May 122016
 
 May 12, 2016  Posted by at 8:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Betsy Ross house, Philadelphia. Birthplace of Old Glory 1900

The Next US President Will Face A Recession (BBG)
America’s Middle Class Meltdown (FT)
‘Fed Doesn’t Get It About Global Excess Supply’ (MW)
The New Kings Of Wall Street (Forbes)
Italy Must Choose Between The Euro And Its Own Economic Survival (AEP)
Hong Kong Property Market in Free Fall: Kyle Bass (BBG)
China Eyes $724 Billion Of Transport Investment Over Next Three Years (R.)
Defying Debt Fears, China Bets On Infrastructure, Property (R.)
Budweiser’s ‘America’ No Longer Exists (MW)
US Anti-Poverty Campaigner Is Worried About Australia (DL)
Berlin Should Be Careful What It Wishes For (FT)
EU Parliament Raises the Rhetoric Over Turkey’s Visa-Waiver Bid (BBG)
European Rights Watchdog Complains About Greek Refugee Camps Conditions (R.)

Look what the Fed bought you! “The 83-month-old expansion is already the fourth-longest in more than 150 years..”

The Next US President Will Face A Recession (BBG)

Talk about a poisoned chalice. No matter who is elected to the White House in November, the next president will probably face a recession. The 83-month-old expansion is already the fourth-longest in more than 150 years and starting to show some signs of aging as corporate profits peak and wage pressures build. It also remains vulnerable to a shock because growth has been so feeble, averaging just about 2% since the last downturn ended in June 2009. “If the next president is not going to have a recession, it will be a U.S. record,” said Gad Levanon, chief economist for North America at the Conference Board in New York. “The longest expansion we ever had was 10 years,” beginning in 1991.

The history of cyclical fluctuations suggests that the “odds are significantly better than 50-50 that we will have a recession within the next three years,” according to former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers. Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist for JPMorgan Chase & Co. in New York, puts the probability of a downturn during that time frame at about two in three. The U.S. doesn’t look all that well-equipped to handle a contraction should one occur during the next president’s term, former Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Alan Blinder said. Monetary policy is stretched near its limit while fiscal policy is hamstrung by ideological battles.

This wouldn’t be the first time that a new president was forced to tackle a contraction in GDP. The nation was in the midst of its deepest slump since the Great Depression when Barack Obama took office on January 20, 2009. His predecessor, George W. Bush, started his tenure as president in 2001 with the economy about to be mired in a downturn as well, albeit a much milder one than greeted Obama. The biggest near-term threat comes from abroad. Former IMF official Desmond Lachman said a June 23 vote by the U.K. to leave the European Union, a steeper-than-anticipated Chinese slowdown and a renewed recession in Japan are among potential developments that could upend financial markets and the global economy in the coming months. “There’s a non-negligible risk that by the time the next president takes office in January you would have the world in a pretty bad place,” said Lachman, who put the odds of that happening at 30% to 40%.

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A strange combo of how great Raleigh is and how decrepit at the same time. ‘Remarkable success story’ blah blah. The FT blows up America’s economic myths, but it does so reluctantly.

America’s Middle Class Meltdown (FT)

The erosion of America’s middle class and the resulting voter frustration that has helped fuel the presidential campaigns of Republican Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, the populist Democratic senator from Vermont, is often portrayed as a phenomenon brought about by the collapse of well-paying manufacturing jobs over the past three decades thanks to increased automation and competition from China. But a new study by the non-partisan Pew Research Center, shared with the Financial Times, points to just how widespread the damage to America’s middle has been and how divided the country’s class structures are becoming. Median incomes fell in four-fifths of the 229 metropolitan areas studied by Pew, with the share of middle-income adults decreasing in 203 areas.

At the same time the portion of lower-income adults rose in 160 metropolitan areas between 1999 and 2014 while the share of upper-income households rose in 172. Of the metropolitan areas analysed by Pew, none saw faster population growth this century than Raleigh. Together with neighbouring Durham and the Research Triangle Park, it is celebrated as an example of how cities can transform themselves into sparky science and technology-driven hubs of innovation, or key outposts for America’s new “knowledge economy”. “It is one of the most remarkable success stories of the last 20 years, or even 30 years,” says Enrico Moretti, a University of California, Berkeley, economist and author of The New Geography of Jobs.

[..] But while Raleigh’s population continues to grow, the new data from Pew shows that the robust population growth has not necessarily translated into higher incomes for its new residents. The benefits of the boom have been shared unequally. The inflation-adjusted annual median income for a household of three in Raleigh fell by more than $10,000 to $74,283 in 2014 from $85,784 in 1999, even as its population grew by two-thirds to more than 1.3m people from just under 800,000. More surprisingly, the only income group to grow as a share of the population was its poorest. In 1999 one in five residents of the metropolitan area lived in households making two-thirds or less of the median income. By 2014 that figure had grown to one in four.

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“..the Forecaster of the Month contest for April..”? Geez, that’s for real? But the point made is relevant, even if I’m not convinced the Fed ‘doesn’t get it’.

‘Fed Doesn’t Get It About Global Excess Supply’ (MW)

The Federal Reserve is blowing it because it thinks the economy could be overheating, but the real problem is excess supply and deflationary pressure, says Steven Ricchiuto, chief economist for Mizuho Securities USA and the winner of the Forecaster of the Month contest for April. “The dynamics of supply and demand have shifted,” Ricchiuto said in an interview. “I don’t think they get it yet,” he said of the Fed. The central bank is trying to manage the economy as if excess demand were still the major problem it was in the 1970s and 1980s. But today’s global economy suffers from a different imbalance, Ricchiuto says: Excess supply. When excess demand is the normal state of the economy, then inflation is the perennial problem.

But if the economy is stuck in a rut of excess supply, then slow growth and deflation will persist. “We should be immunizing the nation against deflation,” Ricchiuto said. But, instead, the Fed still seems to be living in the 1970s, worried that the unemployment rate will go too low and that the economy will overheat. That’s why the Fed “blew it in December” when it raised interest rates. The myopic focus on unemployment is misguided, in Ricchiuto’s view. Almost all of the economic data on the production side of the economy (such as industrial output, business sales and gross domestic product) show a tepid economy. But the labor market is doing great, comparatively. The Fed reacts to the strong job news, but ignores the rest of the story. If the Fed cared about the supply side of the economy, it would see that idle resources are pulling the economy toward stagnation and deflation.

Of course, excess supply is a global problem, not just in the U.S. Other economies are trying to reduce their excess supply the quickest way they can: Devaluing their currency in hopes that they can push the problem of excess capacity onto the country with the strongest currency. These beggar-thy-neighbor policies don’t really solve the problem, at least not quickly. Everybody around the world needs to figure out how to increase domestic demand to bring supply and demand back into balance, he said. Although the Fed doesn’t get it, many voters do, and so do candidates like Bernie Sanders, Ricchiuto said. “People are recognizing deep, fundamental flaws” in the economy. They are clamoring for policies such as more spending on infrastructure, measures to reduce the concentration of wealth, and tax reform.

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In a nutshell: Banks are regulated. Blackstone is not.

The New Kings Of Wall Street (Forbes)

In March 2015 Stephen Schwarzman got a telephone call from JPMorgan vice chairman Jimmy Lee, one of Wall Street’s legendary power brokers. Lee, who died three months later, was helping General Electric unload $30 billion in commercial real estate assets lingering on its books. GE boss Jeffrey Immelt was uncomfortable with the massive financial services business his predecessor, Jack Welch, had slowly built up. During the 2008 meltdown, frozen credit markets put GE Capital’s $101 billion in commercial paper funding in peril, bringing the mighty industrial conglomerate to its knees. Lee told Schwarzman that the real estate sale was the keystone to Immelt’s reinvention plan for the 123-year-old company.

The hang-up: finding a single buyer for a portfolio that included financing for everything from Mexican warehouses to Parisian office buildings to commercial mortgages in Australia. The billions in real estate and commercial mortgages were scattered across six countries, comprising all sorts of risks. Lee, Immelt and GE Capital boss Keith Sherin knew that Blackstone Group was the only firm with three key traits: the global reach to understand all the different assets, the resources to close a deal quickly and the financial firepower to swallow the entire package. The first call went to Blackstone’s global real estate chief, Jonathan Gray, who quickly darted over to GE’s 30 Rockefeller Center offices in Manhattan.

There Sherin offered Blackstone an exclusive look for three weeks–a minuscule period of time given the scope of the assets, but also a huge opportunity. Gray agreed, and before even getting off the elevator, he was marshaling an army of 100 Blackstone real estate professionals to tear through GE Capital’s portfolio. Four weeks later, on Apr. 10, Immelt announced that Blackstone would purchase $14 billion of GE’s assets, with Wells Fargo WFC -0.65% taking $9 billion of GE’s commercial real estate mortgages. For Immelt, Blackstone was a savior. GE’s languishing stock jumped 11% on the news. It was an even better transaction for Blackstone. The private equity firm had the inside track and thus more control over the deal terms and price, which was ultimately discounted.

“It was a perfect deal for us,” Schwarzman says. “No one else in the world is set up to buy both equity assets and real estate debt on a global basis.” Indeed, Blackstone’s massive 2015 purchase, executed flawlessly, announced to the world that the bankers at JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs–who had been the premier financiers for many decades–were no longer the kings of Wall Street. There was a new pecking order that put private equity firms on top–with Blackstone at the apex and its chairman and chief executive, Schwarzman, as the most powerful banker on the planet.

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All that’s missing is a spark to start the fire.

Italy Must Choose Between The Euro And Its Own Economic Survival (AEP)

Italy is running out of economic time. Seven years into an ageing global expansion, the country is still stuck in debt-deflation and still grappling with a banking crisis that it cannot combat within the paralyzing constraints of monetary union. “We have lost nine %age points of GDP since the peak of the crisis, and a quarter of our industrial production,” says Ignazio Visco, the rueful governor of the Banca d’Italia. Each year Rome hopefully pencils in a fall in the ratio of public debt to GDP, and each year the ratio rises. The reason is always the same. Deflationary conditions prevent nominal GDP rising fast enough to outgrow the debt. The putative savings from drastic fiscal austerity – cuts in public investment – were overwhelmed by the crushing arithmetic of the ‘denominator effect’. Debt was 121pc in 2011, 123pc in 2012, 129pc in 2013.

It came close to levelling out last year at 132.7pc, helped by the tailwinds of a cheap euro, cheap oil, and Mario Draghi’s fairy dust of quantitative easing. This triple stimulus is already fading before the country escapes the stagnation trap. The IMF expects growth of just 1pc this year. The global window is closing in any case. US wage growth will probably force the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates and wild speculation will certainly force China to rein in its latest credit boom. Italy will enter the next downturn – perhaps early next year – with every macro-economic indicator in worse shape than in 2008, and half the country already near political revolt. “Italy is enormously vulnerable. It has gone through a whole global recovery with no growth,” said Simon Tilford from the Centre for European Reform.

“Core inflation is at dangerously low levels. The government has almost no policy ammunition to fight recession.” Italy needs root-and-branch reform but that is by nature contractionary in the short-run. It is viable only with a blast of investment to cushion the shock, says Mr Tilford, but no such New Deal is on the horizon. Legally, the EU Fiscal Compact obliges Italy to do the exact opposite: to run budget surpluses large enough to cut its debt ratio by 3.6pc of GDP every year for twenty years. Do you laugh or cry? “There is a very real risk that Matteo Renzi will come to the conclusion that his only way to hold on to power is to go into the next election on an openly anti-euro platform. People are being very complacent about the political risks,” said Mr Tilford. Indeed. The latest Ipsos MORI survey shows that 48pc of Italians would vote to leave the EU as well as the euro if given a chance.

The rebel Five Star movement of comedian Beppe Grillo has not faded away, and Mr Grillo is still calling for debt default and a restoration of the Italian lira to break out of the German mercantilist grip (as he sees it). His party leads the national polls at 28pc, and looks poised to take Rome in municipal elections next month. The rising star on the Italian Right, the Northern League’s Matteo Salvini, told me at a forum in Pescara that the euro was “a crime against humanity” – no less – which gives you some idea of where this political debate is going. The official unemployment rate is 11.4pc. That is deceptively low. The European Commission says a further 12pc have dropped out of the data, three times the average EU for discouraged workers.


Italy’s industrial output has fallen back to the levels of the 1980s. It has been catastrophic Credit: St Louis Fed

The youth jobless rate is 65pc in Calabria, 56pc in Sicily, and 53pc in Campania, despite an exodus of 100,000 a year from the Mezzogiorno – often in the direction of London. The research institute SVIMEZ says the birth rate in these former Bourbon territories is the lowest since 1862, when the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in Naples began collecting data. Pauperisation is roughly comparable to that in Greece. Industrial output has dropped by 35pc since 2008, and investment by 59pc. SVIMEZ warns that the downward spiral is turning a cyclical crisis into a “permanent state of underdevelopment”. In short, southern Italy is close to social collapse, and there is precious little that premier Renzi can do about it without reclaiming Italian economic sovereignty.

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“The Chinese credit system, according to Bass, is “one of the biggest macro imbalances the world has ever seen”..”

Hong Kong Property Market in Free Fall: Kyle Bass (BBG)

Kyle Bass, the hedge-fund manager who’s wagering on a slowdown in China’s economy, said Hong Kong’s property market is in “free fall” and the credit expansion in Southeast Asian emerging markets will unravel. “Hong Kong’s in a worse position than it was in prior to the ’97 crisis today,” Bass said at the SkyBridge Alternatives Conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday. He said credit in Asian emerging markets has grown “recklessly,” citing Malaysia and Thailand. Hong Kong property prices have declined and sales are hovering near a 25-year low as the city grapples with the repercussions of a slowing Chinese economy. Home prices have dropped about 13% from a peak in September, according to data compiled by Centaline Property Agency.

The last major housing crash in the former British colony saw prices tumble almost 50% in the 12 months from October 1997. They eventually bottomed in mid-2003 when the city was swept up by the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic and have almost quadrupled since then. Bass, famed for betting against U.S. subprime mortgages prior to the housing crash, is predicting losses for China’s banks and raising money to start a dedicated fund for bets in the nation. He said last week at a conference that investors putting money in Asia should ask themselves if they can handle 30% to 40% writedowns in Chinese investments.

“China may be able to not tell the truth about specific output levels, or GDP figures – they might be able to fudge those numbers for a while,” Bass said at a panel discussion, moderated by Bloomberg TV’s Erik Schatzker. “But their trading partners kind of tell the truth, and you’re already seeing what’s happening in their primary trading partners.” The Chinese credit system, according to Bass, is “one of the biggest macro imbalances the world has ever seen.” The fund manager said China is already experiencing a “hard landing as we speak.” He said he isn’t a “permanent bear” on China, instead describing himself as a pragmatist.

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In lieu of welfare?! BTW, where will they borrow the money?

China Eyes $724 Billion Of Transport Investment Over Next Three Years (R.)

China will invest around 4.7 trillion yuan ($724 billion) in transport infrastructure projects over the next three years, the country’s transport ministry said in an article posted on its website late on Wednesday. The 2016-2018 plan from China’s Ministry of Transport and National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) will see the country push forward 303 key transportation projects including railways, highways, waterways, airports and urban rail, it said. The investment splurge underlines China’s reliance on high-levels of public sector spending, credited by economists as being behind recent signs of improvement in the country’s economy, but also as creating a risk as debt levels rise.

The article, posted on the Ministry of Transport’s website, said the investment plan would improve the country’s high-speed transport networks and inter-city links to meet the demands of China’s wider economic and social development. China’s first quarter investment in infrastructure surged almost 20%, as the government looks to transport-related sectors to help support wider economic growth. The official Xinhua news agency reported earlier this month that China will invest around $12 billion this year in building aviation infrastructure.

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And yes, this is where they’ll borrow, and that means shadow banks: “..Beijing has given local governments its blessings to raise funds in the bond market, much of it through local government financing vehicles (LGFVs) that skirt official spending limits..”

Defying Debt Fears, China Bets On Infrastructure, Property (R.)

Local governments across China are binging on debt again to pump-prime their slack economies. But this time round, they are not wasting money propping up zombie factories or loss-making steel plants. Investment in industries hit by chronic overcapacity is drying up quickly. Investment in mining tumbled 18% in the first quarter from a year earlier, the most since at least the second quarter of 2004, while investment in manufacturing grew just 6%, the slowest in the same period, according to the latest data from the National Bureau of Statistics. In recent years, miners and manufacturers had tapped easy-to-access bank credit and government subsidies to fire up production even as demand began to wilt.

