Oct 202017
 
 October 20, 2017  Posted by at 7:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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René Magritte Youth 1924

 

Fed Flunks Econ 101: Understanding Inflation (MW)
Meet The Bears Predicting Stock Market Doom (CNN)
Catalan Groups Call For Mass Withdrawal Of Money From Bank ATMs (CN)
The World’s Largest ICO Is Imploding After Just 3 Months (ZH)
Scandal-Hit Nissan Suspends All Production For Japan Market (AFP)
End Of Australia Auto-Making Sector As Holden Closes Doors (AFP)
Top Startup Investors See Mounting ‘Backlash’ Against Tech (R.)
Native American Tribe Holding Patents Sues Amazon And Microsoft (R.)
Putin Slams West for Lack of Respect and Broken Trust (BBG)
Ditch Neoliberalism To Win Again, Jeremy Corbyn Tells EU’s Center-Left (Ind.)
Merkel Comes to May’s Aid on Brexit (BBG)
Italian Regions To Vote In Europe’s Latest Referendums On Autonomy (G.)
Greece Plans Billion Euro Handout For The Poor (R.)
Tensions Rise On Aegean Islands As Migrants Continue To Arrive (K.)
Global Pollution Kills Millions, Threatens ‘Survival Of Human Societies’ (G.)

 

 

As I’ve said 1000 times.

Fed Flunks Econ 101: Understanding Inflation (MW)

The Federal Reserve’s illusive quest to achieve 2% inflation over the medium term is becoming a long-term problem. The institutional anxiety over the chronic inflation undershoot is evident in daily news stories, Fed speeches and the increased focus in internal discussions, as reflected in the minutes of the Sept. 19-20 meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC). One doesn’t have to read between the lines to appreciate the degree to which policy makers fear the onset of the next recession without adequate “room” to lower interest rates. Hence, normalizing interest rates is “on track,” as the headline above noted, even though the relationship — between unemployment and inflation — is decidedly off track.

So what gives? The persistence of sub-2% inflation in the face of nine years of near-zero interest rates and an economy at what is perceived to be full employment has led to an array of silly explanations, embarrassing excuses and a host of pseudo-theories. Just maybe the Fed’s internal guidance system is flawed. The inverse correlation between unemployment and wages in the U.K. from 1861 to 1957 initially observed by New Zealand economist A.W. Phillips has morphed into a model of causation for Fed chief Janet Yellen and the current crop of U.S. policy makers. It’s not clear why. Just eyeballing the graph of the Fed’s preferred inflation measure and the civilian unemployment rate, one might conclude that the relationship broke down in the 1970s and has yet to reassert itself. Is a half-century malfunction enough to declare a theory null and void?

One would think so. Yet the notion of cost-push inflation as (supposedly) expressed by Phillips Curve lives, although faith in it has started to wane, even among ardent devotees like labor-economist Yellen. Instead, we are confronted with headlines such as, “Nobody seems to know why there is no inflation.” Really? Have they all forgotten Milton Friedman’s axiom that inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon? When the central bank creates more money than the public wants to hold, people spend it. The increased demand for goods and services eventually exceeds the economy’s ability to produce or provide them. The result is higher economy-wide prices, or inflation.

That isn’t happening, not just in the U.S. but across the globe. For all the sturm und drang about the Fed debasing the dollar and sowing the seeds of the next great inflation, the public’s demand for money has increased. The increased desire to hold cash and checkable deposits has risen to meet the increased supply. Velocity, or the rate at which money turns over, has plummeted.

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“.. it’s central banks that typically end the party. And central banks are telling you it’s last call.”

Meet The Bears Predicting Stock Market Doom (CNN)

The red-hot stock market may continue its rapid ascent, especially if Trump delivers his promise for “massive” corporate tax cuts. And even if not, healthy economic fundamentals and corporate profits should continue to support stocks. Nonetheless, some bears are fighting the herd mentality on Wall Street by warning of serious trouble brewing just beneath the surface of the stock market. These market skeptics are reassured by the fact that betting against stocks wasn’t popular in 2007, either. “The best time to be a bear is the loneliest time,” Jesse Felder, a money manager and founder of The Felder Report, told CNNMoney. Here are some of the red flags these bears are warning about, including similarities between now and 30 years ago:

In 2007 and 2008, Chris Cole presciently bet that market volatility would skyrocket to levels no one had seen before. He took those crisis-era winnings and started Artemis Capital, a hedge fund that has amassed $210 million. Today, the stock market is unusually quiet. The VIX, a popular barometer of market fear, recently hit a record low. Cole thinks it’s a mirage, partly because popular trading strategies allow investors to bet on the low volatility itself. All those bets lead to even lower volatility – until something unexpected happens, like suddenly higher interest rates. “Any shock to the system could cause this to unravel in the opposite direction, where higher volatility drives higher volatility,” Cole told CNNMoney. “This is a massive risk to the system. The only thing we’re missing is a fire.” [..] “This is a disaster waiting to happen,” said Cole. “In the event there is a fire, this can cause a massive explosion.”

Kyle Bass, founder of Hayman Capital Management, is also having a flashback to 30 years ago. “If you look at the all of the different constituencies of the market today, it resembles the portfolio insurance debacle of 1987 on steroids,” Bass told Real Vision TV in an interview released on Wednesday. Bass fears that, once stock prices decline 4% to 5%, that will quickly morph into a 10% to 15% plunge. He isn’t sure about timing, but pointed to geopolitical trouble and central banks as potential triggers. “Buckle up, because I think you’re going to see a pretty interesting air pocket. And I don’t think investors are ready for that,” he said.

Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at The Lindsey Group, predicts the “overvalued” stock market will run into serious trouble as central banks hit the brakes on the stimulus measures they used to prop up economies after the crisis. He pointed to the Federal Reserve shrinking its balance sheet and the European Central Bank slowing its bond purchases. “Historically speaking, central banks put us into recessions and bear markets. The same will happen this time,” Boockvar said. He estimates that central banks will be pumping $1 trillion less money into markets. “The liquidity spigot is going to be dripping instead of flowing. That’s a really big deal,” said Boockvar. He conceded that stocks could run higher before eventually reversing. “When it happens, I’m not sure,” Boockvar said. “But it’s central banks that typically end the party. And central banks are telling you it’s last call.”

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Chaos.

Catalan Groups Call For Mass Withdrawal Of Money From Bank ATMs (CN)

Civil society organizations in Catalonia call for a mass withdrawal of money from bank ATMs on Friday at 8am in order to pressure the Spanish government. Organizers don’t especify how much money should be taken out nor what to do with it. The action targets the five main banks in Catalonia: Caixa Bank, Sabadell, Bankia, BBVA and Santander. Organizers call on clients of Caixa Bank and Sabadell to show their disagreement with the banks’ recent decision to move their headquarters out of Catalonia due to the escalating political crisis between governments in Barcelona and Madrid.

This is the first “direct and peaceful” action organized by Crida per la Democràcia (Call for Democracy). This is an umbrella group which includes among others the two main pro-independence organizations in Catalonia: the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Òmnium Cultural. The mass withdrawal is also aimed at condemning the imprisonment of ANC and Òmnium presidents, Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart, held in custody on sedition charges since Monday.

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All’s not well in crypto land.

The World’s Largest ICO Is Imploding After Just 3 Months (ZH)

Earlier this summer, Tezos smashed existing sales records in the white-hot IPO market after the company’s pitch to build a better blockchain for cryptocurrencies made it one of the buzziest ICOs in the world. As we noted at the time, the company capitalized on that buzz by courting VC firms and other institutional investors with a $50 million token pre-sale. After the company opened up selling to the broader public, demand soared as investors greedily bought up tokens in spite of glitches that threatened to derail the sale early on. By the end of its weeks-long token sale in July, Tezos had sold more than $230 million. Now, Tezos is proving that authorities in the US and China were on to something when they decided to crack down on the ICO market, which has become a cesspool of fraud and abuse.

To wit, the company’s management revealed this week that progress on its vaunted product has stalled as it has struggled to recruit engineering talent, and an acrimonious dispute between several of the company’s leading figures has spilled out into the open. As WSJ’s Paul Vigna reports, “a battle between the founders of the company and the head of the Swiss foundation they installed to give it more independence has put most trading of Tezos coins on ice, possibly until early next year.” The shakeup started after Tezos founders Arthur and Kathleen Breitman reported the delays in a blog post published Wednesday. But even more alarming, the pair accused Johann Gevers, the head of a Swiss foundation which oversees their funds, of attempting to overpay himself using the massive pot of investor capital – despite the fact that the company will likely blow through its promised deadline of allocating tokens to buyers by December (the tokens have yet to be created).

In early September we became aware that the president of the Tezos Foundation, Johann Gevers, engaged in an attempt at self-dealing, misrepresenting to the council the value of a bonus he attempted to grant himself. We have been working with the Tezos foundation to resolve the matter and have advocated for his removal from the foundation council. We are confident in the council’s ability to handle this sensitive matter with care and diligence. In the meantime, Johann’s operational role in the foundation has been suspended, pending an investigation by the council’s auditor. The news sent Tezos futures contracts trading on BitMex, an exchange known for its cryptocurrency futures products, tumbling more than 50% as traders unwound bets the project would be launched before the end of the year, as Bloomberg pointed out.

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The final nail in the Made in Japan coffin.

Scandal-Hit Nissan Suspends All Production For Japan Market (AFP)

Nissan said Thursday it was suspending all production destined for the local market, as Japan’s number-two automaker grapples with a mounting inspection scandal that has already seen it recall some 1.2 million vehicles. “Nissan decided today to suspend vehicle production for the Japan market at all Nissan and Nissan Shatai plants in Japan,” it said in a statement, referring to an affiliate. The announcement comes weeks after the company announced the major recall as it admitted that staff without proper authorisation had conducted final inspections on some vehicles intended for the domestic market before they were shipped to dealers. On Thursday, it said a third-party investigator found the misconduct had continued at three of its six Japanese plants even after it took steps to end the crisis.

“Nissan regards the recurrence of this issue at domestic plants – despite the corrective measures taken – as critical,” it said. “The investigation team will continue to thoroughly investigate the issue and determine measures to prevent a recurrence.” Nissan president Hiroto Saikawa offered a blunt assessment, saying that “old habits” were to blame. “You might say it would be easy to stop people who are not supposed to inspect from inspecting,” he told reporters Thursday. “But we are having to take (new measures) in order to stop old habits that had been part of our routine operations at the factories.”

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Lost skills.

End Of Australia Auto-Making Sector As Holden Closes Doors (AFP)

The last car rolled off the production line of Australian automaker Holden on Friday, marking the demise of a national industry unable to stand up to global competition. The closure of the Elizabeth plant in South Australia is the end of an era for Holden, which first started in the state as a saddlery business in 1856 and made the nation’s first mass-produced car in 1948. The brand has long been an Australian household name, with 1970s commercials singing that “football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars” were part of the nation’s identity. “I feel very sad, as we all do, for it’s the end of an era, and you can’t get away from the emotional response to the closure,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told Melbourne radio station 3AW on Friday.

Holden was marketed as “Australia’s Own Car” and became a symbol of post-war prosperity Down Under despite being a subsidiary of US giant General Motors. At its peak in 1964, Holden employed almost 24,000 staff. But just 950 were able to watch the final car leave the factory floor Friday. “There are a number of people who have been here since the seventies and today will be a very emotional day for some people and a very sad day,” Australian Manufacturing Workers Union state secretary John Camillo told reporters. The union blamed the federal government for causing the closure by withdrawing support to the auto sector. The death of the industry was always on the cards after subsidies were cut off in 2014. Some Aus$30 billion (US$24 billion) in assistance was handed out between 1997 and 2012, according to the government’s Productivity Commission.

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The rich get scared. It’s about power as much as money.

Top Startup Investors See Mounting ‘Backlash’ Against Tech (R.)

Two of the technology industry’s top startup investors took to the stage at a conference on Wednesday to decry the power that companies such as Facebook had amassed and call for a redistribution of wealth. Bill Maris, who founded Alphabet’s venture capital arm and now runs venture fund Section 32, and Sam Altman, president of startup accelerator Y Combinator, said widespread discontent over income inequality helped elect U.S. President Donald Trump and had put wealthy technology companies in the crosshairs. “I do know that the tech backlash is going to be strong,” said Altman. “We have more and more concentrated power and wealth.” The market capitalization of the so-called Big Five technology companies – Alphabet, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook – has doubled in the last three years to more than $3 trillion.

Silicon Valley broadly has amassed significant wealth during the latest tech boom. Altman and Maris spoke on the final day of The Wall Street Journal DLive technology conference in Southern California. Facebook’s role in facilitating what U.S. intelligence agencies have identified as Russian interference in last year’s U.S. presidential election is an example of the immense power the social media company has amassed, the investors said. “The companies that used to be fun and disruptive and interesting and benevolent are now disrupting our elections,” Maris said.

Altman said people “are understandably uncomfortable with that.” Altman, who unequivocally rebuffed rumors that he would run for governor of California next year, said he expects more demands from both the public and policy makers on data privacy, limiting what personal information Facebook and others can collect. Maris said regulators would have good cause to break up the big technology companies. “These companies are more powerful than AT&T ever was,” he said. [..] Altman and Maris offered few details of how to accomplish a redistribution of wealth. Maris proposed shorter term limits for elected officials and simplifying the tax code. Altman has advocated basic income, a poverty-fighting proposal in which all residents would receive a regular, unconditional sum of money from the government.

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Curious legal battle.

Native American Tribe Holding Patents Sues Amazon And Microsoft (R.)

A Native American tribe sued Amazon.com and Microsoft in federal court in Virginia on Wednesday for infringing supercomputer patents it is holding for a technology firm. The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe was assigned the patents by SRC Labs LLC in August, in a deal intended to use the tribe’s sovereign status to shield them from administrative review. SRC is also a plaintiff in the case. The tribe, which would receive a share of any award, made a similar deal in September to hold patents for Allergan on its dry eye medicine Restasis. SRC and Allergan made the deals to shield their patents from review by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, an administrative court run by the U.S. patent office that frequently revokes patents.

The tribe would get revenue to address environmental damage and rising healthcare costs. Companies sued for patent infringement in federal court often respond by asking the patent board to invalidate the asserted patents. Both Microsoft and Amazon have used this strategy to prevail in previous disputes. A federal court in Texas separately invalidated Allergan’s Restasis patents on Monday. The company responded that it would appeal that ruling.Allergan’s deal with the tribe has drawn criticism from a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers, some of whom have called it a “sham.” Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill on Oct. 5 introduced a bill to ban attempts to take advantage of tribal sovereignty.

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“The biggest mistake our country made was that we put too much trust in you; and your mistake was that you saw this trust as a lack of power and you abused it..”

Putin Slams West for Lack of Respect and Broken Trust (BBG)

President Vladimir Putin has yet to declare his candidacy for re-election next year, but on Thursday the outlines of his campaign were clear, beginning from his strongest suit as the man who restored power and respect to Russia. Putin spent much of his address to an annual gathering of foreign-policy specialists from Russia and abroad recounting his country’s perceived humiliation following the collapse of the Soviet Union, singling out the West and the U.S. for special criticism. “The biggest mistake our country made was that we put too much trust in you; and your mistake was that you saw this trust as a lack of power and you abused it,’’ he said during a question-and-answer session that was carried on national television. What was needed, he said, was “respect.’’

In its portrayal of the U.S., “it was the most negative speech Putin has given’’ at the annual Valdai Club meeting, said Toby Gati, a former U.S. National Security Council and State Department official who is a regular at the event. At the same time, the Russian leader appeared to leave a door open to a rapprochement with U.S. President Donald Trump, saying that he, too, deserved respect as the elected choice of the American people. [..] Even during the Cold War, the U.S. and the Soviet Union had always treated each other with respect, said Putin, lamenting how the Russian flag was recently torn from the country’s consulate in California. “Respect has been the underbelly of the whole conference,’’ said Wendell Wallach, chairman of technology and ethics studies at Yale University.

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The only leftist in Europe left standing. Oh irony.

Ditch Neoliberalism To Win Again, Jeremy Corbyn Tells EU’s Center-Left (Ind.)

