Aug 012019
 
 August 1, 2019  Posted by at 9:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Piet Mondriaan Trees by the Gein at Moonrise 1908

 

Jerome Powell Finds Another Way To Please Nobody (R.)
The Fed’s Massive Debt for Equity Swap (RIA)
Mario Draghi Lays Out Plan For A Dangerous Round Of Stimulus (Sinn)
PBOC Keeps Powder Dry After Fed Rate Cut, But More Easing Expected (R.)
Bank of England To Lean Against Market Rate Cut Bets As Brexit Nears (R.)
Capitalism Is Part Of Solution To Climate Crisis, Says Mark Carney (G.)
UK’s Biggest Financial Scandal Bites Its Biggest Bank – Again (Coppola)
Jeffrey Epstein Could Spend At Least A Year In Jail Before Trial (F.)
James Comey’s Next Reckoning Is Imminent — This Time For Leaking (Solomon)
Judge’s Ruling Throws Huge Spanner Into Assange Extradition Proceedings (Can.)
Beijing Orders Arabic, Muslim Symbols Taken Down (R.)

 

 

A lot of seemingly serious people are commenting on the bad theater the Democratic debate has become. Nothing better to do with your lives?! It doesn’t matter what any of the ‘candidates’ says or does, the DNC will pull another Bernie 2016. It’s bad theater, it’s cheap, you’re being had, and everyone who watches it should watch themselves instead.

Yeah, just like the central banks. To clean up the US economy, you have to take -most of- the Fed’s powers away. To clean up US politics, you have to burn down the DNC. Or Trump will win forever.

Jerome Powell Finds Another Way To Please Nobody (R.)

The Federal Reserve has turned. The U.S. central bank on Wednesday cut its target overnight interest cost by a quarter percentage point, to a range of 2% to 2.25%. For some, like U.S. President Donald Trump, that’s surely not enough. For others – and going by most economic statistics – it’s too much. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has found another way to please nobody. The last federal-funds rate reduction was in 2008, as the financial crisis cut deep. It then bounced along near zero for seven years before Powell’s predecessor, Janet Yellen, oversaw the start of a period of gradual rate hikes in late 2015. Since a quarter-point hike last December, the Fed had held steady at 2.25%-2.5%, until now.

The proximate causes of the move are external – mainly the threat to economic activity from Trump’s confrontational stance on trade. It’s a telling irony that a president who claims the Fed is damping the benefits of his policies by holding rates too high is providing one of the few reasons for the U.S. central bank to cut them. Wednesday’s modest move by the Federal Open Market Committee surely won’t satisfy him. Yet seen through the lens of the Fed’s dual mandate – full employment and stable prices – everything is still humming as the longest expansion in U.S. history enters its second decade, with economic growth steady, unemployment at historic lows and inflation tame. Prices increased just 1.4% in the year to June by the personal consumption expenditures measure, released on Tuesday.

The Fed would prefer inflation nearer its 2% target but that’s a somewhat flimsy rationale for lower rates given the backdrop. A significant minority of traders, meanwhile, expected a half-point cut, according to CME data, so they’ll be disappointed, too – even though buoyant stock and credit markets are hardly crying for help. Two of Powell’s colleagues also dissented, preferring not to cut rates, so they’re unhappy for a different reason.

Read more …

As everyone is staring at a 25 bps cut, here’s where the action is. An economy distorted beyond recognition.

The Fed’s Massive Debt for Equity Swap (RIA)

Since QE began, nearly 30% of the new corporate debt issued was used for stock buybacks. Putting the pieces of the mosaic together, it is fair to say the most intense corporate debt-for-equity swap in recorded history was enabled by the Fed via monetary policy and the federal government through tax-cuts. This is symptomatic of a variety of issues that have been created by prolonged extraordinary monetary policy. In the same way that corporate behavior has been seriously altered as described above, every central bank in the developed world has undertaken even more extreme measures to foster growth, dictating that the behavior of market participants transform in some manner.


The chart below is a stark reminder of how the Fed has changed the natural order of the corporate debt market. Over the past 25 years, when corporate debt loads became onerous, investors required higher yields and wider spreads to compensate them for the added risks. Today, despite the extreme amount of corporate leverage and the low quality of corporate credit, junk spreads remain near all-time lows. As shown below and highlighted by the red arrow, the long-standing correlation between leverage and high yield spreads is broken.

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Making sure Lagarde must stick with the program. Draghi is the craziest of them all.

Mario Draghi Lays Out Plan For A Dangerous Round Of Stimulus (Sinn)

Expectations – and, for many economists, rather bad ones – have been confirmed: the European Central Bank has decided to inflate the eurozone. Following the ECB’s latest policy meeting on 25 July, the outgoing president Mario Draghi made it clear that the bank’s seemingly harmless inflation target of 1.9% will in fact be the basis for a new phase of expansionary monetary policy over the next few years. This will go well beyond the ECB’s stimulus measures to date and is likely to pose further risks to the European economy. We should remember that the Maastricht treaty assigned the ECB the single, non-negotiable goal of maintaining stable prices, which, if taken literally, would mean an inflation rate of zero.

This is very different from the mandate given to other central banks. The introduction of the euro, however, caused interest rates in southern Europe to fall, leading to an inflationary bubble that raised annual price growth to well over 2% in some countries. The ECB’s governing council then argued that the goal of price stability could not be achieved exactly and also pointed to several measurement errors that complicate policymaking. So, the authorities said, they would tolerate average inflation of up to 2% for the eurozone as a whole. The governing council did not fancy a restrictive monetary policy aimed at reducing inflation, as it gave only little weight to the risk of reducing competitiveness in some countries and did not want to slow down countries in stagnation such as Germany.

Then came the euro crisis. With inflation plummeting, the ECB turned the still-tolerable upper limit for the inflation rate into its target. Suddenly, it was argued, the bank would seek to achieve inflation of “close to, but below 2%”. Draghi even went before the television cameras to claim in all seriousness that this was the ECB’s mandate. And now, at the end of his term of office, Draghi is seeking to bind his successor, Christine Lagarde, to a council decision that will force her to aim for 1.9% inflation with a symmetrical concern about potential deviations. In plain language, this means the ECB will try to achieve this figure on average over time, netting out future above-average inflation rates with below-average inflation in recent years.

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Xi demands total control. Trump wants Powell to make him look good, Xi demands that tripled and cubed. And he gets no dissent.

PBOC Keeps Powder Dry After Fed Rate Cut, But More Easing Expected (R.)

China’s central bank kept its main policy rates on hold on Thursday, opting not to follow an overnight benchmark rate cut by the U.S. Federal Reserve as policymakers wait to see if earlier support measures start to stabilize the economy. But market watchers say continued support is still needed, and expect more modest forms of policy easing from the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) in coming months if pressure on the economy persists. Amid mounting worries about risks to global growth, the Fed lowered its benchmark rate by a quarter-point on Wednesday, as expected, but the head of the U.S. central bank ruled out a long series of cuts.


Though China’s central bank does not always follow the Fed’s moves in lockstep, some analysts had thought a token PBOC cut, likely in one of its short-term rates, was a possibility. However, no move was apparent by midday on Thursday. The PBOC refrained from daily open market operations (OMOs) early in the session, saying banking system liquidity was “reasonably ample”. “The PBOC skipped OMOs and hence there was no rate adjustment,” said Frances Cheung, head of Asia macro strategy at Westpac in Singapore. “The market may need to wait until mid-August when the next tranche of medium term lending facility (MLF) matures to see if there is any action. Arguably they can adjust policy parameters anytime, and are not constrained by any meeting schedule, but we see no pressure on OMO rates.”

Read more …

No-deal Brexit is a big headache for Carney. He still has a full three months to go after Halloween. It will be messy.

Bank of England To Lean Against Market Rate Cut Bets As Brexit Nears (R.)

The Bank of England is likely to push back on Thursday against investors who bet that it will follow other central banks and cut rates in the coming months, even as the risk of a messy Brexit darkens growth prospects. Economists polled by Reuters are almost certain that the BoE’s Monetary Policy Committee will vote 9-0 to keep rates on hold at 0.75%. But it is less clear how Governor Mark Carney will tackle the challenge posed by a possible no-deal Brexit. New Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he will take Britain out of the European Union on Oct. 31 without a transition deal if Brussels does not rewrite the deal it hammered out with his predecessor Theresa May.


The risk of a disruptive no-deal Brexit that could push Britain into a recession means interest rate futures now price in an almost 90% chance of a 25 basis point rate cut before Carney steps down at the end of January. The U.S. Federal Reserve reduced its main interest rate by a quarter of a percentage point on Wednesday, and the European Central Bank is expected to take similar action next month, as both battle a slowdown driven by the U.S.-China trade conflict. But the BoE says Britain is a special case. Chief economist Andy Haldane highlighted last week how British rates had not risen to anything like the extent they had in the United States, while Britain’s job market and inflation were much more buoyant than in the euro zone.

Read more …

Carney wrote that article with Michael Bloomberg talking about how to make a profit off of disaster. And here again: ..there will be great fortunes made along this path aligned with what society wants.” Dangerous.

Capitalism Is Part Of Solution To Climate Crisis, Says Mark Carney (G.)

Capitalism is “very much part of the solution” to tackling the climate crisis, according to the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney. Challenged in an interview by the Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow over whether capitalism itself was fuelling the climate emergency, Carney gave a strident defence of the economic system predicated on private ownership and growth but said companies that ignored climate change would “go bankrupt without question”. “Capitalism is part of the solution and part of what we need to do,” he said in the interview broadcast on Wednesday.

The economist, who previously worked for Goldman Sachs, said he recognised the costs of ignoring climate change were rising, but stressed there were increasing opportunities for “doing something about it”, and that capital would shift in this direction. “Now there is $120tn of capital behind that framework that is saying to companies: ‘Tell us how you are going to manage these risks’ – that’s the first thing,” Carney said.

“The second thing the capitalist system needs to do is to manage the risks around climate change, be ready for the different speeds of the adjustment. And then the most important thing is to move capital from where it is today to where it needs to be tomorrow. The system is very much part of the solution.” He added: “Companies that don’t adapt – including companies in the financial system – will go bankrupt without question. [But] there will be great fortunes made along this path aligned with what society wants.”

Read more …

Corrupt to the core.

UK’s Biggest Financial Scandal Bites Its Biggest Bank – Again (Coppola)

To the surprise of markets and the chagrin of shareholders, the U.K.’s largest lender, Lloyds Banking Group, has reported disappointing profits for the second quarter of 2019. And no, it’s not because of Boris Johnson’s antics or the prospect of no-deal Brexit. It’s the final flourish of a much older issue – the U.K.’s long-running PPI scandal. Lloyds has had to take an additional provision of £550m ($670m) to cover a flurry of new PPI claims. This reduced its half-year profit to a paltry £2.2bn ($2.7bn). The share price dropped 5% on the news. Mis-selling of payment protection insurance (PPI) is by far the U.K.’s biggest financial scandal.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) says that since January 2011, British banks and financial institutions have paid out £37.5bn ($45.73bn) in compensation to customers who were wrongly sold PPI insurance. Lloyds Banking Group alone accounts for more than half of this total. The origins of the scandal date back to the 1990s, when financial institutions in the U.K. started selling PPI on lending products including mortgages, car loans and credit cards. PPI was meant to cover loan interest and repayments if the customer became unable to pay, for example due to illness or unemployment. As it was highly profitable for lenders and insurance companies, it was, unsurprisingly, heavily promoted. By 2005, there were an estimated 20 million PPI contracts in existence with annual gross premiums of over £5bn ($6.1bn).

PPI was expensive: premiums could raise the cost of a loan by up to 50%. And it mostly didn’t work. In 2005, the U.K.’s Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB) complained that there were so many exclusion clauses in the contracts and administrative barriers to claiming that many people couldn’t make successful claims. Furthermore, the CAB reported, people were being sold policies that they did not need or were unsuitable for them.

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Over a million pages of evidence. Ghislaine Maxwell must have bought an industrial scale shredder.

Jeffrey Epstein Could Spend At Least A Year In Jail Before Trial (F.)

A Wednesday court hearing determined that Jeffrey Epstein’s trial for two federal counts of sex trafficking and conspiracy will begin no sooner than June 8, 2020, while his lawyers requested more time to prepare “a case of this magnitude.” Prosecutors said in the hearing that bringing the case to trial quickly is in the public’s interest. Epstein’s lawyer, Martin Weinberg, said they expect to review more than one million pages of evidence while preparing his case. Given the large amount of evidence, Epstein’s team asked for his trial to begin in September 2020, after Labor Day.


Wednesday’s hearing was Epstein’s first court appearance after a possible suicide attempt, and a day after he was reportedly served a new lawsuit from a woman claiming he raped her as a 15-year-old. He showed no signs of injuries, specifically bruising on his neck, from the potential suicide attempt. Epstein is being held in a Manhattan jail without bail, and will likely remain there until his trial begins next year. If convicted, he could spend up to 45 years in prison.

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Horowitz was ready to go. Barr said too soon.

James Comey’s Next Reckoning Is Imminent — This Time For Leaking (Solomon)

The Justice Department’s chief watchdog is preparing a damning report on James Comey’s conduct in his final days as FBI director that likely will conclude he leaked classified information and showed a lack of candor after his own agency began looking into his feud with President Trump over the Russia probe. Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz’s team referred Comey for possible prosecution under the classified information protection laws, but Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors working for Attorney General William Barr reportedly have decided to decline prosecution — a decision that’s likely to upset Comey’s conservative critics.

Prosecutors found the IG’s findings compelling but decided not to bring charges because they did not believe they had enough evidence of Comey’s intent to violate the law, according to multiple sources. The concerns stem from the fact that one memo that Comey leaked to a friend specifically to be published by the media — as he admitted in congressional testimony — contained information classified at the lowest level of “confidential,” and that classification was made by the FBI after Comey had transmitted the information, the sources said. Although a technical violation, the DOJ did not want to “make its first case against the Russia investigators with such thin margins and look petty and vindictive,” a source told me, explaining the DOJ’s rationale.

But Comey and others inside the FBI and the DOJ during his tenure still face legal jeopardy in ongoing probes by the IG and Barr-appointed special prosecutor John Durham. Those investigations are focused on the origins of the Russia investigation that included a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant targeting the Trump campaign at the end of the 2016 election, the source said.

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It all hinges on Julian helping -and failing- Chelsea (Bradley) find an identity to hide behind.

Judge’s Ruling Throws Huge Spanner Into Assange Extradition Proceedings (Can.)

A US judge has ruled that WikiLeaks was fully entitled to publish the Democratic National Congress (DNC) emails, which means no law was broken. The ruling is highly significant as it could impact upon the US extradition proceedings against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, as well as the ongoing imprisonment of whistleblower Chelsea Manning. On 30 July, federal judge John G. Koeltl ruled on a case brought against WikiLeaks and other parties in regard to the alleged hacking of DNC emails and concluded that: “If WikiLeaks could be held liable for publishing documents concerning the DNC’s political financial and voter-engagement strategies simply because the DNC labels them ‘secret’ and trade secrets, then so could any newspaper or other media outlet.”

In other words, if WikiLeaks is subject to prosecution, then every media outlet in the world would be. The judge argued that: “[T]he First Amendment prevents such liability in the same way it would preclude liability for press outlets that publish materials of public interest despite defects in the way the materials were obtained so long as the disseminator did not participate in any wrongdoing in obtaining the materials in the first place.” Significantly, the judge added that it’s not criminal to solicit or “welcome” stolen documents, and how: “A person is entitled to publish stolen documents that the publisher requested from a source so long as the publisher did not participate in the theft.”

[..] Greg Barns, a barrister and longtime adviser to the Assange campaign, told The Canary: “The Court, in dismissing the case, found that the First Amendment protected WikiLeaks’ right to publish illegally secured private or classified documents of public interest, applying the same First Amendment standard as was used in justifying the The New York Times publication of the Pentagon Papers. That right exists, so long as a publisher does not join in any illegal acts that the source may have committed to obtain that information. But that doesn’t include common journalistic practices, such as requesting or soliciting documents or actively collaborating with a source. So this case is important in restating what is and is not protected under the First Amendment. But does it have implications for the extradition hearing? Well it certainly helps to remind the courts in the UK that the First Amendment protection is very broad.”

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Moving backward.

Beijing Orders Arabic, Muslim Symbols Taken Down (R.)

Authorities in the Chinese capital have ordered halal restaurants and food stalls to remove Arabic script and symbols associated with Islam from their signs, part of an expanding national effort to “Sinicize” its Muslim population. Employees at 11 restaurants and shops in Beijing selling halal products and visited by Reuters in recent days said officials had told them to remove images associated with Islam, such as the crescent moon and the word “halal” written in Arabic, from signs. Government workers from various offices told one manager of a Beijing noodle shop to cover up the “halal” in Arabic on his shop’s sign, and then watched him do it.


“They said this is foreign culture and you should use more Chinese culture,” said the manager, who, like all restaurant owners and employees who spoke to Reuters, declined to give his name due to the sensitivity of the issue. The campaign against Arabic script and Islamic images marks a new phase of a drive that has gained momentum since 2016, aimed at ensuring religions conform with mainstream Chinese culture. The campaign has included the removal of Middle Eastern-style domes on many mosques around the country in favor of Chinese-style pagodas. China, home to 20 million Muslims, officially guarantees freedom of religion, but the government has campaigned to bring the faithful into line with Communist Party ideology.

Read more …

 

 

 

 

 

Jul 112019
 
 July 11, 2019  Posted by at 8:53 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Guernica 1937

 

Dollar Slips After Powell Bolsters Rate Cut Bets (R.)
AOC Is Making Monetary Policy Cool (and Political) Again (NYM)
Trump Tasks Aides To Find A Way To Weaken The US Dollar (CNBC)
Lock Him Up (Pinkerton)
Schumer Got Thousands In Donations From Jeffrey Epstein (NYP)
Democrat Rep. Stacey Plaskett To Donate Epstein Campaign Contributions (CNBC)
US Probing Deutsche Bank’s Dealings With Malaysia’s 1MDB (ZH)
Obama the Conservative vs Trump the Revolutionary (EH)
Former UK PM Major Vows To Block Brexit Parliament Suspension (R.)
OPCW’s New Chemical Weapons Team To Launch First Syria Investigations (R.)
UK, US Claim Iranian Boats Attempt To Seize Tanker In Strait Of Hormuz (ZH)

 

 

I’m getting so sick of this. Powelll wants to cut rates but it makes no sense if he’s to uphold Trump’s claim of a great US economy. So what does his spin team come up with? Cut rates because other countries are not doing so well. Cut the crap.

Dollar Slips After Powell Bolsters Rate Cut Bets (R.)

The dollar eased on Thursday after Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell set the stage for a rate cut later this month, vowing to “act as appropriate” to ensure the world’s biggest economy will be able to sustain a decade-long expansion. In testimony to Congress, Powell pointed to “broad” global weakness that was clouding the U.S. economic outlook amid uncertainty about the fallout from the Trump administration’s trade conflict with China and other nations. “Chairman Powell sounded dovish on most dimensions. This is slightly surprising given benign trade developments following last month’s G20 meeting and the recent rebound in nonfarm payrolls,” said Michael Swell, co-head of global fixed income portfolio management at Goldman Sachs Asset Management.


