Feb 152018
 
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Grete Stern Sueño No. 1: Artículos eléctricos para el hogar 1949

 

Global Debt Crisis II Cometh (Goldcore)
The % Puzzle Coming Together (Northman)
Trump Surprises Democrats, Supports 25 Cent Federal Gas Tax Hike (ZH)
Household Debt Is China’s Latest Time Bomb (BBG)
China’s Currency Policy May Be Facing a New Chapter (BBG)
Angela Merkel Pays a Steep Price to Stay in Power (BBG)
Meth, the Forgotten Killer, Is Back in America. And It’s Everywhere. (NYT)
German Cities To Trial Free Public Transport To Cut Pollution (G.)
Who Keeps Britain’s Trains Running? Europe (NYT)
Europe’s Poverty Time Bomb (PS)
Erdogan’s Chief Advisor: US Has Plan To Make Greece Attack Turkey (K.)
Greece Looks at USA to Calm Down Turkey (GR)

 

 

There is no escape. No matter what anyone says about recovery etc., the piper will come calling.

Global Debt Crisis II Cometh (Goldcore)

• Global debt ‘area of weakness’ and could ‘induce financial panic’ – King warns
• Global debt to GDP now 40 per cent higher than it was a decade ago – BIS warns
• Global non-financial corporate debt grew by 15% to 96% of GDP in the past six years
• US mortgage rates hit highest level since May 2014
• US student loans near $1.4 trillion, 40% expected to default in next 5 years
• UK consumer debt hit £200b, highest level in 30 years, 25% of households behind on repayments

The ducks are beginning to line up for yet another global debt crisis. US mortgage rates are hinting at another crash, student debt crises loom in both the US and UK, consumer and corporate debt is at record levels and global debt to GDP ratio is higher than it was during the financial crisis. When you look at the figures you realise there is an air of inevitability of what is around the corner. If the last week has taught us anything, it is that markets are unprepared for the fallout that is destined to come after a decade of easy monetary policies. Global debt is more than three times the size of the global economy, the highest it has ever been. This is primarily made up of three groups: non financial corporates, governments and households. Each similarly indebted as one another.

Debt is something that has sadly run the world for a very long time, often without problems. But when that debt becomes excessive it is unmanageable. The terms change and repayments can no longer be met. This sends financial markets into a spiral. The house of cards is collapsing and suddenly it is revealed that life isn’t so hunky-day after all. Rates are set to rise and as they do they will spark more financial shocks, as we have seen this week. Mervyn King, former Governor of the Bank of England, gave warning about global debt levels earlier this week: “The areas of weakness in the current system are really focused on the amount of debt that exists, not just in the U.S. and U.K. but across the world,” he said on Bloomberg Radio last Wednesday. “Debt in the private sector relative to GDP is higher now than it was in 2007, and of course public debt is even higher still.”

Read more …

When you see US debt is out of hand, don’t stop there. All global debt is.

The % Puzzle Coming Together (Northman)

The US is drowning in debt and as long as rates are low it’s all fun and giggles, but there is a point where it cramps on growth and the simple question is when and where. In recent weeks we have had a nasty correction coinciding with technical overbought readings and both bonds and stocks testing 30 year old trend lines. In the meantime we continue to get data that keeps sending the same message: It’s a debt bonanza that keeps expanding and is unsustainable. Janet Yellen a few months ago said the debt to GDP ratio keeps her awake at night. Yesterday the Director of National Intelligence came out and described the national debt on an unsustainable path and a national security threat. This is literally where we are as a nation.

What’s Congress’s and the White House’s response? Spend more and blow up the deficit into the trillion+ range heading toward 2-3 trillion. What is there to say but stand in awe at the utter hubris that is being wrought. Last night the Fed came out with the latest household debt figures and it’s equally as damning, record debt and ever more required to keep consumer spending afloat:

The non-mortgage piece is particularly disturbing:

Higher interest rates will ultimately trigger the next recession as the entire debt construct will be weighted down by the burdens of cost of carry. And today’s inflation and correlated weakening retail sales data suggested that there’s price sensitivity already at these, historically speaking, still very low rates. The Fed may find itself horribly behind the curve and this will have consequences.

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Makes a lot of sense. Therefore not going to happen.

Trump Surprises Democrats, Supports 25 Cent Federal Gas Tax Hike (ZH)

President Trump surprised a group of lawmakers during a Wednesday meeting at the White House by repeatedly mentioning a 25-cent-per-gallon increase on federal gasoline and diesel tax in order to help pay for upgrading America’s crumbling infrastructure by addressing a serious shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund, which will become insolvent by 2021. The tax increase was first pitched by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in January, while the White House had originally been lukewarm towards the idea. The federal gasoline and diesel tax has been at 18.4 and 24.4-cents-per-gallon respectively since 1993, with no adjustments for inflation. It currently generates approximately $35 billion per year, while the federal government spends around $50 billion annually on transportation projects.

Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, seemed pleasantly surprised at Trump’s repeated mention of the tax as a solution to pay for upgrading American roads, bridges and other public works. “While there are a number of issues on which President Trump and I disagree, today, we agreed that things worth having are worth paying for,” Carper said in a statement. “The president even offered to help provide the leadership necessary so that we could do something that has proven difficult in the past.” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) – the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee was also present at the meeting, in which he says President Trump told lawmakers he would be willing to increase federal spending beyond the White House’s $200 billion, 10-year proposal. “The president made a living building things, and he realizes that to build things takes money, takes investment,” DeFazio said.

[..] Republican leaders have already rejected the idea, however, along with various other entities tied to billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. [..] Republican Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) doesn’t think the gas tax has any chance of even coming up for a vote in the Senate. “He’ll never get it by McConnell,” said Grassley, referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

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Bloomberg always has graphs for everything. But now that I would like to see how fast personal debt has grown in China, nada. Still, this is a whole new thing: Chinese never used to borrow, and now it’s the new national pastime.

Household Debt Is China’s Latest Time Bomb (BBG)

For years, economists and policymakers have hailed the propensity of Chinese to save. Among other things, they’ve pointed to low household debt as reason not to fear a financial crash in the world’s second-biggest economy. Now, though, one of China’s greatest economic strengths is becoming a crucial weakness. Over the past two weeks, as they’ve held their annual work meetings, China’s various financial regulatory bodies have raised fears that Chinese households may be overleveraged. Banking regulators sound especially concerned, and understandably so: Data released Monday showed that Chinese households borrowed 910 billion renminbi ($143 billion) in January – nearly a third of all RMB-denominated bank loans extended that month.

While too much can be made of the headline number – lending is always disproportionately large in January, and bank loans are rising as regulators crack down on more shadowy forms of financing – the pace of growth for household debt is worrying. Between January and October last year, according to recent data from Southwestern University of Finance and Economics, Chinese household leverage rose more than eight percentage points, from 44.8% to 53.2% of GDP – a record increase. By contrast, between 2009 and 2015, households had added an average of just three percentage points to their debt-to-GDP ratio each year, and that includes a large jump of 5.5 percentage points in 2009 as banks ramped up lending in response to the global financial crisis. Before 2009, household debt levels had hovered around 18% of GDP for five years.

In other words, the debt burden for Chinese consumers has nearly tripled in the past decade. Part of that rapid debt expansion has been deliberate. China’s government has encouraged increased borrowing and spending on items like cars and houses, to boost both consumption and investment. At the G-20 summit in February 2016, China’s sober central bank chief Zhou Xiaochuan remarked that rising household leverage had “a certain logic to it.” Most worryingly, though, skyrocketing home prices seem to be driving much of the increase in household debt. Higher mortgage rates – and, especially, government policy – have compounded the problem. In order to slow rising prices, officials have raised down-payment requirements, pushed banks to slow mortgage lending and placed administrative restraints on purchases. That’s led buyers to borrow from different, often more expensive, channels.

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Beijing’s dilemma: allowing capital outflows (a no-no) would bring down the yuan (a yes please). Ergo: they can achieve what they want by allowing what they can’t afford to let happen.

China’s Currency Policy May Be Facing a New Chapter (BBG)

In the fraught history of Chinese currency policy, a new chapter could be looming this year as authorities consider the consequences of a yuan that’s testing its strongest levels since mid-2015. After successfully shutting off potentially destabilizing capital outflows and putting a floor under the yuan, policy makers may now have the luxury of looking at relaxing some of the strictures on domestic money. But China watchers warn that any moves are likely to be gradual and calibrated, given the turmoil of 2015 – when a sliding yuan spooked global markets. “Big changes in the capital account are less likely, but some slight easing can be expected,” said Xia Le at Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria in Hong Kong. Policy makers have put a priority on deleveraging, “which is likely to cause instability,” he said – all the more reason to go cautiously on cross-border flows.

The yuan has strengthened 2.6% this year, after posting its first annual gain in four years in 2017. While no officials have clearly signaled an intent to relax controls, recent comments and moves hint at the potential for modification of the one-way capital account opening that China has been pursuing since 2016 – in which it has encouraged inflows but not outflows. The State Administration of Foreign Exchange, which oversees foreign-exchange reserves, said last week it sees more balanced capital flows. Pan Gongsheng, the director of SAFE, said last week that there will be a “neutral” policy in managing cross-border transactions. In a free trade zone in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, officials have revived a program allowing for overseas investment that was suspended in 2015. Authorities in January removed a “counter-cyclical” factor from the daily fixing of the yuan, a move seen to let the market take more of a role.

Any return to the sustained appreciation the yuan saw over the decade to 2015 could hurt Chinese exporters’ profits – just as big companies face challenges from the leadership’s drive to reduce excess credit and cut back polluting industries. Yet the disorderly moves that followed 2015 efforts to promote international use of the yuan serve as a warning against any sudden lifting of barriers to capital outflows. “A degree of undershooting” in the dollar against the yuan “is probably necessary to provide reformists in China’s policy circle a window of opportunity to lobby for more capital account liberalization,” analysts led by David Bloom, global head of currency strategy at HSBC in London, wrote in a recent report.

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Merkel should have stepped down. This can only end in chaos.

Angela Merkel Pays a Steep Price to Stay in Power (BBG)

Angela Merkel once claimed she had bested Vladimir Putin during their first meeting in the Kremlin, employing what she said was an old KGB technique: staring at the Russian leader in silence for several long minutes. As the sun rose over a frigid Berlin on Feb. 7, the German chancellor’s rivals from the Social Democratic Party used the same tactic. This time, Merkel blinked. Merkel and her team had spent the previous day and night at the headquarters of her Christian Democratic Union locked in tense negotiations with the SPD leadership. The SPD had issued an ultimatum that broke with long-standing protocol of German coalition-building: Off the bat, they demanded three key posts, including the finance and foreign ministries, power centers from which the SPD planned to set the government’s agenda, especially on Europe.

An earlier attempt at an alliance with the Greens and the Free Democrats had failed. A second collapse in talks, more than four months after the September election, threatened to sweep out the governing elite, including the chancellor who has dominated German politics for 12 years. As delegates were summoned back to the CDU building, they could barely believe what Merkel and her party’s Bavarian sister group, the Christian Social Union, had negotiated. With so much at stake, she surrendered the portfolios for finance, foreign affairs, and labor to the Social Democrats (though the deal still needs to be approved by the SPD’s 464,000 members). CDU lawmaker Olav Gutting captured the mood with gallows humor. “Puuuh! At least we kept the Chancellery!” he tweeted Wednesday. On Sunday, Merkel took to the airwaves to explain her position. “It was a painful decision,” she told the ZDF television network. “But what was the alternative?”

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The New York Times making the case for Trump’s border wall?

Meth, the Forgotten Killer, Is Back in America. And It’s Everywhere. (NYT)

The scourge of crystal meth, with its exploding labs and ruinous effect on teeth and skin, has been all but forgotten amid national concern over the opioid crisis. But 12 years after Congress took aggressive action to curtail it, meth has returned with a vengeance. Here in Oregon, meth-related deaths vastly outnumber those from heroin. At the United States border, agents are seizing 10 to 20 times the amounts they did a decade ago. Methamphetamine, experts say, has never been purer, cheaper or more lethal. Oregon took a hard line against meth in 2006, when it began requiring a doctor’s prescription to buy the nasal decongestant used to make it. “It was like someone turned off a switch,” said J.R. Ujifusa, a senior prosecutor in Multnomah County, which includes Portland. “But where there is a void,” he added, “someone fills it.”

The decades-long effort to fight methamphetamine is a tale with two takeaways. One: The number of domestic meth labs has declined precipitously, and along with it the number of children harmed and police officers sickened by exposure to dangerous chemicals. But also, two: There is more meth on the streets today, more people are using it, and more of them are dying. [..] In the early 2000s, meth made from pseudoephedrine, the decongestant in drugstore products like Sudafed, poured out of domestic labs like those in the early seasons of the hit television show “Breaking Bad.” Narcotics squads became glorified hazmat teams, spending entire shifts on cleanup. In 2004, the Portland police responded to 114 meth houses. “We rolled from meth lab to meth lab,” said Sgt. Jan M. Kubic of the county sheriff’s office. “Patrol would roll up on a domestic violence call, and there’d be a lab in the kitchen. Everything would come to a screeching halt.”

[..] But meth, it turns out, was only on hiatus. When the ingredients became difficult to come by in the United States, Mexican drug cartels stepped in. Now fighting meth often means seizing large quantities of ready-made product in highway stops. The cartels have inundated the market with so much pure, low-cost meth that dealers have more of it than they know what to do with. Under pressure from traffickers to unload large quantities, law enforcement officials say, dealers are even offering meth to customers on credit. In Portland, the drug has made inroads in black neighborhoods, something experienced narcotics investigators say was unheard-of five years ago.

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Will they sponsor this in Greek cities too?

German Cities To Trial Free Public Transport To Cut Pollution (G.)

“Car nation” Germany has surprised neighbours with a radical proposal to reduce road traffic by making public transport free, as Berlin scrambles to meet EU air pollution targets and avoid big fines. The move comes just over two years after Volkswagen’s devastating “dieselgate” emissions cheating scandal unleashed a wave of anger at the auto industry, a keystone of German prosperity. “We are considering public transport free of charge in order to reduce the number of private cars,” three ministers including the environment minister, Barbara Hendricks, wrote to EU environment commissioner Karmenu Vella in the letter seen by AFP Tuesday. “Effectively fighting air pollution without any further unnecessary delays is of the highest priority for Germany,” the ministers added.

The proposal will be tested by “the end of this year at the latest” in five cities across western Germany, including former capital Bonn and industrial cities Essen and Mannheim. The move is a radical one for the normally staid world of German politics – especially as Chancellor Angela Merkel is presently only governing in a caretaker capacity, as Berlin waits for the centre-left Social Democratic party (SPD) to confirm a hard-fought coalition deal. On top of ticketless travel, other steps proposed Tuesday include further restrictions on emissions from vehicle fleets like buses and taxis, low-emissions zones or support for car-sharing schemes. Action is needed soon, as Germany and eight fellow EU members including Spain, France and Italy sailed past a 30 January deadline to meet EU limits on nitrogen dioxide and fine particles.

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Never sell your basic needs to foreigners.

Who Keeps Britain’s Trains Running? Europe (NYT)

The privatization of public services “was one of the central means of reversing the corrosive and corrupting effects of socialism,” Margaret Thatcher wrote in her memoirs. “Just as nationalisation was at the heart of the collectivist programme by which Labour governments sought to remodel British society, so privatisation is at the centre of any programme of reclaiming territory for freedom.” Those sentiments fueled a sell-off that put nearly every state-owned service or property in Britain on the auction block in the final decade of the 20th century, eventually including the country’s expansive public transportation infrastructure. Enshrined by parliamentary acts under Mrs. Thatcher and implemented by her two immediate successors, John Major, a Conservative, and Tony Blair of New Labour, the gospel of privatization was embraced by leaders around the world, notably including Mrs. Thatcher’s closest overseas ally, President Ronald Reagan.

In the realm of transportation, that gospel was soon betrayed by its own chief disciples. Put simply, there were few private-sector buyers with the expertise and deep pockets necessary to maintain control of a transit system that serves approximately seven billion passengers per year. With minimal transparency, operational ownership of the network of train and bus lines that crisscross the 607-square-mile sprawl of Greater London, linking it to the far-flung corners of Britain, was peddled in bits and pieces by the British state or acquired in corporate takeovers. But the new bosses were not private, business-savvy British firms. By 2000, the masters of British public transit — thanks to a scheme that was intended to replace state waste and sloth with soundly capitalist business principles — were foreign governments, most of them members of the European Union.

In short, the privatization devolved into a de facto re-nationalization — but under the direction of foreign states — that somehow went largely unnoticed. It now poses a startling and unprecedented dilemma thanks to Brexit, which will soon divorce Britain from the state bureaucracies beyond the English Channel that literally keep its economy in motion. The largest single stakeholder and operator in British transit is the Federal Republic of Germany [..] Germany is followed closely in the ranks of British transit bosses by France, proprietor of the London United bus system, among many other holdings. Its iconic red double-deckers openly announce themselves as the property of the RATP Group (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens), the state-owned Paris transport company, and are emblazoned with its logo of a zigzagging River Seine flowing through an abstract representation of the French capital.

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As EU growth is at 10-year highs, boomers keep it all to themselves.

Europe’s Poverty Time Bomb (PS)

The poor don’t often decide elections in the advanced world, and yet they are being wooed heavily in Italy’s current electoral campaign. Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the leader of Forza Italia, has proposed a “dignity income,” while Beppe Grillo, the comedian and shadow leader of the Five Star Movement, has likewise called for a “citizenship income.” Both of these proposals – which would entail generous monthly payments to the disadvantaged – are questionable in terms of their design. But they do at least shed light on the rapidly worsening problem of widespread poverty across Europe. Poverty represents an extreme form of income polarization, but it is not the same thing as inequality. Even in a deeply unequal society, those who have less do not necessarily lack the means to live a decent and fulfilling life.

But those who live in poverty do, because they suffer from complete social exclusion, if not outright homelessness. Even in advanced economies, the poor often lack access to the financial system, struggle to pay for food or utilities, and die prematurely. Of course, not all of the poor live so miserably. But many do, and in Italy their electoral weight has become undeniable. Almost five million Italians, or roughly 8% of the population, struggle to afford basic goods and services. And in just a decade, this cohort has almost tripled in size, becoming particularly concentrated in the country’s south. At the same time, another 6% live in relative poverty, meaning they do not have enough disposable income to benefit from the country’s average standard of living.

The situation is equally worrisome at a continental level. In the EU in 2016, 117.5 million people, or roughly one-fourth of the population, were at risk of falling into poverty or a state of social exclusion. Since 2008, Italy, Spain, and Greece have added almost six million people to that total, while in France and Germany the proportion of the population that is poor has remained stable, at around 20%. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, the probability of falling into poverty increased overall, but particularly for the young, owing to cuts in non-pension social benefits and a tendency in European labor markets to preserve insiders’ jobs. From 2007 to 2015, the proportion of Europeans aged 18-29 at risk of falling into poverty increased from 19% to 24%; for those 65 and older, it fell from 19% to 14%.

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“..Greece is no match for Turkey’s might. It would be like a “fly picking a fight with a giant..” What will the world do when the fighting starts? It could at any moment now.

Erdogan’s Chief Advisor: US Has Plan To Make Greece Attack Turkey (K.)

The chief advisor to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told Turkey’s TRT channel that he is “in no doubt” that the US has a plan to make Greece attack Turkey while its military is engaged in Syria. Turkey’s response, Yigit Bulut said, will be tough, adding that Greece is no match for Turkey’s might. It would be like a “fly picking a fight with a giant,” he said and warned that terrible consequences would follow for Greece. Bulut made similar comments earlier in the month referring to Imia over which Greece and Turkey came close to war in 1996. “We will break the arms and legs of any officers, of the prime minister or of any minister who dares to step onto Imia in the Aegean,” Bulut said.

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It may take Putin to halt Erdogan. But he will expect a reward for that.

Greece Looks at USA to Calm Down Turkey (GR)

Greece is expecting the US administration to intervene and de-escalate the crisis with Turkey over the Imia islets, according to diplomatic sources in Athens. The Greek government is hoping that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is currently in Ankara for an official visit, will persuade the Turkish leadership to tone down its actions in the Aegean. The US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey R. Pyatt will also be in Ankara and will brief Tillerson about recent developments. On Monday night, a Turkish patrol boat rammed into a Greek coast guard vessel near Imia, in the most serious incident between the two NATO allies in recent years. The two countries went almost to war in 1996 over sovereignty of Imia islets (Kardak in Turkish).

A confrontation was avoided then largely due to the intervention of Washington. The Department of State issued a statement on Tuesday stressing that Greece and Turkey should take measures to reduce the tension in the region. On Wednesday, Greek defense minister Panos Kammenos briefed Greece’s NATO allies on the incident at Imia and presented audiovisual material that prove Turkey’s provocation. “The Imia islets are Greek, the Greek Coast Guard and Navy are there and we will not back down on issues of national sovereignty for any reason. We ask our allies in the EU and NATO to adopt a clear stance,” he told AMNA. He also said that it was inconceivable that Turkey, a NATO ally, behaved like this toward another ally, in this case Greece.

Read more …

Feb 092018
 
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Horacio Coppola Florida y Bartolomé Mitre, Buenos Aires 1936

 

Dow Plummets 1032 Points, Down 10% From Record; S&P 500 Drops 3.7% (CNBC)
Is The Decades-Long Downtrend In Interest Rates Finally Over? (MW)
US Senate Approves Budget Deal, Too Late To Avert Shutdown (R.)
Stock Market Value Wiped Out Equals $2.5 Trillion And Counting… (CNBC)
The Stock Market Is In Turmoil And It’s Not Likely To End Anytime Soon (CNBC)
Stock, Bond Investors Pay For Fed’s Dangerous Experiment (Katsenelson)
Hong Kong And Mainland China Shares Tank In Global Rout (CNBC)
PBOC Releases Nearly 2 Trillion Yuan In Temporary Liquidity (R.)
50,000 American Bridges Are “Structurally Deficient” (ZH)
Bank Of England Signals An Interest Rate Hike Is Coming (G.)
The Biggest Privatisation You’ve Never Heard Of: Land (G.)
Northern Ireland Will Stay In Single Market After Brexit – EU (G.)
EU’s Moscovici ‘Especially Optimistic’ On Greek Debt Relief (R.)
Greek Pensions Keep Getting Smaller (K.)
Italy Accused Of Subjecting 10,000 Refugees To ‘Deplorable’ Conditions (Ind.)

 

 

Will it be labeled ‘The Olympics Crash’?

Dow Plummets 1032 Points, Down 10% From Record; S&P 500 Drops 3.7% (CNBC)

Stocks fell sharply on Thursday as strong earnings and economic data were not enough to quell jitters on Wall Street about higher interest rates. The Dow Jones industrial average closed 1,032.89 points lower at 23,860.46, entering correction territory. The 30-stock index also closed at its lowest level since Nov. 28. The Dow is also on track to post its biggest weekly decline since October 2008. “This whole correction is really about rates. It’s really about inflation creeping up. It’s really about people thinking the Fed is either behind the curve or actually has to be more aggressive,” Stephanie Link, global asset management managing director at TIAA, told CNBC’s “Closing Bell.” “That fear, that unknown is really what’s driving a lot of the anxiety,” Link said.

This is the third drop for the Dow greater than 500 points in the last five days. Despite the decline Thursday, the average is still a ways from its low for the week hit on Tuesday of 23,778.74. American Express and Intel were the worst-performing stocks in the index, sliding more than 5.4%. J.P. Morgan Chase, meanwhile, was down by more than 4%. The S&P 500 pulled back 3.75% to 2,581, reaching a new low for the week. The index also broke below its 100-day moving average and closed under 2,600, two important thresholds. For the S&P 500, it is its third drop of greater than 2% in the last five days. The Nasdaq composite fell 3.9% to close at 6,777.16 as Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft all fell at least 4.5%.

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That second chart is scary alright.

Is The Decades-Long Downtrend In Interest Rates Finally Over? (MW)

The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note has an effect on all parts of the economy, as it influences everything from borrowing costs for the smallest and biggest companies, to rates for fixed and adjustable mortgages, car loans and credit cards. For three decades, one thing everyone could count on was if you were patient enough, rates would eventually be lower. Not anymore. The scariest thing for investors and consumers is often the unknown. But while some market pundits acknowledge that a “new norm” for rates is in the works, it’s not that rates are expected to spike back up to where they were in the 1980s. Besides, some people, such as those living off a fixed income, should actually welcome the new trend.

