Jan 022018
 
 January 2, 2018  Posted by at 10:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Horacio Coppola Avenida de Mayo entre Bolívar y Perú, Buenos Aires 1936

 

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No Financial Stress (Mish)
Bitcoin Is Already Having A Bad Year (BBG)
Bitcoin Fever To Burn Out In ‘Spectacular Crash’ – David Stockman (CNBC)
Britain’s Benefits System Has Become A Racket For Cheating Poor People (G.)
Russia Posts Highest-Ever Natural Gas Output in Expansion Drive (BBG)
US Is Running The Same Script With Iran That It Ran With Libya, Syria (CJ)
More Than 170 Refugees Reach Lesbos, Samos Early New Year’s Day (K.)
Syrian Grandmother Defies Perils To Cross Aegean At Age 110 (K.)
Drones Over Africa Target $70 Billion Illegal Poaching Industry (ZH)

 

 

Article by Mish. Graph annotation by Jesse Colombo.

No Financial Stress (Mish)

As we head into 2018, the St. Loius Fed reports there is no financial stress. The STLFSI measures the degree of financial stress in the markets and is constructed from 18 weekly data series: seven interest rate series, six yield spreads and five other indicators. Each of these variables captures some aspect of financial stress. Accordingly, as the level of financial stress in the economy changes, the data series are likely to move together. The average value of the index, which begins in late 1993, is designed to be zero. Thus, zero is viewed as representing normal financial market conditions. Values below zero suggest below-average financial market stress, while values above zero suggest above-average financial market stress.

Financial stress has been negative since June 18, 2010. I expect 2018 will not be so complacent.

Jesse’s annotations: “Bubbles form during periods of very low financial stress”.

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Check back minutes later and it’s rising.

Bitcoin Is Already Having A Bad Year (BBG)

Bitcoin is already having a bad year. For the first time since 2015, the cryptocurrency began a new year by declining, extending its slide from a record $19,511 reached on Dec. 18. The virtual coin traded at $13,624.56 as of 5 p.m. in New York on Monday, down 4.8% from Friday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s also a fall from the $14,156 it hit Sunday, according to coinmarketcap.com, which tracks daily prices. The cryptocurrency fluctuated in early Asian trading on Tuesday.

Bitcoin got off to a much stronger start last year, and then kept that momentum going, helping to create a global frenzy for cryptocurrencies. It rose 3.6% on the first day of 2017 to $998, data from coinmarketcap.com show. It ended the year up more than 1,300%. That rally drew a growing number of competitors and last month brought bitcoin to Wall Street in the form of futures contracts. It reached the Dec. 18 peak hours after CME Group Inc. debuted its derivatives agreements, which some traders said would encourage short position-taking.

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Any questions?

Bitcoin Fever To Burn Out In ‘Spectacular Crash’ – David Stockman (CNBC)

David Stockman, President Ronald Reagan’s former director of the Office of Management and a relentless Wall Street bear, is warning investors that the cryptocurrency boom will end disastrously. “It’s basically a class of really stupid speculators who have convinced themselves that trees grow to the sky,” he told CNBC’s “Futures Now” last week. “It will burn out in a spectacular crash. All of these latter-day speculators will have their hands burned to a crisp, and they will learn the proper lesson.” Stockman’s latest prophecy isn’t exclusive to bitcoin. He’s been saying a “gigantic, horrendous storm” could soon hit stocks. In September, he warned investors that a 40% to 70% correction wasn’t too far down the road. On Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average flirted with 25,000, with the S&P trading just shy of a new record.

Stockman blamed the Federal Reserve and central banks for creating the hype surrounding the stock and cryptocurrency markets. He argued that too much liquidity was pumped into the marketplace to deal with the 2008 global financial crisis — noting that not even regulators can improve the frothy situation. “What we really need to do is not think these are regulator problems, but understand they’re monetary problems,” he said. “It’s an irrational, overheated market like never before.” In the past two years, bitcoin prices have soared by more than 3,000%. Its wild price swings have sparked debates on Wall Street over how much it’s really worth. Bitcoin’s less expensive peers such as litecoin and ether have also surged. Stockman can’t put a price tag on them.

“I have no idea. I mean it could double or triple from here or it could fall to zero. But the point is that it’s not real money because real money for transactions has to be stable,” he said. According to Stockman, the CBOE and CME decisions to add bitcoin futures to their exchanges don’t give this emerging asset class legitimacy. “Anytime Wall Street sees an opportunity to shear the sheep, and they see the sheep stampeding to the slaughter, they line up with some new gimmick to take advantage of the circumstances. That’s all,” he said. “There is nothing that’s being validated by the opening up of a futures market. It’s just everybody trying to get on the train for the ride,” he added.

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Who needs the poor?

Britain’s Benefits System Has Become A Racket For Cheating Poor People (G.)

