Aug 262017
 
 August 26, 2017  Posted by at 7:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Vincent van Gogh Self-Portrait with Straw Hat Aug-Sep 1887

 

Draghi Warns Of Serious Risk To Global Economy From Rising Protectionism (CNBC)
Yellen and Draghi Both Defend Post-Crisis Financial Regulation (BBG)
Central Banks’ Pursuit Of Inflation Has Turned Sisyphean (CNBC)
IMF: We See A Broad-Based Global Recovery (CNBC)
Rickards: September Meltdown Ahead (DR)
Negative Interest Rates Have Come To America (Black)
Adults Take Over at Uber, Cost Cutting Starts (WS)
Sears Revenues to Hit Zero in 3 Years. But Bankruptcy First (WS)
Health-Care Costs Could Eat Up Your Retirement Savings (BBG)
Schaeuble Defends Tough Line On Greek Reforms (K.)
Minister: Young Greeks Fleeing A ‘Debt Colony’ (K.)

 

 

Only globalization can save you. In other news: all your base are belong to us.

Draghi Warns Of Serious Risk To Global Economy From Rising Protectionism (CNBC)

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said protectionist policies pose a “serious risk” for growth in the global economy. At a gathering of central bankers, economists and others in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, on Friday, Draghi said the global economy is firming up. He told the audience in a speech that “a turn towards protectionism would pose a serious risk for continued productivity growth and potential growth in the global economy.” The comments come at a time when President Donald Trump is taking a hard look at the U.S.’s trade agreements around the world, pushing to reduce trade deficits and make conditions more favorable for American manufacturers.

Trump also came to office promising American business leaders he would break down regulations, which he said have constrained economic growth. The financial industry in particular seems poised to benefit if Obama-era regulations on banks and Wall Street get dismantled or diluted. On Friday, Draghi, a former Goldman Sachs executive, said “there is never a good time for lax regulation” especially because it can create incentives that lead to higher risk-taking. “By contrast, the stronger regulatory regime that we have now has enabled economies to endure a long period of low interest rates without any significant side-effects on financial stability, which has been crucial for stabilizing demand and inflation worldwide,” Draghi said. “With monetary policy globally very expansionary, regulators should be wary of rekindling the incentives that led to the crisis.”

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MO: make a godawful mess, then switch to being sensible.

Yellen and Draghi Both Defend Post-Crisis Financial Regulation (BBG)

The world’s two most powerful central bankers on Friday delivered back-to-back warnings against dismantling tough post-crisis financial rules that the Trump administration blames for stifling U.S. growth. ECB President Mario Draghi, speaking at the Federal Reserve’s annual retreat in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, said it was a particularly dangerous time to loosen regulation given that central banks are still supporting their economies with accommodative monetary policies. That warning followed earlier remarks by Fed Chair Janet Yellen, who offered a broad defense of the steps taken since the 2008 financial-market meltdown and urged that any rollback of post-crisis rules be “modest.” The combined effect was “a subtle shot across the bow of those who seek deregulation,” said Michael Gapen, chief U.S. economist at Barclays in New York.

The complementary speeches come at what may be the tail end of Yellen’s tenure at the Fed’s helm. President Donald Trump is not expected to reappoint her when her leadership term expires in February, according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg. Gapen said that by delivering overlapping messages, Yellen and Draghi could help amplify their points, but “in practice that’s not the agenda the Trump administration is likely to seek.” In a talk aimed broadly at defending the merits of globalization, Draghi said it’s crucial to make sure open policies on trade and global finance should be safeguarded with regulations designed to make globalization fair, safe and equitable. “We have only recently witnessed the dangers of financial openness combined with insufficient regulation,” Draghi said, referring to the global financial crisis of 2008-09.

Any reversal of the regulatory response to that crisis, he added, “would call into question whether the lessons of the crisis have indeed been learnt – and thus whether financial integration can still be considered safe.” That point was all the more important given that central banks are continuing to provide stimulus to their economies. “With monetary policy globally very expansionary, regulators should be wary of rekindling the incentives that led to the crisis,” Draghi said.

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Blind as bats.

Central Banks’ Pursuit Of Inflation Has Turned Sisyphean (CNBC)

Central banks globally have spent years fruitlessly trying to awaken long-dormant inflation, and some analysts say it’s time to stop trying. Anemic inflation has become a bugaboo for global central banks, with frequent mentions in the meeting minutes. It’s been a speed bump in the U.S. Federal Reserve’s path toward normalizing interest rates, with members voting at the July meeting to keep the current target rate in a 1% to 1.25% range. Minutes from that July decision show some policymakers were pushing for caution on rate hikes due to low inflation. The Fed’s target is for 2% inflation, and its preferred measure of inflation is at about 1.5%. It’s not limited to the U.S. by any stretch: Japan’s colossal struggle to goad inflation to life has been a stalemate at best. Since the Bank of Japan launched a massive quantitative easing program in 2013, the country has exited deflation.

But even the September 2016, introduction of a “yield-curve control” policy, seen by markets as essentially a “whatever it takes” stance on boosting inflation, hasn’t seemed to move the needle much. Japan’s core consumer price index, which includes oil products and excludes fresh food, rose 0.5% year-on-year in July, Reuters reported on Friday. That compared with the BOJ’s goal for inflation to meet or exceed its target of 2% “in a stable manner.” It also was oddly jarring compared with Japan’s economy growing a better-than-expected annualized 4% year-on-year in the April-to-June quarter. Some analysts have said the persistently low inflation was a signal that central banks shouldn’t be using inflation to guide monetary policy. “If we’ve got growth at trend, which most places appear to have, if we’ve got the unemployment rate at full employment, which most places appear to have, then we shouldn’t even worry about what inflation is doing,” Rob Carnell, head of research for Asia at ING, said recently.

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The future’s are so bright you just got to wear shades.

IMF: We See A Broad-Based Global Recovery (CNBC)

The global economy is doing well, the chief economist for the International Monetary Fund told CNBC on Friday. The IMF’s new forecast on the world’s economy is expected in about five weeks, Maury Obstfeld said. And while he wouldn’t divulge what that may be, he did say the organization “certainly” isn’t going to lower the number from its last projection. In July, the IMF forecast global economic growth of 3.5% for 2017 and 2.5% for 2018. “We see broad-based recovery. The importance is that it’s really broad-based in a way that it hasn’t been in a decade,” Obstfeld said in a “Closing Bell” interview from the sidelines of the Federal Reserve’s symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be concerns ahead. While there are not any immediate downside risks, there are longer-term ones, he noted. “One risk is just continuing tepid growth. What we’re seeing now is a cyclical upswing, but potential growth remains slow,” Obstfeld said. “That brings with it political tensions which we’ve seen spilling over into protectionist rhetoric, for example.” Earlier Friday, ECB Mario Draghi told the audience at Jackson Hole that protectionist policies pose a “serious risk” for growth in the global economy. The comments come at a time when President Donald Trump has been scrutinizing U.S. trade agreements around the world in a push to reduce trade deficits and boost conditions for American manufacturers.

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Ice-9.

Rickards: September Meltdown Ahead (DR)

Jim Rickards joined Alex Stanczyk at the Physical Gold Fund to discuss current destabilizing factors that could drastically impact investors. During the first part of their conversation the economic expert delved into gold positioning for the future, the expanding threats from North Korea and liquidity in global markets. To begin Rickards’ was prompted on his latest analysis over North Korea and the international threat the country poses going forward. The currency wars expert urged, “The fact is, the threats from North Korea, even if not to the mainland, still threaten U.S territory. There are a lot of Americans living there. As this escalation continues in sequence the problem is not new.” “The threat of North Korea has been going on for decades and has escalated since the mid 1990’s. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both offered sanctions relief for the country in exchange for program reductions.

The Obama administration essentially did nothing for eight years. I do think the Trump administration at least deserves credit for clarity.” “Trump has identified that he is not willing to negotiate to arrive at negotiations. They have indicated to North Korea that if the regime wishes to come to the table what the White House must see is a verified cessation of weapons programs. In exchange they could offer potential sanctions relief and even the possibility of integrating the North Korean economy into the global economy. The North Koreans are actually very rich in natural resources and could be a commodity driven exporter.” “The U.S is not going to be bullied. It will continue to operate in South Korea with joint military exercises. One by one the North Koreans have come to understand missile technology and it seems like they are within the final steps toward miniaturization of weapons.”

[..] The author of Road to Ruin highlighted the severity of the debt ceiling and what it means for the economy. Rickards went on, “There are two really big, but separate, deadlines converging on September 29th. The first is the debt ceiling. This has to deal with the borrowing authority of the U.S Treasury and to be able to pay the bills of the government.” “That authority includes the money to cover social security, medicare, medicaid, military and all of the operations within the budget. Until it is authorized, the Treasury is essentially running on fumes. They are running out of cash. They need Congress to authorize an increase in the debt ceiling so they can borrow money so they can pay for their bills. The problem is that Congress is not functional right now.”