Jeremy Corbyn has warned centre-left parties across Europe that they must follow his lead and abandon the neoliberal economics of the imagined “centre ground” if they want to start winning elections again. The Labour leader was given a hero’s welcome at the Europe Together conference of centre-left parties in Brussels, where he was introduced as “the new Prime Minister of Britain” and received two standing ovations from a packed auditorium. Continental centre-left leaders are looking to Mr Corbyn’s Labour as a model to reinvigorate their movement. Across Europe from France to Germany, Austria to Netherlands, and Spain to Greece, once powerful social-democratic parties have been reduced to a shadow of their former selves – with Labour a notable exception.

Mr Corbyn said low taxes, deregulation, and privatisation had not brought prosperity for Europe’s populations and that if social democratic parties continued to endorse them they would continue to lose elections. He berated the longstanding leadership of the centre-left, telling delegates from across the EU: “For too long the most prominent voices in our movement have looked out of touch, too willing to defend the status quo and the established order. “In a desperate attempt to protect what is seen as the centre-ground of politics: only to find the centre ground has shifted or was never where the elites thought it was in the first place.” Citing the rise of the far-right in countries like Austria and France, Mr Corbyn said the abdication of the radical end of politics by the left had created space for reactionary parties.

“Our broken system has provided fertile ground for the growth of nationalist and xenophobic politics,” he said. “We all know their politics of hate, blame and division and not the answer, but unless we offer a clear and radical alternative of credible solutions for the problem we face, unless we offer a chance to change the broken system, and hope for a more prosper future we are clearing the path for the extreme right to make even more far-reaching inroads into our communities. Their message of fear and division would become the political mainstream of our discourse. But we can offer a radical alternative, we have the ideas to make progressive politics the dominant force of this century. But if we don’t get our message right, don’t stand up for our core beliefs, and if we don’t stand for change we will founder and stagnate.”

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Does Angela not like what Corbyn has to say?

Merkel Comes to May’s Aid on Brexit (BBG)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel offered Theresa May the political cover she’s been asking for to take further steps in Brexit talks, calling on both sides to move so that a deal can be reached by year-end. The U.K. prime minister signaled she’s willing to offer more on the divorce bill, according to a U.K. official. May urged leaders at a European summit to help her find a deal she could sell to skeptics at home, and her counterparts responded with words of encouragement – though no concrete concessions. Merkel said there’s “zero indication” that Brexit talks won’t succeed and she “truly” wants an agreement rather than an “unpredictable resolution.” She welcomed the concessions May made in a landmark speech in Florence last month and said she’s “very motivated” to get talks moved on from the divorce settlement to trade by December.

“Now both sides need to move,” she told reporters after hearing May speak at dinner, in a shift of rhetoric for the EU side, which has previously insisted that it’s up to the U.K. alone to make the next move. [..] he chancellor’s upbeat tone on Brexit was in marked contrast to Germany’s portrayal in the U.K. media as the principle obstacle to Britain’s attempts to shift negotiations onto trade and a transition period. In reality, Merkel has rarely commented on Brexit in the past two months or more as she fought for re-election to a fourth term. Even when she has weighed in, the chancellor tended to adopt a matter-of-fact approach that stuck to the facts. “So what I heard today was a confirmation of the fact that, in contrast to what you hear in the British press, the process is moving forward step by step,” Merkel said. “You get the impression that after a few weeks you already have to announce the final product, and I found that – to be very clear – absurd.”

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it’s not about borders, but about decentralizing power. Unstoppable.

Italian Regions To Vote In Europe’s Latest Referendums On Autonomy (G.)

Two of Italy’s richest regions are holding referendums on greater autonomy on Sunday, in the latest push by European regions to wrest more power from the centre. Lombardy and Veneto, between them home to a quarter of Italy’s population, are seeking semi-autonomy, giving them more control over their finances and administration. Although legally non-binding, the exercise is the latest ripple in a wave of votes on greater autonomy across Europe in recent years, from Scotland in 2014 to Brexit last year and Catalonia in September. Although both regions have in the past campaigned for complete independence from Rome, their leaders have made it clear the ballots are about autonomy and not secession.

Some insight into the dynamics can be gleaned from the example of Sappada, a mountainous town in Veneto that straddles the regional border with Friuli-Venezia Giulia. A skiing and hiking paradise, the town is on the verge of becoming the first in Italy to switch regions to become part of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, one of Italy’s five semi-autonomous regions. The plan was approved by the Italian government in September after a lengthy bureaucratic process. “The reasons for people wanting to be part of Friuli are varied: we have our own dialect, which originates from German, and culturally we feel closer to Friuli,” Manuel Piller Hoffer, the mayor of Sappada, told the Guardian. “But the main one is economic: living next door to a semi-autonomous region, people see advantages that they don’t have. They see finances being controlled better, a better health service and sustainable investments being made – they see a better standard of living.”

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Do you need to call it a ‘handout’, Reuters?

Greece Plans Billion Euro Handout For The Poor (R.)

Greece plans to offer handouts worth 1 billion euros to poor Greeks who have suffered during the seven-year debt crisis after beating its budget targets this year, the government said on Thursday. Greece expects to return to nearly 2% growth this year and achieve a primary surplus – which excludes debt servicing costs – of 2.2% of GDP, outperforming the 1.75% bailout target. “The surplus outperformance which will be distributed to social groups that have suffered the biggest pressure during the financial crisis, will be close to 1 billion euros,” government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos told reporters. It is not yet clear who would be eligible for what the leftist-led government calls a “social dividend.” Hundreds of thousands of Greeks have lost their jobs during a six-year recession that cut more than a quarter of the country’s GDP.

With unemployment 21.3% and youth unemployment at 42.8% many households rely on the income of grandparents – although they have lost more than a third of the value of their pensions since 2010, when Athens signed up to its first international bailout. The government will make final decisions in late November, once it gets full-year budget data, Tzanakopoulos said. Greece’s fiscal performance this year and its 2018 budget is expected to be discussed with representatives from its European Union lenders and the International Monetary Fund next week when a crucial review of its bailout progress starts. Tzanakopoulos reiterated that Athens aims to wrap up the review as soon as possible, ruling out new austerity measures.

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We’re really going to see this play out all over again?

Tensions Rise On Aegean Islands As Migrants Continue To Arrive (K.)

As dozens of migrants continue to land daily on the shores of eastern Aegean islands, and tensions rise in reception centers, local communities are becoming increasingly divided over growing migrant populations. A total of 438 people arrived on the islands aboard smuggling boats from Turkey in the first three days of the week, with another 175 people arriving on the islet of Oinousses yesterday morning. The latter were transferred to a center on nearby Chios which is very cramped with 1,600 people living in facilities designed to host 850. The situation is worse on Samos, where a reception center designed to host 700 people is accommodating 2,850.

The Migration Ministry said around 1,000 migrants will be relocated to the mainland next week. But island authorities said that this will not adequately ease conditions at the overcrowded facilities. Samos Mayor Michalis Angelopoulos on Thursday appealed for European Union support during a meeting of regional authority officials in Strasbourg. He said the Aegean islands “cannot bear the burden of the refugee problem which is threatening to divide Europe.” There are divisions on the islands too. On Sunday rival groups are planning demonstrations on Samos – far-right extremists to protest the growing migrant population and leftists to protest the EU’s “anti-migrant” policy.

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When you think money is more valuable than life.

Global Pollution Kills Millions, Threatens ‘Survival Of Human Societies’ (G.)

Pollution kills at least nine million people and costs trillions of dollars every year, according to the most comprehensive global analysis to date, which warns the crisis “threatens the continuing survival of human societies”. Toxic air, water, soils and workplaces are responsible for the diseases that kill one in every six people around the world, the landmark report found, and the true total could be millions higher because the impact of many pollutants are poorly understood. The deaths attributed to pollution are triple those from Aids, malaria and tuberculosis combined. The vast majority of the pollution deaths occur in poorer nations and in some, such as India, Chad and Madagascar, pollution causes a quarter of all deaths. The international researchers said this burden is a hugely expensive drag on developing economies.

Rich nations still have work to do to tackle pollution: the US and Japan are in the top 10 for deaths from “modern” forms of pollution, ie fossil fuel-related air pollution and chemical pollution. But the scientists said that the big improvements that have been made in developed nations in recent decades show that beating pollution is a winnable battle if there is the political will. “Pollution is one of the great existential challenges of the [human-dominated] Anthropocene era,” concluded the authors of the Commission on Pollution and Health, published in the Lancet on Friday. “Pollution endangers the stability of the Earth’s support systems and threatens the continuing survival of human societies.”

Prof Philip Landrigan, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, US, who co-led the commission, said: “We fear that with nine million deaths a year, we are pushing the envelope on the amount of pollution the Earth can carry.” For example, he said, air pollution deaths in south-east Asia are on track to double by 2050. Landrigan said the scale of deaths from pollution had surprised the researchers and that two other “real shockers” stood out. First was how quickly modern pollution deaths were rising, while “traditional” pollution deaths – from contaminated water and wood cooking fires – were falling as development work bears fruit. “Secondly, we hadn’t really got our minds around how much pollution is not counted in the present tally,” he said. “The current figure of nine million is almost certainly an underestimate, probably by several million.”

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Oct 172017
 
 October 17, 2017  Posted by at 8:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Rembrandt An Old Scholar Near a Window in a Vaulted Room 1631

 

Asset Prices & Monetary Policy in an Irrational World (Whalen)
Central Banks Will Cause An Orgy of Blood (Clarmond)
Global Central Banking Leadership Flux Looms (R.)
Kobe Steel Faked Quality Data For Decades (Nikkei)
China’s Impact on Global Markets is About to Get Much Bigger (BBG)
China’s Banks Are Bingeing on Bonds Despite Debt Crackdown (BBG)
China Has Only Taken Baby Steps to Cut Leverage (BBG)
Investigations of Wall Street Have Disappeared from Corporate Media (Martens)
MIT Economist Andrew Lo Wants You To Realize That Traders Are Animals (BW)
Varoufakis Tells Macron To Adopt The ‘Empty-chair’ Tactic (EuA)
The Kurds Have No Friends But The Mountains (David Graeber)
Malta Car Bomb Kills Panama Papers Journalist (G.)
IMF Chief Calls For Implementation Of Greek Program, Debt Relief (K.)
2,000 Refugees, Migrants Landed in Greece Since October 1 (GR)

 

 

“.. the logical and unavoidable result of the end of QE is that asset prices must fall and excessive debt must be reduced.”

Asset Prices & Monetary Policy in an Irrational World (Whalen)

[..] Let’s wind the clock back two decades to December 1996. The Labor Department had just reported a “blowout” jobs report. Then-Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan had just completed a decade in office. He made a now famous speech at American Enterprise Institute wherein Greenspan asked if “irrational exuberance” had begun to play a role in the increase of certain asset prices. He said:

“Clearly, sustained low inflation implies less uncertainty about the future, and lower risk premiums imply higher prices of stocks and other earning assets. We can see that in the inverse relationship exhibited by price/earnings ratios and the rate of inflation in the past. But how do we know when irrational exuberance has unduly escalated asset values, which then become subject to unexpected and prolonged contractions as they have in Japan over the past decade? And how do we factor that assessment into monetary policy? We as central bankers need not be concerned if a collapsing financial asset bubble does not threaten to impair the real economy, its production, jobs, and price stability. Indeed, the sharp stock market break of 1987 had few negative consequences for the economy. But we should not underestimate or become complacent about the complexity of the interactions of asset markets and the economy. Thus, evaluating shifts in balance sheets generally, and in asset prices particularly, must be an integral part of the development of monetary policy.”

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the FOMC abandoned its focus on the productive sector and essentially substituted exuberant monetary policy for the irrational behavior of investors in the roaring 2000s. In place of banks and other intermediaries pushing up assets prices, we instead have seen almost a decade of “quantitative easing” by the FOMC doing much the same thing. And all of this in the name of boosting the real economy?

The Federal Reserve System, joined by the Bank of Japan and the ECB, artificially increased assets prices in a coordinated effort not to promote growth, but avoid debt deflation. Unfortunately, without an increase in income to match the artificial rise in assets prices, the logical and unavoidable result of the end of QE is that asset prices must fall and excessive debt must be reduced. Stocks, commercial real estate and many other asset classes have been vastly inflated by the actions of global central banks. Assuming that these central bankers actually understand the implications of their actions, which are nicely summarized by Greenspan’s remarks some 20 years ago, then the obvious conclusion is that there is no way to “normalize” monetary policy without seeing a significant, secular decline in asset prices. The image below illustrates the most recent meeting of the FOMC.

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Great piece of history.

Central Banks Will Cause An Orgy of Blood (Clarmond)

The Bank of Japan’s current path provides an ominous reminder of a similar era 80 years ago. These policies, which are also being followed by the other world central banks, will lead to disaster. “One man – one kill” railed Inoue Nissho, leader of the Ketsumeidan (the Blood Pledge Corps), a Japanese ultranationalist group of the 1930s committed to cleansing the country of ‘traitors’ – the leaders of business and government. The first name on their death list was Inoue Junnosuke, a former Finance Minister, an austerity advocate and former governor of the Bank of Japan (BOJ); he was shot as he visited a nursery school. The next name was Dan Takuma, head of the Mitsui Group, the Japanese Goldman Sachs; he was shot in front of his office in the fashionable Nihonbashi district.

Further attacks on the BOJ and Mitsubishi Bank followed but were unsuccessful. The “world of cosmopolitan finance had collided with nationalist resentment.” The liberal elite was stunned, unable to provide answers to the social turmoil of the time; and with the establishment paralysed, the public began to sympathise with the killers’ aims. Enter Finance Minister Takahashi Korekiyo. He placated the nationalists by championing massive deficit financing, via the BOJ, to pull Japan out of its economic morass. Japan’s economy soon embarked on a period of economic growth with stable prices, full employment and humming factories, an “economic nirvana.” Seven decades later these results were heralded a success by another central banker trying a similar trick – Ben Bernanke. Korekiyo’s plan was to fund government spending by having the BOJ directly purchase all the government-issued bonds.

The hope was that, when conditions and inflation improved, the bonds would be sold back into the market. Four years later, the BOJ’s balance sheet was 90% of GDP, and the economy (and for “economy” read military) was totally dependent on government spending financed by the BOJ. As the first modest hint of inflation arrived Korekiyo attempted to sell government bonds publicly, but the auction failed. With this failure it became clear that the bonds which had been stuffed onto the BOJ’s balance sheet could never be sold. Korekiyo’s struggle to ‘cut up the credit card’ culminated in him suffering a similar fate to Junnosuke and being cut up in an attack of army machetes. As the BOJ’s balance sheet crossed 100% of GDP, there could be no turning back, the road to conflict had been primed by the BOJ’s swollen balance sheet and the money that had flooded into the military.

The current Bank of Japan’s balance sheet has now again crossed that fabled 100% of GDP and it is getting close to owning 45% of outstanding government bonds. There is no end in sight with the BOJ buying $60 billion a month of government debt. At this current pace the modern BOJ will by 2019 be the proud owner of 60% of the local bond market. There is no longer a market price for a Japanese Government Bond, it is an asset whose price is set by the BOJ. The key difference between today and the 1930s is that Japan now has an open capital account, therefore the only untethered market price is the currency. The Yen’s continued devaluation will be deep and comprehensive, while Japanese equities will continue to rise, adjusting to the currency loss.

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Musical chairs. Won’t change a thing.

Global Central Banking Leadership Flux Looms (R.)

The leaders of the world’s top central banks who risked trillions of dollars and their reputations to rescue the global economy are now set to walk off stage at a time when the lingering effects of the crisis, evolving technology and a combustible political landscape will challenge their successors. The Fed, the Bank of Japan and the People’s Bank of China may all have new bosses in early 2018 and there will be a new head of the ECB the following year. The new leaders will have to deal with the hangover from the 2007-2009 crisis and its immediate aftermath as well as newly emerging risks. Some $10 trillion in assets bought by the Fed, the ECB and the BOJ to prop up their economies remains on the books and will have to be pared back. Stubbornly low global inflation and weak growth complicate the return to more conventional policies.

There are unfinished reforms in China and Europe, while the rise of nationalism could erode central bank independence. Further ahead, the spread of cryptocurrencies and other technologies threatens to weaken central bank control over the financial system. “The bad news is that in a crisis people learn by doing,” said Vincent Reinhart, chief economist at investment firm Standish Mellon and a longtime official at the Federal Reserve. “Will the next set of people have the set of experiences that allows them to do that? Will they have a test?” The changing of the guard could veer in unpredictable directions. China’s president is considering a provincial official to succeed Zhou Xiaochuan, a veteran policymaker who has led the central bank since 2002 and whom analysts regard as a champion of reforms that could falter without his leadership.

