May 242015
 
 May 24, 2015  Posted by at 11:12 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing F.W. Grand store, Washington, DC 1925

Mario Draghi made another huge faux pas Thursday, but it looks like the entire world press has become immune to them, because it happens all the time, because they don’t realize what it means, and because they have a message if not a mission to sell. But still, none of these things makes it alright. Nor does Draghi’s denying it was a faux pas to begin with.

And while that’s very worrisome, ‘the public’ appear to be as numbed and dumbed down to this as the media themselves are -largely due to ’cause and effect’, no doubt-. We saw an account of a North Korean defector yesterday lamenting that her country doesn’t have a functioning press, and we thought: get in line.

It’s one thing for the Bank of England to research the effects of a Brexit. It’s even inevitable that a central bank should do this, but both the process and the outcome would always have to remain under wraps. Why it was ‘accidentally’ emailed to the Guardian is hard to gauge, but it’s not a big news event that such a study takes place. The contents may yet turn out to be, but that doesn’t look all that likely.

The reason the study should remain secret is, of course, that a Brexit is a political decision, and a country’s central bank can not be party to such decisions.

It’s therefore quite another thing for ECB head Mario Draghi to speak in public about reforms inside the eurozone. Draghi can perhaps vent his opinion behind closed doors, for instance in talks with politicians in European nations, but any and all eurozone reforms remain exclusively political decisions, even if they are economic reforms, and therefore Draghi must stay away from the topic, certainly in public. Far away.

There has to be a very clear line between central banks and governments. The latter should never be able to influence the former, because it would risk making economic policy serve only short term interests (until the next election). Likewise the former should stay out of the latter’s decisions, because that would tend to make political processes skewed disproportionally towards finance and the economy, at the potential cost of other interests in a society.

This may sound idealistic and out of sync with the present day reality, but if it does, that does not bode well. It’s dangerous to play fast and loose with the founding principles of individual countries, and perhaps even more with those of unions of sovereign nations.

Obviously, in the same vein it’s fully out of line for German FinMin Schäuble to express his opinion on whether or not Greece should hold a referendum on euro membership, or any referendum for that matter. Ye olde Wolfgang is tasked with Germany’s financial politics, not Greece’s, and being a minister for one of 28 EU members doesn’t give him the liberty to express such opinions. Because all EU nations are sovereign nations, and no foreign politicians have any say in other nations’ domestic politics.

It really is that simple, no matter how much of this brinkmanship has already passed under the bridge. Even Angela Merkel, though she’s Germany’s political leader, must refrain from comments on internal Greek political affairs. She must also, if members of her cabinet make comments like Schäuble’s, tell them to never do that again, or else. It’s simply the way the EU was constructed. There is no grey area there.

The way the eurozone is treating Greece has already shown that it’s highly improbable the union can and will last forever. Too many -sovereign- boundaries have been crossed. Draghi’s and Schäuble’s comments will speed up the process of disintegration. They will achieve the exact opposite of what they try to accomplish. The European Union will show itself to be a union of fairweather friends. In Greece, this is already being revealed.

The eurozone, or European monetary union, has now had as many years of economic turmoil as it’s had years of prosperity. And it’ll be all downhill from here on in, precisely because certain people think they can afford to meddle in the affairs of sovereign nations. The euro was launched on January 2002, and was in trouble as soon as the US was, even if this was not acknowledged right away. Since 2008, Europe has swung from crisis to crisis, and there’s no end in sight.

At the central bankers’ undoubtedly ultra luxurious love fest in Sintra, Portugal, where all protagonists largely agree with one another, Draghi on Friday held a speech. And right from the start, he started pushing reforms, and showing why he really shouldn’t. Because what he suggests is not politically -or economically- neutral, it’s driven by ideology.

He can’t claim that it’s all just economics. When you talk about opening markets, facilitating reallocation etc., you’re expressing a political opinion about how a society can and should be structured, not merely an economy.

Structural Reforms, Inflation And Monetary Policy (Mario Draghi)

Our strong focus on structural reforms is not because they have been ignored in recent years. On the contrary, a great deal has been achieved and we have praised progress where it has taken place, including here in Portugal. Rather, if we talk often about structural reforms it is because we know that our ability to bring about a lasting return of stability and prosperity does not rely only on cyclical policies – including monetary policy – but also on structural policies. The two are heavily interdependent.

So what I would like to do today in opening our annual discussions in Sintra is, first, to explain what we mean by structural reforms and why the central bank has a pressing and legitimate interest in their implementation. And second, to underline why being in the early phases of a cyclical recovery is not a reason to postpone structural reforms; it is in fact an opportunity to accelerate them.

Structural reforms are, in my view, best defined as policies that permanently and positively alter the supply-side of the economy. This means that they have two key effects. First, they lift the path of potential output, either by raising the inputs to production – the supply and quality of labour and the amount of capital per worker – or by ensuring that those inputs are used more efficiently, i.e. by raising total factor productivity (TFP).

And second, they make economies more resilient to economic shocks by facilitating price and wage flexibility and the swift reallocation of resources within and across sectors. These two effects are complementary. An economy that rebounds faster after a shock is an economy that grows more over time, as it suffers from lower hysteresis effects. And the same structural reforms will often increase both short-term flexibility and long-term growth.

And earlier in the -long- speech he said: “Our strong focus on structural reforms is not because they have been ignored in recent years. On the contrary, a great deal has been achieved and we have praised progress where it has taken place, including here in Portugal.

So Draghi states that reforms have already been successful. Wherever things seem to go right, he will claim that’s due to ‘his’ reforms. Wherever they don’t, that’s due to not enough reforms. His is a goalseeked view of the world.

He claims that the structural reforms he advocates will lead to more resilience and growth. But since these reforms are for the most part a simple rehash of longer running centralization efforts, we need only look at the latter’s effects on society to gauge the potential consequences of what Draghi suggests. And what we then find is that the entire package has led to growth almost exclusively for large corporations and financial institutions. And even that growth is now elusive.

Neither reforms nor stimulus have done much, if anything, to alleviate the misery in Greece or Spain or Italy, and Portugal is not doing much better, as the rise of the Socialist Party makes clear. The reforms that Draghi touts for Lisbon consist mainly of cuts to wages and pensions. How that is progress, or how it has made the Portuguese economy ‘more resilient’, is anybody’s guess.

Resilience cannot mean that a system makes it easier to force you to leave your home to find work, but that is exactly what Draghi advocates. Instead, resilience must mean that it is easier for you to find properly rewarded work right where you are, preferably producing your own society’s basic necessities. That is what would make your society more capable of withstanding economic shocks.

Still, it’s the direct opposite of what Draghi has in mind. Draghi states that [structural reforms] “.. make economies more resilient to economic shocks by facilitating price and wage flexibility and the swift reallocation of resources within and across sectors.”

That obviously and simply means that, if it pleases the economic elites who own a society’s assets, your wages can more easily be lowered, prices for basic necessities can be raised, and you yourself can be ‘swiftly reallocated’ far from where you live, and into industries you may not want to work in that don’t do anything to lift your society.

Whether such kinds of changes to your society’s framework are desirable is manifestly a political theme, and an ideological one. They may make it easier for corporations to raise their bottom line, but they come at a substantial cost for everyone else.

Draghi tries to push a neoliberal agenda even further, and that’s a decidedly political agenda, not an economic one.

There was a panel discussion on Saturday in which Draghi defended his forays into politics, and he was called on them:

Draghi and Fischer Reject Claim Central Banks Are Too Politicised

The ECB president on Saturday said his calls were appropriate in a monetary union where growth prospects had been badly damaged by governments’ resistance to economic reforms. Mr Draghi said it was the central bank’s responsibility to comment if governments’ inaction on structural reforms was creating divergence in growth and unemployment within the eurozone, which undermined the existence of the currency area. “In a monetary union you can’t afford to have large and increasing structural divergences,” the ECB president said. “They tend to become explosive.”

He even claims it’s his responsibility to make political remarks….

Mr Draghi’s defence of the central bank came after Paul De Grauwe, an academic at the London School of Economics, challenged his calls for structural reforms earlier in the week. Mr De Grauwe said central banks’ push for governments to take steps that removed people’s job protection would expose monetary policy makers to criticism over their independence to set interest rates.

The ECB president [..] said central banks had been wrong to keep quiet on the deregulation of the financial sector. “We all wish central bankers had spoken out more when regulation was dismantled before the crisis,” Mr Draghi said. A lack of structural reform was having much more of an impact on poor European growth than in the US, he added.

De Grauwe is half right in his criticism, but only half. It’s not just about the independence to set interest rates, it’s about independence, period. A central bank cannot promote a political ideology disguised as economic measures. It’s bad enough if political parties do this, or corporations, but for central banks it’s an absolute no-go area.

Pressure towards a closer economic and monetary union in Europe is doomed to fail because it cannot be done without a closer political union at the same time. They’re all the same thing. They’re all about giving up sovereignty, about giving away the power to decide about your own country, society, economy, your own life. And Greeks don’t want the same things as Germans, nor do Italians want to become Dutch.

Because of Greece, many EU nations are now increasingly waking up to what a ‘close monetary union’ would mean, namely that Germany would be increasingly calling the shots all over Europe. No matter how many technocrats Brussels manages to sneak into member countries, there’s no way all of them would agree, and it would have to be a unanimous decision.

Draghi’s remarks therefore precipitate the disintegration of Europe, and it would be good if more people would recognize and acknowledge that. Europe are a bunch of fairweather friends, and if everyone is not very careful, they’re not going to part ways in a peaceful manner. The danger that this would lead to the exact opposite of what the EU was meant to achieve, is clear and present.

May 192015
 
 May 19, 2015  Posted by at 7:38 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing Horse and Motor Oil, Washington, DC 1918

Will this Greek stuff ever stop? Probably, but don’t hold your breath. I was reading up on China, but that will have to wait till tomorrow. A friend just sent me a Sputnik story -they’re a Russian news channel, so they can’t be trusted, right?!- that adds more juice to the Syriza vs troika tale. And whaddaya know, the king of Greece leaks, Paul Mason at Channel 4, is involved once again.

Let’s do Mason first. He’s in Athens and, wait for it, he scored another leak. But not a direct leak to Mason; this one concerns a European Commission document leaked to Greek newspaper To Vima. There are some useful numbers here. Mason:

Greece: Europe’s Last-Ditch Effort To Keep It In Euro?

According to To Vima, the EU commission boss (Juncker, ed.) has offered Greece a deal that delays the harshest austerity for two years, and releases €5bn of bailout money to help fill the gaps in the Greek budget. To get the money Greece has to:

• Run a primary surplus of 0.75% of GDP – much lower than the previous demands from the ECB and IMF. And a surplus of 2% of GDP in 2016.

• This rises to 3.5% for both of the next years, but would have to be seen as notional – as committing to anything in 2018 barely matters when you are three weeks from default.

• Greece has to raise VAT to 18% – with 15% for card transactions. This cleverly forces tax evaders into the formal economy by setting a relatively low rate.

I was wondering why I saw two different numbers being reported, but this makes sense. As much as I am suspicious of the war on cash issue as well, we must be aware that using cash to avoid taxes is a huge issue in Greece, and Syriza has do to something about that. I’m guessing there’s a similar difference for the lower VAT rate, 6.5% vs 9.5%.

• Greece gets its way on labour market reform, which will be done using “ILO best practice”. But it has to keep an unpopular property tax called ENFIA and it has to reduce pension entitlements for public sector workers.

