Oct 062019
 
 October 6, 2019  Posted by at 10:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  15 Responses »


Paul Gauguin Cow on the seashore 1886

 

Powell: Fed’s Job To Keep Economy In A ‘Good Place As Long As Possible’ (CNBC)
Auto Imports From Mexico Surge As US Sales Decline (WS)
The Ukraine Affair Is Damning, All Right – Just Not In The Way You Think (RT)
Trump Told Theresa May He Doubted Russia Was Behind Skripal Poisoning (G.)
US Media Now Filled With Former Intelligence Agents (Rania Khalek)
Hong Kong Democrats To Challenge Mask Ban In Court (HKFP)
Hong Kong Mask Ban Spurs New Mass Protest On Sunday (BBC)
Epstein Victim Says Leslie Wexner “Responsible For What Happened To Me” (Hill)
24 State Attorneys General Launch Legal Challenge Against Purdue Pharma (Hill)

 

 

This is so incredibly stupid and nobody calls him out over it.

Powell: Fed’s Job To Keep Economy In A ‘Good Place As Long As Possible’ (CNBC)

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell described the U.S. economy on Friday as being solid, noting the central bank must do what it can to keep it there. “While not everyone fully shares economic opportunities and the economy faces some risks, overall it is— as I like to say— in a good place,” Powell said in prepared remarks delivered at a “Fed Listens” event in Washington. The event is part of a monetary policy communication review by the Fed. “Our job is to keep it there as long as possible.” Powell’s comments came after a raft of disappointing data releases this week. On Tuesday, the Institute for Supply Management said U.S. manufacturing contracted to its weakest level in a decade.


The ISM also said Thursday that the U.S. services sector grew at its slowest pace since August 2016. The Labor Department, meanwhile, reported weaker-than-expected jobs growth for September. This batch of weaker-than-forecast economic numbers led traders to ratchet up their bets on easier monetary policy from the Fed. Market expectations for a rate cut later this month are around 80%, according to the CME Group’s FedWatch tool. “While we believe our strategy and tools have been and remain effective, the U.S. economy, like other advanced economies around the world, is facing some longer-term challenges—from low growth, low inflation, and low interest rates,” Powell said, adding the Fed is “examining strategies” that will help it achieve its inflation goal of 2%.

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Something ain’t happening.

Auto Imports From Mexico Surge As US Sales Decline (WS)

Automakers continue to shift their production base from the U.S. to Mexico, where labor costs pale in comparison with those in the U.S., despite growing opposition from U.S. auto workers and their unions. U.S. imports of new vehicles from Mexico surged by 8% in the first three quarters of 2019, according to the auto manufacturers association AIMA, released by Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI). This surge has occurred even as total deliveries of vehicles to end-users in the US fell by 1.6%. Between January and September 2019, 2.03 million new vehicles were dispatched from assembly plants in Mexico to the U.S. market, 158,000 more than during the first three quarters of 2018.


In the last eight years, auto imports from Mexico have almost doubled, from 1.3 million in 2011 to 2.57 million last year, at annual growth rates of between 6.3% and 13.9%. Barring any major supply chain hiccups, the U.S. is on track to import over 2.7 million new vehicles from Mexico this year. The latest figures cement Mexico’s position as number one exporter of automobiles to the US, ahead of Canada in second place. According to AIMA, 16% of the 12.7 million cars and other light vehicles delivered in the U.S. in the first three quarters of 2019 were assembled in Mexico.

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Nebojsa Malic, senior writer at RT: “It’s curious how the same treatment was not given a few months ago to the anti-Trump text messages of FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page..”

The Ukraine Affair Is Damning, All Right – Just Not In The Way You Think (RT)

Democrats say texts and transcripts involving US officials dealing with Ukraine prove President Donald Trump should be impeached. What they actually confirm, however, is the extent to which the US treats Ukraine as a vassal. At the heart of the latest media firestorm are the text messages between US diplomats and Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani. House Democrats seeking to impeach Trump have already sent a subpoena to the White House seeking more documents, and their allies in the media have proclaimed the texts to be “damning.” Much of the brouhaha centers on messages from Bill Taylor, charge d’affaires at the US Embassy in Kiev, who is the only one to suggest the military aid to Ukraine and President Volodymyr Zelensky’s meeting with Trump are being “conditioned” on investigations of Hunter Biden and Ukraine’s role in 2016 meddling in the US election.

In one of the exchanges with US ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, dated September 9, Taylor spells out what would become the Democrats’ argument for impeachment: “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” Sondland’s admonishment of Taylor – “I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The President has been crystal clear: no quid pro quo’s of any kind.” – is somehow being held up as an admission of wrongdoing, along with his request for a phone call instead of continued texts. Just like that, all of a sudden, the controversy about the so-called “whistleblower” who may have colluded with House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff (D-California) before filing his complaint – based on hearsay – is declared “irrelevant” and the texts are held up as the Holy Grail of impeachment proceedings.

It’s curious how the same treatment was not given a few months ago to the anti-Trump text messages of FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, when the entire media establishment twisted itself into pretzels to explain that when Strzok said “we’ll stop” Trump from becoming president what he really meant, you see, was something totally innocuous and not sinister at all. House Republicans have blasted the diplomatic texts as “cherry-picked” by the other party, and argued that the closed-doors testimony of Kurt Volker, former US special envoy to Ukraine who participated in the exchanges, painted a completely different picture. Reading the transcript of Volker’s opening statement, obtained and published Friday by investigative reporter John Solomon and the Federalist, seems to back that claim.

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Sacrilege. BTW, where is Skripal? Hiding out with Wexner and Maxwell?

Trump Told Theresa May He Doubted Russia Was Behind Skripal Poisoning (G.)