T[..] Arbeter Investments president Mark Arbeter: From a “very long-term perspective, yields appear to be tracing out a “massive bottom.” If the 10-year yield gets above the 2013 high of 3.04%, a bullish long-term “double bottom” reversal pattern would be completed, opening the door for an eventual rise toward the 4.75% area. A double bottom, according to the CMT Association, the keepers of the Chartered Market Technician certification, is this: “The price forms two distinct lows at roughly the same price level. For a more significant reversal, look for a longer period of time between the two lows.” The two bottoms Arbeter refers to are the 2012 monthly low of 1.47% and the 2016 low of 1.45%. Arbeter noted that while rates may not yet be ready to soar, equity investors may have reason to be worried. When the yield bumped up against the downtrend line before, as happened in 1987, 1990, 1994, 2000 and 2007, bad things happened on Wall Street.

T[..] Frank Cappelleri, CFA, CMT, executive director of institutional equities at Instinet LLC: In the medium term, he believes the bullish “inverted head and shoulders” reversal pattern that has formed over the last few years suggests a return toward the peaks seen in 2008 through 2010.

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Rand Paul.

US Senate Approves Budget Deal, Too Late To Avert Shutdown (R.)

The U.S. Senate approved a budget deal including a stopgap government funding bill early on Friday, but it was too late to prevent a federal shutdown that was already underway in an embarrassing setback for the Republican-controlled Congress. The shutdown, which technically started at midnight, was the second this year under Republican President Donald Trump, who played little role in attempts by party leaders earlier this week to head it off and end months of fiscal squabbling. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management advised millions of federal employees shortly after midnight to check with their agencies about whether they should report to work on Friday.

The Senate’s approval of the budget and stopgap funding package meant it will go next to the House of Representatives, where lawmakers were divided along party lines and passage was uncertain. House Republican leaders on Thursday had offered assurances that the package would be approved, but so did Senate leaders and the critical midnight deadline, when current government funding authority expired, was still missed. The reason for that was a nine-hour, on-again, off-again Senate floor speech by Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul, who objected to deficit spending in the bill. The unexpected turn of events dragged the Senate proceedings into the wee hours and underscored the persistent inability of Congress and Trump to deal efficiently with Washington’s most basic fiscal obligations of keeping the government open.

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The S&P 500 lost $2.49 trillion, and global markets $5.2 trillion.

Stock Market Value Wiped Out Equals $2.5 Trillion And Counting… (CNBC)

The U.S. stock market officially fell into correction territory Thursday and now we now the total damage: $2.49 trillion. That’s the market value that has been wiped out from the S&P 500 during its 10% rapid slide from a record on Jan. 26. The total is even bigger for global stock markets with $5.20 trillion gone as they followed the U.S. market’s lead. Both figures are from S&P Dow Jones Indices. Traders are worried the selling isn’t near over after the S&P 500 fell back below its Tuesday low during its 3.8% plunge Thursday. The benchmark is now at its lowest point since last November. The energy, health care, financials, materials and technology sectors are all in correction territory as well, according to S&P Dow Jones. President Donald Trump need not worry yet as the S&P 500 is still up $3.55 trillion since his election in November 2016, according to S&P Dow Jones.

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The floor is for Jay Powell. Let’s see some tricks.

The Stock Market Is In Turmoil And It’s Not Likely To End Anytime Soon (CNBC)

There’s a not-so-quiet rebellion going on in the bond market, and it threatens to take 10-year yields above 3% much faster than expected just a few weeks ago. As a result, the bumpy ride for stocks could continue for a while. There are some powerful forces at work, with global growth strong, central banks moving to tighten policy and the government’s deficit spending creating more and more Treasury supply. So, the bond market has entered a zone of no return for now, where Treasurys are expected to price in higher yields in a global sea change for bonds. Thursday’s sharp sell-off in stocks, with the S&P 500 closing down 3.8% , reversed a sharp move higher in bond yields, as buyers sought safety. The 10-year yield was at 2.81% from a high of 2.88% earlier in the day and the rising yields had started the stock market spiral lower.

“There’s going to be an interplay, a bit of push and pull between the rates market and equity market,” said Mark Cabana at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Cabana said his call for a 2.90% 10-year this year is clearly at risk. He said technicians are watching 2.98%, and then 3.28% on the charts. The bipartisan spending bill, expected to pass Congress, called for a higher-than-expected spending cap of $300 billion. Cabana said it was encouraging in that the deal was bipartisan and that means the debt ceiling won’t be an issue. But it also had a negative impact on the bond market and resulted in forecasts of more Treasury supply and higher $1 trillion deficits. “It signals that fiscal austerity out of D.C. is a thing of the past, and Republicans aren’t nearly as concerned with the overall trajectory of the deficit as they have been and the president is worried about it,” he said.

The 10-year Treasury is the one to watch, and while many strategists targeted rates under 3% for this year, they acknowledge the risk is to the upside with yields potentially climbing to 3.25%. The 10-year is the benchmark best known to investors, and its yield influences a whole range of loans, including home mortgages. Strategists say the level of the yield is not so much the problem. Rather, it’s the rapidity of the move that has proven unnerving for global stock markets.”We’re in a vicious cycle here. If the yields go up, you have to sell stocks. If you sell stocks, and they crash, yields come back down,” said Art Hogan at B. Riley FBR.

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True, but ironically, they profited most from the experiment as well.

Stock, Bond Investors Pay For Fed’s Dangerous Experiment (Katsenelson)

In a capitalist economy, the invisible hand serves a very important but underappreciated role: It is a signaling mechanism that helps balance supply and demand. High demand leads to higher prices, telegraphing suppliers that they’ll make more money if they produce extra goods. Additional supply lowers prices, bringing them to a new equilibrium. This is how prices are set for millions of goods globally on a daily basis in free-market economies. In the command-and-control economy of the Soviet Union, the prices of goods often had little to do with supply and demand but were instead typically used as a political tool. This in part is why the Soviet economy failed — to make good decisions you need good data, and if price carries no data, it is hard to make good business decisions. When I left Soviet Russia in 1991, I thought I would never see a command-and-control economy again. I was wrong.

Over the past decade the global economy has started to resemble one, as well-meaning economists running central banks have been setting the price for the most important commodity in the world: money. Interest rates are the price of money, and the daily decisions of billions of people and their corporations and governments should determine them. Like the price of sugar in Soviet Russia, interest rates today have little to do with supply and demand (and thus have zero signaling value). For instance, if the Federal Reserve hadn’t bought more than $2 trillion of U.S. debt by late 2014, when U.S. government debt crossed the $17 trillion mark, interest rates might have started to go up and our budget deficit would have increased and forced politicians to cut government spending. But the opposite has happened: As our debt pile has grown, the government’s cost of borrowing has declined.

The consequences of well-meaning (but not all-knowing) economists setting the cost of money are widespread, from the inflation of asset prices to encouraging companies to spend on projects they shouldn’t. But we really don’t know the second-, third-, and fourth derivatives of the consequences that command-control interest rates will bring. We know that most likely every market participant was forced to take on more risk in recent years, but we don’t know how much more because we don’t know the price of money. Quantitative easing: These two seemingly harmless words have mutated the DNA of the global economy. Interest rates heavily influence currency exchange rates. Anticipation of QE by the European Union caused the price of the Swiss franc to jump 15% in one day in January 2015, and the Swiss economy has been crippled ever since.

Americans have a healthy distrust of their politicians. We expect our politicians to be corrupt. We don’t worship our leaders (only the dead ones). The U.S. Constitution is full of checks and balances to make sure that when (often not if) the opium of power goes to a politician’s head, the damage he or she can do to society is limited. Unfortunately, we don’t share the same distrust for economists and central bankers. It’s hard to say exactly why. Maybe we are in awe of their Ph.D.s. Or maybe it’s because they sound really smart and at the same time make us feel dumber than a toaster when they use big terms like “aggregate demand.” For whatever reason, we think they possess foresight and the powers of Marvel superheroes.

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Got to love the creativity: “..the current market downturn appears to be technical in nature..”

Hong Kong And Mainland China Shares Tank In Global Rout (CNBC)

The global market rout continued into Asia as Hong Kong and China shares fell sharply Friday after the U.S. stock market tanked overnight. The Hang Seng Index was down about 3.8% at 29,306.63 at 11.08 a.m. HK/SIN while the Shanghai composite was down 4.5% at 3,114.0472. Despite the sell-off, equities may just be in their “first leg of correction,” said William Ma, chief investment officer of Noah Holdings in Hong Kong. Even though the mainland market is not fully connected to the global market, fund managers on the mainland are talking about the global economy “half the time,” underscoring the international nature of markets that is causing a “synchronized collapse” in both Hong Kong and China, Ma told CNBC. With everything happening, it’s still too early to jump into the market for bargains, he said.

Ma recommends waiting for the Hang Seng Index to tank another 15% before putting money into the Chinese tech giant trio Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent — collectively known as BAT. Even amid the sharp slide, some experts recommended calm. One, Philip Li, senior fund manager at Value Partners, said the current market downturn appears to be technical in nature. Asia will be under pressure as long as its markets are correlated to the Dow, but earnings expectations for companies and the growth outlooks for regional economies are solid, so the current rout appears divorced from any fundamentals, Li added. The Chinese markets were already under pressure even before this week’s market sell-off as investors took profit ahead of the long Lunar New Year public holidays that start later next week.

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China’s small banks have -interbank- liquidity issues. Can’t have that with Lunar New Year coming up.

PBOC Releases Nearly 2 Trillion Yuan In Temporary Liquidity (R.)

China’s central bank said on Friday that it has released temporary liquidity worth almost 2 trillion yuan ($316.28 billion) to satisfy cash demand before the long Lunar New Year holidays. The People’s Bank of China had announced in December that it would allow some commercial banks to temporarily keep less required reserves to help them cope with the heavy demand for cash ahead of the festivities, which begin later next week. Interbank liquidity levels will remain reasonably stable, the PBOC said on its official microblog.

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Yeah, because who needs big government, right?

50,000 American Bridges Are “Structurally Deficient” (ZH)

Last week, President Trump announced his proposal for a $1.5 trillion infrastructure program in his State of The Union address to the American people. He failed to mention that over the next decade, the federal government would provide very little money whatsoever for America’s crumbling bridges, rails, roads, and waterways. In fact, Trump’s plan counts on state and local governments working in tandem with private investors to fork up the cash for projects. In overhauling the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, the federal government is only willing to pledge $200 billion in federal money over the next decade, leaving the remainder of $1.3 trillion for cities, states, and private companies.

Precisely how Trump’s infrastructure program would work remains somewhat of a mystery after his Tuesday night speech, as state transportation officials warned that significant hikes to taxes, fees, and tolls would be required by local governments to fund such projects. To get an understanding of the severity of America’s crumbling infrastructure. The American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) has recently published a shocking report specifying more than 50,000 bridges across the country are rated “structurally deficient. Here are the highlights from the report: • 54,259 of the nation’s 612,677 bridges are rated “structurally deficient.” • Americans cross these deficient bridges 174 million times daily. • Average age of a structurally deficient bridge is 67 years, compared to 40 years for non-deficient bridges. • One in three (226,837) U.S. bridges have identified repair needs. • One in three (17,726) Interstate highway bridges have identified repair needs.

Dr. Alison Premo Black, chief economist for the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), who conducted the analysis, said, “the pace of improving the nation’s inventory of structurally deficient bridges slowed this past year. It’s down only two-tenths of a% from the number reported in the government’s 2016 data. At current pace of repair or replacement, it would take 37 years to remedy all of them. ” Black says, “An infrastructure package aimed at modernizing the Interstate System would have both short- and long-term positive effects on the U.S. economy.” She adds that traffic jams cost the trucking industry $60 billion in 2017 in lost productivity and fuel, which “increases the cost of everything we make, buy or export.”

Other key findings in the ARTBA report: Iowa (5,067), Pennsylvania (4,173), Oklahoma (3,234), Missouri (3,086), Illinois (2,303), Nebraska (2,258), Kansas (2,115), Mississippi (2,008), North Carolina (1,854) and New York (1,834) have the most structurally deficient bridges. The District of Columbia (8), Nevada (31), Delaware (39), Hawaii (66) and Utah (87) have the least. At least 15% of the bridges in six states – Rhode Island (23%), Iowa (21%), West Virginia (19%), South Dakota (19%), Pennsylvania (18%) and Nebraska (15%)—fall in the structurally deficient category. As Staista’s Niall McCarthy notes, U.S. drivers cross those bridges 174 million times a day and on average, a structurally deficient bridge is 67 years old.

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More currency wars?!

Bank Of England Signals An Interest Rate Hike Is Coming (G.)

The Bank of England has signalled that an interest rate hike is coming from as early as May and that there are more to come, as the economy accelerates with help from booming global growth. Threadneedle Street said it would need to raise rates to tackle stubbornly high inflation “somewhat earlier and by a somewhat greater extent” than it had anticipated towards the end of last year. While the Bank’s rate-setting monetary policy committee (MPC) voted unanimously to leave rates at 0.50% this month, the tone of its discussion suggests the cost of borrowing will not remain this low for much longer. The Bank’s governor, Mark Carney, had previously suggested there could be two further rate hikes to curb inflation over the next three years – but speculation will now mount over the chance of additional rate hikes.

The pound rose on foreign exchanges following the interest rate decision, hitting almost £1.40 against the dollar. City investors give a 75% chance of a rate hike in May, after having previously given a 50-50 probability. The FTSE 100 sold off sharply, falling by more than 108.7 points to below 7,200, amid a global stock market rout triggered by concerns among investors that central banks will need to raise interest rates faster than expected to curb rising inflation. On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down more than 400 points by lunchtime. Threadneedle Street said inflation would fall more gradually than it had previously anticipated, because workers’ pay is slowly beginning to pick-up and as the oil prices is rising. “The outlook for growth and inflation [is] likely to require some ongoing withdrawal of monetary stimulus,” the MPC said.

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Land must belong to communities, societies. Who may lease it to individuals and firms for a good fee, but never sell it. You don’t sell seas and oceans either.

The Biggest Privatisation You’ve Never Heard Of: Land (G.)

Over the past 12 months, the issue of privatisation has surged back into the news and the public consciousness in Britain. Driven by mounting concerns about profiteering and mismanagement at privatised enterprises, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party has made the renationalisation of key utilities and the railways a central plank of its agenda for a future Labour administration. And then, of course, there is Carillion, a stark, rotting symbol of everything that has gone wrong with the privatisation of local public services, and which has prompted Corbyn’s recent call for a rebirth of municipal socialism. Yet in all the proliferating discussion about the rights and wrongs of the history of privatisation in Britain – both from those determined to row back against the neoliberal tide and those convinced that renationalisation is the wrong answer – Britain’s biggest privatisation of all never merits a mention.

This is partly because so few people are aware that it has even taken place, and partly because it has never been properly studied. What is this mega-privatisation? The privatisation of land. Some activists have hinted at it. Last October, for instance, the New Economics Foundation (NEF), a progressive thinktank, called in this newspaper for the government to stop selling public land. But the NEF’s is solely a present-day story, picturing land privatisation as a new phenomenon. It gives no sense of the fact that this has been occurring on a massive scale for fully 39 years, since the day that Margaret Thatcher entered Downing Street. During that period, all types of public land have been targeted, held by local and central government alike.

And while disposals have generally been heaviest under Tory and Tory-led administrations, they definitely did not abate under New Labour; indeed the NHS estate, in particular, was ravaged during the Blair years. All told, around 2 million hectares of public land have been privatised during the past four decades. This amounts to an eye-watering 10% of the entire British land mass, and about half of all the land that was owned by public bodies when Thatcher assumed power.

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The mess gets messier.

Northern Ireland Will Stay In Single Market After Brexit – EU (G.)

UK negotiators have been warned that the EU draft withdrawal agreement will stipulate that Northern Ireland will, in effect, remain in the customs union and single market after Brexit to avoid a hard border. The uncompromising legal language of the draft agreement is likely to provoke a major row, something all parties to the negotiations have been trying to avoid. British officials negotiating in Brussels were told by their counterparts that there could be a “sunset clause” included in the legally binding text, which is due to be published in around two weeks. Such a legal device would make the text null and void at a future date should an unexpectedly generous free trade deal, or a hitherto unimagined technological solution emerge that could be as effective as the status quo in avoiding the need for border infrastructure.

As it stands, however, the UK is expected by Brussels to sign off on the text which will see Northern Ireland remain under EU law at the end of the 21-month transition period, wherever it is relevant to the north-south economy, and the requirements of the Good Friday agreement. The move is widely expected to cause ructions within both the Conservative party and between the government and the Democratic Unionist party, whose 10 MPs give Theresa May her working majority in the House of Commons. The UK will be put under even greater pressure to offer up a vision of the future relationship that will deliver for the entire UK economy, but the inability of that model to ensure frictionless trade is likely to be exposed. A meeting of the cabinet to discuss the Irish border on Wednesday failed to come to any significant conclusions.

“There will be no wriggle room for the UK government,” said Philippe Lambert MEP, the leader of the Greens in the European parliament, who was briefed in Strasbourg earlier this week by the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier. “We are going to state exactly what we mean by regulatory alignment in the legal text. It will be very clear. This might cause some problems in the UK – but we didn’t create this mess.”

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This is the Big Trap now. No debt relief unless and until strong growth. As even the IMF has said strong growth depends on debt relief first.

EU’s Moscovici ‘Especially Optimistic’ On Greek Debt Relief (R.)

European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Pierre Moscovici said on Thursday he was “especially optimistic” about efforts to reach a solution on Greek debt relief. Greece’s third bailout ends in August and debt relief is expected to come up in negotiations over its bailout exit terms in the coming months. Athens and its eurozone lenders are expected to flesh out a French-proposed mechanism that was presented in June and which will link debt relief to Greek growth rates. The economy is forecast to grow by up to 2.5% this year and in 2019.

“On the issue of debt relief I am especially optimistic and I believe that our efforts will be implemented and they will be successful,” Moscovici said, through an interpreter, at a meeting with Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos. Greek public debt is forecast at 180% of GDP this year. Greece has received a record 260 billion euros in three bailouts since 2010. Moscovici, who is in Greece for talks on the next steps in the program, said it was up to Athens to devise a strategy for exiting its bailout and the post-bailout surveillance period. “The exit from the bailout is becoming apparent and under very good circumstances,” Moscovici said.

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A great big swirling black hole.

Greek Pensions Keep Getting Smaller (K.)

One in three pensioners has to live on less than 500 euros a month at a time when pensions in Greece have been constantly falling, according to the Helios online data system’s monthly reports. The Labor Ministry platform showed that the average income of Greek retirees amounts to 894 euros per month: The average main pension from all social security funds comes to 722 euros a month while the average auxiliary pension amounts to just 171 euros a month. The average dividend from the funds comes to 98 euros. More than two in three pensioners (66.39%) are on less than 1,000 euros a month, and 31.03% of pensions do not exceed 500 euros. In December the number of pensioners fell by 3,311 from November to 2,586,480. Compared to October’s 2,592,950, that’s a reduction of 6,470 pensioners.

Monthly expenditure on pensions decreased by 1.44 million euros from November and by 4.07 million from October. In total, 117,148 people were issued with new and definitive main and auxiliary pensions as well as dividends in 2017. As the year drew to a close, more and more new pensions issued were calculated according to the law introduced in 2016, meaning that the benefits handed out were considerably smaller. Therefore, while the average new pension for retirees who paid into the former Social Security Foundation (IKA) amounted to 640.66 euros in January 2017, this dropped to just 521.01 euros in December. Even the average IKA pension for those for whom it was first issued before May 2016 shrank considerably over the year, dropping to 618 euros per month.

Notably, more than a quarter of pensioners (26.32%) are under 65, while the distribution of retirees per age and pension category shows that the younger a person retires, the higher a pension they will receive. Meanwhile the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) announced on Thursday that the unemployment figures for last November showed no improvement from October, staying put at 20.9%. In November 2016 the jobless rate came to an upwardly revised 23.3%.

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Italians have had enough. Elections March 4. This will be the main theme.

Italy Accused Of Subjecting 10,000 Refugees To ‘Deplorable’ Conditions (Ind.)

Ten thousand migrants are living in “deplorable” conditions in Italy without shelter, food and clean water, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has warned in a damning indictment of the country’s border practices. “Inadequate” reception policies are forcing refugees into slums, squats and abandoned buildings with limited access to basic services, the charity said. Increasing marginalisation of asylum seekers and a growing prevalence of forced evictions has led to small groups of migrants living in increasingly hidden places, the charity found, exposing them to “inhumane” living conditions. The findings, released as part of the second edition of the charity’s Out of Sight report, reveal the torturous reality facing huge swathes of Italy’s migrant population. But the survey shows Italians are increasingly uneasy over the numbers of refugees that have reached their country’s shores by boat over the past four years.

The report’s release coincides with a spike in anti-immigration rhetoric ahead of the 4 March parliamentary elections. On Saturday, a far-right extremist was arrested on suspicion of shooting six Africans in a racially motivated attack in Macerata. Days later, Silvio Berlusconi, the former Prime Minister whose Forza Italia (Go Italy!) party has entered a coalition with the Northern League and the smaller Brothers of Italy, promised to deport 600,000 migrants if their coalition came to power. “These 600,000 people, we will pick them up using police, law enforcement and the military… everyone can help identify them by pointing them out, and they will be picked up,” he said, claiming immigration was a “social bomb” linked to crime. Northern League leader Matteo Salvini also promised “irregular” migrants would be rounded up and sent home “in 15 minutes” if he and his allies take power.

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Dec 142017
 
 December 14, 2017  Posted by at 10:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  21 Responses »
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Joseph Mallord William Turner Norham Castle, Sunrise 1845

 

Fed Boosts Benchmark Rate For Third Time This Year (AP)
PBOC Raises Borrowing Costs In Surprise Move Following Fed Hike (BBG)
European Bond-Buying ‘Tsunami’ Is Set to Fade as ECB Tapers (BBG)
Risk May Be Low But Uncertainty Just Hit Record Highs (ZH)
Canadian Homeowners Take Out HELOCs to Fund Subprime Buyers (WS)
These Guys Want to Lend You Money Against Your Bitcoin (BBG)
Druckenmiller: Central Banks Are Financial World’s ‘Darth Vader’ (CNBC)
Theresa May’s EU Summit Marred By Embarrassing Defeat in Commons (Ind.)
The Virtual Economy Is The End Of Freedom (Smith)
Trey Gowdy: “What The Hell Is Going On?” (YT)
Germany Owes Greece €185billion In WWII Reparations – German Researchers (KTG)
‘A Different Dimension Of Loss’: Inside The Great Insect Die-Off (G.)

 

 

2018 will be something to watch.

Fed Boosts Benchmark Rate For Third Time This Year (AP)

The Federal Reserve is raising its benchmark interest rate for the third time this year, signaling its confidence that the U.S. economy remains on solid footing 8Ω years after the end of the Great Recession. The Fed is lifting its short-term rate by a modest quarter-point to a still-low range of 1.25% to 1.5%. It is also continuing to slowly shrink its bond portfolio. Together, the two steps could lead over time to higher loan rates for consumers and businesses and slightly better returns for savers. The central bank says it expects the job market and the economy to strengthen further. Partly as a result, it foresees three additional rate hikes in 2018 under the leadership of Jerome Powell, who succeeds Janet Yellen as Fed chair in February. Investors will look to Yellen’s final scheduled news conference as Fed chair for any clues to what the central bank might have in store for 2018 under Powell.

Powell has been a Yellen ally who backed her cautious stance toward rate hikes in his five years on the Fed’s board. Yet no one can know for sure how his leadership or rate policy might depart from hers. What’s more, Powell will be joined by several new Fed board members who, like him, are being chosen by President Donald Trump. Some analysts say they think that while Powell might not deviate much from Yellen’s rate policy, he and the new board members will adopt a looser approach to their regulation of the banking system. Most analysts have said they think the still-strengthening U.S. economy will lead the Fed to raise rates three more times next year. A few, though, have held out the possibility that a Powell-led Fed will feel compelled to step up the pace of rate hikes as inflation finally picks up and the economy, perhaps sped by the Republican tax cuts, begins accelerating.

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Two centrally controlled economies.

PBOC Raises Borrowing Costs In Surprise Move Following Fed Hike (BBG)

China’s central bank edged borrowing costs higher in an unexpected move after the Federal Reserve’s decision to tighten monetary policy. Hours after the Fed’s quarter%age-point move, the People’s Bank of China, citing market expectations, increased the rates it charges in open-market operations and on its medium-term lending facility, though making smaller adjustments than the U.S. Markets took the announcement in stride. Analysts said the modest adjustment shows the PBOC wants to balance the need to tighten monetary policy with avoiding jolting its markets. China’s rate adjustments “help markets form reasonable expectations for interest rates,” the PBOC said in a statement on its website on Thursday.

