx with over 850,000 of the 1.1 million Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis who streamed into Europe last year, coming through the island.

Prime minister Alexis Tsipras, also due to fly in, was expected to underline Greece’s increasingly fragile situation in talks with Francis. More than 50,000 migrants and refugees have been trapped in the country since Macedonia and other Balkan states cut off the migrant trail by closing borders. Greece has been struggling to house refugees in makeshift facilities even if arrivals have dropped dramatically since the deal came into effect on 20 March. For detainees who have arrived since then, conditions have deteriorated dramatically. Human rights organisations have withdrawn from Moria and other detention centres for fear of being associated with mass expulsions.

Before the church leaders’ visit, authorities had gone out of their way to clean up the camp, whitewashing graffiti-splattered walls, replacing tents with containers, installing air conditioning and taking families out of the overcrowded facility to an open-air holding centre nearby. “In every sense of the word, they have given it a whitewash,” said Jakob Mamzzak, a volunteer from California. “Today we even heard they had given [inmates] clean clothes, let them have their first shower in 25 days and brought them good food when the truth is conditions are inhumane.”

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Taking 10 refugees with him on his way back.

Pope Francis Visits Lesbos, Frontline Of Europe’s Refugee Crisis (Reuters)

Pope Francis arrived on the Greek island of Lesbos on Saturday, turning the world’s attention to the frontline of Europe’s migrant crisis which has claimed hundreds of lives in the past year. Francis, leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, was scheduled to spend about six hours on the small Aegean island. Based on his schedule, he was to meet 250 refugees and have lunch with eight of them. Hundreds of people have died making the short but precarious crossing from Turkey to the Lesbos shores in inflatable dinghies in the past year, and the island is full of unmarked graves. “This is a trip that is a bit different than the others … this is a trip marked by sadness,” Francis told reporters on the airplane taking him to Lesbos.

“We are going to encounter the greatest humanitarian catastrophe since World War Two. We will see many people who are suffering, who don’t know where to go, who had to flee. We are also going to a cemetery, the sea. So many people died there … this is what is in my heart as I make this trip.” With Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Francis will visit Moria, a sprawling, fenced complex holding more than 3,000 refugees. “This is an island which has lifted all the weight of Europe upon its shoulders,” Tsipras told Francis at Lesbos airport, where a red carpet was rolled out for the pontiff’s arrival. Greek state TV reported Francis was planning to take ten refugees back with him to the Vatican, eight of them Syrians.

Aid organizations have described conditions at Moria, a disused army camp, as appalling. Journalists have no access to the facility on a hillside just outside Lesbos’s main town of Mytiline, but aid workers said walls were whitewashed, a sewer system fixed and several dozen migrants at the overcrowded facility were transferred to another camp, which the pope will not visit. . Aid organizations say queues for food are long, and people often wait for an hour or more. Saturday’s encounter with refugees would be ‘no frills’ and the religious leaders would eat the same food as everyone else at the camp, an official at the camp told Reuters.

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The Pope should speak out a lot louder and clearer. Meeting a few preselected refugees won’t cut it.

Lesbos Refugee Detention Centre Whitewashed For Pope’s Visit (Ind.)

A detention centre for asylum seekers in Greece is being urgently spruced up ahead of a visit by the Pope as thousands of people remain trapped inside, waiting to find out if they will be sent back to Turkey. Workers were dispatched to whitewash the wall surrounding Moria, a former refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, while others painted fences, cleared litter and moved stray tents. The last-minute efforts on Friday came ahead of Pope Francis’ arrival tomorrow with a delegation of Catholic and Orthodox leaders. Sacha Myers, who is working inside Moria with Save the Children, told The Independent that the now “very white” wall was not a priority for the families living inside Moria. “We hope the improvements continue but they don’t change the fact that we have still got thousands of people locked inside this detention centre with no idea how long they will be here,” she said.

“The camp was built to hold 2,000 people and now there are 2,900. Families are living on top of each other, there is absolutely no privacy. “We’re seeing a real deterioration in conditions.” Ms Myers, a communications and media manager for the charity, said she had met Iraqi and Syrian mothers whose babies were ill with diarrhoea and fever amid declining hygiene. “Some people are aware of the Pope’s visit,” she added. “They really want him to help them and understand their issues.” Save the Children is warning that child refugees are being held in appalling conditions at the centre, where they report illness, fights and theft. Charity workers described dirty rooms without enough beds, where children are denied legal services and basic support despite concerns for their mental and physical wellbeing.

High-profile visits by Angelina Jolie, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Labour MP Yvette Cooper, among others, have done little to improve the situation in Moris. It was set up last year as one of two refugee camps in Lesbos, but on 20 March the gates were locked as it was turned into a detention centre as part of the controversial EU-Turkey deal. The Pope will be joined by leaders of the Catholic and Orthodox churches as he tours Lesbos, which has seen the highest number of refugees arrive out of any island in Europe. After visiting Moria, they will have lunch with refugee representatives and make a joint declaration, before heading to the island’s capital for a prayer service in memory of the many asylum seekers who have drowned attempting to reach Europe.

The Vatican said the five-hour visit to Lesbos was purely humanitarian and religious in nature, not political, and wasn’t meant as a criticism of the deportation programme seeing some asylum seekers sent back to Turkey. Pope Francis said he intended “to express closeness and solidarity both to the refugees and to the Lesbos citizens and all the Greek people who are so generous in welcoming (refugees)”. The pontiff has been outspoken in calls for greater compassion and international co-operation in the refugee crisis, denouncing the “globalisation of indifference” during a trip to Lampedusa – another migrant hotspot.

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Apr 102016
 
 April 10, 2016  Posted by at 9:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Jack Delano Bridge with 5-ton coal bucket, Milwaukee Western Fuel Co 1942

Britain Is The Heart And Soul Of Tax Evasion (RT)
How a US president and JP Morgan Made Panama and Turned It Into A Tax Haven (G.)
Cameron Faces Questions Over £200,000 Gift From Mother (Observer)
Panama Papers: Act Now. Don’t Wait For Another Crisis (Piketty)
The Next Recession Will Blow Out the US Budget (Mauldin)
Schäuble: Time is Near to End Central Banks’ Easy-Money Policies (WSJ)
Why US Infrastructure Costs So Much (BBG)
SYRIZA, IMF and EU: Gambling With The Future Of Greece (SE)
Lesbos Hopes Pope’s Visit Will Shine Light On Island’s Refugee Role (Observer)
Greece Says It Will Take At Least Two Weeks To Fix Deporation System (Kath.)

Why the City of London got so big.

Britain Is The Heart And Soul Of Tax Evasion (RT)

The British government’s claim to be tackling tax evasion is about as credible as Al Capone claiming to be leading the fight against organized crime. In fact, Britain is at the heart of the global tax haven network, and continues to lead the fight against its regulation. The 11 and a half million leaked documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca have proven, once again, what we have already known for some time – that the ‘offshore world’ of tax havens is a den of money laundering and tax evasion right at the heart of the global financial system. Despite attempts by Western media to twist the revelations into a story about the ‘corruption’ of official enemies – North Korea, Syria, China and, of course, Putin, who is not even mentioned in the documents – the real story is the British government’s assiduous cultivation of the offshore world.

For whilst corruption exists in every country, what enables that corruption to flourish and become institutionalized is the network of secretive financial regimes that allow the world’s biggest criminals and fraudsters to escape taxation, regulation and oversight of their activities. And this network is a conscious creation of the British state. Of the 215,000 companies identified in the Mossack Fonseca documents, over half were incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, one single territory in what tax haven expert Nicholas Shaxson calls a “spider’s web” of well over a dozen separate UK-controlled dens of financial chicanery. In addition, the UK was ranked number two of those jurisdictions where the banks, law firms and other middlemen associated with the Panama Papers operate, only topped by Hong Kong, whose institutional environment is itself a creation of the UK.

And of the ten banks who most frequently asked Mossack Fonseca to set up paper companies to hide their client’s finances, four were British: HSBC, Coutts, Rothschild and UBS. HSBC, recently fined $1.9bn for laundering the money of Mexico’s most violent drug cartels, used the Panamanian firm to create 2,300 offshore companies, whilst Coutts – the family bank of the Windsors – set up just under 500. And, of course, David Cameron’s own father was named in the papers, having “helped create and develop” Blairmore Holdings, worth $20million, from its inception in 1982 till his death in 2010.

Blairmore, in which Cameron junior was also a shareholder, was registered in the Bahamas, and was specifically advertised to investors as a means of avoiding UK tax. The Daily Mail noted that: “Even though he lived in London, the Prime Minister’s father would leave the country and fly to Switzerland or the Bahamas for board meetings of Blairmore Holdings – to ensure it would not have to pay UK income tax or corporation tax. He hired a small army of Bahamas residents, including a part-time bishop, to sign its paperwork – as part of another bid to show his firm was not British-based.”

That Britain should emerge as central to this scandal is no surprise. For as Nicholas Shaxson, a leading authority on tax havens put it when I interviewed him in 2011, “The City of London is effectively the grand-daddy of the global offshore system.” Whilst there are various different lists of tax havens in existence, depending on how exactly they are defined, on any one of them explains Shaxson, “you will see that about half of the tax havens on there, of the ones that matter, are in some way British or partly British.” Firstly, are “Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man: the crown dependencies. They’re very fundamentally controlled by Britain.” Then there are the Overseas Territories, such as the Caymans, Bermuda, and the Virgin Islands, in which “all the things that matter are effectively controlled by Great Britain.”

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History counts too.

How a US president and JP Morgan Made Panama and Turned It Into A Tax Haven (G.)

This goes back a long way. The Panamanian state was originally created to function on behalf of the rich and self-seeking of this world – or rather their antecedents in America – when the 20th century was barely born. Panama was created by the United States for purely selfish commercial reasons, right on that historical hinge between the imminent demise of Britain as the great global empire, and the rise of the new American imperium. The writer Ken Silverstein put it with estimable simplicity in an article for Vice magazine two years ago: “In 1903, the administration of Theodore Roosevelt created the country after bullying Colombia into handing over what was then the province of Panama. Roosevelt acted at the behest of various banking groups, among them JP Morgan, which was appointed as the country’s ‘fiscal agent’ in charge of managing $10m in aid that the US had rushed down to the new nation.”

The reason, of course, was to gain access to, and control of, the canal across the Panamanian isthmus that would open in 1914 to connect the world’s two great oceans, and the commerce that sailed them. The Panamanian elite had learned early that their future lay more lucratively in accommodating the far-off rich than in being part of South America. Annuities paid by the Panama Railroad Company sent more into the Colombian exchequer than Panama ever got back from Bogotá, and it is likely that the province would have seceded anyway – had not a treaty been signed in September 1902 for the Americans to construct a canal under terms that, as the country’s leading historian in English, David Bushnell, writes, “accurately reflected the weak bargaining position of the Colombian negotiator”.

Colombia was, at the time, riven by what it calls the “thousand-day war” between its Liberal and Historical Conservative parties. Panama was one of the battlefields for the war’s later stages. The canal treaty was closely followed by the “Panamanian revolution”, which was led by a French promoter of the canal and backed by what Bushnell calls “the evident complicity of the United States” – and was aided by the fact that the terms of the canal treaty forbade Colombian troops from landing to suppress it, lest they disturb the free transit of goods. The Roosevelt/JP Morgan connection in the setting-up of the new state was a direct one. The Americans’ paperwork was done by a Republican party lawyer close to the administration, William Cromwell, who acted as legal counsel for JP Morgan.

JP Morgan led the American banks in gradually turning Panama into a financial centre – and a haven for tax evasion and money laundering – as well as a passage for shipping, with which these practices were at first entwined when Panama began to register foreign ships to carry fuel for the Standard Oil company in order for the corporation to avoid US tax liabilities.

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He’s not done answering. In his circles, everyone has offshore accounts. That being PM means holding a higher standard is a mere nuisance to him.

Cameron Faces Questions Over £200,000 Gift From Mother (Observer)

The prime minister took the unprecedented decision to release his personal tax records on Saturday, as growing anger over revelations in the Panama Papers threatened to derail his premiership. But the extraordinary move seems set to plunge David Cameron into further controversy, as it emerged that his mother transferred two separate payments of £100,000 to his accounts in 2011, allowing the family estate to avoid a potential £80,000 worth of inheritance tax. Four years after first promising to open his financial affairs to public view, Downing Street published a document detailing Cameron’s income and tax payments from 2009-10 to 2014-15. The move came after an emotional Cameron admitted to the Conservative party’s spring forum that he alone was to blame for the furore caused by his failure to be frank about his profits from an offshore investment fund.

On Monday, Cameron will announce the establishment of a taskforce, led by HM Revenue & Customs and the National Crime Agency, to examine the legality of the financial affairs of companies mentioned in the Panama Papers, where documents relating to his father’s offshore fund were discovered by the Guardian and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The taskforce will draw on investigators, compliance specialists and analysts from HMRC, the National Crime Agency, the Serious Fraud Office and the Financial Conduct Authority. There will be new money provided of up to £10m. But following the release of the prime minister’s tax records, Cameron now faces questions over whether his family took elaborate steps to minimise the amount of inheritance tax that would eventually be due on their estate.

The records show that the prime minister received a considerable boost to his savings in 2011. Following the death of his father in 2010, Cameron was left £300,000 tax free as an inheritance. However, his mother also transferred two payments of £100,000 to him in May and July 2011. Inheritance tax is not payable on gifts up to £325,000 that are paid at least seven years before the source of the possession dies, be it property or money. A spokesman for the prime minister said that Cameron’s mother and father had “some years earlier” transferred the family home to their eldest son, Alexander Cameron, and the sums paid in 2011 were considered to be Cameron’s share.

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Not going to happen. Too much money means too much power.

Panama Papers: Act Now. Don’t Wait For Another Crisis (Piketty)

The question of tax havens and financial opacity has been headline news for years now. Unfortunately, in this area there is a huge gap between the triumphant declarations of governments and the reality of what they actually do. In 2014, the LuxLeaks investigation revealed that multinationals paid almost no tax in Europe, thanks to their subsidiaries in Luxembourg. In 2016, the Panama Papers have shown the extent to which financial and political elites in the north and the south conceal their assets. We can be glad to see that the journalists are doing their job. The problem is that the governments are not doing theirs. The truth is that almost nothing has been done since the crisis in 2008. In some ways, things have even got worse.

Let’s take each topic in turn. Exacerbated fiscal competition on the taxing of profits of big companies has reached new heights in Europe. The United Kingdom is going to reduce its rate to 17%, something unheard of for a major country, while continuing to protect the predatory practices of the Virgin Islands and other offshore centres under the British Crown. If nothing is done, we will all ultimately align ourselves on the 12% of Ireland, or possibly on 0%, or even on grants to investments, as is already sometimes the case. In the meantime, in the United States where there is a federal tax on profits, that rate is 35% (not including the taxes levelled by states, ranging between 5% and 10%). It is the political fragmentation of Europe and the lack of a strong public authority which puts us at the mercy of private interests.

