Sep 032014
 September 3, 2014  Posted by at 5:38 pm Finance Tagged with: , , ,  8 Responses »

Ben Shahn Refreshment stand at county fair, central Ohio Aug 1938

After yesterday’s claim from Kiev that Russia had threatened multiple times to drop nukes on Ukraine, I had fully expected that today would start with the Ukraine government stating such a bomb had indeed been dropped, in the ‘hide a lie with a bigger one’ sense. But no. What did come was president Poroshenko announcing a ‘permanent ceasefire’, an agreement he said was the result of a phone conversation with Vladimir Putin.

Of course it was an obviously phony announcement, since Putin can’t – and won’t, as he said last week in Minsk – declare a ceasefire in a war he’s at least always insisted Russia is not a part of. Which was exactly what the Kremlin said in a reaction, and Poroshenko withdrew his announcement (it took hours for the western media to mention this ‘little’ detail). By then European markets had already surged, and it should perhaps be no surprise that they never came down again.

So that was a little disappointing in the lying basterds escalation department. But then US lapdog PM Yatsenyuk came to the rescue. He had two main things to say. First, Ukraine is starting to build some sort of wall along its border with Russia.

Yatsenyuk: Ukraine Beginning ‘Wall’ Project to Build ‘Actual Border’ With Russia

Ukraine is beginning work on a “Wall” project that envisages the construction of an actual state border with Russia, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Wednesday. “We are beginning the ‘Wall’ project. This is the construction of an actual state border between Ukraine and the Russian Federation,” Yatsenyuk said during a government session. Earlier the same day, Yatsenyuk said Kiev needed to create a new military doctrine that would reflect that Russia as an “aggressor nation,” which threatens the territorial integrity and national security of Ukraine.

And second, a western ‘mission’ is going to assess the damage done to East Ukraine, there’ll be an international fundraiser and Kiev are going to rebuild the region.

Yatsenyuk: West to Send Mission to Assess Destruction in Ukraine’s East

The West will send a mission to Ukraine to assess the destruction in the country’s eastern regions, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Wednesday. “The EU and our Western partners will send their missions here to assess the destruction [in the country’s eastern republics] and in November, we will hold a large donor conference with the goal of raising money to rebuild Donbass,” Yatsenyuk said during a government session.

“We are currently assessing all the losses, all the destruction in the Donbas. We cannot evaluate them yet. It’s impossible. I reiterate that, just two months ago, when we were liberating Slaviansk, our estimation was eight billion hryvnias, I can say today that you are free to substitute the hryvnia with the dollar. This is billions of dollars,” Yatsenyuk said.

Now, where do we start? How about: maybe the west should first send a mission to find out who shot down MH17. We could simply say that this wall – whatever form it would take – will never be built, and if anyone’s going to rebuild the Donbass, it won’t be Kiev. But where’s the fun in that? Moreover, it wouldn’t sufficiently put Kiev’s ever-increasing level of lying absurdity in the spotlight, and it’s high time to put it there. Again. Because it doesn’t seem to register in the west. And I still have hope that if we do this often enough, they’ll have to.

Building a wall in the region is ridiculous for many reasons. Just mentioning it is insensitive to so many people (how do you think Germans would feel?). Would Yats like to separate families from each other the way the Berlin wall did, or the way it happens in Korea? The Ukraine-Russia border is 1500 miles long, and the money might be better used elsewhere. Also, don’t forget, the East Ukrainians would still be on Yats’ side of the wall …

As for the fictional rebuilding ‘project’, Kiev would first have to reconquer the area, which is not going to happen. And then, again … the East Ukrainians would still be there. The people the Kiev government is still waging a bloody war against. Besides, rebuilding the region would mostly mean undoing the damage inflicted by Yats’s own armed forces.

The whole thing is just too stupid. But it’s also very calculated: Yats counts on his western buddies to go to battle for him, and to make sure their media present their point of way. And his. The way he talks about East Ukraine, he pretends it’s still his to make decisions about, though he knows very well that’s not so. Unless, perhaps, his backers – i.e. ‘us’ – bomb the crap out of it. That’s his bet.

I also like this bit from RT:

‘Thank Army On Your Knees’: Rada MP Muzzled After Criticizing East Ukraine Shelling

The Ukrainian parliament speaker has told a female MP she must “get to her knees” after she criticized the “criminal” shelling of peaceful cities in the east. It was accompanied by accusations of “Russian propaganda” and switching off her microphone. After she’d asked for a moment of silence to honor the memory of those who have been killed in Donbass, Elena Bondarenko of the Regions Party gave a scathing review of her government, which “separates people into Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians.”

