May 102018
 
 May 10, 2018  Posted by at 9:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Gauguin Road in Tahiti 1891

 

Beware of the Coming Economic Debt Bomb (Tanous)
Argentina Looks To Be Headed For Another Economic Storm (CNBC)
At Last, A Reason To Celebrate: House Prices Are Falling (G.)
RBS Reaches $4.9 Billion Deal To Settle US Mortgage Bond Probe (R.)
The Deep State First (Stockman)
Turkey Detains Dozens Of Air Force Personnel Over Gulen Links (R.)
Did Putin Green-Light Tonight’s Massive Israeli Strikes On Syria? (ZH)
Trump Welcomes Home Three Americans Released By North Korea (G.)
Democrats’ Lead Is Slipping In Generic Ballot Poll (Hill)
Is Capitalism a Threat to Democracy?
Bullshit Jobs: Why They Exist And Why You Might Have One (Vox)

 

 

“..over half of all personal income taxes will be required just to service the national debt.”

Beware of the Coming Economic Debt Bomb (Tanous)

In 2009, the year President Obama took office, the national debt held by the public was $7.27 trillion. At the end of fiscal 2016, that had soared to approximately $14 trillion. Given that our marketable debt doubled from 2009 to 2016, it’s remarkable that the annual cost of the interest on the debt rose far less, from $185 billion to $223 billion. The long march of rising rates that began recently is a dramatic reversal after nearly 40-years of declining interest rates. The new trend portends a return to more historic rates. You may be asking: what are the historic rates? We calculate that the average rate paid on the federal debt over the last 30 years was close to 5%. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has just raised its estimate that debt held by the public will rise to $17.8 trillion in 2020.

Some economists believe that the figure will be much higher. For our exercise though, let’s stick with the CBO estimate. We are postulating that the interest rate on our national debt may return to the long-term, 30-year average of 5%. Note, too, that Treasury debt rolls over every 3 to 4 years so the maturing bonds at low interest rates will be refinanced at the then current higher rates. Let’s do the math together. Take the CBO estimate of debt held by the public of $17.8 trillion in 2020, a 5% average interest on that amount comes to annual debt service of $891 billion, an unfathomable amount. (In 2017, interest on the debt held by the public was $458.5 billion, itself a scary number.)

In its current report, the CBO added: “It also reflects significant growth in interest costs, which are projected to grow more quickly than any other major component of the budget.” Here’s the danger: • According to CBO, individual income taxes produced $1.6 trillion in revenue in fiscal year 2017. • Under this 2020 scenario, over half of all personal income taxes will be required just to service the national debt. • Annual debt service in 2020 will exceed our newly increased defense budget of $700 billion in FY 2018. • Annual debt service would exceed our Social Security obligations.

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[The IMF] “..admitted shortly after the intervention that its support to keep the peso’s peg against the dollar prolonged the crisis in the country.”

Argentina Looks To Be Headed For Another Economic Storm (CNBC)

Argentina has started talks with the IMF seeking financial rescue once again, as inflation soars and the currency sinks. Buenos Aires looks to be going through another economic nightmare, with prices rising rapidly while the Argentine peso drops. The central bank announced last week another increase in rates to 40% — as the 12-month inflation rate hit 25.4%, above its 15% target. At the same time, since the start of the year, the peso is down by more than 20% against the U.S. dollar. [..] Asking for help from the Fund is a contentious issue for the country. Back in 2001, Argentina defaulted on $132 billion of foreign debt. The Washington-based institution, which was helping the country at the time, admitted shortly after the intervention that its support to keep the peso’s peg against the dollar prolonged the crisis in the country.

Following Macri’s announcement Tuesday, several people protested against a new IMF intervention, still traumatized by the economic collapse at the start of the century, Reuters reported. “The IMF has a terrible reputation among Argentinians, and so this is a big political gamble for the government,” Fiona Mackie, regional director for Latin America at the Economist Intelligence Unit, told CNBC via email. “At present, though, (the government) clearly sees the need to regain the confidence of markets as more pressing, and is hoping that its program of adjustment gets back on track in time for the presidential election late next year,” she added.

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“The Germans are right. Ever-rising house prices are a curse. They are bad for social mobility. They are bad for young people. And they are bad for the economy. ”

At Last, A Reason To Celebrate: House Prices Are Falling (G.)

The housing market is dead. Britain’s biggest mortgage lender, the Halifax, says that prices fell in April by 3.1%, the biggest monthly drop in almost eight years. Newspapers bury this disastrous news way back in their editions for fear that it will spread gloom and despondency. We need to wean ourselves off this way of thinking. Falling house prices are not disastrous, and only in a country with such a perverted relationship with bricks and mortar could they be seen as such. In Germany, they scratch their heads in bemusement when they hear Britons boast of how the value of their house has soared. The Germans are right. Ever-rising house prices are a curse. They are bad for social mobility. They are bad for young people. And they are bad for the economy.

The billions that are spent pushing up property prices could be more productively invested elsewhere. Imagine for a second that the next time you went to the train station the rail operating company had unexpectedly cut fares by 5%. Or that when doing your weekly shop you discovered that the supermarket had slashed your normal bill by £10. Would you think this was an unwelcome development? Daft question. Of course you would be happy, because your money would go further. Conversely, you would be less than chuffed to find more of your pay being spent on getting to work or putting food on the table. That’s why there are no headlines in the papers screaming “Boom-boom Britain: joy for commuters as rail fares rise by 10% for third year in a row”, or “Good news for families as supermarkets add £10 a week to the average shop”.

The papers stand up for their readers when they think they are being gouged by train companies and supermarkets. They stick up for buyers rather than sellers. But different rules apply to property. If the average house price had risen rather than fallen by £7,000 in April, that would have been front-page news and hailed as a sign that all was well with the economy. The papers tend to side with owner-occupiers rather than the buyers of property getting the rough end of the deal. This fetishisation of rising house prices is relatively recent. For the first 25 years after the second world war, a combination of mass housebuilding and strict controls on credit meant that the cost of property rose only modestly.

But since 1970, financial deregulation, much lower levels of housebuilding and a tax system heavily weighted in favour of owner-occupation have meant demand for housing in parts of the country has tended to outstrip supply. There have been four big house-price booms – the early 1970s, the late 80s, the mid 00s and the mid 10s. None of them have ended well.

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No criminal charges.

RBS Reaches $4.9 Billion Deal To Settle US Mortgage Bond Probe (R.)

The British state-backed bank said that $3.46 billion of the proposed civil settlement will be covered by existing provisions and the bank will take a $1.44 billion incremental charge in 2018’s second quarter to cover the rest. The accord would resolve a major issue that has weighed on the company’s share price and complicated the UK government’s plan to sell down its more than 70 percent stake in the bank. RBS Chief Executive Ross McEwan called the deal a “milestone.” “Removing the uncertainty over the scale of this settlement means that the investment case for this bank is much clearer,” he said in a statement.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts, which led the probe, confirmed it had reached an agreement in principle with RBS that would resolve potential civil claims related to mortgage-backed securities that were issued from 2005 to 2008. “Further details remain to be negotiated, however, before a formal agreement can be reached,” the office said. The implosion of markets for risky residential mortgage-backed securities and related derivatives contributed to the 2008 global financial crisis and prompted a series of investigations by authorities including the Justice Department. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts had also been conducting a criminal investigation into RBS and former employees who were involved in structuring and selling the securities.

But the settlement that RBS and the office disclosed on Thursday was only civil in nature, signaling no criminal charges were likely to result. RBS previously agreed in July 2017 to pay $5.5 billion to resolve a lawsuit by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the conservator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, claiming it misled the U.S. mortgage giants into buying mortgage-backed securities. It resolved similar claims by the National Credit Union Administration related to mortgage-backed securities RBS sold to credit unions that later failed for $1.1 billion in 2016.

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“The mere threat of a military attack from the White House is madness because it arises from blatant lies that have absolutely nothing to do with US national security..”

The Deep State First (Stockman)

At his so-called Cabinet meeting this morning, the Donald basically threatened Iran with annihilation if it does what 15 other signatories to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) do every day: Namely, increase production of industrial grade nuclear fuel (3.5%-5.0% purity) at its enrichment plant at Natanz—which, in any event, is crawling with IAEA inspectors. Moreover, it really doesn’t matter whether Trump was play-acting in the style of Art of the Deal or that the JPAOC could be improved. The mere threat of a military attack from the White House is madness because it arises from blatant lies that have absolutely nothing to do with US national security. Nor, for that matter, the security of any other country in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Israel.

The real purpose of the Donald’s missile-rattling is nothing more than helping Bibi Netanyahu keep his coalition of right wing religious and settler parties (Likud, United Torah Judaism, Shas, Kulanu and the Jewish Home) together, thereby maintaining his slim 61-vote majority in the 120-seat Knesset. Netanyahu’s malefic political glue is the utterly false claim that Iran is an “existential threat” to Israel because it is hell-bent on getting the bomb. But that’s where the whopper comes in. It amounts to the ridiculous postulate that Iran is so fiendishly evil that if it is involved in the nuclear fuel cycle in any way, shape or form – presumably even just operating a uranium mine – it is only a matter of months before it will have a bomb.

As a matter of record, of course, Netanyahu has been saying this since the early 1990s and he has always been wrong because there were never any facts or logic to support his blatant fear-mongering.

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Madman,

Turkey Detains Dozens Of Air Force Personnel Over Gulen Links (R.)

Turkish police detained 65 suspects on Thursday in an operation targeting air force personnel accused of links to the U.S.-based preacher whom Ankara says orchestrated an attempted coup in 2016, state-run Anadolu news agency said. Prosecutors issued arrest warrants for a total 96 people, of which 91 were from the air force, and police were still seeking the remaining suspects in an operation focused on the western city of Izmir and spread across 15 provinces, it said. The suspects were said to have ties to the cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose network is accused of being behind the failed putsch in July 2016, during which 250 people were killed. Gulen has denied involvement.

In a separate operation, an Ankara prosecutor on Thursday issued detention warrants for 93 employees of a private tutoring center that was previously closed down on suspicion of links to Gulen’s network, Anadolu said. Turkish authorities have detained 160,000 people and dismissed nearly the same number of civil servants since the failed military intervention, the U.N. human rights office said in March. Among those detained, more than 50,000 have been formally charged and kept in jail during their trials.

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Hmmm…

Did Putin Green-Light Tonight’s Massive Israeli Strikes On Syria? (ZH)

Just off a 10-hour visit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, and less than a day after Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday he doesn’t expect Russia to act against Israeli forces as they continue exchanging fire with Syria. It appears the meeting wrapped up at the very moments a major escalation began along the Golan Heights, with both Syria and Israel trading blame for an initial attack which quickly escalated into Israeli cruise missile launches and shelling on targets in southern Syria and notably, on Damascus itself. The question remains, did Putin give Netanyahu the green light for tonight’s events?

If it wasn’t clear over the past weeks and months of unprovoked Israeli strikes on Syria—ostensibly to roll back Iranian troop presence—then it should be very clear by now that Syria, Israel, and Iran are now in a state of war and all signs point to a continued intensification of the conflict. And crucially, there’s currently no sign that Russia came to the aid of its close ally as rockets rained down on Damascus overnight. Russia has routinely looked the other way while Israel has conducted, by its own admission, over one hundred major strikes on Syria—most of which have come after Russian intervention on behalf of Assad in 2015. As Reuters reported late in the day Wednesday, Netanyahu told reporters just before departing Moscow: “Given what is happening in Syria at this very moment, there is a need to ensure the continuation of military coordination between the Russian military and the Israel Defence Forces.”

The Russians and Israelis coordinate their actions through a direct military hotline intended to avoid accidental clashes which could lead to escalation between the two countries. A reportedly “upbeat” Netanyahu further said, “”In previous meetings, given statements that were putatively attributed to – or were made by – the Russian side, it was meant to have limited our freedom of action or harm other interests and that didn’t happen, and I have no basis to think that this time will be different.” Thus it appears Israel may have been given a green light by Putin to engage targets in Syria, however, at this point it is unclear what limitations or restrictions Putin may have issued, if any at all.

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Victory.

Trump Welcomes Home Three Americans Released By North Korea (G.)

Three Americans released by North Korea have landed in the US under cover of darkness, with Donald Trump waiting on the tarmac to greet their plane. The three men emerged from a US government plane, flashing peace signs high above their heads. A huge US flag hung between two fire trucks served as a backdrop against the night sky. “I want to thank Kim Jong-un,” Trump said. “I think he wants to do something and bring that country into the real world.” “We didn’t think this was going to happen, and it did. It was very important to all of us,” he said, referring to the prisoner release. “The true honour will be if we have a victory in getting rid of nuclear weapons.” The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, flew to Pyongyang for a surprise one-day visit on Wednesday, when he met the North Korean leader and secured the release of the three men.

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What do Democrats stand for?

Democrats’ Lead Is Slipping In Generic Ballot Poll (Hill)

The lead held by Democrats over Republicans on generic ballot polls ahead of the 2018 midterm elections is beginning to slip, a new CNN poll suggests. Overall, 31% of respondents in a poll released Wednesday told CNN that they believe the country would be better off with Democrats in control of Congress, while 30% said Republicans should hold the reins. However, the largest proportion of respondents, at 34%, said it makes no difference to them who is in charge. Among registered voters asked whether they would vote Democratic or Republican in their congressional district if the elections were held today, Democrats had a three-point advantage, at 44% to 41%, which is within the poll’s margin of error.

Democrats have seen a steady decline in their advantage over Republicans in recent months, according to CNN polling, falling from a 16-point advantage in February to a 6-point one in March, to just a 3-point lead this week, roughly six months away from the midterm elections. An ABC News/Washington Post poll similarly found last month that Democrats’ lead over Republicans among registered voters was only 4 points, at 47% to 43%, down from a 12-point lead the poll found Democrats held in January. Democrats still have an edge in enthusiasm, according to CNN. Among respondents who said they are excited to vote in November, more plan to vote Democratic than Republican, at 53% to 41%.

But enthusiasm does seem to be growing among GOP voters. According to the CNN poll, 44% of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters said they were “very enthusiastic” about voting, which is a jump from 36% in March. [..] President Trump’s own job approval has increased recently, with his approval rating at 41% in the CNN poll and his approval over his handling of the economy at 52%.

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On Polanyi.

Is Capitalism a Threat to Democracy?

In a sweeping, angry new book, “Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism?” (Norton), the journalist, editor, and Brandeis professor Robert Kuttner champions Polanyi as a neglected prophet. Like Polanyi, he believes that free markets can be crueller than citizens will tolerate, inflicting a distress that he thinks is making us newly vulnerable to the fascist solution. In Kuttner’s description, however, today’s political impasse is different from that of the nineteen-thirties. It is being caused not by a stalemate between leftist governments and a reactionary business sector but by leftists in government who have reneged on their principles.

Since the demise of the Soviet Union, Kuttner contends, America’s Democrats, Britain’s Labour Party, and many of Europe’s social democrats have consistently tacked rightward, relinquishing concern for ordinary workers and embracing the power of markets; they have sided with corporations and investors so many times that, by now, workers no longer feel represented by them. When strongmen arrived promising jobs and a shared sense of purpose, working-class voters were ready for the message.

[..] Polanyi starts “The Great Transformation” by giving capitalism its due. For all but eighteen months of the century prior to the First World War, he writes, a web of international trade and investment kept peace among Europe’s great powers. Money crossed borders easily, thanks to the gold standard, a promise by each nation’s central bank to sell gold at a fixed price in its own currency. This both harmonized trade between countries and stabilized relative currency values. If a nation started to sell more goods than it bought, gold streamed in, expanding the money supply, heating up the economy, and raising prices high enough to discourage foreign buyers—at which point, in a correction so smooth it almost seemed natural, exports sank back down to pre-boom levels.

The trouble was that the system could be gratuitously cruel. If a country went into a recession or its currency weakened, the only remedy was to attract foreign money by forcing prices down, cutting government spending, or raising interest rates—which, in effect, meant throwing people out of work. “No private suffering, no restriction of sovereignty, was deemed too great a sacrifice for the recovery of monetary integrity,” Polanyi wrote. The system was sustainable politically only as long as those whose lives it ruined didn’t have a say. But, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the right to vote spread. In the twenties and thirties, governments began trying to protect citizens’ jobs from shifts in international prices by raising tariffs, so that, in the system’s final years, it hardened national borders instead of opening them, and engendered what Polanyi called a “new crustacean type of nation,” which turned away from international trade, making first one world war, and then another, inevitable.

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More Graeber. Most jobs are bullshit.

Bullshit Jobs: Why They Exist And Why You Might Have One (Vox)

Corporate lawyers. Most corporate lawyers secretly believe that if there were no longer any corporate lawyers, the world would probably be a better place. The same is true of public relations consultants, telemarketers, brand managers, and countless administrative specialists who are paid to sit around, answer phones, and pretend to be useful. A lot of bullshit jobs are just manufactured middle-management positions with no real utility in the world, but they exist anyway in order to justify the careers of the people performing them. But if they went away tomorrow, it would make no difference at all. And that’s how you know a job is bullshit: If we suddenly eliminated teachers or garbage collectors or construction workers or law enforcement or whatever, it would really matter. We’d notice the absence.