The good news is that there is a way out of the current political impasse. If four countries, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, who together account for over 75% of the GDP and the population in the eurozone put forward a new treaty based on democracy and fiscal justice, with as a strong measure the adoption of a common tax system for large corporations, then the other countries would be forced to follow them. If they did not do so they would not be in compliance with the improvement in transparency which public opinions have been demanding for years and would be open to sanctions.

There is still a complete lack of transparency as far as private assets held in tax havens are concerned. In many areas of the world, the biggest fortunes have continued to grow since 2008 much more quickly than the size of the economy, partly because they pay less tax than the others. In France in 2013 a junior minister for the budget calmly explained that he did not have an account in Switzerland, with no fear that his ministry might find out about it. Once again, it took journalists to reveal the truth.

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“Next year, the US national debt will top $20 trillion. The deficit is running close to $500 billion, and the Congressional Budget Office projects that figure to rise. Add another $3 trillion or so in state and local debt.”

The Next Recession Will Blow Out the US Budget (Mauldin)

The weakest recovery in modern history has stretched on for 69 months. By 2017, it will be the third-longest recovery without a recession since the Great Depression. By 2018, it will be the second longest. Only during the halcyon economic days of the 1960s have we seen a longer recovery; but that record, too, will be eclipsed sometime in 2019—if we don’t see a recession first. And note that we were growing at well over 3% in the 1960s, not the anemic 2% we have averaged during this recovery and certainly not the positively puny 1.5% we have endured lately. Global growth is slowing down. Given the limited number of arrows left in the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy quiver, the US is going to have a difficult time dealing with the fallout from a recession. Even worse, a number of factors are coming together that will require serious crisis management.

Next year, the US national debt will top $20 trillion. The deficit is running close to $500 billion, and the Congressional Budget Office projects that figure to rise. Add another $3 trillion or so in state and local debt. As you may imagine, the interest on that debt is beginning to add up, even at the extraordinarily low rates we have today. Sometime in 2019, entitlement spending, defense, and interest will consume all the tax revenues collected by the US government. That means all spending for everything else will have to be borrowed. The CBO projects the deficit will rise to over $1 trillion by 2023. By that point, entitlement spending and net interest will be consuming almost all tax revenues, and we will be borrowing to pay for our defense. Let’s look at the following chart, which comes from CBO data:

By 2019, the deficit is projected to be $738 billion. There are only three ways to reduce that deficit: cut spending, raise taxes, or authorize the Federal Reserve to monetize the debt. At the numbers we are now talking about, getting rid of fraud and wasted government expenditures is a rounding error. Let’s say you could find $100 billion here or there. You are still a long, long way from a balanced budget. But implicit in the CBO projections is the assumption that we will not have a recession in the next 10 years. Plus, the CBO assumes growth above what we’ve seen in the last year or so.

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Trouble with Berlin is brewing.

Schäuble: Time is Near to End Central Banks’ Easy-Money Policies (WSJ)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble called on governments in Europe and the U.S. to encourage their central banks to gradually exit easy-money policies, in the strongest sign yet of Berlin’s growing impatience with the ultralow interest rates of the ECB. “There is a growing understanding that excessive liquidity has become more a cause than a solution to the problem,” Mr. Schäuble said, comparing the move away from easy-money policies to ending a drug addiction. The unusually blunt comments from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s closest political ally come as the ECB has repeatedly ramped up its stimulus in recent months, seeking to support economic growth in the face of rising global headwinds and financial-market volatility.

While Mr. Schäuble’s opposition to the ECB’s monetary policy is well known, the veteran politician has voiced his criticism more openly lately, suggesting Berlin is growing impatient amid a mounting popular backlash against a policy that has depleted the returns on the savings of millions of Germans. Government officials and central bankers are preparing to converge on Washington, D.C., next week for the Spring meetings of the IMF, where they are expected to discuss policies to revive global growth. Speaking in Kronberg near Frankfurt late Friday at a prize ceremony organized by a German economic think tank, Mr. Schäuble said he had just discussed central-bank policies with his U.S. counterpart, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew. “I just said to Jack Lew that you should encourage the Federal Reserve and we should encourage the ECB and the Bank of England in a concerted action, to carefully but slowly exit,” Mr. Schäuble said.

In the U.S., the Treasury secretary doesn’t have authority over the Federal Reserve, which is tasked with setting monetary policy. The ECB has twice ramped up its €1.5 trillion stimulus since December, most recently in March, when it rolled out a series of rate cuts, cheap loans for banks and an acceleration of bond purchases. Top ECB officials have stressed in recent days that they are ready to do even more to support the bloc’s economy. Meanwhile Federal Reserve officials have signaled that the U.S. central bank will raise rates only gradually until the global economy picks up steam, according to the minutes of their March policy meeting. Japan’s central bank stunned the markets in January by setting the country’s first negative interest rates.

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Not sure this explains the entire issue.

Why US Infrastructure Costs So Much (BBG)

The U.S. ought to be spending more on infrastructure. This is the view of all right-thinking people, and as a right-thinking person I of course endorse it. With interest rates near record lows and the working-age population still, by historical and international standards, underemployed, governments (or in some cases entrepreneurs) should be borrowing much more to repave roads, shore up bridges, expand mass-transit systems, build new sewage-treatment plants, replace water mains, you name it. Such borrowing and spending would make the nation richer by stimulating economic activity now and paving the way for stronger economic growth in the future.

That said, the U.S. probably also ought to be spending less on infrastructure. Not overall, but on something like a per-mile basis. Broad international cost comparisons across all kinds of infrastructure don’t seem to be available, but there is a growing body of evidence on one particular infrastructure area that matters a lot to me as a New York City commuter: subways and other rail systems. And it shows that U.S. construction costs are among the world’s highest.

Transportation blogger Alon Levy has probably done the most to raise awareness of this, with five years of posts documenting the cost differences. And last year, Tracy Gordon of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center and David Schleicher of Yale Law School examined 144 planned and finished rail projects in 44 countries and found that the four most expensive on a per-kilometer basis (and six of the top 12) were in the U.S. To put these numbers in global perspective, New York’s Second Avenue Subway will cost roughly eight times more than Tokyo’s Koto Waterfront line and 36 times more than Madrid’s Metrosur tunnels on a per-kilometer, purchasing power parity (PPP) basis.

Why is this? It’s actually pretty hard to answer. Here’s Levy, writing in November 2014: “I try to avoid giving explanations for these patterns of construction costs. If I knew for certain what caused them, I would not be blogging; I would be forming a consultancy and teaching New York and other high-cost cities how to build subways for less than $100 million per kilometer.” Still, others have been willing to offer explanations. In a 2012 Bloomberg View piece, New York land-use and transit writer Stephen Smith blamed over-reliance on outside consultants, overly ambitious station architecture and a legal system that favors contractors over the agencies paying them to build things.

Gordon and Schleicher agreed that the legal system may be an issue, but for other reasons: “Many of the world’s most expensive projects are in the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, which, like the United States, have common-law systems. So it might be that common-law systems provide legal protections for property owners – allowing more lawsuits over noise, smoke, and other nuisances, as well as limits on eminent domain – that increase costs by forcing the government to pay off opponents or to locate projects inefficiently to avoid angering property owners.” They also cite political fragmentation as a factor that drives up costs – U.S. commuter rail systems often cross city and state lines, which brings coordination challenges – and note that when regional authorities are created to manage these challenges, they can bring a whole new set of problems.

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“The agreement is effectively dead and all parties involved are aware of that, even if they are not openly admitting it.”

SYRIZA, IMF and EU: Gambling With The Future Of Greece (SE)

The latest flare up regarding Greece has followed publication by Wikileaks of illegally taped discussions among IMF officials. To analyse the significance of this event it is vital to bear one point in mind: Greece cannot meet the terms of the bailout agreement struck on July 2015 by Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras. The agreement is effectively dead and all parties involved are aware of that, even if they are not openly admitting it. To establish this point there is no need to engage either in Debt Sustainability Analysis, or in macroeconomic projections of output. Suffice to mention that the agreement requires Greece to ensure a primary surplus of 3.5% of GDP in 2018.

The Greek economy actually returned to recession in the last quarter of 2015 and the available indicators since the end of 2015 have ranged from bad to appalling: industrial turnover in December was down 13.5%, retail turnover in January down 3.8%, unemployment in the last quarter of 2015 up to 24.4%, job vacancies for the whole of the economy in the last quarter of 2015 stood at a pitiful 3119, and the banking system currently has perhaps €115bn of non-performing exposure, roughly 50% of its loan book. Once the austerity measures of the bailout agreement kick in, substantially reducing aggregate demand for 2016-17 via tax increases and lower pensions, the recession will become deeper. There is no way that this ruined economy could generate a 3.5% primary surplus in 2018. The problems thereby created for all parties to this disastrous bailout are legion.

In the worst position is the Greek government, which signed up to the bailout in direct contravention of everything that it had promised to do in 2015. As the reality of its deception and the harshness of the squeeze have begun to sink in, electoral support for Tsipras has vanished. All competent polls show the opposition New Democracy – with a new leader – comfortably ahead. The outlook has become even worse for SYRIZA via the refugee wave, which has turned Greece into a kind of EU repository for refugees and migrants. For the time being the country has avoided a major crisis, but the situation remains extremely fraught as the deportation of migrants to Turkey has just started.

In this context, the last thing that the Tsipras government would like to do is to impose further pressure on wage earners, or tax payers in an attempt to meet the impossible target of 3.5%. On the contrary, it is extremely keen to complete the first review of the bailout programme on a nod and a wink, pretending that current measures are sufficient to hit the bailout targets. It then hopes to receive a tranche of bailout money that will give it breathing space for a few months. The government’s further hope is that investment will pick up by the end of 2016, possibly through foreign capital inflows, thus allowing the economy to recover somewhat.

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He should put his money where his mouth is.

Lesbos Hopes Pope’s Visit Will Shine Light On Island’s Refugee Role (Observer)

The island of Lesbos tends to go to town when celebrities descend. The last time it welcomed a VIP, the razorwire running along large parts of its infamous detention centre was hastily removed. Angelina Jolie got a brief glimpse of it as she walked in, but reportedly not as she later walked around the camp greeting migrants and refugees. The superstar special envoy of the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) was instead given an edited view of the camp, volunteers say. It will be different when Pope Francis flies in on Saturday. The purpose of the pontiff’s visit to the Aegean is to see the migrant emergency up close, and the authorities are keen that no blinkers are involved. This time, the island on the frontline of the biggest movement of people in modern times intends to show it as it is.

“We won’t be changing anything,” says mayor Spyros Galinos when asked if municipal workers will at least be cleaning up the graffiti on the camp’s walls. “His visit has huge symbolism. It is what we have wanted, what we have seen in our sleep, what we have dreamed of for years.” For four hours, Francis will grant that wish when he arrives in Greece for what will be a rare papal visit. The leader of the worldwide Catholic church will be accompanied by the Istanbul-based spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians, Bartholomew I, and Ieronymos II of Athens, head of the Greek Orthodox church. It will be a whirlwind tour of the island traversed by many of the 1.1 million men, women and children who have streamed into Europe, mostly from Syria but also from other parts of the Middle East, Africa and Asia last year.

The pope has long had refugees in his sights – and encyclicals. The trip, say Vatican officials, is aimed squarely at drawing attention to the centre of Europe’s migration crisis. By highlighting the “increasingly precarious living conditions for thousands of refugees and migrants” who have reached Lesbos, the Holy See’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, said Francis hoped to offer a “Christian response to the tragedy that is unfolding”. [..] “His visit is not going to do anything for one single refugee in this country,” laments Alison Terry-Evans, who runs Dirty Girls, an organisation in Lesbos that launders blankets distributed by the UNHCR and the wet clothes of arriving refugees. “It is so hypocritical that a man who heads a multibillion-dollar corporation like the Vatican is unlikely to take any action that will contribute financially. That is the pity of it. ”

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It won’t be fixed. Wanna bet? Europe goes for chaos as a deterrent. The use of the term ‘deportation system’ says it all in all its ugliness.

Meanwhile, this morning FYROM started shooting dozens of tear gas cannisters across its border with Greece to disperse the refugees camped out there.

Greece Says It Will Take At Least Two Weeks To Fix Deporation System (Kath.)

Greece says it will take at least two weeks to fix the process of deporting migrants from the eastern Aegean islands to Turkey. The country’s deputy foreign minister for European affairs, Nikos Xydakis, admitted as much at a press conference attended also by his colleagues from France, Italy, Malta and Portugal, as well as the foreign ministers of the Netherlands and Slovakia. Deportations from Greece to Turkey have been temporarily halted as most of the 6,750 migrants in the Greek islands are applying for asylum and there is a lack of qualified officials such as translators to process the applications.

Most of the experts promised by the EU have not yet arrived. French European affairs minister Harlem Desir is urging refugees from war-torn Syria and Iraq to follow legal procedures to seek asylum in Europe rather than risk their lives in the perilous sea crossing into Greece, which now leads only back to Turkey, since Balkan countries north of Greece have shut their borders. Desir says France will welcome 200 refugees directly from Turkey “in the coming days and weeks.”

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Dec 022015
 
 December 2, 2015  Posted by at 9:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle December 2 2015


Lewis Wickes Hine News of the Titanic and possible survivors 1912

China Has Reached ‘Peak Debt’ (David Stockman)
Manufacturing in US Unexpectedly Shrinks Most Since June 2009 (BBG)
7 Years After The Crisis, Britain Is Still Addicted To The Drug Of Debt (Ind.)
British Workers Will Have Worst Pensions Of Any Major Economy (Guardian)
Volkswagen US Sales Plunge 25%, S&P Cuts Rating (AP)
Piketty: Inequality Is A Major Driver Of Middle Eastern Terrorism (WaPo)
Saudi Arabia Accounted For 75% Of Value Of Official Gifts To US In 2014 (ITP)
Saudi Arabia’s Campaign To Charm US Policymakers And Journalists (Intercept)
Pope Orders Unprecedented Audit of Vatican Wealth (BBG)
China Needs More Users For ‘Freely Usable’ Yuan After IMF Nod (Reuters)
A Reserve Currency Brings Boom and Busts (BBG)
‘Sound Finance’? The Logic Behind Running A Budget Surplus (Steve Keen)
Greece Threatened With Schengen Expulsion Over Refugee Response (FT)
Denmark To Vote On More Or Less EU (EUObserver)
Merkel Accused In Germany Of Kowtowing To Erdogan (EurActiv)
Turkish Military Says Secret Service Shipped Weapons To Al-Qaeda (AM)
Russia Wants To Stop ISIS’ Illegal Oil Trade With Turkey (RT)
Turkish Stream Gas Pipeline Freezes (Reuters)
Puerto Rico’s Financial Crisis Just Got More Serious (WaPo)
Human Rights Watch Demands US Criminal Probe Of CIA Torture (Reuters)
4-Year Old Girl Drowns As Refugee Boat Tries To Reach Greek Shores (Kath.)

