Apr 082017
 
 April 8, 2017  Posted by at 8:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »


Dorothea Lange Wife of sharecropper in town to sell crop at tobacco auction, Douglas Georgia 1938

 

US Credit Card Debt Tops $1 Trillion For The First Time In A Decade (ZH)
Store Wars: US Retail Sector Is Shedding Jobs Like It’s A Recession (MW)
Apparel Retailers Lead The Charge Out Of Brick-And-Mortar (Forbes)
Wall Street Is Making It Harder to Buy a Car (BBG)
US Jobs Growth Slumps To 98,000 In March (MW)
Millions Of Americans Desperate To Trade Part-Time Work For Full-Time (MW)
Toronto Real Estate Is In A Bubble Of Historic Proportions (Rosenberg)
Rosenberg: Toronto Housing Bubble ‘On Par With What We Had In The US’ (BNN)
Could Europe Copy America’s Supersized Corporate Debt? (BBG)
Syrian Gas Attack is a Lie: “Stop Your Governments!” – Russia (FR)
US Missile Strikes in Syria Cross Russian ‘Red Lines’ (RI)
Greece On Course To Avoid Debt Default As Athens Agrees Pension Cuts (Tel.)
Letting People Drown Is Not A European Value (EUO)

 

 

On top of auto and student loans, both already well over $1 trillion. Get a fork and turn ’em over.

US Credit Card Debt Tops $1 Trillion For The First Time In A Decade (ZH)

Unlike last month’s unexpectedly week consumer credit report, which saw a plunge in revolving, or credit card, debt moments ago the Fed, in its latest G.19 release, announced that there were few surprises in the February report: Total revolving credit rose by $2.9 billion, undoing last month’s $2.6 billion drop – the biggest since 2012 – while non-revolving credit increased by $12.3 billion, for a total increase in February consumer credit of $15.2 billion, roughly in line with the $15 billion expected. However, while in general the data was uneventful, there was one notable milestone: in February, following modest prior revisions, total revolving/credit card debt, has once again risen above the “nice round number” of $1 trillion for the first time since January 2007… where it now joins both auto ($1.1 trillion) and student ($1.4 trillion) loans, both of which are well above $1 trillion as of this moment.

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It IS a recession.

Store Wars: US Retail Sector Is Shedding Jobs Like It’s A Recession (MW)

The U.S. retail industry is shedding jobs at an unparalleled pace outside of recession and stands to lose many more as the industry continues to shrink its physical footprint, a response to the shift in consumer shopping habits away from purchasing in stores and malls in favor of e-commerce. The U.S. retail sector lost 60,600 jobs in February and March, the worst two months for the sector since the tail end of 2009, according to Labor Department data. The category called general merchandise stores – Target, J.C. Penney and the like – has shed jobs for five consecutive months. Media reports have tallied more than 3,500 store closures for 2017, with retailers including J.C. Penney, Sears, Macy’s and others announcing that they are shutting doors and making job cuts.

Ralph Lauren has outlined the next phase of its turnaround effort, which includes shutting stores and cutting jobs. Bankruptcies and liquidations have also picked up, with Payless ShoeSource just this week announcing nearly 400 store closures. Wet Seal, Aeropostale, Sports Authority, and Hhgregg are among the many other retailers that have either filed for bankruptcy or liquidated. The current state of retail, which is weighed by less foot traffic, more promotions, and increased competition, particularly from Amazon.com, suggests that additional closures are on the horizon. The U.S. simply has too many stores, according to a report from Cowen & Company titled “Retail’s Disruption Yields Opportunities – Store Wars!,” which found that up to 2,000 stores should close.

“[W]e expect online penetration of apparel to increase to 35% to 40% from 20%, yielding closures of 20% at oversized chains,” the report said. Cowen analysts say there are about 1,200 malls in the U.S. and they represent about 15% of retail square footage. Cowen anticipates that up to about 20%, or 240 malls, will close or be repurposed, with anchor store closures and the rise of digital among the primary drivers.

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The Amazon bubble. Killing off America’s last remaining meeting places.

Apparel Retailers Lead The Charge Out Of Brick-And-Mortar (Forbes)

This week, Payless ShoeSource filed for bankruptcy, joining many other U.S. apparel brands, including The Limited and Wet Seal, that have sought Chapter 11 protection in recent months. These three chains alone will shutter almost 1,000 stores. Fung Global Retail & Technology estimates that all of the major U.S. store closures announced so far this year total 2,507. That total is just for announcements made in the three months through April 4, 2017, yet it already dwarfs the 1,674 store closures we recorded across major U.S. chains in all of 2016. Closures are impacting multiple sectors: electronics is represented by RadioShack, furniture and appliances by Hhgregg, office products by Staples and healthcare by CVS. Apparel, however, is leading the charge out of brick-and-mortar. We calculate that apparel retailers and department stores account for 2,060 (82%) of the 2,507 closures announced so far this year.

What can we infer from this surge in store closures? We see three principal takeaways: Weak demand for apparel persists. The most obvious conclusion from the recent bankruptcy filings is that apparel retailers continue to feel the impact of subdued consumer demand. American shoppers have been flush with cash thanks to low gas prices, but they have chosen to spend on cars and their homes rather than on fashion. The latest retail sales data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that apparel specialist stores saw a 1% year-over-year decline in sales in February. There is little reason to think shoppers will switch back to apparel as interest rates rise and if fuel prices creep up.

Second, pure-play retailing is fashionable again. Amid all the talk of omnichannel retailing and Internet pure plays opening brick-and-mortar stores, we are now seeing a trend of retailers going the opposite way, moving from operating stores to selling only online. Bebe is one such retailer that is planning to become an Internet pure play. The Limited considered a similar plan but is no longer selling online after filing for bankruptcy. Third, more retailers are facing reality. Not all store closures are being forced by bankruptcies. J.C. Penney and Macy’s, for instance, are slimming down their store networks in order to prepare for the future. We expect more retailers to join them in recognizing a need for fewer stores. Accordingly, we do not expect this year’s store-closure count to stop at 2,507.

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Just in time economy?!

Wall Street Is Making It Harder to Buy a Car (BBG)

On countless occasions in recent years, the U.S. auto industry has relied on cheap and easy credit from Wall Street to get it through rough patches. Not this time. With both bad loans and interest rates on the rise, financial institutions are becoming more selective in doling out credit for new-car purchases, adding to the pressure for automakers already up against the wall with sliding sales, swelling inventories and a used-car glut. “We’ve been having a party for a few years and it was fun,” said Maryann Keller, an industry consultant in Stamford, Connecticut. “Now lenders are getting back to basics.” Many figure they have to. For one thing, subprime borrowers have been falling behind on their car-loan payments at a rate not seen since just after the 2008 financial crisis.

Delinquencies for auto debt of all stripes have been climbing, with the value of those behind for at least 30 days swelling to $23.3 billion in December, a 14% jump from a year earlier, according to the Federal Reserve. This helps explain why 10% of senior bank-loan officers said they expect to pull back on extending credit to car buyers this year, according to a Fed survey. Expectations are that terms will toughen for loans the vast majority of Americans need to buy new vehicles as the Fed boosts benchmark rates. “There are only so many people wanting a new car and only so much capital available,” said Daniel Parry, CEO of Praxis Finance and co-founder of Exeter Finance, a subprime lender. “Manufacturers and lenders will have to reset to reduced volume levels.”

The reset has already started, with auto sales dipping in each of the first three months of the year. In March, the annualized pace, adjusted for seasonal trends, slowed to 16.6 million from 16.7 million a year earlier, according to Autodata Corp. Analysts had projected it would accelerate to about 17.2 million. Now Goldman Sachs economists figure there’s only demand for about 15 million per year, they said in an April 4 report. The industry set a record by selling 17.6 million cars and trucks in 2016 and has been on a seven-year growth streak. But General Motors, Ford and others had to pile on discounts and incentives to keep the expansion going, with both their finance arms and third-party lenders giving them a boost with easy credit. “This has come full circle,” Keller, the consultant, said. “We’ve created an auto market of 17.5 million vehicles based on accommodating credit. There will be consequences.”

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Whaddaya think? Yup, weather.

US Jobs Growth Slumps To 98,000 In March (MW)

The U.S. created just 98,000 new jobs in March to mark the smallest gain in almost a year, a sign the labor market is not quite as strong as big hiring gains earlier in 2017 suggested. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, fell to 4.5% from 4.7% and touched a nearly 10-year low despite the slowdown in hiring. U.S. stocks ended the session pretty much where they started as investors sifted through the March employment report. The U.S. had added more than 200,000 jobs in January and February, but hiring in weather-sensitive industries such as construction was helped by unusually high temperatures in the dead of winter.

Many economists were skeptical the recent pace of job creation was sustainable after a six-year hiring boom that chopped the unemployment rate in half and ignited growing complaints among companies about a shortage of skilled workers to fill open jobs. As a result, economists polled by MarketWatch had estimated the number of new jobs created in March would taper off to 185,000 in the third month of Donald Trump’s young presidency. Instead the decline was even steeper, speared by plunging employment in a beleaguered retail industry. “The 200,000-plus numbers reported for job gains in January and February always seemed a bit outlandish,” said Steven Blitz, chief U.S. economist at TS Lombard. Added economist Harm Bandholz of UniCredit: “Most of this is weather related and correct for exaggerated strengths seen earlier in the year.”

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It’s going so well, get me come shades.

Millions Of Americans Desperate To Trade Part-Time Work For Full-Time (MW)

Millions of Americans don’t want to work part-time. The U.S. economy added just 98,000 jobs in March, the smallest gain in nearly a year, after adding more than 200,000 jobs in January and February. Economists predicted that the number of jobs created in March would hit 180,000, so the actual figures fell far short of that. Unemployment fell to a 10-year-low of 4.5% in March from 4.7% in February, but the “real” unemployment rate that includes part-time workers who would rather work full-time and job hunters who gave up searching for work was 8.9%, although this was also down from 9.2% in February. Part-time work is still a contentious alternative for many workers. On Thursday, Amazon said it will create 30,000 part-time jobs in the U.S. over the next year, nearly double the current number. Of those, 25,000 will be in warehouses and 5,000 will be home-based customer service positions.

Amazon said in January it would create 100,000 full-time jobs over the next 18 months, according to a separate announcement made in January. Last year, Amazon’s world-wide workforce grew by 48% to 341,400 employees. In the U.S., it has over 70 “fulfillment centers” and 90,000 full-time employees. There were some 5.6 million involuntary part-time workers in March 2017, little changed from the month before, but down from 6.4 million a year earlier, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number is up from 4.5 million in November 2007, but way off a peak of 8.6 million in September 2012. These figures are almost entirely due to the inability of workers to find full-time jobs, leaving many workers to take or keep lower-paying jobs, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit think-tank in Washington, D.C. And 54% of the growth in these involuntary part-time jobs between 2007 and 2015 were in retail, leisure and hospitality industries, the EPI said.

[..] Perhaps not surprisingly, involuntary part-time workers tend to earn less than their voluntary part-time counterparts. Approximately 40% of involuntary part-time workers report a total family income of less than $30,000, compared with just 18% of the latter and 29% of the population as a whole, according to an earlier report published in 2015 by Rutgers University. More than four out of every five involuntary part-time workers says it’s hard to save for retirement and about seven out of every 10 say they earn less money than they and their family need to get by and pay bills.

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It’s too late to gently deflate.

Toronto Real Estate Is In A Bubble Of Historic Proportions (Rosenberg)

The concerns about froth in Toronto’s housing market are not likely to subside given the sticker-shock from the latest report from the Toronto Real Estate Board. As per the March report, the average single-detached house in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) sold for $1,214,422 last month up from $910,375 in March of last year – that is a 33% YoY surge, and follows a 16% run-up over the prior 12 months. Whatever the term is for an acceleration in an already parabolic curve, well, that is what we have on our hands today. And it isn’t just detached homes seeing this degree of rapid price appreciation — the benchmark single-family home selling price was up 29% YoY, the benchmark townhouse price was up 28% and the condo/apartment composite was up 24%. This is a bubble of historic proportions.

Not only to have home prices in the GTA now absorb an unprecedented 13 years of median family income, but to have 30%-ish run-ups against a backdrop of a 2% inflation rate, wages that are barely going up 2% as well, and nominal GDP growth of around 4%. This should put 30% into some sort of perspective when we conclude that what we have on our hands is a near three standard deviation event. That alone qualifies as a bubble — if you don’t like that term, then call it a giant sud. In the past, Toronto home prices went up at an annual rate of 4% in real terms, in the past year they have surged by nearly 30%. [..] it goes without saying that if the name of the game is to tame the flame then have the foreign investor share the blame. A tax on foreign transactions, as was already done in Vancouver, seems like a pretty good idea.