Donald Trump disputed that Russia was behind the attempted murder of a former Russian spy in a tense call with Theresa May, it has emerged. Despite the widespread conclusion that Vladimir Putin’s regime was behind the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia last year, the US president is said to have spent 10 minutes expressing his doubts about Russian involvement. According to the Washington Post, Trump “harangued” May about Britain’s contribution to Nato in a phone call with Britain’s then prime minister in the summer of last year, before disputing Russian involvement in the Skripal case.


“Trump totally bought into the idea there was credible doubt about the poisoning,” said a figure briefed on the call. “A solid 10 minutes of the conversation is spent with May saying it’s highly likely and him saying he’s not sure.” The Skripals were left fighting for their lives after the novichok attack in Salisbury, while a policeman was also left seriously ill. A second policeman was recently discovered to have been injured in the attack. Two Russian agents, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, were identified as the likely culprits. However, they later appeared on Russia’s state-funded TV station RT, claiming they visited the “wonderful” English city as tourists to see its cathedral.

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Any day now, CNN can start a spook soccer team.

US Media Now Filled With Former Intelligence Agents (Rania Khalek)

After years in the shadows overseeing espionage, kill programs, warrantless wiretapping, entrapment, psyops and other covert operations, national security establishment retirees are are turning to a new line of work where they can carry out their imperial duties. That is, propagandizing the public on cable news. Reborn as cable news pundits, these people are cashing in. So many years working in the dark, only to emerge in the studio lights of the same networks that rail all day everyday against state TV from countries that America hates. I’m talking about people like… Below is but a partial list of prominent former spooks turned mainstream media pundits and analysts, to say nothing of the even greater numbers of retired generals the network continuously rely on.

• Former CIA Director John Brennan who is now an NBC News senior national security and intelligence analyst.
• Fran Townsend, former homeland security advisor to George W. Bush. She’s now a CBS News senior national security analyst.

But CNN takes the cake — it’s the biggest spook show of all.
• Jim Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence, now a CNN national security analyst.
• Retired General Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA and the NSA, now a CNN national security analyst.
• Asha Rangappa, former FBI special agent, now CNN legal analyst.
• James Gagliano, a retired FBI supervisory special agent, now a CNN law enforcement analyst.
• Tony Bliken, former deputy secretary of state and former deputy national security advisor, and now CNN global affairs analyst.
• Mike Rogers, former chair of the House Intelligence Committee, now CNN national security commentator.
• Samantha Vinograd senior advisor to the national security advisor under President Obama, now CNN national security analyst.
• Steven Hall, retired CIA chief of Russia operations, now a CNN national security analyst.
• Philip Mudd, former CIA counter-terrorism official, now CNN counter-terrorism analyst.

…Welcome to the spook show!

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Kyle Bass on Twitter: “Bank runs all over Hong Kong now. ATM machines running out of cash but there is something more important…failed leader carrie lam(b) can now officially confiscate bank accounts and assets without recourse. The HK legal system is essentially gone.”

Challenge was already thrown out by the High Court in the meantime.

Hong Kong Democrats To Challenge Mask Ban In Court (HKFP)

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy lawmakers will challenge the newly imposed mask ban in court, arguing that Chief Executive Carrie Lam broke the law when she bypassed the legislature. Filed jointly by all 24 democrats, the lawsuit targeted the Emergency Regulations Ordinance (ERO) – the colonial-era law that grants the city’s leader and her council of advisors wide-ranging powers to “make regulations on occasions of emergency or public danger.” Democrats called for the mask ban to be suspended, before a proper judicial review hearing can be held. The court will hear their first round of arguments at Sunday 10am.


The lawmakers said that Lam “circumvented” the constitutional framework of One Country, Two Systems when she invoked the ERO to ban facial coverings at legal and unauthorised protests from Saturday. “Since the Handover, there has never been an occasion when the chief executive enacted legislation without going through LegCo,” said Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok. On Friday, the High Court dismissed a bid by activists Lester Shum and “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung to suspend the law, saying that their case was not strong enough to outweigh the government’s rationale. Kwok said that the democrats’ lawsuit was different, as they had special standing as lawmakers to make constitutional arguments.

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Lam: “We cannot allow rioters any more to destroy our treasured Hong Kong.”

That is HER treasured HK, not THEIRS?

Hong Kong Mask Ban Spurs New Mass Protest On Sunday (BBC)

Thousands of anti-government protesters have turned out for marches in Hong Kong despite pouring rain, spurred into action by a government ban on masks. Many defiantly covered their faces as they set off from several points in a co-ordinated response to the ban, which the High Court upheld on Sunday. Metro services, which were attacked by rioters on Friday, have resumed in some parts of the Chinese city. The masks have become the latest focus in months of pro-democracy protests. Police use of live bullets against protesters this week, leaving two people injured, has also fuelled the unrest. Chief executive Carrie Lam introduced the ban by invoking powers dating back to colonial rule by the British.

Demonstrators fear that democratic rights are being eroded in the semi-autonomous territory under Chinese rule. Many more people have turned out than on Saturday, when a small march was held in the aftermath of Friday’s rioting. Two groups set off at the same time from the Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui districts, the South China Morning Post reports. Shops could be seen closing early while luxury and chain stores were closed in Causeway Bay. On Friday, both businesses and railway stations were attacked by rioters. Hosun Lee, a protester in Causeway Bay, told AFP news agency he feared more emergency laws were on the way. “The anti-face mask law is the first step,” he said.

Ms Lam vowed on Saturday to prevent further violence, saying: “We cannot allow rioters any more to destroy our treasured Hong Kong.” She justified the law against masks as a response to the demonstrators’ “extreme violence” which was, she said, endangering Hong Kong’s public safety. A second legal challenge to the mask ban, which was brought by opposition legislators, was rejected by the High Court. The legislators had argued that the prohibition was unconstitutional because it denied the rights of free expression and free assembly.

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Wexner is walking around free, as is Ghislaine. Not sure about Skripal.