“..China has borrowed $4.50 for every new dollar of reported GDP, and far more than that when it comes to the production of sustainable wealth..”

China Has Reached ‘Peak Debt’ (David Stockman)

The danger lurking in the risk asset markets was succinctly captured by MarketWatch’s post on overnight action in Asia. The latter proved once again that the casino gamblers are incapable of recognizing the on-rushing train of global recession because they have become addicted to “stimulus” as a way of life:

Shares in Hong Kong led a rally across most of Asia Tuesday, on expectations for more stimulus from Chinese authorities, specifically in the property sector…….The gains follow fresh readings on China’s economy, which showed further signs of slowdown in manufacturing data released Tuesday (which) remains plagued by overcapacity, falling prices and weak demand. The dimming view casts doubt that the world’s second-largest economy can achieve its target growth of around 7% for the year. The central bank has cut interest rates six times since last November.

More stimulus from China? Now that’s a true absurdity – not because the desperate suzerains of red capitalism in Beijing won’t try it, but because it can’t possibly enhance the earnings capacity of either Chinese companies or the international equities. In fact, it is plain as day that China has reached “peak debt”. Additional borrowing there will not only prolong the Ponzi and thereby exacerbate the eventual crash, but won’t even do much in the short-run to brake the current downward economic spiral. That’s because China is so saturated with debt that still lower interest rates or further reduction of bank reserve requirements would amount to pushing on an exceedingly limp credit string. To wit, at the time of the 2008 crisis, China’s “official” GDP was about $5 trillion and its total public and private credit market debt was roughly $8 trillion.

Since then, debt has soared to $30 trillion while GDP has purportedly doubled. But that’s only when you count the massive outlays for white elephants and malinvestments which get counted as fixed asset spending. So at a minimum, China has borrowed $4.50 for every new dollar of reported GDP, and far more than that when it comes to the production of sustainable wealth. Indeed, everything is so massively overbuilt in China – from unused airports to empty malls and luxury apartments to redundant coal mines, steel plants, cement kilns, auto plants, solar farms and much, much more – that more borrowing and construction is not only absolutely pointless; it is positively destructive because it will result in an even more destructive adjustment cycle. That is, it will only add to the immense already existing downward pressure on prices, rents and profits in China, thereby insuring that even more trillions of bad debts will eventually implode.

[..] When peak debt is reached, additional credit never leaves the financial system; it just finances the final blow-off phase of leveraged speculation in the secondary markets.

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Pretty much a global trend, and pretty much not unexpected.

Manufacturing in US Unexpectedly Shrinks Most Since June 2009 (BBG)

Manufacturing in the U.S. unexpectedly contracted in November at the fastest pace since the last recession as elevated inventories led to cutbacks in orders and production. The Institute for Supply Management’s index dropped to 48.6, the lowest level since June 2009, from 50.1 in October, its report showed Tuesday. The November figure was weaker than the most pessimistic forecast in a Bloomberg survey. Readings less than 50 indicate contraction. The report showed factories believed their customers continued to have too many goods on hand, indicating it will take time for orders and production to stabilize.

Manufacturers, which account for almost 12% of the economy, are also battling weak global demand, an appreciating dollar and less capital spending in the energy sector. “There are some clear signs of weakness — industries that are tied to oil and gas, agriculture or are heavily dependent on exports are all clearly slowing,” Mark Vitner at Wells Fargo Securities said before the report. “It wouldn’t surprise me if the manufacturing numbers remain soft for the next five to six months.”

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We all are…

7 Years After The Crisis, Britain Is Still Addicted To The Drug Of Debt (Ind.)

It’s seven years after the financial crisis and the banking industry is still in receipt of state support – support that will be available for two more years, and perhaps for longer. The Treasury and the Bank of England have decided to extend their Funding for Lending Scheme (FLS), which supplies banks with cheap money with the aim of keeping the supply of credit flowing. What ought, in theory, to be the scheme’s final outing will be very specifically targeted at lending to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This is a sector which is still struggling to obtain the funding it needs at a time when lending to other sectors has largely recovered. The Bank says that things are improving, and its figures bear that out. But not quickly, and the growth in small business lending pales by comparison to the growth in consumer lending.

The expansion of the latter is starting to cause concern, with the Bank’s chief economist, Andy Haldane, fretting about personal loans. He says they’re picking up at a rate of knots. Britain has long nursed an addiction to the drug of debt that it’s never really addressed and the growth in unsecured lending is an indication of a return to bad habits. Given that Mr Haldane and his colleagues are engaged in the unenviable task of walking an economic tightrope, it’s no wonder that he’s getting twitchy. But consumers are not, as yet, shooting up with the sort of wild abandon they exhibited in the run-up to the crisis. And, as Investec’s Philip Shaw points out, it wasn’t so long ago that we were still talking about the need to make more credit available.

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Not to worry: by 2050, pensions will be long gone.

British Workers Will Have Worst Pensions Of Any Major Economy (Guardian)

Workers in the UK will have the worst pensions of any major economy and the oldest official retirement age of any country, according tothe Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The typical British worker can look forward to a pension worth only 40% of their pay , once state and private pensions are combined. The Paris-based thinktank said on Tuesday that this compares with about 90% in the Netherlands and Austria and 80% in Spain and Italy. Only Mexico and Chile offer their workers a worse prospect after retirement, although Turkey is the surprise table-topper, giving its retirees an average pension equal to 105% of average wages, according to the OECD report. Britain has begun an auto-enrolment scheme that will offer millions of low-paid workers a private pension for the first time.

But with contribution rates low, the payouts will not be generous. Last week the chancellor, George Osborne, gave employers a six-month delay to planned increases in their contribution rates. Pensions expert Tom McPhail of Hargreaves Lansdown said: “This analysis makes embarrassing reading for the politicians who have been responsible for the UK’s pensions over the past 25 years. “The state pension was in steady decline for years. Even though it is improving for lower earners now, average payouts will not be rising. It is in the private sector though where the real damage has been done; the collapse in final salary pensions has not yet been replaced with well-funded alternatives.” The age at which workers qualify for a state pension in the UK will, at 68 years old, be the highest of any country in the world, equalled only by Ireland and Czech Republic.

The prize for earliest retirees goes to France and Belgium. “Workers stay the longest in the labour market in Korea, Mexico, Iceland and Japan; men exit the soonest in France and Belgium while women leave the earliest in the Slovak Republic, Slovenia and Poland,” said the OECD. While many European countries offer significantly better pensions than in Britain, the cost is now close to sustainable, said the OECD. In recent years there have been frequent warnings about the “demographic timebomb” that will wreck the finances of ageing European nations. But the OECD said that changes to taxation, contribution rates and pensionable ages means that the burden of paying pensions will rise from the current level of 9% of GDP to just 10.1% by 2050.

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Europe sales are a bigger deal. But the scandal isn’t done deepening.

Volkswagen US Sales Plunge 25%, S&P Cuts Rating (AP)

Standard and Poor’s cut Volkswagen’s credit rating to “BBB+” from “A-” on Tuesday, shortly after the automaker reported that an emissions-cheating scandal took a serious bite out of its U.S. sales last month. The German automaker said that November U.S. sales fell almost 25% from a year ago. The company blamed the decline on stop-sale orders for diesel-powered vehicles that the government says cheated on pollution tests. The VW brand sold just under 24,000 vehicles last month compared with almost 32,000 a year ago.

S&P noted the emissions scandal also contributed to its ratings cut. The agency said it expects Volkswagen to “experience ongoing adverse credit impacts.” The U.S. is a relatively small market for Volkswagen. The VW brand sold 490,000 vehicles worldwide in October, 5% below a year ago. VW has admitted that 482,000 2-liter diesel vehicles in the U.S. contained software that turned pollution controls on for government tests and off for real-world driving. The government says another 85,000 six-cylinder diesels also had cheating software.

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“We” want it that way. It’s how “we” (think we) keep control over the oil.

Piketty: Inequality Is A Major Driver Of Middle Eastern Terrorism (WaPo)

Thomas Piketty is out with a new argument about income inequality. It may prove more controversial than his book, which continues to generate debate in political and economic circles. The new argument, which Piketty spelled out recently in the French newspaper Le Monde, is this: Inequality is a major driver of Middle Eastern terrorism, including the Islamic State attacks on Paris earlier this month — and Western nations have themselves largely to blame for that inequality. Piketty writes that the Middle East’s political and social system has been made fragile by the high concentration of oil wealth into a few countries with relatively little population.

If you look at the region between Egypt and Iran — which includes Syria — you find several oil monarchies controlling between 60 and 70% of wealth, while housing just a bit more than 10% of the 300 million people living in that area. (Piketty does not specify which countries he’s talking about, but judging from a study he co-authored last year on Middle East inequality, it appears he means Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudia Arabia, Bahrain and Oman. By his numbers, they accounted for 16% of the region’s population in 2012 and almost 60% of its gross domestic product.) This concentration of so much wealth in countries with so small a share of the population, he says, makes the region “the most unequal on the planet.”

Within those monarchies, he continues, a small slice of people controls most of the wealth, while a large — including women and refugees — are kept in a state of “semi-slavery.” Those economic conditions, he says, have become justifications for jihadists, along with the casualties of a series of wars in the region perpetuated by Western powers. His list starts with the first Gulf War, which he says resulted in allied forces returning oil “to the emirs.” Though he does not spend much space connecting those ideas, the clear implication is that economic deprivation and the horrors of wars that benefited only a select few of the region’s residents have, mixed together, become what he calls a “powder keg” for terrorism across the region.

Piketty is particularly scathing when he blames the inequality of the region, and the persistence of oil monarchies that perpetuate it, on the West: “These are the regimes that are militarily and politically supported by Western powers, all too happy to get some crumbs to fund their [soccer] clubs or sell some weapons. No wonder our lessons in social justice and democracy find little welcome among Middle Eastern youth.” Terrorism that is rooted in inequality, Piketty continues, is best combated economically.

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All totlly legal, no doubt. “..an emerald and diamond jewellery set containing a ring, earrings, bracelet, and necklace, which was valued at $780,000 [was given to] Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Saudi Arabia Accounted For 75% Of Value Of Official Gifts To US In 2014 (ITP)

Three quarters of the value of all official gifts given to the US administration in 2014 came from Saudi Arabia, according to US government records. US President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, their daughters and US federal government employees received official gifts estimated to be worth a total of $3,417,559 last year. Analysis of the annual disclosure, released by the US Department of State’s Office of the Chief of Protocol, found Saudi Arabia gave the US gifts valued at around $2,566,525. It dominated the report and represented 75% of the value of all gifts received by Obama and his government employees last year.

When all other Arab countries are added to the mix the total value rises to nearly $3 million, with the Arab region accounting for 87% of the value of all gifts. The most lavish gift was an emerald and diamond jewellery set containing a ring, earrings, bracelet, and necklace, which was valued at $780,000. It was not given to Obama, his wife Michelle or his children, but Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of US Secretary of State John Kerry. The jewels were given to Mrs Kerry in January 2014 by the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud. First Lady Michelle Obama is included in the top five with two gifts of jewels from Saudi Arabia, each worth well over half a million dollars.

The president himself is further down the list, behind his children and wife, and ranked 7th with a white gold men’s watch worth $67,000. The six other Gulf states also gave lavish gifts to the Obama administration. Qatar gave Eric Holder, US Attorney General, a $24,150 gold and silver ship depicting United States and the State of Qatar flags in a case, in addition to an engraved Cartier bracelet. The UAE also gifted a gold necklace and earring set with white stones worth around $3,200 to Deborah K. Jones, Ambassador of the US to the State of Libya. The gift was presented in March 2014 on behalf of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE.

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And the Saudi’s don’t stop there:

Saudi Arabia’s Campaign To Charm US Policymakers And Journalists (Intercept)

Soon after launching a brutal air and ground assault in Yemen, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia began devoting significant resources to a sophisticated public relations blitz in Washington, D.C. The PR campaign is designed to maintain close ties with the U.S. even as the Saudi-led military incursion into the poorest Arab nation in the Middle East has killed nearly 6,000 people, almost half of them civilians. Elements of the charm offensive include the launch of a pro-Saudi Arabia media portal operated by high-profile Republican campaign consultants; a special English-language website devoted to putting a positive spin on the latest developments in the Yemen war; glitzy dinners with American political and business elites; and a non-stop push to sway reporters and policymakers. That has been accompanied by a spending spree on American lobbyists with ties to the Washington establishment.

The Saudi Arabian Embassy, as we’ve reported, now retains the brother of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, the leader of one of the largest Republican Super PACs in the country, and a law firm with deep ties to the Obama administration. One of Jeb Bush’s top fundraisers, Ignacio Sanchez, is also lobbying for the Saudi Kingdom. Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the U.S. has come under particular strain in recent years as the government has not only launched the brutal war in Yemen, but has embarked on a wave of repression. Following the appointment of Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud to the Saudi throne in January, the Kingdom sharply increased the number of people executed — often by beheading and crucifixion — for daring to protest or criticize the government or for crimes as minor as adultery or “witchcraft.” On November 17, a Saudi court sentenced Ashraf Fayadh, a famed poet, to death for “apostasy.”

There have also been reports that Saudi Arabia continues to be a leading driver of Sunni terror networks worldwide, including in Syria and Iraq. The Saudi Arabian government is currently supplying weapons to a Syrian rebel coalition that includes the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s affiliate in the region. As the New York Times has reported, private donors in Saudi Arabia have also worked as fundraisers for the Islamic State, or ISIS. And there is a renewed, bipartisan push by lawmakers to declassify the 28 pages of the 9/11 Commission Report, a censored section that reportedly relates to Saudi state support for al Qaeda’s operation.

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It’s been tried before.

Pope Orders Unprecedented Audit of Vatican Wealth (BBG)

Pope Francis, galvanized by a scandal over Vatican finances, has ordered the most powerful bodies in the city-state to launch an unprecedented audit of its wealth and crack down on runaway spending. At the suggestion of his economic chief, Cardinal George Pell, Francis has set up a “Working-Party for the Economic Future” which brings together the Secretariat of State, or prime minister’s office, the Vatican Bank and other agencies. Francis has told the panel “to address the financial challenges and identify how more resources can be devoted to the many good works of the Church, especially supporting the poor and vulnerable,” Danny Casey, director of Pell’s office at the Secretariat for the Economy, said in an interview.

The pope’s initiatives come as five people stand trial in the Vatican over the leak of confidential documents in two books published last month that described corruption, mismanagement and wasteful spending by church officials. Those on trial deny wrongdoing. Francis, 78, has pushed for more openness and transparency in Vatican financial and economic agencies but he has faced resistance from the Rome bureaucracy. On the flight back to Rome on Monday after a visit to Africa, Francis told reporters that the so-called Vatileaks II scandal was an indication of the mess that he’s trying to sort out.

