Jun 152018
 
 June 15, 2018  Posted by at 8:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


OR LIGHT Compassion 2018

 

Argentina’s Peso Collapses Even Further Despite $50 Billion IMF Bailout (WS)
ECB Calls Halt To Quantitative Easing, Despite ‘Soft’ Euro (G.)
Japan’s Central Bank Dials Down Inflation View, Complicates Stimulus-Exit (R.)
Powell Orchestrates a Masterful Move (DDMB)
The Fed Creates Problems For Itself (Macleod)
The Art of the Deal Worked On Sentosa Island (AT)
Absence of “CVID” In Joint Statement? (Hani)
Optimism (Caitlin Johnstone)
Blackstone Becomes Biggest Hotel & Property Owner in Spain (WS)
‘Tourism Pollution’: Japanese Crackdown Costs Airbnb $10 Million (G.)
Greeks Are Least Satisfied In The EU (K.)
Turkey: Even Birds Need Our Consent To Fly In The Aegean (K.)
Comey et al Just Made It More Difficult For Mueller To Prosecute Trump (Hill)
A Closer Look At Extreme FBI Bias Revealed In OIG Report (ZH)

 

 

Money has left the building.

Argentina’s Peso Collapses Even Further Despite $50 Billion IMF Bailout (WS)

Today the Argentina peso plunged another 5.5% against the US dollar. It now takes ARS 27.7 to buy $1. Over the past 16 years, the peso has gone through waves of collapses. This collapse began on April 20. The central bank of Argentina (BCRA) countered it by selling $1 billion per day of scarce foreign exchange reserves and buying pesos. The peso fell more quickly. The BCRA responded with three rate hikes, to finally 40%! On May 8, the government asked the IMF for a bailout. On May 16, after a chaotic plunge of the peso, the BCRA was able to refinance about $26 billion in maturing peso-denominated short-term debt (Lebacs) at an annual interest of 40%, and the peso bounced. It was a dead-cat bounce, however, and the peso plunged another 13% against the dollar through today.

Since April 20, the peso has plunged 27.5%. The annotated chart shows the daily moves of the collapse, and the various failed gyrations to halt it (the chart depicts the value of 1 ARS in USD). The collapse of the peso comes despite an endless series of measures to halt it. Just this week so far: On Tuesday, the BCRA decided to keep its key interest rate at 40%; and on Wednesday, the Ministry of Finance announced it would hold daily auctions to sell $7.5 billion in foreign exchange reserves and buy pesos, to prop up the peso. But it was apparently the only one buying pesos. With inflation at 25.5% and heading to 27% by year-end, according to government estimates, with a rising budget deficit, a surging current account deficit, soaring borrowing costs, and burned investors, what else is there to do?

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Not Draghi’s finest hour.

ECB Calls Halt To Quantitative Easing, Despite ‘Soft’ Euro (G.)

The European Central Bank has shrugged off evidence of a slowdown in the eurozone and announced that it will phase out the stimulus provided by its massive three-year bond-buying programme to the eurozone economy by the end of the year. Despite warning that the single currency area was going through a soft patch at a time when protectionist risks were rising, the ECB said it would wind down its bond purchases over the next six months. The ECB is currently boosting the eurozone money supply by buying €30bn of assets each month, but this will be reduced to €15bn a month after September and ended completely at the end of 2018.

The move follows strong pressure from some eurozone countries, led by Germany, that were uncomfortable about the more than €2.4tn of assets accumulated by the ECB since it launched its quantitative easing programme at the start of 2015. Mario Draghi, the ECB’s president, said at the end of a meeting of the bank’s governing council in Latvia that the QE programme had succeeded in its aim of putting inflation on course to meet its target of being below but close to 2%. Eurozone activity has accelerated markedly over the past three years, with some estimates suggesting that QE contributed 0.75percentage points a year to the average 2.25% annual growth rate.

The ECB’s statement reflected the battle between hawks and doves on the bank’s council, with the decision on QE matched by a softening of its approach to interest rates. Draghi said there would be no prospect of an increase in the ECB’s key lending rate – currently 0.0% – until next summer at the earliest. “We decided to keep the key ECB interest rates unchanged and we expect them to remain at their present levels at least through the summer of 2019 and in any case for as long as necessary to ensure that the evolution of inflation remains aligned with our current expectations of a sustained adjustment path,” Draghi said.

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No, really, Abenomics is dead.

Japan’s Central Bank Dials Down Inflation View, Complicates Stimulus-Exit (R.)

The Bank of Japan maintained its ultra-loose monetary policy on Friday and downgraded its view on inflation in a fresh blow to its long-held 2% price goal, further complicating the central bank’s path to rolling back its crisis-era stimulus. Markets are on the lookout for clues from BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda’s post-meeting briefing on how long the central bank could hold off on whittling down stimulus given recent disappointingly weak price growth. As widely expected, the Bank of Japan kept its short-term interest rate target at minus 0.1% and a pledge to guide 10-year government bond yields around zero%.

The move contrasts with the European Central Bank’s decision to end its asset-purchase program this year and the U.S. Federal Reserve’s steady rate increases, which signaled a break from policies deployed to battle the 2007-2009 financial crisis. “Consumer price growth is in a range of 0.5 to 1%,” the BOJ said in a statement accompanying the decision. That was a slightly bleaker view than in the previous meeting in April, when the bank said inflation was moving around 1%. The BOJ stuck to its view the economy was expanding moderately, unfazed by a first-quarter contraction that many analysts blame on temporary factors like bad weather.

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He just likes the attention.

Powell Orchestrates a Masterful Move (DDMB)

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has taken the first steps in remaking the central bank in his “plain-English” image, which can only be a good thing for financial markets. Earlier this week, news leaked that the central bank was considering holding a press conference following each Federal Open Market Committee meeting instead of after every other one like it does now. The reports set off a mini-storm. Speculation rose the Fed would implement this new policy immediately, which could mean the central bank was considering accelerating the pace of interest-rate increases as soon as August. After all, investors had become accustomed to the Fed only making a major policy move at meetings followed by a press conference. Now, every meeting would be “live.”

But in a masterful move, Chairman Jerome Powell managed to confirm the policy while also putting financial markets at ease. Rather than announcing the change in the official statement outlining the Fed’s plan to raise its target for the federal funds rate for the seventh time since December 2015, Powell waited until the start of his press conference to drop the bomb, noting that the policy wouldn’t start until January. Here’s Powell’s reasoning: “My colleagues and I meet eight times a year and take a fresh look each time at what is happening in the economy and consider whether our policy needs adjusting. We don’t put our interest rate decisions on auto-pilot because the economy can always evolve in unexpected ways.

History has shown that moving interest rates either too quickly or too slowly can lead to bad economic outcomes. We think the outcomes are likely to be better overall if we are as clear as possible about what we are likely to do and why. To that end, we try to give a sense of our expectations for how the economy will evolve and how our policy stance may change. As Chairman, I hope to foster a public conversation about what the Fed is doing to support a strong and resilient economy. And one practical step in doing so is to have a press conference like this after every one of our scheduled FOMC meetings. We’re going to do that beginning in January. That will give us more opportunities to explain our actions and to answer your questions.

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“..the unsustainable excesses of unprofitable debt created by suppressing interest rates..”

The Fed Creates Problems For Itself (Macleod)

Since Hayek’s time, monetary policy, particularly in America, has evolved away from targeting production and discouraging savings by suppressing interest rates, towards encouraging consumption through expanding consumer finance. American consumers are living beyond their means and have commonly depleted all their liquid savings. But given the variations in the cost of consumer finance (between 0% car loans and 20% credit card and overdraft rates), consumers are generally insensitive to changes in interest rates. Therefore, despite the rise of consumer finance, we can still regard Hayek’s triangle as illustrating the driving force behind the credit cycle, and the unsustainable excesses of unprofitable debt created by suppressing interest rates as the reason monetary policy always leads to an economic crisis.

The chart below shows we could be living dangerously close to another tipping point, whereby the rises in the Fed Funds Rate (FFR) might be about to trigger a new credit and economic crisis. Previous peaks in the FFR coincided with the onset of economic downturns, because they exposed unsustainable business models. On the basis of simple extrapolation, the area between the two dotted lines, which roughly join these peaks, is where the current FFR cycle can be expected to peak. It is currently standing at about 2% after yesterday’s increase, and the Fed expects the FFR to average 3.1% in 2019. The chart tells us the Fed is already living dangerously with yesterday’s hike, and further rises will all but guarantee a credit crisis.

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The view from Asia Times. Many people in that part of the world don’t understand the criticism.

The Art of the Deal Worked On Sentosa Island (AT)

Some statesmen by their sheer force of personality and unorthodox ways of politicking arouse disdain among onlookers. US President Donald is perhaps the most famous figure of that kind in world politics today. No matter what he does, Trump attracts criticism. He evokes strong feelings of antipathy among a large and voluble swathe of opinion within half of America. The making of history in a virtual solo act on his part, which is the rarest of efforts, on Sentosa Island in Singapore on Tuesday and which the world watched with awe and disbelief, will be instinctively stonewalled. Half of America simply refuses to accept the positive tidings about him coming from Singapore.

The skeptics are all over social media pouring scorn, voicing skepticism, unable to accept that if the man has done something sensible and good for his country and for world peace, it deserves at the very least patient, courteous attention. The problem is about Trump – not so much the imperative need of North Korea’s denuclearization. But western detractors – ostensibly rooting for the “liberal international order” – will eventually lapse into silence because what emerges is that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has enough to “bite” here in the deal that Trump is offering – broadly, a security guarantee from the US and the offer of a full-bodied relationship with an incremental end to sanctions plus a peace treaty.

Succinctly put, Trump has offered a deal that Kim simply cannot afford to reject. The ending of the US-ROK military exercises forthwith; Trump’s agenda of eventual withdrawal of troops from ROK; the lure of possible withdrawal of sanctions once 20% of the denuclearization process gets underway, or once the process becomes irreversible; Trump’s hint that he has sought assurances from Japan and the ROK that they will be “generous” in offering economic assistance to the reconstruction of North Korea; China’s involvement in the crucial process – these are tangibles.

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The view from South Korea.

Absence of “CVID” In Joint Statement? (Hani)

The absence of any reference to “complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement” (CVID) of North Korea’s nuclear program in the joint statement reached at US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s June 12 summit in Singapore is being seen by some as a “negotiation failure” on the US’s part. But an analysis of Trump’s subsequent remarks – and a reading between the lines of the Pyongyang’s official announcement – suggests the US achieved practical gains in terms of a commitment from the North in exchange for the face-saving measure of avoiding use of the “CVID” term due to possible North Korean objections to it.

To begin with, the Singapore joint statement’s language marks a step forward from the Panmunjeom Declaration of Apr. 27 in terms of the final goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. The latest statement refers to Kim having “reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” While the Panmunjeom Declaration referred to “realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula,” the new statement includes the additional reference to a “firm and unwavering commitment.”

From the reference to Kim’s “firm and unwavering” commitment to denuclearization, some experts are suggesting North Korea may have agreed to verification in addition to denuclearization – in other words, that the language may be a substitute for the “verifiable” part of the CVID approach demanded by Washington. “You could see them as having used the term out of awareness of North Korea’s discomfort with the word ‘verification,’” Handong Global University professor Kim Joon-hyung said after a Korea Press Foundation debate at Singapore’s Swissotel on June 13. “It may be fair to say North Korea made a definite commitment on the implementation and verification issues,” Kim argued.

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“..while you can always count on Capitol Hill to make it incredibly easy for a president to deploy military personnel around the globe, giving that same office the power to bring troops home is a completely different matter. ”

Optimism (Caitlin Johnstone)

Off the top of my head I have a hard time thinking of anything sleazier than smearing peace talks in order to gain partisan political points, but that has indeed been the theme of the last few days when it comes to the Singapore summit. Liberal pundits everywhere have been busily circulating the narrative that Kim Jong-Un “played” Trump by getting him to temporarily halt military drills in exchange for suspended nuclear testing. It was the most fundamental beginning of peace negotiations and a slight deescalation in tensions on the Korean Peninsula, but the way they talk about it you’d think Kim had taken off from Singapore in Air Force One with the keys to Fort Knox and Melania on his lap.

I’m not sure how far up the military-industrial complex’s ass one’s head needs to be to think that one single step toward peace is a gigantic take-all-the-chips win for the impoverished North Korea, but many of Trump’s political enemies are taking it even further. Senate Democrats have introduced a bill to make it more difficult for Trump to withdraw US troops from South Korea, because while you can always count on Capitol Hill to make it incredibly easy for a president to deploy military personnel around the globe, giving that same office the power to bring troops home is a completely different matter.

Surprising no one, MSNBC’s cartoon children’s program The Rachel Maddow Show took home the trophy for jaw-dropping, shark-jumping ridiculousness with an eighteen-minute Alex Jones impression claiming that the chief architect of the Korean negotiations was none other than (and if you can’t guess whose name I’m going to write once we get out of these parentheses I deeply envy your ignorance on this matter) Vladimir Putin. [..] This president is facilitating acts of military violence and dangerous escalations around the world; anyone who isn’t relieved by the possibility of one powder keg being defused in that rampage actually has a lot more faith in Trump’s competence than they’re pretending to.

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Easy pickings.

Blackstone Becomes Biggest Hotel & Property Owner in Spain (WS)

Private equity firm Blackstone, the undisputed king of property funds, continues to bet big on global real estate. In the last week it raised $9.4 billion for Asian real estate. It was also given the green light to acquire Spain’s biggest real estate investment fund (REIT), Hispania, for €1.9 billion. The move, after its prior acquisitions, will cement its position as Spain’s biggest hotel owner and fully private landlord. Hispania’s 46 hotels, added to Blackstone’s other hotels, will turn the PE firm into Spain’s largest hotelier with almost 17,000 rooms, far ahead of Meliá (almost 11,000), H10 (more than 10,000) and Hoteles Globales (just over 9,000).

It took Blackstone just three moves to become market leader. First, it acquired the hotel group HI Partners from struggling Spanish lender Banco Sabadell for €630 million in October 2017. Then, a month ago, it bought 29.5% of the hotel chain NH Hoteles, which is currently in the hands of the Chinese conglomerate HNA. Now, by raising its stake in Hispania from 16.75% to 100%, it will take up a dominant position in one of the world’s biggest tourist markets. With this deal, it will also expand its residential property empire in Spain. Blackstone has over 100,000 real estate assets controlled via dozens of companies. Those assets include a huge portfolio of impaired real estate assets, including defaulted mortgages and real estate-owned assets (REOs).

Blackstone also owns 1,800 social housing units, which it acquired from Madrid City Hall in a controversial deal brokered by the son of former Spanish prime minister José María Aznar and former Madrid mayor Ana Botella. Blackstone paid €202 million for the apartments in 2013; they are now estimated to be worth €660 million — a 227% return in just five year! Since its purchase of the properties, Blackstone has hiked rents on the flats by 49%. Those who can’t pay have been evicted. Blackstone also played a starring role in one of the world’s biggest real estate operations of 2017, in which it payed €5.1 billion for the defaulted loans Banco Santander inherited from its shotgun-acquisition of Banco Popular.

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“..a dramatic drop in the number of Japanese properties available via Airbnb, from more than 60,000 this spring to just 1,000 on the eve of the law’s introduction.”

‘Tourism Pollution’: Japanese Crackdown Costs Airbnb $10 Million (G.)

It has become a familiar scene: tourists in rented kimonos posing for photographs in front of a Shinto shrine in Kyoto. They and other visitors have brought valuable tourist dollars to the city and other locations across Japan. But now the country’s former capital is on the frontline of a battle against “tourism pollution” that has already turned locals against visitors in cities across the world such as Venice, Barcelona and Amsterdam. The increasingly fraught relationship between tourists and their Japanese hosts has spread to the short-stay rental market. On Friday a new law comes into effect that requires property owners to register with the government before they can legally make their homes available through Airbnb and other websites.

The restriction has caused the number of available properties to plummet and has cost the US-based company millions of dollars. Thanks to government campaigns, the number of foreign tourists visiting Japan has soared since the end of a flat period caused by a strong yen and radiation fears in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima disaster. A record 28.7 million people visited last year, an increase of 250% since 2012. Almost seven million were from China, with visitors from South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong Thailand and the US taking the next five spots. By 2020, the year Tokyo hosts the Olympic Games, the government hopes the number will have risen to 40 million.

[..] Under the new private lodging law, which was supposed to address a legal grey area surrounding short-term rentals – known as minpaku – properties can be rented out for a maximum of 180 days a year, and local authorities are permitted to impose additional restrictions. The result has been a dramatic drop in the number of Japanese properties available via Airbnb, from more than 60,000 this spring to just 1,000 on the eve of the law’s introduction. The legislation has forced the firm to cancel reservations for guests planning to stay in unregistered homes after Friday and to compensate clients to the tune of about $10m.


A sign in Kyoto cautions against touching geishas, taking selfies, littering, sitting on fences and eating and smoking on the street. Photograph: Justin McCurry for the Guardian

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Surprise!

Greeks Are Least Satisfied In The EU (K.)

Greece is the least satisfied nation in the European Union, according to a Eurobarometer survey published Thursday. More specifically, the survey, conducted between March 17 and 28, showed that just 52% of Greeks said they were satisfied with their lives, compared to a 83% average for the 28-member bloc. Only 35% of Greeks surveyed said they were satisfied with the financial situation of their households, compared to 71% across the EU. A staggering 98% said the state of the country’s economy is bad while one in two Greeks said the country’s financial crisis is not over yet and that it will deteriorate even further. As for the country’s general situation, 94% said it is negative. Just 6% said the general situation was positive compared to the 51% average for EU member-states.

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Even turkeys?!

Turkey: Even Birds Need Our Consent To Fly In The Aegean (K.)

With Greece featuring prominently in Turkey’s election campaigning, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu raised the tension a notch again Thursday, warning that not even a bird will fly over the Aegean without Ankara’s permission. Responding to criticism by Turkish ultra-nationalists that 18 islands have been “lost” to Greece in recent years, Cavusoglu said that since the crisis over the Imia islets in 1996 there have been no changes in the legal status of the Aegean. “Not only during our own rule, but before that there has been no change in the status of the Aegean. We will not allow this. Even in the case of research we will not give permission, not even to a bird in the Aegean,” he said during an interview with a Turkish radio station.

He went on to say that Turkey will make no concessions in the Aegean and Cyprus, and that Ankara will also begin gas exploration “around” the Eastern Mediterranean island. “We also have a drill,” he said. Turkey has vowed to stop Cyprus from drilling for gas and oil in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), insisting there can be no development of the island’s natural resources without the participation of the Turkish Cypriots in the island’s Turkish-occupied north. “In the last few months we have prevented drilling and we drove the Italians away. We will not allow anyone to take away the rights of Turkish Cypriots,” he said. Cyprus government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou said that Nicosia will not be dragged into the “climate of tension” that Turkey is cultivating. He cited international law and said that Cyprus has an established EEZ. Moreover, he said the US, Russia and the European Union have all backed Cyprus’s rights.

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Wonder what the fallout will be.

Comey et al Just Made It More Difficult For Mueller To Prosecute Trump (Hill)

James Comey once described his position in the Clinton investigation as being the victim of a “500-year flood.” The point of the analogy was that he was unwittingly carried away by events rather than directly causing much of the damage to the FBI. His “500-year flood” just collided with the 500-page report of the Justice Department inspector general (IG) Michael Horowitz. The IG sinks Comey’s narrative with a finding that he “deviated” from Justice Department rules and acted in open insubordination. Rather than portraying Comey as carried away by his biblical flood, the report finds that he was the destructive force behind the controversy. The import of the report can be summed up in Comeyesque terms as the distinction between flotsam and jetsam.

Comey portrayed the broken rules as mere flotsam, or debris that floats away after a shipwreck. The IG report suggests that this was really a case of jetsam, or rules intentionally tossed over the side by Comey to lighten his load. Comey’s jetsam included rules protecting the integrity and professionalism of his agency, as represented by his public comments on the Clinton investigation. The IG report concludes, “While we did not find that these decisions were the result of political bias on Comey’s part, we nevertheless concluded that by departing so clearly and dramatically from FBI and department norms, the decisions negatively impacted the perception of the FBI and the department as fair administrators of justice.”

