Sep 262014
 
 September 26, 2014  Posted by at 9:17 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , ,  


Harris & Ewing Staircase in the Capitol, Albany, New York 1905

So PIMCO was going to fire Bill Gross over the weekend, and he chose to leave on his own accord and work for Janus. So what? Gross is 70 years old and still joins another firm geared towards making money, and nothing else at all. As if making money, and nothing else, is a valid goal in a human life.

As if someone who’s done nothing else his entire life, and who’s richer than Croesus, should have nothing else to do with the times that remains him, and is somehow right and justified about not being able to find anything more worthwhile.

As if that singular focus does not make his life a useless one, or the man an empty shell. And yeah, I’m sure he gives away some cash from time to time to make himself feel even better. Though I doubt he ever feels truly fine. Perhaps the disappointment of being a billionaire and still feel like he’s wasted his life is what drives him on. Or maybe his wife beats him. And he enjoys it.

And it’s not just Bill Gross, it’s just as much the way the mainstream press covers the ‘event’ of Gross’ departure, the fact that they bother to cover it in the first place, and the details they focus on, that shine a chillingly clear cold and revealing light on what we have become, as individuals and as societies.

The hollow single-minded worshipping of money, which Gross can be said to embody, is the single biggest scourge on each and every one of us, on all the bonds we form between each other, on the communities and nations we live in, and the planet they’re located on. The bible is full of allusions to this, and the world is full of people who call themselves Christians, but the twain are like ships passing in the night.

if you would want to prevent a war, or you want to stop the destruction of rivers and seas through pollution, or for the earth’s climate from entering a cycle that neither we nor the climate itself can control, would you think first of people like Bill Gross when you’re looking for support? If you do, that would not be wise. Nevertheless, at every single climate conference it’s people just like him, such as Bill Clinton and Bill Gates, who made sure they’re in the spotlight.

People who’ve never done anything in their lives that was not directed at self-gratification. People who cause, not prevent, the mayhem. Even the big demonstrations last week were shrouded in a veil of corporatism, not unlike the one Greenpeace has been enveloped in for many years.

And of course you can argue that it serves a purpose, because it’s the only way to get people pout on to the street. But still, if millions of dollars have to be spent to make a few hundred thousand people in New York leave their homes, what exactly are we doing?

Where does that money come from? Does anyone want to deny that in general the richer people in the world are the ones responsible for the destruction? That we ourselves cause more damage than the average Bangla Deshi or Senegalese, and that the richest and most powerful people in our own societies do more harm than the poorset?

If you don’t want to deny that, why do you walk in a heavily sponsored protest march? Or does anyone think those marches are spontaneous eruptions of people’s true feelings anymore? Why then do they feel scripted, in a way the anti-globalization ones (Seattle) absolutely did not?

There is no doubt that there are well-meaning people involved, and a lot of grass-roots identity, but isn’t there something wrong the very moment money becomes a factor, if and when we can agree that the pursuit of money is the 8 million ton culprit in the room in the first place? Do we really feel like we can’t achieve anything without money anymore? And moreover, shouldn’t we, as soon as we feel that way, start doing something about it?

There’s a nice interview in Slate with Naomi Klein, who says capitalism is the bogey man. I find that a little easy; in the end man him/herself is the bogey man. Klein sits on the board of Bill McKibben’s 350.org, which I have no doubt is full of people full of best intentions, but which also sees money as way to achieve things:

Naomi Klein Says We Must Slay Capitalism to Fight Climate Change

Everybody that’s trying to get anything progressive done in this country knows that the biggest barrier is getting money out of politics. Climate can be a shot of adrenaline in the pre-existing movement to get money out of politics. So, it’s not a brand-new movement. [..] All these new reports say that the transition to that next economy will be cheap. So why isn’t it happening? Elites like to think of everything as a win-win, but it’s not true.* It’s the wealthiest corporations on the planet that will win; everyone else will lose. No number of reports is going to change that. You actually need a counter-power.

[..] we need to finance this transition somehow. I think it needs to be a polluter-pays principle. It’s not that we’re broke, it’s just that the money is in the wrong place. The divestment movement is a start at challenging the excesses of capitalism. It’s working to delegitimize fossil fuels, and showing that they’re just as unethical as profits from the tobacco industry. Even the heirs to the Rockefeller fortune are now recognizing this. The next step is, how do we harness these profits and use them to help us get off fossil fuels?

Exxon needs to pay—it’s the most profitable company on the planet. It’s also the descendent of Standard Oil. In the book, I talk a lot about Richard Branson’s pledge to donate all the profits from his airline to fight climate change. When he made that announcement, it was extraordinary. The problem is, no one held him accountable—well, besides me and my underpaid researcher. But at least Branson’s heart was in the right place. These profits are not legitimate in an era of climate change. We can’t leave this problem to benevolent billionaires.

‘Getting money out of politics’, but ‘we need to finance this transition somehow’. There’s a grand contradiction in there somewhere. Now, I’m a big admirer of Naomi, her Shock Doctrine is one of the greatest books in the past 25 years or so. But I have my questions here.

I don’t think you can argue that capitalism itself is the issue. This is about the erosion of checks and balances, laws and regulations, the erosion of a society’s ability to hold people responsible for what they do, whether they operate in the political field or in private business.

And those same issues are just as relevant in any communist or socialist society. Unless you’re very careful day after 24/7 day, all political systems tend towards ceding control to ever more psychopatic individuals. In the exact same way that bad money drives out good. In short, it’s not about ‘them’, it’s about us. It’s the psychos who want that power and that money more than anyone else, but it’s us who let them have it. While we’re watching some screen or another.

It’s about how we can keep the most money- and power hungry individuals amongst us from ruling over us. An obviously daunting task if you look at most countries, corporations and organizations today. I mentioned the three Bills already, Bill Gross, Bill Clinton and Bill Gates, and they epitomize as fittingly as any threesome where and how we go wrong, and how hard it is to keep ourselves from doing that.

If you want a better world, A) stop listening to the crazy clowns, and B) stop telling yourself you care and then just keep doing what you always did. Get real. Pursue truth, not money.

Bonds Worldwide Pull Out of Tailspin This Week on Growth Concern (Bloomberg)

Bonds worldwide pulled out of a tailspin this week as a surging dollar sparked warnings from Federal Reserve officials that the stronger currency may hamper the U.S. recovery. The Bloomberg Global Developed Sovereign Bond Index (BGSV) headed for its first weekly gain this month, buoyed by speculation weak economic growth in Europe and Japan will spur policy makers there to maintain stimulative monetary policy. The gauge advanced 0.2%, trimming September’s decline to 2.7%. Yields attracted investors after climbing last week when Fed policy makers increased their estimate for how far they’ll raise borrowing costs next year.

“The speed in the rise of interest rates in response to the Federal Reserve, and also gains in the U.S. dollar, have had an impact on demand for Treasuries,” said Tony Morriss, an interest-rate strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Sydney. While the stronger dollar may damp U.S. growth, unprecedented easing in Japan and Europe have also “served to reverse some of the sharp rise in yields that we saw earlier.” The company’s Merrill Lynch unit is one of the 22 primary dealers that trade directly with the Fed. The U.S. 10-year yield was little changed at 2.50% at 6:56 a.m. in London, according to Bloomberg Bond Trader data. The price of the 2.375% note due August 2024 was 98 29/32. The yield rose to 2.65% on Sept. 19, the highest since July 7. It has dropped eight basis points this week. The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index, which tracks the U.S. currency against 10 of its major counterparts, rose to a four-year high yesterday.

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Oh, you real man.

Bank of England’s Carney: Rate Rise ‘Getting Close’ (Reuters)

The Bank of England is getting nearer to raising interest rates, but the exact date will depend on economic data, Governor Mark Carney said in a speech on Thursday. Carney stuck close to previous remarks on monetary policy in his address to actuaries, much of which focused on the BoE’s plans for further regulating insurers. Britain’s economic outlook was much improved, and a rate rise was only a matter of time, Carney said. “The point at which interest rates … begin to normalise is getting closer,” he said. “In recent months the judgement about precisely when to raise Bank Rate has become more balanced. While there is always uncertainty about the future, you can expect interest rates to begin to increase.”Most economists expect the Bank of England to raise rates early next year, though a minority see a chance of an increase in November. Two members of the BoE’s Monetary Policy Committee voted for a rate rise this month.