“Overall, his comments around slowing growth against a backdrop of muted inflation and elevated uncertainties is consistent with ‘insurance rate cuts’ this year.” Adding to a generally dovish tone in his testimony, the minutes from the Fed’s previous policy meeting showed many policymakers thought more stimulus would be needed soon, reviving speculation of an aggressive rate cut.

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And AOC also wants low interest rates. Everyone wants the same thing, and nobody says: Wait a minute?!

AOC Is Making Monetary Policy Cool (and Political) Again (NYM)

Ocasio-Cortez : In early 2014, the Federal Reserve believed that the long run unemployment rate was around 5.4 percent. In early 2018, it as estimated that this was now lower, around 4.5 percent. Now, the estimate is around 4.2 percent. What is the current unemployment rate today?
Powell : 3.7 percent.

Ocasio: 3.7 percent…Unemployment has fallen about three full points since 2014 but inflation is no higher today than it was five years ago. Given these facts, do you think it’s possible that the Fed’s estimates of the lowest sustainable unemployment rate may have been too high?
Powell : Absolutely.

This exchange may sound dull and technical. But the congresswoman’s point has real human stakes. America’s central bank has a dual mandate: to promote full employment and price stability. How the Fed chooses to balance those two objectives has redistributive implications. The wealthy have far more to lose from inflation than they do from modest levels of unemployment. In fact, many business owners may actually prefer for the U.S. economy not to achieve full employment, since workers tend to be less demanding when jobs are scarce. By contrast, the most vulnerable workers in the U.S. — such as those with criminal records or little experience — will struggle to get a foothold in the labor market unless policy makers err on the side of letting unemployment fall “too low.”

And this is what AOC’s questions are implicitly about. If the Federal Reserve believes that the U.S. economy cannot sustain unemployment below 5 percent without suffering high inflation, then it will raise interest rates to cool off investment, thereby preventing too many workers from getting jobs. Ocasio-Cortez’s implication is that, by raising interest rates out of a fear of illusory inflation, the Fed may have needlessly hurt American workers. Powell’s concession on that point is significant, and suggests that the central bank will be less inclined to err on the side of hurting the vulnerable in the future.

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We’re all of us in the gutter… (but apparently there’s no-one left looking at the stars).

Trump Tasks Aides To Find A Way To Weaken The US Dollar (CNBC)

President Donald Trump has reportedly tasked aides to find a way to weaken the U.S. dollar in an effort to boost the economy ahead of the 2020 presidential election. The president also asked about the greenback while interviewing Federal Reserve board nominees Judy Shelton and Christopher Waller, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News. Those individuals also told Bloomberg that Trump’s chief economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin disapprove of the idea of government tampering to weaken the dollar. Traditionally, past administrations have always maintained publicly they were for a strong dollar because dollar assets like Treasurys are so widely held around the globe.


Trump has often bemoaned the relative strength of the U.S. dollar in foreign exchange markets, blaming foreign nations for devaluing their currencies and thereby inflating the American trade deficit. Last week, the president said in a tweet that the U.S. should match China and Europe’s “currency manipulation game.” “China and Europe playing big currency manipulation game and pumping money into their system in order to compete with USA,” Trump said on Twitter. “We should MATCH, or continue being the dummies who sit back and politely watch as other countries continue to play their games – as they have for many years!”

Read more …

About Epstein, but with a historical twist.

Lock Him Up (Pinkerton)

One landmark of American reform was the White-Slave Traffic Act, signed into law in 1910 (“white slavery,” we might note, is known today as “sex trafficking”). That law, aimed at preventing not only prostitution but also “debauchery,” is known as the Mann Act in honor of its principal author, Representative James R. Mann, Republican of Illinois, who served in Congress from 1897 to 1922. Mann’s career mostly coincided with the presidential tenures of two great reformers, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. And it’s hard to overstate just how central to progressive thinking was the combatting of “vice.” After all, if the goal was to create a just society, it also had to be a wholesome society; otherwise no justice could be sustainable.

Thus when Roosevelt served as police commissioner of New York City in the mid-1890s, he focused on fighting vice, rackets, and corruption. Of course, Mann, Roosevelt, and Wilson had much more on their minds than just cleaning up depravity. They saw themselves as reformers across the board; that is, they were eager to improve economic conditions as well as social ones. So it was that Mann also co-authored the Mann-Elkins Act, further regulating the railroads; he also spearheaded the Pure Food and Drug Act, creating the FDA. It’s interesting that when Mann died in 1922, The New York Times ran an entirely admiring obituary, recalling him as “a dominating figure in the House…[a] leader in dozens of parliamentary battles.” In other words, back then, the Times was fully onboard with full-spectrum cleanup, on the Right as well as the Left.

To be sure, the Mann Act hardly eradicated the problem of sex-trafficking, just as Mann’s other legislative efforts did not put an end to abuses in transportation and in foods and drugs. However, we can say that Mann made things better. Of course, the Mann Act has long been controversial. Back in 1913, the African-American boxer Jack Johnson was convicted according to its provisions. (Intriguingly, in 2018, Johnson was posthumously pardoned by President Trump.) In 1944, film legend Charlie Chaplin, too, found himself busted on a Mann Act rap. Chaplin was accused of transporting a young “actress” across state lines; he was acquitted after a sensational trial, but not before it was learned that he had financed his lover’s two abortions. Chaplin’s career in Hollywood was effectively over.

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Schumer telling others what to do, but doing dick all himself. How much did the Clinton Foundation get?

Schumer Got Thousands In Donations From Jeffrey Epstein (NYP)

Sen. Chuck Schumer — who called on Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta to resign and said President Trump should “answer” for his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein — accepted thousands of dollars in donations from the alleged pedophile throughout the 1990s, The Post has learned. Federal Election Commission records show that Schumer received seven $1,000 donations from Epstein between 1992 and 1997, first as a U.S. congressman from New York and then when he was vying to be the state’s senator in 1998, an election he won. Epstein — who was arrested Saturday and charged with sex trafficking and a related conspiracy count for allegedly sexually abusing a vast network of underage girls — also gave $10,000 to “Victory in New York,” a joint fundraising committee established by Schumer and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Epstein gave an additional $5,000 to “Win New York,” a Schumer-associated joint committee that benefited the Liberal Party of New York State. Both of Epstein’s donations to the committees came in October 1998 — and look to have primarily benefited the DSCC and the Liberal Party of New York, as Epstein would have already met the $2,000 limit of donating individually to Schumer. At the time, donors could give $1,000 to a candidate per election — once in the primary and again in the general. That means Schumer and Schumer-linked entities received a combined $22,000.

On the Senate floor Tuesday, Schumer made three Epstein-related demands. He first called on Acosta to resign. [..] “Instead of prosecuting a predator and serial sex trafficker of children, Acosta chose to let him off easy,” Schumer said on the floor. “This is not acceptable. We cannot have, as one of the leading appointed officials in America, someone who has done this.” Schumer also asked that the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility make public its review of Acosta’s handling of the case. Finally, Schumer said that Trump should paint a fuller picture of what he meant when he called Epstein a “terrific guy” in a 2002 article for New York Magazine.

An April 2011 court filing shows that Trump eventually barred Epstein from Mar-a-Lago “because Epstein sexually assaulted a girl at the club,” the documents allege. Trump didn’t officially launch a political career until June 2015. No FEC records show that Epstein was ever a Trump donor.

Read more …

So when will Schumer follow suit? And the rest of them?

Democrat Rep. Stacey Plaskett To Donate Epstein Campaign Contributions (CNBC)

Democratic congresswoman Stacey Plaskett has decided to reverse course and will give away the contributions she has received from Jeffrey Epstein, who is accused of child sex trafficking. The move comes a day after her team told CNBC that she was unlikely to return the campaign donations after Epstein’s arrest. “In light of new information and allegations that have been made against Jeffrey Epstein I have decided to make contributions to Virgin Islands organizations that work with women and children in the amount of his previous contributions,” Plaskett said in a statement Tuesday.

“My litmus test for accepting campaign contributions has been based on whether the donor’s money was made legally or by ill-gotten means and that the contributor will not ask of me or my Congressional office for any special favors. All my contributions have passed that test. In this case however, I am uncomfortable having received money from someone who has been accused of these egregious actions multiple times,” said Plaskett, who represents the U.S. Virgin Islands in the House as a delegate. Her spokesman Mike McQueery later noted the Epstein donations will be given to The Women’s Coalition and The Family Resource Center.

Her initial announcement led to an outcry on social media, with prominent Democratic strategists such as Adam Parkhomenko calling on Plaskett to give the money over to a nonprofit organization such as the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. Since Epstein pleaded not guilty Monday, Plaskett is the first politician to say she is giving away donations from Epstein.

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Deutsche severed ties with Epstein just months ago.

US Probing Deutsche Bank’s Dealings With Malaysia’s 1MDB (ZH)

When it rains inside the halls of Deutsche Bank, the flood is biblical. Just when it seemed that the biggest (if not for long) German bank, already reeling from the biggest mass layoffs since Lehman, couldn’t possibly bear any more bad news, along comes the US government with yet another potentially criminal investigation, this time over Deutsche Bank’s involvement with the sprawling, multibillion-dollar Malaysian development fraud scandal that toppled a prime minister, crippled Goldman Sachs stock and stretched from Hollywood to Wall Street. According to the WSJ, the DOJ is investigating whether the German bank violated foreign corruption or anti-money-laundering laws in its work for the 1Malaysia Development Bhd. fund, or 1MDB, which included helping the fund raise $1.2 billion in 2014 as concerns about the fund’s management and financials had begun to circulate.

So how did Deutsche Bank get thrown into yet another scandal? It turns out that DB was snitched out by former Goldman banker, Tim Leissner, the man who was ground zero in the original 1MDB scandal, and who ended up costing Goldman billions in dollar in market cap as its stock tumbled last year as its role in the biggest Malaysian corruption scandal got exposed, and according to some, cost Lloyd Blankfein his job. As it turns out, Leissner is now cooperating with authorities, and among his “good Samaritan” duties decided to throw the one bank that has more dirt on it than Goldman: Deutsche Bank. As we have reported extensively in the past, prosecutors have been investigating similar issues at Goldman, where Leissner, a former managing director, pleaded guilty last year and admitted to earlier helping siphon off billions of dollars from the fund.

[..] But wait, there’s more! Because roughly at the same time as DB’s potential role in the 1MDB scandal was exposed by the WSJ, both the NYT and Bloomberg reported that the German bank had extended relations with yet another, even more scandalous figure: Jeffrey Epstein. According to NYT, Epstein “appears to have been doing business and trading currencies through Deutsche Bank until just a few months ago.” But as the possibility of federal charges loomed, the bank ended its client relationship with Epstein. It is not clear what the value of those accounts were at the time they were closed. Bloomberg confirms, reporting that “Deutsche Bank severed business ties with Jeffrey Epstein earlier this year, just as federal authorities were preparing to charge the financier with operating a sex-trafficking ring of underage girls [..] “

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Nice take by Ed Harrison. I’m no big fan of these alleged sharp divisions between generations, though.

Obama the Conservative vs Trump the Revolutionary (EH)

I would argue that [Obama] ran for President in 2008 on a slogan – Change You Can Believe In – which very much fits his generation, late baby boom reaching across to the early Gen X’ers. “Change you can believe in” is a moniker designed to evoke a sense of technocratic tweaking, of taking a good system and making it more efficient and more fair for all citizens. It is not a call for revolution. What Obama was saying was essentially, “I am going to take the system we have – the best that man has created – and make it better.” He was not saying, “the system is rigged. The system is broken. And I’m going to burn it down and build up something better.”

Obama’s message was a conservative message. It was a message that was steeped in the status quo, with the change coming only at the margin. It meant continuity in policy and a bevy of tried and trusted policymakers to get us to the next destination. Even Obamacare is a tweak of the existing policy. It is not a fundamentally different healthcare system controlled by different healthcare providers. [..] Donald Trump doesn’t think that way. Norms only matter to him to the degree they move his personal agenda forward. He’s a pretty simple guy in this sense. If a policy choice or a norm helps Donald Trump, then he’s for it. If it hurts him, he’s against it. It’s as simple as that. But, that’s not conservative …at all. Trump may message “Make America Great Again”. But, his process is more about bending and breaking rules, damn the consequences.

None of this is to say that Millennials would support Trump over Obama because they want change. It’s more that Obama’s ‘change you can believe in’ approach was a very incremental, status quo-oriented conservative approach that has disappointed Millennials. They want still more change – not a bend and break the rule kind – but a fundamental systemic change. What does that mean about the next economic downturn? Personally, I think it means that — when people living in precarious at-will employment, with insufficient healthcare coverage, saddled by student debt, unable to purchase homes to build wealth feel the full bore of an economic downturn — they will be willing to burn the system down. They will have no allegiance to the status quo and will vote accordingly.

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Oh, c’mon, wouldn’t it be highly fitting if the Queen were to hammer the final nail into British democracy?

Former UK PM Major Vows To Block Brexit Parliament Suspension (R.)

Former British prime minister John Major vowed on Wednesday to go to court to block his party colleague Boris Johnson from suspending parliament and dragging the queen into a constitutional crisis to deliver a no-deal Brexit. Johnson, the favourite to win a Conservative leadership election and so become the next prime minister, has refused to rule out suspending, or proroguing, parliament to ensure Britain leaves the European Union on Oct. 31 — with or without a deal. That could provoke a constitutional crisis in one of the world’s oldest and most stable democracies because parliament is opposed to a disorderly exit, lacking a transition deal to ease the economic dislocation of leaving the bloc.

While it is essentially up to the prime minister to make the decision, Major, an opponent of Brexit who has not shied away for criticising his party on the issue, said it would require the queen’s blessing. “In order to close down parliament, the prime minister would have to go to Her Majesty the Queen and ask for her permission to prorogue,” he told BBC Radio. “If her first minister asks for that permission, it is almost inconceivable that the queen will do anything other than grant it. “She is then in the midst of a constitutional controversy that no serious politician should put the queen in the middle of. If that were to happen, there would be a queue of people who would seek judicial review. I for one would be prepared to go and seek judicial review.”

Major accused Johnson of hypocrisy for backing Brexit to secure more power for Britain’s parliament, only to propose to sideline lawmakers when it suited him. He said parliament had not been suspended since King Charles I did so during the English Civil War. Charles was eventually executed, in 1649.

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The OPCW killed its own credibility, thoroughly. Disband it.

OPCW’s New Chemical Weapons Team To Launch First Syria Investigations (R.)

A new team established by the global chemical weapons watchdog to attribute blame for the use of banned munitions in Syria will investigate nine alleged attacks during the country’s civil war, including in the town of Douma, sources briefed on the matter told Reuters. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was created in 1997 as a technical body to enforce a global non-proliferation treaty. Until now it had been authorised only to say whether chemical attacks occurred, not who perpetrated them. Last June, the Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) was established by the OPCW’s member states during a special session, a move that has brought deeper political division to the U.N. -backed agency.


Now it has identified the locations of its first investigations to be conducted in the coming three years. A document circulated to OPCW member states, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, said the team “has identified a non-exhaustive provisional list of incidents on which it intends to focus its investigative work” between 2014 and 2018. The British-led proposal creating the 10-member team was supported by the United States and European Union, but opposed by Russia, Iran, Syria and their allies. Syria has refused to issue visas to the team’s members or to provide it with documentation, OPCW chief Fernando Arias said in comments to member states published last month.

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Where’s the credibility in this case?

UK, US Claim Iranian Boats Attempt To Seize Tanker In Strait Of Hormuz (ZH)

With the Persian Gulf uncharacteristically quiet in recent days, without any material provocation either real or staged, late on Wednesday CNN reported that five armed Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard boats unsuccessfully tried to seize a British oil tanker in the Persian Gulf. There was no independent verification of the report, but instead it was once again sourced to those who stands to gain the most from a way with Iran, namely “two US officials with direct knowledge of the incident.” According to the report, the British Heritage tanker was sailing out of the Persian Gulf and was crossing into the Strait of Hormuz area when it was approached by the Iranian boats.


The Iranians ordered the tanker to change course and stop in nearby Iranian territorial waters, according to the officials. A US aircraft was overhead and recorded video of the incident, although so far a video has not been released. In addition to the US aircraft escort, the UK’s Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose had been escorting the tanker, and during the confrontation, it trained its deck guns on the Iranians and gave them a verbal warning to back away, which they did. Montrose is equipped on the deck with 30 mm guns specifically designed to drive off small boats. The frigate was in the region performing a “maritime security role” according to a prior notification from UK officials.

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Seen at the inane Defend Media Freedom conference in the UK.

 

 

 

‘Man goes to a psychiatrist. He says, “I keep thinking I’m a dog.” Psychiatrist says, “OK, let’s get you on the couch.” Man says, “I’m not allowed on the couch.”‘

 

 

 

 

Jun 192019
 
 June 19, 2019  Posted by at 7:38 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Gustave Courbet The village maidens 1852

 

I intentionally start writing this mere minutes away from Fed chair Jay Powell’s latest comments. Intentionally, because the importance ascribed to those comments only means we have gotten so far removed from what capitalism and free markets are supposed to be about, that it’s pathetic. The comments mean something for rich socialists, but nothing for the man in the street. Or, rather, they mean that the man in the street will get screwed worse for longer.

And it’s not just the Fed, all central banks have it and do it. They play around with rates and definitions and semantics until the cows can never come home again. And they have such levels of control over their respective societies and economies that the mere use of the word “markets” should result in loud and unending ridicule. There are no markets, because there is no price discovery, the Fed and ECB and BOJ got it all covered. Any downside risks, that is.

But it doesn’t, because the people who pretend they’re in those markets hang on central banks’ every word for their meal tickets. These are the same people we once knew as traders and investors, but who today function only as rich socialists sucking the Fed’s teats for ever more mother’s milk.

Our economic systems have been destroyed by our central bankers. Who pretend they’re saving them. And we all eat it up hook line and sinker. Because the rich bankers and their media have no reasons to counter Fed or ECB actions and word plays, and because anyone who’s not a rich banker or investor is kept by the media from understanding those reasons.

 

What the Fed and ECB have done, and the BOJ, between Greenspan and Bernanke and Yellen and Powell and Draghi and Kuroda, is they have made it impossible for economies to let zombies go to die as they should. They have instead kept those zombies, banks, corporations, alive to the point where they are today a very big live threat to those economies, and growing. Look at Deutsche Bank.

How healthy do you think your economy can be if all the wealthy people are focused on whether Powell uses the word “patient” or not in his notes? Why would a vibrant company or entrepreneur give a flying damn about whether he does or not use a certain word? There is no reason.

But we have let our central banks take over, and that’s what they did. And it will be very hard to take back that power, but we will have to. Because central banks, while pretending to guard over the entire economy, in fact only protect the interests of commercial banks, and rich “investors”. And then tell you it’s the same difference.

There’s a case to be made that Paul Volcker was right when he raised US interest rate in the 1980s, but after Volcker it’s only been one big power and money grab for Wall Street, starting with Alan Greenspan and the housing bubble he blew. The Oracle my behind.