It also prevents financial institutions from adding excessive leverage and expanding broad credit supply, it said. The cost of seven-day and 28-day reverse-repurchase agreements was raised by five basis points. That followed an increase in mid-March. The PBOC skipped the use of 14-day reverse repos Thursday. The cost of funds lent via MLF was also increased by five basis points, with the 1-year rate raised to 3.25%. “This action seems to follow the Fed,” said Raymond Yeung at Australia & New Zealand Bank. “Since it only lifted the rate by just five basis points the central bank does not want to jeopardize the market with an aggressive hike. It does indicate the tightening bias of the policy makers and this stance will continue in 2018.”

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Why does the ECB hold all that American debt? Is that its mandate?

European Bond-Buying ‘Tsunami’ Is Set to Fade as ECB Tapers (BBG)

European investors have been plowing so much capital abroad they’ve taken up about half the boom in U.S. corporate debt in recent years, but now that liquidity tap is poised to be shut off, according to Oxford Economics. “The global debt issuance boom is likely to lose steam, given the extent to which it has relied on the support of European investors,” Guillermo Tolosa, an economic adviser to Oxford Economics in London who has worked at the IMF, wrote in a forthcoming research note. “Issuers better seize the opportunities while they last.” ECB asset purchases took up so great a supply of bonds that it pushed euro area investors into markets abroad, to the tune of €400 billion ($473 billion) a year over the past three years, Oxford Economics estimates. With the ECB poised to halve its monthly buying pace to 30 billion euros starting in January, next year might see just €200 billion in European investor outflows, the research group calculates.

“This is a large enough fall to risk causing disruption in some markets, including emerging markets, which have come to rely heavily on European flows recently,” Tolosa wrote. “A global tsunami of euros” benefited borrowers during the past three years, and accounted for a “staggering” 50% of net U.S. corporate-debt issuance, he wrote. European funds have slashed the domestic share of their fixed-income securities holdings by more than 7 percentage points, to less than 70%, since the ECB’s program began. As flows head back into the domestic markets, that could temper the impact of the ECB’s policy normalization on the region’s securities. Upward pressure on European debt valuations may last “for a protracted period,” Tolosa wrote.

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Is VIX as compromised as GDP?

Risk May Be Low But Uncertainty Just Hit Record Highs (ZH)

The decline in the VIX this year has befuddled investors and traders of all stripes, given the host of geopolitical uncertainties in locations like North Korea and political skirmishes in Washington. Not to mention, stocks have been rising relentlessly for years, unnerving some investors who say that stocks are trading too high relative to expected earnings. As The Wall Street Journal reports, two academics are rolling out a new measure of market fear that suggests investors aren’t nearly as complacent as they seem. In separating out ambiguity from common measures of risk, Menachem Brenner of New York University and Yehuda Izhakian of Baruch College are picking up on a concept that traces back nearly a century.

Economist Frank Knight in 1921 wrote about the difference between risk and uncertainty. If volatility measures the uncertainties for which one can determine a probability, or the “known unknowns,” ambiguity measures the “unknown unknowns,” to use a term popularized by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, according to Mr. Brenner. In October, the gauge hit 2.42, its highest reading in monthly data that extends back to 1993. That’s above the gauge’s previous peak of 2.41 at the height of the financial crisis in October 2008. While none of the academics is willing to call a ‘top’ or any imminent decline, it is noteworthy that this new measure quantifies what many have noted – that market-based ‘non-normal’ tail risk remains elevated while ‘normal risk’ is repressed.

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Make your home someone else’s ATM.

Canadian Homeowners Take Out HELOCs to Fund Subprime Buyers (WS)

The HELOC (Home Equity Line of Credit) has been a blessing and a curse for Canadian households. While it has helped spur house prices and simultaneously provided consumers the ability to tap into their new found equity, it has also crippled many Canadian households into a debt trap that seems insurmountable. Between 2000 and 2010, HELOC balances soared from $35 billion to $186 billion, according to the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, an average annual growth rate of 20%. As of 2016, HELOC balances sit at $211 billion, a 500% increase since the year 2000. While also pushing Canadian household debt to incomes to record highs of 168%. Scott Terrio, a debt consultant, says the situation is a full blown “extend and pretend,” meaning borrowers are just continuously refinancing or taking on more and more debt in order to sustain their lifestyle.

Canadians can extend their debt repayment terms and pretend to live a lifestyle they can’t otherwise obtain. What the HELOC has also been able to do is help spur the private lending space which has ultimately supported rising house prices. Seth Daniels of JKD Capital, one of the most astute Canada-Watchers, says there’s a growing trend where “a homeowner acts as a sub-prime lender by drawing a HELOC at 3% interest only, and lends it to a subprime borrower at 8-12% for one year (interest only).” This is something I’ve been hearing on an ongoing basis from mortgage brokers and lawyers who help facilitate these deals. Especially since mortgage lending conditions tightened, starting with OSFI’s first mortgage stress test back in November, 2016. The financial regulator required “high-ratio” borrowers (those with less than 20% down payment) to qualify for a mortgage at the borrowing rate plus 2%. So basically you’re getting qualified on what you can borrow at 5% even though you’re borrowing at 3%.

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Probably inevitable, but it doesn’t feel good.

These Guys Want to Lend You Money Against Your Bitcoin (BBG)

The woes of an early bitcoin investor. Until recently, people who paid virtually nothing for the virtual currency and watched it soar had only one way to enjoy their new wealth – sell. And many weren’t ready. Lenders on the fringe of the financial industry are now pitching a solution: loans using a digital hoard as collateral. While banks hang back, startups with names like Salt Lending, Nebeus, CoinLoan and EthLend are diving into the breach. Some lend – or plan to lend – directly, while others help borrowers get financing from third parties. Terms can be onerous compared with traditional loans. But the market is potentially huge. Bitcoin’s price hovered around $17,000 much of this week, giving the cryptocurrency a total market value of almost $300 billion.

Roughly 40% of that is held by something like 1,000 users. That’s a lot of digital millionaires needing houses, yachts and $590 shearling eye masks. “I would be very interested in doing this with my own holdings, but I haven’t found a service to enable this yet,” said Roger Ver, widely known as “Bitcoin Jesus” for his proselytizing on behalf of the cryptocurrency, in which he in one of the largest holders. People controlling about 10% of the digital currency would probably like to use it as collateral, estimates Aaron Brown, a former managing director at AQR Capital Management who invests in bitcoin and writes for Bloomberg Prophets. “So I can see a lending industry in the tens of billions of dollars,” he said.

One problem is that bitcoin’s price swings violently, which can make it dangerous for lenders to hold. That means the terms can be steep. Someone looking to tap $100,000 in cash would probably need to put up $200,000 of bitcoin as collateral, and pay 12% to 20% in interest a year, according to David Lechner, the chief financial officer at Salt, which has arranged dozens of loans.

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“Every serious deflation I’ve looked at is preceded by an asset bubble and then it bursts..”

Druckenmiller: Central Banks Are Financial World’s ‘Darth Vader’ (CNBC)

Stanley Druckenmiller believes the overly easy monetary policies by global central banks will have disastrous consequences. “The way you create deflation is you create an asset bubble. If I was ‘Darth Vader’ of the financial world and decided I’m going to do this nasty thing and create deflation, I would do exactly what the central banks are doing now,” he told CNBC’s Kelly Evans in an exclusive interview airing Tuesday on “Closing Bell.” “Misallocate resources [with low interest rates], create an asset bubble and then deal with the consequences down the road,” he said. The investor noted how this boom-and-bust cycle has happened time and time again. “Deflation just doesn’t appear out of nowhere and it doesn’t happen because you are near the zero bound. Every serious deflation I’ve looked at is preceded by an asset bubble and then it bursts,” he said.

“Think about the ’20s, a big asset bubble that burst, you have the Depression. Think about Japan. Asset bubble in the ’80s. It burst. You have the consequences follow. Think about 2008, 2009.” Druckenmiller said if the Federal Reserve raised interest rates more quickly, the U.S. would have avoided the worst of the housing bubble and last recession. “If they had moved earlier and more aggressively in the early 2000s, we would have had a recession in ’08 and ’09, but not a financial crisis,” he said. The investor believes the Fed should raise rates and normalize monetary policy as soon as possible. “The longer this goes on, the worse it’s going to be,” he added. “The sooner they can stop what’s going on … the better.”

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She might as well step down now.

Theresa May’s EU Summit Marred By Embarrassing Defeat in Commons (Ind.)

Theresa May is set to arrive in Brussels for a key EU summit on Thursday having suffered a damaging defeat in Parliament over her central piece of Brexit legislation. The Prime Minister is to use the EU event to try and make the case for moving Brexit talks on to trade negotiations quickly, but European leaders will now be left wondering if she still has the political support in London to deliver any deal. There were cheers from opposition MPs in the House of Commons when it emerged the Government had been forced to accept changes to its EU Withdrawal Bill, which it is now claimed will guarantee Parliament a “meaningful” final vote on any Brexit deal Ms May agrees. he embarrassing defeat – the first inflicted on Ms May as she pushes through her Brexit plans – came after Jeremy Corbyn ordered Labour MPs to back an amendment to her legislation proposed by ex-Conservative attorney general Dominic Grieve.

The result immediately exposed deep divisions on the Conservative benches, with reports of a heavy-handed Government whipping operation creating tension, blue-on-blue clashes in the Commons and one Tory rebel sacked from his senior party position within moments of opposing Ms May. Rebels braced themselves for a wave of abuse from the Brexit-backing media, but insisted they had no choice but to put principle before party and vote against the Government. Ms May was supposed to enjoy something of a victory at the EU council summit on Thursday, expected to rubber-stamp the judgment that “sufficient progress” has been made on divorce issues to move on to the next phase of talks. But with difficult obstacles already arising in Brussels, the defeat in London lays bare the difficulties Ms May will have in delivering anything she agrees on the continent.

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“..cryptocurrencies are built upon an establishment designed framework, and they are entirely dependent on an establishment created and controlled vehicle (the internet)..”

The Virtual Economy Is The End Of Freedom (Smith)

Millenials and others think that they are going to rebel and “take down the banking oligarchs” with nothing more than digital markers representing “coins” tracked on a digital ledger created by an anonymous genius programmer/programmers. Delusional? Yes. But like I said earlier, it is an appealing notion. Here is the issue, though; true money requires intrinsic value. Cryptocurrencies have no intrinsic value. They are conjured from nothing by programmers, they are “mined” in a virtual mine created from nothing, and they have no unique aspects that make them rare or tangibly useful. They are an easily replicated digital product. Anyone can create a cryptocurrency. And for those that argue that “math gives crypto intrinsic value,” I’m sorry to break it to them, but the math is free.

In fact, for those that are not already aware, Bitcoin uses the SHA-256 hash function, created by none other than the National Security Agency (NSA) and published by the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST). Yes, that’s right, Bitcoin would not exist without the foundation built by the NSA. Not only this, but the entire concept for a system remarkably similar to bitcoin was published by the NSA way back in 1996 in a paper called “How To Make A Mint: The Cryptography Of Anonymous Electronic Cash.” The origins of bitcoin and thus the origins of crytpocurrencies and the blockchain ledger suggest anything other than a legitimate rebellion against the establishment framework and international financiers. I often cite this same problem when people come to me with arguments that the internet has set the stage for the collapse of the globalist information filter and the mainstream media.

The truth is, the internet is also an establishment creation developed by DARPA, and as Edward Snowden exposed in his data dumps, the NSA has total information awareness and backdoor control over every aspect of web data. Many people believe the free flow of information on the internet is a weapon in favor of the liberty movement, but it is also a weapon in favor of the establishment. With a macro overview of data flows, entities like Google can even predict future social trends and instabilities, not to mention peek into every personal detail of an individual’s life and past. To summarize, cryptocurrencies are built upon an establishment designed framework, and they are entirely dependent on an establishment created and controlled vehicle (the internet) in order to function and perpetuate trade. How exactly is this “decentralization”, again?

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How much longer can the Mueller vehicle last?

Trey Gowdy: “What The Hell Is Going On?” (YT)

Tyler Durden: “If there is any remaining doubt in your mind that Special Counsel Mueller’s probe is anything but a farcical, politically-motivated witch hunt, then you’ll be summarily relieved of those doubts after watching the following exchange from earlier this morning between Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.”

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There are much higher sums floating around.

Germany Owes Greece €185billion In WWII Reparations – German Researchers (KTG)

Does Germany owe indeed Greeks billions of euros in World War II reparations for the damages and the enforced loan during the occupation of the country by the Nazis? So far, Berlin has vehemently rejected any Greek claims. However, two German researchers dug into the documents of the dispute. have discovered and calculated that the German state owes Greece 185 billion euros. Of this not even a 1% has been paid to Greece. In their book “Reparation debt. Mortgages of German occupation in Greece and Europe” publishers Karl Heinz Roth, a historian, and Hartmut Rübner, a researcher, unfold the documents of the dispute and come to the conclusion that the reparations issue was not solved in 1960, as Berlin has been claiming.

According to the book review published in German conservative daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Roth and Rübner have researched German documents only and came to the conclusion that: USA allies and “the power elites of West Germany” have systematically ignored Greece’s demands for WWII reparations. In SZ article “Athens – Berlin: Open Bill, Open Wounds” it is said among others that: At the Paris Reparations Conference in 1946, the Greek government presented a damage record of $7.2 billion – eventually earning a share of $25 million. The leitmotiv of the book is that an alliance between the US and the “West German power elite” has systematically ignored Greek demands for decades.

“Undeniable, however, is the diplomatic arrogance with which the Federal Republic rejected the Greek demands for decades. If you do not believe it, you are welcome to make your own impression in Hartmut Rübner’s carefully edited extensive documentary appendix,” SZ notes. In the first part of the book, Roth analyzes the decades-long efforts of Athens to receive reparations. When the Wehrmacht withdrew from Greece in October 1944 after three and a half years of occupation, it literally left behind “scorched land”: the economy, currency and infrastructure were completely destroyed. The health of the surviving population was catastrophic – by the end of the war about 140,000 people had died as a result of malnutrition.

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Long read. First step: ban all pesticides.

‘A Different Dimension Of Loss’: Inside The Great Insect Die-Off (G.)

The Earth is ridiculously, burstingly full of life. Four billion years after the appearance of the first microbes, 400m years after the emergence of the first life on land, 200,000 years after humans arrived on this planet, 5,000 years (give or take) after God bid Noah to gather to himself two of every creeping thing, and 200 years after we started to systematically categorise all the world’s living things, still, new species are being discovered by the hundreds and thousands. In the world of the systematic taxonomists – those scientists charged with documenting this ever-growing onrush of biological profligacy – the first week of November 2017 looked like any other. Which is to say, it was extraordinary. It began with 95 new types of beetle from Madagascar. But this was only the beginning. As the week progressed, it brought forth seven new varieties of micromoth from across South America, 10 minuscule spiders from Ecuador, and seven South African recluse spiders, all of them poisonous.

A cave-loving crustacean from Brazil. Seven types of subterranean earwig. Four Chinese cockroaches. A nocturnal jellyfish from Japan. A blue-eyed damselfly from Cambodia. Thirteen bristle worms from the bottom of the ocean – some bulbous, some hairy, all hideous. Eight North American mites pulled from the feathers of Georgia roadkill. Three black corals from Bermuda. One Andean frog, whose bright orange eyes reminded its discoverers of the Incan sun god Inti. About 2m species of plants, animals and fungi are known to science thus far. No one knows how many are left to discover. Some put it at around 2m, others at more than 100m. The true scope of the world’s biodiversity is one of the biggest and most intractable problems in the sciences. There’s no quick fix or calculation that can solve it, just a steady drip of new observations of new beetles and new flies, accumulating towards a fathomless goal.

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Dec 122017
 
 December 12, 2017  Posted by at 10:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Wassily Kandinsky Clear connection 1925

 

How Fed Rate Hikes Impact US Debt Slaves (WS)
Why Obamacare Is Locked In An Inescapable Death Spiral (ZH)
Sitting Closer To The Exit (Roberts)
Oil Producers Turning to Crypto to Solve Sanctions Problems (Luongo)
Peak Bitcoin Media Mania Yet? (WS)
Bitcoin – Millennials’ “Fake Gold” (Katsenelson)
Next Bank of Japan Governor Faces a ‘Job From Hell’ (BBG)
Sweden: More Signs The World’s Biggest Housing Bubble Is Cracking (ZH)
Trump Tells NASA to Send Americans to the Moon (AFP)
Exxon To Provide Details On Climate Change Impact To Its Business (R.)
Apple Aims To Block Climate, Rights Using SEC Guidance (R.)
EU Could ‘Scrap Refugee Quota Scheme’ (G.)
Lesvos Authorities Block Ship With Container Homes For Refugees (AP)
Germany Rejects Additional Winter Aid For Refugees On Greek Islands (KTG)

 

 

“If the average interest rate on this debt is 20%, credit-cart interest payments alone add $233 a month to their household expenditures.”

How Fed Rate Hikes Impact US Debt Slaves (WS)

Revolving credit outstanding of $1 trillion, spread over 117.72 million households, would amount to $8,300 per household. But many households do not carry interest-bearing credit card debt; they pay their cards off in full every month. Finance charges are concentrated on households that use this form of debt to finance their spending and that cannot pay off their balances every month. Many of these households are already strung out and are among the least able to afford higher interest payments. Consumer credit bureau TransUnion shed some light on this in its Q3 2017 Industry Insights Report, according to which 195.9 million consumers had a revolving credit balance at the end of Q3, with total account balances of $1.35 trillion. This equals $6,892 per person with revolving credit balances.

If there are two people with balances in a household, this would amount to nearly $14,000 of this high-cost debt. If the average interest rate on this debt is 20%, credit-cart interest payments alone add $233 a month to their household expenditures. What is next for these folks? For now, the Fed has penciled in, and economists expect, three hikes next year. But recent developments – particularly the expected tax cuts and what the Fed calls “elevated asset prices” – suggest that the Fed might “surprise” the markets with its hawkishness in 2018. The Fed is currently pegging the “neutral” rate – the rate at which the federal funds rate is neither stimulating nor slowing the economy – at somewhere near 2.5% to 2.75%, so about five or six more rates hikes from today’s target range.

Interest rates on credit cards would follow in lockstep. These rate hikes to “neutral” would extract another $8 billion or so a year, on top of the additional $7.5 billion from the prior rate hikes. But that’s not all. Credit card balances continue to rise as our brave consumers are trying to prop up US consumer spending and thus the global economy by borrowing more and more. Thus, rising credit card balances combined with rising interest rates on those balances conspire to produce sharply higher interest costs. Since consumers with high-interest credit-card balances already don’t have enough money to pay off their costly debt, these additional interest payments will further curtail their efforts at making principal payments and thus inflate their credit card balances further.

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And if/when you manage to pay off your credit cards, there’s the next challenge…

Why Obamacare Is Locked In An Inescapable Death Spiral (ZH)

Ever since it was signed into law in 2010, defenders of Obamacare have dismissed staggering surges in annual premiums by highlighting only the rates paid by those fortunate enough to receive subsidies. In fact, last year we wrote about Marjorie Connolly’s, from Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services, response to the Tennessee insurance commissioner’s fear that the exchanges in his state were “very near collapse” after a staggering 59% premium surge: “Consumers in Tennessee will continue to have affordable coverage options in 2017. Last year, the average monthly premium for people with Marketplace coverage getting tax credits increased just $2, from $102 to $104 per month, despite headlines suggesting double digit increases,” said Marjorie Connolly, HHS spokeswoman, in a statement.

We’re unsure whether Connolly’s comment was just propaganda intended to defend a failing piece of legislation or an intentional, blatant admission that the Department of Health and Human Services just doesn’t care about the majority of Americans, the so-called 1%’ers, who are facing debilitating increases in healthcare costs simply because they manage to live above the poverty line. We’ll let you decide on that one. Be that as it may, as the Miami Herald points out this morning, roughly half of all Obamacare participants, nearly 9 million people in aggregate, don’t qualify for the subsidies that Connolly praised and have been forced to absorb debilitating premium increases for the past several years.

[..] As open enrollment for Affordable Care Act coverage nears the deadline of Dec. 15, and Florida once again leads all states using the federal exchange at healthcare.gov, Heidi and Richard Reiter sit at the kitchen table at their Davie home and struggle to piece together the family’s health insurance for 2018. The Reiters buy their own coverage, but they earn too much to qualify for financial aid to lower their monthly premiums. For 2017, they bought a plan off the exchange and paid $26,000 in premiums for family coverage, including their two sons, ages 21 and 17. Keeping the same coverage for 2018 would have cost the Reiters $40,000 in premiums, a 54% increase. So they selected a lower-priced plan that covers less but costs $29,000 in premiums. “That’s more than a lot of people’s mortgage payments,” Richard Reiter said. “For me, it’s a crisis situation.”

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The odds of a correction (reversion).

Sitting Closer To The Exit (Roberts)

While valuation risk is certainly concerning, it is the extreme deviations of other measures to which attention should be paid. When long-term indicators have previously been this overbought, further gains in the market have been hard to achieve. However, the problem comes, as identified by the vertical lines, is understanding when these indicators reverse course. The subsequent “reversions” have not been forgiving. The chart below brings this idea of reversion into a bit clearer focus. I have overlaid the real, inflation-adjusted, S&P 500 index over the cyclically-adjusted P/E ratio. Historically, we find that when both valuations and prices have extended well beyond their intrinsic long-term trendlines, subsequent reversions beyond those trend lines have ensued. Every. Single. Time.

Importantly, these reversions have wiped out a decade, or more, in investor gains. As noted, if the next correction began in 2018, and ONLY reverts back to the long-term trendline, which historically has never been the case, investors would reset portfolios back to levels not seen since 1997. Two decades of gains lost. With everyone crowded into the “ETF Theater,” the “exit” problem should be of serious concern. “Over the next several weeks, or even months, the markets can certainly extend the current deviations from long-term mean even further. But that is the nature of every bull market peak, and bubble, throughout history as the seeming impervious advance lures the last of the stock market ‘holdouts’ back into the markets.”

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“..the petrodollar is not the source of the U.S. dollar’s power around the world, but rather the U.S.’s main fulcrum by which to keep competition out of the markets..”

Oil Producers Turning to Crypto to Solve Sanctions Problems (Luongo)

Last week, Venezuela announced it would develop a national cryptocurrency backed by its oil reserves, the Petro. Now there is a report that Russia is considering the same thing. Iran will likely follow suit. As of right now this is just a rumor, but it makes some sense. So, let’s treat this rumor as fact for the sake of argument and see where it leads us. The U.S. continues to sanction and threaten all of these countries for daring to challenge the global status quo. There is no denying this. [..] at the heart of this is the petrodollar. Contrary to what many believe, the petrodollar is not the source of the U.S. dollar’s power around the world, but rather the U.S.’s main fulcrum by which to keep competition out of the markets. It is a secondary effect of the dollar’s dominance in global finance today. But it is not the main driver.

Financial market are simply too big relative to the size any one commodity market for it to be the fulcrum on which everything hinges. It was that way in the past. But it is not now. That said, however, getting out from underneath the petrodollar gives a country independence to begin building financial architecture that can be levered up over time to threaten the institutional control it helped create. U.S. foreign policy defends the petrodollar along with other systems in place – the IMF, the World Bank, SWIFT, LIBOR and the central banks themselves – to maintain its control. The main oil producers, however, can escape this control simply by selling their oil in currencies other than the U.S. dollar. That’s not enough to dethrone the dollar, but, like I just said, it is where the process has to start. Therefore, any and all means must be employed to defend the dollar empire by keeping everyone inside that system.

[..] The problem with backing any currency with physical reserves is the fluctuations in value of those reserves. It’s not like oil is a low-beta commodity or anything. But, like everything else in the commodity space, price movements are supposed to be smoothed out by the futures markets helping to coordinate price with time. But the bigger problem is the estimation of those reserves the coin’s value is based on. First, how do you accurately quantify them? Can holders of Petro or Neft-coin trust the Russian or Venezuelan governments to provide accurate assessments of their reserves? Second, there is the ability of the country to pull it out of the ground and sell it into the market at anything close to a fair price. This isn’t a concern for Russia, the world’s 2nd largest supplier of oil and very stable government but Venezuela is the opposite. And, its “Petro” would probably trade at quite a discount early on to the dollar price of oil.

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I doubt it. If only because as Taleb said, you can’t actually short BTC, and they should have introduced options along with futures. They didn’t. This story is far from over.