This may jeopardize the whole thing no matter how much water Juncker is putting into the wine. But Tsipras may find a way, provided any changes are pushed far enough into the future.

The obvious sticking point is the IMF. As I reported on Saturday, the IMF – one of Greece’s major creditors – has rules that prevent the sign-off of a “quick and dirty” settlement, such as the one Jean-Claude Juncker is offering. The debt has to be judged sustainable – yet the Juncker proposal puts off a long-term deal until October.

Greek government insiders were already worried that the IMF was going to walk away – asking the EU to take over the next bailout of Greece. The Juncker document acknowledges this problem and hints that the Greek debt will have to be taken over solely under the EFSF fund.

I don’t know that Syriza was worried about the IMF leaving the table, as long as the EU is still there.

It may still be too austere for Syriza’s left to accept – meaning Alexis Tsipras’ government could not get it through parliament, and that there may have to be new elections.

That is a possibility. The Syriza meeting I wrote about last night is happening as I write this, 3pm EDT. But the left side will also want to keep its powder dry if Tsipras can convince them he’s really close.

Beyond the usual left wingers, people I’ve found rigidly loyal to the party’s line were saying “if we surrender I am leaving”. But the leaked offer at the same time is way more generous than any proposal previously considered by the ECB and the German Finance Minister Schauble. If the Germans veto it, then it leaves Alexis Tsipras with nothing palatable to sell his own voters. A German veto would, if it came to a euro exit referendum, probably play well for those advocating a “controlled exit”. Greeks would no longer be seen as walking away from the euro, since the commission had offered them a compromise – but from a Europe where the commission has no power, and only the voters of Germany get their way.

Mason obviously gets confused in that last bit, but that’s alright. German veto, controlled exit, German voters, that’s all just opinion making. And not all reporters are equally good at opinions.

But this is just the warm up. The juice comes from the Sputnik piece. Turns out, the US has gotten involved. And they want peace and quiet in their own back yard while they’re wreaking havoc anywhere from Kiev to Ramadi to Aden. Yes, it’s about “Greece’s geopolitical value as a NATO outpost”. And Greek ports frequented by US oil tankers.

US Pressures EU via IMF Over Greece’s Permanence in the Euro

The EU is under increasing American pressure via the IMF to bail out Greece, as Grexit has become anathema to Washington, Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten (DWN) reports. DWN quoted a recent article in the New York Times stating that: “Even as Greece’s European neighbors are focused on the country’s ability to repay its debts, the United States is intent on addressing Greece’s geopolitical value as a NATO outpost at the southern tip of the Balkans and as an important gateway for energy from Central Asia.” Hence the dispute is not between Greece and the EU, but between the EU and the US, added DWN. It all started with a memo dated May 14 that the IMF leaked to Paul Mason of Channel Four.

The memo was apparently leaked to put pressure on the EU in the run-up to the gathering of European leaders in Riga for the Eastern Partnership Summit on 21-22 May. Either a deal is reached then, or Greece will default a couple of weeks later. [..] Hidden in the IMF memo, however, is a nasty surprise for the still unaware European, and especially German, taxpayer. According to DWN, the US-dominated IMF is trying to pass on its credit risks to the EU via the rescue mechanism ESM (European Stability Mechanism).

Here is the IMF memo again: “While staff emphasized they are not pushing the European partners to consider debt relief, at the same time staff noted the numbers need to add up. In particular, it was noted there is an inverse relationship between reforms and sustainability.”

I forgot to ask the question yesterday in The IMF Leaks Greece, but now I see it again, I’m still puzzled. “..an inverse relationship between reforms and sustainability”, does that mean the more reforms, the less sustainability? Fewer reforms, more sustainability? It would be way less funny if it didn’t ring so true.

According to Paul Mason of Channel Four: “This translates as: the more austerity the Europeans demand, the bigger the chance that Greece defaults on its debts.” Indeed the IMF is not content with so-called “quick and dirty” solutions favored by the EU. Which is sensible enough, giving the EU’s attitude to just buy time and delay real solutions. The problem is who foots the bill. We are talking of IMF own credit risks with Greece, after all. And yet, the IMF memo mentioned “debt relief” in connection to “the European partners”. So, just as with sanctions on Russia, the US decides, the EU pays.

That’s not a bad find at all.

Yesterday, the EU hit back by leaking its own – strictly confidential, of course – memo to the Greek newspaper Vima. The EU memo contains the European Commission’s proposal to keep Greece afloat — and in the Eurozone. Clearly the US have succeeded in persuading the EU that Grexit is a no-go. The show must go on and here is how — the harshest austerity measures will be delayed for two years, and $5.6 billion (€5bn) of bailout money provided to help finance the Greek budget.

In case you weren’t paying attention, that’s just about exactly what Syriza has been asking for.

As the NYT has written: “European and international lenders continue to hold back on releasing $8.1 billion (€7.2bn) in funds from a bailout program, demanding economic overhauls in Greece that the Tsipras government has so far been reluctant to carry out.” Now the EU has been persuaded to put up at least $5.6 billion (€5bn). “To get the money,” – explains again Mason, quoting Vima – “Greece has to run a primary surplus of 0.75% of GDP – much lower than the previous demands from the ECB and IMF. And a surplus of 2% of GDP in 2016. “This rises to 3.5% for both of the next years, but would have to be seen as notional — as committing to anything in 2018 barely matters when you are three weeks from default.”

Varoufakis exonerated indeed.

As for the labor market, a contentious point between the IMF and Greece, the EU will demand no reforms. But public sector workers’ pensions, another contentious point, will have to be reduced. What the above plan amounts to, however, is precisely what the IMF calls “quick and dirty solutions”.

But who controls the IMF?

The EU memo hence, is hardly the latest chapter of the “save Greece saga”, but by now we can be confident that, one way or the other, quick and dirty or with EU-footed “debt relief”, Greece will be offered to remain in the Eurozone. Will it accept? It is not just a financial decision. It is a highly political, almost civilization one. To remain in the Eurozone means to stay under Brussels and Washington. To exit, might open up other opportunities. Greece has indeed been invited by Russia to join the New Development Bank (NDB). Whether Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will want, or even be able to, sell the EU deal to his voters and backbenches remains to be seen.

Amen.

In a veritable, last minute flinger flick, Greek Finance Minister Varoufakis said last night that the referendum will be on Grexit, not on any deal, be they IMF or EU sponsored. As for Washington’s stance, DWN quoted sources in the financial scene: “The USA will not want to hear any discussions about a Grexit nor will any hard negotiations between EU-creditors and Greece be allowed.” So, it really is up to the people of Greece.

Amen again. We all got the picture now?

May 152015
 
 May 15, 2015  Posted by at 10:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


G. G. Bain Police machine gun, New York 1918

Every Speculative Bubble Rests On Some Kind Of A Fairy Tale (G&M)
Banks Seek Waivers Ahead Of Forex Guilty Pleas (Reuters)
How China’s Banks Hide Trillions In Credit Risk – Full Frontal (Zero Hedge)
Max Keiser: ‘Britain Is The Epicentre Of Financial Fraud’ (Newsweek)
EU Prevents Greece From Implementing Reforms: Varoufakis (EFE)
Varoufakis Refuses Any Bailout That Would Send Greece In ‘Death Spiral’ (Guar.)
Greece To Privatize Port, Airports In Concession To Creditors (Bloomberg)
Varoufakis Says Debt Swap Fills Draghi’s ‘Soul With Fear’ (Reuters)
Greek Government Defends Itself Over Central Bank Tensions (Reuters)
Syriza Highlights ‘Red Lines’ In Negotiations, Calls On People (Kathimerini)
Syriza and Greece: Dancing with Austerity (Village.ie)
Greece Signs EBRD Deal Worth €500 Million A Year (Reuters)
You Can’t Read The TPP, But These Huge Corporations Can (Intercept)
Secrets, Betrayals and Merkel’s Risky Silence in the NSA Scandal (Spiegel)
Flash Crash Patsy Complained Over 100 Times About Real Market Manipulators (ZH)
Monsanto’s Syngenta Gambit Hinges On Sale Of Seed Businesses (Reuters)
A Third Of Europe’s Birds Is Under Threat (Guardian)
Your Attention Span Is Now Less Than That Of A Goldfish (OC)

“Every speculative bubble rests on some kind of a fairy tale.. And now it is the faith in the central-planning capabilities of global central bankers. When the loss of confidence in the Fed, the ECB etc. begins, the stampede out of stocks and bonds will start.”

Every Speculative Bubble Rests On Some Kind Of A Fairy Tale (G&M)

Government bonds regarded as among the safest in the developed world have become subject to violent price swings typically associated with more speculative assets. Yields on German 10-year bunds, the benchmark for the euro zone, shot up more than 20% at one point Tuesday, in a selloff described by Goldman Sachs analysts as “vicious.” As recently as last month, the same debt reached a record-low yield of 0.05%. At the other end of the confidence scale, Greek bonds strengthened slightly, reflecting renewed optimism that the embattled leftist government could cobble together a deal with euro-zone finance ministers that would get the bailout cash flowing again into its nearly empty coffers. But deal or no deal, the chances of a Greek default remain high. And despite the efforts of European authorities to contain any fallout and safeguard the euro, a spillover to other battered members of the euro club can’t be ruled out.

“There are a lot of rotten assets out there, and ultimately you have to have a reckoning,” warned Alex Jurshevski at Recovery Partners, who advises governments and corporations on debt restructuring. Although most analysts doubt this would trigger a seismic global financial shock, the risk of contagion is more than trivial, as underscored by the current sovereign-bond rout – with a loss in value of about $450-billion across global markets in just three weeks. “There’s a lot of risk in any of the markets that have been subjected to artificial downward pressure on interest rates,” Mr. Jurshevski said. Worries about sovereign debt have been around since European nations first latched on to this instrument as a relatively low-cost way of meeting the high costs of waging wars and undertaking other expensive projects.

Within four years after the newly minted Bank of England issued such bonds in 1694, government debt ballooned to £16-million from £1.25-million. By the middle of last year, government-related debt around the world totalled $58-trillion (U.S.), a 76% increase since the end of 2007, according to a report by McKinsey Global Institute aptly titled “Debt and (not much) deleveraging.” The ratio of all debt to GDP jumped 17 %age points to a whopping 286%. Since the Great Recession, debt has been expanding faster than the economy in every developed nation on the planet, led by a huge expansion of public-sector borrowing.

“Every speculative bubble rests on some kind of a fairy tale, a story the bubble participants believe in and use as rationalization to buy extremely overvalued stocks or bonds or real estate,” Mr. Vogt argued. “And now it is the faith in the central-planning capabilities of global central bankers. When the loss of confidence in the Fed, the ECB etc. begins, the stampede out of stocks and bonds will start. I think we are very close to this pivotal moment in financial history.”

Read more …

Commit to crimes and demand BAU in the same breath.

Banks Seek Waivers Ahead Of Forex Guilty Pleas (Reuters)

Banks want assurances from U.S. regulators that they will not be barred from certain businesses before agreeing to plead guilty to criminal charges over the manipulation of foreign exchange rates, causing a delay in multibillion-dollar settlements, people familiar with the matter said. In an unprecedented move, the parent companies or main banking units of JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, RBS, Barclays and UBS are likely to plead guilty to rigging foreign exchange rates to benefit their transactions. The banks are also scrambling to line up exemptions or waivers from the Securities and Exchanges Commission and other federal regulators because criminal pleas trigger consequences such as removing the ability to manage retirement plans or raise capital easily.

