Dec 012017
 
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Edward S. Curtis Mosa Mohave girl c. 1903

 

The Mean Reverting History Of Profit Growth (Roberts)
US Household Debt Is Rising 60% Faster Than Wages (ZH)
We Give Up! Government Spending And Deficits Soar Everywhere (Rubino)
Lemmings In Full Stampede Toward The Fiscal Cliff (Stockman)
Brexit Risks Leaving Banks on the Hook for Impossible Contracts (BBG)
I’m Glad Morgan Stanley Has Warned Us About Jeremy Corbyn (Ind.)
US Senate Suspends Tax Bill Votes to Friday Morning (BBG)
Australian Banks Face Public Inquiry Amid String of Scandals
Gold Trader Implicates Erdogan In US Sanctions Breaking Case (BBC)
From The Caucasus To The Balkans, China’s Silk Roads Are Rising (Escobar)
Paris – The Financial Capital Of West And Central Africa (Gefira)
Chinese Satellite Closes In On Dark Matter Mystery (AFP)

 

 

Another great set of graphs from Lance Roberts, who just keep churning them out. I picked these two to show how dependent economies have become on suppressing wages. Problem is, that threatens economies. You need money rolling at the ground level to keep your economy going.

The Mean Reverting History Of Profit Growth (Roberts)

Since 2000, each dollar of gross sales has been increased to more than $1 in operating and reported profits through financial engineering and cost suppression. The next chart shows that the surge in corporate profitability in recent years is a result of a consistent reduction of both employment and wage growth. This has been achieved by increases in productivity, technology, and off-shoring of labor. However, it is important to note that benefits from such actions are finite. (Note the acceleration in profits starting with the Reagan Tax Cuts in the 1989’s. There is no evidence that cutting taxes for corporations leads to higher wages for employees.)

Given the economic landscape of recent years, large offsetting sectoral deficits and surpluses are not surprising, but they should not be taken as evidence that the long-term profitability of the corporate sector has permanently shifted higher. Stocks are not a claim to a few years of cash flows, but decades and decades of them. By pricing stocks as if current profits are representative of the indefinite future, investors have ensured themselves a rude awakening over time. Equity valuations are decidedly a long-term proposition, and from present levels, the implied long-term returns are quite dim.

Read more …

And then you get this…

US Household Debt Is Rising 60% Faster Than Wages (ZH)

The good news: total mortgage debt has decreased since 2008, to $8.743 trillion from $9.29 trillion, but as of the third quarter of 2017, still accounts for 67.5% of overall consumer debt. The bad news: since 2008, the growth in total debt has been attributable to the auto loan and student loan sectors. Auto loan debt has increased by 50% since 2008, to slightly over $1.2 trillion from approximately $800 billion. The most dramatic growth rate, as Zero Hedge readers know well, has been in student loan debt which has grown by 122% since 2008, to $1.357 trillion from $611 billion. But a bigger concern flagged by DBRS is that the growth in consumer debt is raising concerns when viewed in the context of the existing wage stagnation hampering the current economic environment.

The rating agency cites a paper published in October 2017 by the Harvard Business Review which stated that the inflation-adjusted hourly wage has grown by only 0.2% per year since the mid-1970s and labor’s share of income has decreased to its current level of 57% from 65%. Meanwhile, in the second quarter of 2017, wages were only 5.7% higher than they were a decade earlier. In comparison, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York/Equifax data shows that consumer debt growth over the same period was 9.3%. In other words, the purchasing power of US households has been largely a function of rapidly rising debt, which over the past decade has risen 60% faster than wages. There is another concern: while overall delinquency rates have stabilized in recent years, the one stubborn outlier remains student debt, where 90+ day delinquencies have risen to more than 10%.

Read more …

“Obviously debts of this magnitude can’t and therefore won’t be repaid. Which means the coming decade will be defined by how — and how quickly — we end up defaulting.”

We Give Up! Government Spending And Deficits Soar Everywhere (Rubino)

A recurring pattern of the past few decades involves governments promising to limit their borrowing, only to discover that hardly anyone cares. So target dates slip, bonds are issued, and the debts keep rising. This time around the timing is especially notable, since eight years of global growth ought to be producing tax revenues sufficient to at least moderate the tide of red ink. But apparently not. In Japan, for instance, government debt is now 250% of GDP, a figure which economists from, say, the 1990s, would have thought impossible. Over the past decade the country’s leaders have proposed a series of plans for balancing the budget, and actually did manage to shrink debt/GDP slightly in 2016. But now they seem to have given up, and are looking for excuses to keep spending.

[..] To put the above in visual terms, here’s an infographic from Howmuch.com that shows per-capita government debt for the world’s major countries. Note that a Japanese family of five’s share of its government’s debt is close to $450,000 while in the US a similar family owes $300,000. That’s in addition to their mortgages, car loans, credit cards, etc. Obviously debts of this magnitude can’t and therefore won’t be repaid. Which means the coming decade will be defined by how — and how quickly — we end up defaulting.

Read more …

More of that same story.

Lemmings In Full Stampede Toward The Fiscal Cliff (Stockman)

The lemmings are now in full stampede toward the cliffs. You can literally hear the cold waters churning, foaming and crashing on the boulders far below. From bitcoin to Amazon, the financials, the Russell 2000 and most everything else in between, the casinos are digesting no information except the price action and are relentlessly rising on nothing more than pure momentum. The mania has gone full retard. Certainly earnings have nothing to do with it. As of this morning, the Russell 2000, for instance, was trading at 112X reported LTM earnings. Likewise, Q3 reporting is all over except for the shouting and reported LTM earnings for the S&P 500 came in $107 per share. That’s of signal importance because fully 36 months ago, S&P earnings for the September 2014 LTM period posted at $106 per share.

That’s right. Three years and $1 of gain. They talking heads blather about “strong earnings” only because they think we were born yesterday. What happened in-between, of course, was the proverbial pig passing through the python. First, the global oil, commodities and industrial deflation after July 2014 took earnings to a low of $86.44 per share in the March 2016 LTM period. After that came the opposite—the massive 2016-2017 Xi Coronation Stimulus in China. The new Red Emperor and his minions pumped out an incredible $6 trillion wave of new credit, thereby artificially stimulating a global rebound and a profits recovery back to where it started three years ago.

The difference of course is that $106 of earnings back then were priced at an already heady (by historical standards) 18.6X, whereas $107 of earnings today are being priced at a truly lunatic 24.6X. After all, nothing says earnings bust ahead better than an aging business cycle, a cooling Red Ponzi, an epochal shift toward central bank QT (quantitative tightening) and a massive Washington Fiscal Cliff. Yet every one of those headwinds are self-evident and have made their presence known with a loud clang in the last few days.

Read more …

For good measure, let’s throw in some Catch 22.

Brexit Risks Leaving Banks on the Hook for Impossible Contracts (BBG)

As far as Brexit headaches go, John McFarlane, who chairs Barclays and London’s bank lobby, says that while his firm is on top of job moves, he’s more concerned about rewriting “hundreds of thousands” of contracts. He’s not alone. Andrew Bailey, head of the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority, said “contract continuity” was among the biggest potential disruptions from a no-deal, no-transition Brexit. Both men were testifying to lawmakers Wednesday. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney and ECB President Mario Draghi have also expressed concern about the issue and the dearth of time left for a fix. A week ago, data from the European Banking Authority showed the scope of the issue, and that money is already on the move for precisely this reason: European banks have slashed their U.K. assets by $425 billion, driven by a 35% drop in derivatives exposures.

Insurance policies are affected too: Carney estimates about 20 billion pounds of insurance liabilities in Britain could be affected without swift action. The issue arises because one side or the other of a contract can meet its obligations only thanks to an authorization that’s set to disappear once the U.K. leaves the European Union in 2019. This might result in a firm being obliged by contract law to do something that regulation prohibits it from carrying out, and impossibility generally isn’t a defense against non-performance of a contract, said Simon Gleeson at Clifford Chance in London. “A bank which enters into a contract which becomes illegal to perform by reason of Brexit may well be liable in damages for its non-performance to the counterparty,” said Gleeson. “Dealing with this is so much in everyone’s interest that I’m amazed it hasn’t been addressed.”

[..] Cross-border revolving credits – credit lines that can be drawn down, repaid, then drawn down again – are among such contracts. Many of these are issued to EU companies by syndicates with members based in the U.K. For example, lenders to Volkswagen Financial Services’s €2.5 billion ($3 billion) line include London-based entities for Bank of America and Citigroup, as well as the U.K. units of the major British banks, data compiled by Bloomberg show. A lender that lost its authorization but made an advance to the company under the revolver might find itself in breach of local law in jurisdictions including Germany and France, according to Clifford Chance. On the other hand, it might be in breach of contract if it failed to make the loan.

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Because Morgan Stanley exposes itself this way. As Corbyn himself said: Yes, we’re a threat. To you.

I’m Glad Morgan Stanley Has Warned Us About Jeremy Corbyn (Ind.)

This week, Morgan Stanley claimed that “Corbyn would be more of a danger to markets than hard Brexit”, something which I saw as supremely ironic. Because the actions of Morgan Stanley, and others like it, laid the foundations for Leave because of their role in the financial crisis: a crisis of capitalism, which ushered in seven years of austerity, falling wages and insecure work. Precisely the conditions that would encourage the majority of British people to vote against the status quo and opt for Leave. Morgan Stanley’s role in the financial crisis cannot be understated; and, given describing things as a “danger to markets” appears to be in fashion right now, let’s remind ourselves what they got up to just over a decade ago.

Essentially, they packaged up sub-prime mortgages as something called Collateralised Debt Obligations (CDOs), got credit ratings agencies – who were entirely conflicted as their clients were the investment banks – to rate these absolute garbage CDOs triple-A investments. Morgan Stanley then misled investors who bought them. Because they knew what those investments were actually worth, Morgan Stanley’s traders bought what are known as “credit default swaps” on those CDOs – effectively amounting to a bet on it defaulting. You can buy or sell a credit default swap even if you don’t own the investment. They did this thousands of times.

[..] the right-wing press, which gleefully reported on this Corbyn/Brexit warning, clearly has a short memory about what really happened. After all, the lie that Labour caused the financial crisis, and not investment banks like Morgan Stanley, was a convenient pretext for maintaining the economic status quo while cutting to public spending. This forced ordinary working people to pay for a financial crisis they did not cause. It’s little wonder that people voted Leave having been totally shafted by the system. But the opportunity to do so only arose because the narrative that “Labour crashed the economy” helped secure David Cameron a majority in 2015 on a manifesto that promised a referendum.

Read more …

Make it 2018.

US Senate Suspends Tax Bill Votes to Friday Morning (BBG)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said votes on the tax bill will resume at 11 a.m. on Friday as the collapse of a key compromise to win a majority for a Senate tax overhaul left Republicans scrambling to salvage the legislation. Debate over the bill may continue into the evening, McConnell said. It’s unclear when the unlimited amendment vote series known as “vote-a-rama” would begin. After seeming to gain momentum during the day, the GOP’s tax cut plan smacked into a decision from the Senate’s rule-making office that said a so-called trigger proposed by GOP holdouts didn’t pass procedural muster. At least three Republicans – Bob Corker of Tennessee, Jeff Flake of Arizona and James Lankford of Oklahoma – had tied their votes to the mechanism, which would have increased taxes if revenue targets weren’t met.

The trio is now demanding that leaders agree to other changes in the bill to avoid a huge deficit increase. Republicans have a slim majority in the Senate and can only afford to lose two members if they want to pass the tax bill without Democratic support. Adding to the difficulty was a ruling by a key fiscal referee that the tax plan would blow a $1 trillion hole in the nation’s debt – even after accounting for economic growth. The day’s events left GOP leaders contemplating a variety of potentially unpalatable measures — including making some tax cuts on the individual and corporate side end within six or seven years. The current version of the Senate bill would sunset individual breaks in 2026.

Read more …

Wait till home priced start to plummet. That’s when the scandals will break.

Australian Banks Face Public Inquiry Amid String of Scandals

Australia’s banks will be subject to a wide-ranging public inquiry after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull bowed to pressure to address scandals besetting the industry. The yearlong royal commission will examine the conduct of the nation’s banks, insurers, financial services providers and pension funds, and consider whether regulators have enough power to tackle misconduct, Turnbull said Thursday. He pledged the inquiry would not put “capitalism on trial.” The announcement came just minutes after Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Australia & New Zealand Banking, Westpac and National Australia Bank dropped their opposition to an inquiry, saying in an open letter to the government that months of political squabbling over the issue risked undermining offshore investor confidence.

More than A$8 billion ($6 billion) was wiped off the market value of the big four lenders in early Sydney trading, with Commonwealth Bank declining as much as 2.7%. “Ongoing speculation and fear-mongering about a banking inquiry or royal commission is disruptive and risks undermining the reputation of Australia’s world-class financial system,” Turnbull said. The inquiry will “further ensure our financial system is working efficiently and effectively.” The main opposition Labor party has for months been demanding a royal commission into the finance industry, amid a string of scandals ranging from misleading financial advice, attempted rate-rigging and alleged breaches of anti-money laundering laws. Pressure was growing on Turnbull to hold an inquiry, with some lawmakers in his Liberal-National coalition threatening to force a vote in parliament next week.

Read more …

A big problem for Erdogan. The US takes its sanctions seriously.

Gold Trader Implicates Erdogan In US Sanctions Breaking Case (BBC)

A controversial Turkish-Iranian gold trader has told a US court that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan personally approved his sanction-breaking deals with Iran. Reza Zarrab, 34, is a key witness in the criminal trial of a Turkish banker whom he allegedly worked with to help Iran launder money. Mr Erdogan has denied that Turkey breached US sanctions on Iran. The case has strained relations between Ankara and Washington. In his testimony, Mr Zarrab implicated Mr Erdogan in an international money laundering scheme that he and the banker, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, ran between 2010 and 2015 that allegedly allowed Iran to access international markets despite US sanctions.

He said that he was told in 2012 by the then economy minister that Mr Erdogan, who was prime minister at the time, had instructed Turkish banks to participate in the multi-million dollar scheme. Mr Erdogan said earlier on Thursday that Turkey did not breach US sanctions on Iran, Turkish media report. His government has described the case as “a plot against Turkey”. The Turkish president is yet to respond to the new allegations about him made in court. Mr Atilla has pleaded not guilty. Nine people have been charged in total. Mr Zarrab was arrested by US officials in 2016 and accused of engaging in hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of transactions on behalf of the Iranian government, money laundering and bank fraud. But he decided to cooperate with prosecutors and is now their star witness in the New York trial.

On Wednesday, he told the court he paid Zafer Caglayan, then Turkey’s economy minister, bribes amounting to more than €50m to facilitate deals with Iran. Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister, Bekir Bozdag, responded to the allegations, saying that Mr Zarrab had been “pressured into committing slander”. Speaking to state-run news agency Anadolu, Mr Bozdag called the trial a “theatre”. The Turkish government had previously said that Mr Caglayan acted within Turkish and international law.

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Overcapacity export.

From The Caucasus To The Balkans, China’s Silk Roads Are Rising (Escobar)

The 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress made it clear that the New Silk Roads – aka, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – launched by President Xi Jinping just four years ago, provides the concept around which all Chinese foreign policy is to revolve for the foreseeable future. Up until the symbolic 100th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, in 2049, in fact. Virtually every nook and cranny of the Chinese administration is invested in making the BRI Grand Strategy a success: economic actors, financial players, state-owned enterprises (SOEs), the private sector, the diplomatic machine, think tanks, and – of course – the media, are all on board. It’s under this long-term framework that sundry BRI projects should be examined. And their reach, let’s be clear, involves most of Eurasia – including everything from the Central Asian steppes to the Caucasus and the Western Balkans.

Representatives of no fewer than 50 nations are currently gathered in Tbilisi, Georgia, for yet another BRI-related summit. The BRI masterplan details six major economic “corridors,” and one of these is the Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor. That’s where Georgia fits in, alongside neighboring Azerbaijan: both are vying to position themselves as the key Caucasus transit hub between Western China and the European Union. [..] The action in the Caucasus was mirrored in Europe earlier in the week as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban opened the sixth “16+1” summit, involving China and 16 Central and Eastern European nations, in Budapest. “16+1” is yet another of those trademark Chinese diplomatic “away wins.”

Some of these nations are part of the EU, some part of NATO, some neither. From Beijing’s point of view, what matters is the relentless BRI infrastructure and connectivity drive. Beijing may have invested as much as US$8 billion so far in Central and Eastern Europe. China is having a ball in the Western Balkans – especially in Serbia, in Montenegro, and in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where EU financial muscle is absent. China has invested in multiple connectivity and energy projects in Serbia – including the much-debated Belgrade-Budapest high-speed rail link. Construction of the Serbian stretch started this week, with 85% of the total cost (roughly €2.4 billion) coming from the Export-Import Bank of China.

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Dream of power are always costly.

Paris – The Financial Capital Of West And Central Africa (Gefira)

France’s current zone of influence in Africa is the result of the policies of President Charles de Gaulle, who was unable to come to terms with his defeats in Indochina (1954) and Algeria (1962) and therefore sought to achieve the dominance of France in his former colonies. After de Gaulle, however, other presidents did not refrain from using military force and violence in Africa to defend their interests, on the pretext of protecting human rights and democracy. The French often achieved the opposite, because they made the same mistakes in their military actions as Americans made elsewhere in the world: they supported people who later became their enemies or violated human rights.

For example, it was the regime of Juvenal Habyariman in Rwanda that was supported by Paris: the French supplied Hutu combat groups with weapons, thus contributing to the Tutsi massacre. Hollande, who in Paris and Europe was perceived as a weakling, showed the face of a warrior and sent heavy units and fighter planes to Mali in 2013. This would not have been necessary if French President Sarkozy and the USA had not overthrown Qaddafi. It was Sarkozy that initiated the NATO led airstrikes against Libya. The removal of Colonel Qaddafi gave rise to the creation of the Caliphate with the help of Tuaregs in the north of Niger and Mali. After a few years since the start of the mission in Mali one wonders: has it made Europe safer?

Has the flow of migrants been stopped through Sahel countries? Are the Jihadists of African descent a lesser threat in Europe? The cost of the military action in Mali in 2013 amounted to €650 million. Operation Barkhane (as it is called) continues to this day and costs the French budget €500 million per year. Of course, democracy in Mali is a top priority for most Europeans, right? A total of 9,000 French soldiers are currently stationed in Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Gabon, the Central African Republic and Djibouti. The growing military presence is intended to support the fight against terrorism and crime, in fact it is about the French elites extending their power to the south, reaching for cheap raw materials and outlet markets.

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“..if we can identify it is dark matter for sure then that is very significant. And if not, it is even more significant because they would be fresh new particles that no one had predicted before..”

Chinese Satellite Closes In On Dark Matter Mystery (AFP)

Scientists have detected cosmic ray energy readings that could bring them closer to proving the existence of dark matter, a mysterious substance believed to comprise a quarter of our universe, a study revealed on Thursday. Likely made up of unknown sub-atomic material, dark matter is invisible to telescopes and can be perceived only through its gravitational pull on other objects in the universe. Beijing’s first astronomical satellite launched two years ago detected 1.5 million cosmic ray electrons and protons, the study said, and unprecedented measurements found curiously low-energy rays. The team of researchers from China, Switzerland and Italy, who published their first results in the journal Nature, said the data may cast light on “the annihilation or decay of particle dark matter”.

“This new unseen phenomena can bring breakthroughs,” Bai Chunli, president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said at a briefing. “After collecting more data, if we can identify it is dark matter for sure then that is very significant. And if not, it is even more significant because they would be fresh new particles that no one had predicted before,” Bai added, to applause from fellow scientists. The Dark Matter Particle Explorer (DAMPE) is now collecting more data from space to help researchers figure out what it could be. DAMPE was launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the Gobi desert in December 2015, after nearly 20 years in development. Its designers boast that DAMPE is superior to its US counterpart, the AMS-02 (Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer) that NASA installed on the International Space Station in 2011.

“Our cosmic ray detection range is 10 times that of AMS-02 and three times as accurate,” said DAMPE chief scientist Chang Jin. “Proving the existence of dark matter takes a lot of time. Now we have worked out the most precise spectrum, but we are not 100% sure that this can lead us to the location of dark matter,” he said.

Read more …

Aug 232017
 
 August 23, 2017  Posted by at 9:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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William Merritt Chase Back Of A Nude 1888

 

Banks Earn Record Profits in Q2, Savers Sacrificed: FDIC (WS)
The Silent Crisis in US Housing Finance (Whalen)
The New Economic Science Of Capitalism’s Slow-Burn Energy Collapse (Ahmed)
Switch to Renewables Won’t End the Geopolitics of Energy (BBG)
No U.S.-Russia Cyber Unit Without Trump Notifying Congress (R.)
The Imperial Collapse Clock Ticks Closer to Midnight (Krieger)
The Confederate General Who Was Erased (Dailey)
EU Opens Probe Into Bayer Takeover Of Monsanto (AFP)
Schaeuble Wants To Allow Eurozone Countries To Tap ESM For Investments (R.)
Fears Of Tensions As Refugee Arrivals in Greece Rise Again (K.)

 

 

And who are you going to turn to to protest this? Not your politicians, they’re in on it.

Banks Earn Record Profits in Q2, Savers Sacrificed: FDIC (WS)

Savers have been shanghaied into doing an enormous job, in small increments, day after day, for nine years: Recapitalizing the collapsed US banking system and making it immensely profitable again, leading to high core-capital ratios, record bonuses, big-fat dividends, and massive share-buybacks. And the FDIC, in its Quarterly Banking Profile released today, shows how. The total number of FDIC-insured commercial banks and savings institutions fell by 271 to 5,787 by the end of the second quarter. Of them, 5,338 were community banks. Most of this shrinkage was due to consolidation. But there were a handful of bank failures: in 2016, five banks failed. So far this year, six banks failed. The remaining banks get a bigger slice of the pie.

Here’s the good news: Almost everything in the report is good news! That is, unless you’re a saver whose income stream has been confiscated in order to make this good news possible. FDIC-insured banks and savings institutions booked a combined net income of $48.3 billion in the second quarter 2017, a post-crisis high. That’s up by $4.7 billion, or 10.7%, from a year ago (chart via FDIC):

This $4.7-billion increase in earnings was caused by a jump in net interest income of $10.3 billion (9.1%). Net interest income is the difference between a bank’s revenues generated by interest-bearing assets, such as loans, and the costs of its liabilities, mainly deposits but also bonds and the like. Currently banks borrow money from depositors at near zero cost. And it’s a lot of money. At the end of Q2, all commercial banks held $11.2 trillion in domestic deposits. Of that, $9.1 trillion were savings deposits. This is money that banks owe savers. A lot of nearly free money. [..] One of the most important performance metrics for banks is Return On Assets. In Q2, for all FDIC-insured banks combined, the Average ROA reached 1.14%, the highest since Q2 2007. Yes, thank you hallelujah dear savers (chart via FDIC):

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Nothing to do with inflation (we know because money velocity is way down), but with trapping people into debt: “Even adjusted for inflation, the median home price in 1940 would only have been $30,600 in 2000 dollars”.

The Silent Crisis in US Housing Finance (Whalen)

The big picture on housing reflected in the mainstream media is one of caution, as illustrated in The Wall Street Journal. Borodovsky & Ramkumar ask the obvious question: Are US homes overvalued? Short answer: Yes. Send your cards and letters to Janet Yellen c/o the Federal Open Market Committee in Washington. As we’ve discussed in several forums over the past few years, home valuations are one of the clearest indicators of inflation in the US economy. While members of the tenured world of economics somehow rationalize understating or ignoring the fact of double digit increases in home prices along the country’s affluent periphery, sure looks like asset price inflation to us. In fact, since WWII home prices in the US have gone up four times the official inflation rate.

“Houses weren’t always this expensive,” notes CNBC. “In 1940, the median home value in the U.S. was just $2,938. In 1980, it was $47,200, and by 2000, it had risen to $119,600. Even adjusted for inflation, the median home price in 1940 would only have been $30,600 in 2000 dollars, according to data from the U.S. Census.” Inflation, just to review, is defined as too many dollars chasing too few goods, in this case bona fide investment opportunities. A combination of slow household formation and low levels of new home construction are seen as the proximate cause of the housing price squeeze, but higher prices also limit the level of existing home sales. Many long-time residents of high priced markets like CA and NY cannot move without leaving the community entirely. So they get a home equity line or reverse mortgage, and shelter in place, thereby reducing the stock of available homes.

Two key indicators that especially worry us in the world of credit is the falling cost of defaults and the widening gap between asset pricing and cash flow. Credit metrics for bank-owned single-family and multifamily loans are showing very low default rates. More, loss-given default (LGD) remains in negative territory for the latter, suggesting a steady supply of greater fools ready to buy busted multifamily property developments above par value. We can’t wait for the FDIC quarterly data for Q2 2017 to be released next week as we expect these credit metrics to skew even further. Single-family exposures are likewise showing very low default rates and LGDs at 30-year lows, again suggesting a significant asset price bubble in 1-4 family homes. The fact that many of these properties are well under water in terms of what the property could fetch as a rental also seasons our view that we are in the midst of a Fed-induced investment mania.

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Nice and interesting, but don’t present it as something new. At best all the scientists et al quoted have only recently found out. And as the Automatic Earth has said forever, don’t say the 2007/8 crisis was caused by energy issues. The financial world didn’t need any help causing it.

The New Economic Science Of Capitalism’s Slow-Burn Energy Collapse (Ahmed)

Recent studies suggest that the EROI of fossil fuels has steadily declined since the early 20th century, meaning that as we’re depleting our higher quality resources, we’re using more and more energy just to get new energy out. This means that the costs of energy production are increasing while the quality of the energy we’re producing is declining. But unlike previous studies, the authors of the new paper [..] have removed any uncertainty that might have remained about the matter. Court and Fizaine find that the EROI values of global oil and gas production reached their maximum peaks in the 1930s and 40s. Global oil production hit peak EROI at 50:1; while global gas production hit peak EROI at 150:1. Since then, the EROI values of oil and gas-the overall energy we’re able to extract from these resources for every unit of energy we put in- is inexorably declining.

Even coal, the only fossil fuel resource whose EROI has not yet maxed out, is forecast to undergo an EROI peak sometime between 2020 and 2045. This means that while coal might still have signficant production potential in some parts of the world, rising costs of production are making it increasingly uneconomical. Axiom: Aggregating this data together reveals that the world’s fossil fuels overall experienced their maximum cumulative EROI of approximately 44:1 in the early 1960s.

Since then, the total value of energy we’re able to extract from the world’s fossil fuel resource base has undergone a protracted, continuous and irreversible decline. At this rate of decline, by 2100, we are projected to extract the same value of EROI from fossil fuels as we were in the 1800s. Several other studies suggest that this ongoing decline in the overall value of the energy extracted from global fossil fuels has played a fundamental role in the slowdown of global economic growth in recent years. In this sense, the 2008 financial crash did not represent a singular event, but rather one key event in an unfolding process. [..] Going back to the new EROI analysis by French economists, Victor Court and Florian Fizaine, the EROI of oil is forecast to reduce to 15:1 by 2018. It will continue to decline to around 10:1 by 2035. They broadly forecast the same pattern for gas and coal: Overall, their data suggests that the EROI of all fossil fuels will hit 15:1 by 2060, and decline further to 10:1 by 2080.

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Whole new resources wars lie ahead.

Switch to Renewables Won’t End the Geopolitics of Energy (BBG)

Yes, there are many reasons to be enthusiastic about a shift toward renewables. Unfortunately, an escape from energy geopolitics is not likely to be among them. [..] Among the most interesting of possible trends we highlight is the idea that a more renewable-heavy future will likely bring with it new forms of the “resource curse” – the phenomenon that political and economic development in many resource-wealthy countries seems stymied when compared to resource-poor ones. In many resource-rich nations, economic growth is actually slower and political institutions are more likely to be repressive and nondemocratic. In the world of fossil fuels, this curse has generally applied to big producers of oil and gas.

In a world heavier on renewables, the curse will probably not be so relevant for producers of power; solar, wind and geothermal energy are more likely to be generated and consumed within the borders of a country than to become profitable exports and generators of huge windfall cash flows. Rather, we may see this curse surface in countries rich in the materials required to produce the components that make renewable energy possible. Many of these resources are rare-earth metals and other commodities deep underground. For example, indium and cobalt – neither is technically a rare-earth metal, but they are still relatively hard to come by – are essential for making solar panels and batteries.

China provides approximately half of the indium consumed globally today, whereas the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the source of more than half the world’s cobalt. The big producers of lithium, another material essential for the production of batteries, are Argentina, Australia, Chile and China. Yet Bolivia’s large untapped reserves of lithium could catapult it into this league in the future. Tellurium is not a rare-earth mineral, but it is another key component of solar panels. The U.S. has imported most of this material from Canada, but relies to some extent on Belgium, China and the Philippines. By some estimates, China supplies as much as 95% of all the rare-earth elements in the global market. Given Beijing’s dominant position, the world should expect repeats of the 2010 episode when China halted the sale of rare earths to Japan – where they are vital for the production of solar panels and batteries – in the wake of a maritime dispute.

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Whatever anyone thinks of this, do note that one political freely body voting itself the powers of another is scary.

No U.S.-Russia Cyber Unit Without Trump Notifying Congress (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump would be required to notify U.S. lawmakers before creating a joint U.S.-Russia cyber security unit – an idea that has drawn criticism across the political spectrum – under legislation advancing in Congress. The proposal, if it became law, would be the latest in a series of maneuvers by Congress that either limit the president’s authority on Russia matters or rebuke his desire to warm relations with Moscow. A provision contained within the annual Intelligence Authorization Act and passed by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee 14-1 would require the Trump administration to provide Congress with a report describing what intelligence would be shared with Russia, any counterintelligence concerns and how those concerns would be addressed.