[..] Rickards then turned to warn how liquidity can be frozen by governments. “In October 1987, the major U.S stock market, and in particular the Dow Jones, fell 22% in one day. That kind of a drop would be 4,000 Dow points. When I explain that move to investors they typically respond that there are measures in place to freeze the market and stop such a loss.” “My immediate reaction is, which makes you feel more concerned; thousand point drops, or a closed exchange? At least with a significant point drop you can still get out at a price. If you shut the market down, that’s Ice-9. My thesis is that if you shut down one market the demand for liquidity then just moves to another market, requiring another sector shutdown.”

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“..in principle there’s nothing wrong with paying a bank a reasonable fee to safeguard your money. But that’s not what banks do.”

Negative Interest Rates Have Come To America (Black)

Negative interest rates are particularly prominent in Europe. Starting back in 2014, the European Central Bank (ECB) slashed its main interest rate to below zero. One bizarre effect of this policy is that some banks have passed on these negative interest rates to their retail depositors. This trend has persisted across Europe, Japan, and many other parts of the world. Yet at least Americans were able to breathe a sigh of relief that negative interest rates hadn’t crossed the Atlantic. Well, that’s not entirely true. Recently I was reading through Bank of America’s most recent annual report; it’s filled with some shocking facts about the -real- level of wealth in the Land of the Free… which I’ll tell you more about next week. But here’s one of the things that caught my eye: Bank of America has $592.4 billion in deposits from retail customers, i.e. regular folks who bank at BOA.

And according to its annual report, BOA paid its retail depositors an average interest rate of 0.04% last year. Seriously. That’s a tiny, laughable amount of interest. But hey, at least it’s positive. That 0.04% average rate means the bank paid its retail depositors a total of $236 million in interest. Yet at the same time, Bank of America charged those very same retail depositors $4.1 BILLION in fees. So in total, small depositors forked over a net sum of $3.8+ billion to Bank of America last year for the privilege of holding their money at the bank. Based on the bank’s total consumer deposits of $592.4 billion, it’s as if the bank had charged its customers a negative interest rate of 0.64%. What’s the point? It’s one thing to pay fees to a bank that will safeguard your capital and act in the most conservative way possible.

People pay fees to storage companies to safeguard their wine collections, baseball card collections, all sorts of stuff. We even pay fees for safety deposit boxes to store important documents. So in principle there’s nothing wrong with paying a bank a reasonable fee to safeguard your money. But that’s not what banks do.

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It’s time for competition.

Adults Take Over at Uber, Cost Cutting Starts (WS)

[..] now the adults have taken over at Uber. And money has become an objective. A 14-member executive committee is running the show since there’s no CEO, no CFO, no number two behind the CFO, and no COO. A gaggle of other executives and managers left or were shoved out in the wake of scandals, chaos, and lawsuits. And the adults have decided to bring the expenses down. One of the steps is to unload Uptown Station. According to the San Francisco Business Times: The possible sale of Uptown Station means Uber can move the asset and development costs off its books, which could put it in a better financial position. That was a key motivator for exploring the sale, spokesperson MoMo Zhou told the Business Times. Uber was looking “to strengthen our financial position so we can better serve riders and drivers in the long term,” she said.

So they’re starting to concentrate their efforts and prioritize their spending where it matters: riders and drivers. In March already, Uber had decided to scale down its move to Uptown Station. Instead of migrating 2,500 to 3,000 employees into the building, it said it would move just a few hundred, and lease out the remaining space. Uber has booming sales – in Q2, “adjusted net revenue” soared by 118% year-over-year to $1.75 billion – but it also has booming expenses and losses, and sooner or later something has to give. In 2016, it booked an “adjusted” loss of $3.2 billion (not including interest, tax, employee stock compensation expenses, and other items). In the first two quarters of 2017, it booked an “adjusted” loss of $1.4 billion: $4.6 billion in “adjusted” losses in six quarters. It has $6.6 billion in cash. At this pace, it’ll be gone quickly.

Uber is now trying to cut its losses and reach profitability, a “person with knowledge of the matter” told the Business Times. And given the chaos surrounding Uber, it might be a better idea to concentrate employees in one place rather than scattering them all over the landscape. This comes after the adults have also decided to shut down Uber’s subprime auto leasing program that was started two years ago. “Xchange Leasing” put their badly paid drivers with subprime credit into new vehicles they couldn’t afford. The leases allowed drivers to put “unlimited miles” on their cars without consequences and return the cars after 30 days with two weeks’ notice. No one in the car business would ever offer this kind of lease. But the folks at Uber simply didn’t need to do the math. Uber invested $600 million in this program. Now the adults found out they’re losing $9,000 per car. With 40,000 cars in the fleet, it adds up in a hurry. So they decided to shut down that program.

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Sears is toast.

Sears Revenues to Hit Zero in 3 Years. But Bankruptcy First (WS)

In its fiscal year 2017, it already closed about 180 stores and expects to shutter an additional 150 stores in the third quarter. Those closings had been announced previously. But in its earnings release, it announced the closing of 28 more Kmart stores “later this year.” Liquidation sales will begin as early as August 31, it said. The rest of the plunge was caused by same-store sales (sales at stores open longer than one year) which dropped 11.5%. “Softness in store traffic” the company called it. But the trend is falling off a cliff: In Q2 2016, same-store sales had dropped “only” 5.2%. Now they’re plunging at more than double that rate. Despite the ceaseless corporate rhetoric of operational improvements, this baby is going down the tubes at an ever faster speed. How does that $4.37 billion in revenues stack up? They’re down by nearly two-thirds from Q2 2007. This is what the accelerating revenue shrinkage looks like:

[..] Over the past three years, the momentum of the revenue decline has accelerated sharply. Q2 revenues have plummeted from $8.0 billion in 2014 to $4.37 billion in 2017. A decline of $3.6 billion, or 45% in three years. This chart shows Q2 revenues from 2014 to 2017, with the trend line (purple) extended until it hits zero. This is the same track that Q1 revenues are on. As I’d postulated three months ago, at this rate, revenues of the once largest retailer in the US will be zero in three years, or by 2020. Zero is the inevitable result of a hedge-fund strategy of asset-stripping and cost-cutting at a retailer that had already been struggling before the takeover, and that now finds itself embroiled without effective online strategy in the American brick-and-mortar retail meltdown. But revenues won’t drop to zero. Sears won’t last that long.

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But who actually has the required $275,000? And what happens to those who don’t have it?

Health-Care Costs Could Eat Up Your Retirement Savings (BBG)

In a perfect world, the largest expenses in retirement would be for fun things like travel and entertainment. In the real world, retiree health-care costs can take an unconscionably big bite out of savings. A 65-year-old couple retiring this year will need $275,000 to cover health-care costs throughout retirement, Fidelity Investments said in its annual cost estimate, out this morning. That stunning number is about 6% higher than it was last year. Costs would be about half that amount for a single person, though women would pay a bit more than men since they live longer. You might think that number looks high. At 65, you’re eligible for Medicare, after all. But monthly Medicare premiums for Part B (which covers doctor’s visits, surgeries, and more) and Part D (drug coverage) make up 35% of Fidelity’s estimate.

The other 65% is the cost-sharing, in and out of Medicare, in co-payments and deductibles, as well as out-of-pocket payments for prescription drugs. And that doesn’t include dental care—or nursing-home and long-term care costs. Retirees can buy supplemental, or Medigap, insurance to cover some of the things Medicare doesn’t, but those premiums would lead back to the same basic estimate, said Adam Stavisky, senior vice president for Fidelity Benefits Consulting. The 6% jump in Fidelity’s estimate mirrors the average annual 5.5% inflation rate for medical care that HealthView Services, which makes health-care cost projection software, estimates for the next decade. A recent report from the company drilled into which health-care costs will grow the fastest.

It estimates a long-term inflation rate of 7.2% for Medigap premiums and 8% for Medicare Part D. For out-of-pocket costs, the company estimates inflation rates of 3.7% for prescription drugs, 5% in dental, hearing, and vision services, 3% for hospitals, and 3.4% for doctor’s visits and tests. Cost-of-living-adjustments on Social Security payments, meanwhile, are expected to grow by 2.6%, according to the HealthView Services report.

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“One day they will build a statue in my honor in Greece in a show of gratitude..”

Schaeuble Defends Tough Line On Greek Reforms (K.)

As Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras prepares to present a positive narrative at next month’s Thessaloniki International Fair about how the country is turning a corner ahead of the next review by international creditors in the fall, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has reportedly suggested that Athens should be grateful to him for his tough stance on economic reform and austerity. “One day they will build a statue in my honor in Greece in a show of gratitude for the pressure that I imposed in order for necessary reforms to be carried out,” the outspoken minister was quoted as saying by German newspaper Handelsblatt. According to the same newspaper, Schaeuble aims to turn the European Stability Mechanism into a European version of the IMF, one of Greece’s creditors.

The concept is that of a European monetary fund that would help eurozone states in financial crisis but subject to strict terms, such as those that underpinned the IMF’s support to Greece and other countries in recent years. Other ideas, such as the possibility of introducing growth-inducing measures in such countries, were reportedly rejected by Schaeuble. French President Emmanuel Macron meanwhile has suggested that the eurozone should have its own central budget which it could tap if necessary to support member-states in financial difficulty. He is also said to back the idea of a eurozone finance minister, another idea opposed by Berlin. Macron is due in Athens in the first week of September for an official visit that government sources hope will bolster Tsipras’s positive narrative while there are also signs that French firms might confirm their interest in investing in the Thessaloniki Port Authority.

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When you’re bled dry of your young and their energy, you’re not going to recover.

Minister: Young Greeks Fleeing A ‘Debt Colony’ (K.)

In comments to Skai TV on Friday, Deputy Education Minister Costas Zouraris said he understood why large numbers of young Greeks are abandoning the country for better employment opportunities abroad, noting that Greece is “a debt colony” that is “slightly worse” than India. “For now, it’s understandable that kids are saying they want to leave,” Zouraris told Skai. “Let’s hope they return because we are, as you know, bankrupt and a debt colony.” He added that the Greek state has invested about 1 million euros in its top graduates who are now leaving the country. “We are now giving this as a gift to foreign countries for a few years,” he said.

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Aug 142017
 
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August Strindberg Alpine Landscape I 1894

 

Multiple Contraction : Stock Market Warning Siren is Blaring (WS)
Is The Euro Crisis Really Over? (Lacalle)
US Is The Real Trade Protectionist – China State Media (CNBC)
Fourth Turning: “It’s Going To Be A Rollercoaster Ride” (ZH)
Conspiracy or Chaos? (Jim Quinn)
Forget GDP – There’s More To Britain’s Wealth Than Its Bank Balance (Baggini)
Factory Farming, Antibiotics Use In Asia Creating Global Health Risks (G.)
More NGOs Follow MSF In Suspending Mediterranean Migrant Rescues (R.)
Syrian Refugees Can Return To Aleppo… And Do So In Their 100,000s (RT)
Do Elephants Have Souls? (NA)

 

 

Creative accounting is subject to inherent limits.

Multiple Contraction : Stock Market Warning Siren is Blaring (WS)

“Adjusted” earnings growth is 10.2% year-over-year in the second quarter, according to FactSet, based on the 91% of the companies in the S&P 500 that have reported results. The energy sector was a key driver, with 332% “adjusted” earnings growth from the oil-bust levels of a year ago. The sectors with double-digit earnings growth: information technology (14.7%), utilities (10.8%), and financials (10.3%). The rest were single digit. Earnings in the consumer discretionary sector declined. Revenues grew 5.1%, also led by the energy sector. At the beginning of Q2 last year, the WTI grade of crude oil traded at $35 a barrel. In Q2 this year, WTI ranged from $42 to $53 a barrel.

So the Wall-Street hype machine is cranking at maximum RPM to propagate the great news that earnings are soaring, and that this is the reason why stocks should also be soaring, and forget everything else. The hype machine carefully avoids showing the bigger picture which is dismal for earnings and ludicrous for stock valuations. Aggregate earnings per share (EPS) for the S&P 500 companies on a trailing 12-months basis rose for the second quarter in a row. That’s the foundation of the Wall Street hype. But here’s the thing with these EPS: they’re now back where they had been in… May 2014. Yep. More than three years of earnings stagnation. No growth whatsoever, even for “adjusted” earnings. In fact, on a trailing 12-month basis, aggregate EPS of the S&P 500 companies are down about 5% from their peak in Q4 2014.

And yet, over the same three-plus years of total earnings stagnation, the S&P 500 index has soared 34%. This chart shows those “adjusted” earnings per share for the S&P 500 companies (black line) and the S&P 500 index (blue line). I marked August 2012 as the point five years ago, and May 2014. And these are not earnings under the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). FactSet uses “adjusted” earnings for its analyses. These are the earnings with the bad stuff “adjusted” out of them by management to manipulate earnings into the most favorable light. Not all companies report “adjusted” earnings. Some only report GAAP earnings and live with the consequences. But others put adjusted earnings into the foreground, and that’s what Wall Street dishes up.

[..] This is the peculiar situation of today: On average, these companies have stagnating earnings per share propped up by “adjusting” these earnings and by financial engineering. The price-earnings multiple (P/E ratio) for stagnating companies should be low. In January 2012, the P/E ratio for the companies in the S&P 500 index was 14.9. And that was high. As of Friday, the aggregate P/E ratio is 24.3:

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Brussels keeps Europe from recovering. A continent of zombies.

Is The Euro Crisis Really Over? (Lacalle)

This week we have read that Brussels has certified “the end of the crisis”. In an uncomfortably triumphant statement, the group welcomed the fact that Europe had emerged from the crisis and returned to growth “thanks to the decisive action of the European Union”. Really? Thanks to the “decisive action” of the European Union the “economy is back in shape”? It is true that the communique says that “much remains to be done to overcome the legacy of the crisis years”, but if we can say something about the European crisis is that the “decisive” action of the European Union has not helped to end the crisis, but has perpetuated and silenced it. The European economy is not “in shape”.

According to the Bank of International Settlements and Merrill Lynch, Europe has more zombie companies today than before the crisis, 9% of large listed non-financial corporations are considered walking dead, ie generating operating profits that do not cover their financial costs, in spite of all-time low-interest rates and an unprecedented monetary stimulus. And that is among the big companies, where the business results of the Eurostoxx remain below 2008. If we go to SMEs, the European Union has higher rates of bankruptcies and losses than in 2008, yet the tax burden on companies has increased. In fact, if anything can be said of the European business fabric is that it has been devastated by taxes.

The European Union has continued to hamper the high-productivity sectors to support the so-called national champions and zombies, that large amount of low-value added conglomerates, ridden by high debt and poor margins. While the United States saw the astronomical takeoff of technology giants and corporate profits growing at double digit rates, the EU decided to put obstacles to growth, and today, in the Eurostoxx 100, we have the same collection of dinosaurs that we had a decade ago. European banks, at the end of 2016, had more than €1 trillion in non-performing loans, a figure that represents 5.1% of total loans compared to 1.5% in the US or Japan. Europe has gone from financial crisis to financial crisis, and recently we have had new episodes in Italy, Spain and Portugal.

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Theory: Xi will not put up a real fight if he’s not certain he can win (Deng Xiao Ping’s stance on US).

US Is The Real Trade Protectionist – China State Media (CNBC)

Trump is expected to issue the so-called Section 301 investigation under the 1974 Trade Act later on Monday to investigate Chinese trade practices that force U.S. firms operating in China to turn over intellectual property, multiple outlets reported. China will retaliate in such a case, said the Communist Party-linked Global Times, which is known for its nationalist slant. “The Trump administration should have second thoughts about putting pressure on China on trade and avoid a full-blown trade war,” said the newspaper, adding that the Beijing “should make use of the WTO mechanism to sue the U.S. for trade protectionism.” “The trade policies of the Trump administration have been widely criticized. Although filing a lawsuit with the WTO is time-consuming, it is highly likely that China would win,” it said.

The latest news about a U.S. probe into Chinese trade practices could lead to steep tariffs and comes as Trump is pressing for China’s cooperation in reining in North Korea’s nuclear program. “The U.S. now is walking softly and carrying a huge stick in regards to what it wants. Here, this is tactically nothing more than ‘We need your support with North Korea,’ part and parcel, that’s it. The symbolism of this is just politics and game play,” Frank Troise, managing director at SoHo Capital, told CNBC’s “The Rundown.” China has repeatedly said the two issues were not related, with the Global Times calling the link “illogical” in its Sunday night editorial. Commentaries in state media normally provide insight into government thinking beyond typically thin official statements.

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Neil Howe is an interesting voice, and that’s only partly because Steve Bannon likes his work.