Peak Bitcoin Media Mania Yet? (WS)

Bitcoin mania is now everywhere. It’s hard to have a conversation with regular people without sooner or later getting into bitcoin. Some of this is just for fun. Manias breed amazement. Miracles are wonderful to behold. But some of it is pretty serious. “We’ve seen mortgages being taken out to buy bitcoin,” said Joseph Borg, president of the North American Securities Administrators Association and director of the Alabama Securities Commission, on CNBC’s Power Lunch today. “People do credit cards, equity lines,” he said. Bitcoin futures trading started Sunday night on the Cboe futures exchange. Next week, the CME will offer trading in bitcoin futures.

This way, speculators can bet with unlimited derivatives on an unregulated digital entity that is backed by nothing and whose cash trading takes place in unregulated opaque and easily hacked exchanges around the world. But Borg doesn’t think that futures contracts legitimize bitcoin. Innovation and technology always outrun regulation, he said. “You’re on this mania curve. At some point in time there’s got to be a leveling off,” he said. “Cryptocurrency is here to stay. Blockchain is here to stay. Whether it is bitcoin or not, I don’t know.” And so the media mania over bitcoin has become deafening.

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But there’s definitely a media bubble, even if there’s no BTC one yet.

Bitcoin – Millennials’ “Fake Gold” (Katsenelson)

If you cannot value an asset you cannot be rational. With Bitcoin at $11,000 today, it is crystal clear to me, with the benefit of hindsight, that I should have bought Bitcoin at 28 cents. But you only get hindsight in hindsight. Let’s mentally (only mentally) buy Bitcoin today at $11,000. If it goes up 5% a day like a clock and gets to $110,000 – you don’t need rationality. Just buy and gloat. But what do you do if the price goes down to $8,000? You’ll probably say, “No big deal, I believe in cryptocurrencies.” What if it then goes to $5,500? Half of your hard-earned money is gone. Do you buy more? Trust me, at that point in time the celebratory articles you are reading today will have vanished. The awesome stories of a plumber becoming an overnight millionaire with the help of Bitcoin will not be gracing the social media.

The moral support – which is really peer pressure – that drives you to own Bitcoin will be gone, too. Then you’ll be reading stories about other suckers like you who bought it at what – in hindsight – turned out to be the all-time high and who got sucked into the potential for future riches. And then Bitcoin will tumble to $2,000 and then to $100. Since you have no idea what this crypto thing is worth, there is no center of gravity to guide you or anyone else to make rational decisions. With Coke or another real business that generates actual cash flows, we can at least have an intelligent conversation about what the company is worth. We can’t have one with Bitcoin. The X times Y = Z math will be reapplied by Wall Street as it moves on to something else.

People who are buying Bitcoin today are doing it for one simple reason: FOMO – fear of missing out. Yes, this behavior is so predominant in our society that we even have an acronym for it. Bitcoin is priced today at $11,000 because the fool who bought it for $11,000 is hoping that there is another, greater fool who will pay $12,000 for it tomorrow. This game of greater fools is not new. The Dutch played it with tulips in the 1600s– it did not end well. Americans took the game to a new level with dotcoms in the late 1990s – that round ended in tears, too. And now millennials and millennial-wannabes are playing it with Bitcoin and few hundred other competing cryptocurrencies.

The counterargument to everything I have said so far is that those dollar bills you have in your wallet or that digitally reside in your bank account are as fictional as Bitcoin. True. Currencies, like most things in our lives, are stories that we all have (mostly) unconsciously bought into. Of course, society and, even more importantly, governments have agreed that these fiat currencies are going to be the means of exchange. Also, taxation by the government turns the dollar bill “story” into a very physical reality: If you don’t pay taxes in dollars, you go to jail. (The US government will not accept Bitcoins, gold, chunks of granite, or even British pounds).

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Compared to Japan, all other central banks are wimps and pussies.

Next Bank of Japan Governor Faces a ‘Job From Hell’ (BBG)

The next governor of the Bank of Japan faces a “job from hell.” That’s according to Takeshi Fujimaki, a banker-turned-lawmaker who sees any attempt by Japan’s central bank to exit its program of unprecedented easing as triggering a Greek-like debt crisis. “This is the calm before the battle,” Fujimaki, an opposition Japan Innovation Party politician who once served briefly as an adviser to George Soros, said in an interview at his Tokyo office on Monday. BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda’s five-year term runs out in April, with recent praise from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe strengthening expectations that the 73-year-old will stay on for a second stint. His massive easing program has weakened the yen, bolstered exports and helped stock prices to more than double. But inflation is still short of the government’s 2% target, and critics say the BOJ’s swollen balance sheet is unsustainable.

Fujimaki, 67, said he agreed with the view expressed by Kuroda’s predecessor Masaaki Shirakawa in his 2013 resignation press conference, when he said no judgment could be made on non-traditional monetary easing in Japan and in other developed economies until exits had been completed. Last week, Kuroda said the BOJ can take the appropriate steps to exit when the time comes, but talking specifics of an exit now would end up confusing markets. Even so, Fujimaki said Kuroda should stay on to oversee an exit from the policies he introduced. “Because Mr. Kuroda has taken it this far, he should carry on until the end,” Fujimaki said. “Just taking the good part and running away would be unfair.”

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“(SEB) says 63% of households in Stockholm now expect prices to decline in the coming year while only 21% expect an increase; that’s “a dramatic shift compared with only two months’ ago..”

Sweden: More Signs The World’s Biggest Housing Bubble Is Cracking (ZH)

We like to highlight that although Sweden’s property bubble is not the longest running (that accolade goes to Australia at 55 years), it is probably the world’s biggest, even though it gets relatively little coverage in the mainstream financial media. A month ago, we noted that SEB’s housing price indicator suffered its second biggest ever drop, falling by 39 points, only lagging a steeper fall from ten years earlier. This month the indicator, which shows the balance between households forecasting rising or falling prices, fell into negative territory, dropping to -5 from +11 in November. Households expecting prices to rise has almost halved from 66% In October, to 43% in November and 36% this month. The percentage of households expecting prices to fall has risen from 16% in October, to 32% in November and 41% this month.

After the housing price indicator was published, the Swedish krona fell as much as 0.7% versus the Euro to 10.0118, its lowest level since 5 December 2017. Not surprisingly, the focal point of Sweden’s property boom has been Stockholm, where the decline in the housing price indicator in December 2017 was precipitous. According to Bloomberg. “SEB says sharp drop in home-price expectations in Stockholm was main culprit behind the decline in its Swedish home-price indicator, with the indicator falling to -42 in the Swedish capital in Dec. from -6 in Nov. That means the Stockholm indicator is now close to the record low of -47 that was reached in Dec. 2008, at the height of the global financial crisis. (SEB) says 63% of households in Stockholm now expect prices to decline in the coming year while only 21% expect an increase; that’s “a dramatic shift compared with only two months’ ago..”

Given the disproportionate rate of decline in December in Stockholm, SEB was minded to ask whether special factors are at work “rather than general drivers such as fears over rising interest rates or a weak business cycle”. Indeed, aside from south-eastern Sweden, the outlook in all other regions remains positive. With regard to Stockholm, the bank notes that a large increase in new supply of expensive residential property and what it terms “very negative media reporting” have had an impact. Whether that’s a fair assessment, or whether it’s realist reporting of a monumental asset bubble is a moot point. What is indisputable is that the number of Swedish homes for sale has surged in November 2017 compared with the same month last year.

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After talking to Musk and Bezos. Who target billions in profits from the bridges to nowhere on steroids.

Trump Tells NASA to Send Americans to the Moon (AFP)

US President Donald Trump directed NASA on Monday to send Americans to the Moon for the first time since 1972, in order to prepare for future trips to Mars. “This time we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprint,” Trump said at a White House ceremony as he signed the new space policy directive. “We will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars and perhaps someday to many worlds beyond.” The directive calls on NASA to ramp up its efforts to send people to deep space, a policy that unites politicians on both sides of the aisle in the United States. However, it steered clear of the most divisive and thorny issues in space exploration: budgets and timelines.

Space policy experts agree that any attempt to send people to Mars, which lies an average of 140 million miles (225 million kilometers) from Earth, would require immense technical prowess and a massive wallet. The last time US astronauts visited the Moon was during the Apollo missions of the 1960s and 1970s. Trump, who signed the directive in the presence of Harrison Schmitt, one of the last Americans to walk on the Moon 45 years ago, said “today, we pledge that he will not be the last.” The better known Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the Moon after Armstrong and a fervent advocate of future space missions, was also present at the ceremony but not mentioned by Trump during his speech.

[..] Trump vowed his new directive “will refocus the space program on human exploration and discovery,” and “marks an important step in returning American astronauts to the Moon for the first time since 1972.” The goal of the new Moon missions would include “long-term exploration and use” of its surface. “We’re dreaming big,” Trump said. His administration has previously held several meetings with SpaceX boss Elon Musk and Amazon owner Jeff Bezos, who also owns Blue Origin.

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The article has two authors, and at least one editor (Reuters), and still it says this: “world temperatures are likely to rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius (35.6°F) this century..

Exxon To Provide Details On Climate Change Impact To Its Business (R.)

Exxon Mobil on Monday said it would publish new details about how climate change could affect its business in a move aimed at appeasing critics and forestalling another proxy fight next year. The largest U.S. oil and gas producer said in a filing to U.S. securities regulators that its board agreed to provide shareholders with information on “energy demand sensitivities, implications of two degree Celsius scenarios, and positioning for a lower-carbon future.” Scientists have warned that world temperatures are likely to rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius (35.6°F) this century, surpassing a “tipping point” that a global climate deal aims to avert. Exxon’s statement, which came three days before the deadline for its 2018 annual meeting resolution submissions, said additional information would be released in the near future, but did not provide details.

The company’s board originally opposed providing shareholders with a report outlining the potential impact of global warming on Exxon’s long-term outlook. Thomas P. DiNapoli, New York state’s comptroller, heads one the two lead sponsors of a shareholder resolution calling for Exxon to issue a climate-impact report. He called Monday’s decision “a win for shareholders and for the company’s ability to manage risk.” However, another sponsor noted the lack of specificity in the company’s statement. “This is giving no detail,” said Tim Smith, who leads shareholder engagement efforts at Walden Asset Management, a co-filer of last spring’s resolution. He said Exxon’s statement “needs to be expanded to assure shareowners that they’re responsive to last year’s request.”

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Apple, Exxon, everybody seeks to escape their own shareholders.

Apple Aims To Block Climate, Rights Using SEC Guidance (R.)

Apple is pushing back on shareholder proposals on climate issue and human rights concerns, an effort activists worry could sharply restrict investor rights. In letters to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission last month, an attorney for the California computer maker argued at least four shareholder proposals relate to “ordinary business” and therefore can be left off the proxy Apple is expected to publish early next year, ahead of its annual meeting. The attorney, Gene Levoff, cited guidance issued by the SEC on Nov. 1 saying that company boards are generally best positioned to decide if a resolution raises significant policy issues worth putting to a vote.

While companies routinely seek permission to skip shareholder proposals, Apple’s application of the new SEC guidance shows how it could be used to ignore many investor proposals by claiming boards routinely review those areas, said Sanford Lewis, a Massachusetts attorney representing Apple shareholders who had filed two of the resolutions. Were the SEC to side with Apple, “this would be an incredibly dangerous precedent that would essentially say a great many proposals could be omitted,” Lewis said. [..] Often seen as distractions in the past, shareholder measures have taken on new significance as big asset managers increasingly back those on areas like climate change or board diversity.

Apple cited the SEC’s new guidance among other things in seeking to omit the shareholder measures from its proxy, according to letters Apple sent to the SEC. These include calls for Apple to take steps such as establishing a “human rights committee” to address concerns on topics like censorship, and for Apple to report on its ability to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

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Tusk against the rest. Couldn’t be because he’s Polish, could it? And looking at big jobs back home?!

EU Could ‘Scrap Refugee Quota Scheme’ (G.)

The EU could scrap a divisive scheme that compels member states to accept quotas of refugees, one of the bloc’s most senior leaders will say this week. The president of the European council, Donald Tusk, will tell EU leaders at a summit on Thursday that mandatory quotas have been divisive and ineffective, in a clear sign that he is ready to abandon the policy that has created bitter splits across the continent. Tusk will set a six-month deadline for EU leaders to reach unanimous agreement on reforms to the European asylum system, but will propose alternatives if there is no consensus. “If there is no solution … including on the issue of mandatory quotas, the president of the European council will present a way forward,” states a draft letter from Tusk to national capitals, seen by the Guardian.

In effect this means scrapping mandatory quotas, because Hungary, Poland and Czech Republic are fiercely opposed to the idea of dispersing refugees around the bloc based on a formula drawn up in Brussels. Tusk is likely to face opposition, however, from other EU bodies, including the European commission. EU leaders introduced compulsory quotas in 2015 at the height of the migration crisis, as thousands of people arrived daily on Europe’s shores, many of whom were refugees from Syria, Iraq and Eritrea. Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and the Czech Republic voted against the move, but the policy was forced through by a majority vote. Hungary and Poland have defied the rest of the EU by not taking a single refugee under the scheme, which aimed to relocate about 120,000 refugees, mainly Syrians. The Czech republic has taken in only 12. All three countries were referred to the European court of justice last week for failing to implement the policy, the usual procedure for flouting EU rules.

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All refugees living on Lesbos should be evacuated.

Lesvos Authorities Block Ship With Container Homes For Refugees (AP)

Authorities on the Greek island of Lesvos say they have blocked a ship carrying container homes for refugees and other migrants in protest at the refusal of the government and the European Union to move more people to Greece’s mainland. A government-chartered ship carrying the containers remained anchored at Mytilene, the island’s main town, on Monday after municipal vehicles were used to block port facilities. The island’s municipal board was due to meet later on Monday to decide on whether to lift the blockade following talks with the government, state-run TV ERT said. The mayors of five Greek islands facing the coast of Turkey are demanding that the government and EU end a policy of containment for migrants – introduced last year as a deterrent against illegal migration – because living facilities are severely overcrowded.

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Merkel, the story of a great and bitter failure.

Germany Rejects Additional Winter Aid For Refugees On Greek Islands (KTG)

The German Foreign Ministry has made it clear that it will not provide additional winter assistance to refugees on the Aegean islands. In a related question from German newspapers, the foreign ministry replied that “responsibility for accommodating and feeding refugees falls under the jurisdiction of each country.” According to dpa, the Foreign Ministry recalled that Berlin recently funded the installation of 135 heated containers for a total of 800 people in two camps in the Thessaloniki region and that the EU has allocated up to now 1.4 billion euros to tackle the refugee crisis in Greece.

Meanwhile, there is media report that Greece has persuaded Turkey to accept migrant returns from the mainland in order to reduce critical overcrowding in its refugee camps. The Kathimerini daily said the agreement came during a strained two-day state visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan this week, during which he angered his hosts with talk of revising borders and complaints about Greece’s treatment of its Muslim minority. The deal is in addition to Turkey’s existing agreement to take back migrants from Aegean island camps, under the terms of an EU-Turkey pact.

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Dec 112017
 
 December 11, 2017  Posted by at 10:27 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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MC Escher Balcony 1945

 

Bitcoin Futures Top $18,000, Soar 20% From Open – Halted for Second Time (ZH)
Investors Told to Brace for Steepest Rate Hikes Since 2006 (BBG)
The Struggle To Maintain The “Standard Of Living” (Roberts)
China Audit Finds Provinces Faked Data and Borrowed Illegally (BBG)
Markets Tell You What To Do If You Listen (Peters)
UK Seeking ‘Canada Plus Plus Plus’ EU Trade Deal (BBG)
Brexit’s Just A Distraction To The Real Problem: UK’s Clapped-Out Economy (G.)
Poland Risks Being the EU’s Rogue State (BBG)
Pentagon To Undergo First Ever Audit (ZH)
‘A Christmas Carol’, Money, Debt, and Success (MW)
Mass Starvation Is Humanity’s Fate (Monbiot)
Monsanto Offers Cash To US Farmers Who Use Controversial Chemical (R.)

 

 

You don’t have to own bitcoin anymore to bet on it.

Bitcoin Futures Top $18,000, Soar 20% From Open – Halted for Second Time (ZH)

Update: At 10:05pm ET, the CFE halted trading in Cboe Bitcoin Futures (XBT), in accordance with CFE Rule 1302(i)(ii) which defines the threshold for the halt as a 20% surge. XBT will re-open for trading approximately five (5)minutes from the time of the halt. Bitcoin Futures have topped $18,000 for the first time… It was reopened at 10:10pm ET. All of which is odd because Bob Pisani and the rest of the mainstream said that the opening of Bitcoin Futures would bring about the demise of the cryptocurrency due to the ability to short?

Update: At precisely 8:31pm ET, the CBOE instituted the first ever XBT trading halt, which lasted for two minutes according to a notice on Cboe’s website. XBT contracts have since resumed trading. As a reminder, the Cboe can halt trading for 2 minutes after 10% swings, and 5 minutes at 20%, an attempt to prevent wild swings.

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Things are a-changing.

Investors Told to Brace for Steepest Rate Hikes Since 2006 (BBG)

Wall Street economists are telling investors to brace for the biggest tightening of monetary policy in more than a decade. With the world economy heading into its strongest period since 2011, Citigroup Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. predict average interest rates across advanced economies will climb to at least 1 percent next year in what would be the largest increase since 2006. As for the quantitative easing that marks its 10th anniversary in the U.S. next year, Bloomberg Economics predicts net asset purchases by the main central banks will fall to a monthly $18 billion at the end of 2018, from $126 billion in September, and turn negative during the first half of 2019. That reflects an increasingly synchronized global expansion finally strong enough to spur inflation, albeit modestly.

The test for policy makers, including incoming Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, will be whether they can continue pulling back without derailing demand or rocking asset markets. “2018 is the year when we have true tightening,” said Ebrahim Rahbari, director of global economics at Citigroup in New York. “We will continue on the current path where financial markets can deal quite well with monetary policy but perhaps later in the year, or in 2019, monetary policy will become one of the complicating factors.” A clearer picture should form this week when the Norges Bank, Fed, Bank of England, European Central Bank and Swiss National Bank announce their final policy decisions of 2017. They collectively set borrowing costs for more than a third of the world economy. At least 10 other central banks also deliver decisions this week.

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Again, from an article with much more info and many more graphs.

The Struggle To Maintain The “Standard Of Living” (Roberts)

Economic cycles are only sustainable for as long as excesses are being built. The natural law of reversions, while they can be suspended by artificial interventions, cannot be repealed. More importantly, while there is currently “no sign of recession,” what is going on with the main driver of economic growth – the consumer? The chart below shows the real problem. Since the financial crisis, the average American has not seen much of a recovery. Wages have remained stagnant, real employment has been subdued and the actual cost of living (when accounting for insurance, college, and taxes) has risen rather sharply. The net effect has been a struggle to maintain the current standard of living which can be seen by the surge in credit as a percentage of the economy.

To put this into perspective, we can look back throughout history and see that substantial increases in consumer debt to GDP have occurred coincident with recessionary drags in the economy. No sign of recession? Are you sure about that?

There has been a shift caused by the financial crisis, aging demographics, massive monetary interventions and the structural change in employment which has skewed the seasonal-adjustments in economic data. This makes every report from employment, retail sales, and manufacturing appear more robust than they would be otherwise. This is a problem mainstream analysis continues to overlook but will be used as an excuse when it reverses. Here is my point. While the call of a “recession” may seem far-fetched based on today’s economic data points, no one was calling for a recession in early 2000 or 2007 either. By the time the data is adjusted, and the eventual recession is revealed, it won’t matter as the damage will have already been done. As Howard Marks once quipped: “Being right, but early in the call, is the same as being wrong.”

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You need an audit for that?

China Audit Finds Provinces Faked Data and Borrowed Illegally (BBG)

China found some local governments inflated revenue levels and raised debt illegally in a nationwide audit, a setback for Beijing in its bid to boost the credibility of economic data after a run of scandals. Ten cities, counties or districts in the Yunnan, Hunan and Jilin provinces, as well as the southwestern city of Chongqing, inflated fiscal revenues by 1.55 billion yuan ($234 million), the National Audit Office said in a statement on its website dated Dec. 8. Of that, 1.24 billion yuan was from the Wangcheng district in the provincial capital of Hunan, where officials faked the ownership transfer of local government buildings to boost income. The inspection, which covered the third quarter, also found that five cities or counties in the Jiangxi, Shaanxi, Gansu, Hunan and Hainan provinces raised about 6.43 billion yuan in debts by violating rules, such as offering commitment letters.

The findings are a blow to China’s bid to rein in data fraud, which has been widespread in some of the poorer provinces where officials were incentivized to inflate the numbers as a way of advancing their careers. Concern from investors wanting to be able to trust data out of the world’s second-largest economy led to the government trying to crack down on the practice, with President Xi Jinping saying in March that data fraud “must be throttled,” according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency. Rigid stability in provincial data on growth and employment has long sparked questions from economists, with the rust-belt province of Liaoning, in China’s northeast, famously admitting back in January that it had fabricated fiscal data from 2011 to 2014. Some regions and cities in Jilin province and Inner Mongolia also falsified reports, the Communist Party said in June, without providing details.

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“Near the highs, few opportunities exist to earn substantial returns, so you should take little risk..”

Markets Tell You What To Do If You Listen (Peters)

Anecdote” “What are the odds we come across an opportunity in the coming 4yrs to earn 20%?” the investor asked his team. “High,” they answered. “The odds are 100%,” he said, having seen this movie a few times. “So our cost of capital is 5% per year (20% divided by 4yrs), plus the 1% we earn on cash,” he said. His team nodded. “Under no circumstances should we deploy capital unless it earns well more than 6% per year from here on out.” It made sense. “What do we see that earns more than this hurdle?” he asked. His team’s list was as short today as it was long in 2016, 2011, 2009, 2003, 1998, 1997, 1994, 1992, 1990, 1987, etc. Today’s few opportunities have much in common with previous peaks: negative convexity, complexity, illiquidity, leverage, and/or all the above. “Investors confuse a 7.5% average annualized return target with a 7.5% annual return target,” he explained. “They’re entirely different things.”

Targeting average annualized returns allows you to accept what the market gives you, while targeting annual returns forces you to leverage investments near peak valuations to hit your bogey. “Typical pension and endowment boards want incoming investment returns to consistently exceed outgoing flows.” So most investors attempt to produce the highest return every year, no matter what it takes. “But that’s the wrong objective. Never underestimate the value of cash and patience in achieving the real goal; superior returns over the complete cycle,” he explained. “Markets tell you what to do if you listen,” he said. “Near the highs, few opportunities exist to earn substantial returns, so you should take little risk. Near the lows, opportunities to earn attractive returns are abundant.” You should take a lot of risk. “This sounds simple because it is. It’s obvious. But obvious is not easy.”

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But Canada says no.

UK Seeking ‘Canada Plus Plus Plus’ EU Trade Deal (BBG)

Britain wants a trade deal with the European Union that includes the best parts of the bloc’s agreements with Japan, Canada and South Korea, along with financial services, Brexit Secretary David Davis said, showing optimism a pact can be struck within a year. The chances of the U.K. leaving the EU without a deal, defaulting to World Trade Organization rules, have “dropped dramatically,’’ Davis said in a BBC TV interview on Sunday. Still, he signaled the painstaking agreement struck on Friday to end the first phase of Brexit negotiations isn’t binding, and that Britain’s exit payment of as much as 39 billion pounds ($52 billion) is contingent on reaching a free-trade agreement. Doing so, he said, “is not that complicated.”

“We start in full alignment: we start in complete convergence with the EU, so we then work it out from there,” Davis said on the Andrew Marr Show. “What we want is a bespoke outcome: We’ll probably start with the best of Canada, the best of Japan and the best of South Korea and then add to that the bits that are missing, which is services,” he said. “Canada plus plus plus would be one way of putting it.” The Brexit secretary’s bullishness belies the noise coming from his counterparts in the EU. It’s taken eight months of at times bitter haggling to make sufficient progress on what was supposed to be the easiest part of the talks – resolving Britain’s exit payment, its future border with Ireland, and the rights of EU and U.K. citizens living in each other’s territories.

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Don’t think I ever heard clapped-out before.

Brexit’s Just A Distraction To The Real Problem: UK’s Clapped-Out Economy (G.)

As Brexiteers shout “forward” and remainers chant “ back”, the battle over the EU dominates British politics. Yet it obscures a more basic British problem. Our clapped-out economy, brilliant at consumption, poor at production, is becoming unviable. A “nation of shopkeepers” has become a nation of shoppers, dependent on debt. Deindustrialisation and misguided economic policies have reduced the former workshop of the world to a level where Britain can neither pay its way, nor afford the defence and public services an advanced society needs. Everything in which we once were leaders – ships, railways, TV, great bridges, nuclear plants, bicycles, textiles, clothing, even Kit Kats – we now import.