In a landmark move, Beijing has ordered the closure of debt-ridden zombie firms as its policy priority for 2016. In contrast, first-quarter investment in infrastructure and real estate surged 19.6% and 6.2%, respectively. The numbers reflect the government’s strategy of re-allocating capital to other engines of the economy, and in turn, providing a little respite to the steel, cement, energy and related services sectors. China will invest $11.9 billion in aviation infrastructure this year alone. It has also approved a 27.4 billion yuan high-speed rail project linking Beijing’s new airport with neighboring Hebei province. In real estate, China’s March home prices rose at the fastest clip in almost two years on the back of a boom in top-tier cities amid easy bank credit.

To boost infrastructure investment, Beijing has given local governments its blessings to raise funds in the bond market, much of it through local government financing vehicles (LGFVs) that skirt official spending limits. LGFVs have raised tens of billions of dollars through bonds in the first quarter, according to brokerage estimates, even as China skeptics warn of another debt bust. The AA-rated LGFV issuances have appealed to investors increasingly unsure of the quality of corporate paper. Overall local government bond issuances in the quarter totaled 955.4 billion yuan, according to investment firm China International Capital. Investment in infrastructure and real estate is more organized and demand-based this time, and will have a better chance of success than more speculative developments in the past, some economists say. But that’s a subject for debate.

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Fun with beer. The kind of stuff to bore your guests with while serving them ‘America’.

Budweiser’s ‘America’ No Longer Exists (MW)

Oh, Budweiser is American all right — just not in the way its cans want you to think it is. Earlier this week, the folks behind Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Budweiser brand announced their intention to relabel Budweiser as “America” from late May through the November presidential election. They’re going to sub in “US” for “AB” in the logo, switch out “King of Beers” for “E Pluribus Unum” and include the entire first stanza of “The Star-Spangled Banner” on the head of the label. Now, you could write this off by saying that A-B takes some sort of patriotic measure with Budweiser cans every year, and you’d be right, but this particular rebrand says more about Budweiser’s American tale than it likely wants to admit. For starters, “Budweiser” traces its origins back to the South Bohemia region of what is now the Czech Republic.

The city of Ceske Budejovice has been brewing beer since the 1400s, and its German-speaking residents — who called it “Budweis” — began brewing Budweiser Bürgerbräu in 1795. They began shipping that beer to the U.S. in 1875, or about a year before a German immigrant named Adolphus Busch made a trip to Bohemia and decided to name his own U.S. beer Budweiser in tribute to the Bohemian brand. Though Anheuser-Busch InBev now owns that brand, another Czech brewery — state-owned Budejovicky Budvar , founded in 1895 — has laid claim to the Budweiser name, saying it is indicative of the city where it was first made. While A-B InBev can call its beer Budweiser in North America, the United Kingdom and much of the rest of the world, Budvar has the rights to the Budweiser name in much of Europe and forces Anheuser-Busch InBev to name its version “Bud.”

When challenged in court, Budvar simply reminds folks of what Adolphus Busch himself testified in a New York courthouse in 1896: “The Budweiser beer is brewed according to the Budweiser Bohemian process. The idea was simply to brew a beer similar in quality, color, flavor and taste to the beer then made at Budweis, or in Bohemia.” If the loss of its identity in Europe didn’t sever Budweiser’s ties to the Old World, the sale of Anheuser-Busch to InBev for $52 billion back in 2008 certainly did. Not only had A-B been taken over by a company with headquarters in Belgium and Brazil — enabling it to engage in the grand American tradition of tax inversion — but cost-cutting measures reduced U.S. jobs, removed German Hallertauer Mittelfrüh hops from the equation and put pressure on suppliers of everything from rice grains to the beechwood used in “beechwood-aged” Budweiser’s touted brewing process.

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“You’re gonna lift the tax-free threshold for rich people. If you lift my tax-free threshold, that changes my life. That means that I get to say to my little girls, ‘Daddy’s not broke this weekend, we can go to the pictures.’ Rich people don’t even notice their tax-free threshold lift.”

US Anti-Poverty Campaigner Is Worried About Australia (DL)

Linda Tirado is in the green room of the ABC on Monday night during the broadcast of Q&A and she is getting madder and madder; and it’s not just from hearing #IStandWithDuncan Duncan Storrar be real in the audience that evening. Tirado, a US anti-poverty campaigner (a job we should all do), is overwhelmed by what Storrar, the 45 year-old Geelong father of two and part-time truck driver had to say about the federal government’s planned tax cuts. “You’re gonna lift the tax-free threshold for rich people. Why don’t I get it? Why do they get it?” he asked assistant treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer.

“I’ve got a disability and a low education – that means I’ve spent my whole life working off a minimum wage. You’re gonna lift the tax-free threshold for rich people. If you lift my tax-free threshold, that changes my life. That means that I get to say to my little girls, ‘Daddy’s not broke this weekend, we can go to the pictures.’ Rich people don’t even notice their tax-free threshold lift.” So, Duncan Storrar is talking, Kelly O’Dwyer is responding and Tirado is sitting in the green room, furious. She’s wondering exactly what’s been happening to Australia over the last 12 months. “Obviously I cannot tell you what a hero he is and what a sacrifice he made. To say something like that in public, to say you don’t make enough to make ends meet, that is incredibly brave.”

But she fears the change she has seen in the Australian political landscape since she was last here. She’s here as part of the Anti-Poverty Network’s conference but is keen to stay a little longer and cover the Australian election from the eyes of a survivor of the US class war. [..] “In America, we have this idea of meritocracy. If you deserve it, you will have it. If you don’t have it, it is because you don’t deserve it and the fact remains 45 million Americans are living in poverty, most of those people are in work. They’re holding down multiple jobs and we call them lazy. By definition anybody who works three jobs is not lazy and if you think so I dare you to get out of your air conditioned office and try it for yourself.”

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“..a disease whose main cause is now Germany’s own current account surplus.”

Berlin Should Be Careful What It Wishes For (FT)

Greece’s parliament this week approved reforms to the country’s creaking pensions and tax system by a larger margin than had been anticipated. But significant differences remain, notably on how large a primary budget surplus should be targeted over the next few years, and above all on the question of debt relief. The disagreement between the IMF and European governments on the latter point has come into the open. On this, the IMF is right and those Europeans who oppose relief are wrong: there can be no solution to the Greek crisis without it. Germany, driven by Wolfgang Schäuble, its finance minister, remains doggedly opposed, but even within the German government, open opposition to Mr Schäuble’s hard line has come recently from Sigmar Gabriel, economics minister.

Chancellor Angela Merkel may be tempted to ignore Mr Gabriel, whose Social Democratic party is polling poorly and whose own future as its leader is in question. German public opinion sees relief as a favour the Greeks have done little or nothing to deserve, and asks whether it will stop with Greece. The issue is not a winning one for a chancellor already under siege. Nevertheless, she would be wise to recognise the stakes for Europe as a whole. Berlin’s tenacious enforcement of austerity across the eurozone mistakes a symptom — the continued difficulties of countries like Greece — for a disease whose main cause is now Germany’s own current account surplus. The Germans have been able to persist in this illusion because without the low interest rates that Germany’s affluent voters now complain about it is doubtful whether the eurozone would have weathered the last six years at all.

Mr Schäuble might believe that the eurozone is safe come what may, even if his hard line leads to Grexit, but saving the euro will count for little if the cost is massive damage to the EU itself. Is this putting it too strongly? Perhaps it was two or three years ago but things have moved on since then. The refugee crisis has mushroomed and openly authoritarian Eurosceptic parties have profited and threaten some of the EU’s core values and principles. Euclid Tsakalotos, the Greek finance minister, warned his European counterparts recently of turning the country into a “failed state”. Even though some of his frustrated partners might think it already is, he is right: things could get much worse. It is not just about the refugee crisis although that is one factor.

There is a good deal of wishful thinking right now on this in much of central and eastern Europe. The Greeks, who despite their own deep difficulties are actually doing a great deal to help the refugees, know better: the neo-Habsburg military frontier going up across south-eastern Europe to keep out refugees will not work. There is no good alternative to helping the Greeks in the massive task that confronts them. Then there is the question of the Balkans as a whole. In Bosnia the Dayton peace settlement did one thing: it stopped the fighting. But two decades on, Bosnia remains a genuinely failed state, and Kosovo and Macedonia, too, are deeply fragile polities. The EU needs Greece to serve as a force for growth right across the Balkans and not as some kind of confirmation that the EU has decided to abandon the entire region.

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Does the parliament have the guts to say no? It’s starting to look that way. EP president Schulz has refused to send the necessary documents to be appraised.

EU Parliament Raises the Rhetoric Over Turkey’s Visa-Waiver Bid (BBG)

The European Parliament added to the war of words with Turkey over its bid for visa-free travel to Europe, highlighting the risk that a hard-fought agreement with Ankara to curb the influx of Mideast refugees will collapse. Members of the European Union assembly said Turkey must narrow the scope of its terrorism legislation to qualify for EU visa-free status. That is a prize the Turkish government sought in return for signing up to the mid-March migrant accord, which has stemmed Europe’s biggest refugee wave since World War II and eased domestic political pressure on leaders including Angela Merkel. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has signaled he won’t bow to the European demand over terrorism legislation, citing terror threats in Turkey that his critics say are being used as cover to jail political opponents.

Adding Turkey to a list of around 60 countries whose citizens benefit from hassle-free travel to Europe requires approval by EU governments and the 28-nation Parliament. “The liberalization can only be granted if all of the criteria are fulfilled,” Mariya Gabriel, a Bulgarian member of the Christian Democrats, the EU Parliament’s biggest faction, said during a debate on Wednesday in Strasbourg, France. Tanja Fajon, a Slovenian member of the No. 2 Socialists, said: “Turkey is very important to the solution to the migration crisis, but this does not mean that we should be making promises to Turkey without ensuring that all the conditions are fulfilled.” The EU-Turkey sparring is a test of geopolitical power that combines high politics, principles and pride.

The migrant flows into Europe via Turkey over the past year have handed Erdogan leverage over the EU, which has lambasted him for cracking down on domestic dissenters and kept Turkey’s longstanding bid for membership of the bloc largely on hold. Last Friday, when commenting on the EU call for Turkish terrorism-rule changes, Erdogan said “we are going our way and you go yours.” He also dared the bloc to “go make a deal with whoever you can.” In a further sign of Ankara’s renewed confidence in dealing with the EU, Burhan Kuzu, a former adviser to Erdogan, said earlier on Wednesday that Turkey would send refugees to Europe should the EU Parliament make a “wrong decision” in the deliberations over visa-free status for Turkey. “That is blackmail,” said Sophie in ’t Veld, a Dutch member of the EU Parliament’s Liberal group. She called Erdogan a “dictator.” Cecilia Wikstroem, a Swedish Liberal, said “something is rotten in this.”

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This is Europe’s epic failure. And that is what the UK Brexit vote next month is really about: do you want to be part of this?

European Rights Watchdog Complains About Greek Refugee Camps Conditions (R.)

Urgent measures are need to address overcrowding and poor living conditions in refugee and migrant camps in Greece, Europe’s top rights watchdog warned on Wednesday. The Council of Europe, which brings together 47 countries, said some facilities were “sub-standard” and able to provide no more than the most basic needs such as food, hygiene products and blankets. The report echoes warnings by other rights groups and aid agencies who say Greece has been unable to care properly for the more than 800,000 people reaching its shores in the last year, fleeing wars or poverty in the Middle East and Africa. The Council described dire living conditions in several sites visited on a March 7-11 trip, just before the EU and Turkey reached a deal that reduced arrivals but increased the number of people held in detention awaiting asylum decisions or deportation.

It said in its report that people who reached Greece were locked away in violation of international human rights standards and lacked legal access. At Greece’s Nea Kavala temporary transit camp, people were left burning trash to keep warm and sleeping in mud-soaked tents, according to the report. The Council called for the closure of a makeshift camp in Idomeni, where some 10,000 people have been stranded en route to northern Europe due to the closure of Macedonia’s border. Germany has taken in most of the 1.3 million refugees and migrants who reached Europe across the Mediterranean in the past year, triggering bitter disputes among the 28 EU member states on how to handle the influx. Europe’s deal with Turkey last month gave its leaders some breathing space but has come under pressure since Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, one of the sponsors of the accord, stepped down.

The morality and legality of the deal has been challenged by human rights groups, however, and a provision to grant Turkish citizens visa-free travel to Europe in exchange for Ankara’s help remains politically contentious. In a separate report, a trio of European Parliamentarians on Tuesday described the poor conditions faced by people who have been returned to Turkey under the deal. “We have seen how the migration policies imposed by the European Union have terrible consequences on the lives of thousands of people,” said Cornelia Ernst, a German member of the European Parliament and a co-author of that report. “Turkey has been hired as a deportation agency, putting into practice the migration policies designed in Brussels.”

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Apr 072016
 
 April 7, 2016  Posted by at 9:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


John M. Fox “The new Hudson” 1948

Time To Stop Dancing With Equities On A Live Volcano (AEP)
Hillary Clinton’s Corporate Cash and Corporate Worldview (Naomi Klein)
How Bad Is China’s Debt Problem, Really? (Balding)
China Traders Flee to Hong Kong in Record Stock-Buying Streak (BBG)
China Set To Shake Up World Copper Market With Exports (Reuters)
Panama Papers Reveal Offshore Secrets Of China’s Red Nobility (G.)
David Cameron’s EU Intervention On Trusts Set Up Tax Loophole (FT)
Panama Papers Reveal London As Centre Of ‘Spider’s Web’ (AFP)
How Laundered Money Shapes London’s Property Market (FT)
London Luxury-Apartment Sales Slump Triggers 20% Bulk Discounts (BBG)
US Readies Bank Rule On Shell Companies Amid ‘Panama Papers’ Fury (Reuters)
US Government, Soros Funded Panama Papers To Attack Putin: WikiLeaks (RT)
Bookmakers Set Odds For Next Leader To Resign After Panama Papers (MW)
Brexit May Force Europe’s Banks To Dump $123 Billion Of Securities (BBG)
Economics Builds a Tower of Babel (BBG)
Dutch ‘No’ Vote On Ukraine Pact Forces Government Rethink (Reuters)
Greece Sees Two-Week Lag In Migrant Returns To Turkey (AFP)

Ambrose sees inflation?!

Time To Stop Dancing With Equities On A Live Volcano (AEP)

Be very careful. The US economic expansion is long in the tooth and starting to hit the time-honoured constraints that mark the last phase of the business cycle. Wall Street equities are more stretched by a host of measures than they were at the peak of sub-prime bubble just before the Lehman crisis. All it will take to bring the S&P 500 index back to earth is a catalyst, and that is exactly what is coming into view on the macro-economic horizon. This does not mean we are on the cusp of recession or racing headlong towards some imminent reckoning, but we are probably in the final innings of this epic asset boom. Didier Saint-Georges, from fund manager Carmignac, says the “massive and indiscriminate equity market rally” since February’s panic-lows is a false dawn driven by short-covering, telling us little about the world’s deformed economic, financial, and political landscape.

Corporate earnings peaked at $1.845 trillion (£1.3 trillion) in the second quarter of 2015, and recessions typically start five to seven quarters after the peak. “We will not be dancing on the volcano like so many others,” said Saint-Georges. If we are lucky it will be a slow denouement with a choppy sideways market going nowhere for another year as the US labour market tightens, and workers at last start to claw back a greater share of the economic pie. The owners of capital have had it their way for much of the post-Lehman era, exorbitant beneficiaries of central bank largesse. Now they may have to give a little back to society. Yet this welcome “rotation” spells financial trouble. Strategists Mislav Matejka and Emmanuel Cau, from JP Morgan, have told clients to prepare for the end of the seven-year bull run, advising them to trim equities gradually and build up a safety buffer in cash.

“This is not the stage of the US cycle when one should be buying stocks with a six to 12-month horizon. We recommend using any strength as a selling opportunity,” they said. Their recent 165-page report on the subject is a sobering read. The price-to-sales ratio (P/S) of US stocks is higher than any time in the sub-prime boom. Share buy-backs are at an historic high in relation to earnings (EBIT). Net debt-to-equity ratios have blown through their historical range. This is happening despite two quarters of tighter lending by US banks. Spreads on high-yield debt have doubled since 2014, jumping by 300 basis points even after stripping out the energy bust. The list goes on; the message is clear. “One should be cutting equity weight before the weakness becomes obvious,” they said.

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Hillary equals more of the same. The same disaster.