Epstein Victim Says Leslie Wexner “Responsible For What Happened To Me” (Hill)

A woman allegedly attacked by Jeffrey Epstein said she holds Victoria’s Secret billionaire Leslie Wexner “responsible for what happened to me” because she was staying on a property monitored by Wexner and his wife and guarded by his security team, the Washington Post reported. Maria Farmer stayed in a home that was a half-mile away from Wexner’s home in New Albany, Ohio during the summer of 1996 while she was creating two paintings for the film “As Good as it Gets.” Farmer was employed by Jeffrey Epstein at the time, and while she was staying in the house in Ohio, she alleges that Epstein and his associate Ghislaine Maxwell sexually assaulted her.


When she tried to leave the home after the alleged assault, Farmer said a security guard employed by Wexner told her “You aren’t leaving,” and “You’re not going anywhere.” She said another security guard later took her by the arm, and as she fought against him, he grabbed her so hard she bruised. Farmer said she also tried to call local police and the Franklin County Sheriff’s office. But Wexner had contracted with the office, and a person told her “we work for Wexner,” when she tried to report the crime, Farmer told the Washington Post. She also alleged that she was discouraged from leaving the house without the permission of Abigail Wexler, Leslie Wexler’s wife. She was later picked up by her father at the Washington home.

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“..Purdue gave up to $13 billion in company profits to the Sackler family.”

24 State Attorneys General Launch Legal Challenge Against Purdue Pharma (Hill)

US Attorneys General from 24 states and Washington, D.C. launched a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma this week in an attempt to block the OxyContin maker from avoiding thousands of lawsuits after filing for bankruptcy, Reuters reported. The state officials objected to Purdue Pharma’s request that a U.S. bankruptcy judge block the more than 2,600 lawsuits seeking billions in damages, according to court filings, Reuters reported. The lawsuits argue that the company, along with the Sackler family, were a catalyst in the opioid crisis across the country by not disclosing the addictive risks of opioids. “The Sacklers are billionaires, they are not bankrupt,” the Massachusetts attorney general, Maura Healey, told Reuters.


“They should not be allowed to use the filing to shield their assets.” Purdue filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy last month, after reaching a settlement between $10 billion and $12 billion for the thousands of plaintiffs involved in the lawsuits. The committee of attorneys who negotiated the settlement said the filing will not stop the company from finalizing the settlement. But Purdue sought the injunction to stop the lawsuits against the company because the Sackler family did not file for bankruptcy, Reuters reported. The Sacklers have offered to give control of Purdue to the plaintiffs and give at least $3 billion towards the settlement. The case filed this week by the state attorneys general also said Purdue gave up to $13 billion in company profits to the Sackler family.

Read more …

 

 

 

 

Sep 072019
 
 September 7, 2019  Posted by at 9:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Portrait of Dora Maar 1942

 

The Financialization of the US Economy (WS)
Fed Chair Powell Repeats Vow To Act ‘As Appropriate’ (R.)
Tariffs Are No Longer China’s Biggest Problem In The Trade War (CNBC)
Boris Johnson Urged To Become A ‘Brexit Martyr’ (DM)
A Trump Brexit Threatens (Wight)
A Crackup Is Inevitable (Kunstler)
CIA, Mossad, “the Epstein Network” and an Orwellian Nightmare (Whitney Webb)
How MIT Concealed Its Relationship with Jeffrey Epstein (Farrow)
Boeing’s Chief Technical Pilot On The 737 MAX Project Pleads The Fifth (ST)
For The First Time In My Life, I’m Frightened To Be Jewish (David Graeber)
Edward Snowden’s Guardian Angels (F24)

 

 

But services don’t make stuff.

The Financialization of the US Economy (WS)

Service-producing industries dominate the US economy, accounting for over 70% of GDP. And this sector is hopping. Revenues in the major services categories rose 5.3% in the second quarter of 2019, compared to the same quarter a year earlier, to $4.05 trillion, not seasonally adjusted, according to the Commerce Department’s Quarterly Selected Services Estimates released today. For the first two quarters of 2019, service revenues rose 5.5% to $8.0 trillion. The pace of growth so far this year is slightly lower than the hot 6.0% growth for the year 2018.


Four biggies dominate the service sector, and the US economy overall. They accounted for $2.92 trillion in revenues in Q1, or about 72% of total service revenues, with the biggest of them all, finance and insurance, accounting for 32%, up from 31% at the end of last year. It is also the fastest-growing segment, even faster than healthcare, as the US economy is getting more and more financialized. The share of each of the big four of overall service revenues: • Finance and insurance: 32% • Healthcare: 17% • Professional, scientific, and technical services: 12% • “Information” services, such as telecommunications, software, and data processing: 11%.

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Only one act is appropriate: go home. Did you know Jay Powell is worth some $100 million? Do you think he’s concerned about Americans living paycheck to paycheck?

Fed Chair Powell Repeats Vow To Act ‘As Appropriate’ (R.)

The U.S. Federal Reserve will continue to act “as appropriate” to sustain the economic expansion in the world’s biggest economy, Fed Chair Jerome Powell said Friday in Zurich, sticking to a phrase that financial markets have read as signaling further interest-rate reductions ahead. “Our obligation is to use our tools to support the economy, and that’s what we’ll continue to do,” Powell said at the University of Zurich. Still, he said, “We are clearly at a time where there is a range of views” among Fed policymakers meeting Sept. 17-18 to decide on rates.


Powell’s careful wording reflects a split within the U.S. central bank about how best to respond to an economy where the job market and consumer spending are strong but rising trade tensions between Beijing and Washington, Britain’s possibly messy exit from the European Union, and a broad global slowdown pose risks. Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren for instance has made the case for leaving rates where they are until those risks are more tangible in the economic data. Others including St. Louis Fed President James Bullard have called for a half-a-percentage point interest-rate cut to get ahead of the trade war risks and bring the Fed’s policy rate more in line with market expectations. Meanwhile, financial markets are betting Fed policymakers will agree to split the difference and follow their quarter-point rate cut in July with another one later this month.

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Decoupling.