But if bullshit jobs go away, we’re no worse off. [..] We’re all taught that people want something for nothing, which makes it easy to shame poor people and denigrate the welfare system, because everyone is lazy at heart and just wants to mooch off other people. But the truth is that a lot of people are being handed a lot of money to do nothing. This is true for most of these middle-management positions I’m talking about, and the people doing these jobs are completely unhappy because they know their work is bullshit. I think most people really do want to believe that they’re contributing to the world in some way, and if you deny that to them, they go crazy or become quietly miserable.

[..] You expect this outcome with a Soviet-style system, where you have to have full employment so you make up jobs whether a need exists or not. But this shouldn’t happen in a free market system. I think one of the reasons is there’s huge political pressure to create jobs coming from all directions. We accept the idea that rich people are job creators, and the more jobs we have, the better. It doesn’t matter if those jobs do something useful; we just assume that more jobs is better no matter what. We’ve created a whole class of flunkies that essentially exist to improve the lives of actual rich people. Rich people throw money at people who are paid to sit around, add to their glory, and learn to see the world from the perspective of the executive class.

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Nov 302016
 
 November 30, 2016  Posted by at 11:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Wyland Stanley Bulletin press car: Mitchell auto at Yosemite National Park 1920

OK, I get it: Companies Clamor for Cheap Labor, Fed Delivers (WS)
Trump Notches a Win as Carrier Agrees to Keep 1,000 Jobs in U.S.
Asia Is About to Face a Significant Dollar Stress Test (BBG)
Property Bubble ‘Most Important Macro Issue In China’ – Deutsche (BI)
China’s Foreign Investment ‘Shopping Spree’ Over?! (SCMP)
RBS Fails Bank Of England Stress Test (Ind.)
UK Shoppers ‘Resolutely Gloomy’ About The Future Of The Economy (Ind.)
The ‘Washington Post’ ‘Blacklist’ Story Is Shameful and Disgusting (Taibbi)
US Intelligence Experts Urge Obama To End Snowden’s ‘Untenable Exile’ (G.)
The End Of Empires: Rome Vs. America (SHTFP)
The Rediscovery of Men (Jim Kunstler)
Major Global Firms Buy Indonesia Palm Oil Produced By Child Labor (R.)
North Dakota Moves To Block Supplies From Reaching Pipeline Protesters (R.)
The Areas America Could Abandon First (BBG)
Turkey Has Secret Plan To Send 3,000 Refugees To Greece Every Day (Ind.)

 

 

Makes it easier to bring jobs back home, too.

OK, I get it: Companies Clamor for Cheap Labor, Fed Delivers (WS)

Despite all the frothy excitement about the stock market’s new highs, and the drooling today over the new highs reached by Housing Bubble 2, exceeding the prior crazy highs of Housing Bubble 1 even according to the Case-Shiller Index, and despite eight years of super-low interest rates, and a million other things that are hyped constantly, median household incomes, the crux of the real economy, is still a dreary affair. Sentier Research released its median household income measure for October today. Adjusted for inflation, it edged up 0.6% from a year ago to $57,929. But it’s down 1.3% from January 2008, and it’s down 1.5% from its peak in 2002. It has fallen 0.5% since January. That’s not a propitious trend. The report put it this way: “Median annual household income in 2016 has not been able to maintain the momentum that it achieved during 2015.” This chart by Doug Short shows the stagnating inflation-adjusted debacle (blue line) and the nominal income (red line):

[..] Even minuscule but consistent understatement of CPI in relationship to actual price changes as experienced by the median household wreaks havoc on their inflation-adjusted income. Since 2000, official inflation has amounted to 42%. If CPI is understated by just a fraction every year, multiplied by 16 years, it would knock several%age points off real median household income. This translates into reduced purchasing power, which is exactly what many people have been experiencing. This whole affair – the devious impact of inflation on household income – becomes even clearer in this chart by Doug Short at Advisor Perspectives. It shows the% change over time, starting in 2000: The beautifully soaring illusion of nominal income (red line), and the dreary reality of wage stagnation or worse, after inflation (blue line):

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Not even a rounding error, but it gets more headlines than jobs are saved.

Trump Notches a Win as Carrier Agrees to Keep 1,000 Jobs in U.S.

Carrier agreed to keep about 1,000 jobs at an Indiana factory that had been set to move to Mexico, marking a victory for President-elect Donald Trump on an issue that had become a rallying cry during his campaign. “We are pleased to have reached a deal” with Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence to keep the work in the U.S., Carrier said Tuesday in a tweet. Trump tweeted that he’ll travel to Indiana on Thursday to make the announcement. Carrier said earlier this year it would move the furnace plant’s operations, eliminating 1,400 U.S. jobs, to keep production costs competitive.

The decision garnered national notice after a worker’s cell-phone video of the announcement to employees took off on social media and generated criticism of Carrier parent United Technologies, which is also a major defense contractor that supplies engines for U.S. fighter jets. Trump, as well as Democratic U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, seized on the announcement and used the company in their presidential campaigns as an example of how U.S. workers were being hurt by trade deals. In April, Trump said he would impose a hefty tax on Carrier’s Mexican-made products and “within 24 hours, they’re going to call back: ‘Mr. President, we’ve decided to stay. We’re coming back to Indianapolis.’”

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When the reserve currency stops flowing, beware.

Asia Is About to Face a Significant Dollar Stress Test (BBG)

For Asian markets, 2017 could be the year of the dollar crunch. Foreign portfolio flows have taken a sharp downturn since Donald Trump’s election victory, with $15 billion fleeing Asian bonds and stocks this month alone — close to 30% of year-to-date inflows to the region, according to Deutsche Bank — as a strengthening greenback and a bevy of protectionist policies from the president-elect darken the growth prospects for emerging markets. Lending spreads, domestic demand and the resolve of domestic central banks to offset liquidity shortages will be tested next year, analysts warn, as key sources of dollar flows to the region trade and portfolio inflows may unravel if Trump makes good on his key campaign proposals.

A slew of investment banks this week, including Deutsche Bank, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Societe Generale, reckon the pain for emerging markets will intensify in 2017, citing, in part, the rising cost of servicing dollar debts amid a strengthening greenback relative to local currencies, and higher Fed policy rates. “The [debt-servicing] challenge looks even fiercer for non-US borrowers who have borrowed in dollars — dollar strength will make it harder to repay the debt,” SocGen analysts, led by Brigitte Richard-Hidden, wrote in a report on Tuesday. “There are plenty of them, as the outstanding dollar-denominated credit to the rest of the world has more than doubled over the past 10 years to nearly $10 trillion,” analysts at the French bank conclude. “EM countries and corporations in particular have been keen on borrowing in dollars ([to the tune of] $3.2 trillion).”

At the heart of the challenge, according to analysts: a tighter U.S. trade position with the region in the coming years, which would shrink the pool of dollars floating overseas and make it harder for emerging markets to settle cross-border trade and service hard-currency debts. “Each of these sources of dollars – whether from trade, portfolio flows or debt issuance – could be at risk in the new post-election regime,” Deutsche Bank strategists, led by Mallika Sachdeva, wrote in a research note on Monday. “This could mean a reduction in trade surpluses in the region: exports could suffer from protectionist efforts.”

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Much of the world is a Chinese property bubble, especially major cities.

Property Bubble ‘Most Important Macro Issue In China’ – Deutsche (BI)

China’s debt-fuelled property boom, and potential bust, will be one of the biggest issues facing the country’s policymakers in 2017, according to Deutsche Bank. Deutsche Bank economists, led by Zhiwei Zhang and Li Zeng, said the real estate bubble is “the most important macro issue in China,” in a note to clients. They point to rapid hikes in land sales and auction prices, as well as mounting debt levels, as needing attention. Land sales accounted for more than a third of local government revenue, Deutsche Bank said, and mortgages made up 43% of all new loans issued in renminbi. The difference between the starting price and final price in land auctions continues to rise rapidly and “this shows some developers continue to expect sharp property price inflation to come,” the analysts said. Here’s the chart:

And here’s the debt chart showing sharp increases for this year:

“Chinese policymakers are aware the market risks overheating and will act accordingly.” “In the next few months we believe the government will put further pressure on developers by tightening broad credit growth,” Zhang and Zeng said. “Property sales and investment growth will likely slow further in 2017Q1. Local government land revenue may weaken by 2017Q2.” On Monday analysts at Morgan Stanley raised the alarm about increased household borrowing, led by mortgages, in a note to clients. China’s debt to GDP rose to 276% in the third quarter this year from 249% in 2015. “This has been mainly driven by a rapid rise in new mortgages from RMB 1.7 trillion in 2014 to RMB 4.6 trillion in the past 12 months,” according to a note circulated to clients. With the debt overhang growing, the economic benefits of borrowing more are shrinking. It took nearly eight units of debt to produce one unit of GDP growth in 2016, compared with around four in 2014.

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Want to bet?

China’s Foreign Investment ‘Shopping Spree’ Over?! (SCMP)

The central government is embarking on a massive policy shift designed stem capital outflow by curbing mainland China’s outbound investment, sources informed of official instructions have told the South China Morning Post. Tighter control of outbound investment is likely to put an end to a trophy asset shopping spree by well-connected companies such as Anbang Insurance and Dalian Wanda, with Beijing is ready to cut the supply of foreign exchange for such deals. Shanghai’s municipal foreign exchange authority had told bank managers in the city that all overseas payments under the capital account bigger than US$5 million would have to be submitted to Beijing for special clearance before proceeding, the sources said. China’s central bank talks up the yuan against US dollar ‘uncertainties’

While the move did not necessarily mean all such deals would be vetoed, the regulatory procedures that would have to be navigated before completing them would take much longer, the sources said. A separate document seen by the Post, said to be the minutes of a central bank meeting on cross-border capital controls, said that from September next year Beijing would ban deals involving investment of more than US$10 billion, mergers and acquisitions valued at more than US$1 billion outside a Chinese investor’s core business, and foreign real estate deals by state-owned enterprises involving more than US$1 billion. [..] Mainland China’s foreign exchange reserves have fallen by US$873 billion since hitting an all-time high of US$3.99 trillion in June 2014. The reserves fell by US$46 billion last month, the largest monthly fall since January, but that understates the size of mainland China’s capital flight because residents are also moving yuan assets abroad.

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It’ll be allowed to blunder on. TBTF.

RBS Fails Bank Of England Stress Test (Ind.)

The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has failed key hurdles in a Bank of England stress test, forcing the lender to draw up new plans in case of a financial crisis. The toughest stress test yet assessed how the UK’s seven biggest lenders would cope with hypothetical scenarios including a recession, a housing crash and a halving of the oil price. RBS, which is still 73% owned by the government after its bailout in 2008, has emerged as the worst hit in the annual health check of the banking system. This means the lender must take action to protect itself against a sharp slump in the economy. RBS has issued a plan intended to bolster its financial strength by an estimated £2bn, which has been accepted by the BoE.

The bank has also reduced its “risky” assets by £10.4bn or 21% to £38.6bn. Ewen Stevenson, RBS chief financial officer, said the bank is committed to creating a “stronger, simpler and safer” bank for their customers and their shareholders. He said: “We have taken further important steps in 2016 to enhance our capital strength, but we recognise that we have more to do to restore the bank’s stress resilience including resolving outstanding legacy issues.” Barclays and Standard Chartered also struggled under the test, however neither was required to submit a revised capital plan. The test also covered HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, Santander and Nationwide.They did not reveal any capital inadequacies in the test, the BoE said.

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“the big theme is the reduced confidence in the UK economy looking back and ahead..”

UK Shoppers ‘Resolutely Gloomy’ About The Future Of The Economy (Ind.)

Shoppers are now “resolutely gloomy” about the country’s economic future and are putting off big purchases as uncertainty mounts, according to a respected survey. The GfK Consumer Confidence Barometer, which surveys 2,000 people, recorded a measure of –22 for confidence in the economy over the next year, down from -17 in October and –9 in September. A negative number means more people think things will get worse than vice versa. Major purchases took the biggest hit according to the report, with the index falling 9 points from 14 in October to 5 in November. People’s view of their personal financial situation over the next twelve months also fell. However, both measures are above their respective post-referendum nadirs.

Spending has so far kept up as buyers stock up on Christmas gifts but the prospect of sharply increasing prices, stagnant wages and further uncertainty over access to the UK’s single market have all weighed heavily on shoppers’ expectations over the past month. Earlier in November, the Bank of England made a dramatic rise to its inflation forecast, predicting it will almost triple from 1% to 2.7% in 2017 as the effects of a weakened pound are felt. National Institute for Economic and Social Research was even more pessimistic, saying it expected inflation to quadruple to about 4% in the second half of next year. Joe Staton, Head of Market Dynamics at GfK, said, “the big theme is the reduced confidence in the UK economy looking back and ahead. We are viewing our economy over the past 12 months with increasing despondency.” Staton said that “despite strong GDP numbers”, shoppers are “resolutely gloomy about the outlook” for the economy.

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Me, I’m wondering where we are when everyone feels compelled to comment on such obvious nonsense. This morning when going through the news I kept on seeing photos of Trump and Romney having dinner. What’s the news? What’s the value? Don’t these people have more important things to do than to report on that?

The ‘Washington Post’ ‘Blacklist’ Story Is Shameful and Disgusting (Taibbi)

Last week, a technology reporter for the Washington Post named Craig Timberg ran an incredible story. It has no analog that I can think of in modern times. Headlined “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say,” the piece promotes the work of a shadowy group that smears some 200 alternative news outlets as either knowing or unwitting agents of a foreign power, including popular sites like Truthdig and Naked Capitalism. The thrust of Timberg’s astonishingly lazy report is that a Russian intelligence operation of some kind was behind the publication of a “hurricane” of false news reports during the election season, in particular stories harmful to Hillary Clinton. The piece referenced those 200 websites as “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda.”

The piece relied on what it claimed were “two teams of independent researchers,” but the citing of a report by the longtime anticommunist Foreign Policy Research Institute was really window dressing. The meat of the story relied on a report by unnamed analysts from a single mysterious “organization” called PropOrNot – we don’t know if it’s one person or, as it claims, over 30 – a “group” that seems to have been in existence for just a few months. It was PropOrNot’s report that identified what it calls “the list” of 200 offending sites. Outlets as diverse as AntiWar.com, LewRockwell.com and the Ron Paul Institute were described as either knowingly directed by Russian intelligence, or “useful idiots” who unwittingly did the bidding of foreign masters.

Forget that the Post offered no information about the “PropOrNot” group beyond that they were “a collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds.” Forget also that the group offered zero concrete evidence of coordination with Russian intelligence agencies, even offering this remarkable disclaimer about its analytic methods: “Please note that our criteria are behavioral. … For purposes of this definition it does not matter … whether they even knew they were echoing Russian propaganda at any particular point: If they meet these criteria, they are at the very least acting as bona-fide ‘useful idiots’ of the Russian intelligence services, and are worthy of further scrutiny.”

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How long would he remain alive though?

US Intelligence Experts Urge Obama To End Snowden’s ‘Untenable Exile’ (G.)

The campaign to persuade Barack Obama to allow the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden to return home to the US without facing prolonged prison time has received powerful new backing from some of the most experienced intelligence experts in the country. Fifteen former staff members of the Church committee, the 1970s congressional investigation into illegal activity by the CIA and other intelligence agencies, have written jointly to Obama calling on him to end Snowden’s “untenable exile in Russia, which benefits nobody”. Over eight pages of tightly worded argument, they remind the president of the positive debate that Snowden’s disclosures sparked – prompting one of the few examples of truly bipartisan legislative change in recent years.

They also remind Obama of the long record of leniency that has been shown by his own and previous administrations towards those who have broken secrecy laws. They even recall how their own Church committee revealed that six US presidents, from Franklin Roosevelt to Richard Nixon, were guilty of abusing secret powers. “There is no question that Snowden broke the law. But previous cases in which others violated the same law suggest leniency. And most importantly, Snowden’s actions were not for personal benefit, but were intended to spur reform. And they did so,” the signatories write. The Church committee, or the US Senate select committee to study government operations with respect to intelligence activities, to give it its full name, sat in 1975-76 at a time of deep public anxiety about the rogue work of federal agencies.

The aftershocks of Watergate were still being felt, and Seymour Hersh had exposed in the New York Times mass illegal activities by the CIA, including routine surveillance of anti-war groups. As the 15 staff members point out, the committee investigation led to the disclosure of jaw-dropping illegal acts including the planting of an FBI informant inside the civil rights group the NAACP, attempts to push Martin Luther King into killing himself, and Cointelpro, the vast program run secretly by the FBI to disrupt progressive organisations in the US.

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Great little history lesson. Whether or not to agree with the assumptions behind it is another matter.

The End Of Empires: Rome Vs. America (SHTFP)

The year was 451, and the battle of Chalons (also known as Catalaunian Fields and Campus Martius) was fought between a coalition of Roman legionnaires, Germanic Visigoths, and Gauls against the Huns. Flavius Aetius was the Roman commanding general, and he led his forces to defeat Attila, king of the Huns and commander of the Hun armies. The loss caused Attila to withdraw and skirmish into Italy, but again (this time through diplomacy and concessions) he withdrew in 452, returning into what is now modern Hungary. Attila died in 453, and the Hun menace to Europe had ended. Aetius had been the declining (and fragmented) Western Roman Empire’s best chance to restructure itself. He had fought in Gaul and throughout Italy and Europe for decades, sometimes even with support from the Huns before Attila began his quest for empire.