Hillary Clinton’s Corporate Cash and Corporate Worldview (Naomi Klein)

There aren’t a lot of certainties left in the US presidential race, but here’s one thing about which we can be absolutely sure: The Clinton camp really doesn’t like talking about fossil-fuel money. Last week, when a young Greenpeace campaigner challenged Hillary Clinton about taking money from fossil-fuel companies, the candidate accused the Bernie Sanders campaign of “lying” and declared herself “so sick” of it. As the exchange went viral, a succession of high-powered Clinton supporters pronounced that there was nothing to see here and that everyone should move along. The very suggestion that taking this money could impact Clinton’s actions is “baseless and should stop,” according to California Senator Barbara Boxer. It’s “flat-out false,” “inappropriate,” and doesn’t “hold water,” declared New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman went so far as to issue “guidelines for good and bad behavior” for the Sanders camp. The first guideline? Cut out the “innuendo suggesting, without evidence, that Clinton is corrupt.” That’s a whole lot of firepower to slap down a non-issue. So is it an issue or not? First, some facts. Hillary Clinton’s campaign, including her Super PAC, has received a lot of money from the employees and registered lobbyists of fossil-fuel companies. There’s the much-cited $4.5 million that Greenpeace calculated, which includes bundling by lobbyists. One of Clinton’s most active financial backers is Warren Buffett, who is up to his eyeballs in coal. But that’s not all. There is also a lot more money from sources not included in those calculations. For instance, one of Clinton’s most prominent and active financial backers is Warren Buffett.

While he owns a large mix of assets, Buffett is up to his eyeballs in coal, including coal transportation and some of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the country. Then there’s all the cash that fossil-fuel companies have directly pumped into the Clinton Foundation. In recent years, Exxon, Shell, ConocoPhillips, and Chevron have all contributed to the foundation. An investigation in the International Business Times just revealed that at least two of these oil companies were part of an effort to lobby Clinton’s State Department about the Alberta tar sands, a massive deposit of extra-dirty oil. Leading climate scientists like James Hansen have explained that if we don’t keep the vast majority of that carbon in the ground, we will unleash catastrophic levels of warming.

During this period, the investigation found, Clinton’s State Department approved the Alberta Clipper, a controversial pipeline carrying large amounts of tar-sands bitumen from Alberta to Wisconsin. “According to federal lobbying records reviewed by the IBT,” write David Sirota and Ned Resnikoff, “Chevron and ConocoPhillips both lobbied the State Department specifically on the issue of ‘oil sands’ in the immediate months prior to the department’s approval, as did a trade association funded by ExxonMobil.”

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“All this leads one to think that the government doesn’t recognize the severity of the problem.”

How Bad Is China’s Debt Problem, Really? (Balding)

For months now, China’s regulators have been warning about the dangers of rapidly expanding credit and the need to deleverage. With new plans to clean up bad loans at the country’s banks, you might conclude that the government is getting serious about the risks it faces. But there’s reason to doubt the effectiveness of China’s approach. In fact, it’s running a serious risk of making its debt problems worse. After the financial crisis, China embarked on a credit binge of historical proportions. In 2009, new loans grew by 95%. The government offered cheap credit to build apartments for urban migrants, airports for the newly affluent and roads to accommodate a fleet of new cars. Yet as lending grew at twice the rate of GDP, problems started bubbling up. Companies gained billion-dollar valuations, then collapsed when they couldn’t profit.

Enormous surplus capacity drove down prices. Excessive real-estate lending led to the construction of “ghost cities.” Asset bubbles popped and bad loans mounted. China’s policy makers say they recognize these problems. The government’s most recent 5-year plan, released in December, notes the need for deleveraging. The PBOC has talked up the party line about slowing credit growth and making high-quality loans. Yet officials still say that only about 1.6% of commercial-banking loans are nonperforming. Some analysts put the real figure closer to 20%. And Beijing’s primary plan to address the problem – allowing companies to swap their debt with banks in exchange for equity – actually creates new risks. For one thing, while a debt-for-equity swap may help excessively indebted firms, it will wreak havoc with banks.

Directly, a given bank will no longer receive the cash flow from interest and principal payments. Indirectly, it won’t be able to sell equity to the PBOC or to other banks as it could with a loan. Valuing the equity could present a bigger problem. In China, banks must count 100% of loans made to non-financial companies against their reserve requirements. When they invest in equity, however, they must set aside 400% of the value of the investment. If the debt isn’t worth face value to the bank, it seems unlikely that the equity is worth far more – suggesting that large write-downs will be required. The swaps program also creates a number of big-picture problems. Consider the tight relationship between banks and large government-linked companies.

If banks were under pressure to roll over loans when they were creditors hoping to get repaid, what will their incentive be when they own the firm and have essentially unlimited lending capacity? Another problem is that Chinese industry exists in a deflationary debt spiral: Prices have been falling for years, raising the real cost of repaying loans. If companies are relieved of their debt, they’ll have an incentive to reduce prices to gain market share, thus worsening one of the primary causes of the current malaise. All this leads one to think that the government doesn’t recognize the severity of the problem. Debt-for-equity swaps and loan rollovers simply aren’t long-term solutions for ailing companies on the scale China faces.

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All that monopoly money behaves like liquid gas.

China Traders Flee to Hong Kong in Record Stock-Buying Streak (BBG)

Cash is pouring into Hong Kong stocks from across the mainland border. Chinese investors have been net buyers of the city’s shares for 104 consecutive trading days, sinking 43.8 billion yuan ($6.8 billion) into equities from October through Tuesday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg tracking investments via the exchange link with Shanghai. Mainland traders have now put more money into Hong Kong than global asset managers have invested in Shanghai, a reversal of flows in the link’s first year, the data show. As concern persists about a further slide in the yuan, Chinese investors are piling into cheaper shares across the border that have lagged behind mainland counterparts for years.

While the flows are small relative to estimates of the record capital flight from China in 2015, they’re another sign of what’s at stake for policy makers seeking to stabilize the currency and stem outflows by providing credible investment options at home. “In China, there is talk of an asset drought – people don’t find domestic assets particularly attractive,” said Tai Hui at JPMorgan. “They are investing overseas in any way possible including via the southbound stock connect.” Buying mainland Chinese stocks has been a losing proposition this year, with the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index down 14%. Other investment alternatives such as property are coming under scrutiny as authorities impose fresh curbs after home prices jumped in the biggest cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen.

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What’s next? Compete with OPEC?

China Set To Shake Up World Copper Market With Exports (Reuters)

China may be about to shock the global copper market by unleashing some of its stockpiles of the metal, which are near record highs, onto the global market. Four traders of copper, including two from state-owned Chinese smelters, said they expect China to raise its copper exports – which are usually tiny – in the next few months. China’s refined copper exports averaged less than 10,000 tonnes a month in the first two months of 2016, and around 17,000 a month in 2015. If higher exports materialize, they will be a major jolt to producers and investors in the metal across the world – in particular because it would come during what is traditionally the strongest period of demand for copper from China, the world’s largest consumer of the metal. It will also be a further sign that the Chinese economy is still struggling against headwinds. Some sectors that buy copper – such as construction and manufacturing – have been hit especially hard in the past couple of years.

Traders and analysts in China say slowing building construction and electronics manufacturing has stifled demand for refined copper from the nation’s massive smelting sector at a time when the country is already swimming in the metal. China’s copper consumption has been a crucial measure of the country’s economic growth as the metal forms the essential network of its infrastructure, carrying water, conducting electricity and comprising the circuits in its machines. “The situation for copper smelters in China is probably the worst it has been in 20 years. But they won’t admit it. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least (if they start exporting),” said a source at an Asian copper producer, who declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media. Increasing Chinese exports would mark an abrupt turnaround in global copper trade flows as China’s refined copper imports hit a record in 2015.

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Looking at China, it’s hard not to think of 1789, Robespierre, Marie-Antoinette, Bastille. Napoleon next?

Panama Papers Reveal Offshore Secrets Of China’s Red Nobility (G.)

The eight members of China’s Communist party elite whose family members used offshore companies are revealed in the Panama Papers. The documents show the granddaughter of a powerful Chinese leader became the sole shareholder in two British Virgin Islands companies while still a teenager. Jasmine Li had just begun studying at Stanford University in the US when the companies were registered in her name in December 2010. Her grandfather Jia Qinglin was at that time the fourth-ranked politician in China. Other prominent figures who have taken advantage of offshore companies include the brother-in-law of the president, Xi Jinping, and the son-in-law of Zhang Gaoli, another member of China’s top political body, the politburo standing committee.

They are part of the “red nobility”, whose influence extends well beyond politics. Others include the daughter of Li Peng, who oversaw the brutal retaliation against Tiananmen Square protestors; and Gu Kailai, wife of Bo Xilai, the ex-politburo member jailed for life for corruption and power abuses. The relatives had companies that were clients of the offshore law firm Mossack Fonseca. There is nothing in the documents to suggest that the politicians in question had any beneficial interest in the companies connected to their family members. Since Monday, China’s censors have been blocking access to the unfolding revelations about its most senior political families. There are now reports of censors deleting hundreds of posts on the social networks Sina Weibo and Wechat, and some media organisations including CNN say parts of their websites have been blocked.

The disclosures come amid Xi Jinping’s crackdown on behaviour that could embarrass the Communist party. Two more well-connected figures – the brother of former vice-president Zeng Qinghong and the son of former politburo member Tian Jiyun – are directors of a single offshore company. They have previously been linked in a court case that highlighted how some Chinese “princelings” have used political connections for financial gain. They have emerged from the internal data of the offshore law firm Mossack Fonseca. [..] China and Hong Kong were Mossack Fonseca’s biggest sources of business, with clients from these jurisdictions linked to a total of 40,000 companies past and present. About a quarter of these are thought to be live: in 2015, records show the firm was collecting fees for nearly 10,000 companies linked to Hong Kong and China. The Mossack Fonseca franchise now has offices in eight Chinese cities, according to its website

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How much pressure will he get?

David Cameron’s EU Intervention On Trusts Set Up Tax Loophole (FT)

David Cameron personally intervened in 2013 to weaken an EU drive to reveal the beneficiaries of trusts, creating a possible loophole that other European nations warned could be exploited by tax evaders. The disclosure of the prime minister’s resistance to opening up trusts to full scrutiny comes as he faces intense pressure to make clear whether his family stands to benefit from offshore assets linked to his late father. Although Mr Cameron championed corporate tax transparency, he wrote in November 2013 to Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council at the time, to argue that trusts widely used for inheritance planning in Britain should win special treatment in an EU law to tackle money laundering.

In the letter, seen by the Financial Times, Mr Cameron said: “It is clearly important we recognise the important differences between companies and trusts. This means that the solution for addressing the potential misuse of companies, such as central public registries, may well not be appropriate generally.” Britain has emerged as the strongest European rival to Switzerland for private banking and wealth management, administering £1.2tn of assets, according to Deloitte. The sector contributed £3.2bn to the economy, according to 2014 estimates from the British Bankers’ Association. A senior government source said that Mr Cameron’s letter reflected official advice that creating a central registry for trusts would have been complex and would have distracted from the main objective of shining a light on the ownership of shell companies.

“It would have slowed down the process because of the different types of trust involved,” the official said. “They are sometimes used to protect vulnerable people, so that would have been an extra complication. “As the directive went through we reached a position where trusts which generate tax consequences had to demonstrate their ownership to HM Revenue & Customs.” According to officials, the UK stance in 2013 prompted clashes with France and Austria as well as with members of the European Parliament, who accused Britain of double standards in the fight against tax avoidance. Maria Fekter, the Austrian finance minister at the time, had attacked Britain earlier that year as “the island of the blessed for tax evasion and money laundering”. She cited trusts as a specific problem.

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“London is the epicentre of so much of the sleaze that happens in the world..”

Panama Papers Reveal London As Centre Of ‘Spider’s Web’ (AFP)

As-well as shining a spotlight on the secret financial arrangements of the rich and powerful, the so-called Panama Papers have laid bare London’s role as a vital organ of the world’s tax-haven network. The files leaked from Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca exposed Britain’s link to thousands of firms based in tax havens and how secret money is invested in British assets, particularly London property. Critics accuse British authorities of turning a blind eye to the inflow of suspect money and of being too close to the financial sector to clamp down on the use of its overseas territories as havens, with the British Virgin Islands alone hosting 110,000 of the Mossack Fonseca’s clients. “London is the epicentre of so much of the sleaze that happens in the world,” Nicholas Shaxson, author of the book “Treasure Islands”, which examines the role of offshore banks and tax havens, told AFP.

The political analyst said that Britain itself was relatively transparent and clean, but that companies used the country’s territories abroad – relics of the days of empire – to “farm out the seedier stuff”, often under the guise of shell companies with anonymous owners. “Tax evasion and stuff like that will be done in the external parts of the network. Usually there will be links to the City of London, UK law firms, UK accountancy firms and to UK banks,” he said, calling London the centre of a “spider’s web”. “They’re all agents of the City of London – that is where the whole exercise is controlled from,” Richard Murphy, professor at London’s City University, said of the offshore havens. The files showed that Britain had the third highest number of Mossack Fonseca’s middlemen operating within its borders, with 32,682 advisers.

Although not illegal in themselves, shell companies can be used for illegal activities such as laundering the proceeds of criminal activities or to conceal misappropriated or politically-inconvenient wealth. Around 310,000 tax haven companies own an estimated £170 billion (210 billion euros, $240 billion) of British real estate, 10% of which were linked to Mossack Fonseca. The files appeared to show that the United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan owned London properties worth more than £1.2 billion and that Mariam Safdar, daughter of Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif, was the beneficial owner of two offshore companies that owned flats on the exclusive Park Lane.

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“..the London property market has been skewed by laundered money. Prices are being artificially driven up by overseas criminals who want to sequester their assets here in the UK”

How Laundered Money Shapes London’s Property Market (FT)

For three-quarters of Londoners under 35, owning a home in the capital remains out of reach. But according to the leaked Panama Papers, buying property in London presented little problem for associates of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president; for a convicted embezzler who is also the son of a former Egyptian president; or for a Nigerian senator facing corruption charges. The leaks from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca have brought back into focus the ownership of London property via offshore companies by people suspected of corruption overseas — a phenomenon that has helped to shape the capital’s housing market, where prices are up 50% since 2007. “We think it very likely that the influx of corrupt money into the housing market has pushed up prices,” said Rachel Davies, senior advocacy manager at Transparency International.

Donald Toon, head of the National Crime Agency, has gone further, saying last year that “the London property market has been skewed by laundered money. Prices are being artificially driven up by overseas criminals who want to sequester their assets here in the UK”. Since 2004 £180m of UK property has been subject to criminal investigation as suspected proceeds of corruption, according to Transparency International data from 2015. Yet this probably represented “only a small proportion of the total”, added the campaign group. Most of these properties were bought using anonymous shell companies based in offshore tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands. Overseas companies own 100,000 properties in England and Wales, Land Registry data show. Owning property through a company can present tax advantages but, depending where that company is based, it can also offer anonymity.

According to Transparency International figures, almost one in 10 properties in the London borough of Kensington & Chelsea is owned through a “secrecy jurisdiction” such as the British Virgin Islands, Jersey or the Isle of Man. “UK property can be acquired anonymously, anti-money-laundering checks can be bypassed with relative ease, and if you invest in luxury property in London you know your investment is safe. All that comes from the flaws in the UK anti-money-laundering system,” said Ms Davies. According to the documents leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Soulieman Marouf, an al-Assad associate whose assets in Europe were frozen for two years from 2012, holds luxury flats in London worth almost £6m through British Virgin Islands companies.

The family of a deceased former Syrian intelligence chief owns a £1.2m Battersea home, the Guardian reported. The documents also link Alaa Mubarak — a son of Hosni Mubarak, the former Egyptian president — who was jailed and released last year for corruption, to an £8m Knightsbridge property. Bukola Saraki, the president of the Nigerian senate who faces charges in his home country of failing to declare assets, owns a Belgravia property, while a second is held by companies in which his wife and former special assistant are shareholders. Mr Saraki denies any wrongdoing and says he declared his assets in accordance with the law.

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This bubble too will burst.

London Luxury-Apartment Sales Slump Triggers 20% Bulk Discounts (BBG)

Developers in central London are offering institutional investors discounts of as much as 20% on bulk purchases of luxury apartments as demand from international buyers slumps amid higher taxes and low commodity prices. Concessions of about that magnitude are being offered to investors willing to take 100 homes or more, according to Killian Hurley, chief executive officer of London developer Mount Anvil. Broker CBRE is negotiating discounts of as much as 15% for bulk purchases on the fringes of the capital’s best districts, said Chris Lacey, head of U.K. residential investment. A record number of high-end homes are planned in London districts such as Nine Elms and Earls Court even as demand wanes.