We consume more than we produce, leading to an annual balance of payments deficit rising above 6% of GDP, financed by borrowing and selling companies, property and citizenship to survive. The result is a sluggish economy (a growing proportion of which is owned by foreigners); low productivity (because the manufacturing sector has shrunk to one-tenth of GDP); and static pay, as every sector except finance cuts costs to survive. Being in or out of the EU has little relevance to this basic problem. The EU is a market, not a mutual support system. Instead of redistributing growth to succour laggards it punishes them, as it has Greece. It drains us and proscribes the techniques of nurture by state aid, protectionism and devaluation by which Germany and France grew. Its “aid” is just our own money back, with the EU’s heavy costs taken out.

Even worse, Germany’s huge surpluses mean that deficit countries like the UK, with our £60bn-plus trade deficit, are compounded by the single market. Yet coming out offers no solution either. It generates uncertainty and deters investment. Most of world trade is controlled by multinationals, and Britain would be more vulnerable to their ministrations. Tory Brexiteers aim at turning us, down and dirty, into a low-wage, deregulated, cost-cutting tax haven-on-Thames. Hardly acceptable to an electorate that has already endured decades of that. The only solution is to rebalance an economy excessively dependent on finance and services by widening the manufacturing and production base and making it competitive. Neither free trade nor the single market will do that.

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The EU is going to make this ugly. It’s the only thing they know how to do.

Poland Risks Being the EU’s Rogue State (BBG)

Behind the noise of Brexit negotiations, the talk in the EU this year has been that there’s potentially a bigger problem in the east. And the prospect of another rupture looks to be increasing. Poland’s de facto leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, hand-picked his second prime minister in two years, opting last week for western-educated Finance Minister Mateusz Morawiecki as he seeks to boost the economy after revamping the judicial system. He is another Kaczynski acolyte who has backed the increasingly authoritarian Law & Justice party’s push to seize more control of the courts, a plan condemned by the European Parliament and European Commission The mood in Brussels is that EU institutions can no longer stand by and watch a country that’s the biggest net recipient of European aid thumb its nose without paying some sort of price. Few people are discussing Poland following Britain out of the bloc, but a protracted conflict is getting more likely.

Concerns about the shift in Poland triggered calls to limit access to EU funds for countries disrespecting the democratic rule of law. At a ministerial meeting on Nov. 15 in Brussels, the issue was raised during a discussion about the 2021-2028 budget by countries including Germany, France and the Nordic states, according to two EU officials with knowledge of the matter. Poland’s refusal to take in mainly Muslim refugees was referred last week to the European Court of Justice along with Hungary and the Czech Republic. “There is a growing feeling in Brussels that solidarity cannot be a one-way street, and that it becomes difficult to justify the 10 billion-euro per year net transfers for a country that is increasingly at odds with the bloc’s values,” said Bruno Dethomas, a senior policy adviser at GPLUS consultancy in Brussels and a former EU ambassador to Poland. “It is high time the EU reacted, or it risks losing its soul.”

Poles are accustomed to their government stirring up nationalist fervor with blistering attacks on the EU while welcoming the policies of U.S. President Donald Trump. It’s railed against taking in Muslim refugees, claimed the country has been enslaved and snapped at criticism of its power grab this year. But even by Kaczynski’s standards, his speech on Nov. 10 to mark Independence Day pulled no punches. It’s up to Poles to show “the sick Europe of today the path back to health, to fundamental values, to true freedom and to the strengthening of our civilization based on Christianity,” he said.

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How confident are you in this audit?

Pentagon To Undergo First Ever Audit (ZH)

After decades of waste, overpayments, trillions of missing or improperly accounted for dollars, and most recently losing track of 44,000 US soldiers, the Pentagon is about to undergo its first audit in history conducted by 2,400 auditors from independent public accounting firms to conduct reviews across the Army, Navy, Air Force and more – followed by annual audits going forward. The announcement follows a May commitment by Pentagon comptroller David Norquist, who previously served as the CFO at the Department of Homeland Security when the agency performed its audit. “Starting an audit is a matter of driving change inside a bureaucracy that may resist it,” Norquist told members of the Armed Services Committee at the time when pressed over whether or not he could get the job done at the DHS.

According to the DoD release: “The audit is massive. It will examine every aspect of the department from personnel to real property to weapons to supplies to bases. Some 2,400 auditors will fan out across the department to conduct it, Pentagon officials said. “It is important that the Congress and the American people have confidence in DoD’s management of every taxpayer dollar,” Norquist said. -defense.gov”. The Pentagon is no stranger to criticism over serious waste and purposefully sloppy accounting. A DoD Inspector General’s report from 2016 – which appears to be unavailable on the DoD website (but fortunately WAS archived)- found that in 2015 alone a staggering $6.5 trillion in funds was unaccounted for out of the Army’s budget, with $2.8 trillion in “wrongful adjustments” occurring in just one quarter.

In 2015, the Pentagon denied trying to shelve a study detailing $125 billion in waste created by a bloated employee counts for noncombat related work such as human resources, finance, health care management and property management. The report concluded that $125 billion could be saved by making those operations more efficient. On September 10th, 2001, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced that “According to some estimates we cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions,” after a Pentagon whistleblower set off a probe. A day later, the September 11th attacks happened and the accounting scandal was quickly forgotten.

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Dickens was a big spender how had little.

‘A Christmas Carol’, Money, Debt, and Success (MW)

Karl Marx was so broke in 1859 he couldn’t afford the postage stamps to mail off his new manuscript, leading the philosopher to lament, “I don’t suppose anyone has ever written about ‘money’ when so short the stuff.” He was probably right about that. However, the most famous book about money written by someone strapped for cash wasn’t “Das Kapital” or “The Communist Manifesto.” It was “A Christmas Carol.” Charles Dickens suffered not only a personal-finance crisis but a creative one, as well, in the fall of 1843, when, in a sort of literary Hail Mary pass, he committed to writing a Christmas book in an impossible six weeks. And, in a plot twist as improbable as anything he himself could have come up with, this gambit actually worked: “A Christmas Carol” became one of the best-selling and most widely adapted books of all time, a work that shaped the very meaning of the holiday itself, and singlehandedly wiped out the goose market — more on that later.

This remarkable tale, recounted in Les Standiford’s biography, “The Man Who Invented Christmas,” and just turned into a highly entertaining new movie of the same name starring Dan Stevens and Christopher Plummer, holds financial lessons for everyone, especially those of us who’ve been tormented by the ghosts of bills past due and deadlines soon to come. Dickens was in debt: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. Sales of his two most recent novels were so disappointing that his publishers cut his pay. Meanwhile, the 31-year-old author and social-justice warrior had just moved into a larger, and much more expensive, home to accommodate the birth of his fifth child (like Marx, his pecuniary troubles stemmed somewhat from the age-old failure to live within one’s means).

On top of all this, his relatives, including his chronically deadbeat dad, kept hitting him up for money. His father, who later inspired the beloved character Wilkins Micawber in “David Copperfield,” was so hopeless with money that Dickens rented his parents a cottage far out in the country, where he hoped it would be harder for them to overspend. For Dickens this was all kind of galling because he had been working so hard and he didn’t have much to show for it,” said Declan Kiely, curator of a terrific ongoing exhibit on Dickens at the Morgan Library in New York. When Scrooge berates his cheerful nephew Fred, “What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer?” that could just as well have been Dickens ranting.

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How inevitable is this?

Mass Starvation Is Humanity’s Fate (Monbiot)

[..] to keep pace with food demand, farmers in south Asia expect to use between 80 and 200% more water by the year 2050. Where will it come from? The next constraint is temperature. One study suggests that, all else being equal, with each degree celsius of warming the global yield of rice drops by 3%, wheat by 6% and maize by 7%. These predictions could be optimistic. Research published in the journal Agricultural & Environmental Letters finds that 4C of warming in the US corn belt could reduce maize yields by between 84 and 100%. The reason is that high temperatures at night disrupt the pollination process. But this describes just one component of the likely pollination crisis. Insectageddon, caused by the global deployment of scarcely tested pesticides, will account for the rest. Already, in some parts of the world, workers are now pollinating plants by hand. But that’s viable only for the most expensive crops.

[..] Because they tend to use more labour, grow a wider range of crops and work the land more carefully, small farmers, as a rule, grow more food per hectare than large ones. In the poorer regions of the world, people with fewer than five hectares own 30% of the farmland but produce 70% of the food. Since 2000, an area of fertile ground roughly twice the size of the UK has been seized by land grabbers and consolidated into large farms, generally growing crops for export rather than the food needed by the poor. While these multiple disasters unfold on land, the seas are being sieved of everything but plastic. Despite a massive increase in effort (bigger boats, bigger engines, more gear), the worldwide fish catch is declining by roughly 1% a year, as populations collapse. The global land grab is mirrored by a global sea grab: small fishers are displaced by big corporations, exporting fish to those who need it less but pay more.

About 3 billion people depend to a large extent on fish and shellfish protein. Where will it come from? All this would be hard enough. But as people’s incomes increase, their diet tends to shift from plant protein to animal protein. World meat production has quadrupled in 50 years, but global average consumption is still only half that of the UK – where we eat roughly our bodyweight in meat every year – and just over a third of the US level. Because of the way we eat, the UK’s farmland footprint (the land required to meet our demand) is 2.4 times the size of its agricultural area. If everyone aspires to this diet, how exactly do we accommodate it? The profligacy of livestock farming is astonishing. Already, 36% of the calories grown in the form of grain and pulses – and 53% of the protein – are used to feed farm animals. Two-thirds of this food is lost in conversion from plant to animal. A graph produced last week by Our World in Data suggests that, on average, you need 0.01m2 of land to produce a gram of protein from beans or peas, but 1m2 to produce it from beef cattle or sheep: a 100-fold difference.

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Monsanto is the no.1 risk to our food. Presented as our savior.

Monsanto Offers Cash To US Farmers Who Use Controversial Chemical (R.)

Monsanto will give cash back to U.S. farmers who buy a weed killer that has been linked to widespread crop damage, offering an incentive to apply its product even as regulators in several U.S. states weigh restrictions on its use. The incentive to use XtendiMax with VaporGrip, a herbicide based on a chemical known as dicamba, could refund farmers over half the sticker price of the product in 2018 if they spray it on soybeans Monsanto engineered to resist the weed killer, according to company data. The United States faced an agricultural crisis this year caused by new formulations of dicamba-based herbicides, which farmers and weed experts say harmed crops because they evaporated and drifted away from where they were sprayed. Monsanto says XtendiMax is safe when properly applied.

The company is banking on the chemical and soybean seeds engineered to resist it, called Xtend, to dominate soybean production in the United States, the world’s second-largest exporter. BASF SE and DowDuPont also sell versions of dicamba-based herbicides. Monsanto’s cash-back offer comes as federal and state regulators are requiring training for farmers who plan to spray dicamba in 2018 and limiting when it can be used. Weed specialists say the restrictions make the chemical more costly and inconvenient to apply, but Monsanto’s incentive could help convince farmers to use it anyway.

Read more …

Oct 312017
 
 October 31, 2017  Posted by at 9:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Salvador Dalí The persistence of memory 1931

 

A Monstrous Bubble – The Destroyer Called Amazon (Stockman)
How The Actual Magic Money Tree Works (G.)
UK Debt Averages £8,000 Per Person – Not Including Mortgages (G.)
Surge In UK Consumer Borrowing Fuels Likely Interest Rate Rise (G.)
Theresa May Faces Snap Election If Defeated By Parliament On Brexit Deal (ES)
Russia Could Hold Congress Of Syrian Peoples In Mid-November (DS)
Europhile Left Deluded On EU Reform Process (Bilbo)
Four Trajectories for Europe’s Future (Turchin)
How Europe Exported Its Refugee Crisis To North Africa (G.)
Libyan Path To Europe Turns Into Dead End For Desperate Migrants (G.)

 

 

Will Washington be swallowed whole by the swamp? Might be a good outcome. Endless articles about Trump and Russia and Mueller. But very hard to find anything neutral. Journalism has become opinionism.

Is Papadopoulos a plant? Where did he come from? Did Fusion GPS set up the Trump Tower meeting after consulting with the DNC? Isn’t there a country to run? I’m getting tired, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

 

 

Stockman doesn’t buy it.

A Monstrous Bubble – The Destroyer Called Amazon (Stockman)

when it comes to wanton destruction we can think of no better evidence than the $63 billion market cap eruption visited upon Amazon owing to its purported “blow-out” earnings report on Friday. Except it wasn’t all that. In the year ago quarter AMZN’s pre-tax earnings came in at $491 million, which was actually alot more than the $316 million figure posted for Q3 2017. In fact, the company’s niggardly current quarter profit represented 36% plunge from prior year, but thanks to the company’s tax cut “selfie” the headline reading robo-machines didn’t even notice this rather dramatic setback. To wit, AMZN effective tax rate plunged from an aberrantly high 46.6% last year to a quite low 18.4% this year. As a result, its reported net income remained flat relative to prior year.

Stated differently, the blow-out earnings figure of $0.53 per share reported Friday was exactly the same the same $0.53 per share reported last year, but the “blow-out” part was due to the “beat” from the $0.02 street consensus. Then again, the street consensus had been for $1.91 per share only 90 days ago! As per usual, it had been “guided “down by 99% in the interim. If nothing else, this proves that the whole SEC “Fair Disclosure” (FD) is an absolute farce and that the SEC itself is an utter waste of taxpayer money. It also proves, of course, that a bevy of high priced advisors are far more efficacious at cutting tax rates than a House (of Representatives) full of Republicans foaming at the mouth about the topic. But how in the world does this kind of hyper-fiddling with accounting statement tax rates justify a market cap gain in one day ($63 billion) that exceeds the entire market cap of GM($61 billion) or Aetna ($57 billion)?

As it happened, Amazon’s LTM net income of $1.926 billion for the quarter might be a slightly better indicator of its profitability because the company’s four-quarter tax rate averaged out close to the US statutory rate, meaning that the company is being valued at 280X under normal tax rates. Moreover, even if you pro forma the results with the GOP’s vaunted 20% tax rate you would get LTM net income of $2.48 billion and a PE multiple of 217X; and for that matter, just go ahead and abolish the corporate tax entirely and AMZN’s PE at the zero bracket would still compute to 174X. We dwell on the absurdity of Amazon’s PE multiple in the first instance because there is absolutely nothing in its financial performance that warrants these massive market cap gains. Thus, way back in Q3 2014, AMZN’s operating income was $510 million. As shown below, it has been staggering around like a drunken sailor ever since – lapsing to just $347 million in the purportedly red hot quarter just ended.

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“..house prices rise to meet the amount the lender is prepared to lend, rather than being moored to wages..”

How The Actual Magic Money Tree Works (G.)

Shock data shows that most MPs do not know how money is created. Responding to a survey commissioned by Positive Money just before the June election, 85% were unaware that new money was created every time a commercial bank extended a loan, while 70% thought that only the government had the power to create new money. The results are only a shock if you didn’t see the last poll of MPs on exactly this topic, in 2014, revealing broadly the same level of ignorance. Indeed, the real shock is that MPs still, without embarrassment, answer surveys. Yet almost all our hot-button political issues, from social security to housing, relate back to the meaning and creation of money; so if the people making those choices don’t have a clue, that isn’t without consequence. How is money created? Some is created by the state, but usually in a financial emergency.

For instance, the crash gave rise to quantitative easing – money pumped directly into the economy by the government. The vast majority of money (97%) comes into being when a commercial bank extends a loan. Meanwhile, 27% of bank lending goes to other financial corporations; 50% to mortgages (mainly on existing residential property); 8% to high-cost credit (including overdrafts and credit cards); and just 15% to non-financial corporates, that is, the productive economy. What’s wrong with that? On the corporate financial side, bank-lending inflates asset prices, which concentrates wealth in the hands of the wealthy. On the mortgage side, house prices rise to meet the amount the lender is prepared to lend, rather than being moored to wages. The lender benefits enormously from larger mortgages and longer periods of indebtedness; the homeowner benefits slightly from a bigger asset, but obviously spends longer in debt servitude; the renter loses out completely.

Is there a magic money tree? All money comes from a magic tree, in the sense that money is spirited from thin air. There is no gold standard. Banks do not work to a money-multiplier model, where they extend loans as a multiple of the deposits they already hold. Money is created on faith alone, whether that is faith in ever-increasing housing prices or any other given investment. This does not mean that creation is risk-free: any government could create too much and spawn hyper-inflation. Any commercial bank could create too much and generate over-indebtedness in the private economy, which is what has happened. But it does mean that money has no innate value, it is simply a marker of trust between a lender and a borrower. So it is the ultimate democratic resource. The argument marshalled against social investment such as education, welfare and public services, that it is unaffordable because there is no magic money tree, is nonsensical. It all comes from the tree; the real question is, who is in charge of the tree?

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Why do they borrow? Is it for essentials?

UK Debt Averages £8,000 Per Person – Not Including Mortgages (G.)

More than 6 million Britons don’t believe they will ever be debt free, according to new research which has also found the average person in the UK owes £8,000 – on top of any mortgage debt. Almost a quarter of all Britons said they are struggling to make ends meet, while 62% said they were often worried about their levels of personal debt, according to research for Comparethemarket.com. Earlier this month, the price comparison website asked 2,000 adults detailed questions about their personal finances. They found that 10% of respondents had “maxed out” on a credit card, while a similar number said they had been overdrawn within the past 12 months. A third of those interviewed told researchers that they were already planning on taking on additional debt – in the form of credit cards, loans car finance and mortgages – in the next year.

Over a third said they could not see themselves ever being in a financial position to help younger family members, breaking the tradition of the “bank of mum and dad”. The results chime with a recent study by the Financial Conduct Authority which found that that 4.1 million people are already in serious financial difficulty. The survey, the biggest ever by the city regulator, concluded that half of the UK population are financially vulnerable, with 25- to 34-year-olds the most over-indebted. Shakila Hashmi, head of money at Comparethemarket.com, said: “Right now millions of Brits could be in danger of suffering from one of the longest financial hangovers in history. While it may be hard to see an end in sight, the worst thing people in debt can do right now is stick their head in the sand. As well as reining in spending, there are other ways you can reduce debt, like switching to credit cards that help you get on top of debt with interest-free periods.”

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If you borrow too much, we’ll make it costlier.

Surge In UK Consumer Borrowing Fuels Likely Interest Rate Rise (G.)

A near-double-digit increase in lending to households in the year to September has left the Bank of England on track to raise interest rates on Thursday, amid concerns that consumers are creating an unmanageable mountain of unsecured debt. The pace of annual consumer credit growth was 9.9% last month, according to figures from the central bank, as borrowing on credit cards, overdrafts and unsecured loans jumped. The consistent appetite for borrowing is likely to put further pressure on the Bank to raise interest rates this week, with other indicators such as inflation and unemployment already supporting the case for a rise. Last month the Bank said British lenders needed to hold an extra £11bn of capital to guard against consumer loans going sour, due to concerns that banks had overestimated the creditworthiness of their borrowers.

Consumer credit has rocketed since 2014 when it was running at an annual rate of 4%. Last year the annual growth rate hit 12%, with the latest September numbers creating a a consumer debt of more than £204bn. Analysts were unsure whether the increase was a sign of growing confidence among consumers or desperation as wages growth stagnated and inflation rises. Only a steep fall in car loans in recent months has stopped the overall level of consumer credit creeping back to last year’s levels. Joanna Elson, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline, said regulators should monitor the effects of an interest rate rise, which will increase pressure on many household finances.

“With household debt a growing concern and an interest rate rise likely as early as this week, we encourage households to exercise caution before taking on additional borrowing – and consider how they would be able to cope with repayments in the event of a shock to their income. “Millions of people will have never experienced an interest rate rise. We are concerned that a small rise, combined with high levels of borrowing, rising living costs and slow wage growth could be enough to push many households into financial difficulty,” she said.

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How Britain goes to the dogs.

Theresa May Faces Snap Election If Defeated By Parliament On Brexit Deal (ES)

Theresa May was threatened with a snap general election today if she is defeated by Parliament on her Brexit deal. Tory right wingers raised the “nuclear threat” of a forced election in what was seen as an attempt to see off calls to empower the Commons to amend the deal or call for fresh negotiations. Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader and leading Brexit-backer, said it would be on “a confidence issue” and defeat would make the Government “head towards” a general election. “It will be the most important vote of the entire Parliament and if the Government loses it you head towards that conclusion,” he told the Evening Standard. Mrs May is aiming to hammer out a leaving deal with the EU by October or November next year.

The decision on whether Parliament gets a “take it or leave it” vote or the right to amend the deal is shaping up to be the key battle of Brexit. John Whittingdale, the former Culture Secretary, claimed the vote itself would be “a vote of confidence in government” that would trigger an election if defeated. “I think for the Government to come to Parliament and say we have a deal … and for Parliament then to turn around and say, ‘well, actually, we don’t agree it’s a good deal and we’re going to throw it out’, that is a vote of confidence in government,” he told The Westminster Hour. “I can’t see how the government could say ‘oh alright then, we’ll go and have another go’. I think there would have to be a general election.”

But MPs backing a softer pro-business Brexit said Mrs May must keep Parliament involved. Nicky Morgan, the chair of the Treasury Select Committee, said: “Ministers have promised Parliament a meaningful vote. They need to keep Parliament informed and involved to avoid problems at the end. “They resisted a Parliamentary vote on Article 50 until compelled to give way. They should do all they can to avoid a repetition.” Former minister Bob Neill said the eurosceptic threat smacked of “desperation”.

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Where will the US be?

Russia Could Hold Congress Of Syrian Peoples In Mid-November (DS)

A Moscow-backed congress of all Syria’s ethnic groups could take place in Russia as soon as next month and launch work on drawing up a new constitution, the RIA news agency reported Monday, citing a source familiar with the situation. RIA said the Congress of Syrian peoples, the idea of which President Vladimir Putin first mentioned at a forum with foreign scholars earlier this month, could take place in mid-November in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi. According to the source, 1,000-1,300 participants from the Assad regime and pro-regime forces as well as various opposition groups will participate. The source added that representatives of various ethnic groups, including Kurds and Turkmens, and religious clergy are also expected. Special U.N. envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura agreed to participate in the congress but set out a list of terms and conditions that have to be met before the event. Putin says the congress could be an important step toward a political settlement and could also help draft a new constitution for the country.

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Permanent austerity. Strong by Bill Mitchell.

Europhile Left Deluded On EU Reform Process (Bilbo)

The Europhiles maintain a blind faith in what they claim to be a reform process, which when carried through will reduce some of the acknowledged shortcomings (I would say disastrously terminal design flaws). They don’t put any time dimension on this ‘process’ but claim it is an on-going dialogue and we should sit tight and wait for it to deliver. Apparently waiting for ‘pigs to fly’ is a better strategy than dealing with the basic problems that this failed system has created. I think otherwise. The human disaster that the Eurozone has created impacts daily on peoples’ lives. It is entrenching long-term costs where a whole generation of Europeans has been denied the chance to work.

That will reverberate for the rest of their lives and create dysfunctional outcomes no matter what ‘reforms’ are introduced. The damage is already done and remedies are desperately needed now. The so-called ‘reforms’ to date have been pathetic (think: banking union) and do not redress the flawed design. And to put a finer point on it: Germany will never allow sufficient changes to be made to render the EMU a functioning and effective federation. The Europhile Left is deluded if it thinks otherwise.

[..] here is the OECD Economic Outlook data (from 1960 to 2016) for the Greek unemployment rate, which confirms the veracity of the tweet statement (at least as far as Greek unemployment goes). The fact that the Greek unemployment averaged just 6.6% prior to the crisis (from 1960 to 2008) and has averaged 20.9% since then (2009-2016) and has been above 20% since 2012 tells me that the policy structures in place have failed badly since the GFC. That means – the austerity imposed under the Stability and Growth Pact, the lack of a federal fiscal capacity and the lack of a ‘federal sentiment’ which would have eased the way for generous funds transfers to Greece to allow it to restore domestic demand relatively quickly.

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Halting fragmentation seems futile.

Four Trajectories for Europe’s Future (Turchin)

Scenario 1. The disintegrative trends that I and others have written about are just a “blip”, a temporary set-back that will be soon overcome. The grand project of European integration will soon recover and by 2027 everybody will look back and have fun at the expense of “doomsayers”. I think that this trajectory is extremely unlikely. First, because of the shift in the social mood of the Germans, to which I referred above. Second, because all across Europe the well-being of large segments of the population is declining. To give just two examples, think of the extraordinary high unemployment rates for the young workers in countries like Spain, and of declining real wages of UK workers over the past decade.