Britain’s economy looks set to grow by more than 3% this year – faster than any other big, advanced economy – and unemployment has fallen to its lowest level since 2008. But inflation of 1.5% is well below the BoE’s 2% target, and wages are growing even more slowly – something the BoE has cited as a reason to keep rates on hold. Carney said that when rate rises did come, he expected them to be gradual, and for rates to peak below pre-crisis levels. “Headwinds facing the economy are likely to take some time to die down,” he said. “Demand in our major export markets remains muted. Public balance sheet repair is ongoing. And a highly indebted private sector is likely to be particularly sensitive to changes in interest rates.”

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This is the reality of Europe (and the US, Japan): you can’t force people to borrow. Therefore, you will have deflation. If people don’t spend, it’s inevitable.

Draghi’s Trillion-Euro Pump Finds Blockage in Spain (Bloomberg)

Mario Draghi’s plan to channel as much as €1 trillion ($1.3 trillion) into the euro region’s economy is running into a blockage: some companies in the countries hardest hit by the debt crisis don’t want the money. “We’re getting calls from lenders every day,” said Miquel Fabre, 34, whose family-run beauty products firm Fama Fabre employs 43 people in Barcelona. “They can see that they’ll benefit from a loan because we’re doing good business and will return the money. Whether it’s in our interest as well is a different question.” Many small and medium-sized businesses are wary of the offers from banks as European Central Bank President Draghi prepares to pump more cash into the financial system to boost prices and spur growth. The reticence in Spain suggests demand for credit may be as much of a problem as the supply. The monthly flow of new loans of as much as €1 million for as much as a year – a type of credit typically used by small and medium-sized companies – is still down by two-thirds in Spain from a 2007 peak, according to Bank of Spain data.

The total stock of loans is almost 470 billion euros below the 2008 record of €1.87 trillion, the figures show. Spanish bonds rose for a third day yesterday, with 10-year yields dropping to 2.11%, after further evidence that Draghi may have to resort to buying government debt to get cash into the economy. The ECB’s latest attempt to funnel money through the financial system with a targeted-loans offer, known as TLTRO, was shunned by banks on Sept. 18. That’s not to say banks aren’t making an effort to attract borrowers. Banco Popular Espanol SA (POP), a Spanish lender that borrowed €2.85 billion from the TLTRO, started an advertising campaign this month using Spanish NBA basketball star Pau Gasol to target smaller companies. In the first six months, Popular boosted lending to that group by 6% and is aiming for a 10% increase for all of 2014. Across the economy, small business loans at 12.9 billion euros in July were the highest in more than two years, while still just a third of the peak volume.

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Make that ‘will’.

Draghi May Discover Weaker Euro Doesn’t Buy Enough Recovery (Bloomberg)

Mario Draghi may find a falling currency can’t buy much of an economic recovery. The euro has dropped toward a two-year low against the dollar since the European Central Bank president boosted stimulus earlier this month. Economics textbooks say that should lift Europe’s struggling growth rate by boosting exports and speed inflation by raising import prices. Such effects will be more welcome if falling commodities deal a disinflationary blow. It’s time for those textbooks to be revised, according to economists at Societe Generale SA led by Michala Marcussen, who reckon a devaluation of the euro will not be as stimulatory as it once was and perhaps as much as the ECB is hoping. For one thing, the single currency may not be that weak yet. While it has fallen 7.5% against the dollar this year, it has slipped just 4% on a trade-weighted basis.

A deep decline may be hard to achieve. While the euro should keep falling against the dollar and sterling as the Federal Reserve and Bank of England shift toward higher interest rates, those currencies account for only about a third of the trade-weighted index. The monetary policies of Japan and China are almost just as important, with the yen and yuan accounting for a quarter of the euro’s value, according to Marcussen. With their central banks also dovish, the euro may have less far to fall against those currencies, meaning a 10% decline on a trade-weighted basis would require the single currency to drop below $1.15 and 70 pence. It was at $1.28 and 0.78 pence today. Another brake on any descent is that the euro’s long-term rate may actually have risen since the global financial crisis to $1.35 from $1.31, Societe Generale calculates. That’s because in aggregate the euro area is running a current-account surplus and its budget deficit and debt are lower than in other major economies.

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But won’t.

Debt Forgiveness Could Ease Eurozone Woes (Guardian)

The eurozone debt crisis never went away. It merely acquired a misleading veneer of resolution, thanks to grand promises, political chest-thumping and frazzled financial markets that were desperate to believe in happily ever after. Today, there is an accentuated sense of deja vu (all over again, as Yogi Berra would concur). Europe faces the spectre of deflation. Some members, such as Italy, have toppled over the edge for the first time in more than half a century; Germany threatens recession; France is a basket case. Wages are in decline across club Med: real hourly wages in Greece, Spain and Ireland recently fell for the fourth year in succession. Meanwhile, bank lending is an aspiration and Banco Espirito Santo is an ugly reminder of the iceberg of bad debts lurking. Good Europeans are in decline while populism, nationalism and jingoism are les belles du jour.

Enter quantitative easing (QE) as the white knight, as envisaged by the European central bank. This is fast becoming a modern-day rain dance. QE is not a cure. It is a shot of morphine that sedates an ailing patient while doctors figure out what to do in the long term. Like most opiates, the patient is elated and euphoric. Leaving aside “niggles” like the Germans and the moral hazard of whose sovereign bonds to buy, there is no reason why financial markets should not rally if QE proceeds. Our limited sample over the past few years proves this. But asset-price inflation and falling bond yields are poor substitutes for long-run economic growth and, arguably, even antithetical, thanks to the punishing bubbles they risk creating.

Europe has a singular problem – it has far too much debt. And in a globalised world, much of this debt is bound in a complex web, particularly among the weaker economies – namely Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain – and their main creditors: France, Germany, the UK and the US. For example, more than half of Portugal’s foreign debt claims are held by Spain, while Italy owes French banks about $373bn – almost a seventh of France’s GDP. And, lest we forget, Italy also has the third-largest sovereign bond market in the world. This is a game of dominoes. Any solution that does not involve large-scale debt forgiveness is doomed to failure. In the 1920s, an ambitious scheme of credit easing – the Dawes plan – to tackle the intractable debts left by the first world war fuelled an enormous bubble that ended in the great depression, as the underlying reality of sovereign insolvency became clear. It also created a fertile political climate for the nationalism that ended so disastrously more than a decade later. Money is divisive when things turn sour.

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Hmmm.

“The Fed Gig Is Up” (Scotiabank)

In a switch from what are typically only one-sidedly dovish comments, NY Fed President Dudley was balanced this week, even citing reasons for why the Fed would want to hike rates. Dudley stated that “being at the zero-lower-bound is not a very comfortable place to be”, because it “limits” flexibility and has “consequences for the economy”. He said it “hurts savers”, and while acknowledging “what is happening” to financial markets, he avoided directly citing risks to financial stability. Anxiety-riddled conversations about financial instability are probably implicitly restricted to a ‘behind-closed-doors-only’ rule. FOMC members are slowly and carefully trying to change the conversation. Yellen completely diluted away any meaning behind “considerable period” to make it all but meaningless. Bullard said to that he still “sees the first tightening at the end of the first quarter”.

A March 18th hike seems reasonable to me, since US economic improvement appears to remain on track (at least for the moment) and since the FOMC seems more anxious to begin the normalization process. Actually though, by waiting even until March, it is possible that the FOMC risks missing its window of opportunity in terms of using US economic momentum as its cover (what irony). Financial markets are becoming agitated and disturbed by shifting government and central bank policies, mounting geo-political tensions, and rising nationalist fervor. QE has not yet ended and the Fed is likely still months away from hiking for the first time, but markets are using these factors to adjust portfolio exposures. These are hints that a larger market reaction is likely to unfold as the Fed’s policy transition approaches.

Macro signs are currently evident with steep commodity price declines, rising FX volatility, rallying global bond markets (long end), and sagging prices for low quality credits. Some investors are clearly getting out of the Fed-generated “herd” trades of recent years and saying that they are doing so because “the Fed’s balance sheet is set to stop expanding next month”. The strengthening dollar is one consequence and it has already had an impact on commodities and Emerging Markets. In turn, weakening currencies in EM countries are starting to trigger capital outflows. It may lead toward domestic central bank hikes (again) which weaken those economies and cause second-order effects.