Sales of properties under construction in the U.K. capital slumped 19% in the fourth quarter of 2015, according to researcher Molior, while the percentage of overseas buyers fell to 20% from about 33% a year earlier, broker Hamptons International data show. “We will see distress in prime central London and in Nine Elms, where there has been a lot of international investment,” Andrew Stanford at LaSalle Investment said in an interview. “There have been a number of house builders who have approached us directly with schemes as a direct result of off-plan sales falling, particularly in central London.” Bulk buyers may be hard to find because the apartments being built aren’t designed for the rental market, lacking features such as equal-size bedrooms, said Stanford, whose company has invested more than $457 million in U.K. multifamily housing on behalf of clients.

Many developers traveled to Asia to sell homes in advance of construction and secure cheaper development loans because the down payments made projects less risky. The imposition of higher purchase taxes has now reduced the appeal of the costliest properties, leaving developers wondering how they will secure funding, said Dominic Grace, head of London residential development at broker Savills. “It is a question everyone is asking, and the truth is no one really knows,” Grace said.

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Sure..

US Readies Bank Rule On Shell Companies Amid ‘Panama Papers’ Fury (Reuters)

The U.S. Treasury Department intends to soon issue a long-delayed rule forcing banks to seek the identities of people behind shell-company account holders, after the “Panama Papers” leak provoked a global uproar over the hiding of wealth via offshore banking devices. A department spokesman said on Wednesday the rule would “soon” be turned over to the White House for review and issuance, but did not confirm any timetable for the initiative, which has taken years. Governments around the globe have launched probes into possible financial wrongdoing after 11.5 million documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, nicknamed the “Panama Papers,” were leaked to the media and reports emerged Sunday. Mossack Fonseca has said it was the victim of a computer hack, and that it has consistently acted appropriately.

The papers offer “validation for those who have been screaming for a decade” about the need for financial institutions in the United States and elsewhere to address risks of money laundering, terror finance and other crime by identifying people who clandestinely control legal entities, former Treasury official Chip Poncy told Reuters. The leaked documents may give banks a glimpse into the kind of information on true, or “beneficial” owners, that they regularly should be obtaining to better understand the cross-border money flows they facilitate, said Poncy, one of the architects of the Treasury rule, which has been in the works since 2012.

But simply having a client who is linked to the offshore shell companies highlighted in the Panama papers “doesn’t necessarily mean much,” said a former FinCEN official who asked not to be named due to his role in the private sector. What would be significant is “inconsistent information or payment flows that now connect” in ways that suggest possible illicit activity, he said.

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“We have innuendo, we have a complete lack of standards on the part of the western media, and the major mistake made by the leaker was to give these documents to the corporate media..”

US Government, Soros Funded Panama Papers To Attack Putin: WikiLeaks (RT)

Washington is behind the recently released offshore revelations known as the Panama Papers, WikiLeaks has claimed, saying that the attack was “produced” to target Russia and President Putin. On Wednesday, the international whistleblowing organization said on Twitter that the Panama Papers data leak was produced by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), “which targets Russia and [the] former USSR.” The “Putin attack” was funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and American hedge fund billionaire George Soros, WikiLeaks added, saying that the US government’s funding of such an attack is a serious blow to its integrity. Organizations belonging to Soros have been proclaimed to be “undesirable” in Russia.

Last year, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office recognized Soros’s Open Society Foundations and the Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation as undesirable groups, banning Russian citizens and organizations from participation in any of their projects. Prosecutors then said the activities of the institute and its assistance foundation were a threat to the basis of Russia’s constitutional order and national security. Earlier this year, the billionaire US investor alleged that Putin is “no ally” to US and EU leaders, and that he aims “to gain considerable economic benefits from dividing Europe.” “The American government is pursuing a policy of destabilization all over the world, and this [leak] also serves this purpose of destabilization. They are causing a lot of people all over the world and also a lot of money to find its way into the [new] tax havens in America. The US is preparing for a super big financial crisis, and they want all that money in their own vaults and not in the vaults of other countries,” German journalist and author Ernst Wolff told RT.

Earlier this week, the head of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which worked on the Panama Papers, said that Putin is not the target of the leak, but rather that the revelations aimed to shed light on murky offshore practices internationally. “It wasn’t a story about Russia. It was a story about the offshore world,” ICIJ head Gerard Ryle told TASS. His statement came in stark contrast to international media coverage of the “largest leak in offshore history.” Although neither Vladimir Putin nor any members of his family are directly mentioned in the papers, many mainstream media outlets chose the Russian president’s photo when breaking the story.

“We have innuendo, we have a complete lack of standards on the part of the western media, and the major mistake made by the leaker was to give these documents to the corporate media,” former CIA officer Ray McGovern told RT. “This would be humorous if it weren’t so serious,” he added. “The degree of Putinophobia has reached a point where to speak well about Russia, or about some of its actions and successes, is impossible. One needs to speak [about Russia] in negative terms, the more the better, and when there’s nothing to say, you need to make things up,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said, commenting on anti-Russian sentiment triggered by the publications. WikiLeaks spokesman and Icelandic investigative journalist Kristinn Hrafnsson has called for the leaked data to be put online so that everybody could search through the papers. He said withholding of the documents could hardly be viewed as “responsible journalism.”

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Almost funny.

Bookmakers Set Odds For Next Leader To Resign After Panama Papers (MW)

Whose scalp will the Panama Papers scandal claim next? Irish bookmaker Paddy Power has opened betting lines on which head of state could be the next to go. “Who needs the Grand National when you’ve got the Panama Papers to punt on?” the betting line boasted in a press release on Wednesday. Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, announced yesterday he was stepping down after Panama Papers revelations that he and his wife sought to hide their claims on Icelandic banks that were bailed out by his administration during the financial crisis. Paddy Power puts the odds of British Prime Minister David Cameron resigning next at 20-1. The leaked documents outed Cameron’s father Ian Cameron as a client of the Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, at the center of the scandal.

Cameron’s father used a secret but legal offshore structure to set up a fund for investors. After saying all day Monday that his tax affairs were a “private matter”, media questions about his family’s remaining interest in the fund forced Cameron’s office, according to BBC reports, to issue a statement affirming that his family “[does] not benefit from any offshore trusts.” A surer bet according to the bookmaker is Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri at 8-1 odds. Macri won last year’s general election campaigning on a platform promising to fight corruption but the leaked documents say he was a director of Fleg Trading Ltd, founded in 1998 by his father Franco Macri, one of the richest men in Argentina. The company was dissolved in January 2009. “It was an offshore company to invest in Brazil, an investment that ultimately wasn’t completed, and where I was director,” he said in a television interview with a local program.

A Paddy Power spokesman told MarketWatch that to pay off, the leader has to leave “after being implicated specifically in the Panama Papers.” There have already been a few bets made that Macri and Cameron are next, he said. Paddy Power also has laid odds that the President of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif will leave at 10-to-1 and Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko almost as good at 12-1. Sharif is mentioned in the leak as the result of a £7 million loan from Deutsche Bank backed up by four London apartments owned by offshore companies established by Mossack Fonseca. Poroshenko – nicknamed the ‘chocolate king’ – hid his ongoing interest in his candy company, Roshen, in a blind trust offshore when he became president in 2014. He had promised to sell it after being elected. Longshots to leave include President Xi Jinping of China, Russia’s Putin and France’s Francois Hollande, all set at 33-1.

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Coming closer.

Brexit May Force Europe’s Banks To Dump $123 Billion Of Securities (BBG)

If Britain decides to leave the EU, a corner of the credit market may depart with it and European banks could be left having to replace as much as €108 billion ($123 billion) of securities. Lenders from the EU that bought bonds backed by U.K. mortgages, bank loans and credit-card debt may find themselves caught up in the fallout of a “Brexit” because the debt might no longer count toward their emergency cash reserves. While a settlement with the bloc would take years to reach, lawyers and analysts are beginning to flag concerns about holdings of the asset-backed securities, a market that’s already been hammered since the financial crisis.

“Banks could find themselves having a liquidity issue if these assets no longer count,” said Vincent Keaveny at law firm DLA Piper, who specializes in structured credit. “There are big risks out there, but there aren’t any easy fixes.” Under the Basel Accords, a set of agreements by global regulators, banks must meet minimum standards meant to make them more resilient to shocks after the financial crisis highlighted their weaknesses. One standard, known as the Liquidity Coverage Ratio, requires banks maintain an adequate amount of high-quality assets that can be quickly converted to cash to meet liquidity needs for 30 days.

Certain securitized notes are counted, but their underlying assets must originate from a member state, according to the European Commission’s Delegated Act for the standard. That means some bonds backed by collateral from a newly go-it-alone Britain may be excluded. “‘Brexit’ could result in certain U.K. ABS no longer qualifying as eligible assets for current LCR purposes,” Angela Clist and Nicole Rhodes, London-based lawyers specializing in securitization at Allen & Overy LLP, wrote in a note to clients in February.

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“When economists say “equilibrium,” what they really mean is “any solution to any equations I decide to write down.”

Economics Builds a Tower of Babel (BBG)

In Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass,” Humpty Dumpty proudly declares: “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” To which Alice replies: “The question is whether you can make words mean so many different things.” Humpty Dumpty could have been an economist. The modern economics profession made a collective decision, long ago, to develop a system of jargon in which words have multiple, sometimes contradictory meanings. Unfortunately, the general public’s reaction tends to be similar to that of poor Alice. Want some examples? There’s no shortage. Let’s take the word “investment.” Most people think this means buying some financial assets, such as stocks or bonds. That’s basically a form of lending – you give someone money today, and you hope they’ll give you back more money tomorrow.

Economists call that “financial investment,” but the kind of investment they usually talk about is business investment, meaning a company’s purchase of capital goods. Since companies use debt to buy capital goods (or use their own cash, which is essentially the same thing), this kind of “investment” is actually a type of borrowing. So economists use the same word to mean both borrowing and lending! That couldn’t possibly result in any confusion, right? Two similar examples are “capital” and “equity.” “Equity” can mean stock – partial ownership of a company – or it can refer to “shareholders’ equity,” which is a measure of the value of a business. “Capital” in econ can mean financial capital, i.e. money in the bank. More commonly, it refers to capital goods – productive stuff such as buildings or machines that help you create more stuff.

Though economists usually use the term in the second way, many people outside the profession refer to financial capital as “economic capital.” Confused yet? We’re just getting started. Everyone knows that economists love models where rational agents interact in an efficient market that reaches equilibrium, right? Except that almost every word in that sentence is complete nonsense, thanks to econ’s Humpty Dumpty-like tendency to redefine words without telling anyone. So how about “equilibrium”? The word used to refer to a situation where prices adjust in order to clear markets, so that supply matches demand. Later, game theorists came up with “Nash equilibrium,” named after mathematician John Nash, which refers to a situation where everyone is responding optimally to everyone else in a strategic situation. Other concepts proliferated, and so by now the word has lost all meaning entirely. When economists say “equilibrium,” what they really mean is “any solution to any equations I decide to write down.”

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Will the EU survive?

Dutch ‘No’ Vote On Ukraine Pact Forces Government Rethink (Reuters)

The Dutch government said on Wednesday it could not ignore the resounding “No” in a non-binding referendum on the EU’s association treaty with Ukraine, but that it may take weeks to decide how to respond. Although the results were preliminary, they exposed dissatisfaction with the Dutch government and policy-making in Brussels – signalling a anti-establishment mood in a founding EU member weeks before Britain votes on membership. There could also be far-reaching consequences for the fragile Dutch coalition government, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency and which has lost popularity amid a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment. Exit polls indicated roughly 64% of Dutch voters voted “No” and 36% said “Yes”. Although turnout was too close to call, early tallies indicated it was just ahead of a turnout minimum of 30% required for the vote to be valid.

“It’s clear that ‘No’ have won by an overwhelming margin, the question is only if turnout is sufficient,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in a televised reaction. “If the turnout is above 30% with such a large margin of victory for the ‘No’ camp, then my sense is that ratification can’t simply go ahead,” Rutte added. That sentiment was shared by Diederik Samsom, leader of the Labour Party, the junior partner the governing coalition. “We can’t ratify the treaty in this fashion,” he said. A person familiar with internal EU discussions on how leaders in Brussels would respond said EU officials had been hoping for very low turnout that would disqualify or diminish the impact of a “No” vote. The European Commission, the bloc’s executive, will play for time, waiting for the Dutch government to suggest a way forward, the official said. The political, trade and defence treaty is already provisionally in place, but has to be ratified by all 28 EU member countries for every part of it to have full legal force. The Netherlands is the only country that has not done so.

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Monday there was a lot of media and brouhaha, and then they have a 17-day hiatus? EU-Assclowns.

Greece Sees Two-Week Lag In Migrant Returns To Turkey (AFP)

A last-minute flurry of asylum applications by migrants desperate to avoid expulsion from Greece to Turkey will likely cause a two-week “lag” in an EU deportation plan slammed by rights groups, a Greek official said Wednesday. Nikos Xydakis, junior foreign minister for European affairs, indicated there would likely be few migrants sent back to Turkey over the next two weeks, following the first deportation of around 200 people on Monday. “We knew there would be a lag, an intermediate period before the program takes off, of at least two weeks to get through the first batch of (asylum) applications,” Xydakis told reporters. He nevertheless said the next set of expulsions would likely take place “from Friday onwards”, without going into further detail.

Athens stressed that the people shipped back to Turkey on Monday were migrants who had not claimed asylum. But the UN’s refugee agency has expressed concern that 13 of them, mostly Afghans, had expressed a wish to claim asylum but were not registered in time. Xydakis said some two dozen EU legal experts had arrived so far to assist the asylum process, compared to hundreds of security agents from EU border agency Frontex. “This is the weakness of the whole procedure. It is easier to deploy police officers than experts in refugee law, interpreters, debriefers,” he said. But he added: “They are coming.” Once the system is fully up and running, Greece has said it can process asylum claims in two weeks. “In two weeks (authorities) can get through 400 to 500 applications,” Xydakis said.

Under the terms of the EU-Turkey deal, all “irregular migrants” arriving on the Greek islands from Turkey since March 20 face being sent back, although the accord calls for each case to be examined individually. And for every Syrian refugee returned, another Syrian refugee will be resettled from Turkey to the EU, with numbers capped at 72,000. “It was overestimated that in five days everything would begin, it was crazy. We told them many times in Brussels, we knew,” Xydakis said. “Things must be done by the book, we cannot bundle people together, they have to be certified and checked,” the minister said. Out of around 6,000 migrants who have arrived on the islands of Chios and Lesvos after the March 20 deadline, more than 2,300 have now applied for asylum. And many others had previously complained of not having had access to the asylum procedure.

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May 282015
 
 May 28, 2015  Posted by at 11:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Walker Evans Vicksburg, Mississippi. “Vicksburg Negroes and shop fronts” 1936

US Firms Spend More on Buybacks Than Factories (WSJ)
You’ve Met Hillarynomics. Now Meet Left-of-Hillarynomics. (Vox)
40% of American Workers Now Have ‘Contingent’ Jobs (Forbes)
Fossil Industry Faces A Perfect Political And Technological Storm (AEP)
The Tanker Market Is Sending a Big Warning to Oil Bulls (Bloomberg)
China Stocks Plunge 6.5%, Worst Selloff In 4 Months (CNBC)
Yen Drops to 12-Year Low as Yellen Builds Case for Fed Rate Rise (Bloomberg)
US To Urge Greece, Creditors To End Brinkmanship At G7 Meeting (Guardian)
Greek Bank Losses Show Predicament Amid Record Deposit Outflows (Bloomberg)
Athens, Creditors Offer Conflicting Views On Negotiations (Kathimerini)
Romantic Notions Meet Reality (Alexis Papachelas)
Grexit and the Morning After (Krugman)
Australia Property Boom Is On Borrowed Time (Business Spectator)
US Treats FIFA Like the Mafia (Bloomberg)
You’ll Be Sorry When The Robot McJournalists Take Over (Irish Times)
Julian Assange: TPP Isn’t About Trade, But Corporate Control (Democracy Now)
The Cheapest Way To Help the Homeless: Give Them Homes (Mother Jones)
US Droughts Set To Be Worst In 1000 Years (OnEarth)
Fossil Fuel Burning Nearly Wiped Out Life On Earth 250m Years Ago (Monbiot)
A 19th Century Shipwreck Could Give Canada Control of the Arctic (Bloomberg)
The Tiny House Powered Only by Wind and Sun (Atlantic)

Behold: an economy broken to the bone. No investement in manufacturing capacity equals no confidence in the future.