And the government can at the very least use the revenues to either provide greater tax incentives to build and/or provide tax relief for the low/mid income entry-level buyer who is struggling to cobble together the funds for a down payment. So yes, in this sense, I would be advocating a Robin Hood style of economic policy. Indeed, what may be needed is a very progressive tax on foreign buying of local residential real estate in the bid to cool demand and reverse the exponential surge in home prices – a surge that is creating tremendous social problems by crowding out young families (or individuals) from chasing the homeownership dream (a typical response is for these folks is to go out and buy a condo instead, but the reality is that average prices here have also skyrocketed 24% in the past year and are in a bubble of their own).

Everyone says that the Bank of Canada cannot raise interest rates to curb the excess demand because of the deleterious effect this would have on the economy writ large (for example, taking the Canadian dollar back up to or above 80 cents which would thwart our export competitiveness which has become a longstanding role of the central bank). Be that as it may, the home price surge in the GTA over the past year has impaired homeowner affordability to such an extent that it is basically the equivalent of the Bank of Canada having raised rates 150 basis points – actually a 200 basis point increase if you were to look at what home prices have done to affordability ratios over the past two years …

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“Where home prices are in Toronto, they absorb 13 years of average family income. That is completely abnormal. We’ve never seen this before.”

Rosenberg: Toronto Housing Bubble ‘On Par With What We Had In The US’ (BNN)

Gluskin Sheff Chief Economist David Rosenberg is joining the growing chorus of calls for government intervention into the Toronto housing market. In an interview on BNN, Rosenberg, who correctly called the U.S. housing bubble in 2005, said the massive deviation from historical norms has him drawing comparisons between the two situations. “This bubble is on par with what we had in the States back in ’05, ’06, ’07,” he said. “We have to actually take a look at the situation. The housing market here is in a classic price bubble. If you don’t acknowledge that, you have your head in the sand.” Rosenberg warned unchecked increases in home prices are becoming a social issue. “It’s not an equity, it’s not a bond – it’s where people live,” he said. “Where home prices are in Toronto, they absorb 13 years of average family income. That is completely abnormal. We’ve never seen this before.”

Rosenberg said he’d be singing a different tune if price increases were running in line with any of the usual economic fundamentals, such as job growth, rising incomes, or nominal GDP growth. “We’re out of equilibrium, and when we’re out of equilibrium, or there’s some sort of market failure, are there grounds there for government intervention? I think even the most ardent libertarian would say ‘yes,’” he said. Rosenberg said there are a trio of levers the government can pull to cool down the market. Authorities can address supply, which he said has already been “kiboshed.” Interest rates can be raised, but Rosenberg doesn’t believe the Bank of Canada will do that. Or new policy can be drafted to address the prevalence of speculation.

“These are not prices driven by the local fundamentals – this is the foreign buyer coming in,” Rosenberg said. “Toronto has really emerged as a first-class city, not just politically, not just culturally and economically, but also in terms of being a major financial centre. But if you’re going to ask me at this stage, ‘do we need to approach taxation of this capital coming in differently to curb the demand?’ [That’s] absolutely right.”

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In a word: YES.

Could Europe Copy America’s Supersized Corporate Debt? (BBG)

Unilever CEO Paul Polman must have had one eye focused across the Atlantic when he unveiled his revamp of the consumer goods giant this week. And not just because erstwhile suitors 3G Capital, Kraft Heinz and Warren Buffett will have been watching. In an effort to appease shareholders, Polman also ripped a couple of pages from any U.S. CEO’s post-crisis playbook: load more debt on the balance sheet and buy back lots of your own shares. So Unilever will lift its net debt to Ebitda ratio from 1.3 to 2 and buy back 5 billion euros ($5.3 billion) of stock.In Europe, that counts as relatively bold. Faced with anemic economic growth since the global financial crisis, non-financial companies here have typically been reluctant to take on more debt, as the chart below shows.

They’re also far less likely to buy back stock: U.S. corporations repurchased more than $530 billion of stock last year. In Europe the total was a fraction of that.Polman seems to have belatedly recognized the obvious: having a lightly geared balance sheet makes a company vulnerable to a takeover. That’s especially true if the buyer is holding dollars and your stock is priced in relatively cheap euros or pounds.

Of course there’s an argument what Polman is doing is common sense. Debt is cheap compared to equity, so Unilever’s balance sheet is simply becoming more efficient. Having more debt shouldn’t pose a problem for Unilever as its earnings power is considerable. People still need to buy soap and deodorant, even in a recession.Still, this sets a rather uncomfortable precedent. Polman rebuffed Kraft Heinz’s $143 billion bid in part because he’s no fan of financial engineering. It would be a shame if other European companies now drew the conclusion that to remain independent they need to indulge in some financial engineering of their own. Especially if they load up on too much debt just as the current economic cycle starts to look long in the tooth.

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She’s crystal clear.

Syrian Gas Attack is a Lie: “Stop Your Governments!” – Russia (FR)

On April 7th, US warships delivered an illegal blow to a Syrian airbase in Homs. Their justification was the recent “chemical weapon” attack on behalf of the Syrian government in Idlib. The Kremlin condemned the strike as an act of aggression against a sovereign state, and a violation of international law. Meanwhile, at the UN, representatives of Western governments attempt to push through a resolution that is based on information taken out of thin air. It includes the removal of Assad, whether or not he was behind the attack.

It is noteworthy, that the only real source of information on what took place, are the videos made by the White Helmets, an infamous propaganda organisation as it pertains to the Syrian civil war. In this clip, Maria Zakharova calls on Western respresenatives/ journalists to hear Russia, and what it has to say. The attack against the Syrian government, much like the Ghouta gas attack in 2013, which precipitated the Syrian civil war, is a giant facade for the military industrial warhawks in the US, to put their money where their mouth is.

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“Putin has a cool mind and we may anticipate that the Russian response will come at a time of his choosing and in a manner that is appropriate to the seriousness of the U.S. offense. Look for this before the end of the month.”

US Missile Strikes in Syria Cross Russian ‘Red Lines’ (RI)

My days as apologist for Donald Trump’s backsliding on his electoral campaign promise of a new direction in foreign policy are over. From being the solution, he has become an integral part of the problem. And with his bigger than life ego, petulance and stubbornness, Commander-in-Chief Trump is potentially a greater threat to world peace than the weak-willed Barack Obama whom he replaced. Trump has ignored Russian calls for an investigation into the alleged chemical gas attack in Idlib province before issuing conclusions on culpability, as happened within hours of the event. He has accepted a narrative that is very possibly a false flag produced by anti-government rebels in Syria, disseminated by the White Helmets and other phony NGO’s paid from Washington and London.

He ordered the firing of 50 or more Tomahawk missiles against a Syrian Government air base in Homs province, thereby crossing all Russian “red lines” in Syria. Until this point, the Kremlin has chosen not to react to all signs coming from Washington that Trump’s determination to change course on Russia and global hegemony was failing. The wait-and-see posture antedated Trump’s accession to power when Putin overruled the dictates of protocol and did not respond to Obama’s final salvo, the seizure of Russian diplomatic property in the U.S. and the eviction of Russian diplomats. The Russians also looked the other way when the new administration continued the same Neocon rhetoric from the tribune of the UN Security Council and during the visits of Vice President Pence, Pentagon boss Mattis and Secretary of State Tillerson to Europe.

However, the missile attack in Syria is a game changer. The pressure on Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin to respond in kind is now enormous. Putin has a cool mind and we may anticipate that the Russian response will come at a time of his choosing and in a manner that is appropriate to the seriousness of the U.S. offense. Look for this before the end of the month. In the meantime, we who have been hoping for a change of direction, for the rooting out of the Neocons and Liberal hawks directing the Deep State should drop what we are doing, and help form a grass roots political statement that Donald Trump and the political establishment will hear loud and clear.

A mass letter-writing campaign to Congress and the White House? A march on Washington? One way or another, the White House must be told that arranging foreign policy moves out of purely domestic calculations, such as likely happened yesterday puts the nation’s very existence at risk. Acting tough, striking out at Russia and its allies, is not the way to form a coalition to pass a tax reform act. The same may be said of an alternative reading of the missile attack yesterday: that it was intended as a message to visiting Chinese President Xi that should there be no joint action to restrain North Korea, the United States will act alone and with total disregard for international law. Either logic in the end is a formula for suicide.

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I predict very large demonstrations, and quite possibly more violent ones. This could well be the end of Tsipras, and of SYRIZA; there’s no credibility left. They should have fought for the people.

Greece On Course To Avoid Debt Default As Athens Agrees Pension Cuts (Tel.)

Greece is on course to avoid a debt default this summer after creditors reached a deal with Athens on reforms including pension cuts and tax changes that will continue until the end of the decade. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who leads the group of eurozone finance ministers, said creditors had reached an agreement in principle on the “size, sequencing and timing” of Greek reforms. The agreement also paves the way for the IMF to join the country’s third, €86bn bail-out programme. The Eurogroup chief said “significant progress” had been made in all areas, with debt inspectors expected to return to Greece shortly to “put the last dots on the ‘i’s and to reach a full staff-level agreement as soon as possible”.

A final agreement among finance chiefs will unlock a fresh tranche of rescue funds, enabling Athens to pay back around €6bn to creditors in July, including the ECB. “We’ve solved all the big issues,” said Mr Dijsselbloem. “The big blocks have now been sorted out and that should allow us to speed up and go for the final stretch.” The measures, which include controversial cuts to pensions and a widening of the tax base, amount to 2pc of Greek GDP in 2019 and 2020. Greece will be able to implement “parallel expansionary measures” if the economy is strong enough, said Mr Dijsselbloem. He said discussions on medium-term debt relief would not be discussed at a political level until a full agreement is reached and approved by the Greek government, which has a slim majority.

The pension cuts are likely to spark a fresh wave of protests across the country. Euclid Tsakalotos, the Greek finance minister, said austerity measures would be legislated “in the coming weeks”. “There are things that will upset the Greek people,” he said. Mr Tsakalotos said the government would also adopt stimulus measures in parallel, which will be “activated” if Athens meets its fiscal targets. Gerry Rice, a spokesman at the IMF, welcomed the “important progress” made in recent weeks, but said it still needed “satisfactory assurances” on debt sustainability before the Fund would seek board approval to participate in Greece’s third rescue programme.

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There is so much in the way of international law and UN conventions to protect refugees, but none of it has any meaning in Brussels.

Letting People Drown Is Not A European Value (EUO)

595. A nice round number, right? It refers to the dead and missing in the central Mediterranean, mostly between Libya and Italy, in the first three months of 2017. The known dead died from drowning, exposure, hypothermia, and suffocation. Horrible, agonising deaths. 24,474. This is a nicer number. It refers to the women, men, and children who made it safely to Italy this year, all of them plucked from flimsy, overcrowded boats by European vessels. Many were rescued by teams from nongovernmental organisations patrolling international waters just off Libya, where most migrant boats depart. Those groups – including Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), SOS Mediterranee, Proactiva Open Arms, Sea-Watch and others – are now being accused of encouraging boat migration. Or worse, of collusion with people smugglers.

The EU border agency, Frontex, has suggested that the presence of rescue operations by nongovernmental groups is a pull factor, encouraging people to take the dangerous journey in hopes of rescue. A prosecutor in Catania, Sicily, has opened an inquiry into the funding streams for these groups, indicating a suspicion that they may be profiting illicitly from the movement of people in search of safety and better lives. This is the latest cruel twist in the EU’s response to boat migration from Libya. It reflects concern over increasing numbers of people embarking from Libya, the strain on the reception system in Italy and beyond, and the rise of xenophobic populism in many EU countries. But blaming the lifesavers ignores history, reality, and basic morality.

As MSF’s Aurelie Ponthieu explained, the NGO group rescuers are not “the cause but a response” to an ongoing human tragedy. Even before the significant increase in numbers in 2015, tens of thousands of people have been risking their lives in unseaworthy boats in the Mediterranean for decades; almost 14,000 have died or been reported missing since 2011. After the October 2013 Lampedusa tragedy, in which 368 people lost their lives, there was increased talk among organisations about mounting rescue missions in the central Mediterranean. In 2015, that became a reality, in large part because the end of the Italian navy’s humanitarian rescue mission Mare Nostrum and the gaps in its poor replacement by the EU border agency Frontex. People embark on these dangerous journeys for myriad reasons; they are fleeing persecution, violence, and poverty, and moving toward freedom, safety, and opportunity.

Both pull and push factors are always in play when people are on the move. Insofar as more freedoms, liberties, and policies grounded in respect for human rights – including vital rescue-at-sea operations – serve as pull factors, these should not be sacrificed in the name of limiting migration. The presence of EU vessels just off Libyan waters has changed the dynamic of boat migration. There is more hope of rescue, and smugglers have adopted even more unscrupulous tactics like using inflatable (throw-away) Zodiacs instead of wooden boats and providing only enough fuel to reach international waters. But to question the humanitarian imperative of rescue at sea is to discard our most basic respect for life. And the logic of those who criticise the rescue operations as a pull factor is that the groups should stop rescuing people and let them drown to discourage others from coming.