The report will leave many unsatisfied and undeterred. Comey went from a persona non grata to a patron saint for many Clinton supporters. Comey, who has made millions of dollars with a tell-all book portraying himself as the paragon of “ethical leadership,” continues to maintain that he would take precisely the same actions again. Ironically, Comey, fired FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, former FBI agent Peter Strzok and others, by their actions, just made it more difficult for special counsel Robert Mueller to prosecute Trump for obstruction. There is now a comprehensive conclusion by career investigators that Comey violated core agency rules and undermined the integrity of the FBI. In other words, there was ample reason to fire James Comey.

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Many heads will roll at the Bureau.

A Closer Look At Extreme FBI Bias Revealed In OIG Report (ZH)

As we digest and unpack the DOJ Inspector General’s 500-page report on the FBI’s conduct during the Hillary Clinton email investigation “matter,” damning quotes from the OIG’s findings have begun to circulate, leaving many to wonder exactly how Inspector General Michael Horowitz was able to conclude: “We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected the specific investigative actions we reviewed” We’re sorry, that just doesn’t comport with reality whatsoever. And it really feels like the OIG report may have had a different conclusion at some point.

Just read IG Horowitz’s own assessment that “These texts are “Indicative of a biased state of mind but even more seriously, implies a willingness to take official action to impact the Presidential candidate’s electoral prospects.” Of course, today’s crown jewel is a previously undisclosed exchange between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page in which Page asks “(Trump’s) not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” to which Strzok replies “No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.” Nevermind the fact that the FBI Director, who used personal emails for work purposes, tasked Strzok, who used personal emails for work purposes, to investigate Hillary Clinton’s use of personal emails for work purposes. Of course, we know it goes far deeper than that…

The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel also had plenty to say in a Twitter thread:
1) Don’t believe anyone who claims Horowitz didn’t find bias. He very carefully says that he found no “documentary” evidence that bias produced “specific investigatory decisions.” That’s different
2) It means he didn’t catch anyone doing anything so dumb as writing down that they took a specific step to aid a candidate. You know, like: “Let’s give out this Combetta immunity deal so nothing comes out that will derail Hillary for President.”
3) But he in fact finds bias everywhere. The examples are shocking and concerning, and he devotes entire sections to them. And he very specifically says in the summary that they “cast a cloud” on the entire “investigation’s credibility.” That’s pretty damning.
4) Meanwhile this same cast of characters who the IG has now found to have made a hash of the Clinton investigation and who demonstrate such bias, seamlessly moved to the Trump investigation. And we’re supposed to think they got that one right?
5) Also don’t believe anyone who says this is just about Comey and his instances of insubordination. (Though they are bad enough.) This is an indictment broadly of an FBI culture that believes itself above the rules it imposes on others.
6) People failing to adhere to their recusals (Kadzik/McCabe). Lynch hanging with Bill. Staff helping Comey conceal details of presser from DOJ bosses. Use of personal email and laptops. Leaks. Accepting gifts from media. Agent affairs/relationships.
7)It also contains stunning examples of incompetence. Comey explains that he wasn’t aware the Weiner laptop was big deal because he didn’t know Weiner was married to Abedin? Then they sit on it a month, either cuz it fell through cracks (wow) or were more obsessed w/Trump
8) And I can still hear the echo of the howls from when Trump fired Comey. Still waiting to hear the apologies now that this report has backstopped the Rosenstein memo and the obvious grounds for dismissal.

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Mar 222018
 
 March 22, 2018  Posted by at 10:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edward Hopper The Circle Theater, New York 1936

 

US Democrats Plan Crackdown On Booming Stock Buybacks (CNN)
‘Mother Of All Yield Shocks’ Is About To Crush Stocks – Stockman (MW)
Forget The Fed, Libor Is The Story Of The Year (ZH)
Fed’s Powell: Some Asset Prices Elevated, Overall Vulnerabilities ‘Moderate’ (MW)
Federal Reserve Raises Interest Rates Again Amid ‘Strong’ Jobs Market (G.)
Mark Zuckerberg Says He’s ‘Really Sorry’ (CNBC)
Facebook Shareholders Sue As Share Price Tumbles (Ind.)
App Developer Kogan Calls Facebook’s Side Of The Story A “Fabrication” (BBG)
Austrian Lawyer Took on Facebook in Europe. He’s Ready to Do It Again (BBG)
Dutch Referendum On Spy Agency Tapping Powers Result Too Close To Call (R.)
‘Scary’ That Boris Johnson Represents A Nuclear Power – Russia (RT)
Scale Of UK Problem Debt At ‘Epidemic Levels’ – Archbishop Of Canterbury (Ind.)
EU Approves Buyout Of Monsanto By German Chemical Firm Bayer (R.)

 

 

There goes the S&P 500.

US Democrats Plan Crackdown On Booming Stock Buybacks (CNN)

Democrats in Congress want to rain on Wall Street’s buyback parade. Senator Tammy Baldwin plans to introduce a bill on Thursday that would prohibit companies from repurchasing their shares on the open market, Baldwin told CNNMoney. While the legislation faces an uphill battle getting through Republican-controlled Congress, it demonstrates a growing backlash against companies using extra cash to reward shareholders instead of sharing it with workers. Buybacks, which boost stock prices by making shares scarcer, have exploded in 2018 thanks to the huge windfall created by President Trump’s new tax law. American companies like Pepsi and Cisco have announced a total of $229 billion of buybacks so far this year, according to research firm TrimTabs.

Companies are on track to buy back the largest number of shares in at least a decade. Critics say this trend is deepening the chasm between America’s rich and poor because affluent families own the vast majority of the stocks. They argue the money would be better spent by investing in the future, paying workers more or offering better benefits and retraining programs. “I fear that if we don’t act, the impact on our economy and growth is going to be horrendous,” Baldwin told CNNMoney Wednesday. “This very partisan corporate tax bill has fueled a surge in stock buybacks that is hurting economic growth and shared prosperity for workers.” The bill, which is co-sponsored by Democrats Elizabeth Warren and Brian Schatz, would explicitly “prohibit public companies from repurchasing their shares on the open market.”

It would also repeal a 1982 SEC rule that gave companies the green light to buy back vast amounts of their own stock. Since 2008, US companies have spent $5.1 trillion to buy back their own stock, according to Birinyi Associates. Between 2007 and 2016, companies in the S&P 500 devoted 54% of their profits to stock buybacks, according to research by University of Massachusetts Lowell professor William Lazonick, who advised Baldwin’s office on the legislation. “This was not good for the US economy,” said Lazonick. He called Baldwin’s proposed crackdown “hugely positive,” even for long-term shareholders who will benefit from companies investing in something “instead of simply propping up the stock price.”

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And Libor.

‘Mother Of All Yield Shocks’ Is About To Crush Stocks – Stockman (MW)

David Stockman, the so-called “Father of Reaganomics,” hasn’t been shy — or close to right — about his frantically bearish calls in recent years Just last summer, he warned of a “horrendous storm” that could take the S&P 500 index all the way down to 1,600. From there, he took it up a notch in September, saying stocks are headed for a retreat of up to 70%. Well, it’s still up at 2,700. But the market’s volatile behavior of late has emboldened some bears to refresh and even ramp up their doomsday scenarios. Stockman is one of them. “There is not a snowball’s chance in the hot place that the mother of all yield shocks can be avoided,” Stockman wrote on his blog this week.

He explains that we’re in a uniquely dangerous position, one that really couldn’t have even happened under previous administrations. “Had Lyndon Johnson, Tricky Dick, Jimmy Carter or even Ronald Reagan suggested that the Federal Reserve buy government debt at rates which exceeded annual issuance by the U.S. Treasury, as was the case during the peak years of QE, they would have been severely attacked — if not subjected to impeachment — for advocating rank financial fraud,” Stockman claimed. He said ever since former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan “commenced the age of monetary central planning,” Wall Street has used deficits as a tool in Washington’s kit of “whatever it takes,” instead of something to be feared.

“Anything that could fuel even the appearance of short-term economic growth was embraced unthinkingly,” he said, “because ‘growth’ of any shape, form or quality became the predicate for endless increases in the stock market averages.” That’s a recipe for disaster, says Stockman.

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Whack-a-mole central bank style.

Forget The Fed, Libor Is The Story Of The Year (ZH)

We’ve been saying it for over a month: the most important, if widely underappreciated, factor for risk assets has been the surge in Libor and the blow out in the Libor-OIS spread, or short-term funding costs, which impacts everything from bank lending costs to the marginal cost of trillions in floating rate debt. Yesterday, Citi’s Matt King confirmed as much in a lengthy note explaining why the blowing out Libor, and Libor-OIS spread, are sending increasingly ominous signals: LIBOR is still the reference point for the majority of leveraged loans, interest-rate swaps and some mortgages. In addition to that direct effect, higher money market rates and weakness in risk assets are the two conditions most likely to contribute towards mutual fund outflows.

If those in turn created a further sell-off in markets, the negative impact on the economy through wealth effects could be greater even than the direct effect from interest rates. Now, another bank has joined the growing chorus of warnings over the soaring Libor and Libor-OIS. Jonathan Garner, Morgan Stanley’s Chief Strategist for Asia and Emerging Markets, told Bloomberg that the rising Libor rates is a bigger concern right now than a more hawkish Federal Reserve, and in fact, is “the story of the year.” As we have documented nearly daily, most recently yesterday, Libor has been rising since Feb. 7 for 31 consecutive sessions, reaching 2.2711% this morning, the highest since 2008. Meanwhile, its gap over risk-free rates, known as the Libor-OIS spread, has more than doubled since the end of January to 55.6 basis points, a level unseen since 2009.

“That’s a key reason why markets have struggled. The acceleration in the private borrowing market is the story of the year, not the Fed,” Garner told BloombergQuint. “What I think is really interesting is that in the private, LIBOR markets, the USD Libor has already moved far more aggressively than Fed Funds, so if you look at 6M USD Libor, it’s actually reached 2.375% whereas the Fed is likely to raise Fed Funds by a quarter of a point to 1.75%, so we’ve actually already for the interest rate that really determines corporate costs are experiencing a very significant increase in interest rates. So unless the Fed is in some ways super dovish, I think we’re already looking at a significant tightening of monetary policy in the US and in addition China is tightening monetary policy at the same time and this joint tightening is a key reason why we are so cautious on markets.”

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Jay Powell was hired to bore everyone to tears.

Fed’s Powell: Some Asset Prices Elevated, Overall Vulnerabilities ‘Moderate’ (MW)

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on Wednesday said some asset prices are elevated but said there weren’t many risks from it to the financial system. While some asset prices are elevated, particularly “some” equity prices and pockets of commercial real estate, financial vulnerabilities are still not at extreme levels, Powell said. He didn’t identify where specifically in the stock market he saw elevated prices. “The current view of the [FOMC] is that financial stability vulnerabilities are moderate,” Powell said during his first press conference, in answer to a question from MarketWatch. It was “key,” Powell said, that the housing sector is not in bubble territory.

Powell said he was not worried about excess leverage in the financial sector. The banking sector and household balance sheets are in good shape, he said. While there are “relatively elevated levels of borrowing” in nonfinancial corporations, “nothing… suggests serious risks.” “Overall, if you put all that into a pie, what you have is moderate vulnerabilities in our view,” he added. Powell said the Fed had “some tools” to combat financial instability “and I think we certainly use them.”

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Time to quit Fed watching.

Federal Reserve Raises Interest Rates Again Amid ‘Strong’ Jobs Market (G.)

The Federal Reserve raised interest rates again on Wednesday, arguing that the US jobs market was “strong” and signalled it may accelerate the pace of increases next year. The quarter percentage point rise to a range of 1.5% to 1.75% was the sixth such increase since 2015 and comes as the Fed appears to be moving, slightly, more quickly to end an era of historically low interest rates that began during the last recession. The announcement came as the Fed chair, Jerome “Jay” Powell, gave his first press conference in the role he took over from his predecessor Janet Yellen in February. His surprise-free performance left US financial markets barely changed.

“The economic outlook has strengthened in recent months,” the Fed said in a statement. “Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in January indicates that the labor market has continued to strengthen and that economic activity has been rising at a moderate rate,” the Fed said in a statement. The rise, which was unanimously approved, comes after Congress passed two major bills that may spur the economy. In January Donald Trump signed off on a $1.5tn tax cut that reduces corporate and income tax rates. In February Congress agreed to a $300bn two-year increase in federal funding.

The Trump administration has claimed the tax cuts will fuel US economic growth above 3% next year, significantly above the 2.5% growth it achieved last year, but Powell said the Fed did not expect growth above 3% in the near future. “We have been through many years of growth rate around 2%,” said Powell. While there are elements in the tax cuts that could boost growth “we don’t know how big those effects will be”.

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Must have been some long sessions with the legal team. And people were asking “where’s Mark?”.

Mark Zuckerberg Says He’s ‘Really Sorry’ (CNBC)

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has explicitly apologized forthe Cambridge Analytica data scandal that’s been making headlines over the last several days. “This was a major breach of trust, and I’m really sorry that this happened,” Zuckerberg said on CNN Wednesday evening, elaborating on the statement he posted to his Facebook page earlier in the day. People had criticized Zuckerberg on social media for not explicitly apologizing in his earlier post. Zuckerberg was addressing bombshell reports by The Observer and The New York Times published over the weekend alleged that London-based firm Cambridge Analytica improperly gained access to the personal data of more than 50 million users.

Since the news broke, Facebook’s stock price has plummeted, U.K. officials have opened a probe, and U.S. lawmakers have called for Zuckerberg to appear before a panel to address its handling of user data. Zuckerberg told CNN that he would be willing to testify before Congress, though he avoided committing himself to an appearance. “What we try to do is send the person at Facebook who will have the most knowledge,” Zuckerberg said. “If that’s me, then I am happy to go.” One of the issues at the heart of the incident is whether or not Facebook has done enough to safeguard users’ personal information.

In 2013, Cambridge University researcher Aleksandr Kogan created an app called “thisisyourdigitallife” that harvested Facebook information from the roughly 300,000 people who used it as well as from their friends. Facebook changed its policies in 2014 to limit the data third-party apps could receive, but there were still tens of millions of people who would have had no idea that Kogan’s app had collected their data in the first place, or that it had ultimately been passed to Cambridge Analytica.

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If this ever comes before a real court, you get Pandora’s box. Expect Facebook to pay before a court date. And that will lower the shareholders’ shares even more.

Facebook Shareholders Sue As Share Price Tumbles (Ind.)

Facebook is being sued by US investors over the company’s tumbling share price after allegations that millions of users’ profile data had been harvested. A class-action lawsuit was filed in federal court in San Francisco on Tuesday after Facebook shares fell as much as 5.2% on Monday. By Wednesday the shares had crashed by 11%, wiping more than $57bn (£41bn) off the company’s value as it deals with the erupting privacy scandal. The undisclosed number of Facebook shareholders, led by Fan Yuan, say that they suffered losses after a whistleblower told The Observer that UK-based data company Cambridge Analytica had harvested and improperly used profile data of 50 million Facebook users.

“As a result of [Facebook’s] wrongful acts and omissions, and the precipitous decline in the market value of the company’s common shares, plaintiff and other class members have suffered significant losses and damages,” the lawsuit said. The legal action represents investors who bought Facebook shares between 3 February 2017 and 19 March 2018 – two days after news of the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke. It alleges that throughout the period, Facebook made “materially false and misleading statements regarding the company’s business, operational and compliance policies”.

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Not even that part of the narrative is true.

App Developer Kogan Calls Facebook’s Side Of The Story A “Fabrication” (BBG)

The app developer who surreptitiously gathered and shared 50 million Facebook user profiles says the company was officially notified of his actions but failed to stop it. Aleksandr Kogan, a research associate in the department of psychology at the University of Cambridge, turned over his Facebook-generated personality research to the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. In an email to university colleagues he called Facebook’s side of the story a “fabrication.” He said that in 2014 he used an official Facebook Inc. platform for developers to change the terms and conditions of his app from “research” to “commercial use,” and that at no point then did the social media company object.

Kogan’s position contradicts Facebook’s stance that Kogan violated the company’s terms and services and then lied about it. “We clearly stated that the users were granting us the right to use the data in broad scope, including selling and licensing the data,” Kogan wrote in a March 18 email obtained by Bloomberg. “These changes were all made on the Facebook app platform and thus they had full ability to review the nature of the app and raise issues.” [..] Kogan’s interpretation of events is potentially critical in better understanding what Facebook knew and when. [..] In the email, Kogan says that he hadn’t been interviewed by the FBI or any other law enforcement agencies, but would have no problem doing so.

He wrote that his app originally started as an academic project but turned to a commercial venture after being approached by the U.K. affiliate of Cambridge Analytica, SCL Group, around 2013. He then formed a company called Global Science Research Ltd, and changed the name of his app to GSRApp, while also modifying the privacy terms from academic to commercial.

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Sue the intelligence community. Much more effective.

Austrian Lawyer Took on Facebook in Europe. He’s Ready to Do It Again (BBG)

Seven years ago, Max Schrems took on Facebook, ultimately winning a court order that led to stricter rules on international data transfers for the social network and other American tech giants. If your company has any contact with residents of Europe, he has this message: You could be next. Regulatory changes coming this spring “open unprecedented doors,” says Schrems, a 30-year-old lawyer from Austria. “Companies looking to make extra money with people’s data are on my target list.” The EU measure, called the General Data Protection Regulation, permits mass lawsuits similar to class actions in the U.S., he says, allowing him to increase pressure on companies to protect consumer data.

Schrems founded a group called noyb—for none of your business—that he aims to use as a vehicle for lawsuits he’ll start filing as soon as the rules kick in on May 25. He set up a crowdfunding campaign for noyb that has raised more than €300,000 ($370,000) from 2,500 contributors as well as the city of Vienna, labor unions, and small tech companies—and he already has a stack of potential complaints sitting on his desk in the small office he’s rented around the corner from Vienna’s opera house. “We will look for the bigger cases, where we’ll have the greatest impact,” he says.

[..] Schrems examined how Facebook treats customer data and says he discovered that the company didn’t fully purge information users had deleted. Although he never submitted the assignment, his research became the core of 22 complaints to data protection authorities in Ireland, Facebook’s European base. Schrems created a website called europe-v-facebook.org—but insists he bears no grudge against the social network. The company is “more of a test case,” he says. “I thought I’d write up a few complaints. I never thought it would create such a media storm.”

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Almost half of them voted to be spied on.

Dutch Referendum On Spy Agency Tapping Powers Result Too Close To Call (R.)

Dutch voters were on track to narrowly reject a nonbinding referendum granting spy agencies the power to install bulk taps on Internet traffic. With 83% of the vote counted in the early hours of Thursday, the “no” vote was 48.9%, against 47.2% “yes.” An exit poll by national broadcaster NOS had showed the yes camp narrowly winning. Though the referendum is nonbinding, Prime Minister Mark Rutte had vowed to take the result seriously, without committing to abide by the result. The tapping law has already been approved by both houses of parliament.

Dubbed the “trawling law” by opponents, the legislation will let spy agencies install taps targeting an entire geographic region or avenue of communication, store information for up to three years, and share it with allied spy agencies. Digital rights group Bits of Freedom, which had advised a “No” vote, said the law is not all bad, given that taps must be approved beforehand by an independent panel. But the group said it still fears privacy violations and urged that the law be reconsidered. Before the vote, Rutte said the law was needed to prevent terrorist attacks. “It’s not that our country is unsafe, it’s that this law will make it safer,” he said.

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You don’t compare the country that suffered most in WWII, to those who caused that suffering.

‘Scary’ That Boris Johnson Represents A Nuclear Power – Russia (RT)

British foreign minister Boris Johnson is poisoned with hatred and anger so it is scary that he represents a nuclear power, Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman said on Wednesday. Maria Zakharova was commenting on Johnson’s earlier statement that compared Russia’s hosting of this year’s World Cup to the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany. “Any such parallels and comparisons between our country, that lost millions of lives in the fight against Nazism, fought with an enemy on its own territory, and then liberated Europe [and Nazi Germany] are absolutely unacceptable,” she said, in a statement published on Facebook.