US Firms Spend More on Buybacks Than Factories (WSJ)

U.S. businesses, feeling heat from activist investors, are slashing long-term spending and returning billions of dollars to shareholders, a fundamental shift in the way they are deploying capital. Data show a broad array of companies have been plowing more cash into dividends and stock buybacks, while spending less on investments such as new factories and research and development. Activist investors have been pushing for such changes, but it isn’t just their target companies that are shifting gears. More businesses sitting on large piles of extra cash are deciding to satisfy investors by giving some of it back. Rock-bottom interest rates have made it cheap to borrow to buy back shares, which can boost a company’s stock price. And technology-driven productivity gains are enabling some businesses to do more with less.

As the trend picks up steam, so too has debate about whether activist investors—who take sizable stakes in companies, then agitate for changes they think will boost share prices—have caused companies to tilt too far toward short-term rewards. Laurence Fink, chief executive of BlackRock, the world’s largest money manager, argued as much in a March 31 letter to S&P 500 CEOs. “More and more corporate leaders have responded with actions that can deliver immediate returns to shareholders, such as buybacks or dividend increases, while underinvesting in innovation, skilled workforces or essential capital expenditures necessary to sustain long-term growth.”

An analysis conducted for The Wall Street Journal by S&P Capital IQ shows that companies in the S&P 500 index sharply increased their spending on dividends and buybacks to a median 36% of operating cash flow in 2013, from 18% in 2003. Over that same decade, those companies cut spending on plants and equipment to 29% of operating cash flow, from 33% in 2003. At S&P 500 companies targeted by activists, the spending cuts were more dramatic. Targeted companies reduced capital expenditures in the five years after activists bought their shares to 29% of operating cash flow, from 42% the year before, the Capital IQ analysis shows. Those companies boosted spending on dividends and buybacks to 37% of operating cash flow in the first year after being approached, from 22% in the year before.

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Rent seeking.

You’ve Met Hillarynomics. Now Meet Left-of-Hillarynomics. (Vox)

Conventional thinking holds that wealth should be invested and, through investment, put to productive use, with those investments creating job opportunities and higher wages. Alternatively, if few productive investment opportunities are available, the return on invested wealth should start falling. It ought to be a self-correcting cycle in which wealth cannot outpace incomes for long. But the return from capital remains high, and wages are stagnating. Something’s gone wrong. The problem, Stiglitz and his co-authors write, is that the rise in wealth isn’t coming from productive investments. It’s coming from what economists call rents — a metaphorical extension of the 18th-century practice of small farmers paying rent to landlords for the right to use the total inert asset of land.

Stiglitz and his co-authors extend the idea to include a wider and more modern array of rents. A patent or a copyright, for example, can be a valuable financial commodity to own, even without being productive in the way a factory or tractor is. To see the distinction, imagine you have $300 million and can either invest it in a startup or use it to buy the rights to the Beatles’ songs. In the former case, you’re providing money that a company can then use to hire people, produce goods, and generally create wealth in the world. In the latter, you’re producing nothing; you’re just grabbing something that someone else produced and claiming the proceeds from it. “Rent-seeking,” as economists call it, is generally viewed as economically counterproductive. It’s especially counterproductive when it becomes so lucrative as to provide a more attractive outlet for people’s money than real investments.

The report’s authors argue that’s exactly what’s happening with Wall Street. Its growth has fueled a big rise in credit — credit that tends to go to those who already have wealth, often in the form of rents, exacerbating existing rent-based problems. Financiers have also identified novel ways to rent-seek. “Too big to fail” status, for example, can count as a rent. It increases the value of firms like Goldman Sachs or JPMorgan Chase not by making them more productive, but by providing an implicit government subsidy. Trading mortgage-backed securities for profit, similarly, does little to actually increase wealth but a lot to redirect it. That makes it attractive as a business activity for banks and hedge funds, redirecting their energies from profitable activities that create wealth.

Many of these rents are explicitly created by government policies. “Too big to fail” is an obvious example, but financial deregulation more broadly has made speculation vastly more profitable in recent decades, encouraging rent-seeking on the part of financial firms. Stiglitz and his co-authors also finger tax cuts for the wealthy as a culprit. [..] countries that slashed their top marginal tax rates the most in recent decades also saw the biggest increases in inequality before taxes. That might make sense if the tax cuts boosted growth, but that wasn’t really what happened. [..] the tax cuts gave top earners bigger incentive to extract rents for themselves, to bargain hard to increase their share of the company’s wages. In the 1950s, when the top marginal tax rate in the US was 91%, getting an extra $1 in income through rents only yielded $0.09 after taxes. Today, it means getting $0.60. That’s a sixfold increase — a huge increase in the incentive to find rents for oneself.

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All the job protection our (grand-)parents fought for are gone.

40% of American Workers Now Have ‘Contingent’ Jobs (Forbes)

Tucked away in the pages of a new report by the U.S. General Accounting Office is a startling statistic: 40.4% of the U.S. workforce is now made up of contingent workers—that is, people who don’t have what we traditionally consider secure jobs. There is currently a lot of debate about how contingent workers should be defined. To arrive at the 40.4 %, which the workforce reached in 2010, the report counts the following types of workers as having the alternative work arrangements considered contingent. (The government did some rounding to arrive at its final number, so the numbers below add up to 40.2%).

Agency temps: (1.3%); On-call workers (people called to work when needed): (3.5%); Contract company workers (3.0%); Independent contractors who provide a product or service and find their own customers (12.9%); Self-employed workers such as shop and restaurant owners, etc. (3.3%); Standard part-time workers (16.2%). In contrast, in 2005, 30.6% of workers were contingent. The biggest growth has been among people with part time jobs. They made up just 11.9% of the labor force in 2005. That means there was a 36% increase in just five years. The report uses data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It begs an important question: Are traditional jobs—the foundation of our consumer economy–running their course and going the way of the typewriter and eight-track tape? And if so, what do we do about it?

This report is important because it’s the first time since the Great Recession that the U.S. government has taken stock of how many people are working without the protections that come with traditional, full-time W-2 jobs. It reinforces estimates of the independent workforce that have come from observers ranging from the Freelancers Union to Faith Popcorn and are in a similar ballpark. Many people in this workforce are struggling economically. In a note issued with the report, Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) write, “Because contingent work can be unstable, or may afford fewer protections depending on a worker’s particular employment arrangement, it tends to lead to lower earnings, fewer benefits, and a greater reliance on public assistance than standard work.”

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Sorry, technodreamers, but we will never power anything like our present economy on renewables. Ambrose has no clue.

Fossil Industry Faces A Perfect Political And Technological Storm (AEP)

The political noose is tightening on the global fossil fuel industry. It is a fair bet that world leaders will agree this year to impose a draconian “tax” on carbon emissions that entirely changes the financial calculus for coal, oil, and gas, and may ultimately devalue much of their asset base to zero. The IMF has let off the first thunder-clap. An astonishing report – blandly titled “How Large Are Global Energy Subsidies” – alleges that the fossil nexus enjoys hidden support worth 6.5pc of world GDP. This will amount to $5.7 trillion in 2015, mostly due to environmental costs and damage to health, and mostly stemming from coal. The World Health Organisation – also on cue – has sharply revised up its estimates of early deaths from fine particulates and sulphur dioxide from coal plants.

The killer point is that this architecture of subsidy is a “drag on economic growth” as well as being a transfer from poor to rich. It pushes up tax rates and crowds out more productive investment. The world would be richer – and more dynamic – if the burning of fossils was priced properly. This is a deeply-threatening line of attack for those accustomed to arguing that solar or wind are a prohibitive luxury, while coal, oil, and gas remain the only realistic way to power the world economy. The annual subsidy bill for renewables is just $77bn, trivial by comparison. The British electricity group SSE is already adapting to the new mood. It will close its Ferrybridge coal-powered plant next year, citing the emerging political consensus that coal “has a limited role in the future”.

The IMF bases its analysis on the work Arthur Pigou, the early 20th Century economist who advocated taxes to ensure to stop investors keeping all the profit while dumping bad side-effects on the rest of society. The Fund has set off a storm of protest. Subsidies are not quite the same as costs. Oil veterans retort that they have been paying punitive taxes into the common welfare pool for a long time. But whether or not you agree with the IMF’s forensic accounting the publication of such claims by the world’s premier financial body is itself a striking fact. The IMF is political to its fingertips. It rarely deviates far from the thinking of the US Treasury.

It is becoming clearer last year’s sweeping deal on climate change between the US and China was an historical inflexion point, the beginning of the end for a century of fossil dominance. At a single stroke it defused the ‘North-South’ conflict that has bedevilled climate policy and that caused the collapse of the Copenhagen talks in 2009. Todd Stern, the chief US climate negotiator, said the chemistry is radically different today as sherpas prepare for the COPS 21 summit in Paris this December. “The two 800-pound gorillas are working together,” he said.

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Glut.

The Tanker Market Is Sending a Big Warning to Oil Bulls (Bloomberg)

Four months into oil’s rebound from a six-year low, the tanker market is sending a clear signal that the rally is under threat. A sudden surge in demand for supertankers drove benchmark charter rates 57% higher in the two weeks through May 20. OPEC will have almost half a billion barrels of oil in transit to buyers at the start of June, the most this year, while analysts say about 20 million barrels is being stored on ships in another indication the glut has yet to dissipate. OPEC is pumping the most oil in more than two years, determined to defend market share rather than prices. A record cut to the number of active U.S. drilling rigs and billions of dollars of spending reductions by companies since last year’s price plunge has yet to translate into a slump in barrels produced.

The world is producing about 1.9 million barrels a day more crude than it needs, according to Goldman Sachs “Supply of oil continues to build,” said Paddy Rodgers of Euronav, whose supertanker fleet can haul 56 million barrels of crude. “All of this oil needs to go somewhere,” he wrote in an e-mail May 19. Daily rates for supertankers on the industry’s benchmark route reached $83,412 on May 20, from $52,987 on May 6, according to the Baltic Exchange in London. While rates since retreated to $69,594, they’re still the highest for this time of year since at least 2008.

OPEC’s 12 members have will have 485 million barrels of oil in transit to buyers in the four weeks to June 6, the most since November, Roy Mason, founder of Oil Movements, monitoring the flows, said by e-mail Wednesday. Iraq, the group’s second-largest producer, plans to boost exports to a record 3.75 million barrels a day next month, according to shipping programs. Spare tanker capacity in the Middle East has seldom been tighter. The combined excess of ships competing for the region’s exports stood at 6% last week, the lowest for the time of year in Bloomberg surveys of shipbrokers that started in 2009. While that expanded to 12% this week, the monthly average was still the lowest on record for May.

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Expect many, and bigger, swings.

China Stocks Plunge 6.5%, Worst Selloff In 4 Months (CNBC)

It was a sea of red in China, with the key Shanghai Composite ending down 6.5% at a near one-week low, marking its biggest one-day loss since January 19 and breaking an eight-session winning streak. The CSI 300 index of the largest listed companies in Shanghai and Shenzhen tumbled 6.7%, while the start-up board ChiNext sank 5.4%. News that more Chinese brokerages are tightening margin lending rules seem to be the main cause of concern among retail investors, experts say. According to IG market strategist Bernard Aw, Guosen Securities increased the margin requirement for 908 counters while Southwest Securities reduced the amount of margin financing that traders can receive using collateral.

Separately, the Shanghai Securities News also reported that regulators have recently urged banks to submit data regarding money flows into the stock market, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, Hong Kong shares tracked their mainland peers to recede more than 2%, hitting a two-week low. Shares of Hong Kong-listed Evergrande Real Estate Group inched up 0.1% after announcing plans to raise around $600 million in a Hong Kong share offering. Sunac China Holdings plunged nearly 6% following news that it is terminating a takeover deal for troubled Chinese developer Kaisa.

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“Once it’s government policy, you better pay attention.”

Yen Drops to 12-Year Low as Yellen Builds Case for Fed Rate Rise (Bloomberg)

The yen fell to a 12-year low versus the dollar as the Federal Reserve prepares to raise interest rates, sharpening the contrast with the Bank of Japan’s unprecedented monetary stimulus. Japan’s currency led declines among 16 major peers this week as signs of U.S. economy strengthening revived the greenback’s rally. The yen’s 30% drop since 2012 is driving record profits at Japan’s biggest companies, helping the nation’s stocks toward their longest rally since 1988. BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda repeated this week that he’ll adjust monetary policy if needed to meet his inflation target.

“The dollar will appreciate relative to the yen because Japanese government policy is to depreciate the yen,” Daniel Fuss at Loomis Sayles said in an interview in Tokyo Wednesday. “Once it’s government policy, you better pay attention.” The Japanese currency has depreciated by 2.1% versus the greenback since May 21, the day before Fed Chair Janet Yellen said she expects to raise interest rates this year for the first time since 2006. Until last week, the yen had been trading in a range of just two yen around 120 per dollar this quarter. The yen’s weakness came as the BOJ pursued policies including unprecedented debt purchases, seeking to revive an economy that spent more than a decade battling deflation.

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The fine print: the original Guardian headline is: “US to urge Greece to end brinkmanship with creditors at G7 meeting”, accusing Greece of brinkmanship. But that’s not what Lew said, even in the article.

US To Urge Greece, Creditors To End Brinkmanship At G7 Meeting (Guardian)

The US Treasury secretary has said he will use the G7 finance ministers’ meeting to press Greece and its European creditors to end their brinkmanship and forge a rescue deal. With the Syriza-led coalition scrambling to secure an agreement, which will release the final €7.2bn (£5.1bn) tranche of bailout cash and prevent it defaulting on a looming payment to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Jack Lew urged both sides in the ongoing Greek debt crisis to “treat every deadline as the last”. Washington has looked on with varying degrees of frustration and alarm throughout the long-running saga, which has seen Greece bailed out twice by a total of €240bn.

On a day when share prices soared on rumours of a breakthrough in the debt talks, before German officials scotched talk of “progress”, Lew warned both sides against complacency. Speaking to students at the London School of Economics before flying to Dresden for the G7 summit, which will take place on Thursday and Friday, he said: “No one should have a false sense of confidence that they know what the result of a crisis in Greece would be.” He stressed that he believed all parties were negotiating in good faith, with neither deliberately aiming at a Greek default. However, Lew said he feared an “accident”, with the high-stakes negotiations ending in crisis. “It is profoundly in the interests of the US and European economies for the accident to be avoided,” Lew said, speaking to students at the London School of Economics. “Brinksmanship is a dangerous thing”.

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Dangerous. The troika could stop this, but won’t.

Greek Bank Losses Show Predicament Amid Record Deposit Outflows (Bloomberg)

Greek banks, forced into a central bank liquidity lifeline, are poised to report sustained losses as they grapple with record deposit outflows and an economy that plunged into double-dip recession. National Bank of Greece, the country’s biggest lender by assets, and Alpha Bank report first-quarter earnings Thursday. Piraeus Bank on Wednesday said its first-quarter loss was €69 million, as deposits shrank by 15% to €46.5 billion, with a further €1.9 billion of private deposit outflows through mid-May. “We expect the Greek banks to remain loss-making this quarter” on more expensive funding from the ECB and higher provisions for souring loans, Euroxx Securities analyst Maria Kanellopoulou said.

The prolonged uncertainty on Greece’s support program “will inevitably weigh on banks’ asset quality, with a fresh rise in new non-performing loans.” Greek lenders have lost access to capital markets and the ECB’s normal financing operations amid a standoff between the country’s anti-austerity coalition and its creditors over the terms of the current bailout. Lenders rely on more than €80 billion of Emergency Liquidity Assistance extended by the Bank of Greece to stay afloat, a more expensive source of funding, while they are forced to participate in liquidity-draining auctions of government treasury bills rather than let the country default.

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“Tsipras added that there is “absolutely no risk to salaries and pensions, nor to bank deposits.”

Athens, Creditors Offer Conflicting Views On Negotiations (Kathimerini)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Wednesday that a deal with creditors was “close” and government officials said an agreement was being drafted but representatives of the country’s creditors made it quite clear that they do not share such optimism. In comments after a meeting at the Finance Ministry, Tsipras said a deal with creditors was “close” and that “very soon we will be able to present more details.” He stressed the need for “calm and determination,” noting that Greece would come under additional pressure in the final stretch of negotiations. He also referred to “conflicting views between institutions” and to “countries with different approaches.” Tsipras added that there is “absolutely no risk to salaries and pensions, nor to bank deposits.”

According to sources, Tsipras was advised to make the statement by aides fearing that jitters were creeping back into the markets and could prompt a new wave of deposit outflows. Tsipras chose to make the statement flanked by Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis to underline the government’s backing for the latter, who has come under fire over his confusing statements about the content of a potential deal. Earlier in the day, the ECB decided not to raise the ceiling on emergency liquidity to Greece. A Greek government official commented that the Bank of Greece had not requested an increase to emergency liquidity as the current ceiling of €80.2 billion is regarded as adequate “following a stabilization of deposit outflows.”

