Feb 072020
 
 February 7, 2020  Posted by at 10:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  22 Responses »


Marjory Collins “Crowds at Pennsylvania Station, New York” Aug 1942

 

China Reports 73 New Deaths From Coronavirus, 3,143 New Cases (SCMP)
Trump Expresses Confidence In China’s Confronting Its Coronavirus Outbreak (R.)
Texas Congresswoman Says Russia Responsible For Iowa Caucus Mess (WE)
The GIGO Impeachment (Turley)
Russian, Turkish Military Among 100s Killed & Injured In Idlib Terrorism (RT)
UK Town Halls Told To Fly Union Jack For Prince Andrew’s Birthday (Ind.)
Boeing’s Fraying 737 MAX Suppliers See Capacity Crunch (R.)
Ohio Pension System Slashes Health-Care Benefits To Stave Off Insolvency (ZH)
Interest Rate Controls Could Reduce Real Per Capita Growth (IMF)
Encourage Banks To Tap Discount Window To Prevent Repo Freeze – Quarles (MW)
End of QE-4: Fed’s Repos Drop Below Oct 2 Level, T-Bills Balloon (WS)
Seven In 10 Greeks Threatened By Poverty (K.)
Bumblebee Survival Chances In EU, US Drop 30% In Single Generation (Hill)
Can We Have Prosperity Without Growth? (New Yorker)
Canada To Aid Alberta As Deadline For Massive Oil Sands Project Nears (R.)

 

I collected so many “corona”-related articles over the past 24 hours, I’ll do a separate thread with them, because this one would get too long. It’ll be up in a few hours.

China is making an effort to make it seem like they have things under control to the extent that numbers are rising less. Don’t trust them. For one thing, it’s not reflected at all in this graph. For another, Xi is real anxious to get the economy restarted. But that’s not possible while the lockdowns remain. Nice quote I heard: if even just 1% of your car parts are from China, and you can’t get them anymore, you can’t build a car.

 

 

Asking myself: why are there practically no children infected? Does anyone know?

Numbers today:

• China reports 73 new deaths from coronavirus and 3,143 new cases (from 3,797 yesterday)
• Hubei province reports 69 new deaths and confirms 2,447 new cases
• 185,555 people under medical observation, down from 186,354 yesterday
• Japan says 41 new infections on board Yokohama cruiseliner, total now 61 out of 273 tested

 

 

 

Most interesting here is XI: “We are fully confident and capable of fighting the epidemic. The long-term trend of China’s economic development will not change.”

China Reports 73 New Deaths From Coronavirus, 3,143 New Cases (SCMP)

Health authorities in China pegged deaths caused by the novel coronavirus epidemic on Thursday at 73, with 69 in Hubei province, according to official figures released early Friday. The updated numbers raise the death toll in mainland China to 636. Newly confirmed cases rose by 3,143, a second consecutive daily drop, bringing the total to 31,161 cases in the country, according to data released on Friday morning by China’s National Health Commission (NHC). Most the deaths came from Hubei province, epicentre of the outbreak, where 69 new fatalities from the epidemic were reported on Thursday, one less fatality compared with the day before. The total death toll in Hubei rose to 618, the province’s health commission said.


[..] Chinese President Xi Jinping told his US counterpart Donald Trump on Friday that China’s economic development would not be affected by the outbreak, according to CCTV, China’s state broadcaster. CCTV reported that, in a phone conversation with Trump, Xi said the Chinese government and people had put their fullest efforts into containing the outbreak since it had started. “We have adopted the most comprehensive and strictest prevention and control measures through mobilising and rapid responses. We have declared a people’s war against the epidemic through prevention and control,” Xi was quoted as saying. “We are fully confident and capable of fighting the epidemic. The long-term trend of China’s economic development will not change.”

Read more …

After closing the borders.

Trump Expresses Confidence In China’s Confronting Its Coronavirus Outbreak (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump expressed confidence in China’s strength and resilience in confronting its coronavirus outbreak during a conversation with President Xi Jinping on Thursday, a White House spokesman said. The two leaders agreed to continue extensive communication and cooperation between both sides, the spokesman, Judd Deere, added. Trump and Xi also reaffirmed their commitment to implementing Phase 1 of the trade deal between the United States and China, he added.

Read more …

Honest question: what do you think is more dangerous, RussiaRussiaRussia or the coronavirus?

Texas Congresswoman Says Russia Responsible For Iowa Caucus Mess (WE)

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat, suggested during an FBI oversight hearing on Wednesday that Russia is responsible for the vote-reporting issues from Tuesday’s Iowa caucuses. “I hope that the Iowa Democrats will ask for an FBI investigation on the app,” the Texas Democrat told FBI Director Christopher Wray. “I believe that Russia has been engaged in and interfering with a number of our elections dealing with the 2016 election.” Wray responded by reassuring Jackson Lee that the FBI shares her concern about Russian interference. “Certainly, we are also concerned about potential Russian interference with our elections,” Wray said. “That’s why I created the foreign influence task force, which is acutely focused on that topic among other nation-states that are attempting to influence our elections.”


Democrats have faced criticism for not properly testing the voting system in Iowa, which includes an app the Iowa Democratic Party spent $60,000 to implement. “How can anyone trust you now?” a reporter yelled at the chairman of the state’s Democratic Party after reporting issues had still not been cleared up the day after voters caucused. An official winner has still not been announced as of Thursday evening. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez expressed his frustration on Thursday by calling for a recanvassing. “Enough is enough. In light of the problems that have emerged in the implementation of the delegate selection plan and in order to assure public confidence in the results, I am calling on the Iowa Democratic Party to immediately begin a recanvass.”

Read more …

Starting to feel Turley is writing more than he should.

The GIGO Impeachment (Turley)

Every line of work — from law to carpentry to software — has its own house rule about how bad results come from bad beginnings. There is even an initialism for this: GIGO, or garbage in, garbage out. Unless senators use their closing arguments this week to clarify that they are not endorsing either the prosecution or defense premises in reaching their verdicts, this will go down as the GIGO impeachment: precedent created by false assumptions in both houses. The House blundered in rushing an impeachment by Christmas rather than waiting a couple of months to submit a more complete case with added witnesses, court orders and evidence.

Instead of seeking to compel such direct evidence, the House pushed the vote to impeach on the basis of what my co-witnesses called by the Democrats admitted was an inferential case. There is no question that you can make an inferential case for impeachment, but it is the difference between a strong and a weak case. Rather than wait a couple months to strengthen that record (as I suggested at the Judiciary hearing), the House muscled through an impeachment after the shortest investigation of a president in history. The greatest concern in the House’s case was always the obstruction-of-Congress charge. The House declared that the administration’s failure to yield to demands for witnesses and evidence was by itself a high crime and misdemeanor.

The problem is that other administrations have raised the presidential immunity claims made by the Trump administration, and those claims were supported by legal opinions from the Justice Department. Both Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton were able to litigate their privilege claims all the way to the Supreme Court before facing impeachment. [..] This is a great case marred by passion and distortion. What is surprising is that both blunders were not “accidental” but premeditated by the two parties. It undermined the legitimacy and authenticity of the actions in both chambers. Even if the senators cannot agree on what is appropriate for impeachment, they should at least agree on what is not appropriate.

Read more …

Who supports those terrorists? Is it Turkey or the US?

Russian, Turkish Military Among 100s Killed & Injured In Idlib Terrorism (RT)

Terrorists took over the Idlib de-escalation zone and carried out thousands of attacks in the last two months, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement, adding that the West is portraying them as “moderate opposition.” Idlib governorate, the last stronghold of anti-government forces in Syria, saw a surge of violence by radical jihadists who have no desire for a peaceful resolution to the almost nine-year-long conflict, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday. Most of the attacks are carried out by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the latest iteration of al-Qaeda in Syria. The area was proclaimed a de-escalation zone under the Russia-Turkey agreements. In mid-January, Russian and Turkish forces tried to impose a ‘regime of silence’ there, but the attacks only escalated.


In December 2019 there were over 1,400 terrorist attacks staged from Idlib, with some operations seeing the use of armor and even tanks. The scale of violence remains high, with over 1,000 attacks recorded in the last two weeks of January. Hundreds of Syrian civilians and government troops have been killed, as well as “Russian and Turkish military specialists.” “The relocation of some armed groups out of the de-escalation zone to northeastern Syria and later to Libya has boosted the concentration of radical extremists over the boiling point,” the ministry said. This situation was recently discussed during an interview with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. He explained that Turkey needed to separate the armed opposition it is working with from the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham terrorists, saying that it has failed to do so.

Read more …

Retracted now, but still illustrative of post-Brexit Britain. Ruled by white guys from the 18th century.

UK Town Halls Told To Fly Union Jack For Prince Andrew’s Birthday (Ind.)

Town halls across the UK have been officially reminded they must fly the Union Jack flag on 19 February, to celebrate Prince Andrew’s 60th birthday. Politicians and public alike have slammed the Whitehall order, which they say puts protocol before principles. The prince is not currently performing royal duties amid an ongoing scandal over his friendship with millionaire paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, and claims that then-teenager Virginia Roberts was coerced into having sex with Prince Andrew in 2001 and 2002. He denies the allegation, saying he was at a birthday party at the Woking branch of Pizza Express on one of the nights the pair are said to have slept together.