The trial of two former Vatican employees alongside the books’ authors highlighted Church efforts “to seek out corruption, the things which aren’t right,” he said, according to a transcript provided by the Vatican. The working group, which held its first meeting last week, will study measures to cut costs and raise revenue as part of a long-term financial plan. “This will include comparing actual expenditure against budgets at a consolidated level, which is a new initiative,” Casey said.

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The yaun would have to be perceived as stable first. How long will that take, though?

China Needs More Users For ‘Freely Usable’ Yuan After IMF Nod (Reuters)

The IMF’s decision to add China’s yuan to its reserves basket is a triumph for Beijing, but the fund’s verdict that the currency met its “freely usable” test will have little financial impact unless Beijing recruits more users. The desire of Chinese reformers to internationalize the currency has a clear economic rationale; a yuan in wide circulation overseas would reduce China’s dependence on the dollar system and on policy set in Washington. It would also make it easier for Chinese firms to invoice and borrow offshore in yuan, reducing the risk of exchange rate fluctuations and prompting China’s inefficient state-owned banks to improve their performance or lose business. Those concerned about a potential global liquidity crisis caused by overdependence on the United States might also welcome the yuan as an alternative to the dollar, as would countries locked out of dollar capital markets by sanctions.

But to serve these purposes, there needs to be a much bigger pool of yuan outside China, which requires offshore institutions – and not just in Hong Kong – to buy and hold yuan. Few believe the IMF decision alone, which economist Alicia Garcia-Herrero called a “beauty contest”, will change investor behavior much. For that, says Swiss bank UBS, Beijing needs to continue financial reforms and capital account liberalization to improve the efficiency of capital allocation in China. Foreign investors want Beijing to provide predictable and transparent legal and taxation treatment, and drop its penchant for pilot programs and quotas in favor of consistency. They also want to know they can freely sell their yuan assets, not just buy, a concern that only grew over the summer, when Beijing stepped into its stock markets to stop a sell-off.

Foreign investors aren’t making full use of the existing channels to buy Chinese assets that Beijing allows – quotas for the two Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor programs (QFII and RQFII) and the Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect have yet to be used up. And for all the impressive trade statistics, much of the “offshore” yuan isn’t traveling the globe but bouncing to and fro across the internal border with Hong Kong, largely traded between Chinese companies. “The number one thing we would like to see changed is that the QFII and RQFII quotas are dropped, just as they dropped in July the quotas for central banks, sovereign wealth funds and supernationals. It’ll make it a lot easier for global institutional investors,” said Hayden Briscoe at AllianceBernstein in Hong Kong.

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“Over the past several decades, the U.S. dollar has been the main reserve currency, and the U.S. has experienced huge capital inflows, especially from countries such as China.”

A Reserve Currency Brings Boom and Busts (BBG)

Why would China want the IMF to put the yuan in the SDR? It may want to engineer a bump in capital inflows, at a time when money is trying to leave China. Generating some foreign demand for yuan-denominated assets might help stabilize the Chinese currency, which is expected to depreciate a bit in the months ahead. The IMF might be motivated to help China limit the moves in its currency in order to promote global macroeconomic stability, or it might want to lure China into making sovereign loans through the fund instead of on its own. Ultimately, the yuan’s status as a reserve currency will be driven by China’s further liberalization of its capital account. The easier it becomes to move money in and out of yuan, the more asset managers will be willing to put their money in.

And if China ascends to true reserve currency status, the most important effects will be in the long term – not all of them good. True reserve currency status makes it cheaper for a government to borrow, which means that – all else equal – more borrowing will happen. That will increase net capital inflows. And as many countries have learned during the last decade, capital inflows can cause trouble. That doesn’t make a lot of sense, intuitively. How could it harm a country to allow it to borrow cheaply? If countries were rational and foresighted, they would borrow no more than is healthy. But sovereign borrowing decisions are the result of government decisions not market ones, and no one would argue that governments always make wise choices. Even the private sector, though, could be harmed by capital inflows.

As economists Gianluca Benigno, Nathan Converse, and Luca Fornaro have found, large influxes of foreign money can lead to booms and busts. They can also cause a country to shift resources out of manufacturing, where productivity growth is often high, into service-oriented industries where productivity is relatively stagnant. Over the past several decades, the U.S. dollar has been the main reserve currency, and the U.S. has experienced huge capital inflows, especially from countries such as China. Those capital inflows in turn have caused a large, persistent trade deficit. Perhaps not coincidentally, U.S. manufacturing hasn’t grown very fast since the late 1990s. In the year ahead, reserve-currency status might help cushion the country’s economic slowdown. But in the long term, it might be a poisoned chalice for China.

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High time people start taking Steve a whole lot more serious. Budget surpluses kill economies.

‘Sound Finance’? The Logic Behind Running A Budget Surplus (Steve Keen)

The indefatigable Mr. Keen presents lecture no. 8 in the series. The ‘logic’ of a government aiming for a budget surplus is that the people must run a deficit.

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Not much in this FT piece is based on facts.

Greece Threatened With Schengen Expulsion Over Refugee Response (FT)

The EU is warning Greece it faces suspension from the Schengen passport-free travel zone unless it overhauls its response to the migration crisis by mid-December, as frustration mounts over Athens’ reluctance to accept outside support. Several European ministers and senior EU officials see the threat of pushing out Greece over “serious deficiencies” in border control as the only way left to persuade Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s prime minister, to deliver on his promises and take up EU offers of help. If the EU follows through on its threat, it would mark the first time a country has been suspended from Schengen since its establishment in 1985. The challenge to Athens comes amid a bigger rethink on tightening joint border control to ensure the survival of the Schengen zone.

The European Commission will this month propose a joint border force empowered to take charge of borders, potentially even against the will of frontline states such as Greece. Greece’s relatively weak administration has been overwhelmed by more than 700,000 migrants crossing its frontiers this year. Given the severity of the crisis, EU officials are vexed by Athens’s refusal to call in a special mission from Frontex, the EU border agency; its unwillingness to accept EU humanitarian aid; and its failure to revamp its system for registering refugees. EU home affairs ministers, who meet on Friday, are to make clear that more drastic measures will be considered if Greece fails to take action before a summit of EU leaders in mid-December, according to four senior European diplomats.

The suspension warning has been delivered repeatedly to Greece this week, including through a visit to Athens by Jean Asselborn, foreign minister of Luxembourg, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency. One Greek official strongly denied accusations of being unco-operative and said claims Mr Tsipras has failed to meet pledges made at a summit of western Balkan leaders last month were “untrue”. But another official acknowledged the foot-dragging. He said it stemmed from a legal requirement that only Greeks were allowed to patrol the country’s borders as well as sensitivity over the long-running dispute over Macedonia’s name and suspicions about Turkish designs on certain Greek islands, including Lesbos, point of entry for many migrants.

As Greece shares no land borders with Schengen , Greek officials point out it will have no impact on migrant flows. “There are no refugees leaving Greece who are flying ,” he said. EU officials acknowledge this but say the withdrawal of travel rights for Greeks is one of their few points of leverage over Mr Tsipras. Athens has recently turned down a deployment of up to 400 Frontex staff to immediately reinforce its border with Macedonia, complaining in a letter to the European Commission that their mandate was too broad and went beyond registration. Greek officials have yet to accept an invitation to invoke an emergency aid scheme – the EU civil protection mechanism — that would rush humanitarian support to islands and border areas.

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Very illustrative of the confusion that is an integral part of the EU. Note: Denmark is not in the eurozone.

Denmark To Vote On More Or Less EU (EUObserver)

Danes head to the polling stations on Thursday (3 December) for their eighth EU referendum since a majority voted Yes to join the club back in 1972. So far, they voted five time Yes and two times No, with a narrow lead for the No side this time around. A Gallup poll published on Saturday in the Berlingske Tidende daily showed 38% intend to vote No, with 34% Yes, and 23% undecided. You need to go back to the Maastricht treaty referendum over 20 years ago to find the reason for this week’s plebiscite. Maastricht was initially rejected by the Danes in 1992. In order to save the entire treaty, Denmark, at a summit in Edinburgh, was offered a handful of treaty-based opt-outs, preserving Danish sovereignty over EU-policy areas, such as the euro and justice and home affairs.

The Maastricht treaty was then approved together with the opt-outs in a re-run of the vote in 1993. EU legislation in the area of justice and home affairs has ballooned in the 20 years which followed. Today, it includes important areas such as cybercrime, trafficking, data protection, the Schengen free-travel system, refugee and asylum policy, and closer police co-operation on counter-terrorism. Bound by the old treaty opt-out, Denmark automatically stays out of all the supra-national EU justice and home affairs policies and doesn’t take part in EU Council votes in these areas. A frustrated majority in the Danish parliament, nick-named “Borgen” (The Castle), in August voted to call the referendum asking citizens to scrap the old arragement. They wanted permission from voters to opt in to the justice and home affairs policies over time, without having to consult people, each time, in a referendum.

The Yes parties identified 22 existing EU initiatives they want Denmark to join right after a Yes vote. They also promised Denmark won’t take part in 10 other EU initiatives – including the hot-button issue of asylum and immigration. The day after the referendum was announced, Gallup polled that a safe majority of 58% would vote Yes. But something happened during the campaign. First, the refugee crisis hardened public opinion. Liberal prime minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen promised there would be a new referendum before Denmark ever joins EU refugee and asylum policies. The move confused voters, who saw no reason to scrap the opt-out if Denmark was to stay out of key policies anyway. Then more terror attacks hit Paris in November.

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Turkey wil never be part of the EU. Any attempt to include it would blow up the union.

Merkel Accused In Germany Of Kowtowing To Erdogan (EurActiv)

The European People’s Party (EPP) has reiterated its opposition to EU membership for Turkey, despite the agreement that was reached on Sunday (29 November). EurActiv Germany reports. The deal that was struck with Ankara in relation to providing aid to tackle the refugee crisis and reopening accession talks has done nothing to quell the scepticism of the conservative EPP. “For us in the EPP, it is clear that we want a close partnership, but not full membership,” Manfred Weber (CSU), the EPP’s group leader, told Bavarian television on Monday (30 November). Although supporting the financial pledge made by the EU, he called the decision to allow Turks visa-free travel a “bitter pill” to swallow.

On Sunday evening (29 November), the EU and Turkey concluded talks that had been made necessary by the ongoing refugee crisis. Ankara committed itself to strengthening its land and sea borders, as well as stepping up its efforts against traffickers. In return, the EU pledged €3 billion to be used exclusively to care for refugees, to remove the visa-requirement for Turkish travellers and to re-energise accession talks. Alexander Graf Lambsdorff (FDP), Vice-President of the European Parliament, criticised the reopening of accession talks, given the civil and human rights situation in Asia Minor. It is not right that the EU have thrown their “values overboard” in dealing with the refugee crisis, the liberal politician said in a radio interview. Lambsdorff accused the German Chancellor of kowtowing to Turkish President Erdogan.

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Can Erdogan run afoul of his own troops?

Turkish Military Says Secret Service Shipped Weapons To Al-Qaeda (AM)

Secret official documents about the searching of three trucks belonging to Turkey’s national intelligence service (MIT) have been leaked online, once again corroborating suspicions that Ankara has not been playing a clean game in Syria. According to the authenticated documents, the trucks were found to be transporting missiles, mortars and anti-aircraft ammunition. The Gendarmerie General Command, which authored the reports, alleged, “The trucks were carrying weapons and supplies to the al-Qaeda terror organization”. But Turkish readers could not see the documents in the news bulletins and newspapers that shared them, because the government immediately obtained a court injunction banning all reporting about the affair.

When President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was prime minister, he had said, “You cannot stop the MIT truck. You cannot search it. You don’t have the authority. These trucks were taking humanitarian assistance to Turkmens”. Since then, Erdogan and his hand-picked new Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu have repeated at every opportunity that the trucks were carrying assistance to Turkmens. Public prosecutor Aziz Takci, who had ordered the trucks to be searched, was removed from his post and 13 soldiers involved in the search were taken to court on charges of espionage. Their indictments call for prison terms of up to 20 years. In scores of documents leaked by a group of hackers, the Gendarmerie Command notes that rocket warheads were found in the trucks’ cargo. According to the documents that circulated on the Internet before the ban came into effect, this was the summary of the incident:

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For now, Russia’s still trying through the UN. While likely sitting on explosive evidence.

Russia Wants To Stop ISIS’ Illegal Oil Trade With Turkey (RT)

Russia is working with the UN Security Council on a document that would enforce stricter implementation of Resolution 2199, which aims to curb illegal oil trade with and by terrorist groups, Russian ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin told RIA Novosti. The draft resolution intends to quash the financing of terrorist groups, including Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) extremists. “We are not happy with the way Resolution 2199, which was our initiative, is controlled and implemented. We want to toughen the whole procedure,” Churkin said. “We are already discussing the text with some colleagues and I must say that so far there is not a lot of contention being expressed.” US Ambassador Samantha Power said that America has “a shared objective” with Russia on this, since it is also working towards bringing the financing of terrorism to a halt.

The new document is a follow-up to Russian-sponsored Resolution 2199, which was adopted by the UN on February 12 to put a stop to illicit oil deals with terrorist structures using the UN Security Council’s sanctions toolkit. February’s resolution “has become an integral part of efforts by the UN Security Council, with Russia’s active involvement, to consolidate the international legal framework for countering the terrorist threat from ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra,” Dr Alexander Yakovenko, Russian Ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, wrote for RT. “Its urgency is prompted by the considerable revenues that the terrorists are receiving from trade in hydrocarbons from seized deposits in Syria and Iraq.” More specifically, it bans all types of oil trade with IS and Jabhat al-Nusra.

If such transactions are discovered, they are labeled as financial aid to terrorists and result in targeted sanctions against participating individuals or companies. Back in July, the UN Security Council expressed “grave concern” over reports of oil trading with IS militant groups in Iraq and Syria. The statement came after IS seized control of oilfields in the area and was reportedly using the revenues to finance its nascent “state.” While Ambassador Churkin has proposed sanctioning states trading with IS terrorists, a retired US army general, believes that Churkin should be more specific in identifying the state actors involved in the illegal oil trade. Retired US Army Major General Paul E. Vallely, who has recently been lobbying for the Syrian rebels to cooperate with Russia against Islamic State, as well as for Washington to take a more active role in the war on IS, says Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan should be singled out as a “negative force” for supporting Islamic State’s black market oil revenues.

While the rebels in eastern Syria where the oil fields are located “could align with certain forces that are there – the Russians, if they were so inclined to do so… the key is to destroy ISIS, and one of the initiatives that ambassador Churkin should be moving toward with the Security Council is Erdogan in Turkey,” Vallely told RT. “He [Erdogan] has been supporting ISIS since I was over there several years ago. I’ve met some of the black-marketeers along the Syrian border there in [Turkish] Hatay province, and so they’re alive and well. But Erdogan is a problem, he really is, and if I was ambassador Churkin, not only would I propose something in the Security Council for cutting off the finances, but also doing some kind of action against Erdogan. He is a very, very negative force in that area.”