The Russian ministry spokeswoman then added that such statements are “unworthy of a head of a European state’s diplomatic service … It is clear that [Boris Johnson] is poisoned with hatred and anger,” she said, also denouncing his words as “unprofessional” and “rude.” It is “scary” that “this man is a representative of a nuclear power that bears a special responsibility for its actions in the international arena as well as for the preservation of international peace,” Zakharova said. Now “it is beyond the shadow of a doubt that all London’s actions … were aimed at setting up a spectre of an enemy out of Russia, using any, even the most absurd reasons,” Zakharova said. She then added that British politicians are now apparently seeking to fully boycott the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Earlier on Wednesday, Johnson once again blatantly accused Russia of being behind the poisoning of the former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, as he was being quizzed by the Commons foreign affairs committee. He also said he believes the comparison between the World Cup and the 1936 Olympics “is certainly right” just because the sporting event would somehow “glorify” Putin, from his point of view.

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How will Britain not be like Greece in a few years time?

Scale Of UK Problem Debt At ‘Epidemic Levels’ – Archbishop Of Canterbury (Ind.)

The scale of problem debt is at “epidemic levels”, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said. The Most Rev Justin Welby made the comments in the foreword of a report compiled by debt help charity Christians Against Poverty (CAP). The report said, on average, CAP clients’ outstanding debt equates to 96% of annual household income when they seek help. Mr Welby, the charity’s patron, says in the report: “In 2017 we have seen warnings from many of our financial institutions about the scale of consumer borrowing. “Achieving economic stability together with economic justice for all is too easily overlooked.” He continues: “The scale of problem debt in our country is at epidemic levels.

“Jesus calls us to be hope-bringers and peace-givers. Where there are still lives filled with an oppressive hopelessness, where darkness has a grip, our mission is not done.” In 2013, the archbishop voiced concerns about energy price hikes and he also said in that year that the Church of England wanted to drive payday lenders out of business through the creation of credit unions. [..] The CAP report said that for people in severe financial hardship, a home may not be a place of refuge but rather a place without food in the cupboard, without heating, hot water or working household essentials. More than 1,000 CAP clients were asked about life before they got help from the charity. The research found nearly four in 10 (37%) clients were afraid to leave the home, 60% were afraid to answer the door and 73% were too scared to answer the phone.

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One day after the report about disappearing insects and birds in France, Brussels votes for more pesticides and GMOs. Nobody wants them.

EU Approves Buyout Of Monsanto By German Chemical Firm Bayer (R.)

German conglomerate Bayer won EU antitrust approval on Wednesday for its $62.5bn (£44.5bn) buy of US peer Monsanto, the latest in a trio of mega mergers that will reshape the agrochemicals industry. The tie-up is set to create a company with control of more than a quarter of the world’s seed and pesticides market. Driven by shifting weather patterns, competition in grain exports and a faltering global farm economy, Dow and Dupont, and ChemChina and Syngenta had earlier led a wave of consolidation in the sector. Both deals secured EU approval only after the companies offered substantial asset sales to boost rivals.

Environmental and farming groups have opposed all three deals, worried about their power and their advantage in digital farming data, which can tell farmers how and when to till, sow, spray, fertilise and pick crops based on algorithms. The European Commission said Bayer addressed its concerns with its offer to sell a swathe of assets to boost rival BASF [..] “Our decision ensures that there will be effective competition and innovation in seeds, pesticides and digital agriculture markets also after this merger,” European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement. “In particular, we have made sure that the number of global players actively competing in these markets stays the same.”

[..] Vestager said the Commission, which received more than a million petitions concerning the deal, had been thorough by examining more than 2,000 different product markets and 2.7 million internal documents to produce a 1,285-page ruling. [..] Online campaigns group Avaaz criticised the EU approval. “This is a marriage made in hell. The Commission ignored a million people who called on them to block this deal, and caved in to lobbying to create a mega-corporation which will dominate our food supply,” Avaaz legal director Nick Flynn said.

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Mar 012018
 
 March 1, 2018  Posted by at 11:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paramount Theater, Times Square NYC 1956

 

Donald Trump Stuns Allies By Signalling Backing For Tighter Gun Control (G.)
Members of Congress Are Petrified of The NRA, Says Trump (Ind.)
Where Did The Republican Trump-Haters Go? (BBC)
This Has Predicted Every Market Crash in History (Bonner)
US January Pending Home Sales Crash Most Since 2010 (ZH)
Hawk Or Dove? Fed’s Powell Showed Markets Both Sides In Debut (R.)
Trump Says US Will Use “All Available Tools” To Pressure China On Trade (BBG)
South Korea Cuts 68-Hour Working Week (G.)
John Major Tears Into Theresa May’s ‘Grand Folly’ Brexit Strategy (Ind.)
Russia Says US Is Training Europe To Use Nuclear Weapons Against It (CNBC)
American Hellenic Institute Urges Trump To Condemn Turkish Aggression (K.)
Greece Loosens Capital Controls, Raises Cash Withdrawal Limit (R.)
Greek Jan-Feb 2018 Retail Sales Down 8.8% y-o-y (K.)

 

 

I don’t normally like to open Debt Rattles with politics, but this leads the news.

Trump’s stance here should be a huge opening for Democrats, but it can’t be: they‘re too far gone in their demonizing of him. So if nothing happens -again- you’re going to have to wonder whose fault that is.

Note: a first reaction to a school shooting is easy, but you are talking fiddling with about the US constitution here.

Donald Trump Stuns Allies By Signalling Backing For Tighter Gun Control (G.)

Donald Trump has repeatedly endorsed a series of gun control proposals that put the Republican president at odds with the National Rifle Association and stunned lawmakers within his own party. The president made the remarks during an extraordinary, hour-long White House meeting on Wednesday with congressional Republicans and Democrats who are under pressure to address gun violence in the aftermath of the massacre at a Florida high school earlier this month. During the meeting, Trump called for a “beautiful” comprehensive bill that would expand background checks on gun purchases, remove guns from the hands of the mentally ill, bolster security on school campuses and restrict young people from purchasing certain weapons.

Within hours of the meeting’s conclusion, conservatives and some Republicans turned on Trump, who was elected with broad support from the gun lobby and claimed on Wednesday that the National Rifle Association had “no bigger fan”. Breitbart, the far-right news organization that fanned the flames of Trump’s rise, denounced the president as a “gun grabber” who “cedes” to Democrats. [..] Trump, who ran the meeting like a boardroom CEO, pointing at lawmakers for updates on their legislation, called on Congress to be “very strong” on background checks, repeatedly offering his support for a plan that failed to pass the Senate in April 2013, months after a gunman killed 20 young children and six staff members at Sandy Hook elementary school.

“You have to be very, very powerful on background checks. Don’t be shy,” Trump said during the televised session. He added: “I’d rather have you come down on the strong side than the weak side. The weak side is easier to do.” Two senators, Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Pat Toomey, both of whom attended the meeting, plan to reintroduce their bill that would have imposed universal background checks for commercial gun purchases, including at gun shows and over the internet. 84% of Americans favor such a law [..] In a surprising exchange with Toomey, Trump asked if his measure included a provision to raise the age to buy assault weapons from 18 to 21. Toomey replied that it did not, and Trump shot back: “You know why? Because you’re afraid of the NRA.”

Trump rejected a demand by conservatives in the House that this so-called Fix Nics bill be paired with controversial concealed carry legislation, which is favoured by the NRA and would loosen restrictions by enabling gun owners with concealed-carry permits in their home states to take their firearms across state lines. “If you add concealed carry to this, you’ll never get it passed,” Trump told Steve Scalise, the House majority whip, who was last summer by a gunman targeting a congressional baseball practice. “Let it be a separate thing.” Trump repeatedly berated his Republican colleagues, accusing them of being afraid of the NRA, and appeared to take pleasure in stating his willingness to take on the gun lobby. “Some of you people are petrified of the NRA. You can’t be petrified,” he said.

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And they get their funding there.

Members of Congress Are Petrified of The NRA, Says Trump (Ind.)

President Donald Trump has accused members of Congress of being afraid of the National Rifle Association (NRA), as he called for an increase in the minimum age for buying a rifle. “[The NRA] has great power,” Mr Trump said at a bipartisan meeting with members of Congress on school safety. “They have great power over you people. They have less power over me. I don’t need it. What do I need? But I’ll tell you, they are well-meaning … We have to do what is right.” Members of Congress have again been anxious to find a solution to prevent mass shootings after an alleged 19-year-old gunman on Valentine’s Day open fired at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas high school in Florida, killing 17 people.

On the first day students of the school resumed their lessons following the shooting, several legislators gathered at the White House to discuss school safety and legislation aimed at combatting gun violence. One such proposal, drafted by Republican Senator Pat Toomey and Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, is primarily focused on expanding background checks for gun purchases. Mr Trump asked Mr Toomey about a proposal to raise the age limit for purchasing assault weapons from 18 to 21, a measure the NRA does not support.

“Now, this is not a popular thing in terms of the NRA, but I’m saying it anyway,” Mr Trump said. “Right now, you have to wait to buy a handgun until you’re 21, but you can buy the type of weapon used in a school shooting at 18. I can say the NRA is opposed to it… These are great patriots, they love our country, but that doesn’t mean we have to agree on it.” Mr Toomey said the age issue is not addressed in his bill with Mr Manchin. “You know why, because you’re afraid of the NRA,” the President responded.

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This fits in nicely with the gun issue. Scott “Dilbert” Adams’ view on Twitter: “Persuasion Phase 1 is complete. He’s coming for Democrats next.”

Where Did The Republican Trump-Haters Go? (BBC)

Once upon a time there was an active, vocal resistance among conservatives to the prospect of Donald Trump’s presidency. One year in, and the signs of dissent are rapidly fading. On Friday morning at the Conservative Political Action Conference on the outskirts of Washington, DC, Donald Trump took the stage and reminded the packed hall just how far he’d come. “Remember when I first started running?” the president asked. “People said, ‘Are you sure he’s a conservative?’ I think I proved I’m a conservative.” Mr Trump then launched into nearly an hour and a half of his trademark campaign-style oratory, often acknowledging that he was deviating from his “boring” speech text. On script and off, however, it was clear his intended objective was to drive home the point that he has governed as a true conservative.

He boasted of his tax cuts, right-wing judicial nominations, regulatory rollbacks and defence of religious liberty. Those are the sort of accomplishments attendees of this annual conference of young Republicans, grassroots activists, party functionaries, conservative media pundits, assorted merchants and special interests longed for through eight years of the Obama presidency, and now they’re getting. That’s got to make them thrilled, right? Well, sort of. According to straw poll of conference attendees, 93% approve of the job Mr Trump is doing in the White House. It’s a number not too far from the 80% of Republicans across the US who continue to tell pollsters they support the president. That, as the president acknowledged, was not always the case.

In 2016 – at the beginning of his long march to the Republican nomination and the presidency, Mr Trump abruptly cancelled an appearance at Cpac when faced with the prospect of a walkout from “never-Trump” conservatives. [A 2015] straw poll had Mr Trump as the presidential pick of just 3.5% of attendees, in eighth place, far behind libertarian-leaning Senator Rand Paul’s 25.7%. Another Republican presidential hopeful at that conference, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, would just a handful of months later describe Mr Trump’s politics as “a toxic mix of demagoguery and mean-spiritedness and nonsense” and call his candidacy a “cancer on conservatism”. Last week, Mr Perry – now Mr Trump’s energy secretary – was back at Cpac, referring to himself as “footsoldier in the army”. Donald Trump’s army, that is.

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Should that say “predicted after the fact”? (From Bill Bonner, Mish and Semper Augustus)

This Has Predicted Every Market Crash in History (Bonner)

“Buy the dip” has worked for the last 38 years. And now, investors are more than 100% convinced that it will work again. But they are wrong. Semper Augustus: “Every major stock market decline and every recession in the last 100 years was preceded by the Federal Reserve raising short-term interest rates by enough to provide the pin to prick the balloon. Note the emphasis on every. Yes, there have been periods where the Fed raised rates and a recession didn’t ensue. Everyone knows the famous saying about the stock market having predicted nine of the past five recessions! That may be true, that rising rates don’t necessarily cause a recession. But as an investor, you must be aware that every major stock market decline occurred on the heels of a tightening phase by the Fed. More importantly, there have been no substantive Fed tightening phases that did not end with a stock market decline”.


Going back to 1950, every U.S. recession (gray shaded area) has been preceded by the Fed hiking interest rates

A little debt may be a good thing; a lot of it is not. At a certain point, you have more than “too much debt,” and it becomes toxic. Where exactly in the cycle we are, we don’t know. But our guess is we are already way beyond the place where we are fully indebted. This is an economy built on debt. The whole capital structure – stocks, bonds, and real estate – now depends on excess debt… and more of it. In a correction, the only way to stop stock prices from falling and the economy from shrinking is to bring in some more debt. But when you do that a few times, you are soon beyond Peak Debt… which is to say, you’re way over the legal limit.

Debt has been growing three to six times faster than income for more than an entire generation. This makes the old 1.5-to-1 ratio of debt to income seem quaint. It is now 3.5-to-1 nationwide. Which is why deficits still matter. Every penny in debt that we add now is a penny that cannot be repaid, not by any plausible combination of economic projections. Because there is no way to “grow your way out of debt” when your income is falling while your debt is still increasing. Instead, you have to suffer the indignities of a correction, including a major reset in the stock market. That’s what happens when stocks that are more than fully priced meet a debt load that is beyond 100% of capacity.

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As noted earlier, new home sales were down 33.3% in the northeast. Pending home sales feel by 9% there.

US January Pending Home Sales Crash Most Since 2010 (ZH)

After New- and Existing-Home-Sales have already disappointed, Pending Home-Sales just collapsed too (to the lowest since Oct 2014) to confirm January was a bloodbath for the real estate market. Pending Home Sales plunged 4.7% in January (massively below the 0.5% expected rise in sales) – this is the biggest drop since May 2010. Year-over-year Pending home sales are down 1.7%. Purchases fell 9% in the Northeast, 6.6% in the Midwest, 3.9% in the South and 1.2% in the West.

NAR is desperate to convince home-buyers and sellers that this is nothing but an inventory issue, but it is affordability that is the real driver here. “There’s little doubt last month’s retreat in contract signings occurred because of woefully low supply levels and the sudden increase in mortgage rates,” Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said in a statement. “With the cost of buying a home getting more expensive and not enough inventory, some prospective buyers are either waiting until listings increase come spring or now having to delay their search entirely to save up for a larger down payment.” So, will higher rates break housing market momentum? The following chart suggest ‘yes’ – that surge in rates will have a direct impact on home sales (or prices will be forced to adjust lower) as affordability collapses…

And Homebuilder stocks are starting to look a lot less invincible…

As Bloomberg notes, economists consider pending sales a leading indicator because they track contract signings; purchases of existing homes are tabulated when a deal closes, typically a month or two later.

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Something for everyone. Useless.

Hawk Or Dove? Fed’s Powell Showed Markets Both Sides In Debut (R.)

Financial markets barely batted an eye on Tuesday when Jerome Powell’s first public statement as Federal Reserve chief saw daylight, interpreting it as a steady-handed commitment to the U.S. central bank’s policy of gradual interest rate increases. The calm evaporated about a couple of hours later, at 10:42 a.m. EST, when Powell, testifying before a U.S. House of Representatives committee, struck a bullish, and personal, tone on the strength of the economy. U.S. bond yields jumped as investors raised their bets for four rate increases this year, rather than the three that Fed policymakers projected in late December, and began asking one key question: Is a hawk or a dove now running the Fed?

“The message coming from the written portion of the testimony did not signal any change,” analysts from Barclays wrote on Tuesday, drawing a contrast with Powell’s live remarks that “point to a risk of a steeper policy rate path.” Fed policymakers consider their public statements an important tool in shaping public perceptions and, in doing so, making monetary policy more effective. Fed chiefs try to avoid off-the-cuff remarks that cause impromptu repricing, preferring to hew close to their job of representing the views of the Fed’s rate-setting committee and avoiding disclosing much about their personal opinions. Veteran Fed analysts were split over whether Powell had broken that unwritten rule in his remarks, which came just weeks after he took over from Janet Yellen.

“The tone of the testimony was definitely NOT hawkish,” said Cornerstone Macro economist and former Fed staffer Roberto Perli, who emphasized Powell’s written comments might be read as a willingness to allow the economy to run hot in order to boost inflation to the Fed’s 2% target on a sustained basis. “Powell more confident on growth, putting 2018 dots in play,” is how JP Morgan’s Michael Feroli summed up the day, referring to the quarterly “dot plot” of projected interest rates that Fed policymakers submit. Feroli argued that Powell’s “modestly hawkish” appearance in Congress strengthened the chance that policymakers’ rate outlook would rise when the central bank issues its next set of economic projections next month.

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Xi advocating against protectionism is a keeper.

Trump Says US Will Use “All Available Tools” To Pressure China On Trade (BBG)

President Donald Trump is warning the U.S. will use “all available tools” to prevent China’s state-driven economic model from undermining global competition, the latest warning to Beijing as America readies a host of trade actions. China hasn’t lived up to the promises of economic reforms it made when it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, and actually appears to be moving further away from “market principles” in recent years, according to the president’s annual report to Congress on his trade-policy agenda. China’s “statist” policies are causing a “dramatic misallocation” of global resources that is leaving all countries poorer than they should be, said the report. Chinese President Xi Jinping has dispatched one of his top economic advisers, Liu He, this week to Washington to meet with senior administration officials amid signs of growing tension between the world’s two biggest economies.

“China is free to pursue whatever trade policy it prefers. But the United States, as a sovereign nation, is free to respond,” according to the report, which is prepared by the U.S. Trade Representative’s office. Xi has called for countries to avoid protectionism and stick to the current path of globalization. At the same time, Chinese officials are weighing raising tariffs on U.S. soybeans as tensions escalate. Trump’s warning comes as his administration considers a range of actions either directly aimed at China, or that could impact the Asian power. The president is weighing several options for curbing imports of steel and aluminum, and Trump has told confidants he’s considering a global tariff on steel of 24%, the most punitive alternative recommended by his officials. The administration is ready to act unilaterally if necessary to fight unfair trading practices, according to trade report.

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Well, it did get them the Olympics…

South Korea Cuts 68-Hour Working Week (G.)

Employees in one of the most overworked countries in Asia are about to get a break after South Korea passed a bill to reduce the typical work week in an effort to improve quality of life and boost employment. South Korea’s National Assembly overwhelmingly passed the law which cut the maximum weekly work hours to 52, down from 68. The law comes into force in July and will apply to large companies before being rolled out to smaller businesses. The cut was a campaign promise by President Moon Jae-in, who also secured a 16% increase in the minimum wage this year. The law faced opposition from businesses but was seen as necessary to improve living standards, create more jobs and boost productivity. It is also aimed at increasing the country’s birth rate, which hit record lows last year.

As South Korea’s economy boomed in the 80s and 90s, a workaholic culture took hold and the birth rate plummeted. Chung Hyun-back, the gender equality and family minister, has called the country’s working hours “inhumanely long” and said they were a factor in the South’s rapidly ageing society. South Koreans workers have some of the longest weeks in the developing world, behind only Mexico, according to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The group of mostly developed economies does not include countries such as China and India, and developing countries tend to work more. But South Koreans still work about 400 more hours a year compared with workers in the UK and Australia, about 10 additional standard work weeks, despite having relatively similar average incomes.

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Just as she tries to strike a defiant pose…

John Major Tears Into Theresa May’s ‘Grand Folly’ Brexit Strategy (Ind.)

Former Conservative leader John Major has launched a devastating attack on Theresa May’s approach to Brexit, just 48 hours before the Prime Minister sets out her plans for future relations with the EU. In a significant intervention, Mr Major tore into Ms May’s negotiating red lines as “bad politics” and “grand folly” dictated by “ultra Brexiteers”. He demanded MPs be freed from the party whip and allowed to vote with their conscience on her final deal, and said Britain may need a second referendum to avoid years of damaging rows over Brexit. His explosive speech sparked a ferocious backlash from Tories that back hard Brexit, with one saying his arguments were “grubbing around in the weeds”.