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Even had a fraud manual. This keeps growing by the day.

Kobe Steel Faked Quality Data For Decades (Nikkei)

Product quality data was falsified for decades at some Kobe Steel plants in Japan, well beyond the roughly 10-year time frame given by the steelmaker, a source with knowledge of the situation said Monday. Employees involved in the data manipulation used the industry term tokusai to refer to shipping of products that did not meet the standards requested by customers, the source said. Though tokusai usually refers to voluntary acceptance of such products, plants sometimes sent substandard goods without customers’ consent. The word was apparently in use at some plants for 40 to 50 years. The cheating procedures eventually became institutionalized in what was essentially a tacit fraud manual, allowing the practice to continue as managers came and went. Data manipulation may have occurred with the knowledge of plant foremen and quality control managers. Some shipments even came with forged inspection certificates.

Kobe Steel has tapped senior officials in the aluminum and copper business – where most of the misconduct took place – to serve on its board. How far up the chain of command knowledge of the fraud may have extended in the past remains an open question. Systemic data falsification took place at four Japanese production sites. The scandal has spread to the manufacturer’s mainstay steel business, with revelations Friday that steel wire was also shipped without inspection or with faked certificates. The number of affected customers has swelled from around 200 to roughly 500. Kobe Steel has said it will complete safety inspections for already shipped products in two weeks or so. A report on the causes of the fraud and measures to prevent a recurrence will come out in a month or so. The steelmaker is conducting a groupwide probe that includes interviews with former senior officials.

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Yeah, when its Ponzi collapses.

China’s Impact on Global Markets is About to Get Much Bigger (BBG)

China’s ascension as an economic superstar over the past three-plus decades is out of sync with its heft in global financial markets. But things are starting to change, and investors around the world will feel the difference. China makes up more than one-seventh of the global economy, yet its footprint in international portfolios is ludicrously small, with overseas investors owning less than 2% of its domestic stocks and bonds. But its insulated markets are slowly becoming more integrated, as President Xi Jinping loosens rules on foreign participation. That push could get further backing at the Communist Party’s twice-a-decade congress this month, where the leadership will set policy priorities for the coming five years.

China’s capacity to influence global financial markets has been growing incrementally, but the pivotal moment came in 2015, when the yuan’s unexpected devaluation rocked assets worldwide, showing investors beyond Asia that China’s markets are a force to be reckoned with. The surprise move saw the yuan slide the most in two decades on Aug. 11, 2015, as Beijing sought to shore up economic growth and make China’s exports more competitive. Following on from a Chinese stock rout in mid-2015 that also had a ripple effect globally, the devaluation rattled risk assets for weeks as it was seen as an admission the economy was struggling. Fast forward to 2017, and China’s clout has only expanded, with its lion’s share of global trade making the managed yuan an anchor for currencies throughout Asia.

The nation’s status as both the world’s biggest exporter and the largest market of consumers means policy tweaks in Beijing can affect prices for everything from beef to bitcoin. Trading on Shanghai’s commodity futures market is taking on increasing influence beyond China’s borders. The country’s pivot away from the smokestack industries that have been its growth engine for decades toward high-tech production is already shifting the global landscape for manufacturing and consumption. At the same time, China is looking to draw in more foreign capital by opening conduits to its equity and bond markets, among the largest in the world. That makes the 19th party congress, where Xi will unveil the party’s vision for China over the next five years, key for even the most peripheral of investors.

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It’s almost funny.

China’s Banks Are Bingeing on Bonds Despite Debt Crackdown (BBG)

China’s banks are still bingeing on short-term financing, defying analyst predictions that they would wean themselves off such debt as regulators intensify a crackdown on leverage. Sales of negotiable certificates of deposit — a key funding source for medium and smaller banks — surged 49% from a year ago in the third quarter to a record 5.4 trillion yuan ($819 billion), according to data compiled by Bloomberg. While strategists had predicted in June that the NCD market would shrink, it turned out to be one of the few funding channels left as officials drained cash from the interbank market and asked lenders to strengthen risk controls. China’s deleveraging looms large in debt-market dynamics these days, with government bond yields at two-year highs and the one-week Shanghai Interbank Offered Rate not far from the most expensive since 2015.

Still, officials are also trying to keep the economy humming: they’ve tweaked the rules governing NCD issuance, but haven’t shut off the taps as credit growth accelerates. “The short-term debt is an indispensable fundraising channel for smaller banks,” said Shen Bifan, head of research at First Capital Securities Co.’s fixed-income department in Shenzhen. “As other channels get squeezed, and lenders’ books continue to expand, as is the case now amid solid economic growth, it’d be difficult to see the NCD market size shrink.” Net financing – sales minus maturities – through such securities was at 333 billion yuan in the third quarter, versus a total of 1.7 trillion yuan in the first half, data compiled by Bloomberg show. With more than 8 trillion yuan of contracts outstanding, it’s now the fourth-largest type of bond in China, after sovereign, local government and policy bank debt.

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Xi only talks the talk.

China Has Only Taken Baby Steps to Cut Leverage (BBG)

China has taken “baby steps” toward cutting leverage as lending from banks slows, but progress has been uneven as borrowing by households and the government has risen, according to S&P Global Ratings. Authorities are adopting both tight and loose policies to try to reduce the country’s dependency on debt without causing a hard landing, analysts led by Christopher Lee wrote in a note dated Oct. 16. S&P last month cut China’s sovereign rating for the first time since 1999, saying it didn’t believe enough was being done to contain credit growth.

The next big test is whether companies can withstand higher funding costs as financial conditions tighten, according to S&P. “Smaller and less-capitalized banks may feel the liquidity squeeze and pressures on their capital, leading to distress; and default risks could also increase for the local government financing vehicles,” the analysts wrote. “Passing the baton of credit-fueled growth in recent years to households also has many obvious risks,” such as a correction in the property market hurting consumption, they said.

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One system.

Investigations of Wall Street Have Disappeared from Corporate Media (Martens)

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. bought Dow Jones & Company in late 2007 after a century of ownership by the Bancroft family. The purchase just happened to come at a time when the Federal Reserve had secretly begun to funnel what would end up totaling $16 trillion in cumulative low-cost loans to bail out the Wall Street mega banks and their foreign counterparts. In 2011, the Pew Research Center released a study on how front page coverage had changed since the News Corp. purchase of the Wall Street Journal. Pew found that “coverage has clearly moved away from what had been the paper’s core mission under previous ownership—covering business and corporate America. In the past three and a half years, front-page coverage of business is down about one-third from what it had been in 2007, the last year of the old ownership regime.”

What is not down but “up” at the Wall Street Journal is its defense of the Wall Street banking giants’ indefensible practices on its editorial and opinion pages. One of the most striking examples of the changing face of corporate media coverage of Wall Street was an October 20, 2013 editorial in the Wall Street Journal headlined:“The Morgan Shakedown.” The unsigned editorial began with this: “The tentative $13 billion settlement that the Justice Department appears to be extracting from J.P. Morgan Chase needs to be understood as a watershed moment in American capitalism. Federal law enforcers are confiscating roughly half of a company’s annual earnings for no other reason than because they can and because they want to appease their left-wing populist allies.”

Actually, there was a very good reason for the $13 billion settlement – but the intrepid investigative reporting on that subject would be done by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone – not by the paper still calling itself the “Wall Street” Journal. Taibbi revealed that the U.S. Justice Department had actually settled on the cheap and had failed to reveal to the public that it had the most credible of eyewitnesses to mortgage fraud at JPMorgan Chase – a securities attorney who worked there and had reported the fraud to her supervisors. The attorney, Alayne Fleischmann, told Taibbi that what she witnessed in JPMorgan’s mortgage operations was “massive criminal securities fraud.”

Taibbi’s in-depth report on the matter made the editorial board at the Wall Street Journal appear naïve or captured by Wall Street. It raised the added embarrassing question as to why the Wall Street Journal was out of touch with the details of the Justice Department’s investigation.

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This year’s Fauxbel for human behavior, next year’s for animal behavior?

MIT Economist Andrew Lo Wants You To Realize That Traders Are Animals (BW)

Every reigning theory of finance has holes. The efficient-markets hypothesis says markets are rational and self-regulating, but it doesn’t account for crashes and crises; behavioral finance blames market breakdowns on investors’ short-term thinking, but it fails to account for group dynamics or predict future markets. Andrew Lo spent his early career studying these flaws. Lo, 57, is the Charles E. and Susan T. Harris professor of finance at the MIT Sloan School of Management, but he’s always been a multidisciplinarian. At the Bronx High School of Science, he excelled in biology, physics, chemistry, and mathematics and liked solving broad problems. “I just really enjoyed the dynamics across all these fields,” he says. “I never thought of myself as, I am an economist or I’m a statistician.”

Eighteen years into his research, Lo had a major insight. One day in 1999 his 4-year-old son took off running toward a gorilla cage at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. “The mother gorilla jumped right in and growled,” he says. “And as soon as she did that, I did the same thing. I ran to my child and brought him back.” The similarity of their reactions startled Lo and caused him to wonder: Could there be other similarities in the way people and animals react to danger and risk? The insight eventually led to the adaptive-markets hypothesis. “Right now, we tend to collect prices and assume that those are the only things that matter” to predict investor behavior, Lo says, whereas an ecologist would try to understand investors as a population—which means accounting for their animal instincts. Lo’s hypothesis says people act in their own self-interest but frequently make mistakes, figure out where they’ve erred, and change their behaviors.

The broader system also adapts. These complex interactions contribute to our booms and busts. Lo’s book-length exploration of the idea, Adaptive Markets, came out in February. Says Ben Golub, a founding partner at BlackRock Inc. and now co-head of the company’s risk and quantitative analysis group: “It makes you realize that at any time in the market, the people who are there are not there by accident.” Some people survived the last financial crisis and might be more risk-averse, and some people who’ve joined since might be more risk-tolerant. “The cautious guys survive for a while and then get pushed out by the more aggressive risk takers, who then get thrown out when the thing blows up in their faces,” Golub says. He’s made the book required reading for many BlackRock employees.

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“Varoufakis plans to run for the 2019 European elections, even if he says the European Parliament “is not a real parliament.” But he wants to run in Germany, “to show that federalism is possible, and also that Germany’s current politics is harmful for Germans.”

Varoufakis Tells Macron To Adopt The ‘Empty-chair’ Tactic (EuA)

More than fifty years ago, in 1965, French President Charles de Gaulle withdrew his ministers from the Council of the EU, de facto vetoing all decisions. According to Yanis Varoufakis, former finance minister for Greece, Macron should consider refreshing this tactic – but for the opposite reason. De Gaulle was defending nation states, while Macron wants to push federalism forward. “Macron has got some good ideas, but he already lost, he is done, belittled by Germany” who refuses to create a budget for the Eurozone, according to the economist, who spoke to the French press in Paris. According to him, the success of the far-right party AfD in September’s parliamentary election gives Germany the perfect excuse to retrench on this dossier. And the European Monetary Fund, proposed by Germany as an alternative to a Eurozone budget, is a sham and not a real compromise, according to Varoufakis.

The only way to force Germany into siding with France on relaunching the federalist process is the empty-chair tactic, he says. A form of “constructive disobedience” [..] “Trying to achieve a permanent reduction of the public deficit under 3% of GDP is nonsensical. It is not a problem to run a public deficit: Arizona will always have one, especially if compared to California. In a federation, this happens a lot. But in the case of France, current public spending will condemn the country to permanent stagnation, because the German industry has a monopoly of numerous markets”, he says. The real priority according to him is investment, which should be raised to €500 billion per year. “The Juncker plan is a farce,” he said.

Without a eurozone budget to relaunch the federalist project, the economist proposes that the European Investment Bank (BEI) issue green bonds to finance large infrastructure projects in clean energy and transport – and that the ECB buys them. “We don’t need to change the treaties. It is already feasible – it is just a question of achieving the consensus of the EIB’s board.” On the type of projects that should be financed, Varoufakis echoes Macron who spoke about a way to cross the old continent without polluting: he would like to develop a railway network from the East to the West as well as invest in clean energy. While he sides with Macron’s federalist elements, including a transnational list for the 2019 European elections, Varoufakis is also very critical of his first steps.

“The speech he gave in Greece was pathetic. Coming to tell us that Greece is out of the crisis is an insult, and speaking from [Athens’ Acropolis] where countless dictators spoke to Greeks adds insult to injury,” said the economist. Varoufakis plans to run for the 2019 European elections, even if he says the European Parliament “is not a real parliament.” But he wants to run in Germany, “to show that federalism is possible, and also that Germany’s current politics is harmful for Germans.”

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Excellent and very educational.

The Kurds Have No Friends But The Mountains (David Graeber)

“The Kurds have no friends but the mountains” — that’s what Mehmet Aksoy used to say. But Mehmet, who was killed Sept. 26 during an attack by the Islamic State in northern Syria, was my friend, and a tireless advocate of the Kurdish freedom movement. He was working on an essay that began with those words when he died. He often used that adage to explain the plight of his people, who have long been used or mistreated by the very powers that claim to spread democracy and freedom through the world. I first met Mehmet at a Kurdish demonstration in London, where he lived. I had come because of my interest in direct democratic movements like the one the Syrian Kurds were building, but ended up feeling as if I was lurking, out of place at the fringe of the gathering, until he walked up and introduced himself.

I came to know him as I’ve now heard many in the community did, as kind and unassuming but somehow larger than life, always juggling a dozen projects, films, essays, events and political actions. Now I think it’s important to tell people about his last project, his writing on the conflict in Kurdistan, so that more of us understand what’s at stake there. He was writing in the shadow of a referendum taking place in neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan that everyone knew would end with a strong endorsement of an independent Kurdish state. But the Syrian Kurdish freedom movement that Mehmet represents has pursued an entirely different vision from that of the Kurds in Iraq: It does not wish to change the borders of states but simply to ignore them and to build grass-roots democracy at the community level.

It frustrated Mehmet that the endless sacrifices of Kurdish fighters against the Islamic State in cities across Syria are being mistakenly seen as justification of more borders and more divisions rather than for less. Too often in the Western news media, the Kurds are grouped together as one homogeneous people, with Syrian Kurds often an afterthought of late because of the attention the Iraqi Kurds have received for their referendum. But the Kurds in these two countries have built very different political systems. The Syrian Kurds have built a coalition with Arabs, Syriacs, Christians and others in the northern slice of Syria that they call Rojava (or, more officially, the The Democratic Federation of Northern Syria.).

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RIP. May your courage shine on others.

Malta Car Bomb Kills Panama Papers Journalist (G.)

The journalist who led the Panama Papers investigation into corruption in Malta was killed on Monday in a car bomb near her home. Daphne Caruana Galizia died on Monday afternoon when her car, a Peugeot 108, was destroyed by a powerful explosive device which blew the vehicle into several pieces and threw the debris into a nearby field. A blogger whose posts often attracted more readers than the combined circulation of the country’s newspapers, Caruana Galizia was recently described by the Politico website as a “one-woman WikiLeaks”. Her blogs were a thorn in the side of both the establishment and underworld figures that hold sway in Europe’s smallest member state.

Her most recent revelations pointed the finger at Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, and two of his closest aides, connecting offshore companies linked to the three men with the sale of Maltese passports and payments from the government of Azerbaijan. No group or individual has come forward to claim responsibility for the attack. Malta’s president, Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, called for calm. “In these moments, when the country is shocked by such a vicious attack, I call on everyone to measure their words, to not pass judgment and to show solidarity,” she said. After a fraught general election this summer, commentators had been fearing a return to the political violence that scarred Malta during the 1980s.

In a statement, Muscat condemned the “barbaric attack”, saying he had asked police to reach out to other countries’ security services for help identifying the perpetrators. [..] Caruana Galizia, who claimed to have no political affiliations, set her sights on a wide range of targets, from banks facilitating money laundering to links between Malta’s online gaming industry and the Mafia. Over the last two years, her reporting had largely focused on revelations from the Panama Papers, a cache of 11.5m documents leaked from the internal database of the world’s fourth largest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca.