Scenario 2. The EU continues to muddle through. Neither integrative, nor disintegrative trend dominates over the next decade, and in 2027 we are pretty much where we are now. In my opinion, this inertial scenario is more likely than the optimistic Scenario 1, but still not too likely. An equilibrium is a dynamic process, it can maintain itself only when two opposite forces cancel each other out. I don’t see any compelling signs of an integrative force that would cancel the disintegrative forces. Empirically, history doesn’t stand still. So things will either improve, or get worse. [..] my money is on the disintegrative trend prevailing (although personally I wish it was otherwise). Incidentally, the governing elites of the EU behave as though they all believe in Scenario 1 (or, at worst, Scenario 2).

Scenario 3. The next 10 years will see an increasingly fragmented European landscape. The EU will not be formally abolished, but it will increasingly lose its capacity to influence constituent countries. Led by Hungary and Poland, other small and medium-sized countries will increasingly set their national policies without much regard for Brussels. This fragmentation will be accomplished largely in a nonviolent way. Perhaps not in ten years, as it may take longer, but eventually the EU will look much like the Holy Roman Empire. This “HRE” scenario is probably the most likely, at least in my opinion.

Scenario 4. Like in the previous scenarios, the disintegrative trend will dominate, but dissolution of the EU will not be peaceful. I think (I hope) that the violent disintegration scenario is much less likely than the Scenario 3. And I know that almost nobody believes that a violent break-up is possible. Very few people remain who fought in World War II. And this is the danger. The government of Mariano Rajoy apparently can’t imagine that one result of their push to suppress the Catalonian independence movement could be a bloody civil war.


The Holy Roman Empire in 1618

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“We are creating chaos in our own backyard and there will be a high price to pay if we don’t fix it..”

How Europe Exported Its Refugee Crisis To North Africa (G.)

Something happened to the deadly migrant trail into Europe in 2017. It dried up. Not completely, but palpably. In the high summer, peak time for traffic across the Mediterranean, numbers fell by as much as 70%. This was no random occurrence. Even before the mass arrival of more than a million migrants and refugees into Europe in 2015, European policymakers had been desperately seeking solutions that would not just deal with those already here, but prevent more from coming. From Berlin to Brussels it is clear: there cannot be an open-ended invitation to the miserable millions of Europe’s southern and eastern periphery. Instead, European leaders have sought to export the problem whence it came: principally north Africa.

The means have been various: disrupting humanitarian rescue missions in the Mediterranean, offering aid to north African countries that commit to stemming the flow of people themselves, funding the UN to repatriate migrants stuck in Libya and beefing up the Libyan coastguard. The upshot has been to bottleneck the migration crisis in a part of the world least able to cope with it. Critics have said Europe is merely trying to export the problem and contain it for reasons of political expediency, but that this approach will not work. “We are creating chaos in our own backyard and there will be a high price to pay if we don’t fix it,” said one senior European aid official, who did not wish to be named.

The new hard-headed approach crystallised with the EU-Africa trust fund in November 2015, when European leaders offered an initial €2bn to help deport unwanted migrants and prevent people from leaving in the first place. Spread between 26 countries, the fund pays for skills training in Ethiopia and antenatal care in South Sudan, as well as helping migrants stranded in north Africa return home on a voluntary basis. Separately the European commission has signed migration deals with five African countries, Niger, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and Ethiopia. These migration “compacts” tie development aid, trade and other EU policies to the EU’s agenda on returning unwanted migrants from Europe. For instance, in the first year of the compact, Mali took back 404 voluntary returnees and accepted EU funds to beef up its internal security forces and border control and crack down on smugglers.

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Europe is feeding gangs.

Libyan Path To Europe Turns Into Dead End For Desperate Migrants (G.)

UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, estimates that there are about 30 government-run detention centres in Libya, but that doesn’t include clandestine facilities run by traffickers and militias. Several hundred thousand migrants are thought to be in the country. “In general, conditions are really bad in these detention centers,” says UNHCR Libya chief Roberto Mignone. “At best, they are more or less functional, but serious human rights violations and sexual assaults are committed there.” UNHCR is trying to help migrants move out of the illicit detention centres and into facilities that it manages. But the agency’s freedom to operate is limited by a parlous security situation: Mignone and his staff operate out of neighbouring Tunisia, with the help of a few dozen Libyan associates.

“The security situation is very complicated and it is frustrating not to have free access to all in need. We have no overview of the militias’ or traffickers’ detention centres or prisons,” says Mignone. Since Muammar Gaddafi was ousted in 2011, Libya has served as both a magnet and a funnel for migrants desperate to start new lives in Europe. After record-breaking numbers of arrivals in Italy in 2016 and unprecedented numbers dying in the Mediterranean over the past two years, the EU signalled a new determination to head of the migration problem closer to the source with a series of deals with Libya earlier this year. One part of the strategy involved the south of the country – where more than 2,500km (1,550 miles) of desert borders with Algeria, Chad, Niger and Sudan provide multiple channels north.

A series of consultations was established between the Italian interior minister, Marco Minniti, and south Libyan mayors, who represent local groups and tribes. The deal pinpointed seven “elements” to pacify the different factions, from the Tebu to the Beni Suleiman, in the name of a common commitment to halt migrant trafficking. This project was heavily supported by Ahmed Maetig, vice-president of the Libyan presidential council, and greeted warmly in southern Libya, by the mayor of Sebha, Hamed Al-Khayali. “The project we are carrying forward now with Italy involves the development and growth of southern Libya within the framework of the fight against illegal immigration,” Khayali said.

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Sep 212017
 
 September 21, 2017  Posted by at 8:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Pablo Picasso Jacqueline in Turkish costume 1955

 

Yellen Brushes Aside Inflation ‘Mystery’ While Fed Eyes Rate Hike (BBG)
Federal Reserve Will Continue Cutting Economic Life Support (Smith)
What Shiller Says Is Preventing A 1929-Like Stock Market Crash (CNBC)
Stock Market Bubbles in Perspective (Ma)
We’re Officially In The 2nd-Largest Bull Market Since World War II (BI)
Who’s Pulling The Strings? (Ren.)
144 Years Ago A Panic Shut Down The Stock Market For The First Time (Cashin)
China’s Dangerous House Price Boom Is Spreading (BBG)
Japan’s “Deflationary Mindset” Grows (ZH)
Greece Considers Bond Swap As It Looks To Bailout Exit (R.)
Abbas Says Trump May Have Mideast ‘On the Verge’ of Peace Deal
4-6 Months To Restore Puerto Rico Electricity After Hurricane Maria (NBC)
Global Mass Extinction Set To Begin By 2100 (Ind.)

 

 

Inflation is arguably the Fed’s no. 1 concern left. Yellen admits they don’t know what it is or does, though. Still, decisions concerning billions and trillions are taken. No direction home.

Yellen Brushes Aside Inflation ‘Mystery’ While Fed Eyes Rate Hike (BBG)

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen acknowledged that the fall in inflation this year was a bit of a “mystery” but suggested that the central bank was on course to raise interest rates again in 2017 nonetheless. She told reporters on Wednesday that the economy was robust enough to withstand further rate increases and an imminent reduction in the Fed’s $4.5 trillion balance sheet, as it exits from a crisis-era policy a decade after the onset of the Great Recession.“We continue to expect that the ongoing strength of the economy will warrant gradual increases” in rates, she told a press conference after the Federal Open Market Committee announced that it will slowly begin to pare its bond holdings next month. As expected, the target range for the federal funds rate was held at 1% to 1.25%. The central bank’s intention to press ahead with another rate hike this year and three more in 2018 caught investors by surprise, sending bond yields and the dollar higher.

The strategy represents a bit of a gamble because it risks cementing inflation permanently below the Fed’s 2% target. As measured by the personal consumption expenditures price index, inflation has ebbed this year even as the economy and the labor market have continued to improve. After briefly poking above 2% earlier this year, it fell to 1.4% in June and July. “I will not say that the committee clearly understands what the causes are of that,” Yellen, 71, said. While transitory forces such as a one-time cut in mobile-phone service charges were part of the story, they did not fully explain the shortfall, she said. The Fed chief though argued that the ongoing strength of the economy and the labor market would ultimately help lift inflation, while she kept open the possibility the central bank would alter course if that proved not to be the case.

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The Fed doesn’t serve the people. Never forget.

Federal Reserve Will Continue Cutting Economic Life Support (Smith)

First, let’s be clear, historically the Fed’s predictable behavior has been to skip major policy actions in September and then startle markets with renewed and aggressive actions in December. People placing bets on a Fed rate hike in September would look at this pattern and say “no way.” However, the narrative I see building in Fed rhetoric and in the mainstream media is that stock markets have become “unruly children” and that the Fed must become a “stern parent,” reigning them in before they are crushed under the weight of their own naive enthusiasm. In my view, the Fed will continue to do what it says it is going to do — raise interest rates and reduce and remove stimulus, and that the mainstream narrative will soon be adjusted to suggest that this is “necessary;” that stock markets need a bit of tough love.

If the Fed means to follow through with its stated plans for “financial stability” in markets, then the only measure that would be effective in shell-shocking stocks back to reality would be a surprise hike, a surprise announcement of balance sheet reduction or both at the same time If the Fed intends to continue cutting off life support to equities and bonds in preparation for a controlled demolition of the U.S. economy, then there is a high probability at the very least of a balance sheet reduction announcement this week with strong language indicating another rate hike in December. I also would not completely rule out a surprise rate hike even though September is usually a no-action month for central banks. This would fit the trend of central banks around the globe strategically distancing themselves from artificial support for the financial structure.

Last week, the Bank of England surprised investors with an open indication that they may begin raising interest rates “in the coming months.” The Bank Of Canada surprised some economists with yet another rate hike this month and mentions of “more to come.” The European Central Bank has paved the way for a tapering of stimulus measures according to comments made during its latest meeting early this month. And, the Bank of Japan initiated taper measures in July. Even Forbes is admitting that there appears to be a “coordinated tightening of monetary policy” coming far sooner than the mainstream expects. If you understand how the Bank for International Settlements controls policy initiatives of national central bank members, then you should not be surprised that central banks all over the world are pursuing the same actions and the same rhetoric. The only difference between any of them is the pace they have chosen in taking the punch bowl away from the party.

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Psychology and obesity. Gee, thanks Bob! Feel much more confident now.

What Shiller Says Is Preventing A 1929-Like Stock Market Crash (CNBC)

It’s a comparison no one wants to hear — that this stock market bears striking similarities to that of 1929. The observation is coming from Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller, who’s been arguing valuations are extremely expensive. But instead of predicting an epic stock market crash, he’s finding reasons to be optimistic. “The market is about as highly priced as it was in 1929,” said Shiller on Tuesday’s “Trading Nation.” “In 1929 from the peak to the bottom, it was 80% down. And the market really wasn’t much higher than it is now in terms of my CAPE [cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings] ratio. So, you give pause when you notice that.” In his first interview since penning an op-ed on Sept. 15 in The New York Times, the Yale University economics professor reiterated to CNBC that there’s one vital characteristic protecting investors from losing their nest eggs: Market psychology.

“It’s not just a matter of low interest rates, it’s something about the American atmosphere. It’s partly the Trump atmosphere. Investors love this. I can’t exactly explain – maybe it has something to do with prospective tax cuts. But I don’t think it’s just that. It’s something deeper, and it’s pushing the American market up,” he added. Unlike 1929, Shiller points out there’s not much talk about people borrowing exorbitant amounts of money to buy stocks. Plus, he notes there’s now more regulation. But don’t mistake the Yale University economics professor for a bull. “I don’t want to encourage people too much to put a lot into the most expensive market in the world,” said Shiller. “The U.S. has the highest CAPE ratio of 26 countries. We are number one.”

[..] Shiller may see red flags, but he isn’t ruling out a market that continues to churn out fresh records for months, if not years. “I wouldn’t call it healthy, I’d call it obese. But you know, some of these obese people live to be 100 years, so you never know,” said Shiller.

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Still feeling good, Shiller?

Stock Market Bubbles in Perspective (Ma)

A better type of average would be the median. It literally represents the middle of a sequence of ranked numbers. In most cases, it is not influenced by outliers. By using median (instead of mean) earnings, I refer to this valuation approach as the CAPME ratio. It currently shows the S&P Composite is not the second or third most expensive stock market cycle. This finding supports those who criticize the traditional CAPE ratio of overstating the valuation of the S&P Composite Index. The problem for critics though is using the CAPME ratio still shows the U.S. stock market is very expensive right now. In fact, it is the fourth most expensive, behind the stock market cycle that occurred during the Subprime Mortgage Bubble. Based on the data Professor Shiller uses, you can see this in the graph below that looks back 135 years.

You will notice in the graph above that the past 5 stock market bubbles were all valued at one point at more than 20-times median, annual, inflation-adjusted earnings. The valuation range of those peaks is wide though given the Tech Bubble was valued at more than 40-times at its peak. This makes the Tech Bubble potentially an outlier. Furthermore, all 5 stock market bubbles did not last long. They were fleeting. To put this all into perspective, consider these valuations by their percentile ranks. You can see this from the orange lines in the graph below. [It] shows the aforementioned 5 stock market cycles turned into bubbles when their CAPME valuation ratios reached a very high level of roughly the 90th percentile (red dotted line). In other words, these bubbles formed when their valuations were near or at the most expensive decile.

Investors beware: the valuation of the S&P Composite Index is currently ranked at the 94th percentile. This puts the U.S. stock market smack-dab at the heart of bubble territory. It has been argued lots that the high stock market valuation is justified by low interest rates. This argument does not work for me. Let me tell you why. Yields on 10-year U.S. treasury bonds in early-1941 were lower than they are now. Despite lower interest rates in early-1941, the stock market CAPME valuation ratio was quite low at that time ranking at around the 30th percentile. Furthermore, the amount of debt provided by stock brokers used to fuel the current stock market cycle is at a record level. This could prove problematic given bubbles driven by financial leverage are particularly dangerous.

The aforementioned 5 stock market cycles turned into bubbles when their CAPME valuation ratios reached the 90th percentile. The U.S. stock market is back there again. Its valuation is squarely in the middle of that very expensive decile looking back 135 years. The 5 previous instances of stock market bubbles suggest this will not end well. Bubbles never do, particularly ones driven by financial leverage.

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Whcih goes to show how easily markets are manipulated.

We’re Officially In The 2nd-Largest Bull Market Since World War II (BI)

We’re officially in the second-largest bull market since World War II. A week ago Monday, the S&P 500 index’s bull market became the second-best performing in the modern economic era. Stocks have climbed by about 270% from their March 2009 low over the past eight years, according to data from LPL Financial. Today’s bull market has eclipsed the 267% gain seen from June 1949 to August 1956. But the bull market from October 1990 to March 2000 remains in the top spot. “The logical question we continue to receive is: how much further can it go? We have an old bull market and an old expansion. When will the music stop?” Ryan Detrick, the senior market strategist for LPL Financial, wrote in commentary. “The current bull market is officially 101 months old, which might sound old (and it is), but remember that bull markets don’t die of old age, they die of excesses.”

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“The central bankers of the world have dumped $30 trillion into the global economy over the last eight years and we’ve got 2% growth and change..”

Who’s Pulling The Strings? (Ren.)

Feierstein cited the Resolution Trust debacle as an example of what should have happened. The Trust was declared insolvent as a consequence of the 1980s Savings and Loans Crisis and up to 300 bankers were jailed. “This is what should have happened this time around, instead of taking hundreds of trillions of dollars taxpayer’s money and placing the taxpayer at incredible peril and just added liquidity to the markets,” he said. “Giving more money to an insolvent institution is not the solution. You cannot pay your way out of debt with borrowed money. It’s not going to cure the underlying problem of insolvency.” This is why Feierstein refers to the entire global economy as a Ponzi scheme. “The amount of debt in the global financial system is a Ponzi scheme because the United States government has over $240 trillion in debt which is more than three times global GDP.

That’s the sum of all goods and services produced with zero consumption for three years. We’ll never pay out the debt that’s owed.” Feierstein says the government has tried to replace consumer demand with debt and printed money and consumers haven’t come back into the market. “That’s why we’ve got a huge government that thinks they can control everything and price action manipulating volatility to unrealistically low levels,” he said. “They think the consumer will eventually come back but they won’t because the jobs have disappeared and the unemployment rate which we’ve spoken about before is a lie. It’s not 4.3%, it’s closer to 20% because you’ve got people who aren’t participating in the workforce. And that’s probably over 100 million people in America.” Financial times journalist, Rana Foroohar says consumers are all tapped out.

“Credit is what we do to sort of keep middle class voters happy,” she said. “We’re tapped out.” The good news and the bad news is that when the next financial crisis comes the US government will not have as much firepower to throw at it. “The central bankers of the world have dumped $30 trillion into the global economy over the last eight years and we’ve got 2% growth and change,” she said. “It’s pathetic.” Feierstein said it is important to highlight how derivative products have contributed massively to this problem. “When I say there is too much leverage, basically derivative products allows financial institutions and investors to create 100 to 1 leverage. You put up $1 to control $100, or $500 dollars in assets. Think about that on a big scale. If you take $1 million you can control something worth $100 million, or even $500 million depending upon how you gear the leverage ratio.

Read more …

Art Cashin tells a story.

144 Years Ago A Panic Shut Down The Stock Market For The First Time (Cashin)

“[O]n Saturday, September 20, 1873, for the first time in its history, the NYSE closed in response to a panic. (The word circuit breaker had not been invented yet….er…..neither had circuits.) A week or more before, one of the most renowned firms in American finance and especially U.S. Treasury auctions came under a cloud of suspicion. The firm was Jay Cooke & Company. And, on most continents, it was seen as a key player. After all, its aggressive style had made it the key underwriter for the billions of Treasury bonds issued during and after the Civil War. (Contemporary competitors had shied back fearing that deficit spending had gotten out of control.) Anyway, the concern about in this key brokerage firm only confused the market at first. But as this day approached, there were hints that the problems would spread to other brokers. On the 18th, liquidation of equities showed up at the ‘first call.’

For most of its first century of existence, the NYSE was a ‘call market.’ The chairman, or other senior officer, would call out the name of one of the listed issues. Brokers who had an interest in that ‘issue’ would arise from their ‘seats’ and begin to bargain with any other brokers arisen from their ‘seats’. When transactions ended in that issue (assuming they were not all buyers), brokers returned to their ‘seats’ and the chairman called the next issue on the roll. When the last issue was called, the session officially ended. There were two sessions each day. […] So, here they were. Rumors surfaced that, perhaps some other brokers were involved and the first call on the 18th turned soft. The second call turned soggy. Prices were down and with no on-going after market; all you could do (as the banks did) is await the next call.

The morning call on the 19th was messy and the afternoon call was just a disaster. Outside, in a heavy rain, crowds gathered on Wall Street to withdraw securities and money from brokers. By the morning of the 20th anyone who was in the phone book (if there had been one at the time) was rumored to have been impacted by the problem. So, naturally the morning call on Saturday the 20th was a disaster. So much so that the Exchange opted to close until the crisis calmed (skipping the P.M. call). Close they did and for a lot more than one ‘call.’ But, but perhaps because banks and investors naturally needed some means of evaluating holdings, they reopened about ten days later. However, the rumors would not go away and liquidations and defaults continued. The history books call it the Panic of 1873. And, it put the American economy in a tailspin for years. (Nearly 10,000 businesses failed.)”

Read more …

Until recently, Chinese hardly borrowed at all. Now, debt is the only way to keep up.

China’s Dangerous House Price Boom Is Spreading (BBG)

Hefty mortgages have pushed up Chinese household debt, reducing their room for maneuver should income growth stall, according to recent research by Gene Ma, chief China economist at the Institute of International Finance in Washington. In general, it’s debt that’s the warning sign. As developers and households become more leveraged, the risk is that a price downturn doesn’t remain contained within the property market. “The high leverage will amplify the damage to the economy if a property bust happens,” said Bloomberg Intelligence economist Fielding Chen. “The shock wave will be passed onto the entire financial system, and losses will be greater,” he said. Once home prices tumble, about 40% of Chinese banks will be hit hard, according to a recent research note from Ping An Securities.

Analysts have argued that the debt load in the Chinese property market is far from a carbon copy of the situation in Japan’s bubble era before its bust in the 1990s, nor is it similar to the sub-prime crisis in the U.S. a decade ago. With down payment requirements of at least 20% for first purchases and as much as 70% for second homes, China’s household mortgages still stand at relatively safe levels, said Wang Qiufeng, an analyst at China Chengxin International in Beijing. Ping An Securities also argues that the odds of a property crash happening in the near term are very small. But as household debt-to-income ratios have risen almost to levels seen in advanced economies, the potential impact on the economy of a popping bubble would be considerable.

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Abenomics is (was) an attempt to force people into spending. That scares them into not spending. It doesn’t come any simpler.

Japan’s “Deflationary Mindset” Grows (ZH)

After being force-fed more stimulus than John Belushi, and endless rounds of buying any and every asset that dares to expose any cracks in the potemkin village of fiat folly, Japan remains stuck firmly in what Abe feared so many years ago – a “deflationary mindset.” As Bloomberg reports, cash and deposits held by Japanese households rose for 42nd straight quarter at the end of June as the nation’s consumers continued to favor saving over spending. The “deflationary mindset” that the Bank of Japan is battling to overcome was also evident in the money laying idle in corporate coffers, which stayed near an all-time high, according to quarterly flow of funds data released by the BOJ on Wednesday. Still, as Bloomberg optimistically notes, with the economy expanding much faster than its potential growth rate, greater inflationary pressures could be on the way, which may prompt a shift in behavior by consumers and companies… or not!

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Musical chairs.

Greece Considers Bond Swap As It Looks To Bailout Exit (R.)

Greece is considering swapping 20 small bond issues for four or five new ones, government sources said, as it prepares to exit its international bailout and resume normal financing operations. The country has been surviving on rescue funds since 2010 and is anxious to draw a line under its bailout phase next year. The government is considering a swap that would consolidate the secondary market into a few benchmark issues, replacing 20 separate bonds with a face value of around 32 billion euros, said officials familiar with the proposal. “We are planning to proceed with some debt management actions … to improve liquidity and tradeability,” one senior government official said. Officials said the move was still under discussion and did not say when it might happen, adding that bondholders had yet to be sounded out.

The 20 bonds were issued in 2012 in a voluntary scheme whereby private bondholders took a 53.5% haircut on their investments. It was the world’s biggest debt restructuring involving bonds with a total face value of 206 billion euros. Major holders included banks and pensions funds in Greece and abroad. Two years later in 2014, Greece made two forays as part of a plan to regain full bond market access. This time the plan is more modest but would represent a major step toward for bigger debt issues. Greece issued a five-year bond in July, and investors that bought the new bond are already making a profit of about 1.5% since the beginning of the year. Greece’s borrowing costs have fallen sharply this year back to pre-crisis levels, as investors see the prospect further bailouts diminishing as well as signs of economic improvement.

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Wouldn’t that be something.

Abbas Says Trump May Have Mideast ‘On the Verge’ of Peace Deal

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s diplomatic efforts in the Mideast give him confidence that the region is “on the verge” of peace. Abbas said his government has met with U.S. diplomats more than 20 times since Trump took office in January. “If this is an indication of anything, it indicates how serious you are about peace in the Middle East,” Abbas said through a translator at a meeting with the U.S. president during the United Nations General Assembly in New York. “I think we have a pretty good shot, maybe the best shot ever,” Trump said. “I certainly will devote everything within my heart and within my soul to get that deal made.” “Who knows, stranger things have happened,” he added. “No promises, obviously.”

Trump met with Abbas two days after a similar meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, where the U.S. president said he was hopeful Israelis and Palestinians would be able to come to a peace agreement during his presidency. The president recently dispatched his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, to the region in a bid to restart peace talks. Kushner was joined by Jason Greenblatt, the president’s envoy for Israeli-Palestinian peace, and deputy national security adviser Dina Powell. The White House is trying to take advantage of a period of relative calm following violent clashes earlier this summer over Israeli security arrangements at the Jerusalem shrine known to Jews as Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, said a senior administration official who requested anonymity to discuss the negotiations.

Trump has said he’s hopeful Kushner can help restart a peace process that has made little headway over the past 25 years. He made addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict an early priority, hosting both Abbas and Netanyahu at the White House during the opening months of his presidency and visiting Israel during his first international trip as president. The last round of U.S.-led talks, a pet project of former Secretary of State John Kerry, broke down three years ago amid mutual recriminations.

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How does a country, state, territory survive without power for half a year?