In the past, waivers have generally been granted without a hitch. However, the practice has become controversial in the past year, particularly at the SEC, where Democratic Commissioner Kara Stein has criticized the agency for rubber stamping requests and being too soft on repeat offenders. Negotiating some of the waivers among the SEC’s five commissioners could prove challenging because many of these banks have broken criminal or civil laws in the past that triggered the need for waivers. Many of the banks want an SEC waiver to continue operating as “well-known seasoned issuers” so they can sell stocks and debt efficiently, people familiar with the matter said.

Such a designation allows public companies to bypass SEC approval and raise capital “off the shelf” – a process that is speedier and more convenient. Several of the people said another waiver being sought by some banks is the ability to retain a safe harbor that shields them from class action lawsuits when they make forward-looking statements. The banks involved are also seeking waivers that will allow them to continue operating in the mutual fund business, sources said. At least some of the waivers at issue in the forex probe will need to be put to a vote by the SEC’s five commissioners. No date has been set yet..

Read more …

“..loan loss reserves aren’t even sufficient to cover NPLs + special mention loans, let alone defaults on a portion of the 38% of credit risk carried off the books..”

How China’s Banks Hide Trillions In Credit Risk – Full Frontal (Zero Hedge)

There are several takeaways here. First – and most obvious – is the fact that accurately assessing credit risk in Chna is extraordinarily difficult. What we do know, is that between forced roll-overs, the practice of carrying channel loans as “investments” and “receivables”, inconsistent application of loan classification norms, and the dramatic increase in off balance sheet financing, the ‘real’ ratio of non-performing loans to total loans is likey far higher than the headline number, meaning that as economic growth grinds consistently lower, the country’s lenders could find themselves in deep trouble especially considering the fact that loan loss reserves aren’t even sufficient to cover NPLs + special mention loans, let alone defaults on a portion of the 38% of credit risk carried off the books.

The irony though is that while China clearly has a debt problem (282% of GDP), it’s also embarking on a concerted effort to slash policy rates in an effort to drive down real rates and stimulate the flagging economy, meaning the country is caught between the fallout from a shadow banking boom and the need to keep conditions loose because said boom has now gone bust, dragging credit growth down with it. In other words, the country is trying to deleverage and re-leverage at the same time. A picture perfect example of this is the PBoC’s effort to facilitate a multi-trillion yuan refi program for China’s heavily-indebted local governments. The idea is to swap existing high yield loans (accumulated via shadow banking conduits as localities sought to skirt borrowing limits) for traditional muni bonds that will carry far lower interest rates.

So while the program is designed to help local governments deleverage by cutting hundreds of billions from debt servicing costs, the CNY1 trillion in new LGB issuance (the pilot program is capped at 1 trillion yuan) represents a 150% increase in supply over 2014. Those bonds will be pledged as collateral to the PBoC for cheap cash which, if the central bank has its way, will be lent out to the real economy. So again, deleveraging and re-leveraging at the same time. This is just one of many ‘rock-hard place’ dynamics confronting the country as it marks a difficult transition from a centrally planned economy based on credit and investment to a consumption-driven model characterized by the liberalization of interest and exchange rates.

Read more …

‘If you see me walking the streets of your town, then you’re probably screwed’.

Max Keiser: ‘Britain Is The Epicentre Of Financial Fraud’ (Newsweek)

A general election, Benjamin Disraeli once observed, “inflames the passions of every class of the community. Even the poor,” he added, “begin to hope.” In 2015, Max Keiser argues, the power of global markets has rendered election fever something of an anachronism: “Tony Blair personified the shift away from democracy, towards control by bankers.” In modern politics, the prime minister “is really taking orders from finance”. “What if Miliband had won?” “There’s an impending scheme called TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a proposed EU-US agreement) whereby all complaints – against US companies fracking in Britain, say – would go to a global tribunal, moderated by corporations. They don’t care who the prime minister is. “Why should we?” David Cameron’s role, “is being eroded to the point of insignificance”.

Keiser, 55, is a New York University graduate and former high-achieving Wall Street trader whose mischievous wit and renegade instincts have made him one of the most widely viewed broadcasters on the planet. His flagship show, Keiser Report, is carried by Russian state-funded channel RT; for that alone, some fellow-Americans consider him a traitor. But Keiser connects with a predominantly youthful audience otherwise indifferent to economics. “Rage against kleptocrats is building incrementally,” says Keiser, a tireless scourge of JP Morgan, Lehman Brothers and HSBC. “All over the world, people have had enough.” Untroubled by controversy, Keiser conducted the 2011 interview with Roseanne Barr during which she explained that a fitting reward for “banksters” would be to bring back the guillotine.

He once advised Cameron to “go back to Eton and get some of that back-stall shower pleasure”. When we first met, three years ago, just after Keiser moved to London with co-presenter and wife Stacy Herbert, he told me that the modern voter was worse off than a medieval serf. “Back then,” he said, “at least the process of theft was transparent. The barons whacked you over the head, then took all your money. The mode of larceny has changed, that’s all.” What he calls “the Thatcher-Reagan market model” has, he says, “been consigned to the dustbin. There’s no growth. There’s quantitative easing, which causes deflation. The global economy is collapsing.”

The EU, as Keiser likes to describe it, “poses as an elite club; actually it’s a leper colony where everyone’s comparing who has the most fingers left”. “Could France, say, go bankrupt?” “Absolutely. The forces killing Greece are active in France, Italy and Spain.” The EU, he says, “could be viewed as The Fourth Reich. Germany is a superpower. The Greek crisis is great for them – it keeps the euro low and German exports cheap. When countries like France go broke, EU federalisation will proceed through Berlin.”

Read more …

“So far, none of the many planned reforms have been implemented because the partners first wanted a broad and comprehensive agreement..”

EU Prevents Greece From Implementing Reforms: Varoufakis (EFE)

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said on Thursday that its European partners have prevented the Greek government from legislating many necessary reforms, and stressed that he would only sign an agreement that aims at economic sustainability, Efe news agency reported. So far, none of the many planned reforms have been implemented because the partners first wanted a broad and comprehensive agreement, and believed that any legislation would constitute a unilateral act, Varoufakis argued at a conference organised in the Greek capital by The Economist weekly.

The minister said that from the beginning, creditors rejected proposals to negotiate and regulate in parallel, an action that, in his view, would have helped to create confidence between Greece and its partners. Varufakis stressed that Greece was determined to reform everything in the country, noting that if Greece did not reform, it would sink. However, he stressed that he would not sign any agreement inconsistent with macroeconomics or unsustainable, and accepting conditions that cannot be met, such as had been down in the past. The error of the past, he explained, was that every negotiation looked only for what to do to make the next bailout payment instead of seeking solutions to pursue economic recovery.

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Oh boy: “[Draghi] received a rapturous welcome from Christine Lagarde, who introduced him as “maestro” – the nickname once given to Alan Greenspan. “Those who know you understand that you are a man of outstanding insight, fierce determination, and above all, courage.”

Varoufakis Refuses Any Bailout That Would Send Greece In ‘Death Spiral’ (Guar.)

Greece’s embattled finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, stepped up his war of words with eurozone policymakers on Thursday, saying he wished his country still had the drachma, and would not sign up to any bailout plan that would send his country into a “death spiral”. With Greece facing a severe cash crisis as it struggles to secure a rescue deal from its creditors, Varoufakis – who has been officially sidelined from the debt negotiations – told a conference in Athens that he would reject any agreement in which “the numbers do not add up”. Greek GDP figures, published on Wednesday, revealed that the economy has already returned to recession. “I wish we had the drachma, I wish we had never entered this monetary union,” Varoufakis said.

“And I think that deep down all member states with the eurozone would agree with that now. Because it was very badly constructed. But once you are in, you don’t get out without a catastrophe”. He also warned that a mooted proposal for a bond swap, to ease Athens’ cash-crunch, was likely to be rejected, because it struck “fear into the soul” of European Central Bank president Mario Draghi. Despite his comments Greece on Thursday offered a concession to its international lenders by pushing ahead with the sale of its biggest port, Piraeus. Greece has asked three firms to submit bids for a majority stake in the port, a senior privatisation official told Reuters, unblocking a major sale of a public asset as creditors demand economic reforms from Athens.

Draghi, who was in Washington on Thursday to deliver a lecture on monetary policy, pointedly failed to mention the ongoing Greek crisis. He received a rapturous welcome from Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, who introduced him as “maestro” – the nickname once given to Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan. “Those who know you understand that you are a man of outstanding insight, fierce determination, and above all, courage. You can call a spade a spade without putting any of your cards on the table,” she said.

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“It’s “definite” that Greece won’t proceed with selling other state assets on a list that had been agreed on by the previous government..”

Greece To Privatize Port, Airports In Concession To Creditors (Bloomberg)

Greece will continue with efforts to privatize the country’s largest port and regional airports as it seeks ways to attract investment for other state assets, Economy Minister George Stathakis said, in a government concession in talks with its creditors. The privatization process that is already underway for the Piraeus Port Authority, operator of Greece’s largest harbor, and for 14 regional airports will continue, Stathakis said today in an interview in Tbilisi, Georgia. “We’re trying to revise some elements of these privatizations in order to improve them and I think we’ll get a sensible agreement for both.” A sale of the Piraeus Port would be a reversal on the part of Greece’s Syriza party-led government, which had earlier pledged to block such moves.

As part of ongoing negotiations to unlock aid to Europe’s most-indebted nation, Greek’s European creditors have asked for more specific policy proposals in areas including labor market deregulation, a pension-system overhaul, sales tax reform and privatization of state-held assets. Still, Stathakis said the government doesn’t plan to sell other assets at the moment.The Piraeus Port sale “is part of the bailout negotiations,” and the fact that the government “agrees to privatize the port is a compromise to creditors,” government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis told reporters in Athens Thursday. A venture led by Fraport won the right in November 2014 to use, operate and manage the 14 regional airports after it offered €1.2 billion for 40 years and promised to pay an annual, guaranteed leasing fee of €22.9 million.

Fraport also pledged to make €330 million in investments over the next four years. Greece is talking to Fraport and a decision should be reached “very soon.” It’s “definite” that Greece won’t proceed with selling other state assets on a list that had been agreed on by the previous government such as water companies, the post office or Public Power Corp, Stathakis said. “We’re trying to work on a different model than privatizing to attract capital and investment such as for the country’s railways and other ports” and Greece is looking at “alternative options to 100% privatization.” The sale of land at Hellenikon, site of Athens’s old airport that is Europe’s largest unused tract of urban real estate, “is an issue under discussion,” Stathakis said. A venture led-by Lamda Development last year agreed to buy the property for €915 million while also committing to spend €1.2 billion on infrastructure at the site.

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“..such a swap of our own new bonds with these bonds … would feed Mr. Weidmann with excuses to create problems with the ECB’s QE.”

Varoufakis Says Debt Swap Fills Draghi’s ‘Soul With Fear’ (Reuters)

Repayment of what Greece owes to the ECB should be pushed into the future, but it is not an option because it fills ECB chief Mario Draghi’s “soul with fear”, Greece’s finance minister said on Thursday. Yanis Varoufakis said Draghi, president of the ECB, cannot risk irritating Germany with such a debt swap because of Berlin’s objection to his bond-buying program. Varoufakis first raised the idea of swapping Greek debt for growth-linked or perpetual bonds when his leftist government came to power earlier this year, But Athens has since dropped the proposal after it got a cool reception from eurozone partners.