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This is theater. And it’s empty.

IMF Chief Calls For Implementation Of Greek Program, Debt Relief (K.)

Managing Director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, has praised Greece’s progress on reforms while saying that implementation of the adjustment program coupled with an agreement on debt relief are key to leading the debt-wracked country out of the crisis. The IMF chief made the comments after a meeting with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Washington Monday to discuss recent developments in Greece and key issues ahead. “I was very pleased to welcome Prime Minister Tsipras to the IMF today. I complimented him and the Greek people on the notable progress Greece has achieved in the implementation of difficult policies, including recent pension and income tax reforms. We had an excellent and productive meeting,” Lagarde said in a statement after the meeting.

“The IMF recently approved in principle a new arrangement to support Greece’s policy program. Resolute implementation of this program, together with an agreement with Greece’s European partners on debt relief, are essential to support Greece’s return to sustainable growth and a successful exit from official financing next year,” Lagarde said. “The prime minister and I are committed to working together towards this goal,” she said. In his comments, Tsipras said that “after several years of economic recession Greece has turned a page.” The Greek prime minister said that it is in everyone’s interest to wrap up the third bailout review as swiftly as possible.

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Numbers rising as we speak.

2,000 Refugees, Migrants Landed in Greece Since October 1 (GR)

A total of 1,877 migrants and refugees crossed into the northern Aegean islands from the Turkish coast during the first 15 days of October. According to official figures, 1,148 have arrived in Lesvos; 572 in Chios, and 117 in Samos. In addition to this, on Monday morning, 44 people arrived in Lesvos and 157 in Chios. Between October 1 and 13, the Turkish coast guard announced that it had located 25 incidents involving dinghies with migrants and refugees on board, that had attempted to reach the Greek waters. 907 people have been returned back to Turkey.

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Sep 292017
 
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Pablo Picasso Weeping woman 1937

 

US Inequality Near Historic Highs, Wages Stagnant (BI)
UBS Indentifies 8 Cities With Biggest Housing Bubbles (ZH)
Chinese Money Is Still Leaking Into the World’s Housing Markets (BBG)
China’s Bitcoin Market Alive And Well As Traders Defy Crackdown (R.)
China Orders North Korean Companies Active In The Country To Shut Down (BBG)
The Closing Of The Catalan Polling Stations (EI)
French Vineyards Robbed Of Seven Tonnes Of Grapes (AFP)
Schäuble Leaves But Schäuble-ism Lives On (Varoufakis)
Over Half Of All Greek Enterprises Are In The Red (K.)
Surge In Migration To Greece Fuels Misery In Refugee Camps (G.)
China’s Love of Meat Is Driving Global Antibiotic Usage (BBG)
Tropical Forests Don’t Absorb Carbon. They Emit As Much As All US Transit (Q.)

 

 

Economy out of balance.

US Inequality Near Historic Highs, Wages Stagnant (BI)

There is a reason so many Americans feel the economy’s recovery from the Great Recession has not benefited them: It hasn’t. An expansion that began, believe it or not, more than seven years ago has extended a longer-run trend of wage stagnation for the average US worker, despite a sharp drop in the official unemployment rate to 4.4% from an October 2009 peak of 10%. No wonder the recovery seems so lopsided, particularly given economic inequality levels not seen since before the Great Depression. A new report from the Hamilton Project, an economic-policy initiative of the Brookings Institution in Washington, offers a range of startling figures and charts that paints a rather dramatic picture of US economic disparities. “The U.S. economy has experienced long-term real wage stagnation and a persistent lack of economic progress for many workers,” wrote Jay Shambaugh, a White House economist under President Barack Obama who now heads the Hamilton Project.

After adjusting for inflation, wages are just 10% higher in 2017 than they were in 1973, amounting to real annual wage growth of just below 0.2% a year, the report says. [..] One big source of the problem: Starting around the 1970s, US productivity growth began rising much more rapidly than workers’ compensation — meaning the share of growth was accumulating increasingly in corporate profits at the expense of pay. The report attributes this both to the increasing role of technology in the workplace but also to a loss of bargaining power brought on by anti-union labor policies and other wage-suppressing measures. “Changes in worker bargaining power, competition within and across industries, and globalization can all influence the share of output workers receive,” the report said.

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What happened to Auckland?

UBS Indentifies 8 Cities With Biggest Housing Bubbles (ZH)

Two years ago, when UBS looked at the world’s most expensive housing markets, it found that London and Hong Kong were the only two areas exposed to bubble risk. What a difference just a couple of years makes, because in the latest report by UBS wealth Management, which compiles the bank’s Global Real Estate Bubble Index, it found that eight of the world’s largest cities are now subject to a massive speculative housing bubble. And while perpetually low mortgage rates are clearly to blame for the rapid ascent of home prices, Chinese money laundering operations clearly seem to also be playing a role as their favorite markets of Vancouver, Toronto and Sydney all made this year’s list. Bubble risk seems greatest in Toronto, where it has increased significantly in the last year.

Stockholm, Munich, Vancouver, Sydney, London and Hong Kong all remain in risk territory, with Amsterdam joining this group after being overvalued last year. Valuations are stretched in Paris, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Zurich, Frankfurt, Tokyo and Geneva as well. In contrast, property markets in Boston, Singapore, New York and Milan seem fairly valued, while Chicago remains undervalued, just as it was last year. Price bubbles are a regularly recurring phenomenon in property markets. The term “bubble” refers to a substantial and sustained mispricing of an asset, the existence of which cannot be proved unless it bursts. But recurring patterns of property market excesses are observable in the historical data. Typical signs include a decoupling of prices from local incomes and rents, and distortions of the real economy, such as excessive lending and construction activity. The UBS Global Real Estate Bubble Index gauges the risk of a property bubble on the basis of such patterns.

As UBS points out, artificially low interest rates in Europe, for example, have kept mortgage payments below their 10-year average despite real prices surging 30% since 2007. Falling mortgage rates over the last decade have made buying a home vastly more attractive, which increased average willingness to pay for home ownership. In European cities, for example, the annual usage costs for apartments (mortgage interest payments and amortization) are still below their 10-year average, despite real prices escalating 30% since 2007. In Canada and Australia, too, a large part of the negative impact of higher purchase prices on affordability was cushioned by low mortgage rates.

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Xi must watch his reserves.

Chinese Money Is Still Leaking Into the World’s Housing Markets (BBG)

Tighter capital controls have done little to dent the appetite of Chinese buyers who already helped drive prices higher across the globe. While definitive data are hard to come by, real estate brokers including Knight Frank LLP, Savills Plc and domestic firm Shiju report rising purchases of overseas property this year. What’s changed is that the curbs have prompted buyers to look for cheaper homes in smaller cities, making down payments more manageable. Part of the reason for the unhindered overseas purchases could be that authorities have already succeeded in stemming capital outflows after cracking down on the most acquisitive companies. That eases the need to enforce limits on individuals, a more difficult and costly process, said Steven Zhang at Morgan Stanley Huaxin. “It’s a question of cost and benefit,” Zhang said.

Since the start of 2017, Chinese applying for their $50,000-a-year foreign-exchange quotas must sign pledges that the money won’t be used for real estate. Violators face a range of potential sanctions. [..] The impact of the increased currency scrutiny has been on the size rather than the quantity of deals. At real estate portal Juwai.com, the average price of overseas properties Chinese buyers inquired about dropped to just over $292,000 this year from more than $356,000 in 2016. Some buyers are eschewing pricey hubs like New York for less-expensive areas such as Florida and Texas, according to Eric Lam, chief executive of Shiju, the overseas broker unit of Shenzhen World Union Properties. They’re typically spending up to 3 million yuan ($450,000) for U.S. homes, and as much as 2 million yuan for U.K. properties, prices that make for manageable down payments using exchange quotas, Lam said.

Jones Lang LaSalle said it was mainly selling U.K. homes, often below $500,000, and Cushman & Wakefield also highlighted surging Chinese demand for British property after the pound weakened following the Brexit vote. [..] The undimmed appetite suggests Chinese money could continue to put upward pressure on prices, a trend that’s stoked concern among locals in cities from Vancouver to Sydney. Chinese buyers, mainly from the mainland but also from Taiwan and Hong Kong, spent a record $31.7 billion on U.S. residential properties in the year through March 31, remaining the biggest foreign force in the market.

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The crackdown doesn’t come into effect until October.

China’s Bitcoin Market Alive And Well As Traders Defy Crackdown (R.)

Weeks after Beijing banned fundraising through token launches and ordered some bitcoin exchanges to shut, casting a chill over the cryptocurrency industry, traders say that the market is far from dead. While several exchanges have announced that they will close by the end of this month, traders have now moved to buy and sell bitcoin directly with each other on peer-to-peer marketplaces and messenger apps. Industry insiders say some overseas-based initial coin offerings (ICOs) are still being marketed. Although the crackdown has dissuaded large swathes of less-experienced investors from participating in the trade, market participants point to the limits Chinese regulators ultimately face in controlling the industry, where many users are anonymous and difficult to track.

In the short-run, the crackdown has also created an arbitrage opportunity for investors, with the price of bitcoin in China now trading at a discount to overseas exchanges. “They can’t set rules to stop me from investing in what I want to invest in. They say you are protecting me, but as long as I think this is good, they have no way to intervene,” said a Chinese bitcoin investor named Victor, who declined to give his full name citing current sensitivities. [..] “The fact that bitcoin is still being traded is an indication that China isn’t looking to eliminate them, but reposition things in a way to have better control over them,” said Marshall Swatt, the founder of New York-based Coinsetter, a bitcoin exchange acquired by larger peer San Francisco-based Kraken in 2016.

Other Chinese cryptocurrency players said traders were also moving away from using Tencent’s WeChat app, to encrypted messenger app Telegram to avoid regulatory scrutiny. Some said they were still seeing overseas-based ICOs being marketed in China. The Sept. 4 shutdown of ICOs stipulated that Chinese citizens were not allowed to invest in ICOs. Overseas ICOs have been returning money on a voluntary basis.

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That’s going to hurt.

China Orders North Korean Companies Active In The Country To Shut Down (BBG)

China ordered North Korean companies active in the country to shut down as it seeks to implement United Nations’ sanctions against the hermetic regime. Joint ventures between Chinese firms and North Korean entities and individuals will also have to close, according to a statement on the website of China’s Ministry of Commerce Thursday. Companies are required to cease business within 120 days of Sept. 12 – the day after the UN passed new sanctions aimed at punishing North Korea for its latest missile and nuclear tests. Non-profit and non-commercial public utility and infrastructure projects are not subject to the order, the ministry said. The move comes ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to China at the weekend. North Korea is among topics to be discussed with senior Chinese leaders, along with President Donald Trump’s planned trip to the region and trade and investment issues, the State Department said in a statement on Wednesday.

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Please keep the peace.

The Closing Of The Catalan Polling Stations (EI)

As we reported yesterday, the Catalan head prosecutor has instructed the regional police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, to seal the designated polling stations for Sunday’s independence referendum by Friday. This may not be easy. The radical left separatist party CUP is calling for the seals to be broken, and there will be attempts to organise sit-ins at the polling stations before the police comes to seal them, which would force the police to clear the sit-in. As we noted yesterday they are about 2,700 polling stations in a Catalan election, which stretches the police’s ability to cover them all simultaneously. The Mossos have responded officially that they will act proportionately, and that there is a risk that sealing the polling places may lead to public unrest. In addition, they are demanding a court order – not just an instruction from the prosecutor – to seal the polling stations.

The Catalan government says that the police is there to guarantee order so that people can exercise their right to vote, while the Spanish government says the police is there to prevent illegal acts from being carried out. The Catalan premier has convened the region’s public safety board, which includes representatives of the Spanish interior minister who will be in attendance. The interior minister had previously set up security coordination meetings for all the Spanish and Catalan police forces, which the Mossos resent as they result in putting them under command of the national police. We have also reported that Mariano Rajoy will miss tomorrow’s informal EU summit in Tallinn, which starts today with a dinner, ostensibly on account of the Catalan referendum. The referendum is scheduled for Sunday. We wonder whether Mariano Rajoy feels he needs to be in Spain on the Friday just in case unrest breaks out.

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Sounds like a lot. The French are serious about wine.

French Vineyards Robbed Of Seven Tonnes Of Grapes (AFP)

At least seven tonnes of grapes have been stolen in the dead of night from vineyards in France’s prime winegrowing region of Bordeaux, following a disastrous yield blamed on poor weather, police say. Three vineyards have had grapes and even whole vines stolen since mid-September, police said on Wednesday. They said about six and a half tonnes of grapes disappeared from a vineyard in Genissac near the world-famous Saint Emilion region, adding that the theft was clearly committed by professional vintners. Between 600 and 700kg (1,300 and 1,500lb) of grapes were stolen from a vineyard in Pomerol, which produces top quality reds. Thieves also uprooted 500 vines from a vineyard in nearby Montagne, police said.

A fourth grape robbery took place in Lalande-de-Pomerol, according to a local press report. Thieves making away with grapes is not a new phenomenon but it has surged this year apparently because of a very low yield. “There’s a great temptation to help oneself from [the vineyard] next door,” an industry expert told AFP on condition of anonymity. France faces its poorest wine harvest since 1945 after an unusually mild March and frosty April, experts said last month, although a hot summer promises to deliver top vintages. The agriculture ministry said output was expected to total 37.2m hectolitres (983m US gallons), 18% less than 2016 and 17% below the average over the past five years.

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Merkel already sold off Greece to please her bankers. Now she’s planning to make things worse in order to cement a coalition.

Schäuble Leaves But Schäuble-ism Lives On (Varoufakis)

Wolfgang Schäuble may have left the finance ministry but his policy for turning the eurozone into an iron cage of austerity, that is the very antithesis of a democratic federation, lives on. What is remarkable about Dr Schäuble’s tenure was how he invested heavily in maintaining the fragility of the monetary union, rather than eradicating it in order to render the eurozone macro-economically sustainable and resilient. Why did Dr Schäuble aim at maintaining the eurozone’s fragility? Why was he, in this context, ever so keen to maintain the threat of Grexit? The simple answer is: Because a state of permanent fragility was instrumental to his strategy for using the threat of expulsion from the euro (or even of Germany’s withdrawal from it) to discipline the deficit countries – chiefly France.

Deep in Dr Schäuble’ thinking there was the belief that, as a federation is infeasible, the euro is a glorified fixed exchange rate regime. And the only way of maintaining discipline within such a regime was to keep alive the threat of expulsion or exit. But to keep that threat alive, the eurozone could not be allowed to develop the instruments and institutions that would stop it from being fragile. Thus, the eurozone’s permanent fragility was, from Dr Schäuble’s perspective an end-in-itself, rather than a failure. The Free Democratic Party’s ascension will see to it that Wolfgang Schäuble’s departure will not alter the policy of doing whatever it takes to prevent the eurozone‘s evolution into a sustainable macroeconomy.

The FDP’s sole promise to its voters was to prevent any of Emmanuel Macron’s plans, for some federation-lite, from being agreed to, and for pursuing Grexit. Even worse, whereas Wolfgang Schäuble understood that austerity plus new loans were catastrophic for countries like Greece (but insisted on them as part of his campaign to discipline France and Italy), his FDP successors at the finance ministry will probably be less ‘enlightened’ believing that the ‘tough medicine’ is fit for purpose. And so the never ending crisis of Europe’s social economy, that feeds the xenophobic political monsters, continues.

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Waterboarding. And worse. Do this to an economy, and it will fail outright. That, then, must be what Berlin is aiming for.

Over Half Of All Greek Enterprises Are In The Red (K.)

At least 56% of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are now in debt due to low liquidity and high borrowing, a combination that forbids them from meeting their short-term obligations. Only a fraction have a chance of having their debt restructured, which means that sooner or later they will follow the fate of many of their peers and be forced to shut down. This is the main conclusion of a Piraeus Bank analysis after a sample of 7,896 companies were assessed using its Enterprise Rating System (ERS). Given that over 97% of enterprises in Greece are SMEs, the risk both to them and the economy in general is clear, with an impact on state revenues, employment and bank provisions.