In an interview with Die Zeit on Wednesday, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said it was down to Greece to decide on whether to introduce capital controls. He defended the decision by Greece’s creditors to link loans to further reforms, despite the country’s tightening liquidity problems. “That is the philosophy of the rescue program. The new government is saying: we want to keep the euro but we don’t want the program any more. That doesn’t fit together,” he said. Earlier, on a stopover in London on his way to a meeting of Group of Seven finance ministers in Dresden, US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew called on Greece’s creditors “show enough flexibility so if the Greeks are prepared to take the kind of steps they need to take, they find a pathway to resolving this without there being an unnecessary crisis.”

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It’s easy to forget that all Syriza has been able and allowed to do so far is to negotiate with creditors, and that everything else has been forced onto the backburner.

Romantic Notions Meet Reality (Alexis Papachelas)

Before the elections, there was a considerable number of people who totally disagreed with the ideas and program put forward by SYRIZA, but they expected that the leftist party would, at least, provide a breath of fresh air as it climbed to power. They believed that SYRIZA would do away with the highly partisan tactics of its socialist and conservative predecessors and move on to adopt more meritocratic practices. They expected that SYRIZA would install young, independent people in key government posts, making use of the best talents that the country has to offer. They hoped that SYRIZA officials would man the state apparatus after poring over the CVs of thousands of job-seekers in the private sector. And they anticipated a growth-oriented strategy that would enable people to try their luck without running into unnecessary or artificial obstacles, and without having to pay bribes here and there.

It was only natural that a large section of voters would expect all that. Because, regretably, and despite the crisis, the old political system failed to change the way things work in this country. Unfortunately, the expectations of all those voters with romantic notions of what to expect have not been fulfilled. The state mechanism has mostly been manned by friends and political cronies of the ruling party. Key posts have been entrusted to well-connected representatives of the good old system. The way SYRIZA has dealt with the so-called oligarchs seems very selective. It does not seem to have allowed the domestic institutions to carry out their work in a fair and transparent manner. In fact, it smacks of an attempt to install a new oligarchy – only, this time, one that is pro-SYRIZA.

So, no breath of fresh air. The question, of course, is why? The answer is that SYRIZA has strong ties with groups that depend exclusively on the state for their survival. The healthy private sector which does not rely on the generosity of the state for its well-being has no political representation in Alexis Tsipras’s party. The truth is, even the country’s conservative parties have failed in that respect. It’s hard to say how long SYRIZA will manage to stay in power. Any prediction would be risky these days. That said, those who looked forward to some creative big bang, as it were, spawned by SYRIZA’s victory are beginning to feel disappointed. That does not mean to say that the party will not be able to consolidate itself as the dominant political player. It does mean, however, that the dreamers will have to wait. Or move to a more cynical, same-old view of things.

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A moment of clarity from Ye Olde Paul.

Grexit and the Morning After (Krugman)

We just had another electoral earthquake in the euro area: Podemos-backed candidates have won local elections in Madrid and Barcelona. And I hope that the IFKAT — the institutions formerly known as the troika — are paying attention. The essence of the Greek situation is that the actual parameters of a short-run deal are clear and unavoidable: Greece can’t run a primary budget deficit, because nobody will lend it new money, and it won’t (and basically can’t) run a large primary surplus, because you can’t squeeze even more blood from that stone. So you would think that an agreement for Greece to run a modest primary surplus over the next few years would be easy to reach — that is what will happen, so why not make it official?

But now the IMF is playing bad cop, declaring that it cannot release funds until Syriza toes the line on pensions and labor market reform. The latter is dubious economics — the IMF’s own research doesn’t support enthusiasm about structural reforms, especially in the labor market. The former probably recognizes a real problem — Greece probably can’t deliver what it has promised pensioners — but why should this be an issue over and above the general question of the primary surplus. What I would urge everyone to do is ask what happens if Greece is in fact pushed out of the euro. (Yes, Grexit — ugly word, but we’re stuck with it.) It would surely be ugly in Greece, at least at first.

Right now the core euro countries believe that the rest of the euro area can handle it, which might be true. Bear in mind, however, that the supposed firewall of ECB support has never actually been tested. If markets lose faith and the time for ECB purchases of Spanish or Italian bonds arises, will it really happen? But the bigger question is what happens a year or two after Grexit, where the real risk to the euro is not that Greece will fail but that it will succeed. Suppose that a greatly devalued new drachma brings a flood of British beer-drinkers to the Ionian Sea, and Greece starts to recover. This would greatly encourage challengers to austerity and internal devaluation elsewhere.

Think about it. Just the other day the Very Serious Europeans were hailing Spain as a great success story, a vindication of the whole program. Evidently the Spanish people don’t agree. And if the anti-establishment forces have a recovering Greece to point to, the discrediting of the establishment will accelerate. One conclusion, I guess, is that Germany should try to sabotage Greece post-exit. But I hope that will be considered unacceptable. So think about it, IFKATs: are you really sure you want to start going down this road?

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Has been for years. The plunge will be historic.

Australia Property Boom Is On Borrowed Time (Business Spectator)

The stage is set for Australian property to finally feel the pain so evident across other sectors of the economy. A series of headwinds – combined with tighter lending standards – ensures that the investor property boom is now on borrowed time. Yesterday, Westpac decided to cut the lucrative interest rate discounts offered to new housing investors – following similar action from its major rivals last week – as regulatory pressure from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority begins to take effect. The implication of this shift in regulatory policy will be modest at first but could soon snowball into a much weaker period for Australian property. Rarely can a housing downturn be so easily identified.

Nevertheless, right now, prices continue to rise at a rapid pace in Sydney and to a lesser extent Melbourne. By comparison, conditions in the other capitals remain more modest. Real dwelling prices – that is prices adjusted for inflation – have increased by 30% since the beginning of 2013 in Sydney and by 15% in Melbourne. In the other capitals, price growth has better reflected income growth. But the tide is clearly turning and the outlook for the property sector needs to be viewed against the broader economic backdrop. The Reserve Bank, for example, was recently forced to cut their economic outlook for the fourth time in the past five quarters. We are currently stuck in the middle of an ‘income recession’ due to the sharp fall in commodity prices.

In the next few years, higher taxes will hit the market at the very top – since high income earners obviously purchase expensive housing – but also towards the bottom – since investors often favour cheap rental properties. Alternatively, higher taxes could make negative gearing more attractive. Meanwhile, the Federal Government has taken clear and decisive steps to reign in foreign investment in established property, while maintaining the existing arrangements for new construction. We also cannot ignore the possibility that the Western Australia economic bust has significant spill over effects for the broader economy and financial system.

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But will it stick? Does RICO apply to FIFA?

US Treats FIFA Like the Mafia (Bloomberg)

It wasn’t exactly extraordinary rendition. But when Swiss police arrested seven officials of FIFA, the international football federation, for extradition to the U.S., there were some echoes of the secret terrorism arrests. Soccer is a global game, and it matters more to almost everyone than to Americans. So why is the U.S. acting as the international sheriff and grabbing up non-U.S. citizens to try them domestically for corrupting the sport worldwide? And more to the point, why is this legal? It turns out the legal basis for the FIFA prosecutions isn’t all that simple or straightforward – and therein lies a tale of politics and sports. The prosecutions are being brought under RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970, which was designed to prosecute crime syndicates that had taken over otherwise lawful organizations.

Roughly speaking, the law works by allowing the government to prove that a defendant participated in a criminal organization and also committed at least two criminal acts under other specified laws, including bribery and wire fraud. If the government can prove that, the defendant is guilty of racketeering, and qualifies for stiff sentences, the seizure of assets and potential civil-liability lawsuits. The first and most obvious problem raised by the FIFA arrests is whether the RICO law applies outside the U.S., or “extraterritorially” as lawyers like to say. Generally, as the Supreme Court has recently emphasized, laws passed by Congress don’t apply outside the U.S. unless Congress affirmatively says so. RICO on its face says nothing about applying beyond U.S. borders. So you’d think that RICO can’t reach conduct that occurred abroad, and much of the alleged FIFA criminal conduct appears to have done so.

But in 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that RICO could apply extraterritorially – if and only if the separate criminal acts required by the law, known as “predicate acts,” violated statutes that themselves apply outside U.S. borders. The court gave as an example the law that criminalizes killing an American national outside the U.S. That law clearly applies abroad, the court pointed out. And it may function to define one of the predicate offenses under RICO. Thus, RICO can apply abroad. To convict the FIFA defendants, therefore, the Department of Justice will have to prove either that they committed crimes within the U.S. or that they committed predicate crimes covered by RICO that reach beyond U.S. borders.

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Bet you didn’t know.

You’ll Be Sorry When The Robot McJournalists Take Over (Irish Times)

If you consume much of your daily news diet online, you’re probably already acquainted with the work of “robot journalists”, you just don’t know it yet. We’re not talking here about Wall-E running around with a reporter’s notebook chasing stories on Amal Clooney (well, not yet), but about the algorithms used by organisations such as Forbes, AP and Fortune to produce millions of stories AP relies on a content generation package called Wordsmith to produce some of its quarterly-earnings business stories and will soon be using it for sports coverage too. You’ve never heard of Wordsmith but you’re probably familiar with its work: it produced 300 million stories last year and is aiming for one billion this year. A rival company, Narrative Science, provides content to Forbes, Fortune and others.

“We sort of flip the traditional content creation model on its head,” Robbie Allen, creator of Wordsmith told the New York Times. “Instead of one story with a million page views, we’ll have a million stories with one page view each.” The cheerleaders for this new technology – who includes some journalists (New York magazine declared that “the stories that today’s robots can write are, frankly, the kinds of stories that humans hate writing anyway”) – claim that it will free journalists up to do more meaningful pieces, while algorithms churn out rewrites of press releases, mine longer texts for insights, or produce entirely personalised packages of content tailored for individuals. That’s nonsense. As always, “freeing people up” invariably means “liberating them of their jobs”.

But leaving aside the prospect of fewer people in employment, the notion that algorithms may end up taking over even the quotidian aspects of content production is depressing, and not just for journalists. [..] it’s you, the reader, who will suffer. Algorithms may be good at crunching numbers and putting them in some kind of context, but journalists are good at noticing things no one else has. They’re good at asking annoying questions. They’re nosy and persistent and willing to challenge authority to dig out a story. They’re good at provoking irritation, devastation, laughter or controversy. Wildly efficient robot journalists may offer hope to an industry beset by falling advertising rates and disappearing readers. The world will have fewer human journalists as a result, which may not be altogether a bad thing. But the question is: does it really need a billion more pieces of McJournalism?

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Go to site to watch video.

Julian Assange: TPP Isn’t About Trade, But Corporate Control (Democracy Now)

As negotiations continue, WikiLeaks has published leaked chapters of the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership — a global trade deal between the United States and 11 other countries. The TPP would cover 40% of the global economy, but details have been concealed from the public. A recently disclosed “Investment Chapter” highlights the intent of U.S.-led negotiators to create a tribunal where corporations can sue governments if their laws interfere with a company’s claimed future profits. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange warns the plan could chill the adoption of health and environmental regulations.

Julian Assange: ..it’s the largest-ever international economic treaty that has ever been negotiated, very considerably larger than NAFTA. It is mostly not about trade. Only five of the 29 chapters are about traditional trade. The others are about regulating the Internet and what Internet—Internet service providers have to collect information. They have to hand it over to companies under certain circumstances. It’s about regulating labor, what labor conditions can be applied, regulating, whether you can favor local industry, regulating the hospital healthcare system, privatization of hospitals. So, essentially, every aspect of the modern economy, even banking services, are in the TPP.

And so, that is erecting and embedding new, ultramodern neoliberal structure in U.S. law and in the laws of the other countries that are participating, and is putting it in a treaty form. And by putting it in a treaty form, that means—with 14 countries involved, means it’s very, very hard to overturn. So if there’s a desire, democratic desire, in the United States to go down a different path—for example, to introduce more public transport—then you can’t easily change the TPP treaty, because you have to go back and get agreement of the other nations involved. Now, looking at that example, what if the government or a state government decides it wants to build a hospital somewhere, and there’s a private hospital, has been erected nearby?

Well, the TPP gives the constructor of the private hospital the right to sue the government over the expected—the loss in expected future profits. This is expected future profits. This is not an actual loss that has been sustained, where there’s desire to be compensated; this is a claim about the future. And we know from similar instruments where governments can be sued over free trade treaties that that is used to construct a chilling effect on environmental and health regulation law. For example, Togo, Australia, Uruguay are all being sued by tobacco companies, Philip Morris the leading one, to prevent them from introducing health warnings on the cigarette packets.

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But that’s against our life philosophy?!

The Cheapest Way To Help the Homeless: Give Them Homes (Mother Jones)

Santa Clara County is perhaps best known as the home of Silicon Valley. It also has one of the country’s highest rates of homelessness and its third largest chronically homeless population. An extensive new study of the county’s homelessness crisis, published yesterday, finds that the most cost-effective way to address the problem is to provide people with homes. Those findings echo a similar approach that’s been successfully adopted in Utah, the subject of Mother Jones’ April/May cover story. The study was conducted by county officials who teamed up with Economic Roundtable, a nonprofit public policy research organization, and Destination: Home, an agency that works to house the homeless.

Researchers dug into 25 million records to create a detailed picture of the demographics and needs of the more than 104,000 people who were homeless in the county between 2007 and 2012. They found that much of the public costs of homelessness stemmed from a small segment of this population who were persistently homeless, around 2,800 people. Close to half of all county expenditures were spent on just five% of the homeless population, who came into frequent contact with police, hospitals, and other service agencies, racking up an average of $100,000 in costs per person annually. Those costs quickly add up—overall, Santa Clara communities spend $520 million in homeless services every year.

The study also highlights solutions. The researchers examined Destination: Home’s program, which has housed more than 800 people in the past five years. The study looked at more than 400 of these housing recipients, a fifth of whom were part of the most expensive cohort. Before receiving housing, they each averaged nearly $62,500 in public costs annually. Housing them cost less than $20,000 per person—an annual savings of more than $42,000.

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Fifty shades of dry.

US Droughts Set To Be Worst In 1000 Years (OnEarth)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s seasonal outlook is out, and this summer is going to be a dry one. The massive drought consuming the West will likely continue and even intensify in most places (sorry Nevada, that forecast covers the entire Silver State.) But it won’t be alone: The upper Midwest and Northeast will be parched, too. As for the lower Midwest, a few states could get some relief, but…I wouldn’t let those green lawns go to your head. Scientific models predict that as the climate warms, we’ll see more droughts, and according to the video below, they’ll also last longer than in the past. So Americans, start swinging your partner round and round, shaking your moneymaker, or electric-sliding (if you must)—because we may need to come up with a national rain dance.

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History revised: no asteroid.

Fossil Fuel Burning Nearly Wiped Out Life On Earth 250m Years Ago (Monbiot)

In the media, if not scientific literature, global catastrophes have long been associated with asteroid strikes. But as the dating of rocks has improved, the links have vanished. Even the famous meteorite impact at Chicxulub in Mexico, widely blamed for the destruction of the dinosaurs, was out of sync by more than 100,000 years. The story that emerges repeatedly from the fossil record is mass extinction caused by three deadly impacts, occurring simultaneously: global warming, the acidification of the oceans and the loss of oxygen from seawater. All these effects are caused by large amounts of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere. When seawater absorbs CO2, its acidity increases. As temperatures rise, circulation in the oceans stalls, preventing oxygen from reaching the depths.

The great outgassings of the past were caused by volcanic activity that were orders of magnitude greater than the eruptions we sometimes witness today. The dinosaurs appear to have been wiped out by the formation of the Deccan Traps in India: an outpouring on such a scale that one river of lava flowed for 1,500km. But that event was dwarfed by a far greater one, 190m years earlier, that wiped out 96% of marine life as well as most of the species on land. What was the cause? It now appears that it might have been the burning of fossil fuel. Before I explainthis extraordinary contention, it’s worth taking a moment to consider what mass extinction means.

This catastrophe, at the end of the Permian period about 252m years ago, wiped out not just species within the world’s ecosystems but the ecosystems themselves. Forests and coral reefs vanished from the fossil record for some 10 million years. When, eventually, they were reconstituted, it was with a different collection of species which evolved to fill the ecological vacuum. Much of the world’s surface was reduced to bare rubble. Were such an extinction to take place today, it would be likely to eliminate almost all the living systems that sustain us. When plants are stripped from the land, the soil soon follows.

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Blackberry founder decides Artic ownership?