The outspoken minister, who has been sidelined in talks with EU and IMF lenders, brought it up again on Thursday, saying €27 billion of bonds owed to the ECB after €6.7 billion worth are repaid in July and August should be pushed back. “What must be done (is that) these €27 billion of bonds that are still held by the ECB should be taken from there and sent overnight to the distant future,” he told parliament. “How could this be done? Through a swap. The idea of a swap between the Greek government and the ECB fills Mr. Draghi’s soul with fear. Because you know that Mr. Draghi is in a big struggle against the Bundesbank, which is fighting against QE. Mr. Weidmann in particular is opposing it.”

Varoufakis was referring to the ECB’s quantitative easing (QE) or bond-buying plan and Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann’s unabashed criticism of it. Varoufakis said the bond-buying plan is “everything for Mr. Draghi” but that “allowing such a swap of our own new bonds with these bonds … would feed Mr. Weidmann with excuses to create problems with the ECB’s QE.” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government stormed to power in January promising it would end austerity and demand a debt writeoff from lenders to make the country’s debt manageable. It has spoken little about debt relief in recent months as it tries to focus on reaching a deal with lenders on a cash-for-reforms deal, which has proved difficult amid a deadlock on pension and labor issues.

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I have the impression Syriza is being very polite on this issue.

Greek Government Defends Itself Over Central Bank Tensions (Reuters)

Greece’s leftist government on Thursday sought to deflect criticism over tensions with the Bank of Greece, saying it respected the bank’s independence but was free to castigate the governor for actions he took as finance minister. Governor Yannis Stournaras’s relations with the government have come under scrutiny in recent days after a newspaper accused him of undermining Greece’s talks with creditors and government officials openly criticized him on other issues. “The Greek government hasn’t opened any issue with Mr. Stournaras. If issues have surfaced, it wasn’t due to the government’s initiative,” government spokesman Gavriil Sakellaridis told reporters. “The issue of the central bank’s independence, which is fully respected by the Greek government, is above all an issue for the central bank to defend.” [..]

Stournaras was appointed central bank governor last June. Before that he was finance minister in the conservative-led government, where he spearheaded Greece’s return to the bond markets in April 2014 after a four-year exile. But he also drew criticism from anti-bailout groups for implementing harsh spending cuts demanded by the EU and IMF. Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis this week was quoted as saying Stournaras’s role in winding down ATEbank – a small lender that gave loans to farmers – in 2012 was a “scandal.” “The criticism by Mr. Lafazanis towards Mr. Stournaras refers to the period that he was finance minister,” Sakellaridis said. “Obviously, today he is a central banker but there can be and should be political criticism over the period that he was a finance minister.”

Interior Minister Nikos Voutsis this week also questioned why Stournaras – who suggested Greece tap an IMF holding account to repay €750 million to the fund this week and avoid default – had not mentioned the funds earlier. The latest tensions flared when the Efimerida ton Syntakton newspaper reported over the weekend the Bank of Greece in an e-mail to journalists leaked economic data including deposit outflows during Tsipras’s first 100 days in power. Hours later, officials at Tsipras’s office called on the central bank to deny the report, saying the report, if true, “constitutes a blow to the central bank’s independence.” The Bank of Greece has denied that either Stournaras’s office or the bank’s press office sent such an e-mail.

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“Now is the time for the people to join the battle..”

Syriza Highlights ‘Red Lines’ In Negotiations, Calls On People (Kathimerini)

Even as negotiations with Greece’s creditors enter a critical phase, the political secretariat of SYRIZA has indicated that the party will not back down from its so-called red lines, reaffirming pre-election promises to protect pensioners and workers. In a statement issued late on Thursday after a stormy session of senior party cadres, the secretariat said, “the red lines of the government are also red lines of the Greek people, expressing the interests of workers, the self-employed, pensioners, farmers and young people.” Underlining the need for the debt-racked country to return to a path of growth and social justice, the statement referred to “the persistence of creditors on enforcing the memorandum program of the Samaras government” whom it accused of exercising pressure through politics and by restricting liquidity.

The fixation on austerity was “paving the way for the far-right,” it added. The secretariat stressed that the demands of creditors “cannot be accepted, adding that SYRIZA MPs and officials would continue efforts to inform the Greek people and to invite them to join “a mobilization toward the victory of democracy and dignity.” “Now is the time for the people to join the battle,” it said. The statement followed a feverish session during which Deputy Prime Minister Yiannis Dragasakis is said to have come under fire by many SYRIZA officials for making concessions to creditors. Senior SYRIZA MP and Parliament Speaker Zoe Constantopoulou was said to be among those who claimed the government has ceded too much ground from its pre-election pledges.

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Excellent longish essay. “We come with arguments, they reject them, then they say, ‘you’re wasting time’. What does that mean? It’s just saying, agree with us. You’re wasting time between getting elected and doing what we say”.

Syriza and Greece: Dancing with Austerity (Village.ie)

Dimitrios Tzanakopoulos is Alexis Tsipras’ Chief of Staff. A serious Marxist theorist with an utterly coherent anti-capitalist worldview, he is at the very heart of the new government, directing the affairs of the Prime Minister’s office. He remains “optimistic that there will be a deal” with the partners. “Europe needs to ask if austerity is the future. If not, there must be a solution to these social catastrophes. SYRIZA has promised to find one and this is what we will do”. In many ways the government’s line in negotiations mirrors his Althusserian politics. It views instability as the most important threat for the ruling class and capital accumulation. The election of SYRIZA brought such instability, inserting an unpredictable and politically divergent player into decision-making in Europe.

So, the logic goes, the number one goal of European elites will be to overthrow the government. Not by violent means but by a soft coup, which they are currently attempting to execute by combination of economic strangulation and political humiliation. This instability thesis is a profound challenge to the dominant narrative of capitalism today, which sees it as a system based on risk and reward. But actually it has a long history as a critique, with even moderate figures like Keynes noting instability’s effects on the “animal spirits” of the economy. The prevalence of the word “confidence” in contemporary discourse evidences the degree to which economic and financial players value security. Therefore if they cannot overthrow SYRIZA, and if no capitulation is forthcoming, the team around Alexis Tsipras believe that European elites and the IMF will compromise.

This is because the third option, the last on the table, brings about an explosion of instability: the threat of Grexit from the eurozone. This opinion is shared by Loudovikos Kotsonopoulos, party intellectual and senior advisor in the Economy Ministry. “My prediction is that there will be a compromise. European elites fear a geopolitical realignment. It is very difficult for the European Union to suffer a defeat of such magnitude as a departure of one of its members. Until now the only direction was countries coming into the EU. If this ceased to be the only option it would have significant ramifications. I’m not sure that they can manage such a defeat, and neither are they. But they know as well that we are in trouble if we exit the euro. So it is tense. What are the sides going to give? And how can this be presented as a victory for both?”.

Dimitris Ioannou, writer for party publication Enthemata, is more sceptical about a compromise. “We come with arguments, they reject them, then they say, ‘you’re wasting time’. What does that mean? It’s just saying, agree with us. You’re wasting time between getting elected and doing what we say”.

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Peanuts, but nice peanuts.

Greece Signs EBRD Deal Worth €500 Million A Year (Reuters)

Greece signed an investment deal worth up to €500 million a year with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) on Thursday, gaining a rare financial endorsement from the region for its attempts to remain solvent.The EBRD and Greece formally signed the five-year agreement at the development bank’s annual meeting in Georgia. It was approved by the bank’s shareholders in March.“It could help the country’s economic recovery significantly,” Greece’s Economy Ministry said in a statement.The ministry added it should boost the funding options of Greek businesses, especially the small and medium-sized ones that have been hit the hardest by the country’s economic crisis.

The EBRD’s decision to start lending in Greece comes after years of debate at the bank about whether a member of the world’s most advanced monetary union fits with the bank’s role of helping countries make the transition to market economies.The head of the bank, Suma Chakrabarti, has said he hopes to have the first Greek projects in place in coming months but admits Athens leaving the euro would complicate things.New EBRD forecasts on Thursday predicted Greece’s economy would stagnate this year and the bank’s staff warned if it left the euro, the situation would be far worse both for itself and the countries around it.

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Congress can’t even read it unhindered. But GE, Apple, Nike and Walmart can.

You Can’t Read The TPP, But These Huge Corporations Can (Intercept)

[..] who can read the text of the TPP? Not you, it’s classified. Even members of Congress can only look at it one section at a time in the Capitol’s basement, without most of their staff or the ability to keep notes. But there’s an exception: if you’re part of one of 28 U.S. government-appointed trade advisory committees providing advice to the U.S. negotiators. The committees with the most access to what’s going on in the negotiations are 16 “Industry Trade Advisory Committees,” whose members include AT&T, General Electric, Apple, Dow Chemical, Nike, Walmart and the American Petroleum Institute. The TPP is an international trade agreement currently being negotiated between the US and 11 other countries, including Japan, Australia, Chile, Singapore and Malaysia.

Among other things, it could could strengthen copyright laws, limit efforts at food safety reform and allow domestic policies to be contested by corporations in an international court. Its impact is expected to be sweeping, yet venues for public input hardly exist. Industry Trade Advisory Committees, or ITACs, are cousins to Federal Advisory Committees like the National Petroleum Council that I wrote about recently. However, ITACs are functionally exempt from many of the transparency rules that generally govern Federal Advisory Committees, and their communications are largely shielded from FOIA in order to protect “third party commercial and/or financial information from disclosure.” And even if for some reason they wanted to tell someone what they’re doing, members must sign non-disclosure agreements so they can’t “compromise” government negotiating goals. Finally, they also escape requirements to balance their industry members with representatives from public interest groups.

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Angela needs to be careful.

Secrets, Betrayals and Merkel’s Risky Silence in the NSA Scandal (Spiegel)

The world of politics abounds with tales of secrets and betrayals, of collective silence and the indiscretion of individuals. Tales of trust and mistrust. The shadowy world of espionage is no different — its secrets and betrayals legendary. But Sigmar Gabriel’s treachery stands out nonetheless. The German vice chancellor recently announced that Angela Merkel had twice assured him that the NSA and Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), had never spied on German companies. In fact, in 2008 the Americans began reneging on agreements and going too far – much too far. They spied on aviation giant Airbus, among others. In August 2013, Angela Merkel had her then Chief of Staff Ronald Pofalla announce that the NSA was doing “nothing that damaged German interests.”

In fact, the Chancellery knew better. But Merkel refrained from taking action, opting instead to navigate her way through the situation by saying nothing. Nearly two years ago, after the information leaked by Edward Snowden first surfaced, she said she didn’t really know what it was all about. The message she’s been conveying ever since is that it’s all terribly technical and not all that important, really. The chancellor’s strategy had the desired effect. The public saw her as a victim. The general election in 2013 should have been dominated by the NSA spying scandal, but Merkel emerged unscathed, triumphant. Newspapers like the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung naively wrote that secret services just happen to spy — and, after all, we need intelligence, so what is one to do?

But the intelligence services and the US had overreached. Merkel could have told them exactly how far was too far. She could have backed their activities and at the same time made sure they didn’t get out of hand. In other words, she could have taken charge. When Merkel assumed office in 2005, she took an oath vowing to protect the German people from harm. It’s her job to protect German companies and the public when US secret services act as though Germany is not a sovereign nation. But people in power often fail to notice when the very quality that brought about their rise to the top turns into a weakness, a danger and even their ultimate undoing.

Merkel tends to lead by stealth. She doesn’t care for rhetoric and confrontation and she avoids quick decisions. These might not be bad qualities, but they don’t suit a head of government. Many of her predecessors loved nothing more than decisiveness and debate. It was why they sought power in the first place. But Merkel seems to worry that she will make enemies with plain speaking, so she chooses to remain close-lipped in crises such as this one.