The ERS assessment resulted in four categories of enterprises based on liquidity, solvency, degree of leverage and debt servicing. Just 8.6% of all companies have made it into the A category. They are the healthiest businesses, with high cash flows, even though two-thirds face problems with their earnings. Category B accounts for 35.7% of companies, which display satisfactory performance; however, it should be observed that the obligations of these businesses exceed their assets by 1.2 times. The largest category is C, with two-fifths of all companies, or 40.4%; they are enterprises which have not yet reached the brink as they have some chances at becoming sustainable, but indicate a low degree of debt servicing, finding themselves in the red.

Finally there is category D, which hosts 15.4% of all companies. The vast majority (82.5%) has a substantial problem in terms of sustainability; not only do they have a negative operating profit rate, averaging at -9.1%, but they are also loss-making. The average company in this category has borrowing that is three-and-a-half times its assets and 25 times its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA).

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Lesvos Solidarity on Twitter: “Section C in #moria now houses around 200 unaccompanied minors, incl pregnant girls. They are unattended after 17.00.”

Surge In Migration To Greece Fuels Misery In Refugee Camps (G.)

Greece is experiencing a dramatic rise in the number of refugees and migrants entering the country, exacerbating already deplorable living conditions on island camps. The number of people arriving, across land and sea borders, has more than doubled since the beginning of the summer. Authorities estimate arrivals are now at their highest level since March 2016, with over 200 men, women and children being registered every day. “It is dramatic and it is the most vulnerable of the vulnerable coming in,” said Elias Pavlopoulos, who heads Médecins sans Frontières in Greece. “There are whole families fleeing war zones in Syria and Iraq. In the last few months our clinics have seen more people who have suffered violence, who are victims of rape, who have been tortured, than ever before.”

Despite a pledge by EU member states in September 2015 to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers – including 106,000 from Greece and Italy – a mere 29,000 have been moved to other European countries so far. With the 28-nation bloc failing to meet the deadline set out in its own plan, mass demonstrations are expected in capitals across Europe this weekend. Refugees and migrants have been arriving in Greece not only on rickety boats from Turkey but by foot across the frontier between the two countries. On Wednesday, police announced 37 refugees – including 19 children – from Iraq, Syria, Eritrea and Afghanistan, had been dumped by smugglers on the national highway outside Thessaloniki.

Human rights groups are increasingly likening the situation to 2015, when, at the height of the migrant crisis that engulfed Europe, Greece saw close to a million people enter the country on onward journeys that often took them to Germany. “We’re living the days of 2015,” said Pantelis Dimitriou from Iliaktida, a local NGO on Lesbos operating accommodation and support centres for the newly arrived. “The flows have become huge. From around 50 to 60 in early July they are now at more than 200 every day. Maybe it is the German elections, maybe it is about Turkey’s [worsening] relations with the EU, or maybe this is the last push before winter, but something is going on.” More worrying is the number of minors making the often treacherous journey to get to Greece. In a statement this week, Save the Children said around 40% of the new arrivals were under the age of 18. Over 1,500 unaccompanied minors are currently on waiting lists in Greece to be housed in child shelters.

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We need a global ban on using antibiotics on farms. But the industry is very powerful.

China’s Love of Meat Is Driving Global Antibiotic Usage (BBG)

Growing global demand for animal protein is good news for the pharmaceutical industry, but a worry for public health. Food animals will consume 200,235 tons of antimicrobial medicines by 2030, 53% more than they were getting in 2013, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science. China, already the world’s largest consumer of veterinary antimicrobials, is forecast to lead the charge, with a 59% jump. That bodes badly for the efficacy of these infection-fighting medications. The study’s authors linked the quantity of drugs used on farms with the emergence of foodborne bacteria, like Campylobacter and Salmonella harboring antibiotic-resistance genes. Limiting daily meat intake worldwide to the equivalent of one standard fast-food burger per person could reduce global consumption of antimicrobials in food animals by 66%, the researchers said.

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It was fun while it lasted?!

Tropical Forests Don’t Absorb Carbon. They Emit As Much As All US Transit (Q.)

Since humans began to worry about having put too much carbon in the atmosphere, we’ve considered tropical forests an important “carbon sink.” Their fast growth rate, dense vegetation, and rich soils sucked more carbon out of the atmosphere then they produced. In other words, tropical forests were a natural greenhouse-gas vacuum. Except now, just when the world most needs them to be, they’re not. At some point, it turns out, deforestation, drought, and other forest-disturbing factors tipped the scales, making tropical forests a net producer of carbon rather than a sink, according to a new study published Sept. 28 in the journal Science. Each year, instead of absorbing carbon, these degraded forests are a source of more carbon (roughly 425 teragrams of carbon per year) than an entire year’s worth of US transportation emissions.

Scientists at Woods Hole Research Center and Boston University spent two and a half years trekking to tropical forests in 22 countries, measuring trees’ thickness and recording their growth rate, which is a big factor in how much carbon a forest is absorbing. They then paired their field data with laser remote-sensing data and 12 years of satellite data from NASA’s MODIS satellites. The researcher’s combined approach allowed them to figure out not just losses from dramatic deforestation, but also the harder-to-calculate losses from less obvious factors, like selective logging and small-scale farming. Previous studies have looked at large-scale deforestation in the tropics as a source of carbon, and more recent papers have pointed towards the subtler forms of degradation as a likely underestimated source.

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Sep 062017
 
 September 6, 2017  Posted by at 9:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Edward Hopper Summer evening 1947

 

Irma Becomes Most Powerful Hurricane Ever Recorded In Atlantic (G.)
Australia: Classic Mortgage Ponzi Finance Model (News)
The World Is Becoming Desperate About Deflation (Katsenelson)
Mario Draghi Is Running Out Of Bonds To Buy (BBG)
Banks Moving Jobs From London Post-Brexit Need To Act Fast – Bundesbank (CNBC)
UK PM May in Double Brexit Trouble (BBG)
Trump: I Will ‘Revisit’ DACA If Congress Can’t Legalize It (CNBC)
Putin Warns of Planetary Catastrophe over North Korea (G.)
Diplomacy With North Korea Has Worked Before, and Can Work Again (N.)
The Bad Guys Are The Ones Invading Sovereign Nations (M.)
Neoliberalism is a Form of Fascism (Cadelli)
European Top Court Dismisses Eastern States’ Challenge To Refugee Quota (DW)
Plastic Film Covering 12% of China’s Farmland Contaminates Soil (BBG)

 

 

Tropical storm José is close behind, and the next one, Katia, is forming in the Gulf. Prayers. The Saffir-Simpson scale doesn’t go to 6, or Irma would be that. 5++ for now.

Irma Becomes Most Powerful Hurricane Ever Recorded In Atlantic (G.)

The most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history bore down on the islands of the north-east Caribbean on Tuesday night local time, following a path predicted to then rake Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before possibly heading for Florida over the weekend. At the far north-eastern edge of the Caribbean, authorities on the Leeward Islands of Antigua and Barbuda cut power and urged residents to shelter indoors as they braced for Hurricane Irma’s first contact with land early on Wednesday. Officials warned people to seek protection from Irma’s “onslaught” in a statement that closed with: “May God protect us all.” The category 5 storm had maximum sustained winds of 185mph (295kph) by early Tuesday evening, according to the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami.

Category 5 hurricanes are rare and are capable of inflicting life-threatening winds, storm surges and rainfall. Hurricane Harvey, which last week devastated Houston, was category 4. Other islands in the path of the storm included the US and British Virgin Islands and Anguilla, a small, low-lying British island territory of about 15,000 people. US president Donald Trump declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Warm water is fuel for hurricanes and Irma is over water that is one degree celsius (1.8F) warmer than normal. The 26C (79F) water that hurricanes need goes about 250 feet deep (80m), said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private forecasting service Weather Underground.

Four other storms have had winds as strong in the overall Atlantic region but they were in the Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico, which are usually home to warmer waters that fuel cyclones. Hurricane Allen hit 190mph in 1980, while 2005’s Wilma, 1988’s Gilbert and a 1935 great Florida Key storm all had 185mph winds.

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‘piss in a fancy bottle scam’

Australia: Classic Mortgage Ponzi Finance Model (News)

The Australian mortgage market has “ballooned” due to banks issuing new loans against unrealised capital gains of existing investment properties, creating a $1.7 trillion “house of cards”, a new report warns. The report, “The Big Rort”, by LF Economics founder Lindsay David, argues Australian banks’ use of “combined loan to value ratio” — less common in other countries — makes it easy for investors to accumulate “multiple properties in a relatively short period of time despite high house prices relative to income”. “The use of unrealised capital gain (equity) of one property to secure financing to purchase another property in Australia is extreme,” the report says. “This approach allows lenders to report the cross-collateral security of one property which is then used as collateral against the total loan size to purchase another property. This approach substitutes as a cash deposit.

“This has exacerbated risks in the housing market as little to no cash deposits are used.” The report describes the system as a “classic mortgage Ponzi finance model”, with newly purchased properties often generating net rental income losses, adversely impacting upon cash flows. “Profitability is therefore predicated upon ever-rising housing prices,” the report says. “When house prices have fallen in a local market, many borrowers were unable to service the principal on their mortgages when the interest only period expires or are unable to roll over the interest-only period.” LF Economics argues that while international money markets have until now provided “remarkably affordable funding” enabling Australian banks to issue “large and risky loans”, there is a growing risk the wholesale lending community will walk away from the Australian banking system.

“[Many] international wholesale lenders … may find out the hard way that they have invested into nothing more than a $1.7 trillion ‘piss in a fancy bottle scam’,” the report says. The report largely sheets the blame home to Australia’s financial regulators, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. “ASIC and APRA have failed to protect borrowers from predatory and illegal lending practices,” it says. “Although ASIC has no official ‘duty of care’, APRA does, and will have some serious questions to answer in relation to systemic criminality within the mortgage market committed by the financial institutions they regulate. The evidence strongly suggests the regulators have done nothing to combat white-collar criminality in the mortgage market.”

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Because the world doesn’t know what it is.

The World Is Becoming Desperate About Deflation (Katsenelson)

The Great Recession may be over, but eight years later we can still see the deep scars and unhealed wounds it left on the global economy. In an attempt to prevent an unpleasant revisit to the Stone Age, global governments have bailed out banks and the private sector. These bailouts and subsequent stimuli swelled global government debt, which jumped 75%, to $58 trillion in 2014 from $33 trillion in 2007. (These numbers, from McKinsey, are the latest, but it’s fair to say they have not shrunk since.) There’s a lot about today’s environment that doesn’t fit neatly into economic theory. Ballooning government debt should have brought higher – much higher – interest rates. But central banks bought the bonds of their respective governments and corporations, driving interest rates down to the point at which a quarter of global government debt now “pays” negative interest.

The concept of positive interest rates is straightforward. You take your savings, which you amass by forgoing current consumption — not buying a newer car or making fewer trips to fancy restaurants — and lend it to someone. In exchange for your sacrifice, you receive interest payments. With negative interest rates, something quite different happens: You lend $100 to your neighbor. A year later the neighbor knocks on your door and, with a smile on his face, repays that $100 loan by writing you a check for $95. You had to pay $5 for forgoing your consumption of $100 for a year. The key takeaway: negative and near-zero interest rates show central banks’ desperation to avoid deflation. More important, they highlight the bleak state of the global economy. In theory, low- and negative interest rates were supposed to reduce savings and stimulate spending.

In practice, the opposite has happened: The savings rate has gone up. As interest rates on their deposits declined, consumers felt that now they had to save more to earn the same income. Go figure. Some countries resort to negative interest rates because they want to devalue their currencies. This strategy suffers from what economists call the fallacy of composition: the mistaken assumption that what is true of one member of a group is true for the group as a whole. As a country adopts negative interest rates, its currency will decline against others — arguably stimulating its export sector (at the expense of other countries). But there is absolutely nothing proprietary about this strategy: Other governments will do the same, and in the end all will experience lowered consumption and a higher savings rate.

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Draghi seeks to protect Europe’s biggest banks, but he can’t. Not anymore.

Mario Draghi Is Running Out Of Bonds To Buy (BBG)

The European Central Bank may not have as much flexibility left in its bond-buying program as Mario Draghi insists. As the Governing Council kicks off discussion about the future of its asset purchases, the question that will loom large is how much wiggle room policy makers have to extend their 2.3 trillion-euro program ($2.7 trillion). Not much, according to two economists. They believe the ECB’s decision to wind down bond buying next year will be a matter of necessity rather a choice. “Bond scarcity is increasing in more and more countries,” says Louis Harreau, an ECB strategist at Credit Agricole CIB in Paris. “The ECB will be forced to reduce its QE regardless of economic conditions, simply because it has no more bonds to purchase.”

But working out how much space the central bank still has is fiendishly hard. That’s because the asset-purchase program is like a three-dimensional game of chess spread over bonds from 18 euro-area states. The 19th member, Greece, is excluded from the program. The first rule the ECB could trip over is the one that prohibits the accumulation of more than 33% of debt from a single country. Germany could hit this mark as early as spring if the current pace of purchases is maintained, says Commerzbank Chief Economist Joerg Kraemer. It’s long been a red line for Draghi and revisiting it now when the program is awaiting a review at the European Union’s highest court could be particularly tricky.

Yet some rules of the program are more malleable, giving the ECB potential leeway. The euro-area central banks have quotas to meet in buying each nation’s debt based on the size of their economies. But they can deviate from those capital-key guidelines and have done so for months now. A good example is Germany, where debt-buying last month hit the lowest level since the program started more than two years ago. According to Harreau, the ECB could deviate from the capital key by a total of €5 billion a month, twice the amount they do now. That could ease the strain for some countries, but would still require the program to be wound down by the end of next year, he says.

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By the time Brexit is reality, they’ll need to lay them off anyway.

Banks Moving Jobs From London Post-Brexit Need To Act Fast – Bundesbank (CNBC)

Frankfurt and Dublin are emerging as the clear favorites for post-Brexit relocation among U.K.-based banks, according to a top official at Germany’s central bank. “From the discussions I have, it is my clear impression that Dublin and Frankfurt are the two cities where there is most interest (from City lenders). We have received quite a number of applications,” Andreas Dombret, an executive board member at the German Bundesbank, told CNBC on Tuesday. “We encourage the banks to finalize their thinking, especially the ones that have not done so, and to really think where they want to move and how they want to move … Let’s all not try to walk through the same narrow door in the 11th hour,” he added. Britain’s financial services industry has been quietly preparing for Brexit given that it’s likely to lose its EU passporting rights – these are special licenses that allow U.K.-based banks to sell their services across the whole of the EU.

The negotiations between London and Brussels are still ongoing and it remains unclear how many employees will have to be moved from London to other European cities. At the moment, the disruption appears to be minimal compared to the overall size of the industry. But there are clear winners from the exit of some jobs from London with Frankfurt and Dublin perceived to be the top destinations for institutions that wish to continue working with clients across the EU. When asked whether vulnerable European banks could trigger a systemic crisis across the continent, Dombret said that such a prospect “doesn’t keep me up at night.” “I’m not that worried about a systemic crisis at all. There are regions, there are sectors and there are certain banks in certain countries which are more exposed than others but it is not a system wide or country wide issue,” he said.

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An event that shapes an entire nation is negotiated by just one segment of its population. Not even a majority at that.

UK PM May in Double Brexit Trouble (BBG)

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit planning suffered a double blow as a top European Union official doubted that trade talks will start next month and the opposition Labour Party prepared to challenge key legislation. The EU’s deputy Brexit negotiator, Sabine Weyand, told German lawmakers that she’s skeptical officials will be able to begin discussing a trade deal in October, as they had hoped, according to two people present at the briefing. Her warning emerged as Labour announced it will seek to block May’s plan for a post-Brexit legal regime in London. May also has to contend with a leak of a draft plan for new immigration rules, which would end the free movement of workers on the day Britain leaves the EU, and impose restrictions on all but highly skilled workers from the region.

The 82-page document, obtained by The Guardian, said immigration should not just benefit the migrants, but “make existing residents better off.” The fresh trouble at home and abroad exposes how hard May is finding it to extricate the U.K. from the EU just days after the latest round of negotiations ended in acrimony with the two sides at odds over how much Britain should pay when it quits the bloc. [..] The EU has said it will not shift to discussing the sweeping new free-trade agreement that the U.K. wants until “sufficient progress” has been made on divorce issues – including the financial settlement, the rights of citizens and the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

Labour is challenging the government’s argument that with a shrinking amount of time available, ministers should be handed the power to revise aspects of EU law without full parliamentary scrutiny. As May has no majority in Parliament, she’d be vulnerable to rebels from her own Conservative side, and some Tories, including former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, have already expressed reservations about this aspect of the bill. If amendments to the bill mean ministers have to get parliamentary approval for each regulation, they risk being held up by constant roadblocks.