A master strategist, tactician, diplomat, and warrior, he effectively stemmed the collapse of the Western Roman Empire for another 25 years. In all probability, he may have been able to turn things around for a longer period of time. This was not to be, as he was assassinated by none other than the Emperor Valentinian III and his henchman Heraclius on 22 September 454. The emperor killed the very man who had protected and assured his throne, and worse: now there was no true strategist to take the reins of military command. The last great Roman general was no more, and the Western Roman Empire continued to decline and fragment. [..] Less than 25 years after the battle of Chalons had given it a fighting chance, the Western Roman Empire was no more. [..]And here we are, as history repeats itself, in the last days of the American Empire.

Now ready to assume the Purple and ascend to the seat of power, Donald Trump is going to command and lead (we hope). The campaigns for the midterm elections will begin in November of 2017, therefore Trump has less than one year to begin to reverse the devastation wrought by two consecutive Obama terms that have, in eight years, placed the country on its deathbed and measured it for burial. In a four-year term of office, Donald Trump has to do the job that Aetius did for Rome in two decades, with the last year of that term being wasted on the primary focus of his reelection. What is the difference between Rome and America? A vast geographical area, influxes of alien migrants, an economy that is faltering, a military less than at its best, immorality, vice, and corruption at every turn, societal degradation and a welfare state, and foreign nations ready to pounce characterize both empires.

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“Hillary Clinton’s campaign was engineered from the get-go to complete the demolition of American manhood..”

The Rediscovery of Men (Jim Kunstler)

Donald Trump was about as far from my sense of the male ideal as anything short of the Golem. His accomplishments in life — developing hotels that look like bowling trophies and producing moronic TV shows — seem as flimsy as the plastic golden heraldry plastered on his casinos. His knowledge of the world appears to be on the level of a fifth grader. He can barely string together two coherent sentences off-teleprompter. I was as astonished as anyone by the disclosure of his “grab them by the pussy” courtship advice to little Billy Bush. In my experience, it seemed a very poor strategy for scoring some action, to say the least. In a better world — perhaps even the America he imagines to have been great once — Donald Trump would be a kind of freak among men, a joke, a parody of masculinity.

But then consider the freak show that American culture has become in our time and it shouldn’t be surprising that a cartoon nation has ended up with a cartoon of a man as head-of-state. In fact, I doubt that there even is any remaining collective idea of what it means to be a man here in terms of the ancient virtues. Honor? Dignity? Patience? Prudence? Fuhgeddabowdit. The cultural memory of all that has been erased. The apotheosis of Trump may remind a few people of all that has been lost, but we’re starting from nearly zero in the recovery of it. Consider also the caliber of the male persons who stepped into the arena last spring when the election spectacle kicked off. Only Bernie Sanders came close to representing honorable manhood — in the form of your irascible old “socialist” uncle from Brooklyn — while the rest of them acted like Elmer Fudd, Mighty Mouse, and Woody Woodpecker. And then when the primary elections ended, Bernie drove a wooden stake into his own heart in a bizarre act of political hara-kiri.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign was engineered from the get-go to complete the demolition of American manhood in what turned out to be a reckless miscalculation. “I’m with her (and against him).” Too much in recent American history has been against “him” and a great many of the hims out there began to notice that they were being squeezed out of the nation’s life like watermelon seeds. Most particularly, men were no longer considered necessary in whatever remained of the family unit. This went against the truth of the matter, of course, because nothing has been more harmful to everyday life than the absence of fathers. And this was connected to the secondary calamity of men losing their roles in the workplace — and the loss of self-respect connected with that. So the election awakened some sleeping notion that life was wildly out of balance in America. And being so out of balance, it swung wildly in the other direction.

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All major food firms are involved. Shun all products that contain palm oil. It’s incredibly damaging in many ways.

Major Global Firms Buy Indonesia Palm Oil Produced By Child Labor (R.)

Global consumer companies, including Unilever, Nestle, Kellogg and Procter & Gamble, have sourced palm oil from Indonesian plantations where labor abuses were uncovered, Amnesty International said on Wednesday. Children as young as eight worked in “hazardous” conditions at palm plantations run by Singapore-based Wilmar International and its suppliers on the Indonesian islands of Kalimantan and Sumatra, Amnesty said in a report. Amnesty, which said it interviewed 120 workers, alleges that many of them worked long hours for low pay and without adequate safety equipment. The palm oil from these plantations could be traced to nine multinational companies, it said.

“Despite promising customers that there will be no exploitation in their palm oil supply chains, big brands continue to profit from appalling abuses,” said Meghna Abraham, senior investigator at Amnesty. The NGO said it chose Wilmar as the focus of its investigation as the company is the world’s largest processor and merchandiser of palm and lauric oils, controlling more than 43% of the global palm oil trade. Other companies operating palm plantations in Indonesia include Golden Agri-Resources, Indofood Agri Resources and Astra Agro Lestari.

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What a blemish on the US this is.

North Dakota Moves To Block Supplies From Reaching Pipeline Protesters (R.)

North Dakota officials on Tuesday moved to block supplies from reaching oil pipeline protesters at a camp near the construction site, threatening to use hefty fines to keep demonstrators from receiving food, building materials and even portable bathrooms. Activists have spent months protesting plans to route the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline beneath a lake near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, saying the project poses a threat to water resources and sacred Native American sites. State officials said on Tuesday they would fine anyone bringing prohibited items into the main protest camp following Governor Jack Dalrymple’s “emergency evacuation” order on Monday. Earlier, officials had warned of a physical blockade, but the governor’s office backed away from that.

Law enforcement would take a more “passive role” than enforcing a blockade, said Maxine Herr, a spokeswoman for the Morton County Sheriff’s Department. “The governor is more interested in public safety than setting up a road block and turning people away,” Herr said by telephone. Officers will stop vehicles they believe are headed to the camp and inform drivers they are committing an infraction and could be fined $1,000. These penalties should serve as a hindrance, according to Cecily Fong, a spokeswoman for the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services. “So that effectively is going to block that stuff (supplies), but there is not going to be a hard road block,” Fong said by telephone.

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One can be quite specific here. Insurers so far don’t act because the government doesn’t.

The Areas America Could Abandon First (BBG)

So far this year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has spent $1.1 billion on what are called Individual Assistance payments, which help households recover from natural disasters. There are no limits on the number of times a household can apply, so the program isn’t just a safety net; for some people, it’s effectively a subsidy to live in areas that are especially vulnerable to hurricanes, floods and storm surges. That hasn’t gone unnoticed in Washington. In 1999, a Nebraska congressman introduced a bill preventing some properties with multiple claims from getting help – not just disaster relief, but also subsidized flood insurance. Two years later, the George W. Bush administration’s first budget proposed denying aid to the “worst offending repetitive loss properties.”

Under President Barack Obama, FEMA proposed reducing disaster aid for public buildings damaged more than once in the previous decade if local governments hadn’t done anything to protect them. None of those proposals took effect. But as extreme weather gets worse, those federal subsidies will only become more expensive – increasing the need to rethink government support for those who choose to live in harm’s way. “Climate change is real and will lead to even more frequent and costly disasters,” Rafael Lemaitre, FEMA’s director of public affairs, told me. “We must continue to work with states to implement longer-term projects and strategies that mitigate against climate change.” That means it’s time to consider an impolitic question: If federal support gets rolled back, which areas will people have the greatest incentive to leave?

To answer that, I asked FEMA which parts of the country have the most households that repeatedly get Individual Assistance payments, which are a useful proxy for exposure to all types of extreme weather. The agency gave me a list of 1,930 counties where at least one address had requested such aid more than once since 1998 – 1.3 million households in total. That data, which the agency said it had never before compiled, is reflected in the graphic below; the shading represents the number of households per capita that have applied for FEMA aid multiple times.

Unsurprisingly, the areas where households are most likely to repeatedly request aid are generally along coasts. The surprise is how they’re distributed: Rather than being spread uniformly along shorelines, a small number of counties account for the most repeat claims – one more reminder that the burden of climate change will not fall evenly. That’s also true within the most affected counties. The charts below show the number of households per capita requesting disaster aid more than once since 1998, by ZIP code, for four areas with especially high concentrations of repetitive claims. These charts don’t just map the losers from any reduction in federal support: At a more basic level, they show some of the places Americans will face the most pressure to abandon because of extreme weather — at least, people who can’t afford the full cost of recovering from natural disasters.

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Unverified, but not at all unlikely.

Turkey Has Secret Plan To Send 3,000 Refugees To Greece Every Day (Ind.)

The Turkish government has a secret plan to allow 3,000 refugees to sail to Greece every day, intelligence officials have claimed. Greek analysts claim thousands of dinghies and motorboats have massed along the Turkish coast as the refugee deal agreed between Ankara and Brussels looks set to unravel. Turkish President Erdogan threatened to open the borders if the EU continued to block talks on the country’s accession to the union. The European Parliament voted to temporarily halt membership talks amid concerns about the brutal crackdown on dissent in the country following an attempted military coup in July. Mr Erdogan warned: “If you go any further, these border gates will be opened.

Neither me nor my people will be affected by these dry threats. It wouldn’t matter if all of you approved the vote”. The deal reached in March meant any refugee who arrived on Italian or Greek shores would be sent back to Turkey in exchange for EU member countries accepting another refugee from a Turkish camp on a “one for one” basis. Ankara will also received aid money to help it care for the refugees within its borders, visa free travel for its citizens and the speeding up of membership talks. But according to Greek newspaper Proto Thema, Ankara has given up on hope of Brussels living up to its side of the deal and could start allowing the refugees to flee “within a matter of weeks”.

Greek intelligence expert Athanassios Drougas told The Times: “No one is underestimating Mr Erdogan and his unpredictability these days. “These plans, along with explicit threats that the Turkish president has made in recent weeks, have Greece’s joint chiefs of staff seriously concerned. “They are fearful and they have told the political leadership here that if Turkey opens the floodgates yet again, Greece, in its current state of financial and social distress, will not be able to withstand the shock. It will spell war or wreak the havoc of one. “With Europe in a mess, Mr Erdogan feels he has a free hand in trying to blackmail the bloc using the refugee crisis as leverage.”

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Oct 182016
 
 October 18, 2016  Posted by at 9:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Russell Lee Hollywood, California. Used car lot. 1942

US Bondholders Risk a $1.1 Trillion Hit if Rates Spike (BBG)
US First Home Buyers Even More Leveraged Than During Housing Bubble (MW)
China’s Bad Credit (Balding)
Foreigners Shun Gilts On Hard Brexit Talk, As Hallowe’en Verdict Awaits (AEP)
The Cashless Society Is a Creepy Fantasy (BBG)
Greece in 2050: A Country For Old Men (Kath.)
Judge Rejects Riot Charges For Journalist Amy Goodman On Pipeline Protest (G.)
State Department Official Pressured FBI To Declassify Clinton Email (R.)
RBS Backtracks Over Closure Of RT Bank Accounts (RT)
The Odor of Desperation (Jim Kunstler)
Pentagon Backtracks, Voices Caution On Latest Yemen Missile Incident (R.)
We Have To Begin To Look Outside. Because There Is More Out There (Adam Curtis)

 

 

As Gilts sell off… Very reassuring.

US Bondholders Risk a $1.1 Trillion Hit if Rates Spike (BBG)

First they came for the yield, then they came for the duration. A Goldman Sachs analysis says investors could be mired in a world of pain if yields on long-dated assets snap higher. Just a modest backup in rates could inflict outsized losses on bond portfolios — a sobering prospect in light of the recent jump in longer-dated bond yields that’s already eating into bondholders’ capital returns. A 1% increase in interest rates could inflict a $1.1 trillion loss to the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Index, analysts at Goldman calculate, representing a larger loss for bondholders than at any other point in history. With the bank predicting the selloff in bonds has further to run, that remains “far from a tail scenario,” its analysts write.

Bets on longer-maturity obligations had paid off handsomely for most of the year amid a global bond rally triggered by expectations that weak economic activity will persuade central banks in advanced economies to postpone tightening monetary policy. Asset purchases by the BOJ, BOE and the ECB helped the average maturity of new U.S. corporate bonds climb to a peak of 11.3 years in August. With average bond maturities worldwide now more than double the inflation-adjusted level of 2009, and three times that of 1994, Goldman says there’s an elevated risk of losses if rates spike higher. “We see potential for the rates market to continue to sell off, and the notional amount of duration dollars at risk is unprecedentedly large,” Goldman fixed-income analysts, led by Marty Young, wrote in the report on Monday.

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“..lack of affordability. “We have our eye on the wrong ball..”

US First Home Buyers Even More Leveraged Than During Housing Bubble (MW)

Ever since the shock of the financial crisis ebbed and buyers began to return to the housing market, one truth has dominated: mortgage lending is tight. But is it? It’s true that only the borrowers with the highest credit scores get home loans now. So much lending to people with higher credit scores and so little to those on the lower end of the spectrum has shifted the average FICO score up about 40 points since before the bubble burst. But measured in another way, lending is shockingly loose. And, according to one economist, that tells us a lot not just about the housing market, but about the economy as a whole. The 20% down payment may linger in Americans’ imagination, but it’s even less real today than Jimmy Stewart’s small-town banker from 1946.

American homeowners, particularly those at the lower end of the market, are increasingly leveraged to pay for their houses, says Sam Khater, deputy chief economist at data provider CoreLogic. In fact, owners of entry-level homes, those in the $150,000 to $300,000 range — have more debt and less equity now than they did in 2005, at the height of mortgage mania. For Khater, that says less about credit markets and more about another defining feature of the post-recession housing market — its lack of affordability. “We have our eye on the wrong ball,” he told MarketWatch. “What I worry about is the leverage not from a default perspective but from an affordability perspective. Demand for credit has been weak. But the much bigger issue is the supply of housing, not supply of credit.”

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Swaps won’t rescue China’s bad debt. It’s just multiple state-owned firms selling each other the things.

China’s Bad Credit (Balding)

There is good news when it comes to China’s scary and still-growing pile of debt: At least the government recognizes the problem. Its attempts to mitigate those risks, however, seem doomed to fall short. The government’s recent decision to create a market for credit default swaps is a case in point. The idea, as elsewhere, is to give banks and investors a means of pricing and trading the risk of Chinese companies defaulting on their debts. The need is obvious: Official measures of non-performing loans are worsening, while unofficial estimates say their share may have reached anywhere from 8% to 20%. Anything that spreads that risk should improve financial stability. Yet, as envisioned, this new CDS market is unlikely to do much to improve the situation.

For one thing, all but the largest companies already have to purchase credit insurance when taking out loans from giant state banks. There’s no pricing differential on this insurance, of course. But for the new system to function effectively, the government would have to let markets freely set the price of credit risk. China doesn’t exactly have a stellar record of allowing markets to set prices in any field, whether in stocks, real estate or currencies. If credit default swaps started to indicate a rising risk of default at a major state-owned company, it’s hard to imagine officials wouldn’t intervene to reverse that impression. This is dangerous on multiple levels. Already, several Chinese credit insurance firms have collapsed because they underestimated credit risk, forcing government bailouts. Continuing to underprice risk will only encourage the over-allocation of credit that’s gotten China into trouble thus far.

There’s also little reason to think that creating a CDS market would shift risk away from the most vulnerable banks. In a heavily concentrated banking and lending market such as China, where major financial institutions all trade with each other, swaps are likely to produce no net change to risk levels. Think of a simple example. Assume that Bank A has loans totaling 100 billion yuan but wants to protect itself against the risk of default by buying a CDS from Bank B that covers these companies. Now assume that Bank B does the same to cover its 100 billion yuan of loans, with A as the counter-party. If we assume these are similar baskets of loans – a reasonable assumption for major banks within a single country – then there’s been no net change in credit risk for either bank.

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It doesn’t get much more serious than this: “The UK faces a balance of payments crisis..”

Foreigners Shun Gilts On Hard Brexit Talk, As Hallowe’en Verdict Awaits (AEP)

The bond vigilantes are sharpening their knives. The last five trading sessions have seen a sudden and potentially ominous shift in the reflexes of the Gilts market, a sign that ‘hard Brexit’ rhetoric has rattled global debt managers. “For the first time, foreign investors are beginning to question the credit-worthiness of the United Kingdom,“ said Vatsala Datta, UK rates strategist at RBC. We will find out how serious it is on October 31 – Hallowe’en day – when the UK Debt Management Office publishes its monthly data on foreign holdings of Gilts. Central banks, sovereign wealth funds, and the like, currently hold £503bn of British public debt or 27pc of the total, a bigger share than UK pension funds and insurance companies.

Yields on 10-year Gilts have spiked by 62 basis points to 1.14pc from their trough in August. Until last week this was pure a ‘reflation trade’, a turbo-charged variant of what has been happening in the US and other parts of the world as markets price in accelerating global growth and a commodity rebound. Britain got a double-dose because the sharp fall in sterling automatically pushed up the likelihood of future inflation, and that is what bondholders hate most. It is easy to measure the inflation component of moves by tracking how the ‘break-even inflation rate’ rises in tandem with the headline bond yield. “The correlation was exact. It has now broken down,” said Ms Datta. Break-even rates stopped rising last week, yet this time Gilt yields spiked higher, a divergence of 18 basis points.