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“As for Sarao’s complaints going anywhere else: fear not, they will – just as soon as the market crashes.”

Flash Crash Patsy Complained Over 100 Times About Real Market Manipulators (ZH)

Several weeks ago, when the CFTC and DOJ’s laughable attempt to scapegoat the May 2010 flash crash on the actions of a live-in-his-parents-basement UK trader, we explained “Why Sarao Is The Flash Crash Patsy: He Threatened To Expose The “Mass Manipulation Of High Frequency Nerds.” It now turns out that he not only threatened to expose the real market manipulators, but he acctually did it. More than 100 times.

Navinder Singh Sarao, the trader arrested last month on U.S. charges he manipulated futures prices and contributed to the May 2010 “flash crash,” leveled claims of similar misconduct against other traders before his arrest. Mr. Sarao complained to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, where he traded futures contracts, more than 100 times over the past several years about traders he believed were engaging in manipulative conduct, people familiar with the matter said. His last complaint came just weeks before he was arrested on Justice Department charges, one of the people said.

Previously released documents have shown Mr. Sarao urging exchanges to target high-frequency trading practices he viewed as manipulative, but the frequency and extent of his complaints weren’t known. His complaints underscore the extent to which Mr. Sarao viewed his own trading as a legitimate counter to other high-speed traders. Mr. Sarao appears to have filed an unusually large volume of complaints. “That would be considered a high number,” said Ray Cahnman, a longtime futures trader and chairman of the proprietary trading firm Transmarket. “Most people would break down before they get to 100 because they realize the complaints aren’t going anywhere,” he said.

Sarao’s complaints got him somewhere: straight to prison. And now we know why. As for Sarao’s complaints going anywhere else: fear not, they will – just as soon as the market crashes. Because not only will the next market crash be epic, it will be blamed entirely on the same HFTs that for the past 7 years worked in tandem with the central banks – the source of all capital misallocation decisions – in the creation of the biggest asset bubble of all time.

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You may know Syngenta under any one of these names: Imperial Chemical Industries, Novartis, AstraZeneca, Geigy, Sandoz, Ciba.

Monsanto’s Syngenta Gambit Hinges On Sale Of Seed Businesses (Reuters)

U.S. seeds giant Monsanto is trying to line up buyers for assets worth up to $8 billion to appease competition authorities before making a fresh takeover approach for Swiss Syngenta, possibly within three weeks, industry sources said. Monsanto is expected to tap German chemicals group BASF, an existing joint venture partner, as it seeks a buyer for the U.S. seeds business of Syngenta, which can’t be part of its proposed takeover, sources said. The St. Louis-based group is after Syngenta for its industry-leading crop chemicals, driven by the idea that seeds and pesticides will be better sold and developed together.

Monsanto produces glyphosate, or Roundup, the world’s most widely used broad-spectrum herbicide, and has engineered a range of proprietary crops that resist it. Syngenta closely integrated its seeds and crop chemicals operations in 2011 and Monsanto is expected to unravel some of the main strategic decisions that shaped the group over the last four years – selling off seeds and merging Syngenta’s crop chemicals with Monsanto’s seeds. Global antitrust authorities are expected to demand remedies to reshape the balance of power in the crop protection industry before any combination is allowed.

Syngenta’s management will not want to be seen backing a deal that is then shot down by antitrust watchdogs, two industry sources said. Monsanto commands about a quarter of the $40 billion global seeds market while Syngenta’s own seeds business has a global market share of 8%. The Swiss group’s seeds business could be worth between $6 billion and more than $8 billion, according to analysts. It will have to be sold because authorities are expected to block Monsanto from entrenching its dominance of the U.S. soy and corn seeds market.

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“Of 804 natural habitats assessed by the European Environment Agency for the report, 77% were deemed to be in a poor condition..”

A Third Of Europe’s Birds Under Threat (Guardian)

One in three European birds is endangered, according to a leaked version of the most comprehensive study of Europe’s wildlife and natural habitats ever produced. The EU State of Nature report, seen by the Guardian, paints a picture of dramatic decline among once common avian species, and also warns that ecosystems are struggling to cope with the impact of human activity. Turtle dove populations have plunged by 90% or more since 1980 and could soon be placed on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) ‘red list’ of threatened species. Numbers of skylark and ortolan bunting, a songbird illegally hunted and eaten whole in France, have fallen by around half.

Of 804 natural habitats assessed by the European Environment Agency for the report, 77% were deemed to be in a poor condition, with almost a third having deteriorated since a study in 2006. Just 4% were found to be improving. The wide-ranging technical survey made use of data compiled by 27 EU countries between 2007-2012, and will be released by the European Commission later this year. “The report clearly shows that Europe’s wildlife and natural habitats are in crisis,” said Andreas Baumueller, the head of WWF Europe’s natural resources unit. “Our habitats are slowly dying and our natural capital – reflected by species such as birds and butterflies – is being put under enormous pressure from unsustainable agriculture and land use policies.”

The study finds that intensive farming and changes to natural terrain pose the greatest threat to Europe’s flora and fauna, even though biodiversity loss costs the EU an estimated €450bn per year, or 3% of GDP. Agriculture accounts for two-thirds of EU land use. The destruction or conversion of grasslands, heathlands and scrub to grow more crops – often using pesticides – has decimated many bird populations. Monoculture farming, changes in grazing regimes, and the removal of natural vegetation and landscape have added to the pressure. The report also lists changes to waterways, fragmentation of habitats and human activities such as hunting, trapping, poisoning and poaching as specific threats to birdlife.

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Ha!

Your Attention Span Is Now Less Than That Of A Goldfish (OC)

People now have shorter attention spans than goldfish — and our always-on portable devices may be to blame, a new study suggests. The study from Microsoft draws on surveys of more than 2,000 Canadians who played games online in order to determine the impact that pocket-sized devices and the increased availability of digital media and information are having on everyday life. Researchers also did in-lab monitoring, using electroencephalograms (EEGs) to monitor brain activity of 112 people. Among the findings of the 54-page study was that, thanks to our desire to always be connected, people can multi-task like never before. However, our attention spans have fallen from an average of 12 seconds in the year 2000 to just eight seconds today.

A goldfish is believed to have a nine-second attention span on average, the study says. “Canadians with more digital lifestyles (those who consume more media, are multi-screeners, social media enthusiasts, or earlier adopters of technology) struggle to focus in environments where prolonged attention is needed,” reads the study. “While digital lifestyles decrease sustained attention overall, it’s only true in the long-term. Early adopters and heavy social media users front load their attention and have more intermittent bursts of high attention. They’re better at identifying what they want/don’t want to engage with and need less to process and commit things to memory.”

Microsoft’s data is supported by similar findings released by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information and the National Library of Medicine in the U.S. Among the most concerning findings of the study is our declining ability to sustain our focus during repetitive activities: 44% of respondents said they had to concentrate really hard to stay focused on tasks, while 37% said they were unable to make the best use of their time, forcing them to work late evenings and or weekends.

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May 072015
 
 May 7, 2015  Posted by at 9:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Unknown General Patrick’s headquarters, City Point, Virginia 1865

21 Countries Where a 40-Hour Work Week Still Keeps Families Poor (Bloomberg)
Central Bank Driven ‘Markets’ Have Nothing To Do With Economics (Stockman)
Yellen Says Stock Valuations Are ‘Quite High’ (MarketWatch)
El-Erian Warns Of Trouble As Bond Liquidity Dries Up (MarketWatch)
There Will Be No 25-Year Depression (Bill Bonner)
More Pain Ahead For China Steel (CNBC)
Brexit Threat Looms Over Britain’s Election And Europe’s Fate (AEP)
Extreme Secrecy Eroding Support For Obama’s TPP Trade Pact (Politico)
UN Calls For Suspension Of TTIP Talks Over Human Rights Abuses (Guardian)
Defiant Greece Overturns Civil Service Cuts Agreed In Previous Bailouts (FT)
A Blueprint for Greece’s Recovery (Yanis Varoufakis)
European Lenders Dash Greek Hopes For Quick Aid Deal (Reuters)
At Greek Port, ‘Migrants’ Dream And Despair In Abandoned Factories (Reuters)
Greek Banks Are Having Trouble Trading Foreign Currencies (Bloomberg)
ECB Decision on Greek Haircuts Said to Depend on Political Talks (Bloomberg)
Bernanke Inc.: The Lucrative Life of a Former Fed Chairman (Bloomberg)
Canada’s Political Landscape In Seismic Shift On Alberta Election (Guardian)
The Choice Before Europe (Paul Craig Roberts)
California Regulators Approve Unprecedented Water Cutbacks (AP)
Save The Bees To Save The Planet (Giorgio Torrazza)

Progress 21st century style.

21 Countries Where a 40-Hour Work Week Still Keeps Families Poor (Bloomberg)

How often have you felt that no matter how hard and long you work you just couldn’t make ends meet? Turns out life is just that hard for minimum-wage workers pretty much across the globe. A global ranking out Wednesday by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development painted a grim picture of the situation in member countries straddling continents. The 34-member organization found that a legal minimum wage existed in 26 countries and crunched the numbers to see how they compared. Forget taking a siesta in Spain. There, you’d have to work more than 72 hours a week to escape the trappings of poverty. Turns out that is the norm, not the exception. In the 21 countries highlighted with blue bars in the chart below, a full 40-hour work week still won’t lift families out of relative poverty.

This list includes France, home to the 35-hour work week, which almost met the threshold. Minimum wage workers there who are supporting a spouse and two children need to work 40.2 hours to get their families out of poverty. (The poverty line is defined as 50% of the median wage in any nation.) To gauge the generosity of each country’s floor on hourly pay, you can also look at another measure: The minimum wage as a percentage of the local median wage. Those ratios vary widely across the world. In the U.S., the minimum wage was less than 40% of the median wage in 2013, which meant the country had one of the lowest percentages among the economies the OECD examined. Those ratios are much higher across the Atlantic, but Europe’s sovereign debt crisis has taken its toll. In Ireland, Greece and Spain – three of the hardest-hit countries in the euro area – minimum wage levels as a ratio to the median wage were higher in 2007 than in 2013.

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That’s what I said.

Central Bank Driven ‘Markets’ Have Nothing To Do With Economics (Stockman)

The German bund yield is soaring like a rocket today. After touching on the truly lunatic rate of 5 bps only a few weeks back, it has just crossed the 60 bps marker. Needless to say, when a blue chip 10-year bond widely held on @95% repo leverage moves that far that fast – there is some heavy duty furniture breakage happening in fast money land. But don’t cry for the bond market gamblers. They already made a killing front-running the ECB. During the 16 months between January 2014 and the April peak, speculators in German 10-year bunds would have made a 350% profit using essentially zero cost repo funding. So in the last few days they have given a tad of that back while making a bee line for the exit.

Yet during the uninterrupted march of the bund into the monetary Valhalla depicted above, how many times did you hear that the market was merely “pricing in” a flight to quality among investors and the dreaded specter of “deflation”. That is, what amounted to sheer lunacy – valuing any 10-year government bond at a deeply negative after-tax and after-inflation yield – was attributed to rational economic factors. No it wasn’t. The manic drive to 5 bps was pure speculative caprice, triggered by the ECB’s public pledge to corner the market in German government debt. What gambler in his right mind would not buy hand-over-fist any attempt to corner the market by a central bank with a printing press – especially one managed by a dim bulb apparatchik like Mario Draghi!