Tariffs Are No Longer China’s Biggest Problem In The Trade War (CNBC)

It’s not the new round of tariffs that went into effect; we’ve been playing the tit-for-tat tariff war for more than a year. It’s not the economic reports; they’ve been a little too mixed lately to force any dramatic moves. It’s not even the decision by Hong Kong administrator Carrie Lam to fully withdraw the controversial mainland extradition bill; it’s still not clear that the Hong Kong unrest would be affected in any way by a trade deal. Given the timing of the change in tone, it seems more likely that what’s making the difference is a realization on both sides that there’s another way this trade war could end – and that possible ending is one the U.S. is very unlikely to lose.


That alternate ending is summed up in one word: decoupling. The decoupling push is quite different than any U.S. efforts to get China to open up more of its economy to American companies. Instead, it focuses on reducing America’s extremely heavy reliance on China for so much of its manufacturing needs. Even if China’s economy weren’t so closed off to so many American goods and services, a strong argument has long been made that the U.S. needs to diversify its sources for imports. While finding those new sources wouldn’t necessarily do anything to dent America’s trade imbalances, it would reduce the risks of a major disruption to the U.S. economy based on disputes or other problems connected to a single foreign country.

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As I wrote yesterday, he has little to lose by resigning.

Boris Johnson Urged To Become A ‘Brexit Martyr’ (DM)

Boris Johnson wrote to all Tory members last night to indicate that he would rather defy the law than beg Brussels for a delay in bringing Britain out of the EU. The Prime Minister said he was only bound ‘in theory’ by a law which is expected to receive Royal Assent on Monday, taking a No Deal Brexit off the table. In his letter, he reiterated his determination to stand firm against Remainers, saying: ‘They just passed a law that would force me to beg Brussels for an extension to the Brexit deadline. This is something I will never do.’ Earlier on Friday he told reporters he would not entertain seeking another deadline extension from Brussels, as the incoming law compels him to do if no agreement is in place by October 19.

He was urged last night by Tory grandee Iain Duncan Smith to hold his nerve, saying he would be ‘martyred’ if he chose to break the law and risk a possible prison sentence for contempt of Parliament. Mr Duncan Smith told The Telegraph: ‘This is about Parliament versus the people. Boris Johnson is on the side of the people, who voted to leave the EU. ‘The people are sovereign because they elect Parliament. But Parliament wants to stop the will of the people.’ If Mr Johnson fails to carry out the will of Parliament, he risks being taken to court and, if a judge ordered him to obey Parliament, he could be held in contempt and even jailed for refusing.


Mr Johnson’s latest plans for a snap election appeared to have been scuppered yet again last night by a ’stitch-up’ between Jeremy Corbyn and Remain parties. Labour, the Lib Dems and Scots and Welsh nationalists agreed to block the public going to the polls before October 31. It leaves the Prime Minister in limbo, forced to choose between resigning or defying a law passed by MPs ruling out a No Deal Brexit.

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“This desire for godlike powers of total creation is precisely why free market ideologues are so drawn to crises and disasters.”

A Trump Brexit Threatens (Wight)

Trump’s otherworldly vice president, Mike Pence, has just said more in one short sentence to unravel the complexities of the Brexit crisis that continues to bedevil the UK, than the ocean of column inches that have been devoted to the subject since the referendum was held in 2016. Speaking at a black tie event in London on Thursday night, attended by an array of business executives, Pence proclaimed, “The minute the UK is out, America is in.” Pence, a man who stands as living proof that human evolution is not wedded to an ever upwards path, delivered these words with the bombast of a Roman proconsul addressing the notables of a soon-to-be client state.

Thus let there be no doubt that the hard no-deal Brexit advocated by the UK’s newly installed Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his supporters is to all intents a Trump Brexit – one that will see the UK economy opened up to the tender mercies of U.S. corporations on terms set not by London but Washington. In other words, we’re talking disaster capitalism on steroids, bringing with it the likely prospect of the decimation of what’s left of the UK’s welfare state, including that most revered totem to social solidarity, the National Health Service (NHS), which since the end of WWII, when it was established, has provided generations of British citizens with free healthcare at the point of need, funded out of general taxation, regardless of social class or personal wealth.


The NHS is therefore a socialist institution in all but name, which Johnson and his privileged right wing establishment acolytes in the hard Brexit camp would sooner see broken up and sold off to U.S. insurance companies in sacrifice to their god, the market. This is regardless of any and all assurances given to the contrary. In her classic work, Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein writes: “Believers in the shock doctrine [of disaster capitalism] are convinced that only a great rupture – a flood, a war, a terrorist attack – can generate the kind of vast, clean canvases they crave,” while earlier in the same passage, warning that “This desire for godlike powers of total creation is precisely why free market ideologues are so drawn to crises and disasters.”

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National sovereignty.

A Crackup Is Inevitable (Kunstler)

What’s at stake behind all the pushing-and-shoving is the question of national sovereignty. Does it matter anymore? I suspect it will matter increasingly for everyone in many nations, and at a smaller and smaller scale of political divisions so that, for instance, Great Britain itself will be faced with surrendering its dominion over Scotland and Northern Ireland. This is churning in the zeitgeist now, actually has been for some time since the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia cracked up. Even the United States finds itself increasingly disunited and it’s not inconceivable that before the century ends some regions may go their own way. Texans have been talking it up for years, and California is already acting like she’s started divorce proceedings.

China, meanwhile, is whipping its quasi-vassal Hong Kong like a dog because Xi Jinping is not in a position to bust Donald Trump upside the head and Xi’s got to take it out on somebody. Everything was looking so rosy for China as it burst out of its medieval cocoon into industrial adulthood, and now Mr. Trump is ruining the global arrangements that turned the sclerotic old outfit into a global super-dragon. They’ve had a blast driving down the capitalist road — even if they’re actually ruled by communists — but a storm of bad debt is coming up on them from behind, and if it catches up, the joyride is over and some kind of dreadful crackup happens.


