Sep 152018
 
 September 15, 2018  Posted by at 8:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Leonard Misonne Waterloo Place 1899

 

Central Banks Have Gone Rogue, Putting Us All at Risk (Ellen Brown)
Shiller Sees ‘Bad Times In The Stock Market’ Ahead (CNBC)
Yellen: Fed Should Commit To Future ‘Booms’ To Make Up For Major Busts (R.)
Russia Central Bank Raises Key Rate To 7.5%, Extends Pause In FX Buying (R.)
Turkey Raises Key Interest Rate To 24% In Bid To Curb Inflation (G.)
Lamentation (Jim Kunstler)
Days After 9/11 Tulsi Gabbard Slams Betrayal Of American People Over Syria (ZH)
Acrimony As EU Denies False Report On Greek Pension Cuts Relief (K.)
Dalai Lama Says ‘Europe Belongs To Europeans’ (AFP)
Florence Plows Inland, Leaving Five Dead, States Flooded (R.)

 

 

Tons of 10-year Lehman stories. haven’t seen that many truly impressive ones.

Central Banks Have Gone Rogue, Putting Us All at Risk (Ellen Brown)

The U.S. Federal Reserve, which bailed out General Motors in a rescue operation in 2009, was prohibited from lending to individual companies under the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, and it is legally barred from owning equities. It parks its reserves instead in bonds and other government-backed securities. But other countries have different rules, and central banks are now buying individual stocks as investments, with a preference for big tech companies like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft. Those are the stocks that dominate the market, and central banks are aggressively driving up their value. Markets, including the U.S. stock market, are thus literally being rigged by foreign central banks.

The result, as noted in a January 2017 article at Zero Hedge, is that central bankers, “who create fiat money out of thin air and for whom ‘acquisition cost’ is a meaningless term, are increasingly nationalizing the equity capital markets.” Or at least they would be nationalizing equities, if they were actually “national” central banks. But the Swiss National Bank, the biggest single player in this game, is 48 percent privately owned, and most central banks have declared their independence from their governments. They march to the drums not of government but of private industry.

Marking the 10th anniversary of the 2008 collapse, former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and former Treasury Secretaries Timothy Geithner and Henry Paulson wrote in a Sept. 7 New York Times op-ed that the Fed’s tools needed to be broadened to allow it to fight the next anticipated economic crisis, including allowing it to prop up the stock market by buying individual stocks. To investors, propping up the stock market may seem like a good thing, but what happens when the central banks decide to sell? The Fed’s massive $4 trillion economic support is now being taken away, and other central banks are expected to follow. Their U.S. and global holdings are so large that their withdrawal from the market could trigger another global recession. That means when and how the economy will collapse is now in the hands of central bankers.

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We all do.

Shiller Sees ‘Bad Times In The Stock Market’ Ahead (CNBC)

Nobel laureate Robert Shiller thinks investors ought to ignore the recent burst in corporate profits and focus on longer-term valuation, which he says carries foreboding news for the stock market. At a time when earnings are rising 25 percent a quarter, Shilller said that’s not indicative of what longer-term results in the market will be. History has shown that in previous times, particularly around World War I, the late 1920s approaching the time of the Depression, and in the high-inflation 1980s, profits could be strong but equity results not as much. In the present case, the recent surge in profits has been due to last year’s tax cuts, backed by President Donald Trump, that took the corporate rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.

“My own way of thinking is it looks like an overreaction,” Shiller said Friday at a conference in New York presented by the Wharton School. “We’re launching a trade war. Aren’t people thinking about that? Is that a good thing? I don’t know, but I’m thinking it’s likely to be bad times in the stock market.” Shiller cautioned that he is not predicting major calamity for the market but rather a much lower level of returns, in the 2.6 percent annual range, than investors have come to expect during the 9-year-old bull market. The longest rally in history has the S&P 500 up more than 335 percent since the March 2009 bottom. “It’s not like I’m predicting a crash,” he said. “This is a 10-year forward return. This is not going to be great, because we’re just too high at the present value.”

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Really, these people think they saved the economy. By creating fake booms.

Yellen: Fed Should Commit To Future ‘Booms’ To Make Up For Major Busts (R.)

The U.S. Federal Reserve should commit to letting economic booms run on enough to fully offset collapses like the 2007 to 2009 Great Recession, former Fed chair Janet Yellen said on Friday, urging the central bank to make “lower-for-longer” its official motto for interest rates following serious downturns. Yellen’s approach, which comes in the wake of complaints by the Trump administration about Fed interest rate hikes, could imply a looser monetary policy stance amid Fed officials’ concerns about tight labor markets and greater financial stability risks after a decade of low rates. Those concerns should not be shunted aside, Yellen said, in her most extensive remarks about monetary policy since leaving the Fed early in the year.

Elaborating on how the central bank should think about what to do if rates have to be cut to zero again in the future and can’t go any lower, she said the Fed should promise now that it will keep rates low enough to let a hot economy make up for lost time. “By keeping interest rates unusually low after the zero lower bound no longer binds, the lower-for-longer approach promises, in effect, to allow the economy to boom,” Yellen said in remarks delivered at a Brookings Institution conference. “The (Federal Open Market Committee) needs to make a credible statement endorsing such an approach, ideally before the next downturn.”

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The trade wars affect Russia only slightly.

Russia Central Bank Raises Key Rate To 7.5%, Extends Pause In FX Buying (R.)

The Russian central bank raised its key interest rate to 7.50 percent on Friday and said it would not make any foreign currency purchases until the end of the year, citing the risk of higher inflation and rouble volatility. It was the first time the central bank had raised the key rate since late 2014 when it had to step in to help stabilise the tanking rouble. The rouble firmed after the decision, trading at 67.88 versus the dollar compared with 68.41 shortly before. “The increase of the key rate will help maintain real interest rates on deposits in positive territory, which will support the attractiveness of savings and balanced growth in consumption,” the central bank said in a statement.

Analysts polled by Reuters had mostly expected the central bank to hold the rate at 7.25 percent, as it had done at three previous board meetings, but had not ruled out the possibility of a rate hike either. The bank’s decision to extend a pause in daily FX buying until the end of 2018 from the end of September will help curtail exchange rate volatility and its influence on inflation over the next few quarters, the central bank said. Explaining its thinking, the central bank said “changes in external conditions observed since the previous meeting of the Board of Directors have significantly increased pro-inflationary risks.”

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7.5% in Russia, 24% in Turkey. Why? Because Turks borrowed so much in dollars.

Turkey Raises Key Interest Rate To 24% In Bid To Curb Inflation (G.)

Turkey‘s central bank has raised its key interest rate to 24% in a dramatic bid to control rocketing inflation and prevent a currency crisis. Ignoring calls for restraint from President Erdogan, the bank raised its main short-term rate from 17.5% following weeks of pressure from international investors. Financial markets have grown increasingly concerned that Turkey is in danger of adding its name to the list of countries seeking a rescue loan from the IMF. Argentina agreed a loan earlier in the summer with the IMF and only last month called on the Washington-based lender to release the funds earlier to to ease concerns that the country would not be able to meet its debt obligations over the next year.

South Africa, Indonesia and Mexico are also among a group of emerging market economies that have seen their currencies tumble as investors desert countries that have grown quickly using large amounts of borrowed funds. The Turkish lira began to recover shortly after the rate hike, strengthening by 3% to 6.16 against the dollar. Inflation also soared this month to a 15-year high of almost 18%. The currency has plunged in recent months and even after Thursday’s rise was down almost 39% against the dollar this year.

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Third world America.

Lamentation (Jim Kunstler)

The lamentation for the northern part of “flyover” America is an old story now. Nobody is surprised anymore by the desolation of de-industrialized places like Youngstown, Ohio, or Gary, Indiana, where American wealth was once minted the hard way by men toiling around blast furnaces. But the southeast states enjoyed a strange interlude of artificial dynamism since the 1950s, which is about three generations, and there is little cultural memory for what the region was like before: an agricultural backwater with few cities of consequence and widespread Third Worldish poverty, barefoot children with hookworm, and scrawny field laborers in ragged straw hats leaning on their hoes in the stifling heat.

The demographic shifts of recent decades turned a lot of it into an endless theme park of All-You-Can-Eat buffets, drive-in beer emporia, hamburger palaces, gated retirement subdivisions, evangelical churches built like giant muffler shops, vast wastelands of free parking, and all the other trappings of the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. Like many of history’s prankish proceedings, it seemed like a good idea at the time. As survivors slosh around in the plastic debris in the weeks ahead, and the news media spins out its heartwarming vignettes of rescue and heroism, will there be any awareness of what has actually happened: the very sudden end of a whole regional economy that was a tragic blunder from the get-go?

It is probably hard to imagine Dixieland struggling into whatever its next economy might be. In some places, it’s not even possible to return to a prior economy based on agriculture. A lot of the landscape was farmed so ruinously for two hundred years that the soil has turned into a kind of natural cement, called hardpan or caliche. The climate prospects for the region are not favorable either, not to mention the certain cessation of universal air-conditioning and “happy motoring” that made the unwise mega-developments of recent decades possible.

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I remember her meeting with Trump. She must feel deceived. Just not clear by whom.

Days After 9/11 Tulsi Gabbard Slams Betrayal Of American People (ZH)

In a rare and unprecedented speech delivered on the House floor just two days after the nation memorialized 9/11, Democratic Hawaiian Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard on Thursday slammed Washington’s longtime support to anti-Assad jihadists in Syria, while also sounding the alarm over the current build-up of tensions between the US and Russia over the Syria crisis. She called on Congress to condemn what she called the Trump Administration’s protection of al-Qaeda in Idlib and slammed Washington’s policies in Syria as “a betrayal of the American people” — especially the victims and families that perished on 9/11.

Considering that Congresswoman Gabbard herself is an Iraq war veteran and current Army reserve officer who served in the aftermath of 9/11, it’s all the more power and rare that a sitting Congress member would make such forceful comments exposing the hypocrisy and contradictions of US policy. She called out President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence by name on the House floor in her speech: “Two days ago, President Trump and Vice President Pence delivered solemn speeches about the attacks on 9/11, talking about how much they care about the victims of al-Qaeda’s attack on our country. But, they are now standing up to protect the 20,000 to 40,000 al-Qaeda and other jihadist forces in Syria, and threatening Russia, Syria, and Iran, with military force if they dare attack these terrorists.”

[..] Trump and Gabbard had even once met to discuss Syria policy at a private meeting at Trump Tower in November of 2016 just ahead of then president-elect Trump being sworn into office. At the time the two appeared to be in complete agreement over Syria policy, after which Gabbard said of the meeting, “I felt it important to take the opportunity to meet with the President-elect now before the drumbeats of war that neocons have been beating drag us into an escalation of the war to overthrow the Syrian government—a war which has already cost hundreds of thousands of lives and forced millions of refugees to flee their homes in search of safety for themselves and their families.”

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Pacta sunt servanda.

Acrimony As EU Denies False Report On Greek Pension Cuts Relief (K.)

The European Commission on Friday denied a report in the state-run Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA-MPA) that claimed Greece’s lenders had agreed to the non-implementation of pension cuts slated for January as they believe the country’s social security system has become viable. The agency, whose report was initially backed by government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, also claimed that the institutions had informed opposition parties about their decision. But a government source told Kathimerini that the report was not true.

The EC was quick to refute the report with a statement urging Greece to deliver on the promises it has made to its international lenders under the bailout program. “Our position is crystal-clear: Pacta sunt servanda. This is the only position you need to look at,” Commission spokesman Alexander Winterstein told a news briefing, using a Latin proverb which means “agreements must be kept.” For their part, the institutions said they made the visit to Athens – the first since Greece’s exit from the bailout program in August – not to engage in negotiations but to monitor whether the government is sticking to agreed reforms.

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Not a popular thing to say. But is it wrong? What he means is stop the wars and invasions first.

Dalai Lama Says ‘Europe Belongs To Europeans’ (AFP)

The Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, said Wednesday that “Europe belongs to the Europeans” and that refugees should return to their native countries to rebuild them. Speaking at a conference in Sweden’s third-largest city of Malmo, home to a large immigrant population, the Dalai Lama – who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 – said Europe was “morally responsible” for helping “a refugee really facing danger against their life”. “Receive them, help them, educate them… but ultimately they should develop their own country,” said the 83-year-old Tibetan who fled the capital Lhasa in fear of his life after China poured troops into the region to crush an uprising. “I think Europe belongs to the Europeans,” he said, adding they should make clear to refugees that “they ultimately should rebuild their own country”. .

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Where’s all the water going to go?

Florence Plows Inland, Leaving Five Dead, States Flooded (R.)

Florence had been a Category 3 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale with 120-mph winds as of Thursday, but dropped to a Category 1 hurricane before coming ashore near Wrightsville Beach close to Wilmington. The National Hurricane Center downgraded it to a tropical storm on Friday afternoon, but warned it would dump as much as 30 to 40 inches of rain on the southeastern coast of North Carolina and into the northeastern coast of South Carolina in spots. “This rainfall will produce catastrophic flash flooding and prolonged significant river flooding,” the hurricane center said. Atlantic Beach on North Carolina’s Outer Banks islands had already received 30 inches (76 cm) of rain, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

By Friday night the center of the storm had moved to eastern South Carolina, about 15 miles northeast of Myrtle Beach, with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph. North Carolina utilities have estimated that as many as 2.5 million state residents could be left without power, the state’s Department of Public Safety said. More than 22,600 people were housed in 150 shelters statewide, including schools, churches and Wake Forest University’s basketball arena. Officials in New Bern, which dates to the early 18th century, said over 100 people were rescued from floods and the downtown was under water by Friday afternoon. Calls for help multiplied as the wind picked up and the tide rolled in.

“These are folks who decided to stay and ride out the storm for whatever reason, despite having a mandatory evacuation,” city public information officer Colleen Roberts said. “These are folks who are maybe in one-story buildings and they’re seeing the floodwaters rise.”

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Sep 102018
 
 September 10, 2018  Posted by at 9:31 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Salvador Dali The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory 1954

 

Trump To Declassify Bruce Ohr, Carter Page Documents As Early As This Week (ZH)
Stronger US Economy May Warrant ‘Restrictive’ Rates: Boston Fed’s Rosengren (R.)
Brexit Will Fail Regardless Of Boris Johnson And Theresa May’s Jabs (Ind.)
Battle Over EU Copyright Law Heads For Showdown (G.)
US Senator: MI6 Planning Fake Chemical Weapons Attack On Syria (WaPo)
What Caused The Crash Of 2008 Now Shapes Our Post-Modern 1930s (Varoufakis)
Greek Bank Profits Are Hurt By Credit Contraction (K.)
Greek PM Promises Relief Measures After Years Of Austerity (G.)
Petition To Offer Assange Asylum To Be Presented To New Zealand Parliament (RT)
US Lawyers Say They Have ‘Explosive’ Documents About Monsanto In Europe (EN)
Turtles, Whales And Birds Under Threat From Brexit Funding Cuts (Ind.)

 

 

Nice way to start the week. I said this would happen, become a trend. Open thee, Sesame.

Trump To Declassify Bruce Ohr, Carter Page Documents As Early As This Week (ZH)

President Trump is expected to declassify documents connected to the Obama administration’s surveillance of the Trump campaign during the 2016 US election, according to Axios, citing allies of the president who say it could happen as soon as this week. Specifically mentioned are documents concerning former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, as well as the “investigative activities of Justice Department lawyer Bruce Ohr” – who was demoted twice for lying about his extensive relationship with Christopher Steele – the former MI6 spy who assembled the sham “Steele Dossier” used by the FBI in a FISA surveillance application to spy on Page.

Republicans on the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees believe the declassification will permanently taint the Trump-Russia investigation by showing the investigation was illegitimate to begin with. Trump has been hammering the same theme for months. • They allege that Bruce Ohr played an improper intermediary role between the Justice Department, British spy Christopher Steele and Fusion GPS – the opposition research firm that produced the Trump-Russia dossier, funded by Democrats. (Ohr’s wife, Nellie, worked for Fusion GPS on Russia-related matters during the presidential election – a fact that Ohr did not disclose on federal forms.) • And they further allege that the Obama administration improperly spied on Carter Page – all to take down Trump. -Axios

Ohr, meanwhile, met with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska in 2015 to discuss helping the FBI with organized crime investigations, according to The Hill’s John Solomon. The meeting with the Putin ally was facilitated by Steele. Three weeks ago, Trump called Ohr a disgrace, while also tweeting: “Will Bruce Ohr, whose family received big money for helping to create the phony, dirty and discredited Dossier, ever be fired from the Jeff Sessions “Justice” Department? A total joke!” According to emails turned over to Congressional investigators in August, Christopher Steele was much closer to Bruce Ohr and his wife Nellie than previously disclosed.

Steele and the Ohrs would have breakfast together on July 30, 2016 at the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington D.C., days after Steele turned in installments of his infamous “dossier” on July 19 and 26. The breakfast also occurred one day before the FBI formally launched operation “Crossfire Hurricane,” the agency’s counterintelligence operation into the Trump campaign. “Great to see you and Nellie this morning Bruce,” Steele wrote shortly following their breakfast meeting. “Let’s keep in touch on the substantive issues/s (sic). Glenn is happy to speak to you on this if it would help

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To reiterate once again: not long after Lehman, Bernanke said the Fed had entered ‘uncharted territory’. They’re still there, groping in the dark. Not a clue, but faking it like pros.

Stronger US Economy May Warrant ‘Restrictive’ Rates: Boston Fed’s Rosengren (R.)

When Boston Federal Reserve Bank President Eric Rosengren switched from advocating low interest rates to tighter monetary policy, he argued it was time to start crawling back toward “normal” rates even with 5% unemployment and weak growth and inflation. Two years later, Rosengren has joined colleagues in beginning to lay the groundwork for those rate hikes to potentially continue longer and to a higher level than currently expected as the outlook for the economy strengthens. Rates may not only need to become “restrictive,” but the definition of that may be moving up as well, Rosengren said in an interview with Reuters on Saturday following an economic conference here.

“This is not hair on fire. There is upward pressure on inflation, and given that we are already at 2%, labor markets are already tight … that is going to be a situation where we start persistently having inflation above what our target is,” Rosengren said. “There is an argument to normalize policy and probably be mildly restrictive.” The Fed maintains a 2% inflation target, which it is only now reaching after a decade struggling to consistently hit and maintain it. He said the Fed does not need to move faster than the current gradual pace, which has translated into roughly one rate hike per quarter, with the next expected later this month. That steady pace is a luxury gained by starting early, he said, skirting the need to move more quickly and catch up with a tightening economy.

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Incompetent one and all.

Brexit Will Fail Regardless Of Boris Johnson And Theresa May’s Jabs (Ind.)

When Boris Johnson decides to go on leadership manoeuvres he tends to be noisy. His latest line is that the prime minister is like some sort of incompetent suicide bomber, handing over the ignition button on her suicide vest to none other than Michel Barnier. Presumably, Mr Johnson would like us to believe that he would in fact willingly blow himself to kingdom come, shouting “Leave means Leave” on his way to enjoying the company of the promised 72 virgins of the Leave campaign. These may prove as mythical as the extra £350m a week for the NHS he once promised his own fanatical supporters. Or something like that.

As Mr Johnson has discovered, metaphors around Brexit can easily get misconstrued and extended way too far. With the suicide bomber analogy, Mr Johnson displayed his usual contempt for good taste and, as ever, took delight on winding up his opponents. These include two of his own former ministers at the Foreign Office, Alistair Burt and Sir Alan Duncan, who know his ways well and may be forgiven for letting off steam. Sir Alan called it disgusting. True, but it did the trick: Johnson is dominating the headlines again, just ahead of the Tory conference and crucial EU summits. It’s pretty obvious what he is up to.

On the substance though, there was little new in this intervention. Mr Johnson has, at least privately, let it be known that he regards the issue of the Irish border as a subsidiary one, unnecessarily getting in the way of his vision of Brexit. He apparently now regards the whole question as a plot by closet Remainers to keep the UK either in the EU or as close to the EU as makes no difference – Brexit in name only.

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The EU can’t solve these issues by moving back to laws that cover traditional media. They need education, or this will fail spectacularly.

Battle Over EU Copyright Law Heads For Showdown (G.)

Fought with hashtags, mailshots, open letters and celebrity endorsements, the battle over the European Union’s draft directive on copyright heads for a showdown this week. After two years of debate, members of the European parliament will vote on Wednesday on the legislation, which could change the balance of power between producers of music, news and film and the dominant websites that host their work. Proposed in 2016 to update copyright law for the age of Facebook and Google, the directive has unleashed a ferocious lobbying war. Lawmakers have been bombarded with millions of emails and thousands of calls, many based on standard scripts written by lobbyists. Some have even received death threats, according to the French MEP Virginie Rozière.

Critics claim the proposal will destroy the internet, spelling the end of sharing holiday snaps or memes on Facebook. Proponents are exasperated by such claims, described by German Christian Democrat Axel Voss as “totally wrong” and “fake news”. Amid last-minute writing and rewriting of amendments, the final outcome cannot be predicted. The proposals were rejected by the European parliament in July, despite earlier support in a relevant committee. Among the latest to mobilise in favour were 165 film-makers and screenwriters, including the British director Mike Leigh, who launched an appeal at the Venice film festival last week calling on EU lawmakers to pass the law. In July McCartney pressed MEPs to stop tech firms exploiting musicians.

Europe’s biggest news agencies have also urged MEPs to vote for the law, as they accused Google and Facebook of “plundering” the news and their ad revenues, resulting in a “threat to democracy”. “For the sake of Europe’s free press and democratic values, EU lawmakers should press ahead with copyright reform,” said a statement signed by 20 agencies, including the Press Association and Agence France-Presse. Opponents are no less forceful. Wikipedia shut down its pages in some countries in protest at the plans, which it claims would force the closure of its user-generated encyclopaedia. Berners-Lee is among 70 internet luminaries to oppose the law, arguing it would be transform the internet from an open platform into a tool for “automated surveillance and control”. The UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, has raised concerns about “prepublication censorship”.

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RT reports first US chemical attck in Syria over the weekend.

US Senator: MI6 Planning Fake Chemical Weapons Attack On Syria (WaPo)

Fresh off a sitdown with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, Virginia state senator Richard Black turned up on Arab TV last week making an extraordinary claim about one of the US’ closest allies. Mr Black said Britain’s MI6 intelligence service was planning a chemical weapons attack on the Syrian people, which it would then blame on Mr Assad. “Around four weeks ago, we knew that British intelligence was working towards a chemical attack in order to blame the Syrian government, to hold Syria responsible,” Mr Black said on Al Mayadeen, an Arab news channel based in Beirut. Mr Black said later that he meant the British were planning not to carry out an attack themselves, but to either direct rebels to do so or stage a phoney attack, with actors posing as victims.

Mr Black also said some chemical attacks previously reported to have occurred in Syria were British fakes, pulled off with help from volunteer first responders known as “White Helmets”. “From what I can tell, they have been planning a fake attack, not a genuine one, but one where they actually move people out of a town and they have trained people to portray victims of a gas attack,” Mr Black said in an interview with The Washington Post. “And the plan is to use the White Helmets who have always been involved in these notorious deceptions, to portray an attack.” The State Department flatly rejected Mr Black’s allegations, which echoed what it called “outrageous” Russian and Assad-regime claims that Britain and the US have carried out chemical attacks with help from the White Helmets.

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Not sure looking backward is the way to go. Tempting because of choice details that seem to fit, but this is new.

What Caused The Crash Of 2008 Now Shapes Our Post-Modern 1930s (Varoufakis)

In the autumn of 2008 events unfolded in Wall Street that the crushing majority of people around the world had been led to believe could never occur. It was the financial equivalent of watching the sun spinning out of control soon after it rose above the horizon. Humanity watched on in collective disbelief. The ancient Greeks had a term for moments like that one: aporia – a state of intense bafflement urgently demanding a new model of the world we live in. The Crash of 2008 was such a moment. Suddenly, the world ceased to make sense in terms of what, a few weeks before, passed as conventional wisdom.

Before long, the repercussions were felt everywhere. The certainties created by decades of of establishment thinking were gone, along with around $40 trillion of equity globally, $14 trillion of household wealth in the US alone, 700,000 US jobs every month, countless repossessed homes everywhere; the list is as long as the numbers it includes are unfathomable. Even McDonald’s, for goodness’ sake, could not secure an overdraft from Bank of America! The collective aporia intensified by the response of governments that had hitherto clinged tenaciously onto fiscal conservatism, as perhaps the 20th century’s last surviving ideology: the pouring of trillions of dollars, euros, yen etc. into a financial system which had been, until a few months before, on a huge roll, accumulating fabulous profits and provocatively professing to have found the pot of gold at the end of some globalised rainbow.

And when that response proved too feeble, our Presidents and Prime Ministers, men and women with impeccable anti-statist neoliberal credentials, embarked upon a spree of nationalising banks, insurance companies and automakers that put even Lenin’s 1917 exploits to shame. Ten years on, the crisis unleashed in Wall Street in 2008 is still with us. It takes different forms in different countries (i.e. a Great Depression in places like Greece, a scourge of middle class savers in countries like Germany, history’s greatest sponsor of brutal inequality in the United States, a permanent cause of geopolitical and trade tensions in Asia, Eastern Europe etc.). It migrates from continent to continent, from country to country. It morphs from an unemployment-generator to a deflation-machine, to another banking crisis, to a maximiser of trade and capital global imbalances.

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Given their role in the whole crisis, why do these banks still exist?

Greek Bank Profits Are Hurt By Credit Contraction (K.)

The return of Greek banks to profit becomes particularly fragile as long as the credit contraction persists. The reduction of loan issues, which has gone on for almost a decade, is depriving the credit system of its main source of revenues – takings from interests – while undermining efforts to improve the expenditure index that in the first half of the year deteriorated for local banks. Domestic lenders’ January-June financial results point to a fresh reduction in interest revenues, ranging from -1.5% to -22.5%, depending on the bank.

At the same time, revenues from commissions have increase by between 0.5% and 5.5% as banks have shifted their focus to increasing takings from commissions, especially after the imposition of capital controls in June 2015. However, the commissions are just a fraction of the interest revenues and cannot offset the losses from the main source of operating profits of banks. The biggest drop in interest revenues in the first half of the year belonged to National Bank (-22.5% to 564.4 million euros), which is attributed to the application of the new accounting standards (IFRS 9) in the first quarter and the repricing of mortgage loans amounting to 800 million euros. At the same time the NBG’s loan issues dropped 7.1% year-on-year.

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Perfecting the art of faking it.

Greek PM Promises Relief Measures After Years Of Austerity (G.)

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras has announced a raft of relief measures “to mend wounds” created during Greece’s prolonged economic crisis, as he attempts to recover the popularity he has lost since enforcing contentious austerity measures. In his first major policy address since debt-stricken Athens ended more than eight years of foreign tutelage under international bailout in August, the leftist leader pledged to raise wages, cut taxes and forge ahead with welfare spending. Far from backsliding on the fiscal progress the crisis-plagued country has made, the counter measures would help kickstart growth, Tsipras said, hailing a “new era of rebirth”.