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Looks dead. But so does ‘resetting’ the Ukraine option.

Turkish Stream Gas Pipeline Freezes (Reuters)

Russia may freeze work on the Turkish Stream gas pipeline project for several years in retaliation against Ankara for the shooting down of a Russian Air Force jet, two sources at Russian gas giant Gazprom have told Reuters. The project is to involve, initially, building a new gas pipeline under the Black Sea to Turkey, and in subsequent phases the construction of a further line from Turkey to Greece, and then overland into Southeastern Europe. Even before the row with Ankara, the project had been delayed and reduced in scale, leading some industry insiders to doubt if it would ever happen.

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Robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Puerto Rico’s Financial Crisis Just Got More Serious (WaPo)

Virtually out of cash and with its revenues fast deteriorating, Puerto Rico is moving toward default on $7 billion in loans owed by its public corporations to free up money to repay loans backed by the territory’s full faith and credit, Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla told a Senate hearing Tuesday. The move allowed Puerto Rico to make a $355 million bond payment due today. Still, the financial gimmick, which violates the terms of some of those bond deals, only provides a short-term fix for the island’s liquidity problems. With at least $687 million in payments due on Jan. 1 and others to follow, it will only be a matter of time before Puerto Rico misses large payments on its $73 billion in outstanding debt, officials said.

“In simple terms we have begun to default on our debt in an effort to attempt to repay bonds issued with full faith and credit of the commonwealth and secure sufficient resources to protect the life, health, safety and welfare of the people of Puerto Rico,” Garcia Padilla told the Senate Judiciary Committee. If Congress does not pass legislation to allow Puerto Rico to reorganize its debts in bankruptcy, Tuesday’s financial move will just be “the beginning of a very long and chaotic process” that will harm the island’s creditors and allow a budding humanitarian crisis on the island to grow out of control, the governor said.

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Obama will stall until his term is over.

Human Rights Watch Demands US Criminal Probe Of CIA Torture (Reuters)

Human Rights Watch called on the Obama administration on Tuesday to investigate 21 former U.S. officials, including former President George W. Bush, for potential criminal misconduct for their roles in the CIA’s torture of terrorism suspects in detention. The other officials include former Vice President Dick Cheney, former CIA Director George Tenet, former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Human Rights Watch argued that details of the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogation program that were made public by a U.S. Senate committee in December 2014 provided enough evidence for the Obama administration to open an inquiry.

“It’s been a year since the Senate torture report, and still the Obama administration has not opened new criminal investigations into CIA torture,” Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Without criminal investigations, which would remove torture as a policy option, Obama’s legacy will forever be poisoned.” Representatives for Bush and Tenet declined comment. Representatives for Cheney, Ashcroft and Rice could not immediately be reached for comment. Former Bush administration officials and Republicans have argued that the CIA used “enhanced interrogation techniques” that did not constitute torture. They argue that the Senate report was biased.

“It’s a bunch of hooey,” James Mitchell, one of the architects of the interrogation program told Reuters nearly a year ago after the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s findings. “Some of the things are just plain not true.” In a video released in conjunction with the report, “No More Excuses” “A Roadmap to Justice for CIA Torture,” the president of the American Bar Association calls for a renewed investigation as well. In June, the ABA sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch also saying that the details disclosed in the Senate report merited an investigation. “What we’ve asked the Justice Department to do is take a fresh look, a comprehensive look, into what has occurred to basically leave no stone unturned into investigating possible violations,” said American Bar Association President Paulette Brown.

“And if any are found to take the appropriate action as they would in any other matter.” CIA interrogators carried out the program on detainees who were captured around the world after the Sept. 11, 2001 hijacked plane attacks on the United States. In 2008, the Bush administration opened a criminal inquiry into whether the CIA destroyed videotapes of interrogations. After taking office in 2009, the Obama administration expanded the inquiry to include whether the interrogation program’s activity involved criminal conduct. In 2012, the Obama administration closed the criminal inquiry. Then Attorney General Eric Holder said that not enough evidence existed for criminal prosecution, including the death of two detainees.

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And here’s your daily dose of dead children.

4-Year Old Girl Drowns As Refugee Boat Tries To Reach Greek Shores (Kath.)

A 4-year-old child was reported drowned in the early hours of Tuesday as she and 28 fellow passengers tried to swim to the shore of Rho, a small islet off the coast of Kastellorizo in the southeastern Aegean. The coast guard says it was able to rescue the other 28 passengers on board the craft that had set sail from Turkey as they tried to reach Europe, but the young girl drowned in the final scramble. Greek coast guard officers have rescued over 200 refugees and migrants from Greece’s seas since Monday.

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Sep 272015
 
 September 27, 2015  Posted by at 5:15 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing The Capitol in the snow 1917

Societies in decline have no use for visionaries
– Anaïs Nin

The moment we heard that John Boehner would resign, the first thing that came to mind was: the next one will be a Greater Fool and a Bigger Liar. For all of his obvious faultlines, Boehner is human. As was evident for all to see Thursday when the Pope -Boehner’s as Catholic as JFK and Jesus Christ- came to see ‘him’ in ‘his’ Senate. Even smiled reading that the Pope had asked Boehner to pray for him.

But Boehner was really of course just a man who through time increasingly became a kind of barrier between a president and his party on the one hand, and Boehner’s own, increasingly ‘out there’, party on the other. He moved from far right to the right middle just to keep the country going. In essence, that’s little more than his job, but just doing your job can get you some nasty treatment these days in the land of the free.

So now we’ll get a refresher course in government shutdown, though there’s no guarantee that Boehner’s successor will be enough of a greater fool to cut his/her (make that his) new-found career short by actually letting it happen. At least not before December.

The government shutdown is a threat like Janet Yellen’s rate hike, one which always seems to disappear right around the next corner, a process that eats away at credibility much more than participants are willing and/or able to acknowledge. Until it’s too late.

Now that it’s clear they lost on Obamacare, Republicans demand that funding for Planned Parenthood must stop, as the women’s group is accused of ‘improperly selling tissue harvested from aborted fetuses’, something it vehemently denies. And there we’re right back to the shadow boxing multi-millionaire tragic comedy act the US Congress has been for years now.

So yeah, by all means let it shut down. Thing is, as much as Boehner was always already a walking safety hazard, there’s guys waiting in the wings who’d love to end Obama’s presidency any which way they can. The official GOP viewpoint may be that Da Donald is a greater fool, but that view isn’t shared by the entire caucus. Again, so yeah, bring it on, like the rate hike, let’s see you do it.

It’s not a little ironic that one day after the Pope holds his hand, Boehner leaves a squabble behind that involves aborted fetuses. Where I come from, no accusations of people either eating babies or selling their tissue is taken serious, ever. We call that folklore.

Meanwhile, Anarchy In The US is a distinct possibility. It’s probably a good thing all these guys still have paymasters, wouldn’t want to have them make their own decisions. More irony: Boehner brought more donations into the GOP caucus than anyone else. They’ll miss him yet.

Also meanwhile, European and US exchanges were up on Friday as if no investor ever saw a Volkswagen in their lives. Even as there’s no escaping the idea that VW’s illegal drummings go way beyond the 11 million vehicles they themselves fessed up to, and the millions more from other carmakers. Where I come from, we call this endemic fraud.

This little graphic from T&E seems to indicate that VW was the least worst of the offenders. And it will be very hard for politicians to find a carpet left big enough to sweep this under. Class action lawsuits are being prepared for investors and car owners, and politics doesn’t trump courts, at least not everywhere.

Merkel and Hollande and all of their lower level minions will have to cut their losses and offer their carmakers to the vultures, or risk getting severely burned in the process. Or is it already too late? The German Green Party claims Merkel knew of the rigged emissions tests. For now, the government is in steep denial:

German Greens Claim Merkel Government Knew Emissions Tests Were Rigged

The German Green party has claimed that the German Government, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, knew about the software car manufacturers used to rig emissions tests in the US. The Green party has said it asked the German Transport Ministry in July about the devices used to deceive regulators and received a written response as follows, the FT reports: “The federal government is aware of [defeat devices], which have the goal of [test] cycle detection.”

The Transport Ministry denied knowing that the software was being used in new vehicles, however. The timing of the questions has raised concerns over whether the German government knew about the activities at Volkswagen stretching back to 2009. “The federal government admitted in July, to an inquiry from the Greens, that the [emissions] measurement practice had shortcomings. Nothing happened,” said Oliver Krischer, a German Green party lawmaker.

That written response the Financial Times reports on either exists or it does not. Let’s see it. Simple. If it does exist, Merkel’s in trouble. Then again, the EU knew about the defeat device at least two years ago. It’s starting to look as if everyone was involved. And you can’t fire everyone.

EU Warned On Devices At Centre Of VW Scandal Two Years Ago

EU officials had warned of the dangers of defeat devices two years before the Volkswagen emissions scandal broke, highlighting Europe’s failure to police the car industry. A 2013 report by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre drew attention to the challenges posed by the devices, which are able to skew the results of exhaust readings. But regulators then failed to pursue the issue — despite the fact the technology had been illegal in Europe since 2007. EU officials said they had never specifically looked for such a device themselves and were not aware of any national authority that located one.

Matthias Müller was announced as VW’s new head honcho. Now there’s a greater fool if ever you saw one. Who can possibly want that gig? His predecessor Winterkorn left the top post, but to date not the one as head of Porsche. Ergo, he presides over those who lead the internal investigation at the company. And even if Winterkorn is bought off and out, VW is still as big of a hornet’s nest as you can find. The company’s corporate -and legal- structure, which includes unsavorily close ties to the governments of both Lower Saxony -which owns 20% of the company, in (highly) preferred stock- and federal Germany, virtually guarantees it.

Nor does it stop there. Both the German and British governments now stand accused of perverting EU law on emissions. The Wall Street Journal asks how much the EU itself knew. Easy answer: plenty. Inevitable. Key words: spin doctors, damage control.

This morning’s Bild am Sonntag, which claims to be in the possession of an ‘explosive document’, reports first that a October 7 deadline has been handed VW by Berlin to ‘fix’ its problems, and second that engineering giant Bosch, which provided the -initial?!- “defeat device” software, warned VW as long as 8 years ago, in 2007, that the software was for internal testing purposes only. VW‘s own technicians “warned about illegal emissions practices” in 2011, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung cites an internal report as saying.

And that’s just the beginning. Or rather, the beginning may have been much earlier. Bloomberg writes, in an article called “Forty Years Of Greenwashing” that “On 23 July 1973, the EPA accused [Volkswagen] of installing defeat devices in cars it wanted to sell in the 1974 model year.” Great, now we have to wonder what Gerald Ford knew? Dick Nixon?

In perhaps an ill-timed effort to divert attention away from her car industry, Merkel dreams of more global power:

Germany Battles Past Ghosts as Merkel Urges Greater Global Role

Europe’s dominant country is stepping out from its own shadow. Seventy years after Germany’s defeat at the end of World War II, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government is signaling a willingness to assume a bigger role in tackling the world’s crises without fear of offending allies like the U.S. Spurred into more international action by the refugee crisis, Merkel on Wednesday prodded Europe to adopt a “more active foreign policy” with greater efforts to end the civil war in Syria, the source of millions fleeing to safety. As well as enlisting the help of Russia, Turkey and Iran, Merkel said that will mean dialogue with Bashar al-Assad, making her the first major western leader to urge talks with the Syrian president.

Germany’s position as Europe’s biggest economy allowed Merkel and her finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, to assume a leading role during the euro-area debt crisis centered on Greece, but the change in focus to beyond Europe’s borders is very much political. After decades of relying on industrial prowess – now under international scrutiny as a result of the Volkswagen scandal – globalization and the necessity to keep Europe relevant are opening up options for Merkel to make Germany a less reluctant hegemon.

Syria has spurred “a rethink in German foreign policy,” Magdalena Kirchner at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, said. “As the refugee crisis developed, the view took hold that this conflict can no longer be fenced off or ignored. With her stance on the crisis, Merkel may be prodding other European leaders toward a bigger international engagement.”

And Angela’s Germany tells the ECB to take a hike and grow a pair while they’re at it. For a country that spent the best part of the year telling Greece to stick to the law and the plan or else, that’s quite something.

ECB Faces Defiance on Bank Oversight as Germany Hoards Power

The ECB faces increasing defiance from euro-area governments reluctant to cede control over their lenders, highlighted by a German bill that chips away at the ECB’s supervisory powers. The Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, votes Thursday on an amendment to Germany’s banking act that would allow the Finance Ministry in Berlin to issue rules on banks’ recovery plans, risk management and internal decisions under a bill implementing European Union rules for winding down failing banks. The ECB, which assumed supervisory powers over euro-area banks last November, is considering complaining at the European Commission, asking the EU’s executive arm to take Germany to court over the legislation.

As for Angela and the refugee issue, no changes any faster than a frozen molasses flow. Germany announced it will spend €4 billion on refugees already in the country, but votes to stop who’s still coming. As if that’s a serious option. They’re going to do it with gunboats, no less. Agianst overloaded dinghies.

EU To Use Warships To Curb Human Traffickers

The EU will use warships to catch and arrest human traffickers in international waters as part of a military operation aimed at curbing the flow of refugees into Europe, the bloc’s foreign affairs chief has said. “The political decision has been taken, the assets are ready,” Federica Mogherini said on Thursday at the headquarters of the EU’s military operation in Rome. The first phase of the EU operation was launched in late June. It included reconnaissance, surveillance and intelligence gathering, and involved speaking to refugees rescued at sea and compiling data on trafficker networks. The operation currently involves four ships – including an Italian aircraft carrier – and four planes, as well as 1,318 staff from 22 European countries.

Beginning on October 7, the new phase will allow for the seizure of vessels and arrests of traffickers in international waters, as well as the deployment of European warships on the condition that they do not enter Libyan waters. “We will be able to board, search, seize vessels in international waters, [and] suspected smugglers and traffickers apprehended will be transferred to the Italian judicial authorities,” Mogherini said. “We have now a complete picture of how, when and where the smugglers’ organisations and networks are operating so we are ready to actively dismantle them,” she said.

Those 1,318 staff could be used to help and rescue refugees, who will keep coming. Another 17 drowned in the Aegean Sea this Sunday morning. That should be the no. 1 priority. Instead, Europe’s policy of death continues unabated. France started bombing Syria -again- and Putin can and will no longer be ignored when it comes to his sole Middle East stronghold. We’ve created a god-awful mess, and not even god’s alleged man-on-the-earth, the underwhelming Pope Francis, does more than stammer a few hardly audible scripted lines about it.

It’s all about power and money, and none of it is about people. In other ‘news’, China securitizes its markets in a pretty standard desperate greater fools’ last move. As I said earlier, Beijing’s Rocking the Ponzi.