However, as she delivered her speech, alleging the new Ukrainian government’s “criminal” behavior in “sending its army to bomb peaceful cities” and “depriving children of the right to education,” cries were heard from some of the louder opponents of the MP’s position. Then, former acting president and chairman of the Rada, Aleksandr Turchinov, asked for the microphone to be turned off, amid a stream of insults from Bondarenko’s opponents.

Turchinov then joined the abuse. After stating that anti-government views were “Russian propaganda,” he proceeded to sternly tell her off in a defense of the Ukrainian army, “which protects all of us – even you,” he told her, before telling Bondaernko she would do well to “get down on your knees” in front of the military.

Seconds later, cries of support and protest turned into a now-traditional Ukrainian Rada row, with curses and verbal abuse being exchanged among members. An outburst followed from the radical, Oleg Lyashko, who suggested that such views should be followed by immediate expulsion and the label of “traitor.” “Traitors must be shot on the frontlines,” he said, finishing his tirade with “Glory to Ukraine!”

It’s not just Yats and Poroshenko, Ukraine is run by a whole bunch of guys who’ve done nothing but lie to us, to everyone, from the get go, while they were killing their own people. Their series of false claims about Russia, and about those compatriots of theirs they labeled ‘terrorists’, is astounding in both length and breadth, and as their side is losing the – military – battle, after thousands of people have been killed and they destroyed the entire infrastructure of a large part of their own country, they can only double up.

Or admit defeat, but that they won’t do. They still have tomorrow’s NATO top to wait and hope for, to drag the west into their war. Already NATO has announced military exercises in or near west Ukraine, later this month, an empty and useless display of force.

There are many people in Washington, Brussels and NATO who want nothing more than to fight this out, no matter what the death toll, military and civilian, may be. But like Kiev, they too have been defeated. They can’t carpet-bomb the Donbass without Putin saying ‘it’s too much and way too far already’.

Ukraine is in the hands of very questionable people, many of whom are not just supported by ‘us’, but ‘we’ put them where we are. Because we found they would be willing to execute ‘our’ plans. Add that to the longtime and opportunist corrupt cabal that was always there, and a handful of shady billionaires with private armies to protect their business interests, and we have a group of people you and I, in our daily lives, would never want to have anything to do with.

So why are ‘we’ still propping up the destruction and bloodshed these psychopaths have unleashed in their own country, and for their own narrow personal interests? You know why? Because ‘we’ started the whole thing.

It’s high time to take our hands off these guys, and in the very likely case that the September 4-5 NATO conference decides anything other than that, it’s time you let your representatives know how you feel about this. If we don’t get peace now, things can only get worse, potentially much worse.

It’s time to start caring again about something more than just our own petty little lives, or those too will be taken away from us. And no, you’re not innocent just because you keep silent. That’s no excuse. That’s not how it works.

Deliberate mistakes.

Kiev Retracts Ceasefire Statement, Says Only Steps For Peace Agreed (RT)

Kiev retracted its earlier statement regarding a “permanent ceasefire” in eastern Ukraine, which followed a phone call between the Russian and Ukrainian leaders. The new wording from Poroshenko’s office talks of a ceasefire “regime”. The Russian and Ukrainian languages use the word to mean “mode”, signifying the possibility of a softer, less permanent version of the previous suggestion. Although an earlier corresponding message from Poroshenko’s office initially talked of a “permanent ceasefire”, Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov underlined that this wording is not applicable because Russia isn’t a party to the violence. “In the course of today’s phone call between Putin and Poroshenko there was indeed an exchange of views that went a long way toward an agreement on steps to be taken for a swift end to the clashes taking place between the Ukrainian military and south-eastern uprising,” Peskov said.

But the spokesperson thought it important to point out that because the conflict is an internal one – and not one between two countries. This view has already been voiced by President Putin last week in Minsk, where he met the Ukrainian leader. “Frankly speaking, we can’t frame the discussion in ceasefire terms, those concerning any possible negotiations between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk – this isn’t any of our business, it is Ukraine’s,” the Russian president said then. Donetsk authorities say they are willing to engage in a diplomatic settlement with Kiev if it proves its commitment to peace by stopping the shelling. Ukraine’s Aydar battalion has acknowledged its readiness to carry out the order to cease fire, if such an order is given, its commander Sergey Melnichuk told local TV channel ‘112 Ukraine’.