“Higher wages, labour market regulation and respect for labour rights … are a prerequisite for growth,” he told delegates attending the Thessaloniki International Fair where annual economic policy goals are traditionally laid out. “The Greek economy is stabilised … we are a normal country now.” Tsipras said the tax cuts will include dramatically reducing a property levy for those worst affected by the crisis in 2019, and lowering sales VAT in 2021. Corporate tax, the bane of business development in the nation long on the frontline of the euro crisis, would be reduced from 29% to 25% by 2022. “It is the least we can do to mend wounds, reduce great burdens and create a growth dynamic in the Greek economy,” Tsipras said.

Other measures ranged from reinstating collective wage bargaining – a highly sensitive point among international creditors who have sought to trim the power of unions – and applying retroactive pay rises worth €1bn for university professors, the police, military and judiciary. [..] On Sunday, in his annual state of the nation press conference, Tsipras said because Greece was “outperforming all fiscal targets” his government would not only meet the new goals but argue that other cuts Athens has committed to were no longer necessary. At the behest of eurozone creditors the government has agreed to further scale back pensions in January 2019. “The economy is doing well,” Tsipras told reporters assembled in Thessaloniki. “I don’t know if you understand that, but the economy is doing well.”

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By someone who doesn’t support it.

Petition To Offer Assange Asylum To Be Presented To New Zealand Parliament (RT)

A petition with thousands of signatures supporting Julian Assange’s political asylum will be presented to New Zealand’s parliament. Labour Party politician Greg O’Connor said while he personally does not support Assange obtaining asylum in NZ, he will present the petition to parliament after more than 2,000 people signed their names in support of the WikiLeaks founder, reports Newstalk ZB. The parliamentary petition, launched in July 2018, will now be delivered to the Clerk of the house for allocation to a select committee for formal consideration. The ‘Free Assange NZ’ group said they haven’t forgotten the Australian’s plight and are following whistleblower Chelsea Manning on her tour of the country to remind people of the petition and its political progress. On Saturday night Assange supporters gathered outside the Embassy Theatre where Manning was speaking.

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Let’s see them.

US Lawyers Say They Have ‘Explosive’ Documents About Monsanto In Europe (EN)

US lawyers say they have “explosive” documents about crisis-hit agribusiness giant Monsanto and their affairs in Europe. Those involved in a successful lawsuit against the firm have been in Brussels, addressing a European Parliament special committee. Last month, Monsanto was ordered to pay 289 million dollars to a former school groundskeeper dying of cancer, after it was agreed the firm’s Roundup weedkilled contributed to his disease. “What we have is the tip of the iceberg. And in fact we have documents now in our possession, several hundreds documents, that have not been declassified and some of those are explosive,” said US lawyer Robert Jr. Kennedy.

“And many of them are pertinent to what Monsanto did here in Europe. And that’s just the beginning.” Beyond the environmental battle, what’s happened also raises the issue of transparency. For one Green MEP, the US legal battle is also one for democracy. “They are fighting a fight for more democracy and for transparency and to get a better insight in how big corporation such as Monsanto act and try to manipulate the facts,” said Belgium’s Bart Staes. Last November, the EU approved the use of glyphosate, a chemical used in Monsanto’s Roundup product, for five years after a heated debate over whether it causes cancer.

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Britain has shrunk to a sixe too small to have overseas territories.

Turtles, Whales And Birds Under Threat From Brexit Funding Cuts (Ind.)

Whales migrating across the Atlantic Ocean, turtles in the Caribbean and unique cloud forests in St Helena are all under threat as EU conservation projects are set to grind to a halt after Brexit. Following reports of the Falkland Islands’ penguins entering troubled waters as European funding dries up, conservationists working across Britain’s overseas territories have raised the alarm about the wider impact of this lost money. Due to their unusual status as neither fully parts of the UK nor independent states, these territories cannot access most domestic and international funding. This means EU money has offered a lifeline, and supports around a third of their conservation efforts.

There is currently no plan to make up for the shortfall that will emerge when existing projects finish. Stretching from the British Antarctic Territory to the Cayman Islands, the 14 UK overseas territories are home to hundreds of creatures found nowhere else on Earth. “There’s lots still unknown about the territories, they are quite a frontier,” said Jonathan Hall, who leads the RSPB’s overseas territories operations. “But they do hold at least 1,500 unique species – compared to the UK which has about 90.” These forgotten corners of the globe are home to more penguins than any other nation, a third of the world’s albatrosses and the largest coral atoll on the planet.

Many of the animals and plants found in these territories are critically endangered, and scientists estimate there are more than 2,000 species still awaiting discovery in their forests and lagoons. As the Brexit date looms, the government has promised to continue supporting ongoing projects in these regions, but beyond that local environmental groups are worried about how they will stay afloat. “It’s a huge concern,” said Charlie Butt, Caribbean territories programme manager at the RSPB. “The loss of a third of funding would be catastrophic from a conservation perspective.”

Read more …

Jun 142018
 
 June 14, 2018  Posted by at 8:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Wassily Kandinsky Free Curve to the Point – Accompanying Sound of Geometric Curves 1925

 

This Fed Grows Relentlessly More Hawkish (WS)
ECB Gets Ready To Pull The Plug On Stimulus Scheme (R.)
The ECB, Not The Fed, Is The Match That Will Spark Bond Market Volatility (MW)
China Holds Fire On Rates, Posts ‘Shockingly Weak’ Activity Growth (R.)
Riskiest Junk Bonds Completely Blow Off the Fed, Face “Sudden” Reckoning (WS)
Cryptocurrency Bloodbath Continues, Tether Accused Of Manipulating Bitcoin (MW)
The Tories’ Chaotic Brexit Has Lost The Trust Of Business – Jobs Will Go (G.)
The North Korea Summit Through the Looking Glass (Jacobin)
Italy-France Relations Collapse Amid North-African Migrant Spat (ZH)
Apple Steps Up Encrytion To Thwart Police Cracking of iPhones (AFP)
FYROM and Greece Fail To Resolve Bitter Naming Dispute (G.)
Antarctic Ice Melting Faster Than Ever (G.)

 

 

Is there anyone alive who thinks that the US, EU, global economies are strong enough to withstand large scale liquidity withdrawal?

This Fed Grows Relentlessly More Hawkish (WS)

“The economy is in great shape,” Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said today at the press conference after the FOMC meeting. Inflation as measured by the Fed’s preferred low-ball measure “core PCE” has hit the Fed’s target of 2%, and the Fed expects it to hit 2.1% by year-end. Inflation as measured by CPI jumped to 2.8%. “Job gains have been strong,” today’s statement said. The “unemployment rate has declined,” while “growth of household spending has picked up,” and “business fixed investment has continued to grow strongly.” This is no longer the crisis economy of yore. But the interest rates are still low and stimulative, befitting for a crisis economy. So something needs to be done, and it’s getting done, if “gradually.”

There were all kinds of intriguing elements in the FOMC’s increasingly hawkish but “gradual” hoopla today. By unanimous vote, the FOMC raised its target for the federal funds rate by a quarter percentage point to a range between 1.75% and 2.0%. This was expected; what’s intriguing is the unanimous vote, unlike prior rate hikes. Four rate hikes in 2018 (two more this year) are now gradually being baked in, according to the median expectation of the 15 members of the FOMC, per the infamous “dot plot” with which the Fed tries to communicate potential rate moves: One member expects 5 rate hikes in 2018; seven members expect 4 hikes; five members expect 3 hikes, and two members expect no more hikes.

At the March meeting, four rate hikes had appeared in the dot plot as a real but more distant possibility. Two more hikes this year would bring the top end of the target range to 2.5% by year-end. This shows the 2018 section of the dot plot:

Rates are expected to continue to rise, three times in 2019 and once in 2020, nudging the federal funds rate to nearly 3.5%. A presser after every meeting – oh boy. During the press conference, Powell said that, starting next January, there will be a press conference after every FOMC meeting. This idea has been mentioned a couple of times recently to prepare markets for it. Now it’s official. As in every Fed announcement, it’s no biggie, really, trust us. The move is designed to “explain our actions and answer your questions,” Powell said. It was “only about improving communications.” It didn’t mean at all that the Fed would be speeding up its rate hikes, he said.

[..] Interest paid to the banks on excess reserves gets a makeover. Banks have about $1.89 trillion in “excess reserves” on deposit at the Fed. The Fed has been paying banks interest on these excess reserves at a rate that was equal to the top of the Fed’s target range – so 1.75% since the last rate hike, which amounts to an annual rate of $33 billion of easy profits for the banks. In theory with today’s rate hike, the FOMC would also have increased the rate it pays on excess reserves to 2.0%.

Read more …

But the European economy is not ready. What now, accelerate Target2 even more?

ECB Gets Ready To Pull The Plug On Stimulus Scheme (R.)

The ECB will debate on Thursday whether to end its huge asset purchases by year-end, in what would be its biggest step towards dismantling crisis-era stimulus credited with pulling the euro zone economy out of recession. Financial investors are coming to terms with the end of a decade of easy money from the world’s top central banks, with the Federal Reserve on Wednesday raising interest rates for a seventh time in 3-1/2 years in a further shift from policies used to battle the 2007-2009 financial crisis and recession. Meeting as growth is slowing and political populism threatens to set off market turbulence, the ECB is expected to argue that its 2.55 trillion euro bond-buying scheme has done its job in bringing the 19-member currency bloc back from the brink of collapse.

Whether policymakers take the actual decision at their meeting in Riga on Thursday or hold off until July appears secondary as they have long argued that the scheme, commonly known as quantitative easing (QE), should be concluded and the policy focus shift to the expected path of interest rates. The biggest complication could be the increasingly murky economic outlook, weighed down by a developing trade war with the United States, a populist challenge from Italy’s new government and softening export demand. But these factors could actually hasten the ECB’s decision rather than hold it back as the bank has little policy firepower left and a further weakening of the outlook could make a later exit more difficult.

“We believe the ECB may be in a hurry to close the QE chapter,” Bank of America Merrill Lynch said in a note to clients. “We think this is essentially political, as the ECB would not want its monetary policy to be affected by claims of supporting or conversely impairing the new policy course in Italy.”

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Don’t forget the BOJ and China.

The ECB, Not The Fed, Is The Match That Will Spark Bond Market Volatility (MW)

Rising real interest rates haven’t yet made for a sustained pickup in Treasury volatility, leaving some investors to ask what it would take to spark some turbulence. Danielle DiMartino Booth of Quill Intelligence said the European Central Bank, and not the Federal Reserve, holds the key as it looks to set a timetable for winding down its ultra-accommodative policies. With the Federal Reserve’s shrinking balance sheet unable to offset easy global financial conditions on its own, investors should closely watch the ECB at Thursday’s meeting where the central bank is expected to discuss the end of quantitative easing, though the actual wind-down almost certainly remains several months away at the earliest. “The culmination of ECB QE will remove a bond-volatility governor,” said Booth, in a note published on Tuesday.

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And there comes China. Xi fighting the shadows is like Don Quixote and the windmills.

China Holds Fire On Rates, Posts ‘Shockingly Weak’ Activity Growth (R.)

China’s economy is finally starting to cool under the weight of a multi-year crackdown on riskier lending that is pushing up borrowing costs for companies and consumers, with data on Thursday pointing to a broad slowdown in activity in May. China’s central bank sparked concerns over the health of the economy earlier in the day when it left short-term interest rates unchanged, surprising markets which had expected it to follow a hike by the Federal Reserve, as it has tended to do. Industrial output, investment and retail sales all grew less than expected, suggesting further weakness ahead if Beijing perseveres with its crackdowns on pollution, questionable local government spending and off-balance sheet “shadow” financing.

The data, which showed the slowest investment growth in over 22 years, “was all shockingly weak by Chinese standards,” economists at Rabobank said, adding that the readings may explain the central bank’s decision to keep rates on hold. “Get ready for headlines talking about Chinese deleveraging hitting the economy – except it isn’t even deleveraging yet! China is walking more of a tightrope than markets believe – and the data underline that issue clearly,” they said. China has been walking a fine line between rolling out measures to curb financial risks and pollution and tapping the brakes so hard that business activity slows sharply.

Much of their effort so far has focused on the banking sector rather than corporate debt reduction or deleveraging – possibly explaining why China’s headline growth has been so surprisingly solid. GDP has expanded at a steady 6.8 percent for three straight quarters. But official and unofficial gauges are now showing the regulatory crackdown is starting to filter through to the broader economy, with companies complaining it is harder to get financing and a growing number of firms defaulting on bonds.

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In a world of their own.

Riskiest Junk Bonds Completely Blow Off the Fed, Face “Sudden” Reckoning (WS)

High-grade corporate bonds are “gradually” – the key word in everything the Fed says – and reluctantly coming to grips with the new era: Yields are rising and bond prices are falling. The Fed has been laboring to accomplish that. With high-grade debt, the Fed’s plan is working “gradually.” But investors in the riskiest corporate junk debt are totally blowing off the Fed. They’re floating around in their own dream world, facing a very rude awakening. In terms of high-grade corporate bonds, the sell-off has been significant, even if it’s just the beginning. The S&P index for AA-rated bonds is down 2.7% so far this year. As prices have declined, yields have surged, with the average AA yield now at 3.51%, up from around 2.2% in mid to late-2016 (data via ICE BofAML US AA Effective Yield Index):

These are the types of bonds that Apple and other large companies hold in their “cash or cash equivalent” accounts that are registered overseas, and that are now being “repatriated” and sold, and the proceeds from the sales are now being plowed into mega-share buyback programs. These corporations, once avid buyers of this high-grade corporate debt, have turned into sellers.

[..] at the riskiest end of the corporate bond spectrum, with bonds rated CCC or below (deep junk), the party that started at the end of the oil bust in February 2016 simply continued. The S&P bond index for CCC-rated bonds has risen 4.5% so far this year (compared to a 2.7% decline for AA-rated index). Since February 2016, when Wall Street decided to plow new money into junk-rated energy companies, the CCC-rated index has skyrocketed 82%. The average yield of bonds rated CCC or lower is now at 9.56%, down from 12.5% in December 2016, when the Fed got serious, and down from 22% during the peak of the oil bust. This is the lowest yield since the bygone era of “QE Infinity” in June 2014:

Read more …

“Less than 1% of hours with such heavy Tether transactions are associated with 50% of the meteoric rise in bitcoin and 64% of other top cryptocurrencies..”

Cryptocurrency Bloodbath Continues, Tether Accused Of Manipulating Bitcoin (MW)

The bloodbath in the digital currency market showed no sign of abating, with all major coins trading in the red Wednesday. In the past 24-hours, a further $25 billion has been wiped off the total value of all cryptocurrencies, led by bitcoin, the world’s biggest digital currency, which reached its lowest level since Feb. 5. A single bitcoin traded to an intraday low of $6,133.31 and has since bounced to $6,280.18, down 3.8%, since Tuesday 5 p.m. Eastern Time on the Kraken Exchange. The total value of all cryptocurrencies dipped below $270 billion in late afternoon New York trading, the lowest level since April 11, according to data from CoinMarketCap. The move lower came after a research report found data that it said suggested the price of bitcoin may have been manipulated in late 2017.

In the University of Texas paper, researchers said they uncovered data that they believe shows Tether, a stable coin that is pegged to the U.S. dollar, was used to artificially push up the price of bitcoin during its late 2017 rally towards $20,000. “Less than 1% of hours with such heavy Tether transactions are associated with 50% of the meteoric rise in bitcoin and 64% of other top cryptocurrencies,” wrote John M. Griffin, a finance professor and Amin Shams, a graduate student. Questions have surrounded Tether and crypto exchange Bitfinex, which were both subpoenaed by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in 2017 seeking data on Tether and its backing of U.S. dollars. Today’s findings will bring the 11th most traded cryptocurrency back into the spotlight.

“Overall, we find that Tether has a significant impact on the cryptocurrency market. Tether seems to be used both to stabilize and manipulate bitcoin prices,” they said.

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Losing business support may prove fatal for May.

The Tories’ Chaotic Brexit Has Lost The Trust Of Business – Jobs Will Go (G.)

[..] away from parliament, and far from the tabloid front pages, a serious breach is opening up in British politics. Last week some of the most senior business leaders in Britain came out of a Brexit meeting at No 10, and promptly tore the prime minister to shreds. “We’re playing economics; [the politicians] are playing politics,” said Paul Drechsler, president of the bosses’ organisation, the Confederation of British Industry. “In the world of business, we’re frustrated. We’re angry.” An extraordinary statement, especially from an executive invited to tea and biscuits with May. If supposedly tame industrialists now talk like this, you have to wonder what sounds come out of the feral lot.

Yet the CBI’s impatience is shared by many. Once the long-haul arm of the Tory movement, the Freight Transport Association lashed out at May last week for “playing chicken with crucial parts of the British economy and the livelihoods of … 7 million Britons”. These are close friends of the Conservative party.As one senior representative of a leading business organisation says: “Over the past two years, most company bosses would never risk saying openly that Brexit is turning out to be a disaster, in case it scared off their best staff.” With fewer than 290 days before Britain formally leaves the EU, their caution is running out.

This is a far bigger story than the one on the front pages about who promised which amendment to which band of Tories. One of the fundamental relationships in the establishment is fracturing – and the consequences for government and economy could prove to be historic.

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“Not Trump” is not an identity.

The North Korea Summit Through the Looking Glass (Jacobin)

On Tuesday, as Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un shook hands for their much-anticipated summit in Singapore, one Korean reporter observed a curious episode. Koreans watching the scene unfold on a TV screen at a railway station in Seoul began applauding. Meanwhile, some nearby Western tourists, perturbed by this development, scratched their heads in confusion. “I am actually baffled to see them clapping here,” said one British tourist. There’s perhaps no better symbol of the gulf in worldwide reactions to the summit than this episode. While South Koreans cautiously celebrated a historic step in the thawing of hostilities that have hung over them for almost seventy years, the Western media seemed to look on with alarm — even anger.

Hostility to the summit, much of it from Democrats and liberals, had been a staple of press coverage in the months leading up to it, often from commentators who just a few months earlier had been panicking about exactly the opposite outcome. But it reached a fever pitch over the last few days. There was, for example, the collective hyperventilation over a symbolic arrangement of North Korean and US flags. There was MSNBC’s Nicole Wallace, who warned that the whole summit was actually a “Trumpian head fake,” a mere artifact of Trump’s “midterm strategy” and his “get out of sitting with Bob Mueller strategy.” Sue Mi Terry of the defense contractor–funded Center for Strategic and International Studies cautioned that “a peace treaty is not okay” and should “come at the end of the process” because it “undermines the justification of our troops staying in South Korea.”

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Let’s see what happens when the next ship comes.

Italy-France Relations Collapse Amid North-African Migrant Spat (ZH)

Italy has postponed high-level discussions with France on Wednesday after French President Emmanuel Macron criticized Rome for refusing to take in a migrant rescue ship full of 629 shipwrecked North Africans – forcing it to divert to Valencia, Spain. After the ship ran out of supplies, the Italian Navy agreed to escort them across the Mediterranean. “Italy’s new Economy Minister Giovanni Tria said he was cancelling a meeting with his French counterpart Bruno le Maire in Paris. The French economy ministry later said the ministers had “agreed that Mr Tria will come to Paris in the coming days”. -AFP

Italy’s decision to refuse the migrants came after their new Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, said in early June that “the good times for illegals are over” – writing an urgent letter ordering Malta to accept the 629 migrants picked up by the non-governmental organization (NGO) ship MV Aquarius, run by the group SOS Mediterranee. Salvini called Malta the “safest port” for the passengers, advising that Rome would not offer refuge. After Malta refused leading to several days in limbo, Spain agreed to take the passengers. In response to the ordeal, French President Emmanuel Macron accused Italy of “cynicism and irresponsibility,” adding that their EU neighbor is “playing politics” with the refugees.

Meanwhile Gabriel Attal, the spokesman for Macron’s party, called Italy’s actions “nauseating”. Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini responded – saying on Tuesday that he would not “accept hypocritical lessons from countries that have preferred to look the other way on immigration,” and adding on Wednesay that unless France issues an “official apology” for Macron’s inflammatory comments, a Friday meeting between Italian Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte and Macron should be canceled.

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What will the police do when quantum computing gets involved?

Apple Steps Up Encrytion To Thwart Police Cracking of iPhones (AFP)

Apple said Wednesday it was strengthening encryption on its iPhones to thwart police efforts to unlock handsets without legitimate authorization. The move by Apple, the latest in an ongoing clash with law enforcement, comes amid reports of growing use of a tool known as GrayKey which can enable police to bypass iPhone security features. Apple said the new features are not designed to frustrate law enforcement but prevent any bypassing of encryption by good or bad actors. “At Apple, we put the customer at the center of everything we design,” the company said in a statement.

“We’re constantly strengthening the security protections in every Apple product to help customers defend against hackers, identity thieves and intrusions into their personal data. We have the greatest respect for law enforcement, and we don’t design our security improvements to frustrate their efforts to do their jobs. Apple said it was working a fix to mitigate the possibility of accessing data from GrayKey or similar tools. Apple said that it has a team that responds to law enforcement and national security requests 24 hours a day. But the company has been a target of some in law enforcement for rejecting efforts to allow easy access to iPhones.

Two years ago, Apple went to court to block an FBI effort to force it to weaken iPhone encryption on the device of a mass shooter in San Bernardino, California, but officials dropped the case after finding a tool to unlock the phone.

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As square pegs and round holes go, this one will linger… Greeks don’t want the name Macedonia used in any way, Skopje wants nothing else.

FYROM and Greece Fail To Resolve Bitter Naming Dispute (G.)

Governments in Skopje and Athens have faced a furious backlash as the challenge of solving one of the world’s most bitter diplomatic feuds hit home just a day after Macedonia announced it was willing to change its name. Hours after the two neighbours declaring they had reached a landmark accord that would see the tiny Balkan state rename itself the Republic of North Macedonia, the nation’s president refused point-blank to sign the deal. “My position is final and I will not yield to any pressure, blackmail or threats,” president Gjorge Ivanov, who is backed by the nationalist opposition, told a news conference in Skopje. The agreement had conceded far too much to Greece – even if its ultimate aim was the country’s future membership of Nato and the EU, he said.

The backlash came despite officials in Brussels, London and Washington reacting with unbridled enthusiasm to the breakthrough. Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the accord, saying: “This is really an historical agreement by [politicians] who have shown courage and great political leadership.” Greece has long argued that the state’s name – adopted when it broke away from Yugoslavia in 1991 – conveys thinly disguised irredentist claims on its own northern province of Macedonia. The appropriation of figures associated with ancient Greek history – not least Alexander the Great – had reinforced fears in a region prone to shifting borders.

But opposition to the deal was also pronounced in Greece. As in Skopje – where prime minister Zoran Zaev’s leftist coalition was accused of leading the country to national humiliation – prime minister Alexis Tsipras and his leftist Syriza party was also charged with surrendering cherished national rights. One newspaper ran a front-page graphic showing Tsipras, the Greek foreign minister and president being shot by firing squad for treason.

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84 scientists from 44 international organisations..

Antarctic Ice Melting Faster Than Ever (G.)

Ice in the Antarctic is melting at a record-breaking rate and the subsequent sea rises could have catastrophic consequences for cities around the world, according to two new studies. A report led by scientists in the UK and US found the rate of melting from the Antarctic ice sheet has accelerated threefold in the last five years and is now vanishing faster than at any previously recorded time. A separate study warns that unless urgent action is taken in the next decade the melting ice could contribute more than 25cm to a total global sea level rise of more than a metre by 2070. This could lead eventually to the collapse of the entire west Antarctic ice sheet, and around 3.5m of sea-level rise.

Prof Andrew Shepherd, from Leeds University and a lead author of the study on accelerating ice loss, said: “We have long suspected that changes in Earth’s climate will affect the polar ice sheets. Thanks to our satellites our space agencies have launched, we can now track their ice losses and global sea level contribution with confidence.” He said the rate of melting was “surprising.” “This has to be a cause for concern for the governments we trust to protect our coastal cities and communities,” Shepherd added. The study, published in Nature, involved 84 scientists from 44 international organisations and claims to be the most comprehensive account of the Antarctic ice sheet to date.

It shows that before 2012, the Antarctic lost ice at a steady rate of 76bn tonnes per year – a 0.2mm per year contribution to sea-level rise. However since then there has been a sharp increase, resulting in the loss of 219bn tonnes of ice per year – a 0.6mm per year sea-level contribution. The second study, also published in Nature, warns that time is running out to save the Antarctic and its unique ecosystem – with potentially dire consequences for the world. The scientists assessed the probable state of Antarctica in 2070 under two scenarios. The first in which urgent action on greenhouse gas emissions and environmental protection is taken in the next few years, the second if emissions continue to rise unabated and the Antarctic is exploited for its natural resources.

Read more …

May 252018
 


Wassily Kandinsky Moscow Red Square 1916

 

Riskiest Junk Bonds Still Blissful in La-La Land, High-Grade Bonds Bleed (WS)
When Rates Go Up, Stuff Blows Up (Dillian)
Where America’s Debt Slaves Are the Most Vulnerable (WS)
North Korea Says Still Open To Talks After Trump Cancels Summit (R.)
Brilliant Strategy Of Offering North Korea “The Libya Model” Falls Through (CJ)
About $1.2 Billion In Cryptocurrency Stolen Since 2017 (R.)
Zuckerberg Set Up Fraudulent Scheme To ‘Weaponise’ Data, Court Case Alleges (G.)
Facebook Accused Of Conducting Mass Surveillance Through Its Apps (G.)
EU Officials Tear Into UK’s ‘Fantasy’ Brexit Negotiating Strategy (Ind.)
Italy’s Belligerent New Coalition Is Bad News For The EU (Marsili)
Greece’s Post-Bailout Program Contains At Least 20 Milestones For 2018-2022 (K.)
How Rural America Became A Hospital Desert (G.)

 

 

Perhaps not a good time to chase yield?

Riskiest Junk Bonds Still Blissful in La-La Land, High-Grade Bonds Bleed (WS)

High-grade corporate bonds have had a hard time. Yields have surged as prices have fallen. The S&P bond index for AA-rated corporate bonds is down 3.2% so far this year. Losses are concentrated on bonds with maturities of 15 years and over. They’re down 7%, according to Bloomberg. As prices have declined, yields have surged, with the average AA yield now at 3.47%, up from around 2.2% in mid to late-2016:

In the chart above of the ICE BofAML US AA Effective Yield Index, I marked some key events, in terms of the bond yield:
• The election in November 2016, after which the yield spiked.
• In December 2016, the Fed’s second rate hike in this cycle. This was when the Fed got serious and added an increasingly more hawkish – or less dovish – tone. But the market blew it off, yield fell again, and bonds returned to la-la-land.
• In September 2017, the Fed announced details of its QE unwind, and yields began to rise again and then started spiking in late-2017. This was when the bond market got serious.

But at the riskiest end of the spectrum, with corporate bonds rated CCC or below (deep into junk), there is no such pain. In fact, the S&P bond index for CCC rated bonds is up 4.3% so far this year. They’ve had a blistering 82%-run since February 2016, when Wall Street decided that the oil bust was over and plowed new money into junk-rated energy companies. The average yield of bonds rated CCC or lower is now at 9.78%, down from 12.5% in December 2016, when the Fed got serious, and down from 22% during the peak of the oil bust:

Read more …

Looking for the third victim.