RBC said the pattern in the interlocking currency and debt markets is clear: sterling is no longer trading like a bona fide reserve currency. “The parallel sell-off in gilts and sterling is potentially a worrying development, consistent with the UK’s having growing difficulty funding its internal and external deficits,” it said. What typically happens when a blue chip currency like the US dollar or the Swiss franc falls is that central banks and fund managers buy more of that country’s bonds to keep a constant weighting. This is a mechanical practice. It happens unless managers take a conscious decision to override their model. It is why foreign holdings of UK Gilts have risen by 20pc over the last year, and why they surged at an even faster rate after the referendum.

This foreign rush into Gilts happened not in spite of the falling pound, but because of it. All of a sudden this has stopped. Loose proxies such as ‘swap spreads’ suggest an outright exodus from Gilts even as the pound weakens. It is symptomatic that the Japanese bank Nomura has issued a string of tough reports about what could happen if the British government opts to leave the EU single market, warning that an erratic UK can no longer count on the “kindness of strangers” to fund its current account deficit. “The UK faces a balance of payments crisis,” it says, menacingly.

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“..if we’re going to cite unlawful transactions as a rationale for banning cash, it only makes sense to ban banks and accounting firms first.”

The Cashless Society Is a Creepy Fantasy (BBG)

It’s fun to imagine a world without cash. Liberated from the burden of physical currency, consumers could make purchases from the convenience of a mobile device. Every transaction would come equipped with fraud protection, reward points and a digital record of its time and location. Comprehensive tracking could help the Internal Revenue Service reclaim billions of tax dollars lost to unreported income, like the $80 I made selling a used refrigerator on Craigslist. Drug dealers, helpless without an anonymous medium of exchange, would acquire wholesome professions. El Chapo might become a claims adjuster. Such is the utopia recently described by Nathan Heller in the New Yorker and by a former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, Kenneth Rogoff, in a new book, “The Curse of Cash.”

But this universe is missing one of the fundamental aspects of human civilization. A world without cash is a world without money. Money belongs to its current holder. It doesn’t matter if a banknote was lost or stolen at some point in the past. Money is current; that’s why it’s called currency! A bank deposit, however, grants custody of money to the bank. An account balance is not actually money, but a claim on money. This is an important distinction. A claim is only as good as its enforceability, and in a cashless society every transaction must pass through a financial gatekeeper. Banks, being private institutions, have the right to refuse transactions at their discretion. We can’t expect every payment to be given due process.

This means that politically unpopular organizations could easily be deprived of economic access. Past attempts to curb money laundering have already inadvertently cut off financial services for legitimate individuals, businesses, and charities. The removal of paper currency would undoubtedly leave similar collateral damage. The crime-fighting case against cash is overstated. Last year, a risk assessment of money laundering and terrorist financing conducted by the U.K. government found that regulated institutions such as banks (like HSBC) and accountancy service providers (like the Panamanian tax-shelter specialist Mossack Fonseca) posed the highest risk of facilitating the illicit storage or movement of funds. Cash came in a close third, but if we’re going to cite unlawful transactions as a rationale for banning cash, it only makes sense to ban banks and accounting firms first.

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Extrapolating trends is a pretty much useless exercise.

Greece in 2050: A Country For Old Men (Kath.)

By 2050, Greece’s population is expected to shrink by 800,000 to 2.5 million people to between 8.3 and 10 million, and one in three of its residents will be over the age of 65 (30-33% compared to the present 21% and 7% in 1951), while under-14s will represent just 12-14.8% from 15% today and 28% in 1951. This dystopian view of the country – with empty schools and offices – emerges from a recent study on Greece’s demographic prospects, presented by the Athens-based Dianeosis research organization. The study explored eight different scenarios, all of which calculated a significant drop in the population by 2050. The most optimistic saw a reduction of 800,000 people and the rapid aging of society. The median age is seen reaching 49-52 years from 44 today and 26 in 1951.

By then, the study says, 50-year-olds will be the young ’uns. The number of school-age children (3-17) will drop from 1.6 million today to 1.4 million in the optimistic scenario and 1 million in the pessimistic one and the economically active population will shrink from 4.7 million people today to between 3 and 3.7 million, meaning that a much lower number of people will be able to work to cover the country’s needs. The study by Dianeosis reflects trends that are already being noted: On January 1, 2015, Greece’s population came to 10.8 million from 11.1 million in 2011, marking the first time since 1951 that the number of the country’s residents has gone down.

There are three factors that affect population fluctuations – births, deaths and migration – which can be separated into two categories, the natural process of births and deaths, and the migration factor, which includes both inflows and outflows. Today, births are decreasing and deaths going up due to sliding standards of living and a crumbling public healthcare system. Meanwhile, the outflow of mainly young Greeks and foreigners from the country is on the rise, while, despite the arrival of thousands of migrants, the crisis is preventing their numbers from being made up by fresh inflows.

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It helps when politicians actually know the law.

Judge Rejects Riot Charges For Journalist Amy Goodman On Pipeline Protest (G.)

A North Dakota judge rejected prosecutors’ “riot” charges against Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman for her reporting on the oil pipeline protests, a decision that advocates hailed as a major victory for freedom of the press. After the award-winning broadcast journalist filmed security guards working for the Dakota access pipeline using dogs and pepper spray on protesters, authorities issued a warrant for Goodman’s arrest and alleged that she participated in a “riot”, a serious offense that could result in months in jail. On Monday, judge John Grinsteiner ruled that the state lacked probable cause for the riot charge, blocking prosecutors from moving forward with the controversial prosecution.

“I feel vindicated. Most importantly, journalism is vindicated,” Goodman told reporters and supporters on a live Facebook video Monday afternoon. “We have a right to report. It’s also critical that we are on the front lines. Today, the judge sided with … freedom of the press.” The case stems from a 3 September report when Goodman traveled to the Native American-led protest against a controversial $3.8bn oil pipeline that the Standing Rock Sioux tribe says is threatening its water supply and cultural heritage. Goodman’s dispatch on the use of dogs went viral and has since garnered 14m views on Facebook and also prompted coverage from many news outlets, including CBS, NBC, NPR and CNN.

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I picked the Reuters take on this. There are many others, some much more negative. The crux: This is getting way out of hand. Trying to interfere with classified material is crazy and desperate. And very illegal.

State Department Official Pressured FBI To Declassify Clinton Email (R.)

A senior State Department official sought to shield Hillary Clinton last year by pressuring the FBI to drop its insistence that an email on the private server she used while secretary of state contained classified information, according to records of interviews with FBI officials released on Monday. The accusation against Patrick Kennedy, the State Department’s most senior manager, appears in the latest release of interview summaries from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s year-long investigation into Clinton’s sending and receiving classified government secrets via her unauthorized server.

Although the FBI decided against declassifying the email’s contents, the claim of interference added fuel to Republicans’ belief that officials in President Barack Obama’s administration have sought to protect Clinton, a Democrat, from criminal liability as she seeks to succeed Obama in the Nov. 8 election. The FBI recommended against bringing any charges in July and has defended the integrity of its investigation. Clinton has said her decision to use a private server in her home for her work as the U.S. secretary of state from 2009 to 2013 was a mistake and has apologized. One FBI official, whose name is redacted, told investigators that Kennedy repeatedly “pressured” the various officials at the FBI to declassify information in one of Clinton’s emails.

The email was about the deadly 2012 attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, and included information that originated from the FBI, which meant that the FBI had final say on whether it would remain classified. The dispute began in the summer of 2015 as officials were busy reviewing the roughly 30,000 emails Clinton returned to the State Department ahead of their court-ordered public release in batches in 2015 and 2016. The official said the State Department’s office of legal counsel called him to question the FBI’s ruling that the information was classified, but the FBI stood by its decision. Soon after that call, one of the official’s FBI colleagues received a call from Kennedy in which Kennedy “asked his assistance in altering the email’s classification in exchange for a ‘quid pro quo.'”

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From the Times (behind paywall): “The state-owned bank withdrew its planned punitive action after Moscow claimed it would freeze the BBC’s finances in Russia and report Britain to international watchdogs for breaching commitments to freedom of speech.”

RBS Backtracks Over Closure Of RT Bank Accounts (RT)

The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) appears to have backtracked from its earlier statement that the looming closure of RT accounts is not up for discussion. In a letter to RT, the bank said the situation is being reviewed and the bank is contacting the customer. The e-mailed response began with apologies for the delay in the reply. These decisions are not taken lightly. We are reviewing the situation and are contacting the customer to discuss this further. The bank accounts remain open and are still operative,” Sarah Hinton-Smith, Head of Corporate & Institutional, Commercial & Private Media at RBS Communications, wrote. However, the response by Hinton-Smith contradicted an earlier statement by RBS, which said that the decision to suspend banking services to RT was final and not up for discussion.

The broadcaster addressed the Royal Bank of Scotland representative over the contradiction, pointing out that “your statement seems to suggest that the bank will contact RT and that there will be a review and further discussion.” “There’s not much more of a steer I can give other than what is in the statement,” Hinton-Smith replied via email. Earlier Monday, the National Westminster Bank (NatWest), which is part of RBS Group, informed RT UK’s office in London that it will no longer have the broadcaster among its customers, without providing any explanation for the decision.

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“..the fact that the US polity now so desperately has to fight for survival shows how frail its legitimacy is.”

The Odor of Desperation (Jim Kunstler)

It must be obvious even to nine-year-old casual observers of the scene that the US national election is hacking itself. It doesn’t require hacking assistance from any other entity. The two major parties could not have found worse candidates for president, and the struggle between them has turned into the most sordid public spectacle in US electoral history. Of course, the Russian hacking blame-game story emanates from the security apparatus controlled by a Democratic Party executive establishment desperate to preserve its perks and privileges . (I write as a still-registered-but-disaffected Democrat).

The reams of released emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, and other figures in HRC’s employ, depict a record of tactical mendacity, a gleeful eagerness to lie to the public, and a disregard for the world’s opinion that are plenty bad enough on their own. And Trump’s own fantastic gift for blunder could hardly be improved on by a meddling foreign power. The US political system is blowing itself to pieces. I say this with the understanding that political systems are emergent phenomena with the primary goal of maintaining their control on the agencies of power at all costs. That is, it’s natural for a polity to fight for its own survival. But the fact that the US polity now so desperately has to fight for survival shows how frail its legitimacy is.

It wouldn’t take much to shove it off a precipice into a new kind of civil war much more confusing and irresolvable than the one we went through in the 1860s. Events and circumstances are driving the US insane literally. We can’t construct a coherent consensus about what is happening to us and therefore we can’t form a set of coherent plans for doing anything about it. The main event is that our debt has far exceeded our ability to produce enough new wealth to service the debt, and our attempts to work around it with Federal Reserve accounting fraud only make the problem worse day by day and hour by hour. All of it tends to undermine both national morale and living standards, while it shoves us into the crisis I call the long emergency.

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If anything ever smelled like a flase flag, it was this. Mere days after the world turned on the US and its Saudi friends for bombing a funeral procession, the Houthis supposedly shot at a US destroyer, missed by a mile and a half, and next thing you knew all of a sudden the US was itself involved in the so-called war, which is really just slaughter.

Pentagon Backtracks, Voices Caution On Latest Yemen Missile Incident (R.)

The Pentagon declined to say on Monday whether the USS Mason destroyer was targeted by multiple inbound missiles fired from Yemen on Saturday, as initially thought, saying a review was under way to determine what happened. Any determination that the USS Mason guided-missile destroyer was targeted on Saturday could have military repercussions, since the United States has threatened to retaliate again should its ships come under fire from territory in Yemen controlled by Iran-aligned Houthi fighters. The United States carried out cruise missile strikes against radar sites in Yemen on Thursday after two confirmed attempts last week to hit the USS Mason with coastal cruise missiles. “We are still assessing the situation. There are still some aspects to this that we are trying to clarify for ourselves given the threat – the potential threat – to our people,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told a news briefing.

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Unfortunately, Curtis’ film Hypernormalization is for now still only available in Britain. Far as I know.

We Have To Begin To Look Outside. Because There Is More Out There (Adam Curtis)

Power is all around us. It’s just that it has shifted and mutated into a massive system of management and control, whose tentacles reach into all parts of our lives. But we can’t see it because we still think of power in the old terms – of politicians telling us what to do. The aim of the film I have made – HyperNormalisation – is to bring that new power into focus, and show its true dimensions. It ranges from a giant computer high up in the mountains of northeast America that manages and controls over 7% of the worlds total wealth, to the complex algorithms that constantly monitor every move and choice you make online, to modern scientific ideas about what the normal human being should be – in their weight and in their feelings and moods.

What links all these systems is an overriding aim is to keep the world stable. To avoid all change. The giant computer constantly compares events happening around the world to events in the past. If it sees a dangerous pattern, it immediately adjusts its trillions of dollars to keep things stable. That is real power. The algorithms on social media constantly look at the patterns of what you like and then feed you more of that – so you enter into an echo chamber that constantly feeds you back to you. So again nothing changes – and you learn nothing new that would contradict how you feel. That too is real power. What results is a system which cocoons us and makes us feel safe. And that means we have become terrified of all change.

But that fear of change is in the interest of a system that wants to hold everything stable. And stops us from ever challenging it. But it is impossible to keep things frozen forever. The world is dynamic. Things happen that you can never predict just by reading the past. This is why more and more we are being hit by events – the horror in Syria, Brexit, Trump, the waves of refugees – that neither we nor our leaders have the mental map to understand let alone deal with. Because we have bought into the dream that the world can be held stable and safe. The short film I have made for VICE is about how, if you pull back and look at the everyday life all around you, you can see the cracks appearing through the shiny surface of the cocoon we are living in.

So much of the modern world is beginning to feel odd, unreal and sometimes fake. I think these are the dynamic forces outside beginning to pierce through as the system begins to fail. It will fail – because a system of power that has no vision of the future can never last. It cannot deal with change. We have to begin to look outside. Because there is more out there…

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Oct 162016
 
 October 16, 2016  Posted by at 11:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


‘Papa says they won’t hurt us’

 

RBS ‘Dash For Cash’ Scandal: 500 Firms Suing Bank Turn On Regulator (Herald)
Scrambled Brexit Communications Worry UK Bankers (BBG)
Fresh British Veg ‘Could Be Wiped Out By Brexit’ (Sky)
Athens Protests Victoria Nuland Statement On Treaty Of Lausanne (Kath.)
Trump’s Refusal To Accept Intelligence Briefing On Russia Stuns Experts (WaPo)
Russia Slams ‘Unprecedented’ US Threats Over Cyber Attacks (AFP)
Builder-in-Chief: Erdogan’s Real-Estate Dream Drifts to Syria (BBG)
Amy Goodman Faces Prison for Reporting on Dakota Access Pipeline (Nation)
On The Brink, But Africa’s Reviled Vultures Vital In Fight Against Disease (G.)

 

 

“..the bank and its senior executives had no scruples about effectively looting cash and assets from business customers..”

RBS ‘Dash For Cash’ Scandal: 500 Firms Suing Bank Turn On Regulator (Herald)

A group of almost 500 businesses suing the Royal Bank of Scotland for allegedly destroying their firms and seizing their assets is threatening legal action against the Financial Conduct Authority if it does not immediately publish its long-awaited report into the scandal. The central allegation of the so-called “Dash for Cash” scandal was that firms – in some cases healthy ones – were preyed on by RBS which effectively bankrupted the companies, bought the assets and made a profit from their suffering. RBS denies the allegations. David Stewart, spokesman for the RBS GRG Business Action Group, said:“Unless the FCA gives an immediate commitment to publishing the Section 166 report, we will initiate judicial review proceedings against them.” The FCA, the financial regulator, launched a probe into the Dash for Cash scandal in January 2014.

The report, produced by consultants Promontory and Mazars, was handed to the FCA in late summer but the regulator only confirmed receipt on October 5. “We understand the S166 report recommends a compensation scheme for affected firms,” said Stewart. “It is essential that this scheme is independent and judicial, with full redress for consequential losses, and that it is not overseen by the FCA. We have no confidence in the regulator, given its previous compensation schemes have failed so many victims.” The FCA stated: “There are a number of steps for the FCA to complete before we are in a position to share our final findings, which will include an assessment of all relevant material, of which the skilled person’s report is one. This has been a complex and lengthy review – it is therefore important that we do not rush the final stages of this process.”

[..] Kalvin Chapman, a partner at lawyers Muldoon Britton, said the Dash for Cash email sent out by RBS regional director Rhydian Davies on October 9, 2008 proves that the bank and its senior executives had no scruples about effectively looting cash and assets from business customers of RBS, NatWest and Ulster Bank. “It only cared about scalping customers and bleeding them dry,” said Chapman.

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Yay! More finger pointing opportunities. Blame thy neighbor!

Scrambled Brexit Communications Worry UK Bankers (BBG)

A British bank executive recently approached Prime Minister Theresa May’s office with a question. The Treasury said it was the point of contact for discussing Brexit issues. The Department for Exiting the European Union said the same thing. Who was right? Neither, he was told. Talk to us instead. That story, retold by a banker who asked to remain anonymous, is symptomatic of industry complaints about engaging with May’s government as it begins pulling Britain out of the European Union. May has already put financiers on notice that they’re losing their privileged perch in policy making considerations, so the communications confusion only serves to deepen their anxiety.