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In the hands of Congress now.

Trump: I Will ‘Revisit’ DACA If Congress Can’t Legalize It (CNBC)

President Donald Trump on Tuesday night said he would “revisit” the Obama-era policy shielding hundreds of thousands of young people from deportation in six months if Congress cannot legalize it. It is unclear what action Trump would take if he decided to again address Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program that he said he would end Tuesday with a six-month delay. However, his tweeted comment appears to cloud his view on the issue after a day in which he and his administration vehemently criticized President Barack Obama’s authority to implement the policy. Trump’s decision set up a potential rush for lawmakers to pass a bill protecting so-called dreamers before the Trump administration’s deadline. It is unclear if the GOP-led Congress, members of which voted to sink similar legislation in the past, can do so in the near future as it faces multiple crucial deadlines to approve legislation.

In a statement earlier Tuesday, Trump said he looks forward “to working with Republicans and Democrats in Congress to finally address all of these issues in a manner that puts the hardworking citizens of our country first.” “As I’ve said before, we will resolve the DACA issue with heart and compassion — but through the lawful democratic process — while at the same time ensuring that any immigration reform we adopt provides enduring benefits for the American citizens we were elected to serve. We must also have heart and compassion for unemployed, struggling, and forgotten Americans,” Trump said. Trump allies like Attorney General Jeff Sessions urged him to end DACA, arguing it will be difficult to defend in court. “Simply put, if we are to further our goal of strengthening the constitutional order and rule of law in America, the Department of Justice cannot defend this overreach,” Sessions said Tuesday in announcing the move.

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“They will eat grass but will not stop their [nuclear] programme as long as they do not feel safe.”

Putin Warns of Planetary Catastrophe over North Korea (G.)

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has warned that the escalating North Korean crisis could cause a “planetary catastrophe” and huge loss of life, and described US proposals for further sanctions on Pyongyang as “useless”. “Ramping up military hysteria in such conditions is senseless; it’s a dead end,” he told reporters in China. “It could lead to a global, planetary catastrophe and a huge loss of human life. There is no other way to solve the North Korean nuclear issue, save that of peaceful dialogue.” On Sunday, North Korea carried out its sixth and by far its most powerful nuclear test to date. The underground blast triggered a magnitude-6.3 earthquake and was more powerful than the bombs dropped by the US on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the second world war. Putin was attending the Brics summit, bringing together the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Speaking on Tuesday, the final day of the summit in Xiamen, China, he said Russia condemned North Korea’s provocations but said further sanctions would be useless and ineffective, describing the measures as a “road to nowhere”. Foreign interventions in Iraq and Libya had convinced the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, that he needed nuclear weapons to survive, Putin said. “We all remember what happened with Iraq and Saddam Hussein. His children were killed, I think his grandson was shot, the whole country was destroyed and Saddam Hussein was hanged … We all know how this happened and people in North Korea remember well what happened in Iraq. “They will eat grass but will not stop their [nuclear] programme as long as they do not feel safe.”

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History does talk. Jimmy Carter was replaced with “We came, we saw, he died.”

Diplomacy With North Korea Has Worked Before, and Can Work Again (N.)

The 1994 agreement was the United States’ response to a regional political crisis that began that year when North Korea announced its intention to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which requires non-nuclear states to agree never to develop or acquire nuclear weapons. Although it had no nuclear weapon, North Korea was producing plutonium, an action that almost led the United States to launch a pre-emptive strike against its plutonium facility. That war was averted when Jimmy Carter made a surprise trip to Pyongyang and met with North Korea’s founder and leader at the time, Kim Il-sung (he died a few months later, and his power was inherited by his son, Kim Jong-il). The framework was signed in October 1994, ending “three years of on and off vilification, stalemates, brinkmanship, saber-rattling, threats of force, and intense negotiations,” Park Kun-young, a professor of international relations at Korea Catholic University, wrote in a 2009 history of the negotiations.

In addition to shutting its one operating reactor, Yongbyon, the North also stopped construction of two large reactors “that together were capable of generating 30 bombs’ worth of plutonium a year,” according to Leon V. Sigal, a former State Department official who helped negotiate the 1994 framework and directs a Northeast Asia security project at the Social Science Research Council in New York. Most important for the United States, it remained in the NPT. In exchange for North Korea’s concessions, the United States agreed to provide 500,000 tons a year of heavy fuel oil to North Korea as well two commercial light-water reactors considered more “proliferation resistant” than the Soviet-era heavy-water facility the North was using. The new reactors were to be built in 2003 by a US/Japanese/South Korean consortium called the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, or KEDO. (The reactors, however, were never completed).

[..] First, the Agreed Framework led North Korea to halt its plutonium-based nuclear-weapons program for over a decade, forgoing enough enrichment to make over 100 nuclear bombs. “What people don’t know is that North Korea made no fissible material whatsoever from 1991 to 2003,” says Sigal. (The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in 1994 that the North had ceased production of plutonium three years earlier.) “A lot of this history” about North Korea, Sigal adds with a sigh, “is in the land of make-believe.” Second, the framework remained in effect well into the Bush administration. In 1998, the State Department’s Rust Deming testified to Congress that “there is no fundamental violation of any aspect of the framework agreement”; four years later, a similar pledge was made by Bush’s then–Secretary of State Colin Powell.

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“Americans are saturated in lies about their country from birth..”

The Bad Guys Are The Ones Invading Sovereign Nations (M.)

These are not the bad guys. The bad guys are the ones refusing to respect the sovereignty of North Korea or any other nation under the sun. The bad guys are the ones invading sovereign nations at will and slaughtering civilians with explosives dropped from flying killing machines. The fact that something so simple and so obvious is not universally known in America speaks to the phenomenal efficacy of its corporate media propaganda machine. Because of that propaganda machine, Americans sincerely think that the bad guys are the tiny little nations that America bullies in proxy conflicts to maintain global hegemony. They’re watching Star Wars and cheering for the stormtroopers.

Because of the neoconservative American supremacist doctrine that the US power establishment has espoused, America has given itself the authority to intervene in any government’s affairs at any time and for any reason. This doctrine of American supremacy is founded on the belief that the United States was selected by destiny to lead the world when it won the Cold War, a divine right of sorts to dominion over the entire planet. This is the real evil. The North Koreans aren’t the bad guys, and the South Koreans want to get along with them. They’re sick of being in a constant state of war, they want dialogue and diplomacy with North Korea by a nearly four to one margin, and they staged large protests against America’s missile defense system which at one point mobilized 8,000 riot police to remove protesters from a South Korean THAAD site.

These are the people who are actually putting their lives on the line with Seoul’s close proximity to the DMZ, and they want peace and de-escalation. They should be allowed to have that, but their US-backed government is talking about bringing American tactical nukes back to the Korean Peninsula. [..] Americans are saturated in lies about their country from birth, throughout their schooling and by every screen they interact with throughout their day; it’s a testament to their good will that the elites are forced to put on this Scooby Doo haunted house song and dance every time.

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The Mussolini kind.

Neoliberalism is a Form of Fascism (Cadelli)

The time for rhetorical reservations is over. Things have to be called by their name to make it possible for a co-ordinated democratic reaction to be initiated, above all in the public services. Liberalism was a doctrine derived from the philosophy of Enlightenment, at once political and economic, which aimed at imposing on the state the necessary distance for ensuring respect for liberties and the coming of democratic emancipation. It was the motor for the arrival, and the continuing progress, of Western democracies. Neoliberalism is a form of economism in our day that strikes at every moment and every sector of our community. It is a form of extremism. Fascism may be defined as the subordination of every part of the State to a totalitarian and nihilistic ideology.

I argue that neoliberalism is a species of fascism because the economy has brought under subjection not only the government of democratic countries but also every aspect of our thought. The state is now at the disposal of the economy and of finance, which treat it as a subordinate and lord over it to an extent that puts the common good in jeopardy. The austerity that is demanded by the financial milieu has become a supreme value, replacing politics. Saving money precludes pursuing any other public objective. It is reaching the point where claims are being made that the principle of budgetary orthodoxy should be included in state constitutions. A mockery is being made of the notion of public service. The nihilism that results from this makes possible the dismissal of universalism and the most evident humanistic values: solidarity, fraternity, integration and respect for all and for differences.

There is no place any more even for classical economic theory: work was formerly an element in demand, and to that extent there was respect for workers; international finance has made of it a mere adjustment variable. Every totalitarianism starts as distortion of language, as depicted accurately in George Orwell’s 1984. Neoliberalism has its Newspeak and strategies of communication that enable it to deform reality. In this spirit, every budgetary cut is represented as an instance of modernisation of the sectors concerned. If some of the most deprived are no longer reimbursed for medical expenses and so stop visiting the dentist, this is modernisation of social security in action.

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The EU seeks to forcefully redefine ‘sovereignty’, like it did in Greece. That will not end well. Even if these countries gave in and admitted refugees, how would they be treated?

European Top Court Dismisses Eastern States’ Challenge To Refugee Quota (DW)

The EU’s top court on Wednesday dismissed a challenge by eastern European members over the bloc’s mandatory refugee quota program. The ruling means that Hungary and Slovakia could face fines if they refuse to abide by the quota system. The ruling is a victory for EU immigration policy, which has divided the bloc as nearly 1.7 million people arrived from the Middle East and Africa since 2014. Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary argue the mandatory quota system violates their sovereignty and threatens their societies. The legal challenge was also backed by Poland, which alongside Hungary has not taken in any asylum seekers. Slovakia and the Czech Republic have only taken in a few dozen asylum seekers. Only 24,000 of 160,000 refugees from frontline Mediterranean states like Greece and Italy have been transferred to other states under the EU’s refugee burden sharing policy agreed to in 2015.

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Because they have farmland to spare?

Plastic Film Covering 12% of China’s Farmland Contaminates Soil (BBG)

China will expand its agricultural use of environment-damaging plastic film to boost crop production even as authorities try to curb soil pollution, a government scientist said. Some 1.45 million metric tons of polyethylene are spread in razor-thin sheets across 20 million hectares (49 million acres) — an area about half the size of California — of farmland in China. Use of the translucent material may exceed 2 million tons by 2024 and cover 22 million hectares, according to Yan Changrong, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing. The plastic sheets, used as mulch over 12% of China’s farmland, are growing in popularity because they trap moisture and heat, and prevent weeds and pests. Those features can bolster cotton, maize and wheat yields, while enabling crops to be grown across a wider area.

“The technology can boost yields by 30%, so you can image how much extra production we can get — it can solve the problems of producing sufficient food and fiber,” Yan said in an interview at his office at the academy’s Institute of Environment and Sustainable Development in Agriculture. The downside is that polypropylene film isn’t biodegradable and often not recycled. Potentially cancer-causing toxins can be released into the soil from the plastic residue, known locally as “white pollution,” which is present at levels of 60-to-300 kilograms (132-to-661 pounds) per hectare in some provinces. [..] Regrettably, there are no viable alternatives to polyethylene that possess the same agronomic advantages. That means farmers are compelled to keep using it to boost production and income, said Yan, as he flicked through slides showing pollution in the northwest region of Xinjiang.

The material enables crops to be grown in both drier and colder environments. In Xinjiang, which accounts for almost 70% of the country’s cotton output, plastic mulch is used on all cotton farms; and across 93% of the country’s tobacco fields, he said. The film reduces water demand by 20-to-30%.

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Aug 292017
 
 August 29, 2017  Posted by at 8:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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MC Escher Still life and street 1937

 

China Is Going To Hit A Wall (FuW)
Nomi Prins: Big Bank Concentration and Counterparty Risk Expands (DR)
China’s Central Bank Is Working Hard to Stand Still (BBG)
Pundits And Politicians Are Tacitly Admitting They Lied About Russia (M.)
The Media Is the Villain – for Creating a World Dumb Enough for Trump (Taibbi)
The 5 Steps to World Domination (CHS)
Pure Rubbish? What The Buffett Indicator Is Really Predicting (Roberts)
When the Butterfly Flaps Its Wings (Jim Kunstler)
France, Germany, Italy, Spain Agree on Plan to Stem Migration Flows (BBG)
Debt Cut For Greece Not On Agenda For Now, Schaeuble Says (R.)
Chastised by EU, a Resentful Greece Embraces China’s Cash and Interests (NYT)
Kenya Gets World’s Toughest Plastic Bag Ban: 4 Years Jail Or $40,000 Fine (R.)

 

 

How much longer?

China Is Going To Hit A Wall (FuW)

Anne Stevenson-Yang, co-founder and research director at J Capital, warns that the monster bubble in the Chinese housing market is ripe to pop and that the Chinese currency will crash. There have been warnings about a bubble in China’s housing market for some time now. How hot is the real estate market? So far this year has been crazy, particularly in the area around Beijing. Just a few weeks ago I was in this little rustbelt city called Zhuozhou in the Hebei province where the steel mills are. It’s a very unpleasant place to spend time. It’s very polluted, there’s nothing to do, the food is bad and the landscape is awful. It’s just no place you want to be and yet property prices have doubled, tripled and in some places even quadrupled in a year.

What’s fueling this boom? It’s like in every property bubble: People build these stories. In Florida for example, the idea in the housing bubble was that all Americans are going to retire there. Florida has nice beaches, it’s warm and Americans are getting older, so everybody’s going to retire there. In China, the idea is that all these areas 200 miles outside of Beijing are going to be bedrooms for the working class of Beijing. So they’re going to build subways, schools, hospitals and other public facilities there and the prices are going to go up. The story goes that all these people who can’t afford to live in Beijing but work there are going to live in places like Zhuozhou instead and that they are going to take the high speed rail into Beijing. Everybody is speculating like mad but in the end nobody wants to live there.

And how are such ghost towns financed? There is probably no company that is more representative of the investment bubble than Evergrande. It’s the biggest pyramid scheme the world has yet seen. Evergrande is highly leveraged and has like 270 projects all over the country. I have been easily to 40 of them yet I have only seen one that was fully occupied. Many of these projects are megalomaniac visions and totally empty. Yet you go to these places and you see their sales room filled with young buyers. When I open my eyes I see crumbling stone and empty jungles or deserts. What they see is a future with wealthy Europeanized people strolling on modern paths. It’s just amazing. It’s a mass illusion and Evergrande more than any of these developers plays to this illusion by building developments that are specifically positioned for the investor, not to live there but to buy for some future appreciation in price.

How long can these crazy times last? I’ve been wondering that for years now. In a few places, property bubbles already have popped but the government keeps information from going out. Back in 2011 for instance, there was a property bust in the region of Ordos where most of China’s coal is. Prices dropped like 50% but if you looked at the official statistics they may have dropped 4%. Another place was in Wenzhou which is a place in China’s Zhejiang province where there is a lot of private money. After the bubble popped the central government had to go in and had to create a bailout fund. But nobody ever got information about it. In fact, all the newspapers put out information about how actually Wenzhou is fine. So will China’s housing frenzy ever come to an end at all? China is going to hit a wall. They’re not positioned to take the political pain that’s entailed by just stopping with all that madness.

So there will be a bust but it’s very hard to say exactly how long it takes. Basically, there are two paths. One of them is you break public confidence in some way. For that to happen you have to have a bank failure, a well-known investment product that doesn’t pay or some property developer that goes bust. You’ve had that locally in all sorts of places but you have to have a really big bust that everyone is aware of. And what would be the other path? The other thing that eventually has to happen is that the Chinese currency has to devalue. The reason why the developers can just keep on selling is because they keep getting refinanced. All the refinancing means that China has to keep on expanding the money supply and when you keep on expanding the money supply you have too much money and the value of the money declines. Obviously it’s not quite that simple but that’s basically what’s going on.

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Nomi is asked the same question: how much longer? She thinks it could be a few years yet.