However, the order is now likely to be withdrawn, after the prime minister’s spokesman described it as “an administrative email about a longstanding policy”. “I understand that DCMS [the digital, culture and media department] and the royal household are considering how the policy applies for changed circumstances, such as when members of the Royal Family have stepped back from public duties,” the spokesman said – in a clear hint it will be pulled. The instruction had drawn heavy criticism, Labour MP and deputy leadership candidate Ian Murray saying: “This protocol has to be binned given the allegations against the prince.” [..] ..a council source said: “It seems ridiculous. The government doesn’t appear to be noticing what has happened recently, or factoring in the mood of the nation.”

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And that’s before the virus halted 10s of 1000s of flights.

Boeing’s Fraying 737 MAX Suppliers See Capacity Crunch (R.)

Boeing Co suppliers are shedding jobs and capacity to cope with a halt in 737 MAX output, but while that staves off chaos, aerospace executives worry the industry might be unable to ramp factories quickly enough when the plane wins approval to fly again. Boeing, struggling to restore public confidence and recover from the biggest crisis since its founding in 1916, has halted production of the once fast-selling 737 MAX, which was grounded in March following two deadly crashes. As a result, industrial heavyweights like fuselage maker Spirit Aerosystems have already laid off workers. Now a cluster of other crucial companies small and big that forge metal, assemble and paint 737 MAX winglets, and build data systems have followed suit with no indication that Boeing will offer a lifeline, people familiar with the matter said.


Losing payments and workers in a tight labor market heaps pressure on Boeing’s U.S.-dominated 737 MAX supply chain, which involves hundreds of suppliers of more than half of the roughly 400,000 parts for each 737 built in the Seattle-area. “One of the main questions is how much capacity will be lost in the supply chain by the time production resumes at significant rates,” said an industry executive with knowledge of Boeing’s industrial network. Such concerns dominated the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance conference north of Seattle this week, where some executives vented frustration over what they called Boeing’s lack of financial support. One executive from a supplier that derives a quarter of its business from the MAX said Boeing has treated his company like “a commodity” in a “transactional” relationship. He predicted Boeing would let some suppliers fail.

Read more …

The Fed’s (and ECB’s) ultra-low interest rates killed all pension systems. We just don’t -want to- realize it yet.

Ohio Pension System Slashes Health-Care Benefits To Stave Off Insolvency (ZH)

For the first time in years, a major public pension system has slashed benefits for retirees: The Ohio Public Employees’ Retirement System voted last week to cut health care benefits provided to the pension’s current and future retirees beginning in 2022 to try and prevent the fund from plunging into insolvency in the not-too-distant future. It’s just the latest reminder that America’s ‘pension timebomb’ isn’t as far off into the future as many retirees, investors and public officials would like to believe. According to Chief Investment Officer and the Bond Buyer, if these changes had not been enacted, the fund would run out of money in about 11 years, executive director Karen Carraher said during a board meeting. The measure passed by a 9-2 vote.

“There is no available funding for health care,” a report from the board said. “All of the employer contribution[s] must be allocated to pension funding until that funding improves. Based on current projections, no funding will be available for health care for 15 or more years.” The vote, which was undertaken after polls showed members would be open to the changes to preserve their retirement benefits, eliminated the system’s group health-care plan and replaced it with stipends that will defray costs for members who purchase plans on the state ObamaCare exchange. Beneficiaries will receive a wide variety of quantitative cuts, depending on their age of retirement, the year in which they retired, and the number of years working in the state.

“Surveys indicate members willing to accept changes/reductions in health care in the interest of preserving it,” the board’s report said. Nearly everyone in OPERS likely will be affected by these changes. The board’s vote constituted the elimination of the pension’s healthcare group plan, and replaced it with a stipend that will help supplement for some members the cost of a new healthcare plan on the marketplace. “Pre-Medicare group plan is unsustainable for OPERS and members as risk core and costs continue to increase,” the report said. The board “needs to reduce the cost of health care to preserve current health care trust fund until such time funding can resume.”

Read more …

Protesting what your own employer supports, and after the damage is done. Lovely.

Interest Rate Controls Could Reduce Real Per Capita Growth (IMF)

With the surge in public debt in the wake of the global financial crisis, financial repression—administrative restrictions on interest rates, credit allocation, capital movements, and other financial operations—has come back on the agenda. In our recent working paper, we argue that countries would be better-off without financial repression. By distorting market incentives and signals, financial repression induces losses from inefficiency and rent-seeking that are not easily quantified. Losses from rent-seeking might occur when administrative restrictions reduce access to certain financial services (such as credit) and improve the benefits (e.g., through low interest rates) for the selected users (at the cost of those excluded), and when these lead to wasteful competition among potential users for such gains.


Using an updated index of interest rate controls covering 90 countries over 45 years, this IMF staff study estimates that financial repression in the form of interest rate restrictions could reduce real per capita growth by about 0.4–0.7 percentage points, on average, with the effect being larger in countries with larger financial systems. The study also finds that a full liberalization of interest rates is necessary to significantly increase growth, and changes in interest rate restrictions short of full liberalization have a limited impact. The case studies suggest that interest rate controls may also disrupt financial stability and may reduce access to financing for small enterprises.

Read more …

The Fed should take care of people, not banks, by now. No body has ever been more destructive to a society.

Encourage Banks To Tap Discount Window To Prevent Repo Freeze – Quarles (MW)

The Federal Reserve could encourage banks to tap a key funding source that has been scarcely used since the financial crisis as a solution to the September dislocations in short-term lending markets, said Fed Vice Chairman for Supervision Randal Quarles on Thursday. Quarles said financial institutions should not be afraid of accessing the discount window, where banks have historically borrowed funds from the Fed in return for collateral during short-term liquidity shortages, in a speech held at an event by the Money Marketeers of New York University. The use of the window, however, has been stigmatized following the financial crisis amid worries that tapping the window could end up creating the perception that a bank was in precarious shape and could even be insolvent, precipitating further outflows.

He noticed that despite the equivalence between Treasurys and reserves as sources of capital that could meet the Fed’s liquidity coverage regulations, which are designed to ensure banks can meet sudden cash outflows, the reality was banks would prefer to hold cash reserves as banks could struggle to sell government bonds swiftly if it wanted to raise funds. Quarles’ remarks come as investors and bank executives have pointed to the preference of reserves over Treasurys as one factor that contributed to the surge in overnight repo rates in September, which briefly pushed the benchmark fed funds rates above its target range and raised questions whether the Fed was losing its grip on a key monetary policy tool.

Pushing banks to use the discount window during stress scenarios could help resolve the issues in money markets, as it gave banks sufficient time to sell high-quality capital like Treasurys and raise cash, diminishing the need to accrue reserves as a way of handling liquidity issues. “I think it is worth considering whether financial-system efficiency may be improved if reserves and Treasury securities’ liquidity characteristics were regarded as more similar than they are today,” said Quarles.

Read more …

Stupid games. Close it down or it will destroy you.

End of QE-4: Fed’s Repos Drop Below Oct 2 Level, T-Bills Balloon (WS)

Under these “repurchase agreements,” the Fed buys Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities (MBS), guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, or Ginnie Mae, whereby the counterparties commit to buy back these securities at a fixed price on a specific date, such as the next day (overnight repo) or a longer period, such as 14 days (term repo). Repos are by definition in-and-out transactions. When a repo matures and unwinds, the Fed gets its money back, and the repo on the Fed’s balance sheet goes to zero. By buying these securities, the Fed adds liquidity to the market for the duration of the repo. When the repo matures and unwinds, the liquidity gets drained from the market. When a new repo transaction occurs, the process starts over again, but with a different amount and with a different maturity date.

The Fed raised the interest rate at which it offered the repos – for borrowers, the money is getting a little less cheap. Through January 29, the Fed’s average offering rate for overnight repos was 1.55%. On January 30, this increased to 1.60%. And the rate for 14-day repos increased from 1.58% effective through January 29, to about 1.61%. The Fed had been the lender-of-first-resort in the repo market, by offering to lend at these low rates. By increasing the rate, the Fed is gradually making the cash it is handing out less cheap and less attractive compared to what banks might offer, and more of the demand is switching over to banks. Overnight repos have been undersubscribed all year, so there is less and less demand for them at this rate. But the 14-day term repos are often oversubscribed, meaning there is more demand for this two-week cash at 1.61% than the amount the Fed is offering.


[.] The Fed continued to increase its ballooning stash of T-bills (Treasuries with maturities of one year or less) at a rate of about $60 billion per month. To increase its stash, the Fed has to buy the amount of the maturing T-bills, and it has to buy the amounts needed to obtain the targeted increase of about $60 billion a month. Over the five weekly balance sheets since January 1, the Fed has added $78 billion in T-bills, and the total amount of T-bills on the Fed’s balance sheet has now ballooned to $248 billion: These T-bills are a major part of the Fed’s strategy to bail out the repo-market. The purpose is to increase Excess Reserves that banks have on deposit at the Fed. The Fed blames low Excess Reserves last September for the banks’ refusal to lend to the repo market, which then caused the repo market to blow out. So bringing up Excess Reserves to an “ample” level is the goal of these T-bill purchases.