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Jun 232015
 
 June 23, 2015  Posted by at 10:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Wyland Stanley Marmon touring car at Yosemite 1919

Greece: “It’s Like We Bought A Bad Franchise” (SMH)
Greece Is A Sideshow. The Eurozone Has Failed (Aditya Chakrabortty)
Crisis Is The New Normal For Weary Greeks (Guardian)
Greece’s Red Lines Start To Blur And Bend (Guardian)
Greek Offer To Creditors Runs Into Angry Backlash At Home (Reuters)
Syriza Members Warn Tsipras Against Betrayal With Bailout Compromise (Dow Jones)
On Those Creditor ‘Red Lines’ For Greece (Peter Doyle)
Greek Bank Run Fears Escalate As Capital Controls Openly Discussed (Telegraph)
EU Leaders Weigh Greek Debt Relief as Second Step in Aid Talks (Bloomberg)
The 2 Main Points Of Contention In The Greek Debt Saga (MarketWatch)
Why The Words ‘Civil War’ Are No Longer A Joke In Greece (Paul Mason)
The Euro “Young Adults Living With Their Parents” Zone (Zero Hedge)
Chinese Investors Are Swimming Naked in a Bubble (Pesek)
India Infrastructure: Built On Debt (FT)
“What We Are Paying For Is 20 Years Of Blunder & Neglect” (Simon Black)
Wages of Sin Still Weigh on Big Banks (WSJ)
$140 Billion Bond Fund Goes To Cash, “Braces For Bond-Market Collapse” (ZH)
History in Free Verse (Jim Kunstler)
Pop Goes The Bubble (Dmitry Orlov)
Ukraine President Poroshenko Admits Overthrow of Yanukovych Was a Coup (Zuesse)
What Would Europe Look Like If The Soviets Hadn’t Defeated Hitler? (John Wight)

“.. if Syriza can deliver just 20% of what it promised, it will be in power for 20 years..”

Greece: “It’s Like We Bought A Bad Franchise” (SMH)

The received wisdom is that if this summit does not strike a deal, then there is no hope of avoiding a Greek default on a €1.6 billion IMF loan, due to be repaid by the end of June. And if the loan is not repaid, Greece is likely to crash out of the euro and perhaps even the EU. International lenders are holding “hostage” €7.2 billion of new bailout cash, which will be released when Greece agrees to an economic reform package. However on Sunday the possibility was flagged that leaders could reach a broad, “in principle” deal on Monday, and hammer out the details at the very last minute when the loan is due. Neither side wants Greece to leave the eurozone. And there is said to be just a few billion euros difference in the reform packages being proffered.

But it’s not about the money, says Panagiotakis. “It’s political, it’s about who has control. If Syriza is seen as giving in to their demands, then they have no reason to continue in government. “Syriza – and Greece – doesn’t want a deal where something is given now but taken away again in three months time. Syriza wants a deal, even with compromises, that allows them to continue with policies without being kept hostage.” Syriza’s negotiators are also painfully aware that concessions that would be broadly acceptable to the Greek public may prove unacceptable to its own MPs. Depending on the degree of movement, they could lose as many as 20 MPs from their fragile coalition.

But if they secure a lasting deal, rather than a temporary fix, they will have achieved what many thought impossible. “My neighbours, friends and family say if Syriza can deliver just 20% of what it promised, it will be in power for 20 years,” Panagiotakis says. But the mood at the protest was that “rupture” with Europe was vastly preferable to more government spending cuts. “The cost of living is rising, business life has been ‘disappeared’, there’s no development,” says Bletas. “If we don’t succeed [in getting a better deal] it’s not worthwhile to stay in Europe. It’s like we bought a bad franchise.”

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Every European got poorer.

Greece Is A Sideshow. The Eurozone Has Failed (Aditya Chakrabortty)

Workers in France, Italy, Spain and the rest of the eurozone are now being undercut by the epic wage freeze going on in the giant country in the middle. Flassbeck and Lapavitsas describe this as Germany’s “beggar thy neighbour” policy – “but only after beggaring its own people”. In the last century, the other countries in the eurozone could have become more competitive by devaluing their national currencies – just as the UK has done since the banking meltdown. But now they’re all part of the same club, the only post-crash solution has been to pay workers less. That is expressly what the EC, the ECB and the IMF are telling Greece: make workers redundant, pay those still in a job much less, and slash pensions for the elderly. But it’s not just in Greece.

Nearly every meeting of the Wise Folk in Brussels and Strasbourg comes up with the same communique for “reform” of the labour market and social-security entitlements across the continent: a not-so-coded call for attacking ordinary people’s living standards. This is what the noble European project is turning into: a grim march to the bottom. This isn’t about creating a deeper democracy, but deeper markets – and the two are increasingly incompatible. Germany’s Angela Merkel has shown no compunction about meddling in the democratic affairs of other European countries – tacitly warning Greeks against voting for Syriza for instance, or forcing the Spanish socialist prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, to rip up the spending commitments that had won him an election.

The diplomatic beatings administered to Syriza since it came to power this year can only be seen as Europe trying to set an example to any Spanish voters who might be tempted to support its sister movement Podemos. Go too far left, runs the message, and you’ll get the same treatment. Whatever the founding ideals of the eurozone, they don’t match up to the grim reality in 2015. This is Thatcher’s revolution, or Reagan’s – but now on a continental scale. And as then, it is accompanied by the idea that There Is No Alternative either to running an economy, or even to which kind of government voters get to choose.

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“..half the Greek workforce has no income.”

Crisis Is The New Normal For Weary Greeks (Guardian)

As the “last-chance” talks rolled on towards another “last-ditch” summit possibly at the end of this week, weary Greeks have deadline fatigue. “Unfortunately, we’ve become hardened and accustomed to all this, including the never-ending talks,” said Christos Griogoriades, a physics and IT teacher in Greece’s northern second city of Thessaloniki. Panic about so-called “knife-edge”, “life-or-death” negotiations has become so commonplace that it is almost meaningless to a population whose major concerns are still making ends meet and scrimping for enough to eat. Griogoriades, 42, has friends who have lost good jobs and are now living back in their parents’ rural northern villages, supporting their young children on €40 a month and homegrown vegetables.

“We’ve got to the point where people here look at others, saying: ‘OK, I think I’ve got it bad but that man over there is eating from a garbage can.’ This is going to be our reality for many years, and I think the worst is yet to come.” His parents had lived through extreme post-war poverty and knew how to live very frugally. He felt the younger generation now felt condemned to live through an economic crisis that could stretch on for decades. With the Greek crisis now dragging on longer than the first world war, there have been at least a dozen emergency summits since 2009. The nation has so often been described as perched “on the edge of a cliff” and “staring into the abyss” that it has become part of the depressing new normality, just like cash-strapped hospitals, rocketing unemployment or the families with children living in flats with no running water or electricity because they cannot pay the bills.

Thessaloniki, which has long had the country’s highest jobless rates, now has 65% youth unemployment and around a third of the general workforce out of work. But unemployment is only part of the picture. Greece has around 1.5 million jobless, but a further one million people get up every day to go to work in jobs where bosses fail to pay them promptly. Salaries can trickle in three months late or even take a year to arrive in bank accounts. This means half the Greek workforce has no income. Meanwhile, whole families can depend for survival on grandparents’ shrinking pensions. While the emergency talks focus on immediate debt and repayments, many Greeks feel that little will help their daily struggle in the grim economic landscape.

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A risky game for Tsipras.

Greece’s Red Lines Start To Blur And Bend (Guardian)

Like a husband forgiven for countless infidelities, Greek leader Alexis Tsipras is back in Brussels with a wink and a smile and, yes, another kiss and make-up proposal. Only this time, it looks like the marriage is saved. Tsipras has for the first time in several months taken the time to consider the concerns of his partners and rather than simply demanding solidarity, he has put together a plan to patch things up. What his partners want is simple, if difficult to achieve without further sacrifices. They want to close a funding gap in this year’s budget that most analysts estimate at €2bn (£1.4bn). It would appear that the leader of the leftist Syriza government has done enough to keep alive his country’s hope of staying inside the euro.

The question for his supporters at home will be, has he ditched his principled stand against further austerity, and if he has, do they care? Tackling the towering cost of the Greek pension system was once considered a no-go area. Already cut by his predecessors, Tsipras had ruled out shaving anymore from the bill. Likewise VAT was off the agenda. Now it seems he is prepared to compromise on both issues. On pensions, Athens appears to have conceded that the government’s coffers must be shielded from a wave of early retirements. According to documents supplied by Tsipras’s finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, there are 400,000 Greeks looking to retire this year who qualify for a state pension, most of them under the existing early retirement rules. That’s a whole bunch of 60- and 61-year-olds who want to get under the wire, probably to supplement a meagre income from working or to serve as an unemployment benefit, all at a huge cost to the public purse.

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Part of the negotiations.

Greek Offer To Creditors Runs Into Angry Backlash At Home (Reuters)

Greek lawmakers reacted angrily on Tuesday to concessions Athens offered in debt talks and parliament’s deputy speaker warned the proposals would struggle to win approval, puncturing optimism that a deal to lift Greece out of crisis might be quickly sealed. European leaders on Monday welcomed the new budget proposals from Athens as a basis for a possible agreement to unlock frozen aid and avert a default that could trigger a Greek exit from the euro zone. Stock markets also welcomed the plan, with European shares extending the previous session’s sharp rally and climbing to a three-week high on Tuesday, with growing expectations that Greece was getting closer to striking a deal.

But Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who was voted into office in January on a pledge to roll back years of austerity in a country battered by recession, must keep his leftist Syriza party as well as his creditors onside for a deal to stick. “I believe that this program as we see it … is difficult to pass by us,” Deputy parliament speaker and Syriza lawmaker Alexis Mitropoulos told Greek Mega TV on a morning news show. If parliament does fail to back the latest offer, which included higher taxes and welfare changes and steps to curtail early retirement, Tsipras might be forced to call a snap election or a referendum that would prolong the uncertainty.

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Tsipars walks dangerously close to the line with new concessions.

Syriza Members Warn Tsipras Against Betrayal With Bailout Compromise (Dow Jones)

To avert a default and possible exit from the eurozone, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras must sell Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, on his plan to fix Greece’s finances. Then he needs to persuade Vassilis Chatzilamprou. But out at the Resistance Festival, an annual gathering of Greece’s far left, the lawmaker from Mr. Tsipras’s left- wing Syriza party said he was in no mood for submission. “We cannot accept strict, recessionary measures,” Mr. Chatzilamprou warned. It was after midnight Sunday, and the weekend festival was winding down. “People have now reached their limits.” Syriza isn’t a traditional party but a coalition of left-wing groups with an intricate family tree formed out of doctrinal splinters and squabbles.

It is those many, disparate factions that Mr. Tsipras must also satisfy with any potential bailout agreement with Greece’s creditors. Mr. Chatzilamprou, for instance, is a member of the Communist Organization of Greece, which is an outgrowth of the Organization of Marxist-Leninists of Greece. It is distinct from the Communist Tendency, which has a Trotskyite bent. (Neither should be confused with the Communist Party of Greece, which is outside Syrzia.) That unusual composition has made it especially hard for Mr. Tspiras to strike a deal with eurozone and IMF officials. “The people who are responsible for the negotiation move within a frame that is determined by the central committee of the party,” says Alekos Kalyvis, a longtime union official who is on the committee and responsible for its economic-policy portfolio.

The negotiators have some latitude to make decisions, he said, “but this shouldn’t be interpreted as if they have a blank check from the party – neither them nor Tspiras.” Many of Syriza’s factions regard the party’s rise as a epochal moment for the left–and any compromise on a bailout as a deep betrayal of its principles. Stathis Leoutsakos, another Syriza member of Parliament, said Germany and the other creditor countries are determined to defeat Syriza. “In my opinion, their aim is to humiliate the Greek government,” he says. “They want the message that no other politics are accepted in the eurozone.”

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“Disfunction is very deeply entrenched indeed.”

On Those Creditor ‘Red Lines’ For Greece (Peter Doyle)

Troika-Greek negotiations are reportedly down to the wire over early-retirement pensions, VAT, and labor reforms: the IMF says all are non-negotiable; Tsipras, perhaps inadvertently echoing Mrs. Thatcher, has, so far, responded “No! No! No!” These three issues converge on those at the upper end of their working lives, the 50-74 year old cohort, and are reflected in its participation and unemployment behavior. So it is worth considering data on those and the associated implications for the negotiations. Doing so suggests that these creditor red lines lack foundation Start with the obvious. Prior to 2009, Greece stands out with lower participation rates for this cohort than all but Hungary (males) and Malta (females). And the gender participation gap is also somewhat higher in Greece, but evolving.