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5 US Banks Each Have More Than $40 Trillion Exposure To Derivatives (Snyder)

When is the U.S. banking system going to crash? I can sum it up in three words. Watch the derivatives. It used to be only four, but now there are five “too big to fail” banks in the United States that each have more than $40 trillion in exposure to derivatives. Today, the U.S. national debt is sitting at a grand total of about $17.7 trillion, so when we are talking about $40 trillion we are talking about an amount of money that is almost unimaginable. And unlike stocks and bonds, these derivatives do not represent “investments” in anything. They can be incredibly complex, but essentially they are just paper wagers about what will happen in the future. The truth is that derivatives trading is not too different from betting on baseball or football games.

Trading in derivatives is basically just a form of legalized gambling, and the “too big to fail” banks have transformed Wall Street into the largest casino in the history of the planet. When this derivatives bubble bursts (and as surely as I am writing this it will), the pain that it will cause the global economy will be greater than words can describe. If derivatives trading is so risky, then why do our big banks do it? The answer to that question comes down to just one thing. Greed. The “too big to fail” banks run up enormous profits from their derivatives trading. According to the New York Times, U.S. banks “have nearly $280 trillion of derivatives on their books” even though the financial crisis of 2008 demonstrated how dangerous they could be…

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Problem, not solution.

Federal Reserve Policies Cause Booms and Busts (Mises.org)

Since the economic crisis of 2008-2009, the Federal Reserve — America’s central bank — has expanded the money supply in the banking system by over $4 trillion, and has manipulated key interest rates to keep them so artificially low that when adjusted for price inflation, several of them have been actually negative. We should not be surprised if this is setting the stage for another serious economic crisis down the road. Back on December 16, 2009, the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee announced that it was planning to maintain the Federal Funds rate — the rate of interest at which banks lend to each other for short periods of time — between zero and a quarter of a%age point.

The Committee said that it would keep interest rates “exceptionally low” for an “extended period of time,” which has continued up to the present. Beginning in late 2012, the then-Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke, announced that the Federal Reserve would continue buying US government securities and mortgage-backed securities, but at the rate of an enlarged $85 billion per month, a policy that continued until early 2014. Since then, under the new Federal Reserve chair, Janet Yellen, the Federal Reserve has been “tapering” off its securities purchases until in July of 2014, it was reduced to a “mere” $35 billion a month.

In her recent statements, Yellen has insisted that she and the other members of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, who serve as America’s monetary central planners, are watching carefully macro-economic indicators to know how to manage the money supply and interest rates to keep the slowing general economic recovery continuing without fear of price inflation. Some of the significant economic gyrations on the stock markets over the past couple of months have reflected concerns and uncertainties about whether the Fed’s flood of paper money and near zero or negative real interest rates might be coming to an end. In other words, borrowing money to undertake investment projects or to fund stock purchases might actually cost something, rather than seeming to be free.

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Pimco ETF Probe Spotlights $270 Billion Market Vexing Regulators (Bloomberg)

The U.S. regulatory probe into Bill Gross’s Pimco Total Return ETF is highlighting an industry that supervisors say may pose an increasing risk to the stability of the bond market. The assets held by bond exchange-traded funds have ballooned to more than $270 billion from about $57 billion at the end of 2008 as hedge funds to retirees sought quick and easy access to debt markets, according to data compiled by the Investment Company Institute. While the amount is still a pittance compared to the $38 trillion U.S. bond market, trading in ETFs is fueling price swings that may become more severe in a downturn — particularly for the most illiquid markets, like speculative-grade debt. Regulators are examining the danger it will be more difficult than investors expect to get out of the funds in a falling market.

“The ETF market will be the tail that wags the dog,” said Mark Pibl, head of research and fixed-income strategy at Canaccord Genuity in New York. As assets managed by ETFs of all types more than tripled since 2008 to $1.8 trillion, the fastest-growing product in the money-management industry is drawing scrutiny from regulators. While ETFs have shares that trade like stocks on exchanges, bonds often trade in transactions that are negotiated by telephone and through e-mails.

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How is this a question?

Is Big Business Too Influential? (CNBC)

People from emerging economies are much more comfortable in strong corporations having influence over government than in developed nations, a CNBC/Bursen-Marsteller poll survey has found. Most emerging markets’ respondents –whether from the public or executives – surveyed in the CNBC/Bursen-Marsteller poll on the Global Corporate Compass viewed strong and influential corporations as engines for innovation and economic growth. However, in the developed world, opinion was split. Indeed, in seven out of the 13 developed nations included in the survey, the public believe that strong and influential corporations “rig the system so that they do not have to act responsibly,” the survey reported. These include economic powerhouses such as the U.S., U.K., Germany and Hong Kong. Surprisingly, people in France and Italy sided with emerging markets in their belief that strong and influential businesses can boost the economy.

For Tamsin Cave, director of Spinwatch and author of “A quiet Word: Lobbying, Crony Capitalism and Broken Politics in Britain”, there’s now a “growing disquiet among the public (in the developed world) about this relationship between government and big business”. The public in the U.K., she added, feels that there is a disconnect between politicians and the public. “The public voice isn’t heard because of the enormity of what is a corporate lobbying industry – worth something like £2 billion ($3.2 billion) in the country,” she said. Even executives across the developed world were of two minds with C-suite respondents in Germany, Italy, Singapore and Australia describing strong and influential corporations as bad. “I have a saying”, said Gary Greenberg, head of emerging markets at Hermes. “The way you can tell the difference between emerging markets and developed markets is that in emerging markets the government controls the banks whereas in developed markets it is the opposite!”

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Chiecken and the egg.

Australia Kills Civil Liberties with Draconian New Anti-Terror Law (Krieger)

Understanding how the power structure thinks, and how it intentionally manipulates the emotions of the masses, is key to overcoming and rolling back totalitarian ambitions. I have spent the last few posts talking about how instilling fear throughout the general populace is one of their primary tactics. Indeed, to borrow a term from Glenn Greenwald, “fear-manufacturing” has been in overdrive across the Five Eyes nations over the past several weeks. In the UK, we saw it used to convince elderly Scots to overwhelming vote against independence, thus swaying the result decisively to the NO side. In the USA, we have seen it used to drum up support for another pointless war in the Middle East, which will benefit nobody except for the military/intelligence-industrial complex. While these examples are bad enough, nowhere is fear being used in a more clownish and absurd manner to strip the local citizenry of its civil liberties than in Australia. This should come as no surprise, considering that nation’s Prime Minister is a certified raging lunatic.

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“National home prices rose an annualized 16.8% in the three months to August”. Not a bubble, right? That doubles ± every 4.5 years.

Is Australian Housing Facing A Repeat Of 2003? (CNBC)

Australia’s property market is approaching the bubble extremes seen a decade ago, an analyst told CNBC, after the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) warned this week that the market looks ‘unbalanced’. “There was an intense bubble in the property market a decade ago. There were property ‘spruikers’ out there encouraging people to buy five properties at a time – everyone was buying property magazines and all the top rated shows on TV were property related,” Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy and chief economist at AMP Capital, told CNBC. “We haven’t quite returned to the extremes we had back then but we’re getting close and that’s why the RBA is getting concerned,” he said. “Danger signs are emerging.”

A low interest rate environment and strong price competition among lenders have led to a surge in investment property, raising the risk of a repricing, the RBA said in its Financial Stability Review on Wednesday. National home prices rose an annualized 16.8% in the three months to August after a cooler period in the first half of the year. Meanwhile, prices in Sydney and Melbourne rose 16 and 11%, respectively, over the past 12 months according to RP data. As a result, the RBA said it is considering measures to cool property investment that could include macro-prudential controls or credit restrictions designed to reinforce sound lending practices.

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Provocation.

Ukraine Pushes for NATO Membership as Gas Talks Commence (Bloomberg)

Ukraine kick-started the process to strengthen its ties with NATO and will strive to join the alliance in the “short term,” its government said, a day after its president declared the worst of its separatist war was over. The country of more than 40 million people is scheduled to hold talks today in Berlin to resolve a dispute over natural gas supply before the onset of winter. Russia stopped selling the fuel to Ukraine in June without pre-payment after raising the price 81%, which has prompted officials in Kiev to urge companies and households to cut consumption. Russian gas exporter OAO Gazprom (GAZP) says Ukraine owes it $5.3 billion.