Nomi Prins: Big Bank Concentration and Counterparty Risk Expands (DR)

Prins notes, “As we learned from the global financial crisis, the Federal Reserve has done a lousy job at regulating the risks that were coming into the financial system from the major private banks.” “Not only did it do a bad job at detecting risks, it did the opposite and deflected concerns from those highlighting the risks. From the standpoint of monetary policy, looking ten years out, its pursuit of policy with absolutely no limitation from the outside (printing money, buying securities) was a failure.” “If the Federal Reserve policies were able to make a real impact, we wouldn’t have needed them to go on for ten years following the financial crisis. What we are seeing right now is that there is no particular end in sight. The fact that there is no jurisdiction that can instruct the Fed what to do, where it is currently working under unconventional policy for artificial markets, has created more risk instead of less.”

“If we were to create an external benchmark that at the very least pulls them into some coordinated approach, that would be a better way of maintaining stability. Whether that is a standard currency approach or whatever that might be.” When speaking on how long the central banks might be able to stall and what tools in the face of another crisis Nomi Prins elaborates on her most recent research. “There has been collusion and collaboration amongst the G7 central banks. They have been ensuring that central banks like the Federal Reserve and others coordinate in their policy consortium moves. In effect we have seen a consistent global zero % interest rate policy and ongoing quantitative easing policy be unveiled, even if some banks reduce their engagement. That’s why we have been able to perpetuate this system for so long.”

“This is not one individual central bank but a coordinated, collusive approach. Can that continue? The guidance, as well as the actions of the central banks has indicated there could be multiple years of this to come. Because there is no external limitation on their policy and there’s no voting them out I’d say this could go on for at least a few more years. For the most part the people in power are going to stay in power. Even in the case of the U.S, if we were to see Janet Yellen leave and Gary Cohn step in at the Fed, I’d expect we would see much of the same.”

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Control illusion.

China’s Central Bank Is Working Hard to Stand Still (BBG)

While some of the biggest central banks are agonizing over changing direction, the People’s Bank of China is working hard to stay right where it is. That’s because, as the U.S. Federal Reserve or the European Central Bank are heading into phases of tighter policy, China’s monetary authority is engaged in an increasingly complex effort to preserve the status quo while the world changes around it. According to 60 % of economists in a Bloomberg survey conducted this month, the PBOC’s broad policy stance will remain “roughly the same” through the end of 2017. It’s how they maintain the hold, though, that matters. Through the use of a wide range of monetary instruments, the PBOC is attempting to meet two seemingly conflicting goals at once – weed out excessive borrowing in the financial system while ensuring credit to an economy that’s on a long-term slowdown.

The need to maintain the balance is especially acute amid the political sensitivity around the approaching leadership transition of the 19th Party Congress in the fall. “High leverage has put the central bank in a dilemma where easing could further expand the scale of debt and where tightening pushes up interest expenses and weighs on growth,” said Wen Bin at China Minsheng Banking in Beijing. “The PBOC is using open-market monetary tools to stay flexible and strike a balance.” Achieving those aims, without a change in the benchmark lending rate, in practice means constant fine-tuning of daily conditions in the inter-bank money market. Over the past year, the PBOC has poked and prodded traders using an array of lending and cash-absorbing instruments of different maturities. Here’s that process in charts:

Using different tenors to inject and withdraw funds from markets is the practical aspect of the PBOC’s stated policy of keeping liquidity “neither tight nor loose.” Yet at the same time, for much of the past year, gradually-rising interbank rates have been desirable amid a push to stabilize debt — crimping incentives to lend short-term within the financial system, while remaining wary of choking off credit to the real economy. The PBOC’s preference for longer-dated tools such as 28-day reverse repo has raised borrowing costs. Now, as the economy may be set for deceleration in the second half of the year and some progress in debt reduction has been achieved, use of longer-dated repurchase agreements has been pared back.

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“You need to either thoroughly refute every single argument against the narrative you’ve been spinning or admit publicly that you’ve been catastrophically wrong. ”

Pundits And Politicians Are Tacitly Admitting They Lied About Russia (M.)

It has been nearly three weeks since The Nation pushed an explosive memo from the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity into mainstream consciousness with an article detailing the evidence that the DNC leaks last year could not have been the result of a Russian hack. By continuing to ignore it, the US intelligence community and all the pundits and politicians who have advanced the Russian hacking narrative are tacitly admitting that they lied. The report is unequivocal. Not only could Russian hackers not have obtained the DNC emails in the way they are alleged to have obtained them, but metadata was in fact manipulated to implicate Russia in the leak. Since publication of the viral Nation article, even more evidence has come to light showing that a hack is far more improbable even than originally suspected. This means that there is currently more publicly-available evidence indicating that Russia did not hack the DNC than there is that it did.

These earth-shattering revelations have gone all but ignored by the mainstream media, which had until the report surfaced been pummelling the American psyche with relentless fearmongering about the Great Russian Menace. The unquestioned narrative that Russia attacked American democracy in what many establishment politicians have horrifyingly labeled an “act of war” quickly transformed into ridiculous unsubstantiated claims about the Kremlin having taken over the highest levels of the US government and McCarthyite witch hunts against anyone who questioned these baseless assertions. This fact-free hysteria was used to manufacture support for new cold war escalations which remain in place to this day, threatening the existence of all life on earth.

Far from addressing the massive, gaping plot holes that have suddenly emerged in its frenzied narrative, the mass media has all but ghosted from the scene. Russia gets an occasional mention now and again, but the fever-pitch shrieking panic has unquestionably been dialed down by several orders of magnitude. This is unacceptable. You don’t get to lie to the American people for nine months, terrify them with fact-free ghost stories that their nation has been taken over by a hostile foreign body, use their terror to manufacture support for a new cold war, and then change the subject to Nazis and Joe Arpaio as soon as evidence emerges that you’ve been reporting blatant falsehoods. That is not a thing. You need to either thoroughly refute every single argument against the narrative you’ve been spinning or admit publicly that you’ve been catastrophically wrong.

You need to either (A) prove that you have not knowingly and/or unknowingly deceived the world, or (B) do everything you can to fix the damage that you have done. Until the US intelligence community, the mainstream media, and the politicians who’ve been advancing this Russian hacking narrative do one of these two things, their silence on the matter should be interpreted as a tacit admission that they’ve been lying to us this entire time. After Iraq there was already no reason to give these institutions the benefit of the doubt, and since the VIPS report there is every reason in the world to believe that they’ve been lying to advance domestic and foreign agendas. They either refute the VIPS report in its entirety, or we must treat their refusal to do so as a tacit admission of nothing less than a crime against humanity.

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I like Taibbi. He’s a good writer. But he’s gotten awkwardly close to the whole anti-Trump frenzy. Suggesting that CNN has been covering Trump ‘responsibly’ is simply not credible. See article above. CNN et al go after Trump because it’s profitable in the echo chamber. Where it doesn’t matter whether what you say is true.

The Media Is the Villain – for Creating a World Dumb Enough for Trump (Taibbi)

No news director would turn off the feed in the middle of a Trump-meltdown. This presidency has become the ultimate ratings bonanza. Trump couldn’t do better numbers if he jumped off Mount Kilimanjaro carrying a Kardashian. This was confirmed this week by yet another shruggingly honest TV executive – in this case Tony Maddox, head of CNN International. Maddox said CNN is doing business at “record levels.” He hinted also that the monster ratings they’re getting have taken the sting out of being accused of promoting fake news. “[Trump] is good for business,” Maddox said. “It’s a glib thing to say. But our performance has been enhanced during this news period.” Maddox, speaking at the Edinburgh TV festival, added that most of the outlets that have been singled out by Trump are doing a swimming business.

“If you look at the groups that Trump has primarily targeted: CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Saturday Night Live, Stephen Colbert,” he said, “every single one of those has seen a quite remarkable growth in their viewing figures, in their sales figures.” Everyone hisses whenever they hear quotes like these. They recall the infamous line from last year by CBS chief Les Moonves, about how Trump “may not be good for America, but he’s damn good for CBS.” Moonves was even cheekier than Maddox. He laughed and added, “The money’s rolling in, and this is fun. They’re not even talking about issues, they’re throwing bombs at each other, and I think the advertising reflects that.” For more than two years now, it’s been obvious that Donald Trump is a disaster on almost every level except one – he’s great for the media business.

Most of us who do this work have already gone through the process of working out just how guilty we should or should not feel about this. Many execs and editors – and Maddox seems to fall into this category – have convinced themselves that the ratings and the money are a kind of cosmic reward for covering Trump responsibly. But deep down, most of us know that’s a lie. Donald Trump gets awesome ratings for the same reason Fear Factor made money feeding people rat-hair tortilla chips: nothing sells like a freak show. If a meteor crashes into jello night at the Playboy mansion, it doesn’t matter if you send Edward R. Murrow to do the standup. Some things sell themselves.

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All you need is the power to print money.

The 5 Steps to World Domination (CHS)

1. Turn everything into a commodity that can be traded on the global market: land, leases on land, options to purchase land, houses, buildings, rooms in slums, labor, tools, robots, water, water rights, mineral rights, rights to air routes, ships, aircraft, political power, shares in corporations, government bonds, municipal bonds, corporate bonds, student loans that have been bundled into debt-based instruments, the income from city parking meters, electricity, software, advertising, marketing, media, social media, food, energy, insurance, gold, metals, credit, interest-rate swaps and last but not least, financial instruments that control and/or pyramid all the real-world goods and assets that have been commoditized (i.e. almost everything).

Why is this the essential first step in World Domination? Once something has been commoditized, it can be bought and sold in the global marketplace in fiat currencies–currencies that are not backed by any real-world asset and that can be created out of thin air by central and private banks. You see the dynamic, right? Create credit-currency out of thin air, and then use this “free money” to buy up the real world. Quite a trick, isn’t it? Get a means of exchange for essentially nothing (i.e. money at near-zero interest rates) and then trade this for assets that produce goods and services everyone else needs or wants. Now we understand steps 2 and 3:

2. Enable private banks to create money out of thin air via fractional reserve banking. You know the drill: banks can issue $15 in new loans for every $1 in cash they hold in reserve. (Depending on the current regulations, it might as little as $10 or as much as $35 that can be created and lent out for every $1 held in cash reserve.) In the current zero-interest rate environment, this new money can be borrowed for near-zero carrying costs by corporations and financiers.

3. Establish a central bank with essentially unlimited ability to bring money into existence and use it to backstop the private banking sector. If the private banks get in trouble, no problem, the central bank is there to bail them out with unlimited lines of credit and an unlimited ability to create new money.

4. Undermine/destroy local economies’ ability to organize production and consumption without using credit and fiat currencies (i.e. money controlled and issued by central and private banks). Trading goods on barter? Get rid of that. Using social ties rather than cash or bank credit to organize production and consumption? Eliminate that capability. Locally issued currencies? That’s against the law. Using cash? bad, very bad–everyone must use banks and bank credit instead. Once these four steps are in place, the 5th step is easy:

5. Buy up all the productive assets and income streams of the world with nearly free credit-money. No saver can compete with corporations and financiers with access to billions of dollars in nearly-free credit-money. It doesn’t matter if you earn $1,000 or $100,000 a year–you will be outbid.

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Too much focus on Buffett. Like there was on Greenspan.

Pure Rubbish? What The Buffett Indicator Is Really Predicting (Roberts)

While we are indeed currently in a very bullish trend of the market, there are two halves of every market cycle. “In the end, it does not matter IF you are ‘bullish’ or ‘bearish.’ The reality is that both ‘bulls’ and ‘bears’ are owned by the ‘broken clock’ syndrome during the full-market cycle. However, what is grossly important in achieving long-term investment success is not necessarily being ‘right’ during the first half of the cycle, but by not being ‘wrong’ during the second half.” Will valuations currently pushing the 3rd highest level in history, it is only a function of time before the second-half of the full-market cycle ensues. That is not a prediction of a crash. It is just a fact.

[..] valuations DO NOT predict market crashes. Valuations are predictive of future returns on investments from current levels. Period. I recently quoted Cliff Asness on this issue in particular: “Ten-year forward average returns fall nearly monotonically as starting Shiller P/E’s increase. Also, as starting Shiller P/E’s go up, worst cases get worse and best cases get weaker. If today’s Shiller P/E is 22.2, and your long-term plan calls for a 10% nominal (or with today’s inflation about 7-8% real) return on the stock market, you are basically rooting for the absolute best case in history to play out again, and rooting for something drastically above the average case from these valuations.” We can prove that by looking at forward 10-year total returns versus various levels of PE ratios historically.

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“Ordinarily, failure to raise the debt ceiling would lead to a government shut-down, including hurricane recovery operations, unless the president invoked some kind of emergency powers.”

When the Butterfly Flaps Its Wings (Jim Kunstler)

It remains to be seen what the impact will be from Mother Nature putting the nation’s fourth largest city out-of-business. And for how long? It’s possible that Houston will never entirely recover from Hurricane Harvey. The event may exceed the physical damage that Hurricane Katrina did to New Orleans. It may bankrupt large insurance companies and dramatically raise the risk of doing business anywhere along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the USA — or at least erase the perceived guarantee that losses are recoverable. It may even turn out to be the black swan that reveals the hyper-fragility of a US-driven financial system.

Houston also happens to be the center of the US oil industry. Offices can be moved elsewhere, of course, but not so easily the nine major oil refineries that sprawl between Buffalo Bayou over to Beaumont, Port Arthur, and then Lake Charles, Louisiana. Harvey is inching back out to the Gulf where it will inhale more energy over the warm ocean waters and then return inland in the direction of those refineries. The economic damage could be epic. Much of the supply for the Colonial Pipeline system emanates from the region around Houston, running through Atlanta and clear up to Philadelphia and New York. There could be lines at the gas stations along the eastern seaboard in early September.

The event is converging with the US government running out of money this fall without new authority to borrow more by congress voting to raise the US debt ceiling. Perhaps the emergency of Hurricane Harvey and its costly aftermath will bludgeon congress into quickly raising the debt ceiling. If that doesn’t happen, and the debt ceiling is not raised, the federal government might have to pretend that it can pay for emergency assistance to Texas and Louisiana. That pretense can only go so far before government contractors balk and maybe even walk.

Ordinarily, failure to raise the debt ceiling would lead to a government shut-down, including hurricane recovery operations, unless the president invoked some kind of emergency powers. That would be decisive action, but it could also be the beginning of something that looks like a full-out dictatorship. Powers assumed are often not surrendered when the original emergency is over. And what would the president use for money if a substantial enough number of congresspersons and senators are prompted by their distaste for Mr. Trump to drag out the process of financially re-liquefying the government? (And nevermind even passing a budget.)

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Kabuki theater for the home front. Empty nonsense.

France, Germany, Italy, Spain Agree on Plan to Stem Migration Flows (BBG)

France, Germany, Italy and Spain agreed a plan to stem migration across the Mediterranean at talks with Libya, Chad and Niger in Paris, as summit host President Emmanuel Macron called for asylum seekers to be processed on African soil. Safe zones should be set up in Chad and Niger to “identify” asylum seekers in Africa, under the supervision of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Macron told reporters after the talks in the Elysee Palace Monday. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but I think we have a framework in which we can move forward,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at the briefing.

Leaders said in a joint statement that they would work with countries of origin and transit to boost the fight against smuggler networks. France, Germany, Italy and Spain stressed their commitment “to stopping irregular migration flows well ahead of the Mediterranean coast.” In reaction to reports about poor humanitarian conditions in refugee camps in Libya, leaders also promised to set up “facilities with adequate humanitarian standards” for refugees stranded there. France, Germany and Spain remained committed to giving further help to Italy – which has often complained in the past that it was left alone to cope with the migrant flows – by stepping up relocations and appropriately staffing the European Union’s Frontex border management force, they said.

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Maybe Greece’s best hope is for Merkel to dump him.

Debt Cut For Greece Not On Agenda For Now, Schaeuble Says (R.)

Greece must press ahead with implementing its reforms-for-aid program and become more competitive, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble was quoted as saying, adding that debt relief for Athens was “currently” not on the agenda. Eurozone finance ministers and the IMF reached an agreement on Greece in June, paving the way for new emergency loans for Athens while leaving the contentious issue of debt relief for later. Asked in an interview with the newspaper Mannheimer Morgen if he could envisage a partial cut in debt for Greece, Schaeuble said, “That’s currently not on the agenda at all.” Chancellor Angela Merkel and Schaeuble do not want to discuss any details of debt relief for Greece before federal elections on September 24, in which the far-right euro-skeptic AfD party is forecast to enter parliament for the first time.

