Jan 242016
 
 January 24, 2016  Posted by at 7:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing “Street scene with snow, F STreet Washington, DC” 1918

Iraq Sells Oil For $22 A Barrel, Calls For IMF Help (BBG)
American Oil Companies Are Starting To Scream “Mayday” (CNN)
US Shale’s Big Squeeze (FT)
Squeezed Primary Dealers Quit European Government Bond Markets (Reuters)
US Banks Cut Off Mexican Clients as Regulatory Pressure Increases (WSJ)
Ideological Divisions Undermine Economics (Economist)
A Greek Conspiracy: How The ECB Crushed Varoufakis’ Plans (Häring)
Britain ‘Poised To Open Door To Thousands Of Migrant Children’ (Guardian)
Germany Scolds Austria For Greek Schengen Threats (AFP)
EU Leaders Consider Two-Year Suspension Of Schengen Rules (Telegraph)

The battle gets ugly.

Iraq Sells Oil For $22 A Barrel, Calls For IMF Help (BBG)

Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said the plunge in oil prices means Iraq needs IMF support to continue its fight against Islamic State, a battle he says his country is winning despite little support from its neighbors. “We’ve been anticipating there would be some drop of prices but this has taken us by surprise,” Abadi said of the oil collapse in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “We can defeat Daesh but with this fiscal problem, we need the support” of the IMF, he said. “We have to sustain the economy, we have to sustain our fight.” The conflict with Islamic State, which swept through swaths of northern Iraq in the summer of 2014, has destroyed economic infrastructure, disrupted trade and discouraged investment.

Iraq is now facing the “double shock” of war as well as the crude-oil price drop, and has “urgent” balance-of-payment and budget needs, the IMF said in January as it approved a staff-monitored program to pave the way for a possible loan. Under the program, Iraq will seek to reduce its non-oil primary deficit. “We have cut a lot of our expenditures, government expenditures,” Abadi said in the interview. But the war brings its own costs. “We are paying salaries for the uniformed armies, for our fighters” and their weapons, Abadi said in Davos. Speaking later in a panel session in the Swiss resort, Abadi said Iraqi oil sold on Thursday for $22 a barrel, and after paying costs the country is left with $13 per barrel.

He called for neighbors to do more to help. The only country to have provided financial assistance is Kuwait, he said, which gave Iraq $200 million. “Daesh is on the retreat and it is collapsing but somebody is sending a life line to them,” Abadi said, citing victories for his forces in the key western city of Ramadi and using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State. “Neighbors are fighting for supremacy, using sectarianism.” Shiite Iran supports several of the biggest militias aiding Iraqi forces in the fight against Islamic State. Its rivalry with the Middle East’s biggest Sunni power, Saudi Arabia, has flared in recent weeks, complicating efforts to end conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Iraq has managed to stop the advance of Islamic State in Iraq but if neighbors continue to inflame sectarianism, successes can be reversed, he said. “We are supposed to be in the same boat,” Abadi said. “In reality, we aren’t.”

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“..42nd driller to file for bankruptcy in this commodity crunch..”

American Oil Companies Are Starting To Scream “Mayday” (CNN)

Last year, 42 North American drillers filed for bankruptcy, according to law firm Haynes and Boone. It’s only likely to get worse this year. Experts say there are a lot of parallels between today’s crisis and the last oil crash in 1986. Back then, 27% of exploration and production companies went bust. Defaults are skyrocketing again. In December, exploration and production company defaults topped 11%, up from just 0.5% the previous year, according to Fitch Ratings. That’s a 2,000%-plus jump. It’s just the beginning, says John La Forge, head of real assets strategy at Wells Fargo. If history repeats, people should prepare for the default rate to double in the next year or so. No wonder America’s biggest banks are setting aside a lot of money in anticipation that more energy companies will go belly up.

Energy companies borrowed a lot of money when oil was worth over $100 a barrel. The returns seemed almost guaranteed if they could get the oil out of the ground. But now oil is barely trading just above $30 a barrel and a growing number of companies can’t pay back their debts. “The fact that a price below $100 seemed inconceivable to so many is kind of astonishing,” says Mike Lynch, president of Strategic Energy and Economic Research. “A lot of people just threw money away thinking the price would never go down.” On the last day of 2015, Swift Energy, an “independent oil and gas company” headquartered in Houston, became the 42nd driller to file for bankruptcy in this commodity crunch. The company is trying to sort out over $1 billion in debt at a time when the firm’s earnings have declined over 70% in the past year.

Trimming costs and laying off workers can’t close that kind of gap. “In the 1980s, there was a bumper sticker that people in Texas had that said, ‘God give me one more boom and I promise not to screw it up,'” says Lynch. “People should have those bumper stickers ready again.” The last really big oil bust was in the late 1980s. The Saudis really controlled the price then, says La Forge. Now the Saudis (and other members of OPEC) are in a battle with the United States, which has become a major player again in energy production. No one wants to cut back on production and risk losing market share. “It will be the U.S. companies that go out of business,” predicts La Forge. OPEC countries don’t have a lot of smaller players like the United States does. It’s usually the government that controls oil drilling and production in OPEC nations.

La Forge predicts the governments can hold their position longer. As the smaller players run out of cash, they will get swallowed up by bigger ones. “The big boys and girls will snap up a lot of cheap assets,” predicts Lynch. There’s a lot of debate about whether oil prices have bottomed out. Crude oil hit its lowest price since 2003 this week. But even if prices have stabilized, the worst isn’t over for oil companies. “Some companies went under in 1986-’87 even when prices rebounded,” says La Forge. This week, Blackstone (BGB) CEO Stephen Schwarzman said his firm is finally taking a close look at bargains in the energy sector. One of the largest bankruptcies so far is Samson Resources of Oklahoma. In 2011, private equity firm KKR (KKR) bought it for over $7 billion. Now it’s struggling to deal with over $1 billion in debt that’s due this year alone.

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Can’t read on shale without mention of default anymore.

US Shale’s Big Squeeze (FT)

The boom years left the US oil industry deep in debt. The 60 leading US independent oil and gas companies have total net debt of $206bn, from about $100bn at the end of 2006. As of September, about a dozen had debts that were more than 20 times their earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation. Worries about the health of these companies have been rising. A Bank of America Merrill Lynch index of high-yield energy bonds, which includes many indebted oil companies, has an average yield of more than 19%. Almost a third of the 155 US oil and gas companies covered by Standard & Poor’s are rated B-minus or below, meaning they are at high risk of default.

The agency this month revised down its expectations of future oil prices, meaning that many of those companies’ ratings are likely to be cut even further. Credit ratings for the more financially secure investment grade companies are also likely to be lowered this time. Some companies under financial strain will be able to survive by selling assets. Private capital funds raised $57bn last year to invest in energy, according to Preqin, an alternative assets research service, and most of that money is still looking for a home. Companies with low-quality assets or excessive debts will not make it. Tom Watters of S&P expects “a lot more defaults this year”. Bankruptcies, a cash squeeze and poor returns on investment mean companies will continue to cut their capital spending.