Read more …

Russia Calls on US to Push Ukraine Into Halting Military Campaign (WSJ)

Russia called on the U.S. to push Kiev into giving up its military campaign against pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine and negotiating a political deal, as recent Ukrainian gains on the battlefield were reversed by what Western officials called an influx of Russian men and materiel. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Washington should pressure Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to reach a deal during his planned visit to the U.S. later this month. “It is imperative to moderate the ‘party of war’ in Kiev, and the only one who can really do that is the U.S.,” Mr. Lavrov said at a briefing Tuesday, according to the Interfax news agency. “It is very important the U.S. uses its influence and capabilities to give the signals necessary to transition to the political process from attempts to solve the situation by force.” For months, Ukrainian forces had been gaining ground in Donetsk and Luhansk, the two rebellious regions along the Russian border. But late last month the rebels emerged with fresh reinforcements and weaponry that Western and Ukrainian officials said came directly from Russia.

That has changed the battlefield dramatically, sending Ukrainian forces into retreat. At the same time, Russian officials including President Vladimir Putin and Mr. Lavrov have stepped up demands that Ukraine negotiate a political truce with the rebel leaders, putting pressure on an increasingly weak-looking Kiev government. Though Kiev has offered to give more authority to the regions, Ukrainian officials largely view the rebel militants as Russian proxies. Ukraine dismisses the idea of formalizing what it warns could become a destabilizing Russian vassal state within its borders, able to scuttle any national initiatives deemed contrary to Kremlin interests. Russia has denied accusations that its troops entered Ukraine to prop up the rebels, despite the recent capture of Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory and an assessment by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that Russia has “well over” 1,000 troops operating in Ukraine. Separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko has said Russian soldiers have been fighting in the rebel ranks while on vacation.

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US, Allies To Stage Exercises In West Ukraine As Battles Rage (Reuters)

As fighting between the army and Russian-backed rebels rages in eastern Ukraine, preparations are under way near its western border for a joint military exercise this month with more than 1,000 troops from the United States and its allies. The decision to go ahead with the Rapid Trident exercise Sept. 16-26 is seen as a sign of the commitment of NATO states to support non-NATO member Ukraine while stopping well short of military intervention in the conflict. The annual exercise, to take place in the Yavoriv training center near Ukraine’s border with Poland, was initially scheduled for July, but was put back because early planning was disrupted by the crisis in the eastern part of the country.

“At the moment, we are still planning for (the exercise) to go ahead,” U.S. Navy Captain Gregory Hicks, spokesman for the U.S. Army’s European Command said on Tuesday. NATO stepped up military activity in its eastern member states after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March, and is expected to agree at a summit in Wales this week to create a new rapid reaction force of several thousand troops. In addition to staging air force exercises, the United States is moving tanks and 600 troops to Poland and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for joint maneuvers in October, replacing a more lightly armed force of paratroopers. But Rapid Trident will entail the first significant deployment of U.S. and other personnel to Ukraine since the crisis erupted.

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Oh, really?

Slovakia Begins Reverse Gas Flow To Ukraine (RT)

Slovakia initiated reverse deliveries of natural gas to Ukraine on Tuesday with enough capacity to cover up to a fifth of the country’s needs. Twenty-seven million cubic meters of gas will be supplied daily, Vagram Chuguryan of Slovakia’s national pipeline operator Eustream told RIA Novosti. Some technical work and adjustments need to be done before delivery is fully functional, which should be by March 1, 2015, he added. Slovakia can gradually reach a maximum supply capacity of about 10 billion cubic meters annually sometime in 2015.

“If we put together three reverse points in Slovakia, Hungary and Poland then we can reach 25 billion cubic meters a year in the mid-term which would provide the solution Ukraine needs at the moment,” Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico told reporters. The decision to start the so-called reverse gas flows is part of the EU’s response to Gazprom’s decision to cut supplies to Kiev on June 16. Domestic gas production in Ukraine annually is about 20 billion cubic meters. Hungary and Poland also have pipelines capable of delivering gas to Ukraine. However the Slovak pipeline has the biggest capacity of the three.

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How Europe’s Economic Slump Could Doom Ukraine (Fiscal Times)

As the full impact of sanctions against Russia hit the European Union and as the EU attempts to recover from the sovereign debt crisis that nearly destroyed it, the European economy is once again in contraction, threatening to derail the country’s unified response to the Ukraine crisis. European leaders met in Brussels over the weekend after Russian troops and pro-Russia separatists opened a third front in the fight for eastern Ukraine. However, despite strong talk, the group could not reach agreement on how to increase punishments against Moscow. Some European leaders urged restraint in the face of stagnation across the eurozone. “I believe that the sanctions will become senseless and counter-productive. Slovakia may use its right of veto,” Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said Sunday.