All the abiding normality of the past seventy years is slipping away into flux. Modernity is finally yielding – to what? Nobody knows. And nowhere is this more obvious than in the realm of money and economy. Beyond all the other quarrels of modern times — democracy versus communism, Islam versus the West, the wealthy north versus the poor south — one thing remained pretty steady: the flow of oil into the engines of economy. Turned out, the world didn’t have to run out of oil for that normality to fray badly; the oil just had to become marginally unaffordable, and voila! It’s hard for people to grok, especially here in the USA with oil production so far above the old 1970 prior peak that the proposition seems absurd.

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Whitney’s latest. Obvious must read.

CIA, Mossad, “the Epstein Network” and an Orwellian Nightmare (Whitney Webb)

Prior to the public scrutiny of Barak’s relationship to Jeffrey Epstein, following the latter’s arrest this past July and subsequent death, Barak had come under fire for his ties to disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein. Indeed, it was Ehud Barak who put Weinstein in contact with the Israeli private intelligence outfit Black Cube, which employs former Mossad agents and Israeli military intelligence operatives, as Weinstein sought to intimidate the women who had accused him of sexual assault and sexual harassment. Former Mossad director Meir Dagan led Black Cube’s board until his death in 2016 and Carbyne co-founder Lital Leshem is Black Cube’s former director of marketing.

After Barak put him in contact with Black Cube’s leadership, Weinstein, according to The New Yorker, used the private spy firm to “‘target,’ or collect information on, dozens of individuals, and compile psychological profiles that sometimes focused on their personal or sexual histories.” In addition, The New Yorker noted that “Weinstein monitored the progress of the investigations personally” and “also enlisted former employees from his film enterprises to join in the effort, collecting names and placing calls that, according to some sources who received them, felt intimidating.”


Yet, more recently, it has been Barak’s close relationship to Epstein that has raised eyebrows and opened him up to political attacks from his rivals. Epstein and Barak were first introduced by former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres in 2002, a time when Epstein’s pedophile blackmail and sex trafficking operation was in full swing.

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Pecunia non olet.

How MIT Concealed Its Relationship with Jeffrey Epstein (Farrow)

The M.I.T. Media Lab, which has been embroiled in a scandal over accepting donations from the financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, had a deeper fund-raising relationship with Epstein than it has previously acknowledged, and it attempted to conceal the extent of its contacts with him. Dozens of pages of e-mails and other documents obtained by The New Yorker reveal that, although Epstein was listed as “disqualified” in M.I.T.’s official donor database, the Media Lab continued to accept gifts from him, consulted him about the use of the funds, and, by marking his contributions as anonymous, avoided disclosing their full extent, both publicly and within the university.


Perhaps most notably, Epstein appeared to serve as an intermediary between the lab and other wealthy donors, soliciting millions of dollars in donations from individuals and organizations, including the technologist and philanthropist Bill Gates and the investor Leon Black. According to the records obtained by The New Yorker and accounts from current and former faculty and staff of the media lab, Epstein was credited with securing at least $7.5 million in donations for the lab, including two million dollars from Gates and $5.5 million from Black, gifts the e-mails describe as “directed” by Epstein or made at his behest. The effort to conceal the lab’s contact with Epstein was so widely known that some staff in the office of the lab’s director, Joi Ito, referred to Epstein as Voldemort or “he who must not be named.”

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By refusing to send documents.

Boeing’s Chief Technical Pilot On The 737 MAX Project Pleads The Fifth (ST)

A former Boeing official who played a key role in the development of the 737 MAX has refused to provide documents sought by federal prosecutors investigating two fatal crashes of the jetliner, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mark Forkner, Boeing’s chief technical pilot on the MAX project, invoked the privilege in response to a grand jury subpoena issued by U.S. Justice Department prosecutors looking into the design and certification of the plane, the person said.

Invoking the Fifth to avoid testifying, while a legal right, is sometimes interpreted as an admission of guilt. Its use to resist a subpoena for documents is less common and may only imply a dance between prosecutors and defense attorneys, legal experts say. Forkner, now a first officer for Southwest Airlines, referred questions to his attorney when reached by phone. His attorney, David Gerger, of Houston, did not respond to inquiries.


Forkner, who worked at Boeing from 2011 to 2018, according to his LinkedIn profile, was frequently anxious about the deadlines and pressures faced in the MAX program, going to some of his peers in the piloting world for help, a person who worked on the project previously told The Seattle Times, speaking on condition of anonymity. The MCAS system, designed to move a powerful control surface at the tail to push the airplane’s nose down in certain rare situations, played a critical role in the crashes when the planes nose-dived out of the sky. During the certification process, Forkner suggested to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that MCAS not be included in the pilot manual, according to previous Seattle Times reporting.

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The anti-Corbyn campaign fallout.

For The First Time In My Life, I’m Frightened To Be Jewish (David Graeber)

I am 58 years old, and for the first time in my life, I am frightened to be Jewish. We live in a time when racism is being normalized, when Nazis parade in the streets in Europe and America; Jew baiters like Hungary’s Orban are treated as respectable players on the international scene, “white nationalist” propagandist Steve Bannon can openly coordinate scare-mongering tactics with Boris Johnson in London at the same time as in Pittsburg, murderers deluded by white nationalist propaganda are literally mowing Jews down with automatic weapons. How is it, then, that our political class has come to a consensus that the greatest threat to Britain’s Jewish community is a lifelong anti-racist accused of not being assiduous enough in disciplining party members who make offensive comments on the internet?


For almost all my Jewish friends, this is what is currently creating the greatest and most immediate sense of trepidation, even more than the actual Nazis: the apparently endless campaign by politicians like Margaret Hodge, Wes Streeting, and Tom Watson to weaponize antisemitism accusations against the current leadership of the Labour party. It is a campaign – which however it started, has been sustained primarily by people who are not themselves Jewish – so cynical and irresponsible that I genuinely believe it to be a form of antisemitism in itself. And it is a clear and present danger to Jewish people. To any of these politicians who may be reading this, I am begging you: if you really do care about Jews, please, stop this.