Never has an agency of a state anywhere on the planet pleasured speculators with such stupendous windfalls. Yet any day now we will hear from the talking heads on CNBC that, no, massive bond buying by central banks does not repress or distort interest rates because once Europe’s QE started, rates actually backed up. And, furthermore, this is entirely logical because QE will enable the economy to escape its deflationary trap, meaning that investors are discounting an imminent resurgence of growth!

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The spin narrative. “Yellen said that she thought risks to financial stability “are moderated, not elevated, at this point.”

Yellen Says Stock Valuations Are ‘Quite High’ (MarketWatch)

Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen on Wednesday used her bully pulpit to warn of the risks from “quite high” stock prices. “I would highlight that equity market valuations at this point generally are quite high,” Yellen said in a conversation with Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, sponsored by the Institute for New Economic Thinking. “They are not so high when you compare the returns on equities to the returns on safe assets like bonds, which are also very low, but there are potential dangers there,” Yellen said. The S&P 500 is up about 12% over the last year and has more than tripled from its March 2009 low. The Fed has kept interest rates near zero since the end of 2008.

The price to earnings ratio of S&P 500 stocks was 20.40 for April, according to data from Haver Analytics, which is near five-year highs. Yellen said her comments were part of the Fed’s new remit in the wake of the Great Recession to monitor and speak publicly about potential risks to financial stability. Yellen noted that long-term bond yields were low due to low term premiums, which can move rapidly. “We saw this in the case of the taper tantrum in 2013,” Yellen said. “We need to be attentive and are to the possibility that when the Fed decides it is time to begin raising rates, these term premiums could move up and we could see a sharp jump in long-term rates,” Yellen said. As a result, the Fed was working overtime not to take markets by surprise, she said.

Yellen also repeated a long-standing concern with the leveraged loan market, saying there was a deterioration in underwriting standards. She also noted that the compression in spreads on high yield debt which looks like “reach-for-yield type of behavior.” Despite these concerns, Yellen said that she thought over risks to financial stability “are moderated, not elevated, at this point.” “We’re not seeing any broad based pickup in leverage, we’re not seeing rapid credit growth, we’re not seeing an increase in maturity transformation,” which are the hallmarks of bubbles, she said.

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More QE!

El-Erian Warns Of Trouble As Bond Liquidity Dries Up (MarketWatch)

The leap in German bund yields over the last two weeks is another sign that liquidity issues could eventually present serious problems for financial markets, former Pimco Chief Executive Mohamed El-Erian on Wednesday warned at the annual SALT investment conference in Las Vegas. “There isn’t the countercyclical risk-taking we need,” said El-Erian, chief economic adviser at Pimco parent Allianz. That could spell trouble when there is a big shift market positioning, he warned at SALT, a gathering of around 1,800 hedge-fund and investment-industry professionals. That is because investors may not be able to reposition at a low cost. Bond liquidity is a “delusion, not an illusion,” he noted.

El-Erian’s remarks came during SALT’s opening panel, which included Peter Schiff, CEO of Euro Pacific Capital, and Gene Sperling, a former economic adviser to President Barack Obama and the Clinton White House. Sperling argued that a lackluster U.S. economic recovery is the aftermath of a financial crisis, which typically gives way to less robust recoveries as banks, businesses and consumers focus on eliminating debt. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve was left to do much of the heavy lifting as the federal government’s stimulus efforts were offset by fiscal contraction at the state and local level.

Schiff, a persistent Fed critic, charged that the U.S. economy is witnessing a bubble rather than a recovery and that the Fed was crowding out small businesses who would otherwise be creating jobs. Fed Chairwoman may not entirely disagree with Schiff’s bubble assessment, On Wednesday, Yellen referred to stock valuations as “quite high,” and hinted that bond values may be even higher during a conversation with International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde sponsored by the Institute for New Economic Thinking.

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And how many times have I said this?: “..the developed economies have been zombified..”

There Will Be No 25-Year Depression (Bill Bonner)

Today, we have bad news and good news. The good news is that there will be no 25-year recession. Nor will there be a depression that will last the rest of our lifetimes. The bad news: It will be much worse than that. On Monday, the Dow rose another 43 points. Gold seems to be working its way back to the $1,200 level, where it feels most comfortable. “A long depression” has been much discussed in the financial press. Several economists are predicting many years of sluggish or negative growth. It is the obvious consequence of several overlapping trends and existing conditions. First, people are getting older. Especially in Europe and Japan, but also in China, Russia and the US. As we’ve described many times, as people get older, they change. They stop producing and begin consuming.

They are no longer the dynamic innovators and eager early adopters of their youth; they become the old dogs who won’t learn new tricks. Nor are they the green and growing timber of a healthy economy; instead, they become dead wood. There’s nothing wrong with growing old. There’s nothing wrong with dying either, at least from a philosophical point of view. But it’s not going to increase auto sales or boost incomes – except for the undertakers. Second, most large economies are deeply in debt. The increase in debt levels began after World War II and sped up after the money system changed in 1968-71. By 2007, US consumers reached what was probably “peak debt.” That is, they couldn’t continue to borrow and spend as they had for the previous half a century. Most of their debt was mortgage debt, and the price of housing was falling.

The feds reacted, as they always do… inappropriately. They tried to cure a debt problem with more debt. But consumers were both unwilling and unable to borrow. Their incomes and their collateral were going down. This left corporations and government to aim only for their own toes. Central banks created more money and credit – trillions of dollars of it. But since the household sector wasn’t borrowing, the money went into financial assets and zombie government spending. Neither provided any significant support for wages or output. So, the real economy went soft, even as the cost of credit fell to its lowest levels in history. Third, the developed economies have been zombified. The US, for example, is way down at No. 46 on the World Bank’s list of places where it is easiest to start a new business. And only one G8 country – Canada – even makes the top 10.

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And for China’s steel suppliers.

More Pain Ahead For China Steel (CNBC)

Sluggish demand at home is driving up the chronic supply surplus at China’s steel mills to critical levels and is set to drive down global prices, analysts warn. “Chinese authorities will be slow to react to the over-capacity,” E&Y’s Michael Elliott told CNBC. In the meantime, “steel prices will remain low for the next five years, until the global industry consolidation starts to take place,” he said. For a decade, China’s mostly state-owned steelmakers have been supplying the country’s building boom with more steel than it needed, while steel prices nearly halved during the same period. Now, with the economy growing at the slowest pace in six years and demand shrinking at home, the excess capacity is hitting critical levels, although China’s steel mills have shown few signs of slowing down production.

The level of excess capacity may be as high as 30% according to E&Y, and little relief is in sight on the domestic front: demand for steel in China contracted for the first time in a decade in 2014, falling by 3.3% on-year, and is set to drop by 0.5% on-year in both 2015 and 2016, according to World Steel Association forecasts. “The need for consolidation has been recognized for some time and the government has set targets for capacity closure in the past,” Capital Economics’ Caroline Bain said in a report on Tuesday. “However, production (and losses and debts) just kept on rising,” she said.

Beijing’s record on keeping to its reduction targets is not entirely stellar, in part because the state-owned steelmakers are major local employers. The government has just recently pushed back its target date for restructuring and consolidating the steel industry by ten years to 2025, according to E&Y’s Elliot. The solution, at least for the Chinese steel mills, has been to ramp up exports. In 2014, Chinese steel exports soared by 50% on-year and continued to grow by 40% on-year in the first-quarter of 2015, according to Capital Economics.

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Ambrose is all Tory. He may not be a happy man come nightfall.

Brexit Threat Looms Over Britain’s Election And Europe’s Fate (AEP)

The subject of Europe has barely crept into the current campaign, which is odd given that UKIP’s primary demand – and its original raison d’etre – is the restoration of British self-government and the end of split parliamentary sovereignty between Westminister and Strasbourg. Yet the inescapable controversy of Britain’s dispensation with Europe looms over everything as we vote.

Whoever is elected will almost certainly have to deal a perpetual running sore in the eurozone. It is clear by now that monetary union is fundamentally deformed and will never be stable until there is a fiscal union and an EMU-wide government to back it up, but there is no democratic support for such a Utopian leap forward in any country. It is sheer fantasy following the Front National’s victory in the European elections in France. The ECB’s Mario Draghi has averted a deflationary collapse – in the nick of time – but the gap in competitiveness between the North and South is wider than ever. The EU Fiscal Compact will force the weakest debtor states to pursue contractionary policies for two decades to come asymmetrically, starving the south of investment and further entrenching the divide.[..]

A recent study by Stephen Jen, at SLJ Macro Partners, found that EMU states have reacted in radically different ways to globalisation and the rise of China. They are now further apart than they were in 1982. Worse yet, the perverse effects of euro itself has set off a self-reinforcing vicious circle. “The combination of a common monetary policy, fixed exchange rates and limited scope for member countries to conduct their own fiscal policies may have led to weak economies weakening further and strong economies strengthening further. We find these results rather alarming,” he said.

The implication is that EMU will lurch from crisis to crisis until the victims of this cruel dynamic rebel through the ballot box, as the Greeks are already doing. Cheap oil, a weak euro and a blast of QE have together lifted the region off the reefs for now, but the deformed structure will be exposed again when the world economy spins into another downturn. The European elites may imagine that a defeat for David Cameron can extinguish the Brexit threat. In reality it is has become a permanent fixture of the British landscape. They over-reached and brought it on themselves.

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There are 1000 reasons support should erode.

Extreme Secrecy Eroding Support For Obama’s TPP Trade Pact (Politico)

If you want to hear the details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal the Obama administration is hoping to pass, you’ve got to be a member of Congress, and you’ve got to go to classified briefings and leave your staff and cellphone at the door. If you’re a member who wants to read the text, you’ve got to go to a room in the basement of the Capitol Visitor Center and be handed it one section at a time, watched over as you read, and forced to hand over any notes you make before leaving. And no matter what, you can’t discuss the details of what you’ve read. “It’s like being in kindergarten,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who’s become the leader of the opposition to President Barack Obama’s trade agenda. “You give back the toys at the end.”

For those out to sink Obama’s free trade push, highlighting the lack of public information is becoming central to their opposition strategy: The White House isn’t even telling Congress what it’s asking for, they say, or what it’s already promised foreign governments. The White House has been coordinating an administration-wide lobbying effort that’s included phone calls and briefings from Secretary of State John Kerry, Labor Secretary Tom Perez, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and others. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has been working members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro has been talking to members of his home state Texas delegation.

Officials from the White House and the United States trade representative’s office say they’ve gone farther than ever before to provide Congress the information it needs and that the transparency complaints are just the latest excuse for people who were never going to vote for a new trade deal anyway. “We’ve worked closely with congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle to balance unprecedented access to classified documents with the appropriate level of discretion that’s needed to ensure Americans get the best deal possible in an ongoing, high-stakes international negotiation,” said USTR spokesman Matt McAlvanah. Obama’s seeking a renewal of fast-track authority, which would empower him to negotiate trade deals that then go to Congress for up-or-down votes but not amendments.

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“We don’t want a dystopian future in which corporations and not democratically elected governments call the shots.”

UN Calls For Suspension Of TTIP Talks Over Human Rights Abuses (Guardian)

A senior UN official has called for controversial trade talks between the European Union and the US to be suspended over fears that a mooted system of secret courts used by major corporations would undermine human rights. Alfred de Zayas, a UN human rights campaigner, said there should be a moratorium on negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which are on course to turn the EU and US blocs into the largest free-trade area in the world. Speaking to the Guardian, the Cuban-born US lawyer warned that the lesson from other trade agreements around the world was that major corporations had succeeded in blocking government policies with the support of secret arbitration tribunals that operated outside the jurisdiction of domestic courts.