Economic data released Monday revealed by Fico is concerned about the residual impacts of sanctions on Europe. The manufacturing purchasing managers index (PMI), an indicator of the health of an economy’s manufacturing sector, dropped to a 13-year low of 50.7 in August, down from 53.8 in July. In short, economic output is dropping fast. “Although some growth is better than no growth at all, the braking effect of rising economic and geopolitical uncertainties on manufacturers is becoming more visible,” said Rob Dobson, senior economist at Markit. Even Germany, whose economy powered the eurozone’s tepid recovery, is slipping. According to Eurostat, the German economy contracted from April to June. France and Italy, the continent’s second and third largest economies respectively, also are in trouble. “France remains a real concern, as does Italy’s descent from solid expansion to stagnation. Signs that growth impetus waned in the key industrial engine of Germany, and in Spain and the Netherlands too, is also less than reassuring,” Dobson said.

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That would be your money.

Ukraine May Need $19 Billion More If Conflict Continues: IMF (Reuters)

Ukraine may need as much as $19 billion in additional funds from donors if its conflict with pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country continues in 2015, the International Monetary Fund warned on Tuesday. Even under Kiev’s current $17 billion IMF bailout, the Fund said Ukraine will not be able to meet all of its targets due to the ongoing fighting and an intensified gas dispute with Russia, which supplies the bulk of Ukraine’s natural gas needs. But the money planned under the program is largely sufficient for now as long as the fighting between the government in Kiev and the rebels subsides in the ‘coming months,’ the IMF said in a detailed review of Ukraine’s progress and the state of its economy. The IMF report painted a dire picture of a country trying to reform everything from banking management to the legal system, while also boosting spending on fighting in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Those regions together accounted for 23% of Ukraine’s industrial production and 14.5% of its retail trade in the first quarter. The Fund, which provided a bailout to Kiev as part of an overall $27 billion international rescue, said it would relax some conditions for Ukraine going forward, including for the government’s budget deficit. In return, Kiev would have to make up for the shortfall elsewhere, including by doing a better job of collecting payments for Naftogaz, the state-run oil and gas company. The IMF also warned that Ukraine’s reforms may become more difficult if the country calls early elections. The Fund on Friday confirmed Kiev was on track with most of the loan’s conditions so far, allowing the disbursement of $1.7 billion. It said the next disbursement, of about $2.7 billion, would come in mid-December if Kiev complies with the loan conditions.

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How is it possible?

Eurozone Retail Sales Slow Sharply In July (Reuters)

Euro zone retail sales slowed as expected in July, data showed on Wednesday, adding to worries about euro zone economic growth, which ground to a halt in the second quarter. The European Union’s Statistics Office, Eurostat, said that the volume of retail sales in the 18 countries sharing the euro fell 0.4% month-on-month in July and rose 0.8% year-on-year. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast a 0.4% monthly fall and a 0.9% annual rise. Eurostat also lowered its estimate for retail sales growth in June to 0.3% month-on-month from the 0.4% reported previously and to 1.9% year-on-year from 2.4% previously.

“July’s 0.4% drop in euro zone retail sales volumes fuels concern that recently weakening consumer confidence across the euro zone is starting to lead to increased caution in spending, thereby harming growth prospects,” said Howard Archer, an economist at IHS Global Insight. The decline in July was mainly caused by falling sales of food, drinks and tobacco. Sales slowed even though inflation had reached just 0.4% year-on-year in July and slowed to 0.3% in August.

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Count me in.

Deutsche Bank’s Jain Skeptical On Need For ECB QE (CNBC)

Deutsche Bank Co-CEO Anshu Jain warned on Wednesday that additional liquidity measures by the European Central Bank (ECB) would achieve little. His comments come as markets are increasingly anticipating the launch of a bond buying program at the ECB’s monthly policy meeting and announcement on Thursday. “We’re getting to the point where much more won’t make a difference,” Jain said. Speaking on the sidelines of a banking conference in Frankfurt, Germany, Jain said the group had “excellent momentum” but conceded that challenges linked to low interest rates would be “with us for a long time”. “The reality is, thanks to the ECB’s actions which were required, low interest rates are a reality which will not go away any time soon.”