When Moira gets scared, she cuts herself. “It’s my way of taking control.” Right now she’s very scared. In a few days she faces a tribunal that will judge whether she is entitled to her disability benefit. She has been through forms and examinations and the officials who tell her one thing and those who tell her another, and she is nearly broken. In a low-ceilinged office at the back of a housing estate, she starts sobbing. “I cannot live like this any more.” Steph Pike lets Moira talk, before telling her, “stay focused”. After years as a welfare rights adviser, Pike knows what tribunals want: short, direct answers shorn of humiliation and pain. Now in her late 40s, Moira was raised in care, went to jail and has been repeatedly cheated of her benefits. Part of her life story is of being let down and punished by authority – but Pike needs her to set all that aside. “Bear with me,” Pike keeps saying. “This is important.”

Such meetings are normally confidential, but for three days over two weeks I had exclusive access to Pike in her work for the Child Poverty Action Group charity. I saw her advise others who appeared to have been wronged by state officials – and I accompanied Moira to that tribunal. That our benefits system is broken is no longer up for debate. Ministers are told universal credit is a fiasco and MPs weep over starving families in one of the richest societies in human history. Even rightwing tabloids run grim updates on how men with terminal cancer are declared fit to work just weeks before they die. Such cases are described as shameful. As failures. They are lined up like so many one-offs – not representative of fair-play Britain. But Pike and her colleagues know different. They see a system that routinely snatches money out of the hands of people who need and are entitled to it and bullies claimants with contempt.

Moira never went looking for welfare advice; she was just starving That’s Moira’s experience, too. Her trouble started when she found herself feeling steadily worse – and so did as she was told and rang the Department for Work and Pensions. Her recent back operation hadn’t worked, the arthritis in her spine, hips and knees was getting worse and the heavy-duty painkillers were wrecking her kidneys. She was summoned for a reassessment in Southend, a 70-mile round trip from her home in London – tricky for a woman who cannot walk more than 10 steps without crutches. Claimants such as Moira are entitled to a home assessment, but Pike told me they are often dispatched “miles away”. She was still told off for being late, says Moira. After the examination, she lost her personal independence payment.

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Selling to the west and east.

Russia Posts Highest-Ever Natural Gas Output in Expansion Drive (BBG)

Russia registered its highest-ever natural gas production last year amid plans to expand into China and boost sales of liquefied natural gas. The nation’s output of the fuel jumped 7.9% to 690.5 billion cubic meters, according to data emailed Tuesday by the Russian Energy Ministry’s CDU-TEK unit. That beat the previous record, set in 2011, by 2.9%. Russia, the world’s largest gas exporter, is working to boost output with plans to increase production of LNG with new plants in an area that stretches from the Baltic region to its Pacific coast. That will put the country up against the biggest producers of the super-chilled fuel, including Qatar, Australia and the U.S. Russia has resources to increase its LNG production almost 10 times by 2035, led by the privately-owned Novatek PJSC in the Arctic, according to the nation’s Energy Ministry.

The country is also working to keep shipments to Europe near record levels this year as state-run Gazprom PJSC, the continent’s biggest supplier, plans to start pipeline exports to China in late 2019. Gazprom meets more than a third of Europe’s demand for natural gas, Russia’s biggest and most lucrative market worth some $37 billion in revenue this year. The U.S. became the world’s largest natural gas producer in 2009, leapfrogging Russia thanks to its fracking revolution. It pumped 22.1 trillion cubic feet (about 626 billion cubic meters) of dry gas in first 10 months of 2017, according to December data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This was 11% higher than Russia for the same period.

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Create chaos.

US Is Running The Same Script With Iran That It Ran With Libya, Syria (CJ)

Two weeks ago a memo was leaked from inside the Trump administration showing how Secretary of State and DC neophyte Rex Tillerson was coached on how the US empire uses human rights as a pretense on which to attack and undermine noncompliant governments. Politico reports: The May 17 memo reads like a crash course for a businessman-turned-diplomat, and its conclusion offers a starkly realist vision: that the US should use human rights as a club against its adversaries, like Iran, China and North Korea, while giving a pass to repressive allies like the Philippines, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. ‘Allies should be treated differently -and better- than adversaries. Otherwise, we end up with more adversaries, and fewer allies,’ argued the memo, written by Tillerson’s influential policy aide, Brian Hook.

With what would be perfect comedic timing if it weren’t so frightening, Iran erupted in protests which have been ongoing for the last four days, and the western empire is suddenly expressing deep, bipartisan concern about the human rights of those protesters. So we all know what this song and dance is code for. Any evil can be justified in the name of “human rights.” In October we learned from a former Qatari prime minister that there was a massive push from the US and its allies to topple the Syrian government from the very beginning of the protests which began in that country in 2011 as part of the so-called Arab Spring. This revelation came in the same week The Intercept finally released NSA documents confirming that foreign governments were in direct control of the “rebels” who began attacking Syria following those 2011 protests.