When Rates Go Up, Stuff Blows Up (Dillian)

When rates go up sharply, stuff blows up, because lots of people are negatively exposed to higher rates. Households, corporates, and governments are all negatively exposed to higher rates, in different degrees. Back in 1994, we found that it was Mexico, Procter & Gamble, and Orange County, California who all suffered because of higher interest rates. Where does the risk live today? We will soon find out. There is a playbook for when interest rates go up. Rising interest rates do not necessarily cause a recession per se, but they are usually found at the scene of the crime. There was no recession in 1994, but the financial world shivered. Today, we have rising rates and a more-hawkish Fed which has shown no signs of letting up.

As usual, emerging markets are puking their guts out. I was in Argentina last week and saw the carnage first-hand. The Argentine peso declined a smooth 20% in a week. Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Erdogan is calling himself an “enemy of interest rates.” He is an FX trader’s dream. Of course, there are idiosyncratic things going on in Argentina and Turkey, but all EM currencies and stock markets have been getting hit hard. Emerging markets was a consensus pick at the beginning of 2018, so it is making some people look a bit foolish.

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“..the ratio of non-housing consumer debt to disposable income – the burden these consumers carry on the backs in relationship to their incomes – is higher than ever..”

Where America’s Debt Slaves Are the Most Vulnerable (WS)

Many consumers are debt free and have lots of money and good jobs. Other consumers have large amounts of debt, lousy jobs or no jobs, and are paying for groceries by charging them on their credit cards. Credit problems always involve the most vulnerable consumers. During the mortgage crisis, the delinquency rate peaked at 11.5% in 2010. It wasn’t the 60% of homeowners that had significantly payed down their mortgages or owed no money on their homes who triggered that event. It was the financial mayhem among the smaller portion of the most exposed and most vulnerable. For a different view of the burden of debt, let’s look at non-housing consumer debt, because this is where the music is playing right now.

To eliminate for a moment the impact of interest rates, let’s look at the amount of debt – not the monthly payments – as percent of disposable income. And suddenly, the risks emerge a little more clearly. At year-end 2017, the ratio of non-housing debt – revolving credit such as credit card balances, plus auto loans and student loans – to disposable income reached a new record of 26.3%, up from 23% at the end of 2010, and up from 24% in 2007, the peak before it all came apart during the Great Recession:

So the ratio of non-housing consumer debt to disposable income – the burden these consumers carry on the backs in relationship to their incomes – is higher than ever, and only historically low interest rates have kept it manageable. But interest rates are now rising, and many of these consumer debts have variable rates. This explains a phenomenon that is already appearing: How this toxic mix – rising interest rates and record high consumer debt in relationship to disposable income – has now started to bite the most vulnerable consumers once again. And for them, debt service is getting very difficult. In Q1, the delinquency rate on credit card debt at banks other than the largest 100 – so at the 4,788 smaller banks – spiked to 5.9%, higher than at the peak during the Financial Crisis, and the credit-card charge-off rate spiked to 8%.

Read more …

They seem more than open.

North Korea Says Still Open To Talks After Trump Cancels Summit (R.)

North Korea responded on Friday with measured tones to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to call off a historic summit with leader Kim Jong Un scheduled for next month, saying Pyongyang hoped for a “Trump formula” to resolve the standoff over its nuclear weapons program. On Thursday, Trump wrote a letter to Kim to announce his withdrawal from what would have been the first-ever meeting between a serving U.S. president and a North Korean leader in Singapore on June 12. “Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it would be inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” Trump wrote.

Trump’s announcement came after repeated threats by North Korea to pull out of the summit over what it saw as confrontational remarks by U.S. officials. Friday’s response by North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan was more conciliatory, specifically praising Trump’s efforts. “We have inwardly highly appreciated President Trump for having made the bold decision, which any other U.S. presidents dared not, and made efforts for such a crucial event as the summit,” Kim said in a statement carried by state media. “We even inwardly hoped that what is called “Trump formula” would help clear both sides of their worries and comply with the requirements of our side and would be a wise way of substantial effect for settling the issue,” he said, without elaborating.

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Caitlin: “..Pence blathered something about it being “a fact”, not a threat, but that is because he is a fake plastic doll manufactured by Raytheon. ..”

Brilliant Strategy Of Offering North Korea “The Libya Model” Falls Through (CJ)

Three days before President Trump announced him as the new National Security Advisor, deranged mutant death walrus John Bolton appeared on Radio Free Asia and said of negotiations with North Korea, “I think we should insist that if this meeting is going to take place, it will be similar to discussions we had with Libya 13 or 14 years ago.” Bolton has been loudly and publicly advocating “the Libya model” with the DPRK ever since. “I think we’re looking at the Libya model of 2003, 2004,” Bolton said on Face the Nation last month, and said the same on Fox News Sunday in case anyone failed to get the message.

Bolton never bothered to refine his message by saying, for example, “Without the part where we betray and invade them and get their leader mutilated to death in the streets.” He just said they’re doing Libya again. This was what John Bolton was saying before he was hired, and this was what John Bolton continued to say after he was hired. This was what John Bolton was hired to do. He was hired to sabotage peace and facilitate death and destruction. That is what he does. That is what he is for. Can openers open cans, John Bolton starts wars. You don’t buy a can opener to rotate your tires, and you don’t hire John Bolton to facilitate peace. It should have surprised no one, then, when the administration saw Bolton’s Libya comments and raised him a canceled peace talk.

“You know, there were some talk about the Libya model last week,” Vice President Pence told Fox News on Saturday. “And you know, as the president made clear, you know, this will only end like the Libya model ended if Kim Jong-un doesn’t make a deal.” “Some people saw that as a threat,” Fox’s Martha MacCallum replied, because there is no other way it could possibly be interpreted. Pence blathered something about it being “a fact”, not a threat, but that is because he is a fake plastic doll manufactured by Raytheon.

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The comments here on GDPR are at least as interesting.

About $1.2 Billion In Cryptocurrency Stolen Since 2017 (R.)

Criminals have stolen about $1.2 billion in cryptocurrencies since the beginning of 2017, as bitcoin’s popularity and the emergence of more than 1,500 digital tokens have put the spotlight on the unregulated sector, according to estimates from the Anti-Phishing Working Group released on Thursday. The estimates were part of the non-profit group’s research on cryptocurrency and include reported and unreported theft. “One problem that we’re seeing in addition to the criminal activity like drug trafficking and money laundering using cryptocurrencies is the theft of these tokens by bad guys,” Dave Jevans, chief executive officer of cryptocurrency security firm CipherTrace, told Reuters in an interview. Jevans is also chairman of APWG.

Of the $1.2 billion, Jevans estimates that only about 20 percent or less has been recovered, noting that global law enforcement agencies have their hands full tracking down these criminals. Their investigations of criminal activity will likely take a step back with the European Union’s new General Data Protection Regulation, which takes effect on Friday. “GDPR will negatively impact the overall security of the internet and will also inadvertently aid cybercriminals,” said Jevans. “By restricting access to critical information, the new law will significantly hinder investigations into cybercrime, cryptocurrency theft, phishing, ransomware, malware, fraud and crypto-jacking,” he added.

GDPR, which passed in 2016, aims to simplify and consolidate rules that companies need to follow in order to protect their data and to return control of personal information to EU citizens and residents. The implementation of GDPR means that most European domain data in WHOIS, the internet’s database of record, will no longer be published publicly after May 25. WHOIS contains the names, addresses and email addresses of those who register domain names for websites.

WHOIS data is a fundamental resource for investigators and law enforcement officials who work to prevent thefts, Jevans said. He noted that WHOIS data is crucial in performing investigations that allow for the recovery of stolen funds, identifying the persons involved and providing vital information for law enforcement to arrest and prosecute criminals. “So what we’re going to see is that not only the European market goes dark for all of us; so all the bad guys will flow to Europe because you can actually access the world from Europe and there’s no way you can get the data anymore,” Jevans said.

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Facebook makes contradictory claims: First, it says it’s a neutral platform. But then it also wants full freedom to edit.

Interesting court case: the claim is Facebook stiffed 40,000 (!) companies. Reason why? It completely missed the shift to smartphones, and its ads were not ready for that at all.

Zuckerberg Set Up Fraudulent Scheme To ‘Weaponise’ Data, Court Case Alleges (G.)

Mark Zuckerberg faces allegations that he developed a “malicious and fraudulent scheme” to exploit vast amounts of private data to earn Facebook billions and force rivals out of business. A company suing Facebook in a California court claims the social network’s chief executive “weaponised” the ability to access data from any user’s network of friends – the feature at the heart of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.A legal motion filed last week in the superior court of San Mateo draws upon extensive confidential emails and messages between Facebook senior executives including Mark Zuckerberg. He is named individually in the case and, it is claimed, had personal oversight of the scheme.

Facebook rejects all claims, and has made a motion to have the case dismissed using a free speech defence. It claims the first amendment protects its right to make “editorial decisions” as it sees fit. Zuckerberg and other senior executives have asserted that Facebook is a platform not a publisher, most recently in testimony to Congress. Heather Whitney, a legal scholar who has written about social media companies for the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, said, in her opinion, this exposed a potential tension for Facebook. “Facebook’s claims in court that it is an editor for first amendment purposes and thus free to censor and alter the content available on its site is in tension with their, especially recent, claims before the public and US Congress to be neutral platforms.”

The company that has filed the case, a former startup called Six4Three, is now trying to stop Facebook from having the case thrown out and has submitted legal arguments that draw on thousands of emails, the details of which are currently redacted. Facebook has until next Tuesday to file a motion requesting that the evidence remains sealed, otherwise the documents will be made public.

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Somewhat oddly similar to the article above, also Guardian. Facebook is up against people who actually DO understand the field.

Facebook Accused Of Conducting Mass Surveillance Through Its Apps (G.)

Facebook used its apps to gather information about users and their friends, including some who had not signed up to the social network, reading their text messages, tracking their locations and accessing photos on their phones, a court case in California alleges. The claims of what would amount to mass surveillance are part of a lawsuit brought against the company by the former startup Six4Three, listed in legal documents filed at the superior court in San Mateo as part of a court case that has been ongoing for more than two years. A Facebook spokesperson said that Six4Three’s “claims have no merit, and we will continue to defend ourselves vigorously”. Facebook did not directly respond to questions about surveillance.

Documents filed in the court last week draw upon extensive confidential emails and messages between Facebook senior executives, which are currently sealed. Facebook has deployed a feature of California law, designed to protect freedom of speech, to argue that the case should be dismissed. Six4Three is opposing that motion. The allegations about surveillance appear in a January filing, the fifth amended complaint made by Six4Three. It alleges that Facebook used a range of methods, some adapted to the different phones that users carried, to collect information it could use for commercial purposes.

“Facebook continued to explore and implement ways to track users’ location, to track and read their texts, to access and record their microphones on their phones, to track and monitor their usage of competitive apps on their phones, and to track and monitor their calls,” one court document says.

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All over the place.

EU Officials Tear Into UK’s ‘Fantasy’ Brexit Negotiating Strategy (Ind.)

Brexit negotiations have begun to dramatically sour after months of deadlock, with exasperated EU officials tearing into Britain’s “fantasy” negotiating strategy and warning that Theresa May’s latest customs plan would ruin any chance of progress. This week’s latest meetings are understood to have produced no progress on the core issues of the Northern Ireland border and customs, with last year’s business-like start to discussions having given way to bitter behind-the-scenes briefings. One senior EU official said the UK still lacked negotiating positions on a wide variety of issues and that in others it was “chasing the fantasy of denying the consequences of Brexit in a given policy area” – while a UK government source accused Brussels of trying to “insult” the British negotiating team.

Another Brussels official close to talks told The Independent they had been warned internally that there would probably be no progress by the June meeting of the European Council – which would throw off the timetable and raise the risk of a disastrous “no deal”. News that Theresa May wants to align the whole UK with the customs union and single market on a time-limited basis until 2023 as a backstop to solve the Irish border issue was particularly poorly received in Brussels. The Prime Minister is due to actually announce the new policy in the comings weeks, but people familiar with the talks confirmed it had already been raised by UK negotiators. The European Commission’s negotiators have already rejected the plan before its public announcement

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Then agan, Tsipras folded too…

Italy’s Belligerent New Coalition Is Bad News For The EU (Marsili)

As Giuseppe Conte is asked to form Italy’s next government, I walk out of a screening of Loro, the controversial portrayal of Silvio Berlusconi by Oscar-winning director Paolo Sorrentino. With images of drug-fuelled sex parties still in my mind, the uproar that accompanies the announcement about Conte appears odd. Italy has endured more than 30 years of dreadful governments. For much of the last two decades the country was led by a convicted tax fraudster. Before that, it was led by Bettino Craxi, a politician so corrupt that he ended his days as a fugitive in Tunisia. Why worry now? Part of the answer lies in the outsider nature of the new governing parties. Italian elites have traditionally been very adept at assimilating political newcomers.

Who, in turn, have been willingly co-opted by the system. But the new coalition of the Five Star Movement and far-right League appears peculiarly unconnected to Italy’s high establishment: the risk of loss of influence is real enough. Previous governments were quick to guarantee policy continuity, maintaining a neoliberal economic stance, overall respect for EU obligations, and a US-aligned foreign policy. The coalition promises to break away from this consensus, ushering in an era of fiscal expansion, resentment at Italy’s eurozone membership and closer ties to Russia. The key question now is: will the new government abandon its fiery stance or stick to it? Both alternatives are unfortunately dreadful.

The capitulation scenario is a familiar one. Just like Alexis Tsipras, who turned into a reliable implementer of austerity measures in Greece, so Conte’s government might decide to set aside its promises. The gulf is wide: the coalition programme contains at least €60bn of additional yearly expenses, or 3.5% of Italy’s GDP, while the EU is demanding a 0.6% deficit reduction for 2018. A bargain might look strikingly similar to what Matteo Renzi has achieved in recent years: a moderate loosening of deficit targets allowing for an insignificant fiscal expansion. In other words: business as usual.

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Cuts, cuts, cuts, taxes and sell-offs.

Greece’s Post-Bailout Program Contains At Least 20 Milestones For 2018-2022 (K.)

The sweeping agreement for the conclusion of the fourth bailout review, publicized early on Thursday by the European Commission, contains binding commitments for Greece until 2022. It more or less constitutes an extension to the bailout agreement for another four years, but without the inflow of money, while rendering the coalition government’s rhetoric regarding a “clean exit” and its so-called “holistic plan for growth” irrelevant. The text uploaded by the Commission on its website leaves open the possibility for the income tax discount reduction to be brought forward by 12 months to January 2019, and provides for the monitoring of the deal’s implementation in the context of the enhanced surveillance to be agreed in the next Eurogroup meeting on June 21.

Besides the almost 90 milestones that need to be implemented in the next three weeks for the completion of the program, the government is undertaking at least 20 post-program obligations to be applied by 2022. The post-program milestones start from the fiscal side: Apart from the well-known primary budget surplus of 3.5% of GDP, the adjusted bailout agreement calls for additional interventions should any court decisions annul any austerity measures in place.

The text also contains the reduction of pensions from 2019 to save 1% of GDP, the full abolition of the EKAS benefit for people on low pensions, the completion of the National Cadaster by June 2021, the implementation of privatizations such as the gas network operator (DESFA), the 17% stake in PPC, and the Elliniko development, among others, and ceilings on civil servant employment and salaries by 2022. The document further refers to the need to improve labor mediation to avert recourse to arbitration, the completion of the process for hiring general and special secretaries for ministries, and the immediate transfer of railway property company GAIAOSE and the company managing the Olympic Sports Center of Athens to the privatizations hyperfund.

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Don’t let accountants run your health care.

How Rural America Became A Hospital Desert (G.)

It makes sense to sell this old place now, but he can’t bring himself to leave her ashes. Barry Gibbs lives alone in a single-story home among the loblollies of Hyde County in eastern North Carolina. The army veteran collects a small disability check after he tore tendons in his shoulder during a fall at his maintenance job at the local school. He winces every time he stands up. He’s 64 years old and the closest hospital is more than an hour away, a distance he came to understand too damn well on the day she needed help. Their wedding portrait still hangs on the living room wall. It’s one of those 1980s shots with the laser beam backgrounds, her hair big and his mustache combed, his hand on her shoulder.

The interior of the house is almost as she left it four years ago: white oak floors, paintings of black bears, family Christmas photos on end tables. Outside along the driveway, a line of cypress trees shades a headstone that marks where Barry cut a ditch and spread Portia’s ashes, right where she asked to be. Everybody called her Po. She was picking up sticks from the yard on 7 July 2014, five days shy of her 49th birthday, when she felt a sharp pain in her chest. Six days earlier, their community hospital had closed. Pungo district hospital was 47 miles west of their house, in Belhaven, and had served the county since 1949, back when crab-picking plants and lumber mills kept these small waterfront communities working.

If you’re an accountant, hospitals are only as good as the number of paying patients. Belhaven’s population is about half what it was then. And Hyde county is now the fifth-sparsest county on the east coast, with nine people per square mile. This spongy stretch of North Carolina’s inner banks represents the suffering side of a modern migration pattern in which southern cities are flourishing, but rural areas are shrinking and losing healthcare options. Since 2010, 53 rural hospitals have closed in 11 southern states, compared with 30 in the other 39 states.

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Feb 112018
 
 February 11, 2018  Posted by at 11:23 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Peach trees in blossom 1888

 

What Crushed Stocks? (WS)
Test Of Nerve For Markets As 10 Years Of Cheap Money Come To An End (G.)
Market Tests Millennial Traders Who’ve Never Seen A Crash (BBG)
Bond-Stock Clash Has Just Begun as Inflation Looms (BBG)
IMF Chief Lagarde Says Market Swings Aren’t Worrying (R.)
UK Labour Vows Renationalisation Of Water, Energy And Rail (G.)
Australia’s Big Banks Focus On Job Cuts As Inquiry Looms (R.)
Treating Mental Illness Could Save Global Economy Billions (CNBC)
Pain Pill Giant Purdue to Stop Promotion of Opioids to Doctors (BBG)
Asylum Seekers In UK Living In ‘Disgraceful, Unsafe’ Housing (G.)
Russia Might Sell S-400 Systems To US If Americans Feel Insecure (RT)
Oxfam Staff Partied With Prostitutes In Chad, Haiti, (G.)
Maclean’s Is Asking Men To Pay 26% More For Latest Issue (Maclean’s)
US Professor Fired After Telling Student ‘Australia Isn’t A Country’ (RT)

 

 

Bond markets are 10x stock markets?!

What Crushed Stocks? (WS)

On Friday at around 1:40 p.m., during whiplash-inducing market moves, the S&P 500 index was down 1.9%, bringing the total loss for the week to 8.3%, which would have been the biggest weekly loss since November 2008, after the Lehman bankruptcy. But dip-buyers jumped in courageously and saved the day. The S&P 500 ended up 1.5%, bringing to the total loss for the week to 5.2%, the worst week since, well, the selloff in January 2016. Everyone has their own reasons why stocks plunged last week. Some blamed algorithmic trading. Others blamed the short-volatility financial complex that blew up.

More specifically, Jim Cramer blamed “a group of complete morons” who traded in this space. Others blamed the stratospheric valuations of stocks that had been rallying for eight years with only a few dimples in between, and it’s simply time to unwind some of those gains. Whatever the factors might have been, rising bond yields certainly had something to do with it. They tend to hit stocks, eventually. Last week, prices of short-dated Treasuries edged down and prices of long-dated Treasuries edged down, and their yields edged up, but there was some turmoil in the middle, with some interesting consequences.The three-month Treasury yield rose to 1.55% on Friday, the highest since September 11, 2008. Investors are beginning to price in a rate hike in March:

But the two-year yield, after having surged to 2.16% on February 1, got very nervous, dropping and bouncing during the week, and fell sharply on Friday, ending the week at 2.05%:

The 10-year yield closed on Friday at 2.83% and in late trading went on to 2.85%. The interesting thing about this is the difference (the “spread”) between the two-year yield and the 10-year yield. It surged. This spread is one of the indications of the slope of the yield curve and was one of the most watched bond-data points during the scare last year over an “inverted” yield curve. This is a phenomenon where the two-year yield would be higher than the 10-year yield. The last time this happened was before the Financial Crisis. By early January, the spread between the two-year yield and the 10-year yield had dropped as low as 50 basis points (0.5 percentage points), the lowest since October 2007. As the two-year yield kept spiking, the 10-year yield had started rising, but not fast enough. All this has changed, and the 10-year yield has been rising faster than the two-year yield and the spread has widened to 78 basis points on Friday:

The 30-year yield rose to 3.14% on Friday. For the first time, it is now back where it had been on December 14, 2016, when the Fed stopped flip-flopping and started getting serious about raising its target range for the federal funds rate. The market responded to each rate hike with increases in short-term yields but defied the Fed on longer-term yields, which fell until September 2017. So what happened last week was that the two-year yield fell, while the yields of most longer maturities stayed put or rose, steepening the yield curve from the two-year yield on up.

The chart below shows the “yield curves” as they occurred on these four dates: • Yields on Friday, February 9, 2018 (red line) • Yields on December 29, 2017 (black line) • Yields on August 29, 2017 (green line) two weeks before the QE unwind was detailed. • Yields on December 14, 2016 (blue line) when the Fed stopped flip-flopping, raised its rates, and became a clockwork. Note how the spread has widened at the longer-dated ends between the black line (December 29, 2017) and the red line (Friday), and how the slope of the red line has steepened, with the 30-year yield surging 40 basis points over those six weeks. That’s a big move:

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The cheap money has BEEN the entire market.

Test Of Nerve For Markets As 10 Years Of Cheap Money Come To An End (G.)

Stock markets are heading for a wild ride this year as central bankers strap on their bullet-proof vests and test investors’ willingness to accept higher interest rates. Last week’s share price crashes, which in two days wiped $4 trillion off the value of markets around the world, was just a foretaste of the battle to come. In the days following Monday’s crash, share values have recovered strongly only to dive again as competing theories about the path of interest rates and the likely impact on economic growth fight for attention. Most investors want the era of cheap borrowing to continue and many are willing to sell their shareholdings if it looks like coming to an end. Without low interest rates, they cannot borrow and invest cheaply, especially in the assets that for the past decade have gone up every year by much more than their salary – property and shares.

Countless businesses have also come to rely on low borrowing costs to keep going, and investors fear they might go bust should their bank raise loan rates. Weaning companies and investors off their addiction was never going to be easy, even 10 years after central banks first put their stimulus packages in place, and despite warnings that these measures need to end. For some time, the US Federal Reserve has taken on the role of the advance guard, forging a path towards higher rates for others to follow. But its campaign got off to a faltering start. Back in 2013 it was forced to retreat when it signalled in the mildest terms that it would begin withdrawing its quantitative easing programme. The main effect of QE was to drive down long-term interest rates, allowing investors to borrow cheaply not just over one or five years, but for 30 years.

And so its withdrawal was as much of a blow for some fund managers as an immediate rate rise. Wall Street and markets in Europe and Asia, where heavy selling turned into a rout, forced Fed officials to retreat. The Fed adopted a more incremental approach. It gave markets more warning and spaced out the policy decisions. As it entered 2017, US interest rates had trebled, but only from 0.25% to 0.75%. Yet the economy was booming more than ever. The Fed appeared ready to get tougher, and with justification, according to Karen Ward at JP Morgan Asset Management. After the heavy lifting needed to get the industrialised world back from bankruptcy, she said, “economies are now rested”. Ward, who until recently was an adviser to the chancellor, Philip Hammond, said: “Households and businesses are feeling better about the future. They do not need a boost in quite the same way. Central banks can ease off the accelerator without troubling either growth or markets.”

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The problem is not that they’ve never seen a crash, the problem is they’ve never seen a functioning market.

Market Tests Millennial Traders Who’ve Never Seen A Crash (BBG)

In his career in finance—all seven years of it—Ben Kumar has seen some tough days. There was 2013, when traders worried about the Federal Reserve, and 2016, with the Brexit vote. But, at 29, Kumar and many millennials like him on Wall Street and the City of London have never endured a full-blown crash. For them, markets have always bounced back—fast—and gone on to heights. Now, with world stocks sinking and central banks withdrawing stimulus that’s supported markets for years, elders worry Kumar’s generation isn’t ready for its trial. Kumar is chill. “Find me someone who worked in the era of 15% inflation and I’ll talk to them about Bitcoin and the Internet,” said the 29-year-old, a fund manager at Seven Investment Management in London .

After $3 trillion was erased from global stocks in a week, he’s weighing whether to buy on the dip now—or wait a bit longer. “I don’t even think that this move is a wake-up call,” he said on Tuesday. Many bankers older than 40 shudder at the thought of what will happen if – or when – some unforeseen trigger sparks a crash that drags down not just stocks, but also bonds and currencies together. Etched in their memories is the Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008. In its wake, stock market valuations alone were cut in half. By contrast, most millennial investors have only worked in an era where central banks printed trillions of dollars to prop up their economies and markets. Since starting their careers, average interest rates in the developed world have barely nudged above 1%, inflation all but vanished, the S&P 500 Index more than doubled and bonds rallied so high that more than $7 trillion of debt is negative yielding.

“You have to have had that stage where you’re looking at the screen through your fingers to really appreciate risk-reward in this industry,” said Paul McNamara at GAM in London. “Not just seeing things go wrong, but going so much more wrong than you imagined was possible.”

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Why own stocks when bond yields rise? Still, inflation is a ludicrous fear.

Bond-Stock Clash Has Just Begun as Inflation Looms (BBG)

The tug-of-war between stocks and bonds is at the heart of the shakeout roiling financial markets. This week’s U.S. inflation report could hold the key to the next phase. Seemingly every time 10-year Treasury yields approached a four-year high last week, equities investors panicked, fearing the specter of higher inflation and a more aggressive pace of Federal Reserve rate hikes. Whether you want to say Treasuries are in a bear market or not, the surge in yields to start 2018 has left investors reassessing the value of equities and corporate bonds. Profits were easy when the 10-year yield traded in its narrowest range in a half-century, inflation stayed subdued and volatility across financial markets plumbed record lows. Gains are harder when low rates, a linchpin of the post-crisis recovery, start to disappear.

“What’s happening now is just price discovery between bonds and equities – how far can the bond market push yields up before the equity market cracks?” said Stephen Bartolini, portfolio manager at T. Rowe Price, which manages more than $10 billion in inflation-protected strategies. “The big fear in risk markets is that we get a big CPI print and it validates the narrative that inflation is coming back and the Fed is going to have to move faster.” The focus on inflation is nothing new, but it became even more critical after a Feb. 2 report showed average hourly earnings jumped in January at the fastest pace since 2009. That contributed to the dive in stocks. (It also led President Donald Trump to tweet about the “old days” when stocks would go up on good economic news.)

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Should be filed under Famous Last Words, but won’t be.

IMF Chief Lagarde Says Market Swings Aren’t Worrying (R.)