He said he would becompiling a report on the tactics used by multinationals to illustrate the flaws in current plans for the TTIP. De Zayas said: “We don’t want a dystopian future in which corporations and not democratically elected governments call the shots. We don’t want an international order akin to post-democracy or post-law.” The intervention by de Zayas comes amid intense scrutiny in the US, Europe and Japan of groundbreaking trade deals promoted by Barack Obama. The European commission, which supports the talks, believes an agreement that would lower tariffs and establish basic health and safety standards would boost trade and add billions of euros to the EU’s income. UK ministers estimate Britain could benefit from a rise in GDP of between £4bn and £10bn a year.

Under the proposed agreement, companies will be allowed to appeal against regulations or legislation that depress profits, resulting in fears that multinationals could stop governments reversing privatisations of parts of the health service, for instance. The investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) scheme that includes the secret tribunals is already a cornerstone of a trade deal between the EU and Canada and is scheduled to be included in the TTIP deal, as well as a trans-pacific deal being negotiated between the US and Japan. EU officials said the ISDS would be part of the package when it is put to a vote in the EU parliament later this year. Cecilia Malmström, the European trade commissioner, has sought to dampen criticism by publishing discussion documents submitted to the TTIP talks.

Following growing calls from environmental groups, unions and MEPs for the deal to be scrapped, she has put forward a series of suggestions to “safeguard the rights of governments to regulate” and protect public service provision from demands for competition. More than 97% of respondents to an official EU survey voted against the deal. However De Zayas, the UN’s special rapporteur on promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, said that while these were helpful initiatives, the adoption of a separate legal system for the benefit of multinational corporations was a threat to basic human rights. “The bottom line is that these agreements must be revised, modified or terminated,” he said. “Most worrisome are the ISDS arbitrations, which constitute an attempt to escape the jurisdiction of national courts and bypass the obligation of all states to ensure that all legal cases are tried before independent tribunals that are public, transparent, accountable and appealable.

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Kudos.

Defiant Greece Overturns Civil Service Cuts Agreed In Previous Bailouts (FT)

Even as the Greek government scrambled to reach an agreement on new economic reforms with its creditors in Brussels, it began reversing similar measures agreed during previous bailout negotiations in a parliamentary session in Athens. A new law proposed by the leftwing Syriza-led government and passed Tuesday night opens the way to rehire thousands of workers cut loose from the country’s inefficient public sector in a reform enacted by the previous government. The move came on the same day the new government announced changes to a finance ministry system of electronic procurements and public payments that was supposed to improve transparency and had been blessed by international lenders.

And it followed legislation passed last week to reopen the state broadcaster, ERT, which was shut down by the previous government as a cost-cutting measure. The moves highlighted the conflicting impulses of Greece’s new left-wing government and creditors bent on securing economic reforms in exchange for their support. They could further complicate already-fraught negotiations aimed at closing the country’s current €172bn bailout and giving Athens access to €7.2bn in desperately needed cash; in February, the new government agreed any economic legislation would be introduced only after consultations with creditors.

Opposition lawmakers accused Syriza of violating that agreement with the new laws, which could expand the government payroll by as many as 15,000 employees. But government ministers remained defiant. “We aren’t going to consult [bailout monitors], we don’t have to, we’re a sovereign state,” Nikos Voutsis, the powerful interior minister, told parliament.

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He keeps on making a lot of sense. But that’s not the picture painted in the media.

A Blueprint for Greece’s Recovery (Yanis Varoufakis)

Imagine a development bank levering up collateral that comprises post-privatization equity retained by the state and other assets (for example, real estate) that could easily be made more valuable (and collateralized) by reforming their property rights. Imagine that it links the European Investment Bank and the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s €315 billion investment plan with Greece’s private sector. Instead of being viewed as a fire sale to fill fiscal holes, privatization would be part of a grand public-private partnership for development. Imagine further that the “bad bank” helps the financial sector, which was recapitalized generously by strained Greek taxpayers in the midst of the crisis, to shed their legacy of non-performing loans and unclog their financial plumbing.

In concert with the development bank’s virtuous impact, credit and investment flows would flood the Greek economy’s hitherto arid realms, eventually helping the bad bank turn a profit and become “good.” Finally, imagine the effect of all of this on Greece’s financial, fiscal, and social-security ecosystem: With bank shares skyrocketing, our state’s losses from their recapitalization would be extinguished as its equity in them appreciates. Meanwhile, the development bank’s dividends would be channeled into the long-suffering pension funds, which were abruptly de-capitalized in 2012 (owing to the “haircut” on their holdings of Greek government bonds).

In this scenario, the task of bolstering social security would be completed with the unification of pension funds; the surge of contributions following the pickup in employment; and the return to formal employment of workers banished into informality by the brutal deregulation of the labor market during the dark years of the recent past. One can easily imagine Greece recovering strongly as a result of this strategy. In a world of ultra-low returns, Greece would be seen as a splendid opportunity, sustaining a steady stream of inward foreign direct investment. But why would this be different from the pre-2008 capital inflows that fueled debt-financed growth? Could another macroeconomic Ponzi scheme really be avoided?

During the era of Ponzi-style growth, capital flows were channeled by commercial banks into a frenzy of consumption and by the state into an orgy of suspect procurement and outright profligacy. To ensure that this time is different, Greece will need to reform its social economy and political system. Creating new bubbles is not our government’s idea of development. This time, by contrast, the new development bank would take the lead in channeling scarce homegrown resources into selected productive investment. These include startups, IT companies that use local talent, organic-agro small and medium-size enterprises, export-oriented pharmaceutical companies, efforts to attract the international film industry to Greek locations, and educational programs that take advantage of Greek intellectual output and unrivaled historic sites.

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Greece must leave the euro or it will never be it own master.

European Lenders Dash Greek Hopes For Quick Aid Deal (Reuters)

European lenders on Wednesday dashed Greece’s hopes for a quick cash-for-reforms deal in the coming days, leaving Athens in an increasingly desperate financial position ahead of a major debt payment next week. Talks between the two sides have dragged on for months without a breakthrough and EU officials say Greece’s leftist government has failed to produce enough concessions for a deal at next Monday’s meeting of euro zone finance ministers. “Since the last Eurogroup quite a bit of progress has been made,” Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem said. “Still, lots of issues have to be solved, have to be deepened more, with more details, so there will be no agreements on Monday. We have to be realistic.”

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government remains hopeful the Eurogroup meeting will acknowledge progress in the talks, possibly enabling the ECB to let Greek banks buy more short-term government debt to ease a cash crunch. But there was no sign in Brussels or Frankfurt that any such easing of the squeeze is likely soon without concrete evidence of progress on reforms.The ECB’s governing council extended emergency liquidity assistance to Greek banks by €2 billion at its weekly review on Wednesday, the biggest increase in recent weeks. The governors also debated tightening collateral conditions but were expected to hold off for another week.

Athens managed to scrape together funds to make a €200 million interest payment to the IMF on Wednesday, but faces a more daunting €750 million repayment on May 12. With some municipalities, regional and public entities resisting an order to turn over cash reserves to the central bank, sources close to the government have expressed doubt about whether Athens can make both the IMF payment and pay wages and pensions later this month. A government source said the money raised so far by the decree has fallen short of a target of €2.5 billion and that Athens is expected to continue resorting to other one-off measures such as holding off some payments to suppliers. Monday’s Eurogroup meeting could serve as a “platform” for an eventual accord with lenders, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said after talks with his Italian counterpart.

Tsipras’ government has sought to shift blame onto the euro zone and IMF for a lack of agreement in the three-month-old negotiations, charging that each was setting different “red lines” on multiple issues from pension and labour reforms to the primary budget surplus, making a deal impossible. The three institutions issued a rare joint statement rejecting that accusation and insisting they share the same objective of helping Greece achieve financial stability and growth. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, one of Greece’s harshest critics among euro zone policymakers, also dismissed the accusation and said help for Greece had to “make sense”. “Neither the troika, nor Europe, nor Germany can be blamed for Greece’s problems,” Schaeuble said, referring to the trio of European Commission, ECB and IMF informally dubbed the troika. “Greece lived beyond its means for many years.”

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Let them walk cross the border.

At Greek Port, ‘Migrants’ Dream And Despair In Abandoned Factories (Reuters)

Rapper Mahdi Babika Mohamed’s journey to a better life in Europe started in his native Sudan and passed through Libya and Turkey before abruptly ending in a squalid abandoned factory at Greece’s western port of Patra. There, the 37-year-old is one of hundreds of migrants making desperate attempts to board ferries to Italy by hanging on to the underside of cargo trucks – usually unsuccesfully. “We come from a country in war to another war here in Patra,” said Mohamed. “Every day I try to get on the ferry and it’s dangerous hiding under the trucks, I could die any minute.” Patra is no longer on the frontline of Greece’s migrant crisis as it was six years ago when authorities shut down a makeshift camp in the port where hundreds of migrants had lived in squalid conditions.

Focus has since shifted to the thousands of Syrian and other migrants now breaking through Greece’s eastern sea border, but the refugee problem in Patra is far from over. Today, about 100 Afghan, Iranian and Sudanese migrants live in two deserted textile and wood factories opposite the main ferry terminal, living off food scraps and without electricity. Some arrived recently, others have lived there for as long as two years. Each day, some try to jump over a high fence into the terminal in the hope of sneaking onto a ferry set for Italy, where they dream of a better life than in crisis-hit Greece, where jobs are scarce and sympathy even harder to find.

Others hide by the roadside, dashing to scramble underneath trucks waiting at traffic lights before entering the ferry terminal. One of those is Azam, a 26-year-old from South Sudan who says he boarded a small fishing boat in Egypt with 175 other immigrants earlier this year. He says he paid around $3,000 to go to Italy but the boat took them to Crete instead. Despite several attempts, he has yet to make it on to a ferry to Italy. But he refuses to abandon his dream. “I want to go to northern Europe and find a decent job and live a good life I will try until I make it,” Azam said. “I’ll never give up.”

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“The market has increasingly become aggressive in preparing for a Greek default and in protecting itself from the potential financial impact.”

Greek Banks Are Having Trouble Trading Foreign Currencies (Bloomberg)

Greek banks are increasingly being hampered from trading currencies, one of most liquid markets, as international dealers cut back credit lines and costs soar, according to people with knowledge of the trades. International securities firms are curtailing trading with Greece’s major lenders that may expose them to the risk of a default by the nation and the possible use of capital controls to stem outflows from banks, the people said, asking not to be named because they are not authorized to speak publicly.
Those threats are adding to concern that the euro would decline in the event of a default or a Greek exit from the currency region, leaving counterparties exposed to multiple risks, said the people.

A months-long impasse on Greece’s bailout talks with creditors has prompted depositors to withdraw funds from the nation’s lenders, leaving banks no choice but to rely on emergency funds for liquidity. The ECB on Wednesday raised the limit on Emergency Liquidity Assistance, people familiar with the matter said, a sign the financial system remains under strain. “The latest sign the market is attempting to fortify itself against a Greek default is playing out in the FX market,” said Mark Williams, a former bank examiner for a Federal Reserve bank and now a lecturer at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business. “The market has increasingly become aggressive in preparing for a Greek default and in protecting itself from the potential financial impact.”

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ECB and politics should never appear in the same sentence.