“The government needs to develop a more strategic and joined-up approach around financial services,” said Andrew Gray, head of Brexit for U.K. financial services at PricewaterhouseCoopers in London. “There are a number of different government departments seeking to get their voices heard on Brexit, and that’s resulting in some rather mixed messages being delivered.” The portrait of bungled communications, which could prompt banks to accelerate the movement of highly paid jobs from London, emerged from interviews with government officials, bankers and lobbyists. Financial services account for almost 12% of the economy, more than 1 million jobs and over 60 billion pounds ($73 billion) of annual tax revenue.

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In case you still weren’t clear on what’s wrong with Britain: “This is good work, normal work for us,” he said with a smile. “It is not hard.” but “It’s unskilled labour so [locals] do not want to do that kind of work.”

Fresh British Veg ‘Could Be Wiped Out By Brexit’ (Sky)

A leading farmer has warned that British vegetables will disappear from supermarket shelves if post-Brexit immigration controls prevent thousands of Eastern Europeans from working in the UK. Guy Poskitt, who grows 80,000 tons of carrots and parsnips a year in Yorkshire, says it is impossible to find enough British labourers to do the work. Last year the number of EU nationals in the UK rose by an estimated 180,000 but the Government is committed to reducing total immigration to the tens of thousands. “If you took migrant workers out of the supply chain you would within five days have no fresh British produce on the supermarket shelves,” Mr Poskitt claimed.

He told Sky News he pays agencies £9.50 per hour for temporary labourers and that without workers from Eastern Europe the industry would collapse. “[My business] would have to close; we could not serve our customers without the availability of migrant workers,” he said. Picking pumpkins from a nearby field for supply to major supermarkets, a group of Czech labourers said they are puzzled about why some people say they are no longer welcome. “I take home £50 or £60 a day here but just £30 for work in Prague,” said 21-year-old Patrick Dumka, as he stood in the muddy field that is his workplace for nine hours a day. He picks more than 1,000 pumpkins during each shift in all weathers, taking just an hour’s rest in a makeshift shelter, and joked that the British are too lazy to do the work.

“This is good work, normal work for us,” he said with a smile. “It is not hard.” Mark Straw whose firm Abbey Personnel Services supplies labourers to Yorkshire farms claims there is no alternative to Eastern European labour. From his office in Selby he hires and transports 200 Eastern Europeans to work each day, and says locals will not take the jobs on offer in agriculture. “It’s outdoor, it’s physical, you would say that there are little prospects for advancement,” he explained. “It’s unskilled labour so [locals] do not want to do that kind of work.”

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You do realize that a Hillary vote is a vote for Nuland, right?! Secretary of State has been mentioned for her.

Athens Protests Victoria Nuland Statement On Treaty Of Lausanne (Kath.)

Greek Ambassador to the USA Theocharis Lalacos has lodged a complaint with US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland in reaction to the US State Department’s response to a question on the Treaty of Lausanne. Questioned by a Greek journalist earlier this month about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s controversial comments on the 1923 peace pact which set the borders of modern Turkey, the State Department issued a written statement urging Athens and Ankara to work together in order to maintain good-neighborly relations and safeguard peace in the region. Diplomatic sources said the Greek ambassador protested to Nuland that the vague statement issued by the US State Department had caused unnecessary concern among the Greek public.

Lalacos suggested that US officials should instead have urged all sides to respect international law, according to the same sources. He allegedly said that the Lausanne Treaty concerns all states in the region, and not just Greece. Sources said Nuland vowed to investigate the issue further. “In Lausanne, we gave away the islands that you could shout across to,” Erdogan said on September 29, referring to Greek islands located in the Aegean Sea close to the Turkish coastline.

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CIA and NSA are not be doubted. Nobody ever did before. They don’t have to present any proof either. And they’re fully impartial at all times.

Trump’s Refusal To Accept Intelligence Briefing On Russia Stuns Experts (WaPo)

Former senior U.S. national security officials are dismayed at Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s repeated refusal to accept the judgment of intelligence professionals that Russia stole files from the Democratic National Committee computers in an effort to influence the U.S. election. The former officials, who have served presidents in both parties, say they were bewildered when Trump cast doubt on Russia’s role after receiving a classified briefing on the subject and again after an unusually blunt statement from U.S. agencies saying they were “confident” that Moscow had orchestrated the attacks. “It defies logic,” retired Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA and the National Security Agency, said of Trump’s pronouncements.

Trump has assured supporters that, if elected, he would surround himself with experts on defense and foreign affairs, where he has little experience. But when it comes to Russia, he has made it clear that he is not listening to intelligence officials, the former officials said. “He seems to ignore their advice,” Hayden said. “Why would you assume this would change when he is in office?” Several former intelligence officials interviewed this week believe that Trump is either willfully disputing intelligence assessments, has a blind spot on Russia, or perhaps doesn’t understand the nonpartisan traditions and approach of intelligence professionals.

[..] During the second presidential debate, Trump ignored what a U.S. government official said the candidate learned in a private intelligence briefing: that government officials were certain Russia hacked the DNC. That conclusion was followed by a public and unequivocal announcement by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security that Russia was to blame.

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Crazy US allegations will come home to roost. And bite.

Russia Slams ‘Unprecedented’ US Threats Over Cyber Attacks (AFP)

The Kremlin on Saturday slammed Washington for its “unprecedented” threats against Moscow over an alleged series of cyber attacks and vowed to respond. Last week, Washington formally accused the Russian government of trying to “interfere” in the 2016 White House race through cyber attacks on American political institutions. And on Friday, US Vice President Joe Biden told NBC a “message” would be sent to Russian President Vladimir Putin over the alleged hacking, with the channel saying the CIA was preparing a retaliatory cyber attack “designed to harass and ’embarrass’ the Kremlin leadership.” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov immediately denounced Biden’s remarks, saying Moscow would take precautions to safeguard its interests in the face of the increasing “unpredictability and aggressiveness of the United States”.

“The threats directed against Moscow and our state’s leadership are unprecedented because they are voiced at the level of the US vice president,” RIA Novosti news agency quoted him as saying. “To the backdrop of this aggressive, unpredictable line, we must take measures to protect (our) interests, to hedge risks.” And Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov vowed Moscow would respond to any US cyber attacks, saying such threats were “borderline insolence”, the news agency said. In the NBC interview, excerpts of which were released late Friday, Biden said Washington would respond “at the time of our choosing and under the circumstances that have the greatest impact.” Earlier this week Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shrugged off the US allegations, telling CNN the hacking claims were “flattering” but baseless, with not a “single fact” to prove it.

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How Erdogan plans to conquer Kurdish land.

Builder-in-Chief: Erdogan’s Real-Estate Dream Drifts to Syria (BBG)

Turkey’s president looks at northern Syria and sees what others don’t: a massive real estate project. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose army is attempting to clear 5,000 square kilometers in northern Syria of Islamic State, talks about building entire cities when his soldiers’ work is done. In regular addresses, he describes a future in which refugees return home to Turkish-built apartment blocks supplemented by Turkish-built schools and social facilities. That may be the only way to get some of the nearly 3 million Syrians in Turkey to return home and begin reconstructing their country, he says. Erdogan’s vision points to a long-term commitment to carve out an area under Turkish influence, free from jihadists and Kurdish groups, making this operation one of its largest foreign interventions since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

To achieve it, Turkey needs to overcome daunting security risks, financing and logistical challenges, not to mention political battles with other parties including Russia, Iran and a Syrian regime hostile to Turkey’s meddling. “Erdogan has engaged the country in a very long adventure,” said Nihat Ali Ozcan, an analyst at the Economic Policy Research Foundation in Ankara. “Turkey will have to maintain its troops there for years to come if it wants to keep that area off limits to hostile groups.” If successful, the plan could offer a boon to Turkish contractors. He already has one volunteer: the state agency known as TOKI, a colossus responsible for building about 10% of Turkey’s housing units every year.

“We have a problem at our doorstep,” Ergun Turan, TOKI’s president, said in an interview in Ankara on Sept. 20. “If our state asks us to, we will do it. And we’ll do it with ease.” In a bid to drum up support for Turkey’s deeper involvement, Erdogan is making the case that resettling refugees would mitigate the politically fraught issue of migration to Europe. EU leaders turned to Turkey for help last year after almost a million people streamed across its land and sea borders into Greece. “Refugee problems will go away automatically when the Syrian people get the opportunity to live on their own lands in safety,” Erdogan said in Ankara last month.

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There’s a lot of shameful and shameless America out there.

Amy Goodman Faces Prison for Reporting on Dakota Access Pipeline (Nation)

This Monday afternoon, as the sun hits its peak over Mandan, North Dakota, the award-winning journalist, and host of Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman will walk into the Morton County–Mandan Combined Law Enforcement and Corrections Center and turn herself in to the local authorities. Her crime: good, unflinching journalism. Goodman had the audacity to commit this journalism on September 3, when she was in North Dakota covering what she calls “the standoff at Standing Rock”: the months-long protests by thousands of Native Americans against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The $3.8 billion oil pipeline is slated to carry barrel after barrel of Bakken crude through sacred sites and burial grounds of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, and tribe members fear it could pollute the Missouri River, the source not only of their water but of millions of others’, should the pipe ever rupture.

Their protests, which began in April and ballooned through the summer months, represent the largest mobilization of Native American activists in more than 40 years—and one of the most vital campaigns for environmental justice in perhaps as long. Goodman’s arrival at the main protest site, the Sacred Stone Spirit Camp, was significant. At the time, not a single one of the major broadcast networks had sent a reporter to cover the Standing Rock mobilization; none had even bothered to mention it on the air. But there was Goodman, standing at the edge of a grassy plain that was in the process of being churned into gullies of dirt, reporting on one of the most significant stories of the day. Clutching a large microphone, she captured the scene as hundreds of protesters tried desperately to stop a crew of bulldozers from tearing up the earth—the earth, they said, that belongs to nobody—only to be confronted by a force of private security contractors wielding attack dogs and pepper spray.

“People have gone through the fence, men, women, and children,” Goodman reported, her voice taut, then rising, louder and more intense. “The bulldozers are still going, and they’re yelling at the men in hard hats. One man in a hard hat threw one of the protesters down…!” As Goodman narrated, a security contractor, burly in a deep blue shirt, could be seen belly-flopping a man onto the ground. Protesters streamed in to help him, stumbled over mounds of newly churned dirt, faced off with contractors whose faces were hidden behind oversized sunglasses. The scene was full of movement. Overhead, a helicopter hovered, circled, while back on the ground, protesters began to report burning eyes, and dogs—dogs lurching at protesters, dogs straining against their leashes, dogs with mouths open, mouths biting.

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Mankind is a real smart species. We’ll kill everything here and then fly to Mars.

On The Brink, But Africa’s Reviled Vultures Vital In Fight Against Disease (G.)

Vultures are rarely viewed as the poster boys and girls of the natural world. They have repulsive eating habits and are strikingly ugly. Nevertheless, they play a critical role in maintaining the ecological health of many parts of the world. Vultures consume animal carcasses more effectively than any other scavengers and because their digestive juices contain acids that neutralise pathogens such as cholera and rabies they prevent diseases spreading. They act as dead-end hosts for numerous unpleasant ailments. But many ecologists are now warning that vultures across the planet are under serious threat thanks to habitat loss, deliberate and accidental poisoning, and use of the birds’ body parts as traditional medicine cures.

All these risks will be emphasised by British photographer Charlie Hamilton James in a series of images that will be shown as part of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, which opens at the Natural History Museum this week. His photographs of vultures – and the growing environmental risks that threaten to wipe them out – have won Hamilton James the exhibition’s wildlife photojournalist of the year award. “I like underdogs,” he said last week. “That is why I like vultures. The trouble is that vultures are now under such stress in the wild – for several reasons. They are facing a massive catastrophe yet they do so much for the environment and do so much to contain disease.”

Vultures are one of the fastest declining groups of animals in the world. In India, all nine species of the bird are threatened with extinction, largely through the indiscriminate use of diclofenac, a common anti-inflammatory drug administered to livestock but which is lethal for the vultures that eat the corpses of cattle. “There is now a real danger that a disease like rabies will spread because there are hardly any vultures left to clean up corpses left in the open,” Hamilton James said.


Cape vultures at their artificial nesting cliff at the VulPro facility in Magaliesburgcorrect, South Africa. Photograph: Charlie Hamilton James

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Oct 122016
 
 October 12, 2016  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


NPC “Largest electric locomotive and Congressman John C. Schafer” 1924

October 14 Is A $7 Trillion Moment of Truth in Markets (BBG)
Pound Sterling Behaves Like An Emerging Market Currency (Ind.)
Royal Bank of Scotland’s Vampire Unit Guilty Of Financial Terrorism (Fraser)
China Weakens Yuan Fixing for Sixth Day, Fuels Depreciation Talk (BBG)
China Banks May Need $1.7 Trillion Capital Injection To Cover Bad Loans (R.)
China Cities Face End of Fairy Tale as Default Risks Rise (BBG)
Tokyo Apartment Prices To Fall 20% Or More: Deutsche (BBG)
Are Rising House Prices Good For The Economy? (Ahuri)
Bank of Russia Governor Says Oil Rally Can Mean Much Faster Easing (BBG)
The Truth About the War in Aleppo (David Stockman)
Oops! – A World War! (Dmitry Orlov)
Wounded Elephant (Jim Kunstler)
Neoliberalism Is Creating Loneliness That’s Wrenching Society Apart (Monbiot)
Obituary: Great Barrier Reef – 25 Million BC-2016 – (OO)
More Than 11,200 Migrants Stranded On Aegean Islands (Kath.)

 

 

The return of LIBOR.

October 14 Is A $7 Trillion Moment of Truth in Markets (BBG)

If the London Interbank Borrowing Rate was a musical artist, or an actor, or a sports team, we’d be calling 2016 its comeback year. Not since the financial crisis of 2008 has Libor, to which almost $7 trillion of debt including mortgages, student loans and corporate borrowings, is pegged – experienced such a surge. The three-month U.S. dollar Libor rate has jumped from 0.61% at the start of the year to 0.87% currently – a 42% rise – ahead of money market reform that’s due to come into effect on Oct. 14. The new rules require prime money market funds – an important source of short-term funding for banks and companies – to build up liquidity buffers, install redemption gates, and use ‘floating’ net asset values instead of a fixed $1-per-share price.

While the changes are aimed at reinforcing a $2.7 trillion industry that exacerbated the financial crisis, they are also causing turmoil in money markets as big banks adjust to the new reality of a shrinking pool of available funding. Some $1 trillion worth of assets have shifted from prime money market funds into government money market funds that invest in safer assets such as short-term U.S. debts. The exodus has driven up Libor rates as banks and other corporate entities compete to replace the lost funding. Now, analysts are debating whether the looming Oct. 14 deadline will mark a turning point for the interbank borrowing rate, as money markets acclimatize to a new reality.

While analysts at Deutsche Bank believe that Libor may be poised to tighten when compared to other benchmark interest rates after Oct. 14, their counterparts at TD Securities speculate that Libor will “head higher” and the spreads won’t “compress anytime soon.”

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But Britons just keep fighting and blaming each other.

Pound Sterling Behaves Like An Emerging Market Currency (Ind.)

Is the British pound the Mexican peso? Amid rising fears that the UK will take a big economic hit from its move to leave the European Union, the correlation between the pound and an index of emerging-market currencies has jumped to levels last seen in the run-up to the Brexit vote. “Investors are increasingly casting UK assets in an emerging-market light, amid a fundamental re-appraisal of the country’s medium- to long-term economic fortunes,” Chris Scicluna, London-based strategist at Daiwa Capital Markets, said. On Tuesday, the pound fell for a fourth day, tumbling 0.49% to below $1.23, bringing its year-to-date fall against the dollar to 17% — the worst among 16 major peers.

“The pound is the purest expression of investors’ fears about political risk in developed markets,” Nicholas Spiro at Lauressa Advisory wrote in a note to clients on Monday. “While the Mexican peso — the most liquid emerging market currency and the most reliable gauge of ‘Trump risk’ — has given sterling a run for its money this year, it’s the pound that has become a proxy for politically-driven volatility in markets.” While developed-country government bonds typically benefit from safe-haven buying during bouts of market nerves, the dynamic is now in reverse, with the pound and government bonds falling in tandem, and the UK 10-year note yielding 0.98% compared with 0.52% in mid-August. While global bond markets have sold off this month, amid expectations of tighter monetary policies, UK yields have outpaced rises in the US and euro-area countries.

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This story is fast moving beyond belief. A state owned bank that kills off 1000s of businesses to make a quick buck?!

Royal Bank of Scotland’s Vampire Unit Guilty Of Financial Terrorism (Fraser)

We all know that the Royal Bank of Scotland went rogue under Fred Goodwin. What was less clear – until yesterday anyway – was that, eight years after it was saved from oblivion thanks to Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling’s £850 billion bailout package, the bank appears be no less of a rogue institution today. A data dump of thousands of RBS documents leaked to Buzzfeed News and the BBC has demonstrated that the bank had a policy of pushing small business customer firms to the wall in order to grow its own profits, increase bonuses for staff and rebuild its tattered balance sheet in the wake of its near collapse. There have been many, many credible reports of such activity – essentially killing viable businesses for profit – over the past five years or so but, as the former business secretary Vince Cable told Newsnight last night, “there is now a smoking gun”.