Ukraine’s push to end its neutral status and join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will probably exacerbate the worst standoff between Russia and its former Cold War foes since the fall of the Iron Curtain. Sporadic fighting between pro-Russian rebels and government troops in the eastern Donetsk region of the former Soviet Republic is threatening a shaky cease-fire reached three weeks ago. “The cabinet has submitted a draft law to parliament that envisages the cancellation of our non-aligned status and ensuring a European integration course to create grounds for Ukraine’s integration into the Euro-Atlantic security space,” the administration in Kiev said in an e-mailed statement today. “Ukraine’s government underlines that Ukraine’s aim is to receive special partner status with NATO now and membership in the short term.”

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Because it would force him to drive Kiev, which can’t survive without Moscow, into the ground, by cutting trade even more..

Putin Demands Reopening Of EU Trade Pact With Ukraine (FT)

)Vladimir Putin has demanded a reopening of the EU’s recently-ratified trade pact with Ukraine and has threatened “immediate and appropriate retaliatory measures” if Kiev moves to implement any parts of the deal. The demand, made in a letter to European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, reflects Russia’s determination to put a brake on Ukraine’s integration into Europe and other Euro-Atlantic organisations such as Nato, even after annexing Crimea and creating a pro-Russian separatist entity in the east of the country. It also comes amid a fresh crackdown on Russia’s oligarchs, exemplified by the recent house arrest of billionaire businessman Vladimir Yevtushenkov, which was extended by a court on Thursday.

The integration treaty was the spark that set off the 10-month Ukraine crisis after the country’s then-president, Viktor Yanukovich, backed out of the deal. Petro Poroshenko, the new Ukrainian president, has made integration with the EU a key objective of his presidency. But this is strongly opposed by Moscow, which is determined to keep Ukraine within its own economic sphere of influence. Mr Putin’s letter argues that a 15-month delay in implementing part of the deal – which Kiev and the EU agreed to earlier this month – should be used to “establish negotiating teams” to make wholesale changes to the deal.

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1+1=2.

Russia Mulls Draft Law To Allow Seizure Of Foreign Assets (Reuters)

Russian courts could get the green light to seize foreign assets on Russian territory under a draft law intended as a response to Western sanctions over the Ukraine crisis. The draft, which was submitted to parliament on Wednesday by a pro-Kremlin deputy, would also allow state compensation for an individual whose property is seized in foreign jurisdictions. Italian authorities this week seized property worth about 30 million euros ($40 million) belonging to companies controlled by Arkady Rotenberg, an ally of President Vladimir Putin targeted by the U.S. and European Union sanctions. The draft law, published on a parliamentary database, would allow for compensation for Russian citizens who suffer because of an “unlawful court act” in a foreign jurisdiction and clear the way to foreign state assets in Russia being seized, even if they are subject to international immunity.

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Don’t think he’s far off.

Iran’s Rouhani Blames Intelligence Agencies For Rise In Extremism (RT)

The rise of violent extremism around the world is the fault of “certain states” and “intelligence agencies” that have helped to create it and are failing to withstand it, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in an address to the UN General Assembly. Speaking at the 69th session of the UN General Assembly on Thursday, Rouhani stressed that extremism is not a regional but a global issue, and called on states worldwide to unite against the extremists. “Certain states have helped to create it, and are now failing to withstand it. Currently our peoples are paying the price,” he said. “Certain intelligence agencies have put blades in the hand of the madmen, who now spare no one.” Rouhani also said the current anti-Western sentiment in certain parts of the world was “the offspring of yesterday’s colonialism. Today’s anti-Westernism is a reaction to yesterday’s racism.”

The Iranian president urged “all those who have played a role in founding and supporting these terror groups” to acknowledge their mistake. Rouhani also blamed “strategic blunders of the West in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Caucasus” for inciting violence in these regions and creating a “haven for terrorists and extremists.” “Military aggression against Afghanistan and Iraq and improper interference in the developments in Syria are clear examples of this erroneous strategic approach in the Middle East.” Warning that “if the right approach is not undertaken in dealing with the issue at hand” the Middle East risks turning into “a turbulent and tumultuous region with repercussions for the whole world.” “The right solution to this quandary comes from within the region and regionally provided solution with international support and not from the outside the region,” he said.

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Chasing money.

How Australia Became The Dirtiest Polluter In The Developed World (Slate)

Australians like to think of themselves as green. Their island country boasts some 3 million square miles of breathtaking landscape. They were an early global leader in solar power. They’ve had environmental regulations on the books since colonial times. And in 2007 they elected a party and a prime minister running on a “pro-climate” platform, with promises to sign the Kyoto Protocol and pass sweeping environmental reforms. All of which makes sense for a country that is already suffering the early effects of global warming. And yet, seven years later, Australia has thrown its environmentalism out the window—and into the landfill. The climate-conscious Labor Party is out, felled by infighting and a bloodthirsty, Rupert Murdoch–dominated press that sows conspiracy theories about climate science.

In its place, Australians elected the conservative Liberal Party, led by a prime minister who once declared that “the climate argument is absolute crap.” In the year since they took office, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Liberal-led coalition have already dismantled the country’s key environmental policies. Now they’ve begun systematically ransacking its natural resources. In the process, they’ve transformed Australia from an international innovator on environmental issues into quite possibly the dirtiest country in the developed world. And in a masterful whirl of the spin machine, they’ve managed to upend public debate by painting climate science as superstition and superstition as climate science. (We should note here that one of us grew up in Australia.)

The country’s landmark carbon tax has been repealed. The position of science minister has been eliminated. A man who warns of “global cooling” is now the country’s top business adviser. In November, Australia will host the G-20 economic summit; it plans to use its power as host to keep climate change off the official agenda. If the environment has become Australia’s enemy, fossil fuels are its best friend once again. Two months after it struck down the carbon tax, the government forged a deal with a fringe party led by a mining tycoon to repeal a tax on mining profits. It appointed a noted climate-change skeptic—yes, another one—to review its renewable energy targets.

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I wrote many years ago that is the only way. Not that communism or socialism is any better. Any system aimed at growth will do it.

Naomi Klein Says We Must Slay Capitalism to Fight Climate Change (Slate)

Q: On Sunday, more than 300,000 people were in the streets in New York. In stark contrast, Tuesday’s U.N. Climate Summit didn’t accomplish much. How do you feel about “progress” toward a climate treaty through official U.N. channels?

A: It’s been quite an amazing week. [Sunday’s march] was, I think, a real turning point. A lot of debates have sharpened up a bit. I’m excited. After the march, it was kind of jarring to go to the U.N. I definitely did not get the feeling that they were even managing to convince themselves. Some shit-disturber decided it would be a good idea to invite me into the private-sector portion of the U.N. summit Tuesday, which had unprecedented participation from CEOs. It was definitely the highest net-worth room I’ve ever been in. They were conducting what amounted to a telethon for the Earth. It was pretty unimpressive.

Q: I think U.N. countries officially pledged a little more than $1 billion to the fund designed to help low-income nations adapt.

A: Yes, and I think almost all of it was from France. At one point in that room, there was a debate over whether France’s pledge was in euros or dollars. Yeah. It was in dollars.

Q: So what’s the next step in terms of climate action? How do we get from 300,000 in the streets to 30 million?

A: Everybody that’s trying to get anything progressive done in this country knows that the biggest barrier is getting money out of politics. Climate can be a shot of adrenaline in the pre-existing movement to get money out of politics. So, it’s not a brand-new movement. What excited me about Sunday is the huge participation from labor. People in that movement clearly see that a climate-justice agenda would be a serious benefit to their members. The post-carbon economy we can build will have to be better designed.

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Mar 252014
 
 March 25, 2014  Posted by at 4:15 pm Finance Tagged with: , , ,  


Charlotte Brooks Duke Ellington at bat near segregated motel in Florida April 1955

You can hurt a few handfuls of Putin’s people for a few days with sanctions like closing their Visa accounts. But if you threaten to buy less Rosneft oil and Gazprom gas, why should they really care? It’s not as if there’s a glut of either available. Any pain will be short lived. Moreover, it’s all but certain that such actions will drive Russia and China closer together, and is that such a dream scenario for America and Europe?

Of course there’s plenty of folk in the US Senate and in Brussels who relish the prospect of some sort of limited warfare with Russia, but they’re mostly fossilized entities, whether physically and/or mentally. There will be some such voices in Russia too, and there are many in Ukraine, where long festering hatred, by the looks of it, is still one of the main reasons people get out of bed in the morning.

Yulia Tymoshenko, former PM and prime candidate for prime minister again, was caught on tape uttering some real ugly threats against ethnic Russians, like nuking all 8 million of them. And that’s the kind of person the west is preparing to help back in the saddle by unleashing more sanctions and further isolating Putin? Really, we’d rather go there then seek common ground and peaceful solutions?