 

Japan is only just beginning to assess the damage Kuroda and Abenomics have done, and that’s at a point where both these men are still in power, and hell bent on doing more of the same. Something all central banks have in common; there are very few tools in their boxes, so they just repeat and repeat even as they fail. And that failure, by the way, is inevitable.

The Bank of Japan by now owns half the country, and they just want to do more. Kuroda’s plan to get rid of deflation was to force the Japanese to spend their money/savings. But the fully predictable result was that the grandmas did the exact opposite: they clued into the fact that if he wanted that, they had reason to be afraid, and so they sat on their money. And now it’s ten years later.

 

Draghi is going to leave in a few months’ time, and he’ll lower rates even more (towards 0º Kelvin), even if he knows that’s a really bad idea (it is), because at this point it’s about his legacy (after me, the flood). Same thing that Bernanke, Yellen did, clueless intellectuals who told themselves they had a grip on this. They never came near. That’s why they were elected, for being clueless. Wall Street doesn’t want Fed heads who know.

The pivotal moment was when Bernanke said they were running into “uncharted territory”, and then never looked back and started pretending he knew where he was. He didn’t and none of them ever did since. But they have academic degrees, and they’re willing to sell their souls for money, so there you are.

 

Central banks, or let’s say handing them the powers that we have, are the worst thing we have ever invented, and that’s saying something in the age of Pompeo and Bolton and Trump and the Clintons. The latter may take us into war with Iran, or any other country from a long list, but central banks are set to destroy our societies and economies from within.

It’s real simple: your central bank does NOT serve your interests. So get rid of it. Don’t wonder whether it’ll use the word “patient” or raise or lower rates by 25 or 50 points, get rid of the entire thing. There’s nothing there that benefits you, it only ever benefits bankers.

Now, of course, if you’re a banker…..

 

Note: I knicked the headline from something Tyler Durden said yesterday, that central banks are back to square minus zero. Too good to let go. Draghi back to square one, but then again not. Central banks should be abolished.

 

 

 

 

 

Mar 112019
 
 March 11, 2019  Posted by at 10:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jean Metzinger Soldier playing chess 1915

 

Brexit Talks ‘Deadlocked’, Says Downing Street (G.)
Brexit Fallout On UK Finance Intensifies (R.)
How Central Bankers Blew Up The Global Economy (ABC.au)
What Fed Chair Powell Said On 60 Minutes (ZH)
China’s GDP Growth Could Be Half Of Reported Number – Pettis (SCMP)
Brookings Says China Overstated Size Of Its Economy By 12% (ZH)
Deutsche Bank Begins Talks Over Merger With Rival Commerzbank (G.)
Leaked Documents Reveal DOJ Protected Steele After FBI Shunning (KK)
How US Government and Media Spread Pro-War Propaganda (Greenwald)
US “Gets Its Ass Handed To It” In World War III Simulations (ZH)
Why The Shale Boom Left California Behind (Rapier)
Elderly Americans Are Dying Without Getting To Read Mueller’s Report (NW)

 

 

Crunch time starts tomorrow. The backstop is the big issue. EU cannot ‘budge’, because it would mean leaving Ireland out in the cold. It’s called the Irish backstop for a reason.

Brexit Talks ‘Deadlocked’, Says Downing Street (G.)

Downing Street has described the Brexit talks in Brussels as “deadlocked” after negotiations over the weekend failed to find a breakthrough on the Irish backstop. Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission president, spoke on the telephone on Sunday evening, but plans for the prime minister to visit the Belgian capital to sign off on any compromise are on hold. The EU refuses to budge on the British proposal for what it believes is an attempt to build a unilateral exit mechanism into the Irish backstop, the arrangement that would keep the UK in a customs union to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, is unlikely without such a concession to revise his legal opinion, given before the last vote on May’s deal, that the backstop could be in force “indefinitely”. The prime minister pledged in parliament to put her deal to the Commons on Tuesday but she is being urged by senior Conservative MPs to pull the vote if she fails to secure significant concessions from Brussels. Leading Tories have warned Downing Street it could face a second huge defeat similar to the historic 230-vote loss in January if the government goes ahead. They have advised May instead to replace the vote with a motion setting out the sort of Brexit deal that would be acceptable to Tory MPs, in the hope that this would trigger concessions from the EU.

Read more …

All they have left is finance. Austerity ate the rest.

Brexit Fallout On UK Finance Intensifies (R.)

More than 275 financial firms are moving a combined $1.2 trillion in assets and funds and thousands of staff from Britain to the European Union in readiness for Brexit at a cost of up to $4 billion, a report from a think tank said on Monday. UK lawmakers are due to vote on Tuesday on an EU divorce settlement. But with less than three weeks to go before Brexit day on March 29, it is still unclear whether the deal will be approved, whether departure from the EU will be delayed, or whether it will happen without agreement. The report by the New Financial think tank, one of the most detailed yet on the impact of Brexit on financial services, said Dublin alone accounted for 100 relocations, ahead of Luxembourg with 60, Paris 41, Frankfurt 40, and Amsterdam 32.

The independent think tank said half of the affected asset management firms, such as Goldman Sachs Investment Management, Morgan Stanley Investment Management and Vanguard, had chosen Dublin, with Luxembourg the next port of call, attracting firms like Schroders, JP Morgan Wealth Management and Aviva Investors. Nearly 90 percent of all firms moving to Frankfurt are banks, while two-thirds of those going to Amsterdam are trading platforms or brokers. Paris is carving out a niche for markets and trading operations of banks and attracting a broad spread of firms.

Read more …

This still needs to be explained, apparently.

How Central Bankers Blew Up The Global Economy (ABC.au)

We humans are a social lot. We just love being part of a pack, a member of a team. We crave acceptance, to the point where isolation or banishment ranks among the worst forms of punishment. Even when it comes to the dodgy art of forecasting, everyone seems to cluster around a central position, which kind of defeats the point of forecasting. And so, in July two years ago, when the groundswell of opinion began to shift — that the Reserve Bank would be raising interest rates — arguing otherwise was a fairly lonely position. As time went on, almost everyone shifted position as we dug in here, here and here.

To be fair, most of the highly paid, well-heeled professional market economists were being egged on by the authorities, and particularly the Reserve Bank, which was spinning the line that the next rate move was up. In the past fortnight, however, the pack suddenly has turned on its tail as fears about the global economy and a sudden slowdown in our own growth forced a rethink. The switch to a rate cut has turned into a stampede. Put aside all the complex formula. Forget the high-level macro-economic analysis. There’s a very simple reason the Reserve Bank couldn’t and can’t raise interest rates. There’s too much debt. Australian households are among the world’s most indebted when compared with their income.

And we’ve spent most of it on real estate. What these two graphs show is how the Reserve Bank, effectively, snookered itself. Back in 2012, when debt and housing prices already were elevated, it fired up the east coast housing market, and construction, to take up the employment slack as the mining boom unwound. But it created a monster. As housing went on a tear, the short-term sugar hit turned toxic. Employment took off. But housing became unaffordable to almost everyone under 35. And our household debt levels reached for the stars. The end result? It couldn’t cut rates if it needed. That would add heat to a dangerously inflated housing bubble. And it could never raise rates, because that would kill household spending.

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3 Stooges.

Nomi Prins: “Number of times the word “bubble” appeared in the 60 Minutes interview with Fed. Chair Jerome Powell. Zero.”

A central bank can have benefits, but not when it only serves the rich. If we don’t get rid of Fed and ECB, there’ll be very steep prices to pay.

Note: there’s a video at the link, but it started itself so I threw it out.

What Fed Chair Powell Said On 60 Minutes (ZH)

A decade after Ben Bernanke appeared on “60 Minutes”, vowing that the Fed could easily crush inflation, as it could “raise interest rates in 15 minutes”, of course with the occasional “pause” along the way should the S&P dip by 20% or so, current Fed Chairman Jerome Powell will follow in his footsteps on Sunday night, when surrounded by former Fed Chairs Bernanke and Yellen, he will try to reach beyond the Fed’s traditional audience of markets, journalists and lawmakers to counter the attacks from President Trump, even after the Fed’s paused on raising interest rates, said Sarah Binder, a professor of political science at George Washington University, quoted by MarketWatch.

“He wants to counter the president’s message that policy is all wrong,” Binder said. Binder said she was struck by the still photo of the “60 Minutes” interview that shows Powell alongside his two predecessors Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke. “This puts a human face on the central bank. It says, ‘we’re the Fed and we’re here to help,’” Binder said. Bernanke also faced criticism when he went on “60 Minutes” in March 2009. The Fed was facing concerted attacks by lawmakers and populist “End the Fed” groups, who considering the record wealth divide in the US created by the central bank, were spot on.

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I’m going with Xiang Songzuo: “..China’s GDP growth for 2018 could be 1.67 per cent or even negative..”

China’s GDP Growth Could Be Half Of Reported Number – Pettis (SCMP)

If China’s bad debts were written down, its economic growth rate would be half the recorded number, a US economist at a prominent Chinese university has warned. In a speech in Shanghai this week, Michael Pettis, professor of finance at Peking University, warned that China’s debt is closely linked to the government’s perceived overstatement of its GDP. The government is accused of perpetuating the existence of “zombie companies”, by granting loss-making companies loans. Banks in turn treat these companies as creditworthy, whereas in reality they should be written off as bad debt, Pettis said. “If you believe there is bad debt that has not been sufficiently written down, you must believe that China’s GDP is overstated, relative to what it would be in any other country. That must be true,” Pettis said.

“If we are able to calculate GDP correctly, it would probably be half of the recorded number.” Pettis is not alone seeing troubles with China’s official growth number. In December, Xiang Songzuo, an outspoken professor from the Renmin University of China, who previously served as chief economist for Agricultural Bank of China, cited unidentified internal reports as saying that said China’s GDP growth for 2018 could be 1.67 per cent or even negative, a far cry from the official figures. Furthermore, a group of four economists published a paper this week arguing that China might have overstated its annual growth rate by 2 percentage points on average from 2008 to 2016. China’s official statistics agency said the country’s economic growth rate was 6.6 per cent in 2018.

The Chinese government said it would try to achieve an economic growth rate between 6.0 to 6.5 per cent in 2019, a moderate slowdown from previous years, but nevertheless a much faster rate compared with other major economies. Pettis is a renowned expert on China’s economy. For decades, he has been commenting on financial affairs in China and was among the early observers of the imbalances in the Chinese economy. He said in his speech on Wednesday that China’s growth will significantly decelerate as the country’s debt level rises.

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Brookings is many years late.

Brookings Says China Overstated Size Of Its Economy By 12% (ZH)

Since China managed to weather the fallout from the financial crisis without registering much of a slowdown in its “official” GDP figures, playing “guess the real growth rate” has become one of the most popular parlor games among the professional economist set. Whereas the stakes are much higher for academics on the mainland (one of whom was censored and threatened by government thugs after speculating that GDP growth on the mainland might be closer to 2%), researchers at American think tanks have freely offered estimates ranging from 2% to 4% (which, admittedly, would still put China well ahead of the US).

But as investors and economists once again cast a wary eye toward China as signs of flagging growth are once again threatening to sink the whole world into a recession, a team of researchers from the Brookings Institute has published a carefully researched paper detailing the exact mechanism by which authorities in Beijing inflate the country’s GDP figures, while estimating that China’s economy is roughly 12% smaller than the official figures would suggest. Brookings published the paper on Thursday, just two days after Party leaders at the annual National Party Congress lowered their economic growth forecast to between 6% and 6.5% of GDP.

Though the paper focused on the period between 2008 and 2016, it’s the latest evidence that China’s economic slowdown has been more severe than believed, and that the growth rate from last year – China’s worst since the early 1990s – might, in reality, be just under 6% (compared with 6.6%). According to Brookings, much of the manipulation in Chinese official government statistics takes place at the local level. In what the FT described as “a legacy of Maoist state planning”, authorities in Beijing hand down growth targets to local officials, who use it to goalseek the official statistics they hand back. “China’s national accounts are based on data collected by local governments. However, since local governments are rewarded for meeting growth and investment targets, they have an incentive to skew local statistics. China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) adjusts the data provided by local governments to calculate GDP at the national level,” the study’s authors said.

Read more …

Two staggering drunks lean on each other so they can make it to the bar and continue drinking.

Deutsche Bank Begins Talks Over Merger With Rival Commerzbank (G.)

Deutsche Bank has begun tentative merger talks with rival Commerzbank, which would create Europe’s second biggest bank behind HSBC and fend off unwanted potential bidders such as French giant BNP Paribas. Reports in Germany’s Welt am Sonntag suggest that the banks have come under political pressure to consider a merger and avert a foreign takeover of Commerzbank, much the smaller partner in any deal. Deutsche is regarded as a bank of global importance, but has been plagued by three years of losses, boardroom battles, money laundering issues and its role as the biggest lender to the Trump business empire.

Despite Germany’s industrial dominance in Europe, it has only one bank in the continent’s top 20, and Berlin is understood to be keen to create a larger national champion. The combination of the two banks mean that Deutsche, currently fifth biggest, and Commerzbank, currently 23rd, will become Europe’s second biggest bank and only marginally behind HSBC. Deutsche Bank’s chief executive Christian Sewing was seen to be the main opponent of a merger, but investor pressure – Deutsche’ shares are trading at around €7.68 compared with €32 five years ago – is understood to have forced his hand. The talks are believed to be at a very early stage – “unofficial contacts in a very small group” according to Welt am Sonntag – but are likely to be welcomed by major shareholders.

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This is getting too stupid. But who’s going to investigate the DOJ and FBI?

Leaked Documents Reveal DOJ Protected Steele After FBI Shunning (KK)

Steele was cut off by the FBI for revealing his relationship with the Bureau to the media – but Ohr continued to pass information from Steele to his colleagues, regularly spoke to him via email and phone, and met up with him face-to-face on several occasions. Information watchdog Judicial Watch has released 339-pages of US Department of Justice records, revealing former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr remained in regular contact with ex-MI6 operative Christopher Steele after Steele’s status as a paid confidential informant was terminated by the FBI in November 2016.

“These smoking gun documents show Christopher Steele, a Hillary Clinton operative and anti-Trump foreign national, secretly worked hand-in-glove with the Justice Department on its illicit targeting of President Trump. These documents leave no doubt that for more than a year after the FBI fired Christopher Steele for leaking, and for some 10 months after Donald Trump was sworn in as president, Bruce Ohr continued to act as a go-between for Steele with the FBI and Justice Department. The anti-Trump Russia investigation, now run by Robert Mueller, has been thoroughly compromised by this insider corruption,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.

Whether an accurate appraisal or not, it’s clear from the assorted communications Ohr was determined to ensure Steele retained access to the Bureau, and this contact remained hidden from public view – for instance, when acting Attorney General Sally Yates was fired by Trump January 2017, Steele feared Ohr would be fired too, and texted him to express his “sympathy and support”. “If you end up out, I really need another contact point/number who is briefed. We can’t allow our guy to be forced to go back home. It would be disastrous all round, though his position right now looks stable. A million thanks,” Steele wrote. In response, Ohr assured the Orbis chief he could “certainly” give him an FBI contact “if it becomes necessary”.

On 6 March that year, Senator Chuck Grassley wrote to then-FBI Director James Comey, seeking clarity on the nature of Steele’s relationship with the FBI. The next day, Steele texted Ohr to say he was “very concerned” by the letter, and its “possible implications for our operations and sources…We need some reassurance…Really fundamental issues at stake here”. Days later, with Comey scheduled to testify before Congress, Steele told Ohr he was “a bit apprehensive” and hoped “important firewalls will hold”. On 24 March, Ohr and Steele discussed their “response” to the testimony, as he understood “an approach from the Senate Intelligence Committee” to Orbis was imminent.

On 26 October, Steele said he’s “very concerned” about documents the FBI intended to turn over to Congress about his work and “relationship with them”. “Can we have a word tomorrow please? Just seen a story in the media about the Bureau handing over docs to Congress…Peoples live may be engangered [sic],” he despaired.

Read more …

Same as it ever was.

How US Government and Media Spread Pro-War Propaganda (Greenwald)

[..] on February 23, when the narrative shifted radically in favor of those U.S. officials who want regime change operations in Venezuela. That’s because images were broadcast all over the world of trucks carrying humanitarian aid burning in Colombia on the Venezuela border. U.S. officials who have been agitating for a regime change war in Venezuela – Marco Rubio, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, the head of USAid Mark Green – used Twitter to spread classic Fake News: they vehemently stated that the trucks were set on fire, on purpose, by President Nicolas Maduro’s forces. [..] on Saturday night, the New York Times published a detailed video and accompanying article proving that this entire story was a lie.

The humanitarian trucks were not set on fire by Maduro’s forces. They were set on fire by anti-Maduro protesters who threw a molotov cocktail that hit one of the trucks. And the NYT’s video traces how the lie spread: from U.S. officials who baselessly announced that Maduro burned them to media outlets that mindlessly repeated the lie. [..] While the NYT’s article and video are perfectly good and necessary journalism, the credit they are implicitly claiming for themselves for exposing this lie is totally undeserved. That’s because independent journalists – the kind who question rather than mindlessly repeat government claims and are therefore mocked and marginalized and kept off mainstream television – used exactly this same evidence on the day of the incident to debunk the lies being told by Rubio, Pompeo, Bolton and CNN.

On February 24, the day the lie spread, Max Blumenthal wrote from Venezuela, on the independent reporting Grayzone site, that “the claim was absurd on its face,” noting that he “personally witnessed tear gas canisters hit every kind of vehicle imaginable in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, and I have never seen a fire like the one that erupted on the Santander bridge.” He compiled substantial evidence strongly suggesting that the trucks were set ablaze by anti-Maduro protesters, including Bloomberg video showing them using Molotov cocktails, to express serious doubts about the mainstream narrative. On Twitter, in response to Marco Rubio’s lie, he wrote: “I did not see any Venezuelan government forces set fire to US aid trucks on the Colombian side of the border. And neither did you. Actually, the evidence so far is pointing in the other direction.”

Read more …

Is this going to have the neocons clamor for war today, before everyone understands it?

US “Gets Its Ass Handed To It” In World War III Simulations (ZH)

In simulated World War III scenarios, the U.S. continues to lose against Russia and China, two top war planners warned last week. “In our games, when we fight Russia and China, blue gets its ass handed to it” RAND analyst David Ochmanek said Thursday. RAND’s wargames show how US Armed Forces – colored blue on wargame maps – experience the most substantial losses in one scenario after another and still can’t thwart Russia or China – which predictably is red – from accomplishing their objectives: annihilating Western forces. “We lose a lot of people. We lose a lot of equipment. We usually fail to achieve our objective of preventing aggression by the adversary,” he warned.

In the next military conflict, which some believe may come as soon as the mid-2020s, all five battlefield domains: land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace, will be heavily contested, suggesting the U.S. could have a difficult time in achieving superiority as it has in prior conflicts. The simulated war games showed, the “red” aggressor force often destroys U.S. F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters on the runway, sends several Naval fleets to the depths, destroys US military bases, and through electronic warfare, takes control of critical military communication systems. In short, a gruesome, if simulated, annihilation of some of the most modern of US forces. “In every case I know of,” said Robert Work, a former deputy secretary of defense with years of wargaming experience, “the F-35 rules the sky when it’s in the sky, but it gets killed on the ground in large numbers.”