What Kremlinologists of the bank knew before yesterday was that RBS, today 73% owned by UK taxpayers, together with its sister banks NatWest and Ulster Bank, had left a trail of destruction which some have described as a corporate holocaust across the UK’s and Ireland’s small and medium-sized company base, that they had been seeking to save their own skins at their customer firms’ expense, and that tens of thousands of business customers had been affected. For example, I revealed in my book Shredded: Inside RBS The Bank That Broke Britain how RBS was engaged in a form of “financial terrorism” with a view to bolstering its own balance sheet from August 2008 onwards.

In the book, I revealed that, in May 2009, RBS instituted a policy of cherry-picking businesses from across its UK and Irish customer base operating in sectors including care homes, pubs, nurseries, nightclubs, hotels, retail units, industrial units and farms etc. – for referral to its “vampire unit”, global restructuring group. The referrals often followed what I called “manufactured defaults”, which meant the bank engineered a covenant breach or an LTV breach either through a phoney “drive by” valuation of the customer’s property assets delivered by a tame firm of chartered surveyors or in some instances a missold swap.

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“They do want the depreciation; they just don’t want it to happen quickly..”

China Weakens Yuan Fixing for Sixth Day, Fuels Depreciation Talk (BBG)

China’s central bank weakened the yuan’s reference rate for a sixth day, the longest run of cuts in nine months, amid speculation policy makers will allow further declines as the dollar rises. The next possible target is 6.83 against the greenback, with a potential Federal Reserve interest-rate increase supporting the dollar, said Shaun Osborne at Bank of Nova Scotia in Toronto. The People’s Bank of China may need to step up efforts to prevent market fears over any sharp depreciation, according to a Scotiabank report written by Singapore-based foreign-exchange strategist Qi Gao. The PBOC set its daily fixing at 6.7258 against the dollar, extending a six-day weakening run to 0.9%.

The onshore yuan extended declines from a six-year low to drop 0.06% to 6.7228 as of 9:49 a.m. in Shanghai, while the offshore rate climbed 0.07%. The Chinese currency has fallen 6.5% against a 13-currency index this year. “The yuan’s depreciation against the dollar and versus a trade-weighted basket are both intentional policy choice,” said Cliff Tan, a currency strategist in Hong Kong at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ. “They do want the depreciation; they just don’t want it to happen quickly. Our forecast is still 6.80 at the end of this year, and it looks like the currency is headed there.”

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“S&P expects Beijing will continue to allow rapid credit growth over the next 12-18 months before attempting to rein it in…”

China Banks May Need $1.7 Trillion Capital Injection To Cover Bad Loans (R.)

Rising debt levels will worsen the credit profiles of China’s top 200 companies this year, requiring the country’s banks to raise as much as $1.7 trillion in capital to cover a likely surge in bad loans, S&P Global said in reports on Tuesday. The study sees little scope for improvement in 2017 amid worsening leverage and excess capacity in almost all sectors. Debt has emerged as one of China’s biggest challenges, with the country’s debt load rising to 250% of GDP. Excessive credit growth is signaling an increasing risk of a banking crisis in the next three years, the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) warned recently. 70% of the companies in the S&P survey were state owned, and they accounted for $2.8 trillion or 90% of the total respondents’ debt.

S&P estimated the problem credit ratio at Chinese banks was already at 5.6% at end-2015. In a downside scenario of unabated credit growth, that could worsen to 11-17%. In such a situation, banks would need as much as $1.7 trillion in recapitalization by 2020, S&P estimated. Even under a base case scenario, they would require $500 billion. That compares with China’s last big bank debt cleanup some two decades ago, when an estimated 4 trillion yuan ($600 billion) was spent on restructuring as of late 2005, according to a report for French economics thinktank CEPII. S&P expects Beijing will continue to allow rapid credit growth over the next 12-18 months before attempting to rein it in, implying risks would heighten in one to two years.

The IMF has warned China its credit growth is unsustainable, with companies sitting on $18 trillion in debt, equivalent to about 169% of GDP. Chinese banks’ non-performing loans are already at nearly 2%, the highest since the global financial crisis in 2009, according to the China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC). But some analysts believe the ratio could be as high as between 15 and 35%, as many banks are slow to recognize problem loans or park them off balance sheet, and as lenders come under political pressure from local governments to roll over bad loans to prevent job losses and defaults.

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LGFVs are the domain of shadow banks.

China Cities Face End of Fairy Tale as Default Risks Rise (BBG)

Finance firms that help keep cash flowing to China’s towns, cities and provinces face rising risks of landmark bond defaults just as they turn to global markets for funds. China’s economic slowdown is weighing on revenue at regional governments, hampering their ability to support the 5.3 trillion yuan ($789 billion) of outstanding onshore notes from local-government financing vehicles, which have yet to suffer nonpayments. Such issuance fell 18% last quarter as regulators curbed sales, forcing some to seek funds overseas. Financing units in provinces including Hunan, Jiangsu, Hubei and Sichuan are considering or planning U.S. currency notes, people familiar with the matters have said.

Warning signs are spreading. In the nation’s northeast, Changchun Urban Development & Investment Holdings Group was downgraded by Fitch Ratings last month. In the once-booming coal town of Ordos in Inner Mongolia, Yijinhuoluoqi Hongtai City Construction Investment & Development Co. had 189.5 million yuan of borrowings overdue as of March 31, according to Pengyuan Credit Rating, which downgraded it to A+ from AA- in May. “I don’t believe in the fairy tale that no LGFV will default,” said Terence Cheng, chief investment officer in at HuaAn Asset Management in Hong Kong. “Even China’s state-owned enterprises have been allowed to default. There is no absolute guarantee that an LGFV will not default.”

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Japan’s a big risk for bursting bubbles.

Tokyo Apartment Prices To Fall 20% Or More: Deutsche (BBG)

The Bank of Japan’s shift to controlling bond yields is driving up mortgage rates, prompting Deutsche Bank to predict Tokyo apartment prices may fall 20% or more by 2018. The BOJ’s negative-rate policy was already hurting buyer sentiment, and its move to boost longer-term yields is a double-blow to the industry, according to Yoji Otani, a real estate analyst at Deutsche Bank in Tokyo. The 35-year fixed mortgage rate has climbed for two straight months after touching a record low of 0.9% in August, and sales of new condominiums in Tokyo this year have fallen to the lowest since the nation’s property bubble collapse in the early 1990s.

“The one positive thing about negative rates was that it lowered borrowing costs, and now that is going to end,” said Otani, who expects prices to fall 20% to 30% by the end of 2018. “The collapse of this silent bubble has begun.” Banks have already started raising fixed-mortgage interest rates and some lenders may be charging customers 2% or more within two years under the BOJ’s current yield policy, according to Credit Suisse. The adoption of the new monetary policy is in effect a form of tapering and the cost of home loans will rise as the central bank becomes less aggressive in its bond purchase program, according Masahiro Mochizuki, a real estate analyst at the Swiss bank.

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Interesting findings on how Australia is the nation full of ATMs. Perverse consequences (“why Australian multi-factor productivity stopped growing at the turn of the millennium.”). h/t Yves

Are Rising House Prices Good For The Economy? (Ahuri)

Overall, the results indicate that a $1,000 increase in housing wealth is associated with an increase in debt of approximately $240 per annum. This is a large response compared to the magnitudes found in studies in the United States and United Kingdom… House price increases are associated with larger increases in total indebtedness for home owners with higher initial loan-to-value (LTV) ratios. Home owners with larger values of non-mortgage debt as well as higher LTV ratios are more sensitive to house price movements compared to other home owners… The take-up of further mortgage debt among vulnerable highly leveraged households exposes them to income, housing and financial market shocks.

The results are in contrast to the general belief in Australia that debt is held by those most able to service it—higher income and high-wealth households. Macroeconomic policy-makers should interpret high levels of debt and rising household debt-to-income ratios in Australia carefully. Overall, the findings show that house price changes influence household debt through two channels: a direct wealth effect and an indirect collateral effect via the household’s borrowing capacity. That is, some households face borrowing constraints and, for these households, rising house prices increase the value of their property that may be used as security for a loan and thereby loosen the borrowing constraints… Our results indicate that in response to increasing house prices, some home owners, especially home owners with low debt, engage in debt financing of consumption (involving extracting equity from their home).

Other home owners, especially those with relatively high debt levels refinance existing mortgages or adjust existing debt portfolios. The most important responses are in labour participation and hours of work by women, both partnered and single. The effect is strongest among the older cohort of women and is associated with early retirement for those experiencing above average housing wealth gains. Younger partnered men and women exhibit a reduction in hours of work in response to the gain in housing wealth. That is, these gains in wealth effectively fund time away from work to undertake non-market activities such as providing household care for children, ageing parents, undertaking volunteer work or enjoying more leisure.

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Putin and his people are talking up the price of oil. So far, it works to an extent.

Bank of Russia Governor Says Oil Rally Can Mean Much Faster Easing (BBG)

Russian central bank Governor Elvira Nabiullina is growing confident that her country’s biggest vulnerability can turn into an asset. The Bank of Russia, which last month issued an unprecedented commitment to leave borrowing costs unchanged the rest of the year, will face an easier path to interest-rate cuts if oil prices rise further, Nabiullina said in a Bloomberg Television interview in Moscow on Tuesday. While Brent crude has almost doubled from a 12-year low in January, the central bank’s “moderately tight” stance allowed for only two reductions in 2016 before policy makers all but shut the door on more monetary easing this year.

“If there is a higher oil price, then it can lead to a stronger ruble, and – through the foreign-exchange channel – that in turn can cause a more rapid decline in inflation expectations, slowing inflation,” Nabiullina said. “Then we can ease monetary policy much faster.” The outlook marks a rare signal by the central bank that it’s open to deeper monetary easing as its chase of an inflation goal enters the final stretch. Policy makers are targeting price growth of 4% by end-2017 and see it reaching 5.5% to 6% in 2016 after overshooting their forecasts for a fourth consecutive year in 2015. Oil traded near a 15-month high after rising 3.1% Monday, when Putin said at a conference in Istanbul that his country is willing to join efforts by OPEC to stabilize the market through a production freeze or cut.

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The War Party. Read. Time to venture outside the narrative machine.

The Truth About the War in Aleppo (David Stockman)

This is starting to sound pretty ominous. The Washington War Party is coming unhinged and appears to be leaving no stone unturned when it comes to provoking Putin’s Russia and numerous others. The recent collapse of cooperation in Syria – based on the false claim that Assad and his Russian allies are waging genocide in Aleppo – is only the latest example. So now comes the U.S. Army’s chief of staff, General Mark Milley, doing his best imitation of Curtis LeMay in a recent speech dripping with bellicosity. While America has no industrial state enemy left on the planet that can even remotely challenge its economic might, technological superiority and overwhelming military power, General Milley unloaded a fusillade of bluster at the Association of the United States Army’s annual meeting in Washington DC:

“The strategic resolve of our nation, the United States, is being challenged and our alliances tested in ways that we haven’t faced in many, many decades,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told the audience. “I want to be clear to those who wish to do us harm … the United States military – despite all of our challenges, despite our [operational] tempo, despite everything we have been doing – we will stop you and we will beat you harder than you have ever been beaten before. Make no mistake about that.” That is rank nonsense. We are not being “tested” by anyone. To the contrary, Imperial Washington is provoking tensions and confrontations everywhere – from the South China Sea to Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, the Black Sea, the Baltics and Ukraine – that have no bearing whatsoever on the safety and security of the citizens of Spokane WA, Topeka KS and Springfield MA.

Indeed, the clear and present danger to peace and freedom in the homeland lies not in the machinations of foreign capitals, but in the arrogant and bombastic groupthink that has overtaken the denizens of the Imperial City. The latter is again on display in the full-throated fulminations about the siege of Aleppo being emitted by the Washington War Party and its trained poodles in the establishment media – most especially the New York Times. We are told that the Russian Air Force and Assad’s military are targeting schools, hospitals and the 200,000 or so civilians of Eastern Aleppo for indiscriminate bombing and slaughter.

It’s shades of Benghazi 2011 all over again – an incipient genocide that Washington must stop in the name of R2P (Responsibility to Protect). No it’s not! What is happening in Aleppo is a raging sectarian civil war and a proxy battleground for the regional political maneuvers of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran. They are none of America’s business and haven’t been since the so-called Arab spring uprising spread to Syria in 2011. Indeed, Syria is a lawless, bombed-out, economically decimated failed state today owing to Washington’s heavy-handed intervention at the behest of the War Party’s bloody twin sisters. That is, the neocons and the R2P liberal interventionist claque around Hillary Clinton, including UN Ambassador Samantha Powers and National Security Council head Susan Rice.

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Does Dmitry rely too much on Russian rationalism as the main factor?

Oops! – A World War! (Dmitry Orlov)

Over the past week or so I’ve been receiving a steady stream of emails demanding to know whether an all-out nuclear war is about to erupt between the US and Russia. I’ve been watching the situation develop more or less carefully, and have been offering my opinion, briefly, one on one, to a few people’s great relief, and now I will attempt to spread the cheer far and wide. In short, on the one hand, all-out nuclear annihilation remains quite unlikely, barring an accident. But, on the other hand, such an accident is by no means impossible, because when it comes to US foreign policy “Oops!” seems to be the operative term.

One reason to be cheerful is that any plan to attack Russia is bound to become mired in bureaucracy. Battle plans are developed by mid-rank people within the US military establishment, approved and forwarded up the chain of command by higher-rank people and finally signed off on by the Pentagon’s top brass and their civilian political accomplices. The top brass and the politicians may be delusional, megalomaniacal and inadvertently suicidal, but the mid-rank people who develop the battle plans are rarely suicidal. If a particular plan has no conceivable chance of victory but is quite likely to lead to them and their families and friends becoming vaporized in a nuclear blast, they are unlikely to recommend it.

Another reason to be cheerful is that Russia has carefully limited the Pentagon’s options. One plan that, in the popular imagination, could lead to an all-out war with Russia, would be the imposition of a no-fly zone over Syria. What many people miss is that it is not possible to impose a no-fly zone on a country with a sufficiently powerful air defense system, such as Syria. As a first step, the air defense system would have to be taken out, and the air campaign to do so would be very expensive and incur massive losses in both equipment and personnel. But then the Russians made this step significantly worse by introducing their S-300 system. This is an autonomous, tracked, mobile system that can blow objects out of the sky over much of Syria and some of Turkey. It is very difficult to keep track of, because it can use “shoot and scoot” tactics, launching an attack and crawling away in a random direction over rough terrain.

Last on my list of reasons why war with Russia remains unlikely is that there isn’t much of a reason to start one, assuming the US behaves rationally. Currently, the biggest reason to start a war is that the Syrian army is winning the conflict in Aleppo. Once Aleppo is back in government hands and the US-supported jihadis are on the run, the Syrian civil war will largely be over, and the rebuilding will begin.

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“..who will emerge from the rubble? I suspect it will be someone we haven’t heard of before, just as Bonaparte was unheard of in France in 1792..”

Wounded Elephant (Jim Kunstler)

It is getting to be too late to sort out all the confusion sown by this horrific campaign. From here on its really more a matter of the dust settling. In background of it all looms the train-wreck of global finance, which will be the true determinant of what the American people will have to do in the years ahead. During the weeks of the election distraction, the European banks struggle to conceal their insolvency while the politicians of Euro-land desperately try to paper over the cracks in these fracturing institutions. Few can tell what is actually happening in China’s banking system, but it’s sending out ominous tremors that are hard to ignore.

But be sure it is all daisy-chained right into Wall Street and the US banks. The potential for wrecking markets and currencies around the world is extreme at this moment. It may only be a matter of whether it happens before or after the election. Then we’ll see what happens when financial institutions can’t trust each other. Trade stops. Economies crumble. Pretenses evaporate. If it gets bad enough, the shelves of the supermarkets go bare in three days and you’re living in a permanent hurricane disaster without the wind and rain. Believe me, that will be bad enough. Hillary, if elected, will not get to play FDR-2. Rather, she’ll be stuck in the role of Hoover, the Return, presiding over a freight elevator of an economy with a broken cable.

Expect problems with the US dollar. Expect “emergency” actions. Expect the unintended consequences of those actions. If there is one outstanding upshot of these “debates” it must be their staggering failure to reassure the American public that they can expect effective leadership through the hardships ahead. There must be many others out there like myself wondering who will emerge from the rubble? I suspect it will be someone we haven’t heard of before, just as Bonaparte was unheard of in France in 1792. This is not entirely a nation of clowns, though it feels like that lately.

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Uh, no, George; that’s quite a big miss. The process of loneliness emerging as a result of breaking social ties goes back way further than neoliberalism. Try the nuclear family. Try how we design our homes and cities.

Neoliberalism Is Creating Loneliness That’s Wrenching Society Apart (Monbiot)

What greater indictment of a system could there be than an epidemic of mental illness? Yet plagues of anxiety, stress, depression, social phobia, eating disorders, self-harm and loneliness now strike people down all over the world. The latest, catastrophic figures for children’s mental health in England reflect a global crisis. There are plenty of secondary reasons for this distress, but it seems to me that the underlying cause is everywhere the same: human beings, the ultrasocial mammals, whose brains are wired to respond to other people, are being peeled apart. Economic and technological change play a major role, but so does ideology. Though our wellbeing is inextricably linked to the lives of others, everywhere we are told that we will prosper through competitive self-interest and extreme individualism.