Fourth Turning: “It’s Going To Be A Rollercoaster Ride” (ZH)

[..] .. although 9/11 changed America’s attitude towards the rest of the world, I think that the stock market boom and celebrity circus that’s here in the United States really hadn’t changed very much. And I don’t think you really had a shift, a fundamental shift, in America’s perception of themselves as a people, as their own country, to a fundamental degree until 2008. Also, 2001, as we explained to many people at the time, was simply too early. Every turning starts when each generation is beginning to move into a new phase of life. Back in 2001 boomers were not yet retiring, millennials were still—maybe the first one of them was barely graduating from high school.

So, this was not what we expected. 2008 really did coincide with the generational maturity of the turning, so to speak. And I think that, in terms of the basic shift in our efficacy of the social system, I think 2008 was a bigger change.” The crisis also ushered in an era where central banks exhibit total control of markets, which has created an “artificial quality,” Howe said. “The economic emergency that occurred in 2008-2009 really catapulted us into by far the biggest economic emergency we’ve been in since the early 1930s. And, arguably, we are still living out the consequences of that with complete change in central bank policy, monetary policy, with sustaining these record low interest rates and arguable very high valuations in financial markets—almost anything pushed by that—and people still wondering how we’re going to get out from under that.

The constant discussion is when are central banks going to pull back on their balance sheets and actually go back to the old normal? So, I think there is the sense, even in this the booming markets that we see today, that there is this artificial quality: people think that there’s something wrong about this. We have not re-righted where we were. We are not letting price discovery and actual markets function the way they did before then. So, I do believe that 2008 was the beginning of a whole new regime. And I also believe that the political dysfunction, the sense of political dysfunction—created during the two turns of the Obama presidency and, obviously, also into the Trump presidency—of government completely grinding to a halt is going to have some very powerful repercussions in the years shortly to come.”

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Anarchy in the UK.

Conspiracy or Chaos? (Jim Quinn)

Alan Moore, the renowned graphic novel writer, and author of the dystopian classic V for Vendetta, politically identifies as an anarchist. His view that all political states are an outgrowth of anarchy, with the biggest gang taking control and dictating how things will be run, is manifested in V for Vendetta. As an anarchist, you can understand why he is doubtful of conspiracy theories and an all-powerful entity controlling the world. He believes in a chaotic world competing gangs position themselves to gain power and control.

“We live in a badly developed anarchist situation in which the biggest gang has taken over and have declared that it is not an anarchist situation – that it is a capitalist or a communist situation. But I tend to think that anarchy is the most natural form of politics for a human being to actually practice.”- Alan Moore

The Guy Fawkes mask from V for Vendetta has been adopted by anarchist groups around the world, including: Anonymous, WikiLeaks, and the Occupy protestors. Moore’s positive view of the Occupy movement was based on his belief ordinary people had the right to reclaim what had been taken from them by criminal bankers. The initial impetus for the Occupy protests was the destruction of Main Street USA by Wall Street sociopaths, who not only escaped prosecution for their crimes, but were bailed out by the taxpayers they had pillaged and further enriched as captured politicians enabled them to get even bigger. Millions were evicted from their homes and lost their jobs. Middle class families have seen their real income continue to stagnate, while bankers, corporate executives, and politicians have reaped billions in bonuses, stock gains, and payoffs, provided by central bankers in their back pocket.

“I can’t think of any reason why as a population we should be expected to stand by and see a gross reduction in the living standards of ourselves and our kids, possibly for generations, when the people who have got us into this have been rewarded for it – they’ve certainly not been punished in any way because they’re too big to fail. I think that the Occupy movement is, in one sense, the public saying that they should be the ones to decide who’s too big to fail. As an anarchist, I believe that power should be given to the people whose lives this is actually affecting.” – Alan Moore

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Basic argument: technological growth beats economic growth. But why argue this using social housing and libraries?

Forget GDP – There’s More To Britain’s Wealth Than Its Bank Balance (Baggini)

How is this possible? Because “a lot of improvements in standard of living come not through what we normally consider as growth, but through technological improvements”. This is a concrete example of real growth without what is normally understood by economic growth. If we can grasp this, we can see why the argument about whether indefinite growth is environmentally sustainable is bogus. Orthodox economics says that it is essential if the world’s worst-off are to escape their poverty. Critics argue for zero or even negative growth, claiming that this is the only way to ensure we don’t deplete the planet’s resources. Both are wrong. Real wealth is created not just by exploiting more resources and increasing society’s cash pot but by exploiting the same or fewer resources better.

The whole question of GDP growth is a red herring if we are interested in real wealth. What matters is that we do more with the resources we have. Building a better future depends on seeing this clearly. Take the need to reduce inequality, which many now accept is urgent. To do this it is assumed we need to reduce the income gap between rich and poor. But real equality is increased simply by making it possible for the less well-off to do more with the money they have. Social housing was, and could again be, an example of that. Take two people, one of whom earns £30k a year and the other £15k. To close the real wealth gap between the two does not necessarily require increasing the income of the latter. Providing them with a decent council flat at low rent effectively allows their disposable income to equalise.

The basic principle here is that what matters most is giving people the resources they need to live better, which doesn’t necessarily require giving them more cash. This has in effect been the principle behind all sorts of socially levelling initiatives. Local authorities didn’t give local people free books, they gave them the use of libraries. They didn’t give them cars, they gave them bus passes. We need to relearn the wisdom of these policies, and update them for the modern age. In an era where car ownership is not rare, what about low-cost car clubs? Why shouldn’t more people be able to borrow laptops and tablets from libraries as well as books and DVDs?

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“Half of all antibiotics globally are now consumed in China alone.”

Factory Farming, Antibiotics Use In Asia Creating Global Health Risks (G.)

The use of antibiotics in factory farms in Asia is set to more than double in just over a decade, with potentially damaging effects on antibiotic resistance around the world. Factory farming of poultry in Asia is also increasing the threat of bird flu spreading beyond the region, with more deadly strains taking hold, according to a new report from a network of financial investors. Use of antibiotics in poultry and pig farms will increase by more than 120% in Asiaby 2030, based on current trends. Half of all antibiotics globally are now consumed in China alone. The Chinese meat and animal feed producers New Hope Group and Wen’s Group are now among the 10 biggest animal feed manufacturers in the world. The growth of Asian meat production in intensive units is also producing a rise in greenhouse gas emissions from the food chain, with emissions likely to rise by more than 360m tonnes, the equivalent of running 100 coal-fired power plants for a year.

There are knock-on impacts such as deforestation, as China’s need for animal feed is responsible for more than a third of Brazil’s soybean production. The report, Factory Farming in Asia: Assessing Investment Risks, comes three years after a meat scandal in China, in which suppliers to McDonalds, KFC and others were found to be using dirty meat and products past their sell-by date. It also comes in the midst of a growing food scandal in Europe, which has required the recall of millions of eggs tainted with harmful chemicals, and as concerns have been aired over the impact of Brexit on imports of farm products to the UK. Asian food companies have rapidly expanded their meat production in response to growing populations and the tastes of the rising middle class, but this expansion has come to the detriment of food safety.

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They’re being shot at. And the Italian Foreign Minister calls that “a welcome readjustment” and a “positive process”.

More NGOs Follow MSF In Suspending Mediterranean Migrant Rescues (R.)

Two more aid groups have suspended migrant rescues in the Mediterranean, joining Doctors Without Borders, because they felt threatened by the Libyan coastguard. Save the Children and Germany’s Sea Eye said on Sunday their crews could no longer work safely because of the hostile stance of the Libyan authorities. Doctors Without Borders – or Medecins sans Frontieres – cited the same concern when it said on Saturday it would halt Mediterranean operations. “We leave a deadly gap in the Mediterranean,” Sea Eye’s founder Michael Busch Heuer warned on Facebook, adding that Libya had issued an “explicit threat” against non-government organisations operating in the area around its coast. Libyan coastguard boats have repeatedly clashed with NGO vessels on the edge of Libyan waters, sometimes opening fire.

The coastguard has defended such actions, saying the shooting was to assert control over rescue operations. “In general, we do not reject (NGO) presence, but we demand from them more cooperation with the state of Libya … they should show more respect to the Libyan sovereignty,” coastguard spokesman Ayoub Qassem told Reuters on Sunday. Tension has also been growing for weeks between aid groups and the Italian government, which has suggested some NGOs are facilitating people smuggling, while Italy is trying to enhance the role of the Libyan coastguard in blocking migrant departures. This month, Italy began a naval mission in Libyan waters to provide technical and operational support to its coastguard, despite opposition from factions in eastern Libya that oppose the U.N.-backed government based in Tripoli.

[..] Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said in a newspaper interview on Sunday that Libya’s growing role in controlling its waters was curbing people trafficking and producing a welcome “readjustment” in the Mediterranean. MSF’s decision to halt its rescue operations was part of this positive process, he told the newspaper La Stampa.