A 19th Century Shipwreck Could Give Canada Control of the Arctic (Bloomberg)

Jim Balsillie, the former co-CEO of Research In Motion, the company behind the BlackBerry, believes rituals are scenes we perform so our lives might take the shape we need them to take. It’s a symbolic act, and symbols matter to him. Directly beneath the hole in the ice, visible on the seafloor, is the biggest symbol of all: the HMS Erebus, one of two British navy ships lost during Sir John Franklin’s doomed 1845 quest to find the Northwest Passage through the Arctic. The whereabouts of the Erebus frustrated hundreds of searchers for more than 150 years, costing several their lives. Balsillie helped finance and coordinate the successful hunt for the ship, rediscovered in September 2014.

On a personal level, the search for the Erebus was a way for him to take more control over his life after his unceremonious exit from RIM, which left him angry, drained, and disoriented. But it’s much more than an archeological artifact. It represents an opportunity for Canada to take more control of the Arctic. Exploring the Erebus, Balsillie hopes, will draw the collective attention of Canadians northward to a neglected region with billions in potential resources. And by conducting a complex operation in the waters, Canadian military and civilian officials say they are demonstrating their sovereignty over the Northwest Passage. The Queen Maud Gulf, where the Erebus sits, is part of the southern branch of the Northwest Passage.

The route is a fabled link between the Atlantic and Pacific that for centuries proved a dangerous magnet for seekers of knowledge, fortune, and glory. Since 2007, as a result of climate change, the passage has become navigable by smaller ships for a couple of months during most summers. An open route can cut thousands of miles off of trips between the west coast of the Americas and Europe. The two alternative routes are the Panama Canal and the Northern Sea Route, which runs from the Bering Strait and over the Russian Arctic. In 2013 the MS Nordic Orion, a Norwegian freighter, made the first cargo transit of the Northwest Passage. That trip, which carried coal from Vancouver to Norway, hasn’t been repeated. But it raised an unanswered question in maritime law: Who really controls the waters of the route and the rest of Canada’s Arctic archipelago, which consists of more than 30,000 islands?

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She’s a beauty.

The Tiny House Powered Only by Wind and Sun (Atlantic)

In theory, I support the tiny-house lifestyle. I would enjoy the opportunity to live on a lonesome plain somewhere, with only the stars and many insects for company. I’m sure I could find a way to de-clutter my life such that the floor of my room/house was not always covered by 100 pairs of yoga pants. I would emerge from the experience a stronger, more reflective person who, if tiny house documentaries are to be believed, is also an expert in knitting and roof repair. The problem would lie in the construction of said house. If I were in charge of hooking up my own water lines, for example, I would be dead of dysentery by now.

Enter the Ecocapsule, a new kind of micro-house powered entirely by solar and wind energy. The capsule, made by a Slovakian company called Nice Architects, comes pre-made and ready to house two adults. Its kitchenette spouts running water, the toilet flushes, and the shower flows hot. It is 14.6 feet long and 7.4 feet wide. Nice Architects will start taking pre-orders in the fall of this year, and it expects to start delivering the first units in the beginning of 2016. They’re unveiling the Ecocapsule publicly for the first time this week at the Pioneers festival in Vienna. The company suggest the Ecocapsule can be used as a portable hotel, a research station, or even a charging hub for electric vehicles.

The designers, for whom English is not a first language, also write in the release that the “capsule can be used as a urban dwelling for singles in the high-rent, high-income areas like NY or Silicone valley. It can be placed on the rooftop or vacant parking lot.” (Hear that, Google employees? Enjoy dealing with your new, pod-dwelling roof squatters!) Okay, so maybe that last one is wishful thinking. But if it works as described, the capsule might just be the perfect tiny house for those who yearn to live on the edge of an ethereal cliff but don’t want to learn how to build a composting toilet.

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Dec 102014
 
 December 10, 2014  Posted by at 12:36 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


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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Oct 252014
 
 October 25, 2014  Posted by at 12:12 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Luna Park, Coney Island 1905

An Economy Based On Property Has Much To Fear (Independent)
Lenders Facing Soaring Costs Shutting Out U.S. Homebuyers (Bloomberg)
It Shouldn’t Hurt This Much to Get a Mortgage (Ritholtz)
Paying For Bad Habits: Hookers And Drugs Lift UK’s EU Bill (Guardian)
UK Chancellor Osborne’s Choice Of Words Is Sounding Alarm Bells (Guardian)
A Mystery Bidder Offers $3 Million for 6,000 of Detroit’s Worst Homes (BW)
Spanish Accuse Goldman, Blackstone Of Hiking Rent For Poor (Independent)
EU Bank Breakup Plan Hits More Hurdles as Danes Reject Idea (Bloomberg)
Citigroup Bets ECB Will Do QE as Morgan Stanley Sees Odds at 40% (Bloomberg)
50% Of American Workers Make Less Than $28,031 A Year (Snyder)
The American Dream Is Still Possible, Just Not in the US (Daily Bell)
Rosenberg Says No Recession Until At Least 2016 (MarketWatch)
China Auto Market Growth To Shrink by 50% This Year: Industry Head (Reuters)
Blood In The Water As Amazon Magic Fades (Reuters)
Putin Accuses U.S of Blackmail, Weakening Global Order (Bloomberg)
NPR Slashes Number Of Environment Reporters To One Part-Timer (HuffPo)
Ebola Epidemic In Africa To Explode Without Rapid, Substantial Aid (Lancet)
‘Official’ Number of Ebola Cases Passes 10,000, With 5,000 Deaths (BBC)

A very smart way to look at it.

An Economy Based On Property Has Much To Fear (Independent)

Believe it or not, the Bank of England isn’t just a bunch of bowler-hatted types stuck behind desks in Threadneedle Street. It has agents up and down the country interviewing business people on how their companies are faring: what goods are selling well, whether they’re hiring or firing, that sort of thing. The monthly bulletins that result rarely get reported, but are useful because they layer anecdotal evidence on top of the regular run of dry economic stats. Superficially, October’s feedback had much to cheer – order books are swelling in most sectors, employment is expected to increase, and access to credit has improved. But it is striking how much of this positive stuff is related, directly or indirectly, to the property market.

Business services firms – accountants, lawyers and the like – are growing because of an increase in construction deals; manufacturing and retail sales are being kept afloat by sales of kitchens, bathrooms and furniture thanks to people moving house; business investment is growing as firms spend more on doing up their premises or moving to new sites. Property, property, property. Exporters, meanwhile, were gloomy, with all, from farmers to manufacturers, complaining of eurozone weakness, Russian belligerence and war in the Middle East. That means we will be reliant on the domestic economy for years to come. With this still clearly so dominated by the world of bricks and mortar, one has to wonder, what would happen if interest rates start to rise? Disaster, that’s what. The Bank’s other document release yesterday – the minutes to the Monetary Policy Committee’s last meeting on rates – show a continuing doveish slant. Good job, too.

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No, prices vs income shuts out potential buyers. So either significantly raise wages or drop prices, and stop whining.

Lenders Facing Soaring Costs Shutting Out U.S. Homebuyers (Bloomberg)

Clem Ziroli Jr.’s mortgage firm, which has seen its costs soar to comply with new regulations, used to make about three loans a day. This year Ziroli said he’s lucky if one gets done. His First Mortgage Corp., which mostly loans to borrowers with lower FICO credit scores and thick, complicated files, must devote triple the time to ensure paperwork conforms to rules created after the housing crash. To ease the burden, Ziroli hired three executives a few months ago to also focus on lending to safe borrowers with simpler applications. “The biggest thing people are suffering from is the cost to manufacture a loan,” said Ziroli, president of the Ontario, California-based firm and a 22-year industry veteran. “If you have a high credit score, it’s easier. For deserving borrowers with lower scores, the cost for mistakes is prohibitive and is causing lenders to not want to make those loans.”

Federal regulations, enacted after the collapse of the subprime market spurred the financial crisis, are boosting mortgage costs this year. Most lenders are responding by providing home loans only to borrowers with near perfect credit, shutting out creditworthy Americans whose loan files are too expensive to review and complete. If banks commit compliance errors in issuing a loan that goes bad, they have to buy it back at a loss from Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. During the housing boom between 2004 and 2007, lenders provided about $2 trillion in subprime loans, many to unqualified borrowers. So-called liar loans didn’t require borrowers to provide pay stubs or tax returns to document earnings. Teaser rates as low as 1% offered on mortgages soared when they reset a few years later.

The share of subprime mortgages for which borrowers either provided little documentation of their assets or none at all rose to 38% in 2007 from 32% in 2003, according to a paper published by the Federal Reserve. Almost one in four of those mortgages defaulted by 2008 compared with one in five of fully documented subprime loans. Wall Street firms securitized pools of the loans called collateralized debt obligations and sold them to investors. They also created so-called synthetic CDOs that were derivative instruments designed to mirror the performance of the loan pools. “What started the crisis were these loans that were designed to fail, loans that weren’t underwritten at all,” said Julia Gordon, director of housing finance and policy at the Washington-based Center for American Progress, which has ties to the Democratic Party. “No one quite realized that these loans were then at the bottom of this giant pyramid scheme, where the Wall Street derivative products that were based off of them would just come crashing down and take the whole economy with them.”

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Sorry, Barry, but that’s as wrong as can be. It should very much be this hard, or prices will never find their ‘natural’ floor.

It Shouldn’t Hurt This Much to Get a Mortgage (Barry Ritholtz)

Under normal circumstances, approving my mortgage application should be a no-brainer: High income, no debt, good credit score. The missus also makes a good income, has an almost-perfect credit score and has been working for the same business for 28 years. But these are not normal circumstances. Let me jump to the end: Yes, we got our mortgage. We put 20% down, bought a house that appraised for more than the purchase price and got a 3.25% rate on a mortgage that resets after seven years. We moved in last month.

But the process was surreal. Indeed, it was such a bizarre experience that I started hunting for explanations from people in the industry about why mortgage lending has gone astray. I spoke to numerous experts, many of whom spoke only on background. Today’s column is about what I learned. By just about any measure, credit is tighter today than it has been in decades. Although former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s inability to refinance a mortgage is merely anecdotal, consider instead the gauge CoreLogic developed. It used 1998 as a baseline and considered six quantitative measurements to evaluate how loose or easy mortgage lending is. By those metrics, this is the tightest credit market for mortgage lending in at least 16 years.

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I like my take from yesterday better: French hookers are cheaper than British ones.

Paying For Bad Habits: Hookers And Drugs Lift UK’s EU Bill (Guardian)

Listening to EU officials describe how Britain pays its annual EU contribution brings to mind George W Bush being questioned about one of his administration’s budgets. Flicking the pages before assembled journalists he said: “There’s a lot of pages, a lot of lines and a lot of numbers.” To all but a few, the addings up and subtractings that go on in Brussels make little more sense. One of the few things that does seem clear is that Britain is paying for its bad habits. Brussels needs more cash this year to cope with overspent budgets. And while it might seem unfair to tax a country for needing a bigger crutch than others in the EU club, relatively speaking, the UK’s GDP has jumped courtesy of new estimates of the nation’s consumption of drugs and use of prostitutes. The EU applies its complex calculation of how much member states should pay into its coffers largely on GDP levels. The bigger the national income, the bigger the contribution. So far, so simple.

However, earlier this year the UK’s GDP was given a £10bn boost after officials calculated that sex work generated £5.3bn for the economy in 2013, with another £4.4bn coming from the sale of cannabis, heroin, powder cocaine, crack cocaine, ecstasy and amphetamines. Other countries have been affected too after the EU calculated how much of their hidden economies should be brought on the books. Greece faces a larger contribution despite losing a fifth of is national income since 2009. Italy is another victim, though arguably it has only included a fraction of the mafia’s business in its GDP calculations. More importantly, Britain is paying more because this year it is simply bigger than 18 months ago while other countries have stood still or contracted. Like soldiers in a lineup who find themselves volunteering for toilet duty after everyone else has taken a step back, the UK Treasury is paying for being one of the few among the EU’s 27 economies to strengthen this year.

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A glitch in the posturing process?!

UK Chancellor Osborne’s Choice Of Words Is Sounding Alarm Bells (Guardian)

George Osborne is clearly worried. Going into a pre-election war-gaming huddle with his advisers, the economic numbers that once sang a happy tune and are so crucial to victory, now sound a little discordant. It seems churlish to strain for the bum notes in the latest GDP figures. All parts of the economy are growing, with the exception of agriculture. And growing more strongly than they are in any of the major European economies. But it is the chancellor’s words that set off the alarm bells. He said: “If we want to avoid a return to the chaos and instability of the past, then we need to carry on working through our economic plan that is delivering stability and security.” Adopting the word “chaos” is at once interesting and alarming. He seems to be saying that any other path than the one he has chosen will bring with it a swirling storm of instability. Billing himself as Lord Protector, Osborne risks overstating his case, especially when the GDP numbers are so strong.

Growth is moderating, but most surveys report that businesses remain confident about the recovery and continue to hire more staff. As a result, unemployment continues to fall. So what can he be worried about? There is the three months of restrained housing market activity. If it’s true, and we don’t fully understand the link, that much of the recovery is connected to the increase in property buying, then any slowdown is a cause for concern. Except the chancellor wanted the housing market to cool. And his policies are largely the reason banks are refusing to dole out loans after he gave regulators instructions in April to clampdown on risky mortgage lending. A slowdown in housebuilding was also a logical knock-on effect, given that a majority of homes are constructed by a private building sector keen to maintain its extraordinary profit levels.

We know he is worried about the slowdown in exports, which didn’t take off four years ago, as he had expected. The eurozone’s impending recession is largely to blame, but a lack of support to exporters, particularly multimillion-pound credit insurance, has also proved a barrier. However, the crucial issue is the government’s finances, which have worsened this year despite the strong recovery. For a man with the electoral cycle stamped on his DNA, it is tragic that businesses and workers are not paying much extra tax.

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What do Detroiters think of this?

A Mystery Bidder Offers $3 Million for 6,000 of Detroit’s Worst Homes (BW)

Three million dollars can barely buy a new townhouse in Brooklyn these days, but it could be enough to purchase a bundle of more than 6,000 foreclosures up for auction in Detroit. The cost of dealing with the many blighted buildings included in the Detroit mega-auction means a $3.2 million bid received last week—roughly the minimum allowable bid of $500 per property—will likely prove too high to turn a profit. “I can’t imagine that you are going to make money on this,” says David Szymanski, chief deputy treasurer of Wayne County, which is selling the properties. So it’s all the more mysterious that the auction, opened with little fanfare earlier this month, has attracted any bidder at all. Still, at least one unidentified party is willing to pay $3.2 million to take control—and responsibility—for scores of dilapidated homes. In fact, winning the bid could cost the lucky winner a small fortune beyond the auction price.

Finding a way to deal with Detroit’s blight is critical for the city’s future. A task force has already called for immediately tearing down 10% of all structures. The group surveyed the condition of every Detroit property and identified neighborhoods at a tipping point at which stripping them of blight could keep certain areas from slipping away entirely. “I had cancer 12 years ago, and this is exactly like cancer,” Szymanski says. “If you don’t get it all, it’s going to come back.” Wayne County has become a major owner of blighted properties, which it can seize when owners fall behind on taxes. The scale of its distressed holdings is unprecedented. When Szymanski joined the treasurer’s office four years ago, he called the treasurer of Cuyahoga County in Ohio to compare notes. His counterpart, whose domain includes Cleveland and was a bellwether during the housing crisis, asked: “Are you sitting down? We are foreclosing on 4,500 properties.” Szymanski says he replied: “I hope you’re laying down.” At the time, Wayne County had 42,000 properties in foreclosure.

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Throw ’em out!

Spanish Accuse Goldman, Blackstone Of Hiking Rent For Poor (Independent)

The London investment arms of Goldman Sachs and Blackstone were accused last night of jacking up the rents of Madrid’s poorest people after they bought thousands of the city’s council flats. Many, unable to afford their new terms, have now been threatened with eviction or moved out. During the financial crisis, the city was advised by the accountants PwC to sell off swathes of its social housing in order to raise desperately needed funds. It sold 5,000 flats to investors including Goldman and Blackstone. Nothing changed in the tenants’ rents until their leases ran out, when, in many cases, the charges shot up dramatically. Reuters interviewed over 40 households who have been thrown into difficulties by the rent rises. They include Jamila Bouzelmat, a mother of six who lives in a four-bed flat now owned by Goldman and a Spanish property firm. She said her family had been paying €58 (£46) a month rent from her husband’s €500 unemployment benefit. But in April, her new landlords suddenly took €436 from her account.