The number of rigs drilling oil wells in the US has dropped 68% from the peak in October 2014 to 510 this week, and it is likely to fall further. So far, the impact on US oil production has been minimal. Output in October was down 4% from April, as hard-pressed companies squeeze as much revenue as possible out of their assets. Saudi Arabia’s strategy of allowing oil prices to fall to curb competing sources of production appears to be succeeding But Harold Hamm, chief executive of Continental Resources, one of the pioneers of the shale boom, says the downturn in activity is likely to intensify. “We’re seeing capex being slashed to almost nothing,” he says. “At low prices, people aren’t going to keep producing.” He expects US oil production to fall sharply this year, and says people may be surprised by how fast it goes.

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Poor banks.

Squeezed Primary Dealers Quit European Government Bond Markets (Reuters)

A rise in the number of banks giving up primary dealer roles in European government bond markets threatens to further reduce liquidity and eventually make it more expensive for some countries to borrow money. Increased regulation and lower margins have seen five banks exit various countries in the last three months. Others look set to follow, further eroding the infrastructure through which governments raise debt. While these problems are for now masked by the European Central Bank buying €60 billion of debt every month to try to stimulate the euro zone economy, countries may feel the effects more sharply when the ECB scheme ends in March 2017. Since 2012, most euro zone governments have lost one or two banks as primary dealers, while Belgium – one of the bloc’s most indebted states – is down five.

Primary dealers are integral to government bond markets, buying new issues at auctions to service demand from investors and to maintain secondary trading activity. Without their support, countries would find it harder to sell debt, forcing them to offer investors higher interest rates. Over the last quarter alone, Credit Suisse pulled out of most European countries, ING quit Ireland, Commerzbank left Italy, and Belgium did not re-appoint Deutsche Bank as a primary dealer and dropped Nordea as a recognised dealer. In that time, only Danske Bank has added to its primary dealer roles in the bloc’s main markets. But even Danske is worried. “I’ve never seen it so bad,” said Soeren Moerch, head of fixed income trading at Danske Markets.

“When further banks reduce their willingness to be a primary dealer then liquidity will go even lower…we could have more failed auctions and we could see a big washout in the market.” Acting as a dealer has become increasingly expensive for banks under new regulations because of the amount of capital it requires, while trading profits that once made up for the initial spend have diminished in an era of ultra-low rates. “Shareholders would be shocked if they knew the scale of the costs that some businesses are taking,” said one banker who has worked at several major investment houses with primary dealer functions. The decline in dealers comes as many of the world’s largest financial firms, such as Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank, launch strategic reviews that are likely to impact their fixed income operations.

The risk that the euro zone could slide back into recession, having barely recovered from its long-running debt crisis, could exacerbate the withdrawal by prompting banks to retreat into their home markets. “It is a negative trend. The opposite that we saw in the first 10 years of the euro,” said Sergio Capaldi at Intesa SanPaolo. “For smaller countries…the fact that there are less players is something that could have a negative affect on market liquidity and borrowing costs.”

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Squeezed them for all they’re worth.

US Banks Cut Off Mexican Clients as Regulatory Pressure Increases (WSJ)

U.S. banks are cutting off a growing number of customers in Mexico, deciding that business south of the border might not be worth the risks in the wake of mounting regulatory warnings. At issue are correspondent-banking relationships that allow Mexican banks to facilitate cross-border transactions and meet their clients’ needs for dealing in dollars—in effect, giving them access to the U.S. financial system. The global firms that provide those services are increasingly wary of dealing with Mexican banks as well as their customers, according to U.S. bankers and people familiar with the matter.

The moves are consistent with a broader shift across the industry, in which banks around the world are retreating from emerging markets as regulators ramp up their scrutiny and punishment of possible money laundering. For many banks, the money they can earn in such countries isn’t worth the cost of compliance or the penalties if they step across the line. U.S. financial regulators have long warned about the risks in Mexico of money laundering tied to the drug trade. The urgency spiked more than a year ago, when the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, a unit of the Treasury Department, sent notices warning banks of the risk that drug cartels were laundering money through correspondent accounts, people familiar with the advisories said. Earlier, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency sent a cautionary note to some big U.S. banks about their Mexico banking activities.

But the pain Mexican firms are experiencing is relatively new. The fallout is affecting Mexican banks of various sizes such as Grupo Elektra’s Banco Azteca, Grupo Financiero Banorte and Monex Grupo Financiero, and their customers, the people said. Regulators have consistently said they don’t direct banks to cut ties with specific countries or a large swath of customers. But the advisories, which had nonpublic components that haven’t been previously reported, were interpreted by several big banks as a fresh signal that they do business in Mexico at their own peril, according to people familiar with the matter. “All they know is that sanctions are big and revenues are small,” said Luis Niño de Rivera, vice chairman of Banco Azteca, based in Mexico City. “It’s simple arithmetic: ‘I make a million dollars and they’re going to fine me a billion? I won’t do that.’”

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A field of pretense.

Ideological Divisions Undermine Economics (Economist)

Dismal may not be the most desirable of modifiers, but economists love it when people call their discipline a science. They consider themselves the most rigorous of social scientists. Yet whereas their peers in the natural sciences can edit genes and spot new planets, economists cannot reliably predict, let alone prevent, recessions or other economic events. Indeed, some claim that economics is based not so much on empirical observation and rational analysis as on ideology. In October Russell Roberts, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, tweeted that if told an economist’s view on one issue, he could confidently predict his or her position on any number of other questions. Prominent bloggers on economics have since furiously defended the profession, citing cases when economists changed their minds in response to new facts, rather than hewing stubbornly to dogma.

Adam Ozimek, an economist at Moody’s Analytics, pointed to Narayana Kocherlakota, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis from 2009 to 2015, who flipped from hawkishness to dovishness when reality failed to affirm his warnings of a looming surge in inflation. Tyler Cowen, an economist at George Mason, published a list of issues on which his opinion has shifted (he is no longer sure that income from capital is best left untaxed). Paul Krugman chimed in. He changed his view on the minimum wage after research found that increases up to a certain point reduced employment only marginally (this newspaper had a similar change of heart). Economists, to be fair, are constrained in ways that many scientists are not. They cannot brew up endless recessions in test tubes to work out what causes what, for instance.