The fretting over human rights has occurred throughout the entirety of the Syrian war, even as the governments publicly decrying human rights abuses were secretly arming and training terrorist factions to murder, rape and pillage their way across the country. We’ve seen it over and over again. In Libya, western interventionism was justified under the pretense of defending human rights when the goal was actually regime change. In Ukraine, empire loyalists played cheerleader for the protests in Kiev when the goal was actually regime change. And who could ever forget the poor oppressed people of Iraq who will surely greet the invaders as liberators?

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Conveyor belt.

More Than 170 Refugees Reach Lesbos, Samos Early New Year’s Day (K.)

More than 170 undocumented migrants reached the shores of Lesvos and Samos in the early hours of New Year’s Day, according to government figures. The first incident occurred at 12.30 a.m. when a plastic boat carrying 52 people reached the coastline of Mytilene, the main port of Lesvos. Another 83 migrants arrived at 1.30 a.m. on another boat that followed the same route from neighboring Turkey. Shortly after midnight, a vessel belonging to the European Union’s border monitoring agency Frontex intercepted another plastic boat east of Samos, with 38 people aboard. All the migrants were transferred to reception centers on the two islands.

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“..The family now live in Athens and are getting to know their new neighborhood until their asylum hearing – unfortunately set for 2019, despite Laila’s age…”

Syrian Grandmother Defies Perils To Cross Aegean At Age 110 (K.)

How far can a desire to see a loved one take us? Laila Saleh was so desperate to see the granddaughters she helped raise that she didn’t think twice about following the rest of her family out of northern Syria, despite being 110 years old. Her yearning to see Nisrin and Berivan, who had fled Kobani for Europe three years ago and now live in Germany after being granted asylum, bolstered her determination. “The journey was not easy, of course,” Laila’s grandson, Halil, told Kathimerini as he welcomed us into an apartment rented by Solidarity Now for asylum seekers in downtown Athens. The family, which is of Kurdish descent, traveled from Kobani to Izmir on the Turkish coast, and from there to the Greek island of Lesvos by inflatable boat. “Our grandmother can walk a little bit, but not long distances.”

Their group consisted of seven people, spanning four generations, and tried to ensure that as little as possible of the journey was on foot. When finding transport proved impossible, Halil and his father would carry Laila. “I carried the two children, one on my front and one on my back,” said his young wife, Saousan, as she played with twins Azar and Ari, Laila’s great-grandchildren. Despite the enormous challenges of the journey and a treacherous sea crossing – a first for Laila – the idea of leaving the elderly woman behind never crossed her children’s minds. “Our house had been bombed and we had to rent another one, but living conditions were bad,” said Halil. “Even though Grandmother is independent, she wouldn’t want to live anywhere without her children.”

The family had already suffered tremendous loss and there was little to keep them in war-ravaged Kobani. “In Syria, it is the duty of the youngest son to take care of his mother when she grows old,” said Laila’s son Ahmet, who has a heart problem and couldn’t carry his mother alone. He thankfully has his wife of 33 years, Ali, by his side, who helps care for the elderly woman. “I sleep very lightly at night because she often needs me,” said the 58-year-old woman. “She is very confused right now because of all the changes,” she added of her mother-in-law. Born in December 1907, Laila had a birthday this month, though the family does not know her exact date of birth. He longevity may make an impression on outsiders, but the family thinks it normal. “Our grandfather, Laila’s husband, died at the age of 115. That was in 1987, and Grandmother has lived with us since,” said Halil.

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“.. a 9000% increase in rhino killings since 2007 in South Africa alone..

” .. a rhino is slaughtered twice a day and an elephant is killed every 14 minutes…”

I’ve said it before, unless and until the penalty for killing big game is death (and even then!), we won’t solve this.

Drones Over Africa Target $70 Billion Illegal Poaching Industry (ZH)

In addition to the central bank-created bubble in financial markets, there is another bubble festering in the fields of Africa, called the “poaching boom.” Economic development in Vietnam, China, and the United States have fueled an illegal $70 billion industry of killing elephants and rhinoceroses for tusks. Poachers illegally hunt elephants and rhinos under the cover of darkness using surveillance equipment and high-tech weaponry.

The boom in poaching has contributed to a 9000% increase in rhino killings since 2007 in South Africa alone. Across Africa, a rhino is slaughtered twice a day and an elephant is killed every 14 minutes. According to Air Shepherd, a wildlife conservation group aimed at stopping poachers through a new AI drone system that targets poachers said, “at this rate elephants and rhinos will be extinct within 10 years.”

According to Air Shepherd, a wildlife conservation group aimed at stopping poachers through a new AI drone system that targets poachers said, “at this rate elephants and rhinos will be extinct within 10 years.” Air Shepherd has already conducted 6,000 flight hours over the skies of Africa testing the new AI drone system. Air Shepherd’s drones use high-tech airborne sensors, such as thermal infrared vision to detect heat coming from human or animal bodies. The mobile command center fits into the back of a van and uses AI systems developed by researchers from Carnegie Mellon, the University of Southern California, and Microsoft to detect potential poachers.