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Justin better act.

Edward Snowden’s Guardian Angels (F24)

After he revealed the National Security Agency’s illegal mass surveillance programmes in 2013, Edward Snowden received help from some unlikely accomplices. Four refugees and their lawyer allowed the whistleblower to escape and stay under the radar, at a time when he was the world’s most wanted man. For 13 days, they sheltered him in their tiny apartments located in the poorest area of Hong Kong, home to the marginalised community of asylum seekers. The mastermind behind the idea of hiding the American fugitive in plain sight was Robert Tibbo, a Canadian human rights lawyer, well known for defending asylum seekers in the region.

Snowden told FRANCE 24 he believes he owes his life to these unexpected allies, who could have turned him in at any time: “They could have written an email to the CIA and they could have gotten a big cheque or they could have finally gotten asylum in exchange. But they would have had to do it by selling someone into a grave. And for that, I’ll never be able to repay them.”


But since their identity was revealed, especially with the release of the Oliver Stone film “Snowden” in 2016, these refugees are being persecuted by Hong Kong authorities. Arrested on several occasions, they have been questioned about their ties with Snowden. The little welfare they received from the government has been cut. Today, they all live in constant fear in Hong Kong. If deported to their home country of Sri Lanka, they could face imprisonment, torture and even death. All of them have applied for asylum in Canada.

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Aug 232019
 


Odilon Redon Breton harbor 1879

 

Seeking Clarity From Fed’s Powell? Good Luck With That (R.)
Japan’s July Core Inflation Hovers At Two-Year Low, Adds Pressure On BOJ (R.)
Bernie Sanders Reveals $16.3 Trillion Green New Deal (R.)
Another FBI Failure Involving The Clintons Surfaces (Solomon)
Boeing Jumps On Reuters Report Of Record 737 Production Target (ZH)
Macron Says UK Can Still Revoke Article 50 And Cancel Brexit (Ind.)
US Teachers Are Again Opening Up Their Wallets To Buy School Supplies (EPI)
Wildlife Meeting Backs More Protection For Giraffes (AFP)
Bolsonaro Burns Down The Amazon (G.)
French Mayors Ban Glyphosate Weedkiller, Defying Government (R.)

 

 

Futility in action.

Seeking Clarity From Fed’s Powell? Good Luck With That (R.)

When Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell speaks in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, on Friday, traders will comb through his remarks for clues on whether the U.S. central bank will deliver more rate cuts this year. They may be disappointed. For all his reputation as the most plain-spoken person to run the U.S. central bank in decades, if not ever, Powell may be reluctant in his remarks to fellow central bankers at this year’s Kansas City Fed economic symposium to say much about where rates will go. The reason: he may not actually know, and does not want to get locked in.

Fellow Fed policymakers, even those who supported July’s rate cut, are signaling reluctance to do more, with Philadelphia Fed chief Patrick Harker calling for a wait-and-see approach and Dallas Fed chief Robert Kaplan saying he is “open minded” but would “like to avoid having to take further action.” Since the Fed cut rates in July, the U.S. economic picture has darkened. New threats by President Donald Trump to impose additional tariffs on China, and then a decision to defer some of those new taxes until December, are boosting already heightened uncertainty for businesses. U.S. factory activity is on the decline.


Globally, dozens of central banks are cutting rates and some economies look poised to fall into recession. Finally, in a signal that investors are increasingly worried about a U.S. recession, yields on 2-year Treasuries sank below those 10-year debt on Thursday in yet another “yield curve inversion.” At the same time, labor markets remain strong and consumers continue to spend at stores and online. Part of the reason the yield curve inverted is because the U.S. economy remains so much stronger than much of Europe: investors would rather have “safe” U.S. Treasuries, even with their dropping yields, than say, German bonds with a negative yield.

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What is it now, 20 years? Good lord.

Japan’s July Core Inflation Hovers At Two-Year Low, Adds Pressure On BOJ (R.)

Japan’s core consumer inflation wallowed at a two-year low in July, increasing pressure for the central bank to acknowledge price momentum was slowing and expand its radical stimulus program. With the global economy hit by the Sino-U.S. tariff war and a pick-up in demand in the second half of the year uncertain, attention has turned to global central banks to gauge their readiness for further stimulus. Indeed, expectations that the BOJ will ease further have grown, a recent Reuters poll showed, after the central bank at its last policy meeting committed to expanding stimulus if a global slowdown prolongs and threatens to derail Japan’s economic recovery.

The core consumer price index, which includes oil products but excludes fresh food prices, rose 0.6% in July year-on-year, matching economists’ median estimate. The reading for July matched the previous month’s gain, which was the slowest pace since July 2017 when the index climbed 0.5%. The so-called core-core CPI, which excludes the effects of volatile food and energy costs, was also up 0.6% in July from a year earlier. It is closely watched by the BOJ to gauge how much the economy’s strength has translated into price gains. But the data indicates the central bank remains well behind in its efforts to achieve its 2% inflation target as an eight-month long export slump on the back of the U.S.-China trade war and slowing global demand take a toll on the world’s third-largest economy.


“It’s just a matter of time before the BOJ acknowledges that the momentum of a higher inflation rate is being lost,” said Masaaki Kanno, chief economist at Sony Financial Holdings.

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Looks like it’s only a switch from one source to another. Blind. Useless.

Bernie Sanders Reveals $16.3 Trillion Green New Deal (R.)

Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders on Thursday unveiled a $16.3 trillion climate change strategy on a tour of northern California that included meeting families displaced by deadly wildfires and a rally in the state capital Sacramento. The plan would “launch a decade of the Green New Deal”, a 10-year federal “mobilization” that would factor climate change into every policy action from immigration to foreign policy while promising to create 20 million jobs in the process. The U.S. would generate 100% of its electricity from renewable energy by 2030 and achieve “full decarbonization” by 2050, according to the plan.