Read more …

Greece is being hit hard by the virus’s effect on tourism. But that’s just the icing on the cake.

Seven In 10 Greeks Threatened By Poverty (K.)

Almost seven in every 10 Greeks are in a dire financial situation, according to data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The figures published in the bulletin of the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV) indicate that 68.3 percent of the population in Greece are living close to or below the poverty line, with 12.9 percent already having to make do with an income below that line and 55.4 percent categorized as vulnerable, as they too could drop below the poverty line if they miss out on three months’ salary.


The proportion of Greeks who are unable to make a decent living is far above the OECD average, which stands at 50.4 percent. In the United States, which also shows high levels of inequalities, the rate comes to 55.5 percent, while in Denmark it stands at 36.3 percent. Greece’s rate is second only to Latvia’s in the European Union. SEV commented that Greece is among the European countries with the greatest inequalities in incomes, a situation that has been aggravated by the financial crisis of the 2010s, which hurt lower incomes in particular.

Read more …

This sounds too bland for me. Been there done that. And I don’t think suggesting that it’s all climate change is all that smart. If only because it isn’t. Chemicals still play a major role.

Bumblebee Survival Chances In EU, US Drop 30% In Single Generation (Hill)

Bumblebee populations are in decline across North America and Europe due to hotter and more frequent extremes in temperatures, and climate change is playing a big role, according to a recently released study. The study by researchers from the University of Ottawa published in the journal Science examined changes in the populations of 66 bumble species across the two continents, and compared them with climate changes. The research found that in the course of one human generation, the likelihood of a bumblebee population surviving in a given place in North America and Europe declined by an average of over 30 percent.


“We’ve known for a while that climate change is related to the growing extinction risk that animals are facing around the world,” lead author of the study Peter Soroye said in a statement. “Bumblebees are the best pollinators we have in wild landscapes and the most effective pollinators for crops like tomato, squash, and berries,” Soroye said. “Our results show that we face a future with many less bumblebees and much less diversity, both in the outdoors and on our plates.” Researchers used data collected over a 115-year period showing where bumblebees have been found over the decades. They mapped the places the bees lived and how their distribution changed over time. They found the bees were disappearing in areas that had gotten hotter, and some are colonizing in new areas that were previously too cold.

Read more …

Ideal world: “There are very substantial reductions in unemployment, the human poverty index and the debt to GDP ratio. Greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by nearly 80%. This reduction results from the decline in GDP and a very substantial carbon tax.”

Can We Have Prosperity Without Growth? (New Yorker)

“If growth were to be abandoned as an objective of policy, democracy too would have to be abandoned,” Wilfred Beckerman, an Oxford economist, wrote in “In Defense of Economic Growth,” which appeared in 1974. “The costs of deliberate non-growth, in terms of the political and social transformation that would be required in society, are astronomical.” Beckerman was responding to the publication of “The Limits to Growth,” a widely read report by an international team of environmental scientists and other experts who warned that unrestrained G.D.P. growth would lead to disaster, as natural resources such as fossil fuels and industrial metals ran out. Beckerman said that the authors of “The Limits to Growth” had greatly underestimated the capacity of technology and the market system to produce a cleaner and less resource-intensive type of economic growth—the same argument that proponents of green growth make today.

Whether or not you share this optimism about technology, it’s clear that any comprehensive degrowth strategy would have to deal with distributional conflicts in the developed world and poverty in the developing world. As long as G.D.P. is steadily rising, all groups in society can, in theory, see their living standards rise at the same time. Beckerman argued that this was the key to avoiding such conflict. But, if growth were abandoned, helping the worst off would pit winners against losers. The fact that, in many Western countries over the past couple of decades, slower growth has been accompanied by rising political polarization suggests that Beckerman may have been on to something.

Some degrowth proponents say that distributional conflicts could be resolved through work-sharing and income transfers. A decade ago, Peter A. Victor, an emeritus professor of environmental economics at York University, in Toronto, built a computer model, since updated, to see what would happen to the Canadian economy under various scenarios. In a degrowth scenario, GDP per person was gradually reduced by roughly fifty per cent over thirty years, but offsetting policies—such as work-sharing, redistributive-income transfers, and adult-education programs—were also introduced. Reporting his results in a 2011 paper, Victor wrote, “There are very substantial reductions in unemployment, the human poverty index and the debt to GDP ratio. Greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by nearly 80%. This reduction results from the decline in GDP and a very substantial carbon tax.”

More recently, Kallis and other degrowthers have called for the introduction of a universal basic income, which would guarantee people some level of subsistence. Last year, when progressive Democrats unveiled their plan for a Green New Deal, aiming to create a zero-emission economy by 2050, it included a federal job guarantee; some backers also advocate a universal basic income. Yet Green New Deal proponents appear to be in favor of green growth rather than degrowth. Some sponsors of the plan have even argued that it would eventually pay for itself through economic growth.

Read more …

Upside down world. You now have to pay for what nature provides for free. Pay people not to pollute. You want less pollution? Sure, but it’s going to cost you… Nice place you got there. You wouldn’t want anything to happen to it, would you?

Canada To Aid Alberta As Deadline For Massive Oil Sands Project Nears (R.)

Canada is preparing an aid package for Alberta, heart of the country’s struggling oil industry, that would help dull the pain if it blocks an oil sands project that could create thousands of jobs, sources familiar with the matter said this week. Ottawa must decide by end-February if Teck Resources Ltd can build the C$20.6 billion ($15.7 billion) Frontier mine in northern Alberta despite climate and wildlife concerns. The decision is a major test of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s 2019 election pledge to put Canada on the path to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Complicating the decision, unhappiness with the government’s energy and pipeline policy cost Trudeau’s Liberals all their Alberta seats in October 2019 elections.


“There will be a big fight inside cabinet over this,” said one source directly familiar the matter who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation. “Rejecting Teck without providing Alberta something in return would be political suicide,” the source added. In Alberta, the project is considered essential for employment and growth. Teck says it would eventually create 7,000 jobs, although the company’s chief executive recently questioned whether it will ever be built. About 20 oil sands projects currently sit dormant despite receiving approval.

Read more …

 

 

 

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Jan 212017
 
 January 21, 2017  Posted by at 4:59 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  17 Responses »


Workmen next to the screws of the RMS Titanic at Belfast shipyard, 1911

 

The people at Conflicts Forum, which is directed by former British diplomat and MI6 ‘ranking figure’ Alastair Crooke, sent me an unpublished article by Alastair and asked if the Automatic Earth would publish it. Since I like his work and I (re-)published two of his articles last year already, ‘End of Growth’ Sparks Wide Discontent in October 2016 and Obstacles to Trump’s ‘Growth’ Plans in November 2016, I’m happy to.

His arguments here are very close to much of what the Automatic Earth has been advocating for years, both when it comes to our financial crisis and to our energy crisis. Our Primers section is full of articles on these issues written through the years. It’s a good thing other people pick up too on topics like EROEI, and understand you can’t run our modern, complex society on ‘net energy’ as low as what we get from any of our ‘new’ energy sources. It’s just not going to happen.

Here’s Alastair:

 

 

Alastair Crooke: We have an economic crisis – centred on the persistent elusiveness of real growth, rather than just monetised debt masquerading as ‘growth’ – and a political crisis, in which even ‘Davos man’, it seems, according to their own World Economic Forum polls,is anxious; losing his faith in ‘the system’ itself, and casting around for an explanation for what is occurring, or what exactly to do about it. Klaus Schwab, the founder of the WEF at Davos remarked  before this year’s session, “People have become very emotionalized, this silent fear of what the new world will bring, we have populists here and we want to listen …”.

Dmitry Orlov, a Russian who was taken by his parents to the US at an early age, but who has returned regularly to his birthplace, draws on the Russian experience for his book, The Five Stages of Collapse. Orlov suggests that we not just entering a transient moment of multiple political discontents, but rather that we are already in the early stages of something rather more profound. From his perspective that fuses his American experience with that of post Cold War Russia, he argues, that the five stages would tend to play out in sequence based on the breaching of particular boundaries of consensual faith and trust that groups of human beings vest in the institutions and systems they depend on for daily life. These boundaries run from the least personal (e.g. trust in banks and governments) to the most personal (faith in your local community, neighbours, and kin). It would be hard to avoid the thought – so evident at Davos – that even the elites now accept that Orlov’s first boundary has been breached.

But what is it? What is the deeper economic root to this malaise? The general thrust of Davos was that it was prosperity spread too unfairly that is at the core of the problem. Of course, causality is seldom unitary, or so simple. And no one answer suffices. In earlier Commentaries, I have suggested that global growth is so maddeningly elusive for the elites because the debt-driven ‘growth’ model (if it deserves the name ‘growth’) simply is not working.  Not only is monetary expansion not working, it is actually aggravating the situation: Printing money simply has diluted down the stock of general purchasing power – through the creation of additional new, ‘empty’ money – with the latter being intermediated (i.e. whisked away) into the financial sector, to pump up asset values.