For now, the new AI drone surveillance system could greatly expand the area of coverage used to protect endangered wildlife by spotting poachers and alerting officials before the killing of an elephant and rhinoceros occurs. Which begs the question: are AI drones set to disrupt an illegal $70 billion industry in Africa? Perhaps, but not without a fight. Which is why we expect that the poaching industry will soon unveil a new set of aggressive countermeasures, which renderd the drone system powerless, which leads to the next question: are we about to observe the first drone-on-drone violence deep in the bowels of Africa?

Read more …

Oct 152017
 
 October 15, 2017  Posted by at 9:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Piet Mondriaan Composition in color A 1917

 

Tesla Shareholders: Are You Drunk On Elon Musk’s Kool-Aid? (Lewitt)
ECB Suffers from “Corporate Capture at its Most Extreme” (DQ)
ECB Still Believes In Eventual Inflation, Wage Rise: Draghi (R.)
China Credit Growth Exceeds Estimates Despite Debt Curb Vow (BBG)
PBOC Governor Zhou Says China’s 6.9% Growth ‘May Continue’ (BBG)
In China, The War On Coal Just Got Serious (SMH)
IMF Steering Committee Warns Global Growth Is At Risk Of Faltering (BBG)
Corbyn Has A Washington Ally On Taxing The Rich. But No, It’s Not Trump (G.)
Brexit Has Made The UK The Sick Man Of Europe Once More (NS)
UK MPs Move To Block May From Signing ‘No Deal’ Brexit (G.)
Forget Catalonia, Flanders Is The Real Test Case Of EU Separatism! (OR)
Europe’s Migration Crisis Casts Long Shadow As Austria Votes (R.)

 

 

Funny but very serious. Recommend the whole article.

Tesla Shareholders: Are You Drunk On Elon Musk’s Kool-Aid? (Lewitt)

Tesla shareholders (and bullish Wall Street analysts) are either geniuses or delusional and I am betting on the latter. Typical of the lack of gray matter being applied to this investment is a recent post on Seeking Alpha, often a place where amateurs go to pump stocks they own. Someone calling himself “Silicon Valley Insights” issued an ungrammatical “Strong Buy” recommendation on October 11 based on the following syllogism: (1) “Tesla CEO Elon Musk has stated very firmly that they can and will reach his goal of producing 5,000 cars per week by the end of this year.” (2) “Musk has a history of setting aggressive targets (more for his staff than investors) [Editors’s Note: That is a lie.] and then missing them on initial timing but reaching them later. [Editor’s Notes: That is another lie–Musk has NEVER reached a production target.]

(3) “Reaching anything [sic] significant portion of that 5K target (say 1-2K) by the end of December could drive TSLA shares significantly higher.” This genius then suggests that investors stay focused on the Model 3 ramp as the key price driver over the coming weeks and months and argues that the announcement that only 260 Model 3s were produced in the third quarter leaves “much of the risk…now in the stock price.” He is correct – there is a great deal of risk embedded in a stock trading at infinity-times earnings with no prospect of profitability , a track record of breaking promises, a reluctance to sell equity to fund itself even at price levels above the targets of most analysts, and a market cap larger than rivals that are pouring tens of billions of dollars into putting it out of business.

Undeterred, he offers two investment strategies. The first he terms a “reasonable and conservative” one that waits to invest in TSLA shares until the early November third quarter earnings call. In my world, a reasonable and conservative strategy would be to run for the hills or short the stock (as I am doing). A “more aggressive and risky strategy” (compared to skydiving or bungee jumping) would be “to buy shares before that third quarter report and call on the bet that the Model 3 production update will be taken positively.” No doubt investors like Mr. Silicon Valley Insights will put a positive spin on whatever fairy tales Elon Musk spins on that call, but that is a big bet indeed.

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Bankers involved in LIbor and other scandals regulate themselves. This is the exact opposite of an independent central bank. It’s a criminal racket.

ECB Suffers from “Corporate Capture at its Most Extreme” (DQ)

No single institution has more influence over the lives of European citizens than the European Central Bank. It sets the interest rates for the 19 Member States of the Eurozone, with a combined population of 341 million people. Every month it issues billions of euros of virtually interest-free loans to hard-up financial institutions while splashing €60 billion each month on sovereign and corporate bonds as part of its QE program, thanks to which it now boasts the biggest balance sheet of any central bank on Planet Earth. Through its regulatory arm, the Single Supervisory Mechanism, it decides which struggling banks in the Eurozone get to live or die and which lucky competitor gets to pick up the pieces afterwards, without taking on the otherwise unknown risks. In short, the ECB wields a bewildering amount of power and influence over Europe’s financial system.