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There’s propaganda and then there’s reality. You decide who you believe.

Syrian Refugees Can Return To Aleppo… And Do So In Their 100,000s (RT)

Aleppo, a city retaken by Damascus from rebels in December last year, has become a major destination for displaced Syrian returning home in 2017 as numbers of returnees to Syria spills over 600,000, according to the UN. Over the first seven months of 2017, over 600,000 displaced Syrians returned home, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said Friday, citing its own figures as well as those of the UN Migration Agency and partners on the ground. The returnees are overwhelmingly internally-displaced people, but 16% returned to Syria from other nations, primarily Turkey. The number almost matched that recorded in the whole of 2016. An estimated 67% of returnees went to government-controlled Aleppo Governorate, with the provincial capital itself being the primary destination.

Among other places where refugees went in significant numbers, according to ICO, is Al-Hasakah Governorate, the north-eastern province dominated by Kurds. The city of Aleppo – the largest in Syria prior to the conflict – was retaken by the government army last year, aided by Russia, with hostilities ending in mid-December. For years before that, it was divided between two parts, held respectively by government forces and by a disjointed collection of militant groups, including hardcore jihadists. The battle for the city ended with a ceasefire deal, which allowed remaining rebel forces and their families leave Aleppo and go to Idlib governorate, which currently remains a rebel stronghold.

Earlier an increasing number of refugees returning to their homes in Syria was reported by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which said more than 440,000 internally-displaced persons and 31,000 refugees in other countries had done so over the first six months of 2016. Aleppo and other government-controlled governorates like Hama, Homs and Damascus were mentioned as destinations for the returnees. [..] The situation is far from rosy of course, according to IOM. The number of people forced to leave their homes in 2017 still outweighs that of returnees, with over 808,000 people estimated to be displaced. Around 10% of those who returned in 2016 and 2017 have ended up fleeing their homes again. Almost 20% of the returnees have no secure supply of food and access to water and health services is a problem for some 60%, a testament to the damage the Syrian war has taken on its civilian infrastructure.

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Love it. Absolute must read, the whole article. Very rich.

Do Elephants Have Souls? (NA)

The birth of an elephant is a spectacular occasion. Grandmothers, aunts, sisters, and cousins crowd around the new arrival and its dazed mother, trumpeting and stamping and waving their trunks to welcome the floppy baby who has so recently arrived from out of the void, bursting through the border of existence to take its place in an unbroken line stretching back to the dawn of life. After almost two years in the womb and a few minutes to stretch its legs, the calf can begin to stumble around. But its trunk, an evolutionarily unique inheritance of up to 150,000 muscles with the dexterity to pick up a pin and the strength to uproot a tree, will be a mystery to it at first, with little apparent use except to sometimes suck upon like human babies do their thumbs.

Over time, with practice and guidance, it will find the potential in this appendage flailing off its face to breathe, drink, caress, thwack, probe, lift, haul, wrap, spray, sense, blast, stroke, smell, nudge, collect, bathe, toot, wave, and perform countless other functions that a person would rely on a combination of eyes, nose, hands, and strong machinery to do. Once the calf is weaned from its mother’s milk at five or whenever its next sibling is born, it will spend up to 16 hours a day eating 5% of its entire weight in leaves, grass, brush, bark, and basically any other kind of vegetation. It will only process about 40% of the nutrients in this food, however; the waste it leaves behind helps fertilize plant growth and provide accessible nutrition on the ground to smaller animals, thus making the elephant a keystone species in its habitat. From 250 pounds at birth, it will continue to grow throughout its life, to up to 7 tons for a male of the largest species or 4 tons for a female.

Of the many types of elephants and mammoths that used to roam the earth, one born today will belong to one of three surviving species: Elephas maximus in Asia, Loxodonta africana (savanna elephant) or Loxodonta cyclotis (forest elephant) in Africa. There are about 500,000 African elephants alive now (about a third of them the more reticent, less studied L. cyclotis), and only 40,000 – 50,000 Asian elephants remaining. The Swedish Elephant Encyclopedia database currently lists just under 5,000 (most of them E. maximus) living in captivity worldwide, in half as many locations — meaning that the average number of elephants per holding is less than two; many of them live without a single companion of their kind.

For the freeborn, if it is a cow, the “allomothers” who welcomed her into the world will be with her for life — a matriarchal clan led by the oldest and biggest. She in turn will be an enthusiastic caretaker and playmate to her younger cousins and siblings. When she is twelve or fourteen, she will go into heat (“estrus”) for the first time, a bewildering occurrence during which her mother will stand by and show her what to do and which male to accept. If she conceives, she will have a calf twenty-two months later, crucially aided in birthing and raising it by the more experienced older ladies. She may have another every four to five years into her fifties or sixties, but not all will survive.

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Apr 212017
 
 April 21, 2017  Posted by at 8:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Fred Stein Nadinola 1944

 

Trump Signals Provide Comfort to Central Bankers, Finance Ministers (WSJ)
Protectionism Is More Than a Political Statement (Grant)
Fed Intensifies Balance-Sheet Discussions With Market Players (BBG)
Paul Tudor Jones Says U.S. Stocks Should ‘Terrify’ Janet Yellen (BBG)
China’s Stocks Refuse to Drop More Than 1% (BBG)
Toronto To Impose 15% Tax On Foreign Home Buyers (G.)
Why Not a Probe of ‘Israel-gate’? (Robert Parry)
Arresting Julian Assange Is A Priority, Says US Attorney General (G.)
German Chancellery Investigated In Probe Into WikiLeaks Sources (R.)
Coffee and Thin Liquidity on Traders’ Menus for French Vote (BBG)
EU leader: UK Would Be Welcomed Back If Voters Overturn Brexit (G.)
Britain Must Pay EU Divorce Bill In Euros (AFP)
Austria Calls For Closure Of Mediterranean Migrant Route (Pol.)

 

 

The system closes ranks.

Trump Signals Provide Comfort to Central Bankers, Finance Ministers (WSJ)

The Trump administration appears unlikely to upend seven decades of global financial cooperation by scorning the IMF and World Bank, a source of comfort to central bankers and finance ministers gathering this week in Washington. In recent days, the new administration has shown signs the U.S. is taking a more traditional approach to economic diplomacy and the use of “soft power” than early administration rhetoric suggested. President Donald Trump, after meeting with NATO’s chief earlier this month, praised the alliance and reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to it. Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has been leveraging the institution to advance Mr. Trump’s foreign-policy agenda. Other signals of the shift that are being seen by some officials at the meetings included the administration’s relatively modest proposed changes to NAFTA and its about-face last week on censuring China for its currency policy.

Meantime, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has reaffirmed the role of the IMF in promoting global economic growth and stability, saying at a gathering of global-finance chiefs last month that multilateral institutions can be “very important” to projecting U.S. interests abroad. Indeed, the U.S. signed off on an official communiqué by the Group of 20 largest economies that reaffirmed commitment to an international financial system “with a strong…and adequately resourced IMF at its center.” “There’re a number of things that global institutions can do to help strengthen global growth for all,” a senior Treasury official said ahead of the semiannual meetings in Washington this week of the World Bank and IMF’s member countries.

[..] The IMF has been criticized in the past for being too lax on China, especially when its exchange rate was estimated to have been up to 40% undervalued and its trade surplus topping 10% of GDP. The IMF has since stepped up its public censure of some Beijing policies, such as a bank lending boom that could endanger financial stability in the world’s second largest economy. The IMF is also planning to ramp up its warnings toward another Washington target—Germany—which maintains the world’s largest trade surplus. In particular. “Germany, with its aging population, should have, and can legitimately aim to have, a degree of surplus,” Ms. Lagarde said this week in a briefing with European press. “But not to the extent we see at the moment: 4% would perhaps be justified, but 8% is not.”

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France, Italy and Greece: Europe’s risk spots. US Treasuries and the dollar look inviting.

Protectionism Is More Than a Political Statement (Grant)

Yet again, Greece is another crisis in progress, as the nation has a $7 billion debt payment to make in July and nowhere near the cash on hand to pay it. The official debt-to-GDP figure is 183%, according to EU data, but it is a nonsensical number. The ECB lends money to the Greek banks and the banks lend money to the country. This is the epicenter of the rigged scheme. If you take the total public debt and add in the debt of Greek banks, then the total debt to GDP ratio is 302%, based on my calculations. One more time bomb ticking as the International Monetary Fund will not lend any new money to Greece, in my opinion, with the U.S. representatives on the IMF now reporting to the Trump administration.