China Becomes Asia’s Biggest Securitization Market

China’s fledging securitization market is soaring, as Beijing looks for new ways to ease lending to firms amid the country’s slowest period of economic growth in more than two decades. In the past few months, Chinese officials have laid out new rules to expand and quicken the process for car makers and other lenders to issue debt by bundling together pools of underlying loans. Issuance of asset-backed securities in the world’s second largest economy rose by a quarter in the first eight months of 2015—to $26.3 billion from $20.8 billion in the same period last year, according to data publisher Dealogic. Though the Chinese securitization market took flight just last year, it has already become Asia’s biggest, outpacing other, more developed markets like South Korea and Japan.

China’s new economic reality, no matter what Xi tells Obama, was revealed by China Daily. Imagine a company in the US, or an EU country, announcing 100,000 lay-offs in one go. For China, it’s the first of many, though not all may be publicly announced.

Chinese Mining Group Longmay To Cut 100,000 Coal Jobs (China Daily)

The largest coal mining group in Northeast China is cutting 100,000 jobs within the next three months to reduce its losses – one of the biggest mass layoffs in recent years. Heilongjiang Longmay Mining Holding Group Co Ltd, which has a 240,000 workforce, said a special center would be created to help those losing their jobs to either relocate or start their own businesses. Chairman of the group Wang Zhikui said the job losses were a way of helping the company “stop bleeding”. It also plans to sell its non-coal related businesses to help pay off its debts, said Wang.

In Japan, desperate fool Shinzo Abe moves on to Abenomics 2.0 with three entirely fresh but as yet unnamed new “arrows”. Here’s thinking Japan doesn’t need Abenomics 2.0, it needs Abe 2.0. Or tomorrow will be even worse than today.

Japan’s Abe Airs Abenomics 2.0 Plan For $5 Trillion Economy

Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe, fresh from a bruising battle over unpopular military legislation, announced Thursday an updated plan for reviving the world’s third-largest economy, setting a GDP target of 600 trillion yen ($5 trillion). Abe took office in late 2012 promising to end deflation and rev up growth through strong public spending, lavish monetary easing and sweeping reforms to help make the economy more productive and competitive.

So far, those “three arrows” of his “Abenomics” plan have fallen short of their targets though share prices and corporate profits have soared. “Tomorrow will definitely be better than today!” Abe declared in a news conference on national television. “From today Abenomics is entering a new stage. Japan will become a society in which all can participate actively.”

Participate actively in the downfall of both Abe and the nation, that is.

As for you yourself, unless you stop clinging to the silly notion of an economic recovery -let alone perpetual growth-, you too are a greater fool, the quintessential one. And until you do, you’re a bigger liar too. You lie to yourself. Just so others can lie to you too.

What is happening in today’s world is a total downfall, both economic and moral, and the two are closely intertwined. What’s more, though we’re blind to it, as Anaïs Nin said, “Societies in decline have no use for visionaries.” Our societies therefore end up with liars only. Nobody else gets a shot at the title. There’s no use for anything but lies.

All leaders, as we can see these days wherever we look, talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. Every single one of them schemes and lies and hides their acts from public scrutiny. Political leaders, corporate leaders, the lot. This behavior is so ubiquitous we’ve come to see it as inevitable, even normal.

Whether it’s the economy, climate, the planet, warfare, your future obligations, your pensions, the future of your children, nobody in power tells you the truth. Human life is fast losing the value we would like to tell ourselves we assign to it. We don’t, do we? Children drown in the Mediterranean every day, and we let them drown, it’s not just our leaders who do.

Children also get shot to bits in various theaters of war (or rather, invasion) in faraway countries that our leaders involve us in, our tax dollars pay for, and our media don’t show. What the European refugee crisis shows us is that there are no faraway countries anymore, or theaters of war. Our own technological advances have taken care of that. They’re on our doorstep. And sending in the military is only going to make it worse.

Our technological advances haven’t come with moral advances, quite the contrary, our morals turn out to be a thin layer of mere cheap veneer. What advances we’re making are the last death rattle of a society in decline, and a dying civilization. All we have left to look forward to from here on in is cats in a sack. And we owe that to ourselves.

Sep 232015
 
 September 23, 2015  Posted by at 2:24 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Dorothea Lange Depression refugee family from Tulsa, Oklahoma 1936

At the moment I start writing this, leaders of European nations are in a meeting in which they talk about refugees that, though it was announced over a week ago, was nevertheless labeled an ’emergency’ meeting. The only thing that truly tells you is that Europe still refuses to see the refugee situation as an emergency. And that’s not just semantics.

Of course there’ll be all sorts of bickering about the difference between migrants and refugees, and tons of words about how “we” should separate the two, and send people back, and strengthen European borders, and fight the human smugglers. None of which addresses reality, or at least at best a tiny sliver of it.

“Smugglers” are not the problem, it’s the people they “smuggle” that are. Or perhaps we should turn that around and admit that in fact it’s the European leaders who are the problem. It’s they who lack any courage or vision, or even a basic understanding of what is going on.

Angela Merkel has gotten a lot of accolades when she opened Germany’s borders to Syrians, even though that only lasted a few days. But people seem to forget that she is Europe’s most powerful politician, and that makes her responsible for a lot of the drowned children who lose their lives on a daily basis in a small stretch of the Mediterranean between Turkey and Greece.

Merkel should have acted much faster. She’s just as culpable as all the other jokers in Brussels and various EU capitals. They all were, and still are, hoping this issue would go away by itself. Instead, the issue has only just started, and the whole continent is woefully unprepared to this day.

German paper Die Welt ran a story this weekend (in German) that detailed how Merkel and her government were warned in Q1 by the German federal police (Bundespolizei) that a million refugees would be coming to Germany in 2015. And did nothing. The paper didn’t provide a precise date, but Q1 ended close to 6 months ago, so we know Merkel et al could have acted on this information -and prepared- at least half a year ago.

Have they? Given the chaos that developed within a few days of allowing refugees to enter the country, our money’s on a resounding NO. So those portraits we’ve seen with Angela dressed up as Mother Teresa can now be filed away as ludicrous.

The outcome of today’s meeting is very easy to predict. There will be promises of millions of dollars, and of saddling Greece and Italy with huge camps to house refugees in, far away from whoever is either too comfortable or too right-wing to deal with Europe’s new reality.

There will be nothing in writing that comes even close to what is needed, neither financially nor in practical terms. All politicians will feel free to pander to, and hide behind, their bigoted populations.

These talks should have taken place at least half a year ago. That might have saved children’s – and adults’- lives both in the meantime and in the future. That nothing of true value happened between the moment Merkel got her warning and last week’s announcement of this week’s “emergency” meeting not only tells you all you need to know about Merkel and her peers, it also is certain to both have made matters worse and to continue doing so going forward.

There is precious little to be expected from Europe’s leadership, because there is so little of it. They all like the power but skirt the responsibility. The EU apparently seeks to charge 14 nations with 19 cases of violating EU asylum treaties, but countries like Croatia and Hungary were so unprepared for what happened to them, this could only have led to panic and fences and police dogs. It’s a miracle nobody shot a whole bunch of refugees. Yet.

It could all have been prevented if Merkel had decided not to shelve that warning from her federal police force, and instead had called a high level summit then and there. But she was too busy whipping Greece into submission, and hoping, as all other did, that one morning it would all prove to have been a bad dream.

One would suspect that French secret services also had information on what was to come, but François Hollande is a dunce who spends his time counting votes and reading polls. David Cameron would probably prefer to drown and/or shoot that ‘swarm’, and the other heads of state either don’t count for much in terms of population numbers or elect to keep their mouths shut lest they risk the next election.

If Europe’s leaders don’t tackle the issue now, and in an effective way, we risk, with a likelihood bordering on certainty, much worse than we have seen so far. The refugees will not stop coming to Europe. But with autumn now on the doorstep, their journeys will become much more perilous, and deadly.

Europe is set to change, and in very sweeping ways. That cannot be altered. What can be done is to treat refugees like they are human beings, whose lives matter the way German and French lives matter.

Moreover, if Merkel had called that EU meeting in early spring, she would rapidly have concluded that it was not enough. That this is not a European problem. Very few of the refugees, after all, are European. It is, therefore, a global problem. And there is a political body to deal with those, the UN. Merkel would have called a UN meeting long ago if only she had called that EU meeting first.

Why the UN itself hasn’t even opened its mouth, other than to chide Europe, is a mystery. It’s on a fast track to becoming redundant.

The US has announced it will accept 10,000 Syrian refugees – who may take two years to be processed. For perspective: in the space of just three hours this morning, 2,500 arrived on the island of Lesbos alone. The US cannot deny its share of the blame for causing the crisis. It can still, however, start acting in a humane fashion.

Not like Hollande and Cameron whose main target today is increased bombing of the very places the refugees are fleeing from, not providing them with asylum away from those places.

The refugee question should be the top priority in the talks Obama has with the Pope in America in the next few days. As it should be in the meeting(s) with Chinese president Xi Jinping, who’s also in the country. But it doesn’t look as if that’s going to happen. It’ll be a sidenote at best.

Merkel has a narrow window to right her wrongs, and it’s closing fast. If she doesn’t act now, we’ll see Europe’s lack of humanity and abundance of disgrace bared even more, and increasingly so.

There will be blood.

Aug 062015
 
 August 6, 2015  Posted by at 11:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


NPC Fire at Thomas Somerville plant, Washington DC 1926

Commodities Are Crashing Like It’s 2008 All Over Again (Bloomberg)
Lost Decade in Emerging Markets: Investors Already Halfway There (Bloomberg)
Analyst Who Called Top of China Stock Rally Sees Rout Worsening (Bloomberg)
The Fed Is Cornered And There Are Visible Market Stresses Everywhere (Haselmann)
GDP Bonds Are Answer To Greek Debt Problem (FT)
Greece’s Debt Burden Can And Must Be Lightened Within The Euro (Bruegel)
Tsipras: Greece On ‘Final Stretch’ Of Talks With Creditors (Guardian)
Tests Start On Greece’s Systemic Lenders (Kathimerini)
Saudi Arabia May Go Broke Before The US Oil Industry Buckles (AEP)
ECB Paper: Banks That Lobby More Likely To Get Favourable Treatment (Reuters)
Eurozone Retail Sales Fall Sharply in June (WSJ)
A Prescription for Peace and Prosperity (Paul Craig Roberts)
Osborne, In Big Banks’ Pockets, Faces Wrath Of Challengers (Guardian)
The Economist: The TPP is Dead (Naked Capitalism)
Canada Is On The Verge Of A Recession (CNN)
Pope Francis’ ‘Attendance’ At GOP Debate Will Help Sink The Party (Farrell)
Most Americans Say Their Children Will Be Worse Off (MarketWatch)
Refugee Crisis on the Beach in Greece (NY Times)

I’m thinking 2008 will turn out to have nothing on the present crash.

Commodities Are Crashing Like It’s 2008 All Over Again (Bloomberg)

Attention commodities investors: Welcome back to 2008! The meltdown has pushed as many commodities into bear markets as there were in the month after the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., which spurred the worst financial crisis seven years ago since the Great Depression. Eighteen of the 22 components in the Bloomberg Commodity Index have dropped at least 20% from recent closing highs, meeting the common definition of a bear market. That’s the same number as at the end of October 2008, when deepening financial turmoil sent global markets into a swoon.

A stronger U.S. dollar and China’s cooling economy are adding to pressure on raw materials. Two of the index’s top three weightings – gold and crude oil – are in bear markets. The gauge itself has bounced off 13-year lows for the past month. Four commodities – corn, natural gas, wheat and cattle – have managed to stay out of bear markets, due to bad weather and supply issues. Hedge funds are growing more pessimistic as the year has gone on. Money managers have slashed bets on higher commodity prices by half this year, anticipating lower oil and gold prices.

Read more …

Everything shrinks.

Lost Decade in Emerging Markets: Investors Already Halfway There (Bloomberg)

Just 14 years ago Wall Street fell in love with the BRICs, the tidy acronym for four major emerging economies that, to many, looked like sure winners. Today, after heady runs and abrupt reversals, most of the BRICs – in fact, most developing nations – look like big-time losers. The history of emerging markets is a history of booms and busts, but the immediate future may hold something more prosaic: malaise. Investors today confront what could turn out to be a lost decade of returns, with four or five more meager years ahead. “These are very much the lean years after the bonanza decade,” said Harvard Kennedy School economist Carmen Reinhart, one of the world’s top experts on financial crises and developing economies.

Not long ago the BRICs – Brazil, Russia, India and China – were celebrated as engines of global growth. Now Brazil and Russia face deep recessions brought on by the collapse in global commodities, while China is slowing and struggling to prop up its fast-sinking stock market. The prospect of higher U.S. interest rates only adds to the gloom. Currencies from the South African rand to the Malaysian ringgit fell anew on Wednesday amid worries the U.S. Federal Reserve might move as early as September. To Ruchir Sharma, the turnabout suggests the outsize investment returns of the early 2000s – the MSCI Emerging Markets Index nearly quadrupled between 2002 and 2010 – now look like an anomaly.

“Very few emerging markets historically have ever been able to make it to the developed countries,” said Sharma, head of emerging markets at Morgan Stanley. “This is a return to normalcy.” The numbers are certainly sobering. All told, developing-nation currencies have fallen to their lowest levels since 1999, and bonds denominated in those currencies have wiped out five years’ worth of gains.

Read more …

“Shanghai looks bad and the global cycle is starting to look a little weaker, and that should pressure these things.”

Analyst Who Called Top of China Stock Rally Sees Rout Worsening (Bloomberg)

More than two decades’ experience poring over stock charts helped Thomas Schroeder lock in profits in April before Chinese companies in Hong Kong went into freefall. Now he’s bearish again, betting the slump in Chinese shares won’t stop anytime soon. The Shanghai Composite Index will decline to as low as 3,100 in two months, Schroeder said, 16% below the closing level Wednesday, despite intermittent rallies as the government steps up efforts to stabilize the market. The Hang Seng China Enterprises Index of mainland shares traded in Hong Kong will drop about 10%, he said. To Schroeder, slowing Chinese economic growth and collapsing commodities prices are heightening the chance that the indexes will fall below key equity market support levels.

These are lines on charts that technical analysts say typically mark a floor for prices. Technical analysts use past patterns to try to predict future movements. “For now, we’re in the bear camp,” Schroeder, founder and managing director at Chart Partners, a provider of trading strategies linked to technical analysis, said by phone from Bangkok. “You’re not going to get to it right away. I’m sure the Chinese government will continue to come in and try to support the market in Shanghai. But in the next two months, you’re going to be” reaching these levels.

The former global head of technical research for SG Securities and Asian technical analysis chief at UBS is watching the 3,400 level on the Shanghai Composite. He expects the gauge to fall further if that’s breached. It closed Wednesday at 3,694.57. The H-share measure had jumped 37% from a low in October when Schroeder made his call. Though it edged up a further 5.8% to a peak on May 26, it then slumped more than 25%, while a 32% rout in Shanghai shares helped destroy about $4 trillion in mainland market value. [..] “There are some big moves coming,” said Schroeder. “Shanghai looks bad and the global cycle is starting to look a little weaker, and that should pressure these things.”