It would seem that many of the older Senators and EU career bureaucrats are under the impression that all that has changed since the cold war is that Russia was weakened. But if you take one look at what happened to western economies, debt levels and growth rates since then, it would be obvious to what extent the west, too, is considerably weaker.

It’s nice to draw up plans to be less independent on Russia for energy, but there would have to be alternative sources of supply for such plans to work. And they don’t seem to be available, or even if they are, at least 5-10 years away. How much more can bankrupt Europe afford to pay for its oil and gas delivery in the meantime, especially given the fact that it will also have to invest heavily in the infrastructure for the so far almost exclusively theoretical new energy streams?

Is all the chest thumping truly in the best interest of the average European or American? Or is this just the pursuit by a bunch of wrinkled demi-psychopath wannabees, of a faded dream of times gone by, still shot in black and white, that “we” have a god-given right to rule the entire planet and suck up all its resources for our own pleasure, swiping a few scraps off our tables for the rest of humanity? Do the not yet wrinkled rest of us still want to pursue that dream?

At the height of the cold war, if you recall, America still had a middle class, and the majority of the population looked forward and worked hard to achieve a better life for their children. Want to try poll Americans on that now? Want to try ask the Greeks and Italians how they see their children’s futures? The only reason the western elites care enough about reviving growth to risk going to – economic or actual – war over it, is to strengthen their own positions, not those of the increasingly downtrodden they purport to represent.

In China, the government and banking world worry, among an obvious slew of other issues, about the slowing pace of urbanization.

“The pace of migration of rural Chinese to cities, a dynamic hailed by Premier Li Keqiang as key to the nation’s development, is set to slow by a third in coming years …” [..] “In the past 30 years we turned farmers into factory workers, triggering massive gains in productivity and hence growth …”.

One would like to add: yeah, and pollution. What’s wrong with people living in the country side, with less pollution? It hurts economic growth numbers, that’s what’s wrong. But isn’t pollution one of the spear points in Chinese government policy too? Yes, it is, but like the west, China wants to have the growth first, and then clean up the mess afterwards. Whether that’s at all possible is much less of a concern. The leadership prefers a dirty world where it can maximize its hold on power to a cleaner one where it has less. It’s the same story wherever and whenever you look.

The financial world lives in hopeful expectation of more stimulus in China and Europe, stimulus that if it comes will originate only in lousy economic numbers. It’s not a mistake by central banks that lies at the origin of these stimulus measures, they simply serve the interests of the people who actually do benefit from the measures, not the ones who pay for them. That QE et al cannot lift an economy out of the doldrums is as clear to central bankers as it is to any single working neuron. But it is a great way to transfer wealth from the bottom to the top.

In China, the people’s view of economics is much less obfuscated than it is in the west. When real estate prices and trust investments start falling, the Chinese will take to the streets demanding the government give them what they feel they deserve after having moved to smog filled cities to do mind numbing jobs. But while China’s development model is as much of a bubble as ours, after the smoke has cleared, the country will rise up again under different leadership to take on a much bigger role in the world than it’s ever had in modern times.

Are we still going to be chest thumping by then? Or will we have learned to recognize the traits that make the leaders handpicked for us to vote for, unfit to represent out interests? I think that the poorer we get, and that process will forcibly continue, the more likely we are to pick the less competent ones. As long as they use the right words to promise us better days, and they look like they could work in TV, they got the job.

And they can get into another cold war with China and Russia and whoever else challenges our broken black and white dreams by then.

But granted, that’s the future. Here’s a great graph depicting where we are today, courtesy of IceCap:

Guess maybe our bubbles are not big enough yet?

Great piece with great graph. Should perhaps be everybody’s screensaver.

Connecting The Bubbles The Fed Blows (IceCap)

Reading down IceCap’s memory lane, you’ll recall our November 2012 “Salma Hayek” publication which described how world leaders had two choices in the way to manage the global economy. The first option was based upon economic theory by Friedrich Hayek who claimed that the economy couldn’t be and shouldn’t be managed on an acute basis. Mr. Hayek believed that governments should simply ensure there was enough money available. That was about it. If only our leaders had listened.

Instead, the financial world we enjoy today chose the second option which was built entirely on the mislead belief of John Maynard Keynes, that man could in fact control or better still eliminate the business cycle by changing interest rates, changing tax rates, and spending more money than you own. In theory, this approach works beautifully. Then it meets reality. From our perspective, reality arrives when there are no more interest rates to cut, no more taxes to cut, and no more money to spend.

Chart 1 shows the success enjoyed by the US central bank’s interest rate policy over the years. In 1997, the Asian crisis followed by the Russian crisis followed by the collapse of a gigantic hedge fund, allowed the American central bank to plant the seeds for the next crisis which turned out to be the tech bubble.

At the time, both financial pundits and the big banks with their balanced funds proclaimed that the world had indeed entered a different financial and economic era – yes, this time it was different. Of course 4,000 Dow Jones Industrial and NASDAQ points later, the sheep started to lazily admit that perhaps this new post-Y2K economy wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be.

Not to worry, once again the American central bank mounted their ponies and rode the global economy straight into several years of ultra-low interest rates. The hope (there’s that word again) was that really cheap money would encourage people, companies and governments to borrow and spend again. And borrow and spend they did – right smack into the biggest housing bubble in economic history. Day traders became passé, and the newest game in town was flippin’ houses.

Rich people flipped mansions, plumbers and teachers flipped suburban homes and even Vegas strippers got in on the act and flipped condos among other things. By the time it was over, the entire world was flipped upside down – courtesy of the US Federal Reserve and their interest rate machine. And this brings us to the next global crisis, which we assure you is on its way. After all, Chart 1 proves it is crystal clear that every time the US Federal Reserve acts to “save us” from one crisis, it directly sows the seeds for an even bigger crisis in the future.

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China’s Urbanization Loses Momentum as Growth Slows (Bloomberg)

The pace of migration of rural Chinese to cities, a dynamic hailed by Premier Li Keqiang as key to the nation’s development, is set to slow by a third in coming years, deepening economic-growth concerns. A government report released this month projected a 6.3 percentage-point rise in the share of people living in cities from 2013 to 2020 – down from a 9.4-point gain the previous seven years. Nomura Holdings Inc. estimates that slower urbanization will slice as much as half a percentage point from annual gross domestic product growth over the next half decade.

“In the past 30 years we turned farmers into factory workers, triggering massive gains in productivity and hence growth,” said Ken Peng, Asia Pacific investment strategist at Citigroup Inc.’s private-bank business in Hong Kong. “Now those gains are diminishing.”

Li, who asked an arm of China’s cabinet to work with the World Bank on an urban-planning strategy released today, is under increasing pressure to take steps to address weakening economic expansion. A private report yesterday indicated a fifth straight slowdown in manufacturing in the world’s second-largest economy. The premier, who has advocated an urbanization-growth strategy for two decades, is up against a shrinking pool of rural workers, rising local-government debt and unhealthy air pollution in almost all big cities. Diminishing returns from urbanization make it tougher to achieve economic goals including this year’s 7.5% expansion target.

Today’s report from the World Bank and the State Council’s Development Research Center, which helped inform the government’s plan, recommends changes including on land use to spur more-efficient and denser cities. That can save China $1.4 trillion from a projected $5.3 trillion in infrastructure spending over the next 15 years, World Bank Chief Operating Officer Sri Mulyani Indrawati said in a speech today. “You cannot go on with the same urbanization model,” Sri Mulyani said in a separate interview.

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Big Risk for Big Oil. But they’re in such bad shape they’re going for the jugular: get rid of Putin and take it all.

Kremlin Partnership Places BP at Risk in Russia Crisis (Bloomberg)

No business has as much at stake as BP, as the crisis in the West’s relations with Russia escalates. The British oil company, whose shares are down 6.2% since Putin deployed troops in Crimea, holds the single biggest foreign investment in Russia – a 20% stake in OAO Rosneft (ROSN) it acquired last year. U.S. sanctions last week against oil-trading billionaire Gennady Timchenko showed willingness to target Russia’s most important industry and Vladimir Putin’s closest associates.