4-6 Months To Restore Puerto Rico Electricity After Hurricane Maria (NBC)

Hurricane Maria is likely to have “destroyed” Puerto Rico, the island’s emergency director said Wednesday after the monster storm smashed ripped roofs off buildings and flooded homes across the economically strained U.S. territory. Intense flooding was reported across the territory, particularly in San Juan, the capital, where many residential streets looked like rivers. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for the entire island shortly after 12:30 a.m. ET. Yennifer Álvarez Jaimes, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s press secretary, told NBC News that all power across the island was knocked out. “Once we’re able to go outside, we’re going to find our island destroyed,” Emergency Management Director Abner Gómez Cortés said at a news briefing. [..] Maria, the strongest storm to hit Puerto Rico since 1928, had maximum sustained winds of 155 mph when it made landfall as a Category 4 storm near the town of Yabucoa just after 6 a.m. ET.

But it “appears to have taken quite a hit from the high mountains of the island,” and at 11 p.m. ET, it had weakened significantly to a Category 2 storm, moving away from Puerto Rico with maximum sustained winds of 110 mph, the agency said. [..] “Extreme rainfall flooding may prompt numerous evacuations and rescues,” the agency said. “Rivers and tributaries may overwhelmingly overflow their banks in many places with deep moving water.” San Juan San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz told MSNBC that the devastation in the capital was unlike any she had ever seen. “The San Juan that we knew yesterday is no longer there,” Yulín said, adding: “We’re looking at four to six months without electricity” in Puerto Rico, home to nearly 3.5 million people. “I’m just concerned that we may not get to everybody in time, and that is a great weight on my shoulders,” she said.

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Nice math, but many questions.

Global Mass Extinction Set To Begin By 2100 (Ind.)

Planet Earth appears to be on course for the start of a sixth mass extinction of life by about 2100 because of the amount of carbon being pumped into the atmosphere, according to a mathematical study of the five previous events in the last 540 million years. Professor Daniel Rothman, co-director of MIT’s Lorenz Centre, theorised that disturbances in the natural cycle of carbon through the atmosphere, oceans, plant and animal life played a role in mass die-offs of animals and plants. So he studied 31 times when there had been such changes and found four out of the five previous mass extinctions took place when the disruption crossed a “threshold of catastrophic change”. The worst mass extinction of all – the so-called Great Dying some 248 million years ago when 96 per cent of species died out – breached one of these thresholds by the greatest margin.

Based on his analysis of these mass extinctions, Professor Rothman developed a mathematical formula to help predict how much extra carbon could be added to the oceans – which absorb vast amounts from the atmosphere – before triggering a sixth one. The answer was alarming. For the figure of 310 gigatons is just 10 gigatons above the figure expected to be emitted by 2100 under the best-case scenario forecast by the IPCC. The worst-case scenario would result in more than 500 gigatons. Some scientists argue that the sixth mass extinction has already effectively begun. While the total number of species that have disappeared from the planet comes nowhere near the most apocalyptic events of the past, the rate of species loss is comparable. Professor Rothman stressed that mass extinctions did not necessarily involve dramatic changes to the carbon cycle – as shown by the absence of this during the Late Devonian extinction more than 360 million years ago.

Read more …

Jul 252017
 
 July 25, 2017  Posted by at 1:31 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Walter Langley Never morning wore to evening but some heart did break 1894

 

If there’s one myth -and there are many- that we should invalidate in the cross-over world of politics and economics, it‘s that central banks have saved us from a financial crisis. It’s a carefully construed myth, but it’s as false as can be. Our central banks have caused our financial crises, not saved us from them.

It really should -but doesn’t- make us cringe uncontrollably to see Bank of England governor-for-hire Mark Carney announce -straightfaced- that:

“A decade after the start of the global financial crisis, G20 reforms are building a safer, simpler and fairer financial system. “We have fixed the issues that caused the last crisis. They were fundamental and deep-seated, which is why it was such a major job.”

Or, for that matter, to see Fed chief Janet Yellen declare that there won’t be another financial crisis in her lifetime, while she’s busy-bee busy building that next crisis as we speak. These people are now saying increasingly crazy things, and that should make us pause.

Central banks don’t serve people, or even societies, as that same myth claims. They serve banks. Even if central bankers themselves believe that this is one and the same thing, that doesn’t make it true. And if they don’t understand this, they should never be let anywhere near the positions they hold.

You can pin the moment central banks went awry at any point in time you like. The Bank of England’s foundation in 1694, the Federal Reserve’s in 1913, the ECB much more recently. What’s crucial in the timing is where and when the best interests of the banks split off from those of their societies. Because that is when central banks will stop serving those societies. We are at such a -turning?!- point right now. And it’s been coming for some time, ‘slowly’ working its way towards an inevitable abyss.

Over the past few years the Automatic Earth has argues repeatedly, along several different avenues, that American society was at its richest between the late 1960s and early 1980s. Yet another illustration of this came only yesterday in a Lance Roberts graph:

 

 

Anyone see a recovery in there? Lance uses 1981 as a ‘cut-off’ date, but the GDP growth rate as represented by the dotted line doesn’t really begin to go ‘bad’ until 1986 or so. At the tail end of the late 1960s to early 1980s period, as the American economy was inexorably getting poorer, Alan Greenspan took over as Federal Reserve governor in 1987. A narrative was carefully crafted by and for the media with Greenspan as an ‘oracle’ or even a ‘rock star’, but in reality he has been instrumental in saddling the economy with what will turn out to be insurmountable problems.

Greenspan was a major driving force behind the repeal of Glass-Steagall, which was finally established through the Gramm-Leach-Bliley act of 1999. This was an open political act by the Federal Reserve governor, something that everyone should have then protested, and still should now, but didn’t and doesn’t. Central bankers should be kept far removed from politics, anywhere and everywhere, because they represent a small segment of society, banks, not society as a whole.

Because of the ‘oracle’ narrative, Greenspan was instead praised for saving the world. But all that Greenspan and his accomplices, Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, actually did in getting rid of the 1933 Glass-Steagall act separation between investment- and consumer banking was to open the floodgates of debt, and even more importantly, leveraged debt. All part of the ‘financial innovations’ Greenspan famously lauded for saving and growing economies. It was all just more debt on top of more debt.

 

 

Greenspan et al ‘simply’ did what central bankers do: they represent the best interests of banks. And the world’s central bankers have never looked back. That most people still find it hard to believe that America -and the west- has been getting poorer for the past 30-40 years, goes to show how effective the narratives have been. The world looks richer instead of poorer, after all. That this is exclusively because of rising debt numbers wherever you look is not part of the narratives. Indeed, ruling economic models and theories ignore the role played by both banks and credit in an economy, almost entirely.

Alan Greenspan left as Fed head in 2006, after having wreaked his havoc on America for almost two decades, right before the financial crisis that took off in 2007-2008 became apparent to the world at large. The crisis was largely his doing, but he has escaped just about all the blame for it. Good PR.

With Ben Bernanke, an alleged academic genius on the Great Depression, as Greenspan’s replacement, the Fed just kept going and turned it up a notch. It was no longer possible in the financial world to pretend that banks and people had the same interests, so the former were bailed out at the expense of the latter. The illusionary narrative for the public, however, remained intact. What do people know about finance, anyway? Just make sure the S&P goes up. Easy as pie.

The narrative has switched to Bernanke, and Yellen after him, as well as Mario Draghi at the ECB and Haruhiko Kuroda at the Bank of Japan, saving the world from doom. But once again, they are the ones who are creating the crisis, not the ones saving us from it. They are saving the banks, and saddling the people with the costs.

In the past decade, these central bankers have purchased $20-$50 trillion in bonds, securities and stocks. The only intention, and indeed the only result, is to keep banks from falling over, increase their profits, and maintain the illusion that economies are recovering and growing.

They can only achieve this by creating bubbles wherever they can. Apart from the QE programs under which they bought all those ‘assets’, they used -and still do- another tool: lowering interest rates to the point where borrowing money becomes so cheap everyone can do it, and then do it some more. It has worked miracles in blowing stock market valuations out of all realistic proportions, and in doing the same for housing markets in locations all over the globe.

The role of China’s central bank in this is interesting too, but it is such an open and obvious political tool that it really deserves its own discussion and narrative. Basically, Beijing did what it saw Washington do and thought: why hold back?

 

Fast forward to today and we see that we’ve landed in a whole new, and next, phase of the story. The world’s central banks are all stuck in their own – self-created – bubbles and narratives. They all talk about how they solved all the issues, and how they will now return to normal, but the sad truth is they can’t and they know it.

The Fed stopped purchasing assets through its QE program a while back, but it could only do that because Frankfurt and Japan took over. And now they, too, talk about quitting QE. Slowly, yada yada, because of control, yada yada, but they know they must. They also know they can’t. Because the entire recovery narrative is a mirage, a fata morgana, a sleight of hand.

And that means we have arrived at a point that is new and very dangerous for the entire global economy and all of its people.

 

That is, the world’s central bankers now have an incentive to create the next crisis. This is because they know this crisis is inevitable, and they know their masters and protégés, the banks, risk suffering immensely or even going under. ‘Tapering’, or whatever you might call the -slow- end to QE and the -slow- hiking of interest rates, will prick and blow up bubbles one by one, and often in violent fashion.

When housing bubbles burst, economies lose the primary ingredient for maintaining -let alone increasing- their money supply: banks creating money out of thin hot air. Since the money supply is one of the key components of inflation, along with velocity of money, there will be fantastic outbursts of debt deflation. You’ve never seen -let alone imagined- anything like it.

The worst part of it is not government debt, though that, when financed with bond sales, is not not an instrument to infinity and beyond either. But the big hit to economies will be private debt. Where in many bubble areas, and they’re too numerous too mention, eager potential buyers today fret over affordable housing supply, it’ll all turn on a dime and owners won’t be able to sell without being suffocated by crippling losses.

Pension funds, which have already suffered perhaps more than any other parties because of low interest ZIRP and NIRP policies, have switched en masse to riskier assets like stocks. Well, another whammy, and a bigger one, is waiting just outside the door. Pensions will be so last century.

 

That another crisis is waiting to happen, and that politics and media have made sure that just about no-one at all is aware of it, is one thing. We already knew this, a few of us. That the world’s main central bankers have an active incentive to bring about the crisis, if only by sitting on their hands long enough, is new. But they do.

Yellen, Draghi and Kuroda may opt to leave before pulling the trigger, or be fired soon enough. But whoever is in the governor seats will realize that unleashing a crisis sooner rather than later is the only option left not to be blamed for it. Let the house of dominoes crumble now, and they can say “nobody could have seen this coming”, while at the same time saving what they can for the banks and bankers they serve. That option will not be on the table for much longer.

We should have never given them, let alone their member/master banks, the power to conjure up trillions out of nothing, and use that power as a political tool. But it is too late now.

 

 

Jul 182017
 
 July 18, 2017  Posted by at 1:03 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »
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Hieronymus Bosch Ascent of the Blessed c1510

 

Reading the news on America should scare everyone, and every day, but it doesn’t. We’re immune, largely. Take this morning. The US Republican party can’t get its healthcare plan through the Senate. And they apparently don’t want to be seen working with the Democrats on a plan either. Or is that the other way around? You’d think if these people realize they were elected to represent the interests of their voters, they could get together and hammer out a single payer plan that is cheaper than anything they’ve managed so far. But they’re all in the pockets of so many sponsors and lobbyists they can’t really move anymore, or risk growing a conscience. Or a pair.

What we’re witnessing is the demise of the American political system, in real time. We just don’t know it. Actually, we’re witnessing the downfall of the entire western system. And it turns out the media are an integral part of that system. The reason we’re seeing it happen now is that although the narratives and memes emanating from both politics and the press point to economic recovery and a future full of hope and technological solutions to all our problems, people are not buying the memes anymore. And the people are right.

Tyler Durden ran a Credit Suisse graph overnight that should give everyone a heart attack, or something in that order. It shows that nobody’s buying stocks anymore, other than the companies who issue them. They use ultra-cheap leveraged loans to make it look like they’re doing fine. Instead of using the money/credit to invest in, well, anything, really. You can be a successful US/European company these days just by purchasing your own shares. How long for, you ask?

There Has Been Just One Buyer Of Stocks Since The Financial Crisis

As CS’ strategist Andrew Garthwaite writes, “one of the major features of the US equity market since the low in 2009 is that the US corporate sector has bought 18% of market cap, while institutions have sold 7% of market cap.” What this means is that since the financial crisis, there has been only one buyer of stock: the companies themselves, who have engaged in the greatest debt-funded buyback spree in history.

Why this rush by companies to buyback their own stock, and in the process artificially boost their Earning per Share? There is one very simple reason: as Reuters explained some time ago, “Stock buybacks enrich the bosses even when business sags.” And since bond investor are rushing over themselves to fund these buyback plans with “yielding” paper at a time when central banks have eliminated risk, who is to fault them.

More concerning than the unprecedented coordinated buybacks, however, is not only the relentless selling by institutions, but the persistent unwillingness by “households” to put any new money into the market which suggests that the financial crisis has left an entire generation of investors scarred with “crash” PTSD, and no matter what the market does, they will simply not put any further capital at risk.

In other words, the system doesn’t only keep zombies alive, making it impossible for anyone to see who’s healthy or not, no, the system itself has become a zombie. The article mentions Blackrock’s Larry Fink talking about ‘cash on the sidelines’, but puhlease… Central banks have injected another $2 trillion into the zombie system this year alone, and that gives you that graph. Basically no-one supposedly on the sideline has a penny left.

So that’s your stock markets. Let’s call it bubble no.1. Another effect of ultra low rates has been the surge in housing bubbles across the western world and into China. But not everything looks as rosy as the voices claim who wish to insist there is no bubble in [inject favorite location] because of [inject rich Chinese]. You’d better get lots of those Chinese swimming in monopoly money over to your location, because your own younger people will not be buying. Says none other than the New York Fed.

Student Debt Is a Major Reason Millennials Aren’t Buying Homes

College tuition hikes and the resulting increase in student debt burdens in recent years have caused a significant drop in homeownership among young Americans, according to new research by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The study is the first to quantify the impact of the recent and significant rise in college-related borrowing—student debt has doubled since 2009 to more than $1.4 trillion—on the decline in homeownership among Americans ages 28 to 30. The news has negative implications for local economies where debt loads have swelled and workers’ paychecks aren’t big enough to counter the impact. Homebuying typically leads to additional spending—on furniture, and gardening equipment, and repairs—so the drop is likely affecting the economy in other ways.

As much as 35% of the decline in young American homeownership from 2007 to 2015 is due to higher student debt loads, the researchers estimate. The study looked at all 28- to 30-year-olds, regardless of whether they pursued higher education, suggesting that the fall in homeownership among college-goers is likely even greater (close to half of young Americans never attend college). Had tuition stayed at 2001 levels, the New York Fed paper suggests, about 360,000 additional young Americans would’ve owned a home in 2015, bringing the total to roughly 2.9 million 28- to 30-year-old homeowners. The estimate doesn’t include younger or older millennials, who presumably have also been affected by rising tuition and greater student debt levels.

Young Americans -and Brits, Dutch etc.- get out of school with much higher debt levels than previous generations, but land in jobs that pay them much less. Ergo, at current price levels they can’t afford anything other than perhaps a tiny house. Which is fine in and of itself, but who’s going to buy the existent McMansions? Nobody but the Chinese. How many of them would you like to move in? And that’s not all. Another fine report from Lance Roberts, with more excellent graphs, puts the finger where it hurts, and then twists it around in the wound a bit more:

People Buy Payments –Not Houses- & Why Rates Can’t Rise

Over the last 30-years, a big driver of home prices has been the unabated decline of interest rates. When declining interest rates were combined with lax lending standards – home prices soared off the chart. No money down, ultra low interest rates and easy qualification gave individuals the ability to buy much more home for their money. The problem, however, is shown below. There is a LIMIT to how much the monthly payment can consume of a families disposable personal income.

In 1968 the average American family maintained a mortgage payment, as a percent of real disposable personal income (DPI), of about 7%. Back then, in order to buy a home, you were required to have skin in the game with a 20% down payment. Today, assuming that an individual puts down 20% for a house, their mortgage payment would consume more than 23% of real DPI. In reality, since many of the mortgages done over the last decade required little or no money down, that number is actually substantially higher. You get the point. With real disposable incomes stagnant, a rise in interest rates and inflation makes that 23% of the budget much harder to sustain.

In 1968 Americans paid 7% of their disposable income for a house. Today that’s 23%. That’s as scary as that first graph above on the stock markets. It’s hard to say where the eventual peak will be, but it should be clear that it can’t be too far off. And Yellen and Draghi and Carney are talking about raising those rates.

What Lance is warning for, as should be obvious, is that if rates would go up at this particular point in time, even a lot less people could afford a home. If you ask me, that would not be so bad, since they grossly overpay right now, they pay full-throttle bubble prices, but the effect could be monstrous. Because not only would a lot of people be left with a lot of mortgage debt, and we’d go through the whole jingle mail circus again, yada yada, but the economy’s main source of ‘money’ would come under great pressure.

Don’t let’s forget that by far most of our ‘money’ is created when private banks issue loans to their customers with nothing but thin air and keyboard strokes. Mortgages are the largest of these loans. Sink the housing industry and what do you think will happen to the money supply? And since inflation is money velocity x money supply, what would become of central banks’ inflation targets? May I make a bold suggestion? Get someone a lot smarter than Janet Yellen into the Fed, on the double. Or, alternatively, audit and close the whole house of shame.

We’ve had bubbles 1, 2 and 3. Stocks, student debt and housing. Which, it turns out, interact, and a lot. An interaction that leads seamlessly to bubble 4: subprime car loans. Mind you, don’t stare too much at the size of the bubbles, of course stocks and housing are much bigger issues, but focus instead on how they work together. As for the subprime car loans, and the subprime used car loans, it’s the similarity to the subprime housing that stands out. Like we learned nothing. Like the US has no regulators at all.

Fears Mount Over a New US Subprime Boom – Cars

It’s classic subprime: hasty loans, rapid defaults, and, at times, outright fraud. Only this isn’t the U.S. housing market circa 2007. It’s the U.S. auto industry circa 2017. A decade after the mortgage debacle, the financial industry has embraced another type of subprime debt: auto loans. And, like last time, the risks are spreading as they’re bundled into securities for investors worldwide. Subprime car loans have been around for ages, and no one is suggesting they’ll unleash the next crisis.

But since the Great Recession, business has exploded. In 2009, $2.5 billion of new subprime auto bonds were sold. In 2016, $26 billion were, topping average pre-crisis levels, according to Wells Fargo. Few things capture this phenomenon like the partnership between Fiat Chrysler and Banco Santander. [..] Santander recently vetted incomes on fewer than one out of every 10 loans packaged into $1 billion of bonds, according to Moody’s.

If it’s alright with you, we’ll deal with the other main bubble, no.5 if you will, another time. Yeah, that would be bonds. Sovereign, corporate, junk, you name it. The 4 bubbles we’ve seen so far are more than enough to create a huge crisis in America. Don’t want to scare you too much all at once. Just you read the news again tomorrow. There’ll be more. And the US Senate is not going to do a thing about it. They’re too busy not getting enough votes for other things.

 

 

 

 

May 042017
 
 May 4, 2017  Posted by at 9:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Fred Stein Americans All 1943

 

“We Have Enough Votes”: House To Vote Thursday To Repeal Obamacare (ZH)
Democrats, Not Trump, Are Driving Policy (BBG)
Corporate Insiders Are Unloading Their Stocks Like There’s No Tomorrow (Lang)
The Coming Collapse In US Auto Sales (F.)
Fed to Markets: June Rate Hike Coming Your Way (CNBC)
Rickards Says Fed Raising Into Weakness, Recession Due By Summer (BBG)
57% Of Australians Couldn’t Handle $100 A Month Rise In Mortgage Payments (G.)
Kyle Bass Warns “All Hell Is About To Break Loose” In China (ZH)
PIMCO Warns “Brace For Lower Growth” From A Less ‘Impulsive’ China (ZH)
Do Tax Cuts Pay For Themselves? (MW)
The Economics of the Future (Michael Hudson)
UK PM May Accuses EU of Brexit Threats and Election Interference (CNBC)
Le Pen Tirade Meets Logic of Macron in Brutal French TV Duel
Universal Basic Income is Not “Free Money” (Santens)
The Brothers Fighting For Indebted Greek Homeowners (AP)

 

 

The whole thing oozes cynicism.

“We Have Enough Votes”: House To Vote Thursday To Repeal Obamacare (ZH)

The Republicans are giving Obamacare repeal another try, and this time they may succeed. Just a few hours after we reported that “Obamacare repeal suddenly looks possible” when two key Republicans – Fred Upton and Billy Long – flipped and decided to support the GOP healthcare bill, leading to immediate speculation the bill has enough support, the WSJ reported that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters Wednesday evening the House will vote on Thursday on the Republican bill to replace most of Obamacare: “we will be voting on the health-care bill tomorrow because we have enough votes.” When asked by a reporter about whether the bill would have to be pulled from the floor again for lack of support, McCarthy replied: “Would you have confidence? We’re going to pass it. We’re going to pass it. Let’s be optimistic about life.”

McCarthy also cited an insurer pulling out of the ObamaCare exchanges in Iowa Wednesday as a reason the law needs to be quickly repealed. “That’s why we have to make sure this passes. To save these people from ObamaCare, which continues to collapse.” And so just like at the end of March, when the GOP was confident it had whipped enough names, only to pull the vote in the last moment, the announcement once again sets up a high-stakes vote that is expected to come down to the wire. The House GOP bill, if passed, would roll back much of the 2010 health-care law, replacing its subsidies with a system of tax credits largely tied to age. Until Wednesday, Republican leaders had struggled to secure the 216 votes they need to pass the bill, which is expected to receive no Democratic support.

They pulled the bill from the floor in late March, when conservatives and centrists defected and it became clear the legislation didn’t have the support to pass. Last week, GOP leaders also opted not to vote on the bill ahead of Trump’s first 100 days in office. [..] in pulling yet another page from the Democrats’ playbook, the House will pass the vote first before finding out what’s in it: the vote will take place without waiting for a new Congressional Budget Office analysis of Upton’s changes or the amendment from Rep. Tom MacArthur that won over the House Freedom Caucus. That analysis will eventually provide the details of the bill’s effects on coverage and its cost. For now however, Republicans are just scrambling to take advantage of this rare moment of agreement and get something finally done.

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What’s so cynical: trying to break Democrats’ power by pushing through a half-baked bill.

Democrats, Not Trump, Are Driving Policy (BBG)

Enough about Donald Trump’s first 100 days. On the 101st day, Congress came to a rare bipartisan agreement funding the federal government through September. This showed who really holds power in the Trump era: Democrats. After last November’s election, when Republicans had consolidated power and held both chambers of Congress as well as the White House, the question was who would be driving policy. Would it be the Trump administration, perhaps led by populist mastermind Steve Bannon? Would it be House Speaker Paul Ryan, a man with a reputation as a policy wonk with a vision for government? Would it be the ideological House Freedom Caucus, demanding that the new Republican-led government live up to the promises the party made to its base during the Obama years? All have tried to lead at some point this year, but the recently agreed-upon budget deal shows that instead, it’s Democrats who appear to be in charge.

Democrats have the leverage in Washington now because Republicans haven’t figured out how to govern on their own. The first Republican attempt at legislation was Paul Ryan’s American Health Care Act. That failed in part because it didn’t repeal Obamacare as the House Freedom Caucus insisted. The Trump administration tried to influence the legislative agenda by putting forth its budget blueprint in mid-March, which included draconian cuts to various departments. Yet the only parts of that budget that made it into the final agreement were modest spending increases for defense spending and border security, without any of the corresponding cuts. This happened because Republicans couldn’t come to an agreement on the budget on their own, meaning Democratic votes were needed for passage, and Democrats wouldn’t sign on to anything with big spending cuts.

[..]The emerging view may be that Trump just wants to sign legislation that he can take credit for, regardless of the substance of the bills. After all, he’s on the verge of signing a government funding bill that’s more in line with Democratic priorities than his own. Since he hasn’t been willing to stand up for any of his or his party’s policy priorities so far, should Democrats retake the House in 2018, there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t sign legislation passed by Democrats in the House if it makes it to his desk. On policy, the author of “The Art of the Deal” doesn’t seem to have any policy deal-breakers. A president without any fixed policy vision or breaking points is no authoritarian. He makes the legislature more powerful than it’s been in decades. If Republicans can’t come to internal agreement on major legislation, and Democrats are the ones with leverage, then complete inaction might become a best-case scenario for the GOP.

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“The people who would stand to lose the most if the markets crashed [..] are all jumping ship and selling their stocks.”