Yet the same restriction applies to many hard sciences, too: geologists did not need to recreate the Earth in the lab to get a handle on plate tectonics. The essence of science is agreeing on a shared approach for generating widely accepted knowledge. Science, wrote Paul Romer, an economist, in a paper* published last year, leads to broad consensus. Politics does not. Nor, it seems, does economics. In a paper on macroeconomics published in 2006, Gregory Mankiw of Harvard University declared: “A new consensus has emerged about the best way to understand economic fluctuations.” But after the financial crisis prompted a wrenching recession, disagreement about the causes and cures raged. “Schlock economics” was how Robert Lucas, a Nobel-prize-winning economist, described Barack Obama’s plan for a big stimulus to revive the American economy. Mr Krugman, another Nobel-winner, reckoned Mr Lucas and his sort were responsible for a “dark age of macroeconomics”.

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Nice details.

A Greek Conspiracy: How The ECB Crushed Varoufakis’ Plans (Häring)

A central bank governor in Athens conspires with the President of the Republic to sabotage the negotiation strategy of his government to weaken it in its negotiations with the European Central Bank. After the government has capitulated, this governor, who is a close friend of the new finance minister and boss of the finance ministers wife, and the President of the Republic travel together to the ECB to collect their praise and rewards. This is not an invention, this is now documented. On 19 January the German Central Bank in Frankfurt informed the media that the Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos visited the ECB and met with ECB-President Mario Draghi, and that he was accompanied by the President of the Greek central Bank, Yanis Stournaras.

Remember. When the Syriza-led government in Athens was in tense negotiations with the European institutions, the ECB excerted pressure by cutting Greek banks off the regular financing operations with the ECB. They could get euros only via Emergency Liquidty Assistance from the Greek central bank and the ECB placed a strict limit on these. Finance minister Yanis Varoufakis worked on emergency plans to keep the payment system going in case the ECB would cut off the euro supply completely. It has already been reported and discussed that a close aide of Stournaras sabotaged the government during this time by sending a memo to a financial journalist, which was very critical with the governments negotiation tactics and blamed it for the troubles of the banks, which the ECB had intensified, if not provoked.

A few days ago, Stournaras himself exposed a conspiracy. He bragged that he had convened former prime ministers and talked to the President of the Republic to raise a wall blocking Varoufakis emergency plan. In retrospect it looks as if Alexis Tsipras might have signed his capitulation to Stournaras and the ECB already in April 2015, when he replaced Varoufakis as chief negotiator by Euklid Tsakalotos, who would later become finance minister after Varoufakis resigned. In this case the nightly negotiating marathon in July, after which Tsipras publicly signed his capitulation, might just have been a show to demonstrate that he fought bravely to the end. Why would I suspect that? Because I learned in a Handelsblatt-Interview with Tsakalotos published on 15 January 2016 that he is a close friend of Stournaras. Looking around a bit more, I learned that Tsakalotos wife is ‘Director Advisor’ to the Bank of Greece.

This is the Wikipedia entry: “Heather Denise Gibson is a Scottish economist currently serving as Director-Advisor to the Bank of Greece (since 2011). She is the spouse of Euclid Tsakalotos, current Greek Minister of Finance.” At the time she entered, Stournaras was serving as Director General of a think tank of the Bank of Greece. The friendship of the trio goes back decades to their time together at a British university. They even wrote a book together in 1992. Thus: The former chief negotiator of the Greek government is and was a close friend of the central bank governor and the central bank governor was the boss of his wife. The governor of the Bank of Greece, which is part of the Eurosystem of central banks, gets his orders from the ECB, i.e. the opposing side in the negotiations. He actively sabotaged the negotiation strategy of his government. If this does not look like an inappropriate association for a chief negotiator, I don’t know what would.

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Someone grabbed Cameron by the nuts?

Britain ‘Poised To Open Door To Thousands Of Migrant Children’ (Guardian)

David Cameron is considering plans to admit thousands of unaccompanied migrant children into the UK within weeks, as pressure grows on ministers to provide a haven for large numbers of young people who have fled their war-torn homelands without their parents. Amid growing expectation that an announcement is imminent, Downing Street said ministers were looking seriously at calls from charities, led by Save the Children, for the UK to admit at least 3,000 unaccompanied young people who have arrived in Europe from countries including Syria and Afghanistan, and who are judged to be at serious risk of falling prey to people traffickers. Government sources said such a humanitarian gesture would be in addition to the 20,000 refugees the UK has already agreed to accept, mainly from camps on the borders of Syria, by 2020.

Following a visit to refugee camps in Calais and Dunkirk on Saturday, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called on Cameron to offer children not just a refuge in the UK but proper homes and education, equivalent to the welcome received by those rescued from the Nazis and brought to the UK in 1939. “We must reach out the hand of humanity to the victims of war and brutal repression,” he said. “Along with other EU states, Britain needs to accept its share of refugees from the conflicts on Europe’s borders, including the horrific civil war in Syria. “We have to do more. As a matter of urgency, David Cameron should act to give refuge to unaccompanied refugee children now in Europe – as we did with Jewish Kindertransport children escaping from Nazi tyranny in the 1930s.

And the government must provide the resources needed for those areas accepting refugees – including in housing and education – rather than dumping them in some of Britain’s poorest communities.” Signs that the prime minister may act came after a week in which concern has risen in European capitals, and among aid agencies and charities, about the high number of migrants still pouring into the EU just as cold weather bites along the routes many are taking through the Balkans and central and eastern Europe. With one week of January to go, about 37,000 migrants and refugees have already arrived in the EU by land or sea, roughly 10 times the equivalent total for the month last year. The number of Mediterranean deaths stands at 158 this year.

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It’s a free for all now.

Germany Scolds Austria For Greek Schengen Threats (AFP)

This week Greece slammed a Financial Times report saying several European ministers and senior EU officials believed threatening suspension from Schengen could persuade Greece to protect its borders more effectively. Junior interior minister for migration Yiannis Mouzalas said the report contained ”falsehoods and distortions” but Mikl-Leitner said temporary exclusion was a real possibility. “If the Athens government does not finally do more to secure the (EU’s) external borders then one must openly discuss Greece’s temporary exclusion from the Schengen zone,” Mikl-Leitner said in an interview with German daily Die Welt. “It is a myth that the Greco-Turkish border cannot be controlled,” Mikl-Leitner said.

“When a Schengen signatory does not permanently fulfil its obligations and only hesitatingly accepts aid then we should not rule out that possibility,” she added. “The patience of many Europeans has reached its limit ... We have talked a lot, now we must act. It is about protecting stability, order and security in Europe.” Germany’s Steinmeier criticised Vienna’s warning however. “There won’t be any solution to the refugee crisis if solidarity disappears,” he said. “On the contrary, we must work together and concentrate all our efforts to fight against the causes that are pushing the refugees into flight, to reinforce the EU’s outer borders and to achieve a fair redistribution (of asylum seekers) within Europe.”

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Chance of Schengen survival below zero.