Sharp swings in global financial markets in the past few days are not worrying since economic growth is strong but reforms are still needed to avert future crises, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund said on Sunday. Christine Lagarde, speaking at a conference on global business and social trends in Dubai, said economies were also supported by plenty of financing available. “I‘m reasonably optimistic because of the landscape we have at the moment. But we cannot sit back and wait for growth to continue as normal,” she said in her first public comments on market movements since the latest round of turmoil at the end of last week.

“I‘m ringing not the alarm signal, but the strong encouragement and warning signal.” Global stock markets were hit by wild fluctuations, with the U.S. benchmark S&P 500 tumbling 5.2% last week, its biggest weekly percentage drop since January 2016. The volatility was fuelled by investor worries about rising interest rates and potential inflation. Lagarde repeated an IMF forecast, originally issued last month, that the global economy would growth 3.9% this year and at the same pace in 2019, which she said was a good backdrop for needed reforms.

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No society should ever relinquish control over its essentials.

UK Labour Vows Renationalisation Of Water, Energy And Rail (G.)

Labour launched a full-frontal attack on the privatised water industry last night, accusing companies of paying out the “scandalous” sum of £13.5bn in dividends to shareholders since 2010, while claiming huge tax breaks and forcing up prices for millions of customers. The assault by shadow chancellor John McDonnell came as he pledged total, “permanent” and cost-free renationalisation of water, energy and rail if Labour won power at the next election. The three privatisations in the 1980s and 1990s became hallmarks of the Tory governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major. The dramatic intervention – which stunned the companies involved – was the strongest denunciation yet by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour of the privatisation programme that has become part of the British political landscape of the last 40 years.

The Conservative party and the Confederation of British Industry both condemned McDonnell’s comments. The CBI said Labour’s renationalisation agenda would “wind the clock back on our economy” while chief secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss warned that placing politicians in charge of public utilities “didn’t work last time and won’t work this time”. McDonnell told the Observer that water companies could not even claim to offer choice to customers but instead operated regional monopolies, and were therefore able to increase prices without the risk of losing out to competitors, as well as “load up debt” while paying out huge dividends to shareholders. “It is a national scandal that since 2010 these companies have paid billions to their shareholders, almost all their profits, whilst receiving more in tax credits than they paid in tax,” he said.

“These companies operate regional monopolies which have profited at the expense of consumers who have no choice in who supplies their water. “The next Labour government will call an end to the privatisation of our public sector, and call time on the water companies, who have a stranglehold over working households. Instead, Labour will replace this dysfunctional system with a network of regional, publicly owned water companies.” Citing figures from the National Audit Office, the shadow chancellor said water bills had risen by 40% in real terms since privatisation of the industry in 1989. In 2016-17, the forecast average for water bills was £389 per household. McDonnell claimed that in 2017, privatised water companies paid out a total £1.6bn to their shareholders. Since 2010, the total was £13.5bn.

[..] Corbyn said that Labour would back a “great wave of change across the world in favour of public, democratic ownership and control of our services and utilities. “We can put Britain at the forefront of the wave of change across the world in favour of public, democratic ownership and control of our services and utilities,” he said. “From India to Canada, countries across the world are waking up to the fact that privatisation has failed, and taking back control of their public services,” he added.

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Banks and governments are accomplices in blowing this bubble.

Australia’s Big Banks Focus On Job Cuts As Inquiry Looms (R.)

Australia’s big banks are responding to a revenue crunch by cutting jobs and other costs, prompting fears on the eve of an inquiry into their businesses that the industry’s tarnished reputation is about to take another hit. Regulators’ demands that banks hold more capital and their scrutiny into internal operations have made cost-cuts the in-vogue metric at the so-called Big Four banks, Australia and New Zealand Bank, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, National Australia Bank and Westpac, to boost profits. But the strategic change will come at a cost for the banks. “If you can be the most successful at bringing your staff numbers down the quickest, that’s going to give you the quickest cost advantage,” said one senior bank insider with direct knowledge of the cost-cutting strategy.

But, added the insider, as jobs cuts mount, “society and the community will push back, won’t accept it.” Cost cuts are not limited to jobs, with banks preparing to make use of improved technology to reengineer back office functions, and reduce the number and physical size of their branches. But the insider said he expected the Big Four to shed up to 40,000 jobs over five years as part of that overhaul, making a reduced wages bill the primary saving. The focus on costs coincides with the start of a royal commission looking into misconduct in the financial sector starting Monday. Scandals that have shaken public confidence include allegations of interest rate rigging, claims of a toxic trading room culture within some banks, and accusations that some institutions withheld legitimate health insurance payouts and gave misleading financial advice.

The inquiry, expected to last a year and which can recommend criminal charges and legislative changes, could potentially result in restrictions that affect bank profits, similar to a government-imposed bank tax levied last year. According to the government, Australia’s big four are still among the most profitable banks in the world, earning net profit margins of 36.4% in the June quarter of 2017. Years of economic growth and a booming property market had encouraged executives to focus on lifting sales rather than trimming operations. “Top line revenue growth is going to be a struggle, so they need to look closely at their cost lines really seriously,” said Brad Potter, head of Australian equities at Nikko Asset Management, which owns shares in the major banks.

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It’s the economy that causes much of the illness. Putting dollar numbers on it is not the way to go.

Treating Mental Illness Could Save Global Economy Billions (CNBC)

Reducing mental illness is one of the key ways to increase happiness worldwide, according to a study by the Global Happiness Council (GHC). The report, published Saturday, said that while mental illness was one of the main causes of unhappiness in the world, the net cost of treating it was actually negative. “This is because people who are mentally ill become seriously unproductive. So when they are successfully treated, there are substantial gains in output. And these gains exceed the cost of therapy and medication,” GHC researchers said. The most common conditions associated with mental illness are depression and anxiety disorders, the study said. And at least a quarter of the global population were thought to experience these conditions over the course of their lifetime.

Researchers at the GHC also said that mental illness was a “major block” on the global economy as it was found to be the main illness among people of a working age. Therefore, treating the conditions, it said, would save national income per head by 5% — that equates to billions worldwide. The study estimated that for every $1 spent on treating depression, production would be restored by the equivalent of $2.5. And while physical healthcare costs were thought to balance out, the GHC claimed net savings when treating anxiety disorders was greatest of all — with production restored by the equivalent of $3 for every $1 spent. In the U.K., the National Health Service (NHS) estimates that around 10 to 15% of people are considered to have had a mental illness at some stage of their lives. There are many types of mental illness but most conditions fit into either a neurotic or psychotic category, according to the NHS.

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Any individuals will escape persecution.

Pain Pill Giant Purdue to Stop Promotion of Opioids to Doctors (BBG)

Pain-pill giant Purdue Pharma will stop promoting its opioid drugs to doctors, a retreat after years of criticism that the company’s aggressive sales efforts helped lay the foundation of the U.S. addiction crisis. The company told employees this week that it would cut its sales force by more than half, to 200 workers. It plans to send a letter Monday to doctors saying that its salespeople will no longer come to their clinics to talk about the company’s pain products. “We have restructured and significantly reduced our commercial operation and will no longer be promoting opioids to prescribers,” the company said in a statement. Instead, any questions doctors have will be directed to the company’s medical affairs department. OxyContin, approved in 1995, is the closely held company’s biggest-selling drug, though sales of the pain pill have declined in recent years amid competition from generics.

It generated $1.8 billion in 2017, down from $2.8 billion five years earlier, according to data compiled by Symphony Health Solutions. It also sells the painkiller Hysingla. Purdue is credited with helping develop many modern tactics of aggressive pharmaceutical promotion. Its efforts to push OxyContin included OxyContin music, fishing hats and stuffed plush toys. More recently, it has positioned itself as an advocate for fighting the opioid addiction crisis, as overdoses from prescription drugs claim thousands of American lives each year. Purdue and other opioid makers and distributors face dozens of lawsuits in which they’re accused of creating a public-health crisis through their marketing of the painkillers. Purdue officials confirmed in November that they are in settlement talks with a group of state attorneys general and trying to come up with a global resolution of the government opioid claims.

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At least there are still some truly pan-European values left.

Asylum Seekers In UK Living In ‘Disgraceful, Unsafe’ Housing (G.)

Asylum seekers are being placed in appalling housing conditions where they are at risk from abuse and violence, according to a survey published on Sunday documenting the lives of new arrivals. A year after the home affairs select committee found asylum seekers were being held in “disgraceful” conditions and called for a major overhaul of the system, new research suggests the situation remains poor. In-depth interviews with 33 individuals inside a north London Home Office asylum accommodation centre found that 82% had found mice in their rooms. The survey, by the human rights charity Refugee Rights Europe, also found that two-thirds of asylum seekers interviewed felt “unsafe” or “very unsafe”.

Others, some of whom have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after fleeing violence and persecution from war zones, described how non-residents would enter the building and threaten residents, or simply use the kitchens and hallways to sleep. Of those interviewed, 30% alleged they had experienced verbal abuse in the accommodation from fellow residents or from staff, with 21% claiming they had experienced physical violence. “A number of respondents were under the impression that the cleaning staff may hold racist views. Sometimes this was expressed through abusive or hostile language in English, and, at other times, the respondents were shouted at in a foreign European language which they couldn’t understand,” said the study.

Marta Welander, head of Refugee Rights Europe, said: “An entire year has passed since the home affairs select committee released its alarming report on asylum accommodation in the UK, yet it seems as though little to nothing has changed. Our research revealed terrible hygiene standards and widespread problems with vermin. “Many of the [interviewees] said they felt unsafe in their accommodation, in particular the younger ones or those diagnosed with PTSD. Others explained they’re experiencing health problems, which they attributed to the unsanitary conditions in their bedrooms and communal areas.”

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C’mon, it’s funny.

Russia Might Sell S-400 Systems To US If Americans Feel Insecure (RT)

The head of Russia’s strategic defense industry corporation Rostec says Moscow is ready to sell S-400 air defense systems to any nation that feels insecure and wants to seal its airspace, including the US if it wants to. Just before the end of the year, Moscow agreed to supply S-400 surface-to-air missile batteries to Ankara, making Turkey the first NATO member state that will integrate Russian technology into the North Atlantic defense structure once the $2.5 billion order is delivered. On Wednesday, Sergey Chemezov, head of the Russian state conglomerate Rostec, extended the offer to purchase S-400 Triumf, or the SA-21 Growler as it is known by NATO, to the Pentagon. “The S-400 is not an offensive system; it is a defensive system. We can sell it to Americans if they want to,” Chemizov told the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) when asked about the strategic reasoning behind the S-400 sale to Turkey.

The S-400, developed by Russia’s Almaz Central Design Bureau, has been in service with the Russian Armed Forces since 2007. The mobile surface-to-air missile system which uses four projectiles can strike down targets 40-400 km away. The deployment of S-400 batteries to Syria served as one of the pillars to the successful Russian anti-Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) campaign. While the Almaz Bureau is currently developing S-500 systems, foreign orders to purchase the S-400 have skyrocketed. Besides China and Turkey, who are awaiting order deliveries, India, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are currently negotiating to purchase the Russian military hardware. The growing demand can be attributed to the high reliability and long history of the S missile defense system family. The S-200, designed by Almaz in the 1960s, still serves many nations today. On Saturday, a Syrian S-200 Vega medium-to-high altitude surface-to-air missile was allegedly used to intercept an Israeli F-16.

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The humanitarian industrial complex in all its glory.

Oxfam Staff Partied With Prostitutes In Chad, Haiti, (G.)

Oxfam was hit with new allegations of staff involvement with prostitution on Saturday, after claims that employees at a second country mission had used sex workers while living at the organisation’s premises. Former staff who worked for the charity in Chad alleged that women believed to be prostitutes were repeatedly invited to the Oxfam team house there, with one adding that a senior member of staff had been fired for his behaviour in 2006. Roland van Hauwermeiren, who has since been embroiled in a sexual misconduct scandal in Haiti, was head of Oxfam in Chad at the time. Van Hauwermeiren resigned from Oxfam in 2011, after admitting that prostitutes had visited his villa in Haiti. One former Chad aid worker said on Saturday: “They would invite the women for parties. We knew they weren’t just friends but something else. “I have so much respect for Oxfam. They do great work, but this is a sector-wide problem,” the former staffer told the Observer.

[..] Oxfam said it could not confirm whether it had any records about a Chad staff member dismissed in 2006. Its staff in Chad at the time lived under a strict curfew due to security concerns: employees could not walk around freely and were confined to the guest house from early evening. Some employees had raised the issue of prostitutes with Van Hauwermeiren. Oxfam’s beleaguered chief executive, Mark Goldring, denied suggestions the charity had covered up revelations that staff had hired prostitutes in Haiti during a 2011 relief effort on the earthquake-hit island. His defence of Oxfam’s handling of the scandal came as Britain’s charity regulator said Oxfam had failed to mention allegations of abuse of aid beneficiaries in Haiti and potential sexual crimes involving minors in a report to it in 2011. It took no further action at the time.

[..] The scandal broke on Friday when the Times revealed that senior Oxfam staff had paid earthquake survivors for sex and that a confidential Oxfam report had referred to a “culture of impunity” among aid workers in Haiti. The Times on Saturday said Oxfam did not tell other aid agencies about the behaviour of staff involved after they had left to work elsewhere. Goldring told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday: “With hindsight, I would much prefer that we had talked about sexual misconduct, but I don’t think it was in anyone’s best interest to be describing the details of the behaviour in a way that was actually going to draw extreme attention to it.”

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And what about next week?

Maclean’s Is Asking Men To Pay 26% More For Latest Issue (Maclean’s)

This month, Maclean’s has created two covers with two different prices—one at $8.81, the other at our regular price of $6.99—to reflect the 26% gap between full-time wages paid to men and women in Canada.It’s a cheeky way to draw attention to a gap that has barely budged in decades, but we’re not the first to do this. In 2016, a group of students at the University of Queensland in Australia put on a bake sale. They called it the Gender Pay Gap Bake Sale, and they priced their cupcakes higher for men than women to illustrate Australia’s pay equity gap. The fierce social media backlash (“Kill all women” and “Females are f–king scum, they should be put down as babies” and “I want to rape these feminist c–ts with their f–king baked goods”) was so horrific it made international headlines.

When we discussed the story during our Maclean’s news meeting at the time, we wondered what would happen if we tried it here in Canada. So let’s see, shall we? After years of stasis, pay equity is having its moment as the next beat in the cadence of the #MeToo movement. Our hope is that these dual covers stir the kind of urgent conversation here that is already happening elsewhere around the world. In England, Carrie Gracie, the BBC’s China editor, resigned earlier this year when her pay was revealed to be at least 50 per cent less than her two male counterparts, saying, “My managers had yet again judged that women’s work was worth much less than men’s.” #istandwithcarrie trended on Twitter. In Iceland, after women walked out of work at precisely 2:38 p.m.—a full workday minus 30%, to illustrate the pay gap there—the country enacted a new law that makes it mandatory for companies with 25 or more employees to show they provide equal pay.

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Surprised? Me neither.

US Professor Fired After Telling Student ‘Australia Isn’t A Country’ (RT)

Southern New Hampshire University has fired a lecturer who insisted that Australia was a continent – but not a country – and took some time to conduct “independent research” into the issue before reviewing a student’s paper. Ashley Arnold, 27, who is studying toward an online sociology degree at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), was “shocked” to learn she had failed an assignment, part of which required students to compare social norms between the United States and any other country – in her case Australia. Arnold was downgraded because her professor believed “Australia is a continent; not a country.” At first I thought it was a joke; this can’t be real. Then as I continued to read I realized she was for real,” she told BuzzFeed News. “With her education levels, her expertise, who wouldn’t know Australia is a country? If she’s hesitating or questioning that, why wouldn’t she just Google that herself?”

To address the professor’s apparent ignorance, Arnold sent a series of emails containing references from the school’s library which clearly stated Australia is both a continent and a country. Arnold even referred her to a section of the Australian government’s webpage called “About Australia” that said “Australia is an island continent and the world’s sixth largest country (7,682,300 sq km).” The female professor with PhD in philosophy, whose name is being kept private, was still not convinced, however, and said she needed to conduct “some independent research on the continent/country issue.” After reviewing Arnold’s paper the professor gave her a new grade of a B+, but never apologized, merely acknowledging that she had a “misunderstanding about the difference between Australia as a country and a continent.”

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Feb 102018
 
 February 10, 2018  Posted by at 11:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Frank Larson Times Square, New York 1950s

 

Worst Week in 2 Years for Stocks Ends on High Note (BBG)
By Betting On Calm, Did Investors Worsen The Stock Market Fall? (G.)
The Scariest Chart For The Market (ZH)
‘Bond Vigilantes’ Are Saddled Up And Ready To Push Rates Higher (CNBC)
The Worst Of The Bond Rout Is Yet To Come, Says Piper Jaffray (CNBC)
US GDP Growth Is Not As Rosy As It Seems (Lebowitz)
2018 Won’t Kill The Speculators. But It Will Teach Them A Lesson Or Two (Xie)
Minimum Wage Awkward Pillar Of Emerging Social Europe (AFP)
Relations Between Britain And The EU Sink To A New Low (Ind.)
UK Has More Than 750,000 Property Millionaires (G.)
Brexit Plan To Keep Northern Ireland In Customs Union Triggers Row (G.)
Greek PM Steps In To Police Exploding Novartis Bribery Investigation (FPh)
EU’s Moscovici Says Greece Will Be ‘Sovereign Country’ After Bailout (K.)

 

 

The one thing that really matters now is volatility, and all the outstanding bets for or against it.

Worst Week in 2 Years for Stocks Ends on High Note (BBG)

U.S. equities ended their worst week in two years on a positive note, but rate-hike fears that pushed markets into a correction remain as investors await American inflation figures on Feb. 14. The S&P 500 tumbled 5.2% in the week, its steepest slide since January 2016, jolting equity markets from an unprecedented stretch of calm. At one point, stocks fell 12% from the latest highs, before a furious rally Friday left the equity benchmark 1.5% higher on the day. Still, the selloff has wiped out gains for the year. Signs mounted that jitters spread to other assets, with measures of market unrest pushing higher in junk bonds, emerging-market equities and Treasuries. The Cboe Volatility Index ended at 29, almost three times higher than its level Jan. 26.

The VIX’s bond-market cousin reached its highest since April during the week, and a measure of currency volatility spiked to levels last seen almost a year ago. Pressure on equities came from the Treasury market, where yields spiked to a four-year high, raising concern the Federal Reserve would accelerate its rate-hike schedule. Yields ended the week at 2.85%, near where they started, as Treasuries moved higher when equity selling reached its most frantic levels. Commodities including oil, gold and industrial metals moved lower Friday. The dollar, euro and sterling all declined. “Sometimes making a bottom can take time,” Ernie Cecilia, chief investment officer at Bryn Mawr Trust Co., said by phone. “Investors should be at least aware, cognizant, and expect a little more volatility after we go through this period of more cathartic volatility.”

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In more detail: volatility. Or in other words: how the Fed killed the market.

By Betting On Calm, Did Investors Worsen The Stock Market Fall? (G.)

Back in 2008, the non-financial world had to digest a lot of jargon in a hurry – collateralised debt obligations (CDOs), asset-backed securities (ABSs) and the rest of the alphabet soup of derivative products that contributed to the great banking crash. This week’s diet has felt similar. As the Dow Jones industrial average twice fell 1,000 points in a day, we have had to swallow tales about the VIX, the inverse VIX, the XIV, and ETPs. Did this overdose of three-letter acronyms really cause the stock markets to swoon? Have those geniuses in the back offices of investment banks really baffled themselves – and a lot of investors – with complexity again? The short answer to the second question is: yes. The chart shows one of the most spectacular blow-ups you could hope to see.

This is the XIV – it is actually the snappier name for the Credit Suisse VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX Short Term exchange traded note – since the start of 2016. It was a beautiful investment until, suddenly, it was a disaster. What is the XIV? It was a way to bet that the S&P 500, the main US stock index, would be tranquil – in other words suffer few outbreaks of volatility. The measure of volatility is called the VIX and it is compiled and published by the Chicago Board Options Exchange by noting the prices of various option contracts in the market and then applying a mathematical formula. The VIX is more famously known as the “fear index”. In itself, the VIX is just a number – its long-term average is about 20, more than 30 is a worry, and more than 40 could herald a crisis.

For much of last year it was between 10 and 12 but on Tuesday it hit 50, before recoiling back to around 30 currently. The fun starts when products are invented to trade and speculate on how the VIX will perform. Conventional futures contracts came first. Then ETFs, or exchange-traded funds, a low-cost product that has taken the financial world by storm in the last couple of decades, followed. The XIV is slightly different (it’s a note, rather than a fund) but it comes from the same school. By trading S&P 500 options, or contracts to buy and sell the S&P at points in the future, it was structured to do the exact opposite of the VIX. If volatility in the stock market was low – as it was throughout 2016 and 2017 – owners of the XIV would do well. In the jargon, they were “short vol”. But, if volatility exploded, then the XIV would fall.

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Posted a different version of this chart (from Arbeter) yesterday, coming from Market Watch.

The Scariest Chart For The Market (ZH)

Interest-rates going up “for the right reason” is bullish, right? Each time interest rates have surged up to their long-term trendline, a ‘crisis’ has occurred…

But this time is different right? Because rates are “going up for the right reason.” Hhmm, the reaction in markets each time the yield on the 10-Year Treasury yield reaches its trendline is ominous…

So the question is – have interest rates ‘ever’ gone up for the right reason? Or is this narrative just one more bullshit line from a desperate industry of asset-gatherers and commission-takers? It does make one wonder what the relationship between US government ‘interest costs’ and global money flow really is. Does an engineered equity tumble spark safe-haven-buying and ease the pain as deficits and debt loads soar. It would certainly help as $300bn additional budget deals are passed, The Fed has left the game, and China is threatening to be a seller not a buyer…

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If everyone’s on the same side of the boat, somebody must be on the other.

‘Bond Vigilantes’ Are Saddled Up And Ready To Push Rates Higher (CNBC)

There’s reason to be concerned about bond vigilantes, who are no longer under “lock and key” and are free to push yields higher, Wall Street veteran Ed Yardeni told CNBC on Friday. Yardeni, a market historian, coined the term bond vigilantes in the 1980s to refer to investors who sell their holdings in an effort to enforce fiscal discipline. Having fewer buyers drives prices down — and drives yields up — in the fixed-income market. That, in turn, makes it more expensive for the government to borrow and spend. “They had been sort of put under lock and key by the central banks. The Fed had lowered interest rates down to zero in terms of short-term rates and that pushed bond yields down. And then they bought up a lot of these bond yields,” said Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research.

Now the Fed is slowly raising interest rates and starting to unwind its balance sheet. On top of that, new tax cuts were passed and a massive spending deal was just signed into law. “Now people are looking more at the domestic situation and saying, ‘You know what, maybe we need a higher bond yield,'” Yardeni said in an interview with “Power Lunch.” “They’ve saddled up, and they’re riding high. The posse is getting ready. They’re getting the message out.” Bond vigilantes last made their mark during the Clinton administration, when a bond market sell-off forced President Bill Clinton to tone down his spending agenda. Yardeni said while Clinton got the message back then, he doesn’t think the Trump administration has this time around.

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Sub: Rising rates slam stocks as market volatility rages on.

The Worst Of The Bond Rout Is Yet To Come, Says Piper Jaffray (CNBC)

It all started with bond yields. Spiking yields spilled over onto the stock market in the past week, first triggering a nearly 666-point drop on the Dow last Friday and then sparking two declines of more than 1,000 points within just 4 days. The bond rout will continue with yields on the 10-year possibly reaching 3% in the near term, according to Craig Johnson, senior technical strategist at Piper Jaffray. That is a level it has not reached since January 2014. “This is a 36-year reversal in rates,” Johnson told CNBC’s “Trading Nation” on Thursday. Bond yields, which move inversely to prices, have generally been in decline over the past 3 decades, indicating a long-term bull market for bond prices.

“When you reverse that downtrend from down to up you typically get a momentum response and a quick move up. That’s exactly what you’re seeing in the bond market right now,” added Johnson. “You’ve got to be careful in here right now.” The yield on 10-year Treasurys has risen at a fast clip since the U.S. election in November 2016. Bond yields held at around 1.8% prior to the election and have since moved up 100 basis points to hit a 4-year high of 2.86% this week. The uncertainty of a Trump presidency initially sent bond prices lower and yields higher at the end of 2016. Now, worries over the effect an accelerating economy and rising inflation might have on Federal Reserve policy this year have taken over. Historically, bond prices fall when interest rates rise.

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No savings and huge debt means less consumer spending. Which is what 70% of US GDP is made of.

US GDP Growth Is Not As Rosy As It Seems (Lebowitz)

Last Friday, GDP for the fourth quarter of 2017 was released. Despite being 0.3% short of expectations at 2.6% annual growth, it nonetheless produced enthusiasm as witnessed by the S&P 500 which jumped 25 points. One of the reasons for the optimism following the release was a strong showing of the consumer which notched 2.80% growth in real personal consumption. The consumer, representing about 70% of GDP, is the single most important factor driving economic growth and therefore we owe it to ourselves to better understand what drove that growth. This knowledge, in turn, allows us to better assess its durability. There are three core means which govern the ability of individuals to spend. The most obvious is income and wages earned.

To help gauge the effect of changes in income we rely on disposable income, or the amount of money left to spend after accounting for required expenses. Real disposable personal income in the fourth quarter, the same quarter for which GDP growth data was released, grew at a 1.80% year over year rate. While other indicators of wage growth are slightly higher, we must consider that payroll gains are not evenly distributed throughout the economy. In fact as shown below 80% of workers continue to see flat to declining growth in their wages. While this may have accounted for some of the growth in consumption we need to consider the two other means of spending over which consumers have control, savings and credit card debt.

Savings: Last month the savings rate in the United States registered one of the lowest levels ever recorded in the past 70 years. In fact, the only time it was lower was in a brief period occurring right before the 2008/09 recession. At a rate of 2.6%, consumers are spending 97.4% of disposable income. The graph below shows how this compares historically. [..] the savings rate is less than half of that which occurred since the 2008/09 recession and well below prior periods.

Credit Card Debt: In addition to reducing savings to meet basic needs or even splurge for extra goods, one can also use credit card debt. Confirming our suspicion about savings, a recent sharp increase in revolving credit (credit card debt) is likely another sign consumers are having trouble maintaining their standard of living. Over the last four quarters revolving credit growth has increased at just under 6% annually which is almost twice as fast as disposable income. Further, the 6% credit card growth rate is about three times faster than that of the years following the recession of 2008/09.

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The liquidity super machine is stalling.

2018 Won’t Kill The Speculators. But It Will Teach Them A Lesson Or Two (Xie)

A decade of massive, synchronised monetary and fiscal stimulus has led to the greatest asset bubble in history, to the tune of about $100 trillion, nearly 1.5 times the world’s GDP. Compared to 2-3% of GDP growth in the global economy, we should be mindful of the potential and huge cost associated with it. Even though the US stock market is more expensive than in 1929 or 2000, and China’s property valuation is higher than Japan’s a quarter-of-a-century ago, fear-driven selloffs have been rare and brief, leading to the belief that high asset prices are the new normal. Massive amounts of financial and business activities, especially in technology, are predicated on high asset prices going higher. The unusual longevity and resilience of high asset prices are largely because government actions — not herd behaviour in the market — are force-feeding the bubble.