“We are going to invest massively in wind, solar and other sustainable energies,” Sanders told a cheering crowd that had braved near triple digit temperatures to see him in a downtown Sacramento park. Addressing about 5,000 people inside and outside the park, Sanders accused fossil fuel companies of being willing to destroy the planet for short-term profits. “We cannot turn our backs on this crisis,” Sanders said. “We have got to lead the entire world in a new energy direction.” His plan outlines dozens of policies to aggressively move the United States off fossil fuels in the electricity, transportation and building sectors.


It aims to restore U.S. leadership and financial aid under the Paris Climate Agreement and spend trillions of dollars to assist fossil fuel workers and vulnerable minority communities in the transition to a green economy. It bans the practice of fracking to extract natural gas and oil, the import and export of fossil fuels and sets a moratorium on nuclear power plant license renewals. Sanders’ plan comes a day after Washington state Governor Jay Inslee, who made climate change the centerpiece of his campaign, dropped out of the race for the Democratic party’s nomination to try to unseat Republican Donald Trump as president in 2020.

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Starting to think the breakthrough needed will come from a source other than Bill Barr.

Another FBI Failure Involving The Clintons Surfaces (Solomon)

As I previously wrote, then-FBI Director Comey’s original draft findings in the Clinton case concluded her transmission of classified emails through an unsecure server was “grossly negligent,” the legal standard supporting a felony charge under the Espionage Act. But the findings were edited and the term changed to “extremely careless,” and Comey chose on his own to announce on July 5, 2016, that he would not seek criminal charges, a decision that the DOJ’s IG concluded had wrongly usurped prosecutors’ authority to make charging decisions. In addition, as I have written, FBI general counsel James Baker believed — almost until the last minute before Comey’s announcement — that Clinton should, in fact, face criminal prosecution, but he was talked out of it.

And in a passage that often gets overlooked by reporters and pundits alike, IG Horowitz concluded in his final report about the Clinton email caper that the anti-Trump biases that FBI agent Strzok and bureau lawyer Lisa Page expressed in text messages may have affected their decision-making to focus more urgently on the now disproven Trump-Russia collusion allegations rather than to finish work on the former secretary of state’s email problems, an investigation code-named Midyear. “In assessing the decision to prioritize the Russia investigation over following up on the Midyear-related investigative lead … we were particularly concerned about text messages sent by Strzok and Page that potentially indicated or created the appearance that investigative decisions they made were impacted by bias or improper considerations,” the Justice’s watchdog wrote.


So the FBI’s chief lawyer originally thought Clinton should be indicted, and the bureau wrote a draft supporting the felony standard, but then walked back its decision. And agents focused more on unsubstantiated Trump collusion than Clinton emails in what the IG feared might be a sign of bias. And now we learn the FBI willfully chose to ignore highly classified evidence in the Clinton email case and has stonewalled Congress for a year on whether it intends to reexamine that evidence. It’s exactly that sort of behavior that leaves many Americans wondering whether there are two systems of justice inside the FBI — one for the Clintons, and one for the rest of the country.

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It’s not just the FAA, regulators everywhere must clear the 737 MAX. Some of them will be very reluctant.

Boeing Jumps On Reuters Report Of Record 737 Production Target (ZH)

The Dow has managed to levitate into the red following a Reuters report that sent the stock of Dow heavyweight Boeing higher, according to which Boeing told suppliers it will resume production of its best-selling 737 jets at a rate of 52 aircraft per month in February 2020, then stepping up to a record 57 jets monthly in June. There is, of course a catch: the aerospace giant will only be able to boost production if the FAA clear the plane. To wit, Boeing told more than 100 suppliers during at least one Web meeting July 30 that the new schedule depended upon regulators approving the 737 MAX to fly again commercially in the fourth quarter. Of course, since the entire report is contingent on the firm getting a greenlight, it is nothing more than a trial balloon, and also an attempt by Boeing to make the FAA responsible for the future wellbeing of Boeing shareholders.


As Reuters notes, one of the sources “expressed skepticism over the timing given the intense scrutiny from regulators that grounded the 737 MAX after deadly crashes killed nearly 350 people in Ethiopia and Indonesia in the span of five months.” More to the point, there is no guarantee when regulators will clear the 737 MAX to fly again, and Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg told analysts last month that Boeing would consider further 737 output cuts or potentially suspending production if the grounding dragged on. In other words, Boeing production could be a record in Q2 2020… or it could be zero.

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Have a nice flight home Boris.

“..a trade deal with the United States. “Even if it were a strategic choice it would be at the cost of a historic vassalisation of the British state,” Mr Macron said.”

Macron Says UK Can Still Revoke Article 50 And Cancel Brexit (Ind.)

Emmanuel Macron has insisted Article 50 can still be revoked “up to the last second”, as he warned Boris Johnson a no-deal Brexit would be Britain’s fault. As the two leaders prepared to hold their first face-to-face meeting in Paris, Mr Macron once again dismissed the prime minister’s repeated demands to reopen the withdrawal agreement as “not an option”. In highly-critical remarks on the eve of talks, the French president also said the UK would be the “main victim” of a hard Brexit, as he warned the cost would not be offset by a trade deal with the United States. “Even if it were a strategic choice it would be at the cost of a historic vassalisation of the British state,” Mr Macron said. “I don’t think that is what Boris Johnson wants.”


Rejecting accusations the bloc would be at fault for a no-deal Brexit, he continued: “It will be the responsibility of the British government, always. “Firstly it was the British people that decided Brexit, and the British government has the possibility up to the last second to revoke Article 50.” The frank comments from Mr Macron could overshadow Mr Johnson’s first meeting in Paris as prime minister, as the pair meet for a working lunch to discuss the current state of Britain’s exit from the EU.

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How sad is this? The new normal in the UK too. Don’t know about other countries.