In Britain, men who have spent their entire lives in quadrangles – at school, at college, at the bar, in parliament – instruct us to stand on our own two feet. The education system becomes more brutally competitive by the year. Employment is a fight to the near-death with a multitude of other desperate people chasing ever fewer jobs. The modern overseers of the poor ascribe individual blame to economic circumstance. Endless competitions on television feed impossible aspirations as real opportunities contract. Consumerism fills the social void. But far from curing the disease of isolation, it intensifies social comparison to the point at which, having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves.

Social media brings us together and drives us apart, allowing us precisely to quantify our social standing, and to see that other people have more friends and followers than we do. As Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett has brilliantly documented, girls and young women routinely alter the photos they post to make themselves look smoother and slimmer. Some phones, using their “beauty” settings, do it for you without asking; now you can become your own thinspiration. Welcome to the post-Hobbesian dystopia: a war of everyone against themselves. Is it any wonder, in these lonely inner worlds, in which touching has been replaced by retouching, that young women are drowning in mental distress?

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One in a long line of obituaries, but a significant one. Many thousands of spcies will die with the reef.

Obituary: Great Barrier Reef : 25 Million BC-2016 (OO)

The Great Barrier Reef of Australia passed away in 2016 after a long illness. It was 25 million years old. For most of its life, the reef was the world’s largest living structure, and the only one visible from space. It was 1,400 miles long, with 2,900 individual reefs and 1,050 islands. In total area, it was larger than the United Kingdom, and it contained more biodiversity than all of Europe combined. It harbored 1,625 species of fish, 3,000 species of mollusk, 450 species of coral, 220 species of birds, and 30 species of whales and dolphins. Among its many other achievements, the reef was home to one of the world’s largest populations of dugong and the largest breeding ground of green turtles.

The reef was born on the eastern coast of the continent of Australia during the Miocene epoch. Its first 24.99 million years were seemingly happy ones, marked by overall growth. It was formed by corals, which are tiny anemone-like animals that secrete shell to form colonies of millions of individuals. Its complex, sheltered structure came to comprise the most important habit in the ocean. As sea levels rose and fell through the ages, the reef built itself into a vast labyrinth of shallow-water reefs and atolls extending 140 miles off the Australian coast and ending in an outer wall that plunged half a mile into the abyss. With such extraordinary diversity of life and landscape, it provided some of the most thrilling marine adventures on earth to humans who visited. Its otherworldly colors and patterns will be sorely missed.

[..] The Great Barrier Reef was predeceased by the South Pacific’s Coral Triangle, the Florida Reef off the Florida Keys, and most other coral reefs on earth. It is survived by the remnants of the Belize Barrier Reef and some deepwater corals.

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And winter is coming, also in Greece.

More Than 11,200 Migrants Stranded On Aegean Islands (Kath.)

Authorities say 162 migrants and refugees have arrived on Greece’s Aegean islands in the past 24 hours, raising the total number to 11,215. Authorities say 38 arrivals were reported on Samos, 38 on Chios and 22 on Lesvos. The number of individuals sheltered on Samos has increased by about 40% over the past 10 days, officials say. On Tuesday, State Minister Alekos Flabouraris chaired a meeting on immigration strategy where it was decided that migrants will be gradually moved out of an overcrowded facility on the island, while there are plans to build a second facility to detain migrants who commit violations.

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Feb 262016
 
 February 26, 2016  Posted by at 9:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Russell Lee Washington DC, “Cafe on L Street.” 1938

A System That Is Stable Only When Under The Influence (BBG)
OECD’s William White: In Terms of Debt, This Is Way Worse than 2007 (FS)
The Red Swan And Other Reasons To Be Very Afraid (David Stockman)
RBS Falls -11% After £1.98 Billion Annual Loss (BBG)
China Unveils Its Deliverables for G-20 (BBG)
China Tweaks Monetary Stance as Zhou Flags Scope to Act (BBG)
“This Is Not A Moment Of Crisis”: US Treasury Sec. Jack Lew (NA)
Germany Opposes Any G-20 Fiscal Stimulus (BBG)
Market Turmoil Eases, but Investors Remain Wary (WSJ)
The Big New Threat to Oil Prices: A Glut of Gasoline (WSJ)
Halliburton Cuts Another 5,000 Workers to Cope with Oil Downturn (BBG)
Brexit: Fraying Union (FT)
Greek Health Minister Instructs Hospitals To Treat Uninsured Patients (Kath.)
Over 130,000 Migrants Missing In Germany (EUO)
Ministers Demand Drop In Migrant Flows From Turkey Before March 7 (Reuters)
Europe’s Free Travel Will End Unless Turkey Halts Migrant Flow (Reuters)
EU: Greece Wouldn’t Be The Worst Place To Have A Humanitarian Crisis (WSJ)
“We Are Heading Into Anarchy”, “EU Will “Completely Break Down In 10 Days” (ZH)

Great metaphor.

A System That Is Stable Only When Under The Influence (BBG)

From BBG’s Richard Breslow: “When investors used to say they didn’t like uncertainty, it meant they expected consistency in how policy makers would interpret incoming data. Situations evolve and exogenous shocks happen, but at least let’s all be on a similar wave length. Then you do your analysis, I’ll do mine and that’s what makes markets. That ship has sailed. Current levels of volatility aren’t good or fun and certainly not “normal.” It’s a problem of our own making. From top to bottom we have redesigned a system that is stable only when under the influence. I read this morning that money managers are pining away for a return to the happy and calm days of 2011-2015. The world was in existential crisis, but stocks were being manipulated higher. Happy days, I’m getting my (market) fix.

A casualty of this current volatility is that at any given time there are no rational explanations for what’s going on. Back and forth swings of meaningful proportion are characterized, by necessity, with a random reason generator. If we don’t do so we’d have to admit to a much deeper systemic defect. Better to just put it down to simple things like China’s economy or the European banking system is collapsing. They’ll be forgotten at the next rally. What would be hard news is G-20 participants giving more than lip service to their host’s pre-summit statement: “We cannot just rely on monetary policy. Fiscal policy must play a role,” and “We understand that, as the second-largest economy, our policies spill over to others. We also understand that U.S. policies spill over, we must stress policy coordination.”

Yes, Mr. Lew, there is a crisis. German 10-year bund yields 15 basis points. Analysts are touting technical hammer patterns formed yesterday in the S&P 500 and Treasury 10-year yields. Everything should rally now. Somehow, I doubt they’ve hit the nail on the head. The only thing that has changed is the price. El Condor Pasa. A condor by any other name is still a vulture.”

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A few words of wisdom.

OECD’s William White: In Terms of Debt, This Is Way Worse than 2007 (FS)

William White, chairman of the Economic and Development Review Committee at the OECD and former chief economist at the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), says the risks posed by global debt levels are greater today than they were in 2007 and that central banking monetary policy has lost its effectiveness. He also explains the crucial differences between modern macroeconomic modeling and complexity theory (or viewing the economy as a complex adaptive system) and the key lessons this has for policymakers, both fiscal and monetary. Here’s a portion of his recent interview with Financial Sense airing Friday on the Newshour page:

“If you think about a crisis period as a period of deleveraging, in fact this has not happened and we’ve gone in the very opposite direction. Now, on the household side, clearly there have been some improvements made but on the corporate side in the US, things have gotten significantly worse—the debt ratios for corporations have gone up very substantially as has government debt… More importantly—again, when I say the situation is worse today than it was in 2007—in 2007 this debt problem was essentially confined to the advanced market economies. Since then, the debt ratios—the private debt ratios in particular—have exploded in the emerging market countries and so we now have in a sense a global problem whereas in 2007 you might say we had a regional problem with the advanced market economies.

But now it’s basically everywhere so, yes, I do think that the situation is worse than it was then… When I first came to the BIS in 1994, we started warning about the credit flows into Southeast Asia well before the Asian crisis happened and…it was in the early 2000s that we really started to focus on what was going on in the advanced market economies… The story that we were telling then was really one of the Greenspan put starting in 1987 and every time there was a problem, the answer was to print the money or ease monetary conditions and the debt ratios ratcheted up and up and up…

So we had this problem in ’87 and the answer was easy money; then we had this problem in 1990-1991 and, again, the answer was easy money. The response to the Southeast Asian crisis was don’t raise rates even though all sorts of other indicators said you should. Then it was easy money again in 2001 and, of course, in 2007…every time the headwinds of debt have been getting higher and higher and the monetary easing required to overcome that has had to get greater and greater and the logic of that takes you to the point where you say, well, in the end monetary easing is not going to work at all and…that’s where I am today… Unfortunately, we are still, as far as I can tell, both the BIS and myself are still talking to a brick wall…

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David in fine form: “China is a monumental doomsday machine that bears no more resemblance to anything that could be called stable..”

The Red Swan And Other Reasons To Be Very Afraid (David Stockman)

The Red Chip casino took another one of its patented 6.5% belly flops last night. In fact, more than 1,300 stocks in Shanghai and Shenzhen fell by 10% – the maximum drop permitted by regulators in one day – implying that the real decline was far deeper. This renewed carnage was the worst since, well, the last 6% drop way back on January 29, and It means that the cumulative meltdown from last June’s high is pushing 45%. And all this red chip mayhem did not come at an especially propitious moment for the regime, as the Wall Street Journal explained: It comes at an awkward moment for the Chinese government, which is hosting the world’s leading central bankers and finance ministers starting Friday. China has been expected to use the G-20 meeting to address global anxiety about its economy and financial markets.

Worries about China’s economic slowdown and the volatility of its markets have weighed on investment decisions around the world. But if we are remarking on “awkward”, here’s awkward. The G-20 central bankers, finance ministers and IMF apparatchiks descending on Shanghai should take an unfiltered, eyes-wide-open view of the Red Ponzi fracturing all about them, and then make a petrified mad dash back to their own respective capitals. There is nothing more for G-20 to talk about with respect to China except how to get out of harms’ way, fast. China is a monumental doomsday machine that bears no more resemblance to anything that could be called stable, sustainable capitalism than did Lenin’s New Economic Policy of the early 1920s. The latter was followed by Stalin’s Gulag and it would be wise to learn the Chinese word for the same, and soon.

The regime is in a horrendous bind because it has played out the greatest credit spree in world history. This cycle of undisciplined, debt-fueled digging, building, spending and speculating took its collective balance sheet from $500 billion of debt in the mid-1990s to the $30 trillion tower of the same that now gyrates heavily over the land. That’s a 60X gain in debt over just two decades in an “economy” that has no honest financial markets; no legal system and tradition of bankruptcy and financial discipline; and a banking system that functions as an arm of the state, cascading credit down from the top in order to “print” an exact amount of GDP each month on the theory that anything that can be built, should be built in order to hit Beijing’s targets.

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One by one, the big banks have double digit losses when reporting their numbers. The RBS CEO tries a “I meant to do that”. Yeah.

RBS Falls -11% After £1.98 Billion Annual Loss (BBG)

Royal Bank of Scotland said it would take longer than originally planned to resume shareholder payouts after reporting its eighth consecutive annual loss, driven by costs for past misconduct. The shares dropped the most since 2012. The net loss narrowed to 1.98 billion pounds ($2.77 billion) in 2015 from 3.47 billion pounds a year earlier, the Edinburgh-based lender said in a statement on Friday. Pretax profit excluding conduct and litigation charges and restructuring costs fell about 28% to 4.41 billion pounds, missing the 4.45 billion-pound average estimate in a company-compiled survey of seven analysts. RBS last posted net income in 2007.

Chief Executive Officer Ross McEwan, 58, is facing a pivotal year in his efforts to resume dividends for the first time since the bank’s 45.5 billion-pound taxpayer-funded bailout in 2008. The bank said Friday outstanding issues, including a potential settlement with U.S. authorities over sales of mortgage-backed securities, mean it’s now “more likely that capital distributions will resume later” than his original target of the first quarter of 2017. “Clearly there are big conduct charges we still face, not least in relation to U.S. mortgage-backed securities,” McEwan said on a conference call with journalists. “I look forward to the day when we can put these issues behind us.”

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Curious choice of words. China is a big looming crisis. Straight-faced pretending is not going to change that.

China Unveils Its Deliverables for G-20 (BBG)

China began signaling what its officials plan to present to counterparts at the two-day Group of 20 meeting in Shanghai, laying out a platform for more government spending and renewed pledges of currency stability. Notably rejected in comments from Finance Minister Lou Jiwei published Thursday was a proposal that emanated from some private-sector analysts for a grand, 1985 Plaza Accord-style deal among G-20 members to guide exchange rates. Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao said fiscal stimulus should be deployed to boost global growth, while Yi Gang, the deputy central bank governor, said China will maintain a relatively stable currency as it embraces market forces. Clouding what should have been China’s chance to showcase its agenda, the nation’s stocks plunged anew on the eve of the Feb. 26-27 meetings of central bank chiefs and finance ministers, as surging money-market rates signaled tighter liquidity.

“The stock slump has been triggered by the disappointment of investors in the government’s ability to deliver economic reforms,” said Hong Kong-based Lu Ting, chief economist at Huatai Securities Co. “Any recovery in the stock market will rely on concrete outcomes of reforms, not empty talk.” How policy makers should respond to weakening global demand is set to dominate the agenda at the Shanghai meeting. Chinese officials including Yi’s boss, Zhou Xiaochuan, have stepped up communication leading into the summit, trying to relieve global concerns over China’s economic and currency outlook. Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda Thursday called for a dialog on China’s economy at the G-20 meeting. “The nation is going through various structural changes,” Kuroda told lawmakers in Tokyo. Given China’s size, it “can have a large impact on Asia and the global economy. So, I would like to have honest exchange of opinions.”

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What’s the correct word? Obfuscation sounds about right.

China Tweaks Monetary Stance as Zhou Flags Scope to Act (BBG)

China’s central bank tweaked the description of its monetary policy stance to reflect a recent ramp-up in liquidity injections and moves to guide money market rates lower, with Governor Zhou Xiaochuan highlighting scope for further actions if needed. “China still has some monetary policy space and multiple policy instruments to address possible downside risks,” Zhou said at a conference in Shanghai, speaking hours before meeting his counterparts from the Group of 20 developed and emerging markets. Asian stocks, industrial metals and higher-yielding currencies rose. The People’s Bank of China separately published a statement defining current policy as “prudent with a slight easing bias.” The PBOC had previously used language pledging to maintain a prudent policy while maintaining “reasonable, ample” liquidity.

The latest comments confirm “the underlying reality that the central bank is doing its bit to cushion growth and keep the wheels churning,” said Frederic Neumann at HSBC. “Today’s statement is thus a deliberate signal to FX traders the world over not to fret too much over the PBOC’s firepower.” Economists surveyed by Bloomberg News this month forecast additional reserve requirement ratio and benchmark interest-rate reductions in 2016. The shift “brings the language on the central bank’s policy stance into line with the reality,” Bloomberg Intelligence chief Asia economist Tom Orlik wrote in a note. Still, “the need to avoid selling pressure on the yuan will make it more difficult to cut benchmark rates in the short term.”

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No time to panic.

“This Is Not A Moment Of Crisis”: US Treasury Sec. Jack Lew (NA)

“This is not a moment of crisis,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob “Jack” Lew said, in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “This is a moment where you’ve got real economies doing better than markets think, in some cases.” The interview, which ran on Wednesday, just before Lew headed to Shanghai, China, for the latest G20 summit of finance ministers and central bankers, will probably do little to allay investor fears that the global economy is indeed “in the middle of a full blown crisis.” “I don’t think this is a moment in time when you’re going to see individual countries make the kinds of specific commitments that have been made in some other contexts that have been marked by real crisis,” Lew said of the G20 meeting (of the world’s 20 largest national economies), which will take place in Shanghai Friday and Saturday, February 26-27.

“The idea is how do you avoid having things go to a place that you don’t want them to go,” Lew said. “That’s a different conversation than what do you do when you’re in the middle of a full blown crisis.” “Weakness in demand globally is a problem that can’t be solved just by everyone looking at the United States,” said Lew, leading into his central interventionist message that governments must work together to “stimulate” the global economy with more government spending and more government debt. Other countries and regions, including China, have to look at what they can do “to stimulate consumer demand,” he stressed. “There are structural issues that need to be addressed,” said Lew, with some countries needing regulatory and/or financial reform. “But fiscal and monetary policies are important tools. When used together they’re powerful. That’s the message we bring.”

Lew’s “non-crisis” message echoed that of International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde a few days earlier. On February 19, Lagarde, who had just been confirmed for a second five-year term as IMF chief, urged the G20 nations to coordinate economic policy. “Are we in a 2009 moment, I don’t think so. Are we in a moment where coordination is needed? Yes,” Lagarde said, a reference to the 2008-2009 financial crisis.

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And then there’s Schäuble.

Germany Opposes Any G-20 Fiscal Stimulus (BBG)

Germany’s finance minister opposed any fiscal stimulus plan from the Group of 20, whose top economic officials gather Friday, and instead sought to focus on structural reforms to strengthen national growth rates. Wolfgang Schaeuble, speaking hours before meeting with his counterparts from the G-20 developed and emerging markets, also said that the space for monetary policy has been exhausted. He warned that using debt to fund growth just leads to “zombifying” economies. “Talking about further stimulus just distracts from the real tasks at hand,” Schaeuble said at a conference in Shanghai. German policy makers “do not agree on a G-20 fiscal stimulus package, as some argue in case outlook risks materialize.”