It is time to put away the Keynesian presumed ‘wealth effect’ of high asset prices. It belonged to an earlier era. In fact, high asset prices do trickle down. It is just that they trickle down into into higher cost of living expenditures (through return on capital dictates) for the majority of the population. A population which has seen no increase in their real incomes since 2005 – but which has witnessed higher rents, higher transport costs, higher education costs, higher medical costs; in short, higher prices for everything that has a capital overhead component. QE is eating into peoples’ discretionary income by inflating asset balloons, and is thus depressing growth – not raising it. And zero, and negative interest rates, may be keeping the huge avalanche overhang of debt on ‘life support’, but it is eviscerating savings income, and will do the same to pensions, unless concluded sharpish.

But beyond the spent force of monetary policy, we have noted that developed economies face separate, but equally formidable ‘headwinds’, of a (non-policy and secular) nature, impeding growth – from aging populations in China and the OECD, the winding down of China’s industrial revolution,  and from technical innovation turning job-destructive, rather than job creative as a whole. Connected with this is shrinking world trade.

But why is the economy failing to generate prosperity as in earlier decades?  Is it mainly down to Greenspan and Bernanke’s monetary excesses?  Certainly, the latter has contributed to our contemporary stagnation, but perhaps if we look a little deeper, we might find an additional explanation. As I noted in a Comment of 6 January 2017, the golden era of US economic expansion was the ‘50s and ‘60s – but that era had begun to unravel somewhat, already, with the economic turbulence of the 70s. However, it was not so much Reagan’s fiscal or monetary policies that rescued a deteriorating situation in that earlier moment, but rather, it was plain old good fortune. The last giant oil fields with greater than 30-to-one, ‘energy-return’ on ‘energy-cost’ of exploitation, came on line in the 1980s: Alaska’s North Slope, Britain and Norway’s North Sea fields, and Siberia. Those events allowed the USA and the West generally to extend their growth another twenty years.

And, as that bounty tapered down around the year 2000, the system wobbled again, “and the viziers of the Fed ramped up their magical operations, led by the Grand Vizier (or “Maestro”) Alan Greenspan.”  Some other key things happened though, at this point: firstly the cost of crude, which had been remarkably stable, in real terms, over many years, suddenly started its inexorable real-terms ascent.  And from 2001, in the wake of the dot.com ‘bust’, government and other debt began to soar in a sharp trajectory upwards (now reaching $20 trillion). Also, around this time the US abandoned the gold standard, and the petro-dollar was born.

 


Source: Get It. Got It. Good, by Grant Williams

 

Well, the Hill’s Group, who are seasoned US oil industry engineers, led by B.W. Hill, tell us – following their last two years, or so, of research – that for purely thermodynamic reasons net energy delivered to the globalised industrial world (GIW) per barrel, by the oil industry (the IOCs) is rapidly trending to zero. Note that we are talking energy-cost of exploration, extraction and transport for the energy-return at final destination. We are not speaking of dollar costs, and we are speaking in aggregate. So why should this be important at all; and what has this to do with spiraling debt creation by the western Central Banks from around 2001?

The importance? Though we sometimes forget it, for we now are so habituated to it, is that energy is the economy.  All of modernity, from industrial output and transportation, to how we live, derives from energy – and oil remains a key element to it.  What we (the globalized industrial world) experienced in that golden era until the 70s, was economic growth fueled by an unprecedented 321% increase in net energy/head.  The peak of 18GJ/head in around 1973 was actually of the order of some 40GJ/head for those who actually has access to oil at the time, which is to say, the industrialised fraction of the global population. The Hill’s Group research  can be summarized visually as below (recall that these are costs expressed in energy, rather than dollars):

 


Source: https://cassandralegacy.blogspot.it/2016/07/some-reflections-on-twilight-of-oil-age.html 

 

But as Steve St Angelo in the SRSrocco Reports states, the important thing to understand from these energy return on energy cost ratios or EROI, is that a minimum ratio value for a modern society is 20:1 (i.e. the net energy surplus available for GDP growth should be twenty times its cost of extraction). For citizens of an advanced society to enjoy a prosperous living, the EROI of energy needs to be much higher, closer to the 30:1 ratio. Well, if we look at the chart below, the U.S. oil and gas industry EROI fell below 30:1 some 46 years ago (after 1970):

 


Source: https://srsroccoreport.com/the-coming-breakdown-of-u-s-global-markets-explained-what-most-analysts-missed/ 

 

“You will notice two important trends in the chart above. When the U.S. EROI ratio was higher than 30:1, prior to 1970, U.S. public debt did not increase all that much.  However, this changed after 1970, as the EROI continued to decline, public debt increased in an exponential fashion”. (St Angelo).

In short, the question begged by the Hill’s Group research is whether the reason for the explosion of government debt since 1970 is that central bankers (unconsciously), were trying to compensate for the lack of GDP stimulus deriving from the earlier net energy surplus.  In effect, they switched from flagging energy-driven growth, to the new debt-driven growth model.

From a peak net surplus of around 40 GJ  (in 1973), by 2012, the IOCs were beginning to consume more energy per barrel, in their own processes (from oil exploration to transport fuel deliveries at the petrol stations), than that which the barrel would deliver net to the globalized industrial world, in aggregate.  We are now down below 4GJ per head, and dropping fast. (The Hill’s Group)

Is this analysis by the Hill’s Group too reductionist in attributing so much of the era of earlier western material prosperity to the big discoveries of ‘cheap’ oil, and the subsequent elusiveness of growth to the decline in net energy per barrel available for GDP growth?  Are we in deep trouble now that the IOCs use more energy in their own processes, than they are able to deliver net to industrialised world? Maybe so. It is a controversial view, but we can see – in plain dollar terms – some tangible evidence fo rthe Hill’s Groups’ assertions:  

 


Source: https://srsroccoreport.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Top-3-U.S.-Oil-Companies-Free-Cash-Flow-Minus-Dividends.png 

(The top three U.S. oil companies, ExxonMobil, Chevron andConocoPhillips: Cash from operations less Capex and dividends)

 

 
Briefly, what does this all mean? Well, the business model for the big three US IOCs does not look that great: Energy costs of course, are financial costs, too.  In 2016, according to Yahoo Finance, the U.S. Energy Sector paid 86% of their operating income just to service the interest on the debt (i.e. to pay for those extraction costs). We have not run out of oil. This is not what the Hill’s Group is saying. Quite the reverse. What they are saying is the surplus energy (at a ratio of now less than 10:1) that derives from the oil that we have been using (after the energy-costs expended in retrieving it) – is now at a point that it can barely support our energy-driven ‘modernity’.  Implicit in this analysis, is that our era of plenty was a one time, once off, event.

They are also saying that this implies that as modernity enters on a more severe energy ‘diet’, less surplus calories for their dollars – barely enough to keep the growth engine idling – then global demand for oil will decline, and the price will fall (quite the opposite of mainstream analysis which sees demand for oil growing. It is a vicious circle. If Hills are correct, a key balance has tipped. We may soon be spending more energy on getting the energy that is required to keep the cogs and wheels of modernity turning, than that same energy delivers in terms of calorie-equivalence.  There is not much that either Mr Trump or the Europeans can do about this – other than seize the entire Persian Gulf.  Transiting to renewables now, is perhaps too little, too late.

And America and Europe, no longer have the balance sheet ‘room’, for much further fiscal or monetary stimulus; and, in any event, the efficacy of such measures as drivers of ‘real economy’ growth, is open to question. It may mitigate the problem, but not solve it. No, the headwinds of net energy per barrel trending to zero, plus the other ‘secular’ dynamics mentioned above (demography, China slowing and technology turning job-destructive), form a formidable impediment – and therefore a huge political time bomb.

Back to Davos, and the question of ‘what to do’. Jamie Dimon, the CEO of  JPMorgan Chase, warned  that Europe needs to address disagreements spurring the rise of nationalist leaders. Dimon said he hoped European Union leaders would examine what caused the U.K. to vote to leave and then make changes. That hasn’t happened, and if nationalist politicians including France’s Marine Le Pen rise to power in elections across the region, “the euro zone may not survive”. “The bottom line is the region must become more competitive, Dimon said, which in simple economic terms means accept even lower wages. It also means major political overhauls: “I say this out of respect for the European people, but they’re going to have to change,” he said. “They may be forced by politics, they may be forced by new leadership.”

A race to the bottom in pay levels?  Italy should undercut Romanian salaries?  Maybe Chinese pay scales, too? This is politically naïve, and the globalist Establishment has only itself to blame for their conviction that there are no real options – save to divert more of the diminished prosperity towards the middle classes (Christine Lagarde), and to impose further austerity (Dimon). As we have tried to show, the era of prosperity for all, began to waver in the 70s in America, and started its more serious stall from 2001 onwards. The Establishment approach to this faltering of growth has been to kick the can down the road: ‘extend and pretend’ – monetised debt, zero, or negative, interest rates and the unceasing refrain that ‘recovery’ is around the corner.

It is precisely their ‘kicking the can’ of inflated asset values, reaching into every corner of life, hiking the cost of living, that has contributed to making Europe the leveraged, ‘high cost’, uncompetitive environment, that it now is.  There is no practical way for Italians, for example, to compete with ‘low cost’ East Europe, or  Asia, through a devaluation of the internal Italian price level without provoking major political push-back.  This is the price of ‘extend and pretend’.