The bill, which grants congressional approval for clandestine operations carried out by the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies, passed the Senate Intelligence Committee in July, but its text was only recently made public because it involves sensitive intelligence operations. Trump last month said on Twitter that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had discussed establishing “an impenetrable Cyber Security unit” to address issues like the risk of cyber meddling in elections. Trump quickly backpedaled on the idea, which was criticized by Democrats, senior Republicans and the National Security Agency director. [..] Trump wants to improve relations with Russia, a desire that has been hamstrung by the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election to help Republican Trump against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

U.S. congressional panels and a special counsel are investigating the interference and possible collusion between Russia and members of Trump’s campaign. Moscow has denied any meddling and Trump has denied any collusion. Previously, Congress tied the president’s hands on Russia by passing a bill that Trump cannot ease the sanctions against Russia unless he seeks congressional approval. In August, the Senate blocked Trump from being able to make recess appointments while lawmakers were on break, fearing the president would fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions over his handling of the Russian probe. Lawmakers have also introduced legislation to stop Trump from having the ability to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed to determine whether there was collusion between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Moscow.

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Amen.

The Imperial Collapse Clock Ticks Closer to Midnight (Krieger)

If you haven’t watched Trump’s Afghanistan speech by now you really should. It’s not good enough to read anyone else’s summary, you need to hear it for yourselves. It’s only 25 minutes long. As I started listening, I sensed myself getting angry. It was the same empty, bullshit propaganda I’ve been hearing from U.S. Presidents my entire life. This broken record of disingenuousness has become simply unbearable, and even worse, I know it’s going to work on millions upon millions of Americans. We refuse to think for ourselves, and we refuse to admit the obvious. There will be hell to pay for this ignorance and denial. [..] towards the end of the speech, Trump says the following:

“In every generation we have faced down evil, and we have always prevailed. We prevailed because we know who we are and what we are fighting for.”

Unfortunately, here’s the cold hard truth: We have no idea who we are, and we have no idea what we are fighting for. We’ve become the very evil he claims to be fighting against as the nation morphed into a pernicious, destructive, and immoral empire. This is the heart of the problem — we are constantly lying to ourselves. Of course, we’ll never set things on the right track if we can’t diagnose the disease in the first place. We’ve torched our national treasure and goodwill by running around the world trying to push everybody around, and simultaneously institutionalized a corrupt and predatory neo-feudal society at home. We’ve ignored our own people in a foolish and self-destructive quest to maintain and grow empire and the results will not be pretty.

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Good story. The world is not black and white, there are simply people who don’t want to see color.

The Confederate General Who Was Erased (Dailey)

A native Virginian, a railroad magnate, a slaveholder, and an ardent secessionist, Mahone served in the Confederate army throughout the war. He was one of the Army of Northern Virginia’s most able commanders, distinguishing himself particularly in the summer of 1864 at the Battle of the Crater outside Petersburg. After the war, Robert E. Lee recalled that, when contemplating a successor, he thought that Mahone “had developed the highest qualities for organization and command.” General William Mahone has not been forgotten entirely. Rather, he has been selectively remembered. There is a Mahone Monument, for example, erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy, at the Crater Battlefield in Petersburg, and Civil War scholars have treated Mahone’s military career with respect.

There is an able biography. The problems posed by William Mahone for many Virginians in the past — and what makes it worthwhile for us to think about him in the present — lie in his postwar career. Senator William Mahone was one of the most maligned political leaders in post-Civil War America. He was also one of the most capable. Compared to the Roman traitor Cataline (by Virginia Democrats), to Moses (by African American congressman John Mercer Langston), and to Napoleon (by himself), Mahone organized and led the most successful interracial political alliance in the post-emancipation South. Mahone’s Readjuster Party, an independent coalition of black and white Republicans and white Democrats that was named for its policy of downwardly “readjusting” Virginia’s state debt, governed the state from 1879 to 1883.

During this period, a Readjuster governor occupied the statehouse, two Readjusters represented Virginia in the United States Senate, and Readjusters represented six of Virginia’s ten congressional districts. Under Mahone’s leadership, his coalition controlled the state legislature and the courts, and held and distributed the state’s many coveted federal offices. A black-majority party, the Readjusters legitimated and promoted African American citizenship and political power by supporting black suffrage, office-holding, and jury service. To a degree previously unseen in Virginia, and unmatched anywhere else in the nineteenth-century South, the Readjusters became an institutional force for the protection and advancement of black rights and interests.

At the state level, the Readjusters separated payment of the school tax from the suffrage, thereby enfranchising thousands of Virginia’s poorest voters. They restored and reinvigorated public education in the state, and they lowered real estate and personal property taxes. They banned the chain gang and the whipping post. At the municipal level, Readjuster governments paved streets, added sidewalks, and modernized water systems.

The Readjusters lost power in 1883 through a Democratic campaign of violence, electoral fraud, and appeals to white solidarity. While Democrats suppressed progressive politics in the state, other groups of elite white Virginians worked fast to eradicate the memory of Virginia’s experiment in interracial democracy. These were mutually reinforcing projects. Convinced that black enfranchisement was “the greatest curse that ever befell this country,” members of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA), founded in 1889, equated the Readjuster’ rule with “mobocracy” and called for radical pruning of the electorate. After 1900, William Mahone was characterized by whites in Virginia as a demagogic race traitor with autocratic tendencies. This representation was so powerful that as late as the 1940s the worst charge that could be brought against an anti-Democratic opposition candidate was that he had been associated with Mahone and the Readjusters.

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Monopolizing food should be fought for reasons much more profound than legal or economic ones.

EU Opens Probe Into Bayer Takeover Of Monsanto (AFP)

The European Commission said Tuesday that it was opening an in-depth investigation into the proposed $66 billion (56-billion-euro) takeover of US seed and pesticide supplier Monsanto by Germany’s Bayer, citing concerns it could reduce competition in key products for farmers. “Seeds and pesticide products are essential for farmers and ultimately consumers,” said EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager. “We need to ensure effective competition so that farmers can have access to innovative products, better quality and also purchase products at competitive prices.” In its own statement, Leverkusen-based Bayer said it “believes that the proposed combination will be highly beneficial for farmers and consumers.” The firm “will continue to work closely and constructively with the European Commission” and still aims to receive approval for the deal by the end of the year, it added.

After a months-long pursuit in which it raised its offer price several times, Bayer won over Monsanto’s management in September for the deal, which would create the world’s largest integrated pesticides and seeds company. If the tie-up goes ahead, the new company would have some 140,000 employees around the world with combined annual revenues from agriculture alone of about €23 billion. But the deal has drawn criticism from environmental groups because of Monsanto’s long history of promoting genetically modified crops. “There’s not much to investigate. One monster corporation controlling our food is a bad idea for farmers and citizens everywhere,” said Nick Flynn of the Avaaz advocacy group. “Over a million people are hoping Commissioner Vestager comes back with a long-term rejection of Monsanto and Bayer’s marriage from hell.”

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Trojan.

Schaeuble Wants To Allow Eurozone Countries To Tap ESM For Investments (R.)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble is working on a proposal that would allow southern eurozone countries to tap into the single currency bloc’s bailout fund to boost investments during recessions, a newspaper said on Wednesday. If the unsourced report in the mass-selling German daily Bild is confirmed, the plan would mark a major change of policy for Schaeuble who had until recently always opposed transfers from richer eurozone countries to poorer members like Greece. Germany is the biggest contributer to the European Stability Mechanism, the eurozone’s bailout fund. Bild said Schaeuble intended to make the proposal after Germany’s Sept.24 election, which his conservatives led by Chancellor Angela Merkel are expected to win. In exchange for more flexible access to the ESM, Schaeuble wants the fund to have more say over national debt and budgets.

Bild added that the proposal was a goodwill gesture toward French President Emmanuel Macron who has vowed to work with Merkel on a roadmap for closer eurozone integration. Schaeuble said earlier this year that he shared Macron’s view that financial transfers from richer to poorer states are necessary within the eurozone. A joint eurozone budget and a common finance minister are among ideas for deeper European Union integration around the single currency after Britain leaves the EU in 2019. Completing a banking union has also been proposed. Schaeuble is loathed in many southern eurozone countries and especially in Greece, for insisting on tough austerity measures in exchange for bailout funds during the bloc’s debt crisis that started seven years ago.

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Time for Greece to get scared again.

Fears Of Tensions As Refugee Arrivals in Greece Rise Again (K.)

Authorities on the islands of the eastern Aegean were unnerved on Tuesday by the arrival of 397 undocumented migrants in just one day, though it remained unclear whether a recent spike in newcomers is the beginning of a new, stronger influx from neighboring Turkey. The 397 new arrivals – 225 on Chios, 61 on Samos, 93 on Leros and 18 on Kos – came on the heels of 643 who landed on the islands over the weekend. August has seen the people smugglers intensify their operations, with more than 2,400 migrants landing on Greek shores following journeys aboard smuggling vessels from Turkey. The renewed influx is putting further pressure on already overcrowded migrant reception facilities on the islands, with authorities acknowledging that a key problem is the slow rate at which hundreds of asylum applications are being processed.

“There has been a noticeable increase in refugee and migrant arrivals over the past few days, which underlines the need for asylum services to be boosted immediately so that the the process is completed more quickly and the islands can be decongested,” the regional governor for the northern Aegean, Christina Kalogirou, told Kathimerini. Most migrants who see their inital asylum claims rejected lodge appeals, which drags out the process even longer, Kalogirou said, adding that the presence of hundreds of migrants in crowded venues for months on end leads to “aggravated situations, tension and even outbreaks of violence.”

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Apr 292016
 
 April 29, 2016  Posted by at 8:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Harris&Ewing Treasury Building, Fifteenth Street, Washington, DC 1918

Asia’s Two Biggest Stock Markets Have Become An $11 Trillion Headache (BBG)
Japan’s Abenomics ‘Dead In The Water’ After US Currency Warnings (AEP)
Debt Is Growing Faster Than Cash Flow By The Most On Record (ZH)
The Typical American Couple Has Only $5,000 Saved For Retirement (MW)
US Corporate Profits on Pace for Third Straight Decline (WSJ)
Dollar Drops to 11-Month Low as Asian Stocks Fall; Oil Near $46 (BBG)
Sluggish US Growth Part Of A Worrying Global Trend (G.)
Renting In London More Costly Than Living In Most European 4-Star Hotels (Ind.)
China Banks’ Profit Growth Stalls As Bad Debts Rise (R.)
China’s Central Bank Raises Yuan Fixing by Most Since July 2005 (BBG)
Puerto Rico Risks Historic Default as Congress Chooses Inaction (BBG)
El Niño Dries Up Asia As Its Stormy Sister La Niña Looms (AFP)
German Inflation Turns Negative In April (R.)
Greece’s Perfect Debt Trap (Kath.)
German Minister Proposes Law To Limit Social Benefits For EU-Foreigners (DW)
Finland Parliament, Pressured By Weak Economy, Debates Euro Exit (R.)
Italy Says Austria ‘Wasting Money’ In Migrant Border Row (AFP)
One Nation in Europe Wants Refugees But Is Failing to Get Enough (BBG)

$11 trillion is merely the start.

Asia’s Two Biggest Stock Markets Have Become An $11 Trillion Headache (BBG)

Asia’s two biggest stock markets are jostling for an ignominious prize. Japan’s Topix index and China’s Shanghai Composite Index have tumbled more than 13% in 2016 to rank along Nigerian and Mongolian shares as the world’s worst performers. In the two years through the end of December, the Asian gauges outperformed MSCI’s global measure by at least 20 percentage points. The Bank of Japan stood pat on monetary policy Thursday, sending Tokyo stocks tumbling, while the Shanghai measure fell to a one-month low. The benchmark gauges in two of the world’s largest stock markets, which have a combined value of almost $11 trillion, are declining as investors detect a reduced appetite from policy makers to boost monetary stimulus.

Thursday’s BOJ decision was the first under Governor Haruhiko Kuroda where a majority of economists expected easing that didn’t materialize, while strategists now see China’s central bank keeping its main interest rate on hold until the fourth quarter. “Neither China nor Japan have a solid plan on dealing with their slowing economies,” said Tomomi Yamashita at Shinkin Asset Management. “There is still scope for easing, and as for Japan there are fiscal policies they can carry out. There’s still hope. But today there was just too much hope on the BOJ.”

The Topix sank 3.2% on Thursday after the central bank kept bond-buying, interest rates and exchange-traded fund purchases unchanged. The stock gauge has fallen for four straight days, handing losses to foreign investors who piled the equivalent of $4.9 billion into the market last week, the most in a year. Overseas traders were net sellers of Japanese equities for the first 13 weeks of 2016. “I give up,” Ryuta Otsuka at Toyo Securities in Tokyo said. “It’s a really disappointing result and I feel like throwing in the towel. It cuts because we had so much hope.” The Topix posted four straight annual gains through 2015, while even a $5 trillion rout in Chinese shares last summer couldn’t stop the Shanghai Composite from being the world’s top-performing major market over the last two years. The declines for both gauges in 2016 compare with a 2.5% advance by the S&P 500, which is closing in on last year’s record.

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Sometimes I wonder why it takes people so long to figure things out. I’ve been saying ever since Abenomics was launched that it would fail. Because it was always pie in the sky only, not based on any understanding of what caused spending to plummet.

Japan’s Abenomics ‘Dead In The Water’ After US Currency Warnings (AEP)

The Bank of Japan has been forced to retreat from further emergency stimulus after a blizzard of criticism at home and abroad, and warnings that extreme measures may now be doing more harm than good. The climb-down by the world’s most radical central bank is the latest sign that the monetary experiments since Lehman crisis may have run their course. The authorities have not exhausted their ammunition but are hitting political and legal constraints. The yen surged 3pc against the US dollar in the biggest one-day move in eight months and equities skidded across Asia after the BOJ failed to take fresh action to stave off deepening deflation, catching markets badly off guard. Governor Haruhiko Kuroda dashed hopes for ‘helicopter money’, warning that direct monetary financing of spending would be “illegal”.

Mr Kuroda insisted that the BoJ still has plenty of firepower and can at any time push interest rates even deeper into negative territory or boost bond purchases beyond the current $74bn a month. “If additional easing is needed, we will do so promptly,” he said. The reality is that negative rates (NIRP) have backfired badly on every front. They have prompted bitter protests from banks and money market funds caught in a squeeze. The yen has appreciated by 10pc since the BoJ first embarked on the policy in January, the exact opposite of what was intended. The rising yen – ‘endaka’ – is pushing Japan deeper into a deflation trap and undercutting the whole purpose of ‘Abenomics’. Core inflation has fallen to minus 0.3pc. The Nikkei has dropped 13pc this year, with contractionary wealth effects that make the BoJ’s task even harder.

“Negative rates have completely failed,” said David Bloom from HSBC. Washington will not tolerate the use of NIRP in any case, deeming it a disguised attempt to drive down exchange rates and export problems to the rest of the world. Jacob Lew, the US Treasury Secretary, warned Japan and the eurozone at the G20 in Shanghai in February that the Obama administration is losing patience with use of beggar-thy-neighbour tactics by countries already running a current account surplus. They are in effect shifting their excess capacity abroad. Germany in particular is coming into the US cross-hairs. Richard Koo from Nomura said the US is now on the warpath against currency manipulators. Mr Lew’s threat effectively renders Abenomics “dead in the water”. The Japanese economy is contracting again, caught in a debt-deflation vice.

Growth has been negative for four of the last eight quarters. What was once a ‘Lost Decade’ is turning into a “Lost Quarter Century” with no remedy in sight. “Their options are diminishing. I can’t see any way out of the debt-trap, and it is an acid test for the western world,” said Neil Mellor from BNY Mellon. Public debt is rising fast on a shrinking economic base, pushing the public debt ratio to an estimated 250pc of GDP this year. “The debt will never be ‘repaid’ in the normal sense of the word,” said Lord (Adair) Turner from the Institute for New Economic Thinking. Olivier Blanchard, the former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund, warned recently that country is nearing the end-game as the pool of domestic funding for the bond market starts to dry up and the Japanese treasury is forced to rely on much more costly capital from global investors.

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The predictable culmination of decades of a failed system is a hockeystick.

Debt Is Growing Faster Than Cash Flow By The Most On Record (ZH)

By now it is a well-known fact that corporations have no real way of generating organic growth in this economy, so they are relying on two things to boost share prices: multiple expansion (courtesy of central banks) and debt-funded buybacks (courtesy of central banks), the latter of which requires the firm to generate excess incremental cash. Incidentally, as SocGen showed last year, all the newly created debt in the 21st century has gone for just one thing: to fund stock buybacks.

 

The problem with this is that if a firm is going to continue to add debt to its balance sheet in order to fund buybacks (and dividends), then it needs to be able to generate enough operational cash flow in order to service the debt. Even if one makes the argument that debt is cheap right now, which may be true, or that central banks are backstopping it, which is certainly true in Europe as of a month ago, the fact remains that principal balances come due eventually also, and while debt can be rolled over, at some point the inability to generate cash from the operations catches up with them; furthermore even a small increase in rates means the rolling debt strategy is dies a painful death, as early 2016 showed.

In the following chart we can see net debt growth skyrocketing nearly 30% y/y, while EBITDA (cash flow) has been contracting for the past year. In fact, as SocGen shows below, the difference in the growth rate between these two most critical data series is now over 35% – the biggest negative differential in recent history.

 

Of course, every finance 101 student knows that a firm which has to borrow more cash than it is able to produce from its core operations is not a sustainable business model, and yet today’s CFOs, pundits and central bankers do not. And the next question is: what happens if the Fed does raise rates, what happens to the feasibility of these companies servicing the debt while also spending on R&D and CapEx (assuming there is any), and who can only afford the rising interest expense as a result of ever smaller interest rates? The answer is, first, massive cost cutting, i.e. layoffs, which would be a poetic way for the Fed’s disastrous policies to be reintroduced to the real economy… and then, more to the point, mass defaults. 

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Our entire societies will have to change dramatically because of this. Parents will have to move in with their children again. The children who earn much less than the parents did.

The Typical American Couple Has Only $5,000 Saved For Retirement (MW)

When American companies began switching from traditional pensions to self-directed 401(k)-like plans in the 1980s and 1990s, it was supposed to lead to a golden age of retirement security. No longer would workers be at the mercy of the company’s generosity or of Social Security’s solvency; workers themselves would be responsible for saving enough for a comfortable retirement. Some 30 years later, the results are in: The median working-age couple has saved only $5,000 for their retirement, according to an analysis of the Federal Reserve’s 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances by economist Monique Morrissey of the Economic Policy Institute. The do-it-yourself pension system is a disaster.

Even as the traditional company-funded pension has nearly disappeared and even as Social Security benefits are being slowly eroded, most workers haven’t saved enough to offset those losses to their retirement income. 70% of couples have less than $50,000 saved. Even those on the cusp of retirement — the median couple in their late 50s or early 60s — has saved only $17,000 in a retirement savings account, such as a defined-contribution 401(k), individual retirement account, Keogh or similar savings account. How long does $5,000, or even $50,000, last? Until the first big medical bill? Morrissey figures that about 43% of working-age families have no retirement savings at all. Among those who are five to 10 years away from retirement, 39% have no retirement savings of their own.

The sad fact is that most Americans are less prepared for retirement than Americans were 30 years ago. Few have enough pension wealth to make much difference in their lives once they stop working. The lack of savings in 401(k) and individual retirement accounts wouldn’t be a such big deal if retirees could rely on other sources of income, such as a traditional defined-benefit pension or Social Security. But those other income sources are declining. Fewer and fewer newly retired people are covered by a regular pension that provides a guaranteed monthly check based on salary and years of service. In addition, Social Security benefits are already being reduced as the normal retirement age is gradually increased from 65 to 67. Further reductions in Social Security benefits — by limiting the cost-of-living adjustment or by increasing the normal retirement age to 70, for example – would be disastrous for tomorrow’s retirees.


The median working-age couple had $5,000 in a retirement savings account as of the most recent data. The top 10% of savers had accumulated $274,000, according to the Economic Policy Institute analysis of Federal Reserve survey data

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Forget growth. Think survival.

US Corporate Profits on Pace for Third Straight Decline (WSJ)

U.S. corporate profits, weighed down by the energy slump and slowing global growth, are set to decline for the third straight quarter in the longest slide in earnings since the financial crisis. Weakness was felt across the board, with executives from Apple to railroad Norfolk Southern and snack giant Mondelez saying the current quarter remains tough. 3M, which makes tapes, filters and insulation for consumer electronics, forecast continued weak demand for that industry. Procter & Gamble reported sales declines in its five business categories despite price increases. “It’s a difficult environment indeed,” said PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi. “Most of the developed world outside the United States is grappling with slow growth. GDP growth in developing and emerging markets is also challenged.”

The concerns from company executives echo weak economic data released Thursday morning, which showed U.S. gross domestic product rose just 0.5% in the first quarter. Business investment and consumer spending on goods slowed, while consumer spending on services climbed. “On the one hand, consumer spending continued to be the primary economic driver in the U.S. On the other hand, industrial production has been disappointing,” United Parcel Service Inc. CEO David Abney said Thursday after the delivery company reported a 3.1% revenue increase. Based on the 55% of companies in the S&P 500 index that had already reported results Thursday morning, Thomson Reuters expects overall earnings to decline by 6.1% in the first quarter compared with a year earlier.

Even excluding energy companies, which are expected to have their worst quarter since oil prices began to plunge in 2014, profits are on pace to fall by 0.5%. Revenues are expected to fall 1.4% overall, or rise 1.7% excluding energy, according to Thomson Reuters. This would mark the S&P 500’s third consecutive quarter of declining earnings—the longest streak since the financial crisis. Revenues will have declined for five quarters in a row, outstripping even the four-quarter slide in 2008 and 2009.

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The US dollar is set to rise like a mushroom cloud and break the global camel’s back.

Dollar Drops to 11-Month Low as Asian Stocks Fall; Oil Near $46 (BBG)

The dollar dropped against all of its G-10 peers after weaker-than-expected U.S. economic growth dimmed prospects for a Federal Reserve interest-rate increase at a time when monetary easing is being put on hold elsewhere. Asian stocks fell and crude oil traded near $46 a barrel. The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index sank to an 11-month low, while the yen was headed for its biggest weekly jump since 2008 after the Bank of Japan unexpectedly refrained from adding to record stimulus on Thursday. Japanese financial markets are shut for a holiday and an MSCI gauge of shares in the rest of the Asia-Pacific region slid for the third day in a row. The greenback’s decline is proving a plus for commodities, which are poised for their best monthly gain since 2010. Crude has jumped 20% since the end of March, while gold and silver are at 15-month highs.

The BOJ’s surprise decision capped a week of fence-sitting for central banks, with the Fed keeping interest rates steady for a third straight meeting and policy makers from New Zealand to Brazil also holding the line. The slowest pace of American economic expansion in two years reignited some concern over the global outlook, and pushed out bets on the potential timeline for tighter Fed policy. “Central banks look like they have run out of bullets to a degree,” said Mark Lister at Wellington’s Craigs Investment Partners. “We’re getting to that point where there are limits to the results they can get from anything more they do. This points to a fragile outlook with still a lot of risks out there.”

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Worrying only if it surprises you perhaps?!

Sluggish US Growth Part Of A Worrying Global Trend (G.)

It would be easy to dismiss the slowdown in the US economy to near-stall speed as a piece of rogue data resulting from the inability of number crunchers at the Department of Commerce in Washington to take account of the fact that large parts of the country are blanketed by snow during the winter. Easy but wrong. Back in spring 2015, the world’s biggest economy was expanding at an annual rate of 3.9%. In the third quarter the growth rate halved to 2%, before falling again to 1.4% in the final three months of the year. Describing the further easing to 0.5% in the first three months of 2016 as a temporary aberration – which was the knee-jerk response of upbeat analysts on Wall Street – is pushing it a bit.

A better explanation is that the sluggishness of US growth is part of a global trend, in which all the major economies are expanding more weakly than they were in the middle of last year. That’s the story for China, the eurozone, Japan and the UK. Each quarter, the data company Markit compiles a global Purchasing Managers’ Index for JP Morgan, with the intention of providing an up-to-date picture of economic conditions. The result for the first three months of 2016 showed activity at its lowest level in more than three years. Nor is there much hint of an improvement in the near future. In the US, firms are hacking back at investment – normally the sign of a looming recession. Consumer confidence has weakened, in part because real incomes are being squeezed.

As export-driven economies, Japan and the eurozone rely on a thriving US to buy their goods, so it is no surprise to find both struggling. The Bank of Japan will be forced to revisit its decision not to provide additional stimulus, since the upshot of its inaction has been a sharp rise in the yen, which will lead to even slower growth. Mario Draghi may again have to lock horns with the Bundesbank president, Jens Weidmann, in order to force through measures aimed at boosting activity in Europe. But the law of diminishing returns is at work. Each cut in interest rates, each fresh dollop of quantitative easing, has less of an impact than the last. The global economy is running out of steam and the conventional weapons are increasingly ineffective. This is not about blizzards shutting factories in Michigan. It goes much deeper than that.

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Britain is a sad joke.

Renting In London More Costly Than Living In Most European 4-Star Hotels (Ind.)

It is now cheaper to live in a 4-star hotel in two-thirds of European capitals than it is to rent the average London flat. Latest figures show that the average rent for a London flat is now £1,676 per month – or £55 a night – having increased by 30% in the last four years. For the same amount of money you could live year round in a hotel in Dublin, Rome, Paris or Brussels. Among the hotels that are more affordable than the average London rent include the Mercure Warszawa Grand in Warsaw that boasts a fitness centre, business facilities and two restaurants.

The Best Western Plus Hotel in Paris, the Nordic Hotel Domicil in Berlin and the Relais Castrum Boccea in Rome can also all be booked for less than £55 a night on travel websites for the 5th May this year. The figures were highlighted by Labour’s Mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan. He said: “Renting a home shouldn’t be a luxury, but under the Tories Londoners could live in 4-star luxury in most of Europe for what they pay. “Rents have gone up by 30% with a Tory Mayor and it would be exactly the same under Zac Goldsmith – with rents soaring above £2,000 a month. Mr Khan said he would create a London-wide social letting agency as well as naming and shaming bad landlords and setting up a landlord licensing scheme.”

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And that’s before the bad debts are properly accounted for, and while the PBoC still issues record amounts of additional debt.

China Banks’ Profit Growth Stalls As Bad Debts Rise (R.)

Four of China’s five largest state-owned banks barely posted any growth in profit in the first quarter, as widely expected, with rising bad debt and narrower margins hitting their bottom lines. The country’s banks face challenges from both defaulting borrowers, who are struggling amid a slowing economy, and successive cuts in interest rates which have eaten away at margins. Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, China’s biggest lender by assets, announced a 0.6% rise in net profit on Thursday. Bank of Communications posted a 0.5% rise in net profit in the first quarter and Agricultural Bank of China a slightly better 1.1% rise in profit. On Tuesday, Bank of China recorded a 1.7% rise in net profit in the fist quarter.

Non-performing loan (NPL) ratios remained flat -or rose- at all four lenders, while bad loan volumes increased, helping to sink loan-loss allowance ratios. At ICBC, the volume of non-performing loans increased 14% in the three-month period to 204.66 billion yuan ($31.60 billion), from 179.52 billion yuan at the end of 2015, sending the bank’s NPL ratio to 1.66% from 1.5%. ICBC’s loan-loss allowance ratio fell to 141.21%, from 156.34% at the end of December. ICBC also pointed to “the continuing impact of five interest rate cuts by the People’s Bank of China” since 2015 as a source of stress. The bank reported its interest margin (NIM) – the difference between its lending rate and the cost of borrowing – fell to 2.28 at the end of the first quarter, from 2.47 at end-December.

At BoC, NIM fell to 1.97 at end-March from 2.12 at end-December. BoCom did not disclose its NIM, but reported a 2.78% decline in net interest income, even as the bank’s net income rose half a% to 19.07 billion yuan for the first quarter. AgBank also did not disclose its NIM. In a bid to relieve banks of the mounting pile of bad debts, China’s central bank is preparing regulations that would allow commercial lenders to swap non-performing loans of companies for stakes in those firms, sources told Reuters in February.

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Going through the motions.

China’s Central Bank Raises Yuan Fixing by Most Since July 2005 (BBG)

China’s central bank responded to an overnight tumble in the dollar by strengthening its currency fixing the most since a peg was dismantled in July 2005. The reference rate was raised by 0.6% to 6.4589 per dollar. A gauge of the greenback’s strength sank 1% on Thursday after the Bank of Japan’s decision to unexpectedly keep monetary policy unchanged sent the yen surging. The offshore yuan was little changed at 6.4834 after gaining 0.3% in the last session. While the change in the fixing is extreme relative to the small moves of recent years, analysts said it reflects increased volatility in the dollar against other major exchange rates rather than a policy shift by the People’s Bank of China. The yuan weakened against a basket of peers even as it climbed versus the greenback on Friday.

“The offshore yuan’s reaction is muted, so it seems the market was already expecting a much stronger fixing,” said Ken Cheung, a currency strategist at Mizuho Bank in Hong Kong. “This is a reaction to the dollar weakness overnight, and there’s not much in the way of policy intention to read into.” The dollar reached the lowest level since June after the yen jumped the most in almost six years and data showed U.S. gross domestic product expanded in the first quarter at the slowest pace in two years. A Bloomberg replica of the CFETS RMB Index, which measures the yuan against 13 exchange rates, fell 0.2% to a 17-month low. The onshore yuan climbed less than 0.1%.

“The fixing is no surprise, the expectation for a stronger yuan fix was laid by the gains for the yen after the Bank of Japan announcement yesterday,” said Patrick Bennett at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in Hong Kong. “The trade weighted basket continues to depreciate, albeit at a modest pace. But the key to the lower trade-weighted rate does not really lie with the PBOC, rather it is the dollar weakness against other major currencies which is the main driver.”

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May 1 is big, but still just a transfer station. July 1 is much bigger.

Puerto Rico Risks Historic Default as Congress Chooses Inaction (BBG)

Even if Puerto Rico manages to strike a last-minute deal to defer bond payments due in three days, the commonwealth’s financial collapse is about to enter an unprecedented phase. Anything short of making the $422 million payment that Puerto Rico says it can’t afford would be considered a technical default. More importantly, it opens the door to larger and more consequential defaults on debt protected by the island’s constitution, and raises the risk of putting efforts to resolve the biggest crisis ever in the $3.7 trillion municipal market into turmoil. Nearly 10 months after Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla said the commonwealth was unable to repay all its obligations, Puerto Rico has failed to reach an accord on a broad restructuring deal presented to bondholders.