The surgically timed intervention comes as Ms May prepares to reveal the final text of her next big Brexit speech to the Cabinet, before meeting European Council president Donald Tusk in Downing Street on Thursday. Mr Major’s intervention also appears to have been choreographed with another speech from ex-prime minister Tony Blair in Brussels on Thursday, in which the ex-Labour leader will address European politicians on Brexit. When the ex-Tory leader stood to make his speech on Wednesday, Ms May had already locked horns with Brussels negotiators who had in the morning published what she called an “unacceptable” draft withdrawal agreement.

Despite Ms May having repeatedly claimed she settled the withdrawal agreement last year, she argued in the Commons that a new draft had crossed her Brexit red lines. It was those very “red lines” that Mr Major took aim at when he began talking in London minutes later, claiming they had “boxed” Ms May in. He said: “They are so tilted to ultra-Brexit opinion, even the Cabinet cannot agree them – and a majority in both Houses of Parliament oppose them. “If maintained in full, it will be impossible to reach a favourable trade outcome.”

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The western press will simply continue to claim that Russia’s the aggressor, not NATO or the US. Case solved.

Russia Says US Is Training Europe To Use Nuclear Weapons Against It (CNBC)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday that the U.S. was still deploying “strategic arms” in Europe and was training European countries to use nuclear weapons, violating a major nuclear arms agreement called the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Lavrov said that nuclear disarmament was impossible without taking into account factors which destabilize “strategic stability and international security today,” including, he said, “the deployment of a global anti-missile system” and “the deployment of U.S. strategic arms in Europe and the continuing destabilizing practice of ‘joint nuclear missions,’ as they call them.” “As we all know, these nuclear missions violate the Non-Proliferation Treaty and non-nuclear states plan and take part in the U.S. exercises and learn how to use the nuclear weapons,” he said.

For its part, he said Russia had reduced its nuclear arsenal by 85% compared to the Cold War era. The Russian Foreign Ministry has complained about what it calls “joint nuclear missions” and says the U.S. has many nuclear weapons located in Europe. It also says the U.S. is training European countries to use these weapons. Last April, the foreign ministry issued a statement in which it said that “Washington’s approach to compliance with its obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is still of great concern. The U.S. and its non-nuclear NATO allies continue their nuclear skill training as part of the so-called “nuclear sharing”,” it said.

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But Merkel wants her refugee treaty. Or she’s done.

American Hellenic Institute Urges Trump To Condemn Turkish Aggression (K.)

The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) sent a letter to US President Donald J. Trump in the wake of acts of Turkish provocation and aggression in the eastern Mediterranean and broader region that have dire implications to American security interests. In the February 27 letter, AHI President Nick Larigakis requests President Trump to condemn strongly Turkish aggression and acts of provocations that have been directed at the United States, Greece, Cyprus, and international oil and gas companies – all of which have occurred in the month of February.

Larigakis cites: a Turkish coastguard vessel colliding with a stationary Greek coastguard vessel, the harassment of Italian oil company Eni’s surveying vessel by Turkish warships, which threatened to sink Eni’s surveying vessel because it was on its way to survey for energy resources in the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus; and Turkish President Erdogan’s threat of an “Ottoman slap” to United States military forces if they continued to partner with Syrian Kurds in Syria.

In addition, Larigakis raised the concern among NATO allies about Turkey’s purchase of four divisions of S-400 missiles from Russia and how it potentially subjects Turkey to US sanctions. “Turkey’s aggressive and provocative actions directed at the United States and U.S. allies, Greece and Cyprus, are overt, egregious and dangerous. I urge the administration to act to uphold the rule of law and to call on Turkey, the provocateur of these tensions, to cease and desist with its aggressive actions that are a threat to peace and stability and are not in the best interests of the United States,” Larigakis concludes.

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Just about nobody has that kind of cash to withdraw anymore. Thanks a lot.

Greece Loosens Capital Controls, Raises Cash Withdrawal Limit (R.)

Greece on Wednesday moved to ease capital restrictions imposed since the summer of 2015, raising the monthly limit of cash that can be withdrawn from bank accounts by 28%. Athens first imposed capital controls in July 2015 to stem a flight of cash from its banks at the height of a debt crisis which led to its third financial bailout since 2010. Based on a finance ministry decree published in the government’s gazette, individuals will be allowed to withdraw lump sums of up to 2,300 euros in cash per month from bank accounts from 1,800 euros currently, effective from March 1.

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Just imagine the added job losses that come with this. And still, as I keep on saying, things can still only get worse from here.

Greek Jan-Feb 2018 Retail Sales Down 8.8% y-o-y, Up To 20% In Cities (K.)

Retail sales in the first two months of the year were down some half a billion euros on the same period in 2017, as households were left with less spending money after their Christmas shopping and purchases made during the Black Friday promotional event at the end of November. According to a survey conducted by the Hellenic Confederation of Commerce and Enterprises (ESEE), retail turnover declined this past January and February by 8.8% compared to 2017. In absolute figures, this reduction translates into the loss of 484 million euros, with turnover up until Wednesday amounting to 5.02 billion, against 5.5 billion in January-February 2017.

In certain areas of the country the drop in sales turnover in the first two months of the year reached up to 40%, while out of Greece’s 65 traders’ associations, only one reported an increase from last year. In the cities of Athens and Thessaloniki, sales declined between 11 and 20% year-on-year. The ESEE survey showed that one in three enterprises offered discounts of between 21 and 40%, while two out of five offered discounts in excess of 40%.

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


Vincent van Gogh Le moulin de la galette 1886

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

The Albatross Of Debt Part 4 (David Stockman)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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You mean the ones we bailed out, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Snowstorm nears London Photo: NPAS

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Feb 242018
 
 February 24, 2018  Posted by at 11:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Arthur Rothstein Rear of interstate truck. Elko, Nevada 1940

 

Debt On Track To Destroy The American Middle Class (GoldT)
The Only Thing That Can Save Stocks Is QE (ZH)
Fed ‘Quite Likely’ To Require Large-Scale QE Again (ZH)
VIX Funds Face Fresh Scrutiny From US Regulators (BBG)
Xi Confidant Emerges As Front Runner To Head China’s Central Bank (R.)
Brexit To End London House Price Boom (Ind.)
UK Post-Brexit Plans Based On A “Pure Illusion”- EU (G.)
Ecuador Blames UK As Assange Talks Break Down (G.)
Europe to Wind Down Latvian Bank Targeted by U.S. Over Sanctions (BBG)
After New Incident Off Cyprus, EU Calls On Turkey To Stop Naval Aggression (K.)

 

 

Going down down down.

Debt On Track To Destroy The American Middle Class (GoldT)

Economists report the household debt to be at its highest in decades. Yet, at the same time, we are being told that the economy is doing great. Does anyone see a serious contradiction? In fact, the current economy only favors the wealthy owing to their flourishing financial assets such as stocks and bonds. Owing to the lack of real assets such as property and commodities, the middle and lower classes are becoming overwhelmed due to the serious consequences of the spending/debt cycle. American consumers have a collective outstanding household debt of about $13.15 trillion of which nearly $1 trillion is the credit card debt alone, households are truly on a debt binge. These figures should be a wake-up call to all the Americans. The convulsive household debt has surpassed the bubble of 2008 and is still escalating. The economy may not be doing so great, after all.

Compared to 2008, the automobile credit balances have increased to $367 billion whereas the outstanding student loans are around $671 billion. Moreover, 67% of household debts belong to consumer mortgages. In 2016, 25% of all the Americans purchased a new or used vehicle and two-thirds of them are repaying through high-interest, long-term loans. In fact, the consumer debt has exceeded their income for majority of the Americans. Consumers have become accustomed using easy credit to maintain a lifestyle unaffordable for them otherwise. If this trend continues, and facts indicate that it will, we will be facing a monumental credit crisis in the near future. A huge portion of credit card debt is the interest. Credit cards are a convenience and consumers readily pay for the privilege.

[..] The decline in automobile sales is already an indication of the future consumer debt crisis. If lenders continue to provide easy access to credit regardless of its looming default and delinquent potential, retail purchase will face a sharp decline in 2018. This will have serious consequences on the overall economy. The Federal Reserve and other global lenders are a significant contribution to the problem. They allow printing of trillions of dollars and yens for the lenders to distribute to the borrowing consumers at a high interest, leading to a worldwide inflation. All this printed wealth is merely an illusion yet it is raising the cost of living. Prices are rising at an alamingly faster rate compared to the consumer income. There is no increase in real assets. All this is but a mere mushrooming of debt.

The consequences of federal policy will be inescapable unless reversed and there are no signs of any reversal in near or distant future. At this rate, the consumers will soon face a critical financial bubble. Financial assets, such as stocks and bonds, risk losing substantial value. The wealthy can absorb the losses but the poor and middle class will face financial ruin. Consumers need to seriously consider the need to increase their “real” assets, such as real estate and commodities to prevent a long-term financial nightmare. The chart below shows how the real assets have curved to an all-time low.

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Gee, what a surprise.

The Only Thing That Can Save Stocks Is QE (ZH)

In the last 45 years, there have been seven periods of persistent US dollar and Treasury bond weakness and as BofAML notes, during six of those periods, stocks have been pressured significantly lower.

This could be a problem, as it’s happening again… and stocks are beginning to wake up to it…

There has only been one period in history when falling dollar and bond prices did not lead to slumping stocks…And that was when QE was expanded drastically in March 2009.

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Tightening and then not.

Fed ‘Quite Likely’ To Require Large-Scale QE Again (ZH)

Ahead of Fed Chair Powell’s first semi-annual monetary policy report to Congress next week (brought forward to 2/27), The Fed has released his prepared remarks warning that “valuations are still elevated across a range of asset classes” and fears “signs of rising non-financial leverage.” To wit: Looking at the key topic of inflation, and the labor market, the Fed found that U.S. labor market is “near or a little beyond” full employment in early 2018, and that while the pace of wage growth has been modest, “serious labor shortages” would probably give it an upward push. Ironically, and paradoxically for an “economy beyond full employment”, the Fed observes that “the pace of wage gains has been moderate; while wage gains have likely been held down by the sluggish pace of productivity growth in recent years.”

Regardless, the Fed clearly is concerned about labor supply-demand imbalances, and has even added a new word: serious, as in “serious labor shortages would probably bring about larger increases than have been observed thus far.” In a separate special section on financial stability, the Fed notes that overall vulnerabilities in the U.S. financial system remain moderate, while noting some spots where things are warming up. These include signs of increased leverage to the nonbank sector, noting greater provision of margin credit to equity investors such as hedge funds. Looking at financial imbalances, the Fed warns that “leverage in the nonfinancial business sector has remained high, and net issuance of risky debt has climbed in recent months. In contrast, leverage in the household sector has remained at a relatively low level, and household debt in recent years has expanded only about in line with nominal income.”

[..] Curiously, before Powell’s remarks were dropped, both Dudley and Rosengren were on the tape this morning talking super dovish about QE as “useful to have in the toolkit for those times when the short-term interest rate tool may not be available,” adding that The Fed is “quite likely” to require large-scale asset purchases again because real rates will remain low due to slow productivity and labor-force growth.

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Horse has left that barn ages ago.

VIX Funds Face Fresh Scrutiny From US Regulators (BBG)

U.S. regulators are scrutinizing this month’s implosion of investments that track stock-market turmoil, including whether wrongdoing contributed to steep losses for VIX exchange-traded products offered by Credit Suisse and other firms, several people familiar with the matter said. The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission have been conducting a broad review of trading since Feb. 5, when volatility spiked and investors lost billions of dollars, the people said. Among those looking into what happened are lawyers in the SEC’s enforcement division, which investigates firms for potential misconduct and fines them if it finds violations of securities laws, two of the people said. There is no indication thus far that specific companies, including Credit Suisse, are being probed.

The scrutiny puts a spotlight on a small corner of the $3.4 trillion exchange-traded fund industry that lets everyone from hedge funds to mom-and-pop investors engage in complex trading strategies. With losses now piling up, allegations of market manipulation are getting more attention and government watchdogs face questions about why small-time investors were permitted to buy such products in the first place. “The values of these exchange-traded products are based on a combination of futures, options and three indices. Quite the maze,” Democratic SEC Commissioner Kara Stein said Friday in a speech at a conference in Washington. “What troubles me is that oftentimes complex products fall into the hands of people who don’t fully understand them.”

SEC Chairman Jay Clayton told reporters at the same event Friday that he wasn’t concerned about how the market functioned during the steep decline in equities on Feb. 5 and in the two weeks since. He said it would be appropriate, however, to review which types of more complex investments are widely available to average investors. “The portfolio of products available to retail investors has changed dramatically and it’s worth taking a look at,” Clayton said.

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Tough job. Xi sets rates all by himself.

Xi Confidant Emerges As Front Runner To Head China’s Central Bank (R.)

Liu He, a Harvard-trained economist who is a trusted confidant of Chinese President Xi Jinping, has emerged as the front runner to be the next governor of the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), according to three sources with knowledge of the situation. Liu may be in a position to become one of China’s most powerful economic and financial officials ever, as he is already top adviser to Xi on economic policy and is also expected to become vice premier overseeing the economy. Liu would replace current PBOC chief, 70-year-old Zhou Xiaochuan, who is China’s longest-running head of the central bank, having taken the job in 2002. Zhou is expected to retire around the time of the annual session of parliament in March, sources previously told Reuters.

The change would be part of a wider government reshuffle following the 19th Communist Party Congress in October last year, during which Xi laid out his vision for China’s long-term development, and elevated his key allies. Speculation has been rife for months over the choice of the next central bank governor. Xi will have the final say, and the sources noted that while Liu is clearly the frontrunner he is not yet certain to get the job. Just before last October’s Congress, sources told Reuters that China’s banking regulator head Guo Shuqing and veteran banker Jiang Chaoliang were leading contenders for the PBOC job. But at the congress, the influence of the 66-year-old Liu continued to grow. He was elected into the 25-member Politburo, the second-highest tier in Beijing’s political power structure after the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee.

Sources previously told Reuters that Liu, a fluent English speaker, is set to become one of China’s four vice premiers and would oversee the economy and financial sector. Two of the sources said that Liu could serve concurrently as vice premier and head of the central bank.

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Brexit is not all bad.

Brexit To End London House Price Boom (Ind.)

UK inflation will outstrip gains in house prices this year and next, particularly in the capital, as uncertainty over Brexit and weak consumer spending power hits demand, a Reuters poll found on Friday. According to the latest quarterly Reuters poll of 33 housing market specialists, taken in the past week, property prices will rise 2.0% this year, much slower than the predicted 2.5% rise in general costs in the economy. In London – long the hotbed for foreign investors behind a decade of skyrocketing prices – the difference will be even starker: the average price is expected to fall 0.5% this year. Next year, house prices will rise 0.9% in London and 2.0 nationally, still both below the 2.1% expected inflation rate. In 2020, London prices will increase 2.0% and by 2.3% nationally. “A significant effect of Brexit is subdued investment confidence,” said Rod Lockhart at online mortgage lender LendInvest.

“Would-be sellers are holding onto assets for longer and buyers are being a little more diligent before committing to significant expenditures, all this against a backdrop of inflation-surpassing wage growth.” Most respondents in the poll said the Brexit vote had been negative for both turnover and prices in London but were split over whether it had been negative or had no impact nationally. Sterling is over 6% weaker than before the June 2016 vote to leave the EU, something that should make properties more attractive to foreign investors, who can take advantage of cheaper prices. But uncertainty over how Brexit divorce talks will pan out has deterred overseas buyers. “Foreigners get more pounds in their pockets, but the nation and its capital has lost some of its allure,” said Tony Williams at property consultancy Building Value.

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May the masochist.

UK Post-Brexit Plans Based On A “Pure Illusion”- EU (G.)

Theresa May’s reported agreement with her cabinet on a future trading relationship with the EU has been criticised as based on “pure illusion” by the European council president, Donald Tusk, as frustration with the UK erupted in Brussels. Reports that May’s inner cabinet had agreed on a policy of “managed divergence” during eight hours of talks at an awayday in Chequers were met with incredulity by EU leaders. Tusk told reporters on Friday: “I am glad the UK government seems to be moving towards a more detailed position. “However, if the media reports are correct, I am afraid the UK position today is based on pure illusion. It looks like the cake [and eat it] philosophy is still alive. “From the very start it has been a set principle of the EU27 that there cannot be any cherrypicking of single market à la carte. This will continue to be a key principle, I have no doubt.”

Speaking at a summit of EU27 member states in Brussels, to discuss the EU’s budget and leadership post-Brexit, Leo Varadkar, the Irish taoiseach, also insisted that the single market was “not à la carte”. It is believed the British government is seeking to maintain frictionless trade in some sectors by staying in lock-step alignment with EU regulation, while opening up the prospect of diverging in other areas in order to gain a competitive advantage in the international marketplace. “It is not possible for UK to be aligned to EU when it suits and not when it doesn’t,” Varadkar said. “The UK position needs to be backed up with real detail that can be written into a legal treaty with the EU. We are well beyond the point of aspirations and principle. We need detail.”

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Britain should be taken to The Hague for its involvement.

Ecuador Blames UK As Assange Talks Break Down (G.)

Talks between the UK and Ecuador over the future of Julian Assange at its London embassy have broken down, the South American country’s foreign minister has said. Maria Fernanda Espinosa suggested British officials had been unwilling to negotiate over the Wikileaks founder’s potential release. Earlier this month, a judge upheld an arrest warrant issued when Assange skipped bail as he fought extradition to Sweden in 2012. The 46-year-old has been at the embassy ever since because he fears extradition to the United States for questioning over the activities of WikiLeaks if he leaves. Espinosa said of the failed talks: “To mediate you need two parties, Ecuador is willing, but not necessarily the other party.”

Ecuador said it would continue to protect Assange’s rights, however there was a risk to his physical and psychological wellbeing after spending nearly six years in the building as a “refugee”. The country has assessed more than 30 similar cases in a bid to break the deadlock, including that of British-Iranian citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is in prison in Iran accused of spying. This included options for granting diplomatic immunity, although Ecuador said it would continue to respect the UK’s laws. In November, Espinosa said Assange had been granted Ecuadorian citizenship. The foreign minister said Ecuador was trying to make Assange a member of its diplomatic team, which would grant him additional rights under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations – including special legal immunity and safe passage.

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All because of North Korea?!

Europe to Wind Down Latvian Bank Targeted by U.S. Over Sanctions (BBG)

European authorities moved to liquidate Latvia’s ABLV Bank after clients pulled assets from the lender following U.S. accusations that it laundered money. The ECB, which had already placed a freeze on payments by the lender, said that ABLV was failing or likely to fail, handing it over to Europe’s Single Resolution Board. That authority said a resolution of the bank, which generally means a sale or restructuring, isn’t in the public interest because neither ABLV nor its Luxembourg-based subsidiary provide “critical functions” and their failure won’t have a “significant adverse impact” on financial stability. ABLV was plunged into crisis after the U.S. Treasury this month proposed to ban it from the American financial system, saying it helped process illicit transactions, including for entities with alleged ties to North Korea’s ballistic missile program.

The bank responded by saying the allegations are wrong and misleading and that it was working to provide information to the Treasury that would help to overturn the proposal. “The bank is likely unable to pay its debts or other liabilities as they fall due,” the ECB said in a statement on Saturday in Frankfurt. “The bank did not have sufficient funds which are immediately available to withstand stressed outflows of deposits before the payout procedure of the Latvian deposit-guarantee fund starts.” ABLV took a different view, saying it accumulated more than €1.36 billion over four business days to strengthen its liquidity and ensure 86% of its demand deposits. “The bank considers that it has fulfilled all requirements of the regulator in order to resume operation,” ABLV said. “It was absolutely sufficient for the bank to resume executing payments and meet all obligations toward its clients, yet due to political considerations the bank was not given a chance to do it.”

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Turkey threatens to fire on an Italian ship.

After New Incident Off Cyprus, EU Calls On Turkey To Stop Naval Aggression (K.)

Just a day after it said it won’t allow Cyprus to conduct a “unilateral” gas search off the Eastern Mediterranean island’s coast if Turkish Cypriots don’t also reap the benefits, Ankara ratcheted up tensions with Nicosia Friday when its warships threatened to use force against a drillship contracted to Italian energy giant Eni as it tried, again, to reach an area in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to commence exploratory gas drilling. Turkey has been obstructing the Saipem 12000 drillship from approaching an area in Block 3 of Cyprus’s EEZ since February 9, citing naval exercises. This week it announced it is reserving the area until March 10. Earlier in the month a Turkish gunboat rammed a Hellenic Coast Guard vessel near the eastern Aegean islet of Imia. Turkey’s aggression was raised by Greek Premier Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades at the informal summit of EU leaders in Brussels Friday.