EU Leaders Consider Two-Year Suspension Of Schengen Rules (Telegraph)

The Schengen system of free movement could be suspended for two years under emergency measures to be discussed by European ministers on Monday, as the French Prime Minister warned the crisis could bring down the entire European Union. Manuel Valls said that the “very idea of Europe” will be torn apart until the flows of migrants expected to surge in spring are turned away. On Monday, interior ministers from the EU will meet in Amsterdam to discuss emergency measures to allow states to reintroduce national border controls for two years. The powers are allowed under the Schengen rules, but would amount to an unprecedented abandonment of the 30-year old agreement that allows passport-free travel across 26 states. The measure could be brought in from May, when a six-month period of passport checks introduced by Germany expires.

The European Commission would have to agree that there are “persistent serious deficiencies” in the Schengen zone’s external border to activate it. “This possibility exists, it is there and the Commission is prepared to use it if need be,” said Natasha Bertaud, a spokesman for Jean-Claude Juncker. Greece has been blamed by states for failing to identify and register hundreds of thousands of people flowing over its borders. Other states that have introduced emergency controls are Sweden, Austria, France, Denmark and Norway, which is not in the EU but is in Schengen. “We’re not currently in that situation,” Ms Bertaud added. “But interior ministers will on Monday in Amsterdam have the opportunity to discuss and it’s on the agenda what steps should be taken or will need to be taken once we near the end of the maximum period in May.”

In a further blow, Mr Valls said that France would keep its state of emergency, which has included border checks, until the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant network is destroyed. “It is a total and global war that we are facing with terrorism,” he said. He warned that without proper border controls to turn away refugees, the 60-year old European project could disintegrate. “It’s Europe that could die, not the Schengen area. If Europe can’t protect its own borders, it’s the very idea of Europe that could be thrown into doubt. It could disappear, of course – the European project, not Europe itself, not our values, but the concept we have of Europe, that the founding fathers had of Europe.

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Sep 182015
 
 September 18, 2015  Posted by at 9:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  

John Vachon Assassin of Youth November 1938

The Fed Gives Growth a Chance (NY Times ed.)
Fed Delay Looks Like 2013 All Over Again-Rate Hike in December? (Bloomberg)
Fed Rate Decision Roils Emerging-Market Currencies (WSJ)
It’s a New World: How China Growth Concerns Kept the Fed on Hold (Bloomberg)
Europe Lacks Strategy to Tackle Crisis, but Refugees March On (NY Times)
Losing Control Of Refugees, Croatia Closes Serbia Border Crossings (Reuters)
Croatia’s Resources Stretched as Thousands of Refugees Arrive (Bloomberg)
OPEC Assumes Oil Price Will Recover Gradually to $80 in 2020 (Bloomberg)
Defaults Mount in Beleaguered US Energy Industry (WSJ)
Central Banks’ Lesson: Easy Money Alone Isn’t a Growth Salve (WSJ)
China Outflows Said To Surpass A Staggering $300 Billion In Just 75 Days (ZH)
China’s Top Financial Firms Get Green Light for $3 Billion IPOs (WSJ)
Here’s Why China Could Drag The US Into Recession (Fortune)
Primary Dealers Rigged Treasury Auctions, Investor Lawsuit Says (Bloomberg)
Bitcoin Is Officially a Commodity, According to US Regulator (Bloomberg)
Beppe Grillo Gets One Year Jail Sentence for “Defamation” (Tenebrarum)
Scorching Year Continues With the Hottest Summer on Record (Bloomberg)

No, this is not the Onion. But it sure is funny, and not just the headline, try this one: “..the economy shows no signs of overheating..”

The Fed Gives Growth a Chance (NY Times ed.)

The Federal Reserve did the right thing on Thursday when it opted not to begin raising interest rates. By holding steady, the Fed is acknowledging, correctly, that the economy shows no signs of overheating. Price inflation, for example, has been below the Fed’s 2% target for years and shows no signs of accelerating. The Fed also acknowledged the dampening effect global economic weakness and financial-market volatility may have on the American economy. In the past, the Fed played down those dangers, assuming they would be transitory or bearable. In the statement released after its policy-making committee meeting, it shifted, saying international and financial conditions could slow the domestic economy, making an interest-rate increase to restrain the economy unnecessary, at least for now.

In one important respect, however, the Fed appears to be doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. Judging from its statement and its economic projections, the Fed believes that the labor market has largely returned to health. That suggests it will be poised to raise rates as soon as the global headwinds abate. But the labor market is not healthy, and until it is, rate increases would be premature. Unemployment, at 5.1% in August, is still higher than it was before the recession. The share of part-time workers who need full-time jobs is still elevated, while the share of working-age adults with jobs is still well below its prerecession level. Most telling, broad wage growth — the clearest sign of labor market health — has been virtually nil during the six-year-old recovery.

The Fed is supposed to conduct policy in a way that fosters full employment, meaning rates should not be raised until jobs and wages are on a robust growth trajectory. But it seems more concerned with its mandate to fight inflation. That focus would be questionable even if there were nascent signs of inflation; in the absence of any signs, it is indefensible. In fact, inflation has been so low for so long now, it could run somewhat above the Fed’s target for an extended period without being disruptive and, in the process, allow wages to grow in line with productivity.

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Just the fact that after two years we’re still stuck in the same spot should say plenty.

Fed Delay Looks Like 2013 All Over Again-Rate Hike in December? (Bloomberg)

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen shows signs of taking a page out of her predecessor’s policy playbook as she inches toward the central bank’s first interest rate increase in nine years: Delay action in September only to move in December. While the Fed on Thursday opted to keep rates pinned near zero for now, Yellen told a press conference that most policy makers still expect to raise rates this year. She highlighted the strength of the U.S. economy, tying the decision to delay liftoff to fresh uncertainty about the outlook abroad and to financial market turbulence over the past month. “I do not want to overplay the implications of these recent developments, which have not fundamentally altered our outlook,” she said. “The economy has been performing well, and we expect it to continue to do so.”

Yellen’s approach has parallels to the strategy that former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke pursued in 2013 as officials debated whether to start scaling back bond purchases. Citing uncertainties to the outlook, Bernanke put off a move to begin tapering in September before deciding to go ahead in December. Just like today, much of the Fed’s initial reservations about acting in 2013 centered on developments in emerging markets, which had been rocked by Bernanke’s suggestion a few months earlier that a taper was on its way. Looming in the background then, as it is now, was the threat of a U.S. government shutdown. Today’s situation “lines up in so many ways” with that of 2013, said Aneta Markowska at SocGen, pointing to the upcoming fiscal showdown and emerging market concerns. “If all of that is resolved by December, my expectation is that the data will definitely support a hike.”

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No matter what the Fed does, emerging markets can’t win.

Fed Rate Decision Roils Emerging-Market Currencies (WSJ)

Many emerging-market currencies slumped against the dollar on Thursday despite the Federal Reserve’s decision to hold interest rates near zero for now. Currencies in Brazil, Turkey and South Africa, which have been among the hardest-hit by fears of a U.S. rate increase, enjoyed a short-lived reprieve after the central bank’s announcement. But they gave back all the gains within hours, as investors realized the Fed is still on track to raise interest rates later in the year. Many investors said the Fed’s reluctance to raise rates on Thursday signaled policy makers’ concerns about slowing global growth, which reflects a deepening economic malaise across emerging markets.