So, as Russia and China develop fifth-generation fighters and hypersonic missiles, “things that rely on sophisticated base infrastructures like runways and fuel tanks are going to have a hard time,” Ochmanek said. “Things that sail on the surface of the sea are going to have a hard time.” “That’s why the 2020 budget coming out next week retires the carrier USS Truman decades early and cuts two amphibious landing ships, as we’ve reported. It’s also why the Marine Corps is buying the jump-jet version of the F-35, which can take off and land from tiny, ad hoc airstrips, but how well they can maintain a high-tech aircraft in low-tech surroundings is an open question,” said Breaking Defense.

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Love Robert, but talking about shale is interesting only when you include industry debt.

Why The Shale Boom Left California Behind (Rapier)

Many people are unaware about California’s importance in the U.S. oil industry. In fact, 100 years ago California was the top oil producer in the U.S., responsible at one point for nearly 40% of U.S. oil production. California oil production rose throughout most of the 20th century, briefly eclipsing one million barrels per day in the early 1980s. Oil production began to decline there after peaking in 1985. The same pattern took place in many other states, and in fact was the case for the entire U.S., where oil production peaked in 1970, and then declined over the next 35 years. But the shale boom changed the trajectory of U.S. oil production.

Oil production that had fallen for decades reversed direction and began to surge about a decade ago. Almost every state with shale oil resources saw a similar surge in production. Since 2010, U.S. oil production has increased by 131%, with huge gains in oil production in the following states (among others): • North Dakota – up 634% • Colorado – up 508% • New Mexico – up 377% •Texas – up 330% • Oklahoma – up 238%. In fact, only three major oil-producing states have seen a decline in oil production since 2010: California, Louisiana, and Alaska. One of the graphics I created for my presentation shows the stark contrast between oil production in Texas and California as the shale boom unfolded.

During the 1980s and 1990s, oil production in Texas was declining faster than it was in California. Had that trajectory been maintained, Texas oil production may have fallen below California’s in about 2010. Instead, the shale boom has added nearly four million BPD of oil production in Texas. Millions of barrels were added in other states as well, and California began to slide down the ranks of leading oil producers. Just a few years ago California was still in 2nd place, but now it has slipped to 6th, behind Texas, North Dakota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Alaska.

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“.. And They’re Hot Happy About It”. Not the Onion, but Newsweek.

Elderly Americans Are Dying Without Getting To Read Mueller’s Report (NW)

As special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is reportedly coming to an end, elderly and sick Americans are trying to hold on to their lives so they can read the highly-anticipated report that has been nearly two years in the making. World War II veteran Mitchell Tendler—a man who survived numerous historic milestones, including the Korean War, Vietnam, Watergate and President BIll Clinton’s impeachment—fell sick on Dec. 29, at 93 years old, reported NPR. “I got a call at 11 o’clock. My mom said, ‘Well, Dad’s not feeling well—he really can’t stand,'” Tendler’s son, Walter, recalled. “Within a couple of hours they called 911 and got him into the ER because it wasn’t getting any better.”

Tendler survived two implantable defibrillators throughout his life. But while on his third, he started to fade. After he was provided painkillers by doctors, Tendler voiced his final thoughts. “It just was quiet for a little while,” Walter Tendler told the news outlet, “and then he just sits up in bed halfway and looks at me and he goes, ‘S***, I’m not going to see the Mueller report, am I?’ And that was really the last coherent thing that he said.” Richard Armstrong, a 94-year-old currently in hospice care in New Jersey, related to Tendler’s sentiments. “I know exactly how he feels. I feel the same way. I’ve been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer,” Armstrong told NPR.

“I was hoping to live to see the outcome of what I think it should be—justice. I’ll be surprised and disappointed if it isn’t.” After seeing Tendler’s words—shared on Twitter by Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution—Kristina Makansi, who lives in Arizona, thought about her mother who passed away at the age of 94 in January. “When I saw that tweet about the Mueller report and the old man on his deathbed, I thought, Oh my gosh, that’s the kind of thing that my mother would say,” she said. “I think she really wanted to see that justice was done… and that the investigation was allowed to proceed without any shenanigans and obstruction.”

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Feb 082019
 
 February 8, 2019  Posted by at 10:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Salvador Dali They were there 1931

 

AOC, The Little Socialist That Could (Strassel)
Green New Deal Takes Its First Congressional Baby Step (IC)
Are Billionaires The American Dream? (NYMag)
China Is Unlikely To Become The World’s Largest Economy Anytime Soon (Colombo)
European Economy Raises Fresh Global Growth Fears (MW)
US Consumer Credit Hits $4 Trillion; Student, Auto Loans Hit All Time High (ZH)
Corbyn Sparks Labour Civil War Over Referendum (Ind.)
Brexit Deal May Not Be Put To MPs Until Late March (G.)
France Recalls Rome Envoy Over Worst Verbal Onslaught ‘Since The War’ (G.)
Rome’s War Of Words With Macron May Prove Self-Defeating (G.)
Fiat Chrysler Shares Plummet 12% On Weak Outlook (CNBC)
‘Globish’: Why France Has A Love-Hate Relationship With Global English (G.)
Trump’s Absurd Claim that Americans Are Free from Government Coercion (Bovard)
Albert Edwards: Negative Rates, 15% Budget Deficits And Helicopter Money (ZH)
Fed’s Powell On The Biggest Challenge Over The Next Decade (CNBC)

 

 

AOC is a step too far for Kimberley Strassel- and many others. She tweets: “The Republican Party has a secret weapon for 2020. It’s especially effective because it’s stealthy: The Democrats seem oblivious to its power. And the GOP needn’t lift a finger for it to work. All Republicans have to do is sit back and watch 29-year-old Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez . . . exist.”

That reminds me a lot of what many people said about Trump a few years ago, and that is no coincidence. AOC shakes up things like the Donald did, things in desperate need of shaking up.

She unveiled her Green New Deal, and got tons of ridicule. But 9 senators and 64 congressmen already sponsor her resolution. Perhaps her biggest danger is that they, the old guard, line up with her, and she becomes one of them. Or no, her biggest risk is in criticizing Trump and falling into the old guard that way. While her biggest danger is calling herself a socialist, which is a death sentence in the US.

And there’s her limited knowledge of energy issues, which apparently leads her to think present systems can be replaced 1-on-1 by renewable ones, while the no. 1 energy plan should be to use much less.

But she got something to say, this piece is pretty solid, and it will appeal to many disgruntelds:

AOC, The Little Socialist That Could (Strassel)

AOC, as she’s better known, today exists largely in front of the cameras. In a few months she’s gone from an unknown New York bartender to the democratic socialist darling of the left and its media hordes. Her megaphone is so loud that she rivals Speaker Nancy Pelosi as the face of the Democratic Party. Republicans don’t know whether to applaud or laugh. Most do both. For them, what’s not to love? She’s set off a fratricidal war on the left, with her chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, this week slamming the “radical conservatives” among the Democrats holding the party “hostage.” She’s made friends with Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain’s Labour Party, who has been accused of anti-Semitism.

She’s called the American system of wealth creation “immoral” and believes government has a duty to provide “economic security” to people who are “unwilling to work.” As a representative of New York, she’s making California look sensible. On Thursday Ms. Ocasio-Cortez unveiled her vaunted Green New Deal, complete with the details of how Democrats plan to reach climate nirvana in a mere 10 years. It came in the form of a resolution, sponsored in the Senate by Massachusetts’ Edward Markey, on which AOC is determined to force a full House vote. That means every Democrat in Washington will get to go on the record in favor of abolishing air travel, outlawing steaks, forcing all American homeowners to retrofit their houses, putting every miner, oil rigger, livestock rancher and gas-station attendant out of a job, and spending trillions and trillions more tax money.

Oh, also for government-run health care, which is somehow a prerequisite for a clean economy. It’s a GOP dream, especially because the media presented her plan with a straight face – as a legitimate proposal from a legitimate leader in the Democratic Party. Republicans are thrilled to treat it that way in the march to 2020, as their set-piece example of what Democrats would do to the economy and average Americans if given control. The Green New Deal encapsulates everything Americans fear from government, all in one bonkers resolution.

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AOC already has 9 senators and 64 congressmen sponsoring her resolution. Look for them distancing themselves as soon as it hurts them in the polls.

Green New Deal Takes Its First Congressional Baby Step (IC)

Over the last few months, support for the Green New Deal has become a litmus test for 2020 Democratic hopefuls, and the resolution serves dual purposes: to unite lawmakers around the idea of a Green New Deal, and to offer a basic definition of what that means. For 2020 contenders who have conceptually supported the Green New Deal, the resolution makes clear that the phrase isn’t just a talking point, but connected to a specific set of policy priorities. Confirmed and rumored presidential hopefuls Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, and Bernie Sanders will be among the nine senators co-sponsoring the resolution. Sixty-four House Democrats will also be co-sponsoring the legislation, including Reps. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Joe Neguse, D-Colo.

“We’re going to be pressuring all of the 2020 contenders to back this resolution,” said Stephen O’Hanlon, a spokesperson for the Sunrise Movement, which helped launched the Green New Deal into the national spotlight with its sit-in at Pelosi’s office last November. “That’ll make it clear who’s using the Green New Deal as a buzzword and who’s actually serious about what it entails. For our generation, the difference between the Green New Deal as a buzzword and substantive policy is life and death.” [..] On Tuesday, the Sunrise Movement hosted some 500 watch parties around the country for a livestream laying out its next steps to support the resolution. As of Wednesday, the group was in the process of organizing visits to 600 congressional offices nationwide, for constituents to demand that their representatives co-sponsor Ocasio-Cortez and Markey’s measure. Supported by Justice Democrats — the group that backed Ocasio-Cortez’s primary run — Sunrise will also be launching a 15-city campaign tour through early primary states.

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2 weeks old but relevant.

Are Billionaires The American Dream? (NYMag)

In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville produced one of the earliest accounts of the American dream. In his famous study of the Jacksonian U.S., the Frenchman wrote that Americans possessed “the charm of anticipated success” — a ubiquitous optimism that he attributed to our country’s democratic character, and to the “general equality of condition” that prevailed among its “people.” On Wednesday night, Sean Hannity took de Tocqueville to task. In the Fox News’ host’s telling, general economic equality is not a precondition for the American dream, but rather, an insurmountable obstacle to it — because the American dream is (apparently) to earn more than $10 million year without having to pay a top marginal tax rate higher than 37 percent.

Of course, Hannity did not actually frame his argument as a rebuke of de Tocqueville. His true target was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. After popularizing the idea of a 70 percent top marginal tax rate earlier this month, the freshman congresswoman recently suggested that the mere existence of billionaires was both immoral, and a threat to American democracy. “I do think that a system that allows billionaires to exist when there are parts of Alabama where people are still getting ringworm because they don’t have access to public health is wrong,” Ocasio-Cortez told the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, during an interview on Martin Luther King Day.

One day later, the congresswoman approvingly quoted an op-ed by the economists Gabriel Zucman and Emmanuel Saez, which argued that the purpose of high taxes on the wealthy wasn’t merely to generate revenue, but rather, to safeguard “democracy against oligarchy.” Hannity’s not buying it. The Fox News host informed his audience Wednesday that Ocasio-Cortez had “called the American dream immoral,” and that she wants to “empower the government to confiscate” said dream. “Better hide your nice things,” Hannity advised his audience (whom he ostensibly believes to be composed primarily of billionaires), “because here come the excess police.”

[..] “Power and property may be seperated for a time, by force or fraud — but divorced never, ” Benjamin Leigh, a conservative legislator in Virginia’s House of Delegates, argued at that state’s Constitutional Convention in 1830. “For, so soon as the pang of separation is felt … property will purchase power, or power will take property.”

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Good to see my longtime friend Jesse Colombo slowly moves to my position on markets, now spelling them “markets”. And we see China largely the same too.

China Is Unlikely To Become The World’s Largest Economy Anytime Soon (Colombo)

As I have been warning for several years, China is experiencing a credit and asset bubble like Japan was in the 1980s. China’s powerful credit expansion in the past decade (as the chart below shows) is one of the main reasons why the global economy recovered from the Great Recession. China’s credit bubble of the past decade will prove to be a one-shot deal – in the next global economic downturn, there won’t be another large economy like China to binge on debt and create a temporary growth party that bails everyone else out.

An economic stagnation or slowdown in China is the least of our worries, I’m afraid. I am worried about a full-blown popping of their credit and asset bubble (like Japan in the early-1990s), which would reverberate around the world. In that scenario, Western exports to China would plunge, commodity-exporting economies from Australia to emerging markets would suffer, and the global economy would experience another severe recession if not an outright depression. The world has played with fire over the past decade and it’s just a matter of time before we all pay the price.

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Caught on Twitter: “Asked at a presser if he wakes up each morning regretting that he’s the @bankofengland governor in the age of Brexit, @markcarney1 replies: “I don’t wake up in the morning any more … I wake up in the middle of the night.”

European Economy Raises Fresh Global Growth Fears (MW)

The Bank of England and the European Commission both offered downbeat outlooks on Thursday, reaffirming growing fears about the health of Europe’s economy. Although, the BOE left interest rates unchanged, as expected, it cut its forecast for 2019 GDP to 1.2% versus its previous estimate of 1.7%, with its current level representing the weakest growth since 2009 when a crisis sparked by complex mortgage bonds cast a pall over the global financial system. “Naturally, the uncertainty over Brexit means considerable uncertainty over the U.K. macro outlook, and therefore monetary policy,” said Bill Diviney, senior economist at ABN Amro.

Both the BOE and Diviney still see a soft Brexit — where Britain leaves the European Union with a trade agreement in place — as the most likely scenario, but the U.K. economy seems destined to slow, notwithstanding any expectations of a trade resolution. [..] And it doesn’t look rosy on either side of the English Channel. On Thursday, the European Commission cut its forecast for 2019 eurozone growth to 1.3% in 2019, compared with the 1.9% expected in November. Underlining its forecast was weaker-than-expected industrial and manufacturing data for the eurozone’s biggest economy Germany. “We think there are a number of important take-aways,” said Diviney. “First of all, despite the large downgrade in economic growth forecasts, they probably do not go far enough, and further revisions are likely.”

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From revolving into non-revolving credit. Progess in America 2019.

US Consumer Credit Hits $4 Trillion; Student, Auto Loans Hit All Time High (ZH)

After a few months of wild swings, in December US consumer credit normalized rising by $16.6 billion, just below the $17 billion expected, after November’s whopping $22.5 billion. The surge in borrowing in November brought the total to just above $4 trillion for the first time ever on the back of a America’s ongoing love affair with auto and student loans. Revolving credit increased by $1.7 billion to $1.045 trillion, a modest slowdown since November’s $4.8 billion.

[..] while the slowdown in December credit card use may prompt fresh questions about the strength of the US consumer during the all-important holiday spending season, the recent dramatic upward revision to personal savings notwithstanding, one place where there were no surprises, was in the total amount of student and auto loans: here as expected, both numbers hit fresh all time highs, with a record $1.593 trillion in student loans outstanding, an impressive increase of $10.3 billion in the quarter, while auto debt also hit a new all time high of $1.155 trillion, an increase of $9.5 billion in the quarter. In short, whether they want to or not, Americans continue to drown even deeper in debt, and enjoying every minute of it.

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Is it too late for Corbyn to take control of the conversation? is he even capable?

Corbyn Sparks Labour Civil War Over Referendum (Ind.)

Jeremy Corbyn is battling to calm a growing Labour civil war over his refusal to support a fresh Brexit referendum, as some of his MPs threatened to quit the party in protest. The Labour leader was forced to justify his intentions after his new offer to help Theresa May deliver Brexit triggered accusations that he had torpedoed his party’s policy of keeping a public vote on the table. Amid growing tensions, Mr Corbyn wrote to party members to insist that party backing for a Final Say referendum remained an option – hours after furious Labour MPs accused their leader of helping enable Brexit.

The backlash was triggered when Mr Corbyn wrote to Ms May on Wednesday evening offering continued discussions in “constructive manner” with the aim of “securing a sensible agreement that can win the support of parliament and bring the country together”. Labour would support an exit deal if five conditions were met, he said, including a customs union with the EU and guarantees on workers’ rights. The move infuriated anti-Brexit MPs pushing for Labour to back giving the public the final say on Brexit, with two suggesting they were considering quitting the party over the issue. Owen Smith, who stood against Mr Corbyn for the party leadership in 2016, said Labour should be opposing the “disaster” that is Brexit.

Asked if Mr Corbyn’s letter paved the way for Labour MPs to support a Brexit deal put forward by Ms May, he told BBC 5Live: “I think that’s probably right. My fear is that this is the leadership rolling the pitch for accepting a version of Theresa May’s deal, and I think that will be at odds with our values and damaging to our country and damaging to the politics that we’ve traditionally believed it. “Brexit is a right-wing ideological project and we should be opposing it on those terms.”

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And by then, why bother?

Brexit Deal May Not Be Put To MPs Until Late March (G.)

The Brexit negotiations are being pushed to the brink by Theresa May and the EU, with any last-minute offer by Brussels on the Irish backstop expected to be put to MPs just days before the UK is due to leave. In strained talks on Thursday, during which Donald Tusk suggested that Jeremy Corbyn’s plan could help resolve the Brexit crisis, Theresa May and the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, agreed to hold the next face-to-face talks by the end of February. That move cuts deep into the remaining time, piling pressure on the British parliament to then accept what emerges or face a no-deal scenario.

It is understood that EU officials are looking at offering May a detailed plan of what a potential technological solution to the Irish border might look like, which could be included in the legally non-binding political declaration on the future trade deal. The blueprint would pinpoint the problem areas and commit to breaching the technical gaps where possible to offer an alternative to the customs union envisaged in the withdrawal agreement’s Irish backstop. But officials believe it is increasingly likely that any renegotiated deal will only be put to the Commons at the end of March, necessitating even then an extension of the article 50 negotiating period to get legislation through parliament.

On Thursday the German finance commissioner, Günther Hermann Oettinger, suggested the chance of a no-deal Brexit was now as high as 60%. “If the British side asks for an extension of two or three months and there are reasons for that, I think there’s a good chance that the member states would accept that unanimously,” he said. “But in the eight or 12 weeks there needs to be the possibility of achieving progress and that there must be a withdrawal agreement at the end of that.”

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Old paradigms are dying everywhere. Given the state we find ourselves in, how bad can that be?

France Recalls Rome Envoy Over Worst Verbal Onslaught ‘Since The War’ (G.)

Paris has taken the extraordinary step of recalling its ambassador from Rome, in the worst crisis between the two neighbouring countries since the second world war. France blamed what it called baseless verbal attacks from Italy’s political leaders, which it said were “without precedent since world war two”. Italy’s two deputy prime ministers, the far-right Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio of the populist, anti-establishment Five Star Movement, have in recent months criticised the French president, Emmanuel Macron, on a host of inflammatory issues, from immigration to the gilets jaunes (yellow vest) anti-government demonstrations.

Di Maio this week met leaders of the gilets jaunes seeking to run in May’s European parliament elections as he declared the “wind of change has crossed the Alps” and a “new Europe is being born of the yellow vests”. France said the comments were an unacceptable “provocation”. Announcing the immediate return to Paris of its ambassador for talks, the French foreign office said in a statement: “For several months, France has been the target of repeated, baseless attacks and outrageous statements. Having disagreements is one thing but manipulating the relationship for electoral aims is another. “All of these actions are creating a serious situation which is raising questions about the Italian government’s intentions towards France.”