Schaeuble’s stance potentially puts him in conflict with other G-20 members. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said in an interview before heading to Shanghai that the U.S. wants a more serious commitment from other G-20 nations to use monetary policy, fiscal measures and structural reforms to stoke demand. China’s finance chief said that his nation for its part will be expanding its fiscal deficit. The German finance minister said that the slide in oil prices has already offered a “huge” stimulus for demand. He also said that expansive fiscal policies could lay the groundwork for a future crisis.

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Lamest headline of the year award. Trying to lull you to sleep.

Market Turmoil Eases, but Investors Remain Wary (WSJ)

The crushing start to the year for markets has taken a respite. But poor earnings, heightened volatility and turbulence in the market for low-rated corporate bonds remain, stoking concerns that the breather for stocks may be just a blip. Thursday marked the sixth trading day out of nine that U.S. stocks ended on an up note, putting February in the green for major indexes. The Dow industrials are up 1.4% this month after slumping more than 9% in the first three weeks of the year. In a sign of newfound resilience, stock markets in both Europe and the U.S. on Thursday shrugged off a 6.4% selloff in Chinese stocks. Two months ago, declines like that dragged down global indexes. And U.S.-traded oil, which lately has moved in the same direction with stocks, has posted a strong week, up 4.2% in what bulls call a positive sign for global growth.

The buoyancy suggests investors are weathering negative news or aren’t as worried the global economy is in decline or that the aging bull market has peaked. Yet, the recent rally faces obstacles. Even as stocks rose Thursday, investors bought U.S. Treasurys, sending prices up and yields down. And new cracks emerged in the corporate bond market. Bankers for Solera Holdings this week had trouble generating interest in bonds for a takeover of the software firm, suggesting it is getting harder for heavily indebted companies to borrow. The slowdown in the market for high-yield, or riskier, corporate bonds comes amid a poor fourth-quarter earnings season. Earnings at S&P 500 companies are on track to have dropped from a year ago for three straight quarters, which would be the first time that has happened since 2009.

Overall, earnings for S&P 500 companies fell 3.6% from a year ago in the fourth quarter, with about 95% of companies having reported, according to FactSet data. “You still have a profits recession,” said Russ Koesterich at BlackRock. “There are limits to how far [the rally is] going to go.”

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Export it?!

The Big New Threat to Oil Prices: A Glut of Gasoline (WSJ)

Refineries in the U.S. Midwest are losing their thirst for oil, posing a new risk for the battered crude market. The Midwest accounts for nearly a quarter of the crude processed in the U.S. and is home to shale producers that have few other outlets for their oil. But refiners there are already swimming in gasoline and other fuel, forcing them to cut back production until the excess can be worked off. The result has been more crude oil available in the market, worsening a glut that has been undermining oil prices for the past year and a half. With U.S. crude inventories at the highest level in more than 80 years, some storage hubs have little room left to store oil. CVR Refining is among the companies that have scaled back. The company said recently that it reduced runs at its 70,000-barrels-a-day refinery in Wynnewood, OK, by as much as 10,000 barrels a day.

“It doesn’t make sense to process something when you’re not making anything on it,” Chief Executive Jack Lipinski said during a Feb. 18 earnings call. Refiners in the Department of Energy’s Midwest region, which stretches from North Dakota to Ohio and south to Oklahoma and Tennessee, ran at 92.9% of capacity last week, down from 98.2% a month ago. That drop is significant because it marks the first time several refineries in the region have opted to reduce activity for economic reasons—a marked change after more than a year of refiners processing as much crude as possible. Refining margins are lower throughout the country this year, including in the Gulf Coast region, where more than 50% the country’s refining capacity is concentrated.

But refiners there have more choices when it comes to buying crude oil and can substitute cheaper options if they become available. And they can put fuel on tankers to sell overseas if supplies build up too much. Refiners profit on the difference between oil prices and fuel prices. Oil prices have dropped 70% since mid-2014 to around $32 a barrel currently, but robust demand for gasoline kept prices at the pump from falling as quickly last year, boosting refiner margins. However, analysts question whether demand will increase strongly this year, especially given broader concerns about sluggish economic growth. On a four-week average basis, U.S. gasoline demand fell in January compared with the year before, according to Energy Information Administration estimates. “Crude is well-supplied, products are well-supplied,” said David Leben at BNP Paribas. “We have to find the demand.”

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29,000 in total now.

Halliburton Cuts Another 5,000 Workers to Cope with Oil Downturn (BBG)

Halliburton said it’s cutting another 5,000 workers, or 8% of its global workforce, to cope with the worst crude market downturn in 30 years. The world’s second-largest oilfield services provider said last month it cut nearly 4,000 jobs in the final three months of 2015. With the latest layoffs, the company will have let go of nearly 29,000 workers, or more than a quarter of its headcount since staffing reached its peak in late 2014. “We regret having to make this decision but unfortunately we are faced with the difficult reality that reductions are necessary to work through this challenging market environment,” Emily Mir, a spokeswoman, said Thursday in an e-mailed statement. “We thank all impacted employees for their many contributions to Halliburton.” The oil industry slashed more than $100 billion in spending and more than 250,000 jobs globally last year to cope with tumbling oil prices, which are down about 70% over the past year and a half due to an oversupply of crude.

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Too many threats to defuse them all.

Brexit: Fraying Union (FT)

“We are not withdrawalists as a party, but we want to have a new deal with the EU,” says Morten Messerschmidt, who won a seat in the European parliament after [his] party topped all others in Denmark’s 2014 EU elections, with 26.6 per cent of the vote. “We are happy that a big country such as Britain is talking about taking back sovereignty and is willing to make the final sacrifice.” Denmark is seen as one of the countries most vulnerable to contagion if Britain were to vote to leave the EU. In many ways, the Danish are the most British of continental Europeans when it comes to Brussels, delaying its EU membership until the UK became a member in 1973 and remaining the only other country with an “opt-out” of the EU requirement to join the euro.

Denmark is hardly alone in harbouring political movements that wish to leave the EU. The failure of most of Europe to pull out of its post-eurocrisis economic funk, coupled by the largest influx of refugees in more than a generation, has left mainstream parties across the continent under siege. Some fear a British exit would push many of these countries over the edge, sparking louder calls for copycat referendums that could begin to unravel the great postwar European project. Although EU leaders believe Scandinavia and the “Visegrad Four” countries in central and eastern Europe — Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic — would feel the most immediate pressure from a British exit because of longstanding anti-EU sentiment in those blocs, leading voices from “core Europe” are now lending support for similar ventures.

In the Netherlands, a founding member of both the EU and the euro, Geert Wilders, whose far-right Freedom party has held a commanding lead in national polls for months, recently said a British exit would make it easier for his country to leave the EU — something he promised to deliver should he become prime minister. “The beginning of the end of the EU has already started,” he said last month. “And it can be an enormous incentive for other countries if the UK would leave.” In France, another member of the EU’s founding six, the far-right National Front, which like the Freedom party is also leading in polls ahead of a presidential election next year, has promised a British-style referendum over EU membership within six months of coming to power. “Until now, the EU has only enlarged itself. Brexit would prove the EU is not an inevitable plan,” says Florian Philippot, the National Front vice-president. “Soon people would also realise that the UK lives well without being part of the EU. That there would be no economic collapse, no chaos.”

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That’s how to do it.

Greek Health Minister Instructs Hospitals To Treat Uninsured Patients (Kath.)

The process of providing free healthcare to patients who have not recently earned social security credits got under way on Thursday. Health Minister Andreas Xanthos issued instructions to state hospitals to provide medicines, tests and treatment to uninsured patients without charge. The minister’s note came in the wake of the so-called “parallel program” being voted through Parliament on Saturday. The package of measures is aimed at easing the impact of the crisis on the most vulnerable social groups, with the provision of free healthcare for all being its centerpiece.

The law also allows migrants living in Greece legally, as well as specific categories that do not have residence papers, such as pregnant women, refugees and minors, to receive free care. According to ministerial decisions in 2014, uninsured Greeks could claim free healthcare if they could prove they could not afford it, while they could also obtain medicines under the same terms as those insured with EOPYY, meaning they would have to pay 1 euro for each prescription as well as part of the cost of the drugs.

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And we thought they were so well organized…

Over 130,000 Migrants Missing In Germany (EUO)

More than 13 percent of asylum seekers arriving to Germany last year have disappeared from view of the authorities, the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported Friday (26 February) based on a response from the federal interior ministry to a question by the left-wing Die Linke party. More than 130,000 asylum seekers who were registered last year in Germany have not arrived at their designated reception facility, according to the report. The interior ministry said the reasons could be traveling on to a different country or “submersion into illegality”. Some asylum seekers who have family or friends already living in Germany might decide to stay with them, rather than in big reception facilities with little information or few things to do.

The head of Germany’s federal office for migration Frank-Juergen Weise said on Thursday that there are currently up to 400,000 people in the country whose identities are unknown to authorities. Germany is also struggling to send back asylum seekers to other EU countries under the Dublin regulation, which says people have to register their request in the country where they first enter the EU. German authorities made a request to a European partner to take back refugees for only one in every 10 applicants. In 2014, this was the case for one in every five refugees. The report comes on a day when the German upper house, the Bundesrat is to hold a final vote on new asylum rules.

The legislation, already passed by the Bundestag, the lower house on Thursday, aims to speed up asylum procedures, making it easier to deport migrants whose claim has been rejected. It also sets up special reception centers in which asylum applications by certain groups of asylum-seekers would be processed within three weeks. Asylum seekers from so-called “safe countries of origin”, where they can be sent back or people who have refused to help authorities process their applications would be housed there.

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if Turkey doesn’t do what they want, they will close the Greek border? That’s exactly what Turkey ia aiming for, put pressure on Greece.

Ministers Demand Drop In Migrant Flows From Turkey Before March 7 (Reuters)

EU ministers on Thursday raised the prospect of further tightening unilateral border controls unless there was a sharp drop in the number of migrants arriving from Turkey by the time of an EU-Turkey summit on March 7. Seven European states have already reinstated border controls within the cherished but creaking Schengen free-travel zone, putting huge strain on Greece, which can no longer wave the tide of arrivals from Turkey onward through the Balkans. More states said they would follow suit unless a deal promising Turkey €3 billion in help to house refugees from the Syrian war in return for preventing them travelling on to Europe yielded fruit before the summit. “By March 7, we want a significant reduction in the number of refugees at the border between Turkey and Greece,” German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said as he arrived at an EU justice and home affairs ministers’ meeting in Brussels.

Germany has been pushing the Turkey plan hard but many other EU states are increasingly frustrated and sceptical. [..] “The 6th of March, the 7th of March is when you can expect the spring influx to rise … we have until that time to find solutions that mostly involve the Greek-Turkish influx, the border there,” said Klaas Dijkhoff, migration minister for the Netherlands, which now holds the EU’s rotating presidency. ”If that doesn’t lead to lower numbers, we’ll have to find other measures and we’ll have to do more contingency planning … That’s a very crucial date to see to what extent we succeed in lowering the influx towards Europe as a whole, or we have to take other measures.” [..] “The outlook is gloomy … We have no policy any more. We are heading into anarchy,” said Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s foreign minister. “Our credibility is in doubt, and that is very bad for Schengen and the EU.”

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This is exactly what I talked about in my article “The Balkanization of Europe” yesterday. Now Erdogan holds the power over the survival of Schengen, and the EU. What an insane alliance that is. Stick a fork in all of it.

Europe’s Free Travel Will End Unless Turkey Halts Migrant Flow (Reuters)

Europe’s cherished free-travel zone will shut down unless Turkey acts to cut the number of migrants heading north through Greece by March 7, EU officials said on Thursday. Their declaration came as confrontations grow increasingly rancorous among European countries trying to cope with the influx of refugees. Those recriminations culminated in Greece’s recalling its ambassador to Austria on Thursday. “In the next ten days, we need tangible and clear results on the ground,” the top EU migration official, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said after EU justice and home affairs ministers met in Brussels on Thursday. “Otherwise there is a danger, there is a risk that the whole system will completely break down.” EU leaders are now pinning their hopes on talks with Turkey on March 7 and their own migration summit on March 18-19. The two meetings look like their final chance to revive a flailing joint response to the crisis before warmer weather encourages more arrivals across the Mediterranean.

Seven European states have already restored border controls within the creaking Schengen passport-free zone. More said they would unilaterally tighten border controls unless a deal with Turkey shows results before the two March summits. That deal promises Turkey 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) in aid to help it shelter refugees from the Syrian war, in return for preventing their traveling on to Europe. “By March 7, we want a significant reduction in the number of refugees at the border between Turkey and Greece,” German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said. “Otherwise ,there will have to be other joint, coordinated European measures.” Germany has been pushing the Turkey plan hard. Many other EU states are increasingly frustrated and skeptical, though.

[..] “Many discuss how to handle a humanitarian crisis in Greece, which they themselves are trying to create,” said the country’s migration minister, Yannis Mouzalas. “Greece will not accept unilateral moves. Unilateral moves can also be made by Greece.”

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A set-up.

EU: Greece Wouldn’t Be The Worst Place To Have A Humanitarian Crisis (WSJ)

Senior European officials are embracing the so-far taboo idea of cutting off the migrant trail in Greece, a step that they acknowledge could create a humanitarian crisis in the country. This so-called Plan B, floated until now only by Europe’s populist leaders, is a sign of rapidly waning confidence in other European Union policies to deal with the migration crisis—in particular in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s game plan of relying mainly on Turkey to stem the human tide. Greece in recent days has tried to fight back at the prospect of having tens of thousands of migrants trapped on its territory. “We will not accept turning the country into a permanent warehouse of souls,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Wednesday night.

During fractious talks among interior ministers in Brussels on Thursday, several people present said the Greek migration minister made an impassioned plea to EU counterparts not to ringfence Greece as nationalist leaders in Central and Eastern Europe, notably Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Slovakia’s Robert Fico, have long demanded. But the ringfencing is already happening, as Austria and the Balkan countries over the past week have coordinated a tightening of their borders and started to send back Afghan migrants, resulting in more than 10,000 people being stuck in Greece. On Thursday, the Greek government recalled its ambassador to Austria—a rare move within the EU—in outrage over the border controls and for being left out of a meeting of Balkan countries called by Vienna on the crisis.

Some European officials are now looking to a March 7 summit of EU and Turkish leaders as a deadline for the bloc’s existing migration strategy, particularly the cooperation with Turkey and a NATO sea-monitoring mission, to yield fruit. If it doesn’t, it will become more imperative, they warn, to stop migrants from traveling farther north and to speed up preparations for assisting Greece with a possible humanitarian emergency. “Greece wouldn’t be the worst place to have a humanitarian crisis for a few months,” one EU official said, adding that the population there was much more refugee-friendly than those in the Balkans or Eastern Europe.

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What I wrote yesterday in The Balkanization of Europe.

“We Are Heading Into Anarchy”, “EU Will “Completely Break Down In 10 Days” (ZH)

[..[] on Thursday, EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos warned that the bloc has just 10 days to implement a plan that will bring about “tangible and clear results on the ground” or else “the whole system will completely break down.” Avramopoulos also cautioned that a humanitarian crisis in Greece and in the Balkans is “very near.” Moves by countries to adopt ad hoc, state-specific measures to stem the flow are exacerbating the problem, the commissioner contends. “We cannot continue to deal through unilateral, bilateral or trilateral actions; the first negative effects and impacts are already visible,” he said. “We have a shared responsibility – all of us – towards our neighbouring states, both EU and non-EU, but also towards those desperate people.”

By “the negative effects,” of unilateral actions, Avramopoulos is likely referring to the bottlenecks that are leaving thousands stranded in the Balkans. The chokepoints are being pressured by a series of border fences that have been erected over the past six months and the problem is exacerbated by stepped up border checks. In short: we’re witnessing the death of the bloc’s beloved Schengen. “Seven European states have already reinstated border controls within the cherished but creaking Schengen free-travel zone, putting huge strain on Greece, which can no longer wave the tide of arrivals from Turkey onward through the Balkans,” Reuters writes. Earlier today, Athens recalled its Austrian ambassador.

“Greece will not accept unilateral actions. Greece can also carry out unilateral actions,” migration minister, Yannis Mouzalas told reporters on Thursday. “Greece will not accept becoming Europe’s Lebanon, a warehouse of souls, even if this were to be done with major [EU] funding.” On March 7, officials will attend a summit with Turkey where buy in from Ankara is critical if there’s to be meaningful reduction in the flow of asylum seekers to Western Europe. Leaked documents recently showed President Erdogan is essentially attempting to blackmail Europe. “We can open the doors to Greece and Bulgaria at any time. We can put them on busses,” he was quoted as saying, during a conversation with European Commissioner Jean Claude Juncker and President of the European Council Donald Tusk on 16th November 2015 during the G20 Summit in Antalya.

In addition to the seven states that have already reinstated border checks, more countries have promised to follow suit unless Erdogan and Tsipras can figure out a way to make progress in defending the bloc’s external border. Officials fear the onset of spring will embolden still more migrants to make the journey as warmer weather will thaw the Balkan route. On Wednesday, Hungarian PM Viktor Orban called for a referendum on the propsed quota system that Brusells hoped would help distribute and place refugees. It’s only a matter of time before other countries conduct similar plebiscites. Perhaps Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s foreign minister put it best: “The outlook is gloomy … We have no policy any more. We are heading into anarchy.”

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