That’s a concern for BP because Rosneft links it directly to Putin’s regime: the state owns 70% of Russia’s largest oil producer and it’s run by Igor Sechin, a confidant of Putin for two decades. While current sanctions won’t harm BP’s ability to do business in Russia, analysts said they worry about the long-term prospects for the Rosneft investment against a background of worsening relations between the West and Moscow. “Tight sanctions would impact BP more than peers given Russia is their second-largest contributor to earnings and production after the U.S.,” said Brian Youngberg, an analyst at Edward Jones in St. Louis. “BP’s placed a big bet on Russia and something like this shows the risk in doing so.”

Since the start of the month, BP’s shares have dropped more than any of the 30 members of the Dow Jones Oil & Gas Titans index apart from Russian gas exporter OAO Gazprom. On a March 4 conference call, one day after the value of London-based BP’s deal tumbled $850 million as investors sold Russian stocks in response to the Ukrainian crisis, Chief Executive Officer Bob Dudley summed up the importance of Rosneft for a company still trying to recover from 2010’s Gulf of Mexico disaster.

“And then there is our unique investment in Russia’s growing energy industry,” he said. “Russia is, of course, one of the world’s largest oil and gas producers and a country where BP has a long and successful track record. Through our investment in Rosneft, we have created a unique position.” While the company is monitoring the situation, it remains fully committed to its investment in Russia, said Toby Odone, a BP spokesman. Rosneft declined to comment.

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True colors shining through.

Former Ukraine PM Tymoshenko: Time To Grab Guns And Kill Damn Russians (RT)

Ukrainians must take up arms against Russians so that not even scorched earth will be left where Russia stands; an example of former Ukrainian PM Yulia Tymoshenko’s vitriol in phone call leaked online. Tymoshenko confirmed the authenticity of the conversation on Twitter, while claiming that a section where she is heard to call for the nuclear slaughter of the eight million Russians who remain on Ukrainian territory was edited. She tweeted “The conversation took place, but the ‘8 million Russians in Ukraine’ piece is an edit. In fact, I said Russians in Ukraine – are Ukrainians. Hello FSB 🙂 Sorry for the obscene language.”

The former Ukrainian PM has not clarified who exactly she wants to nuke. The phone conversation with Nestor Shufrych, former deputy secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, was uploaded on YouTube on Monday by user Sergiy Vechirko. Shufrych’s press service flatly contradicted Tymoshenko, slamming the tape as fake. The press release reads “The conversation didn’t take place,” as quoted by korrespondent.net. The leaked phone call took placed on March 18, hours after the Crimea & Sevastopol accession treaty was signed in the Kremlin.

While Shufrych was “just shocked,” Tymoshenko was enraged by the results of the Crimean referendum . “This is really beyond all boundaries. It’s about time we grab our guns and kill go kill those damn Russians together with their leader,” Tymoshenko said. The ex-PM declared if she was in charge “there would be no f***ing way that they would get Crimea then.”

Shufrych made the valid point that Ukraine “didn’t have any force potential” to keep Crimea. But Tymoshenko, who plans to run in Ukraine’s presidential election, expressed confidence that she would have found “a way to kill those a*****es.” “I hope I will be able to get all my connections involved. And I will use all of my means to make the entire world raise up, so that there wouldn’t be even a scorched field left in Russia,” she promised. Despite being incapacitated by spinal disc hernia the ex-PM stressed she’s ready to “grab a machine gun and shoot that m*********er in the head.”

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These moves have been under consideration for a long time. All the plans are drawn up.

Russian Oil Seen Heading East Not West in Crimea Spat (Bloomberg)

The Crimean crisis is poised to reshape the politics of oil by accelerating Russia’s drive to send more barrels to China, leaving Europe with pricier imports and boosting U.S. dependence on fuel from the Middle East. China already has agreed to buy more than $350 billion of Russian crude in coming years from the government of President Vladimir Putin. The ties are likely to deepen as the U.S. and Europe levy sanctions against Russia as punishment for the invasion of Ukraine.

Such shifts will be hard to overcome. Europe, which gets about 30% of its natural gas from Russia, has few viable immediate alternatives. The U.S., even after the shale boom, must import 40% of its crude oil, 10.6 million barrels a day that leaves the country vulnerable to global markets. The alternatives to Russia also carry significant financial, environmental and geological challenges. Canada’s oil sands pollute more than most traditional alternatives, while Poland’s promising shale fields have yet to be unlocked. The biggest oil finds of the past decade are trapped under the miles-deep waters offshore Brazil and West Africa.

“You’re going to see the Russians go out and try to sell and you’re going to see the Asian buyers drive hard bargains with Russia,” said Philip Verleger, an energy economist at PKVerleger LLC in Carbondale, Colorado, suggesting European countries will feel the most pain in the form of higher gas prices as they struggle to reduce their dependence on Russia. As world leaders gathered in The Hague to discuss nuclear security issues, U.S. President Barack Obama sought to encourage Chinese criticism of Russia on Ukraine. Chinese President Xi Jinping in turn pressed Obama about a reported U.S. breach of the servers of China’s largest phone-equipment maker.

China has always held a “just and objective attitude” toward the Ukraine crisis, Xi said in the meeting with Obama, according to a report yesterday from China’s official Xinhua news agency. The world’s biggest energy user, China abstained from the United Nations Security Council resolution that declared the Crimean succession referendum illegal. Russia vetoed it.

China imported a record amount of Russian crude last month, 2.72 million metric tons, about a supertanker full every three days. The total more than tripled in a decade, and Russia now represents 12% of China’s crude imports, customs data show, among the highest levels in the past seven years.

“It’s always been assumed Russia reorienting its shipments toward China would be a long-term objective; originally it was considered something of a leverage point for Russia,” said Robert Kahn, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. “Now people may see it as a reaction to the possible loss of a European market.”

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Hilarious. Nothing US infighting can’t make worse.

Senate Republicans Seek to Void IMF Money in Ukraine Aid (Bloomberg)

A partisan dispute over the International Monetary Fund will be at the center of the U.S. Senate debate this week on legislation providing aid to Ukraine and imposing sanctions on Russia. After a Senate vote yesterday, 78-17, to advance the bill, Republicans say they’ll try to strike language boosting the U.S. share, or quota, at the IMF and implementing a 2010 international agreement giving rising economies more voice. “If the IMF reform is in there, you’re not going to have that strong show of unity from the Congress,” said Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, who said he would offer an amendment to eliminate the language. “Hopefully we can strip that out so that we have as singular a voice coming from Congress as possible.”

The IMF provision has slowed Senate consideration of legislation that otherwise has drawn broad bipartisan support. The Senate measure, which Majority Leader Harry Reid said yesterday he wants to complete this week, would provide about $1 billion in loan guarantees and authorize $150 million in direct assistance to Ukraine. Senators could begin considering amendments as soon as today. In addition to removing the IMF provision, Republicans will seek to boost U.S. natural gas exports to countries that are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, told reporters yesterday that the IMF changes Democrats are seeking “would decrease America’s influence at the IMF and perversely would increase Russia’s influence in the IMF.” “These provisions have no business in a Ukraine aid package,” Cruz said, adding that taking out the IMF language would be the “easiest way” to quickly pass the legislation. Significantly, Cruz said he wouldn’t try to block a final vote on the underlying bill as long as Republicans are given a vote on their amendment to remove the IMF provision.

Delay “sends a very weak message” to Moscow, said Reid, who blamed Republicans for slowing action, noting that Russia moved to annex Crimea while Congress was on a week-long break that ended yesterday. “It’s impossible to know whether events would have unfolded differently if the United States had responded to this Russian aggression with a strong, unified voice, which we did not do,” Reid said.

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Why The EU Won’t Annex Ukraine (RT)

Hysterical 24/7 Western spin conveys the impression Ukraine will be annexed by a (mostly bankrupt) EU tomorrow. No so fast! The final deal will be just an association agreement; afterwards there would be a long and winding road towards EU admission (which, by the way, the absolute majority of EU member-nations don’t want.) Article 7.2. of the association agreement states that Ukraine will have to comply with the common foreign and security policy (CFSP) and the European security and defense policy (ESDP).

The obscure – even for most Europeans – ESDP happens to be the key European pillar of NATO. Translation: it details how the EU is subordinated to the US (which controls NATO). For instance, the EU may only act in a determined case if NATO first declines to. Additionally, the March 2003 Berlin-plus agreement allows the EU to use NATO’s hardware and software for military operations if NATO declines to. What this essentially means is that Ukraine is on the road to become legally bound to NATO’s overall project. Along with other independent analysts, I’ve argued from the start that this whole geopolitical drama is first and foremost about NATO annexing Ukraine.