Read more …

“Regulations have chased the ‘carry trades’ from the banking system into the shadow banking system where officials can’t see or measure the risk.”

The Fed Is Cornered And There Are Visible Market Stresses Everywhere (Haselmann)

Part One, China An economic slowdown is underway in China. This is reflected in the steep drop in the commodity complex and in the currencies of emerging market countries. Large imbalances are being worked off as Beijing attempts to shift the composition of its growth. Policy decision are not always economic. New sources of growth are being sought by Beijing as deleveraging occurs. Since officials care foremost about social stability, they try to preserve as many current jobs as possible during their attempt at economic transformation. During this period, banks might be averse to calling in loans. State owned enterprises (SOEs) are pressured to keep producing, so that workers can continue to receive a pay check. The result is over-production and downward pressure on prices.

Part Two, The Seven Year Fed Subsidy The Fed’s zero interest rate policy has provided a subsidy to investors for the past 7 years. The lure of easy profits from cheap money was wildly attractive and readily accepted by investors. The Fed “put” gave investors great confidence that they could outperform their exceptionally low cost of capital. These implicit promises by central banks encouraged trillions of dollars into ‘carry trades’ and various forms of market speculation. Complacent investors maintain these trades, despite the Fed’s warning of a looming reduction in the subsidy, and despite a balance sheet expected to shrink in 2016. It has been a risk-chasing ‘game of chicken’ that is coming to an end. Changing conditions have skewed risk/reward to the downside. This is particularly true because financial assets prices are exceptionally expensive.

Maybe investors do not believe ‘lift-off’ looms, because the Fed has changed its guidance so many times. Or maybe, investors are interpreting plummeting commodity prices and the steep fall in global trade as warning signs that global growth and inflation are under pressure. Is this why the US 30 year has rallied 40 basis points in the past 3 weeks? (see my July 17th note, “Bonds are Back”) Either scenario creates a paradox for risk-seeking investors. If the US economy continues on its current slow progress pace, then the Fed will act on its warning and hike rates in September. However, if the Fed does not hike in September it is likely because problems from China, commodities, Greece, or emerging markets (etc) cause the global outlook to deteriorate further. Neither scenario should be good for risk assets.

Part Three, “Carry Trade” During the 2008 crisis, Special Investment Vehicles (SIVs) were primarily responsible for freezing the interbank lending market. SIVs were separate entities set up primarily to earn the ‘carry’ differential between short-dated loans and longer-dated assets purchased with the proceeds of the loans. This legal structure allowed banks to own billions of dollars of securities (CDOs and such) off of their balance sheets. Since the entities were wholly-owned with liquidity guarantees, the vehicles received the same attractive funding rates as the parent banks. When the housing crisis (and Lehman collapse) spurred loan delinquencies, banks had to place all of these hidden securities onto their balance sheets.

Since the magnitude of the SIV levered assets was unknown to others, bank solvency was questioned, and interbank lending froze. Many of these securities had to be sold at fire sale prices, i.e., prices well below their economic value. When the Fed begins to normalize rates, trillions in carry trades will likely begin to unwind. The similarity to 2008 is glaring, except that banks no longer own SIVs. Regulations have chased the ‘carry trades’ from the banking system into the shadow banking system where officials can’t see or measure the risk. The banking system today is, no doubt, far less exposed, but too many sellers could overwhelm the depth of the market, leading to asset price contagion that filters into the real economy.

Read more …

Varoufakis proposed this in January.

GDP Bonds Are Answer To Greek Debt Problem (FT)

It is clear that Greece cannot repay its sovereign debt as it is now structured, despite a generous dose of reprofiling, (extend and pretend), already granted by the country’s public sector creditors in the eurozone. The IMF has endorsed this view. But how can one lower the debt burden on Greece, and yet at the same time be fair to other eurozone countries with debt burdens enlarged by the global financial crisis, such as Ireland; and fair also to the taxpayers in creditor countries, some of which may well be still poorer than the Greeks? There is, I believe, a way to do so. This mechanism is to restructure most, or all, of such Greek debt into real GDP bonds.

These pay nothing so long as real per capita income is below its previous peak, but, as a quid pro quo, they pay a multiple, say twice, of any%age increase in real per capita income as it rises beyond its prior peak level. The maturity would be long, say 40 years, but there would have to be a fixed maturity, since otherwise, in a growing economy the burden could eventually become excessive. Such a switch would achieve several objectives simultaneously. First, creditors would get paid if, and only if, they helped Greece to start growing again. The present fixation with large primary surpluses and austerity would get replaced with a growth programme. So long as growth remained possible, as it surely must, nothing would have to be written off. The net present value of the debt would be a strongly positive function of future Greek growth rates.

Second, the interest/dividend repayments would become strongly contracyclical, with larger payouts in booms when tax payments are high, rather than (mildly) pro-cyclical as they are now. Nothing would be paid in a recession, such as exists at present. Third, exactly the same option, to switch existing debt into real GDP bonds, could also be offered to any other country that has had to accept a support programme, notably Ireland, Cyprus and Portugal. There is no need to give uniquely favourable terms to Greece among all those countries worst hit by the financial crisis. Countries without such a programme, such as Italy, would be allowed to switch existing debt into real GDP bonds, but only on terms agreed after negotiation with existing creditors.

Any country could, of course, issue real GDP bonds to finance current deficits. Real GDP bonds are, of course, a form of national equity. The world is currently drowning in debt, and this is but one way to move the debt/equity ratio back towards a safer and saner balance. Just as we require banks to hold a higher equity ratio, and for much the same reasons, so we should encourage countries, especially those with volatile economies, to shift from debt to equity finance.

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A second proposal for GDP(-linked) bonds. COntagion?!

Greece’s Debt Burden Can And Must Be Lightened Within The Euro (Bruegel)

Perhaps the greatest damage caused by the confrontation with Greece is a general loss of confidence. If we want to get Greece back to growth, people, companies and investors have to regain confidence in the viability of the country. For this to work, a legitimate and competent government as well as an efficient administration and judiciary are essential. Yet the issue of debt sustainability is still central, even if the debt servicing costs are negligible in the short term. No one doubts the IMF’s analysis that the sustainability of Greek government debt constitutes a key precondition for recovery. The third program, which is now being negotiated, aims to put Greece back where it stood at the end of last year: with growth expectations of almost 3%.

This third programme is intended to be the exact opposite of a transfer program. It aims to strengthen the Greek economy and thereby protect the loans and guarantees provided by the creditors. A large part of the disbursements will go into debt repayments to official creditors. This is important, but not enough. The current link between debt servicing and membership of the single currency leads to a vicious circle that increases uncertainty, weakens growth and makes full debt repayment less likely. There will be no confidence and no growth in Greece without a solution to the debt problem. We suggest breaking this vicious cycle by tying the interest rates on the loans to the growth rate of the Greek economy, together with a conditional debt moratorium.

A Greece without growth should not pay any interest or make any repayments. The stronger the growth rate, the higher the interest and repayments to European creditors. The debt moratorium would mean that Greece could push back the repayments if it has not reached a certain level of GDP by 2022, when it is scheduled to begin servicing its debts to the European creditors. Such a solution would end the uncertainty and recognise the fact that Greek growth is a joint European concern and a prerequisite for Greece to service its debts. Stability and confidence could return. Much of the cause for the current political confrontation would be gone. Meanwhile, such an approach would not reduce the incentives for reform.

It is in the self-interest of any Greek government to pursue growth-friendly reforms. Of course, it will be necessary to design the plan in such a way as to avoid moral hazard; yet this is possible and the conditions are favourable. Such a solution would also be advantageous for the creditors. Some form of debt relief is inevitable. The main advantage of our proposal is that creditors would benefit if growth resumes and thereby reclaim more of their loans than otherwise possible. At the same time, our proposal has only a negligible impact on the creditors’ current budgets and would thus have no meaningful consequences for the constitutional debt limits of member states.

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Take the money and run.

Tsipras: Greece On ‘Final Stretch’ Of Talks With Creditors (Guardian)

Greece is “in the final stretch” of talks with lenders on a multibillion-euro bailout, the country’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, has said, on a day when banks suffered more punishing losses on the Athens stock market. Greece and its creditors are racing to agree a complex, three-year deal worth up to €86bn by 20 August, when Athens must come up with €3.5bn to repay debts to the ECB. Both sides have said a deal is possible, although Tsipras struck the most optimistic note so far when he said on Wednesday that the deal could end the uncertainty over Greece’s place in the eurozone. He said: “We are in the final stretch. Despite the difficulties we are facing, we hope this agreement can end uncertainty on the future of Greece.”

The head of the European commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said an agreement was likely this month. He told Agence France-Presse: “All the reports I am getting suggest an accord this month, preferably before the 20th.” Negotiations were proceeding in a satisfactory way, he said. Officials from the commission, the ECB and the IMF began meeting the Greek government in the final week of July. Experts from the European Stability Mechanism, the eurozone fund that is expected to provide €50bn towards the bailout, are also at the Athens talks, but do not have the same power as the troika of lenders to set the conditions attached to the loan. At stake is the small print on reforms Greece must carry out in order to qualify for the loan, including overhauling its pension system and introducing a sweeping privatisation programme.

[..] Failure to reach an agreement would leave officials scrambling to find another emergency bridging loan, to add to the €7bn Greece had from an EU-wide bailout fund in July. Eurozone officials are anxious to avoid another short-term loan, as the rules on using the EU-wide fund have since been tightened to placate non-euro states such as the UK that are wary of being dragged into the Greek debt crisis.

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Why does Greece still have systemic lenders? Why does any country, for that matter?!

Tests Start On Greece’s Systemic Lenders (Kathimerini)

European officials began on Wednesday the inspection that will eventually determine the extent of the recapitalization required by local banks, while the timetable is extremely tight, aiming to have the entire process to boost the lenders’ share capital completed well before the end of the year. Inspectors from the ECB and the European Stability Mechanism yesterday delved into the files of more than 4,000 corporate loans and 2,000 mortgages, as they began probing the loan portfolios of the country’s four systemic banks. The December deadline is meant to prevent the application of the new bail-in law – i.e. the haircut on deposits of more than €100,000 – which will otherwise come into force in January 2016.

The timetable is so restricted that it foresees the monitoring of the loan portfolios’ figures up to June 30 running alongside the stress tests that will examine banks’ possible responses to various economic scenarios in the next couple of years. That will bring the start of the stress tests a step closer, with the first data being drawn as soon as mid-August, so that the results of both procedures can be announced by the end of October. That will leave a period of two months for the completion of the recapitalization, which could be conducted in summary fashion at the banks’ general meetings. Bank managers are expressing concern about the size of the capital requirements, with current estimates putting the total amount between €10 and €15 billion.

However, the final amount will to a great extent depend on the macroeconomic scenarios, which will involve economic contractions and unemployment levels that will determine the capacity of households and corporations to meet their loan repayment obligations. Corporate loans will come under the scrutiny of the Asset Quality Review, with the European experts assessing a broad sample of some 1,000 loans per bank. They will also probe around 500 mortgage loans per lender, factoring in the drop in property values.

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Ambrose loves the US almost as much as he does Yanis.

Saudi Arabia May Go Broke Before The US Oil Industry Buckles (AEP)

If the oil futures market is correct, Saudi Arabia will start running into trouble within two years. It will be in existential crisis by the end of the decade. The contract price of US crude oil for delivery in December 2020 is currently $62.05, implying a drastic change in the economic landscape for the Middle East and the petro-rentier states. The Saudis took a huge gamble last November when they stopped supporting prices and opted instead to flood the market and drive out rivals, boosting their own output to 10.6m barrels a day (b/d) into the teeth of the downturn. Bank of America says OPEC is now “effectively dissolved”. The cartel might as well shut down its offices in Vienna to save money.

If the aim was to choke the US shale industry, the Saudis have misjudged badly, just as they misjudged the growing shale threat at every stage for eight years. “It is becoming apparent that non-OPEC producers are not as responsive to low oil prices as had been thought, at least in the short-run,” said the Saudi central bank in its latest stability report. “The main impact has been to cut back on developmental drilling of new oil wells, rather than slowing the flow of oil from existing wells. This requires more patience,” it said. One Saudi expert was blunter. “The policy hasn’t worked and it will never work,” he said. By causing the oil price to crash, the Saudis and their Gulf allies have certainly killed off prospects for a raft of high-cost ventures in the Russian Arctic, the Gulf of Mexico, the deep waters of the mid-Atlantic, and the Canadian tar sands.

Consultants Wood Mackenzie say the major oil and gas companies have shelved 46 large projects, deferring $200bn of investments. The problem for the Saudis is that US shale frackers are not high-cost. They are mostly mid-cost, and as I reported from the CERAWeek energy forum in Houston, experts at IHS think shale companies may be able to shave those costs by 45pc this year – and not only by switching tactically to high-yielding wells. Advanced pad drilling techniques allow frackers to launch five or ten wells in different directions from the same site. Smart drill-bits with computer chips can seek out cracks in the rock. New dissolvable plugs promise to save $300,000 a well. “We’ve driven down drilling costs by 50pc, and we can see another 30pc ahead,” said John Hess, head of the Hess Corporation.

It was the same story from Scott Sheffield, head of Pioneer Natural Resources. “We have just drilled an 18,000 ft well in 16 days in the Permian Basin. Last year it took 30 days,” he said. The North American rig-count has dropped to 664 from 1,608 in October but output still rose to a 43-year high of 9.6m b/d June. It has only just begun to roll over. “The freight train of North American tight oil has kept on coming,” said Rex Tillerson, head of Exxon Mobil. He said the resilience of the sister industry of shale gas should be a cautionary warning to those reading too much into the rig-count. Gas prices have collapsed from $8 to $2.78 since 2009, and the number of gas rigs has dropped 1,200 to 209. Yet output has risen by 30pc over that period.

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What a surprise…

ECB Paper: Banks That Lobby More Likely To Get Favourable Treatment (Reuters)

Banks that spend money on lobbying or hire former regulators are more likely to get favourable treatment from their watchdog agency, according to a ECB paper published today. While lobbying in the United States has been subject to extensive disclosure for years, European authorities only started to tighten the rules in recent months. Companies that want to meet with officials are now obliged to join a register and their meetings are logged. The ECB paper, based on data from about 780 US banks, found that lenders which have lobbied, hired a former regulator or government official, or are otherwise close to the authorities are less likely to face additional sanctions if their capital ratios fall below the minimum threshold.

They also tend to have higher Fitch Bank Support Ratings, meaning they are considered more likely to receive public-sector help if they are at risk of default, the paper found. “Increasing lobbying expenditures raise the probability of preferential regulatory treatment, but even small lobbying expenditures prove to be effective,” authors Magdalena Ignatowski, Charlotte Werger and Josef Korte wrote in the paper. “Lobbying becomes more effective by involving former politicians as lobbyists,” the paper said. “The effectiveness of proximity to the relevant legislative committee increases with the amount of campaign contributions from the financial industry that elected legislators receive.”