Salvini responded by saying the Italian government did not want to fall out with France and suggested a meeting with Macron to fix the relationship. “I don’t want to row with anyone, I’m prepared to go to Paris, even by foot, to discuss the many issues we have,” he said. But, in a further dig at Macron, he said France must first address three issues: French police must stop pushing migrants back into Italy, end lengthy border checks blocking traffic and hand over around 15 Italian leftist militants who have taken refuge in France in recent decades.

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Macron with his sub-30% approval rating is not a threat.

Rome’s War Of Words With Macron May Prove Self-Defeating (G.)

Diplomatic etiquette would normally classify the recall of an ambassador for “consultations” as a middle-order symbol of displeasure. During the cold war, the summoning, or withdrawal, of an ambassador was mundane. More recently, Hungary pulled its ambassador from the Netherlands in 2017, in response to criticism by the outgoing Dutch ambassador in Hungary. But for France to withdraw its ambassador to Rome for the first time since the second world war represents a genuine diplomatic shock. For two European powers to fall out to this extent shows how far European populists are prepared to break the rules. Only a fortnight ago, faced by persistent insults from Rome, the Elysée chose to take the high road, saying it would not enter a stupidity contest.

President Emmanuel Macron had also promised not answer back, saying that is what the Italian populists wanted. But faced by Italian deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio’s repeated courting of leaders of the gilet jaunes (yellow vests) protests that have repeatedly sparked violence in Paris, French patience snapped. It marks an extraordinary collapse in Franco-Italian relations since the recent high water mark of January 2018 when Macron signed a bilateral treaty of friendship alongside Italy’s previous prime minister, Paolo Gentiloni. That was only two months before the Italian elections in May. Macron had signed the treaty partly to reassure the Italians that Paris would not only face toward Berlin after Brexit.

But perhaps the seeds of the collapse were sown the day the treaty was signed. In Rome, Macron could not resist saying he hoped the Italians in their elections would make a pro-European choice – advice that Italians, fixated by migration from Libya, totally ignored by bringing a populist coalition government to power. [..] Italy, in recession and heading for only 0.2% growth this year, will need some allies in Europe and in Brussels. Its banking system remains undercapitalised. The Five Star Movement is determined to show it is on the side of the people, and not the bankers, but translating that emotion into practical budgetary policy is proving difficult. Insults by contrast come easier, and cheaper.

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Oh, well, it’s just cars.

Fiat Chrysler Shares Plummet 12% On Weak Outlook (CNBC)

Fiat Chrysler shares crashed by nearly 12 percent Thursday after the Italian-American automaker forecast a weak outlook for 2019. The automaker said it expects results in the first half of the year to be down over last year, in part because the company will not be selling two generations of the Jeep Wrangler side-by-side, as it did in 2018. It is also planning some Wrangler production downtime to retool factories for launch of the plug-in hybrid version of the iconic off-road machine in early 2020. The company also said continued actions to manage dealer inventories will hit its finances in the first half of the year. It is also facing higher-than-expected capital expenditures, shelling out roughly €500 million in connection with U.S. diesel emissions cases. It’s also paying an effective tax rate that’s about 25% higher than it was in 2018, mostly due to changes in the US.

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Best English must be Jamaican. Shows that languages are alive.

‘Globish’: Why France Has A Love-Hate Relationship With Global English (G.)

French writers were up in arms this week after the Salon du Livre book fair in Paris announced a celebration of young adult books that would feature a “Bookroom”, a “Photobooth”, and even a “Bookquizz”, a prospect so exciting it needs two zs. Such anglicisms, critics wrote, were an “unconscionable act of cultural vandalism”, employing the “sub-English known as Globish”. It is a lamentable irony, then, that Globish has been so energetically popularised by a Frenchman. In 2004, the former IBM executive Jean-Paul Nerrière began selling his system of simplified English (only 1,500 words) to students around the world. (Globish is a portmanteau of “globe” and “English”.)

The earliest attested use of the term, however, described in 1997 a more natural linguistic hybridisation of various “non-western forms of English” that had become just as “creative and lively” as the standard tongue. “Globish” is therefore both a trademark for one man’s singular vision of international communication, and a way of describing the branching of English into multiple exotic planetary species. But the literary Parisians see it simply as yet more Anglo-Saxon cultural imperialism. Well, as the French do sometimes say, c’est la life.

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A widespread idea, singling out Trump is not very useful.

Trump’s Absurd Claim that Americans Are Free from Government Coercion (Bovard)

In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Trump received rapturous applause from Republicans for his declaration: “America was founded on liberty and independence — not government coercion, domination, and control. We are born free, and we will stay free.” But this uplifting sentiment cannot survive even a brief glance at the federal statute book or the heavy-handed enforcement tactics by federal, state, and local bureaucracies across the nation. In reality, the threat of government punishment permeates Americans’ daily lives more than ever before: The number of federal crimes has increased from 3 in 1789 to more than 4000 today.

Congress has criminalized “transporting alligator grass across a state line; unauthorized use of the slogan ‘Give a hoot, don’t pollute’; and pretending to be a 4-H club member with intent to defraud,” as the Buffalo Criminal Law Review noted. Law enforcement agencies arrested over 10 million people in 2017— roughly three percent of the population. Trump momentarily noticed the existence of government coercion last month when he complained about the FBI using “29 people” and “armored vehicles” for the arrest of Roger Stone. But SWAT teams conduct up to 80,000 raids a year, according to the ACLU, mostly for drug arrests or search warrants. Many innocent people have been killed in such raids.

Trump on Tuesday highlighted the case of Alice Johnson, unjustly sentenced to life in prison for a nonviolent drug offense. Trump’s commutation of her sentence is no consolation to the targets of 1.6 million drug arrests in 2017 – and it is not like those individuals showed up voluntarily at police stations asking to be “cuffed-and-stuffed.” More people are arrested for marijuana offenses than for all violent crimes combined, according to FBI statistics. No coercion? Tell that to the scores of thousands of victims of asset forfeiture laws, which entitle law enforcement to confiscate people’s cash, cars, and other property based on the flimsiest accusation.

Federal law-enforcement agencies seized more property via asset forfeiture provisions in 2014 year than all the burglars stole from homeowners and businesses nationwide. Since 1970, the number of people confined in American prisons has increased by over 500 percent. Almost 10 percent of all American males will end up in prison at some point in their lives, according to an a 1997 Justice Department report. More than 10 percent of black males aged 20 to 34 were behind bars as of 2006, according to the Journal of American History.

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Jay Powell flew over the cuckoo’s nest.

Albert Edwards: Negative Rates, 15% Budget Deficits And Helicopter Money (ZH)

Earlier this week, when the San Fran Fed published a paper that suggested that the recovery would have been stronger if only the Fed had cut rates to negative, we proposed that this is nothing more than a trial balloon for the next recession/depression, one in which the Federal Reserve will seek affirmative “empirical evidence” that greenlights this unprecedented NIRPy step (in addition to QE of course). Today, in his latest note to clients after returning from a 2 week vacation in Jamaica, SocGen’s Albert Edwards picks up on this point and cranks it up to 11 writing that “as central banks thrash around for new tools, I have long thought the next recession would trigger the adoption of helicopter money and deeply negative Fed Funds. Clients have been sceptical of the latter because of the negative impact on bank margins, but now I am more convinced than ever that we will see negative Fed Funds.”

Predictably, Edwards takes aim at the SF Fed “analysis”, writing that “just because the San Fran Fed has published this paper doesn’t mean the Washington Fed will adopt the policy in the next recession, but with this economic cycle clearly now in its final act, one can sense that a number of trial balloons are being floated on what the Fed might do in the next recession. This is just one of them.” More to the point, Edwards also focuses on the recent resurgence of interest in Modern-Money Theory, i.e., MMT, or government-mandated helicopter money, which is predictably a “theory” espoused by socialists everywhere most notably Bernie Sanders and his economic advisors…

… and writes that “many of the more radical Democrats in the US seem to be adopting the idea and since I expect the US budget deficit to soar to 15% of GDP in the next recession, the ideas of MMT will surely become even more popular.” Edwards is convinced that “the Fed and other central banks will be desperate enough to adopt outright monetisation (aka helicopter money, that is to say the direct central bank financing of public sector deficits) in the next recession. And as that will coincide with public sector deficits in the mid teens, we will be conducting a live MMT experiment. Welcome to a brave new world!”

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If there’s anything that typifies how today’s institutions view the world, it must be that they see themselves in the frontline fighting against the problems they first caused.

Fed’s Powell On The Biggest Challenge Over The Next Decade (CNBC)

Sluggish productivity and widening wealth gap are the biggest challenges facing the U.S. over the next decade, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday. Speaking at a town hall in Washington D.C. to a group of educators, the central bank leader said his greatest economic fears lie outside the Fed’s purview. Specifically, he called for more aggressive policies to address income inequality. Wages at the middle and lower levels have “grown much more slowly” than those at the higher end, he said. “We want prosperity to be widely shared. We need policies to make that happen,” Powell added.

For the chairman, the forum was a chance to take some lighter questions — he revealed that to relax he plays guitar and rides his bicycle — but he also turned serious when addressing the issues of the future. Powell stressed the importance of increasing labor force participation and improving mobility between income classes, which is an area where he said the U.S. has lagged in recent years. “That’s not our self-image as a country, nor is it where we want to be,” he said. “There are policies that we need to do that everyone should be able to agree on that will change mobility, improve people’s chances and enable people to better take part in the workforce of the future,” Powell added.

Read more …

Jan 062019
 


Rembrandt van Rijn Man with a falcon on his wrist (possibly St. Bavo) 1661

 

This Fed thing just keeps going on, and it needs to stop. There is nothing in the discussion about the Federal Reserve these days that has any value other than it provides even more proof that the Fed has killed off the most essential elements of what once made the US economy function. All markets, stocks, bonds, housing markets, all price discovery, all murdered. No heartbeat. Pining for the fjords.

And instead of addressing that, and I’m not even talking about addressing fixing what is wrong, all I see is neverending stuff about Jay Powell using, or not using, terms such as “patient” or “accommodative”. Like any of it means anything coming from him and his ilk. Other than for making ‘investors’ a quick buck. Like a quick buck could ever trump the survival of entire market systems.

People discussing whether Jay Powell is doing a good job all miss the point. Because Powell should not be doing that job in the first place. The Fed should not have the power to manipulate the US economy anywhere near as much as it does. Because that power is perverting America like nothing else, and the US economy will never recover as long as the Fed holds that power. Is that clear enough? Do we understand that at least?

 

Powell apparently changed his tune Friday in order to let the mirage that the stock market has become, live another day. Almost literally a day, since it will come crumbling down no matter what he does, just a day or so later. It’s all some message hidden in his use of “patience” or “accommodative”. Nothing he does will have any effect in the medium or longer term, and he knows it.

The entire US economy today is about the quick buck. It’s about tomorrow morning only because nobody has the guts to look at 10 years from now. That makes Jay Powell and his whole Federistas staff worse than useless. It makes no difference if perhaps jobs are doing well; the pre-Powell Fed launched a bubble and that bubble will burst one day, a whole series of them will.

The only good thing he can do is get out of the way and let the markets be the markets, to let them discover prices by letting people interact with people. But who exactly in the US has the power to make the Fed go away?

If you were one of the people who thought Jerome Powell was different from the rest of the Fed head honchos, the ones who preceded him, and I’m by no means just talking Greenspan, Bernanke and Yellen, you can now consider yourself corrected.

Powell is not going to keep hiking rates if a bunch of zombie markets keep falling like they did in December 2018, even though that’s just what we should want zombies to do, and even if hiking is the only way to resurrect a degree of normality and functionality into the markets.

Greenspan, Bernanke and Yellen, by the way, like Powell, just serve(d) to give the beast a human face, and one that the actual power brokers can hide behind. Over the past nigh 106 years since the blinded wagons rode to Jekyll island, the individual brokers may have died their natural deaths, but the institution they represented and served blindly, never did.

Seen in that light, the Fed was/is a kind of a forerunner of the 2010 Citizens United legislation that granted corporations the same rights as individual citizens. The -perverse- sense, that is, in which citizens do die, but corporations do not. So they are much more, and much more powerful, than citizens. Citizens Limited should have set a time limit, like the ones all corporations used to have, and the Fed should have had the shortest and strictest limit of all.

And you were worried about Brett Kavanaugh being named to the Supreme Court…

 

Just as an example of how wrong we get these things these days, Let’s turn to Sven Henrich’s piece in MarketWatch this weekend. Henrich is the founder and lead market strategist of NorthmanTrader.com, and g-d bless him, I’m sure he means well, but he gets things so upside down it’s not funny. He writes about that quick buck only, and doesn’t see the future.

It’s like Danielle DiMartino Booth writing on Twitter Friday: “In one word Powell CAVED to pressure 16 days after a taking hard line. The one thing he did do he should have done after last FOMC meeting was convey that the Fed would truly be data dependent going forward. “Gradual” needs to go. Winner: Stock Market. Loser: Powell’s Credibility”.

Danielle is great, and probably much smarter than I am, but she’s also a former Fed employee, and that brings a shade of blindness with it. What are the odds that she will state anytime soon that the Fed can only, possibly, make things worse for the American economy? I don’t think those odds are good.

Back to Sven Henrich. In essence, it’s ridiculous that a news outlet like MarketWatch still has the guts to publish a piece like his, or that someone like him has the guts to write it. Because it means there still are people, perhaps the author(s) and editors among them, who haven’t yet understood what has happened, even after 10 years and change. They are people who think the Fed can do right, that they can fix things if only they find the right policies.

We have to get rid of this illusion because the Fed will not, can not, fix what is wrong with the economy, or the ‘markets for that matter. Quite the contrary, the Fed can only make things worse. We know this because the only way the markets can be fixed, brought back to life indeed, is to let them function, and the only way they can function is when they can discover what things, stocks, bonds, homes etc., are worth, without some unit with unlimited financial power interrupting.

Central banks are founded for one reason only: to save banks from bankruptcy, invariably at the cost of society at large. They’ll bring down markets and societies just to make sure banks don’t go under. They’ll also, and even, do that when these banks have taken insane risks. It’s a battle societies can’t possibly win as long as central banks can raise unlimited amounts of ‘money’ and shove it into private banks. Ergo: societies can’t survive the existence of a central bank that serves the interests of its private banks.

Henrich:

 

Stock-Market Investors, It’s Time To Hear The Ugly Truth

For years critics of U.S. central-bank policy have been dismissed as Negative Nellies, but the ugly truth is staring us in the face: Stock-market advances remain a game of artificial liquidity and central-bank jawboning, not organic growth. And now the jig is up. As I’ve been saying for a long time: There is zero evidence that markets can make or sustain new highs without some sort of intervention on the side of central banks. None. Zero. Zilch. And don’t think this is hyperbole on my part. I will, of course, present evidence.

In March 2009 markets bottomed on the expansion of QE1 (quantitative easing, part one), which was introduced following the initial announcement in November 2008. Every major correction since then has been met with major central-bank interventions: QE2, Twist, QE3 and so on. When market tumbled in 2015 and 2016, global central banks embarked on the largest combined intervention effort in history. The sum: More than $5 trillion between 2016 and 2017, giving us a grand total of over $15 trillion, courtesy of the U.S. Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan:

When did global central-bank balance sheets peak? Early 2018. When did global markets peak? January 2018. And don’t think the Fed was not still active in the jawboning business despite QE3 ending. After all, their official language remained “accommodative” and their interest-rate increase schedule was the slowest in history, cautious and tinkering so as not to upset the markets.

With tax cuts coming into the U.S. economy in early 2018, along with record buybacks, the markets at first ignored the beginning of QT (quantitative tightening), but then it all changed. And guess what changed? Two things. In September 2018, for the first time in 10 years, the U.S. central bank’s Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) removed one little word from its policy stance: “accommodative.” And the Fed increased its QT program. When did U.S. markets peak? September 2018.

[..] don’t mistake this rally for anything but for what it really is: Central banks again coming to the rescue of stressed markets. Their action and words matter in heavily oversold markets. But the reality remains, artificial liquidity is coming out of these markets. [..] What’s the larger message here? Free-market price discovery would require a full accounting of market bubbles and the realities of structural problems, which remain unresolved. Central banks exist to prevent the consequences of excess to come to fruition and give license to politicians to avoid addressing structural problems.

 

is it $15 trillion, or is it 20, or 30? How much did China add to the total? And for what? How much of it has been invested in productivity? I bet you it’s not even 10%. The rest has just been wasted on a facade of a functioning economy. Those facades tend to get terribly expensive.

Western economies would have shrunk into negative GDP growth if not for the $15-20 trillion their central banks injected over the past decade. And that is seen, or rather presented, as something so terrible you got to do anything to prevent it from happening. As if it’s completely natural, and desirable, for an economy to grow forever.

It isn’t and it won’t happen, but keeping the illusion alive serves to allow the rich to put their riches in a safe place, to increase inequality and to prepare those who need it least to save most to ride out the storm they themselves are creating and deepening. And everyone else can go stuff themselves.

And sure, perhaps a central bank could have some function that benefits society. It’s just that none of them ever do, do they? Central banks benefit private banks, and since the latter have for some braindead reason been gifted with the power to issue our money, while we could have just as well done that ourselves, the circle is round and we ain’t in it.

No, the Fed doesn’t hide the ugly truth. The Fed is that ugly truth. And if we don’t get rid of it, it will get a lot uglier still before the entire edifice falls to pieces. This is not complicated stuff, that’s just what you’re made to believe. Nobody needs the Fed who doesn’t want to pervert markets and society, it is that simple.

 

 

Jan 052019
 
 January 5, 2019  Posted by at 10:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Alfred Sisley A Village Street in Winter 1893

 

Dow Up 700 Points As Powell Says Fed Will Be Patient With Rate Hikes (CNBC)
US Gains 312,000 Jobs, Shatters Wall Street Forecasts (MW)
Fed’s Mester: Rates Near Neutral Mean Fed Can ‘Take Our Time’ (R.)
Fed’s Balance Sheet Reduction Reaches $402 Billion (WS)
Trump Threatens ‘National Emergency’ Over Wall (BBC)
Mueller Given More Time To Investigate Trump Collusion With Russia (Ind.)
China’s Faltering Economy Gives US Stronger Hand In Trade Talks – Trump (R.)
China Cuts Banks’ Reserve Ratios By 1% As Economy Slows (R.)
“Radical” Ocasio-Cortez Teases 70% Tax On Super Wealthy (ZH)
Lima Group Countries Say Won’t Recognize New Maduro Mandate (AFP)
US Senator: Turkey Must Choose Between US Jets and Russian Missiles (K.)
Europe’s Right Wing Takes Aim at the EU (Spiegel)

 

 

Yeah, yeah, whatever. Jesse Colombo shared this graph, saying the green bar at the far right depicts what happened yesterday.