It has been claimed at Davos that the much derided ‘populists’ provide no real solutions. But, crucially, they do offer, firstly, the hope for ‘regime change’ – and, who knows, enough Europeans may be willing to take a punt on leaving the Euro, and accepting the consequences, whatever they may be. Would they be worse off? No one really knows. But at least the ‘populists’ can claim, secondly, that such a dramatic act would serve to escape from the suffocation of the status quo. ‘Davos man’ and woman disdain this particular appeal of ‘the populists’ at their peril.
 

 

 

Alastair Crooke is a former British diplomat who was a senior figure in British intelligence and in European Union diplomacy. He is the founder and director of the Conflicts Forum, which advocates for engagement between political Islam and the West.

 

 

Apr 022015
 
 April 2, 2015  Posted by at 9:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


Marion Post Wolcott Negro woman carrying laundry between Durham and Mebane, NC 1939

The Committee To Destroy The World (Michael Lewitt)
Our Current Illusion Of Prosperity (Mises Inst.)
Economic Inequality: It’s Far Worse Than You Think (Scientific American)
Burning Down The House: Land, Water & Food (Eastwood)
The Warren Effect: Here Is A Bluff That Needs To Be Called (Esquire)
Companies Go All-In Before Rate Hike, Issue Record Debt In Q1 (Zero Hedge)
Shanghai Traders Make Trillion-Yuan Stock Bet With Borrowed Cash (Bloomberg)
Greek Defiance Mounts As Alexis Tsipras Turns To Russia And China (AEP)
Greece Threatens Default As Fresh Reform Bid Falters (Telegraph)
China’s Fuel Demand to Peak Sooner Than Oil Giants Expect (Bloomberg)
The Saudis Are Losing Their Lock on Asian Oil Sales (Bloomberg)
Reckoning Arrives for Cash-Strapped Oil Firms Amid Bank Squeeze (Bloomberg)
Appalachia Miners Wiped Out by Coal Glut That They Can’t Reverse (Bloomberg)
World Dairy Prices Slide 10.8% On Supply Concerns (NZ Herald)
CFTC Charges Kraft, Mondelez With Manipulating Wheat Futures (MarketWatch)
Brazil’s Richest Man May Reap $5.6 Billion in Kraft-Heinz Merger
The Cuban Money Crisis (Bloomberg)
California Orders Mandatory Water Cuts Of 25% Amid Record Drought (WSJ)

Absolute must read. And then a second time.

The Committee To Destroy The World (Michael Lewitt)

Last month, the world mourned the death of beloved actor Leonard Nimoy. Mr. Nimoy, of course, was renowned for his portrayal of the iconic character Mr. Spock on the 1960s television series Star Trek. One of the most memorable Star Trek inventions was the transporter that allowed human beings to be beamed through space and time like light and energy. Investors expecting central bankers to solve the world’s economic problems might as well believe that Janet Yellen is capable of beaming them straight into the Marriner S. Eccles Building in Washington, D.C. Their failure to acknowledge that the Fed is failing to generate sustainable economic growth while contributing to income inequality and crushing debt burdens is inexplicable.

Central banks that purport to be promoting financial stability are actually undermining it – with the able assistance of regulators who have drained liquidity from the world’s most important markets. Negative interest rates on $3 trillion of European debt are an obvious sign of policy failure, yet the policy elite stands mute. Actually that’s not correct – the cognoscenti is cheering on Mario Draghi as he destroys the European bond markets just as they celebrated Janet Yellen’s demolition of the Treasury market. Negative interest rates are not some curiosity; they represent a symptom of policy failure and a violation of the very tenets of capitalist economics. The same is true of persistent near-zero interest rates in the United States and Japan.

Zero gravity renders it impossible for fiduciaries to generate positive returns for their clients, insurance companies to issue policies, and savers to entrust their money to banks. They are a byproduct of failed economic policies, not some clever device to defeat deflation and stimulate economic growth. They are mathematically doomed to fail regardless of what economists, who are merely failed monetary philosophers practicing a soft social science, purport to tell us. The fact that European and American central banks are following the path of Japan with virtually no objection represents one of the most profound intellectual failures in the history of economic policy history.[..]

Christopher Whalen, one of the best bank analysts on Wall Street, argued that global banks face trillions of bad off-balance sheet debts that must eventually be resolved (i.e. written off) and are dragging on economic growth. These debts include everything from loans by German banks to Greece to home equity loans in the U.S. for homes that are underwater on their first mortgage. Banks and governments refuse to restructure (i.e. write off) these bad debts because doing so would trigger capital losses for banks and governments. As Mr. Whalen explains, “the Fed and ECB have decided to address the issue of debt by slowly confiscating value from investors via negative rates, this because the fiscal authorities in the respective industrial nations cannot or will not address the problem directly.”

But in addition to avoiding the bad debt problem, these policies are causing further economic damage by depressing growth and starving savers. Per Mr. Whalen: “ZIRP and QE as practiced by the Fed and ECB are not boosting, but instead depressing, private sector economic activity. By using bank reserves to acquire government and agency securities, the FOMC has actually been retarding private economic growth, even while pushing up the prices of financial assets around the world.”

Read more …

“Massive layoffs in the energy sector are now a certainty. Few realize that most of the gains in employment in the US since 2008 have been in shale states. Yet the carnage is not over.”

Our Current Illusion Of Prosperity (Mises Inst.)

President Obama and Fed Chair Janet Yellen have been crowing about improving economic conditions in the US. Unemployment is down to 5.5% and growth in 2014 hit 2.2%. Journalists and economists point to this improvement as proof that quantitative easing was effective. Unfortunately, this latest boom is artificial and has been built by adding debt on top of debt. Total household debt increased 2.5% in 2014 — the highest level since 2010. Mortgage loans increased 1.5%, student loans 6.6% while auto loans increased a hefty 9.6%. The improving auto sales are built mostly on a bubble of sub-prime borrowers. Auto sales have been brisk because of a surge in loans to individuals with credit scores below 620. Since 2010, such loans have increased over 100% and have gone from 20% of originations in 2009 to 27% in 2013.

Yet, auto loans to individuals with strong credit scores, above 760, have barely budged over the last year. Subprime consumer borrowing climbed $189 billion in the first eleven months of 2014. Excluding home mortgages, this accounted for 41% of total consumer lending. This is exactly the kind of lending that got us into trouble less than a decade ago, and for many consumers, this will only end in tears. But we need to ask ourselves: is the current boom built on sound foundations? In other words, do we have sharp increases in productivity or real wage growth? Productivity increased less than 1% on average in the last three years and real wages have flat lined or declined for decades. From mid-2007 to mid-2014, real wages declined 4.9% for workers with a high school degree, dropped 2.5% for workers with a college degree and rose just 0.2% for workers with an advanced degree.

Is the boom being built on broad base investment in plant and equipment? The current average age of working plants and equipment in the US is one of the oldest on record. Meanwhile, it is now clear that the shale boom was an illusion of prosperity. Oil prices have dipped below $50 with some analysts calling for $20 oil by the end of the year. This is a drop from over $100 from last year. Many shale outfits need oil above $65 just to break even. Massive layoffs in the energy sector are now a certainty. Few realize that most of the gains in employment in the US since 2008 have been in shale states. Yet the carnage is not over. Induced by low interest, investment banks loaned over $1 trillion to the energy industry. The impact on the financial sector is still to be felt.

Read more …

Do read.

Economic Inequality: It’s Far Worse Than You Think (Scientific American)

In a candid conversation with Frank Rich last fall, Chris Rock said, “Oh, people don’t even know. If poor people knew how rich rich people are, there would be riots in the streets.” The findings of three studies, published over the last several years in Perspectives on Psychological Science, suggest that Rock is right. We have no idea how unequal our society has become. In their 2011 paper, Michael Norton and Dan Ariely analyzed beliefs about wealth inequality. They asked more than 5,000 Americans to guess the%age of wealth (i.e., savings, property, stocks, etc., minus debts) owned by each fifth of the population. Next, they asked people to construct their ideal distributions. Imagine a pizza of all the wealth in the United States. What%age of that pizza belongs to the top 20% of Americans?

How big of a slice does the bottom 40% have? In an ideal world, how much should they have? The average American believes that the richest fifth own 59% of the wealth and that the bottom 40% own 9%. The reality is strikingly different. The top 20% of US households own more than 84% of the wealth, and the bottom 40% combine for a paltry 0.3%. The Walton family, for example, has more wealth than 42% of American families combined. We don’t want to live like this. In our ideal distribution, the top quintile owns 32% and the bottom two quintiles own 25%. As the journalist Chrystia Freeland put it, “Americans actually live in Russia, although they think they live in Sweden. And they would like to live on a kibbutz.” Norton and Ariely found a surprising level of consensus: everyone — even Republicans and the wealthy—wants a more equal distribution of wealth than the status quo.

This all might ring a bell. An infographic video of the study went viral and has been watched more than 16 million times. In a study published last year, Norton and Sorapop Kiatpongsan used a similar approach to assess perceptions of income inequality. They asked about 55,000 people from 40 countries to estimate how much corporate CEOs and unskilled workers earned. Then they asked people how much CEOs and workers should earn. The median American estimated that the CEO-to-worker pay-ratio was 30-to-1, and that ideally, it’d be 7-to-1. The reality? 354-to-1. Fifty years ago, it was 20-to-1. Again, the patterns were the same for all subgroups, regardless of age, education, political affiliation, or opinion on inequality and pay. “In sum,” the researchers concluded, “respondents underestimate actual pay gaps, and their ideal pay gaps are even further from reality than those underestimates.”