During that time the administration has delayed payments to suppliers, postponed tax refunds, grabbed revenue originally used to repay other bonds and missed payments on smaller agency debt. With its options drying up, no bondholder agreement in sight and Congressional action delayed, defaulting may be the next step for Puerto Rico. “It’s a game changer because it starts an actual legal process with teeth on both sides that can finally advance settlement negotiations,” said Matt Fabian at Municipal Market Analytics. “Pre-default negotiations are really not going anywhere. Post default might have a better chance.” Puerto Rico and its agencies racked up $70 billion in debt after years of borrowing to fill budget deficits and pay bills as its economy shrunk and residents left the island for work on the U.S. mainland.

The island’s Government Development Bank, which lent to the commonwealth and its municipalities, is in talks with creditors to avoid defaulting on the $422 million that’s due May 1. The commonwealth may use a new debt moratorium law if it cannot defer that GDB payment, Jesus Manuel Ortiz, a spokesman for Garcia Padilla, said. While a GDB default would be the largest yet by Puerto Rico, a missed payment on its general obligations would signal to investors that the commonwealth is finally executing on its warnings that it cannot pay its debts. Puerto Rico and its agencies owe $2 billion on July 1, including a $805 million payment on its general-obligation bonds, which are guaranteed under the island’s constitution to be paid before anything else.

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“..60 million people worldwide requiring “urgent assistance..”..

El Niño Dries Up Asia As Its Stormy Sister La Niña Looms (AFP)

Withering drought and sizzling temperatures from El Nino have caused food and water shortages and ravaged farming across Asia, and experts warn of a double-whammy of possible flooding from its sibling, La Nina. The current El Nino which began last year has been one of the strongest ever, leaving the Mekong River at its lowest level in decades, causing food-related unrest in the Philippines, and smothering vast regions in a months-long heat wave often topping 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit). Economic losses in Southeast Asia could top $10 billion, IHS Global Insight told AFP. The regional fever is expected to break by mid-year but fears are growing that an equally forceful La Nina will follow.

That could bring heavy rain to an already flood-prone region, exacerbating agricultural damage and leaving crops vulnerable to disease and pests. “The situation could become even worse if a La Nina event — which often follows an El Nino — strikes towards the end of this year,” Stephen O’Brien, UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and relief, said this week. He said El Nino has already left 60 million people worldwide requiring “urgent assistance,” particularly in Africa. Wilhemina Pelegrina, a Greenpeace campaigner on agriculture, said La Nina could be “devastating” for Asia, bringing possible “flooding and landslides which can impact on food production.” El Nino is triggered by periodic oceanic warming in the eastern Pacific Ocean which can trigger drought in some regions, heavy rain in others.

Much of Asia has been punished by a bone-dry heat wave marked by record-high temperatures, threatening the livelihoods of countless millions. Vietnam, one of the world’s top rice exporters, has been particularly hard-hit by its worst drought in a century. In the economically vital Mekong Delta bread basket, the mighty river’s vastly reduced flow has left up to 50% of arable land affected by salt-water intrusion that harms crops and can damage farmland, said Le Anh Tuan, a professor of climate change at Can Tho University. More than 500,000 people are short of drinking water, while hotels, schools and hospitals are struggling to maintain clean-water supplies. Neighbouring Thailand and Cambodia also are suffering, with vast areas short of water and Thai rice output curbed.

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You would think the reason to continue executing a policy lies in its success rate. Not so, you poor innocent you. In reality, the very failure of a policy is reason to continue it: if the strongest eurozone economy with low unemployment does not show any signs of inflationary pressures, the ECB after all might have a point in continuing its ultra-loose monetary policy

German Inflation Turns Negative In April (R.)

German consumer prices unexpectedly fell in April, data showed on Thursday, illustrating the scale of the task the ECB faces in trying to propel inflation back to its target range. The eurozone has struggled with little or no inflation for the past year and the ECB expects the bloc-wide figure to turn negative again before slowly ticking up, undershooting its goal of just under 2% for years to come. The ECB unveiled a surprisingly large stimulus package in March but falling inflation expectations have fueled expectations of even more easing, possibly as early as June, when the bank’s staff present new growth and inflation forecasts. “It might be hard for some German ECB critics to digest, but if the strongest eurozone economy with low unemployment does not show any signs of inflationary pressures, the ECB after all might have a point in continuing its ultra-loose monetary policy,” ING Bank economist Carsten Brzeski said.

Separate data on Thursday showed unemployment unexpectedly fell in April, with the jobless rate remaining at its lowest in more than 25 years. German consumer prices, harmonized to compare with other European countries (HICP), fell by 0.1% on the year after a 0.1% rise in March, the Federal Statistics Office said. The Reuters consensus forecast was for a zero reading. On a non-harmonized basis, consumer prices fell 0.2% on the month and inched up 0.1% on the year. A breakdown showed energy remained the main drag while the food, services and rental costs increased at a slower pace. Analysts said the German data suggested that the April inflation rate for the whole eurozone, due out on Friday, would also turn negative again.

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It’s high time now to see how the Greek debt trap is linked to the article above about German deflation. The link continues with the article below this one: Germany monopolizes the benefits of being in the EU.

Greece’s Perfect Debt Trap (Kath.)

The longer we spend in the hole the harder it is to get out. As long as the negotiations with the troika are not finished and the economy is starved of cash, as long as businesses cannot plan for the next day and citizens remain wary of returning cash to the banks, recovery becomes even more difficult. The government promises that after a positive evaluation by creditors the economy will bounce back like a spring released. Even if we were to accept this theory – which would also demand huge investments – a positive evaluation is still the prerequisite. Despite the progress made in the talks, the economy is deteriorating. Indicative of this is a growing inability to pay taxes. Today outstanding tax debts exceed €87 billion. At the end of 2012 they were at €55.1 billion.

They have grown by 32 billion euros since then, equaling the amount raised by tax rate increases over the same period (as Kathimerini reports on Friday). In the first quarter of 2016, outstanding debts increased by €3.22 billion and, by the end of the year, may exceed last year’s total of €13.48 billion. Nonperforming bank loans, which were at 8.2% of the total at the start of 2010, were at 36.4% at the end of 2015. Unpaid dues to social security funds came to €15.78 billion at the end of the first quarter, from €13.02 billion last September. The swelling of these debts did not begin under this government. Previous governments and opposition parties, as well as creditors, all played a role in this. From the start of the crisis, citizens/taxpayers have been buffeted by uncertainty, despair and anger.

The expectation of debt relief encouraged delays in payments, while excessive taxation meant that outstanding payments multiplied. Also, the state, unable to meet its own obligations, held back on paying what it owed to taxpayers. With the worsening economy and the lack of trust, capital controls were inevitable and, of course, drove us deeper into trouble. This anxiety is set to continue. The government cannot undertake the burden of what creditors demand, and the creditors, in turn, appear disinclined to help out. As the Federation of Greek Industries noted in its weekly bulletin on Thursday: “The government’s insistence on raising taxes instead of cutting expenses, and the recessionary impact that this will have on the economy, leads to the troika’s shortsighted persistence on contingency measures which, unfortunately, increase further the recessionary wave and will be the final blow to the economy.”

We are caught in the perfect trap. As long as the negotiations drag on, the instability and lack of confidence will increase outstanding debt at all levels, prevent growth and, in turn, demand even harsher measures. The only way out is for both the government and creditors to show good will and trust each other. After the past year this seems a most unlikely leap of faith.

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Dividing and demolishing the Union brick by brick. Germany wants to be left with the benefits of that union only, and to shed the drawbacks. Not going to work out well.

German Minister Proposes Law To Limit Social Benefits For EU-Foreigners (DW)

EU foreigners living in Germany may soon have to wait five years before qualifying for social benefits, reported newspapers on Thursday, in reference to a new proposed law from German Labor Minister Andrea Nahles. “We have to stop immigration into the social security system,” Nahles said during an interview in December when she announced plans to restrict social benefits for non-German EU citizens. She added that the restrictions were a matter of “self defense” for Germany. Should the law pass, foreigners from fellow EU member states will be strictly excluded from social assistance if they do not work in Germany or have not acquired social security rights through previous work in Germany. With those same conditions, EU foreigners would also be shut out from Germany’s benefit system for the unemployed, which is known as “Hartz IV.”

EU citizens can eventually gain access to social benefits – but only if they have been living in Germany for five years without state assistance. The draft law, however, provides so-called “transition benefits” for those EU foreigners who no longer qualify for social assistance in Germany. For a maximum of four weeks, those affected will receive assistance to cover the costs of food, housing, and health care. They will also be given a loan to cover costs for a return trip to their home country, where they can then apply for social benefits. The new measures are a direct response to a decision by Germany’s Federal Social Court late last year concerning immigrants from EU countries. In December 2015, the court ruled that EU-foreigners would only acquire entitlement to social benefits after living in the country for at least six months. The decision led to backlash from local authorities, who feared the social system would be overburdened.

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This is something we’ll see a lot of. It’s over. What’s left is pretense.

Finland Parliament, Pressured By Weak Economy, Debates Euro Exit (R.)

Finnish lawmakers on Thursday held a rare debate on whether the Nordic country should quit the euro after 53,000 people signed a petition to force the issue into parliament. The petition, although very unlikely to lead to Finland’s exit of the 19-member currency bloc, highlights the growing level of frustration over the country’s economic performance amid rising unemployment, weak outlook and government austerity. The initiative demands a referendum on euro membership, but this would only go ahead if parliament backed such a vote. Although no political group has proposed a euro exit, some euro-sceptic parliamentarians cited lack of independent monetary policy as a problem and said Finland should have held a referendum before adopting the euro in 1998.

Nordic neighbors Sweden and Denmark voted against adopting the euro a few years later. “The euro is too cheap for Germany and too expensive for the rest of Europe, it does not fulfill requirements of an optimal currency union,” said Simon Elo, an MP from the co-ruling euro-sceptic Finns party. The Finnish economy grew by just 0.5% last year after three years of contraction. The stagnation stemmed from a string of problems, including high labor costs, the decline of Nokia’s former phone business and a recession in neighboring Russia. This year, Finland’s economy is expected to grow slower than in any other EU country, except Greece. Some economists say the country’s prospects would improve if it returned to the markka currency which could then devalue against the euro.

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Union? What union?! Get real.

Italy Says Austria ‘Wasting Money’ In Migrant Border Row (AFP)

Italy told Austria Thursday it would prove Vienna was “wasting money” on anti-migrant measures and closing the border between the two countries would be “an enormous mistake”. Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka, who has vigorously defended the controversial package which was driven by a surge of the far right, met his counterpart Angelino Alfano over the plans, which have infuriated Italians. Alfano said “the numbers do not support” fears of a mass movement of migrants and refugees across the famous Brenner Pass in the Alps. Sobotka said preparations would continue for the construction of a 370-metre (yard) barrier which would be up to four metres (13 foot) high in places, but Alfano said the feared-for crisis would not materialise and “we will show them it is money wasted”.

Italian Premier Matteo Renzi has warned that closing the pass would be a “flagrant breach of European rules” and is pushing the European Commission to force Austria to hold off on a move many fear could symbolise the death of the continent’s Schengen open border system. On Thursday he described the bid to close the border as being “utterly removed from reality”. A European Commission spokesman said the body had “grave concerns about anything that can compromise our ‘back to Schengen’ roadmap”. Its chairman Jean-Claude Juncker is expected to discuss the issue with Renzi at talks in Rome on May 5. The Vienna government is under intense domestic pressure to stem the volume of asylum seekers and other migrants arriving on its soil with the far-right surging in polls.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon hit out Thursday at what he called “increasingly restrictive” refugee policies in Europe, saying he was “alarmed by the growing xenophobia here” and elsewhere in Europe, in a speech to the Austrian parliament. More than 350,000 people, many of them fleeing conflict and poverty in countries like Syria, Iraq and Eritrea, have reached Italy by boat from Libya since the start of 2014, as Europe battles its biggest migration crisis since World War II. Wedged between the Italian and Balkan routes to northern Europe, Austria received 90,000 asylum requests last year, the second highest in per capita terms of any EU country. Legislation approved Wednesday by the Austrian parliament enables the government to respond to spikes in migrant arrivals by declaring a state of emergency which provides for asylum seekers to be turned away at border points.

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Portugal sees what Canada sees too. Question is how deliberate is the EU policy of being so slow in relocating refugees to countries asking for them? Portugal wants 10,000. Canada will take a multiple of that.

One Nation in Europe Wants Refugees But Is Failing to Get Enough (BBG)

Portugal has offered to host 10,000 of the refugees who’ve landed on Europe’s shores from the globe’s war-torn zones. So far, it has taken in 234. Not because it doesn’t want to. Rather, because few have come knocking at its door. “It’s difficult to quickly find refugees that can come to Portugal,” President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said on Friday as he met migrants in Evora, southern Portugal. As the refugee crisis stretches the struggling Greek government and rattles politics in Germany and beyond, Portugal’s willingness to share the burden isn’t getting a lot of attention. While the country blames a lack of coordination in Europe and administrative roadblocks, the contrast between its economic performance and that of Germany, which admitted more than 1 million migrants in 2015 alone, may also be playing a role.

Although the Portuguese economy recovered in 2014 and accelerated last year after shrinking for three years through 2013, joblessness remains high. Unemployment, which has eased to 12.3% after peaking at 17.5% in 2013, is still almost triple the German rate of 4.3%, and that may continue to dent Portugal’s allure. “It’s not a very appealing destination given the unemployment rate,” said Rui Serra, chief economist at Caixa Economica Montepio Geral in Lisbon. “It’s easier for an immigrant to go to the center of Europe where there is a more concentrated market than in some countries of the periphery like Portugal. In the center of Europe income per capita is higher.” Prime Minister Antonio Costa says there are structural problems in the euro zone that aggravate the disparities.

“That structural problem has to do with the asymmetry between the different economies,” he said in Athens on April 11. “It’s necessary to give a new impulse to the convergence of our economies with the more developed economies of the euro zone.” With the country’s demographics in mind, the Portuguese government has laid out the welcome mat for refugees. Portugal’s population has declined and aged every year from the end of 2011 to about 10.37 million at the end of 2014 as a weak economy has led many working-age residents to leave. Germany’s population, while also aging, still increased overall every year in the same period.

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Sep 162015
 
 September 16, 2015  Posted by at 10:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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NPC Fire at S. Kanns warehouse, Washington, DC 1908

It’s highly amusing to read all the ‘expert’ theories on a Federal Reserve hike or no hike tomorrow, but it’s also obvious that nobody really has a clue, and still feel they should be heard. Don’t know if that’s so smart, but I guess in that world being consistently wrong is not that big a deal.

Thing is, US economic numbers are so ‘massaged’ and unreliable, the Fed can pick whichever way the wind blows to argue whatever decision it makes. As long as jobs numbers get presented for instance without counting the 90-odd million Americans who are not in the labor force, and a majority of new jobs are waiters, just about anything goes in that area. Numbers on wages are just as silly.

And people can make inflation a big issue, but hardly anyone even knows what inflation is. Wonder if the Fed does. It had better, because if you don’t look at spending, prices don’t tell you a thing. They surely must look at velocity of money charts from time to time?!

The biggest thing for the Fed might, and perhaps must, be the confidence factor. It’s been talking about rate hikes for so long now that if it decides to leave rates alone, it will only create more uncertainty down the road. Uncertainty about the economy (no hike would suggest a weak economy), and also about its own capabilities.

If all you have is talk, people tend to take you a lot less serious. Moreover, the abject -and grossly expensive- failure of the Chinese central bank to quiet down its domestic stock markets has raised questions about the omnipotence of all central banks.

This morning’s spectacle of a 5% rise in Shanghai in under an hour near the close no longer serves to restore confidence, it further undermines it. Beijing doesn’t seem to get that yet. But the Fed might.

No rate hike is therefore an enormous potential threat to Fed credibility. And that’s a factor it may well find much more important than a bunch of numbers it knows are mostly fake anyway. It has for years been able to fake credibility, but that is no longer all that obvious. And delaying a hike will certainly not boost that credibility.

Sure, volatility is an issue too, but volatility won’t go down on a hike delay. It’ll simply continue – and perhaps rise- until the next meeting. There’s nothing to gain there.

Besides, don’t let’s forget how crazy it is that the entire financial world is dead nervous ahead of a central bank meeting, even as everyone knows it’s all just about a decision on a very small tweak in rates.

Yellen et al are very aware of the risks of that, even if they love the limelight it brings. All that attention tells people, meeting after meeting, that the US economy is not functioning properly, no matter what the official statements say.

There are ‘experts’ talking about the dangers of emerging markets if the Fed votes Yes on a hike, but those markets are not even part of its mandate. if Yellen thinks something can be gained from pushing emerging markets and currencies down further, she’ll do just that.

Still, all this is just pussyfooting around the bush. The Fed may have noble mandates to help the real economy, but it will in the end always decide to do what’s best for Wall Street banks. And these banks could well make a huge killing off a rate hike.

They can profit from trouble and volatility in emerging markets as well as domestic markets, provided they’re well-positioned. Given that they’ve had ample time, and it’s hard to answer the question who else is in a good position, we may have an idea which wind the wind will blow.

Increasing credibility for the Fed and increasing profits for Wall Street banks. Might be a winning combination. And if Yellen is realistic about the potential for a recovery in the American economy, why would she not pick it?

Mar 232015
 
 March 23, 2015  Posted by at 8:49 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Gottscho-Schleisner Fishing boat at Fulton Market Pier, NY 1933

World Faces 40% Water Shortfall In 15 Years: UN (MarketWatch)
Liquidity Crisis Could Spark The Next Financial Crash (Telegraph)
Strong Dollar Hammers Profits at US Multinationals (WSJ)
How Europe And US Stumbled Into Spat Over China-Led Bank (CNBC)
Lagarde Says IMF ‘Delighted’ To Co-operate With China-Led AIIB Bank (BBC)
US to Seek Collaboration With China-Led Investment Bank (WSJ)
France Is Europe’s ‘Big Problem’, Warns Mario Monti (Telegraph)
Draghi Cheerleads for Economy as Greek Risk Looms Over Euro Area (Bloomberg)
Greece And Germany Move Towards Crossroads Of The Eurozone (Guardian)
Greece’s Leader Warns Merkel Of ‘Impossible’ Debt Payments (FT)
Tsipras Letter To Merkel: The Annotated Text (FT)
Greek Ministers Set For Charm Offensives In Moscow, Beijing (Kathimerini)
Asleep At The Euro-Wheel (Al-Jazeera)
Greek Government Forced To Cooperate With Technocrats (Kathimerini)
OPEC Won’t Bear Burden Of Propping Up Oil Price – Saudi Minister (Reuters)
Shell Oil Drilling In Arctic Set To Get US Government Permission (Guardian)
US Spies Feel ‘Comfortable’ In Switzerland, Afraid Of Nothing: Snowden (RT)
Great Barrier Reef: Scientists Call For Scrapping Of Coal Projects (Guardian)
China Top Weather Scientist Warns On Climate Change Devastation (SR)
The Men Who Uncovered Assyria (BBC)

In just 15 years! Wrap your head around that!

World Faces 40% Water Shortfall In 15 Years: UN (MarketWatch)

As the global economy grows, the world is going to get a lot more thirsty in 2030 if steps aren’t taken to cut back on fresh water use now, the United Nations says. At current usage rates, the world will have 40% less fresh water than it needs in 15 years, according to the United Nations World Water Assessment Program in its 2015 report, which came out ahead of the U.N.’s World Water Day on Sunday. “Strong income growth and rising living standards of a growing middle class have led to sharp increases in water use, which can be unsustainable, especially where supplies are vulnerable or scarce and where its use, distribution, price, consumption and management are poorly managed or regulated,” the report said.

Factors driving up demand for water include increased meat consumption, larger homes, more cars and trucks on the road, more appliances and energy-consuming devices, all staples of middle -class life, the report noted. Population growth and increased urbanization also contribute to the problem. Water demand tends to grow at double the rate of population growth, the report said. The global population is expected to grow to 9.1 billion people by 2050, up from the current 7.2 billion. More people living in cities also put strain on water supplies.

The report estimates that 6.3 billion people, or about 69% of the world’s population, will be living in urban areas by 2050, up from the current 50%. The biggest drain on water resources is agriculture, which uses about 70% of the world’s fresh water supplies. Tapping into groundwater supplies to make up for surface-water deficits strains resources. The report said that 50% of the world relies solely on groundwater to meet basic daily needs and that 20% of the world’s aquifers are already over-exploited.

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“..liquidity in the US credit markets has dropped by about 90% since 2006..”

Liquidity Crisis Could Spark The Next Financial Crash (Telegraph)

[..].. it is the corporate bond market where worries about trading conditions are most acute. The ultra-loose monetary policies pursued by the Fed, the Bank of England and the European Central Bank has resulted in a torrent of bond issuance in recent years from companies seeking to capitalise on rock bottom interest rates. “Now is the perfect time to borrow if you’re a company,” says Gary Jenkins, a credit strategist at LNG Capital. European and British companies, excluding banks, sold a combined $435.3bn of investment-grade debt last year, and $458.5bn in 2013, according to Dealogic. The level of issuance is much greater than before the financial crisis. In 2005, for example, $155.7bn was raised from corporate bond sales and $139.8bn the year before that.

Companies issuing riskier, high-yield debt have been similarly prolific. Last year, European businesses sold $131.6bn of so-called junk bonds, up from $104.4bn in 2013, the Dealogic data show. In 2005, they issued $20.4bn. At the same time that issuance in the primary market has grown, trading of company bonds by investors in the secondary market has dried up, a liquidity shortage that ironically has been caused by regulators’ attempts to avert a repeat of the crisis that shook the financial system in 2008. “Bank regulation is generally a good thing, but one of the unintended consequences has been the reduction in market liquidity,” says John Stopford, co-head of multi-asset investing at Investec Asset Management.

“And that could come back to haunt us. People need to be aware of that risk and be prepared for it.” Unlike shares, which are traded on exchanges, bonds are typically traded over-the-counter and investment banks traditionally played a key role in facilitating the buying and selling of bonds issued by companies. But the regulatory crackdown on proprietary trading and increasingly stringent capital requirements, which have hit market-making activities, have forced banks to retreat from the market. “Tighter bank regulation makes it more expensive for banks to hold bond inventories, which reduces their desire to provide liquidity to the market,” says Stopford. As a result, it has become much harder for investors to trade corporate debt.

“If you’re working a €50m block of bonds, there’s no way you’re going to get a price. So instead you have to chip away and sell €2m to €3m per day,” according to Andy Hill, ICMA’s director of market practice and regulatory policy. “A few years ago, you would go to your favoured bank with a large block, they would show you a price, they would take it onto their balance sheet, hedge it and then trade out of it. Banks can’t do that any more.” The impact of the fall-back by banks on trading has been dramatic. According to the Royal Bank of Scotland, liquidity in the US credit markets has dropped by about 90pc since 2006. Jenkins at LNG Capital says that the poor liquidity has prompted some fund managers to alter their investment behaviour altogether and buy and hold bonds until maturity, rather than selling them on and booking the gains.

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“..companies that generate more than 50% of sales outside the U.S. are expected to post an earnings decline of 11.6% in the first quarter..”

Strong Dollar Hammers Profits at US Multinationals (WSJ)

The soaring dollar is crunching profits at giant U.S. multinationals, prompting Wall Street analysts to make their deepest cuts to earnings forecasts since the financial crisis and boosting the appeal of smaller, domestically focused companies. The dollar has jumped 12% in 2015 against the euro and is up 27% from a year ago. The WSJ Dollar Index, which measures the dollar against a basket of currencies, is up 5.3% this year. The dollar’s surge against the euro has been driven by an aggressive ECB monetary-easing program that has come as the U.S. central bank is preparing to raise interest rates. Analysts, citing the dollar’s strength as a key factor, are predicting that profits at S&P 500 firms for the first quarter will show their biggest annual decline since the third quarter of 2009.

As a result, investors are keeping a continued bias toward U.S.-based stocks that do less business abroad, such as shares of small companies that tend to be more domestically focused, and on companies outside the U.S. that stand to benefit from a weakening of their home currency as the dollar strengthens, particularly European manufacturers. “What is remarkable is the speed with which the dollar has accelerated, and that speed brings with it some complications,” said Anwiti Bahuguna, senior portfolio manager on Columbia Management’s global asset allocation team, which oversees $68 billion. “The dollar strength is moving at a much, much faster pace than you’ve seen in history.”

Many investors say the dollar’s rise is behind the relatively strong performance of smaller-company stocks, which are often more domestically focused than large-company stocks. The Russell 2000 index of small-capitalization shares is up 5.1% this year and 10% in the last six months. That compares with gains in the S&P 500 index of 2.4% in 2015 and 4.9% over six months. The dollar’s jump has come as the ECB embarked on a new, aggressive easing of monetary policy. Investors expect the Fed to respond to a healthier U.S. economy by raising rates later this year, though many analysts are expecting later, slower increases following Wednesday’s dovish Fed policy statement. [..]

Goldman Sachs expects the euro to fall another 12% against the dollar over the next 12 months. [..] According to FactSet, companies that generate more than 50% of sales outside the U.S. are expected to post an earnings decline of 11.6% in the first quarter when results start rolling in next month. Companies that generate less than half of sales outside the U.S. are expected to post flat earnings for the quarter. Companies in the S&P earned 46% of their sales outside the U.S. in 2014, according to S&P Dow Jones Indexes. By contrast, 19% of sales for Russell 2000 companies comes from outside the U.S., according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

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“Sour grapes over the AIIB makes America look isolated and hypocritical..”

How Europe And US Stumbled Into Spat Over China-Led Bank (CNBC)

Sometimes geopolitical shifts happen by accident rather than design. Historians may record March 2015 as the moment when China’s checkbook diplomacy came of age, giving the world’s number two economy a greater role in shaping global economic governance at the expense of the United States and the international financial institutions it has dominated since WWII. This month European governments chose, in an ill-coordinated scramble for advantage, to join a nascent, Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in defiance of Washington’s misgivings. British finance minister George Osborne, gleeful at having seized first-mover advantage, stressed the opportunities for British business in a pre-election budget speech to parliament last week.

“We have decided to become the first major western nation to be a prospective founding member of the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, because we think you should be present at the creation of these new international institutions,” he said after rebuffing a telephone plea from U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to hold off. The move by Washington’s close ally set off an avalanche. Irked that London had stolen a march, Germany, France and Italy announced that they too would participate. Luxembourg and Switzerland quickly followed suit. The trail of transatlantic and intra-European diplomatic exchanges points to fumbling, mixed signals and tactical differences rather than to any grand plan by Europe to tilt to Asia.

That is nevertheless the way it is seen by some in Washington and Beijing. As recounted to Reuters by officials in Europe, the United States and China who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, the episode reveals the paucity of strategic dialogue among what used to be called “the West”. It also highlights how the main European Union powers sideline their common foreign and security policy when national commercial interests are at stake. China’s official Xinhua news agency reflected Beijing’s delight. “The joining of Germany, France, Italy as well as Britain, the AIIB’s maiden G7 member and a seasoned ally, has opened a decisive crack in the anti-AIIB front forged by America,” it said in a commentary. “Sour grapes over the AIIB makes America look isolated and hypocritical,” it said.

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Thrilled, I tell ya… Couldn’t be happier!

Lagarde Says IMF ‘Delighted’ To Co-operate With China-Led AIIB Bank (BBC)

International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde has said the IMF would be “delighted” to co-operate with the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The AIIB has more than 30 members and is envisaged as a development bank similar to the World Bank. Mrs Lagarde said there was “massive” room for IMF co-operation with the AIIB on infrastructure financing. The US has criticised the UK and other allies for supporting the bank. The US sees the AIIB as a rival to the World Bank, and as a lever for Beijing to extend its influence in the region.

The White House has also said it hopes the UK will use “its voice to push for adoption of high standards”. Countries have until 31 March to decide whether to seek membership of the AIIB. As well as the UK, other nations backing the venture include New Zealand, Germany, Italy and France. Mrs Lagarde, speaking at the opening of the China Development Forum in Beijing, also said she believed that the World Bank would co-operate with the AIIB, China established the Asian lending institution in 2014 and has put up most of its initial $50bn (£33.5bn) in capital.

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Wankers ‘R ‘Us: “Co-financing projects with existing institutions like the World Bank or the Asian Development Bank will help ensure that high quality, time-tested standards are maintained.”

US to Seek Collaboration With China-Led Investment Bank (WSJ)

The Obama administration, facing defiance by allies that have signed up to support a new Chinese-led infrastructure fund, is proposing the bank work in a partnership with Washington-backed development institutions such as the World Bank. The collaborative approach is designed to steer the new bank toward economic aims of the world’s leading economies and away from becoming an instrument of Beijing’s foreign policy. The bank’s potential to promote new alliances and sidestep existing institutions has been one of the Obama administration’s chief concerns as key allies including the U.K., Germany and France lined up in recent days to become founding members of the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

The Obama administration wants to use existing development banks to co-finance projects with Beijing’s new organization. Indirect support would help the U.S. address another long-standing goal: ensuring the new institution’s standards are designed to prevent unhealthy debt buildups, human-rights abuses and environmental risks. U.S. support could also pave the way for American companies to bid on the new bank’s projects. “The U.S. would welcome new multilateral institutions that strengthen the international financial architecture,” said Nathan Sheets, U.S. Treasury Under Secretary for International Affairs. “Co-financing projects with existing institutions like the World Bank or the Asian Development Bank will help ensure that high quality, time-tested standards are maintained.”

Mr. Sheets argues that co-financed projects would ensure the bank complements rather than competes with existing institutions. If the new bank were to adopt the same governance and operational standards, he said, it could both bolster the international financial system and help meet major infrastructure-investment gaps. No decision has been made by the new Chinese-led bank about whether it will partner with existing multilateral development banks, as the facility is still being formed, though co-financing is unlikely to face opposition from U.S. allies.

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“We’ve seen that the strong axis is no longer so strong.”