The NATO-Ukraine twisted love affair started in the early 2000s. After some soul-searching, it was decided NATO or no NATO should be the subject of a national referendum in the future. In the 2008 Bucharest summit NATO opened its arms, stating that Ukraine could join as soon as it met the criteria. In 2010 Yanukovich announced Ukraine was not interested anymore. Still, Ukraine remains quite a muscular member of NATO’s innocent-sounding Partnership for Peace (PfP).

No wonder NATO is now in overdrive selling the notion that Ukraine is “under threat” – and should join as soon as possible. NATO’s secretary-general – the astonishingly mediocre American poodle, Anders Fogh Rasmussen – said we’re living the most serious threat to Europe’s security since the end of the Cold War: “This is a wake-up call. For the Euro-Atlantic community. For NATO. And for all those committed to a Europe whole, free and at peace.’’ He forgot to add: a Europe under free and peaceful submission to the Pentagon.

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Weidmann is Bundesbank. Bundesbank is enemy no. 1 of EU QE.

ECB’s Weidmann Says QE Not Out Of The Question (Reuters)

Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann said it was not ‘out of the question’ for the European Central Bank to buy bank assets to fight deflation, in a softening of the German central bank’s strict stance on the issue. Quantitative easing (QE) is when a central bank buys loans or other assets from banks and would represent a radical departure for the ECB, which has so far, not least under pressure from Germany, refused to make such a move.

Weidmann, who is a member of the European Central Bank Governing Council told MNI in an interview published on Tuesday that the scope of the ECB’s conventional tools, such as changes to the interest rates, was limited. “The unconventional measures under consideration are largely uncharted territory. This means that we need a discussion about their effectiveness and also about their costs and side-effects,” Weidmann said in the interview, conducted on Friday. “This does not mean that a QE program is generally out of the question,” Weidmann said. “But we have to ensure that the prohibition of monetary financing is respected.”

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Yay! More vampires. Guess that means China’s ready to play in the big leagues.

China Banks Drained by Internet Funds Called Vampires (Bloomberg)

It has been labeled a “blood-sucking vampire” by a prominent commentator on state-run television. Executives at China’s largest banks have called for regulators to curb its rapid expansion.

The focus of this ire is Internet financing, specifically Yu’E Bao, the fund pioneered nine months ago by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s online-payment affiliate Alipay. Its ease of use, involving a few taps on a smartphone, has drawn deposits from 81 million customers, more than the population of Germany, as they chase returns higher than China’s banks can offer. The total exceeded 500 billion yuan ($80 billion) as of Feb. 28, according to the official Xinhua news agency, double the amount reported by Alipay in mid-January.

At least six other technology firms, including Baidu Inc. and Tencent Holding Ltd., have embraced Internet financing with similar products offering returns as high as 10% and threatening to drain more cash from China’s banking system. Bank executives, unable to stop the outflow of their cheapest source of funding because interest rates on comparable deposits are fixed by the government at 0.35%, are calling for more regulation, saying that lack of oversight and risks related to account security, yield volatility and liquidity management threaten China’s financial stability.

“Now it’s time to step up regulation for the industry’s own good,” Yang Kaisheng, a former president of Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd. and now an adviser to the China Banking Regulatory Commission, said in an interview this month at the National People’s Congress in Beijing. “The emergence of Internet financing is inevitable in China because it serves the grassroots better, but whoever is engaging in financial services, no matter online or off-line, must comply with regulations. If someone stays out of oversight for too long, the chances of it disrupting financial stability will increase significantly.” [..]

“Why is all the money going into Yu’E Bao? Because banks fail to pay what savers deserve. You can’t fool them,” Ma Weihua, a former president of China Merchants Bank Co., said during a group discussion at the National People’s Congress. “Yu’E Bao is forcing banks to face up to the challenges of interest-rate deregulation.” The drain from the banks prompted Niu Wenxin, a managing editor and chief commentator at China Central Television, to attack Yu’E Bao in his blog on Feb. 21, drawing 11.5 million views and sparking nationwide debate.

“Yu’E Bao is a vampire sucking blood out of the banks and a typical financial parasite,” Niu wrote. “It didn’t create value. Instead it makes a profit by pushing up the whole society’s borrowing costs. By passing some teeny-weeny benefit to the public, it makes massive profit for itself and lets the entire society foot the bill.”

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Credit Problems To Rattle China Economy: New Zealand FinMin (CNBC)

The Chinese economy will continue to face more volatility as the country wrestles with credit problems, says New Zealand’s Finance Minister Bill English. “There’s clearly a will [in China] to allow some defaults to try and work through the credit build up,” English told CNBC Asia’s “Squawk Box” on Tuesday. “As an economy selling into China, we’re expecting more volatility in the economy in general, but still reasonably solid consumer demand,” he added.

The stability of China’s financial sector has been in focus in recent months after a near high-profile failure of a trust product, which was marketed by local lender ICBC, in January. Earlier this month, China experienced its first domestic bond default when Shanghai Chaori Solar Science & Technology Co was unable to make an 89 million yuan ($14.5 million) interest payment. In addition, recent economic data has pointed to slowing growth momentum. This has raised speculation that authorities may provide monetary or fiscal stimulus to support growth. “I think we’ve had an artificially smooth growth profile out of China because of the extent of their intervention. They can’t keep doing that,” said English.

China is New Zealand’s biggest export destination, with dairy products accounting for roughly half of the $10 billion worth of goods the country dispatched to the mainland in 2013. Last week, China and New Zealand signed a currency deal to allow the direct conversion of the New Zealand dollar with the Chinese renminbi or yuan. The deal aims to reduce costs for exporters and importers by removing the necessity for transactions to be settled in two foreign exchange trades via a third currency – typically the U.S. dollar.

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True enough, Moody’s, but only the worst handful have to go down to create mayhem.

China’s Local Government Debt Burden Varies Widely: Moody’s (CNBC)

Concerns over high levels of debt among local governments in China have mounted in recent months, but the quality and quantity of that burden varies widely by province, Moody’s said. “The provinces all show varying degrees of credit risk as their indebtedness levels differ significantly, from moderate to high,” credit rating service Moody’s Investor Service said in a report on Tuesday. China’s state auditor said in a report in December that local governments owe almost $3 trillion in outstanding debt as of the end of June last year, up 67% from the last audit in 2011.

The debt pile is viewed as one of the biggest threats facing the country’s economy and there are worries that much of it cannot be repaid as it was used to fund non-profitable projects. Among the top 31 upper-tier local governments reporting government-related debt on their websites, indebtedness ranged from 69% to 156% of revenues, with the median at 108%, Moody’s said. The median debt for all the provinces was 31% of their gross domestic products (GDP), but the levels ranged from 79% of GDP for Guinzhou province to 13% for Shandong.

“While higher levels of debt are typically credit negative, the credit quality implications also depend on economic strength, budget flexibility, access to financing, and ability to repay,” Moody’s said. “In addition to the debt figures, we need to understand an entity’s ability to mobilize resources to repay its debt and the extent to which government-related entities have projects that generate streams of revenue sufficient to repay debt.”

Moody’s said it was concerned about a lack of information on which financing vehicles and other entities are generating enough revenue to repay their debt without tapping the local government. It cited Beijing Infrastructure, which operates the capital’s subway system, as an example of a company unable to operate without heavy subsidies.

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China Demands End To US Spying Activities After New Snowden Leak (RT)

China has demanded that the US stop the snooping activities of its National Security Agency against Chinese officials and companies. Beijing has also asked Washington to explain the reports on the illegal spying. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, said on Monday that China is “extremely concerned” about allegations that the US National Security Agency (NSA) infiltrated the servers of Chinese telecom giant, Huawei, targeting the Chinese Trade Ministry, national banks, leading telecommunications companies and the country’s top officials.

“China has already lodged many complaints with the United States about this. We demand that the United States makes a clear explanation and stop such acts,” the spokesman stressed. Hong cited media reports on “eavesdropping, surveillance and stealing of secrets by the United States of other countries, including China,” which were based on the revelations of the former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden.

The Snowden leaks published by The New York Times and Der Spiegel on Sunday exposed the details of the NSA’s activities in China, which allegedly involved spying on the former Chinese President Hu Jintao. China’s reaction comes amid the European trip of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who met US President Barack Obama in The Hague on Monday.