Government actions will lose their grip only when growth expectations crash or inflation flares up. Neither is a major risk for 2018. Hence, 2018 won’t kill the speculators of the world. But 2018 will teach them a lesson or two. High-risk assets such as internet stocks and high-end properties will struggle like never before in the past decade. US interest rates will rise above inflation for the first time in a decade. And China is tightening, especially in the property sector, out of fear of a life-threatening financial crisis. China accounts for about half of global credit growth. The interaction between the US Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing and China’s credit targeting has been the liquidity super machine. It is stalling in 2018. The asset bubble demands that the excess liquidity-money supply rises faster than GDP to sustain it.

This year may see global money supply line up with GDP. The Fed is likely to raise interest rates from the current 1-1.25% and take the level to 2.5%. This is still low compared with the 4.5-5% nominal GDP growth rate. But the US stock market is more expensive than it was in 1929 or 2000. When the interest rate surpasses inflation, it will become wobbly. Policymakers are caught between a rock and a hard place. The structural problems that led to the 2008 crisis are still here. The global economy grows ever more dependent on asset bubbles. If the global asset bubble bursts, the economy will slide into recession. Hence, when a market wobbles — as it probably will in 2018 — policymakers will come out to soothe market sentiment and may even temporarily reverse the tightening.

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The EU is a feudal neo-liberal machine. There is no such thing as Soical Europe anywhere but in words. It’s about keeping the poor down, and dependent on your money.

Minimum Wage Awkward Pillar Of Emerging Social Europe (AFP)

Twenty-two out of 28 EU states have introduced a minimum wage, trumpeted as a key pillar in the construction of a social Europe. But huge disparities from one country to the next are fuelling resistance from opponents who see the policy as dragging down competitiveness, sovereignty as well as levelling down salaries. Brexit, as an expression of eurosceptic populism, has jolted the European Commission into going on the offensive as it looks to show the European Union is not just a common market but a bloc with a social dimension. A November 17 Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth last year set the ball rolling as all 28 EU members signed up to a Europe-wide charter on social rights, laying down 20 basic principles including statutory minimum wages as a mainstay of a policy framework to boost convergence.

“Adequate minimum wages shall be ensured, in a way that provide for the satisfaction of the needs of the worker and his/her family in the light of national economic and social conditions, whilst safeguarding access to employment and incentives to seek work,” according to the guidelines. But the non-binding declaration is, as such, merely symbolic, not least because “European treaties stipulate clearly that salaries come under the national purview,” notes Claire Dheret, head of employment and social Europe at the Brussels-based European Policy Centre (EPC). To date, the Gothenburg charter is being respected only partially, even if all but six EU states have a legal minimum wage, as witnessed by Eurostat data highlighting starkly varying levels from Bulgaria’s 460 leva (€235; $270) a month gross to €1,999 in Luxembourg, that is, nine times as much.

Even so, the discrepancy does shrink to around a factor of three when the cost of living in each state is taken into account. But the Eurostat data shows up major discrepancies between eastern and western states. Ten of the former pay a minimum of less than €500, whereas seven western EU members have set rates surpassing €1,300 euros. Five southern states pay between €650 and €850. The six without an official minimum, which have their own arrangements to cover the basic needs of low earners are Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Italy and Sweden.

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We can repeat this every day: the mess gets messier.

Relations Between Britain And The EU Sink To A New Low (Ind.)

David Davis has been dragged into renewed war of words with Brussels over the Brexit transition period, accusing the EU of having a “fundamental contradiction” in its approach and wanting to “have it both ways” after a week of fruitless talks. Relations between Britain and the European Commission sank to a new low on Friday after Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, casually claimed at a press conference the UK had cancelled an important meeting due to a “diary clash”. UK officials behind the scenes took offence to the claim and said the meeting had not been cancelled at all and instead took place in the afternoon. Mr Barnier sealed the state of mutual incomprehension, telling reporters in Brussels that he had “problems understanding the UK’s position” on the transition period.

In a statement issued on Friday afternoon after Mr Barnier’s press conference – a solo affair in contrast to previous joint outings – Mr Davis said the EU could not “have it both ways” on the transition period. “Given the intense work that has taken place this week it is surprising to hear that Michel Barnier is unclear on the UK’s position in relation to the implementation period,” he said. “As I set out in a speech two weeks ago, we are seeking a time-limited period that maintains access to each other’s markets on existing terms. “However for any such period to work both sides will need a way to resolve disputes in the unlikely event that they occur.

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And collapsing social services, health care etc. It’s a choice, not a flaw.

UK Has More Than 750,000 Property Millionaires (G.)

There are now more than 750,000 property millionaires in Britain, and in some towns in the south of England half of all homes cost more than £1m, according to analysis by website Zoopla. Despite a slowing property market, Zoopla estimated that the number of property millionaires has climbed to 768,553, a rise of 23% since August 2016. The figures underscore the hugely lopsided nature of the UK property market. Yorkshire and Humberside has 4,103 property millionaires, and Wales 2,223, while in London the figure is 430,720. The figures suggest that while one in 20 people in the capital are paper property millionaires, the same can be said for only one in every 1,400 people in Wales. Zoopla did not take into account the mortgage debt attaching to properties, just the number of properties valued at over £1m.

Outside London, Guildford in Surrey is the town with the most property millionaires, estimated at 5,889, followed by Cambridge and Reading. But Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire emerges as having the greatest concentration of property wealth in just one town. Zoopla found that 49% of all the houses in the town of 12,000 people nestled below the Chiltern Hills are valued at more than £1m. Agents in the town – dubbed Mayfair in the Chilterns – are currently marketing an opulent six-bed home in Beaconsfield’s “golden triangle” for £6m, boasting a cinema, wine-tasting room and its own six-person smoke-mirrored passenger lift opening on to a galleried balcony with a “Sexy Crystals” chandelier. There is a separate annexe for staff.

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The EU plays the ultimate card: Scotland. The UK has no rebuttal. None. Nada.

Brexit Plan To Keep Northern Ireland In Customs Union Triggers Row (G.)

Officials from the UK and EU are drawing up a plan to in effect keep Northern Ireland in the customs union and the single market after Brexit in order to avoid a hard border. The opening of technical talks followed a warning from Brussels that keeping the region under EU laws was currently the only viable option for inclusion in its draft withdrawal agreement. The development, first reported by the Guardian on Friday and later confirmed by the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, triggered an immediate row. Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, tweeted: “If NI stays in single market, the case for Scotland also doing so is not just an academic ‘us too’ argument – it becomes a practical necessity. Otherwise we will be at a massive relative disadvantage when it comes to attracting jobs and investment.”

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, a Tory MP and officer in the European Research Group of Brexit-supporting Conservatives, accused Barnier of “playing hardball”. “I am surprised that the media are reporting his comments as if they are the only voice and hard fact,” she said. “Perhaps Mr Barnier could remember that the UK is in negotiations, which is a two-way discussion.” “It is important to tell the truth,” Barnier said. “The UK decision to leave the single market and to leave the customs unions would make border checks unavoidable. Second, the UK has committed to proposing specific solutions to the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland. And we are waiting for such solutions. “The third option is to maintain full regulatory alignment with those rules of the single market and the customs union, current or future, that support north-south cooperation, the all-island economy and the Good Friday agreement. “It is our responsibility to include the third option in the text of the withdrawal agreement to guarantee there will be no hard border whatever the circumstances.”

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The present European commissioner for migration and home affairs is reported to have taken €40 million in bribes. He should lose his job, today.

Greek PM Steps In To Police Exploding Novartis Bribery Investigation (FPh)

Just days after 10 former ministers in Greece were implicated in bribery allegations against Novartis, the country’s prime minister is calling for a special parliamentary committee to investigate the charges, which have been pegged as slanderous by some politicians pulled into the widening scandal. Meanwhile, three former Novartis executives believed to have provided the meat of the allegations have come under fire, even as their lawyer fights to shield their identities. The investigation targeting Novartis’s Greece offices has been going on since last January, but it blew up earlier this week when news emerged that the case would be submitted to the Greek parliament, which would then decide whether to prosecute the 10 politicians. Novartis is the target of allegations that it bribed doctors and government officials to help boost sales of its drugs.

Now Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras wants the special committee to look into allegations that the 10 politicians received millions of euros in exchange for fixing drug prices and granting other favors to Novartis, according to local press reports. A spokesman for Novartis told FiercePharma that the company continues “to cooperate with requests from local and foreign authorities.” Novartis has not received an indictment related to the investigation in Greece, he added. According to press accounts of the prosecutors’ report, the allegations of bribery stemmed from testimony from three witnesses who worked for Novartis. The witnesses spoke to the FBI, which joined in the investigation in Greece. The employees reported that Greece’s health minister from 2006 to 2009 took €40 million ($49 million) in exchange for ordering “a huge amount” of Novartis products, according to The Greek Reporter.

The health minister working between 2009 and 2010 allegedly accepted €120,000 ($147,000) from the company and laundered it through a computer hardware firm, the news organization added. At least one of the politicians named in the report wants the identities of the three Novartis witnesses to be revealed. Dimitris Avramopoulos, who was the health minister from 2006 to 2009 and now serves as European commissioner for migration and home affairs, held a press conference Friday during which he said he will file a lawsuit demanding the names of the witnesses be made public, according to Politico.

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How dare he use the word sovereign in this context? Greece, like all other EU nations, was and is always sovereign. Demand his resignation.

EU’s Moscovici Says Greece Will Be ‘Sovereign Country’ After Bailout (K.)

On exiting its third international bailout in August, Greece will be an “absolutely sovereign country,” European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici told a conference on Friday organized by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC), French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur and Kathimerini in Athens. “There should be no precautionary credit line,” Moscovici said. “There should be an end to the programs.” The commissioner said that Greece “did what it had to do” but that economic and structural reforms must continue. He also drew attention to an “issue of administrative competence,” without elaborating. In addition, Moscovici expressed his confidence in Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who he described as “smart and flexible,” adding that their relationship was “perfect.” Tsipras and Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos decided to “play ball,” Moscovici said. He further said Tsakalotos’s predecessor Yanis Varoufakis wreaked major political and financial damage on Greece.

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Nov 242016
 
 November 24, 2016  Posted by at 9:49 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Kennedy and Johnson Morning of Nov 22 1963

Another Election Year, Another Bunch Of Fake Growth Numbers (John Rubino)
China Vows To Defend Trade Rights In Face Of Trump Tariff Threats (R.)
IMF: Chinese Banks Disguise A Massive Amount Of Bad Debt (BI)
The ‘Ownership Society’ Came And Went – A Long Time Ago (MW)
How (Slightly) Higher Mortgage Rates Maul Housing Bubble 2 (WS)
‘Brexit Will Blow £59 Billion Hole In UK Public Finances’ (G.)
Pro-Brexit Lawmakers Attack Fiscal Watchdog’s Gloomy Outlook (BBG)
Capital Flight From Italy (Reinhart)
Jill Stein Raises Over $2 Million To Request US Election Recounts (G.)
Bernie Sanders Should Visit Trump Sooner Rather Than Later (NYDN)
Merkel Warns Against Fake News Driving Populist Gains (AFP)
Putin: EU Resolution Equating RT to ISIS A ‘Degradation Of Democracy’ (R.)
US Navy’s New $4 Billion Stealth Warship Breaks Down – Again (ZH)
Greece Wants To Conclude EU/IMF Review, Won’t Accept ‘Irrational’ Demands (R.)
Greek Businesses Move Abroad To Escape Austerity (R.)

 

 

“So why the approximately $1.8 trillion surge in government borrowing? Because a robustly-healthy economy was necessary to help the party in power stay in power.”

Another Election Year, Another Bunch Of Fake Growth Numbers (John Rubino)

Some pretty good economic reports have energized various parts of the financial markets lately. Consumer spending is up, GDP is exceeding expectations and even factory orders, that perennial downer, popped this morning. In response the dollar is soaring and interest rates are at breaking out of their multi-decade down-channel. The economy is clearly recovering, implying a return to normality. Right? Nah, it’s just the usual election year illusion. When the presidency is at stake the party in power always pumps up spending in an attempt to put people back to work and create the impression of a well-run country whose leaders deserve more time in the spotlight. After the election, spending returns to trend and the resulting bad news gets buried in “political honeymoon” media coverage.

How do we know this year is following the script? By looking at the federal debt. If the government is borrowing more than usual and (presumably) spending the proceeds, then it’s likely that the economy is getting a bit more than its typical diet of stimulus. So here you go: Note that after seven years of massive increases, the federal debt plateaued in 2015, which is what you’d expect in the late stages of a recovery. With full employment approaching and asset prices high, there should be plenty of tax revenues flowing in and relatively few people on public assistance, so the budget should be trending towards balance. Well, more people are working this year than last, and stock, bond and home prices all rose in the first half of the year. So why the approximately $1.8 trillion surge in government borrowing? Because a robustly-healthy economy was necessary to help the party in power stay in power.

This is a huge jump in government debt, even by recent standards. And its impact is commensurately large, accounting for a big part of the “growth” seen in recent months. But it’s also unsustainable. You don’t double a government’s debt in a single decade (from an already historically high level) and then keep on borrowing. At some point an extreme event or policy choice will put an end to the orgy. Either the markets impose discipline through a crisis of some sort, or the government adopts a policy of currency devaluation or debt forgiveness. And – in a nice ironic twist – the people who did the insanely-excessive borrowing are leaving town, to be replaced by folks who will inherit something unprecedented, with (apparently) no clear idea of what’s coming or what will be necessary in response.

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Protectionism and globalism in one.

China Vows To Defend Trade Rights In Face Of Trump Tariff Threats (R.)

China will defend its rights under WTO tariff rules if US president-elect Donald Trump moves toward executing his campaign threats to levy punitive duties on goods made in China, a senior trade official has said. Zhang Xiangchen, China’s deputy international trade representative, also told a news conference in Washington on Wednesday that a broad consensus of academics, business people and government officials have concluded that China is not manipulating its yuan currency to gain an unfair trade advantage, as Trump has charged. “I think after Mr Trump takes office, he will be reminded that the United States should honour its obligations as a member of the WTO,” Zhang said through an interpreter. “And as a member of the WTO, China also has the right to ensure its rights as a WTO member.”

Trump has said China is “killing us” on trade and that he would take steps to reduce the large US goods trade deficit with China, including labelling Beijing as a currency manipulator soon after he takes office and levying duties of up to 45% on Chinese goods to level the playing field for US manufacturers. Trump said on Monday he will formally exit the 12-country TPP trade deal in January. China is not a signatory to the TPP. Zhang, who spoke at the closing news conference for a two-day technical meeting of US and Chinese trade officials in Washington, was not specific on what steps China would take to protect its rights under WTO rules. The global trading body prohibits members from unilaterally raising tariffs above levels that they have committed to maintain.

China’s state-run Global Times newspaper last week warned that a 45% Trump tariff would paralyse US-China bilateral trade. “China will take a tit-for-tat approach then. A batch of Boeing orders will be replaced by Airbus. US auto and [Apple] iPhone sales in China will suffer a setback, and US soybean and maize imports will be halted,” the newspaper warned.

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Shadow securities. US redux.

IMF: Chinese Banks Disguise A Massive Amount Of Bad Debt (BI)

China’s banks are disguising bad debts by turning them into “securitized packages” rather than writing them down as non-performing loans, according to the IMF. The “untradeable debt” comes from China’s “shadow credit” world, which has generated a massive amount of credit that has the potential to become suddenly illiquid. The debts consist of interbank loans in “a structure potentially susceptible to rapid risk transmission and destabilizing liquidity events,” the IMF says. The amount of “shadow credit” grew 48% in 2015, to RMB 40 trillion ($580 billion), the IMF says, “equivalent to 40% of banks’ corporate loans and 58% of GDP.” If any of this sounds familiar, that’s because it is. It’s similar in principal to the way American banks disguised bad mortgages inside securitized packages before the Great Financial Crisis of 2007-2008.

Back then, US mortgage providers gave out too many loans to people who couldn’t repay them. On its own, that should not have been a problem. A mortgage default only hurts the bank that made the loan. But banks bundled together packages of those mortgages and sold them as “mortgage-backed securities” to other institutions. Bad mortgages were mixed in with good ones, making it impossible for investors to judge their quality. When it became obvious that some of these packages were toxic, no one wanted to buy any them. The market became suddenly illiquid. And the credit derivative hedges and leveraged bets layered upon them magnified the problem throughout the entire banking system, creating the financial collapse that plunged most of the world into recession.

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It was always just a fabricated dream.

The ‘Ownership Society’ Came And Went – A Long Time Ago (MW)

Of all the aftereffects of the housing bust and financial crisis, the steady decline in the homeownership rate might be among the most pernicious. Homeownership is traditionally one of the best means into the middle class, and it’s still popularly equated with the American Dream. But in a presentation last week, St. Louis Federal Reserve economist William Emmons demonstrated that homeownership has been losing ground for decades. What’s more, Emmons showed that higher ownership rates were likely coaxed along by government policies and national priorities appropriate for a certain moment in history and unsustainable beyond that. After the Depression, Emmons noted, New Deal policies “laid the foundation” for a huge increase in homeownership.

Those policies included the creation of a government financial system, such as the Federal Housing Administration, Fannie Mae, and the Federal Home Loan Banks. But just as important was the return of millions of service members from World War II, rising incomes and a prosperous economy, a national push for a country full of suburban single-family homes and highways to connect them all, as well as a national process of Americans “sorting themselves out” by race and class into the broad geographic outlines that would persist for decades. That meant the U.S. enjoyed robust growth – until it didn’t. Not only was there little room left to grow, but other changes began to influence ownership, Emmons said. Americans began to age, pushing off marriage, childbearing and home-buying until later.

The U.S. is also becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. Hispanics and African-Americans have traditionally had more limited opportunities to achieve homeownership – but as Emmons pointed out, citing research from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, “aspirations to own a home are higher among African-Americans and Latinos than among whites and Asians, despite homeownership rates that are 20 to 30 percentage points lower.” And while much of the impact of the 2008 crash has ebbed, it still continues to impact many people through diminished personal wealth, damaged credit scores, blighted neighborhoods, and some loss of trust in financial institutions.

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How ‘little things’ add up.

How (Slightly) Higher Mortgage Rates Maul Housing Bubble 2 (WS)

After the brutal beating following Election Day, US Treasuries took a breather early this week. But today, the beating resumed and will continue until the mood improves. Mid-day, the 10-year Treasury fell so hard that its yield, which moves in the opposite direction of price, spiked to 2.42%. By the end of the day, the 10-year yield was at 2.36%, up 4 basis points for the day, and up an entire percentage point from July this year: The market is 100% certain that the Fed will stop flip-flopping in mid-December and raise rates by moving the upper limit of the Fed funds target range to 0.75%. The markets see more rate hikes next year. A Fed funds rate with the first “1”-handle since 2008 would be a phenomenon a whole generation of Wall Street gurus has never seen in their professional lives.

Mortgage rates are chasing after Treasury rates. The Mortgage Bankers Association reported today that the 30-year fixed-rate conforming mortgage ($417,000 or less) reached 4.16%, its “highest weekly average since the beginning of 2016.” This caused a flurry of activity. Last week, amid the post-election interest rate spike, mortgage applications plunged. But homebuyers may be trying to lock in whatever rate they can get, before they go even higher, and mortgage applications surged. Ironically, from a historical point of view, nothing major has happened so far. That spike is still small compared to what came before, including the spike during the Taper Tantrum in the summer of 2013, when the Fed started musing about ending QE Infinity. Compared to prior years, rates are still very, very low, but home prices have since soared, and for home buyers even a minor uptick makes a world of difference.

From the peak of Housing Bubble 1, which in San Francisco occurred in 2007, to Q3 2016, the median house price soared 45%. But due to plunging mortgage rates, the monthly housing costs increased only 14%. Now with rates rising, that process is going to reverse. The household income needed to qualify for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage with 20% down on that median $1.3 million house in San Francisco was $251,000 before Election Day. Paragon observes: “By Friday, November 18, the income requirement increased by $13,000. And if the interest rate goes up to 5% (and again, we are not saying it will), an additional $35,000 in annual income would be required.”

Hence, at 5%, a minimum qualifying household income of $286,000 a year. In this scenario, even in less costly markets, there are two things that happen: One, many people have to step down to a lower-priced home, or they don’t buy at all. A market-wide shift of this type puts downward pressure on prices and volume. And two, as people stretch more to buy homes at higher interest rates and higher monthly costs, they have even less money to spend on other things. This creates a new drag on consumer spending. It’s how low mortgage rates not only subsidized the house price bubble but the entire economy by giving consumers more money to spend – not just the US economy but exporter nations around the world.

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Or will it?

‘Brexit Will Blow £59 Billion Hole In UK Public Finances’ (G.)

Philip Hammond conceded that Brexit will blow a £59bn black hole in the public finances over the next five years, as he outlined plans to boost investment in infrastructure and housing to equip the UK economy for life outside the EU. In his first fiscal statement, the chancellor, who had supported remain, sought to strike a cautiously upbeat tone about the country’s prospects, saying the economy had “confounded commentators at home and abroad with its strength and its resilience” since the referendum result last June. But the first official projections conducted after the vote of the likely impact of leaving the EU pointed to significantly weaker growth after Brexit. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) announced that there would be a cumulative £122bn of extra borrowing over the next five years, with £59bn of that as a direct result of Brexit.

Other factors included weaker-than-expected tax revenues, and policy changes, including Hammond’s decision to spend more on infrastructure. George Osborne was expecting to achieve a surplus of £11bn on the public finances by 2020-21; instead, the OBR is now forecasting a £21bn deficit – and public debt is expected to peak at more than 90% of GDP. With little cash to spare, Hammond offered only modest handouts to the “just about managing” families (Jams) Theresa May’s government had said it wanted to help, although he repeatedly used the mantra of “building an economy that works for everyone”. The chancellor announced a renewed freeze in fuel duty, to help motorists – largely paid for with an increase in insurance premium tax from 10% to 12% – and a partial reversal of planned cuts to universal credit.

But Labour said there was no cash for either the NHS or social care, which are under increasing strain with winter approaching. Instead, the main thrust of Hammond’s first set-piece outing at the dispatch box was how to help Britain withstand the challenges of leaving the EU.

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Agree to disagree.

Pro-Brexit Lawmakers Attack Fiscal Watchdog’s Gloomy Outlook (BBG)

Conservative lawmakers attacked Britain’s fiscal watchdog after it warned that Brexit would cost £60 billion ($75 billion) in extra borrowing as the economy falters. The Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecast — the first official assessment of the costs related to leaving the bloc – also stated that exiting the EU would leave Britain with less potential for sustainable growth. Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, who presented the forecasts alongside his Autumn Statement Wednesday, said the predictions showed there is an “urgent” need for Britain to tackle its long-term economic weaknesses. “We’ve had an endless slew of gloom and doom, and I just don’t buy it,” said Kwasi Kwarteng, a Tory lawmaker who backed the campaign to leave the EU. “They haven’t exactly had a brilliant track record. I’d take their predictions with a pinch of salt.”

Pro-Brexit lawmakers have been critical of both the OBR and the Treasury for overstating the negative consequences of Brexit. While Hammond made brief references to the opportunities that leaving may bring, his tone was one of caution, with few giveaways and a focus on creating a more productive economy that could weather future shocks. Responding to complaints from pro-Brexit politicians, Hammond told lawmakers that economic forecasting “is not a precise science.” He added: “The OBR very specifically says in its report that there is an unusually high degree of uncertainty in the forecasts it is making because of the unusual circumstances.”

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It’s high time for Italy to go its own separate ways. There’s nothing to gain from the EU anymore, but lots to lose.

Capital Flight From Italy (Reinhart)

Understandably, after the surprise victory in June of the “Leave” campaign in the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum, and of Donald Trump in the United States’ presidential election, no one has much faith in polls in advance of the Italian vote. There is, however, a disquieting real-time poll of investors’ sentiment: capital flight from Italy has accelerated this year. There is a recent precedent for this. In the summer of 2015, Greece’s short-lived default on its IMF loan and the introduction of capital controls and deposit-withdrawal restrictions were at the center of the eurozone drama. Tensions between the Greek and German governments ran high, and speculation about whether Greece would remain in the eurozone escalated.

The stage has now shifted to the much larger Italian economy. In the current environment of uncertainty, yield spreads on Italian bonds have widened to about 200 basis points over German bunds. Economic and political conditions in the two debt-laden southern European economies differ in important respects; but there are also similarities. Economic growth in both countries has lagged far behind other advanced economies for more than a decade, but most markedly since the Global Financial crisis of 2008-2009. According to IMF estimates, real per capita income in Italy is about 12% below what it was in 2007, with only Greece faring worse. The problem of bank insolvency, endemic in Greece, where nonperforming loans account for more than one-third of bank assets, is not as generalized in Italy.

Still, the uncertain resolution of Italy’s third-largest bank, Monte dei Paschi, together with the Italian government’s limited resources to deal with weak banks, has fueled unease among depositors. Bankers also warn that the plan for Monte dei Paschi’s rescue may be jeopardized by the December referendum, which could trigger another round of decline in share prices. But, for all the talk of a looming banking crisis, the balance-of-payments crisis already underway in Italy since the first half of 2016 is the main factor driving the real-time poll of investors. Prior to the adoption of the euro, an unsustainable balance-of-payments position in Italy (as in other countries with their own currencies) would typically spur the central bank to raise interest rates, thereby making domestic financial assets more attractive to investors and stemming capital flight. With the ECB setting monetary policy for the eurozone as a whole, this is no longer an option for Banca d’Italia.

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Nostalgia for hanging chads.

Jill Stein Raises Over $2 Million To Request US Election Recounts (G.)

Jill Stein, the Green party’s presidential candidate, is prepared to request recounts of the election result in several key battleground states, her campaign said on Wednesday. Stein launched an online fundraising page seeking donations toward a a multimillion-dollar fund she said was needed to request reviews of the results in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Before midnight EST on Wednesday, the drive had already raised more than the $2m necessary to file for a recount in Wisconsin, where the deadline to challenge is on Friday. Stein said she was acting due to “compelling evidence of voting anomalies” and that data analysis had indicated “significant discrepancies in vote totals” that were released by state authorities.

“These concerns need to be investigated before the 2016 presidential election is certified,” she said in a statement. “We deserve elections we can trust.” The fundraising page said it expected to need around $6m-7m to challenge the results in all three states. Stein’s move came amid growing calls for recounts or audits of the election results by groups of academics and activists concerned that foreign hackers may have interfered with election systems. The concerned groups have been urging Hillary Clinton, the defeated Democratic nominee, to join their cause.

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As I said yesterday in “Trump Moves as America Stands Still”.