France Is Europe’s ‘Big Problem’, Warns Mario Monti (Telegraph)

France has become Europe’s “big problem”, according to the former prime minister of Italy, who warned that anti-Brussels sentiment and the rise of populist parties in the Gallic nation threatened to blow the bloc’s Franco-German axis apart. Mario Monti – who was dubbed “Super Mario” for saving the country from collapse at the height of the eurozone debt crisis – said France’s “unease” with the single currency had already created tensions between Europe’s two largest economies. “In the last few years we have seen France receding in terms of actual economic performance, in terms of complying with all the European rules, and above all in terms of its domestic public opinion – which is turning more and more against Europe,” he told The Telegraph.

France’s strained relationship with Brussels has been borne out through its persistent defiance of EU budget targets and the rise of Marine Le Pen’s far-right Front National party, “France is the big problem of the European Union because the whole construct has been leveraged on the foundation of a solid Franco-German entente. If it isn’t there then there is a poor destiny for Europe,” said Mr Monti. “We’ve seen that the strong axis is no longer so strong.” Jens Weidmann, the president of Germany’s Bundesbank, recently attacked the EU’s decision to give France extra time to sort out its budget. Mr Weidmann said countries such as France, which has failed to meet a 3pc deficit target for several years, should not be allowed to “perpetually put off” belt-tightening.

Mr Monti said Germany’s willingness “to exercise certain responsibilities” as the bloc’s hegemon had eased the eurozone’s problems. The respected economist, whose technocratic government was swept into power in 2011, also said the anti-Brussels sentiment in France was greater than many believed. “I’m always struck when I participate in debates in France – even the elite is so uneasy about the governance of the eurozone. “I would not be surprised to hear this tone in Athens or in Lisbon, but I’m very surprised to hear this in Paris.” France will vote in local elections on Sunday. A recent poll conducted by Le Figaro newspaper put Ms Le Pen’s party out in the lead, with 30pc of the vote.

In a warning to France, Mr Monti said: “Maybe you forgot, but we all remember that France was the country that wanted the euro, not Germany. “Germany reluctantly accepted the euro to get approval of the other countries for its reunification process. It would have much rather kept to the Deutsche Mark. It was France who insisted to have the single currency and now it’s so uneasy with it.” Mr Monti, a Brussels veteran who is currently president of Bocconi University, also said the “humiliating” diktats of the so-called “troika” had caused more damage to the Greek economy and should not continue.

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Draghi is an ancient Bulgarian word for spin doctor. Which was old-Hungarian for BS.

Draghi Cheerleads for Economy as Greek Risk Looms Over Euro Area (Bloomberg)

Mario Draghi can gauge this week whether his optimism in the economy is well-founded. From business confidence in Germany to manufacturing in France and consumer spending in Italy, a smattering of data from across the 19-nation euro area will provide a glimpse at the state of the recovery. The ECB president, who has become more upbeat on the economy since announcing his quantitative-easing program two months ago, will get a chance to present his view on Monday when he addresses the European Parliament in Brussels. His words will come only days after protesters vented their anger outside the ECB’s new headquarters in Frankfurt over the institution’s perceived role in imposing fiscal austerity and economic hardship throughout Europe.

With unemployment still near record highs and strong support for populist parties like Greece’s Syriza threatening to tear apart the currency bloc, pressure is building on Draghi to ensure that monetary stimulus reaches beyond banks’ balance sheets. “Draghi will continue to cheerlead the effects of the ECB’s QE but warn that you need reforms to make the recovery extended and long-lasting,” said Thomas Harjes, senior European economist at Barclays Plc in Frankfurt. “There is still a significant amount of discontent in states that saw a surge in unemployment, and for this to change you really need a turn in employment dynamics.”

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Helena Smith is quite good from Athens.

Greece And Germany Move Towards Crossroads Of The Eurozone (Guardian)

When the red carpet is rolled out for Alexis Tsipras in Berlin on Monday, the euro debt drama will come to a potentially decisive turning point. His host will be none other than Angela Merkel, Europe’s mother, its powerbroker par excellence and the queen of austerity, defender of the very policies the left-wing firebrand has vowed to dismantle. For many, it will be the long anticipated moment of truth. There has been much that is familiar on the great Greek crisis train. For those on board, it has been a rollercoaster ride, one that seems to have arrived at the place it began. In five years of recession and austerity, seeing their country argue with creditors and bargain over reforms, Greeks have had an added sense of deja vu. Athens, in many ways, is still where it was when the crisis exploded in late 2009.

Merkel’s olive branch could change that. European solidarity is on the line but so, too, is the future of Greece and the single currency bloc to which it belongs. Historians will see a meeting of minds or deduce that the euro crisis ultimately crashed on the buffers of immovable object meeting irresistible force. The stakes could not be higher. Speculation of a Greek default and exit from the eurozone has resurfaced with a vengeance. And in Greek-German relations – amid renewed talk of war reparations and Nazi crimes – the climate couldn’t be worse. So bad have bilateral ties become that, on Sunday, Manolis Glezos, the second world war hero and symbol of national resistance, appealed to both countries for calm and logic to prevail.

Toxic nationalism – the affliction the European Union was created to quell – was, he said, at risk of once again rearing its ugly head. “I am worried by the climate of division, intolerance and hostility that some are seeking to create between,” said the 92-year-old adding that Greeks in no way blamed today’s Germans for the atrocities of the Third Reich. As an icon of the left – and leading Euro MP of Tsipras’ radical left Syriza party – the plea was seen as a direct message to the Greek premier.

The anti-austerity leader flies into Berlin as the crisis moves from the chronic stage back into the acute. Money and time for Athens is running out. Greece is faced with some €1.6 billion in debt repayments by the end of March with another €2 billion maturing next month. There are real – and growing concerns – that with cash reserves drying up, the government will have to issue IOUs to pay pensions and public sector salaries next week. The euro zone’s weakest link has never been more dependent on Teutonic goodwill.

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“He blames ECB limits on Greece’s ability to issue short-term debt as well as eurozone bailout authorities refusal to disburse any aid before Athens adopts a new round of economic reforms.”

Greece’s Leader Warns Merkel Of ‘Impossible’ Debt Payments (FT)

Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, has warned Angela Merkel that it will be “impossible” for Athens to service its debt obligations if the EU fails to distribute any short-term financial assistance to the country. The warning, contained in a letter sent by Mr Tsipras to the German chancellor and obtained by the Financial Times, comes as concerns mount that Athens will struggle to make pension and wage payments at the end of this month and could run out of cash before the end of April. The letter, dated March 15, came just before Ms Merkel agreed to meet Mr Tsipras on the sidelines of an EU summit last Thursday and invited him for a one-on-one session in Berlin, scheduled for Monday evening. In the letter, Mr Tsipras warns that his government will be forced to choose between paying off loans, owed primarily to the IMF, or continue social spending.

He blames ECB limits on Greece’s ability to issue short-term debt as well as eurozone bailout authorities refusal to disburse any aid before Athens adopts a new round of economic reforms. Given that Greece has no access to money markets, and also in view of the spikes in our debt repayment obligations during the spring and summer…it ought to be clear that the ECB’s special restrictions when combined with disbursement delays would make it impossible for any government to service its debt, Mr Tsipras wrote. He said servicing the debts would lead to a sharp deterioration in the already depressed Greek social economy a prospect that I will not countenance. With this letter, I am urging you not to allow a small cash flow issue, and a certain institutional inertia, to not turn into a large problem for Greece and for Europe, he wrote. [..]

Mr Tsipras’s five-page letter is particularly critical of the ECB, which he said had forbidden Greek banks from holding more short-term government debt than they did when they requested an extension of the current bailout last month — a cap that has prevented Athens from relying on Treasury bills to fill its urgent cash needs because Greek banks have become nearly the only buyer of such debt. The Greek prime minister insisted the ECB should have returned to “the terms of finance of the Greek banks” that existed immediately following his government’s election — when ECB rules were more lenient — once the deal to extend Athens’ €172bn bailout through June was agreed last month.

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When I read this, I’m thinking: why bother any longer?

Tsipras Letter To Merkel: The Annotated Text (FT)

The letter starts off by referring to a February 20 agreement by the eurogroup – the committee of all 19 eurozone finance ministers which is responsible for overseeing the EU’s portion of Greece’s €172bn bailout. That was the meeting where ministers ultimately agreed to extend the Greek bailout into June; it was originally to run out at the end of February, and the prospect of Greece going without an EU safety net had spurred massive withdrawals from Greek bank deposits, which many feared was the start of a bank run. The letter’s first paragraph also refers to a February 18 letter sent by Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek finance minister, to Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who chairs the eurogroup. A copy of that letter can be found here. Its purpose was to formally request an extension of the existing bailout, something Tsipras had resisted since coming into office.

Dear Chancellor, I am writing to you to express my deep concern about developments since the 20th February 2015 Eurogroup agreement, which was preceded two days earlier by a letter from our Minister of Finance outlining a number of issues that the Eurogroup ought to resolve, issues which I consider to be important, including the need:

(a) To agree the mutually acceptable financial and administrative terms the implementation of which, in collaboration with the institutions, will stabilise Greece’s financial position, attain appropriate fiscal surpluses, guarantee debt stability and assist in the attainment of fiscal targets for 2015 that take into account the present economic situation.

This is a fancy way of saying that the two sides can’t agree on what reform measures must be adopted before Greece can get some of the €7.2bn remaining in the existing bailout and Tsipras wants the terms clarified quickly.

(b) To allow the European Central Bank to re-introduce the waiver in accordance with its procedures and regulations.

Given the economic climate, Greek banks have needed to borrow from the ECB at extremely cheap rates since they frequently can’t raise money for their day-to-day operations on the open market. But the ECB needs collateral for these loans, and one of the forms of collateral has always been government bonds owned by the banks. Well, as Greece’s fiscal situation deteriorates, those bonds are worth less and less – until, in the view of many central bankers, they’re too risky to accept as collateral at all. That’s been the situation for Greek bonds for a while, but up until Tsipras was elected, the ECB had a waiver in place allowing the central bank to accept the bonds as collateral since Athens was part of a bailout that was aimed at getting its finances back on track. Within days of Tsipras forming a government, the ECB withdrew the waiver, arguing that Athens was no longer committed to completing the bailout. Tsipras wants the wavier reinstated, since Greek banks are now relying on more expensive emergency loans from the Greek central bank instead of the ECB’s normal lending window.

(c) To commence work between technical teams on a possible new Contract for Recovery and Development that the Greek authorities envisage between Greece, Europe and the International Monetary Fund, to follow the current Agreement.

Greece will need a third bailout once the current programme ends in June, and here Tsipras is asking for talks on a new rescue to begin.

(d) To discuss means of enacting the November 2012 Eurogroup decision regarding possible further debt measures and assistance for implementation after the completion of the extended Agreement and as a part of the follow-up Contract.

Seemingly forgotten by everyone but the Greek government (and a few pesky reporters), in November 2012 eurozone finance ministers agreed to grant Athens additional debt relief if the government achieved a primary budget surplus (meaning that it takes in more than it spends, when interest on debt is not counted). Well, Greece reached a primary surplus in 2013. And no debt relief has been agreed. Tsipras is asking for this to happen in the third bailout programme.

Based on the in-principle acceptance of this letter and its content, the President of the Eurogroup convened the 20th February meeting which reached a unanimous decision expressed in a communiqué. The latter constitutes a new framework for the relationship between Greece, its partners, and its institutions.

This may appear a rhetorical flourish, but it gets to something deeper that continues to plague the relationship: Tsipras regards the February 20 agreement as a break from what came before; other eurozone leaders, particularly in Germany, regard it as simply an extension of the existing bailout programme.

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Sell your physical assets to Moscow and Beijing? You’d be crazy to do that.

Greek Ministers Set For Charm Offensives In Moscow, Beijing (Kathimerini)

The government is said to be trying to bring Moscow and Beijing to the negotiation table for the privatization of Piraeus and Thessaloniki ports, the Thrassio transit center and rail service operator TRAINOSE in order to secure financial support. These are projects of high added value for the Greek economy and will be at the focus of top-level visits to Russia and China by Greek officials in the coming weeks. What is at issue is whether they will be conceded via international tender – as the government has said they will – or through bilateral agreements, which are allowed between European Union members and third countries but are subject to EU competition rules. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is due to visit Moscow on April 8 escorted by National Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, who will return to the Russian capital nine days later.

Their agenda, besides energy and defense issues, will include Russian interest in the port of Thessaloniki and in TRAINOSE. Meanwhile, while Beijing has repeatedly stated its desire for a strong and united eurozone, with Greece obviously a member, sources say that it is reluctant to risk harming ties with the EU by intervening in the Greek-European discourse. Deputy Prime Minister Yiannis Dragasakis, Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and State Minister Nikos Pappas will be visiting China with his in mind. The Greek mission is departing for Beijing on Tuesday on a five-day visit, but it is not yet known whether the Greek ministers will be able to meet with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, in a rapidly deteriorating international climate for Greece.

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“It would involve national governments and banks bypassing the ECB’s undemocratic, supra-national stranglehold and so the ECB wants nothing to hear of it. Sadly, it appears that Greece’s new top finance ministers are willing to comply with the ECB’s dominance..”

Asleep At The Euro-Wheel (Al-Jazeera)

In this battle, as Berlin-based Greek blogger “Techiechan” observes, the Alexis Tsipras administration with the aid of Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis so far succeeded on two points: they have introduced a slither of transparency to the notoriously opaque European way of doing political business and have exposed to an international public the dominance of the German government in European affairs, as an account of a meeting of top euro area officials by US economist James Galbraith proves. But this, in turn, has led to a stronger backlash against Greece with most Germans for the first time wanting it to leave the euro area. Surprisingly, on the extremely sensitive subject of Nazi-era war reparations, which Schauble dismisses as a ploy, certain German politicians have broken rank and want to come to an agreement with Greece.

The Greek government is less keen on making as concrete calculations when it comes to solving its side of the crisis and Tsipras’s brave rhetoric of refusing to succumb to what he calls “blackmail” is not enough. Unless the government finds ways around the ECB’s “nein” stance towards lending to Greece’s main banks and at the same time miraculously kick-starts income collection (taxes and social security contributions from those who so far have were not paying, from so-called oligarchs to professional and regional pressure groups), it might run out of money in the coming weeks. Greece might not leave the euro zone but default inside it, given its obligations, foreign and domestic.

Is there a way out? On the level of unconventional but common sense solutions to get Greece’s economy going, Richard Werner, a German academic with immense private-sector experience who has lived through Japan’s withering and South East Asia’s blooming, has proposed what he calls “Enhanced Debt Management”. There is a hitch, though. It would involve national governments and banks bypassing the ECB’s undemocratic, supra-national stranglehold and so the ECB wants nothing to hear of it. Sadly, it appears that Greece’s new top finance ministers are willing to comply with the ECB’s dominance, as an editorial they co-authored for the Financial Times illustrates.

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They should refuse.

Greek Government Forced To Cooperate With Technocrats (Kathimerini)

The agreement reached at a mini EU summit with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and other high-level EU officials, could mark the beginning of a more constructive engagement between the government and official lenders. This should become obvious in the next 10 days or so because failure to do so may bring about unpleasant consequences, including a credit crunch. Greece bought some time at the recent meeting but the clock is ticking. The government has to present a full list of structural reforms to the lenders in the next few days, something that could have been done in previous weeks. The reforms will be evaluated and hopefully approved by the Eurogroup so that a portion of the €7.2 billion earmarked for Greece under the second adjustment program can be disbursed.

Government officials are hopeful of smoother cooperation with the technocrats of the so-called Brussels Group, comprised of senior officials from the European Commission, the IMF, the ECB and the ESM (European Stability Fund), who are on a fact-finding mission in Athens. However, third-party observers who are aware of the review process and the fundamental weaknesses of the Greek civil service are not that optimistic. Although communication between the two sides may be restored, helping reduce the frustration of the technical teams of the Brussels Group, the speed with which ministry officials and others can respond to queries about data remain a big question mark. Unless the Greek side has done some homework and is ready to deliver the figures requested, the observers say they would be surprised by a response in such a short period of time.

If they are right, the review process will not be completed before we get well into April and Greece will not even be able to get the €1.9 billion it is hoping for from the return of income from bonds held by the ECB by then. Politics aside, the observers also point out that the Greek side has underestimated the role of the technocrats involved in the review process. According to them, their role is not limited to mere fact-finding but extends to producing policy proposals sent to their superiors for approval or modifications if the Greek side objects. As far as we know, such engagement between the two sides has not taken place yet for fiscal and other data.

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“We tried, we held meetings and we did not succeed because countries (outside OPEC) were insisting that OPEC carry the burden and we refuse that OPEC bears the responsibility..”

OPEC Won’t Bear Burden Of Propping Up Oil Price – Saudi Minister (Reuters)

OPEC will not take sole responsibility for propping up the oil price, Saudi Arabia’s oil minister said on Sunday, signalling the world’s top petroleum exporter is determined to ride out a market slump that has roughly halved prices since last June. Last November, Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries kingpin Saudi Arabia persuaded members to keep production unchanged to defend market share. The move accelerated an already sharp oil price drop from peaks last year of more than $100 per barrel that was precipitated by an oversupply of crude and weakening demand. Since the oil price collapse, top OPEC exporter Saudi Arabia has said it wants non-OPEC producers to cooperate with the group. But Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi said on Sunday that plan had so far not worked.

“Today the situation is hard. We tried, we held meetings and we did not succeed because countries (outside OPEC) were insisting that OPEC carry the burden and we refuse that OPEC bears the responsibility,” Naimi told reporters on the sidelines of an energy conference in Riyadh. “The production of OPEC is 30% of the market, 70% from non-OPEC…everybody is supposed to participate if we want to improve prices.” Earlier, OPEC governor Mohammed al-Madi said it would be hard for oil to reach $100-$120 per barrel. Oil prices recovered since January to over $60 a barrel, but have fallen again in recent days following a bigger than expected crude stock build in the United States that fueled concerns of an oversupply in the world’s largest oil consumer.

Benchmark Brent crude settled at $55.32 a barrel on Friday. Oil companies, including U.S. shale producers, have slashed spending and jobs since the price of oil fell, and may face another round of spending cuts to conserve cash and survive the downturn. Naimi repeated on Sunday that politics played no role in the kingdom’s oil policy. Some producers such as Iran, a political regional rival of Saudi Arabia, have criticised Riyadh for its stance on maintaining steady production. “There is no conspiracy and we tried to correct all the things that have been said but nobody listens,” Naimi said. “We are not against anybody, we are with whoever wants to maintain market stability and the balance between supply and demand, and (with regards to) price the market decides it.”

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Desperation squared.

Shell Oil Drilling In Arctic Set To Get US Government Permission (Guardian)

The US government is expected this week to give the go-ahead to a controversial plan by Shell to restart drilling for oil in the Arctic. The green light from Sally Jewell, the interior secretary, will spark protests from environmentalists who have campaigned against proposed exploration by the Anglo-Dutch group in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas off Alaska. Jewell will make a formal statement backing the decision as soon as Wednesday, the earliest point at which her department can rubber-stamp an approval given last month given by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).

The US Interior Department had been forced to replay the decision-making process after a US federal court ruled last year, in a case brought by environmental groups, that the government had made mistakes in assessing the environmental risks in the drilling programme. However, the BOEM, an arm of Jewell’s department, has backed the drilling after going through the process again, despite revealing in its Environmental Impact Statement “there is a 75% chance of one or more large spills” occurring. A leading academic, Prof Robert Bea, from the engineering faculty at the University of California in Berkeley, who made a special study of the Deepwater Horizon accident, has raised new concerns that the recent slump in oil prices could compromise safety across the industry as oil producers strive to cut costs.

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And just about anywhere else too.

US Spies Feel ‘Comfortable’ In Switzerland, Afraid Of Nothing: Snowden (RT)

US spies operate in Switzerland without much fear of being unmasked, because Swiss intelligence, though knowledgeable and very professional, poses no threat to them, former NSA contributor Edward Snowden told Swiss TV. “The reason that made Switzerland so interesting as the capital of espionage – particularly Geneva – has not changed,” Snowden said in an interview to Darius Rochebin on RTS, a Swiss broadcaster. The two spoke at the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights on March 5. The transcript of the interview waspublished in le Temps, a Swiss French-language newspaper, this Saturday.

“There have always been international headquarters, the United Nations, WTO, WHO, ICRC [in Geneva]. There are representations of foreign governments, embassies, international organizations, NGOs … A number of organizations, and all of them are in one city [Geneva]!” According to Snowden, other Swiss cities have also been “affected” by US spies. “You have exceptional flows of capital and money in Zurich. You have bilateral agreements and international trade in Bern,” he said. The ex-NSA man recalled the time he was working in Geneva as an undercover US agent. He said the Americans weren’t afraid of Swiss intelligence. “Swiss services were not considered as a threat. [They] are also very knowledgeable and very professional. But they are small in numbers.”

Snowden compared Swiss intelligence to spying agencies in France, saying they respected French spies who are known to be “sophisticated and aggressive.” He drew examples of CIA operations concerning weapons of mass destruction, adding that people “involved in nuclear proliferation” were violating the law in Switzerland, Germany and neighboring countries. And unfortunately, “political influence” was seen in these cases, which “rose to the highest level in the government.” “That’s why representatives of the US government, even when they violate the Swiss laws, have a certain level of comfort, knowing that there will be no consequences,” Snowden concluded.

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WIth the present OZ gov in charge, forget it.

Great Barrier Reef: Scientists Call For Scrapping Of Coal Projects (Guardian)

Australia’s leading coral reef scientists have called for huge coalmining and port developments in Queensland to be scrapped in order to avoid “permanent damage” to the Great Barrier Reef. The Australian Coral Reef Society (ACRS) report, compiled by experts from five Australian universities and submitted to the United Nations, warns that “industrialising the Great Barrier Reef coastline will cause further stress to what is already a fragile ecosystem.” The report notes that nine proposed mines in the Galilee Basin, in central Queensland, will produce coal that will emit an estimated 705m tonnes of carbon dioxide at capacity – making the Galilee Basin region the seventh largest source of emissions in the world when compared to countries.

Climate change, driven by excess emissions, has been cited as the leading long-term threat to the Great Barrier Reef. Corals bleach and die as water warms and struggle to grow as oceans acidify. “ACRS believe that a broad range of policies should be urgently put in place as quickly as possible to reduce Australia’s record high per capita carbon emissions to a much lower level,” the report states. “Such policies are inconsistent with opening new fossil fuel industries like the mega coalmines of the Galilee Basin. Doing so would generate significant climate change that will permanently damage the outstanding universal value of the Great Barrier Reef.”

As well as calling for a halt to the Galilee Basin mines, which have broad support from the Queensland and federal governments, the scientists urge a rethink on associated plans to expand the Abbot Point port, near the town of Bowen. The expansion would make Abbot Point one of the largest coal ports in the world, requiring the dredging of 5m tonnes of seabed to facilitate a significant increase in shipping through the reef. The report warns dredging will have “substantial negative impacts on surrounding seagrass, soft corals and other macroinvertebrates, as well as turtles, dugongs and other megafauna.” Research has shown that coral disease can double in areas close to dredging activity.

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Luckily the US has Sen. Imhofe…

China Top Weather Scientist Warns On Climate Change Devastation (SR)

By the end of our century, climate change could have many detrimental effects – including reduced agricultural output, prolonging droughts and damaging major infrastructure projects in China alone, according to Zheng Guogang, the country’s top weather scientist. Guogang made his statement to the Xinhua News Agency. While China has decided to cut emissions of greenhouse gasses and has also promoted an app exposing factories that are the biggest causes of air pollution, the government has abstained from discussions on the causes and effects of climate change. A documentary about the nation’s pollution problem called “Under the Dome,” was banned in China this week.

While Guogang’s statements indicate that the nation is willing to admit it has a problem, they have shied away from allowing the public to participate in the debate of what’s to be done about it. “To face the challenges from past and future climate change, we must respect nature and live in harmony with it. We must promote the idea of nature and emphasize climate security,” read the statement. Guogang maintained that global warming is a threat for major Chinese infrastructures, like their power station, the Three Gorges Dam, also the world’s largest.

As they have in the past, Chinese weather officials provided weather-related educational materials for schoolchildren, with supplements on how to plan for natural disasters. However, they have become more vocal about the impact of global warming and its impact on China. The country is publicly acknowledging that its rapidly moving economy is greatly affecting the environment. “By the end of the 21st century, there will be higher risks of extreme high temperatures, floods and droughts in China,” the China Meteorological Administration said last week in a statement. “The population growth and wealth accumulation in the 21st century is projected to have superposition and amplification effects on the risks of weather and climate disasters.”

China leads the world in its emissions of greenhouse gasses, overtaking the U.S. in 2006, and currently expects that its rate of carbon emissions will peak by the year 2030. It still has yet to reveal its goals for reducing greenhouse gases. Along with the U.S., it resolved to set carbon-emission limits this November. Like many other countries, however, China’s government said it needs to maintain its own economic development, that moving to alternative energy may impact the jobs of many of its citizens: “It is the basic right of the people to pursue a moderately comfortable life and improve their living standards. We need to balance many factors and move on step by step.”

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A fantastically fascinating story, set against the pillaging of ancient sites by IS.

The Men Who Uncovered Assyria (BBC)

Two of the ancient cities now being destroyed by Islamic State lay buried for 2,500 years, it was only 170 years ago that they began to be dug up and stripped of their treasures. The excavations arguably paved the way for IS to smash what remained – but also ensured that some of the riches of a lost civilisation were saved. In 1872, in a backroom of the British Museum, a man called George Smith spent the darkening days of November bent over a broken clay tablet. It was one of thousands of fragments from recent excavations in northern Iraq, and was covered in the intricate cuneiform script that had been used across ancient Mesopotamia and deciphered in Smith’s own lifetime.

Some of the tablets set out the day-to-day business of accountants and administrators – a chariot wheel broken, a shipment of wine delayed, the prices of cedar or bitumen. Others recorded the triumphs of the Assyrian king’s armies, or the omens that had been divined by his priests in the entrails of sacrificial sheep. Smith’s tablet, though, told a story. A story about a world drowned by a flood, about a man who builds a boat, about a dove released in search of dry land. Smith realised that he was looking at a version of Noah’s Ark. But the book was not Genesis.

It was Gilgamesh, an epic poem that had first been inscribed into damp clay in about 1800BC, roughly 1,000 years before the composition of the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament). Even Smith’s tablet, which had been dated to some point in the 7th Century BC, was far older than the earliest manuscript of Genesis. A month or so later, on 3 December, Smith read out his translation of the tablet to the Society for Biblical Archaeology in London. The Prime Minister, William Gladstone, was among those who came to listen. It was the first time an audience had heard the Epic of Gilgamesh for more than 2,000 years.

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Dec 102014
 
 December 10, 2014  Posted by at 12:36 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Marjory Collins “Crowds at Pennsylvania Station, New York” Aug 1942

China Inflation Eases To Five-Year Low (BBC)
Popping The Chinese Stock Market Mania (Zero Hedge)
Easy Credit Feeds Risky Margin Trades In Chinese Stocks (Reuters)
Why Beijing’s Troubles Could Get a Lot Worse (Barron’s)
OPEC Says 2015 Demand for Its Crude Will Be Weakest in 12 Years (Bloomberg)
Don’t Look For Oil Glut To End Any Time Soon (CNBC)
Oil Resumes Drop as Iran Sees $40 If There’s OPEC Discord (Bloomberg)
“Yes, it Was a Brutal Week for the Oil & Gas Loan Sector” (WolfStreet)
US Shale Contractors To See Net Income Cut By 25% In 2015 (Bloomberg)
This Time Is The Same: The Fed Ignores The Shale Bubble (David Stockman)
Thanksgiving Weekend Box Office Plunges 20% vs 2013 To 16-Year Low (Alhambra)
Greece Lurches Back Into Crisis Mode (Bloomberg)
Japan Threatened With Credit Rating Downgrade (CNBC)
Citigroup Sets Aside $2.7 Billion For Legal Costs (BBC)
This Is What 6 Years Of Central Bank Liquidity Injections Look Like (Zero Hedge)
Big US Banks Face Capital Requirement of 4.5% on Top of Global Minimum (BBG)
Stop Believing The Lies: America Tortured More Than ‘Some Folks’ (Guardian)
Defeat is Victory (Dmitry Orlov)
Rising Inequality ‘Significantly’ Curbs Growth (CNBC)
TTIP Divides A Continent As EU Negotiators Cross The Atlantic (Guardian)
Ebola Virus Still ‘Running Ahead Of Us’, Says WHO (BBC)

The economy allgedly grows at 7%, and official inflation is 1.4%?

China Inflation Eases To Five-Year Low (BBC)

Inflation in China eased to a five-year low in November, suggesting continued weakness in the Asian economic giant. The inflation rate fell to 1.4% in November from 1.6% in October, which is the lowest since November 2009. The reading was also below market expectations of a 1.6% rise. Producer prices, which have been entrenched in deflation, also fell more than forecast, down 2.7% from a year ago – marking a 33rd consecutive monthly decline. Economists had predicted a fall of 2.4% after drop of 2.2% in the previous month as a cooling property market led to slowing demand for industrial goods. The figures are the latest in a string of government data that showed a deeper-than-expected slowdown in the Chinese economy.

Dariusz Kowalczyk, an economist at Credit Agricole, said the data partly reflected low commodity and food prices but also confirmed softness in domestic demand. “It will likely convince policymakers to ease their policy stance further and we continue to expect a RRR (bank reserve requirement ratio) cut in the near term, most likely this month,” he told Reuters. Last month, the country’s central bank unexpectedly cut interest rates for the first time in more than two years to spur activity. In reaction to the data, Chinese shares continued their downward trend after the Shanghai Composite fell more than 5% on Tuesday.

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“On both prior occasions of such a maniacal surge in speculative accounts, the Shanghai Composite made a significant top and fell dramatically in the ensuing months.”