It is not the size of the country that matters but the size of the debt, and a $560 billion public and bank debt load is no small figure. Since it is virtually impossible in many European countries to forgive the debt, given their political constraints, the “breakpoint” may finally be arriving. This means Greece will be leaving the EU, one way or another, and defaulting on its debts. Now, you can hold whatever view you like on these situations. You can ascribe to the “muddle through” theory or the “kick the can” theory. But what you cannot do is pretend that there are not significant risks facing the EU. We have these three “risk situations” in progress, and then we have Brexit under way, and it is my opinion that the EU is coming apart at the seams.

Many large financial institutions are looking aghast at the U.S. Treasury market. Virtually every leading bank has been predicting a return to a 3.00% yield for the benchmark 10-year note, and they have all been wrong – again. In fact, this is probably the biggest “pain trade” so far this year. Many people blame a “short squeeze” for the recent drop in yields on Treasuries. That is only part of the reason. The other has been the flow of capital, which is headed out of Europe and into the United States. “Protectionism” is more than a political statement. Asian money managers are exiting Europe, and the European money managers are exiting Europe, and the relative safety of the U.S. bond markets is providing a haven from European risk. This is a sound strategy, in my opinion. “Buy American, Sell American and Trade American” is where I want to be at the present time.

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The same market players who live off, and are propped up by, Fed largesse. Insane.

Fed Intensifies Balance-Sheet Discussions With Market Players (BBG)

Federal Reserve staff, widening their outreach to investors in anticipation of a critical turning point in monetary policy, are seeking bond fund manager feedback on how the central bank should tailor and communicate its exit from record holdings of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities. Fed officials are intent on shrinking their crisis-era $4.48 trillion balance sheet in a way that isn’t disruptive and doesn’t usurp the federal funds rate as the main policy tool. To do that, they need to find the right communication and assess market expectations on the size of shrinkage, which is why conversations with fund managers have picked up recently. “All indications suggest that conversations around the balance sheet have accelerated,” said Carl Tannenbaum at Northern Trust Company. “The consideration of everything from design of the program to communication seems to have intensified.”

Most U.S. central bankers agreed that they would begin phasing out their reinvestment of maturing Treasury and MBS securities in their portfolio “later this year,” according to minutes of the March meeting. They also agreed the strategy should be “gradual and predictable,” according to the minutes.Fed staff routinely seek feedback from investors and bond dealers to get a fix on sentiment and expectations. The New York Fed confirmed the discussions and said it is part of regular market monitoring. The Fed is getting closer to disclosing its plan, and conversations have become more intense. “They are gauging what’s the extent of weak hands in the market that will dump these assets,” said Ed Al-Hussainy, a senior analyst on the Columbia Threadneedle Investment’s global rates and currency team. “They are calling all the asset managers. It is not part of the regular survey.”

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“..years of low interest rates have bloated stock valuations to a level not seen since 2000..”

Paul Tudor Jones Says U.S. Stocks Should ‘Terrify’ Janet Yellen (BBG)

Billionaire investor Paul Tudor Jones has a message for Janet Yellen and investors: Be very afraid. The legendary macro trader says that years of low interest rates have bloated stock valuations to a level not seen since 2000, right before the Nasdaq tumbled 75% over two-plus years. That measure – the value of the stock market relative to the size of the economy – should be “terrifying” to a central banker, Jones said earlier this month at a closed-door Goldman Sachs Asset Management conference, according to people who heard him. Jones is voicing what many hedge fund and other money managers are privately warning investors: Stocks are trading at unsustainable levels. A few traders are more explicit, predicting a sizable market tumble by the end of the year.

Last week, Guggenheim Partner’s Scott Minerd said he expected a “significant correction” this summer or early fall. Philip Yang, a macro manager who has run Willowbridge Associates since 1988, sees a stock plunge of between 20 and 40%, according to people familiar with his thinking. Even Larry Fink, whose BlackRock oversees $5.4 trillion mostly betting on rising markets, acknowledged this week that stocks could fall between 5 and 10% if corporate earnings disappoint. Their views aren’t widespread. They’ve seen the carnage suffered by a few money managers who have been waving caution flags for awhile now, as the eight-year equity rally marched on.

But the nervousness feels a bit more urgent now. U.S. stocks sit about 2% below the all-time high set on March 1. The S&P 500 index is trading at about 22 times earnings, the highest multiple in almost a decade, goosed by a post-election surge. Managers expecting the worst each have a pet harbinger of doom. Seth Klarman, who runs the $30 billion Baupost Group, told investors in a letter last week that corporate insiders have been heavy sellers of their company shares. To him, that’s “a sign that those who know their companies the best believe valuations have become full or excessive.”

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Market vs government.

China’s Stocks Refuse to Drop More Than 1% (BBG)

In a Chinese stock market where superstition and government intervention often count for more than economic fundamentals, unusual trading patterns are par for the course. But even by China’s standards, the latest market anomaly to grab the attention of local investors stands out. The Shanghai Composite Index, notorious for its wild swings over the past two years, has gone 85 trading days without a loss of more than 1% on a closing basis, the longest stretch since the market’s infancy in 1992. On 13 days during the streak, the index recovered from intraday declines exceeding 1% to close above that threshold. The phenomenon has been especially stark recently, with the gauge erasing about half of its 1.6% drop in the final 90 minutes of trading on Wednesday.

For some investors, it’s a sign that state-directed funds are putting a floor under daily market swings – a development that presents short-term buying opportunities when the Shanghai Composite dips more than 1% during intraday trading. The theory may have merit: China’s securities regulator has this year sought to stabilize the stock market by limiting the extent of declines in the Shanghai Composite, according to people familiar with the strategy, who asked not to be identified discussing a matter that hasn’t been disclosed publicly. “There is room for arbitrage in the short term,” said Zhang Haidong, a money manager at Jinkuang Investment Management in Shanghai. The Shanghai Composite rose less than 0.1% on Thursday, rebounding from an intraday loss of as much as 0.7%.

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And no imagination either. Just copying others.

Toronto To Impose 15% Tax On Foreign Home Buyers (G.)

Foreigners who buy homes in Toronto and its surrounding area now face an additional 15% tax – echoing a recent measure adopted in Vancouver – as part of a slew of measures aimed at tempering a heated housing market that ranks as one of Canada’s most expensive. The tax – part of proposed legislation unveiled on Thursday by the Ontario provincial government – will be levied on houses purchased in the Golden Horseshoe, an area that stretches from the Niagara region and the Greater Toronto Area to Peterborough. It will apply to all residential purchases made by those who are not citizens or permanent residents of Canada, as well as foreign corporations. Once the legislation passes, the tax would be applied retroactively to purchases made as of 21 April. “When young people can’t afford their own apartment or can’t imagine ever owning their own home, we know we have a problem,” said Kathleen Wynne, the Ontario premier.

“And when the rising cost of housing is making more and more people insecure about their future, and about their quality of life in Ontario, we know we have to act.” Amid two years of double-digit gains and mounting fears of a housing bubble, her government has consistently fended off calls to intervene. The pressure ramped up earlier this month, after figures showed the average price of homes in the Greater Toronto Area soared 33% in the past year, pushing the cost of a detached home to an average of C$1.21m. “There is a need for interventions right now in order to calm what’s going on,” said Wynne. The tax would be revenue neutral, she added, aimed squarely at tempering demand. “In some ways, we have to realise this is a good problem to have … [It] is the unwanted consequences of a strong economy with a promising future.”

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“..many U.S. pols grovel before the Israeli government seeking a sign of favor from Prime Minister Netanyahu, almost like Medieval kings courting the blessings of the Pope at the Vatican.”

Why Not a Probe of ‘Israel-gate’? (Robert Parry)

The other day, I asked a longtime Democratic Party insider who is working on the Russia-gate investigation which country interfered more in U.S. politics, Russia or Israel. Without a moment’s hesitation, he replied, “Israel, of course.” Which underscores my concern about the hysteria raging across Official Washington about “Russian meddling” in the 2016 presidential campaign: There is no proportionality applied to the question of foreign interference in U.S. politics. If there were, we would have a far more substantive investigation of Israel-gate. The problem is that if anyone mentions the truth about Israel’s clout, the person is immediately smeared as “anti-Semitic” and targeted by Israel’s extraordinarily sophisticated lobby and its many media/political allies for vilification and marginalization.

So, the open secret of Israeli influence is studiously ignored, even as presidential candidates prostrate themselves before the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both appeared before AIPAC in 2016, with Clinton promising to take the U.S.-Israeli relationship “to the next level” – whatever that meant – and Trump vowing not to “pander” and then pandering like crazy. Congress is no different. It has given Israel’s controversial Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a record-tying three invitations to address joint sessions of Congress (matching the number of times British Prime Minister Winston Churchill appeared). We then witnessed the Republicans and Democrats competing to see how often their members could bounce up and down and who could cheer Netanyahu the loudest, even when the Israeli prime minister was instructing the Congress to follow his position on Iran rather than President Obama’s.