Read more …

Can man stop himself?

Burning Down The House: Land, Water & Food (Eastwood)

I’m sure when Talking Heads wrote “Burning Down The House” that they didn’t exactly have financial collapse and environmental degradation in mind. Although with a verse like “Hold tight wait till the party’s over. Hold tight we’re in for nasty weather. There has got to be a way. Burning down the house” it’s hard not to see that song as strangely prophetic. What we are now doing to the planet and to human society is exactly that – burning down the house while we are still living in it. Everyone needs fuel, especially during a bitter winter, but only a mad man starts deconstructing the house in order to burn bits of it in the stove or fireplace. Almost as mad as that is stealing bits of other people’s houses to burn, but that at least is not soiling your own doorstep – well not at first.

In a world of limited resources and limited space we’ve now reached the point where raiding our neighbours’ houses is the same thing as raiding our own house, because the net effect is the same – disaster on an unprecedented level. Of course it’s easier to live in denial and keep on cannibalising the world’s vital resources at an ever-increasing rate and pretend that it’s business as usual, but in reality it is anything but that. The alarm bells from commentators from all sectors: science, economics, religion etc. are getting louder and more frequent, better argued and with the raw data to back it up, but we are still not listening. Of course, the alarm bell was being rung fifty or more years ago by people such as Admiral Hyman Rickover in 1957, the now retiring Lester Brown and the late Rachel Carson (author of Silent Spring).

Nobody really listened that well back then, although governments paid lip-service to these troublesome do-gooders. Now we know that what they said was entirely true, that we are headed for disaster and yet will still only get the tired old lip-service, as before or Koch Brother inspired denial. The evidence is clearly there that we are depleting all of our resources far too quickly, especially the land we use to produce food and draw raw materials from. In part a consequence of this, the fresh water supplies that are even more vital are also being depleted way too fast. Devastation of the land, especially deforestation exacerbates water loss and soil erosion. Couple this with increased damming of rivers, pollutant run-off into rivers, fracking and mining and you’ve a recipe for a water crisis, which will, in turn, lead to a food crisis.

Read more …

Amen.

The Warren Effect: Here Is A Bluff That Needs To Be Called (Esquire)

Let us be quite definite about this. Any Democratic politician who thinks this is a bad situation – or, worse, will not stand by a Democratic colleague in this situation – is not worth the hankie to blow Joe Lieberman’s nose.

Representatives from Citigroup, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, have met to discuss ways to urge Democrats, including Warren and Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, to soften their party’s tone toward Wall Street, sources familiar with the discussions said this week. Bank officials said the idea of withholding donations was not discussed at a meeting of the four banks in Washington but it has been raised in one-on-one conversations between representatives of some of them. However, there was no agreement on coordinating any action, and each bank is making its own decision, they said.

My god, what a prodigious bluff. Also, my god, what towering arrogance? These guys own half the world and have enough money to buy the other half, and they’re threatening the party still most likely to control the White House because they don’t like the Senator Professor’s tone? Her tone? Sherrod Brown’s tone? These are guys who should be worried about the tone of the guard who’s calling them down to breakfast at Danbury and they’re concerned about the tenderness of their Savile Row’d fee-fees? Honkies, please.

The tensions are a sign that the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis – the bank bailouts and the fights over financial reforms to rein in Wall Street – are still a factor in the 2016 elections. Citigroup has decided to withhold donations for now to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee over concerns that Senate Democrats could give Warren and lawmakers who share her views more power, sources inside the bank told Reuters.

Tensions? These are the guys who should have spent the last six years going door to door apologizing to every American for blowing up the world economy and then buying up the splinters. That is, they should have been going door-to-door to apologize to all those Americans who still have doors they can call their own. Call this. Do it now. Tell them their money is no good here any more. Give these brigands the 86 the way any respectable saloonkeeper gives the heave to a chronic deadbeat who’s run up an unpayable tab. Show the country in simple (and not necessarily civil) words what these people really are.

Demonstrate, speech by speech, that they have no loyalty to the political entity that is the United States of America, that they are stateless gombeen bastards who would sell this country’s democracy off like a subprime mortgage to put another ten bucks into their pockets. They are threatening the people whom they still should be thanking for saving them from themselves. And Senator Professor Warren is only their most conspicuous target. Don’t kid yourselves, this is a message they’re sending to every politician, up and down the line, national and local. Don’t cross us. We own you. There is only one response for a democratic people to make to this ongoing gross obscenity. Bring it, motherfkers. Bring your lunch. And your lawyers.

Read more …

What could possibly go wrong?

Companies Go All-In Before Rate Hike, Issue Record Debt In Q1 (Zero Hedge)

It should come as no surprise that Q1 was a banner quarter for corporate debt issuance as struggling oil producers tapped HY markets to stay afloat, companies scrambled to max out the stock-buyback-via-balance-sheet re-leveraging play before a certain “diminutive” superwoman in the Eccles Building decides to do the unthinkable and actually hike rates, and there was M&A. As we discussed last week, rising stock prices have tipped investors’ asset allocation towards equities even as money continues to flow into bonds, meaning that yet more money must be funneled into fixed income for rebalancing purposes, which ironically drives demand for the very same debt that US corporates are using to fund the very same buy backs that are driving equity outperformance in the first place. Put more simply: the bubble machine is in hyperdrive. Not only did Q1 mark a record quarter for issuance, March supply also hit a record at $143 billion, tying the total put up in May of 2008. Here’s more from BofAML:

1Q set records for both supply and trading volumes in high grade, as new issue supply volumes reached $348bn, up from the previous record of $310bn in 1Q- 2014, whereas trading volumes averaged 15.6bn per day, up from the previous record of $14.3bn during the same quarter last year… Issuance in March totaled $143bn and it tied with May 2008 and September of 2013 for the highest monthly supply on record going back to at least 1998. September of 2013 was the month when the record $49bn VZ deal was priced… Supply in March was supported by low interest rates (encouraging opportunistic issuance on the supply side and supporting investor demand by diminishing interest rate risk concerns) and a busy M&A-related calendar. Some of these trends will continue in April, although investors are becoming more concerned about the Fed hiking cycle…

Read more …

The China casino.

Shanghai Traders Make Trillion-Yuan Stock Bet With Borrowed Cash (Bloomberg)

Shanghai traders now have more than 1 trillion yuan ($161 billion) of borrowed cash riding on the world’s highest-flying stock market. The outstanding balance of margin debt on the Shanghai Stock Exchange surpassed the trillion-yuan mark for the first time on Wednesday, a nearly fourfold jump from just 12 months ago. The city’s benchmark index has surged 86% during that time, more than any of the world’s major stock gauges. While the extra buying power that comes from leverage has fueled the Shanghai Composite Index’s rally, it’s also sending equity volatility to five-year highs and may accelerate losses if a market reversal forces traders to sell.

Margin debt has increased even after regulators suspended three of the nation’s biggest brokers from adding new accounts in January and said securities firms shouldn’t lend to investors with less than 500,000 yuan. “It’s like a two-edged sword,” said Wu Kan, a money manager at Dragon Life Insurance Co. in Shanghai, which oversees about $3.3 billion. “When the market starts a correction or falls, it will increase the magnitude of declines.” In a margin trade, investors use their own money for just a portion of their stock purchase, borrowing the rest from a brokerage. The loans are backed by the investors’ equity holdings, meaning that they may be compelled to sell when prices fall to repay their debt.

Chinese investors have been piling into the stock market after the central bank cut interest rates twice since November and authorities from the China Securities Regulatory Commission to central bank Governor Zhou Xiaochuan endorsed the flow of funds into equities. Traders have opened 2.8 million new stock accounts in just the past two weeks, almost on par with Chicago’s entire population. The outstanding balance of the margin debt on China’s smaller exchange in Shenzhen was 493.8 billion yuan on March 31. That puts the combined figure for China’s two main bourses at the equivalent of about $241 billion. In the U.S., which has a stock market almost four times the size of China’s, margin debt on the New York Stock Exchange was about $465 billion at the end of February.

Read more …

Strong effort by Ambrose. He manages to look behind the obvious veil: “When Warren Buffett suggests that Europe might emerge stronger after a salutary purge of its weak link in Greece, he confirms his own rule that you should never dabble in matters beyond your ken.”

Greek Defiance Mounts As Alexis Tsipras Turns To Russia And China (AEP)

Two months of EU bluster and reproof have failed to cow Greece. It is becoming clear that Europe’s creditor powers have misjudged the nature of the Greek crisis and can no longer avoid facing the Morton’s Fork in front of them. Any deal that goes far enough to assuage Greece’s justly-aggrieved people must automatically blow apart the austerity settlement already fraying in the rest of southern Europe. The necessary concessions would embolden populist defiance in Spain, Portugal and Italy, and bring German euroscepticism to the boil. Emotional consent for monetary union is ebbing dangerously in Bavaria and most of eastern Germany, even if formulaic surveys do not fully catch the strength of the undercurrents. This week’s resignation of Bavarian MP Peter Gauweiler over Greece’s bail-out extension can, of course, be over-played. He has long been a foe of EMU.