Popping The Chinese Stock Market Mania (Zero Hedge)

If you are wondering what triggered the PBOC to pull the punchbowl of leveraged collateral away from the ‘wealth-creating’ stock market exuberance in China… wonder no more. The last 2 weeks saw the biggest surge in new Chinese brokerage accounts ever, with this week alone the highest since October 2010 and January 2008 with a stunning 228,000 new accounts opened. On both prior occasions of such a maniacal surge in speculative accounts, the Shanghai Composite made a significant top and fell dramatically in the ensuing months.

How oddly dis-similar the PBOC is to the Fed!! Instead of encouraging open leveraged speculation, the central bank of China appears more risk averse, recognizing the potential medium-term disastrous consequences from such boom-bust moves (and likely has no cheer-leading CNBC channel to take care of).

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Oh boy: “Some might already be regretting taking those risks [..] Especially those who might have pledged their property to get in on the rally and offset the slide in house prices.”

Easy Credit Feeds Risky Margin Trades In Chinese Stocks (Reuters)

“High leverage, low thresholds!” the website says. “(China’s) A shares are heating up; if you don’t allocate capital now, then when?” Many, it appears, are choosing now, gorging on cheap credit to ride a wild stock market rally. The website, Jinfuzi.com, will let investors borrow up to 10 times their principal with only 2,000 yuan ($323) down in order to buy stocks and futures. The peer-to-peer lender has an easy sell; Chinese benchmark indexes have posted record-smashing trading volumes in recent weeks, with average share values up over 30% in just 12 trading days. Ordinary investors, who conduct 60-80% of China’s stock trades, charged into the market after a surprise interest rate cut by Beijing on Nov. 21, and brokerages and shadow bankers have rushed in to help them trade on margin – essentially borrowed money.

“Margin trading has clearly played a big role in the recent rally, and government is worried,” wrote Oliver Barron of NSBO in a research note on Tuesday, estimating that gross margin trading purchases accounted for 164 billion yuan ($26.5 billion) on Monday, the equivalent of 17% of total turnover on Chinese bourses. There has been a steady relaxation of restrictions on margin trading in the last two years, and while in good times it allows investors to make a lot of money with only a small amount of their own cash, it also carries big risks when the market falls.

Some might already be regretting taking those risks after the Shanghai Composite Index lost over 5% on Tuesday, its largest single-day drop in five years. Especially those who might have pledged their property to get in on the rally and offset the slide in house prices. “We provide our customers with service to borrow money with their property as collateral,” said Mr. Yu, president of Qianteng Asset Management Company in Hangzhou. “We have plenty of funds on hand, which makes it easy for our customers to get money ASAP once they sign the contract.”

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“In China, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle of physics holds sway, whereby the mere observation of economic numbers changes their behavior.”

Why Beijing’s Troubles Could Get a Lot Worse (Barron’s)

Few foreigners know China as intimately as Anne Stevenson-Yang does. She has spent the bulk of her professional life there since first arriving in 1985, working as a journalist, magazine publisher, and software executive, with stints in between heading up the U.S. Information Technology office and the China operations of the U.S.-China Business Council. She’s now research director of J Capital, an outfit that works for foreign investors in China doing fundamental research on local companies and tracking macroeconomic developments.

Barron’s: Investors seem far more concerned about Europe’s sinking into economic despond than slowing growth in China. Are they whistling past the graveyard?

Stevenson-Yang: I think so. China, for all its talk about economic reform, is in big trouble. The old model of relying on export growth and heavy investment to power the economy isn’t working anymore. Sure, the nation has been hugely successful over recent decades in providing its people with literacy, a decent life, basic health care, shelter, and safe cities. But starting in 2008, China sought to counter global recession with huge amounts of ill-advised investment in redundant industrial capacity and vanity infrastructure projects—you know, airports with no commercial flights, highways to nowhere, and stadiums with no teams. The country is now submerged by the tsunami of bad debt that begets further unhealthy credit growth to service this debt. The recent lowering of benchmark deposit rates by the People’s Bank of China won’t accomplish much because it won’t offer more income to households. It also gave China’s biggest banks the discretion to raise their deposit rates back up to old levels, which would give them a competitive advantage

Barron’s: How bad can the situation be when the Chinese economy grew by 7.3% in the latest quarter?

Stevenson-Yang: People are crazy if they believe any government statistics, which, of course, are largely fabricated. In China, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle of physics holds sway, whereby the mere observation of economic numbers changes their behavior. For a time we started to look at numbers like electric-power production and freight traffic to get a line on actual economic growth because no one believed the gross- domestic-product figures. It didn’t take long for Beijing to figure this out and start doctoring those numbers, too. I put much stock in estimates by various economists, including some at the Conference Board, that actual Chinese GDP is probably a third lower than is officially reported. And as for the recent International Monetary Fund report calling China the world’s biggest economy on a purchasing-power-parity basis, how silly was that? China is a cheap place to live if one is willing to eat rice, cabbage, and pork, but it’s expensive as all get out once you factor in the cost of decent housing, a car, and health care.

I’d be shocked if China is currently growing at a rate above, say, 4%, and any growth at all is coming from financial services, which ultimately depend on sustained growth in the rest of the economy. Think about it: Property sales are in decline, steel production is falling, commercial long-and short-haul vehicle sales are continuing to implode, and much of the growth in GDP is coming from huge rises in inventories across the economy. We track the 400 Chinese consumer companies listed on the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock markets, and in the third quarter, their gross revenues fell 4% from a year ago. This is hardly a vibrant economy.

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Demand is way down.

OPEC Says 2015 Demand for Its Crude Will Be Weakest in 12 Years (Bloomberg)

OPEC cut the forecast for how much crude oil it will need to provide in 2015 to the lowest in 12 years amid surging U.S. shale supplies and reduced estimates for global consumption. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries lowered its projection for 2015 by about 300,000 barrels a day, to 28.9 million a day. That’s about 1.15 million a day less than the group’s 12 members pumped last month, and the 30-million barrel target they reaffirmed at a meeting in Vienna on Nov. 27. The impact of this year’s 40% price collapse on supply and demand remains unclear, OPEC said. “The downward revision reflects the upward adjustment of non-OPEC supply as well as the downward revision in global demand,” the group’s Vienna-based research department said in its monthly oil market report.

Brent crude futures collapsed to a five-year low of $65.29 a barrel in London yesterday amid speculation that OPEC’s decision to maintain output levels despite swelling North American supplies will intensify the glut in global oil markets. Demand for OPEC’s crude will slump to 28.92 million barrels a day next year, according to the report. That’s below the 28.93 million required in 2009, and the lowest since the 27.05 million a day level needed in 2003, the group’s data show. Output from the 12 members declined by 390,000 barrels a day in November to 30.05 million a day amid lower production in Libya, according to data from analysts and media organizations referred to in the report as ‘‘secondary sources.” Libyan output dropped last month by 248,300 barrels a day to 638,000 a day. Pumping at the Sharara oil field, the country’s biggest-producing asset, and the neighboring El Feel site, was halted after Sharara was seized by gunmen, according to the International Energy Agency.

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But OPEC will fight for market share, or rather its separate mebers will.

Don’t Look For Oil Glut To End Any Time Soon (CNBC)

The global oil glut is expected to get much bigger before it’s over, keeping pressure on oil prices well into next year. Companies like ConocoPhillips and Chevron are reducing spending on new projects, but the impact of already planned increases in U.S. production into the first half of the year is likely to keep the world well supplied before the flow of new supply starts to slow in the second half of the year. Besides shale production, U.S. Gulf of Mexico production is also expected to increase with new projects coming on line. Within a year, the projects will take U.S. Gulf production from 1.3 million barrels to roughly 1.6 million barrels a day. “It’s not like the supply reaction is instantaneous. It takes time to wind these things down,” said John Kilduff of Again Capital. “I wouldn’t expect a decrease in the rate of (production) growth until next year at the earliest.”

The U.S. Energy Information Administration on Tuesday cut its forecast for daily U.S. production by another 100,000 barrels, to 9.3 million. That follows a reduction in its forecast of 100,000 barrels per day last month. The U.S. produced 9.08 million barrels a day in the week of Nov. 28 and has been producing over 9 million barrels a day for the past month. The government’s forecast for 2015 is now below some private analysts’ assumptions that oil production can continue to grow at a higher rate of anywhere from 500,000 to more than 1 million barrels per day next year, depending on oil prices. The EIA on Monday issued a new report on U.S. oil production showing the increase in production in the three main shale plays—Bakken, Permian and Eagle Ford—is growing by more than 100,000 barrels a day in December over November, and is expected to increase at about the same rate in January.

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Discord is all that’s left at OPEC. Nobody can risk the initial losses of an output cut. And nobody trusts the others.

Oil Resumes Drop as Iran Sees $40 If There’s OPEC Discord (Bloomberg)

Brent resumed its decline as an Iranian official predicted a further slump in prices if solidarity among OPEC members falters. West Texas Intermediate in New York also erased yesterday’s gains. Futures slid as much as 1.6% in London after snapping a five-day losing streak. Crude could fall to as low as $40 a barrel amid a price war or if divisions emerge in OPEC, said an official at Iran’s oil ministry. The 12-member group, which supplies 40% of the world’s oil, may need to call an extraordinary meeting in the first quarter if the drop continues, according to Energy Aspects Ltd. Brent has collapsed 40% this year as OPEC agreed at a Nov. 27 gathering not to cut output to force a slowdown in U.S. production, which has risen to the highest level in three decades. Saudi Arabia and Iraq this month widened discounts on crude exports to their customers in Asia, bolstering speculation that group members are fighting for market share.

“With OPEC looking like a dysfunctional family, no pullback in U.S. production and a lack of geopolitical concerns, it’s all adding up to lower prices,” Michael McCarthy, a chief strategist at CMC Markets in Sydney, said by phone today. Brent for January settlement decreased as much as $1.06 to $65.78 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange and was at $66.25 at 3:12 p.m. Singapore time. The contract climbed 65 cents to $66.84 yesterday. The European benchmark crude traded at a premium of $3.12 to WTI. WTI for January delivery fell as much as $1, or 1.6%, to $62.82 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It increased 77 cents to $63.82 yesterday. The volume of all futures traded was about 2% below the 100-day average.

Oil’s collapse has left the market below equilibrium, according to Mohammad Sadegh Memarian, the head of petroleum market analysis at the oil ministry in Tehran. Iran, hobbled by economic sanctions over its nuclear program, wants to raise production to 4.8 million barrels a day once the curbs are removed, he said at a conference in Dubai yesterday. OPEC pumped 30.56 million barrels a day in November, exceeding its collective target of 30 million for a sixth straight month, a Bloomberg survey of companies, producers and analysts showed. Financially strapped members such as Iran, Iraq and Venezuela may press for discussions before the group’s next scheduled meeting on June 5, predicted Amrita Sen, the chief oil market analyst at Energy Aspects.

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And more’s to come.

“Yes, it Was a Brutal Week for the Oil & Gas Loan Sector” (WolfStreet)

Yesterday, I discussed how the plunging price of oil is wreaking havoc on leveraged loans in the energy sector. These loans are issued by junk-rated corporations already burdened by a large amount of debt. Banks that originate these loans can retain them on their balance sheets or sell them in various creative ways, including by repackaging them into synthetic structured securities, called Collateralized Loan Obligations. Earlier today, I discussed how the current generation of leveraged loans in general compares to the leveraged loans issued at the cusp of the Financial Crisis. Spoiler alert: by almost every metric, they’re bigger and crappier now than they were in 2007.

So here’s a chart of S&P Capital IQ’s energy-sector leveraged-loan index for the latest week, and it was such a doozie that it caused leveraged-loan focused LCD News, a unit of S&P Capital IQ, to tweet: “Yes, it Was a Brutal Week for the Oil & Gas Loan Sector.” The average bid price of first-lien oil & gas Index loans fell to 90.35 cents on the dollar for the week, from 94.90 at the November 28 close and down from 96.77 at the end of October, S&P Capital IQ’s LeveragedLoan.com reported. And yields soared: the spread to maturity implied by the average bid jumped from Libor plus 500 basis points in August to Libor plus 600 basis points at the end of November, to Libor plus 731 basis points at the end of the latest week. The US dollar Libor rate is about 0.1%, so yields jumped from 5.1% in August to 7.4% in the latest week. An exponential increase:

Note how offshore drillers (blue line) got hammered the most, though they had the lowest yields of the bunch for most of the year. Their spreads nearly doubled from 400 basis points over Libor in March to nearly 800 basis points over Libor last week. That’s a move from about 4% in March to nearly 8% now, and a big part of it within a single month. It’s really brutal out there. In the oil and gas sector, revenues are already plunging. Earnings will get hit. Earnings estimates are crashing at a rate not seen since crisis year 2009. Liquidity is drying up. And stocks got eviscerated. It’s tough out there.

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And that’s just for the four biggest ones.

US Shale Contractors To See Net Income Cut By 25% In 2015 (Bloomberg)

Oilfield contractors hired to drill wells and fracture rock to raise crude and natural gas to the surface will have to lower prices by as much as 20% to help keep their cash-strapped customers working. Ultimately, that could carve out more than $3 billion from the 2015 earnings outlined by analysts for the world’s four biggest oil-service companies – Schlumberger, Halliburton, Baker Hughes and Weatherford International. The potential losses loom just as the service providers were looking ahead to higher rates after a glut in pressure-pumping gear dragged prices down in past years. Now, crude oil prices that have fallen more than 40% since June are squeezing them once again. As they look for ways to cut costs, oil producers will be pushing for discounts wherever they can find them.

“They’re already going to confront significant cash-flow pressures with the decline in oil prices,” Bill Herbert, an analyst at Simmons in Houston, said in a phone interview. “They’re going to need all the help they can get.” The price cuts may begin to take shape as early as this month, Herbert said. Hydraulic fracturing, in which high-pressure streams of water, sand and chemicals are used to crack rock underground to allow oil and gas to flow, may see the biggest chunk of pricing discounts because it’s the largest part of the cost of drilling a new well. Earnings estimates for service companies that have been cut since last week will continue to be revised lower as analysts don’t usually reduce their forecasts in one go when the outlook for an industry worsens, James Wicklund, an analyst at Credit Suisse in Dallas, said by phone. “We’ve just gotten started.”

Lower prices and lost business will probably reduce about $14.5 billion of net income estimated for the big four service companies in 2015 by as much as 25%, or about $3.6 billion, Wicklund said. Jeff Tillery, an analyst at Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. predicts roughly the same. After two years of declining service prices, providers were finally able to stop the slide this year and start pushing rates back up to help compensate for their own rising costs for fracking materials such as sand. Dave Lesar, chief executive officer of Halliburton, the top provider of fracking work, declared less than two months ago that better days were ahead. “This quarter things are clearly accelerating out of that turn and we do not see momentum slowing any time soon,” Lesar told analysts and investors Oct. 20 on a conference call.

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The Fed has helped blow the bubble.

This Time Is The Same: The Fed Ignores The Shale Bubble (David Stockman)

We are now far advanced into the third central bank generated bubble of the last two decades, but our monetary politburo has taken no notice whatsoever of its self-evident leading wave. Namely, the massive malinvestments and debt mania in the shale patch. Call them monetary bourbons. It is no exaggeration to say that inhabitants of the Eccles Building deserve every single word of Talleyrand’s famous epithet: “They learned nothing and forgot nothing.” To wit, during the last cycle they claimed to be fostering the Great Moderation and permanent full employment prosperity. It didn’t work. When the housing and credit bubble blew-up, it washed out all the phony gains from the Greenspan/Bernanke printing spree. By the time the liquidation was finished in early 2010, there were 2 million fewer payroll jobs than there had been at the turn of the century.

Never mind. The Fed simply doubled-down. Instead of expanding its balance sheet by 50%, as happened during the eight years between 2000 and 2008, it went into monetary warp drive, ballooning its made-from-thin-air liabilities by 5X in only six years. Yet even after Friday’s ballyhooed jobs report there were three million fewer full-time breadwinner jobs in November 2014 than there were in the early 2000s. That’s right. Two cycles of lunatic monetary expansion and what they have to show for it is two short-lived bursts of part-time job creation that vanish when the underlying financial bubble bursts. So, yes, our monetary central planners forget nothing. It doesn’t matter what the actual results have been.

Like the original Bourbons, the small posse of unelected academics and policy apparatchiks which control the nation’s all-powerful central bank most surely believe they have a divine right to run the printing presses as they see fit—even if it accomplishes nothing for the 99% of Americans who don’t have family offices or tickets to the hedge fund casino. Still, you would think that the purported “labor economist” who is now chair person of the joint would be at least troubled by the chart below. Even liberals like Yellen usually do acknowledge that that the chief virtue of the state is that it purportedly generates “public goods” that contribute to societal welfare—-not that it is a fount of productivity and new wealth generation. For that you need private enterprise and business driven efficiency.

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20% is a big number.

Thanksgiving Weekend Box Office Plunges 20% vs 2013 To 16-Year Low (Alhambra)

The recession-like “stimulus” of recent vintage doesn’t seem to have affected the movie business. The Thanksgiving weekend is typically devoid of tremendous or blockbuster new titles for obvious reasons. However, just like people failed to show up at the mall they also skipped the theater. As I have noted before, this is not because movies are mostly narrowly-tailored junk, as they are, but that 2014 has seen a conspicuous drop in theater revenue despite offering largely the same junk as last year. The weekend following Thanksgiving 2014 was 20% below 2013. But we also have an almost direct comparison of “blockbuster” activity as the second installment of the Hunger Games is nearly 25% behind the first in the same number of days. Having taken in about $257 million (which is still quite good) in 17 days, the first version grabbed $335 million in the same timeframe.

Revenue over the summer was already 15% below 2013 despite having about the same number of “can’t miss” titles. Every single one underperformed every expectation. The “mystery” persists as the only plausible explanation offered is that people are staying home and watching Netflix or Amazon Prime. I think that is a big part of it, but, just as online shopping takes the bite out of holiday spending in-store, that isn’t enough for me to explain the size of these declines. Both movie revenue and bricks and mortar shopping are so far far below all expectations, as especially online spending has failed tremendously to fill the gap this year.

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Where else could it have gone?

Greece Lurches Back Into Crisis Mode (Bloomberg)

Greek stocks fell more than at any point during Europe’s debt crisis today after Prime Minister Antonis Samaras gambled his political future on bringing forward a parliamentary vote on a new head of state. Greek stocks tumbled the most since 1987 and three-year yields surged in response to the prime minister’s move. Unless he can persuade 25 opposition lawmakers to support his choice, Samaras will be forced to call a parliamentary election that anti-austerity party Syriza would be favorite to win. “Investors have taken a second look at Syriza and understood that at this point in time it’s more radical than the traditional left in Greece,” said Nicholas Veron, a fellow at the Bruegel research institute in Brussels. “If Syriza takes over it won’t be a smooth ride.”

Less than a month before Samaras had hoped to lead Greece out of the bailout program that has ravaged the country for the past four years, the resistance to his policies is fueling doubts about whether he can stay the course. While Syriza has pledged to stick with the euro, its plans to roll-back Samaras’s budget cuts evoke memories of the financial chaos that threatened to bust apart the currency union in 2012. Greece’s benchmark stock index dropped 13% and the bond market signaled investors are concerned about short-term disruptions, as the yield on 3-year debt jumped 176 basis points to 8.23%, surpassing 10-year rates. “It’s possibly a good decision, but in the end it’s in the hands of the decision makers in parliament and the population,” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told reporters in Brussels.

Greece’s reform program is “not yet over the hill,” he added. Samaras nominated Stavros Dimas, a 73-year-old former European Union commissioner, for the largely ceremonial post of president. Voting will begin next week, on Dec. 17, with two further rounds possible. Under Greece’s constitution, a supermajority of at least 180 lawmakers in the 300-seat chamber is needed to elect a successor to the incumbent, President Karolos Papoulias. The government has the support of just 155 lawmakers. Failure to install a candidate after three attempts would force Samaras to dissolve parliament.

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Tha Japan elections are a big story this week.

Japan Threatened With Credit Rating Downgrade (CNBC)

Japan’s “A-plus” credit rating is under threat, after Fitch Ratings placed the country’s debt on negative watch on Tuesday. The ratings agency said it could cut Japan’s rating in the first half of next year, following the government’s decision to delay a consumption tax hike to April 2017 from October 2015. “The delay implies it will be almost impossible to achieve the government’s previously-stated objective of reducing the primary budget deficit to 3.3% of GDP by the fiscal year April 2015-March 2016,” said Fitch in a report on Tuesday. Fitch estimates the proportion of Japan’s debt to the size of its gross domestic product would reach 241% by the end of this year, up from 184% at end-2008. The 57 percentage point rise in the ratio would be the second-highest over the period in the A or double-A category after Ireland, the agency noted.

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If you can say a bank belongs to its shareholders, it’s teh latter who pay for the criminal activities of the traders and managers. And nowhere in there does the Justice department see a taks?

Citigroup Sets Aside $2.7 Billion For Legal Costs (BBC)

Michael Corbat, the chief executive of US bank Citigroup, has said the firm is setting aside $2.7bn (£1.7bn) for legal costs in the fourth-quarter. Costs have risen due to US investigations into Citigroup’s behaviour in currency markets, setting the Libor rate, as well as an anti-money-laundering probe. In October, the bank was forced to restate its third-quarter results. It wrote off $600m due to the “rapidly evolving regulatory inquiries”. Mr Corbat made the remarks during a presentation at an investor conference, in which he also said that bank would write down $800m in expenses related to real estate and employee headcount. He said he expects the bank to remain “marginally profitable” during the period. Shares in Citigroup fell 2.5% after his remarks.

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Lovely. And that’s without counting China.

This Is What 6 Years Of Central Bank Liquidity Injections Look Like (Zero Hedge)

Curious how over the past 6 years we got to a point where the market is now so irreparably broken, even the BIS couldn’t take it anymore and threw up all over the the world’s central bankers? Then look no further than the following chart summarizing 6 years of global central bank liquidity injections that have made it imperative to use quotation marks every time one writes the word “market”

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They’re still TBTF, so what does it matter?

Big US Banks Face Capital Requirement of 4.5% on Top of Global Minimum (BBG)

Big U.S. banks face capital surcharges of as much as 4.5% as the Federal Reserve readies new capital rules that single out firms reliant on short-term market funding as posing the greatest systemic risk. The Fed today proposed two methods to calculate what capital surcharges eight big U.S. firms will face on top of those already levied on the world’s largest banks by international regulators. While the central bank stopped short of listing the surcharges for each firm, it said they probably will range from 1% to 4.5% based on 2013 data – exceeding the maximum of 2.5% set under global rules. The aggregate amount the eight banks need to meet the surcharges from current levels is $21 billion, Federal Reserve officials said.

While stiffer rules can lower returns for shareholders of companies that hold onto profits to build capital, the Fed said “almost all” of the firms already meet the new requirements, and all are on their way to meeting them by the end of a phase-in period that runs from 2016 to 2019. The new U.S. regulations will focus in part on how much the banks borrow from institutional investors in short-term contracts, a form of funding deemed as riskier during a crisis. “Reliance on short-term wholesale funding is among the more important determinants of the potential impact of the distress or failure of a systemically important financial firm on the broader financial system,” Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo said. “Unfortunately, the surcharge formula developed by the Basel Committee does not directly take into account reliance on short-term wholesale funding.”

In the wave of rules meant to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis, the Fed has made global agreements tougher when applying them to U.S. lenders. The eight U.S. firms covered by today’s proposal are JPMorgan, Citigroup, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, Bank of New York Mellon and State Street. “The U.S. once again chooses to go its own way and exceed international minimums,” Karen Shaw Petrou, managing partner of Washington-based research firm Federal Financial Analytics Inc., said before today’s announcement. “If they squeeze the big banks too much, they’ll force some out of some businesses.”

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America will pay a dear price for these crimes.

Stop Believing The Lies: America Tortured More Than ‘Some Folks’ (Guardian)

The torture defenders from the CIA and the Bush administration probably won’t even make a serious attempt to say they didn’t torture anyone – just that it was effective, that there were “serious mistakes”, but that “countless lives have been saved and our Homeland is more secure” – with a capital H. This highlights the mistake of the Senate committee, in a way. Instead of focusing on the illegal nature of the torture, Senator Dianne Feinstein’s investigators worked to document torture’s ineffectiveness. The debate, now, is whether torture worked. It clearly didn’t. But the debate should be: Why the hell aren’t these torturous liars in jail?

Worse still, the CIA has still largely succeeded in stripping the landmark report of anything that could lead to accountability. The agents who were not only protected from discipline for their actions but were promoted now have their names completely redacted. So, too, are the names of the dozens of countries that helped the CIA carry out its torture regime. That includes many of the world’s worst dictators – the very men America now claims to hate, including Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.

But make no mistake: there’s still an extraordinary amount to take away from this report. If there is one tragic story, out of the many, that is emblematic of the CIA program, as its supporters defend it in the days, it’s that of Gul Ruhman. It may be two stories – it’s hard to know, so much has been redacted and the atrocities are so countless – but at least one Gul Ruhman we know was tortured at the notorious CIA black site known as the Salt Pit, chained to the floor and frozen to death. The CIA’s inspector general referred this person’s case to CIA leadership for discipline, but was overruled. Four months after the incident, the officer who gave the order that led to Rahman’s death was recommended for a $2,500 “cash reward” for his “consistently superior work”.

Footnote 32 explains why a dead prisoner ended up in CIA custody in the first place: “Gul Ruhman, another case of mistaken identity.”

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“Ignorance is not just strength – it is the most awesome force in the universe. Consider this: knowledge is always limited and specific, but ignorance is infinite and completely general ..”

Defeat is Victory (Dmitry Orlov)

America is the world’s indispensable nation, world’s (second) greatest economic power (but rising fast), and American leadership is respected throughout the world. When President Obama said so in a recent speech he gave in China, the audience did not at all laugh out loud right in his face, roll their eyes, make faces or move their heads side to side slowly while frowning.

How can you avoid recognizing the importance of such things, and the fact that they spell DEFEAT? Easy! Ignorance to the rescue! Ignorance is not just strength – it is the most awesome force in the universe. Consider this: knowledge is always limited and specific, but ignorance is infinite and completely general; knowledge is hard to convey, and travels no faster than the speed of light, but ignorance is instantaneous at all points in the known and unknown universe, including alternate universes and dimensions of whose existence we are entirely ignorant. In short, there is a limit to how much you can know, but there is no limit at all to how much you don’t know but think you do!

Here is something that you probably think you know. The American empire is an “empire of chaos.” Yes, it sort of fails somehow to achieve peace, prosperity, democracy, stability, avert humanitarian crises, or stop lots of horrible crimes. But it does achieve chaos. What’s more, it achieves a wunnerful new type of chaos just invented, called “controlled chaos.” It’s much better than the old kind; sort of like “clean coal” – which you can rub all over yourself, go ahead, try it! Yes, there are naysayers out there that say things like “You reap what you sow, and if you sow chaos, you shall reap chaos.” I guess they just don’t like chaos. To each his own. Whatever.

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They have to do research to figure that out?!

Rising Inequality ‘Significantly’ Curbs Growth (CNBC)

The chasm between the richest and poorest is at a 30-year high in developed countries, dragging down world economic growth, according to a new international report. Worsening income inequality is estimated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to have knocked nearly 9 percentage points off growth in the U.K. between 1990 and 2010, and between 6 and 7 percentage points off growth in the U.S. “This long-term trend increase in income inequality has curbed economic growth significantly,” said the OECD, which is made up of 34 major economies, in a report out Tuesday.

Looking ahead, the organization forecast that over a 25 year period, inequality would reduce growth by an average of 0.35% points per year in OECD countries. “The biggest factor for the impact of inequality on growth is the gap between lower income households and the rest of the population,” said the OECD. “These findings imply that policy must not (just) be about tackling poverty, it also needs to be about addressing lower incomes more generally.” Worst hit between 1990 and 2010 were Mexico and New Zealand, where the OECD estimated that rising inequality had knocked more than 10 percentage points off growth. “On the other hand, greater equality prior to the crisis helped increase GDP per capita in Spain, France and Ireland,” said the OECD.

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We should never let this through. Once signed, it’ll be very hard to get rid off, and it benefits the wrong people.

TTIP Divides A Continent As EU Negotiators Cross The Atlantic (Guardian)

Rarely has a trade agreement invited such hyperbole and paranoia. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – or proposed free trade pact between the US and the European Union – has triggered apocalyptic prophecies: the death of French culture; an invasion of transatlantic toxic chickens into Germany; and Britain’s cherished NHS will become a stripped-down Medicare clone. From the point of view of free-trade cheerleaders, EU carmakers will more than double their sales, Europe will be seized by a jobs and growth bonanza and city halls from Chicago to Seattle will beg European firms to build their roads and schools. The world’s biggest trading nations will have no choice but to play by the west’s rules in the new world created by TTIP. Such are some of the claims made for TTIP which is now stoking a propaganda war on a scale never seen before in the arcane world of tariffs and non-tariff trade negotiations.

“It’s the most contested acronym in Europe,” said Cecilia Malmström of Sweden, the EU trade commissioner about to take charge of the European side of the negotiations. She stepped into the fray on Sunday, her first trip to Washington since taking up her post in November. TTIP dominates her intray. Eighteen months after the launch and seven rounds of talks, everything remains up in the air. The Americans are worried. Those in Brussels running the negotiations sound crestfallen. The opposition in Europe to a transatlantic free trade area believes it has the momentum, buoyed by scare stories regularly amplified by the European media. A petition against the trade pact surpassed the 1m mark this week. It will be handed to Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission chief, in Brussels on Tuesday, as a present on his 60th birthday. “There is mistrust,” Matthew Barzun, the US ambassador in London, told the Guardian. A key EU official put it another way: “[TTIP is] more sensitive politically in Europe than in the US.”

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“The risk to the world “is always there” while the outbreak continues ..”

Ebola Virus Still ‘Running Ahead Of Us’, Says WHO (BBC)

The Ebola virus that has killed thousands in West Africa is still “running ahead” of efforts to contain it, the head of the World Health Organization has said. Director general Margaret Chan said the situation had improved in some parts of the worst-affected countries, but she warned against complacency. The risk to the world “is always there” while the outbreak continues, she said. She said the WHO and the international community failed to act quickly enough. The death toll in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone stands at 6,331. More than 17,800 people have been infected, according to the WHO. “In Liberia we are beginning to see some good progress, especially in Lofa county [close to where the outbreak first started] and the capital,” said Dr Chan.