In remarks made to delegates at the conference, Jain warned European banks were losing out in the competitiveness stakes to the U.S. as they contend with increased regulation. Deutsche Bank is one of many European lenders currently undergoing tough tests carried out by the European Central Bank to see how it would cope with a hypothetical downturn. Results of a so-called Asset Quality Review, part of a broader Comprehensive Review, are due to be published in October. Banks have divested assets and written off bad loans in preparation for the stress tests. It has faced huge costs related to lawsuits and investigations including the Libor benchmark rate scandal. It has already paid more than €5 billion ($6.57 billion) over the past two years in settlements and fines.

Read more …

Long term.

IMF’s Zhu: Long-Term Growth And Jobs Challenges For Global Economy (CNBC)

Growth and job creation are the major challenges for the global economy while the low interest rate environment presents a risk, the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) deputy managing director Zhu Min told CNBC on Tuesday. It’s important for central banks to keep interest rates low amid weak global growth but the rise in risk appetite amid ample liquidity is a concern, Zhu said. “We see long-term uncertainty for the people looking for yield… or for the returns in the market,” said Zhu. “[It’s] important to observe the risks associated with low interest rates.” Interest rates at major central banks including the Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank and the Bank of England are currently at record lows.

The timing of a Fed rate hike has been the subject of much debate this year. It’s uncertain whether the Fed will act in the first or second half of 2015 but whatever happens, Zhu doesn’t expect the central bank to take markets by surprise. “I don’t think we will see rates rising very soon and very quickly because growth is still relatively weak,” he said. “Growth inthe first half of the year was surprisingly weak.” Meanwhile, Zhu seemed upbeat on the Chinese economy despite IMF director Christine Lagarde’s warning of a potential hard landing in April. “Overall the Chinese economy runs quite well, and we expect the Chinese growth rates for this year [at] roughly from 7.2 to 7.5%,” he said, noting that low inflation of 2.3 to 2.4% would help.

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US Bank Regulators Set To Adopt Liquidity, Swaps Margin Rules (Reuters)

U.S. bank regulators plan to adopt on Wednesday rules forcing big banks to hold more assets that they could sell easily in a credit crunch, a requirement that is closely linked to the experience of the 2007-2009 financial crisis. Regulators also will unveil a separate proposal governing how much money swaps buyers and sellers must set aside when they make trades outside central clearing houses. The rules from the Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp (FDIC) and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) are part of a series of reforms aimed at making banks sturdier and heading off another economic meltdown. The liquidity rules, which call for big banks to hold enough liquid assets to meet their cash needs for 30 days, are a key pillar of the international agreement known as Basel III. They aim to ensure banks have easy-to-sell assets on hand so they could meet customer withdrawals or post collateral in a crunch.

U.S. regulators in October 2013 proposed liquidity requirements that were more stringent than the global agreement, with a shorter phase-in period for domestic banks such as JPMorgan Chase (JPM.N) and Goldman Sachs (GS.N) than their foreign counterparts would face. The final rules, to be unveiled on Wednesday, have already sparked protests. That is because regulators will spell out which assets count as highly liquid. Banks will have to hold a minimum amount of these assets, such as U.S. Treasuries. As in the initial proposal, municipal bonds will not count toward that buffer, a person familiar with the situation said. That has angered state officials, who say banks will buy fewer of their bonds and taxpayers will shoulder more costs for projects such as new roads. “As stewards of our states’ coffers and protectors of our states’ financial resources, state treasurers were surprised to learn that federal regulators quietly posted their intent…to vote on significant and potentially very harmful rules,” the National Association of State Treasurers said in a statement.

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Abe wants people to buy toilet paper. To save the economy?!

The One Thing The Bank Of Japan Apparently Can’t Print More Of (Zero Hedge)

First it was socialist utopia Venezuela and now Keynesian-economics favorite playground Japan is concerned about a troubling problem – fear of a toilet-paper shortage. As WSJ reports, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is encouraging families to stockpile at least one month’s worth of toilet paper in the event of a major disaster, as they “fear there would be a serious shortage of toilet paper nationally.” Ironic really, given Shinzo Abe’s past ‘problems’. As WSJ reports, the government is using the day to advise families to stock up on toilet paper.

Using the motto, “If you prepare, no despair,” the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is encouraging families to stockpile at least one month’s worth of toilet paper in the event of a major disaster. The ministry is holding an exhibition at its headquarters and sponsoring panel discussions on the subject of toilet paper. According to the ministry, “The biggest supply problem during the 1995 Hanshin Earthquake was not food or clothing, but toilet paper.”

If an earthquake strikes central Japan, the shortages could become even more severe. Forty percent of the nation’s toilet paper is produced in Shizuoka prefecture. “If an earthquake in the area affected Shizuoka, we fear there would be a serious shortage of toilet paper nationally,” says a METI news release. Shizuoka-based Kasuga Paper Industry Co. has established a “Secure Supply System” for its toilet paper, allowing concerned families to preorder toilet paper for ready dispatch in case of disaster.