But how does it reach the decisions it makes? Who has the ECB’s institutional ear? The ECB has 22 advisory boards with 517 seats in total that provide ECB decision-makers with recommendations on all aspects of EU monetary policy. A new report by the non-profit research and campaign group Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) reveals that 508 of the 517 available seats are assigned to representatives of private financial institutions. In other words, 98% of the ECB’s external advisors have some sort of skin in the game. Of the nine seats not taken by the financial sector, seven have gone to non-financial companies such as German industrial giant Siemens and just two to consumer groups, according to the CEO report. In response to questions by CEO, the ECB said that its advisory groups help it to gather information, effectively “discharge its mandate”, and “explain its policy decisions to citizens.”

[..] Many of the above institutions were implicated in two of the biggest financial crimes of this century, the Forex and Libor scandals. In fact, according to CEO, banks involved in a separate forex manipulation scandal that emerged in 2013 have been heavily represented on the ECB’s Foreign Exchange Contact Group. In other words, these banks are supposed to be under direct ECB supervision, and yet they have been repeatedly caught committing serious financial crimes. And now it turns out that they enjoy more influence over ECB decision making than anyone else..

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Spot the nonsense: ”..already bought over 2 trillion euros worth of bonds to cut borrowing costs and induce household and corporate spending..”

They buy bonds and magically households will start spending. They don’t belive that themselves either.

ECB Still Believes In Eventual Inflation, Wage Rise: Draghi (R.)

Wages and inflation in the 19-country euro zone will eventually rise but more slowly than earlier thought, requiring continued patience from policymakers, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said on Saturday. Wage growth has failed to respond to stimulus for a list of reasons but the ECB remains convinced that labor markets and not a structural change in the nature of inflation is the chief culprit behind low prices, Draghi told a news conference on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund annual meeting. Having fought low inflation for years, the ECB is due to decide at its Oct. 26 meeting whether to prolong stimulus, having to reconcile rapid economic expansion with weak wage and price growth.

Sources close to the discussion earlier told Reuters that the ECB will likely extend asset purchases but at lower volumes, signaling both confidence in the outlook but also indicating that policy support will continue for a long time. “The bottom line in terms of policy is that we are confident that as the conditions will continue to improve, the inflation rate will gradually converge in a self-sustained manner,” Draghi said. “But together with our confidence, we should also be patient because it’s going to take time.” Even as the euro zone has enjoyed 17 straight quarters of economic growth, wage growth has underperformed expectations, due in part to hidden slack in the labor market and low wage demands from unions.

Some policymakers also argue that globalization and technological changes have made value chains more international, making low inflation a global phenomenon and limiting central banks’ ability to control prices in their own jurisdiction. Draghi acknowledged the debate but said the ECB was convinced the main problem was the labor market and even if there was a broader issue, it would not lead to policy change. The ECB has kept interest rates in negative territory for years and already bought over 2 trillion euros worth of bonds to cut borrowing costs and induce household and corporate spending.

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They say one thing and do another.

China Credit Growth Exceeds Estimates Despite Debt Curb Vow (BBG)

China’s broadest gauge of new credit exceeded projections, signaling that the funding taps remain open even as the government pushes to curb excessive borrowing. Aggregate financing stood at 1.82 trillion yuan ($276 billion) in September, the People’s Bank of China said Saturday, compared with an estimated 1.57 trillion yuan in a Bloomberg survey and 1.48 trillion yuan the prior month. New yuan loans stood at 1.27 trillion yuan, versus a projected 1.2 trillion yuan. The broad M2 money supply increased 9.2%, exceeding estimates and picking up from the prior record low. Policy makers have been clamping down on shadow banking while also working to keep corporate borrowing intact to avoid impeding growth.

The central bank said Sept. 30 it will reduce the amount of cash some banks must hold as reserves from next year, with the size of the cut linked to lending to parts of the economy where credit is scarce. “Momentum continues to be very strong,” said Kenneth Courtis, chairman of Starfort Investment Holdings and a former Asia vice chairman for Goldman Sachs. “Loan demand of the private sector has finally turned up in recent months.” “This means that there is little hope of further policy easing in the fourth quarter as the monetary policy is very accommodative,” said Zhou Hao, an economist at Commerzbank in Singapore. “There could be even a tightening bias.”

“Household short-term loans have increased too rapidly, with some funds being invested in stock and property markets,” said Wen Bin, a researcher at China Minsheng Banking Corp. in Beijing. “Regulators have started to pay attention to the sector and required banks to strengthen credit review. I think the momentum will show signs of slowing in the fourth quarter.” “Deleveraging is not happening if we look at any measure of credit growth,” according to Christopher Balding, an associate professor at the HSBC School of Business at Peking University in Shenzhen. “Lending in 2017 has actually accelerated significantly from 2016.”

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Yeah. Financed by debt.