US Teachers Are Again Opening Up Their Wallets To Buy School Supplies (EPI)

It’s the beginning of the school year, a time of eager anticipation and hopeful expectations. Amid the excitement, parents are engaged in practical tasks, including opening their wallets to stock their children’s backpacks with school supplies. Teachers, too, are gearing up to go back to their classrooms by opening their wallets to buy classroom supplies. An overwhelming majority of them—more than nine out of 10—will not be reimbursed for what they spend on supplies over the school year, according to survey data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

The nation’s K–12 public school teachers shell out, on average, $459 on school supplies for which they are not reimbursed (adjusted for inflation to 2018 dollars), according to the NCES 2011–2012 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS). This figure does not include the dollars teachers spend but are reimbursed for by their school districts. The $459-per-teacher average is for all teachers, including the small (4.9%) share who do not spend any of their own money on school supplies.


Unlike the data from the more recent 2015–2016 survey (now called National Teacher and Principal Survey or NTPS), the 2011–2012 SASS microdata provide state-by-state information, allowing us to see how much teachers spend on supplies by state. The map below shows the inflation-adjusted state-by-state spending. We know that the figures in the map are not an atypical high driven by the Great Recession because the 2011–2012 spending levels are lower than spending levels in the 2015–2016 NTPS data. The figure after the map shows that teachers’ unreimbursed school supply spending has actually increased overall since the recovery.

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But of course they fight over this too.

Wildlife Meeting Backs More Protection For Giraffes (AFP)

Wildlife-supporting countries on Thursday backed regulating international trade in giraffes in a bid to offer more protection to the gentle giants, feared to be facing a “silent extinction”. The vote in Geneva by parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) recognises for the first time that international trade is part of the threat facing giraffes. The decision, which passed with 106 votes in favour to 21 votes opposed and seven abstaining, took place in committee and still needs a stamp of approval by the full CITES conference before it wraps up on August 28.

The African giraffe population as a whole has shrunk by an estimated 40 percent over the past three decades, to just under 100,000 animals, according to the best figures available to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). And yet Thursday’s vote, which implies listing all giraffes under CITES Appendix II and thus requiring tracking and regulation of all trade in the species, was highly controversial. The proposal to list the giraffe came from a range of countries in western, central and eastern Africa, where giraffe populations have been particularly hard hit. Chad’s representative argued that “illegal cross-border trade (poses) a significant threat to the survival of giraffes.”


But they met harsh resistance from southern African countries where the populations have traditionally been better protected and are healthier. Countries, including South Africa, Botswana and Tanzania, maintained there was little evidence that international trade is contributing to the decline of the giraffe. And they argued that imposing international regulations was unfair to countries that have strived to protect their giraffes. “Such a decision fails to recognise our conservation achievements,” the Tanzanian representative said.

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Time to boycott Brazil.

Bolsonaro Burns Down The Amazon (G.)

The Amazon is the centre of the world. Right now, as our planet experiences climate collapse, there is nowhere more important. If we don’t grasp this, there is no way to meet that challenge. For 500 years, this has been a place of ruins. First with the European invasion, which brought a particularly destructive form of civilisation, the death of hundreds of thousands of indigenous men and women and the extinction of dozens of peoples. More recently, with the clearance of vast swaths of the forest and all life within it. Right now, in 2019, we are witnessing the beginning of a new, disastrous chapter. The area of trees being cleared has surged this year. In July, the deforestation rate was an area the size of Manhattan every day, a Greater London every three weeks.


This month, fires are incinerating the Amazon at a record rate, almost certainly part of a scorched-earth strategy to clear territory. Why is this happening now? Because of a change in power. A predatory form of politics called Bolsonarism has assumed nearly total, and totalitarian, power in Brazil. President Jair Bolsonaro’s chief project is to create more ruins in the Amazon forest, methodically and swiftly. This is why, for the first time since Brazil became a democracy again, it effectively has a minister against the environment. For more than 30 years no environment minister has enjoyed the same autonomy as Ricardo Salles. He is a gofer for agribusiness, which is responsible for the majority of the deaths in the fields and forests, and Brazil’s greatest destructive force. The landowners lobby has always been part of Brazil’s government, formally or not. But today, this has reached a new level. They are not just in the government, they are the government.

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It’s the farmers who want Roundup. Crazies.

French Mayors Ban Glyphosate Weedkiller, Defying Government (R.)

Some 20 French mayors have banned glyphosate from their municipalities, defying the government, which is now taking legal action to impose national legislation which allows the controversial weedkiller’s continued use for now. In 2017, President Emmanuel Macron had pledged to ban glyphosate in France within three years, rejecting a European Union decision to extend its use for five years after heated debate over whether glyphosate, developed by Bayer-owned Monsanto, can cause cancer. But Macron has since said that a blanket ban is not possible within that time frame.

Bayer says regulators and extensive research have found glyphosate to be safe. On Thursday, the administrative tribunal of Rennes, western France, heard the mayor of Langouet, Brittany, who has banned the use of pesticides in his town within 150 meters of people’s homes and workplaces. Mayor Daniel Cueff told the court – which is set to rule next week – the ban was aimed at protecting residents from molecules considered a health risk. About 300 people attended the hearing and nearly 100,000 have signed a petition to support Cueff’s ban. A lawyer for the French state argued that is not in a mayor’s powers to ban phytosanitary products, which are regulated by the agriculture ministry.


The ministry declined to comment, but Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume said in January France will phase out 80% of its glyphosate usage by 2021. Farmers’ unions opposed the ban, saying there are no viable alternatives for the chemical and that a transition to organic farming is too costly. Allowing the mayor to override the state over glyphosate “would be the return of the local barons and the reign of the lords over their serfs,” Cedric Henry, head of Brittany farmers union FDSEA-35 said in a statement.

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The Amazon is burning.

 

 

 

 

 

Aug 012019
 
 August 1, 2019  Posted by at 9:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »


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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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


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!”

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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.

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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
 


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: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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
 


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.

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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: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »


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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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:

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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?

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