European Council President Donald Tusk told reporters after the meeting that the bloc was calling on Turkey to stop activities that have led to recent incidents in Greece and Cyprus, stressing that both countries have the “sovereign right” to explore for resources. He also said the EU will assess during March’s European Council meeting whether the conditions are ripe for a high-level meeting with Turkey in Varna on March 26. The drillship left the area after the incident and headed west for the city of Limassol, where it is expected to remain for a few days before sailing to Morocco. “Unfortunately, the drillship was halted by five Turkish warships and after threats of violence and the threat of a collision, it was compelled to return back,” said Cypriot government spokesman Victoras Papadopoulos, who stressed, however, that the postponement of the scheduled drilling does not mean that the island’s energy plans will change.

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Feb 042018
 
 February 4, 2018  Posted by at 11:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


John William Waterhouse Hylas and the Nymphs 1896

 

A Tale Of Two Americas (Axios)
Today’s Market Is Biding Its Time Until It Becomes Normal Again (Bonner)
The Market System Is Tight In All Directions (Fas.)
Bond Market’s Debt-Ceiling Alarm Bell Is Ringing Loud and Clear (BBG)
Yellen: “I Don’t Want To Label What We’re Seeing As A Bubble” (ZH)
The Fed’s Dilemma Isn’t Going Away Under Powell (Shilling)
Theresa May Says Brexit Transition Deal Will Be Agreed In Seven Weeks (R.)
Tory Former Attorney General Says “Time is Now” To Reverse Brexit (Ind.)
Anger Over Glut Of ‘Posh Ghost Towers’ Planned For London (G.)
‘We Made The Finest Steel In The World – Now We Make Lattes’ (G.)
Illicit Foreign Casino Cash Often Goes Straight Into Vancouver Housing (VSun)
Greece On Edge For ‘Macedonia’ Protest In Athens (K.)

 

 

As I said yesterday: the divisions it causes are much bigger than the memo itself. It’s what happens in echo chambers.

A Tale Of Two Americas (Axios)

On MSNBC, Rachel Maddow was literally laughing. Over on Fox News, Sean Hannity put up his dukes. At 9 last night, Axios points out that you could just flip between the two and see an encapsulation of our two Americas – total dismissal of the memo’s import, versus the assertion that it’s “only about 15 percent of what’s coming.”

So, Rachel, how was your day? “This thing?! This was two weeks of: This memo is going to end everything. This memo, have you heard about the memo? Hashtag: Release the memo! This memo will make Donald Trump innocent. This memo will put Robert Mueller in jail. It will abolish the FBI. The Justice Department will have to rename itself the Donald J. Trump & Family Private Security Task Force.” “I mean, I can’t believe this is it.” “I don’t really believe in the whole Cable News Wars idea. I know people who work across the street at the Fox News Channel. I’ve got friends that work there. I think we’re all doing our own thing in our own way best we can.”

“But, oh my God, right? … [T]his … hyping and huffing and puffing and working their audience up into a frenzy for two solid weeks.” “And apparently, despite all of that, … they either didn’t know or they didn’t notice that this thing they have been clamoring for and hyping for two solid weeks, … it actually disproves their whole point.” “They release this memo to prove that the dossier started everything. The memo says the dossier didn’t actually start anything.”

What’s up, Sean? “[W]hen you put all this information together, here’s what it all means. The FBI misled and purposely deceived a federal court while using an unverified, completely phony opposition research bought and paid for by Hillary Clinton.” “We have never, ever in history seen anything like this, and it was spearheaded not by rank-and-file members of the FBI intelligence community and Department of Justice. No. High-ranking officials: James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Rod Rosenstein, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, likely Loretta Lynch.”

“But here’s the bottom line: Crimes have been committed. There is no way that they did not know that the FBI was lying to a FISA court in order to spy on an opposition campaign during an election year. They have aided and abetted what is a massive constitutional violation.” “Comey, McCabe, Rosenstein and others all need to be investigated and, in many cases, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” “Now, of course, Comey is running scared. He’s out of his mind right now, now that he is exposed with this memo.” “[T]he special counsel must be disbanded immediately.” “And, by the way — nobody else will say this — all charges against Paul Manafort and General Michael Flynn need to be dropped. It’s that simple.” “This scandal is only in Phase 1. … Stay tuned! Tick tock! “

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“..when something is not normal… it is just biding its time until it becomes normal again.”

Today’s Market Is Biding Its Time Until It Becomes Normal Again (Bonner)

On Planet Earth, we can find our direction by reference to the Magnetic North. For investing, we use the most reliable force in finance – the relentless return to “normal” – to get our bearings. And searching for normal, we may have stumbled upon what could be the Trade of the Century. More on that later… As economists describe it, reversion to the mean is merely a recognition of the tendency for things to stay in a range that we recognize as “normal.” Trees do not grow 1,000 feet high. People don’t run 100 mph. You don’t get something for nothing. Normal exists because things tend to follow certain familiar patterns, shapes, and routines. When people go out in the morning, they know, generally, whether to wear a winter coat or a pair of shorts.

The temperature is not 100 degrees one day and zero the next. Occasionally, of course, odd things happen. And sometimes, things change in a fundamental way. But usually, when people say “this time is different”… it’s time to bet on normal. This phenomenon – reversion to the mean – has been thoroughly tested and studied in the investment world. It seems to apply to just about everything – stocks, bonds, strategies, markets, sectors… you name it. But let’s push on. What is unusual in the chart below? What is so abnormal that the mean is likely to revert against it? You will note that global debt was only $30 trillion in 1994. Now it is $230 trillion. That $200 trillion in extra credit is probably the whirlwind that sent equities spinning up to the top right.

Those gusts blew stock and other asset prices up to heights never seen before. The Dow reached over 26,000. Houses went on the market for more than $100 million. Gold rose above $1,900. But while stocks and bonds may have the wind at their backs, it seems to blow in the economy’s face… making forward progress almost impossible. The real economy – as depicted by GDP at the bottom of the chart – has grown in a rather normal way, but at a slower and slower rate. Its steady, plodding increase gives no hint of the chaos going on above it. The real economy and the financial world are as different as the eye of a hurricane and the swirling clouds and storms around it. Another thing you notice is that until the mid-’90s… and again between 2008 and 2012… the average investor got essentially no benefit in exchange for the added risk of putting his money into equities (the chart above includes dividends). He might just as well have left his money in U.S. Treasury bonds.

[..] there is a time to be in stocks… and a time to be out of them. Without knowing the future, you can still know when something is not normal. And when something is not normal… it is just biding its time until it becomes normal again.

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Who or what can restore flexibility when everything’s maxed out to the point of bursting?

The Market System Is Tight In All Directions (Fas.)

The Four Pillars Holding Markets Up Are Strained, All At The Same Time. Viewed as a combination of intertwined components, each component is showing growing signs of pressure and seem to be running out of road for further advancing. The synchronicity of them, more than any single component taken independently, is what should draw attention, as it compounds systemic risk. Here are the four components, characterizing the basin of chaotic attraction for markets nowadays:

What happens when the system is tight in its key possible directions of expansion? That it expands no more. Stochastically, on one of the components a tipping point is reached, which jumpstarts the autolytic effect, spreading back through the vectors of the complex system, and snapping the unstable equilibrium into an alternative stable state. That is our thesis. In [a] recent interview, we discuss the impending tipping points for markets due to a synchronicity of excess valuations, excess indebtedness, excessively low cash balances and a drawback in excessive public flows. Let’s give a cursory look across the four components. Again, the list is by no means exhaustive, but rather a work-in-progress (seemingly endless) collecting of data points, following on to our previous work of ‘a long list of anomalies’

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In a country so divided it doesn’t take much to let things get out of hand.

Bond Market’s Debt-Ceiling Alarm Bell Is Ringing Loud and Clear (BBG)

In the $2 trillion Treasury-bill market, where the U.S. government turns for short-term funding, investors are showing they’re plenty nervous about the approaching deadline to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. With Treasury expected to exhaust its borrowing authority as early as the first half of March, a four-week bill sale on Tuesday will serve as the latest gauge of investor anxiety. There’s growing concern that the impasse over the debt limit will become entangled with efforts to keep the government open. Current federal funding expires Feb. 8, and the Republican-led Congress has been working on a stopgap measure to extend that into late March.

Treasury has deployed extraordinary measures to stay under the debt cap since it was reinstated in early December, but investors are wary. The new securities mature March 8, around when the Congressional Budget Office expects Treasury to run out of room. Traders are asking for higher yields to own previously issued bills maturing March 8. What’s more, an auction last week of bills due March 1 drew the weakest demand since May. “People are kind of getting skeptical of March 8 bills,” said Joseph Abate at Barclays Capital in New York. “You might argue that the March 1 bill isn’t necessarily vulnerable to payment delay because the Treasury probably has sufficient resources to meet outflows and thus might be able to last until” March 5.

Treasury has placed the drop-dead date around the end of February. But investors are leaning toward the projection from the nonpartisan CBO, which said last week that the U.S. may run the risk of default without a debt-ceiling increase in the first half of March. After the Jan. 30 auction of bills maturing March 1, the rate on those securities was higher than debt due a week later. Since then, the rate on debt expiring March 8 has climbed to 1.40%, exceeding that on bills due a week later.

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In a country where 70% of people live paycheck to paycheck, the best the central bank president can muster is “they should diversify their investments..” And people are praising her for doing such a good job.

Yellen: “I Don’t Want To Label What We’re Seeing As A Bubble” (ZH)

While her term ended – for all practical purposes – with the conclusion of this week’s January FOMC meeting, former Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen’s last official day at the helm of the world’s most important central bank was marked by an explosion of volatility in the Dow, with the blue chips recording their worst single-day selloff since the collapse of Lehman brothers. And even though it’s tempting to suspect Friday’s selloff might foreshadow what’s to come during the Powell era, Yellen admitted during an interview with PBS Newshour that she was disappointed to not be reappointed for a second term by President Trump – and that, if she had her druthers, she would’ve opted to stay. “I would have liked to serve an additional term and I did make that clear, so I will say I was disappointed not to be reappointed,” Yellen said Friday. “I think things are looking very strong.”

Despite the volatility of the past week and the first nascent signs of wage growth in years – which should worry a central bank whose primary responsibility is to put a floor under plunging markets – Yellen says she expects interest rate hikes to proceed as planned. “The Federal Reserve has been on a path of gradual rate increases and if conditions continue as they have been, that process is likely to continue,” she said. “And as it happens we would expect long rates to move up.” Unlike fellow former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan – who this week declared that both stocks and bond valuations are in bubble territory – Yellen was careful not to use such strident language. “I don’t want to label what we’re seeing as a bubble.”

“But I would say that asset valuations are generally elevated…for the stock market, the ratio of price to earnings…is near the high end of its historical range. If we look at for example commercial real estate and other assets, we’re seeing high valuations.” But should Americans be worried about the markets? “They should be careful and I would say diversified in their investments. What we look at is the likely resilience of the economy and the financial system… In that regard, we have a banking system that is much stronger and better capitalized and better able to withstand a shock than prior to the financial crisis.” Stlll, Yellen is refusing to rule out another selloff. “Asset valuations could change I’m not predicting that that would happen and I wouldn’t rule that out,” she said.

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Powelll will be cleaning up Bernanke and Yellen’s shit.

The Fed’s Dilemma Isn’t Going Away Under Powell (Shilling)

[..] the Fed is confronted with a serious dilemma: Inflation and wage increases continue to undershoot its expectations at the same time the central bank confronts forces pressuring it toward credit tightening. The new chairman, Jerome Powell, who isn’t a trained economist, may change the central bank’s tone, but his soon-to-be predecessor Janet Yellen and the other academic economists who have dominated monetary policy, believe fervently in the theoretical Phillips Curve. It posits that a declining unemployment rate should spur inflation, despite evidence to the contrary. Rather than increase as the unemployment rate declined since the recession, the rate of inflation has largely stayed the same.

Nevertheless, the Fed wants to tighten credit slowly due to chronic low inflation and memories of the May 2013 “taper tantrum,” when a mere mention by then-Chairman Ben Bernanke of reducing the Fed’s rate of asset purchases sent financial markets into tailspins as interest rates leaped. Another reason for the Fed to tighten is to keep commercial banks from lending out the more than $2 trillion in excess reserves the Fed has given them through quantitative easing. These are simply an asset of the banks and a liability on the Fed balance sheet with little financial or economic consequences. But as economic growth picks up as a result of the tax cuts followed by likely massive fiscal stimulus, creditworthy borrowers will want to borrow, banks will be happy to lend, and these excess reserves could turn into tons of money that would threaten major inflation.

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Fat chance.

Theresa May Says Brexit Transition Deal Will Be Agreed In Seven Weeks (R.)

British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Friday that a Brexit transition period will be agreed with the European Union in seven weeks as she tries to ease concerns that a deal may take longer to reach. The EU has offered Britain a status quo transition until the end of 2020 after Brexit. Both sides are aiming to reach a transition agreement by the end of March that will form part of the final withdrawal treaty to be agreed later this year. But there is disagreement inside May’s Conservative Party over some details such as the status of EU citizens during the transition and the scope of European Court of Justice jurisdiction. Many businesses and banks are concerned a battle over the terms of a transition could delay or even sink an agreement just months before Britain exits the EU on March 29, 2019.

“In seven weeks time, we will have an agreement with the European Union, that is the timetable they have said on an implementation period,” May told the BBC in an interview in China. “What the British people voted for is for us to take back control of our money, our borders and our laws and that’s exactly what we are going to do,” May said of Brexit. The EU and Britain hope to hammer out a deal on Britain’s exit and the outline of a trade package by October 2018. But some EU officials have begun to voice concern that a plan to have the leaders endorse negotiating guidelines for a new phase of talks to begin in April on a future trade agreement may be in danger of slipping if May does not spell out what Britain’s demands are for that trade pact.

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Britain is as divided as the US is.

Tory Former Attorney General Says “Time is Now” To Reverse Brexit (Ind.)

Dominic Grieve has warned the public it is running out of time to change its mind on Brexit, saying the next few months are “decision time”.The former Attorney General told The Independent it would soon be too late to reverse the decision to leave the EU, and urged people to make their minds up in the next six months.“The six months we have between now and the autumn are so important,” he said. “It is going to be decision time. And decision time in the sense of what happens in the next six months being a final decision.“If people do want to change their mind, and they could if they wanted to, the time is now. It cannot be after 29 March 2019, and frankly it cannot be after the end of the autumn of this year.”

While he did not endorse calls for a second EU referendum, Mr Grieve said it was important to give people the chance to change their minds on Brexit. “I’m not calling for a second referendum,” he said. “But we should not exclude the possibility that people’s opinion may change. And to start from an opinion on an issue that was expressed 18 months ago, where people are bound to have had their opinion influenced since, we must be very careful to listen about what it is they want.”He continued: “It the most extraordinary conundrum. We have an instruction from the electorate, by a small but significant majority, to do something that many of us [in Parliament] think is going to be very hard to achieve without serious damage to the wellbeing of every citizen in this country. It is an ethical conundrum and it is a practical conundrum.”

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And here is why the country is so divided.

Anger Over Glut Of ‘Posh Ghost Towers’ Planned For London (G.)

London councils have granted property developers planning permission to build more than 26,000 luxury flats priced at more than £1m each, despite fears that there are already too many half-empty “posh ghost towers” in the capital. Builders are currently constructing towers containing 7,749 homes priced between £1m and £10m, and have planning rights to build another 18,712 high-end apartments and townhouses, the Observer can reveal. Politicians and housing campaigners said the figures show councils are prioritising the needs of the super-rich over those of hardworking young Londoners. The boom in developments of luxury flats, which often include private cinemas, gyms, swimming pools and concierge facilities, comes as the capital faces a growing crisis in the availability of affordable housing, with nurses, police officers and other essential workers struggling to get on to the housing ladder.

Research shows that a fifth of aspiring first-time buyers have moved in with their parents to save money, and a quarter of them will need to stay there for at least five years to amass enough for a deposit. The proportion of English first-time buyers who rely on help from families and friends for their deposit has increased from 22% in 1996 to 29% in 2016, according to the government’s English Housing Survey. Anne Baxendale of Shelter said: “The UK is in the grip of a housing crisis and nowhere is this more apparent than in the capital – and these luxury developments are certainly not the types of homes most Londoners need. The government must close loopholes which make it easy for developers to build high-priced homes that are way out of reach of ordinary families, rather than the affordable ones most people actually need and can afford.”

David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, said the figures “reveal a travesty being played against the working class and young Londoners”. “The public keep being told we are building more affordable housing, and people can see cranes up all over London,” he said. “But this shows that councils are prioritising the fancies of overseas millionaires and billionaires before the needs of hardworking young Londoners.” Just 6,423 affordable homes were built in London during the 2016-2017 financial year (the latest figures available), a 5% decline on the previous year and a big drop from the 19,622 built in 2014-15.

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Plus, of course, Britain suffers from what brought Trump to power. Where globalization goes to die.

‘We Made The Finest Steel In The World – Now We Make Lattes’ (G.)

Wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “Fighting for the community” underneath an image of Redcar’s mothballed steelworks, Frankie Wales is preparing to take a training session at the town’s boxing club. Young men are sparring in the rings; others are hitting punchbags. “Nothing gets you fit like boxing,” says one, exhausted from the ring. Wales, who set up the club 20 years ago and funds it on a shoestring with various small grants, is proud to be doing his bit for Redcar’s young people. He is a livewire in a community struggling to get off the floor after a series of near knockout blows. The local steelworks ceased production in 2015 with the loss of 3,000 jobs. Someone, he insists, has to help them. “It is incredibly sad,” he says. “Not long ago they would go and work in the steelworks after school.

Men round here made the finest steel in the world. Now they are making lattes and sandwiches on zero-hours contracts. We have lots of entrepreneurial kids, but the only entrepreneurial activity going on around here is selling fags and drugs.” Few young people care what those who are supposed to run their country – politicians and civic and business leaders – say any more because they feel so let down. “We have lost the steel industry, lost the local shipbuilding, lost the coal. What’s the point? There is nothing left,” says Wales. “We just have to make the best of what we have got and get on with it ourselves.” Like many communities in England’s north-east, the people of this North Yorkshire town, which bears the scars of industrial decline, and has a youth unemployment rate more than double the national average, made their unhappiness known in June 2016.

They fought back. In Redcar, there was a hefty 66% vote for Brexit, similar to that in areas further north up the coast, from Teesside to Tyneside. “We have to get our country back to where it needs to be,” says Geoff Holding, a caretaker at a government office in the town who voted Leave and whose brother lost his job at the steelworks. He wants an end to cheap imports of foreign goods, like the Chinese steel that did for the local plant. There is a still a thriving chemicals sector in Redcar, but not enough manufacturing. “We need to bring things back in-house, get industry back on its own feet, make things ourselves.”

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“Staggering volumes of dirty cash, including hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of $20-dollar bills stuffed in hockey bags..”

Illicit Foreign Casino Cash Often Goes Straight Into Vancouver Housing (VSun)

It’s almost hard to believe the dismaying stories that Postmedia investigative reporter Sam Cooper has been producing about the laundering of hundreds of millions of dollars of East Asian cash through Metro Vancouver casinos and the funnelling of much of it into the city’s pricey real estate. Yet Cooper continues to clearly map out, using impeccable high-level sources, the trans-national connections between Chinese drug traffickers, B.C. casinos and the city’s housing market. He has been so effective that NDP Attorney General David Eby ended years of B.C. Liberal inaction on casino fraud to launch an investigation by money-laundering specialist Peter German. Global intelligence agents have come to call the Asian-Pacific network of corruption, drugs, tax avoidance and real estate that Cooper is exposing “The Vancouver Model.”