PBOC Governor Zhou Says China’s 6.9% Growth ‘May Continue’ (BBG)

Economic indicators show “stabilized and stronger growth” and the momentum of a 6.9% expansion in the first six months of 2017 “may continue in the second half,” People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan said. Imports and exports increased rapidly, fiscal income grew, and prices have been steady, Zhou said, according to a statement the central bank released Saturday after he attended meetings of global finance chiefs this week in Washington. The effects of a campaign to rein in leverage are showing, and China will monitor and prevent shadow banking and real estate risk, he said. China’s broadest gauge of new credit, released Saturday, exceeded projections, signaling that the funding taps remain open even as the government pushes to curb excessive borrowing. “Positive progress has been achieved in economic transformation,” the statement said.

“China will continue to pursue a proactive fiscal policy and a prudent monetary policy, with a comprehensive set of policies to strengthen areas of weakness.” Zhou’s comments, delivered before a gathering of Group of 20 finance ministers and central bankers, come before the release of third-quarter GDP, scheduled for Oct. 19. Economists project a moderation to 6.8% growth from the 6.9% pace in the second quarter amid government efforts to reduce overcapacity and ease debt risk. Steady growth in the world’s second-largest economy gives policy makers additional room to push ahead with reforms. Zhou recently made a fresh call to further open up the financial sector, warning that such an overhaul will become more difficult if the window of opportunity is missed. Some analysts say they expect reforms will pick up should President Xi Jinping further consolidate power after the 19th Party Congress starting next week.

The IMF this week increased its global growth forecast amid brightening prospects in the world’s biggest economies. It also raised its China growth estimate to 6.8 percent this year and 6.5 percent in 2018, up 0.1 percentage point in each year versus July. “We expect that the authorities can and will maintain a sufficiently expansionary macro policy mix to meet their policy target of doubling 2010 GDP by 2020,” Changyong Rhee, the fund’s Asia and Pacific director, said at a briefing Friday in Washington. “However, as this expansionary policy comes at the cost of a further large increase in debt, it also implies that there’s more downside risk in the medium-term due to this rapid credit expansion.”

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Beijing seems to be getting scared of people’s reactions. Still, when you think about it, closing down 50% of steel production says something about the country’s needs for steel.

In China, The War On Coal Just Got Serious (SMH)

Beijing: In Australia, politicians continue to debate the existence of climate change. Donald Trump’s Environment Protection Agency declared this week that the “war on coal is over”. In China, the outlook could not be more different. The war on coal reached fever pitch here this month. As a deadline looms to achieve clean air targets by the end of 2017, October has seen unprecedented measures come into force to curb air pollution and reduce emissions. Steel production has been halved in major steel cities, coal banned in China’s coal capital, factories closed down for failing pollution inspections, and hundreds of officials sacked for failing to meet environmental targets. The complete shutdowns, or 50% production cuts, will stay in place for an unprecedented five months.

The winter heating season in China is approaching, when coal use has traditionally spiked, worsening northern China’s notorious air pollution. But cities are under pressure to meet important domestic targets for clean air, set five years ago by the State Council in response to a public outcry over pollution. China can’t allow a repeat of last winter, when, after several years of improvement, air quality suddenly worsened in some cities. For a few days in January 2016, the sky darkened and it looked possible that the “airpocalypse” of 2013 – which first drew global attention to Beijing’s severe air pollution – was back. Social media went into overdrive. Fighting air pollution is a matter of social stability, Environment Protection Minister Li Ganjie said a fortnight ago. So now the Chinese government has brought out the “iron fist”.

That was the phrase used by the environment protection bureau in China’s most polluted province, Hebei, as 69 government officials were sacked and 154 handed over to police for investigation last month for failing to implement pollution control measures. Meeting emissions targets has become a key performance indicator for local Communist Party bosses and mayors alike. Local governments that don’t enforce the pollution controls will have environmental assessments for new property developments suspended by the Ministry for Environment Protection, effectively blocking deals. A battle plan has been drawn up by the ministry to cover 28 northern cities, including Beijing and Tianjin, where 7000 pollution inspectors will be deployed to expose violations and look for data fraud. The curbs on industry, particularly steel making, are hitting world resources prices, including Australia’s biggest exports, as demand for iron ore and coal fall.

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Let me guess. They want more reforms.

IMF Steering Committee Warns Global Growth Is At Risk Of Faltering (BBG)

The IMF’s steering committee warned that global growth is at risk of faltering in coming years given uncomfortably low inflation and rising geopolitical risks, injecting a cautious note into an otherwise improving economic outlook. “The recovery is not yet complete, with inflation below target in most advanced economies, and potential growth remains weak in many countries,” the International Monetary and Financial Committee said in a communique released Saturday in Washington. “Near-term risks are broadly balanced, but there is no room for complacency because medium-term economic risks are tilted to the downside and geopolitical tensions are rising.” The panel didn’t specify which geopolitical risks it was most concerned about.