Ms Bouzelmat said she only discovered the problem when she tried to pay an electricity bill: “We went to take money out and there wasn’t a cent left in the bank,” she explained. 1 in 5 adults in Madrid are unemployed. Goldman and Blackstone are entirely within their rights to charge market-price rents. However, a number of lawsuits have now been launched by local politicians against the councils that sold the homes. The problem is particularly bad in Spain because it already had one of the smallest stocks of social housing in Europe. Now 15 per cent of it has been sold off to London banks and private equity firms, there is even less. Goldman’s properties had about 400 households on reduced rents, often negotiated individually with the council and set for up to two years. Goldman referred inquiries to Encasa Cibeles, the local firm set up to manage the flats. A spokesperson said: “Evictions occur in an extremely small number of cases.”

Blackstone’s tenants have been on longer leases but most have been paying below-market rents. As leases approach expiry, rates have risen 40%. Blackstone referred inquiries to Fidere, the local estate management company, which said “some people have lost the public subsidy they received from the council”. It is negotiating with the 2% of its tenants in that situation.

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There’s always another politician to put on the payroll.

Bank Breakup Plan Hits More EU Hurdles as Danes Reject Idea (Bloomberg)

Denmark won’t back a proposal to split Europe’s biggest banks as the region’s first country to enforce bail-in rules questions the value of more regulation. “With all the legislation now in place there really shouldn’t be more worries,” Business Minister Henrik Sass Larsen said in an interview yesterday at the parliament in Copenhagen. A proposal by Michel Barnier, the European Union’s financial services chief, to break up systemically important banks has resurfaced with local regulators trying to defend national interests, according to a document obtained by Bloomberg News. Italy, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said it was looking for “concrete options for the way forward” after registering “strong concerns” among member states, the document showed. “With the regulation we’ve put in place, we’re fully covered,” Larsen said, characterizing the notion that more may be needed as obsolete. The proposal for reforming bank structures has come under attack on multiple fronts since Barnier presented it in January.

In addition to a narrowly defined proprietary-trading ban, Barnier set out EU-wide standards for splitting up the most systemically important banks that would push certain kinds of derivatives and other trading activities into separately capitalized units. Barnier’s plans require approval from national governments and the European Parliament to take effect, with talks set to continue into next year. Britain’s Jonathan Hill, who will replace Barnier as financial services commissioner on Nov. 1, has said he will “take forward work” on the proposal. Larsen’s position shows some EU nations back industry efforts to block further regulation. Christian Clausen, the president of the European Banking Federation and the chief executive of Nordea Bank AB, said this week plans to add rules to the existing framework are “going beyond reason.” Clausen said he plans to have a “serious talk” with the European Commission and parliament to prevent further regulatory tightening.

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Think Berlin.

Citigroup Bets ECB Will Do QE as Morgan Stanley Sees Odds at 40% (Bloomberg)

Economists are at odds over whether the European Central Bank will do “whatever it takes” to revive inflation in the euro area. More than two years after President Mario Draghi promised to pull out all the stops to protect the euro from a swirling debt crisis, ECB-watchers are split over whether the central bank will buy government bonds to aid the struggling economy. In making forecasts for the possible deployment of full-blown quantitative easing, the pressures of weak growth and sliding inflation are being balanced against Germany’s aversion to purchasing sovereign debt and practical considerations such as how and whether it would work. Draghi said earlier this month that the ECB will use further unconventional monetary policy instruments if needed to support recovery. Goldman Sachs sees one-in-three odds of QE, Morgan Stanley views the chances at 40% and JPMorgan is at 50-50. By contrast, HSBC, Barclays and Bank of Americahave sovereign QE as part of their central scenarios. Citigroup even says it could happen before the end of this year.

Here then is a handy round-up, gleaned from reports and interviews, of where economists at major banks stand. Huw Pill, Goldman Sachs: “Sovereign QE is not part of our baseline scenario, which is for economic activity to go sideways and inflation to remain low. We think the current gloom and doom about the euro area outlook is overdone.” Joerg Kraemer, Commerzbank: “We were one of the first banks to predict at the end of August that the ECB would buy government bonds on a generous scale, envisaging this happening at the start of next year rather than this year.” “It has become far more likely that the bank will act before the end of this year. Concerns about the economy that have triggered the drop in equity prices make it ever more likely that the ECB will have to lower its optimistic growth forecast for 2015 of 1.6%.” “This fact plays into the hands of those on the ECB Council in favour of relaxing the reins, as does our expectation that the end of the bank stress test will not in fact sound the all-clear for weak lending. Long-term inflation expectations have dropped sharply.”

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Gutted like a fish.

50% Of American Workers Make Less Than $28,031 A Year (Snyder)

The Social Security Administration has just released wage statistics for 2013, and the numbers are startling. Last year, 50% of all American workers made less than $28,031, and 39% of all American workers made less than $20,000. If you worked a full-time job at $10 an hour all year long with two weeks off, you would make $20,000. So the fact that 39% of all workers made less than that amount is rather telling. This is more evidence of the declining quality of the jobs in this country. In many homes in America today, both parents are working multiple jobs in a desperate attempt to make ends meet. Our paychecks are stagnant while the cost of living just continues to soar.

And the jobs that are being added to the economy pay a lot less than the jobs lost in the last recession. In fact, it has been estimated that the jobs that have been created since the last recession pay an average of 23% less than the jobs that were lost. We are witnessing the slow-motion destruction of the middle class, and very few of our leaders seem to care. The “average” yearly wage in America last year was just $43,041. But after accounting for inflation, that was actually worse than the year before… American paychecks shrank last year, just-released data show, further eroding the public’s purchasing power, which is so vital to economic growth.

Average pay for 2013 was $43,041 — down $79 from the previous year when measured in 2013 dollars. Worse, average pay fell $508 below the 2007 level, my analysis of the new Social Security Administration data shows. Flat or declining average pay is a major reason so many Americans feel that the Great Recession never ended for them. A severe job shortage compounds that misery not just for workers but also for businesses trying to profit from selling goods and services. Average pay declined in 59 of the 60 levels of worker pay the government reports each October.

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In Canada? Really? What part of the dream is that?

The American Dream Is Still Possible, Just Not in the US (Daily Bell)

Although there are no firm statistics on the number of Americans living outside the US, the US State Department estimates that somewhere between 3 and 6 million Americans now live offshore. I think this is a low estimate and the number is clearly growing. I now live in Canada but often travel back to the United States. Driving through Customs near Buffalo is usually not a big ordeal but it does involve a time-wasting delay much like visiting the post office or any other US government bureaucracy. But governments should police their borders, as this is one of the few legitimate functions of a central government. Still, whenever I’m there I do notice the America I grew up in and once knew has really changed since 9/11. The trend toward a more militarized and aggressive police force continues to quicken. I know most Americans accept this as part of the consequences of the War on Terror just as they do the loss of financial privacy, increased fines and asset seizures.

The Canadian government recently warned citizens to be careful when taking cash to the US because of the risk of police taking their cash for hyped-up offenses. Did you know that in the last 13 years, over $2.5 billion has been stolen by law enforcement in almost 62,000 cash seizures? I have to say that as an American, I’m outraged at the situation and always on guard when in the USSA. I fear many Americans who don’t travel internationally might have become somewhat immune to the intrusive, arbitrary nature of today’s American government and its institutions. Here in Canada, law enforcement is almost always professional and courteous and even the bureaucrats are friendly and helpful, which simply amazes me. So to my American family, friends and business associates, I want you to know it is still possible to achieve the American Dream of a simple life with opportunity for wealth creation, fun, freedom and good times without an overly intrusive, threatening government … just not in the United States.

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Rosy’s started living up to his nickname.

Rosenberg Says No Recession Until At Least 2016 (MarketWatch)

It’s going to take a little bit more than Ebola, eurozone pessimism and a rising U.S. dollar to turn David Rosenberg into a bear. The chief economist and strategist at Gluskin Sheff, in his economic commentary, points out the leading economic indicator released Thursday showed a 0.8% monthly advance and a 6.3% year-over-year gain in September. This rate, he says, is consistent with annual real GDP just under 4.5%. Plus, the one-month diffusion index jumped to a four-year high of 90%. Usually, within six months of a recession, the year-over-year trend turns negative while the diffusion index falls below 30%.

“Looking at the situation another way, based on where both the YoY LEI trend and the diffusion indices are now, and tracing them through the classic business cycle, we are at least two years away from the next recession,” he says. What does that mean for stocks? “The reality is that bear markets do not just pop out of the air,” he said. “They are caused by tight money, recessions, or both. These conditions do not apply, nor will they until 2016 at the earliest.”

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That’s a lot of cars planned for and produced, that are not going to be sold.

China Auto Market Growth To Shrink by 50% This Year: Industry Head (Reuters)

Growth in China’s auto market, the world’s biggest, will halve to 7% this year weighed down by a slowing economy, the head of an industry body said on Saturday. “Personally, I think growth this year can reach 7%,” Dong Yang, secretary general of the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM), told reporters on the sidelines of an industry conference in Shanghai. “The economy is slowing. The auto industry would reflect that but typically lags the economic cycle by a bit.” CAAM had forecast China’s auto market, which grew by 13.9% last year, to expand at 8.3% in 2014. Dong said CAAM will not make any official revisions to its forecast. [..] Nissan has said its China sales fell by 20% in September from a year earlier, the third straight month of decline, due to sluggish sales of light commercial vehicles and increased competition in the passenger car segment. During the first nine months of the year, overall vehicle sales in China rose 7% from the same period a year earlier, according to CAAM data.

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Jeff Bezos has issues.

Blood In The Water As Amazon Magic Fades (Reuters)

Amazon.com’s once fairy-tale ride on Wall Street has hit its most jarring bump yet. The company that for years enthralled investors with improbable growth and earned one of the technology sector’s highest valuations drew widespread ire after a spectacular results letdown on Thursday. Amazon missed expectations across the board – on margins, on its net loss and on revenue. An unaccountably poor 7% to 18% revenue growth forecast for the typically strongest holiday quarter was the final straw for some. Coming just three months after a big letdown in July, the warning may represent a tipping point for investors who are already wary of a triple-digit price-earnings ratio and a persistent unwillingness to throttle back spending.

“They’re becoming much too distracted in all these other efforts” outside core businesses like online retailing and web services, said Matthew Benkendorf, portfolio manager at Vontobel Asset Management. Benkendorf unloaded his Amazon holdings a year ago and said he would be skeptical of future involvement even if the stock falls further. “They are their own worst enemy to success,” he said. “They really need to do some soul searching and get focused.”

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Not a bad analysis.

Putin Accuses U.S of Blackmail, Weakening Global Order (Bloomberg)

The U.S. is behaving like “Big Brother” and blackmailing world leaders, while making imbalances in global relations worse, Russia’s president said. Current conflicts risk bringing world order to collapse, Vladimir Putin told the annual Valdai Club in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. The Cold War’s “victors” are dismantling established international laws and relations, while the global security system has become weak and deformed, with the U.S. acting like the “nouveau riche” as global leader, he said. “The Cold War has ended,” Putin said. “But it ended without peace being achieved, without clear and transparent agreements on the new rules and standards.” Russia has clashed with the U.S. over conflicts from Syria to Ukraine, sending relations between the two countries to levels not seen since Soviet times. Putin, whose nation is on the brink of recession because of U.S. and European sanctions over Ukraine, also offered asylum to fugitive American government intelligence contractor Edward Snowden in 2013.

“Global anarchy” will grow unless clear mechanisms are established for resolving crises, Putin told the invited group of foreign and Russian academics and analysts. The U.S.’s “self-appointed” leadership has brought no good for other nations and a unipolar world amounts to a dictatorship, he said. “The United States does not seek confrontation with Russia, but we cannot and will not compromise on the principles on which security in Europe and North America rests,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in response today in Washington. Psaki said the U.S. was committed to upholding Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity while continuing to cooperate with Russia on other issues, including destroying nuclear stockpiles and Syria’s chemical weapons cache.

“Our focus is on continuing to engage with Russia on areas of mutual concern, and we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to continue to do that,” Psaki said, “while we still certainly have disagreements on some issues.” Putin also attacked globalization, which he said has “disillusioned” many countries and risks hurting trust in the U.S. and its allies. More nations are trying to escape dependence on the dollar as a reserve currency by forming alternative financial systems, according to the Russian leader. Russia doesn’t want to restore its empire or have a special place in the world, Putin said. While it’s not seeking superpower status in international relations, it wants its interests to be respected, he said.

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Progress!

NPR Slashes Number Of Environment Reporters To One Part-Timer (HuffPo)

National Public Radio is down to just one environment reporter, and he’s only covering the beat part time, InsideClimate News reported Friday. As of early 2014, NPR had three reporters and an editor on the environment beat. Now they have one person, science reporter Christopher Joyce, holding down coverage of the issue, and his stories span a broad range of issues beyond the environment. The other three environment staffers have left NPR or moved to other beats. While other reporters could, of course, fill in with environment coverage, as needed, InsideClimate’s analysis of NPR’s archives finds that the number of environment stories has declined:

The number of content pieces tagged “environment” that NPR publishes (which include things like Q&As and breaking news snippets) has declined since January, according to an analysis by InsideClimate News, dropping from the low 60s to mid-40s every month. A year-to-year comparison shows that the outlet published 68 environment stories in September 2013 and 43 in September 2014. Last month, about 40% of that content was climate-related due to NPR’s cities project, as well as the media-intensive People’s Climate March and the UN climate summit in New York City. The rest was a mix of stories on agriculture and food, land conservation, wildlife, pollution and global health.

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Key line: “90,122 deaths in Montserrado alone by Dec. 15. Of these, the authors estimate 42,669 cases and 27,175 deaths will have been reported by that time.” Less than a third of deaths to be reported.

Ebola Epidemic In Africa To Explode Without Rapid, Substantial Aid (Lancet)

The Ebola virus disease epidemic already devastating swaths of West Africa will likely get far worse in the coming weeks and months unless international commitments are significantly and immediately increased, new research led by Yale researchers predicts. The findings are published in the Oct. 24 issue of The Lancet Infectious Diseases. A team of seven scientists from Yale’s Schools of Public Health and Medicine and the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in Liberia developed a mathematical transmission model of the viral disease and applied it to Liberia’s most populous county, Montserrado, an area already hard hit. The researchers determined that tens of thousands of new Ebola cases — and deaths — are likely by Dec. 15 if the epidemic continues on its present course. “Our predictions highlight the rapidly closing window of opportunity for controlling the outbreak and averting a catastrophic toll of new Ebola cases and deaths in the coming months,” said Alison Galvani, professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health and the paper’s senior author.

“Although we might still be within the midst of what will ultimately be viewed as the early phase of the current outbreak, the possibility of averting calamitous repercussions from an initially delayed and insufficient response is quickly eroding.” The model developed by Galvani and colleagues projects as many as 170,996 total reported and unreported cases of the disease, representing 12% of the overall population of some 1.38 million people, and 90,122 deaths in Montserrado alone by Dec. 15. Of these, the authors estimate 42,669 cases and 27,175 deaths will have been reported by that time.

Much of this suffering — some 97,940 cases of the disease — could be averted if the international community steps up control measures immediately, starting Oct. 31, the model predicts. This would require additional Ebola treatment center beds, a fivefold increase in the speed with which cases are detected, and allocation of protective kits to households of patients awaiting treatment center admission. The study predicts that, at best, just over half as many cases (53,957) can be averted if the interventions are delayed to Nov. 15. Had all of these measures been in place by Oct. 15, the model calculates that 137,432 cases in Montserrado could have been avoided. There have been approximately 9,000 reported cases and 4,500 deaths from the disease in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea since the latest outbreak began with a case in a toddler in rural Guinea in December 2013.

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Reality is likely three times worse here as well.

‘Official’ Number of Ebola Cases Passes 10,000, With 5,000 Deaths (BBC)

The number of cases in the Ebola outbreak has exceeded 10,000, with 4,922 deaths, the World Health Organization says in its latest report. Only 27 of the cases have occurred outside the three worst-hit countries, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Those three countries account for all but 10 of the fatalities. Mali became the latest nation to record a death, a two-year-old girl. More than 40 people known to have come into contact with her have been quarantined. The latest WHO situation report says that Liberia remains the worst affected country, with 2,705 deaths. Sierra Leone has had 1,281 fatalities and there have been 926 in Guinea.

Nigeria has recorded eight deaths and there has been one in Mali and one in the United States. The WHO said the number of cases was now 10,141 but that the figure could be much higher, as many families were keeping relatives at home rather than taking them to treatment centres. It said many of the centres were overcrowded. And the latest report also shows no change in the number of cases and deaths in Liberia from the WHO’s previous report, three days ago.

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