Metro’s casinos have become infamous for the way B.C.’s former Liberal government allowed them to be exploited to help make possibly billions of dollars in “dirty” money appear “clean” – particularly by injecting it into residential housing and condo development. Cooper says his sources “took a lot of risks” to unveil how high-stakes Chinese gamblers, called “whales,” have been funnelling illicit cash into gambling chips, especially at Richmond’s River Rock Casino. Using freedom-of-information law, Cooper obtained reports in which an official with the B.C. Lottery Commission noted that 97 of its 100 top rollers were East Asian. Cooper also dug up reports suggesting one out of four of China’s major 100 alleged financial fugitives were living in Canada, with many of them believed to be in B.C.

One Metro Vancouver gambler was accused Lai Changxing, alleged mastermind of a billion-dollar drug-smuggling operation in China, who owned property in Richmond. An audit of 800 “VIP” gamblers at River Rock Casino found their most common profession was “real estate.” Almost half their $53 million worth of transactions in one year were flagged as “suspicious.” The second and third most common professions among the biggest gamblers were “business owner” and “construction.” Many high-stakes gamblers at River Rock also declared themselves as “housewife” or “student” – with one youth forking over $819,000 in cash to buy casino chips. Investigators believe housewives and offspring are often used as fake “nominees” to hide the true source of wealth in money-laundering and real-estate schemes. Staggering volumes of dirty cash, including hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of $20-dollar bills stuffed in hockey bags, have been flowing through Metro casinos and then been shifted into real-estate.

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A major and undoubtedly heated protest today. Topic: A former Yugoslav province wants to call itself Macedonia. But there already is a Greek province called macedonia. So Greece has refused to accept that name for a foreign country, and has for years halted access for that country to international organizations. The legacy of Alexander the Great plays a big role too. There are negotiations ongoing, but 70% of Greeks want no referral to Macedonia in the country’s eventual name. So no New Macedonia etc. Just call it the Republic of Skopje.

Greece On Edge For ‘Macedonia’ Protest In Athens (K.)

With United Nations-mediated negotiations aimed at resolving a dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) over the latter’s name at a sensitive juncture, the government is bracing for Sunday’s Athens rally protesting the use of the term “Macedonia” in a solution amid signs that the turnout will be significant. Around 1,500 buses have been chartered to bring demonstrators from the provinces to the capital where the rally is to begin at Syntagma Square at 2 p.m. Most conservative New Democracy MPs are expected to attend. ND leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the party respects both those who do choose to attend and those who do not.

“We respect all choices,” he said. Former conservative premier Antonis Samaras endorsed the demo, saying Sunday will be “a great day for the country.” The main speaker will be veteran Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis, who is to address the crowd in person rather than sending a video message as originally planned. Speeches will also be delivered by three clerics representing the Church of Greece, which has backed the rally following initial reservations by Archbishop Ieronymos. The Greek Police plans to erect barriers to keep demonstrators at Syntagma apart from anarchists who are to stage their own counter-rally, starting at noon outside Athens University.

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Nov 032017
 
 November 3, 2017  Posted by at 8:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Edward S. Curtis Tipi in the snow 1908

 

Social Security Can Never Run Out Of Money – Just Ask Alan Greenspan (BI)
Inside Hillary Clinton’s Secret Takeover of the DNC (Donna Brazile)
Jay Powell – A Quiet Leader (DDMB)
Why Would Anyone Want The Fed Job? (Crudele)
The Borrower Is The Slave To The Lender (Lance Roberts)
US Manufacturing Worker Productivity Crashes Most In 8 Years (ZH)
Bitcoin Is the ‘Very Definition’ of a Bubble – Credit Suisse CEO (BBG)
One Bitcoin Transaction Now Uses as Much Energy as Your House in a Week (MBV)
The Hidden Danger Bulls Are Missing (Rickards)
As Credit Booms, Citi Says Synthetic CDOs May Reach $100 Billion (BBG)
China Issues Guidelines On Overseas Investment Amid Crackdown On Deals (R.)
US Spends $250 Million Per Day For The War On Terror (TeleS)
Barcelona Council Says Catalan Government Legitimate, Independence Is Not (CN)
Kim Dotcom Wins Settlement From New Zeland Police Over 2012 Dawn Raid (NZH)
Monsanto Halts Launch Of Chemical After Farmers Complain Of Rashes (R.)

 

 

“The United States can pay any debt it has because it can always print money to do that, so there is zero probability of default.”

Social Security Can Never Run Out Of Money – Just Ask Alan Greenspan (BI)

I asked Kelton why, given her counterintuitive argument that deficits don’t really matter, Americans should take her word for it. Her reply: Don’t. Instead, listen to what Alan Greenspan, the prominent Republican former Federal Reserve chairman who is a purported deficit hawk, had to say on the matter. In March 2005, he was pressed by a young congressman named Paul Ryan about the need for privatizing Social Security because of the prospect of a looming “entitlements crisis.” Greenspan replied rather bitingly that there was no such thing or even a remote possibility. “I wouldn’t say that the pay-as-you-go benefits are insecure in the sense that there’s nothing to prevent the federal government to create as much money as it wants and pays it to somebody,” Greenspan told an incredulous Ryan. “The question is how do you set up a system that assures that the real assets are created which those benefits are employed to purchase.

So it’s not a question of security — it’s a question of the structure of the financial system.” That’s what Democrats should be saying, rather than regurgitating the old Republican rouse — which even the GOP is willing to abandon when it’s convenient — about a looming government debt crisis that never comes. “Instead of repeating talking points that reinforce the idea that Social Security is somehow financially unsustainable, Democrats should play Greenspan’s remarks on a loop. They should call attention to what Greenspan said — under oath — about the program’s long-term sustainability,” Kelton said. “Instead of accepting the premise that Social Security is in trouble, Democrats should accept Greenspan’s challenge — put forward an agenda that will do more to promote future growth than anything the Republicans are offering.”

The financial crisis was instructive on this count. Many critics of both the federal government’s fiscal stimulus and the Federal Reserve’s bond purchases worried that the country was getting so deep into debt that one of two things was bound to happen: a crisis in the Treasury market or a bout of runaway inflation. Nine years into the recovery, Treasury yields remain near historic lows and inflation is not only contained but remains worryingly low. That last point is key: It’s not that folks like Kelton and Baker believe there is no risk to government spending. They simply argue that the only risks are the misallocation of resources and inflation — not some amorphous “debt crisis” or default of the sort some politicians and market analysts have shouted about.

Unlike Greece, which actually did default on its debt because of a lack of control over its own currency, the US could default only by choice. Trump flirted with that choice once as a candidate — but quickly backed away from the threat after he realized the catastrophic market and economic consequences such a debacle would have. In August 2011, after the US’s credit rating was downgraded for the fist time following a prolonged impasse over the US debt ceiling, Greenspan was asked during a “Meet the Press” interview about the issue of “unfunded liabilities” and “entitlements.” His response again spoke volumes: “The United States can pay any debt it has because it can always print money to do that, so there is zero probability of default.”

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Quite a reversal. Brazile was fired from CNN a year ago when it was discovered she fed the Clinton campaign debate questions. Still, what a mess. Will they clean it up or try to ignore?

Inside Hillary Clinton’s Secret Takeover of the DNC (Donna Brazile)

When I got back from a vacation in Martha’s Vineyard I at last found the document that described it all: the Joint Fund-Raising Agreement between the DNC, the Hillary Victory Fund, and Hillary for America. The agreement—signed by Amy Dacey, the former CEO of the DNC, and Robby Mook with a copy to Marc Elias—specified that in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, Hillary would control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised. Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics, and mailings. I had been wondering why it was that I couldn’t write a press release without passing it by Brooklyn. Well, here was the answer.

When the party chooses the nominee, the custom is that the candidate’s team starts to exercise more control over the party. If the party has an incumbent candidate, as was the case with Clinton in 1996 or Obama in 2012, this kind of arrangement is seamless because the party already is under the control of the president. When you have an open contest without an incumbent and competitive primaries, the party comes under the candidate’s control only after the nominee is certain. When I was manager of Gore’s campaign in 2000, we started inserting our people into the DNC in June. This victory fund agreement, however, had been signed in August 2015, just four months after Hillary announced her candidacy and nearly a year before she officially had the nomination.

I had tried to search out any other evidence of internal corruption that would show that the DNC was rigging the system to throw the primary to Hillary, but I could not find any in party affairs or among the staff. I had gone department by department, investigating individual conduct for evidence of skewed decisions, and I was happy to see that I had found none. Then I found this agreement. The funding arrangement with HFA and the victory fund agreement was not illegal, but it sure looked unethical. If the fight had been fair, one campaign would not have control of the party before the voters had decided which one they wanted to lead. This was not a criminal act, but as I saw it, it compromised the party’s integrity.

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We’ll go with Danielle DiMartino Booth for now. Powell’s no PhD, and not a Yellen clone. But he’s been at the Fed for 5 years already, which doesn’t make him an obvious agent for change.

Jay Powell – A Quiet Leader (DDMB)

The sheer breadth of Powell’s experience is refreshing compared to what we’ve had for the past 30 years. Powell has a deep understanding of the law and politics. He worked in the Treasury Department under Nicholas Brady and was confirmed as Undersecretary of the Treasury under George H.W. Bush. His background in politics and the experience he has had at the Fed thus far have prepared him well for his role as liaison to Congress and the White House. Powell’s experience as an investment banker was critical in his carrying out the investigation and sanctioning of Salomon Brothers. Understanding the entirely different type of politics that exists in big banks will bode well for his capacity to regulate the banks. This attribute especially will dilute the power traditionally exerted by the NY Fed in recent years, a District that has a long history of conflicts of interest vis-à-vis the banks it regulates.

A stronger regulator as Fed chair in the years leading up to the financial crisis. At the Carlyle Group, Powell founded and ran the Industrial Group within the Buyout Fund. A separate missing characteristic among Fed leaders for the past 30 years has been a woeful lack of understanding as to how Fed policy effects corporations and the decisions CEOs and CFOs make driven by Fed policy, the most obvious of which has been debt-financed share buybacks at the expense of capital expenditures. Some in the media have questioned Powell’s being the wealthiest individual at the Fed. That is an extremely strong attribute. In his work between 2010 and 2012 at a bipartisan think tank, Powell worked for a salary of $1 per year to carry out his mission to raise the debt ceiling. His wealth affords him the luxury of having no preset agenda. His history of working for his country to its best end exemplifies that he is at the Fed because he truly believes he is doing a greater good in servicing his country.

Powell’s work on Too Big to Fail banks also speaks to his ability to be independent and objective in his approach to regulating big banks with deep-pocketed lobbyists who hold huge sway over politicians. If he is willing to go up against the biggest banks, he will hopefully prove to be a leader cast in the mold of William McChesney Martin, the longest serving Fed Chairman famous for testifying to Congress that it was the Fed’s job to take away the punch bowl just as the party gets going. [..] His experience in the financial markets suggests he will be less apt to keep rates too low for too long as has been the case with his three predecessors. Powell was not in favor of the third round of QE, but voted for its nevertheless. This is his biggest black eye and why market participants perceive him to be as dovish as they do.

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Savings and pensions need higher rates, fast. But…

Why Would Anyone Want The Fed Job? (Crudele)

No matter who is appointed, the next Fed chairman has a problem. Right now, the economy is looking healthy. The stock market is booming. Consumer confidence is high. Home prices are soaring. And some economic indicators seem to say, “Happy days are here again.” Just Wednesday, for instance, the Atlanta Federal Reserve raised its forecast for economic growth in the fourth quarter to a booming 4.5% annual rate. The nation’s gross domestic product, the standard for measuring economic growth, rose at a healthy 3% annual rate in the third quarter. That 3% figure was puzzling because hurricanes should have stunted growth, which means that number might be revised downward once better-quality statistics come in.

Or it could mean that growth is darn good, despite the weather. Nevertheless, the 4.5% estimate for the fourth quarter — on top of the 3% growth in the July to September quarter — is going to force whoever ends up running the Fed to seriously consider raising interest rates faster than usual. But that’s where it gets tricky. Once rates increase, the economy could slow because borrowing costs will rise for both consumers and companies. When the cost of borrowing money increases, people and companies tend to cut back on spending. But there’s another possible twist that could complicate the job of the next Fed boss even more. The relatively impressive growth in the third-quarter GDP and the even better performance in the fourth quarter could turn out to be another fake-out.

The GDP, for instance, rose by a 4.6% annual rate in the second quarter of 2014 and by a 5.2% rate in the third quarter of that year, only to collapse back to subpar growth in the next eight quarters. Also, the New York Fed, which is more influential, doesn’t agree with the Atlanta Fed. It had current GDP at closer to 3%. With all that’s going on, why would anyone want the Fed job?

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When anyone tells you the economy has recovered, show them any of these graphs.

The Borrower Is The Slave To The Lender (Lance Roberts)

Despite the bullish economic optics, the reality for the majority of Americans is they simply have not yet recovered from the financial crisis. As the chart below shows, while savings spiked during the financial crisis, the rising cost of living for the bottom 80% has outpaced the median level of “disposable income” for that same group. As a consequence, the inability to “save” has continued.

I discussed previously the problem of rising debt. Beginning in 1990, the gap between the “standard of living” and real disposable incomes went negative with the resultant “gap” filled through the use of debt. However, since the financial crisis, this has no longer been the case. I modified the previous chart with the savings rate which tells the same story, as the cost of living began outpacing incomes the difference came from savings, and a continuous increase in debt. Again, despite the temporary uptick in the savings rate following the financial crisis, the real cost of living continues to erode the middle class.

You can see the erosion of the savings rate more clearly when you look at the rate of Personal Consumption Expenditure (PCE) growth as compared to debt growth. As spending and debt accelerated, the savings rate declined. More importantly, in 2000 the growth rate of debt sharply accelerated above PCE growth. This debt-fueled consumption, however, has not led to stronger rates of economic growth.

Debt is a negative thing for the borrower. It has been known to be such a thing even in biblical times as quoted in Proverbs 22:7: “The borrower is the slave to the lender.” Debt acts as a “cancer” on an individual’s wealth as it siphons potential savings from income as those funds are diverted to debt service. Rising levels of debt means rising levels of debt service which reduces actual disposable personal incomes that could be saved or reinvested back into the economy. The mirage of consumer wealth has been a function of surging debt levels. “Wealth” is not borrowed but “saved” and as shown in the chart below, this is a lesson that too few individuals have learned. The reality is that since “savings” are the cornerstone of economic growth longer-term, as savings provide for productive investment and lending, it should be of NO surprise that, as shown in the next chart, there is a very high correlation between the savings rate, GDP, and PCE.

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What happens when you don’t make stuff anymore.

US Manufacturing Worker Productivity Crashes Most In 8 Years (ZH)

US worker productivity rose at 3.0% QoQ in Q3 – the best since 2014.

Unit labor costs rose at 0.5% annualized rate in Q3 (est. 0.4%) following 0.3% pace in Q2. Output rose at a 3.8% rate following 3.9%. Hours worked rose at a 0.8% pace after 2.4%. The latest figure compares with a 1.2% average over the period spanning 2007 to 2016. Weak productivity helps explain why companies are reluctant to raise workers’ wages, even as profit margins have improved. However, among manufacturers, productivity crashed 5% QoQ – the biggest drop since Q1 2009, when the economy was in recession – after rising 3.4% in Q2. Let’s hope that is storm-related.

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Insert your opinion here: “From what we can identify, the only reason today to buy or sell bitcoin is to make money, which is the very definition of speculation and the very definition of a bubble,..”

Bitcoin Is the ‘Very Definition’ of a Bubble – Credit Suisse CEO (BBG)

The speculation around bitcoin is the “very definition of a bubble,” Credit Suisse CEO Tidjane Thiam said as the currency exceeded $7,000 for the first time. “From what we can identify, the only reason today to buy or sell bitcoin is to make money, which is the very definition of speculation and the very definition of a bubble,” he said at a news conference in Zurich Thursday. He added that in the history of finance, such speculation has “rarely led to a happy end.” The digital currency got new impetus this week after CME, the world’s largest exchange owner, said it plans to introduce bitcoin futures by the end of the year, citing pent-up demand from clients. That pushes bitcoin closer to the mainstream by making it easier to trade without the hassles of owning bitcoin directly. Other bankers are also sounding warnings about the currency.

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon has called bitcoin “a fraud” that will eventually blow up. UBS Chairman Axel Weber said last month that bitcoin has no “intrinsic value” because it’s not secured by underlying assets. Bankers also are steering clear of bitcoin for fear that criminals could use its anonymity to hide their activities, Thiam said. “Most banks in the current state of regulation have little or no appetite to get involved in a currency which has such anti-money laundering challenges,” he said. While bitcoin remains a no-go with the industry, banks are racing to develop blockchain, the technology underpinning the currency. Thiam said blockchain may have many applications in banking. Credit Suisse is among more than 100 banks are working within the R3, a consortium created to find ways to use blockchain as to track money transfers and other transactions.

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It’s by design, and that remains worrisome.

One Bitcoin Transaction Now Uses as Much Energy as Your House in a Week (MBV)

Bitcoin’s incredible price run to break over $6,000 this year has sent its overall electricity consumption soaring, as people worldwide bring more energy-hungry computers online to mine the digital currency. An index from cryptocurrency analyst Alex de Vries, aka Digiconomist, estimates that with prices the way they are now, it would be profitable for Bitcoin miners to burn through over 24 terawatt-hours of electricity annually as they compete to solve increasingly difficult cryptographic puzzles to “mine” more Bitcoins. That’s about as much as Nigeria, a country of 186 million people, uses in a year. This averages out to a shocking 215 kilowatt-hours (KWh) of juice used by miners for each Bitcoin transaction (there are currently about 300,000 transactions per day).

Since the average American household consumes 901 KWh per month, each Bitcoin transfer represents enough energy to run a comfortable house, and everything in it, for nearly a week. On a larger scale, De Vries’ index shows that bitcoin miners worldwide could be using enough electricity to at any given time to power about 2.26 million American homes. Expressing Bitcoin’s energy use on a per-transaction basis is a useful abstraction. Bitcoin uses x energy in total, and this energy verifies/secures roughly 300k transactions per day. So this measure shows the value we get for all that electricity, since the verified transaction (and our confidence in it) is ultimately the end product. Since 2015, Bitcoin’s electricity consumption has been very high compared to conventional digital payment methods. This is because the dollar price of Bitcoin is directly proportional to the amount of electricity that can profitably be used to mine it.

As the price rises, miners add more computing power to chase new Bitcoins and transaction fees. It’s impossible to know exactly how much electricity the Bitcoin network uses. But we can run a quick calculation of the minimum energy Bitcoin could be using, assuming that all miners are running the most efficient hardware with no efficiency losses due to waste heat. To do this, we’ll use a simple methodology laid out in previous coverage on Motherboard. This would give us a constant total mining draw of just over one gigawatt. That means that, at a minimum, worldwide Bitcoin mining could power the daily needs of 821,940 average American homes. Put another way, global Bitcoin mining represents a minimum of 77KWh of energy consumed per Bitcoin transaction.

Even as an unrealistic lower boundary, this figure is high: As senior economist Teunis Brosens from Dutch bank ING wrote, it’s enough to power his own home in the Netherlands for nearly two weeks. As goes the Bitcoin price, so goes its electricity consumption, and therefore its overall carbon emissions. I asked de Vries whether it was possible for Bitcoin to scale its way out of this problem. “Blockchain is inefficient tech by design, as we create trust by building a system based on distrust. If you only trust yourself and a set of rules (the software), then you have to validate everything that happens against these rules yourself. That is the life of a blockchain node,” he said via direct message.

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“Earnings are likely to fall short of expectations, which can lead to a correction. Once that happens, multiples can shrink as well. Soon you’re in a full-scale bear market with stock prices down 20% or more.”

The Hidden Danger Bulls Are Missing (Rickards)

Bull markets in stocks seem unstoppable right up until the moment they stop. Then comes a rapid crash-and-burn phase. Is there ever any warning that a collapse is about to happen? Of course there is. Analysts warn about it all the time and provide mountains of data and historical evidence to back up their analysis. The problem is that everyone ignores them! You can talk about the dangers represented by CAPE ratios, margin levels, computerized trading, persistent low volatility and complacency all you want, but nothing seems to slow down this bull market. Yet there is one thing that can stop a bull market in its tracks, and that’s corporate earnings. The simplest form of stock market valuation is to project earnings, apply a multiple and, voilà, you have a valuation. Multiples are already near record highs, so there’s not much room for expansion there.