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Don’t we all?

China To Revise GDP Definition Until Growth Targets Hit (Zero Hedge)

When all it takes for a country to “hit” its GDP target, is to adjust said definition by adding the benefit of estimated ancillary items as prostitution and drugs, GDP loses all relevancy and meaning in its transformation to an arbitrary, goalseeked policy measurement and validation tool straight out of China’s Department of Truth. After all how else would the Spanish political kleptocracy boast the “favorable” impact of its disastrous policies if it wasn’t for a slew of recent definitional revisions. And yet, all throughout our commentary we were doing so tongue-in-cheek: after all, it is taboo for the very serious economists to discuss the hilarious systemic failures that allow their most prized indicator of “growth” to become a mockery of fringe tinfoil blogs. At least, it was taboo until now, because moments ago, in an example of “very serious phrasing”, none other than the bank that does god’s work on earth (especially when it means providing off balance sheet financing for the bank of the Holy Spirit), just reported that the reason why China will hit its growth target is because of, drumroll, its fudged GDP.

Only Goldman is far more serious when it says all of this, with the result being just too hilarious for words: to wit: “In the coming months, China’s National Bureau of Statistics is to make adjustments to the methodology used to calculate GDP. These adjustments are likely to boost real GDP growth by 0.1-0.2pp, thereby making it easier for the government to reach its goal of “around 7.5%” GDP growth in 2014.” But wait there’s more, because the biggest adjusted “contributor” to China’s economy will be the retroactive benefit from R&D that previously was treated as a cost rather than an “investment.” Yup: research and development, which in China has a different name: Piracy and Reverse Engineering, only R&D is sexier than P&RE. Which brings us to the question of the day: have we finally gone full econotard? Or is changing the rules to hit your target, while fabricating the dumbest possible adjustments, now considered very serious economic policy?

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My kind of guy: “Hall predicts that growth in shale output will begin to moderate this year and U.S. production will peak as soon as 2016.”

Trader Who Scored $100 Million Payday Bets Shale Is A Dud (Bloomberg)

Andrew John Hall — known as the God of Crude Oil Trading to some of his peers — has built his success on a simple creed: Everyone who disagrees with him is wrong. For most of the past 30 years, that has been a killer strategy. Like a poker player on an endless hot streak, Hall has made billions for the companies for which he’s traded by placing one aggressive bet after another. He was one of the few traders who anticipated both the run-up in and the eventual crash of oil prices in 2008. Hall was so good that he bagged a $98 million payday in 2008, when he ran Citigroup Inc.’s Phibro LLC trading unit [..] His wager that oil prices would rise and rise has run headlong into an unanticipated energy revolution — the frenetic push in the U.S. and elsewhere to wring crude out of shale. Shale drilling has boosted U.S. oil output to the highest level in 27 years; it helped the U.S. supply 84% of its energy demand last year. Oil prices, far from taking the upward trajectory Hall predicted, have been essentially unchanged since 2011.

[..] Hall is going all in on a bet that the shale-oil boom will play out far sooner than many analysts expect, resulting in a steady increase in prices to as much as $150 a barrel in five years or less. Investing ever-larger sums of his own money, he’s buying contracts for so-called long-dated oil, to be delivered as far out as 2019 [..] To attract buyers, the sellers of these long-dated contracts – typically shale companies that have financed the boom with mounds of debt – need to offer them at a discount to existing prices. In February, a futures contract for a barrel of December 2019 West Texas Intermediate benchmark crude was selling for $76. In July, those contracts were selling for $88. That means Hall could have made $12 a barrel by cashing out – a 16% gain, according to those who understand his positions. The thing is, Hall may not cash out. He may stand pat, waiting for those price spikes he’s certain are coming. If he’s right, he could pocket way more than $12 a barrel, perhaps doubling the money he’s invested for himself and his clients.

In his arguments, he digs deep, delving into the minutiae of how Texas discloses oil production, the tendency of some shale wells to play out quickly and the degree to which the boom has relied on debt. The simplest of his reasons, though, is that producers have already drilled in many of the best areas, or sweet spots. Hall predicts that growth in shale output will begin to moderate this year and U.S. production will peak as soon as 2016. “Once those areas have been drilled out, operators will have to move to more-marginal locations and well productivity will fall,” Hall wrote in March. “Far from continuing to grow, production will start to decline.”

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Very good from George.