In the past few weeks the U.S. and North Korea have engaged in shrill rhetoric about Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons. And on Friday, U.S. President Donald Trump took steps to confront Iran and renegotiate a 2015 multinational accord to curb Tehran’s nuclear program. At the same time, the U.K. is in the middle of negotiations on the terms of its exit from the EU. The panel nonetheless described the global outlook as strengthening, with rising investment, industrial output and confidence – conditions that make it ripe for nations to “tackle key policy challenges” and enact policies that boost the speed limit of their economies. “It’s when the sun is shining that you need to fix the roof,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said at a press briefing to discuss the statement.

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The best part of the iMF is not the front office, it’s the anonymous workers.

Corbyn Has A Washington Ally On Taxing The Rich. But No, It’s Not Trump (G.)

The IMF has been on quite a journey from the days when it was seen as the provisional wing of the Washington consensus. These days the IMF is less likely to harp on about the joys of liberalised capital flows than it is to warn of the dangers of ever-greater inequality. The fund’s latest foray into the realms of progressive economics came last week when it used its half-yearly fiscal monitor – normally a dry-as-dust publication – to make the case for higher taxes on the super-rich. Make no mistake, this is a significant moment. For almost 40 years, since the arrival of Margaret Thatcher in Downing Street and Ronald Reagan in the White House, the economic orthodoxy on taxation has been that higher taxes for the 1% are self-defeating.

Soaking the rich, it was said, would punish initiative and lead to lower levels of innovation, investment, growth and, therefore, reduced revenue for the state. As the Conservative party conference showed, this line of argument is still popular. Minister after minister took to the stage to warn that Jeremy Corbyn’s tax plans would lead to a 1970s-style brain drain. The IMF agrees that a return to the income tax levels seen in Britain during the 1970s would have an impact on growth. But that was when the top rate was 83%, and Corbyn’s plans are far more modest. Indeed, it is a sign of how difficult it has become to have a grown-up debate about tax that Labour’s call for a 50% tax band on those earning more than £123,000 and 45% for those earning more than £80,000 should be seen as confiscatory.

The IMF’s analysis does something to redress the balance, making two important points. First, it says that tax systems should have become more progressive in recent years in order to help offset growing inequality, but have actually become less so. Second, it finds no evidence for the argument that attempts to make the rich pay more tax would lead to lower growth. There is nothing especially surprising about either of the IMF’s conclusions: in fact, the real surprise is that it has taken so long for the penny to drop. Growth rates have not picked up as taxes have been cut for the top 1%. On the contrary, they are much weaker than they were in the immediate postwar decades, when the rich could expect to pay at least half their incomes – and often substantially more than half – to the taxman.

If trickle-down theory worked, there would be a strong correlation between growth and countries with low marginal tax rates for the rich. There is no such correlation and, as the IMF rightly concludes, “there would appear to be scope for increasing the progressivity of income taxation without significantly hurting growth for countries wishing to enhance income redistribution”. With a nod to the work of the French economist Thomas Piketty, the fiscal monitor also says that countries should consider wealth taxes for the rich, to be levied on land and property.

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Why am I thinking it’s the Brit(on)s themselves who’ve done that?

Brexit Has Made The UK The Sick Man Of Europe Once More (NS)

Though it didn’t feel like it at the time, the years preceding 2017 now resemble an economic golden age for the UK. After the damage imposed by the financial crisis and excessive austerity, Britain recovered to become the fastest growing G7 country. Real earnings finally rose as wages increased and inflation fell (income per person grew by 3.5% in 2015). And then the Brexit vote happened. Though the immediate recession that the Treasury and others forecast did not materialise, the UK has already paid a significant price. Having previously been the fastest growing G7 country, Britain is now the slowest. Real earnings are again in decline owing to the inflationary spike caused by the pound’s depreciation (the UK has the lowest growth and the highest inflation – stagflation – of any major EU economy).

Firms have delayed investment for fear of future chaos and consumer confidence has plummeted. EU negotiator Michel Barner’s warning of a “very disturbing” deadlock in the Brexit talks reflects and reinforces all of these maladies. While Leavers plead with Philip Hammond to set money aside for “a no-deal scenario”, the referendum result is daily harming the public finances. The Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast a £15bn budgetary hit (the equivalent of nearly £300m a week). To the UK’s existing defects – low productivity, low investment and low pay – new ones have been added: political uncertainty and economic instability. The Conservatives, to annex former Chancellor George Osborne’s phrase of choice, failed to fix the roof when the sun was shining.

Rather than taking advantage of record-low borrowing rates to invest in infrastructure (and improve the UK’s dismal productivity), the government squandered money on expensive tax cuts. The Sisyphean pursuit of a budget surplus (now not expected until at least 2027) reduced the scope for valuable investment. Productivity in quarter two of this year was just 0.9% higher than a decade ago – the worst performance for 200 years. Having softened austerity, without abandoning it, the Conservatives are now stuck in a political no man’s land.

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Cross-party action against May. It’s quite something. But it’ll just be more fighting.

UK MPs Move To Block May From Signing ‘No Deal’ Brexit (G.)