The only variable left is projected earnings and that’s where Wall Street analysts are having a field day ramping up stock prices. Earnings did grow significantly in 2017 on a year-over-year basis, but that’s mainly because earnings were weak in 2016, so the year-over-year growth was relatively easy. Now comes the hard part. How do you expand earnings again in 2018 when 2017 was such a strong year? Wall Street just uses a simple extrapolation and says next year will be like this year, only better! But there is every reason to doubt that extrapolation. This is from a recent Bloomberg article:

“Ominously, Weekly Leading Index growth turned down early this year and is now at a 79-week low. Such cyclical downturns have historically telegraphed [growth-rate cycle] GRC downturns. That shows very clearly that economic growth is about as good as it gets and that a fresh growth slowdown may be on the way… ” “Over time, we find that stock price corrections — big and small — have historically clustered around GRC downturns. In other words, the risk of corrections rises around economic slowdowns… Today, there are rising rates, with quantitative tightening about to begin. This will take place during an economic slowdown, implying a likely downswing in corporate profit growth, delivering a proverbial one-two punch.”

Earnings are likely to fall short of expectations, which can lead to a correction. Once that happens, multiples can shrink as well. Soon you’re in a full-scale bear market with stock prices down 20% or more. That’s without even considering a war with North Korea and all of the dangers others have already mentioned. This may be your last clear chance to lighten up on listed equity exposure before the bubble bursts.

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Complex derivatives. What do they make you remember?

As Credit Booms, Citi Says Synthetic CDOs May Reach $100 Billion (BBG)

The comeback in complex credit derivatives blamed for exacerbating the global financial crisis is picking up pace. That’s according to new research this week from Citigroup, one of the biggest arrangers of so-called synthetic collateralized debt obligations. Sales of the products may jump to as much as $100 billion this year from about $20 billion in 2015, Citigroup analysts wrote in an Oct. 31 report. While investors suffered billions of dollars in losses on similar bets a decade ago, the leverage offered by synthetic CDOs is luring back buyers in an era of low yields and dwindling volatility. “It would seem as if the low spread-low vol environment, similar to back in 2006-2007 (when investors couldn’t get enough of levered synthetic tranches) has revived some interest in portfolio credit risk,” Citigroup analysts led by Aritra Banerjee wrote.

“Investors may not have necessarily wanted to add leverage, but, simply put, they have had to, given the lack of alternatives.” While post-crisis deals are typically tied to corporate credit as opposed to the mortgage debt that helped spur the credit crunch, the return of synthetic CDOs is likely to generate unease among investors who worry that markets are too frothy. The controversial product’s resurgence coincides with a boom in other types of credit wagers, including options on credit derivative indexes and exchange-traded funds that provide quick and easy access to a broad swath of credit. There are some key differences in today’s synthetic CDOs versus the pre-crisis vintage. Citigroup said it has created over 50 “full capital structure” deals in recent years, which vary from the single-tranche bespoke deals that dominated before and just after the crunch.

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“China’s non-financial outbound direct investment (ODI) fell 41.9% in January-September from a year earlier to $78.03 billion. For September alone, it plummeted 42.5% on-year to $9.31 billion..”

China Issues Guidelines On Overseas Investment Amid Crackdown On Deals (R.)

After years of rapid growth, China’s outbound investment has slumped so far in 2017 as authorities crack down on “irrational” overseas deals which are suspected of being used to bypass capital controls and move money offshore, pressuring the yuan currency. The draft regulations, released to the public to solicit feedback until Dec. 3, aim to improve oversight, safeguard national security and increase support, according to a post on the website of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). Some administrative hurdles, such as a rule requiring that Chinese companies investing over $300 million overseas seek approval from the state planner, would be reduced or removed under the new rules, the post said.

At the same time, the new rules would also increase oversight on investments by overseas subsidiaries of Chinese companies, as well as for investments in sensitive sectors and countries, it said. Sensitive projects listed in the rules include those in countries that are at war, that do not have diplomatic ties with China or where investment is restricted by China’s commitments to international treaties, resolutions or requirements. Media organizations, weapons manufacturing, companies involved in multi-national water resources exploitation or those that China’s national macro policies restrict investment in were listed as sensitive sectors. A full list of sensitive areas would be released by the state planner in future, it said.

Punishments for companies that use dishonest measures to invest overseas, engage in unfair competition or damage national security will be increased, the rules said. The statement said that the new draft builds on previous regulations released in 2014. China’s non-financial outbound direct investment (ODI) fell 41.9% in January-September from a year earlier to $78.03 billion. For September alone, it plummeted 42.5% on-year to $9.31 billion, according to Reuters calculations.

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As Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Problem is, both parties support this lunacy.

US Spends $250 Million Per Day For The War On Terror (TeleS)

The Department of Defense’s “cost of war” report suggests that the U.S. has spent $250 million per day for the past 16 years on ‘defense.’ According to a newly published United States Department of Defense (DoD) “cost of war” report, U.S. taxpayers have shelled out $1.46 trillion for war since September 11, 2001, when the War on Terror began. This amounts to around $250 million per day. The report was published by the Federation of American Scientists Secrecy News blog and covers the period of September 11, 2001 to mid-2017. As the report notes, nearly $1.3 trillion of the total cost spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars alone. On top of this, continuing operations in Afghanistan and the U.S.-led air campaign in Iraq and Syria has totalled $120 billion.

U.S. President Donald Trump promised to rebuild America’s military which he sees as less extravagant than it ever has been. “Our active-duty armed forces have shrunk from 2 million in 1991 to about 1.3 million today,” he said in a speech. “The Navy has shrunk from over 500 ships to 272 ships during this same period of time. The Air Force is about one-third smaller than 1991. Pilots flying B-52s in combat missions today. These planes are older than virtually everybody in this room.” Part of Trump’s plan to ‘rebuild’ the U.S.’ military is to make sure that the military is “funded beautifully.” The Trump administration has proposed a $603 billion defense budget, which well exceeds the cap of $549 billion, and would require the U.S. Congress to make spending cuts in other areas.

In July, the House of Representatives approved $696.5 billion in defense spending, which includes a base budget of $621.5 billion and $75 billion in ‘Overseas Contingency Operations dollars’, commonly referred to as ‘war money’. Conversely, the Senate passed a $640 billion base defense budget with a $60 billion allocation for war money. Both versions of the budget well exceed the Trump administration’s proposal, making this defense budget, by far, the largest defense budget in U.S. history. While the U.S.’ current and proposed military spending is massive, the DoD’s “cost of war” report did not take into account other collateral costs of war, including veteran’s benefits and other related costs.

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Will Belgium extradite Puidgemont? 8 of his ministers are already in jail.

Barcelona Council Says Catalan Government Legitimate, Independence Is Not (CN)

Barcelona City Council has declared that the government dismissed by Spain after the application of Article 155 is “legitimate,” although it does not recognize Catalonia as an official republic. After meeting on Thursday, the council approved the proposal put forth by pro-independence party Esquerra Republicana (ERC) to “recognize the government that emerged from the polls on September 27 as the legitimate government of Catalonia,” with votes in favour from Barcelona en Comú (BeC), ERC, PDeCAt, and the anti-capitalist party CUP. Votes against came from the Socialists (PSC), the Catalan People’s Party (PP), and Ciutadans (Cs).

CUP also proposed a motion to “recognize the proclamation of the Catalan Republic approved by the Parliament of Catalonia on October 27.” Although this motion received support from ERC, PDeCAT, and the CUP, it received more votes against from BeC, Cs, PSC, and PP. Alfred Bosch, president of ERC warned that “the fact that the Catalan government has been dismissed, and its powers passed on to the Spanish government, will have an effect on Barcelona.” Barcelona’s mayor, Ada Colau, received criticism from CUP representative María José Lecha, who said the mayor cannot be “neutral or equidistant” in the face of the judicial persecution of the October 1 referendum, and that she must side either with “the oppressor or the oppressed.”

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What a story this still is.

Kim Dotcom Wins Settlement From New Zeland Police Over 2012 Dawn Raid (NZH)

Kim Dotcom and his former wife Mona have accepted a confidential settlement from the police over the raid which saw him arrested, saying he did so to protect their children and because the Government “recently changed for the better”. He said that their previous desire to see accountability had been trumped by wanting to “do what was best for our children” by bringing an end to the court case. The settlement came after a damages claim was filed with the High Court over what was considered an “unreasonable” use of force when the anti-terrorism Special Tactics Group raided his $30 million mansion in January 2012. The raid was part of a worldwide FBI operation to take down Dotcom’s Megaupload file-sharing website which was claimed to be at the centre of a massive criminal copyright operation.

Dotcom and three others were arrested and await extradition to the United States on charges which could land them in prison for decades. The NZ Herald has learned earlier settlements were reached between police and others arrested, including Bram van der Kolk and Mathias Ortmann. It was believed their settlements were six-figure sums and it is likely Dotcom would seek more as the main target in the raid. He was also the focus of risk assessments used to justify the use of the anti-terrorism squad which carried out a helicopter assault at dawn. Those assessments included photographs of Dotcom carrying shotguns – pictures taken while clay pigeon shooting – and descriptions of him as violent despite a lack of evidence to support the claim.

The court challenge also questioned “visual surveillance” which had not been authorised by the court. Evidence has emerged in court hearings of police watching the Dotcom Mansion from neighbouring properties, and scouting the mansion interior with a hidden camera carried on to the property by a local police officer on a goodwill meeting the day before the raid.

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Ban it. Ban the whole industry. We cannot afford this to continue. Let’s feed ourselves without poisoning ourselves in the process.

Monsanto Halts Launch Of Chemical After Farmers Complain Of Rashes (R.)

Monsanto put on hold the launch of a chemical designed to be applied to crop seeds on Wednesday following reports it causes rashes on people, in the latest instance of complaints about a company product that was approved by U.S. environmental regulators. Monsanto froze plans for commercial sales of the product called NemaStrike, which can protect corn, soybeans and cotton from worms that reduce yields. The company said it conducted three years of field tests across the United States in preparation for a full launch and that more than 400 people used it this year as part of a trial. The delayed launch of what Monsanto calls a blockbuster product is another setback for the company, which is already battling to keep a new version of a herbicide on the market in the face of complaints that it damaged millions of acres of crops this summer.

“There have been limited cases of skin irritation, including rashes, that appear to be associated with the handling and application of this seed treatment product,” Brian Naber, U.S. commercial operations lead for Monsanto, said in a letter to customers about NemaStrike. Some users who suffered problems may not have followed instructions to wear protective equipment, such as gloves, company spokeswoman Christi Dixon said. The company expected NemaStrike to launch across up to 8 million U.S. crop acres in fiscal year 2018, Chief Executive Hugh Grant said on a conference call last month. The product was “priced at a premium that reflects its consistent yield protection” against worms known as nematodes, he said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did extensive evaluations of the product before approving it for use, according to Monsanto, which has described NemaStrike as “blockbuster technology.” [..] “The technology is effective and can be used safely when following label instructions,” Monsanto said. The EPA last year approved use of Monsanto’s new version of a weed killer using a chemical known as dicamba on crops during the summer growing season.Problems have also emerged with the herbicide since the agency’s approval. Farmers have complained it evaporates and drifts from where it is applied, causing damage to crops that cannot resist it.

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Nov 022017
 
 November 2, 2017  Posted by at 9:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Marc Riboud Painting the Eiffel Tower 1953

 

The US Isn’t Prepared for the Next Recession (Atlantic)
The New Fed Chair Will Watch an Economy Fraught With Risks (BBG)
The Can Kickers’ Cacophony (Stockman)
New Zealand’s Housing Boom Has Come to an End (BBG)
Australia Mortgage Stress Is Rapidly Increasing (DFA)
Scandinavia Property Markets Are Up 70% But Experts Say There’s No Bubble (BBG)
City Could Lose 10,000 Jobs On Day One Of Brexit – Bank Of England (G.)
Child Poverty In Britain Set To Soar To New Record (G.)
The Limits of Russian Sanctions (HBlatt)
Spanish Court To Question Catalonia Separatists – Except Puigdemont (AFP)
Monsanto, BASF Weed Killers Strain US States With Damage Complaints (R.)
Greece Concerned Over 200% Spike In Refugee, Migrant Arrivals (K.)
Greece Mulls Emergency Housing Measures After Migrant Spike (AP)
Refugees In Greece Demand Transfer To Germany, Start Hunger Strike (R.)

 

 

Oh well, we’ll just bail out the banks then.

The US Isn’t Prepared for the Next Recession (Atlantic)

Maybe it will start with a failed initial public offering, followed by the revelation of widespread fraud in Silicon Valley. Perhaps energy prices will spike, sapping the finances of anyone who drives a car to work. Maybe a foreign crisis will cause a credit crunch, or President Trump will spark a global trade war. A recession might seem like a distant concern, with the latest data showing that the current, extraordinarily economic long expansion just keeps humming along. But one will hit eventually, for some reason or another—that’s how economies work. And when it does, the country won’t be ready. The average middle-class household has largely recovered from the Great Recession, which began nearly 10 years ago, in December 2007.

The growing economy has started to boost earnings across the income spectrum, and higher housing prices have done the same for net worth. The amount of debt that households owe is falling, too. Yet millions of people remain in perilous financial shape, with little to buffer them in the event of a layoff. Roughly half of respondents to a Federal Reserve survey conducted in 2015 said that they could not come up with $400 in an emergency, with a third saying they could not cover three months of expenses, even if they sold assets, dipped into retirement accounts, and asked friends and family for help. Outsize wealth and income continue to accumulate at the very top of the scale, and the finances of millions of American families remain fragile. Americans are no worse off than they were when the last recession hit, in other words, but a decade of growth has not made them more secure, either.

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He really said it: “Torsten Slok, chief international economist at Deutsche Bank in New York: “The world economy has never been in better shape”

The New Fed Chair Will Watch an Economy Fraught With Risks (BBG)

Jerome Powell, said to be President Donald Trump’s pick to be the next Federal Reserve chairman, is set to take the reins of the world’s most important central bank at a time when the U.S. economy is on a roll. Growth is accelerating, inflation is tame and unemployment is the lowest in 16 years. Such a backdrop should initially enable a new Fed chairman to keep gradually raising interest rates from historic lows with the aim of stretching out what is already the third-longest U.S. upswing. Expansions don’t die of old age. Rather, they typically are brought down by the bursting of asset bubbles, shocks like natural disasters or political upheaval, or errors by central banks. Faster rate hikes could cool the stock market but risk holding inflation below the central bank’s target, possibly tipping the economy into a recession.

Tightening too slowly could stoke asset values even further. Powell, and Trump by association, will own the outcome. Powell has the added dilemma that his Fed would confront any slump in growth with little in its policy arsenal. There is barely room to cut rates deeply, and the backup plan – quantitative easing – is now the subject of Republican lawmaker ire. “Powell has been dealt some cards in this poker game that aren’t helpful for carrying out monetary policy,” said Torsten Slok, chief international economist at Deutsche Bank in New York. “The world economy has never been in better shape, but it is a very unthankful job to be a central banker these days.”

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“What lies around the corner is an immense fiscal catastrophe. That’s the inexorable result of the current cacophony of can-kicking in the Imperial City.”

The Can Kickers’ Cacophony (Stockman)

[..] if by some miracle the Donald survives the Mueller assault, the GOP retains it majority in the bi-elections and the Republican party finally gets some serious fiscal gumption, it would still not be able to impact the deficit much before 2022. Yet by then, the baseline level of red ink by CBO’s lights will be $1.02 trillion per year or nearly $1.2 trillion with the tax cut add-on permitted under this year’s budget resolution. Nor can that dire prospect be mitigated by attacking the 25% part of the budget left over for so-called discretionary or appropriated programs. That’s because upwards of $10 trillion of the $13.6 trillion baseline in this category is accounted for by national security, veterans, homeland security, border control and public infrastructure – all of which Trump and much of the Congressional GOP want to increase.

In short, the GOP is now in the midst of kicking the fiscal can right straight into a terminal crisis. Indeed, they have as much as admitted that in the implicit numbers in their phony FY 2018 budget resolution, which really wasn’t a budget plan at all, but merely a de facto amendment to the Senate rules to circumvent the normal 60-vote rule on the tax bill. Stated differently, none of the $5 trillion in deficit cuts in the GOP’s budget resolution are real because none of them are subject to reconciliation. So the true fact of the case is that the GOP majorities on Capitol Hill have just passed a budget resolution which incorporates CBO’s baseline deficit of $10.1 trillion over the next decade and adds $1.5 trillion more.

In turn, that computes out to a $32.2 trillion public debt by 2027 or 135% of GDP. And that assumes Rosy Scenario economics, too. Namely, that there will be no recession for 207 months thru 2027 – a feat that is double the longest unbroken economic expansion in recorded history. In this context, the Donald tweeted yesterday a giant tax cut is just around the corner: “The Republican House members are working hard (and late) toward the Massive Tax Cuts that they know you deserve. These will be biggest ever!” No they won’t be! What lies around the corner is an immense fiscal catastrophe. That’s the inexorable result of the current cacophony of can-kicking in the Imperial City. And as we shall address tomorrow, there is no chance that Jerome Powell or any other busload of central bankers can save the day. The monetary can has been kicked way too long, as well.

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Question is how bad will the fall be?

New Zealand’s Housing Boom Has Come to an End (BBG)

House prices in New Zealand’s largest city posted their first annual decline in six years in October, bringing an end to the nation’s property boom. Prices in the Auckland region fell 0.6% from a year earlier, helping to slow the rate of growth nationwide to 3.9%, a five-year low, property research agency Quotable Value said Thursday. Auckland’s average house price has soared 90% in the last 10 years to more than NZ$1 million ($690,000), underpinning a 56% climb in the national average to NZ$647,000. The new Labour-led government this week announced it will ban foreigners from buying existing homes as it seeks to make housing more affordable for first-time buyers, a central pledge in its election campaign.

Labour also plans to build 100,000 dwellings over the next 10 years to address a shortage, and it will change tax structures to make housing less attractive to investors, who have stoked the property boom. “There appears to be a trend of slowing in the rate of growth, with the frenzy induced by high numbers of investors in the market subsiding and a return to more normal levels of activity in housing markets around the country,” QV spokeswoman Andrea Rush said in a statement. While the surge in prices since 2012 is largely due to a supply shortage amid record immigration, investors played a key role. That prompted the central bank to last year tighten lending restrictions on them, which has helped take the heat out of the market.

Outside Auckland, which is home to a third of New Zealand’s 4.8 million people, price growth has slowed dramatically in cities that saw double-digit gains in 2016. Hamilton prices rose just 1.1% in the year to October, the QV report shows, down from a peak of 31.5% in July last year. In capital city Wellington, where supply is constrained, values rose 10% in the year. In Christchurch, which is over-supplied, prices fell 1.6%.

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People bought far more than they can afford.

Australia Mortgage Stress Is Rapidly Increasing (DFA)

Digital Finance Analytics has released the October 2017 Mortgage Stress and Default Analysis update. Across Australia, more than 910,000 households are estimated to be now in mortgage stress (last month 905,000) and more than 21,000 of these in severe stress, up by 3,000 from last month. This equates to 29.2% of households. We see continued default pressure building in Western Australia, as well as among more affluent household, beyond the traditional mortgage belts across the country. We estimate that more than 52,000 households risk 30-day default in the next 12 months, up 3,000 from last month. We expect bank portfolio losses to be around 2.8 basis points ahead, though with losses in WA rising to 4.9 basis points.

Risks in the system continue to rise, and while recent strengthening of lending standards will help protect new borrowers, there are many households currently holding loans which would not now be approved. As continued pressure from low wage growth and rising costs bites, those with larger mortgages are having more difficulty balancing the family budget. These stressed households are less likely to spend at the shops, which will act as a further drag anchor on future growth, one reason why retail spending is muted. The number of households impacted are economically significant, especially as household debt continues to climb to new record levels. Mortgage lending is still growing at three times income. This is not sustainable.