Scottish ‘No’ Vote Would Be An Astonishing Act Of Self-Harm (Monbiot)

England is dysfunctional, corrupt and vastly unequal. Who on earth would want to be tied to such a country? Imagine the question posed the other way round. An independent nation is asked to decide whether to surrender its sovereignty to a larger union. It would be allowed a measure of autonomy, but key aspects of its governance would be handed to another nation. It would be used as a military base by the dominant power and yoked to an economy over which it had no control. It would have to be bloody desperate. Only a nation in which the institutions of governance had collapsed, which had been ruined economically, which was threatened by invasion or civil war or famine might contemplate this drastic step. Most nations faced even with such catastrophes choose to retain their independence – in fact, will fight to preserve it – rather than surrender to a dominant foreign power.

So what would you say about a country that sacrificed its sovereignty without collapse or compulsion; that had no obvious enemies, a basically sound economy and a broadly functional democracy, yet chose to swap it for remote governance by the hereditary elite of another nation, beholden to a corrupt financial centre? What would you say about a country that exchanged an economy based on enterprise and distribution for one based on speculation and rent? That chose obeisance to a government that spies on its own citizens, uses the planet as its dustbin, governs on behalf of a transnational elite that owes loyalty to no nation, cedes public services to corporations, forces terminally ill people to work and can’t be trusted with a box of fireworks, let alone a fleet of nuclear submarines? You would conclude that it had lost its senses.

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Judge Turns Monsanto’s Mexican GMO Dream Into Legal Nightmare (Don Quijones)

The U.S. agribusiness giant Monsanto is long accustomed to getting its own way. Through a combination of back-channel lobbying, opaque political funding and revolving-door politics, the multinational agrochemical and biotechnology corporation has subverted, corrupted and infiltrated the elected governments of countries around the world, from the smallest and poorest to the biggest and richest. However, if recent events in Europe and Latin America are any indication, the tide may well be subtly turning against the interests of Monsanto and its fellow GMO oligopolies and in the favor of independent food growers and consumers. Despite their tireless lobbying efforts in Brussels, the “Big Six” (Monsanto, Du Pont Pioneer, Syngenta, Vilmorin, Winfield and KWS) continue to hit a brick wall of resistance in many of Europe’s biggest markets, including Germany and France.

As I reported in April this year, popular resistance is on the rise across Latin America, as indigenous and peasant communities rise up against government legislation that would apply brutally rigid intellectual copyright laws to the crop seeds they are able to grow. The latest country to put a spanner in the works is Mexico. This past week the country’s Federal Court voted to uphold Judge Marroquín Zaleta’s 2013 ruling to suspend the granting of licenses for GMO field trials sought by Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow, Pionner-Dupont and Mexico’s SEMARNAT (Environment and Natural Resources Ministry). Zaleta’s ruling was in response to a suit brought by a collective of 53 scientists and 22 civil rights organizations and NGOs. In defending his ruling, Zaleta cited the potential risks to the environment posed by GMO corn. If the biotech industry got its way, he argued, more than 7000 years of indigenous maize cultivation in Mexico would be endangered, with the country’s 60 varieties of corn directly threatened by cross-pollination from transgenic strands.

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Headline says it all.

One Judge to Decide the Future of Detroit (NY Times)

In a trial set to open in the federal courthouse here on Tuesday, nothing short of this city’s future is at stake. If Judge Steven W. Rhodes approves a blueprint drawn up by Detroit officials to eliminate more than $7 billion of its estimated $18 billion in debts and to invest about $1.5 billion into the city’s now dismal services, it will mark the beginning of the end of the nation’s largest-ever municipal bankruptcy. The outcome will set this troubled city’s new course for the coming decades, perhaps longer. In deciding whether the city’s plan is equitable, feasible and in the best interest of creditors, Judge Rhodes will send significant messages beyond Detroit about the rarely tested powers and limits of municipal bankruptcy, at a time when many cities are struggling with underfunded pensions, neglected infrastructure and declining industries. Municipal bankruptcy, known as Chapter 9, was designed to give creditors, and even judges, less power than Chapter 11 corporate bankruptcy does, but the law has never before been tested on this scale.