Many emerging countries rely on external capital flows to finance growth. The prospect of higher rates in the U.S. has led to outflows from these countries, contributing to weakening currencies and higher bond yields that drive up borrowing costs. The continuation of easy-money policies in the U.S. “buys some time for further adjustments by emerging-market economies, but this decision also confirms the fact that the U.S. economy continues to expand at a modest pace, which is not particularly emerging-market friendly,” said George Hoguet at State Street Global Advisors.

The Brazilian real took a roller-coaster ride. The currency, which was under pressure early in the day, rallied immediately upon the release of the Fed statement at 2 p.m. Eastern time, rising as much as 1.3% against the dollar. But the gains quickly dissipated. By late afternoon, the real lost 1.5% against the dollar to 3.8974, the weakest level in 13 years. Indonesia’s rupiah, after a brief rally, closed at its lowest level against the greenback since July 1998. Both the South African rand and the Turkish lira appreciated against the dollar shortly after the Fed announcement, but ended the day with losses.

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A neat excuse to hide their ignorance behind.

It’s a New World: How China Growth Concerns Kept the Fed on Hold (Bloomberg)

Here’s the latest sign of China’s arrival as a global economic power: It’s roiled financial markets enough to nudge the Federal Reserve away from raising interest rates. Fed policy makers left their benchmark rate near zero Thursday, saying the U.S. economy and inflation may be restrained by “recent global economic and financial developments.” Fed Chair Janet Yellen elaborated in a press briefing, saying the financial turmoil reflected investor concerns about risks to Chinese growth. “If it weren’t for China and all the turmoil surrounding China, I think the Fed would have hiked rates,” said Mickey Levy at Berenberg in New York, who has analyzed Fed policy for more than 30 years.

The focus on China comes after a market rout that wiped $5 trillion in value off the nation’s stocks and after a sudden move on Aug. 11 to change its exchange rate regime, a decision which triggered the yuan’s biggest depreciation in two decades and roiled global markets. The world’s second-largest economy is set to grow at its slowest pace in a quarter century this year even after five central bank interest rate cuts and fiscal stimulus. “China was an influence in this meeting, whereas in the past that would have been much less important,” said Tai Hui at JPMorgan Asset Management in Hong Kong. China affects the world more than ever before, and its influence over global markets will only increase as it approaches the U.S. economy in size. It accounted for 13.3% of global gross domestic product last year, from less than 5% a decade earlier, according to World Bank data.

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Croatia gave it their best, but they too need help.

Europe Lacks Strategy to Tackle Crisis, but Refugees March On (NY Times)

Europe’s failure to fashion even the beginnings of a unified solution to the migrant crisis is intensifying confusion and desperation all along the multicontinent trail and breeding animosity among nations extending back to the Middle East. With the volume of people leaving Syria, Afghanistan and other countries showing no signs of ebbing, the lack of governmental leadership has left thousands of individuals and families on their own and reacting day by day to changing circumstances and conflicting messages, most recently on Thursday when crowds that had been trying to enter Hungary through Serbia diverted to Croatia in search of a new route to Germany.

Despite the chaos, there were few signs that EU leaders, or the governments of other countries along the human river of people flowing from war and poverty, were close to imposing any order or even talking seriously about harmonizing their approaches and messages to the migrants. Instead, countries continue to improvise their responses, as Croatia did Thursday, and Slovenia — the next stop along the rerouted trail — is likely to do in coming days. The migrants did not shift course to Croatia on a whim. When Hungary effectively blocked their access on Tuesday with a border crackdown — which resulted in an ugly skirmish Wednesday between the police and migrants — they had few options.

And Macedonian and Serbian officials, along with many aid organizations, were urging them to circumvent a hostile Hungary and even providing maps and nonstop bus service to the Croatian frontier. Initially, Croatia’s foreign minister, Vesna Pusic, seemed to encourage them, too. “They can move freely in this period,” she said. “We will try to restore a decent face to this part of Europe.” So, since Wednesday morning, more than 11,000 migrants have entered Croatia, and officials said 20,000 more were already in Serbia, making their way to the Croatian border and likely to arrive soon — while untold tens of thousands more waited in Turkey and Greece for a clear signal about whether to follow.

But what the first arriving migrants found on the Croatian border was only more fog. The Croatian interior minister said that the country would abide by European Union rules and register all arriving asylum seekers and that they could not simply pass through the country unfettered. Then late Thursday, swamped by the crush of migrants, Croatia announced that the border would be closed altogether, indefinitely. Slovenian officials said that, no matter how many migrants Croatia lets through, they would register all arrivals and turn back any who do not qualify as refugees — a task that Hungary can attest is easier said than done.

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Dear MSM: Stop calling refugees ‘migrants’. And stop calling a meeting next week an ‘emergency’ meeting.

Losing Control Of Refugees, Croatia Closes Serbia Border Crossings (Reuters)

Croatia has closed seven of eight road border crossings with Serbia after complaining of being overwhelmed by an influx of more than 11,000 migrants who evaded police, trekked through fields and tried to sneak into Slovenia by train in a march westwards that is dividing Europe. Only the main Bajakovo crossing, on the highway between Belgrade and Zagreb, appeared to be open to traffic on Friday, while neighboring Slovenia stopped all rail traffic on the main line from Croatia after halting a train carrying migrants on the Slovenian side of the border. Migrants have been streaming into European Union member Croatia for two days, their path into the bloc via Hungary blocked by a metal fence, the threat of imprisonment and riot police who fired teargas and water cannon on Wednesday to drive back stone-throwing men.

There were desperate scenes at a railway station on Croatia’s eastern frontier with Serbia, where thousands were left stranded overnight under open skies. The EU has called an emergency summit next week to overcome disarray in the 28-nation bloc. Croatian Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic warned on Thursday that Croatia would close its border with Serbia if the flow of migrants continued at the same rate, saying his country was full to capacity. The president of Croatia told the military to be ready to join the effort to stop thousands of people criss-crossing the Western Balkans in their quest for sanctuary in the wealthy bloc. Late on Thursday, police announced they had banned all traffic at seven border crossings. “The measure is valid until further notice,” police said in a statement.

Serbia’s main highway north into Hungary is already closed by Hungarian riot police on the border. It remained unclear whether or how police would stop migrants, many of them refugees from Syria, from streaming through fields across the border away from official crossings, though their path across much of the frontier is made more difficult by the Danube river. Serbia warned its neighbors against shutting down the main arteries between them. “We want to warn Croatia and every other country that it is unacceptable to close international roads and that we will seek to protect our economic and every other interest before international courts,” Aleksandar Vulin, Serbia’s minister in charge of migration, told the Tanjug state news agency.