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This time is different: “healthy re-balancing”

Scandinavia Property Markets Are Up 70% But Experts Say There’s No Bubble (BBG)

Scandinavia’s red-hot property markets may be showing signs of cooling, but rumors of a bursting bubble are greatly exaggerated. That’s the consensus among local economists, who point to strong fundamentals and persistently low interest rates as evidence that the downturn is a “healthy re-balancing” rather than a harbinger of an imminent collapse. “If you ask me what is the main risk to the macro scenario, I’d say it’s probably house prices,” said Erik Bruce, senior economist at Nordea Bank in Oslo. “But I find it hard to see them dropping significantly with interest rates at this level, unemployment falling and optimism coming back.” Average house prices have shot up around 70% in both Sweden and Norway over the past decade (in Copenhagen they’ve nearly doubled since 2012, the year Danish rates first turned negative).

After years of warnings about excessive debt and overheating from financial regulators and central bankers, they’re now slowing in both Stockholm and Oslo. The adjustment in Norway’s capital city comes as the government there has tightened lending standards in order to reduce speculative buying. “These measures have worked,” said Bruce, noting that prices in Oslo are down 7-8% from their peak. In Stockholm, it’s more about supply and demand. The number of apartments up for sale in the Swedish capital hit a nine-year high in October, but real estate agents say they are having problems unloading properties as buyers and sellers drift apart on price. “New trends often start in Stockholm,” said Nordea’s Sweden-based economist Torbjorn Isaksson, so we expect “house prices at the national level to level out, going forward.”

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Should be glad to see all those bankers go.

City Could Lose 10,000 Jobs On Day One Of Brexit – Bank Of England (G.)

The Bank of England has warned that 10,000 jobs could leave the City on “day one” after the UK leaves the EU. Sam Woods, a deputy governor of the Bank, also admitted that forecasts of 75,000 job losses over the long-term were “plausible” at an appearance before peers on the Lords EU financial affairs sub-committee on Wednesday. Woods runs the regulatory arm of the Bank and based his estimate of 10,000 jobs on responses he received from 400 banks and financial firms required to provide him with their contingency plans for a hard Brexit. He has been reviewing the plans since July and said some were being put in place – with banks reserving school places and hiring office space – but that this process would get under way “in earnest” in the first quarter of 2018.

The estimate of 75,000 job losses was made by consultancy Oliver Wyman, and based on the assumption that the UK would be left to rely on World Trade Organisation rules with no transition period after March 2019, when the UK leaves the EU. Under this scenario, £10bn of tax revenue might also be lost, it said. The 75,000 estimate includes the knock-on effect of fewer City jobs to other parts of the economy. Woods said this was not a Bank of England estimate, but described it as being within a plausible range of job losses that would happen in the long term if the UK left the EU without a trade deal. He said the actual number was a “moving feast” and that the initial impact of about 10,000 roles amounted to 2% of the total employed in bank and insurance jobs, or less than 1% of financial services jobs.

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If ‘only’ a 30% child poverty rate is presented as a triumph, your society is a very dismal failure.

Child Poverty In Britain Set To Soar To New Record (G.)

The number of children living in poverty will soar to a record 5.2 million over the next five years as government welfare cuts bite deepest on households with young families, a leading UK thinktank has said. New research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts an increase of more than a million in the number of children living in poverty, more than reversing all the progress made over the past 20 years. The IFS said freezing benefits, the introduction of universal credit and less generous tax credits would mean a surge in child poverty and that the steepest increases would be in the most deprived parts of the country. “Across all regions, relative child poverty is projected to increase markedly,” the IFS said. “The smallest increases are in the south, but even there relative child poverty is projected to rise by at least four percentage points.

The northern regions, the Midlands, Wales and Northern Ireland are projected to see increases of at least eight percentage points.” The report’s findings, which also predict a widening of the gap between rich and poor and four more years of weak income growth, pose a direct challenge to Theresa May, who arrived in Downing Street pledging to help those “just about managing”. May has slightly softened the impact of the £12bn of welfare cuts announced by the then chancellor George Osborne after the 2015 general election, but the IFS said the impact on poor families would still be severe. By 2021-22, the IFS expects 37% of children to be living in relative poverty – defined as a household where the income is less than 60% of the UK median – after housing costs have been taken into account.

The thinktank said this was the highest percentage since modern records began in 1961. Tackling child poverty was a priority for Labour when it took office in 1997 and over the next 13 years the rate fell from 34% to just under 30%. Since then, the relative child poverty rate has remained unchanged but, according to the IFS, is now set to increase by seven percentage points to 37% over the next five years.

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What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

The Limits of Russian Sanctions (HBlatt)

For Russia’s economy, the end of 2014 was something of a perfect storm, Elvira Nabiullina, the country’s central bank chief, remembers. In addition to sanctions imposed by the West, Russia had to deal with a collapse in oil prices. “The effect of the oil price was larger than that of the sanctions,” she said in an interview. “Now the economy has gotten used to both factors. The economy is growing again.” That may not be what European and American leaders would like to hear. After all, the whole point of economic sanctions is to convince political leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin to change course. Sanctions were imposed on Russia in the aftermath of its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

The numbers bear out Ms. Nabiullina’s argument. Russia’s economy grew at a 2.5% annual rate in the second quarter of this year, nearly a five-year high and the third straight quarter of growth for Russia after nearly two years in a recession. Overall the IMF sees the economy growing 1.8% this year. Ms. Nabiullina’s remarks could give fodder to both sides of the Atlantic: Critics of sanctions, which include a number of German politicians and companies that have close business ties to Russia, would point out that there’s little point in continuing something that is having little effect. Supporters would say this is an argument for making sanctions even tougher – something the United States is considering imposing unilaterally by targeting energy firms, over the stiff opposition of German and European politicians who fear their own economies will be caught in the crossfire.

Ms. Nabiullina of course is no politician. Her job as central bank chief is to steer the Russian economy. But she did say that she believes sanctions are here to stay. “Our forecasts for continued economic development are built on the assumption that they will remain in place.” Even if the Russian economy has adapted, it would be wrong to say that sanctions have had no effect at all. Ms. Nabiullina said that foreign direct investment in Russia has fallen since December 2014 as the economy fell into a downward spiral, though she said some foreign investors are starting to return to the country’s bond markets. “That shows Russia’s macro-economic stability.”

Inflation also remains a mixed bag in the country. Ms. Nabiullina noted that inflation has fallen to below 3% – better even than her own medium-target of keeping price increases at 4% or below – but she said Russians have yet to be convinced that prices will remain stable. Interest rates, which were cut slightly on Friday to 8.25%, are being held high in Russia because consumer and business decisions are being driven more by inflation expectations than by actual inflation. “The population is accustomed to high inflation and doesn’t yet believe that it can stay low for a long period,” she said. “That is why our monetary policy remains strict.”

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Will Spain make the mistake of parading them as criminals in public?

Spanish Court To Question Catalonia Separatists – Except Puigdemont (AFP)

Spain is set for another day of drama in the Catalonia crisis on Thursday with a judge in Madrid to question the deposed leaders of the region’s separatist government. Notable by his likely absence, however, will be the dismissed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, who is in Brussels and refusing to come, according to his lawyer. “He will not go to Madrid and I have suggested that he be questioned here in Belgium,” Paul Bekaert told Spain’s TV3 television on Wednesday. The hearing at the national court in Madrid, which deals with major criminal cases, is to start at 9am and to continue on Friday. The judge wants to question Puigdemont and 13 others over their efforts to spearhead Catalonia’s independence drive, which has plunged Spain into its biggest crisis in decades.

[..] On Monday, Spain’s chief prosecutor said he was seeking charges of rebellion – punishable by up to 30 years in prison – sedition and misuse of public funds against the 14. The speaker of the Catalan parliament, Carme Forcadell, and five parliamentary deputies will also be questioned over the same alleged offences, but by a judge at the supreme court. It was unclear how many of them will show up. Puigdemont, 54, has dismissed the accusations as politically motivated and on Tuesday said he would remain in Brussels until he had guarantees that any proceedings would be impartial. In a statement, he said there was a concerted effort to divide his government.

Some will go before a national audience “to denounce the drive of Spanish justice to pursue political ideas”, while others “will stay in Brussels to decry this political process to the international community”, he wrote. Puigdemont has retained the support of many in Catalonia. Maria Angels Selgas, a 60-year-old sales manager in Barcelona, said that for her, Puigdemont was still the Catalan president. “If they humiliate him then they humiliate also the more than 2 million Catalans who voted ‘yes’ in the referendum,” she said.

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Time to close them down. There’s too much toxicity involved, we can’t afford it.

Monsanto, BASF Weed Killers Strain US States With Damage Complaints (R.)

U.S. farmers have overwhelmed state governments with thousands of complaints about crop damage linked to new versions of weed killers, threatening future sales by manufacturers Monsanto and BASF. Monsanto is banking on weed killers using a chemical known as dicamba – and seeds engineered to resist it – to dominate soybean production in the United States, the world’s second-largest exporter. The United States has faced a weed-killer crisis this year caused by the new formulations of dicamba-based herbicides, which farmers and weed experts say have harmed crops because they evaporate and drift away from where they are applied. Monsanto and BASF say the herbicides are safe when properly applied. They need to convince regulators after the flood of complaints to state agriculture departments.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last year approved use of the weed killers on dicamba-resistant crops during the summer growing season. Previously, farmers used dicamba to kill weeds before they planted seeds, and not while the crops were growing. However, the EPA approved such use only until Nov. 9, 2018, because “extraordinary precautions” are needed to prevent dicamba products from tainting vulnerable crops, a spokesman told Reuters in a statement last week. The agency wanted to be able to step in if there were problems, he said. Next year, the EPA will determine whether to extend its approval by reviewing damage complaints and consulting with state and industry experts. States are separately considering new restrictions on usage for 2018.

Major soybean-growing states, including Arkansas, Missouri and Illinois, each received roughly four years’ worth of complaints about possible pesticide damage to crops this year due to dicamba use, state regulators said. Now agriculture officials face long backlogs of cases to investigate, which are driving up costs for lab tests and overtime. Several states had to reassign employees to handle the load. “We don’t have the staff to be able to handle 400 investigations in a year plus do all the other required work,” said Paul Bailey, director of the Plant Industries division of the Missouri Department of Agriculture. In Missouri, farmers filed about 310 complaints over suspected dicamba damage, on top of the roughly 80 complaints about pesticides the state receives in a typical year, he said. Nationwide, states launched 2,708 investigations into dicamba-related plant injury by Oct. 15, according to data compiled by the University of Missouri.

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Where’s Mutti Merkel?

Greece Concerned Over 200% Spike In Refugee, Migrant Arrivals (K.)

Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas on Wednesday conceded that the migration problem is becoming more difficult to manage as the number of people arriving on the shores of Greek islands from Turkey since August is up 200% compared to the same period last year. Describing the spike as a “special phase” in the migration problem, Mouzalas added that while the average arrival rate in July was 87 people per day, it shot up to 156 per day in August, while in the months of September and October it rose even further, to 214 per day. With around 4,000 people arriving on the islands in October alone, Mouzalas described the situation at the congested camps on Lesvos as “very bad” and on Chios as “bad.” Nonetheless, he said that Greece continues to view the joint declaration of the EU and Turkey in March to stem the flow of migrants into Europe as valid.

Greece, he said, has intensified diplomatic efforts to ensure the implementation of the agreement which he described as “decisive for the future of Greece.” Referring to the scant number of returns of migrants to Turkey from Greece, Mouzalas said, “We would like to see more returns because that will restore the order of things.” He attributed the low number of returns to Turkey – 1,360 people since the deal was activated – to the way asylum applications are examined in Greece. “We are the only country that has four levels of examination of asylum applications,” he said, while admitting that some of the migrants whose applications have been rejected find illegal means to leave the islands and travel to the mainland.

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Cruise ships.

Greece Mulls Emergency Housing Measures After Migrant Spike (AP)

Greece’s government is considering emergency measures to house migrants and refugees confined to Greek islands over the winter months following a roughly four-fold increase in the number of daily arrivals from Turkey. Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas said Wednesday that average arrivals had jumped since mid-August from about 50 per day to more than 200. He added the government could use ferries or military ships to provide additional housing space over the winter if alternatives provided by local municipalities were exhausted. Under a 2016 deal between Turkey and the EU migrants and refugees reaching Greek islands from the Turkish mainland are not allow to travel to the Greek mainland before their asylum claims are examined. Mouzalas said the agreement was not under threat but that the rise in migrant arrivals was “concerning.”

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Right in front of Parliament.

Refugees In Greece Demand Transfer To Germany, Start Hunger Strike (R.)

A group of mainly Syrian women and children who have been stranded in Greece pitched tents opposite parliament in Athens on Wednesday in a protest against delays in reuniting with relatives in Germany. Some of the refugees, who say they have been in Greece for over a year, said they had begun a hunger strike. “Our family ties our stronger than your illegal agreements,” read a banner held up by one woman, referring to deals on refugees between European Union nations. Greek media have reported that Greece and Germany informally agreed in May to slow down refugee reunification, stranding families in Greece for months after they fled Syria’s civil war. Greece denies this.

“What we’ve managed to do on family reunification is to have an increase of about 27% this year compared with last year, even though we’re accused of cutting back family reunification and doing deals to cut back family reunification,” Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas told reporters. Mouzalas said Greece had assurances from Germany that refugees whose applications have been accepted will eventually go to Germany even if there are delays. He denied that refugees had to pay for their flights. Applications for asylum, reunification and relocation to other European countries can take months to be processed.

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Dec 272016
 
 December 27, 2016  Posted by at 10:01 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Joan Miró Caballo, Pipa y Flor Roja (Horse Pipe and Red Flower) 1920

 

I was surprised to see how surprised I was, like I’m sure millions of people were, to see the term ‘fake news’ pop up in what are still called ‘respectable’ (which is by now really just another word for ‘old’) news outlets.

Because a huge part of what they have been feeding their readers and viewers for years is that very thing: fake news. Who needs a bunch of bored highschool kids in small town Montenegro when you have the offices of America’s ‘official’ news sources at your disposal?

That there are still people trying to make a serious point by quoting anything at all published in the Washington Post -and to an only slightly lesser extent the New York Times- is beyond me. And not a little bit beyond. Well, that people still read these sheets is just as incredible, I grant you that.

I haven’t kept count of the number of ‘articles’ the WaPo has published over the past year or so -the election campaign- that referred to unsubstantiated reports emanating from anonymous US intelligence sources about Russian involvement in everything bad under the sun, but I’m dead certain that put together they would add up to a Christmas bestseller of respectable size. A chance missed there, gents. You could have had your own garbage lead your own bestseller lists. Snake, tail.

And it’s not as if it was a new thing for them either, what’s new is the sheer volume and the concerted campaign we’re talking about. We of course had a similar thing in 2003 with the Weapons of Mass Destruction ‘fantasy’. Now that I mention it, how is it possible that Colin Powell is still walking around free, and Cheney and W.?

When did it become de rigueur to lie to the people, let alone Congress and the UN? What have we become? When did that happen? Remember Ukraine, and the stories you were told about that, less than 3 years ago? Crimea? G-d I hope Trump will get rid of Victoria Nuland.

Trump called the UN a sad club for people to “get together, talk and have a good time”. Is he wrong? Really? If so, do tell, how wrong is he? Perhaps wrong in the same way that the IMF is wrong for letting Christine Lagarde keep her plush tax-free seat after being convicted for handing €400 million in French taxpayer money to a crony? That kind of wrong?

I’m thinking there are still awfully few people who understand what’s happening in the world. What’s changing. And I don’t hold out much hope that they will until it hits them smack upside the backs of their heads.

Why there’s Trump and Brexit, and why many more changes are in the offing. Well, it’s precisely because the UN and EU and IMF and Capitol Hill are self-serving ‘clubs’ filled with unaccountable and overpaid people who have turned the world into a godawful mess.

Not for themselves, they’re fine, thank you very much, they all have pensions from here to Rome and back again for the rest of their lives, but for everyone else. G-d I hope Trump will come through on his pre-election promise to limit the terms of American Congressmen and Senators. And that this is subsequently applied to all these ‘clubs’. Because if anything, it’s them who are the bane of this world. Public service…

There may be fine individuals among them, that’s not even -the worst of- the point, it’s the dilapidated, decayed, rotten to the core institutions that they ‘serve’ which are the problem. They serve themselves and they serve the institutions, the one thing they sure don’t serve is the people. You know who’s given (‘voted’) them those lavish pensions and benefits? They themselves did, and their predecessors.

The UN is supposed to keep the peace in the world. Well, works like a charm, doesn’t it? The IMF is tasked with keeping 200 or so nations in reasonably balanced economic conditions. Got it down. The US Congress was set up as a pillar of democracy, but it’s occupied by guys and gals who spend so much more time raising funds for their next campaign than representing those who voted them in, that they need lobbyists to tell them which way to vote.

As for the EU, is it even possible they’re the worst of the bunch? Europe is falling apart before all of our eyes, and they’re all in full tard denial about it. They are turning Greece into a third world country, they’re alienating Britain to the point where the English will, once they wake up to what’s going on, want to set Brussels on fire. And why? There’s no point left to any of it at all.

Italy’s a goner, once enough Italians realize what the ECB wants to do to their banks. France is such a key member nobody wants to even imagine it falling, so its broke banks are ignored. Holland will come very close to voting in Wilders, which means Nexit. Germany is destabilizing rapidly. Spain has been a hornets’ nest for years. Etc.

And again: why? Well, because the Obama/Merkel model has so dramatically failed. All these places where left and right work together to produce a shapeless blob somewhere in the center that has no identity and doesn’t speak out for anyone.

You just wouldn’t know it from reading the Washington Post. Or any comparable old and respected medium in any of these European countries. It’s not just the politics that have failed, it’s its propaganda machine too.

This is something that manifests itself differently in different places, but it shouldn’t be that hard to see the ties that bind it all together. For one thing, because, not even touched on so far, the amount of fake financial news that has been forced down our throats for decades, and increasingly so: the worse things get, the bigger the lie…

There is no economic recovery. Never was. Not in the US, not in Europe anywhere. It’s a fairy tale. There are plates shifting, sure. You can cherry pick a region stateside that does well if only you select the ‘right’ stats. Like you can say employment is on a roll, if you’re willing to discard the number of ‘newly created’ jobs that are part time.

And yes, if you just completely ignore that 94 million Americans are not counted at all in unemployment numbers, Obama has been a big success. It’s just that those 94 million have a vote, too. We will see that exact same dynamic, and we have already started, play out all across Europe.

It’ll be much messier, for instance because in Holland last time I looked 81 different political parties were vying to take part in the upcoming elections, but the end result will be the same. That is, the existing order will be voted out. Not everywhere, and it won’t be replaced by radically different parties and people in all places, but do please understand that it doesn’t have to.

In Europe, it’s not and/and, it’s if/or. As in, if either Italy or France or Holland vote in a party that wants to leave the EU or the Euro, it’s game over. The endgame will be almighty messed up because of all the laws and regulations the EU has invented, but eventually the walls of Brussels will crumble. Good riddance too.

I’ve said it a hundred times before, all the institutions mentioned before, EU, IMF, UN and yes, even Congress, exist by the grace of growth. People accept them only as long as they can show reasonable proof that they bring economic benefits. As soon as that’s gone (or I should say as soon as people figure it out), so are they.

People are going to vote for someone close to their own lives, their own world, to lead them in times of contraction. That is inevitable. It’s why Trump won, and it’s also why he’s set to fail. Isn’t that a lovely paradox? We’re going to split up into smaller entities, economic contraction guarantees it.

And while everyone tries to talk you into thinking that’s terrible, there’s no reason why it should be. We can work together in many different ways. All these supranational institutions have merely become straight jackets that serve only the people who work inside them and those outside who benefit from keeping up appearances and clinging to power.

That of course gets us back to the Washington Post and its comatose brethren. The US press has been a full accomplice with Washington in reporting fake news about the recovery, and it’s not there. Never has been. The Dow Jones says one thing, the votes for Trump say another. In the end, democracy is that simple. Same goes for Britain, same goes for continental Europe.

And there’s no doubt that Trump is an iceberg-sized gamble, but a change had to come. A change from the monsoon of fake news we have all been fed, but also initially a change that won’t be able to help itself from being replete with more fake news, from all sides.

Put it this way: in 2016, the engine of change got cranked up. In the new year, it will accelerate. That is 2017. That is what the new year will bring.