Leaders of other cities will be watching closely, turnaround experts said, as the judge decides whether a city may shelter municipal retirees even as it imposes harsher losses on financial creditors; whether it can use bankruptcy to repudiate some capital-markets debts entirely; and whether a city in bankruptcy may avoid selling off valuable assets to raise money for its creditors, as Detroit hopes to do with its art collection. For months, as the city’s lawyers struck deals during mediation with retirees and other creditors, Detroit’s passage through bankruptcy has gained momentum, raising the possibility that after seeking bankruptcy protection just one year ago, it might emerge with relative ease and remarkable speed, by fall. Yet, as Judge Rhodes prepares to hear what is expected to be more than a month of testimony on the city’s blueprint, serious impediments and numerous unknowns remain. In voting that is part of the bankruptcy process, majorities of six classes of the city’s creditors cast ballots in favor of the city’s plan in recent months, but five other voting classes rejected it.

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Maybe we should get serious about this. Instead of only saving a handful of western lives.

Doctors Strike, Food Prices Spike As West Africa Fights Ebola (Reuters)

– Doctors in Liberia were out on strike on Tuesday as they struggled to cope with the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, while the United Nations warned the spread of the disease in West Africa was causing food shortages in one of the world’s poorest regions. Governments and aid organizations are scrambling to contain the disease, which has killed more than 1,500 since March. Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said 800 more beds for Ebola patients were urgently needed in the Liberian capital Monrovia alone, while in Sierra Leone highly infectious bodies were rotting in the streets. MSF called for rich nations to send military medical teams to support buckling healthcare systems in West Africa. U.S. missionary organization SIM USA said on Tuesday that an American doctor treating obstetrics patients at the ELWA hospital in Monrovia had tested positive for Ebola. The doctor, who was not working in the hospital’s Ebola treatment center, was in an isolation ward at the hospital and was responding well so far, SIM said on its Web site.

Scores of staff went on strike at the John F. Kennedy Medical Center (JFK) in Monrovia in a protest over unpaid bonuses and working conditions. More than 120 healthworkers have died in West Africa during the Ebola outbreak amid shortages of equipment and trained staff. “Health workers have died (fighting Ebola), including medical doctors at … JFK and to have them come to work without food on their table, we think that is pathetic,” George Williams, secretary general of the Health Workers Association of Liberia, told Reuters. Williams said healthcare workers at JFK, the country’s largest referral hospital, had gone unpaid for two months. The strike followed a one-day protest over pay and conditions at the Connaught hospital in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown on Monday. Staff at the main Ebola clinic at Kenema in eastern Sierra Leone also walked off the job last week, in protest at conditions. The World Health Organization and other international bodies are rushing to support fragile healthcare systems in affected countries, but additional staff and resources have been slow to arrive.

The president of MSF, Joanne Liu, said in a speech to U.N. members in New York that the outbreak was now an issue of international security and needed specialized biological disaster response teams to contain it, both civilian and military. “Six months into the worst Ebola epidemic in history, the world is losing the battle to contain it,” Liu said, slamming what she called “a global coalition of inaction.” Liu called for the urgent dispatch of field hospitals with isolation wards and mobile medical laboratories to West Africa.

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And now you can follow where your shopping bag went.

World’s Oceans Hold Garbage Patches Twice The Size Of Texas (ISNS)

If you toss a message in a bottle into the ocean, instead of washing up on a distant shore, it will probably end up in one of the world’s five major floating garbage patches – but which one? By using models of ocean currents, researchers have calculated the boundaries of each section of the ocean, which can extend beyond the traditionally defined borders. In the process, they found that they can predict which garbage patch will receive a piece of plastic depending on where the litter is tossed. The research may one day pinpoint areas where wildlife interacts with the moving trash. It may also help identify the biggest plastic polluters, which contribute to garbage patches that some researchers estimate to be twice the size of Texas. “We’ve redefined how one should draw the borders of the oceans,” said coauthor and mathematician Gary Froyland, at University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. “It’s more scientifically meaningful to draw the boundaries according to where the water moves as opposed to just the legal, geographical boundaries.”

Though the locations of the garbage patches are already well-known, this study reveals the areas of the ocean that contribute to each patch. “If you throw out your plastic on a beach somewhere in California, or somewhere in Virginia, then how does that move through the ocean and in which ocean basin will it get into?” asked Erik van Sebille, an oceanographer also at the University of New South Wales. The five garbage patches occur in each of the north and south Atlantic, the north and south Pacific, and the middle of the Indian Ocean. The plastic comes mainly from litter, which falls off of boats, is left on beaches or washes downstream in rivers. Though most people pictures these patches as islands of debris, they’re more like a very thin soup of plastic, said Froyland. Churning waves and ultraviolet light break down the trash into tiny pieces, which are sometimes eaten by fish and other marine life. Toxic chemicals in plastics could in theory accumulate through the food chain when many smaller fish are eaten by larger fish, which are eaten by humans.

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