A powerful cross-party group of MPs is drawing up plans that would make it impossible for Theresa May to allow Britain to crash out of the EU without a deal in 2019. The move comes amid new warnings that a “cliff-edge” Brexit would be catastrophic for the economy. One critical aim of the group – which includes the former Tory chancellor Kenneth Clarke and several Conservative ex-ministers, together with prominent Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrat and Green MPs – is to give parliament the ability to veto, or prevent by other legal means, a “bad deal” or “no deal” outcome. Concern over Brexit policy reached new heights this weekend after the prime minister told the House of Commons that her government was spending £250m on preparations for a possible “no deal” result because negotiations with Brussels had stalled.

Several hundred amendments to the EU withdrawal bill include one tabled by the former cabinet minister Dominic Grieve and signed by nine other Tory MPs, together with members of all the other main parties, saying any final deal must be approved by an entirely separate act of parliament. If passed, this would give the majority of MPs who favour a soft Brexit the binding vote on the final outcome they have been seeking and therefore the ability to reject any “cliff-edge” option. A separate amendment tabled by Clarke and the former Labour minister Chris Leslie says Theresa May’s plan for a two-year transition period after Brexit – which she outlined in her recent Florence speech – should be written into the withdrawal bill, with an acceptance EU rules and law would continue to apply during that period. If such a transition was not agreed, the amendment says, exit from the EU should not be allowed to happen.

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Some nice history, but a weird anti-Islam stance. And a somewhat dubious conclusion.

Forget Catalonia, Flanders Is The Real Test Case Of EU Separatism! (OR)

To concisely summarize, there’s a very distinct possibility that the EU’s liberal-globalist elite have been planning to divide and rule the continent along identity-based lines in order to further their ultimate goal of creating a “federation of regions”. Catalonia is the spark that could set off this entire process, but it could also just be a flash in the pan that might end up being contained no matter what its final result may be. Flanders, however, is much different because of the heightened symbolism that Belgium holds in terms of EU identity, and the dissolution of this somewhat artificially created state would be the clearest sign yet that the EU’s ruling elite intend to take the bloc down the direction of manufactured fragmentation. Bearing this in mind, the spread of the “Catalan Chain Reaction” to Belgium and the inspiration that this could give to Flanders to break off from the rest of the country should be seen as the true barometer over whether or not the EU’s “nation-states” will disintegrate into a constellation of “Balkanized” ones.

{..] It’s important to mention that the territory of what would eventually become Belgium had regularly been a battleground between the competing European powers of the Netherlands, the pre-unification German states, France, the UK, and even Spain and Austria during their control of this region, and this new country’s creation was widely considered by some to be nothing more than a buffer state. The 1830 London Conference between the UK, France, Prussia, Austria, and Russia saw the Great Power of the time recognize the fledgling entity as an independent actor, with Paris even militarily intervening to protecting it during Amsterdam’s failed “Ten Day’s Campaign” to reclaim its lost southern province in summer 1831.

[..] Flanders contributes four times as much to Belgium’s national economy as Catalonia does to Spain’s, being responsible for a whopping 80% of the country’s GDP as estimated by the European Commission, and it also accounts for roughly two-thirds of Belgium’s total population unlike Catalonia’s one-sixth or so. This means that Flemish independence would be absolutely disastrous for the people living in the remaining 55% of the “Belgian” rump state, which would for all intents and purposes constitute a de-facto, though unwillingly, independent Wallonia.

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Austria is as much of a threat to the EU as Flanders is. The Visograd anti-migrants idea is moving west. This worries Germany, which shares quite a long border with Austria.

Europe’s Migration Crisis Casts Long Shadow As Austria Votes (R.)

Austria holds a parliamentary election on Sunday in which a young conservative star hopes to beat the far right at its own game with a hard line on refugees and pledging to prevent a repeat of Europe’s migration crisis. Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, who is just 31, propelled his conservative People’s Party (OVP) to the top of opinion polls when he became its leader in May, dislodging the far-right Freedom Party from the spot it had held for more than a year. He is now the clear favorite to become Austria’s next leader. Kurz has pledged to shut down migrants’ main routes into Europe, through the Balkans and across the Mediterranean. Many voters now feel the country was overrun when it threw open its borders in 2015 to a wave of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Chancellor Christian Kern’s Social Democrats (SPO) are currently in coalition with Kurz’s OVP, but Kurz called an end to the alliance when he took over the helm of his party, forcing Sunday’s snap election. Opinion polls have consistently shown the OVP in the lead with around a third of the vote, and second place being a tight race between the Social Democrats and the Freedom Party (FPO), whose candidate came close to winning last year’s presidential election. “We must stop illegal immigration to Austria because otherwise there will be no more order and security,” Kurz told tabloid daily Oesterreich on Friday night. Campaigning has been dominated by the immigration issue. Kurz plans to cap benefit payments for refugees at well below the general level and bar other foreigners from receiving such payments until they have lived in the country for five years.


Now or never

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