Israeli officials and AIPAC also coordinate their strategies to maximize political influence, which is derived in large part by who gets the lobby’s largesse and who doesn’t. On the rare occasion when members of Congress step out of line – and take a stand that offends Israeli leaders – they can expect a well-funded opponent in their next race, a tactic that dates back decades. [..] .. there have been fewer and fewer members of Congress or other American politicians who have dared to speak out, judging that – when it comes to the Israeli lobby – discretion is the better part of valor. Today, many U.S. pols grovel before the Israeli government seeking a sign of favor from Prime Minister Netanyahu, almost like Medieval kings courting the blessings of the Pope at the Vatican.

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This comes two days after the Intercept published an interview with Assange, who among other things said:“In fact, the reason Pompeo is launching this attack is because he understands we are exposing in this series all sorts of illegal actions by the CIA, so he’s trying to get ahead of the publicity curve and create a pre-emptive defense..”

Arresting Julian Assange Is A Priority, Says US Attorney General (G.)

The arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is now a “priority” for the US, attorney general Jeff Sessions has said. Hours later it was reported by CNN that authorities have prepared charges against Assange, who is currently holed up at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Donald Trump lavished praise on the anti-secrecy website during the presidential election campaign – “I love WikiLeaks,” he once told a rally – but his administration has struck a different tone. Asked whether it was a priority for the justice department to arrest Assange “once and for all”, Sessions told a press conference in El Paso, Texas on Thursday: “We are going to step up our effort and already are stepping up our efforts on all leaks. This is a matter that’s gone beyond anything I’m aware of. We have professionals that have been in the security business of the United States for many years that are shocked by the number of leaks and some of them are quite serious.”

He added: “So yes, it is a priority. We’ve already begun to step up our efforts and whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail.” Citing unnamed officials, CNN reported that prosecutors have struggled with whether the Australian is protected from prosecution from the first amendment, but now believe they have found a path forward. A spokesman for the justice department declined to comment. Barry Pollack, Assange’s lawyer, denied any knowledge of imminent prosecution. “We’ve had no communication with the Department of Justice and they have not indicated to me that they have brought any charges against Mr Assange,” he told CNN. “They’ve been unwilling to have any discussion at all, despite our repeated requests, that they let us know what Mr Assange’s status is in any pending investigations. There’s no reason why Wikileaks should be treated differently from any other publisher.”

US authorities has been investigating Assange and WikiLeaks since at least 2010 when it released, in cooperation with publications including the Guardian, more than a quarter of a million classified cables from US embassies leaked by US army whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

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And no protest from Berlin?

German Chancellery Investigated In Probe Into WikiLeaks Sources (R.)

Berlin’s chief public prosecutor has extended an investigation into the release of a trove of documents by WikiLeaks to include the chancellery as well as the Bundestag lower house of parliament, broadcaster NDR said on Thursday. Last December, WikiLeaks released the confidential documents, which German security agencies had submitted to a parliamentary committee investigating the extent to which German spies helped the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) to spy in Europe. The extension of the investigation to include the chancellery did not necessarily mean the Berlin public prosecutor had firm suspicions that individuals at Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office were involved in the leak, NDR said.

Government sources told Reuters that the chancellery had agreed several weeks ago to the investigation “against unknown” persons, to allow the inquiry to proceed. There were no firm suspicions against chancellery officials, the sources added. Surveillance is a sensitive issue in Germany where East Germany’s Stasi secret police and the Nazi era Gestapo kept a close watch on the population. Merkel told the parliamentary committee in February that she did not know how closely Germany’s spies cooperated with their U.S. counterparts until 2015, well after an uproar over reports of U.S. bugging of her cellphone.

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Plenty nerves on Monday morning. And that’s just for round 1.

Coffee and Thin Liquidity on Traders’ Menus for French Vote (BBG)

It may not be cafe au lait, but traders are likely to need plenty of coffee to sustain them through the first round of the French election. Ten thousand miles away in Melbourne, IG’s trading crew are due at their desks before dawn on Monday to deal with any fallout, while back in Europe, Societe Generale will be staffed overnight, according to a person familiar with their plans who asked not to be named because they aren’t authorized to speak publicly. Staff at HSBC will work extended hours, a spokeswoman said, Tradition is asking more voice brokers to come in on Sunday, while London-based Caxton FX is providing its night owls with pizzas. Other analysts and investors will be nervously watching from home, ready to dash to the office should French voters spring a surprise.

With the first predictions from France due at 8 p.m. Sunday in Paris, currency markets – which open one hour later – will give traders an early chance to react. At IG in Australia a “fully-manned” team will be on deck as the results roll in, according to Chris Weston, the firm’s chief market strategist. “Political events have a significant ability to alter volatility, more than any other event,” he said. Shifts in opinion polls have bolstered the focus on Sunday’s first round, which decides which of the top candidates progress to the run-off vote. The campaign has turned into a four-way race, with anti-euro candidate Marine Le Pen and independent Emmanuel Macron running just ahead of Republican Francois Fillon and the Communist-backed Jean-Luc Melenchon.

While polls show that either Macron or Fillon – considered the more market-friendly candidates – would be favored against the less-centrist opponents in a run-off, it’s the outside prospect of a Le Pen-Melenchon one-two that will keep traders sweating on Sunday. That’s reflected in the options market, which reflects the first round of French elections as posing the greater risk.

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UK democracy couldn’t take a Brexit overturn.

EU leader: UK Would Be Welcomed Back If Voters Overturn Brexit (G.)

The president of the European parliament has said Britain would be welcomed back with open arms if voters changed their minds about Brexit on 8 June, challenging Theresa May’s claim that “there is no turning back” after article 50. Speaking after a meeting with the prime minister in Downing Street, Antonio Tajani insisted that her triggering of the departure process last month could be reversed easily by the remaining EU members if there was a change of UK government after the general election, and that it would not even require a court case. “If the UK, after the election, wants to withdraw [article 50], then the procedure is very clear,” he said in an interview. “If the UK wanted to stay, everybody would be in favour. I would be very happy.”

He also threatened to veto any Brexit deal if it did not guarantee in full the existing rights of EU citizens in Britain and said this protection would forever be subject to the jurisdiction of the European court of justice (ECJ). Both are potential sticking points for May, who has promised to end free movement of EU citizens and rid Britain forever of interference by the ECJ, but the European parliament must ratify any Brexit deal agreed by negotiators before it can be completed. Lawyers are divided on whether the UK can unilaterally change its mind about leaving and are bringing a test case to establish the legal reversibility of article 50, but the parliament president spelled out a process by which a simple political decision by other member states would be sufficient. “If tomorrow, the new UK government decides to change its position, it is possible to do,” said Tajani. “The final decision is for the 27 member states, but everybody will be in favour if the UK [decides to reverse article 50].”

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Says who?

Britain Must Pay EU Divorce Bill In Euros (AFP)

Britain may be leaving the EU but it will still have to settle the divorce bill in euros, not pounds, according to an EU document on the upcoming negotiations Thursday. “An orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the Union requires settling the financial obligations undertaken before the withdrawal date,” said the European Commission document seen by AFP. “The agreement should define the precise way in which these obligations will be calculated … the obligations should be defined in euro,” it added. The document did not say how much the Brexit settlement might cost but EU officials have previously said it could be as much as €60 billion, sparking howls of outrage in London which puts the figure nearer €20 billion.

Titled “Non Paper on key elements likely to feature in the draft negotiating directives,” the document was drawn up for the European Commission which will conduct the Brexit negotiations with Britain. It covers in more detail the same ground outlined last month by EU president Donald Tusk in response to Prime Minister Theresa May’s official March 29 notification that Britain was leaving the bloc.

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A sea route. And a landlocked country. Nuff said.

Austria Calls For Closure Of Mediterranean Migrant Route (Pol.)

Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka has called for the immediate closure of the Mediterranean route used by refugees seeking asylum in Western European countries, local media reported Wednesday. Closing the route “is the only way to end the tragic and senseless dying in the Mediterranean,” Sobotka said. Asked about the potential of a barrier being erected at the Brenner Pass on the border between Italy and Austria, Sobotka said: “In the event of a sudden influx, we are equipped and able to ramp up border management within hours.” According to U.N. aid agencies, nearly 9,000 migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean over the Easter weekend.