So Greece is unusual, but why? Possibly early/generous retirement; possibly underreporting due to tax-evasion, low-pay, and/or predominance of agriculture and services; or perhaps skills outdating/mismatching and non-participation hysteresis; or public provision of education (easing the direct financial burden on parents of young adults); or health issues; and maybe slow-evolving gender cultural choices. But whatever their roots, these participation rates give rise to the political narrative of “cosseted Greeks” and they need to rise to boost incomes in Greece over the longterm. Once identified, their causes need to be fixed; the issue is “how and when?” Alongside, prior to 2009, unemployment rates in this cohort in Greece were either low (males) or middling (females); but no evident Greek stand-out.

These unemployment data clarify that relatively low participation rates in the 50-74 cohort prior to 2009 did not evidently reflect withdrawal due to lack of jobs for them to find, the “discouraged worker” effect. Instead, they were, in that sense, some kind of voluntary/structural feature of the labor market. To get a handle on the nature of those voluntary/structural characteristics of low Greek participation rates in this cohort, consider post-2008 developments. Given how much room there was for them to rise towards European “norms”, it is astonishing that participation rates barely budged despite an extraordinary battering from policy changes aimed to shift them—with average pensions, wages, and public employment cut broadly by 50, 40, and 30 percent respectively.

Greek male participation only edged up to end-2012 while Greek females continued their slow rise through early-2011. Then participation rates for both fell relative to their trends. This makes clear that any notion that the evident disfunction in the labor market in Greece—and hence the country’s long-term growth performance—is amenable even to enormous short-term parametric fixes on early-pensions, VAT, and wages in the current negotiations can be set aside. Disfunction is very deeply entrenched indeed.

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As if capital controls in a sovereign nation is something any foreigner has any legal say in.

Greek Bank Run Fears Escalate As Capital Controls Openly Discussed (Telegraph)

Pressure is mounting on the European Central Bank to keep Greece’s flailing banking system alive for another day, amid tentative hopes Greece will finally be granted the bail-out money it needs to avoid a debt default next week. The possibility of capital controls was raised at an aborted meeting of eurozone finance ministers on Monday, with Belgium’s finance minister admitting EU officials had discussed the draconian measures to stop money bleeding out of the financial system. “There were indeed different opinions; not everybody was on the same wave length with respect to capital controls” said Johan Van Overtveldt. Germany’s finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble is thought to have raised the possibility which was roundly dismissed by his Greek counterpart Yanis Varoufakis.

Capital controls, such as deposit withdrawal limits, can only be imposed in a country at the request of a member state government in the EU. They were last seen in the eurozone in 2013, during Cyprus’s banking crisis, after the ECB threatened to pull the plug on the country’s financial system. The remarks came as European leaders failed to agree a deal to keep the country in the eurozone after two emergency summits convened in Brussels on Monday. After the summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there remained “much more to do” as Athens failed to get its reforms rubber stamped by the euro’s finance ministers earlier in the day. The Eurogroup said they needed more time to consider a revised set of Greek reforms in order to ascertain whether or not they “added up”.

Confusion reigned in Brussels as Athens was reported to have sent the wrong document to creditors at 2am on Monday morning. But in a hopeful sign, president Jeroen Dijsselbloem said the Greek plans were a “welcome step in a positive direction”. Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, said on Monday night it was now up to European authorities to find a debt deal to save Athens from default. “The ball is in the court of the European authorities,” radical leftist leader Tsipras told reporters after an emergency eurozone summit in Brussels. “Our proposal has been accepted as the basis for discussion by the institutions,” he said. “Negotiations will continue over the next two days. We don’t want a fragmented deal that is only for a limited time. We want a complete and viable solution.”

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It’ll be all too watered down. Greece needs very serious relief.

EU Leaders Weigh Greek Debt Relief as Second Step in Aid Talks (Bloomberg)

Euro-area leaders said talk of debt relief for Greece is possible once the nation resolves the immediate financing dispute with its creditors. Easing Greece’s massive obligations won’t be decided in coming days and will instead come later in aid negotiations, French President Francois Hollande told reporters after a Brussels summit on Monday. He said creditors should commit to discussing debt changes as a “second step” after an agreement on Greece’s budget, economy and near-term financing is achieved in coming days. German Chancellor Angela Merkel took a similar line. While a third aid program is off the table for now, debt sustainability is part of the aid talks, she said.

“As far as the question of Greece’s ability to finance itself and its debt sustainability, this wasn’t discussed in detail, but it became clear that this question of being able to finance itself must be part of the deal,” Merkel told reporters after the meeting. The euro area said in 2012 that it might ease terms on some existing loans if Greece fulfilled its rescue conditions. For Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to take advantage of those pledges, he’ll have to show his government has taken steps to fulfill its bailout obligations. As Monday’s summit took shape, leaders weighed how to present a renewed commitment to debt relief as part of talks on Greece’s bailout, according to officials familiar with the discussions.

France wants follow-on rescue arrangements to be part of any deal on how to handle the current program, the officials said. Greece will insist on a debt-relief component of any aid agreement, a Greek government official told reporters in Brussels. At the same time, the Greek official said, Greece is open to considering any type of debt arrangement that would pass muster with creditors. Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said the outlines of the debt talks are already in focus. “There is a commitment towards the realization of restructuring the Greek debt,” Muscat said in an interview after the summit. Haircuts would seem to be off the table, while three things on the agenda are the maturity of the debt, the grace period for no interest and the reduction of the coupon, he said.

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The numbers.

The 2 Main Points Of Contention In The Greek Debt Saga (MarketWatch)

Hopes for an imminent deal between Greece and its creditors led stock markets to rally in Europe and in the U.S. on Monday, after Athens offered last-ditch proposals aimed at ending a debt deadlock that has left the country on the brink of default. The proposals received a warm, preliminary welcome from the Eurogroup, which is composed of eurozone finance ministers, which called the measures a “positive step in the process.” The Greek proposals are projected to save €2.7 billion or 1.51% of GDP in 2015, up from €2 billion in Greece’s initial proposal, according to Greek newspaper Kathimerini, which posted a copy of the official cost analysis of the Greek proposal late Monday. In 2016 the measures would save €5.2 billion or 2.87% of GDP, up from €3.6 billion in the initial proposal.

However, an agreement is still far from a done deal. And the political stakes are high. A joint poll conducted last week by Greek firm Kapa Research and German firm Infratest dimap in both countries showed that voters feel that the other side is being too rigid. In Germany, 78% of citizens polled said that the Greek government doesn’t sufficiently understand German demands. In Greece, 67% said Germany doesn’t understand the Greek position. Here are the two biggest bones of contention between Greece and its creditors:

Pensions Greece’s creditors have consistently asked the cash-strapped country to eliminate early retirement and phase out solidarity grants for all pensioners. On Monday, Greece offered to raise the retirement age gradually to 67 and curb early retirement, Reuters reported. The question, however, is how long it would take the Greek government to get the retirement age to 67 and what this would mean in absolute euro amounts. The Greek side wants to increase pension contributions now and to phase in cuts over three years, starting Jan. 1, so that vested rights can be safeguarded, according to Greek newspaper To Vima.This would create pension savings worth 0.37% of GDP for this year and 1.05% starting next year, according to the Greek proposal.

Value-added tax Greece’s creditors have been pushing the country to modify its value-added tax, or VAT, by imposing a 23% rate across the board, with the exception of food, medicine and hotels, which would be taxed at an 11% rate. A value-added tax is a consumption tax that is levied on goods and services at every stage of the supply chain. T The Greek government, on the other side, wants to keep VAT on certain basic goods and services at a lower rate. They say the objective is to protect the most financially vulnerable citizens, since the VAT is viewed as regressive, meaning that it affects low-income citizens more than the high earners.

Greece’s initial proposal was a sliding scale: 6% on medicine, books and theaters; 11% on newspapers, food, energy, water, hotels and restaurants; and 23% on all other goods and services. The creditors wouldn’t accept this, so Greece came back offering 6% on medicine and books; 13% for energy and basic foods; and 23% for everything else. This is expected to provide savings and new revenues equal to 0.38% of GDP in 2015 and 0.74% in 2016, according to the proposal. According to the Greek press, the main bone of contention is energy: Greece won’t budge from a 13% tax rate on electrical bills while the creditors are pushing for 23%. Meanwhile, last week the Greek electric power authority reported that its unpaid bills reached €1.9 billion in 2015, up from €1.7 billion in 2014.

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A tad overdone,

Why The Words ‘Civil War’ Are No Longer A Joke In Greece (Paul Mason)

Here’s the situation as the Eurogroup on Greece is underway. On Sunday the Greek cabinet met and decided to make a further retreat on the fiscal targets their lenders want them to meet. There’s a gap of about €2bn between the two sides, and this latest move fills €1bn of it. This is by putting up the VAT rate on electricity, cutting the pensions of better-off pensioners, reducing early retirement rights quicker than planned, a one-off tax on companies with turnover above half a million, and closing tax loopholes. However, the real change is in the tone on debt relief. Alexis Tsipras has always argued that any deal done now should form the framework of a future discussion on rescheduling Greece’s debts. Until Sunday this was a red-line issue.

Now I understand the Greek government would accept a form of words that pledged to address this in future; and an un-named EU official has said this is likely. The problem is, these extra measures are effectively “left austerity” – changes of the kind the lenders don’t like, hitting the rich harder than the poor. So even if they accept they could help balance Greece’s books, they might still object that they are not sustainable. But the background to this final concession is ominous. Tsipras and his team are under huge pressure from within Syriza, and from within the 47% of voters who, when polled last week, said they would vote for Syriza. The pressure comes verbally, in constant text messages from constituents, and from a group within the parliamentary party known as the 53 group.

These are grassroots “modernised” left-wingers – and their 53+ MPs, combined with around 30 or so from the pro-Grexit Left Platform, have enough support and willpower to reject any deal that looks like humiliation. So Tsipras and his cabinet went to Brussels to make one more big concession, but fully prepared to endure an unwilling “rupture” with lenders, leading to the imposition of capital controls and a default, if they judge lenders are actually trying to humiliate them and force them to the exit. They understand the likely chaos would not just be economic. The second of the pro-euro demonstrations is due to be held tonight.

So far has the mood darkened between this essentially right-wing, pro-austerity movement and the mass base of Syriza that it has in the past week become routine for people to start throwing around the words “civil war”, and no longer in the jokey way they used to. People fear, sooner or later, that the left and right will stop alternating their demonstrations in Syntagma Square and start vying for control of it. As I’ve explained before, this is because the election of Syriza triggered a kind of recovered memory syndrome on both sides of politics, about the cold war and fascist collaboration and dictatorship in the 1970s.

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How to gut a society 101.

The Euro “Young Adults Living With Their Parents” Zone (Zero Hedge)

A ‘region’ divided… because nothing says ‘recovery’ like 45-55% of young peripheral European adults (25-34 year olds!!) living with their parents.

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The crash will be momentous.

Chinese Investors Are Swimming Naked in a Bubble (Pesek)

The question is, can Beijing put a bottom under history’s biggest equity bubble? As JPMorgan strategist Adrian Mowat sees it, “policy makers will step in if the market correction gets beyond a comfortable level. I would imagine if the correction continues [this] week you will hear something reassuring.” He’s not necessarily wrong for the moment. China will indeed throw everything it has at the market: central bank rate cuts, tweaking margin-trading rules, slowing the pace of initial public offerings, talking up share prices, you name it. What is wrong, though, is the belief that China can prevent the crash of a market already defying the most wildly optimistic of economic scenarios. Beijing can’t do it anymore than Tokyo could in 1990, Seoul in 1997 or Washington in 2008.

China is reaching the limits of its ability to prolong a rally that turned 928 days old Friday. Beijing has encouraged companies to pursue splashy IPOs in order to sustain the excitement on stock markets, and lure Chinese households to open trading accounts. The thought is that if average Chinese feel wealthy, they’ll buy into Xi’s vision of a “China Dream” and the legitimacy of the Communist Party. But the market bubble has grown to unsustainable proportions. The median stock, for instance, has a price-to-earnings ratio of 98, while the Shanghai Composite, which has a heavy weighting toward low-priced bank shares, is valued at 23 times. The reason bank shares are so depressed, of course, is China’s dueling bubble in debt.

China has $28 trillion of public and private debt; then there’s the unprecedented $363 billion of margin debt that’s supporting shares. It doesn’t help that China’s economic fundamentals have turned for the worse. As Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Kenneth Hoffman detailed in a report Friday, Chinese demand for steel is collapsing. On June 18, Bloomberg’s steel profitability lost $37 per metric ton, hitting a record low. Chinese manufacturing activity, Hoffman wrote, could be in for a “major decline,” even if Beijing ramps up its stimulus programs.