Bernie Sanders Should Visit Trump Sooner Rather Than Later (NYDN)

Trump aside, evidently the most clairvoyant messenger of 2016 was Sanders, who got pitifully little support from the Democratic Party establishment — including a raw deal from the DNC, which tilted the scales against him in order to coronate Hillary. His brand of anti-Wall Street, anti-elite populism is ascendant. He is the tribune of the progressive youth, many of whom refused to back Hillary despite her repeated (and hollow) entreaties. So what should Sanders do now? Well, how about meeting with the new President-elect? It might seem incongruous. What would the nationalist, brash Trump have to gain from the aging socialist Sanders? Well, maybe quite a bit. Trump explicitly proclaimed during the campaign that he was going to take a page from Bernie’s playbook, much to the consternation of conservative pundits.

“I’m going to be taking a lot of the things Bernie said and using them,” Trump declared in April. And indeed, Trump followed through on the pledge: He made opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership a centerpiece of his campaign, thus emphasizing an area of agreement with Sanders. (Trump has since confirmed that the trade deal will be canceled.) He called for a reduced U.S. military presence abroad. And he even repeatedly defended Sanders before millions of people at the televised debates, pointing out that he’d been screwed over by the DNC and Clinton minions. Naturally, Trump and Sanders will never agree on everything, but where they do see eye-to-eye, why not take advantage?

Two days after the election, Sanders issued a statement noting Trump’s success at connecting with folks “sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics and the establishment media.” Sanders then offered to “work with” him on discrete initiatives. Trump has already announced that an infrastructure funding bill is one of his top priorities, so who better than Sanders to help steer the legislative process in the most fruitful possible direction? (Bernie this week characterized Trump’s plan as a “scam,” so why not register those concerns in person?)

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Sounds desperate.

Merkel Warns Against Fake News Driving Populist Gains (AFP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Wednesday against the power of fake news on social media to spur the rise of populists, after launching her campaign for a fourth term. Speaking in parliament for the first time since her announcement Sunday that she would seek re-election next year, Merkel cautioned that public opinion was being “manipulated” on the internet. “Something has changed – as globalisation has marched on, (political) debate is taking place in a completely new media environment. Opinions aren’t formed the way they were 25 years ago,” she said. “Today we have fake sites, bots, trolls – things that regenerate themselves, reinforcing opinions with certain algorithms and we have to learn to deal with them.”

Merkel, 62, said the challenge for democrats was to “reach and inspire people – we must confront this phenomenon and if necessary, regulate it.” She said she supported initiatives by her right-left coalition government to crack down on “hate speech” on social media in the face of what she said were “concerns about the stability of our familiar order”. “Populism and political extremes are growing in Western democracies,” she warned. Last week, Google and Facebook moved to cut off ad revenue to bogus news sites after a US election campaign in which the global misinformation industry may have influenced the outcome of the vote. But media watchers say more is needed to stamp out a powerful phenomenon seen by some experts as a threat to democracy itself.

Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats are the odds-on favourites to win the German national election, expected in September or October 2017.

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Well, we already knew the EU has gone crazy.

Putin: EU Resolution Equating RT to ISIS A ‘Degradation Of Democracy’ (R.)

The European Parliament called on the EU and its states to do more to counter Russian “disinformation and propaganda warfare” on Wednesday, drawing an angry response from President Vladimir Putin. A motion endorsing a committee report, which also called for more effort against attempts by Islamic State to radicalize Europeans, passed by 304 votes to 179. Members on the far left and far right were opposed; many in the center-left abstained. “The European Parliament … expresses its strong criticism of Russian efforts to disrupt the EU integration process and deplores, in this respect, Russian backing of anti-EU forces in the EU with regard, in particular, to extreme-right parties, populist forces and movements that deny the basic values of liberal democracies,” the 59-point motion read.

With East-West relations in deep freeze since Moscow responded to an EU pact with Ukraine by annexing Crimea in 2014, the Parliament’s report accused the Kremlin of funding media outlets that spread falsehoods and of sponsoring eurosceptic movements in Western Europe which are growing in strength. Putin said that after lecturing Russia on democracy Europe was now trying to silence dissenting opinions. He told reporters in Moscow: “We are observing a certain, quite obvious, degradation … of how democracy is understood in Western society, in this particular case in the European Parliament.” In Strasbourg, center-left lawmakers said they could not endorse the report because Russia was not alone in posing such threats and they objected to the way it appeared to be given an equivalent status to the non-state militants of Islamic State.

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Not a bug but a feature. Given the multibillion ‘trouble’ with the JSF, what do you think the odds are the military-industrial complex makes broken equipemnt on purpose, for profit?

US Navy’s New $4 Billion Stealth Warship Breaks Down – Again (ZH)

For the second time in two months, The Navy’s new $4 billion stealth warship has broken down. As Military.com reports, the ripped-from-the-pages-of-a-sci-fi mag-looking USS Zumwalt is now in Panama for repairs after suffering a breakdown while passing through the Panama Canal on Monday evening. Military.com’s Hope Hodge Seck reports that a spokesman for U.S. 3rd Fleet, Cmdr. Ryan Perry, told Military.com that the commander of 3rd Fleet, Vice Adm. Nora Tyson, had instructed the USS Zumwalt, the first in a new class of stealthy destroyers, to remain at ex-Naval Station Rodman in Panama to address the engineering casualty. “The timeline for repairs is being determined now, in direct coordination with Naval Sea Systems and Naval Surface Forces,” he said in a statement.

“The schedule for the ship will remain flexible to enable testing and evaluation in order to ensure the ship’s safe transit to her new homeport in San Diego.” An official confirmed to Military.com that the ship had been transiting south through the canal en route to its new San Diego homeport when the incident occurred. The ship had to be towed to pier by the Panama Canal Authority, the official said. While details about what caused the breakdown were few, Navy Times – which first reported the incident – cited reports about problems with heat exchangers in the ship’s integrated power plant that had contributed to the mishap. [..]The ship also made headlines earlier this month when multiple outlets reported that the missiles fired from its 155mm Advanced Gun System, at $800,000 apiece, were too expensive for the Navy to buy in large quantities [..]

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But they’ve accepted tons of others already?!

Greece Wants To Conclude EU/IMF Review, Won’t Accept ‘Irrational’ Demands (R.)

Greece wants to conclude its bailout review but cannot accept what it sees as irrational demands on labor reform or for extra austerity, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Wednesday, in his first speech to lawmakers after a cabinet reshuffle. Negotiations between Greece and its official creditors – the EU and the IMF – hit a snag this week due to differences on fiscal targets, energy and labor reforms in the country, where one in four is unemployed. “The Greek government is fully consistent with what was agreed and has proven it has the political will to conclude the second bailout review without meaningless delays,” Tsipras told his Syriza party lawmakers. “But this does not mean we would discuss irrational demands.”

The mission chiefs overseeing Greece’s bailout program implementation left Athens on Tuesday. Government officials said talks would continue but the latest disagreements and a long-standing rift among the creditors on medium-term fiscal targets have clouded Greek hopes for a swift conclusion. Unpopular labor reforms, including collective bargaining, a mechanism to set the minimum wage and giving companies more freedom to lay off workers are the main sticking point in talks with lenders. Tsipras said differences could be bridged if there is political will on all sides, adding that an agreement could be reached by Dec. 5, when euro zone finance ministers will meet in Brussels.

“It is realistic but also absolutely necessary to conclude the talks soon to secure at the scheduled Dec. 5 … meeting the agreement needed on a political level in order to conclude the bailout review,” he said. Tsipras said this would pave the way for talks on debt relief measures, not only in the short term but also in the medium and long term, which would allow Greece to lower primary surplus targets beyond 2018, when its bailout program ends.

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The Troika forces Greece to strangle itself.

Greek Businesses Move Abroad To Escape Austerity (R.)

Greek businessman Prokopis Makris believes moving to Bulgaria three years ago was the best decision he ever made. The accountant shut his failing furniture company in Greece and opened a business helping other entrepreneurs move to Bulgaria to escape a 29% tax rate, which has jumped since Athens adopted austerity as part of an international bailout. “We are bombarded with taxes in Greece, businesses are being annihilated,” he says in his plush office overlooking the town square of Petritsi, a Bulgarian town about 12 km (seven miles) north of the border with Greece. The debt crises faced by Greece and several other European countries led to drastic spending cuts and tax increases to improve government finances.

But the higher taxes punished businesses forcing many to shut or move to lower tax jurisdictions such as Bulgaria or Cyprus, helping those economies but undermining the recovery needed to balance the books at home. The number of Greek owned businesses based in Bulgaria, where the corporate tax rate is only 10%, has risen to 17,000 from 2,000 in 2010, when Greece had its first bailout, according to Bulgarian authorities. The Greek government is concerned. It plans a series of tax audits in cooperation with Bulgaria to determine if these business defections are merely changes of address designed to avoid tax rather than a physical relocation of operations. [..] Six hundred kilometers north of Athens, the Greek-Bulgarian border is teeming with traffic. A ravine through mountains on the Greek side gives way to a sweeping valley where agriculture and vineyards are the mainstay of the local economy.

At two small industrial parks 5 km inside Bulgaria, Greek signs are everywhere, advertising storage and office space. “There are dozens of Greek businesses just in this area alone, from transport companies to textile businesses and construction materials,” said Yiorgos Kalaitzoglou who runs a logistics business out of one of the industrial parks where a sign reads, “Land of Opportunities”. Three years ago, his business was stuttering in Greece. He moved to Bulgaria, leaving his wife and family in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city an hour’s drive away. “The taxman in Greece takes 70 to 90% of earnings, Greece simply doesn’t let you live,” the 50-year-old said as he walked through a warehouse stacked with ladders and paint tubs.

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Oct 062016
 
 October 6, 2016  Posted by at 9:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Lewis Wickes Hine 12-year-old newsie, Hyman Alpert, been selling 3 years, New Haven CT 1909

World Is Swimming In Record $152 Trillion In Debt: IMF (R.)
Australia Private-Sector Debt Rises Faster Than Almost Anywhere Else (Aus.)
One-Third Of European Banks Fail IMF Stress Test: (WSJ)
EU Readies Plan for Derivatives Clearing Crisis, the New Too-Big-to-Fail (BBG)
The Noose Is Tightening Quickly On The Global Economy (Alt-M)
Fed’s Fischer Says Low Neutral Rate A Sign Of Potential Economic Trouble (R.)
Goldman Warns Of “Upward Shock” To Rates, Hints At Trillions In Losses (ZH)
Stiglitz Sees Italy, Others Leaving Euro Zone In Coming Years (R.)
Two Thirds Of Young American Adults Live With Their Parents (ZH)
The Math of Escaping From Syria (R.)
Nearly Half Of All Children In Sub-Saharan Africa Live In Extreme Poverty (G.)

 

 

Never mind public debt. $100 trillion in private debt is the big number.

World Is Swimming In Record $152 Trillion In Debt: IMF (R.)

The world is swimming in a record $152 trillion in debt, the IMF said on Wednesday, even as the institution encourages some countries to spend more to boost flagging growth if they can afford it. Global debt, both public and private, reached 225% of global economic output last year, up from about 200% in 2002, the IMF said in its new Fiscal Monitor report. The IMF said about two thirds of the 2015 total, or about $100 trillion, is owed by private sector borrowers, and noted that rapid increases in private debt often lead to financial crises. While debt profiles vary by country, the report said that the sheer size of the debt could set the stage for an unprecedented private deleveraging that could thwart a still-fragile economic recovery.

“Excessive private debt is a major headwind against the global recovery and a risk to financial stability,” IMF Fiscal Affairs Director Vitor Gaspar told a news conference. “Financial recessions are longer and deeper than normal recessions.” While the United States has de-leveraged since the 2008-2009 financial crisis, the report cited the buildup of private debt in China and Brazil as a significant concern, fueled in part by a long era of low interest rates. The report comes as IMF managing director Christine Lagarde is urging the Fund’s 189 member governments that have “fiscal space” – the ability to sustainably borrow and spend more – to do so to boost persistently weak growth.

The Fund’s call for targeted fiscal support for consumer demand comes is accompanied by calls for continued accommodative monetary policy and accelerated structural reforms aimed at boosting countries’ economic efficiency. If a major deleveraging of private debt were to occur, the IMF report recommends that fiscal policy should include targeted interventions to restructure private debt or repair bank balance sheets to mininize damage to the overall economy.

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An Australian take on the IMF debt report, which singles out the country along with Canada.

Australia Private-Sector Debt Rises Faster Than Almost Anywhere Else (Aus.)

Private-sector debt is rising faster in Australia than almost anywhere else in the world, according to the IMF, which is concerned record debt globally may be setting the stage for a future downturn. The fund estimates that total debt levels have kept climbing since the global financial crisis, and are now equivalent to 225% of global GDP, up from 200% before the crisis. “Excessive private debt is a major headwind against the global recovery and a risk to financial stability”, said the head of the fund’s fiscal department, Vitor Gaspar, releasing the fund’s latest review of government finances. The IMF says private-sector debt in most advanced countries reached a peak in 2012 and started coming down, with the biggest reductions recorded in countries such as Ireland and Slovenia that entered the financial crisis with elevated debts.

The IMF says private-sector debt in most advanced countries reached a peak in 2012 and started coming down, with the biggest reductions recorded in countries such as Ireland and Slovenia that entered the financial crisis with elevated debts. In some cases, however, private debt has continued to accumulate at a fast pace-notably, Australia, Canada, and Singapore, the fund says. The IMF estimates that, since 2013, private debt has risen as a share of GDP by 15 percentage points, more than in any other advanced nation. Private debt in Australia has risen from 188% of GDP to 225% since the global financial crisis, mostly driven by lending to households. Mr Gaspar said the risk was not just that private debt could revert to the government in a crisis, as occurred when many advanced country governments had to take over banks during the financial crisis.

“Rapid increases in private debt often end up in financial crises and financial recessions are longer and deeper than normal recessions”, he said. The fund says even without a financial crisis, high private-sector debt will hamper growth because highly indebted borrowers eventually cut back their consumption and investment. It says there is no consensus about the threshold at which debt levels start affecting growth, but says the longer that debt keeps rising, the greater becomes the sensitivity of the economy to any unexpected shocks. The IMF report shows that Australia s federal and state government debt remains one of the lowest in the advanced world, projected to peak at 21.6% of GDP in 2018, compared with an average of 80.5% for the advanced countries in the G20.

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Why Draghi said there are too many banks in Europe. M&A can hide a lot of debt, or have taxpayers shoulder it.

One-Third Of European Banks Fail IMF Stress Test: (WSJ)

Historic debt levels and dwindling policy ammunition risk derailing the meager recovery forecast for next year. Anemic global growth is “setting the stage for a vicious feedback loop in which lower growth hampers deleveraging and the debt overhang exacerbates the slowdown,” the emergency lender warned. The IMF lays out three major risks to the financial system. First, European banks are facing a chronic profitability crisis. Many haven’t been able to clear the legacy debt off their balance sheets and investors are increasingly skeptical they’ll be remain profitable based on their current structures. But it’s not just market perceptions. The IMF estimates that the recent plunge in bank equity price could curb lending until 2018.

It also conducted a survey of more than 280 banks covering most of the banking systems in the U.S. and Europe to see if an economic recovery would be enough to propel them into long-term profitability. While a large majority of U.S. banks passed, nearly one-third of Europe’s banking system flunked. “A cyclical recovery helps but is not enough,” Mr. Dattels says. Those banking duds—representing $8.5 trillion in assets—remain weak and unable to generate sustainable profits even if growth picks up in the fund’s stress test. “Banks and policy makers need to tackle substantial structural challenges to survive in this new era.” Banks need to first resolve the massive stock of nonperforming loans. That requires banking authorities to fix their insolvency rules, a problem the IMF has been bugging Europe about for years. If officials could finally resolve that problem, it could turn a net capital cost to European banks of €85 billion to a net gain of €60 billion, the fund estimates.

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One goal in mind: save large financial institutions. Not citizens.

EU Readies Plan for Derivatives Clearing Crisis, the New Too-Big-to-Fail (BBG)

The EU plans to give authorities sweeping powers to tackle ailing derivatives clearinghouses to prevent their failure from wreaking havoc throughout the financial system. Draft EU legislation seen by Bloomberg sets out rules on saving or shuttering clearinghouses that would apply to firms such as London-based LCH. The proposals cover everything from the creation of resolution authorities to the powers they would have when winding a company down, including writing down shares, debt and collateral. Having forced most clearing to go through central counterparties to manage risk in the financial system, the EU will come out with recovery and resolution proposals by year-end. Clearing has come into focus after emerging as a pawn in the post-Brexit battle for London’s financial-services industry.

“If we are going to rely more on CCPs, we need to have a clear system in place to resolve them if things go wrong,” Valdis Dombrovskis, the EU’s financial-services chief, said last month. Governments around the world were spooked by the damage inflicted by derivatives trades that went awry during the financial crisis. Since then, they’ve taken steps to ensure trading in the contracts is reported and centrally cleared. Clearinghouses stand between the two sides of a derivative wager and hold collateral, known as margin, from both in case a member defaults. Many transactions were previously conducted directly between traders without a third party requiring collateral. Swaps trading, when it was largely unregulated, amplified the 2008 meltdown and prompted a $182 billion U.S. rescue of AIG.

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“The very system they are built around is a corrupt and unsustainable model, and I hold that this is by design.”

The Noose Is Tightening Quickly On The Global Economy (Alt-M)

The supposed “catalyst” for the 2008 crash is primarily attributed to the fall of Lehman Brothers. I highly recommend any of the “bullish” economists out there arguing today that the central banks intend to prolong a stock rally indefinitely examine the statements made in the mainstream about Lehman and by Lehman leading up to their eventual death rattle. Then, absorb and really think on some of the recent statements and tactics used by Deutsche Bank. Specifically, note Lehman’s use of accounting and derivatives gimmicks and the cycling of funds through various accounts in order to make the company appear solvent. Then, take a look at revelations coming out of places like Italy that Deutsche Bank has been using the same model of false accounts and market manipulation, once again, with derivatives as a main tool for fraud.

Also notice the same outright dismissals of all pertinent evidence that Deutsche Bank might be suffering a capital shortfall, as CEO John Cryan blames “speculators” for the companies losses. Lehman’s Dick Fuld and Bear Stearns’ Jimmy Cain both blamed “speculators” and “rumors and conspiracies” for the fall of their companies during the derivatives debacle eight years ago. It would seem that history doesn’t just rhyme, it sometimes repeats exactly. Below is a rather revealing chart from the folks at Zero Hedge comparing the collapse of Lehman Brothers stock value to the steady decline of Deutsche Bank. To be clear, Lehman was no catalyst. It was only a litmus test for a system completely devoid of tangible value and drowning in toxic debt. Lehman was a part of a much larger problem, it was not the cause of the problem. The same is true for Deutsche Bank.

The panic growing around Germany’s second largest financial institution, Commerzbank, as it moves to lay off nearly 10,000 employees and suspend its dividend is another crisis indicator separate from Deutsche Bank. The clear solvency issues in Italy’s major banks, including Monte dei Paschi, are yet another explosive element.

Keep in mind that when these edifices begin to crumble and Europe enters a state of financial emergency, the mainstream media and numerous governments will continue to blame speculators. They will also claim that the entire disaster was set in motion through a “domino effect”; the first domino probably being Deutsche Bank. This will be a lie. There is no line of dominoes. One bank will not be bringing down the other banks — yes, there is terrible interdependency, but the real issue is that ALL of these banks are falling due to their own cancerous behaviors. The very system they are built around is a corrupt and unsustainable model, and I hold that this is by design.

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Wow, he presents what has long been obvious as some sort of epiphany: “We could be stuck in a new longer-run equilibrium characterized by sluggish growth.”

Fed’s Fischer Says Low Neutral Rate A Sign Of Potential Economic Trouble (R.)

Evidence that the so-called natural rate of interest has fallen to low levels could mean the economy is stuck in a low-growth rut that could prove hard to escape, Federal Reserve Vice Chair Stanley Fischer said on Wednesday. Speaking to a central banking seminar in New York, the Fed’s second-in-command said he was concerned that the changes in world savings and investment patterns that may have driven down the natural rate could “prove to be quite persistent…We could be stuck in a new longer-run equilibrium characterized by sluggish growth.” As a result, he said, central bankers may face a future where the short-term interest rates set by policymakers never get far above zero, and the unconventional tools used during the financial crisis become a “recurrent” fact of life.

“Ultralow interest rates may reflect more than just cyclical forces,” Fischer said, but “be yet another indication that the economy’s growth potential may have dimmed considerably.” Fischer’s remarks did not address current Fed policy or interest rate plans. It is not the first time a Fed official has openly expressed concerns about an underlying decline in U.S. economic potential, or fretted that the crisis shifted savings and investment patterns in a damaging way. Over the past year in particular there has been a vigorous debate, backed up by fresh research, about the “natural” rate of interest. Sometimes referred to as a neutral or equilibrium rate, it is in many ways an abstraction – not a rate that is set by the Fed or used in transactions, but an estimate of the underlying rate that would keep the price level stable while the economy grows at potential.

A number of developments have led many at the Fed to conclude that the natural rate is currently very low, and that its decline may reflect a loss of economic potential. There are immediate implications for the Fed: a low natural rate means the Fed could not move its short-term federal funds rate very high before policy becomes too tight.

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Nothing new here either.

Goldman Warns Of “Upward Shock” To Rates, Hints At Trillions In Losses (ZH)

[..] “The total face value of all US bonds, including Treasuries, Federal agency debt, mortgages, corporates, municipals and ABS, is $40 trillion (Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association). The Barclays US aggregate is a smaller number, $17 trillion, as the index excludes some categories of debt, such as money markets, with low duration. To end up with a more palatable number, Goldman uses the Barclays measure of debt outstanding, although it admits this may lead to an understatement of the total loss potential. Using either measure, total debt outstanding has grown by over 60% in real Dollars since 2000.”

[..] Doing the math, and combining a duration estimate of 5.6 years with the SIFMA total estimated notional exposure of $40trn, and current Dollar price of bonds of $105.6, indicates that, to first order, a 100bp shock to interest rates would translate into a market value loss estimate would be $2.4 trillion. That is the part Garzarelli forgot to write about. Which is ironic, because in trying to paint a bullish picture, the Goldman strategist in effect admitted that not just the Fed, but the entire world is trapped: should the global economy continue to contract, global bond yields will continue to sink, with trillions more bonds going negative yield, leading to even more debt issuance, and resulting in a ZIRP (and NIRP) trap from which there is no escape.

On the other hand, if – as Goldman hopes – inflation does materialize, however briefly, the resultant MTM loss will be staggering. Keep in mind that $2.4 trillion is only in the US. Now add tens of trillions of record low yielding global debt, including some $10.5 trillion in negative yield bonds around the globe, and one can make the case that the global MTM hit from an even 1% rise in rates would be somewhere between $5 and $8 trilion dollars! So, according to Goldman, here is the rather unpleasant choice facing the world: continue slowly sinking into a deflationary singularity, coupled with ever greater systemic leverage which makes escape from the ZIRP/NIRP trap impossible as social unrest builds up and ultimately spills over into the streets, or unleash an inflationary impulse, one which crushes countless debt holders, leads to trillions in losses, and requires yet another consolidated bailout…. oh, and also more social unrest.

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If Italy leaves, there’s no EU left.

Stiglitz Sees Italy, Others Leaving Euro Zone In Coming Years (R.)

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz predicted in a interview out on Wednesday that Italy and other countries would leave the euro zone in coming years, and he blamed the euro and German austerity policies for Europe’s economic problems. Europe lacks the decisiveness to undertake needed reforms such as the creation of a banking union involving joint bank deposit guarantees, and also lacks solidarity across national boundaries, Stiglitz was quoted as saying by Die Welt newspaper. “There will still be a euro zone in 10 years, but the question is, what will it look like? It’s very unlikely that it will still have 19 members. It’s difficult to say who will still belong,” the paper quoted Stiglitz as saying. “The people in Italy are increasingly disappointed in the euro.”

“Italians are starting to realize that Italy doesn’t work in the euro,” he added. He said Germany had already accepted that Greece would leave the euro zone, noting that he had advised both Greece and Portugal in the past to exit the single currency. Concerns about the euro zone have escalated in Germany in recent months amid growing concern about a shift away from austerity in southern Europe, the loose money policies of the ECB and the rise of the right-wing Alternative for Germany party. Stiglitz told the paper the euro and austerity policies in Germany were at fault for Europe’s economic malaise. The break-up of the single currency or the division into a north euro and a south euro were the only realistic options for reviving Europe’s stalled economy, the paper quoted him as saying.

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‘Target groups’ may be somewhat confusing: one survey looks at 15-29 year-olds, the other at 18-34 year-olds. But the trends are clear enough.

Two Thirds Of Young American Adults Live With Their Parents (ZH)

As part of its periodic report on “Society at a Glance” which looks at how youth across member states are faring in terms of several social indicators, such as employment, poverty, marriage and health, the OECD also provided a unique glimpse into modern household composition, namely the%age of young adults, those aged 15-29, living at home. What it found is that since the Great Recession, there have been significant shifts worldwide in the number of young adults living at home. From 2007 to 2014, the number of youth living at home in countries belonging to the OECD increased by 0.7%, rising to 59.4%.

As expected, the nations hit hardest by the global economic slowdown such as Italy, Slovenia and Greece had the highest%age of youth living at home with their parents, at 80.6%, 76.4% and 76.3%, respectively. In itself, that is hardly surprising, since countries like Greece and Italy were not only among the harfest hit by the recession, and have a culture of young adults living longer at home, but also have some of the highest unemployment rates for young people. In fact, as the chart below shows, some 15% of young adults in OECD countries, or a whopping 40 million, were what the report classifies as NEET: not in employment, education or training, with both Italy and Greece at the very top, just behind Turkey.

On the other end of the spectrum, Canada had the lowest%age of youth living with parents, with just 30% of the country’s youth still living at home. The Nordic countries, including Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway, also had low numbers of young adults living at home. In terms of deterioration, France was by far the leader, with the number of young people cohabitating with their parents rising 12.5% to 53.5% from 2007 to 2014. Report authors attribute the increase in part to the high numbers of young adults in France who are not in the workforce or in education. In France, some 16.6% of young adults were not in a job or education institution in 2015, also a notable an increase over the previous few years.

Cited by US News, Claire Keane, an economist with the OECD’s social policy division said that “we really think this is a crisis story,” In France, she says, many benefits flow through families to reach young people. “They are relying on parents for financial support.” As for the US, there has been a 3.9% increase in the proportion of youth living with their parents from 2007 to 2014, significantly higher than the OECD average. As a result, today, about 66.6% of American 15- to 29 year-olds live with their parents as opposed to on their own or with a roommate, compared to around 62.8% before the crisis.

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Syria was a relatively wealthy country not long ago. So was Libya. Guess what happened?

The Math of Escaping From Syria (R.)

– Duration of Syrian Civil War: 5 years, 6 months, approximately. – Number of refugees through Oct. 1: 302,975. – Number of refugees drowned en route to Europe: 3,502 We’ve seen the pictures. We’ve read the stories. The numbers are stark. A single boat crossing on the Mediterranean cost $2,200 per passenger in the summer of 2015, up from an average $1,500 a year earlier, according to refugees’ accounts. For Syrians, as with most migrants seeking asylum, money is scarce; a report by the Syrian Economic Forum showed average monthly income for a citizen of Aleppo was around $80 last year. So if you’re a refugee, you face the prospect of spending as much as two years of your wages for a journey on which 1 of 87 refugees have drowned.