But lobbying and other sources of political influence cease to be effective when a bank finds itself in deep financial distress and faces being closed, the paper found. The ECB research did not account for undeclared or indirect lobbying, such as that carried out by an association of banks, which means the real effect of lobbying might be even stronger, the authors wrote. “Our evidence indicates that expenditures on lobbying are on the rise, and that banks are increasing their influence activities,” the authors of the paper wrote. “It is important to be aware that regulatory treatment is not immune to the influence of banks, and that we might expect this influence to further increase.”

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And that’s NOT a surprise.

Eurozone Retail Sales Fall Sharply in June (WSJ)

Retail sales in the eurozone fell more sharply than expected in June, a fresh sign that the currency area’s economic recovery remains too weak to quickly bring down very high rates of unemployment, or raise inflation to the ECB’s target. Separately, the final results of surveys of purchasing managers at businesses around the eurozone recorded a slowdown in activity during July, although it was less marked than first estimated. And in Italy, the eurozone’s third largest member, figures showed industrial production fell by 1.1% on the month in June, a sign that the recovery from the country’s worst postwar recession is still fragile. The EU’s statistics agency said Wednesday retail sales in the 19 countries that use the euro fell 0.6% in June from May, but were up 1.2% from the same month last year.

It was the largest month-to-month fall since September 2014. Economists surveyed by The WSJ had estimated sales fell 0.2%, having seen figures from Germany that recorded a large drop. Eurostat said sales in Germany were down 2.3% from May. That is a blow to hopes that low unemployment and rising wages in its largest member would boost the recovery in the eurozone as whole, as Germans purchased more goods and services from weaker parts of the currency area. But the weakness in retail sales wasn’t confined to Germany, and is also a setback to the ECB’s goal of raising the annual rate of inflation to its target of just under 2%.

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Plenty of dreams.

A Prescription for Peace and Prosperity (Paul Craig Roberts)

For the United States to return to a prosperous road, the middle class must be restored and the ladders of upward mobility put back in place. The middle class served domestic political stability by being a buffer between rich and poor. Ladders of upward mobility are a relief valve that permit determined folk to rise from poverty to success. Rising incomes throughout society provide the consumer demand that drives an economy. This is the way the US economy worked in the post-WWII period. To reestablish the middle class the offshored jobs have to be brought home, monopolies broken up, regulation restored, and the central bank put under accountable control or abolished. Jobs offshoring enriched owners and managers of capital at the expense of the middle class.

Well paid manufacturing and industrial workers lost their livelihoods as did university graduates trained for tradable professional service jobs such as software engineering and information technology. No comparable wages and salaries could be found in the economy where the remaining jobs consist of domestic service employment, such as retail clerks, hospital orderlies, waitresses and bartenders. The current income loss is compounded by the loss of medical benefits and private pensions that supplemented Social Security retirement. Thus, jobs offshoring reduced both current and future consumer income. America’s middle class jobs can be brought home by changing the way corporations are taxed. Corporate income could be taxed on the basis of whether corporations add value to their product sold in US markets domestically or offshore.

Domestic production would have a lower tax rate. Offshored production would be taxed at a higher rate. The tax rate could be set to cancel out the cost savings of producing offshore. Under long-term attack by free market economists, the Sherman Antitrust Act has become a dead-letter law. Free market economists argue that markets are self-correcting and that anti-monopoly legislation is unnecessary and serves mainly to protect inefficiency. A large array of traditionally small business activities have been monopolized by franchises and “big box” stores. Family owned auto parts stores, hardware stores, restaurants, men’s clothing stores, and dress shops, have been crowded out. Walmart’s destructive impact on Main Street businesses is legendary. National corporations have pushed local businesses into the trash bin.

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How is it possible that people like Osborne get to make these decisions?

Osborne, In Big Banks’ Pockets, Faces Wrath Of Challengers (Guardian)

George Osborne has cut state support for Britain’s working families and imposed a pay freeze on public sector workers. But when it comes to Britain’s big banks, the chancellor has proved himself to be a pushover. That much was evident from the strong hints by Standard Chartered that it was no longer thinking of removing its head office from the UK and relocating to east Asia. Why? Because Osborne kindly did what was asked of him and announced deep cuts in the government’s bank levy that will halve the tax take for the exchequer by the early 2020s. Rarely has the lobbying power of the established banks been more obvious. In the runup to the election, HSBC said it was reviewing whether to keep its HQ in London.

Standard Chartered let it be known that it, too, was so unhappy about the bank levy that it might up sticks. The result was that Osborne beat a hasty retreat in his summer budget. He announced changes to the taxation of banks, cutting the bank levy while at the same time announcing an additional corporation tax of 8% for those banks making profits of more than £25m. This had the effect of shifting the tax burden from global UK-domiciled banks like HSBC, Barclays and Standard Chartered to the smaller challenger banks, because the levy was related to the size of a bank’s balance sheet, not just in Britain but anywhere in the world. Smaller banks such as Metro, Tesco and Aldermore were not big enough to pay. Despite the cave-in, this is not mission accomplished for the chancellor.

He has solved one problem – the risk that London’s reputation as a global banking hub might be damaged by the departure of HSBC or Standard Chartered – but created another. The challenger banks are now faced with paying higher corporation tax in order to keep HSBC and Standard Chartered sweet. Predictably, they are furious about it and are lobbying Osborne to raise the profits threshold for paying the supplementary corporation tax to £250m. More competition in high street banking is a good idea. It is forcing the established players to treat their customers with a bit more respect. Osborne wants HSBC and Standard Chartered to stay in the UK but not at the expense of the challenger banks. It won’t be long before a second climbdown is announced.

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That would be very good news.

The Economist: The TPP is Dead (Naked Capitalism)

Leith van Onselen at MacroBusiness tells us:

The chief economist of The Economist magazine, Simon Baptist, believes that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal is dead following the failure of final round negotiations in Hawaii last week. Here’s Baptist’s latest commentary on the TPP from his latest email newsletter:

The latest talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) did not end well and election timetables in Canada and the US mean that the prospect of a deal being ratified before the end of 2016 (at the earliest) is remote. The usual problem of agricultural markets was prominent, headlined by Canada’s refusal to open its dairy sector. For New Zealand—one of the four founder countries of the TPP, along with Brunei, Chile and Singapore—this was a non-negotiable issue.

Dairy was not the only problem. As usual, Japan was worried about cars and rice, and the US about patent protection for its pharma companies. The TPP was probably doomed when the US joined, and certainly when Japan did. It then became more of a political project than an economic one. Big trade agreements had hitherto focused on physical goods, while the TPP had an aim of forging rules of trade beyond this in intellectual property, investment and services.

China was a notable absence, and the US and Japan, in particular, were keen to set these rules with enough of the global economy behind them such that China would be forced into line later on. For now, the shape of international standards in these areas remains up for grabs. The next step for the TPP, if anything, is whether a smaller group—such as the founding four —will break away and go ahead on their own, with a much smaller share of global GDP involved, and in the hope that others will join later.

Yves here. This conclusion is even more deadly than it seems, particularly coming from a neoliberal organ like the Economist. I have to confess to not reading the Economist much on this topic, precisely because the articles I did see hewed so tightly to party line: that the TPP and its ugly sister, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, were “free trade” deals and therefore of course should be passed, since more “free trade” was always and ever a good thing. In fact, trade is already substantially liberalized, and the further GDP gains that economists could gin up using their models (which have overstated results) were so pathetically small as to amount to rounding error. Accordingly, contacts in DC told us that the business community was not pushing the deal hard: “Multinationals don’t see much benefit to be had from being able to sue Malaysia over environmental regulations.” The corporate support for the TPP in the US was thus much narrower than the cheerleading in the press would have you believe.

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Not everyone seems to agree yet, but it’s there.

Canada Is On The Verge Of A Recession (CNN)

The latest economic data from Canada shows that it is inching toward recession, after its economy posted its fifth straight month of contraction. Statistics Canada revealed on July 31 that the Canadian economy shrank by 0.2% on an annualized basis in May, perhaps pushing the country over the edge into recessionary territory for the first half of 2015. “There is no sugar-coating this one,” Douglas Porter, BMO chief economist, wrote in a client note. “It’s a sour result.” The poor showing surprised economists, who predicted GDP to remain flat, but it the result followed a contraction in the first quarter at an annual rate of 0.6%. Canada’s economy may or may not have technically dipped into recession this year – defined as two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth – but it is surely facing some serious headwinds.

Attempts to rebound: Canada’s central bank slashed interest rates in July to 0.50%, the second cut this year, but that may not be enough to goose the economy. With rates already so low, there comes a point when interest rate cuts have diminishing returns. Consumer confidence in Canada is at a two-year low. There are other fault lines in the Canadian economy. Fears over a housing bubble in key metro areas such as Toronto and Vancouver are rising. “In light of its hotter price performance over the past three to five years and greater supply risk, this vulnerability appears to be comparatively high in the Toronto market,” the deputy chief economist of TD Bank wrote in a new report. A run up in housing prices, along with overbuilding units that haven’t been sold, and a high home price-to-income ratio has TD Bank predicting a “medium-to-moderate” chance of a “painful price adjustment.”

In other words, the bubble could deflate. Housing markets in the oil patch have already started losing value. The Calgary Real Estate Board predicts that the resale value of homes will fall by 0.2% by the end of the year. And total home sales could fall by 22% in 2015. That is a dramatic downward revision from the group’s prediction in January that home sales would rise by 1.6%. It’s all about oil: But that’s because the economic situation is much worse in the oil patch than many had predicted six months ago. And oil prices have crashed again, a detail not yet captured by the disappointing GDP figures. Crude oil (WTI) is now below $50 per barrel, and Canada’s heavy oil trades at a discount to even that low figure due to pipeline constraints and lower quality.

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The Pope and The Donald.

Pope Francis’ ‘Attendance’ At GOP Debate Will Help Sink The Party (Farrell)

We know this activist pope just won’t stop — he keeps ramping up his attack, hammering away at capitalism’s war against the poor and the environment: “In this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide is taking place, and it must end.” Get it? In Pope Francis’ world view, WWIII has already begun, is raging, here, now, today. So no surprise that his relentless anticapitalism attacks are driving conservative critics crazy. A RawStory.com headline captured the voice of the party: “Rush Limbaugh goes bonkers because Pope Francis called out-of-control capitalism the dung of the devil.” Yes, the pope said that capitalism is the “dung of the devil.”

It’s so easy to imagine what he’ll say live to 300 GOP members of Congress next month when he appears before a join session of Congress. Pope Francis’s blunt delivery reminds us of a construction worker operating a loud jackhammer, hell-bent on dismantling the massive concrete edifice of American capitalism with deep, biting attacks like: “Men and women are sacrificed to the idols of profit and consumption: it is the ‘culture of waste.’ If a computer breaks it is a tragedy, but poverty, the needs and dramas of so many people end up being considered normal.” Warning, he’s now their champion inciting the rebellion.

Yes, Pope Francis will actually hear every dismissal voiced by GOP debaters, about how they’re ignoring what the pope says in matters of economics, social policy, global-warming science. Big mistake guys. The GOP’s days of playing deaf are over, the elephant on the 2015-16 political stage is the big guy in the white suit with the engaging smile. Dismissing him won’t work this election, he’s got an army of billions on his side.

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Most Americans are right on at least something.

Most Americans Say Their Children Will Be Worse Off (MarketWatch)

The next generation of Americans will be healthier, their parents say, all except for their finances. Barely more than one in 10 (13%) American adults believe their children will be better off financially than they were when their career reached its peak and just over half (52%) believe their children will have less disposable income than they did in the future, according to a survey of more than 1,100 American adults released Wednesday by life insurer Haven Life and research firm YouGov. What’s more, just 20% of Americans believe their children will have a better quality of life when they reach their age. “For the baby boomer generation, pocket money from mom and dad was only part of their early childhood,” says Yaron Ben-Zvi, CEO of Haven Life.

“Today’s parents are increasingly prepared to worry about and provide for their children’s financial well-being well far into their adulthoods.” (In fact, 40% of millennials say they get some kind of financial help from their parents, according to an April 2015 Bank of America/USA Today survey of 1,000 kids and 1,000 parents.) Why do parents believe that their children are faced with bigger financial challenges? They are saddled with more student loan debt than previous generations. The number of borrowers who default (those who are at least nine months past due) rose to 1.2 million annually in 2012 from around 500,000 per year a decade ago, according to the New York Fed. And many young people – especially those living in big cities – are still priced out of the housing market.

Studies also show that the better start children have in life in terms of financial support and education, the more likely they are to surpass their parents’ earnings. Children raised in low-income American families are more likely to have very low incomes as adults, while children raised in high-income families can anticipate a much bigger jump in income, according to a report – “Economic Mobility in the United States” – released last month by researchers at Stanford University. Their future is brighter in one way, parents say. Two thirds (66%) believe their kids will be as healthy or have a healthier lifestyle and, as such, will have a higher quality of life, the Haven Life/YouGov survey also found. Some 81% of millennials exercise regularly versus 61% of baby boomers, and millennials take more fitness classes, according to research group Nielsen. Unlike many of their parents, they’re also growing up in a country where smoking is banned by 36 states in workplaces, restaurants and bars.

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Curious juxtaposition. Misery and holidays.

Refugee Crisis on the Beach in Greece (NY Times)

Refugee camps are always sad, desperate places. I saw a lot of them when I was covering southern Africa for four years. But most were in desolate, poor places, not vacation islands like Lesbos, Greece, where thousands of refugees have been arriving in small inflatable boats, as upscale tourists do their best to unwind. The strangest part about covering this story was the constant juxtaposition of the European good life and the misery of people who, fleeing war and violence, now found themselves sitting among piles of garbage as they waited for their papers to be processed. My Greek colleague, Nikolas Leontopoulos, and I would meet with officials in the town of Mytilene, passing tourists who were busy picking out their favorite suntan lotion, and then an hour later we were in the back hills, where families had not eaten and the stench of clogged toilets was overwhelming.

At one point, we went to visit a good-hearted hotel owner who, driving along on a scorching hot day, came across a group of refugees walking the 30 miles to the processing station. She picked them up only to find herself arrested for “aiding smugglers.” But now she was a world away, supervising an evening of salsa for her guests. German mothers in skimpy dresses danced with their young children. Fathers watched with ice-cold beers in their hands. The sea just beyond the patio lapped gently on the shores. In the north, the beaches were littered with pools of black plastic — the boats the refugees arrived in and then punctured for fear they would be sent back. Nearby there was always a neat pile of abandoned life jackets and other flotation devices, many of them ridiculously flimsy — inflatable tubes decorated with fish — which would have done little good if the boats had capsized. There were also toothbrushes and abandoned backpacks and toys, too. People’s lives scattered around.

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