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Everybody does it. Except for Russia?!

India Infrastructure: Built On Debt (FT)

Some day, the Delhi Metro will be able to take race fans to the Buddh International Circuit, a $400m, 16-turn, state-of-the-art track on the outskirts of India’s sprawling capital. And once a gleaming new highway is completed, the track will be connected to Delhi and the tourist destination of Agra. But for now, there is little traffic on the highway leading to Buddh and even less on the pristine racetrack. It has been three years since Formula One abandoned the Buddh International Circuit, adding it to the sporting world’s crowded list of white elephants. It does not stand in total isolation, however. Block after block of concrete skeletons of towers that were meant to provide up to 200,000 apartments line the highway, casting shadows on dusty wasteland, dried riverbeds and mesquite weeds.

Welcome to what is likely India’s largest ghost city, which extends across five expansive parcels of land along the highway adjacent to the racetrack. What was meant to be the crowning achievement of Jaypee Group and Jay Prakash Gaur, its 85-year-old patriarch, has become a monument instead to unrealistic aspirations and poor execution on the one hand and a shortfall in growth, the high cost of capital and an uncertain political landscape on the other. The scale of Jaypee’s ghost city rivals that of some of China’s famous unoccupied cities. Fortunately for Jaypee, it also owns a collection of power and cement plants across India as well as three listed companies. Unfortunately, it also has about $12bn of debt, creditors and analysts say.

Jaypee is not alone in its plight. The company is ranked number six of 10 indebted Indian conglomerates that collectively owe about $125bn to their bankers, and account for 13% of all bank loans in India, according to data from Ashish Gupta, an analyst with Credit Suisse. Others on the list include Lanco, a construction and power company; GVK, an energy and transport group; and GMR, an infrastructure conglomerate. They are among the companies that should be leading India’s efforts to bolster its inadequate infrastructure, but instead are hampered by high debt levels and weak balance sheets. In many ways, the difficulties of these groups embody the problems facing modern India, where private sector investment has virtually ground to a halt. The cost of capital is high, and banks are reluctant to extend credit because they have too many bad loans.

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Nice historical metaphor.

“What We Are Paying For Is 20 Years Of Blunder & Neglect” (Simon Black)

In May 1940, a visibly concerned Winston Churchill traveled to Paris to survey the city’s defenses. Nazi forces had already blasted past French units and were rolling easily through the Somme Valley towards Paris. There wasn’t much time. And Churchill bluntly asked the commanders in his notoriously pitiful French, “Où est la masse de manoeuvre?” “Where are your reserve forces?” He later wrote in his memoirs that their response was one of the most shocking moments of his life. “Aucune,” replied the commander. “We have none.” Hitler took Paris within a few weeks. And on June 22, 1940, seventy-five years ago to the day, French diplomats signed a peace treaty making France a vassal state of Nazi Germany.

Maxime Weygand, France’s most esteemed general, remarked of the occasion, “What we are paying for is twenty years of blunder and neglect.” Given the extraordinary risks in the system right now, these words may soon come to haunt us as well. Seven years ago a global financial crisis was spawned from too much debt, artificially low interest rates, and a complete misperception of obvious risks (like loaning money to dead people…) They ‘solved’ that problem with even more debt, lowering interest rates below zero, and continuing to ignore obvious risks (like buying stocks at all-time highs). You don’t have to be a financial genius to see the absurdity in this logic. Based on their own financial statements, most Western governments are completely insolvent, and most major central banks are close to insolvency.

They’ve already ratcheted interest rates down to zero (or below) and have racked up a mountain of debt. There are effectively no tools left for governments and central banks to deal with another major crisis. Like Paris in 1940, they have no Plan B. They’re completely defenseless to support the financial system or the currency in the event of a major shock. We should all take a moment to appreciate this level of incompetence. This doesn’t happen overnight. It takes decades of “blunder and neglect” to engineer financial vulnerability on this scale. But they’ve somehow managed to pull it off. The only question is– how long until the next financial shock? Because it’s not a question of ‘if’, but ‘when’.

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How nonsensical is this?

Wages of Sin Still Weigh on Big Banks (WSJ)

The tide might not be turning. Hopes that regulatory and compliance costs at the biggest U.S. banks might begin to retreat after years of rising may be premature. As several recent stumbles make clear, banks still have more work to do to get right with regulators. Examples abound. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency recently determined that six banks, including J.P. Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo, had failed to satisfy a 2011 order to fix foreclosure practices. As a consequence, the banks face restrictions on purchases of mortgage-servicing rights. Bank of America, which got a passing grade from the OCC on its foreclosure fix, was told by the Federal Reserve this year that its “stress test” performance had showed that management isn’t forward looking enough…

BofA has said it would spend $100 million to improve its stress-test abilities. The fact big banks still are running afoul of regulators raises doubts about the idea lenders can quickly cut back on the billions of dollars of additional costs they have incurred since the financial crisis. And that means bank results could disappoint compared with forecasts built on lower costs. Banks’ ability to cut costs continues to be important given revenue growth is lackluster and net-interest margins remain squeezed by superlow interest rates. Although the Federal Reserve is expected to begin raising overnight rates this year, that won’t immediately relieve the pressure. Banks have been promising to improve their efficiency ratios, which measure costs as a percentage of net revenue.

JP Morgan, for example, said in a presentation in February that it was aiming for a 55% efficiency ratio, down from 58% to 60% over the past few years. Wells Fargo says it targets 55% to 59%, compared with its current 58.8% ratio. Citigroup says it is targeting the mid-50s for its core business. The persistence of elevated regulatory and compliance costs could stymie their efforts. If costs remain high and revenue doesn’t pick up meaningfully, it will be hard to hit those targets. And while stress-test costs already are baked into bank expenses, the biggest banks are having to increase spending in hope of clearing another regulatory hurdle: living wills. Up until last year, banks didn’t pay too much attention to these. A regulatory shot across their bows, though, has forced them to devote far more time and resources to them.

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Look out below.

$140 Billion Bond Fund Goes To Cash, “Braces For Bond-Market Collapse” (ZH)

Recently, it’s become readily apparent that some of the world’s top money managers are getting concerned about what might happen when a mass exodus from bond funds collides head on with a completely illiquid secondary market for corporate credit. Indeed, bond market illiquidity is the topic du jour and has almost become something of a cliche among pundits and mainstream financial media outlets years after we first raised the issue in these pages. But just because something has become fashionable to discuss doesn’t mean it’s not worth discussing and indeed, we’re at least pleased to see that the world is suddenly awake to the fact that a primary market supply bonanza catalyzed by rock-bottom borrowing costs and yield-starved investors could spell disaster when paired with shrinking dealer inventories.

[..] whether you’re talking about corporate credit or “risk free” government debt, liquidity simply isn’t there and as was on full display last October, wild swings in illiquid markets will be exacerbated by the presence of parasitic HFTs. Meanwhile, Treasury market participants are shifting to futures and corporate bond fund managers are using ETFs to offset “diversifiable” outflows, phenomena which prove investors are actively avoiding credit markets by resorting to derivatives, a practice which only serves to make the underlying markets still more illiquid.

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”..derivative interest rate swaps and credit default swaps that have been laid into history’s greatest financial minefield.”

History in Free Verse (Jim Kunstler)

History might not rhyme, exactly, but it’s not bad for free verse. Greece is this century’s Serbia — a tiny, picturesque backwater nation blundering haplessly into the center stage of geopolitics. And the European Union is, whaddaya know, Germany in drag, on financial steroids. Nobody knows what will happen next in the struggle to wring some kind of debt repayment promises out of poor Greece. Without “restructuring” — a virtual national bankruptcy proceeding — there can be no plausible promises of repayment. Both sides seem to have exhausted their abilities to juke their way out. The European Union and its wing-men at the ECB and the IMF can only pretend to kick that fabled can down the road because it has turned into a cement-filled 50-gallon drum.

The Greek government can only pretend to further dismantle its civil service and pension systems lest angry citizens toss it out and replace it with a new government, perhaps an ugly and pugnacious one made up of Golden Dawn party Nazis. In the background, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, and perhaps even France wait without peeping to see if Greece is allowed to restructure, because you can be sure they will demand the same privilege to debt relief. But that’s hardly possible because the ECB has been engineering a shift of debt-holding away from the big corporate banks — which made all the stupid loans — to the taxpayers of their member states, especially Germany, which stands to be the biggest bag-holder when a contagion of serial default seeps across the continent.

This implies, of course, that along the way to that outcome something sickening happens to the price of all the bonds that the debt is embodied in. Namely, its value craters for the simple reason that the threat of non-payment makes interest rates shoot up to reflect the actualization of risk. That would certainly set off the booby-trap of derivative interest rate swaps and credit default swaps that have been laid into history’s greatest financial minefield. Thus, the big banks that were supposedly shielded by the ECB shell game of Hide the Debt Pea Somewhere Else, will blow up in a daisy-chain of unpayable obligations. The net effect of all that will be the disappearance of nominal wealth — it crosses an event horizon into a black hole never to be seen again.

The continent discovers it is a lot poorer than it thought. Fifty years of financial engineering comes to the grief it deserves for promoting the idea that it’s possible to get something for nothing. The same thing more or less awaits the USA, China, and Japan. For the USA in particular the signs of bankruptcy have been starkly visible for a long time outside the bubble regions of New York, Washington, and San Francisco. You see it in the amazing decrepitude of the built environment — the cities and towns left for dead, the struggling suburban strip malls tenanted if at all by wig shops and check-cashing operations, the rusted bridges, pot-holed highways, the Third World style train service.

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“..most houses in the US aren’t really worth the skinny little sticks that hold up their roofs..”

Pop Goes The Bubble (Dmitry Orlov)

And so all that Americans can do with all this free money is gamble with it. There are lots of worthwhile ways to spend money—build public transportation, for instance—but the problem is that none of them make money. And that, stupid though it seems, is a requirement. But creating a huge, wasteful financial casino alongside the real economy doesn’t help the real economy—it crowds it out. And it doesn’t really make money either; it makes bubbles. This should in some measure explain the more or less continuous economic shrinkage that has been happening in the US so far this century. It is also worth noting that, dire though these negative effects already seem, Americans have by no means seen the worst of it yet.

The story one commonly hears is that the US is the richest country on earth. Well, that may be true, on average, if you include financial wealth (which tends to be rather ephemeral), overvalued real estate (which is another great big bubble), promises that won’t be kept (such as the various retirement schemes that will never pay out) and much else that isn’t quite real. But it is definitely true that the US also has the largest group of incredibly poor people—much poorer than the poorest person in the poorest country on Earth. Their wealth is measured in the hundreds of thousands of dollars—but with a negative sign in front.

They are deep in debt from investing in overvalued real estate (most houses in the US aren’t really worth the skinny little sticks that hold up their roofs), or from getting an overpriced higher education (which has qualified them to serve coffee), or from running up other kinds of debt. Some of them may still look rich and prosperous for the moment, but that’s only because… you guessed it, four whole decades of ever-lower interest rates! Once interest rates start ticking up, and their entire incomes are gobbled up by interest payments, they will start looking as destitute as they actually are.

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How long can a government act against its own laws?

Ukraine President Poroshenko Admits Overthrow of Yanukovych Was a Coup (Zuesse)

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko requests the supreme court of Ukraine to declare that his predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, was overthrown by an illegal operation; in other words, that the post-Yanukovych government, including Poroshenko’s own Presidency, came into power from a coup, not from something democratic, not from any authentic constitutional process at all. In a remarkable document, which is not posted at the English version of the website of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, but which is widely reported outside the United States, including Russia, Poroshenko, in Ukrainian (not in English), has petitioned the Constitutional Court of Ukraine (as it is being widely quoted in English):

“I ask the court to acknowledge that the law ‘on the removal of the presidential title from Viktor Yanukovych’ as unconstitutional.” I had previously reported, and here will excerpt, Poroshenko’s having himself admitted prior to 26 February 2014, to the EU’s investigator, and right after the February 22nd overthrow of Yanukovych, that the overthrow was a coup, and that it was even a false-flag operation, in which the snipers, who were dressed as if they were Ukrainian Security Bureau troops, were actually not, and that, as the EU’s investigator put his finding to the EU’s chief of foreign affairs Catherine Ashton [and with my explanatory annotations here]:

“the same oligarch [Poroshenko — and so when he became President he already knew this] told that well, all the evidence shows that the people who were killed by snipers, from both sides, among policemen and people from the streets, [this will shock Ashton, who had just said that Yanukovych had masterminded the killings] that they were the same snipers, killing people from both sides [so, Poroshenko himself knows that his regime is based on a false-flag U.S.-controlled coup d’etat against his predecessor]. … Behind the snipers, it was not Yanukovych, but it was somebody from the new coalition.”