How bad is the economy you’re leaving behind? Let’s take the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009 in the U.S. as a comparison. GDP decreased at an average annual rate of 3.5%. Unemployment reached a high of 10% in Oct. 2009. In that year, 14.3% of the U.S. were living below the poverty line. In Syria, GDP fell 30% in 2013 and another 36% in 2014; 82% of the population lives below the poverty line; unemployment is at 60%. And 2016 looks pretty bleak as well. And that’s leaving aside falling bombs, chemical weapons and woefully inadequate medical care. Also connecting with international aid groups takes time, as many Syrians are located in hard to reach areas.

And let’s not forget you are probably a kid. More than 50% of refugees are under the age of 18 – and haven’t had educational access for years; not to mention the added trauma of witnessing extreme violence. So spending up to two years of your wages and risking your life to get to a safe haven, versus staying in a country where it’s likely you will die a violent death suddenly seems like a remarkably sound decision.

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How many billions have been spent on ending world hunger? Or maybe we should ask how many have been spent on warfare.

Nearly Half Of All Children In Sub-Saharan Africa Live In Extreme Poverty (G.)

Nearly half of all children in sub-Saharan Africa are living in extreme poverty, according to a joint Unicef-World Bank report released on Tuesday, with figures showing that almost 385 million children worldwide survive on less than $1.90 (£1.50) a day, the World Bank international poverty line. Extreme poverty leads to stunted development, limited future productivity as adults, and intergenerational transmission of poverty, the report (pdf) says. The figures – based on data from 89 countries, and representing 84% of the developing world’s population – indicate that much work will be needed to meet the sustainable development goal of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030.

Children are disproportionately affected by extreme poverty – they make up just a third of the population studied, but comprise half of the extreme poor. They are twice as likely as adults to be living on less than $1.90 a day, the report claims, with 19.5% of children in developing countries living in extremely poor households, compared to just 9.2% of adults. “It’s almost a double blow – firstly, that children are twice as likely as an adult to live in extreme poverty, but also that children are much less likely than an adult to be able to cope with extreme poverty because of stunting, infant mortality, and early childhood development,” said Unicef’s deputy executive director, Justin Forsyth. “Extreme poverty can either kill you, or ruin your potential for the rest of your life.”

Read more …

Jun 072016
 
 June 7, 2016  Posted by at 8:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Esther Bubley Soldiers with their girls at the Indianapolis bus station 1943

This Job Market Slump Started In January
Yellen Sees Rates Rising Gradually But .. (BBG)
The Shadow Looming Over China (Balding)
Nation of Debt: New Zealand Sitting on Half-Trillion-Dollar Debt Bomb (NZH)
Sterling Swings Wildly As Polls Suggest UK Heading For EU Exit (G.)
S&P Downgrades Royal Bank of Canada Outlook (WSJ)
Goldman Probed Over Malaysia Fund 1MDB (WSJ)
This Fannie-Freddie Resurrection Needs To Die (WaPo ed.)
State Department Blocks Release Of Hillary Clinton’s TPP Emails (IBT)
Debt Buyers (John Oliver)
Taxes And Recession Slash Income Of Greek Households (Kath.)
Nausea Rising (Jim Kunstler)
NATO Countries Begin Largest War Game In Eastern Europe Since Cold War (G.)
Finns To Bury Nuclear Waste In World’s Costliest Tomb (AFP)
Great Barrier Reef: The Stench Of Death (G.)

And this is Yellen’s favorite index?! Makes you wonder.

This Job Market Slump Started In January

The sharp May hiring slowdown revealed in Friday’s employment report took a lot of people – including me – by surprise. It shouldn’t have. Things have actually been on the downswing for the U.S. labor market for months, according to the Federal Reserve’s Labor Market Conditions Index. The LMCI is a new measure cooked up by Federal Reserve Board economists in 2014 that consolidates 19 different labor market indicators to reflect changes in the job market. They calculated it going all the way back to 1976; the chart above shows its movements since the end of the last recession in June 2009. The May index, released Monday morning, showed a 4.8-point decline from April. As you can see from the chart, the index has now declined for five straight months — its worst performance since the recession.

The index does get revised a lot. When the January number was first reported on Feb. 8, for example, it was still modestly positive. Still, since the February number was released on March 7 the news from the LMCI has been unremittingly negative. Which probably should have told us something. Not many people were paying attention, though. Fed Chair Janet Yellen is apparently a fan of the LMCI, but I have to admit that I first learned of its existence Monday when Erica Groshen, the Commissioner of the BLS, mentioned it at a conference for BLS data users in New York. It was a good reminder, as were a lot of the other presentations at the conference, that the headline jobs numbers that get the lion’s share of attention – the monthly change in payroll employment and the unemployment rate – aren’t always the best places to look for information on the state of the jobs market.

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They should really start having her do these speeches in a cave filled with smoke and vapors.

Yellen Sees Rates Rising Gradually But .. (BBG)

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said the U.S. economy was making progress but was silent on the timing of another interest-rate increase, an omission viewed as a signal that a June move was off the table. “I continue to think that the federal funds rate will probably need to rise gradually over time to ensure price stability and maximum sustainable employment in the longer run,” Yellen said Monday during a speech in Philadelphia. Her comments were less specific than in her previous remarks in describing when she thought the Fed should raise rates again.

On May 27 at Harvard University, she said an increase would likely be appropriate in “coming months,” a phrase she didn’t repeat on Monday. Since then, the Labor Department reported U.S. employers in May added the fewest number of new jobs in almost six years, causing expectations for a rate increase to plunge. “She did not address the timing of the Fed’s next gradual move, which suggests to us that she is in no hurry,” said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Ltd, arguing that her comments on the payroll report “largely rules out a move in rates next week. July is not a strong bet either.”

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Beijing has not just allowed shadow banks to grow much too big, it has used this growth to hide its actions behind. Local governments got most of their credit to build highways to nowhere from shadow banks. It’s really weird that the western press only catches on now.

The Shadow Looming Over China (Balding)

Of all the topics sure to be come up in Sino-U.S. economic talks this week – from the problem of excess capacity to currency controls – the health of China’s financial sector will no doubt feature high on the list. Especially worrying are the multiplying links between the country’s commercial and “shadow” banks – the name given to a broad range of non-bank financial institutions from peer-to-peer lending platforms to trusts and wealth management companies. All told, the latter now hold assets that exceed 80 percent of China’s gross domestic product, according to Moody’s – much of them linked to the commercial banking sector in one way or another. That poses a systemic threat, and needs to be treated as such. There’s nothing inherently wrong with shadow banks, of course.

Largely owned by the government, China’s commercial banks focus primarily on directing capital from savers to state-owned enterprises, leaving Chinese households and smaller private enterprises starved for funds. Shadow banks have grown to meet the demand. At their best, they allocate capital more efficiently than state-owned lenders and keep afloat businesses that create jobs and growth. The line between good shadow banks and dodgy ones is increasingly fuzzy, however, as is the divide between shadow and commercial banking. Traditional banks often assign their sales teams to sell shadow products. This gives an unwarranted sheen of legitimacy to schemes that are inherently risky. Buyers trust that the established bank will make them whole if their investment goes south.

Shadow banks are also selling more and more products directly to commercial banks. Wealth management products held as receivables now account for approximately 3 trillion yuan of interbank holdings, or around $500 billion — a number that’s grown sixfold in three years. According to Autonomous Research, as much as 85 percent of those products may have been resold to other shadow banks, creating a web of cross-ownership with disturbing parallels to the U.S. mortgage securities market just before the 2008 crash. In total, the big four state-owned banks hold more than $2 trillion in what’s classified as “financial investment,” much of it in trusts and wealth-management products.

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A nation of lost souls.

Nation of Debt: New Zealand Sitting on Half-Trillion-Dollar Debt Bomb (NZH)

New Zealand is sitting on a half-a-trillion-dollar debt bomb and Kiwis are increasingly treating their houses like cash machines, piling on the debt as they watch the value of their properties soar. Reserve Bank figures show household debt, excluding investment property, has risen 23% in the past five years to $163.4 billion. Incomes have risen only 11.5%. Households are now carrying a debt level that is equivalent to 162% of their annual disposable income – higher than the level reached before the global financial crisis. Including property investment the total debt households owed as of April was $232.9 billion, according to the Reserve Bank. Satish Ranchhod, a senior economist at Westpac Bank, says the main driver has been low interest rates.

“Continued low interest rates have sparked a sharp increase in household borrowing at a time when income growth has been very modest.” And it’s housing loans where the growth has mainly come from. Housing loan debt has risen 23.4% to $132.83 billion. Student loans were up 22.9% to $14.84 billion and consumer loans are up 16.6% to $15.7 billion. Ranchhod said much of the rising debt on housing was down to investors, as more people jumped into the property market on the back of rising house prices. He also believed many people were using their home loans to make consumer purchases. “We think a lot of the increase in lending on housing loans will also be an increase in spending … people feel wealthy when the value of their home goes up.”

Hannah McQueen, an Auckland financial coach and managing director of EnableMe, said she had seen three clients in the past week alone who had paid for a new car by using the equity in their home to increase their mortgage debt. “It’s definitely on the increase … People think, ‘I’m worth so much more now …'”

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Volatility just getting started.

Sterling Swings Wildly As Polls Suggest UK Heading For EU Exit (G.)

The pound swung wildly on currency markets on Monday, reaching extremes of volatility not seen since the financial crisis, as City traders reacted to polls suggesting voters were increasingly likely to send Britain out of the EU this month. The poll boost to the Vote Leave campaign sent the pound tumbling by up to 1.5 cents to below $1.44, adding to a decline of 2 cents last week and indicating the degree of pressure on the UK currency since the remain camp’s lead in the polls began to evaporate. A dovish speech by the US central bank chief, Janet Yellen, hinting that poor jobs data meant the Federal Reserve was unlikely to raise rates this month, steadied the pound – despite her comments that a vote to leave the EU could hurt the US economy.

“One development that could shift investor sentiment is the upcoming referendum in the United Kingdom. A UK vote to exit the European Union could have significant economic repercussions,” she said. Sterling’s value has become increasingly volatile as fears of a Brexit have increased among investors. The index charting the daily swings in the pound’s value has risen to its highest level of volatility since the first quarter of 2009. It is double the level seen in April when the remain camp was ahead in the polls. Elsa Lignos, a foreign exchange expert at City firm RBC, one of many to warn that the pound would come under further pressure should the lead established by Vote Leave be consolidated, said: “Brexit is almost all that matters for the pound at the moment.”

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Hmm.. “..speculative-grade borrowers..”, “..highly indebted Canadian consumers ..”

S&P Downgrades Royal Bank of Canada Outlook (WSJ)

Standard & Poor’s is downgrading the outlook for Royal Bank of Canada, a change it says reflects the lender’s increased risk appetite and credit-risk exposure relative to other domestic banks. The credit-ratings firm said Monday it was revising its outlook on RBC, Canada’s largest bank by assets, to “negative” from “stable,” but would leave its credit ratings untouched. The move comes less than two weeks after the Toronto-based lender reported a stronger-than-expected fiscal second-quarter profit but set aside bigger provisions to cover soured loans. “The outlook revision reflects concerns over what we see as RBC’s higher risk appetite, relative to peers,” said S&P credit analyst Lidia Parfeniuk in a release.

“We see one example of this in its aggressive growth in loans and commitments in the capital markets wholesale loan book, particularly in the U.S., with an emphasis on speculative-grade borrowers, including exposure to leveraged loans,” she added. S&P also pointed to RBC’s “higher-than-peer average exposure” to highly indebted Canadian consumers and to the country’s oil- and gas-producing regions, which have been hard hit by the collapse in crude-oil prices. S&P, however, affirmed RBC’s ratings including its “AA-/A-1+” long- and short-term issuer credit ratings. “RBC is one of the strongest and highest rated banks in Canada, reflecting our strong financial profile and the success of our diversified business model,” said RBC in an emailed statement. “This outlook change will have no direct impact to RBC clients,” it later added.

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“..Goldman wired the $3 billion in proceeds to a Singapore branch of a small Swiss private bank instead of to a large global bank, as would be typical for a transfer of that size..”

Goldman Probed Over Malaysia Fund 1MDB (WSJ)

U.S. investigators are trying to determine whether Goldman Sachs broke the law when it didn’t sound an alarm about a suspicious transaction in Malaysia, people familiar with the investigation said. At issue is $3 billion Goldman raised via a bond issue for Malaysian state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd., or 1MDB. Days after Goldman sent the proceeds into a Swiss bank account controlled by the fund, half of the money disappeared offshore, with some later ending up in the prime minister’s bank account, according to people familiar with the matter and bank-transfer information viewed by The Wall Street Journal. The cash was supposed to fund a major real-estate project in the nation’s capital that was intended to boost the country’s economy.

U.S. law-enforcement officials have sought to schedule interviews with Goldman executives, people familiar with the matter said. Goldman hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing. The bank says it had no way of knowing how 1MDB would use the money it raised. Investigators are focusing on whether the bank failed to comply with the U.S. Bank Secrecy Act, which requires financial institutions to report suspicious transactions to regulators. The law has been used against banks for failing to report money laundering in Mexico and ignoring red flags about the operations of Ponzi scheme operator Bernard Madoff. The investigators believe the bank may have had reason to suspect the money it raised wasn’t being used for its intended purpose, according to people familiar with the probe.

One red flag, they believe, is that Goldman wired the $3 billion in proceeds to a Singapore branch of a small Swiss private bank instead of to a large global bank, as would be typical for a transfer of that size, the people said. Another is the timing of the bond sale and why it was rushed. The deal took place in March 2013, two months after Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak, approached Goldman Sachs bankers during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. And it occurred two months before voting in a tough election campaign for Mr. Najib, who used some of the cash from his personal bank account on election spending, the Journal has reported, citing bank-transfer information and people familiar with the matter.

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This being from the mouthpiece WaPo, g-d only knows what’s behind it.

This Fannie-Freddie Resurrection Needs To Die (WaPo ed.)

It’s been said that Washington is where good ideas go to die. We don’t know about that, but some bad ideas are certainly hard to get rid of. Consider the persistent non-solution to the zombie-like status of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac known as “recap and release.” The plan is to return the two mortgage-finance giants to their pre-financial-crisis status as privately owned but “government-sponsored” enterprises. That is to say, to recreate the private-gain, public-risk conflict that helped sink them in the first place. Their income would recapitalize the entities, rather than be funneled to the treasury, as is currently the case. Then they could exit the regulatory control known as “conservatorship” that has constrained them since 2008 — and resume bundling home loans and selling them, as if it had never been necessary to bail them out to the tune of $187 billion in the first place.

Congress last year effectively barred recap and release, at least for the next two years. Coupled with the Obama administration’s firm opposition, you’d think that would put a stake through its heart. But “no” is not an acceptable answer for the handful of Wall Street hedge funds that scooped up Fannie and Freddie’s beaten-down common stock for pennies a share after the bailout — and would realize a massive windfall if the government suddenly decided to let shareholders have access to company profits again. With megabillions on the line, the hedge funds have been arguing high-mindedly that their true concerns are property rights and the rule of law; they have also made common cause with certain low-income-housing advocates who see a resurrected Fan-Fred as a potential source of funds for their programs.

Left unexplained, because it’s inexplicable, is how the hedge funds’ arguments square with the fact that there wouldn’t even be a pair of corporate carcasses to fight over but for the massive infusion of taxpayer dollars and the public risk that represented. The latest iteration of recap and release is a hedge-fund-backed bill sponsored by Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), which would set Fannie and Freddie, unreformed, loose on the marketplace again and do so under terms wildly favorable to the hedge funds. Specifically, shareholders would be charged nothing for the government backing the entities would retain, supposedly to save scarce resources for the capital cushion. But as the WSJ recently noted, capital could be “risk-weighted” so forgivingly that the actual cushion required might be considerably less than headline numbers suggest.

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Desperate move.

State Department Blocks Release Of Hillary Clinton’s TPP Emails (IBT)

Trade is a hot issue in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. But correspondence from Hillary Clinton and her top State Department aides about a controversial 12-nation trade deal will not be available for public review — at least not until after the election. The Obama administration abruptly blocked the release of Clinton’s State Department correspondence about the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), after first saying it expected to produce the emails this spring. The decision came in response to International Business Times’ open records request for correspondence between Clinton’s State Department office and the United States Trade Representative. The request, which was submitted in July 2015, specifically asked for all such correspondence that made reference to the TPP.

The State Department originally said it estimated the request would be completed by April 2016. Last week the agency said it had completed the search process for the correspondence but also said it was delaying the completion of the request until late November 2016 — weeks after the presidential election. The delay was issued in the same week the Obama administration filed a court motion to try to kill a lawsuit aimed at forcing the federal government to more quickly comply with open records requests for Clinton-era State Department documents.

Clinton’s shifting positions on the TPP have been a source of controversy during the campaign: She repeatedly promoted the deal as secretary of state but then in 2015 said, “I did not work on TPP,” even though some leaked State Department cables show that her agency was involved in diplomatic discussions about the pact. Under pressure from her Democratic primary opponent, Bernie Sanders, Clinton announced in October that she now opposes the deal — and has disputed that she ever fully backed it in the first place.

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John Oliver buys $15 million of unpaid debt for $60,000. And then forgives it. Now there’s an idea. Unless I’m very mistaken, that means $1 million could forgive $250 million in debt. $10 million, you free $2.5 billion in debt. Well, quite a bit more, actually, because now we’d be talking wholesale. People raise a millon bucks for all sorts of purposes all the time. Know what I mean?

Someone get this properly organized in a fund, and why wouldn’t they (?!), means: You donate $1 and $250 in debt goes away. Donate $100 and $25,000 goes up in air. 100 people donate $100 each, $2,500,000 in debt is gone. I’m not the person to do it, but certainly somebody can?! (Do call me on my math if I missed a digit..). It’s crazy people like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg are not doing this. Or even Janet Yellen. Not all that smart after all, I guess. $1 billion can buy off $250 billion in debt. Want to fight deflation?

Debt Buyers (John Oliver)

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How to make sure an economy and society cannot recover.

Taxes And Recession Slash Income Of Greek Households (Kath.)

The avalanche of new taxes that began this month will deal a devastating blow to household incomes, consumption and the prospects of the Greek economy in general. As the dozens of new measures are implemented, the market will also be forced to deal with the higher charges that will strengthen the lure of tax evasion. All this is expected to extend the recession and deter investment, while leading to more business shutdowns. Crucially, the disposable income of households will shrink anew due to the increase in taxation and the hikes in almost all indirect taxes and social security contributions.

Hundreds of thousands of families are cutting down on their basic expenses while many have run into debt over various obligations: For example, unpaid Public Power Corporation bills now total €2.7 billion. All that has resulted in major drop in retail spending. A consumer confidence survey carried out by Nielsen for the first quarter of the year shows that eight out of 10 Greeks are constantly attempting to reduce their household expenditure. Their main targets for cuts are going out for entertainment and food delivery, while they are buying cheaper and fewer groceries.

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JHK: “As you may know, Kunstler.com is currently under an aggressive Denial of Service (DoS) attack. My web and server technicians are working to get the website and blog back up and live soon (though it’s going to cost a pretty penny). In the meantime, here is today’s blog. Please share this with any of your friends so they don’t miss out.”

Nausea Rising (Jim Kunstler)

The people of the United States have real grievances with the way this country is being run. Last Friday’s job’s report was a humdinger: only 38,000 new jobs created in a country of over 300 million, with a whole new crop of job-seeking college grads just churned out of the diploma mills. I guess the national shortage of waiters and bartenders has finally come to an end. What’s required, of course, is a pretty stout restructuring of the US economy. And that should be understood to be a matter of national survival. We need to step way back on every kind of giantism currently afflicting us: giant agri-biz, giant commerce (Wal Mart etc.), giant banking, giant war-making, and giant government — this last item being so larded with incompetence on top of institutional entropy that it is literally a menace to American society.

The trend on future resources and capital availability is manifestly downward, and the obvious conclusion is the need to make this economy smaller and finer. The finer part of the deal means many more distributed tasks among the population, especially in farming and commerce operations that must be done at a local level. This means more Americans working on smaller farms and more Americans working in reconstructed Main Street business, both wholesale and retail. This would also necessarily lead to a shift out of the suburban clusterfuck and the rebuilding of ten thousand forsaken American towns and smaller cities.

For the moment, many demoralized Americans may feel more comfortable playing video games, eating on SNAP cards, and watching Trump fulminate on TV, but the horizon on that is limited too. Sooner or later they will have to become un-demoralized and do something else with their lives. The main reason I am so against the Hillary and Trump, and so ambivalent on Bernie is their inability to comprehend the scope of action actually required to avoid sheer cultural collapse.

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Completely crazy. Is Trump really the only person who can stop this? For the first time since the Nazi invasion of Soviet-occupied Poland began on 22 June 1941, German tanks will cross the country from west to east.

NATO Countries Begin Largest War Game In Eastern Europe Since Cold War (G.)

The largest war game in eastern Europe since the end of the cold war has started in Poland, as Nato and partner countries seek to mount a display of strength as a response to concerns about Russia’s assertiveness and actions. The 10-day military exercise, involving 31,000 troops and thousands of vehicles from 24 countries, has been welcomed among Nato’s allies in the region, though defence experts warn that any mishap could prompt an offensive reaction from Moscow. A defence attache at a European embassy in Warsaw said the “nightmare scenario” of the exercise, named Anaconda-2016, would be “a mishap, a miscalculation which the Russians construe, or choose to construe, as an offensive action”. Russian jets routinely breach Nordic countries’ airspace and in April they spectacularly “buzzed” the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea.

The exercise, which US and Polish officials formally launched near Warsaw, is billed as a test of cooperation between allied commands and troops in responding to military, chemical and cyber threats. It represents the biggest movement of foreign allied troops in Poland in peace time. For the first time since the Nazi invasion of Soviet-occupied Poland began on 22 June 1941, German tanks will cross the country from west to east. Managed by Poland’s Lt Gen Marek Tomaszycki, the exercise includes 14,000 US troops, 12,000 Polish troops, 800 from Britain and others from non-Nato countries. Anaconda-2016 is a prelude to Nato’s summit in Warsaw on 8-9 July, which is expected to agree to position significant numbers of troops and equipment in Poland and the Baltic states.

It comes within weeks of the US switching on a powerful ballistic missile shield at Deveselu in Romania, as part of a “defence umbrella” that Washington says will stretch from Greenland to the Azores. Last month, building work began on a similar missile interception base at Redzikowo, a village in northern Poland. The exercise comes at a sensitive time for Poland’s military, following the sacking or forced retirement of a quarter of the country’s generals since the nationalist Law and Justice government came to power in October last year. So harsh have the cuts to the top brass been that the Polish armed forces recently found themselves unable to provide a general for Nato’s multinational command centre at Szczecin.

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Tell me, do I feel safe now? 100,000 years is a long time. No fault lines? Volcanic activity?

Finns To Bury Nuclear Waste In World’s Costliest Tomb (AFP)

Deep underground on a lush green island, Finland is preparing to bury its highly-radioactive nuclear waste for 100,000 years — sealing it up and maybe even throwing away the key. Tiny Olkiluoto, off Finland’s west coast, will become home to the world’s costliest and longest-lasting burial ground, a network of tunnels called Onkalo – Finnish for “The Hollow”. Countries have been wrestling with what to do with nuclear power’s dangerous by-products since the first plants were built in the 1950s. Most nations keep the waste above ground in temporary storage facilities but Onkalo is the first attempt to bury it for good. Starting in 2020, Finland plans to stow around 5,500 tons of nuclear waste in the tunnels, more than 420 metres (1,380 feet) below the Earth’s surface.

Already home to one of Finland’s two nuclear power plants, Olkiluoto is now the site of a tunnelling project set to cost up to €3.5 billion until the 2120s, when the vaults will be sealed for good. “This has required all sorts of new know-how,” said Ismo Aaltonen, chief geologist at nuclear waste manager Posiva, which got the green light to develop the site last year. The project began in 2004 with the establishment of a research facility to study the suitability of the bedrock. At the end of last year, the government issued a construction license for the encapsulation plant, effectively giving its final approval for the burial project to go ahead. At present, Onkalo consists of a twisting five-kilometre (three-mile) tunnel with three shafts for staff and ventilation. Eventually the nuclear warren will stretch 42 kilometres (26 miles).

[..] The waste is expected to have lost most of its radioactivity after a few hundred years, but engineers are planning for 100,000, just to be on the safe side. Spent nuclear rods will be placed in iron casts, then sealed into thick copper canisters and lowered into the tunnels. Each capsule will be surrounded with a buffer made of bentonite, a type of clay that will protect them from any shuddering in the surrounding rock and help stop water from seeping in. Clay blocks and more bentonite will fill the tunnels before they are sealed up.

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Long piece on bleaching by the Guardian. Depressing.

Great Barrier Reef: The Stench Of Death (G.)

It was the smell that really got to diver Richard Vevers. The smell of death on the reef. “I can’t even tell you how bad I smelt after the dive – the smell of millions of rotting animals.” Vevers is a former advertising executive and is now the chief executive of the Ocean Agency, a not-for-profit company he founded to raise awareness of environmental problems. After diving for 30 years in his spare time, he was compelled to combine his work and hobby when he was struck by the calamities faced by oceans around the world. Chief among them was coral bleaching, caused by climate change. His job these days is rather morbid. He travels the world documenting dead and dying coral reefs, sometimes gathering photographs just ahead of their death, too.

With the world now in the midst of the longest and probably worst global coral bleaching event in history, it’s boom time for Vevers. Even with all that experience, he’d never seen anything like the devastation he saw last month around Lizard Island in the northern third of Australia’s spectacular Great Barrier Reef. As part of a project documenting the global bleaching event, he had surveyed Lizard Island, which sits about 90km north of Cooktown in far north Queensland, when it was in full glorious health; then just as it started bleaching this year; then finally a few weeks after the bleaching began. “It was one of the most disgusting sights I’ve ever seen,” he says. “The hard corals were dead and covered in algae, looking like they’ve been dead for years. The soft corals were still dying and the flesh of the animals was decomposing and dripping off the reef structure.”

[..] When the coral dies, the entire ecosystem around it transforms. Fish that feed on the coral, use it as shelter, or nibble on the algae that grows among it die or move away. The bigger fish that feed on those fish disappear too. But the cascading effects don’t stop there. Birds that eat fish lose their energy source, and island plants that thrive on bird droppings can be depleted. And, of course, people who rely on reefs for food, income or shelter from waves – some half a billion people worldwide – lose their vital resource.

[..] What’s at stake here is the largest living structure in the world, and by far the largest coral reef system. The oft-repeated cliche is that it can be seen from space, which is not surprising given it stretches more than 2,300km in length and, between its almost 3,000 individual reefs, covers an area about the size of Germany. It is an underwater world of unimaginable scale. But it is up close that the Great Barrier Reef truly astounds. Among its waters live a dizzying array of colourful plants and animals. With 1,600 species of fish, 130 types of sharks and rays, and more than 30 species of whales and dolphins, it is one of the most complex ecosystems on the planet.