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And so we move from country to country and border to border, while Europe refuses to set up a meeting. To them, it’s an emergency only for refugees.

Croatia’s Resources Stretched as Thousands of Refugees Arrive (Bloomberg)

Croatia wavered in its commitment to accept a growing influx of migrants after 5,600 refugees poured into the country in one day, underscoring the massive task facing Europe as people flee war and poverty. “If migrants continued to arrive in larger numbers, Croatia would have to consider an entirely different approach,” Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic said in a statement on Thursday. Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said Croatia will help refugees “as long as we can,” after throwing open its doors Wednesday. The people have been stranded in Serbia trying to enter the European Union through Hungary, which closed its southern frontier and fired tear gas and water cannons at migrants trying to break through a barrier on the border. Police said they used force to repel the crowd after refugees threw rocks and other projectiles.

European leaders have been at odds for weeks over how to deal with the region’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II, with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban fortifying his border to keep refugees out and German Chancellor Angela Merkel saying Europe has a moral responsibility to help. Orban has built a razor-wire fence along the border with Serbia and announced plans to extend the barrier to part of the frontier with Romania. The crisis claimed its first political casualty in Germany, with the government’s point person on the refugee crisis stepping down. The Interior Ministry announced Thursday that Manfred Schmidt, who headed the office for migration and refugees, was leaving for personal reasons.

Schmidt’s office was responsible for the initial decision to allow all Syrians entering the country to stay – a departure from an EU agreement requires refugees to be registered in the country where the arrive in the bloc and remain there to have their asylum applications processed. “The dramatically increased number of asylum seekers in Germany present the federal agency, as well as the states and municipalities, with an enormous challenge,” Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said in a statement thanking Schmidt for his “excellent work.” The departure comes after Merkel was criticized in recent days by some in her own coalition for her handling of the crisis as the country struggles to keep up with the influx. The chancellor has defended her decision to allow in refugees.

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What else are they going to say?

OPEC Assumes Oil Price Will Recover Gradually to $80 in 2020 (Bloomberg)

OPEC is assuming the oil price will rise gradually to $80 a barrel in 2020 as supply growth outside the group weakens, a slower recovery than several member nations have said they need. The average selling price of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ crude will increase by about $5 annually to 2020 from $55 this year, according to an internal research report from the group seen by Bloomberg News. Iran and Venezuela said they would like to see a price of at least $70 this month and most member countries cannot balance their budgets at current prices. “It’s much harder for OPEC to lift prices” after the revolution of U.S. shale oil, said Bjarne Schieldrop, Oslo-based chief commodities analyst at SEB AB, which forecasts Brent crude at $73 by the end of the decade.

“Eighty dollars by 2020 is pretty close to consensus view.” The price of crude has tumbled more than 50% in the past year as OPEC followed Saudi Arabia’s strategy of defending its share of the global market against competitors like U.S. shale oil. While both OPEC and the International Energy Agency expect growth in global supply to slow as low prices bite, Goldman Sachs predicts that a persistent glut will keep crude low for the next 15 years. Production from nations outside OPEC will be 58.2 million barrels a day in 2017, 1 million lower than previously forecast, according to the internal report.

The impact low prices is “most apparent on tight oil, which is more price reactive than other liquids sources,” according to the report. “Supply reductions in U.S. and Canada from 2014 to 2016 are clearly revealed.” OPEC expects little stimulus to global demand in the medium term as a result of cheaper oil, with daily consumption growing by about 1 million barrels a year to 97.4 million in 2020, according to the report. While demand from China, Russia and OPEC members will grow more slowly than forecast a year ago, developing nations with still account for the bulk the expansion, it said.

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Debt dominoes.

Defaults Mount in Beleaguered US Energy Industry (WSJ)

The well is running dry for deeply indebted energy companies. Samson Resources became the latest, and largest, victim of an industry downturn, as it filed for chapter 11 protection late Wednesday. Industry experts say more oil-and-gas companies are poised to follow the Tulsa, Okla., company into bankruptcy as oil prices remain low following a steep drop that began last year. The default rate among U.S. energy companies has accelerated in recent months to 4.8%, the highest level since 1999 and up from 3.3% in August, according to Fitch Ratings. Within that group, exploration and production companies like Samson are defaulting at an even higher rate, 8.5%, Fitch said. Default volume for such companies is the highest it has been in five years, at $10.4 billion in debt.

The broader U.S. corporate default rate is 2.9%, according to Fitch. Meanwhile, the yield on a basket of U.S. junk-rated energy bonds has risen to 11%, just off its highest level since July 2009 and up from 5.9% a year ago, according to Barclays PLC. The increase indicates a lack of investor confidence that the bonds will be repaid in full. Yields on debt rise as prices fall. “Everything has been turned upside down,” said Marc Lasry, head of hedge- fund firm Avenue Capital Group, which recently raised $1.3 billion for an energy-focused fund. “If you’re equity it’s been total devastation. If you’re the high-yield guys you’re in total shock and you have no idea what to do,” he said, referring to investors in stocks and risky debt.

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It took 8 years to figure that one out?!

Central Banks’ Lesson: Easy Money Alone Isn’t a Growth Salve (WSJ)

Central bankers have injected roughly $8 trillion into the global economy since the financial crisis. In return, the world has remained in a low-growth rut. The Federal Reserve cited market turmoil and a weak economic picture overseas in deciding Thursday not to back off from one of the most aggressive global monetary policies in decades. Whenever the Fed moves to raise interest rates, one lesson remains: Cheap money alone can’t solve the world’s economic ills. The Fed noted positive developments at home, including increased household spending and business investment, but worried conditions overseas could restrain U.S. growth and put further downward pressure on near-term inflation.

“A lot of our focus has been on risks around China, but not just China—emerging markets more generally and how they may spill over to the U.S.,” said Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen, noting “the significant economic and financial interconnections between the U.S. and the rest of the world.” Her unease underscores in part the limits of loose monetary policy as a singular response to economic weakness. Instead of using the breathing room of low interest rates to revamp their economies, governments around the globe have failed to enact longer-lasting policy overhauls as they try to combat an array of demographic and other challenges.

“Finance, especially as motivated by central banks, is really only a lubricant to growth,” said Raghuram Rajan, head of the Reserve Bank of India, at a recent meeting of top global finance officials. “It can’t be the underlying driver of growth.” Since the financial crisis began in 2007, the average key interest rate set by central banks has fallen by around 4 percentage points in advanced countries and 2 points in emerging markets. Central banks have also bought bonds and other assets equal to 10% of global output to stir growth in the postcrisis era.