This was when Ashton first learned that the myth that Yanukovych had been overthrown as a result of public outrage at his having rejected the EU’s offer of membership to Ukraine was just a hoax. (Actually, the planning for this coup was already under way in the U.S. Embassy by at least early 2013, well prior to Yanukovych’s EU decision. Furthermore, the Ukrainian public’s approval of the government peaked right after Yanukovych announced his rejection of the EU’s offer, but then the U.S.-engineered “Maidan” riots caused that approval to plunge.)

If the Court grants Poroshenko’s petition, then the appointment of Arseniy Yatsenyuk by the U.S. State Department’s Victoria Nuland on 4 February 2014, which was confirmed by the Ukrainian parliament (or Rada) at the end of the coup on February 26th, and the other appointments which were made, including that of Oleksandr Turchynov to fill in for Yanukovych as caretaker President until one of the junta’s chosen candidates would be ‘elected’ on May 25th of 2014, which ‘election’ Poroshenko won — all of this was illegal.

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Now there’s history for you.

What Would Europe Look Like If The Soviets Hadn’t Defeated Hitler? (John Wight)

Never has a leader so catastrophically misjudged the character of an enemy as Hitler misjudged the Soviet Union and its people prior to launching his invasion of the country on June 22, 1941. Hitler and other top Nazis were convinced that the Soviet Union would crumble under the weight of the largest military operation ever mounted, codenamed Operation Barbarossa. German and Axis forces comprising 4 million men, 3,600 tanks, over 4,000 aircraft, and 46,000 artillery pieces attacked the Soviet Union along a 2,900-kilometer front from the Baltic in the north to the Black Sea in the south.

Hitler’s grand ideological project of colonizing Eastern Europe, granting the German and German-speaking peoples so-called “lebensraum” (living space), destroying in the process the “degenerate” and “inferior” Slav peoples, untermenschen, while crushing the threat of “Jewish Bolshevism” to his vision of a racially pure Aryan Europe, was now under way. From the outset it was to be a war of annihilation in which millions would be slaughtered. Many Western historians have attempted, when interpreting this aspect of the Second World War, to represent it a struggle between two equally monstrous totalitarian systems. This is of course completely false – a blatantly revisionist and ideological attempt to undermine the role of the Soviet and Russian people in crushing fascism in the interests not only of themselves, their country and culture, but also in the interests of humanity as a whole.

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May 162015
 
 May 16, 2015  Posted by at 10:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Lewis Wickes Hine Workers stringing beans in J.S. Farrand Packing Co, Baltimore 1920

The New Era Of Return-Free Risk (Reuters)
Global Asset Classes Suffer From a Highly Contagious Disease (Bloomberg)
US Farmers In ‘Dire Straits’: JPM Warns Of Liquidity Crunch (Zero Hedge)
Private Debt, Economic Stagnation and a Modern Debt Jubilee (Steve Keen)
China Backtracks on Deleveraging Local Government Debt (WSJ)
China Deleveraging Measures Create Perpetual Leverage Machine (Zero Hedge)
A Blueprint for Greece’s Recovery within a Consolidating Europe (Varoufakis)
Greek PM Tsipras Takes ‘Command’ Of Reform Talks (CNBC)
Tsipras Says He Won’t Cross Red Lines in Talks With Creditors (Bloomberg)
Greece Pays Public Sector Wages To Avert Fresh Economic Crisis (Guardian)
Home Is Where The Household Income Goes (Kathimerini)
Osborne Calls Emergency July Budget To Reveal Next Wave Of Austerity (Guardian)
Russia is a Product of WWII, In Terms of Demographics (Adomanis)
Poland Pays $250,000 To Alleged Victims Of CIA Rendition And Torture (Guardian)
Ukraine GDP Drops 17.6%, Prices Rise 61% (FT)
Anti-Poverty Crusader Leads Race To Be Barcelona’s Next Mayor (Guardian)
US Anger With RT Will Start World War Three – Emir Kusturica (Sputnik)
Food and Finance: Create A Revolution With Your Shopping Trolley (Berrino)
The Awful Truth About Climate Change No One Wants To Admit (Vox)
Without Universal Access To Water, There Can Be No Food Security (Guardian)

WIth today’s exteremely distorted asset prices, risk must get distorted too.

The New Era Of Return-Free Risk (Reuters)

U.S. and German government bonds are gyrating as they rarely do. Yields are shooting higher for no apparent reason, and sometimes falling back within hours for equally unclear motives. Such turbulence in the biggest and most liquid bond markets is ushering in a new era. The traditional concept of risk-free returns has been turned on its head. Ten-year Bund yields have multiplied by 16 times, to a high of 0.80% on May 7 from 0.05% on April 17. And German bond prices, which move inversely to yields, have suffered a larger drop than in 99% of the three-week periods of the last 25 years, UBS Wealth Management strategists calculate. Meanwhile, comparable U.S. yields have risen by more than a quarter in less than four weeks, peaking at 2.37%.

The brutal moves are creating what Jan Straatman, global chief investment officer at Lombard Odier Investment Managers, calls “return-free risk”. Investors have two problems as a result. The first is sharply practical. Safety has become expensive, or less safe. Holding cash in the form of a rock-solid currency, such as the Swiss franc, is punitive, since policy interest rates are close to zero, or even negative. Gold is supposed to be a solid store of value, but the price is in thrall to the dollar’s volatile exchange rate. And now U.S. and German government bonds are looking risky.

These days, the hunt for safety is not a big theme for most investors. They would rather take some risks in return for higher yields. But that brings up the second problem with the new era. High turbulence in supposedly safe bond markets complicates the pricing of risk. The standard asset pricing model relies on a benchmark risk-free interest rate. Riskier investments – from corporate bonds through shares to artworks – are supposed to promise a probable additional return in exchange for additional uncertainty and price volatility. The model is like a compass pointing in the direction of the right price. But this compass goes haywire when safe debt becomes extraordinarily volatile. Investors are left at sea.

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“And when they all convince themselves to be mega-long at the wrong price, the market inevitably cracks.”

Global Asset Classes Suffer From a Highly Contagious Disease (Bloomberg)

A trio of profitable trades over the past year – long U.S. dollar, long Treasuries, and long European equities – have taken a big hit in the second quarter of 2015. Over at Jefferies, chief market strategist David Zervos puts his finger on the source of these sell-offs: German debt. Zervos writes: “The Dollar, the U.S. bond market, and the European stock market have all recently become infected with a highly contagious disease. The source of this nasty fever appears to be coming from none other than the sleepy old German bond market.” The yield on 10-year German sovereign debt has spiked from below 0.1% in mid-April to 0.635% as of publishing. That’s the kind of move you’d expect to see about once every six decades.

Investors who bought bunds, Zervos argues, bet on the wrong horse following the introduction of quantitative easing by the ECB. “When QE begins folks sadly get excited about front running central bank duration purchases, and then they take a very rich asset and make it stupid rich,” he writes. “And when they all convince themselves to be mega-long at the wrong price, the market inevitably cracks.” The sell-off in bunds began at a time when European credit growth was beginning to turn up, the economy began to improve, and a pair of fixed income legends, Jeffrey Gundlach and Bill Gross, offered some very bearish commentary on German bonds. The sell-off also came at a time of extreme positioning in major markets.

According to Zervos, the toppling of this domino is currently rippling through other asset classes. He considers this a period in which all these popular trades will get hit as the market purges the good QE trades from the poor ones. “Right now we have to get through this nasty period of contagious spring fever in Europe, or what the Germans would call Frühjahrsmüdigkeit,” he writes. “I honestly don’t know how long this fever will last (or how to pronounce that crazy German word), but none of this nasty price action dissuades from believing in the long-term QE-induced reflationary trend for European risk assets.”

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US ag gets hit from many sides at once, from drought to credit drought.

US Farmers In ‘Dire Straits’: JPM Warns Of Liquidity Crunch (Zero Hedge)

Despite the government’s ‘advice’ to young debt-laden students, the tragedy of the American farmer continues with worryingly pessimistic views on the future of the industry. With farmland prices falling for the first time in almost 30 years, credit conditions are weakening dramatically and the Kansas City Fed warns that persistently low crop prices and high input costs reduced profit margins and increased concerns about future loan repayment capacity, and JPMorgan concludes, the industry is currently in dire straits with the potential for a liquidity crunch for farmers into 2016.

Not so long ago, US farmland – whose prices were until recently rising exponentially – was considered by many to be the next asset bubble. Then, almost overnight, the fairytale ended, and as reported in February, US farmland saw its first price drop since 1986. Looking ahead, very few bankers expect price appreciation and more than a quarter of survey respondents expect cropland values to decline further in the next three months. And now, The Kansas City Fed warns that Agricultural credit conditions are worsening rapidly…

Credit conditions in the Federal Reserve’s Tenth District weakened as farm income declined further in the first quarter of 2015. Persistently low crop prices and high input costs reduced profit margins and increased concerns about future loan repayment capacity. Funds were available to meet historically high loan demand, but loan repayment rates dropped considerably. Although profit margins in the livestock industry have remained stable, most bankers do not expect farm income or credit conditions to improve in the next three months.

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“..economic growth will remain low (and inequality will remain high) until the level of private debt is drastically reduced..”

Private Debt, Economic Stagnation and a Modern Debt Jubilee (Steve Keen)

This is the talk I gave at the 8th Subversive Festival in Zagreb on May 15th 2015. I start with the Queen of England’s question “If these things were so large, how come everyone missed them? Why did nobody notice it?” and then show how private debt was the missing ingredient in the models that conventional economists have, which is why they missed the crisis. I finish with the assertion that economic growth will remain low (and inequality will remain high) until the level of private debt is drastically reduced. I recommend a “Modern Debt Jubilee” as the way to do this.

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As we predicted many times, China is failing in its attempts to smother the shadow banking system, which is A) too big to fight and B) too crucial for the economy.

China Backtracks on Deleveraging Local Government Debt (WSJ)

China is reversing course on a major effort to tackle its hefty local government debt problem, marking a setback for a priority reform aimed at getting its financial house in order. The move could provide the economy with some short-term help. But it restores a backdoor way that enabled local governments to load up on debt in recent years, providing a drag on growth at a time when Beijing is looking for ways to rekindle it. According to an announcement made Friday by the State Council, China’s cabinet, the authorities relaxed controls on the ability of local governments to raise money by allowing them to tap government-sponsored financing companies—the very entities that have been blamed for a rapid run-up in China’s local debt load over the past few years.

The move undermines an October policy intended to prevent those financing firms from taking on new debt. It comes as China’s long push toward financial reform—part of its broader effort to make the economy rely less on big investments but more on consumer spending—increasingly bumps up against a more pressing national goal: boosting growth. “To transition to a consumer-led economy, China will have to push through painful reforms and accept recession,” said Geoffrey Barker at Asian Macro Fund in Hong Kong. “But at least for now, the government appears unwilling to do that.” The latest move comes as the world’s second-largest economy endures slower-than-expected growth. A barrage of monetary-easing measures since last year has proved insufficient to counter a real-estate downturn and flagging factory output.

Earlier this week, China reported a sharp drop-off in growth of investment in factories, buildings and other fixed assets in the first four months compared with a year ago, partly because local governments found credit hard to come by to invest in big projects due to Beijing’s crackdown on local borrowing. Now, by backtracking on the local-debt cleanup initiative, Beijing is resorting to greater stimulus efforts to meet GDP targets. “We take this as a significant policy easing signal,” said chief China economist Zhiwei Zhang at Deutsche Bank. The need to bolster growth gained urgency after an April tour by Premier Li Keqiang of China’s three Rust Belt provinces in the northeast, including Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang, according to Chinese officials with knowledge of the leadership’s thinking.

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CHina is simply too addicted to debt to move away smoothly.

China Deleveraging Measures Create Perpetual Leverage Machine (Zero Hedge)

China is in a tough spot and it’s starting to show up in what look like contradictory policy decisions. The problem goes something like this. In the interest of curbing systemic risk and decreasing the percentage of total social financing (TSF) comprised of off-balance sheet financing, China has moved to rein in the shadow banking boom that helped fuel the country’s meteoric growth. The effort to deleverage a system laboring under some $28 trillion in debt is complicated by the fact that the export-driven economy is growing at the slowest pace in 6 years (and that’s if you believe the official numbers), a scenario which calls for some manner of stimulus.