Coral off Lizard Island, bleached in March, and then dead and covered in seaweed in May. Photo: the Ocean Agency

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Mar 262016
 
 March 26, 2016  Posted by at 9:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Jack Delano Freight operations on the Indiana Harbor Belt railroad 1943

US Q4 GDP Rose 1.4% As Corporate Profits Plunged (ZH)
World Trade Collapses in Dollars, Languishes in Volume (WS)
Bank of Japan’s Latest PR Move: ‘Negative Rates in Five Minutes’ (WSJ)
Foreigners Dumped More Japanese Stocks This Week Than Ever Before (ZH)
Yuan’s Fall Drags Down Chinese Companies (WSJ)
Shanghai Rolls Out Tightening Measures To Cool Home Market (Reuters)
Affordable Housing Crisis Has Engulfed All Cities In Southern England (G.)
Radical Economic Ideas Grab Attention Amid Low-inflation Torpor (SMH)
Modern Monetary Theory Has Ardent Proponents (SMH)
Brazil Economic Woes Deepen Amid Political Crisis (WSJ)
The River: America’s 40-Year Hurt (BBC)
Hope Turns To Despair As Lesbos Camp Becomes Open-Air Prison (Ind.)

“The resilient consumer”. Sure.

US Q4 GDP Rose 1.4% As Corporate Profits Plunged (ZH)

While the final revision to Q4 2015 GDP was so irrelevant it was released on a holiday when every US-based market is closed, even the futures, it is nonetheless notable that according to the BEA in the final quarter of 2015 US GDP grew 1.4%, up from the 1.0% previously reported, and higher than the 1.0% consensus estimate matching the highest Q4 GDP forecast. The final Q4 GDP print was still well below the 2.0% annualized GDP growth reported in Q3.

 

The figure marks a slowdown from the 2.2% average pace in the first three quarters of 2015. For all of last year, the U.S. economy grew 2.4% matching the advance in 2014. The reason for the change was largely due to upwardly Personal Consumer Spending, which rose from a contribution of 1.38% to the annualized bottom line to 1.66%. In CAGR terms, personal consumption rose 2.4%, following the 3.0% increase in Q3, higher than the 2.0% previously estimated.

Stripping out inventories and trade, the two most volatile components of GDP, so-called final sales to domestic purchasers increased at a 1.7% rate, compared with a previously estimated 1.4% pace.  The rest of the GDP components were largely unchanged, with Fixed Investment adding 0.06% to the bottom line, up from 0.02% in the previous estimate, Private Inventories contracting fractionally more than previously estimated (-0.22% vs -0.14%), net trade subtracting 0.1% less from growth (-0.14% vs -0.25%), and finally government spending largely unchanged and hugging the unchanged line at 0.02%.

 

But while the “resilient consumer” once again carried the US economy in the fourth quarter, largely due to an estimated jump in spending on Transportation and Recreational services, which added an annualized $13 billion to the US economy vs the prior estimate, more disturbing was the drop in profits which we already knew courtesy of company reports and is known confirmed by the BEA whose GDP report also showed that corporate profits dropped in 2015 by the most in seven years. As Bloomberg writes, the earnings slump illustrates the limits of an economy struggling to gather steam at the start of this year. Some companies, encumbered by low commodities prices and sluggish foreign markets, are cutting back on investment while a firm labor market and low inflation encourage households to keep shopping.

Pre-tax earnings declined 7.8%, the most since the first quarter of 2011, after a 1.6% decrease in the previous three months. The estimate of nonfinancial corporate profits was reduced by a $20.8 billion settlement, considered a transfer to the government, between BP and the U.S. after the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Profits in the U.S. dropped 3.1% in 2015, the most since 2008. Corporate earnings are being weighed down by weak productivity, rising labor costs and the plunge in energy prices. Economists at JPMorgan had expected a 9.5% drop in pre-tax earnings in the fourth quarter. “The pace of growth slowed as we ended 2015, though consumer spending is still the primary underpinning of this economic expansion,” Sam Bullard at Wells Fargo in Charlotte, North Carolina, said before the report. “Any pickup we might see is still likely going to be capped given the overall global picture.”

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Globalization is ending.

World Trade Collapses in Dollars, Languishes in Volume (WS)

The Merchandise World Trade Monitor by the CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis, a division of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, tracks global imports and exports in two measures: by volume and by unit price in US dollars. And the just released data for January was a doozie beneath the lackluster surface. The World Trade Monitor for January, as measured in seasonally adjusted volume, declined 0.4% from December and was up a measly 1.1% from January a year ago. While the sub-index for import volumes rose 3% from a year ago, export volumes fell 0.7%. This sort of “growth,” languishing between slightly negative and slightly positive has been the rule last year. The report added this about trade momentum:

“Regional outcomes were mixed. Both import and export momentum became more negative in the United States. Both became more positive in the Euro Area. Import momentum in emerging Asia rose further, whereas export momentum in emerging Asia has been negative for four consecutive months.” This is also what the world’s largest container carrier, Maersk Lines, and others forecast for 2016: a growth rate of about zero to 1% in terms of volume. So not exactly an endorsement of a booming global economy. But here’s the doozie: In terms of prices per unit expressed in US dollars, world trade dropped 3.8% in January from December and is down 12.1% from January a year ago, continuing a rout that started in June 2014. Not that the index was all that strong at the time, after having cascaded lower from its peak in May 2011.

If June 2014 sounds familiar as a recent high point, it’s because a lot of indices started heading south after that, including the price of oil, revenues of S&P 500 companies, total business revenues in the US…. That’s when the Fed was in the middle of tapering QE out of existence and folks realized that it would be gone soon. That’s when the dollar began to strengthen against other key currencies. Shortly after that, inventories of all kinds in the US began to bloat. Starting from that propitious month, the unit price index of world trade has plunged 23%. It’s now lower than it had been at the trough of the Financial Crisis. It hit the lowest level since March 2006:

This chart puts in perspective what Nils Andersen, the CEO of Danish conglomerate AP Møller-Maersk, which owns Maersk Lines, had said last month in an interview following the company’s dreary earnings report and guidance: “It is worse than in 2008.” But why the difference between the stagnation scenario in world trade in terms of volume and the total collapse of the index that measures world trade in unit prices in US dollars? The volume measure is a reflection of a languishing global economy. It says that global trade may be sick, but it’s not collapsing. It’s worse than it was in 2011. This sort of thing was never part of the rosy scenario. But now it’s here.

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‘Explaining’ what they don’t understand themselves.

Bank of Japan’s Latest PR Move: ‘Negative Rates in Five Minutes’ (WSJ)

The Bank of Japan launched a charm offensive Friday to win over spooked members of the public who have reacted negatively to negative interest rates. The central bank issued a booklet offering a crash course in the basic implications of negative rates, a move that demonstrates the strength of unease created by the introduction of a policy in a nation largely unfamiliar with the concept behind it. Written in a question-and-answer format and in a somewhat casual Japanese, the three-page booklet aims to explain negative rates “in five minutes” by covering 18 issues that have grabbed public attention. Negative rates have become a political hot potato ahead of July’s national elections, with opposition lawmakers accusing the central bank of creating anxiety among consumers. Some ruling party politicians, perhaps feeling uncomfortable about the prospect of explaining the policy to their constituents, are also feeling the jitters.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe acknowledged Thursday that negative rates have made households nervous and it will likely take some time before people understand them. The Bank of Japan decided to start charging interest on some deposits held by commercial banks at the central bank in January. The policy is part of broader efforts to defeat deflation and create a stronger economy, but the central bank was ill-prepared for the public backlash the policy generated. One of the most common concerns over the policy is whether individuals with regular bank accounts will be charged interest on their deposits at the commercial banks. Opposition lawmakers have frequently quizzed BOJ Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda on this issue in parliament.

“Although the measure is called negative rates, it only involves imposing negative rates on a part of the money deposited at the BOJ by banks,” the booklet says. “Individuals’ deposits are different.” While addressing concerns over the new policy, the central bank also tries to convey the message that Japan must get rid of deflation, a negative cycle of price falls, adding that it has taken the right steps to do just that. “If prices don’t rise because of deflation, this means companies’ revenues don’t increase, and that’s why salaries don’t rise,” the booklet says. Since company earnings have improved a lot during the past three years of monetary easing, firms have started increasing basic pay, it says, adding that salaries will keep rising each year if deflation is overcome.

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“..weakness means weak Japanese economy means sell Japanese assets.. and we will soon see capital controls in the world’s largest debtor nation…”

Foreigners Dumped More Japanese Stocks This Week Than Ever Before (ZH)

USDJPY just had its best week in 2 months, funding bullish momentum and carry trades around the world in the midst of dismal economic data everywhere and tumbling earnings expectations. This "bullish" Yen strength, however, amid China's biggest weekly devaluation in almost 3 months, was ironically driven by drastic investment outflowsrecord sales of Japanese stocks by foreigners (sell JPY), and record purchases of foreign bonds by Japanese investors (sell JPY). Sooner, rather than later, it is obvious that the investment outflows will dominate the carry trades (see Thursday and Friday) and Kuroda and Abe will have a major problem.

Yen was dumped all week…

 

Which provided just enough juice for carry trades to lift Japanese stocks (despite the weakness in data and China's biggest weekly Yuan devaluation in almost 3 months)

 

But notice that the last two days have seen Japanese stocks decouple from USDJPY, perhaps the first glimpse of the investment outflows overwhelming any casino-based carry trades flows.

And this is why… Foreigners sold a record amount of Japanese stocks last week… (implicitly meansing Yen was sold)

 

And Japanese investors fled the insanity of record low yields in JGBs, buying a record amount of foreign bonds last week (implicitly selling Yen again)…

 

So the Yen weakness – which was so bullishly supportive of global equity markets via carry – was in fact a signal of massive investor anxiety fleeing the sinking ship. Peter Pan-ic indeed.

Abe and Kuroda will soon face a major problem as a weaker Yen will signal the exact opposite trade that has been so active since 2012 – weakness means weak Japanese economy means sell Japanese assets.. and we will soon see capital controls in the world's largest debtor nation.

And remember – the devaluation of The Yen has done nothing – NOTHING – to improve exports for Japan…

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It’s all about the dollar.

Yuan’s Fall Drags Down Chinese Companies (WSJ)

A weaker Chinese currency has roiled global markets and heightened worries about the state of the world’s second-largest economy. Now, some Chinese companies are reporting they’ve taken a hit from a depreciating yuan. The yuan fell 5% against the U.S. dollar in 2015, plunging after China’s central bank surprisingly devalued the currency in mid-August. A weaker currency helps the country’s exporters but hurts Chinese companies that pay for raw material in U.S. dollars or need to pay off loans in U.S. dollars. Among those negatively affected are firms that source from outside China, such as milk or food companies, as well as real estate companies that hold a lot of dollar-denominated debt, says Herald van der Linde at HSBC.

This was the case with Hengan International, one of the leading makers of tissue paper in China. The company said in a statement it saw $55.3 million in foreign-exchange losses in 2015 because it pays for raw material in U.S. dollars, holds U.S.-denominated debt and has Hong Kong-based yuan-denominated assets, which dropped in value. This contributed to a decline in tissue sales, it said. Weaker currencies also hurt China’s heavily-indebted real-estate developers. Shanghai-based property developer Shui On Land reported its 2015 profit dropped to 1.77 billion yuan ($272 million) from 2.49 billion yuan ($382 million) a year earlier in large part due to the depreciation of the company’s USD- and HKD-denominated debt. Then there are companies that suffer losses from selling to countries whose currencies have weakened.

Sourcing and logistics giant Li&Fung said 2015 revenue dropped 2.4% on year. The main reason? Foreign-exchange losses from weak European and Asian currencies, it said, since 38% of the company’s business is in non-U.S. markets but it accounts in U.S. dollars. In order to tackle the problem, some companies are looking to shed yuan — or at least get it out of the country. Hengan, the tissue company, has remitted the equivalent of several billion Hong Kong dollars from mainland China to Hong Kong in 2015, and another HK$2 billion in the first quarter of this year, said CFO Vincent Loo in Hong Kong. It is also negotiating with sources to pay them in less time — from 30 to 60 days rather than 90 — just in case the yuan continues to fall.

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Beijing’s ‘vision’ is now limited to short term only.

Shanghai Rolls Out Tightening Measures To Cool Home Market (Reuters)

Municipal authorities in Shanghai tightened mortgage down payment requirements for second home purchases on Friday, in a move to cool an overheating property market and reduce fears of a bubble. Senior Chinese leaders raised concerns about the country’s overheated housing market during an annual parliament meeting this month, and Shanghai is the biggest city to take action in the wake of the National People’s Congress, which ended a week ago. Under the new rules, home buyers will need to put down 50-70% of the price of a second home, compared to 40% previously, to qualify for a mortgage. “The new measure will have a big impact on market sentiment on both the primary and secondary market; new launches being sold out within one, two hours will not happen again,” said Joe Zhou, head of East China research at real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle.

With the new rules, Shanghai also made it harder for non-residents to buy homes in the city, according to a statement issued by the local government. Potential buyers who do not hold local residence permits, or hukou, must have paid social insurance or taxes in Shanghai for at least five years before they can purchase property. Previously the requirement was two years. Shanghai will also increase the supply of small- and medium-sized homes and crack down on property financing by informal financial institutions. Shanghai home prices gained 20.6% in February from a year ago, posting the second biggest gain in the country after the southern city of Shenzhen, where prices soared 56.9%, despite slowing economic growth.

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A world full of housing bubbles. Haven’t we understood how dangerous that is?

Affordable Housing Crisis Has Engulfed All Cities In Southern England (G.)

There is no longer a city in the south of England where house prices are less than seven and a half times average local incomes, according to analysis by Lloyds Bank that reveals how the home affordability crisis now stretches far beyond London. “The housing affordability gap has widened to its worst level in eight years,” said the Lloyds analysis, noting that the last time prices were so high was at the very top of the boom in 2008, just before the financial crisis struck. The Lloyds analysis is unique in that it compares local house prices with local earnings rather than national averages. On this measure, the worst house prices are not in London but in other parts of the south-east. Oxford is again identified as the least affordable city in the UK, with average prices at 10.68 times local earnings.

Winchester is a close second at 10.54, with London third at 10.06. Cambridge, Brighton and Bath all have prices that are now nearly 10 times local earnings, while cities such as Bristol and Southampton have prices close to eight times earnings. Wage growth has fallen far behind the rise in house prices, said Lloyds, with affordability worsening for the third successive year. The average home in a city in the UK now costs 6.6 times average local earnings, up from 6.2 last year. In the 1950s and 1960s, buyers could typically find homes with mortgages of three to four times their income. But the Lloyds figures show that there is now just one city in the UK that fits that profile: Derry in Northern Ireland. House prices in the city currently fetch 3.81 times local incomes.

While most of the “most affordable” cities in the Lloyds rankings are in the north, Scotland and Northern Ireland, buyers will still be stretched to afford a home from the local salaries on offer. Hull is widely regarded as a low house price area, yet local residents face having to pay 5.11 times average local incomes to buy a home. Meanwhile, York has joined the ranks of cities in the south in the unaffordability tables, with prices at 7.5 times incomes.

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When crazy ‘conventional’ ideas fail…

Radical Economic Ideas Grab Attention Amid Low-inflation Torpor (SMH)

Our economic guardians at Federal Treasury and the Reserve Bank sound increasingly uneasy about some policy choices being made offshore. Since the global financial crisis, quantitative easing has pumped trillions of dollars into major economies with limited success. More recently central banks in Europe and Japan have opted for negative interest rates in a bid to kick-start growth. On Tuesday the Treasury Secretary, John Fraser, pointed out that we’ve now been in an “experimental stage” with monetary policy for more than seven years. “A range of different interventions have been tried with, at least to date, mixed results,” he said. “Sadly, we will have to await the passage of years before we can pass final judgment.” What is clear, warned Fraser, is that these unusual policies “have had a pervasive and frankly quite worrying impact on the pricing of financial risk.”

Earlier this month the Reserve’s deputy governor, Philip Lowe, said it was “very rare” for central banks to worry that inflation is too low. “Yet today, we hear this concern quite often, and the ‘unconventional’ has almost become conventional,” he said. Lowe warned the abnormal monetary policies being adopted in some countries were “a complication for us” because they put upward pressure on exchange rate. But in a world where traditional economic remedies are proving ineffective a swag of other unorthodox policy suggestions are getting a hearing. One controversial option being canvassed by experts is for central banks to deliver “helicopter drops” of cash directly to citizens’ bank accounts in the hope they will spend it and revive growth. Even more radical is a proposal for governments to mandate an across-the-board pay rise for workers.

Olivier Blanchard, a former chief economist at the IMF, and Adam Posen, president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, recently recommended the Japanese government try this approach to boost growth. The Bank of England’s chief economist, Andy Haldane, raised eyebrows last September when he argued abandoning cash altogether would make it easier for central banks to manage downturns. He warned that in future it might be necessary for central banks to opt for negative interest rates when depositors are charged for putting their money in the bank in a bid to encourage spending. One problem with that strategy, however, is that people are likely to convert deposits into cash. Eliminating cash and replacing it with a government-backed digital currency would remove that option. “This would preserve the social convention of a state-issued unit of account and medium of exchange… But it would allow negative interest rates to be levied on currency easily and speedily,” Haldane said.

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A second part from the article above.

Modern Monetary Theory Has Ardent Proponents (SMH)

As central banks struggle to revive growth, attention has shifted to fiscal policy the way governments use taxation and spending to influence the economy. Even the hard-heads at the IM have advised governments, including Australia’s, to spend more especially on infrastructure. The fund’s most recent assessment of our economy said “raising public investment (financed by borrowing, thus reducing the pace of deficit reduction) would support aggregate demand, take pressure off monetary policy, and insure against downside growth risks.” Amid these debates about fiscal policy, a radical school of thought called Modern Monetary Theory, or MMT, has gained more prominence. Proponents of this theory have been on the periphery of mainstream economics for more than two decades but their profile has been raised by this year’s US presidential race.

Academic economist Stephanie Kelton , a leading advocate of MMT, is an adviser to presidential hopeful, Senator Bernie Sanders. Kelton calls herself a deficit “owl” rather than a deficit hawk or dove. The hawks, of course, have a straightforward view of government finances: deficits are bad. The doves say deficits are necessary when economic times are tough but they should be balanced by surpluses over time. But deficit owls like Kelton have a far more radical take: deficits don’t matter. The starting point for Modern Monetary Theory is that a currency issuing government can keep printing and spending money but never go broke, so long as it doesn’t borrow in a foreign currency. The Australian Commonwealth, for example, will never run out of Australian dollars because it is a monopoly issuer of that currency.

It can always create the money it needs and, therefore, will always be able to service debts. The MMTers claim that in the modern era of floating exchange rates and deregulated financial markets, governments can, and should, run deficits whenever they are needed. There is a strong moral case for this: in a modern economy, there’s no good reason to have unemployed labour or capital. For the MMTers mass unemployment is a great evil and its daily, human cost dwarfs other economic challenges. They acknowledge there are limits to government spending. Resources in the real economy can be constrained and taxes are an essential tool to ensure demand for the currency and to cool the economy if it overheats. But there’s plenty of scope for governments to print and spend money without causing inflation or triggering a financial crisis. MMTers say sophisticated modern economies like the US and Australia are in no danger of the hyper-inflation which plagued Zimbabwe last decade or Germany’s Weimar Republic in the 1930s.

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Barely functioning, politically nor economically.

Brazil Economic Woes Deepen Amid Political Crisis (WSJ)

Brazil’s economic crisis is as bad as its political one. Latin America’s biggest economy appears headed for one of its worst recessions ever. It stalled in 2014, shrank 3.8% last year and now faces a similar contraction this year. Unemployment rose to 9.5% on Thursday as wages fell 2.4%, both trends forecast to worsen. One in five young Brazilians is out of work, and Goldman Sachs says Brazil may be facing a depression. The deteriorating outlook forms a dire backdrop for Brazil’s political straits. President Dilma Rousseff, deeply unpopular, faces impeachment proceedings in Congress amid a widening corruption scandal surrounding the state oil company, Petróbras. That situation is consuming so much energy from policy makers and Congress that the economic downturn isn’t getting the attention it needs, observers say.

“The gravity of the situation is this: We have the kind of problems where if nothing is done, things will definitely get worse,” said Marcos Lisboa, a former finance ministry official who is now president of the Insper business school in São Paulo. “Pretty soon we could be talking about the solvency of the federal government.” Brazil fended off the results of the 2008 global downturn with stimulus spending, and is trying to again inject money into the economy to spur demand. In January, the Rousseff administration unveiled some $20 billion of subsidized loans from state-owned banks such as the BNDES to boost agriculture and builders of big infrastructure projects.

But this time, the country has less leeway to fund stimulus measures. Brazil’s tax take is diminishing, and the Planning Ministry said Tuesday the government needs to cut around $5.9 billion of spending to meet its budget target. On Thursday, Finance Minister Nelson Barbosa asked Congress to loosen the target to allow a bigger deficit in 2016. Some investors say stimulus policies such as cheap credits from state banks haven’t done much long-term good, because they produced big deficits and the money was often poorly invested in money-losing dams and refineries.

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“..very few people understood that an epochal change had taken place in the American economy. GDP would grow. Income wouldn’t.”

The River: America’s 40-Year Hurt (BBC)

Bruce Springsteen is coming to London with the River tour. At £170 for the cheapest pair, I can’t afford to see the Boss any more, even if my body could handle standing on Wembley Stadium’s pitch for three-and-a-half-hours in an early June drizzle. It’s interesting that Springsteen is re-exploring The River album again. Whenever the anger that simmers in America erupts and reminds the rest of the world that the country is troubled, he seems to be the cultural figure whose work offers an explanation. In late 1986, midway through Ronald Reagan’s second term of office, with the twin scourges of Aids and crack racing through American cities and New Deal ideas of economic and social fairness consumed by the Bonfire of the Vanities taking place on Wall Street, Britain’s Guardian newspaper ran an editorial that said, “for good or ill, [America] is becoming a much more foreign land”.

I had just celebrated my first anniversary as an ex-pat in London and wrote an essay trying to explain what America was like away from the places Guardian readers knew. I described the massive population dislocations that followed the long recession that had begun in the mid-70s. I referenced Springsteen. The piece ran under the headline “Torn in the USA”. Now America is going through even worse ructions. But there is nothing fundamentally new. What we are seeing is the continuation of a disintegration that began forty years ago around the time Springsteen was writing the title song of the album. The River, which came out in 1980, was very much about guys trying to kick back at father time and stave off the inevitable arrival of life’s responsibilities – wife, kids, job, mortgage – and the equally probable onset of life’s disappointments in wife, kids, job, mortgage, and in oneself.

The title track is a long, mournful story about that process and the narrator’s desire to reconnect to the person he was when younger and full of hope. “I come from down in the valley / Where mister, when you’re young / They bring you up to do/like your daddy done…” The key point is being brought up to be like your father. Work the same job, carry yourself in the same way, do the right thing. In the song this tie that binds is seen as restricting the choices you can make in life. Your daddy worked in a steel mill, you will work in a steel mill, or on the line at River Rouge, or down a mine. Today, what wouldn’t many of us give for the economic and social stability that gave resonance to Springsteen’s lyrics? A union job, 30 years of work, a pension. Sounds sweet. The narrator of the song goes on to tell us, “I got a job working construction at the Johnstown company / but lately there ain’t been much work on account of the economy.”

Springsteen based the song on the struggle of his brother-in-law to stay employed during the bleak days after the Oil Shock of 1973: a half-decade of inflation and economic stagnation. At the time this stagflation was seen as a cyclical event, the economy would rebound soon. It would be boom time for all. The economy did rebound, but then went into recession in 1982, and rebounded and went into recession at regular intervals, until the near-death experience of 2007/2008. But very few people understood that an epochal change had taken place in the American economy. GDP would grow. Income wouldn’t. Median salaried workers’ wages stagnated. Those working low-wage jobs saw their incomes decline. As for job security, a perfect storm of automation, declining union power, and free-trade agreements put an end to that.

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All the time I’m thinking someone must stand up and say ‘till here and no further’. But instead, Europe tumbles to new lows on a daily basis.

Hope Turns To Despair As Lesbos Camp Becomes Open-Air Prison (Ind.)

Even before it became a holding pen, Moria was a pretty poor registration centre, unable to provide basic facilities and painfully slow to process the thousands of refugees and migrants who arrive on the shores of Lesbos every week. But since midnight on Sunday, when the new EU-Turkey migrant deal came into force, refugees have been picked up by the coastguard and transported directly to Moria by the Greek authorities. The camp has become an open-air prison, a compound of temporary buildings on a hill overlooking the coast of this island, not far from Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. It is to here that all arrivals must wait for the news their long struggle to reach Europe will almost certainly get them no further than the Greek islands.

They will be returned to Turkey, which the EU has now declared a safe country, in its bid to stem the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War. The lightning fast implementation of the deal, signed last Friday, has stretched to the limit the capacity of the Greek government, which has no means to process the asylum claims that everyone who arrives has the right to make. Those who came looking for peace and a better life have instead found themselves locked up, and handed detention papers. In response, aid agencies have dropped out of their involvement at the centre one by one, refusing to be associated with the detention of migrants – among whom are more than 100 unaccompanied children. Oxfam this week said the development was “an offence” to Europe’s values.

“They have told us nothing,” says Naima Abdullah, 28, speaking through the chain link fence, her four-year-old daughter Mirna by her side. She paid $2,000 for herself, Mirna, and her one-month-old baby to cross the sea from Turkey after fleeing air strikes in rural Damascus three months ago. She arrived on Sunday, in the first boats after the deal came into force. But four days later, she still hadn’t been given an opportunity to register a claim for asylum. And as the numbers grow, observers worry the only possible outcome will be the mass expulsions Europe has promised to avoid. Nadine Abuasil, 25, said she came to Lesbos because life in Turkey since she fled Deraa in Syria a month ago was not worth living. Her family were blackmailed for money by local gangs, and there was no work in a country that is expensive to live in. “We cannot go back to Turkey,” she says simply.

She and her 23-year-old brother arrived on Sunday after a five hour boat journey during which two men died. They had apparently suffocated. She points to the ground of the detention centre. “We would rather die here than in Turkey.” Her brother, Mohammed, was no less emphatic when asked what he’d do if he was forced to return. “I don’t speak English,” he says. “But: kill myself, kill myself.” The deal has been decried by human rights groups and legal experts who question if Turkey can be considered a safe third country for the forcible return of migrants, and if Greece, which has floundered under the pressure of more than one million refugees arrivals in the past year, is capable of processing asylum claims – even with promised outside help.

“Greece has effectively been asked to build an asylum system in two weeks,” says Camino Mortera, a research fellow for the Centre for European Reform and a specialist in EU law. “The EU claims there won’t be returns en masse but if you are not able to process people in a regulated fashion, how else are they going to deal with this?”

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