Dow Up 700 Points As Powell Says Fed Will Be Patient With Rate Hikes (CNBC)

Stocks rallied on Friday after Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the central bank will be patient in raising rates, quelling fears of tighter monetary policy in the near future. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 700 as Boeing, UnitedHealth and 3M outperformed. The S&P 500 rallied 3.2 percent, with the tech sector gaining more than 4 percent. The Nasdaq Composite climbed 4.1 percent. “As always, there is no preset path for policy,” Powell said.

“And particularly with muted inflation readings that we’ve seen coming in, we will be patient as we watch to see how the economy evolves.” Powell also said the central bank would not “hesitate” to change its balance-sheet reduction plan if it was causing problems. Fears that the Fed may be making a policy error by tightening too fast have contributed to the recent skittishness in financial markets, according to several market experts.

“I think he did what the market hoped he would do,” said Tom Essaye, founder of The Sevens Report. “What he did with these comments is he acknowledged that they need to be more flexible.” “This is worth a bounce, but at the same time, the major issues facing the market are not resolved. We have a potential earnings problem in this market; we have a potential economic growth problem in this market,” Essaye added. “Today’s rally is more a result of the overextended downside from yesterday.”

Read more …

Big number, but apparently not high quality.

US Gains 312,000 Jobs, Shatters Wall Street Forecasts (MW)

The U.S. gained 312,000 new jobs in December, capping off the biggest increase in hiring in three years and showing that second longest economic expansion in U.S. history still has plenty of staying power despite growing worries about a slowdown. The surge in hiring was the largest since February. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had forecast a 182,000 increase. Hiring in November and October was also stronger than originally reported, the government said Friday. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, rose to 3.9% from a 49-year low of 3.7%. The percentage of working-age Americans in the labor force climbed to a one-and-a-half-year high as more people looked for jobs. That’s usually seen as a good sign since it means people think work is easier to find.

Read more …

That whole neutral rate thing is just made up by a bunch of academics.

Fed’s Mester: Rates Near Neutral Mean Fed Can ‘Take Our Time’ (R.)

From rising wages to a slowdown in housing, economic evidence is mounting that the U.S. Federal Reserve is at or near a neutral level of interest rates where it can take stock of where the economy stands before deciding on its next moves, Cleveland Federal Reserve president Loretta Mester said on Friday. The comments from a usually hawkish reserve bank president, made in an interview on the sidelines of the American Economic Association annual meeting, add to the sense that the roughly quarterly pace of rate hikes enacted by the Fed for the past two years may take a pause this year absent a surprise jump in inflation or faster-than-expected economic growth.

“We are in a new world,” Mester said, where the obvious need to raise rates has given way to a situation where economic growth is expected to slow, wages are rising on the basis of low unemployment, interest rate sensitive sectors of the economy like housing have ebbed, and the unemployment rate has roughly “stabilized” at a low level. Taken together, Mester said, those are the sorts of developments one would expect in an economy where interest rates were near a neutral level that was neither encouraging nor holding back economic activity. “We really need to be looking at the data and having the economy tell us, do we need to move more? Do we need to move more, faster? Can we wait?” Mester said. “We should take our time and assess….We may be where we need to be.” Overall, she said she felt the Fed was in a “really good spot.”

Read more …

Powell can walk back the rates, but he can’t just re-purchase this half trillion in assets. And the ECB and BoJ are leaving the game as well.

Fed’s Balance Sheet Reduction Reaches $402 Billion (WS)

The Fed started the QE unwind in October 2017. As I covered it on a monthly basis, my ruminations on how it would unwind part of the asset-price inflation and Bernanke’s “wealth effect” that had resulted from QE were frequently pooh-poohed. They said that the truly glacial pace of the QE unwind was too slow to make any difference; that QE had just been a “book-keeping entry,” and that therefore the QE unwind would also be just a book-keeping entry; that QE had never caused any kind of asset price inflation in the first place, and that therefore the QE unwind would not reverse that asset-price inflation, or whatever. But in October last year, when all kinds of markets started reversing this asset price inflation, suddenly, the QE unwind got blamed, and the Fed – particularly Fed Chairman Jerome Powell – has been put under intense pressure to cut it out. Yet it continues:

The Fed shed $28 billion in assets over the four weekly balance-sheet periods of December. This reduced the assets on its balance sheet to $4,058 billion, the lowest since January 08, 2014, according to the Fed’s balance sheet for the week ended January 3. Since the beginning of this “balance sheet normalization,” the Fed has now shed $402 billion. According to the Fed’s plan released when the QE unwind was introduced, the Fed is scheduled to shed “up to” $30 billion in Treasuries and “up to” $20 billion in MBS a month – now that the QE unwind has reached cruising speed – for a total of “up to” $50 billion a month. [..] Over the four weeks from December 6 through January 3, the Fed’s holdings of Treasury securities fell by $18 billion to $2,223 billion, the lowest since January 15, 2014. Since the beginning of the QE-Unwind, the Fed has shed $243 billion in Treasury securities:

Read more …

Both sides think they are winning this one.

Trump Threatens ‘National Emergency’ Over Wall (BBC)

US President Donald Trump has said he could declare a national emergency to build a US-Mexico border wall without the approval of Congress. It came after he met senior Democrats, who refused his requests for funding. The stand-off has seen Mr Trump withhold support for a bill to fully fund the government until he gets money for the border wall. He said he was prepared for the partial government shutdown – now in its third week – to last years. Around 800,000 federal workers have been without pay since 22 December. Trump aides and lawmakers will meet later on Saturday in a fresh bid to resolve the impasse.

The Republican president initially gave a positive account of the 90-minute meeting at the White House, describing it as “very productive”. But when asked whether he had considered using emergency presidential powers to bypass congressional approval of funding, Mr Trump said he had. “I may do it. We can call a national emergency and build it very quickly. That’s another way of doing it.” “I’m very proud of doing what I’m doing,” the president added. “I don’t call it a shutdown, I call it doing what you have to do for the benefit and safety of our country.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday’s meeting had been “contentious”, while Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said: “We told the president we needed the government open. He resisted.”

Read more …

Pretty crazy, even if not unexpected.

Trump on Twitter: “How do you impeach a president who has won perhaps the greatest election of all time, done nothing wrong (no Collusion with Russia, it was the Dems that Colluded), had the most successful first two years of any president, and is the most popular Republican in party history 93%?”

Mueller Given More Time To Investigate Trump Collusion With Russia (Ind.)

Robert Mueller has been given additional time to carry out his investigation into Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 election, and possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign. In a development that may surprise those who have suggested the special counsel’s work was drawing to a close, a judge in Washington DC granted a six-month extension to the grand jury being used to examine evidence. The jury had been impanelled in July 2017 for a standard 18-month term and was set to expire this week. The extension granted by federal judge Beryl Howell means the investigation will continue for some time yet. AP said federal criminal procedure rules allow such extensions when a judge determines it is in the public interest. The extension can only last up to six months.

Read more …

High level trade talks next week. Time for China to show some flexibility.

China’s Faltering Economy Gives US Stronger Hand In Trade Talks – Trump (R.)

Donald Trump has said China’s weakening economic growth puts the United States in a strong position as negotiators from the world’s two largest economies prepare for trade talks on Monday. US officials are heading to Beijing this weekend for the first face-to-face talks since Trump and China’s president, Xi Jinping, agreed in December to a 90-day truce in the trade war as they sought to strike a deal. “I think we will make a deal with China,” Trump told reporters at the White House after a meeting with Democratic and Republican lawmakers about the US government shutdown. “I really think they want to. I think they sort of have to.” Beijing on Friday cut bank reserve requirements for a fifth time this year amid slowing growth at home and the punishing US tariffs on exports.

“China’s not doing well now. And it puts us in a very strong position. We are doing very well,” Trump said. “I hope we’re going to make a deal with China. And if we don’t, they’re paying us tens of billions of dollars worth of tariffs – not the worst thing in the world.” [..] The president also downplayed the effects of the economic woes on Apple, which this week blamed slowing iPhone sales in China for a rare reduction in its quarterly sales forecast. When asked if he was concerned about Apple’s revenue cut and share price drop, Trump said: “No, I’m not. I mean look, they’ve gone up a lot.”

Shares of Apple rebounded on Friday after a 10% nosedive on Thursday on the revenue warning. The shares closed at $148.26 on Friday, down about 5.1% for the week. For the 2018 full year, Apple shares fell 7%, although they are up about 24% since Trump took office in January 2017. “They’re going to be fine. Apple is a great company,” Trump said, adding he had repeated his advice to Apple boss Tim Cook to build his company’s products in the United States. “Apple makes its product in China. China is the biggest beneficiary of Apple, more than us, because they build their product mostly in China,” Trump said. “I want Apple to make their iPhones and all of the great things that they make in the United States. And that’ll take place.”

Read more …

RRRs are still quite high, true enough. But they’re merely a reflection on the risks inherent in these banks.

China Cuts Banks’ Reserve Ratios By 1% As Economy Slows (R.)

China’s central bank said on Friday it was cutting the ratio of cash that banks must hold as reserves by 100 basis points (bps), or 1 percent, as it looks to reduce the risk of a sharper slowdown in the world’s second-biggest economy. The cut in banks’ reserve requirement ratios (RRR) is the first in 2019 and the fifth in a year by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) as the economy faces its weakest growth since the global financial crisis and mounting pressure from U.S. tariffs. The reduction is being made in two equal stages, effective Jan. 15 and Jan. 25, the PBOC said. The reserve requirement ratios (RRRs) are currently 14.5 percent for large banks and 12.5 percent for smaller banks. Further cuts in the RRR had been widely expected this year, especially after a spate of weak data in recent months showed China’s economy was continuing to lose steam. The size of the move was on the upper end of market expectations.

Read more …

Ocasio fills a void that no other Democrat -at least not incumbent- fits in. That is very similar to what happened with Trump. Pelosi and Schumer will fight her every step of the way.

As for 70% tax rates on highest income and wealth brackets, in the 1950s and 60s those rates were as high as 90%.

“Radical” Ocasio-Cortez Teases 70% Tax On Super Wealthy (ZH)

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) suggested in a “60 Minutes” interview scheduled to air Sunday that the highest-earning Americans may need to pay an income tax rate as high as 60 to 70 percent to combat carbon emissions, reports Politico. Speaking with Anderson Cooper in a “60 Minutes” interview scheduled to air Sunday, Ocasio-Cortez said a dramatic increase in taxes could support her “Green New Deal” goal of eliminating the use of fossil fuels within 12 years, a goal which even she acknowledges is ambitious. “What is the problem with trying to push our technological capacities to the furthest extent possible?” Ocasio-Cortez asked. “There’s an element where yeah, people are going to have to start paying their fair share in taxes.”

Ocasio-Cortez pointed out that in a progressive tax rate system, not all income for a high earner is taxed at such a high rate. Rather, rates increase on each additional level of income, with dramatic increases on especially high earnings, such as $10 million. -Politico [..] Ocasio-Cortez relished Anderson Cooper’s characterization of the tax plan as “radical,” before comparing herself to Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt. “I think that it only has ever been radicals that have changed this country,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “Yeah, if that’s what radical means, call me a radical.”

Read more …

Why don’t they first demand the CIA gets out?

Lima Group Countries Say Won’t Recognize New Maduro Mandate (AFP)

Foreign ministers from 12 Latin American countries and Canada said Friday their governments would not accept Nicolas Maduro as Venezuela’s president when he is sworn in for a second six-year term next week. The 14-member Lima Group – with the exception of Mexico – said it would not grant recognition to Maduro’s hardline socialist government, after meeting in the Peruvian capital to discuss ways to step up international pressure on the regime, which has presided over the oil-rich country’s economic collapse. Peru’s Foreign Minister Nestor Popolizio said the group had delivered “a strong political message” ahead of Maduro’s inauguration on January 10.

Maduro was re-elected on May 20 in a ballot boycotted by the main opposition parties and widely condemned by the international community, including the United States which called it a “sham.” “The main message is undoubtedly the non-recognition of the Venezuelan regime’s new term,” Popolizio told reporters. “It is very important that the Lima Group has issued this statement to continue exerting pressure with a view to the restoration of democracy in Venezuela,” the Peruvian minister said. The Group, of which Canada is a member, said Maduro should temporarily transfer power to the opposition-controlled National Assembly until free elections can be held.

[..] Venezuela hit back at the Lima Group, accusing it of fomenting a coup at the behest of the US, which has sanctioned Venezuelan officials and entities. Caracas expressed its “great bewilderment at the extravagant declaration of a group of countries of the American continent which, after receiving instructions from the United States through a videoconference, have agreed to encourage a coup d’etat,” according to a statement read by Venezuela’s foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza. The United States, which is not a member of the group created after deadly anti-Maduro protests in 2017, participated in the meeting for the first time. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo commented by video conference from Washington.

Read more …

Turkey allegedly already signed the Russia deal.

US Senator: Turkey Must Choose Between US Jets and Russian Missiles (K.)

Turkey needs to choose between the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets it has ordered from the United States or the acquisition of the Russian S-400 missile system, Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen told Kathimerini in a recent interview at Congress. Van Hollen warned that Turkey may be subject to US sanctions if it buys the Russian systems under the August 2018 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which penalizes governments that buy weapons from Moscow.

“I want to be clear that I am not opposed to the sale of F-35s to Turkey. The big problem I have is that Turkey is a NATO ally and they are saying that they are planning to proceed with the purchase of the Russian S-400 system,” he told Kathimerini. “So I am very much opposed to the F-35 sale going through if the Turks follow through on their plan to purchase the Russian air defense system. The reason is that it would compromise the security of the F-35s and potentially the security of all other NATO aircraft.” “In my view Turkey has a very simple choice. They can purchase the F-35s or they can purchase the S-400. But they can’t have both,” Van Hollen said.

Read more …

Oh, those terrible right wingers. Look what they want, it’s f*cking anarchy: “The right wing hopes to transform the European elections into a kind of plebiscite: What kind of Europe do people want?” The Horror! The Horror!

Europe’s Right Wing Takes Aim at the EU (Spiegel)

Right-wing populists have become a feature in the political landscape of almost every European Union member state, while in Italy, Austria, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Denmark and Finland, they are either part of the government or support the government. They are no longer merely a fringe phenomenon or a passing anomaly. Rather, they are a movement that could continue to grow — and they are doing all they can to position themselves as such. Despite all of their differences, the target of their ire is the same: the cosmopolitan elite, liberal opinion leaders in the media and EU bureaucrats in Brussels. Their best enemies? German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, the latter having proven to be a tireless promoter of deeper European integration.

From the perspective of the right wing, the plans pushed by Macron and his supporters can mean only one thing: Further impositions on “normal people,” upon whom much has already been imposed — things like smoking bans, gay marriages, refugees and expensive environmental protection regulations. The populists claim they are the only ones who speak for the majority of Europeans. And one of their primary goals is a Europe free of immigration. They call their concept the “Europe of Nations.” The right wing hopes to transform the European elections into a kind of plebiscite: What kind of Europe do people want? Open or closed? Traditionalist or tolerant? Should the European bloc become a political union with fewer powers reserved for the nation-states or should it merely be something like a free-trade area in which each individual country can chart its own course?

Read more …

Dec 272018
 
 December 27, 2018  Posted by at 9:25 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Francis Tattegrain La ramasseuse d’épaves (The Beachcomber) 1880

 

I haven’t really written about finance since April of this year, and given recent fluctuations in what people persist in calling the markets, maybe it’s time. Then again, nothing has changed since that article in April entitled This Is Not A Market. I was right then, and I still am.

[..] markets need price discovery as much as price discovery needs markets. They are two sides of the same coin. Markets are the mechanism that makes price discovery possible, and vice versa. Functioning markets, that is. Given the interdependence between the two, we must conclude that when there is no price discovery, there are no functioning markets. And a market that doesn’t function is not a market at all.

[..] we must wonder why everyone in the financial world, and the media, is still talking about ‘the markets’ (stocks, bonds et al) as if they still existed. Is it because they think there still is price discovery? Or do they think that even without price discovery, you can still have functioning markets? Or is their idea that a market is still a market even if it doesn’t function?

But perhaps that is confusing, and confusion in and of itself doesn’t lead to better understanding. So maybe I should call what there is out there today ‘zombie markets’. It doesn’t really make much difference. What murdered functioning markets is intervention by central banks, in alleged attempts to save those same markets. Cue your favorite horror movie.

Now Jerome Powell and the Fed he inherited are apparently trying to undo the misery Greenspan, Bernanke and Yellen before him wrought upon the economic system, and people, cue Trump, get into fights about that one. All the while still handing the Fed, the ECB, the BoJ, much more power than they should ever have been granted.

And you won’t get actual markets back until that power is wrestled from their cold dead zombie fingers. Even then, the damage will be hard to oversee, and it will take decades. The bankers and investors their free and easy trillions were bestowed upon will be just fine, thank you, but everyone else will definitely not be.

Central banks don’t serve societies, they serve banks. They fool everyone, politicians first of all, into believing that societies automatically do well if only the demands of banks are met first, and as obviously stupid as that sounds, nary a squeak of protest can be heard. Least of all from ‘market participants’ who have done nothing for the better part of this millennium except feast at the teat of main street largesse.

In the past few days we’ve had both -stock- market rallies and plunges of 5% or so, and people have started to realize that is not normal, and it scares them. So you get Tyler posting DataTrek’s Nicolas Colas saying “Healthy” Markets Don’t Rally 1,086 Points On The Dow. Well, he’s kinda right, but there hasn’t been a healthy market in 10+ years, and he’s missed that last bit. Like most people have who work in those so-called ‘markets’.

 

Here’s why Colas is right, but doesn’t understand why. Price discovery is the flipside of the coin that is a functional market, because it allows for people to see why something is valued at the level it is, by a large(r) number of participants. Take that away and it is obvious that violent price swings may start occurring as soon as the comforting money teat stutters, or even just threatens to do so; a rumor is enough.

In physics terms, price discovery, and therefore markets themselves -provided they’re ‘healthy’ and ‘functioning’- delivers negative feedback to the system, i.e. it injects self-correcting measures. Take away price discovery, in other words kill the market, and you get positive feedback, where -simplified- changes tend to lead to ever bigger changes until something breaks.

Also, different markets, like stocks, bonds, housing, will keep a check on each other, so nothing will reach insane valuations. If they tend to, people stop buying and will shift their money somewhere else. But when everything has an insane value, how would people know what’s insane anymore, and where could they shift that is not insane?

It doesn’t matter much for ‘market participants’, or ‘investors’ as they prefer to label themselves, they shift trillions around on a daily basis just to justify their paychecks, but for mom and pop it’s a whole different story. In between the two you have pension funds, whose rapid forced move from AAA assets to risk will strangle mom and pop’s old-age plans no matter what.

 

People inevitably talk about the chances of a recession happening, but maybe they should first ask what exactly a recession, or a bear market, is or means when it occurs in a zombie (or just plain dead) market.

If asset ‘values’ have increased by 50% because central banks and companies themselves have bought stocks, it would seem logical that a 10% drop doesn’t have the same meaning as it would in a marketplace where no such manipulation has taken place. Maybe a 50% drop would make more sense then.

The inevitable future is that people are going to get tired of borrowing as soon as it becomes too expensive, hence unattractive, to do so. Central banks can still do more QE, and keep rates low for longer, but that’s not an infinity and beyond move. It a simple question of the longer it lasts the higher will be the price that has to be paid. One more, one last, simple question: who’s going to pay? We all know, don’t we?