Unfortunately, the yuan’s dollar peg has served to further pressure China’s exports while rising capital outflows (plus an IMF SDR bid) make currency devaluation an undesirable tool for boosting the economy. Beijing has thus resorted to slashing policy rates, cutting the benchmark lending rate three times in six months and RRR twice this year (and they aren’t done yet). This of course flies in the face of attempts to deleverage the system. That is, lowering real interest rates encourages more leverage, not less, but Beijing has little choice. It must walk the tightrope, because at some point, the deceleration in economic growth will become so readily apparent that China will no longer be able to stick to the (likely) fabricated 7% output figure.

As we discussed on Thursday, the country’s local government debt dilemma is a microcosm of the challenges facing the broader economy. Local governments used shadow banking conduits to skirt borrowing limits, accumulating a massive pile of high-yield debt in the process. The total debt burden for these localities sums to around 35% of GDP and because a non-trivial portion carries yields that are much higher than traditional muni bonds, the debt servicing costs have become unbearable. To remedy the situation, Beijing is implementing a debt swap program which allows local governments to swap their high-yielding loans for long-term bonds with lower coupons.

In order to create demand for the new issues, the PBoC is allowing banks that purchase the new bonds to post them as collateral for cash that can then be re-lent to the broader economy, presumably at a healthy spread. So while the program is designed to help local governments deleverage by cutting hundreds of billions from debt servicing costs, the PBoC’s move to allow the new LGBs to be pledged for cash by the purchasing banks, means that on net, the entire refi program will actually add leverage to the system as banks use the cash they receive from repoing their LGBs to make new loans.

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“The institutions have, over the years, relied on a process of backward induction..”

A Blueprint for Greece’s Recovery within a Consolidating Europe (Varoufakis)

[..] .. agreement on a new development model for Greece requires overcoming two hurdles. First, we must concur on how to approach Greece’s fiscal consolidation and our management of public debt. Second, we need a comprehensive, commonly agreed reform agenda that will underpin that consolidation path and inspire the confidence of Greek society on the one hand and our partners on the other. Beginning with fiscal consolidation, the issue at hand concerns the method. The institutions have, over the years, relied on a process of backward induction: They set a date (say, the year 2019) and a target for the ratio of nominal debt to national income (say, 120%) that must be achieved before money markets are deemed ready to lend to Greece at reasonable rates.

Then, under arbitrary assumptions regarding growth rates, inflation, privatization receipts, and so forth, they compute what primary surpluses are necessary in every year, going backwards to the present. The result of this method, in our government’s opinion, is an ‘austerity trap’. When fiscal consolidation turns on a pre-determined debt ratio to be achieved at a predetermined point in the future, the primary surpluses needed to hit those targets are such that the effect on the private sector undermines the assumed growth rates and thus derails the planned fiscal path. Indeed, this is precisely why previous fiscal-consolidation plans for Greece missed their targets so spectacularly.

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Greece is getting tired of the institutions.

Greek PM Tsipras Takes ‘Command’ Of Reform Talks (CNBC)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has taken control of the country’s reform talks with its international lenders at a “critical” point in the negotiations, Greek government sources told CNBC. The sources, who did not want to be named due to the sensitive nature of the discussions, told CNBC that the Greek prime minister had taken command of the negotiating process and was involved in discussions with the Brussels Group of the country’s creditors – the IMF, European Commission and ECB as well as the European Stability Mechanism.

The sources added that a teleconference held Thursday on the reforms were held at the prime minister’s office – an incident denied by the government’s official spokesman. The Athens government has been in debt deadlock with its international creditors since it came to power in late January. While the left-wing Syriza party was elected on an anti-austerity ticket, those holding the purse-strings on its multibillion-euro bailout are insisting on strict economic and welfare reforms. The sources added that Tsipras’ move to lead the talks was an attempt to show his commitment to finding a resolution to the country’s impasse with lenders.

Greece certainly needs a deal over reforms, which could release a vital €7.2 billion euros worth of aid from its second bailout program. The country has millions of euros worth of loan repayments to pay over the next few weeks and months to lenders and money is running out. The sources noted that Tsipras wanted to be more involved in the talks as they entered a “delicate and critical” phase, adding that the prime minister was focusing on the “political” side of the deal while Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and Euclid Tsakalatos (currently in charge of Greece’s negotiating team) had been looking after the “technical side.”

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“Tsipras’s mandate from the Greek people is the biggest stumbling block to a deal with the country’s creditors..” Huh? Where did democracy go?

Tsipras Says He Won’t Cross Red Lines in Talks With Creditors (Bloomberg)

Greece won’t cross its red lines in negotiations with international creditors just because time is pressing to close a deal, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said. “Those who think that our red lines will fade as time goes on would do well to forget it,” Tsipras said at a conference in Athens late Friday. “I want to assure the Greek people that there’s no way the government will back down on the issue of pension and wage cuts,” he said. “A deal must be reached but it must be mutually beneficial.” Tsipras will address the standoff in bailout negotiations on the sidelines of a meeting of European Union leaders to be held May 21-22 in Riga, Latvia. More than 110 days of talks between Greece and its creditors have failed to produce an agreement to unlock further aid and avert default.

The standoff has triggered a liquidity squeeze, pulling the country back into a recession and renewing doubts over Greece’s future in the euro area. “The bottom line is that pressure on Greek authorities to come to a deal is rising,” JPMorgan’s Barr and Mackie wrote in a note to clients Friday. “The pressures on central government cash flow, pressures on the banking system and the political timetable are all converging on late May-early June. At that point some form of interim deal will need to be struck” and “it’s clear that time is running out,” they said. Negotiations in the so-called Brussels Group of Greek and creditor institution representatives will continue over the weekend and into next week.

While Greece has found common ground with its creditors in areas including fiscal targets, a marginal change to the sales tax rate and tax administration reform, there are “still open issues” concerning labor market and pension system reforms, Tsipras said. Greece may seek an additional meeting of euro-area finance ministers by the end of May, Greek government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis said on May 14, as the cash crunch intensifies. It remains unclear how Tsipras will deal with the likely objection by the Left Platform section of his Syriza party to the content of any deal, Barr and Mackie said. “Even small countries can stand upright to confront imperialist pressures and threats,” Greek Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis said today in Athens following a meeting with Venezuela’s ambassador to Greece. Lafazanis leads the Left Platform.

Tsipras’s mandate from the Greek people is the biggest stumbling block to a deal with the country’s creditors, Maltese Finance Minister Edward Scicluna said in an interview Friday.

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Wise.

Greece Pays Public Sector Wages To Avert Fresh Economic Crisis (Guardian)

Greece avoided another financial crisis by paying about €500 million in wages to public sector workers, but suffered another downgrade of its credit rating. “The mid-May payments of wages and pensions … were made within the scheduled time frame,” the finance ministry said. They had been due on Friday. The payment came as Greece remained locked in talks with its creditors in an effort to release €7.2bn of bailout funds to avoid a default and exit from the eurozone. In a sign the leftist Syriza government was preparing to compromise over some of the reforms demanded by Brussels and the IMF, it said it would push ahead with privatisation of its biggest port, Piraeus.

It is in talks with China’s Cosco Group, which manages two container piers at the port, about selling a majority stake. “We are in very advanced talks to expand this cooperation very soon in relation with the inclusion of a railway network as well,” the defence minister, Panos Kammenos, told an economic conference in Athens. The Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, said his country was “very close” to reaching a vital deal with bailout lenders, but insisted there was “no possibility” of giving in to key demands including further cuts to pensions and wages.

Tsipras said the government had not abandoned its goal to try to persuade lenders to restructure Greece’s debt. “It appears that we have reached common ground with the institutions on a number of issues, and that makes us optimistic that we are really very close to an agreement,” Tsipras said, noting convergence on harmonised sales tax rates and tax administration reforms. “But several issues remain open … I want to reassure the Greek people that there is no chance or possibility for the Greek government to retreat on the issue of wages and pensions. Wage earners and pensioners have suffered enough.”

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28.1% of mortgages are non-performing.

Home Is Where The Household Income Goes (Kathimerini)

Owning or even renting a home has become a bane rather than a boon for Greeks – to say nothing of the taxes ownership and utilization of a property entail – as the latest Housing Europe report shows that Greece has the highest housing costs as a percentage of disposable income among all European Union states. The cost of maintaining a home comes to 37% for average households, soaring to 65% for those close to the poverty line, the annual study found. The respective average rates in the EU are 22.2% and 41%. The survey counts costs as rent for tenants or mortgage payments for owners, spending on heating, electricity, water and sewage, and telephony, as well as building maintenance and other expenditures.

The continual decline in household revenues – mainly through cuts to salaries and pensions – coupled with the steady increase in other costs such as power rates and heating oil, meanwhile, is putting an increasing number of households at serious risk. Denmark comes second on the list, with 30% of people’s disposable income going into the maintenance of their home, followed by Germany with 28%. Both of these countries, however, have a low rate of home ownership compared with Greece, so the cost of rent takes up a bigger chunk of housing expenditure. This also suggests that Greece’s high rate is due to the decline in incomes after the outbreak of the financial crisis and the spike in unemployment, rather than to an increase in expenditure.

According to the latest available data, from the 2011 census, the rate of people living in their own homes comes to 73.2%, while 21.7% live in rented properties. In Germany, home ownership amounts to just 45.4% and in Denmark it stands at 51%. According to EU data in 2012, Greece also had the highest share of people overburdened by housing costs at 33.1%. This country also tops other unenviable lists, as it has the highest rate of people with unpaid utilities (31.8%), as well as of mortgage borrowers with arrears and of tenants owing rent (both around 15%). The rate of bad loans has soared in recent years, with nonperforming mortgages climbing from 3.6% in 2008 to 28.1% of all mortgages in end-2014.

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Britons will take to the streets.

Osborne Calls Emergency July Budget To Reveal Next Wave Of Austerity (Guardian)

George Osborne will reveal how the government plans to cut £12bn from Britain’s welfare bill when he announces a fresh wave of austerity measures in his second budget in less than four months on 8 July. The chancellor said he wanted to make a start delivering on the commitments made in the Conservative party manifesto and pledged that his package would be a budget for “working people”. Announcing his decision in an article in the Sun, Osborne said he would provide details of how the government plans to eliminate the UK’s budget deficit – forecast to be £75bn this year – and run a surplus by the end of the parliament.

“On the 8th of July I am going to take the unusual step of having a second budget of the year – because I don’t want to wait to turn the promises we made in the election into a reality … And I can tell you it will be a budget for working people.” Treasury sources said the budget would address Britain’s poor productivity record, which has held back growth in living standards, and would also announce plans to create 3m new apprenticeships. However, the centrepiece of the package will be a fresh bout of austerity, with Osborne keen to get unpopular measures out of the way early in the parliament, in readiness for pre-election tax cuts once the public finances have improved.

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“In 1946 there were roughly 2.5 million children between the ages of 0 and 5 living in the Soviet Union. There should have been around 6.5 million.”

Russia is a Product of WWII, In Terms of Demographics (Adomanis)

The human costs of the war really do beggar belief. The first and most obvious costs are the people (primarily men between the ages of 19 and 40) who were actually killed in combat. And, as you might expect, these losses were positively enormous: in some age cohorts, fully half the men who should have been alive in 1946 were not. Somewhat surprisingly the biggest absolute and proportional losses seem to have fallen on those men who were roughly 30 years old when the war started. In most cinematic depictions of the war that I’ve seen the average rank and file soldier is presented as a fresh-faced recruit straight out of high school, but this evidently isn’t a particularly accurate presentation of what actually happened.

Another thing that was somewhat surprising was the relative paucity of losses among the female part of the population. The German occupation of the Baltics, Ukraine, and large sections of European Russia was famously barbaric. Civilians living in those areas were treated brutishly, often for a period of many years. Any number of films display in quite excoriating detail the horrific ways in which the Nazis treated the people whom they occupied. But unlike the entire generation of young men that was “missing” as a result of the war, from a demographic standpoint Soviet women were not impacted to nearly the same degree. Given what I had read about the egregious losses among civilians in places like Leningrad, Stalingrad, and Rostov this was unexpected.

But what really blew me away was the “unseen” demographic cost of the war: those children that would have been born had pre-war fertility patterns been sustained throughout the 1940’s. Here the losses are even more nightmarish than those suffered by young males of prime combat age. In 1946 there were roughly 2.5 million children between the ages of 0 and 5 living in the Soviet Union. There should have been around 6.5 million. These losses of four million lost births won’t show up anywhere on a monument or a casualty roster, but that doesn’t make them any less real. Indeed, from the standpoint of their impact on Russia’s future they were likely even more significant than the millions of young men who died in combat, permanently lowering Russia’s potential population.

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WIll there be more of these cases coming soon?

Poland Pays $250,000 To Alleged Victims Of CIA Rendition And Torture (Guardian)

Poland is paying a quarter of a million dollars to two terror suspects allegedly tortured by the CIA in a secret facility in this country – prompting outrage among many here who feel they are being punished for American wrongdoing. Europe’s top human rights court imposed the penalty against Poland, setting a Saturday deadline. It irks many in Poland that their country is facing legal repercussions for the secret rendition and detention programme which the CIA operated under then-President George W Bush in several countries across the world after the 9/11 attacks. So far no US officials have been held accountable, but the European court of human rights has shown that it does not want to let European powers that helped the programme off the hook.