Cases in Guinea and Sierra Leone were “less severe” than a couple of months ago, but she said “we are still seeing large numbers of cases”. Dr Chan said: “It’s not as bad as it was in September. But going forward we are now hunting the virus, chasing after the virus. Hopefully we can bring [the number of cases] down to zero.” The official figures do not show the entire picture of the outbreak. In August, the WHO said the numbers were “vastly under-estimated”, due to people not reporting illnesses and deaths from Ebola. Dr Chan said the quality of data had improved since then, but there was still further work to be done.

She said a key part of bringing the outbreak under control was ensuring communities understood Ebola. She said teams going into some areas were still being attacked by frightened communities. “When they see people in space suits coming into their village to take away their loved ones, they were very fearful. They hide their sick relatives at home, they hide dead bodies. “[This is] extremely dangerous in terms of spreading disease. So we must bring the community on our side to fight the Ebola outbreak. Community participation is a critical success factor for Ebola control. “In all the outbreaks that WHO were able to manage successfully – that was a success element and this [is] not happening in this current situation.”

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Nov 202014
 
 November 20, 2014  Posted by at 10:10 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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Jack Delano Colored drivers entrance, U.S. 1, NY Avenue, Washington, DC Jun 1940

It’s funny how things roll at times. When I wrote yesterday’s Making Money While The World Burns, and quoted Hugh Hendry, one of my heroes – well, close, he’s not Ali, but I love the man for his brain -, I hesitated, but thought his words were a great way to start a discussion on what people do when faced with certain conundrums. I certainly never meant to attack Hugh, though words can always be construed to mean things they were not meant to mean.

David Stockman picked up the essay (Jim Kunstler told me to use that word) and retitled it Making Money While The World Burns – The Troubling Case Of Hugh Hendry. Bless David for all the great work he does, and I would never even suggest he shouldn’t add that bit, that’s entirely his prerogative, but I myself would never call Hugh Hendry a ‘troubling case’.

I merely wanted to get a discussion going, and maybe to get people thinking about what they choose and why. Not to judge anyone, who am I to do that, but to get people to ask why they act the way they do, and what it is that makes them tick.

If I would want to judge anyone, it would be the politicians and central bankers who pretend they serve the public and then turn on a dime and screw that same public. Hugh Hendry doesn’t pretend to be anything he’s not. However, I can still ask questions about why he chooses to do what he does, and use that as a mirror, for lack of a better term, to gauge where I stand, what I think, and put that out there for my readers.

But I’m not Hugh Hendry, I’m not a hedge-fund manager, and I don’t morally judge people or tell them what to do and what not. That would be like starting a religion, separating right from wrong for other people, and I have no design on that. I’ll admit I thought about that religion thing in the past, but that was because it seemed the greatest way to get girls, not because I want to tell anyone what to think or do. As things went, I started a band, and that worked just fine, thank you very much.

Short story long, Zero Hedge’s Tyler Durden today posted a video and text excerpts of Hugh explaining his mindset, and included snippets of my ‘essay’, saying “Raúl Ilargi Meijer has a different perspective on Hendry’s change of tack”. And I don’t even know that I do. I’m just less focused on the short term, and the potential financial profits involved, than Hugh is. As I said yesterday, I think about the 50% increase in homeless kids in the States and the 50%+ jobless rates in southern Europe, and wonder if that justifies the drive for monetary profits.

But that’s just me. And I find it curious enough that that moral divide is never being breached in all the stuff I read every single day. It seems so obvious to ask that question. But that’s not the same as saying I judge Hugh Hendry, or anyone else, for not bringing it up, let alone living up to any conclusions I draw from it for myself. If there’s anything we need around here, it’s independent minds and neurons, not identical replicas.

So, Hugh talks about how he was a ‘bear’ and saw the error of his ways and is now a bull. But that’s just in as far as his ‘duties’ towards his hedge-fund clients are concerned. It doesn’t say anything about his longer term expectations. Which, I venture, have not changed, but merely been relocated to more remote locations of his – pretty brilliant – mind. And the gist of my question is, I guess, how other people process that short vs longer term divergence, if they are smart enough to see what Hugh does.

What Hugh Hendry implies that he got ‘wrong’ is that a few years ago, he saw, and understood, what was happening, and acted on it. And it’s not that he misunderstood, but that his acting on it did not garner the short-term profits he claims he’s tasked with making – as a fund manager -.

Because the financial system – as Hugh knows – may be screwed three ways to Sunday, but central banks have prevented it from showing its – fatal – injuries, by dressing it in layer upon layer of gauge and band-aids made of and paid for by the real economy’s present and – especially – future wealth and labor.

In the end that means you’re making money off of other people’s misery, be it in the present or the future. And that is a stark choice. In my view. If an economy stops growing, the only profit opportunities left involve taking something away from someone. Obviously, there’s tons of people who’ll swear our economy is still growing, but they’ll find neither yours truly nor Hugh Hendry in their camp.

Here’s Tyler Durden’s piece, with Hugh Hendry video and partial transcript:

Hugh Hendry Live 1: “It Felt Like The Sun Only Rose To Humiliate Me”

In the first of three interviews with MoneyWeek’s Merryn Somerset Webb, Hugh Hendry, manager of the Eclectica Fund, talks about what it takes to be a good hedge fund manager – and how he learned to stop worrying and love central banks. Key excerpts (click link above for full transcript):

MSW: What makes a successful hedge-fund manager and whether you are, under that definition, a successful manager.

Hendry: I think I’ve always answered that question by relating back to the ability to conceive of a contentious posture. I think if I was to quote from Fight Club, I think there’s a famous saying “Would you rather…” my children would say ,“Would you rather upset God or have God just ignore you?” There’s a degree to which being a successful macro-manager is upsetting, not only God, but to the rest of the world, if you will. By being out there with the articulation of qualitatively intelligent argument, which just isn’t shared by the majority. But which can stand the test of time and come to actually define the future. That is what global macro is all about.

With regard to language the notion of ‘bullish’ and ‘bearish’, I think, does an injustice to the complexity of the arguments that are necessary to construct a global macro hedge fund. I think if I had my time again, I would have been saying that we’re actually, perhaps, guilty of the misconstruing of a bull market in equities, for what is actually the ongoing degradation in the soundness of the fiat monetary system. I think that’s what I was trying to say.

MSW: You had given in to a bull market that you had refused to accept previously.

Hendry: The last time I was really angry was late 2010-2011. Where the market, in its wisdom, had yet to configure the changing economic landscape, and it was perceiving that the economy in Europe and elsewhere was recovering. I thought that was just insane, that we weren’t capturing the kind of deflationary zeitgeist that was approaching. I have to say when I look back in the last three years it feels as if the sun only rose each day to humiliate me after that point.[..]

But the mea culpa, that I think is very necessary in that I found myself unable to forgive the Federal Reserve and the other central banks for, if you will, bailing out Wall Street from the excess of 2008. I just couldn’t get over it. I luxuriated in the polemics of Marc Faber and James Grant and Nassim Taleb, in our own country, Albert Edwards, et al. I luxuriated as they ranted and it was fine for them to rant. But I am charged with the responsibility of making money and not being some moral guardian and certainly not a moral curmudgeon. I had to get over that. So again, back to my infamous letter of last year.

That was cathartic for me to say “You know what? I get it.” I think if we’re going to try and explain the qualitative arguments behind why we are more receptive to the notion of not only left tails where markets can fall, but the right-hand tail of the expression, where markets can actually continue to rise if not to accelerate. [..] So I really feel very, very isolated from their view of the world. Arguably, we’re talking about the here and now and the future’s a long time. But in the future, I’m sure our paths can converge once more.

MSW: Why do you think that [macro funds] as whole is failing to make money? What’s going on there?

Hendry: I can reflect on my own difficulties, if you will. What I’ve found is that macro is distinguished, I believe, by superior risk control. It’s almost analogous to a disaster insurance programme. In 2008, all the good macro managers, they made you money. That’s what you pay them for. The world became profoundly unsettling and you cashed in your insurance policy. Today, I question the relevancy of that disaster insurance. In a world where the central banks seem to have your back, seem to be underwriting risks and global asset prices, do you require that intense scrutiny of risk?

MSW: So your basic point here is that if the central banks have your back, there’s no need to have the same kind of risk controls that you used to have.

Hendry: There is less need. Less need. I tell you, I was at a conference with some of the great and the good global macro managers in September in New York and I asked them all the question, “If the S&P is down 12% what do you do? Are you selling more or are you buying?” Guess what? They’re all buying. So the central banks have created a behavioural tic which is becoming self-reinforcing and I believe we saw another manifestation of that behaviour in October.

But Raúl Ilargi Meijer has a different perspective on Hendry’s change of tack…

Hendry, I think, is as bearish (or negative) about the – future of the – world as he has been for a long time, only he’s decided to see things from his fund manager point of view, and to ride the crest of the waves the central banks have tsunamied towards our shores. He’s chosen to make a buck off of them waves, even as he’s aware of the damage they’ll will do once they hit land. In the exact same way as a surfer who sees a tsunami as merely a set of great waves to ride on. And, no value judgment involved, but that’s not what I see.

He sees the world going to hell in a handbasket (and Hendry recognizes that very much, that’s not why he shifted gears from bear to bull) and his response is to grab as much money and wealth as he can (for his investors … ). [..]

Hugh Hendry sees the world in an extremely bearish way, he sees hell, the handbasket, brimstone and far worse. But he wants to profit – in name of his investors (?!) – from the very mechanism that drives the world there: the power central banks and governments have been allotted, and the way they use it to protect the interests of investors, banks, insurance companies and uber rich individuals, all at the expense of booting the 90% who make up the real world and the real economy, ever deeper into the mud.

Seeking to profit from that is a choice. Hendry makes it, and so do many others, even many inside the 90%. Who mistakenly dream they’ll be able to hold on to those profits (they’ll wake up yet, and wish they had before). The whole idea of scraping out what you can before the tsunami hits is not my thing.

I don’t think Hugh Hendry and I see the world through hugely different eyes at all. It’s just that since I don’t have uber rich clients I tell myself I need to make even richer, I have the liberty to wonder what Hendry’s choices mean for the bottom layers of society. And yes, I also think that societies cease to function if the poor get too poor. Not very Hobbesian or Darwinian, am I?

By all means, let’s keep the conversation going, and let everyone decide for him-her-self where (s)he stands. Hugh Hendry thinks in money terms, and I tend to feel that’s a waste of a brilliant mind. But that’s not a judgment. It’s merely a question. And a pretty well defined one at that: Is a brilliant mind better engaged making money for the rich or trying to alleviate the sorrows of the poor? I can’t answer that for you.

Aug 292014
 
 August 29, 2014  Posted by at 4:37 pm Finance Tagged with: , , ,  11 Responses »
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Esther Bubley Greyhound bus driver off duty, Columbus, Ohio Sep 1943

Given recent developments in Ukraine, and the accompanying PR, spin and accusations, the whole by now familiar shebang, I’m sure you would expect me to address the Kiyv vs Moscow vs the land of the brave issue today. Unfortunately, there are more important issues to talk about today.

Suffice it for me to say that the west is losing, and can therefore be expected to grab onto ever more desperate handles as we progress. Nothing new here: nothing proven, but plenty insinuated. We really should stop relying on our own news channels, for Ukraine, and for the economy, but those of you who’ve visited the Automatic Earth before, know that. And know why.

One prediction as per Ukraine: Angela Merkel will make sure Ukraine won’t be a member of NATO. Or she’s going to regret it something awful. My bet is she’s too smart to let things meander that far and too long.

What I do think should stand out from all of what we’ve seen recently is that there’s not a single news source in the Anglo Saxon world, or in what I read in the German, French and Dutch press, that’s even remotely trustworthy. And that’s still, no matter how long this has been going on, a pretty scary conclusion to draw.

The more important issues of the day for us are those that bubble under the surface. And maybe that’s not a coincidence. Maybe, just maybe, the whole warmongering thing serves to take your eyes of the failing economies in Europe and the US. And Japan.

I’m sure many people wonder why the Fed would cut QE and raise interest rates at the very moment Tokyo and Brussels are either preparing to or thinking about launch(ing) more stimulus, not less. You might think that US unemployment numbers, and GDP data, are behind the decisions, but then those are merely fabrications dutifully repeated by the news/politics system.

The US economy is in just as poor a shape as all other formerly rich economies are. And raising rates now risks blowing up very large segments of the global economy. Such as emerging economies, western mortgage holders, and all the millions in Europe and the US who’ve had to switch from well-paid jobs to a burger flipping standard of living. They may make stats look sort of OK (Mary’s got a job!), but both the people and the stats will topple over en masse when interest rates rise.

Why then should Janet Yellen raise those rates regardless? It’s very simple, and I don’t see why or how everybody has missed out on this, and how the vast majority still are.

Because anything and everything the Fed has done since Wall Street caused the crisis, and well before (ask Alan Greenspan), has been about protecting Wall Street. And protecting Wall Street, or rather enhancing Wall Street’s profits, is exactly why Janet Yellen is about to raise US interest rates.

Not that I think it’s necessarily a bad move, ultra low rates have been a scourge on our economies for far too long – and they have been around only because Wall Street could profit from them -, but because the act of raising them is once more being executed solely to benefit the TBTF banks. Certainly not to benefit the American people, millions more of whom will be forced out of their homes when the Fed funds rate moves to 3% or 4%, or bend over backwards just to stay put.

Don’t count on Yellen, or the rest of the Fed crew, to take that into account, though. That’s not what they do. That’s not their MO. They’re not there for you. The whole storyline about the central bank looking out for the American people, for full employment and price stability, is just that: a storyline. No different from the one about how America is busy saving Kiev from Putin: a convenient storyboard that lures in enough people to stand on its own.

Reality resides in for instance this Philip Van Doorn article for MarketWatch:

Big US Banks Prepare To Make Even More Money

An expected rise in interest rates over the next year will help the largest U.S. banks earn billions of dollars in additional net interest income, setting up their cheap stocks for what could be a stellar run. [..]

The Federal Reserve has kept the short-term federal funds rate locked in a range of zero to 0.25% since late 2008, in an effort to increase loan demand and jump-start the economy. This policy and the “QE3” bond purchases that will end this year seem to have worked, with the U.S. economy expanding at a 4% annual rate during the second quarter and continuing to add over 200,000 jobs a month. But the debate at the Federal Reserve has now shifted to the timing of interest rate increases. Most economists expect the federal funds rate to begin climbing in the second half of 2015, but it could well happen sooner than that.

For most banks, the extended period of low interest rates has become quite a drag on earnings.

Net interest margins – the spread between the average yield on loans and investments and the average cost for deposits and borrowings – are still being squeezed, since banks realized the bulk of the benefit of very low interest rates years ago, while their assets continue to reprice downward.

A 1% rise (from zero) in interest rates will grow BoA profits by 8.4%. That’s all you need to know, right there. What else do you need? How about a 3% rise? Low rates have brought down bank earnings for a couple years, and they’ve all bled that cashcow dry by now. The next big thing for Wall Street will by higher rates. Which they can pass on to you, Joe and Jill Main Street. Make sure you have your checkbooks ready.

When rates are low, banks can borrow on the cheap. But they can’t charge you high rates either. They’ve now borrowed all they want, and can, at zero percent (there’s a limit to profits even there). And the banks want to move to 3-4-5+%, so they can squeeze their customers for the difference.

The Fed is only too happy to comply. And it will use the argument of an improving US economy to do so. Because (some of) the – handpicked – stats say there’s improvement. Yellen is still dutifully hesitating, because they all know there really is no great US economy that would justify a rate hike, but all the pieces are in place.

And that’s why US interest rates will go up. And create chaos in global markets. And push millions of Americans and Europeans into servitude. It’s because the banks want it. Because they stand to profit greatly from the ensuing mayhem.

Eurozone Inflation Hits 5-Year-Low of 0.3% (CNBC)

Eurozone inflation continued to fall in August, boosting expectations that the ECB will try bolster the region’s economy by announcing further stimulus measures – perhaps as early as next week. Consumer prices rose by just 0.3% year-on-year in August, according to official figures released by Eurostat Friday, meeting expectations but marking a fresh five-year low. This is down from 0.4% in July, and is significantly below the central bank’s target of just below 2%. Separate data revealed that the rate of unemployment in the eurozone remained stubbornly high in July, at 11.5%, unchanged from June. The inflation data come at a key time for the ECB, just days ahead of its next policy meeting on Thursday. ECB President Mario Draghi hinted at further stimulus measures in a speech in Jackson Hole last week, as economic data for the euro zone continue to surprise on the downside. The closely-watched composite Purchasing Managers’ Index – which measures business activity in the euro zone – slipped in August, coming in below forecasts.

In addition, official figures revealed that economic growth in the region was stagnant in the second quarter, with GDP flat, below analysts’ expectations. Concerns about the region’s economic strength led the ECB unveil a host of measures at its June meeting designed to give the euro zone’s recovery a boost. Now, a growing number of economists expect the ECB to announce further easing on Thursday, with some arguing that a bond-buying – QE – program will be announced in the coming months. Riccardo Barbieri, chief European economist at Mizuho International, said August’s inflation print “isn’t a game changer” because the ECB will have expected this figure. “I don’t think it puts them under huge pressure to announce something stunning immediately, but they’re obviously under pressure to do more,” he told CNBC after the data were released. “Ultimately, they have to move to QE, and this may well happen before the end of the year.” He added that he expects the central bank to announce a program to buy asset-backed securities on Thursday.

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Germnay says no QE.

Schaeuble Sees Draghi’s Instruments for Growth Exhausted (Bloomberg)

The European Central Bank has run out of ways to help the euro area, putting the burden on governments to spur growth without running excessive deficits, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said. In an interview with Bloomberg Television at the Medef business leaders’ conference near Paris, Schaeuble said he agrees “100%” with ECB President Mario Draghi’s appeals for governments in the 18-country currency union to complement monetary policy with “structural reforms” to boost competitiveness and overcome the legacy of Europe’s debt crisis. “Monetary policy can only buy time,” Schaeuble said in the interview yesterday. “Liquidity in markets is not too low, it’s even too high. Therefore I think monetary policy has come to the end of its instruments and therefore what we urgently need is investments, regaining confidence by investors, by markets, by consumers.”

Schaeuble’s comments reflect the mainstream view in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition and Europe’s biggest economy as policy makers debate how to boost growth and Draghi signals the euro area may need more monetary stimulus. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls urged the ECB on Aug. 27 to use all means at its disposal to lift inflation to its target level. Euro-area economic confidence fell more than forecast, Spanish consumer prices dropped the most in five years and German unemployment unexpectedly rose yesterday, giving Draghi possible arguments to deliver quantitative easing. “I don’t think ECB monetary policy has the instruments to fight deflation, to be quite frank,” Schaeuble said. Domestic demand is driving German growth “because we have high confidence of consumers, investors.”

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I just love that line.

Wall Street Has Become A Self-Licking Ice Cream Cone (WolfStreet)

With all this enthusiasm for stocks, you’d think there’d be some volume, some serious buying, to back it up. But yesterday, the day when the S&P 500 snuggled up to 2000, it was the lightest non-holiday volume day since, gosh – someone did the math – October 2006. I asked a Street technician about the low volume advance and the pattern in recent years for the market to rise on low volume and fall on high volume. The first rule I learned about this biz in 1978 was VID: volume indicates direction. But no longer. High volume has become a “contrarian indicator,” the street technician explained. It’s a “sign of stress or a crisis.” It’s the New Normal, one of many anomalies. But we have remarkably little interest in analysis to learn why this is so. Something has changed, but we don’t yet see what or how. Low volume has another name: lack of liquidity. When a few buyers emerge, stocks rise because there aren’t many sellers.

That’s what lack of liquidity does on the way up. But when investors click the sell-button one too many times, there might be a shortage of buyers. Selling into an illiquid market is something even the Fed is fretting about. And it’s not like the world is swimming in peace dividends, or anything. Wars, civil wars, and potential wars are brewing around the world. China’s economy, which is desperately dependent on housing and infrastructure construction, is facing local mini-rebellions, as the prices of unsold homes get whacked by 25% or more, thus wiping out the investment of those hapless souls who’d bought a few days or weeks earlier. The sector is taking down steelmakers and other industries. The Eurozone seems to be reentering a recession. The second quarter in Germany was terrible, Italy’s entire “recovery” was a sham, and other Eurozone countries are teetering as well.

In the US, construction and sales of new homes, a big contributor to GDP, are getting bogged down in prices that have moved out of reach. Automakers have to resort to heavy discounting to bring down their inventories and move the iron, and it’s cutting into transaction prices and revenues. Big tech companies, the high-growth darlings of yesteryear, are laying off tens of thousands of people…. Economists would have plenty to talk about, but no one wants to hear it. The fundamentals – whatever they may be – no longer matter. The Fed has surgically removed them from the markets, and thus from consideration. What everyone wants to hear is the reassurance that stocks will continue to soar, regardless. And without interruption.

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Japan keeps on sinking, and will for a long time.

Abegeddon: Japan Spending Plunges, Unemployment At 9-Month High (Zero Hedge)

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse… In a veritable deluge of data from Japan tonight, there is – simply put – no silver lining. First, Japan’s jobless rate unexpectedly jumped to 3.8% – its highest since Nov 2013 (despite the highest job-to-applicant ratio in 22 years). Then, household spending re-collapsed 5.9% for the 4th month in a row (showingh no sign of post-tax-hike-recovery). Industrial Production was up next and dramatically missed expectations with a mere 0.2% rebound after last month’s plunge (-0.9% YoY – worst in 13 months), quickly followed by a 0.5% drop in Japanes retail trade MoM (missing hope for a 0.3% gain). That’s good news, right? Means moar QQE, right? Wrong! Japanese CPI came hot at 3.4% YoY with energy costs and electronic goods ‘hyperinflating’ at 8.8% and 9.1% respectively. As Goldman’s chief Japan economist warns, “the BOJ doesn’t have another bazooka,” adding that “The window for reform may already have been half closed.” We’re gonna need another arrow, Abe!

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Boomers have all refinanced when the going was good.

Boomer Wealth Depressed by Mortgages Poses US Spending Risk (Bloomberg)

Mortgage-burning parties in the U.S. may be going the way of home milk deliveries and polyester leisure suits. A growing number of homeowners are reaching retirement age still owing money on their houses. The share of Americans 65 and older with mortgage debt rose to 30% in 2011 from 22% in 2001, according to a May analysis by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau based on the latest available figures. Loan balances also increased, with the median amount owed climbing to $79,000 from $43,400 after adjusting for inflation, the data showed. “There were old-fashioned beliefs probably 30 years ago” that included “you should pay off your house before you retire,” said Olivia Mitchell, executive director of the Pension Research Council at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in Philadelphia. “This is no longer the case.”

The increase in mortgage debt may influence labor-force dynamics as some older Americans find they’re unable to completely retire, needing extra cash to keep up monthly payments. It also diminishes home equity and wealth, making these households more susceptible to swings in the economy and curbing spending on things such as vacations and visits to grandchildren. “When they are hit with a financial downturn or an unexpected cost, they often are in a position where they don’t have the ability to recoup whatever losses they may have suffered,” said Stacy Canan, the deputy assistant director of the CFPB’s Office for Older Americans in Washington. Because a larger portion of income has to go to paying a mortgage, “there has to really be a dialing back of almost all other expenses.”

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Until you hear a big bang.

Bond Yields: Even Lower for Even Longer (WSJ)

It has been a one-way street in global bond markets this year: Yields just keep on falling. There seems to be little in the cards to reverse this trend. But investors should still think carefully before embracing it. German 10-year yields stand at just 0.88% and have fallen more than a%age point this year; two-year yields are negative. That is at least understandable: Euro-zone growth and inflation are at worryingly low levels. But elsewhere, falling yields are questioning some of the market’s basic assumptions about the relationship between economic data and bond prices. In the U.S., where second-quarter growth ran at a 4.2% annualized pace and the Federal Reserve has steadily cut back its bond purchases, the 10-year Treasury yield has fallen to 2.32%, down about 0.7%age point this year. And in the U.K., where growth has boomed and two of the Bank of England’s monetary-policy makers have started voting for an increase, 10-year gilts yield 2.36%, down from just over 3%.

There are several factors at work. Investors might normally expect the vast and liquid U.S. Treasury market to set the tone for global yields. But Europe appears to be in the driver’s seat for two reasons. The first is speculation that the European Central Bank will be forced into adopting quantitative easing, providing a further flood of liquidity. The second is that investors appear focused on relative rather than absolute value. Thus a decline in German yields makes U.S. bonds look cheap; U.S. yields get dragged lower. This could go further: Royal Bank of Scotland thinks 10-year German bund yields could hit 0.65%. Meanwhile, geopolitical risk is running high. The Middle East is in turmoil. The crisis in Ukraine has deepened rather than receded. That leads to both a flight into haven bonds as well as concerns about spillover effects on Europe in the case of Ukraine.

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But Kiev just wants to fight.

Russia Urges Ukraine To Store More Gas For Winter, Offers Discount (Reuters)

Russia’s energy minister Alexander Novak said on Friday that Ukraine should pump as much as 10 billion cubic metres into its gas storage facilities or else it faces shortages. He said this should be done by Oct.15 when the winter season starts, and that Ukraine has stockpiled up to 16 bcm of gas already. Novak also said that Moscow is ready to apply retroactively a $100 discount per 1,000 cubic metres of Russian gas to Ukraine.

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Russia To Restart Gas Supplies, If Ukraine Repays $2 Billion Debt (FG)

Russia is ready to resume natural gas supplies to Ukraine, if Kiev repays its $2 billion debt, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Friday. Novak made this statement after talks with EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger who had arrived in Moscow on Friday to try to find a solution to the Russia-Ukraine gas price dispute. The Russian energy minister said this figure included Ukraine’s $1.4 billion debt for Russian natural gas deliveries to the ex-Soviet republic in 2013 and partial repayment of the gas debt accumulated from April. The Russian energy minister also said Russia was prepared to offer Ukraine a gas price discount of $100 per 1,000 cubic meters, which would not breach the country’s contractual obligations and would not contradict Russia’s position in an international arbitration tribunal as this offer was not a corporate discount. “We are prepared to offer this discount not only for the winter period but even for a year or for a year and a half,” Novak said.

Russia raised the gas price for Ukraine from $268.5 to $485.5 per 1,000 cubic meters from April 2014. Ukraine has said it will not pay for Russian natural gas supplies at such a high price. After Russia and Ukraine failed to reach a compromise on the gas issue, Naftogaz and Gazprom filed mutual claims to the Stockholm Arbitration Tribunal. The gas price for Ukraine has increased, in particular, by $100 per 1,000 cubic meters since April 1, 2014 after Russia denounced the 2010 Kharkov accords on extending the lease of the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s base in Crimea in exchange for a gas price discount. The accords were denounced after the Black Sea peninsula joined Russia in the spring of 2014. Russia also offered Kiev the second discount as part of an anti-crisis aid package for Ukraine in November 2013 but scrapped it from April 1, 2014 over Ukraine’s failure to repay its debts for Russian natural gas supplies.

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Crucial: Merkel get what Merkal wants.

From Minsk To Wales, Germany Is The Key (Pepe Escobar)

The road to the Minsk summit this past Tuesday began to be paved when German Chancellor Angela Merkel talked to ARD public TV after her brief visit to Kiev on Saturday. Merkel emphasized, “A solution must be found to the Ukraine crisis that does not hurt Russia.” She added that “There must be dialogue. There can only be a political solution. There won’t be a military solution to this conflict.” Merkel talked about “decentralization” of Ukraine, a definitive deal on gas prices, Ukraine-Russia trade, and even hinted Ukraine is free to join the Russia-promoted Eurasian Union (the EU would never make a “huge conflict” out of it). Exit sanctions; enter sound proposals. She could not have been more explicit; “We [Germany] want to have good trade relations with Russia as well. We want reasonable relations with Russia. We are depending on one another and there are so many other conflicts in the world where we should work together, so I hope we can make progress”.

The short translation for all this is there won’t be a Nulandistan (after neo-con Victoria ‘F**k the EU’ Nuland), remote-controlled by Washington, and fully financed by the EU. In the real world, what Germany says, the EU follows. Geopolitically, this also means a huge setback for Washington’s obsessive containment and encirclement of Russia, proceeding in parallel to the ‘pivot to Asia’ (containment and encirclement of China). Ukraine’s economy – now under disaster capitalism intervention – is… well, a disaster. It’s way beyond recession, now in deep depression. Any forthcoming IMF funds serve to pay outstanding bills and feed the (losing) creaking military machine; Kiev is fighting no less than Ukraine’s industrial heartland. Not to mention that the conditions attached to the IMF’s ‘structural adjustment’ are bleeding Ukrainians dry.

Taxes – and budget cuts – are up. The currency, the hryvnya, has plunged 40% since early 2014. The banking system is a joke. The notion that the EU will pay Ukraine’s humongous bills is a myth. Germany (which runs the EU) wants a deal. Fast. The reason is very simple. Germany is growing only 1.5% in 2014. Why? Because the Washington-propelled sanction hysteria is hurting German business. Merkel finally got the message. Or at least seems to have. The first stage towards a lasting deal is energy. This Friday, there’s a key meeting between Russian and EU energy officials in Moscow. And then, later next week, it will be Russian, EU and Ukrainian officials. The EU’s energy commissioner, Gunther Oettinger, who was in Minsk, wants an interim deal to make sure Russian gas flows through Ukraine to Europe in winter. General Winter, once again, wins any war. Here, essentially, we have the EU – not Russia – telling Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to stuff his (losing) ‘strategy’ of slow-motion ethnic cleansing of eastern Ukraine.

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Orlov does the explaining for me.

Propaganda And The Lack Thereof (Dmitry Orlov)

With regard to the goings-on in Ukraine, I have heard quite a few European and American voices piping in, saying that, yes, Washington and Kiev are fabricating an entirely fictional version of events for propaganda purposes, but then so are the Russians. They appear to assume that if their corporate media is infested with mendacious, incompetent buffoons who are only too happy to repeat the party line, then the Russians must be same or worse. The reality is quite different. While there is a virtual news blackout with regard to Ukraine in the West, with little being shown beyond pictures of talking heads in Washington and Kiev, the media coverage in Russia is relentless, with daily bulletins describing troop movements, up-to-date maps of the conflict zones, and lots of eye-witness testimony, commentary and analysis.