Corporate Insiders Are Unloading Their Stocks Like There’s No Tomorrow (Lang)

There aren’t any surefire ways to tell if the stock market, and perhaps the rest of the economy, is about to take a nosedive. That’s because millions of people with millions of ideas are involved, so it’s an inherently unpredictable system. However, there are certain players in our economy that have a lot more influence and insider knowledge than the rest of us. So when they make a move in unison, you know there’s a good chance that something is about to go down. And that’s exactly what’s going on with the stock market right now. The people who would stand to lose the most if the markets crashed; the corporate executives and insiders, are all jumping ship and selling their stocks.

“As the investing public has continued to devour stocks, sending all three major indexes to record highs in the last few months, corporate insiders have been offloading shares to an extent not seen in seven years.”Selling totaled $10 billion in March, according to data compiled by Trim Tabs. It’s a troubling trend facing an equity market that’s already grappling with its loftiest valuations since the 2000 tech bubble. If the people with the deepest knowledge of a company are cashing out, why should investors keep buying at current prices? The groundswell of insider selling has the attention of Brad Lamensdorf, portfolio manager at Ranger Alternative Management, and he doesn’t like what he sees. “This is definitely a negative sign,” Lamensdorf wrote in his April newsletter. “They do not see value in their own companies!”

And this isn’t a recent trend. While ordinary investors were optimistically diving into the stock market after Trump was elected, these people were dumping their stocks as far back as February. “Chief executives and other corporate insiders are selling stock hand over fist now that the quarterly earnings season is over, a report from Vickers Weekly Insider shows. Transactions by insiders are restricted around a company’s report. “Insider selling has jumped again, and this time to levels rarely seen,” analyst David Coleman wrote in Monday’s note.”

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A useful term: “Pent Down Demand”

The Coming Collapse In US Auto Sales (F.)

Automobiles are not moving off the parking lot. That’s according to an industry report that showed a sharp decline in auto sales across all auto makers—see table. Meanwhile industry inventories have been climbing up from an average of 55 days back in April of 2015 to 70 days last month. Coming after months of sluggish sales and generous incentives, the big drop in April sales could be a sign of an impending collapse which could parallel that of 2008-9. There’s a compelling reason for that: pent down demand, which for years has been “stealing” sales from the future. Now the future has arrived and pent down demand is bad for auto makers, their investors and the economy as a whole.

To get an idea how “pent down demand” (my own term) works, a good place to begin with is the more familiar concept of pent up demand, the lack of current demand for discretionary items like automobiles, home appliances, etc., which depresses sales of these items in the short run. Pent up demand usually appears before a period of consumer euphoria, when consumers choose to push spending on discretionary items to a future date, due to lower price expectations, depressed consumer confidence, or a credit crunch. And it disappears together with these conditions when that future day comes, and consumers rush to buy the items they put off in the past.

In contrast, pent down demand appears after a period of consumer euphoria when consumers choose to move spending on discretionary items from a future date into the present day, due to low cost of financing — which blurs the distinction between present and future. Why wait to buy a new car or a new home appliance next year when you can have it this year, paying a small penalty for this privilege? Simply put, ultra-low interest rates help “steal” sales from the future, creating market saturation, and eventually depress spending on “high ticket” items when the future becomes present. That’s what happened in the six years that preceded the 2008-9 collapse in US auto sales. Consumers rushed to take advantage of “zero percent” financing to purchase cars they would normally buy years later.

That’s how automobile sales grew from an average of 15 million in the 1980s and the 1990s to 17 million in the first six years of 2000s, before they tumbled during the Great Recession. Nonetheless, the Federal Reserve and other central bankers around the world didn’t take notice of the impact of pent down demand on future growth. They upped their ultra-low interest rate policies, refueling pent down demand again (automobile sales are above the pre-Great Recession levels). Compounding the problem, pent down demand is exacerbated by debt – a lot of debt – amassed on top of the old debt, which fueled the bubble that preceded the Great Recession. This was documented by a McKinsey report—US auto loans have crossed $1 trillion lately.

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Locked in to their own fantasies.

Fed to Markets: June Rate Hike Coming Your Way (CNBC)

As expected, the Fed gave a nod to a temporary weakness in the economy and signaled it is still moving ahead with policy tightening. “They’re looking past the first-quarter weakness. They are laying the groundwork for a June rate hike, in my opinion,” said Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at Lindsey Group. Fed funds futures indicated just about a 75% chance of a June interest-rate hike, up about 5 percentage points after the announcement, according to Michael Schumacher, head of rates strategy at Wells Fargo Securities. “It seems pretty optimistic. … There’s no big difference between this statement and the last one. The comment that they are ignoring weak first-quarter growth is the big thing. There’s nothing really changed in their path,” Schumacher said.

First-quarter growth grew at a weak 0.7%, but economists expect a bounce back and some see growth over 3%. The Fed acknowledged the softness in its statement. “The Committee views the slowing in growth during the first quarter as likely to be transitory and continues to expect that, with gradual adjustments in the stance of monetary policy, economic activity will expand at a moderate pace, labor market conditions will strengthen somewhat further, and inflation will stabilize around 2% over the medium term,” they wrote. [..] The statement did not mention changes to the Fed’s balance sheet, which officials were expected to have discussed at length during the two-day meeting. That discussion should be revealed in the minutes of the meeting, expected to be released May 24.

Instead, the Fed noted in its statement that it was maintaining its strategy of balance sheet reinvestment, meaning it replaces securities as they roll down. The Fed has forecast two more rate hikes this year, and many strategists expect it to tackle its balance sheet after those moves. The Fed has said it would like to begin shrinking its balance sheet as early as this year. Many market pros expect some action on the balance sheet around the December meeting or in early 2018, after it raises interest rates in June and September.

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Rickards’ been saying for a while that the Fed wouldn’t be able to help itself.

Rickards Says Fed Raising Into Weakness, Recession Due By Summer (BBG)

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A quarter are in mortgage stress already.

57% Of Australians Couldn’t Handle $100 A Month Rise In Mortgage Payments (G.)

The burden of housing costs is biting even in Australia’s wealthiest suburbs as an unprecedented one in four households nationally face mortgage stress, according to the latest in a 15-year series of analyses. Households in Toorak and Bondi, prestigious pockets of affluence in Australia’s biggest cities, have made the list of those struggling to meet repayments amid rising costs and stagnating wages, research firm Digital Finance Analytics has found. The firm’s principal, Martin North, said it was surprising new evidence showed that financial distress from property price surges reached beyond “the battlers and the mortgage belt” and was a “much broader and much more significant problem”. The survey, which analyses real cash flows against mortgage repayments, finds more than 767,000 households or 23.4% are now in mortgage stress, which means they have little or no spare cash after covering costs.

This includes 32,000 that are in severe stress, meaning they cannot cover repayments from current income. The firm predicts that almost 52,000 households will probably default on mortgages over the next year. Risk hotspots include Meadow Springs and Canning Vale in Western Australia, Derrimut and Cranbourne in Victoria, and Mackay and Pacific Pines in Queensland. Overall, New South Wales and Victoria, whose capital cities have seen a recent surge in home prices, accounted for more than half the probable defaults (270,000) and households in mortgage distress (420,000). North said the numbers were “an early indicator of risk in the system”. The underlying drivers were “flat or falling wage growth”, much faster rising living costs and the likelihood mortgage interest payments would only go up.

Widespread mortgage burdens were limiting spending elsewhere and “sucking the life out of the economy”, and the problem should be addressed to head off a housing crash and its repercussions, North said. North is not alone in highlighting household vulnerability. The Reserve Bank of Australia’s financial stability review last month observed one-third of Australian borrowers had little or no mortgage “buffer”, which North said was “the first time they’ve ever admitted it”. Finder.com last week found 57% of mortgagees could not handle a rise of $100 or more in monthly repayments. “The surprising thing is that people in Bondi in NSW, for example, or even young affluents who have bought down in Toorak in Victoria are actually on the list [of mortgage stressed],” North said.

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“As soon as liabilities have problems – meaning the depositors decide to not roll their holdings – all hell breaks loose..”

Kyle Bass Warns “All Hell Is About To Break Loose” In China (ZH)

China's credit system expanded "too recklessly and too quickly," and "it's beginning to unravel," warns Hayman Capital's Kyle Bass. Crucially, Bass notes that ballooning assets in Chinese wealth management products are another sign of a looming credit crisis in the nation.

"Some of the longer-term assets aren't doing very well," Bass said on Bloomberg TV from the annual Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California. "As soon as liabilities have problems – meaning the depositors decide to not roll their holdings – all hell breaks loose."

The wealth management products, or WMPs, have swelled to $4 trillion in assets in the last few years, he said., on a $34 trillion banking system…

"think about this – in the US, our asset-liability mismatch at the peak of our subprime greatness was around 2%! … China's mismatch is more than 10% of the system."

Must Watch simplification of the next stage of the credit cycle in China…

Timing the drop is hard, Bass notes, reminding Bloomberg's Erik Schatzker that "in the US, the first bumps in the road hit in early 2007, and we didn't start to really accelerate until mid 2008… even a large unraveling takes a while."Bass has been sounding the alarm for some time that debt-burdened Chinese banks need to be restructured…

"What you see when the liquidity dries up is people start going down… and this is the beginning of the Chinese credit crisis."

And judging by the collapse in both Chinese stocks and bonds, the deleveraging is accelerating…

 

And liquidity is getting desperate again…

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China=Debt.

PIMCO Warns “Brace For Lower Growth” From A Less ‘Impulsive’ China (ZH)

In the company’s blog, PIMCO’s Gene Fried echoes everything we have said and write that following the defeat of the new U.S. healthcare bill, investors have begun to rethink the likely time frame and extent of the Trump administration’s other top priorities, such as fiscal stimulus. Equity markets stalled and bonds rallied as investors toned down their expectations for global reflation recently. None of this is horribly surprising, but by focusing so intensely on U.S. political developments, investors risk missing a silent shift in what has arguably been the strongest driver of global reflation in the last five years: Chinese credit. This driver is now moving sharply in reverse. China’s “credit impulse,” the change in the growth rate of aggregate credit to GDP, bears close watching: It has tended to lead the Chinese manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) by a year (see Figure 1) and the U.S. Institute for Supply Management’s (ISM) manufacturing index by 14 months.

The relevance of the Chinese credit impulse to global reflation cannot be overstated (see Figure 2). China’s massive credit stimulus starting in 2014 initially put a floor under commodity prices and emerging market (EM) growth. Then, the unexpected acceleration in Chinese real estate investment drove both commodity prices and volume demand higher. EM growth subsequently bounced, and with it, global trade volumes. The key driver of realized global reflation, then, has been China – not the promise of fiscal stimulus and deregulation that has helped boost confidence and other soft data in the U.S.

When will China’s credit drop affect growth? The sharp downturn in the Chinese credit impulse starting in 2016 portends a material drag on Chinese growth in the year ahead. Looking back on the past three years, the Chinese credit impulse turned positive sometime between late 2014 and mid-2015. Given China’s exchange rate volatility in August 2015, it took longer than normal for credit to gain traction. The Chinese credit impulse peaked in March 2016 and slowed sharply after the second quarter. It is only now that the impact of that reduced stimulus should be felt. PIMCO has already factored credit-related drag into its Chinese growth outlook, but the decline in the credit impulse has been sharper and more extreme than many expected.

Read more …

Unanswerable question.

Do Tax Cuts Pay For Themselves? (MW)

Forty-three years after economist Arthur Laffer sketched a pictorial representation of individuals’ response to changes in income tax rates, economists still can’t agree if tax cuts pay for themselves: entirely, in part, or not at all. In a capitalist system, a tax rate of 0% or a tax rate of 100% will yield no revenue for the government: in the first instance, because there is no tax levied on labor income; in the second, because there is no labor income to tax because most of us would refuse to work without compensation. The Laffer Curve is an attempt to describe the optimal tax rate, or the rate that maximizes revenue. As with most economic theories nowadays, the idea that tax cuts pay for themselves has been politicized. Many conservatives take an oath of fealty to supply-side economics, an offshoot of the Laffer Curve: the idea that lower tax rates act as an incentive to work and produce, lifting economic growth and tax revenue.

Supply-siders don’t differentiate between the potential effect of large reductions in the top marginal tax rate — from 91% (1950s) to 70% (1960s) to 28% (1980s) — and that of President Donald Trump’s proposed modest cut from 39.6% to 35% for top earners. Liberals, on the other hand, love to quote George H.W. Bush’s assessment of supply-side theory — at least until he became Ronald Reagan’s running mate — as “voodoo economics.” “Tax cuts for the rich” is another favorite derogatory moniker, which is an accurate description but one that is taboo for believers. The basic premise underlying supply-side economics is sound: Tax something less, and you will get more of it. Tax something more, and you will get less of it. Think hefty cigarette taxes, designed to deter cancer-causing tobacco use. It’s the application that goes astray.

The income tax is a tax on labor. According to supply-siders, if you raise marginal tax rates, individuals will work less. And if you cut rates, they will work more. Who except the rich is in a position to forgo take-home pay, even if it is taxed at a higher rate? Households with both parents working, struggling to make ends meet, can’t sacrifice one salary. That’s the dirty little secret of supply-side economics that its advocates never mention. It’s the rich who are able respond to changes in marginal tax rates. And yes, they are the ones likely to start a new business and create jobs. Theory aside, why don’t we know what the effect of tax cuts is on economic output and federal revenue? Economists of both political persuasions are eager to tout their findings, both in support of and as a challenge to supply-side economics.

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Hopefully I should be getting Steve’s book today. Everyone should read it.

The Economics of the Future (Michael Hudson)

At first glance Steve Keen’s new book Can We Avoid Another Financial Crisis? seems too small-sized at 147 pages. But like a well-made atom-bomb, it is compactly designed for maximum reverberation to blow up its intended target. Explaining why today’s debt residue has turned the United States, Britain and southern Europe into zombie economies, Steve Keen shows how ignoring debt is the blind spot of neoliberal economics – basically the old neoclassical just-pretend view of the world. Its glib mathiness is a gloss for its unscientific “don’t worry about debt” message. Blame for today’s U.S., British and southern European inability to achieve economic recovery thus rests on the economic mainstream and its refusal to recognize that debt matters.

Mainstream models are unable to forecast or explain a depression. That is because depressions are essentially financial in character. The business cycle itself is a financial cycle – that is, a cycle of the buildup and collapse of debt. Keen’s “Minsky” model traces this to what he has called “endogenous money creation,” that is, bank credit mainly to buyers of real estate, companies and other assets. He recently suggested a more catchy moniker: “Bank Originated Money and Debt” (BOMD). That seems easier to remember. The concept is more accessible than the dry academic terminology usually coined. It is simple enough to show that the mathematics of compound interest lead the volume of debt to exceed the rate of GDP growth, thereby diverting more and more income to the financial sector as debt service.

Keen traces this view back to Irving Fisher’s famous 1933 article on debt deflation – the residue from unpaid debt. Such payments to creditors leave less available to spend on goods and services. In explaining the mathematical dynamics underlying his “Minsky” model, Keen links financial dynamics to employment. If private debt grows faster than GDP, the debt/GDP ratio will rise. This stifles markets, and hence employment. Wages fall as a share of GDP. This is precisely what is happening. But mainstream models ignore the overgrowth of debt, as if the economy operates on a barter basis. Keen calls this “the barter illusion,” and reviews his wonderful exchange with Paul Krugman (who plays the role of an intellectual Bambi to Keen’s Godzilla), who insists that banks do not create credit but merely recycle savings – as if they are savings banks, not commercial banks. It is the old logic that debt doesn’t matter because “we” owe the debt to “ourselves.”

[..] By being so compact, this book is able to concentrate attention on the easy-to-understand mathematical principles that underlie the “junk economics” mainstream. Keen explains why, mathematically, the Great Moderation leading up to the 2008 crash was not an anomaly, but is inherent in a basic principle: Economies can prolong the debt-financed boom and delay a crash simply by providing more and more credit, Australia-style. The effect is to make the ensuing crash worse, more long-lasting and more difficult to extricate. For this, he blames mainly Margaret Thatcher and Alan Greenspan as, in effect, bank lobbyists. But behind them is the whole edifice of neoliberal economic brainwashing.

Keen attacks this “neoclassical” methodology by pointing at the logical fallacy of trying to explain society by looking only at “the individual.” That approach and its related “series of plausible but false propositions” blinds economics graduates from seeing the obvious. Their discipline is the product of ideological desire not to blame banks or creditors, wrapped in a libertarian antagonism toward government’s role as economic regulator, money creator, and financer of basic infrastructure.

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The EU really cares.

UK PM May Accuses EU of Brexit Threats and Election Interference (CNBC)

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has accused the EU of not wanting Brexit negotiations to be a success, as tensions between both sides escalate ahead of official talks. “The events of the last few days have shown that – whatever our wishes, and however reasonable the positions of Europe’s other leaders – there are some in Brussels who do not want these talks to succeed,” May said Wednesday afternoon outside Downing Street. Her comments follow media reports that the EU’s Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker left London “10 times more skeptical” than he was before after a dinner with Prime Minister May last week. Their meeting has been described in the press as a disaster with both leaders clashing over key negotiating issues.

Earlier on Wednesday, Juncker described May as a “tough woman”. May has said that she will be a “bloody difficult woman” during Brexit talks. Speaking outside Downing Street, the head of the Conservative party went further and accused the European Union of wanting to interfere in the upcoming general election. “Britain’s negotiating position in Europe has been misrepresented in the continental press. The European Commission’s negotiating stance has hardened.Threats against Britain have been issued by European politicians and officials. All of these acts have been deliberately timed to affect the result of the general election that will take place on 8 June,” the prime minister said.

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I watched parts of the debate, nothing brutal about it, just politics. Le Pen’s logic seems pretty solid: “France will be run by a woman whatever happens,” Le Pen said. “Either by me or by Mrs. Merkel.”

Le Pen Tirade Meets Logic of Macron in Brutal French TV Duel

Marine Le Pen unleashed a barrage of attacks on her presidential rival Emmanuel Macron as she tried to close a gap of some 20 percentage points in the only head-to-head debate of the French election campaign. Le Pen, 48, said her centrist opponent was the candidate of the capitalist elite, and a friend to terrorists, who planned to shut down factories, schools and hospitals. Macron said Le Pen’s broadsides against state bodies meant she was unfit to lead the country as she struggled to defend her plans to leave the euro. “You have threatened public employees,” Macron, 39, said as his opponent chuckled on the other side of the table during the almost three-hour debate Wednesday night. “Your words show that you are not worthy to be the defender of our institutions.”

A snap survey of 1,314 likely voters by polling firm Elabe showed that 63 percent of respondents rated Macron as the winner and 34 percent picked Le Pen. With just three days to go before French voters settle the most turbulent election in the country’s modern history, Le Pen argued for new border restrictions to protect the French people from foreign competition and terrorism, and an exit from euro, reversing 60 years of European integration. The clash was brutal from the get-go, and the general consensus from commentators was that it wasn’t a particularly dignified debate. “It was like a schoolyard brawl,” said Emmanuel Riviere, managing director of pollster Kantar Public France. “The candidates went straight for the jugular. Le Pen started it. But Macron also played his part.”

Both candidates justified the nasty tone on Thursday. “It was severe, but that’s because for the first time ever the French have a real choice,” Le Pen said on RMC Radio. “Before, the candidates agreed on everything. I want to wake up the French people.” [..] She told him he’d traveled to Berlin to get the blessing of German Chancellor Angela Merkel for his policy plans, playing on French concerns that their country plays second fiddle within the European Union. “France will be run by a woman whatever happens,” Le Pen said. “Either by me or by Mrs. Merkel.”

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“..your just and due compensation as part of this interdependent system we call society. We are all stakeholders in it.”

Universal Basic Income is Not “Free Money” (Santens)

Let’s say the cost to produce a widget is $1. What’s the cost to produce 1 million widgets? This may sound like an extremely simple word problem that even some preschoolers could solve. However, if you think the answer is $1 million, you would be entirely wrong. The cost to produce 1 million widgets is far below $1 million thanks to the savings inherent in mass production. It’s a lot cheaper per something to make a lot of something, than it is to create one of it, or even a few. A couple secondary understandings extend themselves as a result of this primary understanding. First, it’s wrong to assume that providing people with more money will necessitate rising prices. Increased demand can lead to greatly increased production, which then leads to lower prices. Just how much production can be ramped up in response to increased demand is a key factor in price determination.

Where supply cannot be increased, and therefore more money is chasing the same amount of goods, price increases can be expected. Where supply can be greatly or even infinitely increased, lower prices can be expected, especially where true competition exists. Second, and I find this point extremely compelling and the real point of this post, is a recognition of our interdependence, and the collective debt we owe each other. Take whatever device you’re reading these words on as a prime example. Whatever its cost to you, it only cost that because millions of others like you expressed their demand for the same device. Without everyone else, that device would have cost you ten times, a hundred times, or even a thousand times more than it would have to create just one, just for you. In other words, we all subsidize each other.

[..] In Alaska, Alaskans are paid on average about $1000 per year for being an Alaskan. Why? Because the oil companies didn’t make the oil in Alaska. They’re merely bringing it up out of the ground and processing it. The oil is considered owned by all Alaskans, and so they should as owners see some of the revenue generated by its sale. Now apply this logic to the rest of what was not created by humankind. Apply it to what is not created by any one human individually, but everyone together, like for example land value. Take a million dollar mansion and swap it with an empty lot in the middle of the desert. The mansion becomes worth only the sum total of what its parts can sell for. The empty lot shoots up in value. Why? Because the unimproved value of land is socially created. That value exists because YOU exist.

Do you see now that basic income is not “free money” or “money for nothing?” You are owed it. It is your just and due compensation as part of this interdependent system we call society. We are all stakeholders in it. We are all owed a dividend as investors. No investor in Apple would ever be okay with being told that in return for their investment in Apple, they merely get the privilege of purchasing Apple products. Their reward is a return on their investment in the form of cash dividends. That’s fair and just. What is true for corporate stockholders should also be true for you. Don’t accept anything less than a cash dividend for your investments in this grand organization called human civilization. Claim what you are owed and demand unconditional basic income.

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Key: “There is an effort by a coalition of interests: banks, financial funds, pro-bailout governments, and the international creditors. They want to grab people’s property by using the public debt as a lever..”

The Brothers Fighting For Indebted Greek Homeowners (AP)

Leonidas Papadopoulos is a doctor, his brother Ilias an economist, and once a week they take a break from ordinary life to fight the government. They go to court every Wednesday, the day homeowners in default on mortgages lose their properties at auctions – the final step of foreclosure in a country where the government and its citizens are overwhelmed by debt. Auctions are supervised by a notary public, who faces a weekly hour of crowd harassment. At a lower court in Athens one Wednesday, the Papadopoulos brothers and about 30 protesters gather menacingly around the notary’s desk, shouting insults and chanting “Vultures out!” When the atmosphere gets heated, protesters clamber onto the empty judges’ benches. In the court halls outside the chamber, demonstrators unfurl large banners and set up loudspeakers to blast music normally associated with protest movements from the 1970s.

Police look on without intervening, and another auction is cancelled. The crowd celebrates with chants of “No Homes in Bankers’ Hands!” – and goes home. “We create a list of all the auctions that are due to take place and decide which cases require our intervention. When the notary enters the chamber, we eject them with our presence, and by shouting,” the 35-year-old Leonidas Papadopoulos says. Each postponement typically delays an auction by about two months. The bearded brothers have created a nationwide protest network of several hundred volunteers to disrupt the auctions across Greece and to help illegally reconnect homes of unemployed people who have had their electricity cut off. In its fourth year, the campaign is intensifying as the country faces pressure from its international bailout creditors to deal with a mountain of bad bank loans.

Greece owes a staggering 325 billion euros ($354 billion), most of it to bailout lenders, while annual economic output – hammered by austerity, political upheaval and years of recession – has withered to below 180 billion euros ($196 billion). The country’s key assets are locked up for 99 years under the control of a fund created by the creditors. The picture for the country’s 10 million citizens is equally grim: Some 4 million are in arrears on tax payments, while 2 million households and businesses are behind on their electricity bills. Nearly half of loans given by banks for businesses and property purchases are now officially listed as soured. Ilias Papadopoulos, 33, sees the problem differently, arguing that people’s property are being seized at fire-sale prices after tax collection has been exhausted, in a desperate effort to maintain bailout debt commitments.

“There is an effort by a coalition of interests: banks, financial funds, pro-bailout governments, and the international creditors. They want to grab people’s property by using the public debt as a lever,” he said. “That includes homes, small businesses, farm land, and industry. It’s wealth that was acquired with such great effort by the Greek people. It cannot be surrendered without a fight.” Ilias says he’s never been arrested or detained by police due to his activism, and predicts the fight against foreclosures will intensify after Greece and it’s bailout creditors reached a new austerity deal this week. “This will only make things worse for poor people. So we’ll have to step things up.”

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