ECB Decision on Greek Haircuts Said to Depend on Political Talks (Bloomberg)

The ECB will decide after next week’s meeting of euro region finance ministers whether to tighten Greek access to emergency liquidity, two people familiar with the matter said. The ECB is prepared to raise the discount demanded on Greek collateral to a level last seen in 2014 unless the country’s government shows a willingness to compromise in bailout talks, said one of the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity. An ECB spokesman declined to comment. The Governing Council’s stance adds pressure on Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to make progress with creditors at Monday’s meeting of finance ministers in Brussels, or risk watching his country’s banks being pushed deeper into crisis.

Such is the rate of deposit withdrawals that ECB officials meeting Wednesday in Frankfurt raised their cap on Emergency Liquidity Assistance by €2 billion to €78.9 billion, the people said. The ECB also wants to ensure Greece makes a €767 million payment to the International Monetary Fund due on May 12, one of the officials said. The central bank decided in October to reduce the risk premium charged on Greek securities, citing “overall improved market conditions” for the assets at the time. Since then, the government has changed and the incoming administration has stalled on the reforms needed to access its bailout funds. Early this year, the ECB suspended a waiver on collateral requirements for Greek debt, forcing banks to rely more on ELA from their own central bank.

Increasing the haircuts now would force lenders to post higher collateral in exchange for funding. Even so, more draconian ideas have been floated. An internal ECB proposal circulated in April contained an option that would see haircuts raised to as high as 90%, a level consistent with Greece being in default. Euro-area central bankers are concerned about Greece’s solvency as debt repayments loom, though they remain reluctant to act before politicians have had a chance to salvage the bailout program. Most Governing Council members, led by President Mario Draghi, argued that it would be unfair to restrict access to liquidity before the outcome of Monday’s meeting is clear, one of the people said.

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Morals have nothing to do with it.

Bernanke Inc.: The Lucrative Life of a Former Fed Chairman (Bloomberg)

Between Boyz II Men at The Mirage and Celine Dion at Caesars Palace, a hot new act is playing Vegas: Ben Bernanke. One day only, live from Sin City – the economist formerly known as chairman of the Federal Reserve. Fifteen months after leaving the Fed and its trappings of mystery and power, Bernanke, 61, is settling into the peripatetic and highly lucrative life of a Washington former. Beyond the dancing fountains of the Bellagio, in the gilded splendor of the Grand Ballroom, Bernanke will play to a full house at the SkyBridge Alternatives Conference on Wednesday: 1,800 hedge fund types who used to hang on his every word. Bernanke is, in a sense, one of them now – a well-paid investment consultant who can fete clients, open doors and add a gloss of Fed luster to conferences and meetings.

Call it Bernanke Inc., a post-Fed one-man-show that’s worth millions annually on the open market. While the former chairman hasn’t disclosed his fees and compensation – nor, as a private citizen, is he required to – he is almost certainly pulling down many times what he did while in government. First there are speaking fees, which bring in at least $200,000 per engagement, according to a person who hired Bernanke. Then there are new advisory roles at Pimco, the big bond house; and Citadel, one of the world’s largest hedge funds. Executive recruiters say each is probably worth more than $1 million a year. Finally, there’s a book deal, details of which haven’t been made public. Bernanke’s predecessor, Alan Greenspan, reportedly landed an $8.5 million contract for his memoir in 2006.

Bernanke – who has a day job as a distinguished fellow in residence at the Brookings Institution – used the same Washington lawyer, Robert Barnett, to negotiate his deal. Policy makers like Bernanke are often criticized for going to work for the financial industry, but they are following a well-worn path. Robert Rubin, Lawrence Summers, Timothy Geithner: countless economic policy makers, in the U.S. and elsewhere, have spun through the revolving door, sometimes more than once. Summers –who picked up work at the hedge fund D.E. Shaw – is scheduled to address the SALT conference this week as well. So are former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. What does someone like Bernanke bring to a Pimco or a Citadel? Both say investment insight and some face time with clients. Many in the industry, however, tend to view such appointments as little more than high-paid marketing jobs.

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“The perception from the market based on their comments is they’re extremely dangerous.”

Canada’s Political Landscape In Seismic Shift On Alberta Election (Guardian)

Canada’s rockbound political landscape has undergone a seismic shift with the election of a leftwing government in oil-rich Alberta, the country’s wealthiest and – until now – most conservative province. The once-marginal New Democratic Party swept to victory in the western province on Tuesday night, humiliating the Progressive Conservative party that has ruled the province since the first term of US president Richard Nixon. “We made a little bit of history tonight,” the province’s New Democrat leader, Rachel Notley, told supporters. The result marks the latest and most surprising setback to prime minister Stephen Harper’s signature diplomatic effort to transport bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands to world markets through the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

During the campaign, Notley promised to withdraw provincial support for the project, raise corporate taxes and also potentially to raise royalties on a regional oil industry already reeling from the collapse in world prices. Notley led her party from a four-seat toehold in the provincial legislature to a commanding majority of 54 with a buoyant campaign that contrasted sharply with the flatfooted effort of the Progressive Conservatives under leader Jim Prentice, a former Harper cabinet member often touted as a future Conservative prime minister. Despite being one of a handful of PC candidates returned to office, Prentice resigned both his new seat and his leadership after the rout.

Canadian oil stocks slid slightly in response to the NDP win, with tar-sands giant Suncor Energy Inc losing 4.3% of its value in the first few hours of trading in Toronto before recovering half the loss by noon. The election of the NDP is “completely devastating”, declared financier Rafi Tahmazian of Canoe Financial in Calgary, Canada’s oil capital. “The perception from the market based on their comments is they’re extremely dangerous.” [..] .. ordinary Canadians were reeling from the sheer magnitude of the shift in Alberta, which has placed the country’s most notoriously conservative province, taken for granted as an impregnable redneck kingdom, in the hands of its most progressive regional government. To explain the phenomenon, Toronto-based writer Doug Saunders asked his American Twitter followers to imagine socialist presidential candidate Bernie Saunders “becoming Texas governor by a big majority”.

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Do you really want war with Russia?

The Choice Before Europe (Paul Craig Roberts)

Washington continues to drive Europe toward one or the other of the two most likely outcomes of the orchestrated conflict with Russia. Either Europe or some European Union member government will break from Washington over the issue of Russian sanctions, thereby forcing the EU off of the path of conflict with Russia, or Europe will be pushed into military conflict with Russia. In June the Russian sanctions expire unless each member government of the EU votes to continue the sanctions. Several governments have spoken against a continuation. For example, the governments of the Czech Republic and Greece have expressed dissatisfaction with the sanctions. US Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged growing opposition to the sanctions among some European governments.

Employing the three tools of US foreign policy–threats, bribery, and coercion, he warned Europe to renew the sanctions or there would be retribution. We will see in June if Washington’s threat has quelled the rebellion. Europe has to consider the strength of Washington’s threat of retribution against the cost of a continuing and worsening conflict with Russia. This conflict is not in Europe’s economic or political interest, and the conflict has the risk of breaking out into war that would destroy Europe. Since the end of World War II Europeans have been accustomed to following Washington’s lead. For awhile France went her own way, and there were some political parties in Germany and Italy that considered Washington to be as much of a threat to European independence as the Soviet Union.

Over time, using money and false flag operations, such as Operation Gladio, Washington marginalized politicians and political parties that did not follow Washington’s lead. The specter of a military conflict with Russia that Washington is creating could erode Washington’s hold over Europe. By hyping a “Russian threat,” Washington is hoping to keep Europe under Washington’s protective wing. However, the “threat” is being over-hyped to the point that some Europeans have understood that Europe is being driven down a path toward war.

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Problems that cannot be solved.

California Regulators Approve Unprecedented Water Cutbacks (AP)

California water regulators adopted sweeping, unprecedented restrictions Tuesday on how people, governments and businesses can use water amid the state’s ongoing drought, hoping to push reluctant residents to deeper conservation. The State Water Resources Control Board approved rules that force cities to limit watering on public property, encourage homeowners to let their lawns die and impose mandatory water-savings targets for the hundreds of local agencies and cities that supply water to California customers. Gov. Jerry Brown sought the more stringent regulations, arguing that voluntary conservation efforts have so far not yielded the water savings needed amid a four-year drought. He ordered water agencies to cut urban water use by 25% from levels in 2013, the year before he declared a drought emergency.

“It is better to prepare now than face much more painful cuts should it not rain in the fall,” board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus said Tuesday as the panel voted 5-0 to approve the new rules. Although the rules are called mandatory, it’s still unclear what punishment the state water board and local agencies will impose for those that don’t meet the targets. Board officials said they expect dramatic water savings as soon as June and are willing to add restrictions and penalties for agencies that lag. But the board lacks staff to oversee each of the hundreds of water agencies, which range dramatically in size and scope. Some local agencies that are tasked with achieving savings do not have the resources to issue tickets to those who waste water, and many others have chosen not to do so.

Despite the dire warnings, it’s also still not clear that Californians have grasped the seriousness of the drought or the need for conservation. Data released by the board Tuesday showed that Californians conserved little water in March, and local officials were not aggressive in cracking down on waste. A survey of local water departments showed water use fell less than 4% in March compared with the same month in 2013. Overall savings have been only about 9% since last summer. Under the new rules, each city is ordered to cut water use by as much as 36% compared with 2013. Some local water departments have called the proposal unrealistic and unfair, arguing that achieving steep cuts could cause higher water bills and declining property values, and dissuade projects to develop drought-proof water technology such as desalination and sewage recycling.

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“..[beekeepers and bee-product manufacturers] generate a turnover of somewhere between €57 and €62 million per year. The value of the pollination services provided to the agricultural sector is estimated to run to €2.6 billion.”

Save The Bees To Save The Planet (Giorgio Torrazza)

In 2004, local production of acacia, chestnut, citrus and meadow flower honey in Italy fell by half and the reason for this is very simple: the bees are dying. According to estimates released by the beekeepers associations, every year some 175-thousand tons of chemical substances are sprayed onto the fields, substances that pollute and compromise the ecosystem in which the bees live and reproduce. Here in Italy there are some 40-thousand beekeepers and 12-thousand bee-product manufacturers, and if you include all the associated secondary enterprises, together they generate a turnover of somewhere between €57 and €62 million per year. The value of the pollination services provided to the agricultural sector is estimated to run to €2.6 billion.

What is of inestimable value to mankind instead is that according to the FAO data, bees are responsible for pollinating 71 of the top 100 crops that constitute around 90% of all the foodstuff products worldwide. The multinationals encourage the indiscriminate use of insecticides and weed killers, many of which are currently banned in the European Union, but if the TTIP were to be approved, according to a study conducted by the Center for International and Environmental Law, no less than 82 pesticides currently banned in Europe but approved for use in the USA would flood onto the market, further aggravating an already dire situation. This is total folly. We interviewed a beekeeper by the name of Giorgio Torrazza who loves bees and explains in his own simple way precisely who is causing the problem and how to resolve it. #SavetheBees to save the planet!

The bee emergency is linked to parasites that come in from outside the country. There is the Varroa parasitic mite, which has been around for more than 30 years, then there is also the Asian predatory wasp and now there is also another parasite from Africa, the (Aethina tumida), which has already arrived in Calabria and will undoubtedly get here too. The parasite emergency is causing problems but it is still manageable at this stage. However, one of the things that is very difficult to manage at the moment are the chemical poisons that are being spread about like rose water on all the crops. If you spray a weed-killer, even if it is not classified as a pesticide, do you know what happens?

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