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TEXT

China Outflows Said To Surpass A Staggering $300 Billion In Just 75 Days (ZH)

We’ve detailed the story exhaustively, so we won’t endeavor to recap it all here, but the short version is that what was billed as a move to give the market a greater role in setting the yuan’s exchange rate actually had the opposite effect – at least in the short run. That is, the PBoC used to manipulate the fix to control the spot and now they simply manipulate the spot to control the fix, but unabated devaluation pressure has forced China to intervene on a massive scale and that intervention recently moved into the offshore market as well, as Beijing scrambled to close the onshore/offshore spread. This is costing China dearly in terms of FX reserves, the liquidation of which was so massive in August as to prompt Deutsche Bank to brand it “Quantitative Tightening”, as the reserve drawdowns are effectively QE in reverse.

This is of course the same dynamic that’s been taking place in Saudi Arabia in the wake of the petrodollar’s demise and mirrors the response across EMs which are struggling to support commodity currencies as prices collapse. Attempts to quantify the scope of China’s reserve burn have become ubiquitous, as the cost of offsetting the outflows from China effectively serves as a proxy for the extent to which the Fed would, were they to hike, be “tightening into a tightening”, as we’ve put it. On Wednesday we showed that Beijing liquidated $83 billion in Treasurys in July. That, as we also noted, “is before China announced its devaluation on August 11 and before, as we also first reported, it sold another $100 billion in Treasurys in August.”

Today, we get a fresh look at the numbers courtesy of SAFE which shows that on net, banks sold $128 billion in FX to Chinese non-banks in August. Nothing too surprising there, given that we already knew positioning for FX purchases for the banking sector as a whole dropped by $115 billion for the month. As Goldman notes however, when you include banks’ forward books the picture worsens materially. An alternative gauge that we believe is a closer reflection of the underlying trend of currency demand shows a significantly larger outflow of $178bn. Today’s data at US$178bn on our preferred gauge of underlying currency demand (i.e., outright spot plus freshly-entered forward contracts) is significantly higher than any of [the previous] releases.

This means, as Goldman goes on to point out, that outflows are actually far worse than what’s indicated by simply looking at China’s reserve drawdown, as banks look to be shouldering some of the burden themselves. So between July and August (inclusive of freshly entered forwards), outflows total around $261 billion. But that’s not all. Nomura is out with an estimate of what’s taken place since the start of September. Between onshore spot intervention and offshore spot and forward intervention, the bank estimates China has spent some $47 billion month-to-date stabilizing the yuan, $25 billion of which in the offshore market, reinforcing what we said a week ago after CNH soared the most on record [..]

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What grandmas can move their savings in.

China’s Top Financial Firms Get Green Light for $3 Billion IPOs (WSJ)

China International Capital and China Reinsurance each received approval from the Hong Kong stock exchange late Thursday to hold initial public offerings worth a combined $3 billion, people familiar with the deals said, signaling a possible revival of what has been a quiet quarter for the city’s capital market. CICC, which is China’s top investment bank, and China Reinsurance, its biggest reinsurer, have yet to decide when to go public due to volatile stock markets, though they are aiming to do so this year, the people said. The turmoil in Chinese stocks is hurting investor appetite for initial public offerings in Hong Kong, the world’s top venue for listings this year. In the third quarter, IPOs in Hong Kong have raised $1.8 billion, down significantly from $5.4 billion in the same period last year..

The two IPOs would be the first major offering since China Railway Signal & Communication’s $1.4 billion Hong Kong IPO in August. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index, which is weighted heavily with mainland Chinese stocks, has fallen 17% in the third quarter so far, as mainland stocks have tumbled. Those declines have weighed on investor sentiment. On Monday, the short-haul carrier Hong Kong Airlines called off indefinitely a planned listing in which it had hoped to raise $500 million. The potential listing of CICC would give its shareholders, including KKR & Co. and TPG Capital, the chance to exit their investments despite turmoil in Chinese stocks. Central Huijin Investment, the domestic investment arm of China’s sovereign-wealth fund, is the largest shareholder in CICC with a 43.35% stake.

Singapore’s sovereign-wealth fund GIC Pte. Ltd. holds 16.35%, while TPG Capital owns 10.3% and KKR holds 10%, according to its annual report. CICC was formed in 1995 by Morgan Stanley and China Construction Bank. as China’s first Sino-foreign joint-venture investment bank. Morgan Stanley sold its stake in December 2010 to a consortium that included GIC; Great Eastern Holdings, the insurer controlled by Oversea-Chinese Banking; and the private-equity firms KKR and TPG Capital. CICC has played a key role in advising the Chinese government on state-owned enterprise reform and guiding the listing of the country’s major overseas IPOs.

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Investment. In productive areas, that is.

Here’s Why China Could Drag The US Into Recession (Fortune)

No one can say for sure just how bad China’s economic situation has become, but analysts in the United States have been taking comfort in the fact that U.S. trade to China, and the Pacific Rim in general, constitutes a small sliver of U.S. GDP. And while the emerging world makes up a much bigger share of the global economy than it did a generation ago, the U.S. economy is still the largest in the world. When capital flees riskier economies like Brazil or Turkey, the U.S. is where it will run to. There’s one problem. These arguments ignore the fact that economists don’t agree on what, exactly, causes recessions. True, the Asian financial crisis of 1998 didn’t lead to slower growth in the U.S. But that doesn’t mean that a recession in the emerging world will fail to drag us down this time.

David Levy, economist and chairman of The Jerome Levy Forecasting Center, has been predicting that China would suffer an economic crisis and he believes that turmoil in emerging markets can take down the U.S. economy. Levy subscribes to what he calls “the profits perspective,” which examines global profits rather than country-specific GDP for indications of economic turmoil. How can global profits help predict recessions? Profits are the main factor that guides economic activity: when profits are high, businesses will invest and hire workers, and lenders will extend credit. When profits are low, the opposite occurs.

As it turns out, the largest contributor to global profits is net investment. When firms invest in capital equipment or when an individual invests in residential real estate, this is an act of wealth creation that does not require an immediate expense, in accounting terms. On a global scale, then, when investment is rising, we should also see profits rise and the global economy expand. But when we start to see investment stagnate or decline, we should expect profits to fall, putting recessionary conditions right around the corner.

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Slap that wrist!

Primary Dealers Rigged Treasury Auctions, Investor Lawsuit Says (Bloomberg)

The same analytical technique that uncovered cheating in currency markets and the Libor rates benchmark – resulting in about $20 billion of fines – suggests the dealers who control the U.S. Treasury market rigged bond auctions for years, according to a lawsuit. The analysis was part of a 115-page lawsuit filed in Manhattan federal court on Aug. 26 by Quinn Emmanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP and other law firms. The plaintiffs built their case against the 22 primary dealers who serve as the backbone of Treasury trading – including Goldman Sachs JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley – using data from Rosa Abrantes-Metz, an adjunct associate professor at New York University who has provided expert testimony in rigging cases.