There is also a lively rumor mill on Russian and international social networks, which I tend to disregard because it’s mostly just that: rumor. In this environment, those who would attempt to fabricate a fictional narrative, as the officials in Washington and Kiev attempt to do, do not survive very long. There is a great deal to say on the subject, but here I want to limit myself to rectifying some really, really basic misconceptions that Washington has attempted to impose on you via its various corporate media mouthpieces.

1. They would like you to think that there is a Russian invasion in the East of Ukraine. What’s actually happening is a civil war between the government of Western Ukraine (which no longer rules the east in any definable way) and the Russian population of Eastern Ukraine. Ukraine has been falling apart for decades—ever since independence. The eventual break-up was inevitable, but the catalyst for it was the military overthrow of Ukraine’s legitimate government and its replacement with cadres hand-picked in Washington.

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Kiev Protesters Demand Ouster Of Ukrainian President, Officials (RT)

Hundreds of people have gathered in front of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry in Kiev, demanding resignation of President Petro Poroshenko and the defense minister over the poor handling of the military operation in the southeast. The demonstrators, many of whom were mothers and wives of the soldiers involved in the fighting in the Donetsk and Lugansk Regions, have blocked traffic at one of the capital’s arterial roads, the Vozdukhoflotsky Boulevard. They called on the army to urgently send reinforcements, including tanks and other heavy military vehicles, to the city of Ilovaysk in the Donetsk Region. This strategic town was retaken by the self-defense forces after several days of fighting on Wednesday, which led to the encirclement of a large group of Kiev’s troops. The protesters also insisted on the resignation of defense minister Valery Geletey and all other top commanders of Kiev’s so-called “anti-terrorist operation” in southeast Ukraine.

After several hours outside the Defense Ministry, the demonstrators moved toward the presidential administration building. The protesters said that they would remain on the streets until their demands were met by the authorities. Several hours later, the traffic on the Ukrainian capital’s main street, Khreshchatyk, was also paralyzed by demonstrators chanting: “Kiev, rise up!” According to the Itar-Tass news agency, they urged all Kiev residents to join their protest, including recently elected mayor and former boxing world champion Vitaly Klitschko. The demands at Khreshchatyk were similar – to impeach President Poroshenko and calling for the resignation of the country’s top military officials.

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OSCE: ‘No Russian troops in Ukraine’ (RT)

The OSCE was told there was no Russian presence spotted across the Ukraine border, refuting Thursday’s claims that a full-scale invasion was underway. Both the Ukrainian monitoring team head and Russia’s representative have given a firm ‘no.’ The chorus of allegations about Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine had President Poroshenko calling for an emergency meeting of the country’s security and defense council, while Prime Minister Yatsenyuk on Thursday called for a Russian asset freeze. No actual evidence has been given either by either foreign governments or the media, apart from claims that photographs exist that someone had “seen.”

“I have made a decision to cancel my working visit to the Republic of Turkey due to sharp aggravation of the situation in Donetsk region, particularly in Amvrosiivka and Starobeshevo, as Russian troops were brought into Ukraine,” Petro Poroshenko said in a statement on his website. The Russian representative to the OSCE Andrey Kelin, meanwhile, has given a firm response to the allegations, saying that “we have said that no Russian involvement has been spotted, there are no soldiers or equipment present. “Accusations relating to convoys of armored personnel carriers have been heard during the past week and the week before that,” he said. “All of them were proven false back then, and are being proven false again now.”

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Putin Urges Ukraine Militants to open Humanitarian Corridor (IANS)

Russian President Vladimir Putin Friday urged militants in southeastern Ukraine to open a humanitarian corridor for Ukrainian soldiers to allow them to get out of the combat areas. “I am calling on forces to open a humanitarian corridor for Ukrainian soldiers in order to avoid senseless casualties, enable them to get out of the combat areas, reunite with their families and to provide urgent medical aid,” the presidential address released by the Kremlin press service said. The militants have succeeded in cutting short Kiev’s military operation, “which has already resulted in tremendous casualties among civilians”, Putin said.

“Russia is ready and will continue to provide humanitarian aid for the Ukrainian people suffering from a humanitarian disaster,” he added. He urged the Kiev authorities “to immediately abandon combat actions, cease fire, and sit down at the negotiating table together with representatives of Ukraine’s eastern regions in order to settle, exclusively in a peaceful way, all the problems that have piled up.” The conflict between government troops and pro-Russian militants has killed more than 2,000 people in eastern and southeastern Ukraine, with thousands of others displaced.

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Separatists Say Will Allow ‘Trapped’ Ukrainian Forces To Withdraw (Reuters)

Pro-Moscow rebels fighting in Ukraine said on Friday they would comply with a request from the Kremlin and open up a ‘humanitarian corridor’ to allow the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops they have encircled. It was not clear how the government in Kiev would react to the offer, suggested first by Russian President Vladimir Putin, but the first word from the Ukrainian military was negative. It said in a statement that Putin’s call showed only that “these people (the separatists) are led and controlled directly from the Kremlin”. Kiev has accused Russian troops of illegally entering eastern Ukraine and, backed by its U.S. and European allies, has said it will fight to defend its soil. Russia stands accused of pushing troops and weapons into the former Soviet republic to shore up a separatist rebellion that a week ago appeared to be on its last legs. That development has sharply escalated the five-month conflict over eastern Ukraine.

In his late-night statement, released by the Kremlin, Putin adopted a softer tone, though without acknowledging that Russia’s military is involved in the conflict. “It is clear that the rebellion has achieved some serious successes in stopping the armed operation by Kiev,” Putin was quoted as saying in the statement. “I call on the militia forces to open a humanitarian corridor for encircled Ukraine servicemen in order to avoid pointless victims, to allow them to leave the fighting area without impediment, join their families … to provide urgent medical aid to those wounded as a result of the military operation.” Hours later, Alexander Zakharchenko, leader of the main rebel entity in eastern Ukraine, told a Russian television station his forces were ready to let the encircled Ukrainian troops pull out. He said though they would have to leave behind their heavy armoured vehicles and ammunition.

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Let’s see it.

Russia Urges US To Explain Advisors, Mercenaries In Ukraine (RT)

A statement calling for a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine was blocked at the UN Security Council under a completely frivolous pretext, Russia’s envoy to the UN Vitaly Churkin said, after a heated debate with Kiev again accusing Russia of full-scale invasion. “The Russian delegation’s proposal on declaration of a ceasefire was blocked under a frivolous pretext,” Churkin said after the emergency session of the UNSC meeting, Itar-Tass quotes. “The Security Council as a result of destructive efforts of a number of its members was unable to play its role in resolving the Ukrainian crisis.” During the meeting, the UN Security Council’s permanent representative of Lithuania Raymond Murmokayte stated that the draft document prepared by Russia does not highlight “some serious issues,” namely that anti-Kiev forces “hamper the provision of humanitarian aid on the part of Ukraine’s government.”

The Russian proposed text to the UN Security Council all expressed serious concerns about the deteriorating situation in south-eastern Ukraine, and called for “immediate and unconditional ceasefire” as well as the beginning of a dialogue “based on the Geneva Declaration of 17 April 2014 and the Joint Berlin Declaration of July 2, 2014.” The text also noted the need to “multiply efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to the population of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine.” While Kiev continues to blame Russia for violating its sovereignty and escalating violence in the south east of the country, Churkin during the emergency session insisted that the current escalation is a “direct consequence of a wreckers policy of Kiev which is conducting a war against its own people.”

US Permanent Representative to the United Nations Samantha Power also attacked Russia accusing it of repeated lies and insisting that it is a fact that Russia has moved troops, tanks and other armored vehicles into Ukraine. “One of the separatist leaders that Russia has armed and backed said openly that three or four thousand Russian soldiers have joined their cause. He was quick to clarify that these soldiers were on vacation. But a Russian soldier who chooses to fight in Ukraine on his summer break is still a Russian soldier. And the armored Russian military vehicle he drives there is not his personal car,” Power said, presenting her own case the Security Council members. The leader of Donetsk People’s Republic, indeed said that Russians are fighting along the people of Donbas – but they are all volunteers with a “heightened feeling of sorrow and human misfortune” who prefer spending their holidays among their brothers fighting for a good cause.”

Vitaly Churkin fired back at Power saying that nobody ever tried to hide the presence of Russian volunteers, urging Washington instead to explain what dozens of US advisers are doing in Kiev or tell how many mercenaries from private military companies are waging war in Ukraine. Russia’s permanent representative also called on Washington to “curb their geopolitical ambitions” and stop interfering in the affairs of sovereign states. “Then not only Russia’s neighbors, but also many other countries around the world will breathe a sigh of relief,” he said. Russia also demanded an end to “speculations around the Malaysian downed aircraft,” the investigation of which was also brought up during the emergency session that became the 24th meeting of the UN Security Council over Ukrainian crisis.

“So far, only Russia transparently and significantly contributed to the investigation of this tragedy. From the other side we hear only half-hints and no information,” said the diplomat, as Churkin once again urged Kiev to publish the recording of Ukrainian air traffic controllers that guided MH17 flight that went down in July. The Russian envoy stressed that Ukrainian authorities pushing forward with their military solution to the crisis under the support and the influence of a number of “well-known states.” “With support from and under the influence of a number of well-known states the Kiev authorities have torpedoed all political agreements on settling the crisis in Ukraine,” including the Geneva statement of April 17 and the Berlin declaration of July 2, Churkin said.

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Lavrov: No Proof Given For Allegations About Russian Troops In Ukraine (RT)

Russia’s only reaction to NATO accusations of interfering militarily in Ukraine will be a consistent position of putting an end to bloodshed and establish dialogue between warring parties in Ukraine, Russia’s FM said. No facts about Russian military being present on the territory of Ukraine have ever been presented, Sergey Lavrov pointed out, while speculation on the issue has been voiced repeatedly, he stressed. “It’s not the first time we’ve heard wild guesses, though facts have never been presented so far,” Lavrov said at a press conference in Moscow. “There have been reports about satellite imagery exposing Russian troop movements. They turned out to be images from videogames. The latest accusations happen to be much the same quality,” he said.

“We’ll react by remaining persistent in our policies to stay bloodshed and give a start to the nationwide dialogue and negotiations about the future of Ukraine, with participation of all Ukrainian regions and political forces, something that was agreed upon in Geneva back in April and in Berlin [in August], yet what is being so deliberately evaded by our Western partners now,” Lavrov said. Sergey Lavrov pointed out that the only means to decrease the number of casualties among the civilian population in Donetsk and Lugansk Regions is by self-defense militia pushing Ukrainian troops and National Guards out.

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Sure, but in the 21st century?

The Multi-Billion-Dollar Fall Of The House Of Espirito Santo (Reuters)

On June 9, with his 150-year-old Portuguese corporate dynasty close to collapse, patriarch Ricardo Espirito Santo Salgado made a desperate attempt to save it. Salgado signed two letters to Venezuela’s state oil company, which had bought $365 million in bonds from his family’s holding company. The holding company was in financial trouble. But the letters, according to copies seen by Reuters, assured the Venezuelans that their investment was safe. The “cartas-conforto” – letters of comfort – were written on the letterhead of Banco Espirito Santo, a large lender controlled by the family. They were co-signed by Salgado, who was both the bank’s chief executive and head of the family holding company. “Banco Espirito Santo guarantees … it will provide the necessary funds to allow reimbursement at maturity,” said the letters. There were problems, though: By promising that the bank stood behind the holding company’s debt, the letters ignored a directive from Portugal’s central bank that Salgado stop mixing the lender’s affairs with the family business.

The guarantees were also not recorded in the bank’s accounts at the time, which is required by Portuguese law. The following week, after intense pressure from regulators, Salgado resigned. Within a month, the holding company, Espirito Santo International, filed for bankruptcy, crumbling under €6.4 billion ($8.4 billion) in debt. In August, Banco Espirito Santo was rescued by the Portuguese state, after reporting €3.6 billion in losses. The two letters, whose existence was made public last month but whose details are revealed here for the first time, are a key part of an investigation into the spectacular fall of one of Europe’s most prominent family businesses. Portuguese regulators and prosecutors are examining them along with the bank’s accounts and other evidence to determine whether there was unlawful activity behind the fall of the Espirito Santo empire. So far, shareholders and investors in the family companies and Banco Espirito Santo have lost more than €10 billion, making this one of Europe’s biggest corporate collapses ever.

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My main man Rubino.

A World Without Fractional Reserve Banks and Central Planning (John Rubino)

Excerpted From The Money Bubble: What To Do Before It Pops by James Turk and John Rubino:

In a very real sense, it is fractional reserve banking and not money itself that is the root of so many of today’s evils. Whenever fractional reserves are permitted, the banking system – including the one that exists today throughout the world – comes to resemble a classic Ponzi scheme which can only function as long as most people don’t try to get at their money. Now, is this critique of the current monetary system just impotent ideological whining over something that, like the weather, can’t be changed? Or could fractional reserve banking and the resulting need for economic central planning actually be replaced by something better? Specifically, how could a banking system without fractional reserve lending accommodate depositors’ demand that their money be there when they want it and borrowers’ desire for 30-year mortgages which would tie up those deposits for decades? And could this market operate without the need for government oversight and management?

The answer to that last question is yes. A better financial system is possible, and here’s how it would work: First, today’s commercial banks would split into two types. “Banks of commerce” would take deposits and keep them safe for a fee, like the goldsmiths of old. “Banks of credit” would pay interest on deposits and lend out depositor money, but would have to match the duration of deposits with the duration of loans. Deposits that can be withdrawn anytime (a checking account for instance) could only be used to fund a loan which the bank can “call” on demand, while longer-term deposits (say a 5-year CD) would be matched to longer-term loans like a business term loan or 5-year mortgage. Really long-term loans like 30-year mortgages would be funded with deposits for which the bank would have to pay up in order to convince a depositor to part with his or her money for such a long time.

The resulting mortgage would carry a high enough rate to provide the bank with a small profit, which would make 30-year mortgages both expensive and hard to get. But the case can be made that they should be hard to get. Buying a house – or anything else that requires capital for extremely long periods – should require a hefty down payment, other liquid assets as collateral and a solid income stream. This coverage would give the bank the ability to foreclose and realize more than the value of the loan, which would protect its ability to repay its depositors, thus making depositors more willing to tie up their money for long periods. Such a society would be a lot less prone to excessive debt accumulation and inflation, bank runs would be far less frequent and government deposit insurance would be much less necessary. It would, in short, be a saner world in which individuals managed their own finances, saved with confidence and borrowed only for highly-productive uses, while two sharply-differentiated types of banks facilitated wealth protection and real wealth creation rather than paper trading.

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But why should we care?

Syrian Refugees Top 3 Million, Half Of All Syrians Displaced (Reuters)

Three million Syrian refugees will have registered in neighboring countries as of Friday, an exodus that began in March 2011 and shows no sign of abating, the United Nations said. The record figure is one million refugees more than a year ago, while a further 6.5 million are displaced within Syria, meaning that “almost half of all Syrians have now been forced to abandon their homes and flee for their lives”, it said. “The Syrian crisis has become the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era, yet the world is failing to meet the needs of refugees and the countries hosting them,” Antonio Guterres, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said in a statement. The vast majority remain in neighboring countries, with the highest concentrations in Lebanon (1.14 million), Turkey (815,000) and Jordan (608,000), the UNHCR said. Some 215,000 refugees are in Iraq with the rest in Egypt and other countries.

In addition, the host governments estimate that hundreds of thousands more Syrians have sought sanctuary in their countries without formally registering, the agency said. Increasing numbers of families arrive in a shocking state, exhausted, scared and with their savings depleted, it said. “Most have been on the run for a year or more, fleeing from village to village before taking the final decision to leave.” “There are worrying signs too that the journey out of Syria is becoming tougher, with many people forced to pay bribes at armed checkpoints proliferating along the borders. Refugees crossing the desert into eastern Jordan are being forced to pay smugglers hefty sums (ranging from $100 per person or more) to take them to safety,” it added.

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Years of smoke?

Iceland Eruption Near Volcano Triggers Red Alert (BBC)

The Icelandic Met Office has raised its aviation warning level near the Bardarbunga volcano to red after an eruption began overnight. Scientists said a fissure eruption 1km (0.6 miles) long started in a lava field north of the Vatnajokull glacier. Civil protection officials said Icelandic Air Traffic Control had closed the airspace above the eruption up to a height of 5,000ft (1,500m). The volcano has been hit by several recent tremors. The fissure eruption took place between Dyngjujokull Glacier and the Askja caldera, a statement from the Department of Civil Protection said. The area is part of the Bardabunga system. “Scientists who have been at work close to the eruption monitor the event at a safe distance,” the statement added. “The Icelandic Met Office has raised the aviation colour code over the eruption site to red.” It added that no volcanic ash had so far been detected but a coast guard aircraft was due to take off later to survey the site.

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Mar 262014
 
 March 26, 2014  Posted by at 7:40 pm Earth Tagged with: , , ,  9 Responses »
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Detroit Publishing Co Galveston Flood disaster cyclorama, Coney Island 1904

If there’s one thing that defines why we, and the world we live in, are doomed, it can be found – once more – in a recent spat of (leaked) reactions to the upcoming new IPCC report. We’ve come a long way since skeptics started budging in the way creationists demand equal time on the new Cosmos series – only more successful – and now we’re way past mere skepticism. Not only has it become totally acceptable to pooh pooh and hush hush climate change, we’ve arrived at the point where we go look for positive angles.

The first step in the new message is that things are not nearly as bad as we were once told, as is so craftfully put in words by the subtle change from ‘mitigation’ to ‘adaptation’. Throwing in the term ‘resilience’ further enforces the positive notion. As the Telegraph puts it:

Climate Change: The Debate Is About To Change Radically

The latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is due out next week. If the leaked draft is reflected in the published report, it will constitute the formal moving on of the debate from the past, futile focus upon “mitigation” to a new debate about resilience and adaptation.

The new report will apparently tell us that the global GDP costs of an expected global average temperature increase of 2.5 degrees Celsius over the 21st century will be between 0.2% and 2%. To place that in context, the well-known Stern Review of 2006 estimated the costs as 5-20% of GDP. Stern estimates the costs of his recommended policies for mitigating climate change at 2% of GDP – and his estimates are widely regarded as relatively optimistic (others estimate mitigation costs as high as 10% of global GDP).

Achieving material mitigation, at a cost of 2% and more of global GDP, would require international co-ordination that we have known since the failure of the Copenhagen conference on climate change simply was not going to happen. Even if it did happen, and were conducted optimally, it would mitigate only a fraction of the total rise, and might create its own risks. And to add to all this, now we are told that the cost might be as low as 0.2% of GDP. At a 2.4% annual GDP growth rate, the global economy increases 0.2% every month.

See? We would be robbing ourselves by paying any further attention to Nicolas Stern, who just 8 years ago exaggerated the economical costs of climate change as much as 1000%. Has Stern now been found out to be a charlatan? Well, that too, and the science has greatly improved, through the addition of think tanks and scientists that know before they start researching that all dire warnings are just bogus anyway.

And no-one can seriously expect us to do anything drastic like shaking up the comfort we live in if the dollar cost is so low in comparison to the inconveniences we would have to suffer, can they?

So the mitigation deal has become this: Accept enormous inconvenience, placing authoritarian control into the hands of global agencies, at huge costs that in some cases exceed 17 times the benefits even on the Government’s own evaluation criteria, with a global cost of 2% of GDP at the low end and the risk that the cost will be vastly greater, and do all of this for an entire century, and then maybe – just maybe – we might save between one and ten months of global GDP growth. Can anyone seriously claim, with a straight face, that that should be regarded as an attractive deal or that the public is suffering from a psychological disorder if it resists mitigation policies?

But don’t let’s stop there; It’s not only that monetary costs are now claimed to be less than thought before, no, climate change should even be seen as offering opportunities:

Global warming poses risks, but also opportunities: IPCC

“Although it focuses on a whole analytical and sometimes depressing view of the challenges we face, it also looks at the opportunities we face,” said Christopher B. Field, the co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “This can not only help us to deal with climate change but ultimately build a better world.”

This is of course just another way of saying: “how much money can we make from destroying the world we live in?” But that’s undoubtedly not how the IPCCs Mr Field would like you to see it. The IPCC long ago stopped being a serious research organization. Institutes and corporations who felt threatened in their ability to make money and hold on to power have successfully infiltrated it and demanded “equal airtime”.

And that’s a perfect reflection of the societal model we live in. Every single thing in our lives gets reduced to its dollar value. And if it’s too costly, sorry, but we must throw it out. Every plant, every river, every animal, every sunset and every human being only have a value insofar as it can be expressed in dollar terms.

Which is bad news for polar bears and lions and rhinos – and ultimately people, first in Africa, Asia, South America, then at home -, since they have value only as tourist attractions. And isn’t it much more convenient and cost effective to dump a few of each in a zoo somewhere so we can simply drive to go see them, instead of going on safari’s or Arctic cruises?

Nature is useless on its own; it only has a perceived value where we can stick a price tag on it. No matter that nature is where we come from and are an integral part of, and it never came with a bottom line until we invented one. Despite the fact that we have very little idea of how nature actually works. But then, that is the core of our tragedy, isn’t it? We manage to fool ourselves into believing that we are mighty smart. That’s a surefire way to get everything that really counts all wrong.

Our children and children’s children are going to find out that the only thing we really know about complex systems is that we don’t know much of anything about them. And that when risking to disturb them, the precautionary principle should always be the first thing on our minds.

Assigning dollar values to everything we see around us is a convenient simplification of things, and it guarantees that those who already have most dollars stay on top, but there’s nothing smart about it when you look at it in terms of complex systems or the precautionary principle.

But the worst part must be that it doesn’t make anyone any happier, either. And that we’re not capable of understanding that. We don’t know what makes us happy. We need other people to tell us what does. And there’s a lot of other people who see profit opportunities in that.

Anyway, this is why we’re doomed: if we don’t understand the consequences of our actions, then we just ignore them. Thinking that if we don’t understand them, how bad can they be? Since we are very smart, right? Thing is, if we were so smart, why do we feel the need to almost infinitely simplify our view of the planet’s almost infinitely complex system, by attaching price tags to everything? Either from a rational, scientific point of view, or from an emotional point of view, how does that make sense?

The US Is Now Spending 26% Of Available Tax Revenue To Pay Interest (Sovereign Man)

By the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire had become a has-been power whose glory days as the world’s superpower were well behind them. They had been supplanted the French, the British, and the Russian empires in all matters of economic, military, and diplomatic strength. Much of this was due to the Ottoman Empire’s massive debt burden. In 1868, the Ottoman government spent 17% of its entire tax revenue just to pay interest on the debt.

And they were well past the point of no return where they had to borrow money just to pay interest on the money they had already borrowed. The increased debt meant the interest payments also increased. And three years later in 1871, the government was spending 32% of its tax revenue just to pay interest. By 1877, the Ottoman government was spending 52% of its tax revenue just to pay interest. And at that point they were finished. They defaulted that year.

This is a common story throughout history. The French government saw a meteoric rise in their debt throughout the late 1700s. By 1788, on the eve of the French Revolution, they spent 62% of their tax revenue to pay interest on the debt. Charles I of Spain had so much debt that by 1559, interest payments exceeded ordinary revenue of the Habsburg monarchy. Spain defaulted four times on its debt before the end of the century.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that an unsustainable debt burden soundly tolls the death knell of a nation’s economy, and its government. Unfortunately, it can sometimes take a rocket scientist to figure out what the real numbers are; governments have a vested interest in not being transparent about their debts and interest payments.

[..] … total US interest payments in Fiscal Year 2013 were a whopping $415 billion, roughly 17% of total tax revenue. Just like the Ottoman Empire was at in 1868. Here’s the thing, though– it’s inappropriate to look at total tax revenue when we’re talking about making interest payments. The IRS collected $2.49 trillion in taxes last year (net of refunds). But of this amount, $891 billion was from payroll tax. According to FICA and the Social Security Act of 1935, however, this amount is tied directly to funding Social Security and Medicare. It is not to be used for interest payments.

Based on this data, the amount of tax revenue that the US government had available to pay for its operations was $1.599 trillion in FY2013. This means they actually spent approximately 26% of their available tax revenue just to pay interest last year… a much higher number than 17%. This is an unbelievable figure. The only thing more unbelievable is how masterfully they understate reality… and the level of deception they employ to conceal the truth.

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You’re Still Giving the Big Banks a Handout (Bloomberg)

The largest U.S. banks and their lobbyists have been trying hard to counteract the growing impression that they present an unacceptable threat to the economy. In a new series of papers, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York offers some evidence that they probably won’t like. Critics of the big banks assert that repeated government bailouts have created a perverse incentive: The bigger and more systemically important a bank becomes, the more certain its creditors can be that they will get rescued in an emergency. Such too-big-to-fail status, the logic goes, allows banks to borrow more cheaply than they otherwise would — a taxpayer subsidy that encourages them to take the kind of risks that lead to disasters.

The contributions from the New York Fed economists support this narrative in two ways: They place a value on the big banks’ funding advantage, and they suggest that banks with government support do tend to take bigger risks. Looking at new bond issues from 1985 to 2009, New York Fed Vice President Joao Santos estimates that the largest banks paid 0.31%age point less when they issue A-rated debt than when their smaller peers did (after controlling for some idiosyncratic features of the bonds). He also found that the discount was significantly greater than what large companies enjoyed in other industries, undermining bank lobbyists’ argument that the funding advantage stems from the general benefits of size rather than from their too-big-to-fail status.

The study has some important blind spots. Its bond data go only through 2009, so it can’t show what, if anything, the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial-reform law may have done to reduce the taxpayer subsidy. Also, when grouping bonds by rating category, it ignores the rating uplift the largest banks receive thanks to the expectation of government support. This would have the effect of underestimating their funding advantage — a problem common among studies of the too-big-to-fail subsidy.

Perhaps more interesting is a separate paper in which Santos and two co-authors find that banks make more bad loans when they have a reasonable expectation of getting bailed out in a crisis. Specifically, the authors look at a special credit rating, issued by Fitch, that assesses the likelihood of government support. A one-notch increase in the rating — say, from A-minus to A — is associated with an 8% increase in a bank’s ratio of non-performing loans.

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Hundreds Rush To Rural Chinese Banks After Solvency Rumours (Reuters)

Hundreds of people rushed on Tuesday to withdraw money from branches of two small Chinese banks after rumours spread about solvency at one of them, reflecting growing anxiety among investors as regulators signal greater tolerance for credit defaults. The case highlights the urgency of plans to put in place a deposit insurance system to protect investors against bank insolvency, as Chinese grow increasingly nervous about the impact of slowing economic growth on financial institutions. Regulators have said they will roll out deposit insurance as soon as possible, without giving a firm deadline.

Domestic media reported, and a local official confirmed, that ordinary depositors swarmed a branch of Jiangsu Sheyang Rural Commercial Bank in Yancheng in economically troubled Jiangsu province on Monday. The semi-official China News Service quoted the bank’s chairman, Zang Zhengzhi, as saying it would ensure payments to all the depositors. The report did not say how the rumour originated. Chen Dequn, a resident in Yandong, just outside Yancheng, said she saw a crowd of about 70 to 80 people gathering in a branch of Sheyang Rural Commercial Bank in her town on Tuesday. “At the moment there are about 70 or 80 people in there. Normally there’d only be about 10,” she told Reuters by telephone.

Officials at another small bank, Rural Commercial Bank of Huanghai, said they had faced similar rushes by depositors, triggered by rumours of insolvency at Sheyang. “We will be holding an emergency meeting tonight,” an official at the bank’s administration office told Reuters, but declined to comment further. Why Yancheng investors suddenly lost confidence in the security of their bank deposits is not clear, given that the Sheyang bank is subject to formal reserve requirements, loan-to-deposit ratios and other rules to ensure it keeps sufficient cash on hand to meet demand. Bank failures in China are virtually unknown, as Chinese banks are considered to operate under an implicit guarantee from the government.

Finally, money market interest rates have eased since February, and traders say liquidity in the interbank market – where banks like Sheyang can tap short-term funds to meet depositor demand – remains relatively relaxed. “It’s true that these rumours exist, but actually (the bank going bankrupt) is impossible. It’s a completely different situation from the problem with the cooperatives,” said Zhang Chaoyang, an official at the propaganda department of the Communist Party committee in Tinghu district, where the bank branch is located. Zhang was referring to an incident that rattled depositors in Yancheng in January, when some rural cooperatives – which are not subject to the supervision of the bank regulator – ran out of cash and locked their doors.

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High Debt, Slow Sales Loom Over Chinese Property Firms (SCMP)

All eyes are now on a few Chinese real estate developers particularly vulnerable to slow sales and tight credit, as mainland China’s property market enters a new downturn. On the watch list are Hopson Development, Renhe Commercial, Glorious Property and Coastal Greenland, all suffering from either weak sales or high debt ratios, according to global ratings agencies. These companies are scheduled to announce annual results Thursday or Friday.

Glorious Property issued a profit warning last week, saying that lower gross profit margin, provision for impairment losses on some unsold units and smaller gains in the fair value of investment properties would result in “a significant decrease” in net profit for last year. At the end of June, Glorious Property (36%) and Hopson (42.8%) had the lowest ratio of cash versus short-term debt among all mainland Chinese developers rated by Moody’s.

Adding to their cash strain is the extra caution being exercised by domestic banks when lending to developers after the collapse of a small private property firm in Ningbo and the first onshore debt default by a solar energy firm earlier this month that shattered the long-held belief that Beijing would always bail out struggling firms. “In this environment, we believe financiers and investors will become more selective and favour borrowers with relatively strong credit quality, thereby further pressuring the liquidity of financially weak developers,” said Franco Leung, a property analyst at Moody’s Investors Service.