The US first lady, Michelle Obama, on Saturday addressed college students in Beijing, saying that open access to online information is a “universal right.” However, the two countries’ governments clearly had a different understanding of “open access” to the global net. “We consistently believe internet communication technologies should be used to develop a country’s economy in a normal way, and not be used in stealing secret information, phone-tapping and monitoring,” Hong said.

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Oh, it’s coming, alright.

Dying Memphis Neighborhood Foretells Next U.S. Crisis (Bloomberg)

When Rebecca Black bought the three-bedroom house at 698 Hazelwood Road in southwest Memphis in May 2005 and moved in with her two teenage sons, it was a quiet community. Children played in the street and neighbors tended their yards. She could afford the $57,000 mortgage if she skipped oil changes for the car and served the boys store-brand groceries. Then trouble came.

Her next-door neighbor died, and his family lost the house. Across the street, there were two foreclosures. One morning, the abandoned house three doors down had gang graffiti spray-painted on the side. A girl in the neighborhood pulled a gun on Black’s son. In 2010, it was Black’s turn to go. She’d gotten one of those 2–28 mortgages that slowly strangled so many borrowers – two years of a low, fixed interest rate followed by 28 years of rising payments – and she’d reached her limit. “I was crazy about that house, and so proud of it,” said Black, a U.S. Army veteran. “I just didn’t have enough money.”

She got a letter from her mortgage company saying it was starting the foreclosure process, and rather than hear a knock on the door one morning from a sheriff’s deputy ordering her to get out, Black packed whatever she could fit into her Chevy Astro and left the home she loved so well. By 2011, the property two doors down had sold for $3,000, and Black was in bankruptcy.

If homes are living things, sustaining their inhabitants and contributing to the vitality of their communities, then Hazelwood Road is dying. On nine of the fifteen parcels on Black’s side of the street, houses sit empty, have been bulldozed flat, or the lots have reverted to a tangle of sumac and poison ivy.

In the hottest part of 2012, four years after bad mortgages triggered a meltdown in the world’s most resilient economy, the biggest banks were reporting record profits and government agencies were trumpeting statistics showing that a robust recovery from the worst hard times since Dorothea Lange’s Great Depression photo “Migrant Mother” was just around the corner.

Though Hazelwood Road was never a paradise – a place where Black could buy a three-bedroom house for $57,000 couldn’t be described as anybody’s ideal of “location, location, location” – conditions there indicated that something essential about America had shifted in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Hope for advancement was that much tougher for most people to sustain after 2008. And just as the crisis was no accident but rather a tragic convergence of stupidity and poor oversight, so too were its consequences a result of calculation.

Just about all the behavior by the biggest banks and their Washington regulators described in this book occurred after the 2008 financial crisis. The book is divided into seven chapters, each corresponding to one of Catholicism’s seven deadly sins. Wall Street’s seven sins – size, secrecy, regulatory capture (when government supervisors identify more with the industry they police than with the people they’re supposed to protect), excessive pride, complexity, impunity, and a predatory greed – risk the second avoidable economic cataclysm of the baby boom era.

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Long-Term Unemployed on the Margins of the Labor Market (Brookings)

In “Are the Long-Term Unemployed on the Margins of the Labor Market?” Alan B. Krueger, Judd Cramer, and David Cho of Princeton University find that even after finding another job, reemployment does not fully reset the clock for the long-term unemployed, who are frequently jobless again soon after they gain reemployment: only 11% of those who were long-term unemployed in a given month returned to steady, full-time employment a year later.

Long-term unemployment has remained a persistent problem post-Great Recession – a somewhat new issue for the U.S., as compared to Europe. Despite declining over the last 4 years, the share of the unemployed who have been out of work for more than 6 months still exceeds its previous peak reached in 1981-82, and is well above its average in the last recovery, the authors note. Yet, measures of short-term unemployment are close to their average rates in the last recovery. As a result, overall unemployment remains elevated because of the large number of people who have been unemployed long term.

The long-term unemployed are spread throughout all corners of the economy, with a majority previously employed in sales and service jobs (36%) and blue collar jobs (28%), they find. In addition, the authors find that when long-term unemployed workers do return to work, there is a tendency to return to jobs in the same set of industries and occupations from which the workers were displaced.

The authors present a calibrated model that shows that the collapse in job vacancies, coupled with a decline in labor force withdrawal rates, accounts for the sharp rise in the number of long-term unemployed workers in 2009-13 and the overall rise in the unemployment rate. Furthermore, the authors show that the historically slower rate of reemployment for long-term unemployed workers can account for the apparent shift in the relationship between the unemployment rate and job vacancies. Their model predicts that the unemployment-vacancy relationship will return to its original position as the long-term unemployed continue to exit the labor force.

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Fracking Won’t Crack UK Dependence On Russian Gas Imports (Guardian)

As tensions with Russia intensify, government ministers and conservative commentators have increasingly sought to capitalise on the crisis to sell fracking to the electorate. Over the weekend, Conservative energy minister Michael Fallon argued that the UK should reduce its reliance on gas imports by fracking for shale gas in the UK. The foreign minister, William Hague, wrote in the Telegraph that we need to “develop indigenous European energy supplies … such as shale gas”, while commentators including Matt Ridley argued that if it wasn’t for “the greens in suits, rather than kaftans” we could have a fully fledged fracking industry up and running already.

The chutzpah of these attempts to build support for an increasingly unpopular fracking industry is astonishing. These are the same people who were arguing the case for the construction of up to 40 gas power stations. This would have left us even more dependent on imported gas. The Crimean crisis should be a catalyst for a rethink about whether the government’s “dash for gas” is the wisest energy policy for a country with dwindling North Sea resources. But rather than admit that we should be reducing our dependence on gas, its proponents prefer to blame the green groups that have for decades been arguing for a reduced reliance on finite energy sources.

Claims that fracking offers a panacea to dependence on Russian gas don’t even stack up. A study for the oil and gas industry by consultants Pöyry, found that European supplies wouldn’t even come on stream at scale for at least a decade. The study also shows that while the EU’s dependency on gas imports could be reduced by up to 18% depending on the success of EU shale gas extraction, it is actually supplies of liquefied natural gas from Qatar that would be displaced by shale gas. Supplies that are deemed “secure” by Fallon. Even a shale gas boom will have no impact on Russian imports until well into the next decade, by which point demand for gas should be falling sharply in the EU as efforts to limit climate change bear fruit.

It is, in fact, our efforts to tackle climate change that will reduce the UK’s and Europe’s exposure to energy imports. The EU has set a target of 80%-95% emissions reductions by 2050. In the UK, the government’s independent climate advisers have suggested that we will need to largely remove gas from the power sector in the coming decades. Yet the government, including the energy minister, is opposing measures that could make this ambition a reality by blocking nationally binding EU targets for both renewables and energy efficiency. The European commission’s assessment of the impacts of these targets found that they could cut net energy imports by more than half by 2050.

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What did I call it again? The gift that keeps on taking.

TEPCO Fails To Restart Fukushima Water Decontamination Process (RT)

The water decontamination process at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant has once again been halted, only about six hours after the plant’s operator TEPCO announced it was resuming the purification process following a previous failure. Six days ago, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) detected a failure in what is known as the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS). The company said that up to 900 tons of water, which had not been sufficiently cleaned in the ALPS equipment, flowed into a network of 21 tanks that were holding 15,000 tons of treated water. Not only have the 21 tanks been rendered unusable, but all 15,000 tons of previously cleaned water has to be retreated.

TEPCO said it restarted two of three lines used to clean toxic water at around 04:00 GMT on Monday. A third line remained offline while crews examined a filter defect, AFP reported. Yet shortly before 10:00 GMT, TEPCO suspended the ALPS of the two units after finding about a half liter of leaked water at a tank designed to measure levels of radioactive materials in the processed water, according to Jiji Press. TEPCO said in a press release that there were no new leaks outside the system, though. The difficulties only mark the latest challenges TEPCO has faced since March 2011, when a 9.0 megathrust earthquake triggered a subsequent tsunami that resulted in a badly-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The ALPS system was developed to dramatically curb the radiation level of highly contaminated water that is accumulating at the plant. The ALPS consists of 14 steel cylinders through which the contaminated water is filtered. After the filtering, waste materials like the absorbent and remaining sludge are transferred to high-integrity containers (HICs) that are transported to a temporary storage facility.

The ALPS can remove 62 different types of radionuclides, including strontium and cobalt, from contaminated water. While the system cannot remove tritium – a radioactive isotope of hydrogen – the purification of water through the system is expected to reduce damage levels if water leaks from storage tanks.

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