Her conclusion: More than two-thirds of a certain type of Treasury auction appear to have been rigged. She found issues with other auctions, too. “The only plausible explanation is that Defendants coordinated artificially to influence the results of the auctions in the primary market,” according to the complaint filed by the Cleveland Bakers and Teamsters Pension Fund and other investors. The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, comes as the U.S. Justice Department probes whether information in the Treasury auction market is being shared improperly by financial institutions, three people with knowledge of the investigation said in June.

Treasury traders at some banks learn of customer demand hours before auctions, and were communicating with their counterparts at other firms via chat rooms as recently as last year, Bloomberg News reported earlier this year. Abrantes-Metz’s analysis is similar to one used in lawsuits claiming bank and broker manipulation of the London interbank offer rate, or Libor. Those cases resulted in about $9 billion in settlements from the financial firms. Banks and brokers have paid about $9.9 billion in fines to global regulators related to manipulation of currency markets as of May.

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Bitcoin, rhubarb, it’s all the same.

Bitcoin Is Officially a Commodity, According to US Regulator (Bloomberg)

Virtual money is officially a commodity, just like crude oil or wheat. So says the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), which on Thursday announced it had filed and settled charges against a Bitcoin exchange for facilitating the trading of option contracts on its platform. “In this order, the CFTC for the first time finds that Bitcoin and other virtual currencies are properly defined as commodities,” according to the press release. While market participants have long discussed whether Bitcoin could be defined as a commodity, and the CFTC has long pondered whether the cryptocurrency falls under its jurisdiction, the implications of this move are potentially numerous.

By this action, the CFTC asserts its authority to provide oversight of the trading of cryptocurrency futures and options, which will now be subject to the agency’s regulations. In the event of wrongdoing, such as futures manipulation, the CFTC will be able to bring charges against bad actors. If a company wants to operate a trading platform for Bitcoin derivatives or futures, it will need to register as a swap execution facility or designated contract market, just like the CME Group. And Coinflip—the target of the CFTC action—is hardly the only company that provides a platform to trade Bitcoin derivatives or futures.

“While there is a lot of excitement surrounding Bitcoin and other virtual currencies, innovation does not excuse those acting in this space from following the same rules applicable to all participants in the commodity derivatives markets,” said Aitan Goelman, the CFTC’s director of enforcement, in a statement. A request for comment sent to Coinflip’s chief executive via LinkedIn was not immediately returned. Coinflip consented to the order without admitting or denying any of its findings or conclusions. Since Coinflip is not alone in providing a platform to trade Bitcoin derivatives or futures, Goelman’s words imply that other unregulated exchanges could soon attract the attention of the CFTC.

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For calling a tool a tool.

Beppe Grillo Gets One Year Jail Sentence for “Defamation” (Tenebrarum)

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi – the cavaliere – has been successful in fighting off legal challenges ranging from sex with minors to alleged tax fraud involving humungous amounts for well over adecade. On a number of occasions, the Italian State even created new laws specifically designed to keep the cavaliere out of jail. We admittedly just loved his constant successful evasions of justice. First of all, we were deeply worried by the thought of potentially losing this unsurpassed master of political entertainment. Secondly, when the Eurocracy decided it didn’t like him anymore, he was basically putsched out of office, and we greatly dislike the meddlers administering the Moloch in Brussels. Incidentally, ever since he has lost political power, Berlusconi’s successes in evading justice have been waning rather rapidly.

What was of course also great about Berlusconi’s brushes with the law was that they demonstrated unequivocally that the concept of “equality before the law” is a basically a bad joke. They showed the hoi-polloi that the modern-day rulers of the “democratic” societies of the West are in many respects really not much different from the feudal robber barons of the past. This seemed eminently useful from an educational perspective to us. This week we have been provided with yet another interesting demonstration by Italy’s justice system. An oppositional critic of the establishment who is seen as a genuine danger to the “European project” and the structures of the State because he enjoys massive voter support can evidently not hope to evade the long arm of the law as easily as the cavaliere was able to do in his heyday.

Beppe Grillo, leader of the wildly successful “5 Star Movement” has been handed a one year jail sentence (suspended, but still – one more misstep, and he’s locked up) and has been ordered to pay altogether 51,250 euro in fines and restitution. What was his crime? Did he defraud the tax man? Did he engage in bunga-bunga with minors? Did he have truck with the mafia? Nope – his alleged crime is defamation – and it appears that the law’s definition of “defamation” is “saying something about a public personality that said person doesn’t like”. Here is what happened, according to the press:

“Ascoli Piceno, September 14 – A judge here handed a suspended sentence of one year to 5-Star Movement (M5S) leader Beppe Grillo on Monday, for defamation of university professor Franco Battaglia. Grillo publicly insulted Battaglia during a speech on nuclear energy in May 2011 in the town of San Benedetto del Tronto, over an appearance Battaglia had made on the TV program Anno Zero. Referring to Battaglia’s comments, Grillo said, “You can’t let an engineer (…) go on television and say, with nonchalance, that no one died in Chernobyl. I’ll kick your ass, I’ll throw you out of television, I’ll report you to the police and send you to jail”. Battaglia testified that his car was also vandalized and he received a “strange phone call” prior to the act of vandalism. Grillo was ordered to pay a fine of €1,250 , and Battaglia was awarded compensation of €50,000.

It is well known that Beppe Grillo doesn’t mince words, but we can be reasonably sure that he was neither the man behind the “strange phone call” (we only have Battaglia’s say-so regarding this call), and that he probably didn’t vandalize the good professor’s car either. Most press reports didn’t go into too many details though – after all, Grillo had it coming, right?

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“Are the record temperatures due to climate change or due to El Niño? The answer is yes..”

Scorching Year Continues With the Hottest Summer on Record (Bloomberg)

Last month was the hottest August on record, topping out the hottest summer on record, according to data released on Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It was the sixth month this year to set a new record: February, March, May, June, July, and August. This has been the hottest start to a year on record and the hottest 12 months on record. It follows the hottest calendar year (2014), and the hottest decade. In 136 years of global temperature data, we are in uncharted territory. And this year’s extremes are likely to continue as a strong El Niño weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean continues to rip more heat into the atmosphere. There’s now a 97% chance that 2015 will set yet another record, according to NOAA.

Results from the world’s top monitoring agencies vary slightly. NOAA and the Japan Meteorological Agency both listed August as the hottest month. NASA rated it one degree cooler than the previous record, set last year. All three agencies agree that 2015 is on track to be the hottest yet, by a long shot. The heat was experienced differently across the world, but few places escaped it altogether. In the U.S., chances are growing that above-normal temperatures will persist in Alaska and along the West Coast, as well as in the upper Midwest and Northeast, through February. That’s in line with what can happen during a strong El Niño. “Are the record temperatures due to climate change or due to El Niño? The answer is yes,” said Deke Arndt, chief of NOAA’s climate monitoring branch in Asheville, N.C.. “Long-term climate change is like climbing a flight of stairs. El Niño is like standing on tippy toes while you are on one of those stairs.”

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