 

That’s where the Fed is now. You can let interest rates rise, as Powell et al are indicating they want to do, but that will cut off debt growth, and since debt is exclusively what keeps the economy going, it will cut into economic growth as well. Or you can keep interest rates low (and lower), but then people have less and less idea of the actual value of assets, which can, and eventually necessarily will, cause people to flee from these assets.

Powell’s rate hikes schedule looks nice from a normalizing point of view, and g-d knows what normal is anymore, but it would massacre the zombie markets the Fed itself created when it decided to kill the actual markets. You can get back to normal, but only if the Fed retreats into the Eccles Building and stays there until 2050 or so (or is abolished).

They won’t, the banks whose interests they protect will soon be in far too dire straits, and bailouts have become much harder to come by since 2008. It’ll be a long time before markets actually function again, and we won’t get there without a world of pain. Which will be felt by those who never participated in the so-called markets to begin with. Beware of yellow vests.

To top off the perversity of zombie markets, one more thing. Zombie markets build overcapacity. One of the best things price discovery brings to an economy is that it lets zombies die, that bankrupt companies and bankrupt ideas go the way of the dodo.

That, again, is negative feedback. Take that away, as low rates and free money do, and you end up with positive feedback, which makes zombies appear alive, and distorts the valuation of everything.

Most of what the ‘popular’ financial press discusses is about stocks, what the Dow and S&P have done for the day. But the bond markets are much bigger. So what are we to think when the two are completely out of sync -and whack-?

 

Oh well, those are just ‘the markets’, and we already know that they are living dead. Where that may be less obvious, if only because nobody wants it to be true, is in housing markets. Which, though this is being kept from you with much effort, are what’s keeping the entire US, and most of Europe’s, economies going. And guess what?

The Fed and Draghi have just about hit the max on home prices (check 2019 for the sequel). Prices have gotten too high, Jay Powell wants higher interest rates, Draghi can’t be left too far behind him because EU money would all flow to the US, and it’s all well on its way to inevitability.

And anyway, the only thing that’s being achieved with ever higher home prices is ever more debt for the people who buy them, and who will all be on the hook if those prices are subject to the negative feedback loops healthy markets must be subject too, or else.

The only parties who have profited from rising home prices are the banks who dole out the mortgages and the zombie economy that relies on them creating the money society runs on that way. We have all come to rely on a bunch of zombies to keep ourselves from debt slavery, and no, zombies are not actually alive. Nor are the financial markets, and the economies, that prop them up.

Among the first things in 2019 you will see enormous amounts of junk rated debt getting rated ever -and faster- lower , and the pace at which ever more debt that is not yet junk, downgraded to(wards) junk, accelerating. It looks like the zombies can never totally take over, but that is little comfort to those neck deep in debt even before we start falling.

And as for the ‘players’, the economic model will allow again for them to shove the losses of their braindead ventures onto the destiny of those with ever lower paying jobs, who if they’re lucky enough to be young enough, start their careers in those jobs with ever higher student debts.

You’d think that at some point they should be happy they were never sufficiently credit-worthy to afford one of the grossly overpriced properties that are swung like so many carrots before their eyes, but that’s not how the system works. The system will always find a way to keep pushing them deeper into the financial swamp somehow.

The last remaining growth industry our societies have left is inequality, and that’s what our central banks and governments are all betting on to keep Jack Sparrow’s Flying Dutchman afloat for a while longer. Where the poor get squeezed more so the 1% or 10% get to look good a little longer.

But in the end it’s all zombies all the way down, like the turtles, and some equivalent of the yellow vests will pop up in unexpected places. My prediction for next year.

It doesn’t look to me that a year from now we’ll see 2019 as a particular peaceful year, not at all like 2018. I called it from Chaos to Mayhem earlier, and I’m sticking with that. We’re done borrowing from the future, it’s getting time to pay back those loans from that future.

And that ain’t going to happen when there are no functioning markets; after all, how does anyone know what to pay back when the only thing they do know is everything is way overvalued? How wrong can I be when I say debts will only be paid back at fair value?

2019, guys, big year.

 

 

Dec 262018
 
 December 26, 2018  Posted by at 10:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Caravaggio Burial of St. Lucy 1608

 

US Prepares To Hit The Wall As Reckless Trump Undoes Years Of Hard Work (G.)
Trump Urges Americans To Buy The Dip; Voices Confidence In Mnuchin, Powell (ZH)
Trump’s Frustration With Mnuchin Rising – Source (CNN)
BOJ’s Kuroda Further Waters Down Pledge To Hit Inflation Target Quickly (R.)
Japan To Resume Commercial Whaling (AFP)
Asian Stocks Slip On US Shutdown Worries, Trump’s Fresh Criticism Of Fed (MW)
Asian Stocks Retreat As US Political Tumult Adds To Growth Worry (R.)
‘We’re Not Far From Zuckerberg Getting Subpoenaed’ (Ind.)
How Can We Break The Brexit Deadlock? Ask Ancient Athens (Bridle)
Brexit Made The UK A Global Joke. Can We Rebuild Our Reputation? (Kampfner)
Arab League Set To Readmit Syria Eight Years After Expulsion (G.)
More Than 50 Australian Plant Species Face Extinction Within Decade (G.)

 

 

Can’t make it up (fast enough): I used 6 anti-Trump Guardian articles from December 23 in my article yesterday, Dumping on the Donald. But guess what: I still missed one from that day. The contents are completely empty, but they really wanted to get the headline in.

US Prepares To Hit The Wall As Reckless Trump Undoes Years Of Hard Work (G.)

The accomplishments of a US president’s first year in office can be credited to his predecessor, at least where the economy is concerned. And Donald Trump was handed the best performing economy on the planet. All the tough decisions – to refinance the banks, rescue the car companies and deflate the real-estate bubble – had been made. The stock market was tearing along, setting records almost every week. Trump gave this rising balloon extra air with $1tn of tax cuts. It was borrowed money, but no matter. The economy sailed along for another year and the stock market carried on rising. His plan was to win the midterm congressional elections and then persuade the Republican party to give him another $1tn, or as near to it as possible.

In other words, he would use another pile of borrowed cash to pump up the economy again, hoping against hope that it would not blow up before his re-election. Without control of the House of Representatives, his plans are in ruins. And that was obvious to stock and bond traders, who followed the vote in November by putting a sell sign over their maps of America. December has proved to be the worst month for shares in many decades. Oil prices have slumped and the market is expecting worse to come in the new year. The reasons for pessimism are piling up. From the Atlantic to the Pacific, US home sales are struggling, with agents reporting that there are not enough buyers and asking prices are not being met.

[..] And in recent days Trump has given markets something else to worry about – building the wall. His threat to shut down the government if Congress refuses to provide him with the money for a pan-American border fence with Mexico has spooked traders. This reckless threat was preceded by the surprise decision to pull US troops out of Syria. If Trump could make such a move without consulting important allies, then perhaps he was capable of the “long shutdown” he has promised in his tweets. With ever fewer calming voices in the White House to rein in the president’s wilder excesses, it’s understandable that the finance industry is jittery about the prospects for 2019.

Read more …

Trump likes Mnuchin. Who’s been around from the get-go. And of course both know there are hard times ahead.

Trump Urges Americans To Buy The Dip; Voices Confidence In Mnuchin, Powell (ZH)

“We have companies, the greatest in the world, and they’re doing really well,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Christmas Day. “They have record kinds of numbers. So I think it’s a tremendous opportunity to buy. Really a great opportunity to buy.” Trump’s invocation to BTFD came one day after the most violent Christmas Eve selloff on record, and the day when the S&P fell not only to its lowest level in 20 months, but also slumped into a bear market. For Trump, the stock market has served as a barometer on his administration, and while he was pointing out virtually every major uptick for the past two years, the recent plunge has infuriated him, leaving him mute on any market-related topic.

But a more important catalyst for a potential Wednesday rally came when Trump appeared to back off on his demands that the Fed stop hiking, which culminated with Trump reportedly seeking to fire Fed Chair Powell and speculation that if the market does not stop falling, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin may also be on the chopping block. Alongside urging Americans to BTFD, Trump expressed confidence in the Treasury secretary and the Federal Reserve, in an attempt to calm financial markets further roiled after a recent Bloomberg report that the president had discussed firing the central bank’s chairman over raising interest rates.

Asked about Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, Trump said the central bank is “raising interest rates too fast” but he has “confidence” that the Fed will “get it pretty soon.” Trump was also asked if he has confidence in Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin who sparked a market panic on Monday with his late Sunday statement in which he said he had called the CEOs of the top 6 banks to make sure bank liquidity levels are fine (prompting a frenzy of question what he knows that the rest of the market does not) and followed it up with a call with the Plunge Protection Team on Monday, which however failed to prevent one of the worst one-day routs in history . Trump’s response: “yes I do, very talented guy, very smart person.”

While answering questions from reporters at the White House after addressing U.S. armed forces members on a Christmas Day video conference call, Trump also said the Fed is hiking borrowing costs because the “economy is doing so well” – which is accurate, however it is the market that is spooked by the aggressive tightening – adding that U.S. companies are having “record kinds of numbers” and it’s a “tremendous opportunity to buy.” The remarks represented Trump’s first expression of public support for Mnuchin and Powell since Bloomberg reported last week that the president has discussed dismissing Powell who was recommended by Mnuchin. Overnight, Bloomberg also reported that the president also weighed dismissing Mnuchin, while another said that Mnuchin’s tenure may depend in part on how much markets continue to drop.

Read more …

But CNN has found an anonymous source who claims Mnuchin is on his way out. Bloomberg claimed something similar.

Is it getting through to people that nothing CNN has to say about Trump has any news value?

Trump’s Frustration With Mnuchin Rising – Source (CNN)

President Donald Trump’s frustration with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is ratcheting up further after markets suffered their worst Christmas Eve drop ever despite Mnuchin’s attempts to calm Wall Street, according to a source close to the White House. The source told CNN that Mnuchin could be in “serious jeopardy” with Trump, who regularly rages at Cabinet members he feels have made mistakes, before he cools off. Trump nevertheless vouched for Mnuchin publicly, shifting blame for the market volatility to the Federal Reserve instead. “Yes, I do,” Trump said Tuesday when asked whether he had confidence in Mnuchin. “Very talented, very smart person.”

But the source painted a different picture of Mnuchin’s standing behind the scenes. “Mnuchin is under the gun,” the source said. The Treasury secretary left Washington for a Christmas holiday in Mexico’s Cabo San Lucas as the federal government shut down over the weekend, while Trump canceled his own planned trip to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida and remained cooped up in the White House over the holiday, absorbing a flood of negative news about the markets. Mnuchin aides have been scrambling to find economic data to help their boss calm Trump down, but Trump was said to be unhappy with what Mnuchin was telling him, this source said. An administration source dismissed the latest round of rumors that the secretary’s continued tenure was on the line. “This is nonsense,” they said.

Read more …

Abenomics bleeds to death very slowly and even more expensively.

BOJ’s Kuroda Further Waters Down Pledge To Hit Inflation Target Quickly (R.)

Conceding it was taking longer than expected to achieve 2 percent inflation, Kuroda said global risks have “come to warrant further attention” as China’s growth slows and trade frictions hurt business sentiment. He also said the BOJ must be mindful of the rising costs of prolonged monetary easing, such as the chance years of near-zero rates could hurt financial institutions’ profits and discourage them from boosting lending. “The BOJ will proceed step by step toward achieving its price target, while taking into account in a balance manner not only the benefits of monetary easing but also its costs,” Kuroda told an annual meeting of business lobby Keidanren on Wednesday. Up till now, Kuroda has repeatedly said the BOJ will seek to achieve 2 percent inflation “at the earliest date possible.”

[..] The BOJ is caught in a bind. With inflation distant from its target, it is forced to maintain a massive stimulus despite the negative spillovers. Its dwindling policy ammunition limits the ability to ramp up stimulus to prevent another recession. The dilemma has created a rift within the BOJ with its board members disagreeing on ways to address the dangers of prolonged easing, minutes of the October rate review showed. Kuroda said the situation has changed from when the BOJ deployed a massive asset-buying program in 2013, when such a drastic action was critical to pull Japan out of stagnation. Now, the economy is in good shape but inflation remains weak and closer attention is needed to overseas risks, he said. “In complex times like now, what’s required is to persistently continue with the current powerful easing while weighing the benefits and costs of our policy in a balanced manner,” Kuroda said.

Read more …

Nobody wants whale hunts. They’re arcane and stupid. So stop buying Japanese cars and electronics. Get organized. Either boycott them completely or hold your tongue.

Japan To Resume Commercial Whaling (AFP)

Japan said Wednesday it is withdrawing from the International Whaling Commission and will resume commercial whaling next year, sparking criticism from activists and anti-whaling countries including Australia. The announcement comes after Japan failed earlier this year to convince the IWC to allow it to resume commercial whaling. Top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said the commercial hunts would be limited to Japan’s territorial waters. “We will not hunt in the Antarctic waters or in the southern hemisphere,” he added. Tokyo has repeatedly threatened to pull out of the IWC, and has been regularly criticised for catching hundreds of whales a year for “scientific research” despite being a signatory to a moratorium on hunting the animals.

Suga said Japan would officially inform the IWC of its decision by the end of the year, which will mean the withdrawal comes into effect by June 30. Leaving the IWC means Japanese whalers will be able to resume hunting in Japanese coastal waters of minke and other whales currently protected by the IWC. But Japan will not be able to continue the so-called scientific research hunts in the Antarctic and elsewhere that it has been exceptionally allowed as an IWC member. Japan joins Iceland and Norway in openly defying the IWC’s ban on commercial whale hunting, and its decision sparked international criticism.

Read more …

I think they slip because their economies are in trouble.

Asian Stocks Slip On US Shutdown Worries, Trump’s Fresh Criticism Of Fed (MW)

Asian markets were mostly lower on Wednesday after President Donald Trump said that there was “nothing new” in efforts to end the partial government shutdown over a U.S.-Mexico border wall. Traders had no fresh leads from Wall Street, which was closed on Christmas. U.S. stocks are headed for their worst December since the Great Depression in 1931. South Korea’s Kospi, 1.3% to 2,028.01 and the Shanghai Composite Index shed 0.3% to 2,498.29. Japan’s Nikkei, which plunged 5% on Tuesday, picked up 0.9 percent to 19,327.06. Shares fell Taiwan and throughout Southeast Asia. Markets in Hong Kong and Australia were closed.

The partial shutdown of the U.S. government that started Saturday shows no signs of abating. “Nothing new. Nothing new on the shutdown. Nothing new. Except we need border security,” Trump told reporters. The White House said Trump will reject any deal that does not include any funding for a wall or a fence. The Democrats have opposed this and are offering $1.3 billion for security. The routines of 800,000 federal employees are expected to be disrupted by the shutdown, but essential services will keep running. Trump’s criticism of the U.S. central bank triggered a drop in Asian equities on Tuesday. “The only problem our economy has is the Fed,” the president said on Twitter.

“They don’t have a feel for the Market, they don’t understand necessary Trade Wars or Strong Dollars or even Democrat Shutdowns over Borders.” Trump has since said since that interest rate hikes were a “form of safety” for an economy that was doing well, while stressing that the Fed was raising rates too quickly. “The outsized moves are not reflective of the current U.S. economic landscape, but that seems to matter little so far as fear mongering continues to permeate every pocket of global capital markets,” Stephen Innes of OANDA said in a market commentary.

Read more …

Trump brings down Asian stocks. Didn’t win your Christmas lottery? You know who to blame.

Asian Stocks Retreat As US Political Tumult Adds To Growth Worry (R.)

Asian stock markets retreated again on Wednesday, extending a rout that began last week as U.S. political uncertainty exacerbated worries over slowing global economic growth. Investors were unnerved by the U.S. federal government partial shutdown and President Donald Trump’s hostile stance toward the Federal Reserve chairman. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had also raised market concerns by convening a crisis group amid the pullback in stocks. S&P 500 emini futures were last down 0.6 percent, pointing toward a lower start for Wall Street when the U.S. market reopens after Christmas Day, when many of the world’s financial markets were shut.

Markets in Britain, Germany and France will remain closed on Wednesday. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan slipped 0.5 percent, brushing a two-month low. The Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.4 percent while South Korea’s KOSPI shed 1.6 percent. Japan’s Nikkei, which slumped 5 percent the previous day, had a volatile session. It swerved in and out of the red, falling more than 1 percent to a 20-month-low at one stage, before ending the day with a gain of 0.9 percent. “In addition to concerns toward the U.S. economy, the markets are now having to grapple with growing turmoil in the White House which has raised political risk ahead of the year-end,” said Masahiro Ichikawa, senior strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management.

Read more …

The CIA and MI6 are watching.

‘We’re Not Far From Zuckerberg Getting Subpoenaed’ (Ind.)

David Carroll, an associate professor at Parsons School of Design in New York, said this week may finally have dealt Facebook its “knockout” blow. As an outspoken critic of the way Facebook uses people’s data, Prof Carroll is currently suing Cambridge Analytica under the Data Protection Act following the UK firm’s role in mining data from 87 million Facebook users for the purpose of political profiling during the 2016 US presidential elections. But the latest revelations that other tech firms were given access to people’s private messages was beyond even what he thought Facebook was capable of. “Even as someone who is deeply sceptical of Facebook, I was surprised by the latest revelations,” he told The Independent.

“I didn’t know it could be that bad in terms of scope and scale. But it all seems to fit with Zuckerberg’s master plan for global domination.” The first lawsuit against Facebook regarding the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which affected more than 87 million users, comes courtesy of the attorney general of the District of Columbia. It is unlikely to be the last, given Facebook is also currently facing probes by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice – and that’s just in the US. A relatively insignificant fine of £500,000 that was handed to Facebook in the UK may be dwarfed following investigations by the Irish data protection regulator, which are being seen as the first serious test of Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulation.

But with more than 2 billion users worldwide and an annual revenue of more than $40 billion in 2017, it will take more than a fine to have any significant impact on Facebook. Prof Carroll has called for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other senior executives to be subpoenaed and thinks it might not be long before that becomes a reality. “We need to get them under oath and ask them questions they cannot dodge. It will depend on the Mueller investigation. It’s imaginable additional facts come to our knowledge to justify Zuckerberg’s subpoena and we find out how much he knew and when. We need more to justify it but we’re not that far from getting there.”

Read more …

Elect your decision makers at random. That way they can’t be bought by special interests. And that’s just one of many advantages.

James Bridle is the author of New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future.

How Can We Break The Brexit Deadlock? Ask Ancient Athens (Bridle)

In the central marketplace of ancient Athens, around 350BC, there stood a machine called the kleroterion. This was a six-foot-high slab of stone that had a series of slots on the front, and a long tube bored down from the top to the base. Those up for selection for the various offices of state would insert metal ID tags, called pinakia, into the slots, and a functionary would pour a bucket of coloured balls, suitably shaken, into the top of the tube. The order in which the balls emerged would determine who took which role, some for the day, some for a year.