Both Leung and Matthew Kong from Standard & Poor’s ruled out the possibility of any short-term systemic risk, while expecting bigger developers to become even stronger. “The key lies in developers’ sales execution this year,” Kong said. “But bankruptcies are less likely, as they can opt to sell assets to peers and quit the market.” Shou Bainian, chief executive of Greentown China, said on Monday: “If their assets are good, there is still hope (of survival).” “But if their assets are not so good, neither is their reputation – then it will become more difficult.”

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China Poised To Ramp Up Its Stimulus Policies (SMH)

Signs that China’s economy is coming off the boil are fuelling speculation that the country’s government will step in with new stimulus measures and could even cut official interest rates. But any stimulus measures are expected to stop short of the massive economic “pump priming” undertaken by the country in 2008-09, when the central government announced a four trillion yuan package.

“Can growth stabilise without a major change of policy stance? We believe it cannot, as tight labour market conditions suggest that potential growth has already dropped to around 7% or below,” analysts at Japanese broker Nomura said in a note. “From a cyclical perspective the cumulative policy tightening since mid-2013 will likely damage investment momentum in coming quarters unless the policy stance loosens.”

While the Chinese government has sought to pursue its long-term policy of reforming the country’s economy and shifting it away from investment-led growth, Nomura said it could turn back to its short-term goals if, as expected, the growth target for this year is not reached. China set a growth target of 7.5% this year, the same level of economic expansion it had targeted over the past two years. Economists have said that recent data, such as a weakening in manufacturing activity, meant that the government would have loosen fiscal and monetary policies if it wants to met its GDP target.

“When short-term objectives are challenged, the government usually shifts its focus toward promoting growth. We have witnessed this ‘two-step forward, one-step back’ style of policy swings in the past,” the analysts wrote. The latest reading of manufacturing activity, from HSBC’s March preliminary survey, showed that the sector had shrunk for the third-straight month. It also followed a fall in exports and weaker industrial output figures. Some economists have also revised down their outlook for Chinese growth.

Policy levers that the central government looks most likely to pull include cuts to banks’ reserve requirement ratio (RRR) to boost growth amid high overall financing costs. Nomura’s analysts are tipping RRR cuts of 50 basis points in the second-quarter of this year, and further easing of 50 basis points in the third-quarter. The supply of credit through bank loans and total social financing is also expected to rise, while the likelihood of interest rate cuts is increasing, the analysts wrote.

Economists said the recent weakening of the yuan, while seen as being part of the People’s Bank of China’s attempts to punish speculators betting on the continued rise of the renminbi, could also provide some relief to local exporters. At the same time, the weakening of the currency, which analysts believe was through the central bank’s intervention in foreign exchange markets, has lowered domestic interest rates and made funding cheaper for borrowers.

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Morgan Stanley Dismisses Talk of China Minsky Moment (Bloomberg)

Morgan Stanley is sticking to its buy recommendation on Chinese stocks, saying concern that there’ll be a “significant market disruption” in the world’s second-largest economy is overstated. China’s consumption and services are bigger than officially reported, giving the economy more room to cope with slowing productivity growth, the Morgan Stanley analysts said. The government’s reforms and its “formidable” financial resources will help policy makers transform the economy without triggering a debt crisis, the analysts wrote in a report in which they kept their overweight calls on both Chinese and Russian equities.

The economy’s slowdown and rising debt levels pushed the Hang Seng China Enterprise Index (HSCEI), which tracks Chinese firms listed in Hong Kong, into a bear market on March 20. While Morgan Stanley’s analysts said that debate is mounting about whether China is approaching a “Minsky moment,” a term used to explain an asset collapse following the exhaustion of credit expansion, they said they remain bullish. “The apparent deterioration in productivity and diminishing returns to leverage are not as severe as the consensus thinks when one takes into account true activity” in the consumer and service sectors of the economy, Morgan Stanley analysts led by Jonathan Garner wrote in the note.

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China Finds The Credit Habit Hard To Kick (Satyajit Das)

China has had a 35-year addiction to cheap credit. The 2007/2008 global financial crisis and the resulting rare synchronous recessions in the developed world exposed China’s economy, especially its export sectors, to a large external demand shock – slowing growth. The recovery has been driven by a significant expansion in credit (known as TSF – total social financing). Post-crisis, new lending by Chinese banks has been consistently about 30% or more of GDP. About 90% of this lending was directed towards investment in building, plant, machinery and infrastructure, especially by state-owned enterprises.

According to the World Bank, almost all of China’s growth since 2008 has come from “government-influenced expenditure”. This expansion led to a rapid increase in the level of debt. Most estimates now put Chinese government (including local government), corporate and household debt at about 200-250% of GDP, up from about 140-150% in 2008. According to a 2013 report by China’s National Audit Office, Chinese government debt, including local government debt, is about 55% of GDP –about $5 trillion (£3 trillion) – an increase of about 60% from 2010.

But the official Chinese government debt figure may not be complete, as it may exclude debts from local governments and central departments outside the finance ministry. If these items are included, China’s government debt including contingent liabilities would be higher, perhaps 90% of GDP. There has been a parallel increase in private sector debt. Corporate debt has increased sharply, approaching 150% of GDP. Traditionally considered compulsive savers, Chinese households have increased borrowing levels from about 20-30% to 40-50% of GDP. Inflation has driven increases in household borrowing, with sharply higher home prices requiring greater borrowings and devaluation of purchasing power encouraging debt-fuelled consumption.

China’s overall debt is high, especially when benchmarked against comparable emerging markets. Many Asian emerging markets had lower debt and higher per capita GDP before the Asian monetary crisis of 1997/1998. The rapid rate of increase in debt is also seriously concerning. An increase in debt of about 30% of GDP in five or less years is regarded as problematic. Several economies – Japan in the late 1980s, South Korea in the 1990s, not to mention the US and UK in the early 2000s – experienced similar rapid growth rates in credit, resulting in serious financial crises.

Another measure is the credit gap – the difference between increases in private sector credit growth and economic output. Research studies have found that 33 countries with credit gaps experienced a subsequent rapid slowdown in growth, typically by at least 50%. In China, the credit gap since 2008 is over 70% of GDP. Chinese credit intensity (the amount of debt needed to create additional economic activity) has increased. China now needs about $3-$5 to generate $1 of additional economic growth, although some economists put it even higher, at $6-$8. This is an increase from the $1-$2 needed for each dollar of growth 8 to 10 years ago.

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Hong Kong’s Soaring Bank Exposure to China Sparks Credit Concerns (Reuters)

In just a few years, Hong Kong banks have ramped up lending to China from near zero to $430 billion, fueling concerns about their credit exposure to the mainland at a time when sliding economic growth and defaults are making investors nervous. Even a modest increase in non-performing loans would have a significant impact on Hong Kong bank profits, suggesting the sector will be a sensitive indicator of China’s debt markets in the year ahead.

A landmark domestic bond default earlier this month and headlines of bankruptcies – highlighted last week by Zhejiang Xingrun Real Estate Co – have underscored concerns that an unprecedented surge in company debt in China is now showing signs of unraveling. “The quality of these loans extended by Hong Kong banks to Chinese companies has not been tested,” said Mirza Baig, head of foreign exchange and interest rate strategy at BNP Paribas in Singapore. “That is a concern in the backdrop of the rapid rise in exposure.”

Foreign bank claims on China hit $1 trillion last year, up from nearly zero 10 years ago, Bank of International Settlements data shows. The biggest portion of that is provided by Hong Kong, according to analyst estimates of the BIS data. The $430 billion in loans outstanding represents 165% of Hong Kong’s GDP, figures in Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) reports show.

Data from the HKMA, the city’s de-facto central bank, showed a similar astonishing rise. By the end of 2013, Hong Kong banks’ net claims on China as a percentage of their total loan book was nearing 40 percent, compared with zero in 2010. The rival financial center of Singapore has ramped up its China loans as well, but its exposure is the equivalent of 15% of its GDP, figures from its monetary authority show.

Local banks in both these centers have taken over lending that foreign banks once dominated, drawn by cheap funding rates following the global financial crisis, a voracious appetite from Chinese borrowers and healthy growth in the world’s second-biggest economy.

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Bank of Japan Decision on Extra Easing Possible in May (Bloomberg)

The Bank of Japan could decide as soon as mid-May whether further stimulus is needed to keep inflation on track for its 2% target after a sales-tax bump next month, an adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said. “If the BOJ judges that the economy has fallen off its projected path, it will act appropriately and flexibly, and further easing is possible,” Etsuro Honda said in an interview at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo yesterday. “I believe the BOJ will act if it sees changes in price expectations.”

While Honda, 59, said he’s become more confident the economy will withstand the higher levy as inflation expectations take root and price gains accelerate, the first indications of the extent of the blow will appear in May. Honda said he sees “considerable” room for the BOJ to boost the pace it buys exchange-traded funds should it deem more stimulus is needed. The economy is forecast to contract an annualized 3.5% in the three months from April, when the sales levy will rise to 8% from 5%. Abe is lifting the tax in an effort to rein in the world’s biggest debt burden, even as he tries to end 15 years of deflation with fiscal and monetary stimulus and steps to boost private-sector growth.

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Bundesbank Opens The Door To QE Blitz (AEP)

The last bastion is tumbling. Even the venerable Bundesbank is edging crablike towards quantitative easing. It seems that tumbling inflation in Germany itself has at last shaken the monetary priesthood out of its ideological certainties. Or put another way, the Pfennig has dropped that euroland is just one Chinese shock away from a deflation trap, an outcome that would play havoc with the debt dynamics of southern Europe, render the euro unworkable, and ultimately inflict massive damage on Germany.

Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann was not exactly panting for QE in comments to Market News published this morning, it has to be said, but the tone marks a clear shift in policy. “The unconventional measures under consideration are largely uncharted territory. This means that we need a discussion about their effectiveness and also about their costs and sideeffects”, he said. “This does not mean that a QE programme is generally out of the question. But we have to ensure that the prohibition of monetary financing is respected”.

At least we can put to rest the bogus argument that EU Treaty law (Article 123) prohibits QE by the European Central Bank. This claim was always a smokescreen. Bond purchases are what used to be known as open market operations, a tool of central banks dating back into the mist of monetary history. Purchasing bonds across the board (not just the bonds of insolvent states) is a plain vanilla liquidity management tool.

Mr Weidmann says he prefers negative interest rates as the first resort. This is an admission that the ECB is alarmed by the strength of the euro as it hovers near the pain barrier of $1.40, since negative rates are a sure-fire way to drive down the currency. “If you wanted to counter the consequences of a strong appreciation of the euro for the inflation outlook, negative rates would, however, appear to be a more appropriate measure than others”, he said. Quite so.

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ECB Bank Stress Tests Hit Legal Blind Spot (BusinessWeek)

The European Central Bank will soon find out how hard it can be to keep a secret. The ECB’s plan to keep its health check on euro-area lenders under wraps until the completion of a stress test in October could be undermined by national rules requiring disclosure far sooner. Domestic regulators may order banks to tap the market immediately if an Asset Quality Review ending in July shows they need more capital, according to law firms including Clifford Chance LLP.

The risk is that market volatility could rise if multiple announcements cast doubt on the ECB’s control of a process designed to clean up balance sheets. Officials from the 128 lenders in the appraisal are meeting supervisory staff in Frankfurt today for an update on the Comprehensive Assessment, which includes both the AQR and the stress test. The ECB has said the exam will be more credible than previous efforts to restore trust to the financial system.

“This is the biggest blind spot in the ECB’s program,” said Nicolas Veron, a fellow at the Bruegel institute in Brussels and the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “The banks are still subject to national law, and it’s not clear to me that the ECB had fully integrated this into their planning for the Comprehensive Assessment. They don’t seem to have a very clear stance.” The ECB has said the AQR and stress test are related stages in a single exercise and there will be no partial reporting of results before the process finishes in October. The central bank will become the euro area’s bank supervisor on Nov. 4.

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Mirage of the ‘new economy’ (Caixin)

The current Internet boom, centered around social networking, e-commerce and online gaming, has not produced a significant productivity boost for the economy and likely will not in the future. The boom is mostly about redistributing existing demand from offline to online. As most hot businesses have gained market share with cheap financing and without profit, it is doubtful that the demand re-slicing is entirely due to a more efficient channel of distribution. Cheap financing, i.e., a liquidity bubble, may have been the main engine for the Internet boom.

The bubble may not inflict much damage on its own because the amount of financing is small relative to the overall size of investment in the global economy. The danger to China is that it offers false hope that it can revive the economy. The false hope becomes an excuse not to implement painful structural reforms. If one envisions a rising tide to lift the economy ahead, where is the incentive to reform?

How a product is sold is insignificant compared to the product itself. Steve Jobs had the iPhone to sell. Whether the phones are sold online or through posh Apple stores is not important. A sustainable economy is based on businesses that make better products at lower costs over time. An economy full of colorful middlemen and no unique or high-value products cannot go far.

China’s only path forward is to increase efficiency on the supply side and shift the savings to the household sector as an increase in real purchasing power. This requires major reductions in government and state-owned enterprise spending, and boosting competition by eliminating government-approved market access. A necessary condition is for the high-yield debt bubble to burst.

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Brazil at risk of recession as S&P downgrades debt to near junk (AEP)

Brazil’s sovereign debt is one step away from junk after Standard & Poor’s downgraded Latin America’s powerhouse economy, prompting a furious reaction from the Brazilian treasury. The rating agency cut Brazil’s debt one notch to BBB-, citing “fiscal slippage”, bad economic management, and one-off tricks that flattered the public accounts. It warned of a widening trade deficit and weak growth for years to come.

Marcelo Carvalho from BNP Paribas said the former darling of the BRICs quartet is staring “down the barrel of a recession”, a viewed echoed on Tuesday by Mark Mobius from Templeton Emerging Markets. The economy escaped recession with a rebound in the fourth quarter but has relapsed this year as punitive borrowing costs exact their toll. Carlyle Group had to inject $67m this month into its Urbplan real estate venture as unsold malls and commercial projects build up in the major cities. Rental prices fell 15% in Sao Paulo last year.

Marcelo Ribera from the hedge fund Pentagono Asset Management in Brazil said the country’s “decade-long bubble” has burst, warning that the real is likely to fall by 40% against the dollar as the excesses are purged from the system. Brazil, Russia, and Turkey are each on the brink of recession after tightening monetary policy to defend their currencies. All three neglected reforms during the boom years and now face much harsher global conditions as the US Federal Reserve turns off the spigot of dollar liquidity.

Brazil’s authorities rejected S&P’s claims as completely “unfounded”, insisting that the country has a primary budget surplus of 1.9% of GDP, “one of the highest in the world”. The downgrade is a harsh blow for President Dilma Rousseff as she prepares to host the World Cup and braces for elections this year, though the government is unlikely to change policy. S&P said Brazil has yet to feel the full impact of a 350 basis point rise in interest rates. Yields are now an eye-watering 13%, or 7% in real terms. This has sucked in a rush of foreign money but at a high economic cost.

Brazil has come down to earth with a thud after the glory days of the commodity boom, when the economy seemed near take-off as the top supplier of iron ore and grains for China. It became a textbook case of the “Dutch disease”, suffering from an overvalued currency that “hollowed out” core industry. Industrial output is barely higher today than in 2008, a picture more like Italy than an Asian tiger.

Neil Shearing from Capital Economics said private sector credit has soared by over 40 percentage points of GDP in a decade, the third most extreme case after China and Thailand. This sort of increase is often the precursor for banking crises in emerging markets. “The lessons from history are ominous. The fall-out tends to be especially painful when lending is funded by borrowing from overseas and denominated in foreign currencies”, he said. “This is a particularly toxic combination since, when the bubble bursts, investors tend to pull the plug, exchange rates collapse and the local currency cost of servicing debt jumps. This in turn causes default rates to soar and the economic downturn to deepen.”

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Ukraine Only Has Enough Gasoline For A Month (Zero Hedge)

Nothing to see here, move along. While it appears the Russians are willing to pay the price of modest sanctions from the west to ‘liberate’ their fellow countrymen, the fallout from further tension with Ukraine could “boomerang” once again on the divided nation. As RBC Ukraine reports, the Minister of Energy and Coal Industry Yuriy Prodan said at a press conference today that “oil reserves will last for 28-29 days” in Ukraine. After that, the negotiation begins as Ukraine already owes billions for previously delivered gas – as Ukraine’s storage levels more than halved in the last 3 months.

Via RBC Ukraine,

Stocks of petroleum products in Ukraine will last for 28-29 days, said at today’s press conference, the Minister of Energy and Coal Industry Yuriy Prodan. “Speaking on the situation with oil, then ensure there is quite stable. Today oil reserves will last for 28-29 days,” – he said, the ” RBC-Ukraine . ”

At the same time, the Minister noted the significant risk reduction in the supply and rising gas prices. As of March 25, 2014 in Ukrainian underground gas storage facilities located 7 billion cubic meters of gas. “Up there can be about 2 billion is not the quantity that scares experts, it would be possible to hold only a week. It all depends on what kind of regime will be whether we can take about 20 million cubic meters. Meters of gas to reverse and so on “- said Prodan.

According to the company “Ukrtransgaz” abnormally warm winter 2013 2014 has reduced gas extraction from underground storage by an average of 37% compared to the same period last year: it was 60 million cubic meters per day. In late December 2013. occupied at the time the post of Minister of Energy and Coal Industry of Edward Stawicki reported that Ukrainian gas reserves in underground storage is 16.5 billion cubic meters.

We suspect any further military intervention will only crimp this supply even faster.

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Lithuania Pleads For US Gas Exports To Counter Russia (BBC)

Lithuania’s energy minister has called on the US Senate to speed up the export of natural gas to Europe. Jaroslav Neverovic said that Lithuania was being forced to pay a “political price” for being entirely dependent on Russian gas supplies. The crisis in Ukraine has led to calls for the US to ease its current restrictions on gas exports. Some analysts have suggested that doing so would help challenge Russia’s dominance in the sector.

In his statement to a US Senate committee, Mr Neverovic urged members to do everything within their power to release natural gas resources “into the world market”. “A law enacted in your country some 75 years ago denies us access to your abundant and affordably priced energy resources,” he said. The energy minister said customers in Lithuania were having to pay 30% more for natural gas than other European nations, because they were “beholden to a monopolistic supplier.” “This is not just unfair,” said Mr Neverovic. “This is abuse of monopolist position.”

The crisis in Ukraine has seen the US and European Union impose sanctions targeting members of the Russian political elite. They have had their European and US assets frozen, and travel bans have been put in place to restrict their movements. However, some analysts have argued that these moves are symbolic and any sanctions would only work if they impacted the wider Russian economy.

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Milk Row Threatens To Sour Greece’s Latest Bailout Deal (Reuters)

Greece’s government risks another rebellion over bailout terms this week after milk producers lobbied against a move to free up prices as part of efforts to make the economy more competitive. The country’s international lenders want it to ditch rules, such as limiting the shelf life of fresh milk to five days, that effectively deter importers. But Greek dairy producers and lawmakers representing farming constituencies are fighting the move to call milk up to 11 days old ‘fresh’ – the latest in a long line of last-minute disruptions to Greece’s bailout reviews with the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

Six lawmakers from within the ruling coalition – three from Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s New Democracy party and three from the Socialist PASOK – have opposed the proposal that will be submitted to parliament on Friday as part of an omnibus reform bill that Greece must pass to secure bailout aid. If they vote against it, Samaras and PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos could be forced to expel them, further reducing the government’s slim majority of just 153 seats in the 300-seat assembly.

The bill – which will pave for the way for up to 10 billion euros ($14 billion) of aid – is expected to pass after last-minute wrangling, but the row has highlighted how powerfullobbies can undermine the country’s bailout lifeline. “You don’t need to be an expert to understand that extending the shelf life is aimed at allowing milk from abroad to be labelled as fresh,” PASOK lawmaker Mihalis Kassis told Greek radio at the weekend. “If that’s a prerequisite by the (EU/IMF) troika then we deserve what we get.”

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U.S. Farmers Mark Spring by Planting GMO Corn Banned in China (Bloomberg)

Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. and Bunge Ltd. , two of the world’s largest grain traders, are facing a new obstacle in their quest to expand corn exports to China – U.S. farmers. Six months after China began rejecting shipments of a genetically modified corn, Bunge says it won’t take deliveries of the variety developed by Switzerland’s Syngenta AG. ADM will test the corn and may reject it as well. Even so, farmers will soon begin planting it this spring, more interested in its high yield for the domestic market than for exports.

Exporters and farmers going in two different directions on GMO corn underscores a new set of challenges faced by international agricultural commodity traders. Even as demand continues to grow in line with the global population, China and other countries have been slower than the U.S. to approve new types of crops amid concerns about food safety and threats to biodiversity from genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. China’s curbs on some modified corn threaten to block millions of tons of imports and in so doing cut into the profits of international trading houses.

“It’s a significant issue for major North American traders,” said Andrew Russell, a New York-based analyst for Macquarie Group who recommends buying ADM and Bunge shares. “Anything that puts Chinese growth potential at risk is a significant issue.” Traders rerouting shipments originally destined for China to other markets may lose $30 to $50 a ton, said Tim Burrack, an Iowa corn and soybean farmer who’s also the former chairman of the U.S. Grains Council’s trade committee.

China may also be motivated by wanting to protect domestic corn prices after a record harvest, said Burrack, 62. “When China needs corn imports, they will ramp up the approval process.” White Plains, New York-based Bunge isn’t buying the Syngenta GMO corn, an insect-repelling variety called Agrisure Viptera, or another modified variety from the Swiss company called Agrisure Duracade. ADM, the world’s largest corn processor, said in a Feb. 21 statement it won’t accept Duracade until the GMO is approved by China and other major importers. And the company remains uncommitted to Viptera.

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The Priciest Baseball Park in the Whole Atlantic Ocean (Bloomberg)

Something odd happens to the neighborhood around Marlins Park, Miami’s new $650 million baseball stadium, when you overlay 21st-century sea-level rise projections. It sinks below the waterline. It’s a shame. The park has a retractable, cloud-white roof to shield players and spectators from the summer sun. It recycles, sips energy and water, and is plugged into public transit. It has 27 flood gates, and was built one foot higher than floods are supposed to reach in once-in-500-year storms. The total, publicly financed package, with debt servicing, could cost Miami $2.4 billion by 2049.

If the Atlantic inches in as projected, eventually it might not matter how many flood gates there are. Oceans are swelling as they absorb heat, and ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica have been melting faster since the early 1990s. Sea-level rise estimates for later this century have been revised upward, to a global average of a foot and a half to three feet by 2100, without aggressive carbon-cutting, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

South Florida is a national leader in understanding the changing world. But politics and even policy change much more quickly than bureaucracy. That makes Marlins Park a symbol for cities in transition, a future relic from a time when the people who could build really cool things worked more or less independently from the people who monitored how fast the seas were rising.

The same potential problem exists wherever cities are laying down infrastructure expected to last into the second half of the century. Boston’s “Big Dig” highway project, a generation in the making, wasn’t driven by late 21st-century storm surge considerations. Oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico have never been built with permanent sea-level rise in mind. Another newish baseball stadium, Nationals Park, stands yards from Washington’s Anacostia River. Marlins Park checked enough LEED boxes to make it “the most sustainable stadium in Major League Baseball,” according to the team’s website.

Green building standards became common before a city’s ability to bounce back from large-scale shocks, or resilience, surfaced as a popular idea. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) developed its widely used LEED building practices to promote efficiency in the use of energy, water and materials, and other practices related to construction, safety and maintenance; not necessarily to help people live through some of the charms that might await us in a hotter world — extreme heat, stronger storms and encroaching seas, to name three.

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IPCC Report Downplays Economic Impacts Of Climate Change (SMH)

An upcoming United Nations report on climate change has been altered after the expert review stage, with changes added that downplay the economic impacts of a warming planet, according to one of the reviewers. Bob Ward, an expert reviewer for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, also said alterations to the economics chapter of the draft report sent to governments included an assessment of a paper by the chapter’s own convening lead author Richard Tol that contained at least one error.

An added section also included a line likely to be hotly contested if it survives a final review by IPCC delegates gathered this week in Yokohama, Japan, to approve the Working Group II report: “Estimates agree on the size of the impact (small relative to economic growth) but disagree on the sign.” Mr Ward said disagreement over whether the sign of climate change’s economic impact is positive or negative “is patently not supported by the evidence presented”.

Of the data assessed, only one study out of about 18 suggests there would be a significant positive impact on gross domestic product from global warming, Mr Ward told the IPCC in an email seen by Fairfax Media. Earlier analysis of economic costs by one of the assessed papers – by Professor Tol – also “excluded a long list of important impacts, including those relating to recreation, tourism, extreme weather, fisheries, construction, transport, energy supply and morbidity,” said Mr Ward, who is also a policy director at the London School of Economics.

Professor Tol, who is a professor at University of Sussex in the UK, said Mr Ward’s complaints were reviewed “and found that most of them were unfounded”. One typo was identified and a dropped minus sign was re-instated. “Both errors have been corrected,” Professor Tol said. In a paper published last year, Professor Tol stated that “the impact of a century of climate change is roughly equivalent to a year’s growth in the global economy,” and that “carbon dioxide emissions are probably a negative externality”.

Professor Tol is a member of the academic advisory council for The Global Warming Policy Foundation, a climate change sceptic think tank founded by the UK’s Lord Lawson. The council also includes prominent Australian sceptics Bob Carter and Ian Plimer, according to its website. Unless resolved in the final week, a row over the contents of UN report may cast a cloud over some of its major findings, which include the prospect of widespread social dislocation of climate change and big impacts for eco-systems such as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

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Climate Change: The Debate Is About To Change Radically (Telegraph)

The latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is due out next week. If the leaked draft is reflected in the published report, it will constitute the formal moving on of the debate from the past, futile focus upon “mitigation” to a new debate about resilience and adaptation.

The new report will apparently tell us that the global GDP costs of an expected global average temperature increase of 2.5  degrees Celsius over the 21st century will be between 0.2 and 2%. To place that in context, the well-known Stern Review of 2006 estimated the costs as 5-20% of GDP. Stern estimates the costs of his recommended policies for mitigating climate change at 2% of GDP – and his estimates are widely regarded as relatively optimistic (others estimate mitigation costs as high as 10% of global GDP).

Achieving material mitigation, at a cost of 2% and more of global GDP, would require international co-ordination that we have known since the failure of the Copenhagen conference on climate change simply was not going to happen. Even if it did happen, and were conducted optimally, it would mitigate only a fraction of the total rise, and might create its own risks. And to add to all this, now we are told that the cost might be as low as 0.2% of GDP. At a 2.4% annual GDP growth rate, the global economy increases 0.2% every month.

So the mitigation deal has become this: Accept enormous inconvenience, placing authoritarian control into the hands of global agencies, at huge costs that in some cases exceed 17 times the benefits even on the Government’s own evaluation criteria, with a global cost of 2% of GDP at the low end and the risk that the cost will be vastly greater, and do all of this for an entire century, and then maybe – just maybe – we might save between one and ten months of global GDP growth. Can anyone seriously claim, with a straight face, that that should be regarded as an attractive deal or that the public is suffering from a psychological disorder if it resists mitigation policies?

The 2014 Budget recognised reality, with the Government now introducing special measures to keep energy prices low for energy intensive firms – abandoning what little pretence remained that it was attempting to prevent climate change by limiting energy use so as to limit CO2 emissions. The new IPCC report – though it remains as robust as ever in saying that there will be climate change and its effects will be material (points that relatively few mitigation policy sceptics deny) – has a marked change of focus from the 2007 report.

Whereas previously the IPCC emphasised the effects climate change could have if not prevented, now the focus has moved on to how to make economies and societies resilient and to adapt to warming now considered inevitable. Climate exceptionalism – the notion that climate change is a challenge of a different order from, say, recessions or social inclusion or female education or many other important global policy goals – is to be down played. Instead, the new report emphasised that adapting to climate change is one of many challenges that policymakers will face but should have its proper place alongside other policies.

Quite so. It has been known since the late 1970s that there would be material warming during the 21st century and we will need to adapt to it. At present, though, in the UK we still carry the legacy of a panoply of enormously expensive but futile policies that were designed to be pieces of a global effort to mitigate that is just not going to happen. Our first step in adapting to climate change should be to accept that we aren’t going to mitigate it. We’re going to have to adapt. That doesn’t mean there might not be the odd mitigation-type policy, around the edges, that is cheap and feasible and worthwhile. But it does mean that the grandiloquent schemes for preventing climate change should go. Their day is done. Even the IPCC – albeit implicitly – sees that now.

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Global warming poses risks, but also opportunities: IPCC (AP)

Along with the enormous risks global warming poses for humanity are opportunities to improve public health and build a better world, scientists gathered in Yokohama for a climate change conference said Tuesday. The hundreds of scientists from 100 countries meeting in this Japanese port city are putting finishing touches on a massive report emphasizing the gravity of the threat the changing climate poses for communities from the polar regions to the tropics.

“Although it focuses on a whole analytical and sometimes depressing view of the challenges we face, it also looks at the opportunities we face,” said Christopher B. Field, the co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “This can not only help us to deal with climate change but ultimately build a better world.”

Japan’s awareness of the severity of climate change has been driven home by record temperatures of over 40 C , and in Yokohama, by unusually heavy snows this winter, said the environment minister, Nobuteru Ishihara.

Japan plans to release an adaptation plan of its own by the summer of 2015 that would focus on a more “eco-friendly lifestyle,” he said. That includes improvements in energy efficiency ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games.

“We aim to take full environmental consideration so that the Tokyo Games will be the ‘environmental Olympics,’” Ishihara said.

Japan is struggling to rein in its own emissions of greenhouse gases after it shut down its nuclear plants following the disaster in Fukushima after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Increased burning of natural gas, coal and oil to compensate for lost generating capacity have undone much of the progress the country had made in cutting carbon emissions.

While each region faces its own mix of challenges, research conducted by thousands of scientists around the world underscores the need for urgent measures, J. Lengoasa, deputy head of the World Meteorological Organization, said in a recorded message to Tuesday’s meeting.

He said countries in Africa already spend $7 billion to $15 billion a year on climate adaptation. “Time is running out. We must take action,” he said. “It is our obligation and our duty to inform the world of the prospects and risks that lie ahead.”

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