As weather conditions improve, more migrants are expected to make their way to Europe. “A rescue in the open sea cannot be a ticket to Europe, because it gives organized crime every argument to persuade people to escape for economic reasons,” Sobotka said. Last summer, Austria advocated for the closure of the Western Balkan route used by migrants coming from the Middle East seeking their way to Western European countries. Austrian Defense Minister Hans Peter Doskozil last February said Vienna planned to increase cooperation with 15 countries along the Balkan route to keep migrants from reaching northern Europe, claiming the EU is not adequately protecting its external borders.

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Feb 182017
 
 February 18, 2017  Posted by at 4:01 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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Jackson Pollock Shooting Star 1947

 

It’s amusing to see how views start to converge, at the same time that it’s tiresome to see how long that takes. It’s a good thing that more and more people ‘discover’ how and why austerity, especially in Europe, is such a losing and damaging strategy. It’s just a shame that this happens only after the horses have left the barn and the cows have come home, been fed, bathed, put on lipstick and gone back out to pasture again. Along the same lines, it’s beneficial that the recognition that for a long time economic growth has not been what ‘we’ think it should be, is spreading.

But we lost so much time that we could have used to adapt to the consequences. The stronger parties in all this, the governments, companies, richer individuals, may be wrong, but they have no reason to correct their wrongs: the system appears to work fine for them. They actually make good money because all corrections, all policies and all efforts to hide the negative effects of the gross ‘mistakes’, honest or not, made in economic and political circles are geared towards making them ‘whole’.

The faith in the absurd notion of trickle down ‘economics’ allows them to siphon off future resources from the lower rungs of society, towards themselves in the present. It will take a while for the lower rungs to figure this out. The St. Louis Fed laid it out so clearly this week that I wrote to Nicole saying ‘We’ve been vindicated by the Fed itself.’ That is, the Automatic Earth has said for many years that the peak of our wealth was sometime in the 1970’s or even late 1960’s.

Intriguing questions: was America at its richest right before or right after Nixon took the country off the gold standard in 1971? And whichever of the two one would argue for, why did he do it smack in the middle of peak wealth? Did he cause the downfall or was it already happening?

As per the St. Louis Fed report: “Real GDP growth fell and leveled off in the mid-1970s, then started falling again in the mid-2000s”. What happened during that 30-year period was that we started printing and borrowing with abandon, making both those activities much easier while we did, until the debt load overwhelmed even our widest fantasies ten years ago. And we’ve never recovered from that, if that was not obvious yet. Nor will we.

As the first graph below shows, there was still growth post-Gold Standard but the rate of growth fell and then “leveled off”, only to fall more after, to a point where Real GDP per Capita is presently 0.5% or so -little more than a margin error-. How one would want to combine that with talk of an economic recovery is hard to see. In fact, such talk should be under serious scrutiny by now.

Still, the numbers remain positive, you say. Yes, that’s true. But there’s a caveat, roughly similar to the one regarding energy and the return on it. Where we used to pump oil and get 100 times the energy in return that we needed to pump it, that ratio (EROEI) is now down to 10:1 or less. Alternative energy sources do little better, if at all. Whereas to run a complex society, let alone one like ours that must become more complex as we go along – or die-, we would need somewhere along the lines of a 20:1 to even 30:1 EROEI rate.

Another place where a similar caveat can be found is the amount of dollars it takes to produce a dollar of real growth. That amount has been increasing, and fast, to the point where it takes over $10 to create $1 or growth in the US and Europe, and China too moves towards such numbers.

Both our energy systems and our financial systems are examples of what happens when what we should perhaps call the rate of ‘productivity’ (rather than growth) falls below a critical mass: it becomes impossible to maintain, even keep alive, a society as complex as ours, which requires an increase in complexity to survive. In other words: a Real GDP per Capita growth rate of 0.5% is not enough to stand still, just like oil EROEI of 5:1 is not; there is growth, but not -nearly- enough to keep growing.

One does not get the impression that the St. Louis Fed economists who wrote the report are aware of this -though the title is suggestive enough-, they seem to lean towards the eternal desire for a recovery, but they did write it nonetheless. Do note the sharp drop that coincides with the 1973 oil crisis. We never ‘recovered’.

Why Does Economic Growth Keep Slowing Down?

The U.S. economy expanded by 1.6% in 2016, as measured by real GDP. Real GDP has averaged 2.1% growth per year since the end of the last recession, which is significantly smaller than the average over the postwar period (about 3% per year). These lower growth rates could in part be explained by a slowdown in productivity growth and a decline in factor utilization. However, demographic factors and attitudes toward the labor market may also have played significant roles.

The figure below shows a measure of long-run trends in economic activity. It displays the average annual growth rate over the preceding 40 quarters (10 years) for the period 1955 through 2016. (Hence, the first observation in the graph is the first quarter of 1965, and the last is the fourth quarter of 2016.)

 

Long-run growth rates were high until the mid-1970s. Then, they quickly declined and leveled off at around 3% per year for the following three decades. In the second half of the 2000s, around the last recession, growth contracted again sharply and has been declining ever since. The 10-year average growth rate as of the fourth quarter of 2016 was only 1.3% per year. Total output grows because the economy is more productive and capital is accumulated, but also because the population increases over time.

The same dynamics (or lack thereof) are reflected in a recent piece by Chris Hamilton, in which he argues that global growth -as expressed by growth in energy consumption- has largely been non-existent for years, other than in China. Moreover, China has added a stunning amount of debt to achieve that growth, and since its population growth is about to stagnate -and then turn negative-, this was pretty much all she wrote.

Global Growth is All About China…Nothing but China

Since 2000, China has been the nearly singular force for growth in global energy consumption and economic activity. However, this article will make it plain and simple why China is exiting the spotlight and unfortunately, for global economic growth, there is no one else to take center stage. To put things into perspective I’ll show this using four very inter-related variables…(1) total energy consumption, (2) core population (25-54yr/olds) size and growth, (3) GDP (flawed as it is), and (4) debt. First off, the chart below shows total global energy consumption (all fossil fuels, nuclear, hydro, renewable, etc…data from US EIA) from 1980 through 2014, and the change per period. The growth in global energy consumption from ’00-’08 was astounding and an absolute aberration, nearly 50% greater than any previous period.

 

[..] here is the money chart, pointing out that the growth in energy consumption (by period) has shifted away from “the world” squarely to China. From 2008 through 2014 (most recent data available), 2/3rds or 66% of global energy consumption growth was China. Also very noteworthy is that India nor Africa have taken any more relevance, from a growth perspective, over time. The fate of global economic growth rests solely upon China’s shoulders.

 

China’s core population is essentially peaking this year and beginning a decades long decline (not unlike the world. The chart below shows total Chinese core population peaking, energy consumption stalling, and debt skyrocketing.

 

The chart below shows China’s core population (annual change) again against total debt, GDP, and energy consumption. The reliance on debt creation as the core population growth decelerated is really hard not to see. This shrinking base of consumption will destroy the meme that a surging Chinese middle class will drive domestic and global consumption…but I expect this misconception will continue to be peddled for some time.

 

• China of ’85-’00 grew on population and demographic trends.

• China of ’00-’15 grew despite decelerating population growth but on accelerating debt growth…this growth in China kept global growth alive.

• China of ’15-’30 will not grow, will not drive the global economy and absent Chinese growth…the world economy is set to begin an indefinite period of secular contraction. China ceased accumulating US Treasury debt as of July of 2011 and continues to sell while busy accumulating gold since 2011.

Unfortunately, neither quasi-democracies nor quasi-communist states have any politically acceptable solutions to this problem of structural decelerating growth and eventual outright contraction…but that won’t keep them from meddling to stall the inevitable global restructuring.

I can only hope that these data will convince more people that all the times I’ve said that growth is over, it was true. And perhaps even make them think about what follows from there: that when growth is gone, so is all centralization, including globalization, other than by force. This will change the world a lot, and unfortunately not always in peaceful ways.

What seems to have started (but was in the air long before) with Brexit and Trump, is merely a first indication of what’s to come. People will not accept that important decisions that affect them directly are taken by anonymous ‘actors’ somewhere far away, unless this promises and delivers them very concrete and tangible benefits. In fact, many have lost all faith in the whole idea, and that’s why we have Trump and Brexit in the first place.

This turn inward -protectionism if you will-, in the UK, US and many other places, is an inevitable development that follows from declining growth and soaring debt. Entire societies will have to be re-built from the ground up, and people will want to do that themselves, not have it dictated by strangers. At the same time, of course, those who profit most from centralization want that to continue. They can’t, but they will try, and hard.

Equally important, people who wish to try and save existing ‘central institutions’ for less selfish and more peaceful reasons should think twice, because they will fail too. It’s centralization itself that is failing, and the demise of the structures that represent it is but a consequence of that. We will see local structures being built, and only after that possibly -and hopefully- connect to each other. This is a big change, and therefore a big challenge.