But his protest is unquestionably a warning shot for Angela Merkel’s political family. Mr Gauweiler was made vice-chairman of Bavaria’s Social Christians (CSU) in 2013 for the express purpose of shoring up the party’s eurosceptic wing and heading off threats from the anti-euro Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD). Yet if the EMU powers persist mechanically with their stale demands – even reverting to terms that the previous pro-EMU government in Athens rejected in December – they risk setting off a political chain-reaction that can only eviscerate the EU Project as a motivating ideology in Europe. Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission’s chief, understands the risk perfectly, warning anybody who will listen that Grexit would lead to an “irreparable loss of global prestige for the whole EU” and crystallize Europe’s final fall from grace.

When Warren Buffett suggests that Europe might emerge stronger after a salutary purge of its weak link in Greece, he confirms his own rule that you should never dabble in matters beyond your ken. Alexis Tsipras leads the first radical-Leftist government elected in Europe since the Second World War. His Syriza movement is, in a sense, totemic for the European Left, even if sympathisers despair over its chaotic twists and turns. As such, it is a litmus test of whether progressives can pursue anything resembling an autonomous economic policy within EMU. There are faint echoes of what happened to the elected government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, a litmus test for the Latin American Left in its day. His experiment in land reform was famously snuffed out by a CIA coup in 1954, with lasting consequences. It was the moment of epiphany for Che Guevara, then working as a volunteer doctor in the country.

Read more …

Believe it or not, this thing will have to reach a conclusion soon.

Greece Threatens Default As Fresh Reform Bid Falters (Telegraph)

The Greek government has threatened to default on its loans to the International Monetary Fund, as Athens continued its battle to convince creditors for a fresh injection of bail-out cash. Greece’s interior minister told Germany’s Spiegel magazine, his country would not respect a looming €450m loan repayment to the fund on April 9, without a release of much-needed bail-out funds. “If no money is flowing on April 9, we will first determine the salaries and pensions paid here in Greece and then ask our partners abroad to achieve consensus that we will not pay €450 million to the IMF on time,” said Nikos Voutzis. The cash-strapped government has struggled to keep up with its wage and pensions obligations having agreed a bail-out extension on February 20.

Athens insists it has enough money to last it until the middle of April, but a final agreement on any deal is unlikely to be secured before the end of the month. A Greek government spokesperson later denied the reports of a deliberate default, saying the country still hoped for a “positive outcome” to its debt negotiations. The comments came as the eurozone’s working group discussed a new 26-page plan of reforms from Athens on Wednesday. Aiming to generate an estimated €6bn in 2015, Athens has pledged a range of revenue-raising measures including cracking down on tax evasion, carrying out an audit on overseas bank transfers, and introducing a “luxury tax”. The document also warned brinkmanship on the part of the eurozone meant the “viability” of the currency union was now “in question.”

“It is necessary now, without further delay to turn a corner on the mistakes of the past and to forge a new relationship between member states, a relationship based on solidarity, resolve, mutual respect,” said the proposal. The Leftist government has continually fallen short of creditor demands, who hold the purse strings on €7.2bn in bail-out cash the government requires over the next three months. However, the latest blueprint is unlikely to satisfy lenders as it lacks details on labour market liberalisation or pensions reforms. Previous privatisations of the country’s assets were also described as a “spectacular” failure, generating far less in revenues for the state than first envisaged..

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Wrong on purpose?

China’s Fuel Demand to Peak Sooner Than Oil Giants Expect (Bloomberg)

China’s biggest oil refiner is signaling the nation is headed to its peak in diesel and gasoline consumption far sooner than most Western energy companies and analysts are forecasting. If correct, the projections by China Petroleum & Chemical, or Sinopec, a state-controlled enterprise with public shareholders in Hong Kong, pose a big challenge to the world’s largest oil companies. They’re counting on demand from China and other developing countries to keep their businesses growing as energy consumption falls in more advanced economies. “Plenty of people are talking about the peak in Chinese coal, but not many are talking about the peak in Chinese diesel demand, or Chinese oil generally,” said Mark C. Lewis at Kepler Cheuvreux. “It is shocking.”

Sinopec has offered a view of the country that should serve as a reality check to any oil bull. For diesel, the fuel that most closely tracks economic growth, the peak in China’s demand is just two years away, in 2017, according to Sinopec Chairman Fu Chengyu, who gave his outlook on a little reported March 23 conference call. The high point in gasoline sales is likely to come in about a decade, he said, and the company is already preparing for the day when selling fuel is what he called a “non-core” activity. That forecast, from a company whose 30,000 gas stations and 23,000 convenience stores arguably give it a better view on the market than anyone else, runs counter to the narrative heard regularly from oil drillers from the U.S. and Europe that Chinese demand for their product will increase for decades to come.

“From 2010 to 2040, transportation energy needs in OECD32 countries are projected to fall about 10% while in the rest of the world these needs are expected to double,” Exxon Mobil said in a December report on its view of the future. “China and India will together account for about half of the global increase.” Exxon expects most of that growth to be driven by commercial transportation for heavy-duty vehicles, specifically ships, trucks, planes and trains that run on diesel and similar fuels. BP’s latest public projection for China, released in February, sounds a similar note. “Energy consumed in transport grows by 98%. Oil remains the dominant fuel but loses market share, dropping from 90% to 83% in 2035.”

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“Asian-Pacific refiners are forecast to add 5.4 million barrels a day of capacity in the next five years..”

The Saudis Are Losing Their Lock on Asian Oil Sales (Bloomberg)

Ships carrying oil from Mexico docked in South Korea this year for the first time in more than two decades as the global fight for market share intensifies. Latin American producers are providing increasing amounts of heavy crude to bargain-hungry Asian refiners in a challenge to Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest exporter and the region’s dominant supplier. “By diversifying, more Asian refiners will be able to reduce the clout that Saudi Arabia has on the market,” said Suresh Sivanandam, a refining and chemical analyst with Wood Mackenzie Ltd. in Singapore. “They will be getting more bargaining power for sure.”

The U.S., enjoying a surge of light oil from shale formations, has raised imports of heavy grades from Canada, displacing crude from nations such as Mexico and Venezuela. That’s boosting South American deliveries to Asia even after Saudi Arabia cut prices for March oil sales to the region, its largest market, to the lowest in at least 14 years. The shale boom also has transformed the flow of oil to Asia. South Korea received its first shipment of Alaskan crude in at least eight years as output from Texas and North Dakota displaces oil that fed U.S. refineries for years. The country was one of the first to receive a cargo of the ultralight U.S. crude known as condensate after export rules were eased.

Petrobras and partner operators are also shipping to Asia and were scheduled to load nine tankers bound for the region in March, according to Energy Aspects, as Latin American oil’s discount to Middle East benchmark Dubai widens to almost double the average of the past year. Asian-Pacific refiners are forecast to add 5.4 million barrels a day of capacity in the next five years, according to Gaffney, Cline & Associates, a petroleum consultant.

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“April is a crucial month for the industry because it’s when lenders are due to recalculate the value of properties that energy companies staked as loan collateral.” Calculations until now are stil based on $90 oil.

Reckoning Arrives for Cash-Strapped Oil Firms Amid Bank Squeeze (Bloomberg)

Lenders are preparing to cut the credit lines to a group of junk-rated shale oil companies by as much as 30% in the coming days, dealing another blow as they struggle with a slump in crude prices, according to people familiar with the matter.
Sabine Oil & Gas became one of the first companies to warn investors that it faces a cash shortage from a reduced credit line, saying Tuesday that it raises “substantial doubt” about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern. About 10 firms are having trouble finding backup financing, said the people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named because the information hasn’t been announced. April is a crucial month for the industry because it’s when lenders are due to recalculate the value of properties that energy companies staked as loan collateral.

With those assets in decline along with oil prices, banks are preparing to cut the amount they’re willing to lend. And that will only squeeze companies’ ability to produce more oil. “If they can’t drill, they can’t make money,” said Kristen Campana at Bracewell & Giuliani LLP’s finance and financial restructuring groups. “It’s a downward spiral.” Sabine, the Houston-based exploration and production company that merged with Forest Oil Corp. last year, told investors Tuesday that it’s at risk of defaulting on $2 billion of loans and other debt if its banks don’t grant a waiver. Publicly traded firms are required to disclose such news to investors within four business days, under U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rules.

Some of the companies facing liquidity shortfalls will also disclose that they have fully drawn down their revolving credit lines like Sabine, according to one of the people. The credit discussions are ongoing and a number of banks may opt to be more lenient, giving companies more time to prepare for bigger cuts later in the year, the people said. Credit lines for some of the companies may be reduced by as little as 10%, they said. The companies are among speculative-grade energy producers that were able to load up on cheap debt as crude prices climbed above $100 a barrel. The borrowing limits are tied to reserves, the amount of oil and gas a company has in the ground that can profitably be extracted based on its land holdings. With oil prices plunging below $50 from last year’s peak of $107 in June, some are now fighting to survive.