The court also ordered Macedonia in 2012 to pay €60,000 to a Lebanese-German man who was seized in Macedonia on erroneous suspicion of terrorist ties and subjected to abuse by the CIA. The Polish foreign ministry said on Friday that it was processing the payments. However, neither Polish officials nor the US embassy in Warsaw would say where the money is going or how it was being used. For now, it remains unclear how a European government can make payments to two men who have been held for years at Guantánamo with almost no contact to the outside world. Even lawyers for the suspects were tight-lipped, though they said the money would not be used to fund terrorism.

The European court of human rights ruled last July that Poland violated the rights of suspects Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri by allowing the CIA to imprison them and by failing to stop the “torture and inhuman or degrading treatment” of the inmates. It ordered Warsaw to pay €130,000 to Zubaydah, a Palestinian, and €100,000 to Nashiri, a Saudi national charged with orchestrating the attack in 2000 on the USS Cole that killed 17 US sailors. Poland appealed against the ruling but lost in February. The foreign minister, Grzegorz Schetyna, said at the time that “we will abide by this ruling because we are a law-abiding country”. The country apparently received millions of dollars from the United States when it allowed the site to operate in 2002 and 2003, last year’s report on the renditions program by the US Senate intelligence committee said in a section that appears to refer to Poland though the country name was redacted.

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Default.

Ukraine GDP Drops 17.6%, Prices Rise 61% (FT)

Crunch talks on Ukraine’s national debt hang in the balance after the finance minister warned creditors that “all options were on the table” as the economic outlook for the war-torn country worsens. Natalie Jaresko made the comments ahead of a restructuring deadline next month. They came as official figures showed Ukraine experienced an even deeper slump than expected in the first quarter, with gross domestic product shrinking 17.6% year on year. The central bank had previously estimated a 15% contraction. The scale of the slump deepened international concerns over the country’s economy. Figures showed inflation spiked to some 61% in April, because of sharp increases in utility tariffs on top of the weakness of the national currency, the hryvnia.

Ukraine’s government is struggling to convince creditors to accept a haircut as part of plans to restructure $23bn of debt. The atmosphere surrounding the talks has become increasingly acrimonious as both sides this week issued statements accusing the other of failing to engage “substantively” with the process. The stand-off over Ukraine’s debt restructuring, alongside the Greek debt crisis, leaves the international community facing potential default risks by two European countries. Analysts suggested Ms Jaresko’s reference to “all options being on the table” was a hint the government was prepared if necessary to impose a moratorium or suspension of debt servicing.

Failure to agree a restructuring with debtholders by June could put at risk the next tranche of a $17.5bn loan from the IMF. The loan is part of a broader $40bn assistance programme that includes $7.5bn in bilateral aid, but also assumes a $15bn debt restructuring over four years that Kiev says should include a haircut, reductions in the coupon, and maturity extensions. [..] In March, credit rating agency Moody’s announced that Ukraine’s chances of defaulting on its debt were “virtually 100 per cent”.

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Rajoy is not going to like this.

Anti-Poverty Crusader Leads Race To Be Barcelona’s Next Mayor (Guardian)

As one of the founders of the Mortgage Victims’ Platform, Ada Colau has spent the past six years battling the most visible scars of Spain’s economic crisis, from growing inequality to home evictions. Now the 41-year-old activist could become Barcelona’s next mayor. Polls have put Colau, and the Barcelona en Comú (Barcelona in Common) citizen platform she leads, in the top spot in the runup to Spain’s regional and municipal elections. A grassroots coalition of several political parties, including Podemos, and thousands of citizens and activists, Barcelona en Comú has become the brightest hope for the many in Spain pushing for democratic regeneration.

Crowd-funded and guided by a code of ethics composed by its members, the group promises to focus on job creation, combat growing inequality in the city and usher in a culture of transparency and anti-corruption measures in the city’s institutions. “We want to show that you can do politics another way,” Colau told the Guardian. “It’s a historic opportunity.” If they win, the group’s members have prepared a to-do list for its first months in power – what Colau calls “commonsense measures” – ranging from limiting her monthly salary to €2,200 to eliminating official cars and expense budgets for attending meetings. The details of any meetings involving city officials would be posted online, they say. The thorny issue of tourism will also be tackled, with an effort to design a more sustainable model for the city.

“Tourism is out of control,” said Colau, pointing to areas such as the historical centre that have become saturated with hotels and tourist apartments. Rents have rocketed as a result and neighbourhoods and small businesses have been pushed out of the area. “Everyone wants to see the real city, but if the centre fills up with multinationals and big stores that you can find in any other city, it doesn’t work,” she said. Colau’s voice rises with excitement as she muses about the possibility of being elected on 24 May. “What most excites us is the idea that Barcelona could become a world reference as a democratic and socially just city. Barcelona has the resources, the money and the skills. The only thing that has been missing to date has been the political will.”

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“CNN in direct transmissions assures that since the 1990s America has been leading humanitarian actions, and not wars, that from military planes fall angels and not bombs!”

US Anger With RT Will Start World War Three – Emir Kusturica (Sputnik)

World War Three will break out when the US finally tires of the RT TV channel, and decides to bomb it; in retaliation, Russia will destroy CNN, writes film director Emir Kusturica, in an article published on Thursday. “Everything is different to how it was during the Cold War! Because of that it is useless to talk about a return to how things used to be, and listen to Henry Kissinger scare us. In the meantime, China has become the strongest world economy, Russia has recovered from Perestroika, India is growing into a genie! Military experts don’t argue that Americans have the most organized army, but there remains the unsolvable puzzle for NATO generals, who have called one of the Russian rockets ‘SATAN.'”

“The devil never comes alone! At the same time with this rocket and numerous innovations, the TV Channel RT has also appeared among the Russian arsenal.” “The program is broadcast in English, and watched by around 700 million people in 200 countries. The secret success of this television is the smashing of the Hollywood-CNN stereotype of the good and bad guys, where blacks, Hispanics, Russians, Serbs are the villains, and white Americans, wherever you look, are OK!” “Congressman, and those in the State Department are continually upset by RT,” writes Kusturica, adding that the US Secretary of State is “the loudest.”

“Kerry and the congressmen are bothered by the fact that RT sends signals that the world is not determined by the fatalism of liberal capitalism, that the US is leading the world into chaos, that Monsanto is not producing healthy food, that Coca-Cola is ideal for cleaning automobile alloys and not for the human stomach, that in Serbia the percentage of people who die from cancer has risen sharply due to the 1999 NATO bombings, that the social map of America is falling from day to day, that the fingerprints of the CIA are on the Ukrainian crisis, and that BlackWater fired at the Ukrainian police, and not Maidan activists.”

In contrast, writes the film director, “CNN in direct transmissions assures that since the 1990s America has been leading humanitarian actions, and not wars, that from military planes fall angels and not bombs!” “As time goes on RT will ever more demystify the American Dream and in primetime will reveal the truth hidden for decades from the eyes and heart of average Americans, in their own homes, in perfect English, better than they use on CNN.”

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How sugar bankrupts societies.

Food and Finance: Create A Revolution With Your Shopping Trolley (Berrino)

When we think of health, most of the time we are thinking of treatments and about patients getting better. Basically we’re thinking about the effects of bad health. Hardly ever do we think of the causes. It’s really complicated to intervene on the causes. That means making changes to the economy that is making us sick. It means altering the very structure of the society in which we live. The air that we breathe, the food that we eat – these are the poisons that make us sick. The medical doctor can only treat the patient, and that is often the last hope, for instances for cases of tumours. The lawmaker should be protecting the citizens, and should be using preventative measures to safeguard health.

However this involves clashing with a variety of multinationals, with the effects of globalisation, with the criminal financial world that not doesn’t mind who it offends and doesn’t even know of the existence of ethics. And in the face of these obstacles, the medical doctor can do very little. The only true remedy is information. Prevent bad health by having access to information, and by your lifestyle. Any diabetes specialist will tell you that sugar is bad for you, but we are bombarded with advertisements for sweet snacks and sugary drinks. These are especially targeted at children who are the most vulnerable. Health care, food, and public spending are all interconnected.

from “Pappa Mundi“ by Francesco Galietti: “It could seem paradoxical, but the structural solution to the crisis in public financing is also linked to the solution of the food issue. In most of the Western World, the public spending that’s classed as “health care” is concentrated on the treatment of pathologies (diabetes, high blood pressure, cancers) and these are linked to the unrestrained consumption of sugars, fats, etc. This has been confirmed in the public consultation that took place in the first quarter of 2014 for the World Health Organization guidelines on the consumption of sugars. In the thoughtful report of a research project issued by their think-tank – the McKinsey Global Institute: obesity has become much more than a cultural problem or one due to the lack of knowledge about foods.

Today, the impact from obesity is roughly $2.0 trillion, or 2.8% of global GDP. This is the impressive figure combining falls in productivity, health-care costs and various types of investment to mitigate the impact. The order of magnitude is roughly equivalent to the global impact from armed violence, war, and terrorism.“ It then goes on to say: “Thus it is not surprising to witness the growing interest and the possible boom in the use of surrogate natural sugars (like stevia) by global giants like Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Nor is it surprising to see the outcry from the associations of sugar producers who are reluctant to take the blame for the excesses of individual people as well as for the gaping holes in national accounts … The more people get hold of the idea that unhealthy foods have negative repercussions even for the badly organised public finances, the more the producers of unhealthy foods will start to be targeted by national governments. “

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“Humans are subject to intense status quo bias. Especially on the conservative end of the psychological spectrum — which is the direction all humans move when they feel frightened or under threat..”

The Awful Truth About Climate Change No One Wants To Admit (Vox)

There has always been an odd tenor to discussions among climate scientists, policy wonks, and politicians, a passive-aggressive quality, and I think it can be traced to the fact that everyone involved has to dance around the obvious truth, at risk of losing their status and influence. The obvious truth about global warming is this: barring miracles, humanity is in for some awful shit. We recently passed 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere; the status quo will take us up to 1,000 ppm, raising global average temperature (from a pre-industrial baseline) between 3.2 and 5.4 degrees Celsius.

That will mean, according to a 2012 World Bank report, “extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise,” the effects of which will be “tilted against many of the world’s poorest regions,” stalling or reversing decades of development work. “A 4°C warmer world can, and must be, avoided,” said the World Bank president. But that’s where we’re headed. It will take enormous effort just to avoid that fate. Holding temperature down under 2°C would require an utterly unprecedented level of global mobilization and coordination, sustained over decades. There’s no sign of that happening, or reason to think it’s plausible anytime soon. And so, awful shit it is. [..]

The sad fact is that no one has much incentive to break the bad news. Humans are subject to intense status quo bias. Especially on the conservative end of the psychological spectrum — which is the direction all humans move when they feel frightened or under threat — there is a powerful craving for the message that things are, basically, okay, that the system is working like it’s supposed to, that the current state of affairs is the best available, or close enough. To be the insisting that, no, things are not okay, things are heading toward disaster, is uncomfortable in any social milieu — especially since, in most people’s experience, those wailing about the end of the world are always wrong and frequently crazy.

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Access to water will decline sharply going forward.

Without Universal Access To Water, There Can Be No Food Security (Guardian)

Ensuring universal access to water is vital in order to address food security and improve nutrition, yet recognition of the links between water and food are too often missed. A major report on water for food security and nutrition, launched on Friday by the high-level panel of experts on food security and nutrition (HLPE), is the first comprehensive effort to bring together access to water, food security and nutrition. This report goes far beyond the usual focus on water for agriculture. Safe drinking water and sanitation are fundamental to human development and wellbeing. Yet inadequate access to clean water undermines people’s nutrition and health through water-borne diseases and chronic intestinal infections.

The landmark report, commissioned by the committee on world food security (CFS), not only focuses on the need for access, it also makes important links between land, water and productivity. It underlines the message that water is integral to human food security and nutrition, as well as the conservation of forests, wetlands and lakes upon which all humans depend. Policies and governance issues on land, water and food are usually developed in isolation. Against a backdrop of future uncertainties, including climate change, changing diets and water-demand patterns, there has to be a joined-up approach to addressing these challenges.

There are competing demands over water from different sectors such as agriculture, energy and industry. With this in mind, policymakers have to prioritise the rights and interests of the most marginalised and vulnerable groups, with a particular focus on women, when it comes to water access. There is vast inequality in access to water, which is determined by socio-economic, political, gender and power relations. Securing access can be particularly challenging for smallholders, vulnerable and marginalised populations and women.

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