Today the kleroterion survives, in fragments, in Athens’ Museum of the Ancient Agora, alongside other pieces of democratic technology such as the clepsydra, a water clock used to time orators’ speeches and the fragments of pottery, called ostraka, on which they scratched the names of the too-powerful politicans they wished to see banished from the city, and from which we derive the modern word “ostracism”. The method of governance embodied in the kleroterion, which dates back to the very establishment of democracy, is called sortition, meaning selection by lot, as opposed to election by vote. The Athenians believed that the principle of sortition was critical to democracy. Aristotle declared that: “It is accepted as democratic when public offices are allocated by lot; and as oligarchic when they are filled by election.”

But along the way, sortition – and the even more exciting possibility of actual banishment – has fallen out of most democracies’ toolkits. Sortition in ancient Athens had a number of important qualities. First, those eligible for selection included the entire suffrage (which, it must be noted, was at the time limited to adult male citizens). Second, it applied to much more than jury selection, which is the only form in which sortition survives in most places today, and included magistrates, legislators and the main governing councils of the city – all the important posts, in fact, bar the military. And third, and perhaps most significantly, it both embodied and enabled transparent and participatory governance: that is, anybody could come down to the agora and not merely see but understand how the machine worked – and anyone could be selected by it.

Read more …

No, your reputation’s pretty much shot.

Brexit Made The UK A Global Joke. Can We Rebuild Our Reputation? (Kampfner)

Britain is now the butt of global mirth and cringe-making sympathy. I spent most of this autumn on trips trying to link our creative industries with those of other countries. From Mexico City to Montreal, Amsterdam to Tallinn, the welcome starts with the avuncular hand on the shoulder, a sigh and a reference to “our British friends”, followed by “I hope you’re all right”. Consternation over the original referendum decision long ago gave way to bafflement over the chaos. “What on earth is Mrs May doing playing pantomime host in the House of Commons at a time like this?” someone asked me last week. “We used to think that you were serious, reliable people.” Americans and Europeans used to tune in to our parliamentary antics to wonder at the jousting.

Now they are baffled that we continue to play games at a time like this. I am constantly asked why we hark on about the second world war, as if we are stuck in time and are not proud of our achievements since. The gulf between those trying to sell the UK’s skills and modernity and the poor calibre of our political culture is hitting hard. Business groups, which had been surprisingly cowed, are now waking up to the dangers of the brain drain. It is not just young, ambitious Europeans who are moving home, apparently to our prime minister’s delight. The movement of talented Britons to other countries is steady and will grow, as the reality of Brexit sinks in. Why work in a country that regards economic self-harm as just one of those things you have to get through? Why work in a country that permits people to come rather than welcomes them?

Read more …

Putin moves silently.

Arab League Set To Readmit Syria Eight Years After Expulsion (G.)

Gulf nations are moving to readmit Syria into the Arab League, eight years after Damascus was expelled from the regional bloc over its brutal repression of peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad. At some point in the next year it is likely Assad will be welcomed on to a stage to once again take his place among the Arab world’s leaders, sources say. Shoulder to shoulder with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and Egypt’s latest autocrat, General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the moment will mark the definitive death of the Arab spring, the hopes of the region’s popular revolutions crushed by the newest generation of Middle Eastern strongmen.

Syria was thrown out of the Arab League in 2011 over its violent response to opposition dissent, a move that failed to stem the bloodshed that spiralled into civil war. Now though, a regional thaw is already under way. This week, the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, became the first Arab League leader to visit Syria in eight years, a visit widely interpreted as a gesture of friendship on behalf of Saudi Arabia, which has shored up ties with Khartoum in recent years. Pro-government media outlets posted pictures of the two leaders shaking hands and grasping each other’s arms on a red carpet leading from the Russian jet that ferried Bashir to Damascus along with the hashtag “More are yet to come”.

Read more …

50 plant species? Who’s that going to impress?

More Than 50 Australian Plant Species Face Extinction Within Decade (G.)

More than 50 Australian plant species are under threat of extinction within the next decade, according to a major study of the country’s threatened flora. Just 12 of the most at-risk species were found to be listed as critically endangered under national environment laws – the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act – and 13 had no national threatened listing at all. The scientists behind the research, published in the Australian Journal of Botany this month, say the results point to a need for re-evaluation of Australia’s national lists for threatened plants. It is the first major assessment of the status of Australia’s threatened flora in more than two decades. Plants account for about 70% of Australia’s national threatened species list, with 1,318 varieties listed as either critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable.

The research team assessed species that met criteria for either a critical or endangered listing at national or state levels to track their rate of decline. They did this by reviewing all available literature on the plants – including recovery plans, conservation advice and peer-reviewed research – and conducting interviews with 125 botanists, ecologists and land managers with expertise on particular geographic regions or species. The study examined 1,135 species, including 81 that were unearthed through the interview process as being eligible for a critically endangered or endangered listing but did not have one. It found 418 plants had continued declines in their population and a further 265 species had insufficient monitoring information available to determine their status.

The scientists concluded that 55 species were at high risk of extinction within the next 10 years, with fewer than 250 individual plants or only a single population remaining. They found just 12 of the most imperilled species were listed under the EPBC Act as critically endangered and 13 had no listing at all. They said there were also 56 species of plants currently on the critically endangered list that they assessed as having no documented declines or that were stable or even increasing.

Read more …

Dec 252018
 


Rembrandt van Rijn The Adoration of the Magi 16xx

 

I still had some things I didn’t talk about in Sunday’s Trump Derangement International, about how the European press have found out that they, like the US MSM, can get lots of viewers and readers simply by publishing negative stories about Donald Trump. The US president is an attention magnet, as long as you only write things about him designed to make him look bad.

The Guardian is only too happy to comply. They ran a whole series of articles on Sunday to do juts that: try to make Trump look bad. Note that the Guardian editorial team that okayed the articles is the same as the one that allowed the fake Assange/Manafort one, so their credibility is already shot to pieces. It’s the magic triangle of today’s media profits: spout non-stop allegations against Russia, Trump and Julian Assange, and link them when and where you can. It doesn’t matter if what you say is true or not.

 

Anyway, all the following is from the Guardian, all on December 23. First off, Adam Gabbatt in New York, who has painstakingly researched how Trump’s businesses, like Trump Tower and the Trump store, don’t appear to have sufficiently (as per him) switched from Happy Holidays to Merry Christmas. Sherlock Holmes would have been proud. A smash hit there Adam, bring out the handcuffs.

 

Trump’s ‘Merry Christmas’ Pledge Fails To Manifest

During Donald Trump’s presidential campaign he talked often about his determination to win one particular war. A war that had been raging for years, he said. Specifically: the war on Christmas. But despite Trump’s repeated claims that “people are saying Merry Christmas again” instead of the more inclusive “happy holidays”, there are several places where the Christmas greeting is absent: Trump’s own businesses.

The Trump Store, for example. Instead of a Christmas gift guide – which surely would be more in keeping with the president’s stated desire for the phrase to be used – the store offers a holiday gift guide. “Shop our Holiday Gift Guide and find the perfect present for the enthusiast on your list,” the online store urges. “Carefully curated to celebrate the most wonderful time of year with truly unique gifts found only at Trump Store. Add a bow on top with our custom gift wrapping. Happy Holiday’s!”

The use of the phrase “Happy Holiday’s” [sic] in Trump marketing would seem particularly egregious. The long-standing “War-on-Christmas” complaint from the political right is that stores use the phrase “Happy Holidays”, rather than specifically mentioning the Christian celebration. It is offered as both an example of political correctness gone mad, and as an effort to erase Christianity from the US.

It’s just, I think that if Trump had personally interfered to make sure there were Merry Christmas messages all around, you would have remarked that as president, he’s not allowed to be personally involved in his businesses. But yeah, you know, just to keep the negativity going, it works, no matter how fluffy and hollow.

 

Second, still on December 23, is Tom McCarthy for the Guardian in New York. Who talks about Robert Mueller’s phenomenal successes. Mueller charged 34 people so far. In a case that involves “this complexity which has international implications, aspects relying on the intelligence community, complicated cyber components”. It really says that.

And yes, that’s how many people view this. What do they care that Mueller’s original mandate was to prove collusion between the Trump campaign and ‘Russians’, and that he has not proven any collusion at all so far, not even with 34 people charged? What do they care? It looks like Trump is guilty of something, anything, after all, and that’s all the circus wants.

 

Robert Mueller Has Enjoyed A Year Of Successes … 2019 Could Be Even Stronger

One measure of special counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutorial success in 2018 is the list of former top Donald Trump aides brought to justice: Michael Cohen pleaded guilty, a jury convicted Paul Manafort, a judge berated Michael Flynn. Another measure is the tally of new defendants that Mueller’s team charged (34), the number of new guilty pleas he netted (five) and the amount of money he clawed back through tax fraud cases ($48m).

Yet another measure might judge Mueller’s pace compared with previous independent prosecutors. “I would refer to it as a lightning pace,” said Barb McQuade, a University of Michigan law professor and former US attorney. “In a case of this complexity which has international implications, aspects relying on the intelligence community, complicated cyber components – to indict that many people that quickly is really impressive work.”

But there’s perhaps a more powerful way to measure Mueller’s progress in his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election and links between Moscow and the Trump campaign; that’s by noticing how the targets of his investigation have changed their postures over the course of 2018, from defiance to docility – or in the case of Trump himself, from defiance to extreme, hyperventilating defiance.

In reality, you would be at least as correct if you would claim that Robert Mueller’s investigation has been an abject failure. Not one iota of collusion has been proven after 20 months and $20 million in funds have been used. And any serious investigation of Washington’s culture of fixers and lobbyists would land at least 34 people who have committed acts that border on or over illegality. And in a matter of weeks, for a few hundred bucks.

 

Third, still on December 23, is Julian Borger in Washington, who’s been elected to convey the image of chaos. Trump Unleashed, says our modern day Shakespeare. With Jim Mad Dog Mattis characterized as “.. the last independently minded, globally respected, major figure left in the administration”... Again, it really says that.

Because woe the man who tries to bring US troops home, or even promises to do so a few days before Christmas. For pulling out America’s finest, Donald Trump is being portrayed as something eerily close to the antichrist. That truly is the world on its head. Bringing troops home to their families equals chaos.

Look, guys, if Trump has been guilty of criminal behavior, the US justice system should be able to find that out and convict him for it. But that’s not what this is about anymore. A million articles have been written, like these ones in the Guardian, with the sole intention, evidence being scarce to non-existent, of smearing him to the extent that people see every subsequent article in the light of a man having previously been smeared.

 

Chaos At Home, Fear Abroad: Trump Unleashed Puts Western World On Edge

The US stumbled into the holiday season with a sense of unravelling, as a large chunk of the federal government ground to a halt, the stock market crashed and the last independently minded, globally respected, major figure left in the administration announced he could no longer work with the president. The defense secretary, James Mattis, handed in his resignation on Thursday, over Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to pull US troops out of Syria.

On Saturday another senior official joined the White House exodus. Brett McGurk, the special envoy for the global coalition to defeat Isis and the US official closest to America’s Kurdish allies in the region, was reported to have handed in his resignation on Friday. That night, senators flew back to Washington from as far away as Hawaii for emergency talks aimed at finding a compromise on Trump’s demand for nearly $6bn for a wall on the southern border, a campaign promise which has become an obsession.

Now look at the next headline, December 23, Graeme Wearden, Guardian, and ask yourself if it’s really Trump saying he doesn’t agree with the rate hikes that fuels the fears, or whether it’s the hikes themselves. And also ask yourself: when Trump and Mnuchin both deny reports of Trump firing Powell, why do journalists keep saying the opposite? Because they want to fuel some fears?

From where I’m sitting, it looks perfectly logical that Trump says he doesn’t think Powell’s decisions are good for the US economy. And it doesn’t matter which one of the two turns out to be right: Trump isn’t the only person who disagrees with the Fed hikes.

The main suspect for 2019 market turmoil is the inevitable fallout from the Fed’s QE under Bernanke and Yellen. And there is something to be said for Powell trying to normalize rates, but there’s no doubt that may hasten, if not cause, turmoil. Blaming it on Trump not agreeing with Jay Powell is pretty much as left field as it gets.

 

White House Attacks On Fed Chair Fuel Fears Of Market Turmoil In 2019

Over the weekend, a flurry of reports claimed Donald Trump had discussed the possibility of firing the Federal Reserve chairman, Jerome Powell. Such an unprecedented move would trigger further instability in the markets, which have already had their worst year since the 2008 crisis. US officials scrambled to deny Trump had suggested ousting Powell, who was appointed by the president barely a year ago.

The Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, tweeted that he had spoken to the president, who insisted he “never suggested firing” Powell, and did not believe he had the right to do this. However, Trump also declared – via Mnuchin – that he “totally disagrees” with the Fed’s “absolutely terrible” policy of raising interest rates and unwinding its bond-buying stimulus programme, piling further pressure on the US’s independent central bank.

And now, in the only article in the Guardian series that’s December 24, not 23, by Victoria Bekiempis and agencies, the plunging numbers in the stock markets are Trump’s fault, too.

 

Trump ‘Plunging Us Into Chaos’, Democrats Say, As Markets Tank And Shutdown Persists

Top Democrats have accused Donald Trump of “plunging the country into chaos” as top officials met to discuss a growing rout in stock markets caused in part by the president’s persistent attacks on the Federal Reserve and a government shutdown. “It’s Christmas Eve and President Trump is plunging the country into chaos,” the two top Democrats in Congress, House speaker nominee Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, wrote in a joint statement on Monday. “The stock market is tanking and the president is waging a personal war on the Federal Reserve – after he just fired the Secretary of Defense.”

Trump criticized the Federal Reserve on Monday, describing it as the “only problem” for the US economy, even as top officials convened the “plunge protection team” forged after the 1987 crash to discuss the growing rout in stock markets. The crisis call on Monday between US financial regulators and the US treasury department failed to assure markets, and stocks fell again amid concern about slowing economic growth, the continuing government shutdown, and reports that Trump had discussed firing Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell.

The last one is from one Jonathan Jones, again December 23, again for the Guardian. And it takes the top award in the narrative building contest.

Again, the Guardian editorial team that okayed this article is still the same as the one that allowed the fake Assange/Manafort one, an editorial team that sees no problem in making things up in order to smear people. To portray Trump, Assange and anyone who’s had the misfortune of being born in Russia as suspicious if not outright criminal.

But look at what Jones has to say, and what Guardian editor-in-chief Kathy Viner and her ilk allowed and pressured him to say. He wants to have a say in how Trump should dress (seasonal knitwear), he evokes the image of Nazi architect Albert Speer for no reason at all, and then it’s a matter of mere inches until you arrive at Trump as a king, an emperor, an inner tyrant.

“He’s in a tuxedo!”, Like that’s a bad thing for Christmas. “She’s in white!”. Oh dear, call the pope. If both Trumps would have put on Christmas sweaters in front of a fire, the writer would have found something negative in that.

 

Trump Portrait: You Couldn’t Create A Creepier Yuletide Scene If You Tried

The absence of intimacy in the Trumps’ official Christmas portrait freezes the heart. Can it be that hard to create a cosy image of the presidential couple, perhaps in front of a roaring hearth, maybe in seasonal knitwear? Or is this quasi-dictatorial image exactly what the president wants to project? Look on my Christmas trees, ye mighty, and despair! If so, it fuels suspicions that it is only the checks and balances of a 230-year-old constitution that are keeping America from the darkest of political fates. You couldn’t create a creepier Yuletide scene if you tried. Multiple Christmas trees are currently a status symbol for the wealthy, but this picture shows the risks.

Instead of a homely symbol of midwinter cheer, these disciplined arboreal ranks with their uniform decorations are arrayed like massed soldiers or colossal columns designed by Albert Speer. The setting is the Cross Hall in the White House and, while the incumbent president cannot be held responsible for its architecture, why heighten its severity with such rigid, heartless seasonal trappings? Everything here communicates cold, empty magnificence. Tree lights that are as frigid as icicles are mirrored in a cold polished floor. Equally frosty illuminations are projected on the ceiling. Instead of twinkling fairy magic, this lifeless lighting creates a sterile, inhuman atmosphere.

You can’t imagine kids playing among these trees or any conceivable fun being had by anyone. It suggests the micromanaged, corporate Christmas of a Citizen Kane who has long since lost touch with the ordinary, warm pleasures of real life. In the centre of this disturbing piece of conceptual art stand Donald and Melania Trump. He’s in a tuxedo, she’s wearing white – and not a woolly hat in sight. Their formal smartness adds to the emotional numbness of the scene. Trump’s shark-like grin has nothing generous or friendly about it. He seems to want to show off his beautiful wife and his fantastic home rather than any of the cuddly holiday spirit a conventional politician might strive to share at this time.

It begs a question: how can a man who so glaringly lacks anything like a common touch be such a successful “populist”? What can a midwestern voter find in this image to connect with? Perhaps that’s the point. After more than two centuries of democracy, Trump is offering the US people a king, or emperor. In this picture, he gives full vent to his inner tyrant. If this portrait contains any truth about the state of America and the world, may Santa help us all.

I realize that you may be tired of the whole story. I realize you may have been caught in the anti-Trump narrative. And I am by no means a Trump fan. But I will keep on dragging you back to this. Because the discussion should not be based on a handful of media moguls not liking Trump. It should not be based on innuendo and smear. If Trump is to be convicted, it must be on evidence.

And there is no such evidence. Robert Mueller has charged 34 people, but none with what his mandate was based on, none with Russia collusion. This means that the American political system, and democracy itself, is under severe threat by the very media that are supposed to be its gate keepers.

 

None of this is about Trump, or about whether you like him or not, or even if he’s a shady character or not. Instead, it’s about the influence the media have on how our opinions and ideas about people and events are being shaped on a daily basis.

And once you acknowledge that your opinions of Trump, Putin et al, even without any proof of a connection between them, are actively being molded by the press you expect to inform you about the truth behind what goes on, you will have to acknowledge, too, that you are a captive of forces that use your gullibility to make a profit off you.

If our media need to make up things all the time about who’s guilty of what, because our justice systems are incapable of that, then we have a problem so enormous we may not be able to overcome it in our present settings.

Alternatively, if we trust our justice systems to deliver true justice, we don’t need a hundred articles a day to tell us how Trump or Putin are such terrible threats to our world. Our judges will tell us, not our journalists or media who are only in it for a profit.

I can say: “let’s start off 2019 trying to leave prejudice behind”, and as much as that is needed and you may agree with me, it’s no use if you don’t realize to what extent your views of the world have been shaped by prejudice.

I see people reacting to the star writer at Der Spiegel who wrote a lot about Trump, being exposed as a fraud. I also see people trying to defend Julian Assange from the Guardian article about his alleged meetings with Paul Manafort, that was an obvious big fat lie (the truth is Manafort talked to Ecuador to help them ‘sell’ Assange to the US).

But reacting to the very obvious stuff is not enough. The echo chamber distorts the truth about Trump every single day, and at least six times on Sunday, as this essay of mine shows. It’s just that after two years of this going on 24/7, it is perceived as the normal.

Everyone makes money dumping on the Donald, it’s a proven success formula, so why would the Guardian and Der Spiegel stay behind? They’d only hurt their own bottom line.

It has nothing to do with journalism, though, or news. It’s smear and dirt, the business model of the National Enquirer. That’s how far our once truthful media have fallen.