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Commodities have been overvalued for a long time, due to crazy expectations for China growth.

Appalachia Miners Wiped Out by Coal Glut That They Can’t Reverse (Bloomberg)

Douglas Blackburn has been crawling in and out of the coal mines of Central Appalachia since he was a boy accompanying his father and grandfather some 50 years ago. The only time that Blackburn, now a coal industry consultant, remembers things being this bad was in the 1990s. Back then, he estimates, almost 40% of the region’s mines went bankrupt. “It’s a similar situation,” said Blackburn, who owns Blackacre, a Richmond, Va consulting firm. Now, like then, the principal problem is sinking coal prices. They’ve dropped 33% over the past four years to levels that have made most mining companies across the Appalachia mountain region unprofitable. To make matters worse, there’s little chance of a quick rebound in prices. That’s because idling a mine to cut output and stem losses isn’t an option for many companies.

The cost of doing so – even on a temporary basis – has become so prohibitive that it can put a miner out of business fast, Blackburn and other industry analysts say. So companies keep pulling coal out of the ground, opting to take a small, steady loss rather than one big writedown, in the hope that prices will bounce back. That, of course, is only adding to the supply glut in the U.S., the world’s second-biggest producer, and driving prices down further. It’s become, in essence, a trap for miners. “You have this really perverse situation where they keep producing,” James Stevenson at IHS said in a telephone interview. “You’re just shoveling coal into this market that’s oversupplied.” Companies will dig up at least 17 million tons more coal than power plants need this year, Morgan Stanley estimates. Coal is burned at the plants to generate electricity. That’s creating the latest fossil fuel glut in the U.S., joining oil and natural gas.

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I was just sent this. Don’t know enough about it, I must admit. The article suggests that prices are still 11% higher than 3 months ago. That would seem to mean they rose 20% or so in 2015. It doesn’t make much sense to me right now.

World Dairy Prices Slide 10.8% On Supply Concerns (NZ Herald)

International dairy prices continued to reverse gains made early this year at this morning’s GlobalDairyTrade (GDT) auction, putting downward pressure on Fonterra’s $4.70 a kg farmgate milk price forecast and raising concerns about next season’s likely payout. The GDT price index fell by 10.8% compared with the last sale a fortnight ago, when prices dropped by 8.8%. Big falls were recorded for the key products of wholemilk powder – down 13.3% to US$2,538 a tonne, skim milk powder – down 9.9% to US$2,467/tonne. Wholemilk prices are now just 11% higher than than they were by the end of 2014. ANZ rural economist Con Williams said that with milk powder making up the bulk of New Zealand’s product mix, the GDT result suggested a payout of $4.50-4.70 a kg this year.

The largest price falls at the auction were generally seen in the longer-dated contracts, up to 6 months out – into the new season. “While these prices remain higher than those for the end of this season, the curve has flattened, suggesting less price recovery is now anticipated – not boding well for next year’s payout,” Williams said. The fall comes as the New Zealand season enters its final phase, with about 80% of production now out of the way. Most of the price weakness was put down to better-than-expected supply, with the effects of this year’s drought being offset by rain in many parts of the country.

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Warren!

CFTC Charges Kraft, Mondelez With Manipulating Wheat Futures (MarketWatch)

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission on Wednesday charged Kraft Foods and Mondelez Global with manipulating wheat futures and cash wheat prices. The CFTC says that, in response to high cash wheat prices in summer 2011, the two companies developed and executed in early December 2011 a strategy to buy $90 million of wheat futures they didn’t intend on receiving. The companies expected the market would react to their “enormous” long position in futures by lowering cash prices, the CFTC said. They later earned more than $5.4 million in profits, according to the CFTC’s complaint. The agency says litigation is continuing against the companies and it is seeking disgorgement and civil monetary penalties.

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“3G, co-founded by Lemann, eliminated more than 7,000 Heinz jobs in 20 months..”

Brazil’s Richest Man May Reap $5.6 Billion in Kraft-Heinz Merger

Brazil’s richest man Jorge Paulo Lemann may add more than $5 billion to his personal fortune after ketchup maker H.J. Heinz merges with Kraft Foods. Heinz, controlled by Lemann’s 3G Capital and Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, agreed last week to buy the macaroni-and-cheese maker Kraft in a cash-and-stock deal. Heinz’s 51% of the combined company will be worth about $45 billion, valuing Lemann’s stake at about $9.6 billion, said Kevin Dreyer, a portfolio manager at Gabelli Equity. Lemann has invested about $4 billion through 3G Capital, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“A combination of synergies from the deal and the sprinkling of the magic 3G dust is giving Kraft a higher valuation than it would otherwise have,” Dreyer said in a phone interview from New York. “3G has a track record of drastically expanding margins. There’s an expectation they’ll achieve the number they put in and then some.” 3G, co-founded by Lemann, eliminated more than 7,000 Heinz jobs in 20 months after taking the company over with Berkshire Hathaway. Buffett defended the job reductions his partners at 3G have taken when they buy businesses during a March 31 interview on CNBC.

The share price of Kraft, which surged 36% the day of the deal, can be used to estimate the future value of closely held Heinz, Dreyer said. His calculation takes into account the ketchup maker’s special dividend payment and assumes a market capitalization of about $87 billion for the new company. 3G owns 48% of Heinz, co-founder Alex Behring told reporters March 25. The buyout firm contributed $4.25 billion to Heinz in 2013 and another $4.8 billion in the Kraft deal. Lemann hasn’t disclosed his personal stake in Heinz. His investments in publicly traded companies show he tends to have a larger stake than Brazilian 3G partners Marcel Telles and Carlos Alberto Sicupira..

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Multiple currencies. Looks inevitable for Greece too.

The Cuban Money Crisis (Bloomberg)

The currency crisis starts about 75 feet into Cuba. I land in the late afternoon and, after clearing customs, step into the busy arrivals hall of Havana’s airport looking for help. I ask a woman in a gray, military-like uniform where I can change money. Follow me, she says. But she doesn’t turn left, toward the airport’s exchange kiosk. Called cadecas, these government-run currency shops are the only legal way, along with banks, to swap your foreign money for Cuba s tourist tender, the CUC. Instead, my guide turns right and only comes clean when we reach a quiet area at the top of an escalator. The official rate is 87 for a hundred, she whispers, meaning CUCs to dollars. I’m giving you 90. So it’s a good deal for you.

I want to convert $500, and she doesn’t blink an eye. Go in the men’s room and count your money out, she instructs. I’ll do the same in the ladies room. The bathroom is crowded, with not one but two staff and the usual traffic of an airport in the evening. There s no toilet paper. In an unlit stall I try counting to 25 while laying $20 bills on my knees. There’s an urgent knock, and under the door I see high heels. I’m still counting, I say. She’s back two minutes later and pushes her way into my stall. We trade stacks, count, and the tryst is over. For my $500, I get 450 CUCs, the currency that’s been required for the purchase of almost anything important in Cuba since 1994. CUCs aren’t paid to Cubans; islanders receive their wages in a different currency, the grubby national peso that features Che Guevara’s face, among others, but is worth just 1/25th as much as a CUC.

Issued in shades of citrus and berry, the CUC dollarized, tourist-friendly money has for 21 years been the key to a better life in Cuba, as well as a stinging reminder of the difference between the haves and the have-nots. But that’s about to change: Cuba is going to kill the CUC. Described as a matter of fairness by President Raul Castro, the end of the two-currency system is also the key to overhauling the uniquely incompetent and centrally planned chaos machine that is the Cuban economy.

Even in Cuba there are markets, and the effects of Castro’s October announcement of a five-step plan for phasing out the CUC are already rippling out to every wallet in the country. The government has issued notifications and price conversion charts, and introduced new, larger bills to supplement the low-value national peso. Over the next year, the CUC will be invalidated what Cuban economists call Day Zero and then, in steps four and five, the regular Cuban peso will become exchangeable and be floated against a basket of five currencies: the yuan, the euro, the U.S. dollar, and two others to be named later.

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But still in complete denial: “..the governor’s action won’t mean mandatory rationing for households.”

California Orders Mandatory Water Cuts Of 25% Amid Record Drought (WSJ)

California Gov. Jerry Brown ordered unprecedented mandatory water cuts across the Golden State after the latest measurements show the state’s mountain snowpack – which accounts for roughly a third of California’s water supply – has shrunk to a record low of 5% of normal for this time of year. The Democratic governor took the action on Wednesday after accompanying state surveyors into the Sierra Nevada mountains to manually verify electronic readings that show an average snow water equivalent of 1.4 inches, the lowest ever recorded on April 1. “Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow,” the governor said. “This historic drought demands unprecedented action.”

Gov. Brown directed the State Water Resources Control Board to implement mandatory water reductions of 25%. Details on how the cuts would be implemented weren’t immediately released, although the governor said in his order that reductions would fall hardest in water districts that haven’t adequately followed his voluntary calls for conservation last year. According to monthly surveys of water use, conservation levels have varied widely around the state. In general, reductions have been lower in Southern California than the rest of the state, in part because of the region’s concentration of estate-sized lots homes and golf courses. A spokesman for the state water control board, which has already ordered limits in outdoor lawn watering, said the governor’s action won’t mean mandatory rationing for households.

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