Starting a discussion about debt relief would send the wrong signal to Athens at a time when the economy was doing better and recovering, Schaeuble told Mannheimer Morgen. “The country doesn’t need a debt cut now, but it must continually work on its competitiveness,” Schaeuble said. He pointed out that Greece’s borrowing costs for the next 10 to 15 years were already relatively low. “Above all, as long as member states are responsible for financial and economic policy, they must also bear the consequences of their own decisions themselves”, he said. Schaeuble, whose insistence on reforms to public finances in Athens have long made him a hate figure for many Greeks, has signaled his readiness to deepen eurozone integration as long as risks and liabilities arising from political decisions remain linked.

Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats are leading the center-left Social Democrats by about 15 percentage points in opinion polls and are the heavy favorites to retain power after the election. Schaeuble, who has been finance minister since 2009 and will turn 75 on September 18, has signaled his willingness to continue as finance minister. But Merkel could be forced to sacrifice him to secure a coalition deal.

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Strange innuendo-laced piece from NYT. It’s all they do these days. “While the Europeans are acting towards Greece like medieval leeches, the Chinese keep bringing money..” Varoufakis made a deal with China in spring 2015. Merkel called Beijing to say: keep your hands off. That should have been part of this article.

Chastised by EU, a Resentful Greece Embraces China’s Cash and Interests (NYT)

After years of struggling under austerity imposed by European partners and a chilly shoulder from the United States, Greece has embraced the advances of China, its most ardent and geopolitically ambitious suitor. While Europe was busy squeezing Greece, the Chinese swooped in with bucket-loads of investments that have begun to pay off, not only economically but also by apparently giving China a political foothold in Greece, and by extension, in Europe. Last summer, Greece helped stop the European Union from issuing a unified statement against Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. This June, Athens prevented the bloc from condemning China’s human rights record. Days later it opposed tougher screening of Chinese investments in Europe.

Greece’s diplomatic stance hardly went unnoticed by its European partners or by the United States, all of which had previously worried that the country’s economic vulnerability might make it a ripe target for Russia, always eager to divide the bloc. Instead, it is the Chinese who have become an increasingly powerful foreign player in Greece after years of assiduous courtship and checkbook diplomacy. Among those initiatives, China plans to make the Greek port of Piraeus the “dragon head” of its vast “One Belt, One Road” project, a new Silk Road into Europe. When Germany treated Greece as the eurozone’s delinquent, China designated a recovery-hungry Greece its “most reliable friend” in Europe. “While the Europeans are acting towards Greece like medieval leeches, the Chinese keep bringing money,” said Costas Douzinas, the head of the Greek Parliament’s foreign affairs and defense committee and a member of the governing Syriza party.

China has already used its economic muscle to stamp a major geopolitical footprint in Africa and South America as it scours the globe for natural resources to fuel its economy. If China was initially welcomed as a deep-pocketed investor — and an alternative to America — it has faced growing criticism that it is less an economic partner than a 21st-century incarnation of a colonialist power. If not looking for natural resources in Europe, China has for years invested heavily across the bloc, its largest trading partner. Yet now concerns are rising that Beijing is using its economic clout for political leverage. Mr. Douzinas said China had never explicitly asked Greece for support on the human rights vote or on other sensitive issues, though he and other Greek officials acknowledge that explicit requests are not necessary. “If you’re down and someone slaps you and someone else gives you an alm,” Mr. Douzinas said, “when you can do something in return, who will you help, the one who helped you or the one who slapped you?”

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We need Kenya to show us how to do this?!

Kenya Gets World’s Toughest Plastic Bag Ban: 4 Years Jail Or $40,000 Fine (R.)

Kenyans producing, selling or even using plastic bags will risk imprisonment of up to four years or fines of $40,000 (£31,000) from Monday, as the world’s toughest law aimed at reducing plastic pollution came into effect. The east African nation joins more than 40 other countries that have banned, partly banned or taxed single use plastic bags, including China, France, Rwanda, and Italy. Many bags drift into the ocean, strangling turtles, suffocating seabirds and filling the stomachs of dolphins and whales with waste until they die of starvation. “If we continue like this, by 2050, we will have more plastic in the ocean than fish,” said Habib El-Habr, an expert on marine litter working with the UN environment programme in Kenya.

Plastic bags, which El-Habr says take between 500 to 1,000 years to break down, also enter the human food chain through fish and other animals. In Nairobi’s slaughterhouses, some cows destined for human consumption had 20 bags removed from their stomachs. “This is something we didn’t get 10 years ago but now it’s almost on a daily basis,” said county vet Mbuthi Kinyanjui as he watched men in bloodied white uniforms scoop sodden plastic bags from the stomachs of cow carcasses. Kenya’s law allows police to go after anyone even carrying a plastic bag. But Judy Wakhungu, Kenya’s environment minister, said enforcement would initially be directed at manufacturers and suppliers.[..] Kenya is a major exporter of plastic bags to the region.

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Aug 232017
 
 August 23, 2017  Posted by at 9:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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William Merritt Chase Back Of A Nude 1888

 

Banks Earn Record Profits in Q2, Savers Sacrificed: FDIC (WS)
The Silent Crisis in US Housing Finance (Whalen)
The New Economic Science Of Capitalism’s Slow-Burn Energy Collapse (Ahmed)
Switch to Renewables Won’t End the Geopolitics of Energy (BBG)
No U.S.-Russia Cyber Unit Without Trump Notifying Congress (R.)
The Imperial Collapse Clock Ticks Closer to Midnight (Krieger)
The Confederate General Who Was Erased (Dailey)
EU Opens Probe Into Bayer Takeover Of Monsanto (AFP)
Schaeuble Wants To Allow Eurozone Countries To Tap ESM For Investments (R.)
Fears Of Tensions As Refugee Arrivals in Greece Rise Again (K.)

 

 

And who are you going to turn to to protest this? Not your politicians, they’re in on it.

Banks Earn Record Profits in Q2, Savers Sacrificed: FDIC (WS)

Savers have been shanghaied into doing an enormous job, in small increments, day after day, for nine years: Recapitalizing the collapsed US banking system and making it immensely profitable again, leading to high core-capital ratios, record bonuses, big-fat dividends, and massive share-buybacks. And the FDIC, in its Quarterly Banking Profile released today, shows how. The total number of FDIC-insured commercial banks and savings institutions fell by 271 to 5,787 by the end of the second quarter. Of them, 5,338 were community banks. Most of this shrinkage was due to consolidation. But there were a handful of bank failures: in 2016, five banks failed. So far this year, six banks failed. The remaining banks get a bigger slice of the pie.

Here’s the good news: Almost everything in the report is good news! That is, unless you’re a saver whose income stream has been confiscated in order to make this good news possible. FDIC-insured banks and savings institutions booked a combined net income of $48.3 billion in the second quarter 2017, a post-crisis high. That’s up by $4.7 billion, or 10.7%, from a year ago (chart via FDIC):

This $4.7-billion increase in earnings was caused by a jump in net interest income of $10.3 billion (9.1%). Net interest income is the difference between a bank’s revenues generated by interest-bearing assets, such as loans, and the costs of its liabilities, mainly deposits but also bonds and the like. Currently banks borrow money from depositors at near zero cost. And it’s a lot of money. At the end of Q2, all commercial banks held $11.2 trillion in domestic deposits. Of that, $9.1 trillion were savings deposits. This is money that banks owe savers. A lot of nearly free money. [..] One of the most important performance metrics for banks is Return On Assets. In Q2, for all FDIC-insured banks combined, the Average ROA reached 1.14%, the highest since Q2 2007. Yes, thank you hallelujah dear savers (chart via FDIC):

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Nothing to do with inflation (we know because money velocity is way down), but with trapping people into debt: “Even adjusted for inflation, the median home price in 1940 would only have been $30,600 in 2000 dollars”.

The Silent Crisis in US Housing Finance (Whalen)

The big picture on housing reflected in the mainstream media is one of caution, as illustrated in The Wall Street Journal. Borodovsky & Ramkumar ask the obvious question: Are US homes overvalued? Short answer: Yes. Send your cards and letters to Janet Yellen c/o the Federal Open Market Committee in Washington. As we’ve discussed in several forums over the past few years, home valuations are one of the clearest indicators of inflation in the US economy. While members of the tenured world of economics somehow rationalize understating or ignoring the fact of double digit increases in home prices along the country’s affluent periphery, sure looks like asset price inflation to us. In fact, since WWII home prices in the US have gone up four times the official inflation rate.

“Houses weren’t always this expensive,” notes CNBC. “In 1940, the median home value in the U.S. was just $2,938. In 1980, it was $47,200, and by 2000, it had risen to $119,600. Even adjusted for inflation, the median home price in 1940 would only have been $30,600 in 2000 dollars, according to data from the U.S. Census.” Inflation, just to review, is defined as too many dollars chasing too few goods, in this case bona fide investment opportunities. A combination of slow household formation and low levels of new home construction are seen as the proximate cause of the housing price squeeze, but higher prices also limit the level of existing home sales. Many long-time residents of high priced markets like CA and NY cannot move without leaving the community entirely. So they get a home equity line or reverse mortgage, and shelter in place, thereby reducing the stock of available homes.

Two key indicators that especially worry us in the world of credit is the falling cost of defaults and the widening gap between asset pricing and cash flow. Credit metrics for bank-owned single-family and multifamily loans are showing very low default rates. More, loss-given default (LGD) remains in negative territory for the latter, suggesting a steady supply of greater fools ready to buy busted multifamily property developments above par value. We can’t wait for the FDIC quarterly data for Q2 2017 to be released next week as we expect these credit metrics to skew even further. Single-family exposures are likewise showing very low default rates and LGDs at 30-year lows, again suggesting a significant asset price bubble in 1-4 family homes. The fact that many of these properties are well under water in terms of what the property could fetch as a rental also seasons our view that we are in the midst of a Fed-induced investment mania.

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Nice and interesting, but don’t present it as something new. At best all the scientists et al quoted have only recently found out. And as the Automatic Earth has said forever, don’t say the 2007/8 crisis was caused by energy issues. The financial world didn’t need any help causing it.

The New Economic Science Of Capitalism’s Slow-Burn Energy Collapse (Ahmed)

Recent studies suggest that the EROI of fossil fuels has steadily declined since the early 20th century, meaning that as we’re depleting our higher quality resources, we’re using more and more energy just to get new energy out. This means that the costs of energy production are increasing while the quality of the energy we’re producing is declining. But unlike previous studies, the authors of the new paper [..] have removed any uncertainty that might have remained about the matter. Court and Fizaine find that the EROI values of global oil and gas production reached their maximum peaks in the 1930s and 40s. Global oil production hit peak EROI at 50:1; while global gas production hit peak EROI at 150:1. Since then, the EROI values of oil and gas-the overall energy we’re able to extract from these resources for every unit of energy we put in- is inexorably declining.

Even coal, the only fossil fuel resource whose EROI has not yet maxed out, is forecast to undergo an EROI peak sometime between 2020 and 2045. This means that while coal might still have signficant production potential in some parts of the world, rising costs of production are making it increasingly uneconomical. Axiom: Aggregating this data together reveals that the world’s fossil fuels overall experienced their maximum cumulative EROI of approximately 44:1 in the early 1960s.

Since then, the total value of energy we’re able to extract from the world’s fossil fuel resource base has undergone a protracted, continuous and irreversible decline. At this rate of decline, by 2100, we are projected to extract the same value of EROI from fossil fuels as we were in the 1800s. Several other studies suggest that this ongoing decline in the overall value of the energy extracted from global fossil fuels has played a fundamental role in the slowdown of global economic growth in recent years. In this sense, the 2008 financial crash did not represent a singular event, but rather one key event in an unfolding process. [..] Going back to the new EROI analysis by French economists, Victor Court and Florian Fizaine, the EROI of oil is forecast to reduce to 15:1 by 2018. It will continue to decline to around 10:1 by 2035. They broadly forecast the same pattern for gas and coal: Overall, their data suggests that the EROI of all fossil fuels will hit 15:1 by 2060, and decline further to 10:1 by 2080.

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Whole new resources wars lie ahead.

Switch to Renewables Won’t End the Geopolitics of Energy (BBG)

Yes, there are many reasons to be enthusiastic about a shift toward renewables. Unfortunately, an escape from energy geopolitics is not likely to be among them. [..] Among the most interesting of possible trends we highlight is the idea that a more renewable-heavy future will likely bring with it new forms of the “resource curse” – the phenomenon that political and economic development in many resource-wealthy countries seems stymied when compared to resource-poor ones. In many resource-rich nations, economic growth is actually slower and political institutions are more likely to be repressive and nondemocratic. In the world of fossil fuels, this curse has generally applied to big producers of oil and gas.

In a world heavier on renewables, the curse will probably not be so relevant for producers of power; solar, wind and geothermal energy are more likely to be generated and consumed within the borders of a country than to become profitable exports and generators of huge windfall cash flows. Rather, we may see this curse surface in countries rich in the materials required to produce the components that make renewable energy possible. Many of these resources are rare-earth metals and other commodities deep underground. For example, indium and cobalt – neither is technically a rare-earth metal, but they are still relatively hard to come by – are essential for making solar panels and batteries.

China provides approximately half of the indium consumed globally today, whereas the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the source of more than half the world’s cobalt. The big producers of lithium, another material essential for the production of batteries, are Argentina, Australia, Chile and China. Yet Bolivia’s large untapped reserves of lithium could catapult it into this league in the future. Tellurium is not a rare-earth mineral, but it is another key component of solar panels. The U.S. has imported most of this material from Canada, but relies to some extent on Belgium, China and the Philippines. By some estimates, China supplies as much as 95% of all the rare-earth elements in the global market. Given Beijing’s dominant position, the world should expect repeats of the 2010 episode when China halted the sale of rare earths to Japan – where they are vital for the production of solar panels and batteries – in the wake of a maritime dispute.

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Whatever anyone thinks of this, do note that one political freely body voting itself the powers of another is scary.

No U.S.-Russia Cyber Unit Without Trump Notifying Congress (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump would be required to notify U.S. lawmakers before creating a joint U.S.-Russia cyber security unit – an idea that has drawn criticism across the political spectrum – under legislation advancing in Congress. The proposal, if it became law, would be the latest in a series of maneuvers by Congress that either limit the president’s authority on Russia matters or rebuke his desire to warm relations with Moscow. A provision contained within the annual Intelligence Authorization Act and passed by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee 14-1 would require the Trump administration to provide Congress with a report describing what intelligence would be shared with Russia, any counterintelligence concerns and how those concerns would be addressed.

The bill, which grants congressional approval for clandestine operations carried out by the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies, passed the Senate Intelligence Committee in July, but its text was only recently made public because it involves sensitive intelligence operations. Trump last month said on Twitter that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had discussed establishing “an impenetrable Cyber Security unit” to address issues like the risk of cyber meddling in elections. Trump quickly backpedaled on the idea, which was criticized by Democrats, senior Republicans and the National Security Agency director. [..] Trump wants to improve relations with Russia, a desire that has been hamstrung by the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election to help Republican Trump against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

U.S. congressional panels and a special counsel are investigating the interference and possible collusion between Russia and members of Trump’s campaign. Moscow has denied any meddling and Trump has denied any collusion. Previously, Congress tied the president’s hands on Russia by passing a bill that Trump cannot ease the sanctions against Russia unless he seeks congressional approval. In August, the Senate blocked Trump from being able to make recess appointments while lawmakers were on break, fearing the president would fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions over his handling of the Russian probe. Lawmakers have also introduced legislation to stop Trump from having the ability to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed to determine whether there was collusion between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Moscow.

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Amen.

The Imperial Collapse Clock Ticks Closer to Midnight (Krieger)

If you haven’t watched Trump’s Afghanistan speech by now you really should. It’s not good enough to read anyone else’s summary, you need to hear it for yourselves. It’s only 25 minutes long. As I started listening, I sensed myself getting angry. It was the same empty, bullshit propaganda I’ve been hearing from U.S. Presidents my entire life. This broken record of disingenuousness has become simply unbearable, and even worse, I know it’s going to work on millions upon millions of Americans. We refuse to think for ourselves, and we refuse to admit the obvious. There will be hell to pay for this ignorance and denial. [..] towards the end of the speech, Trump says the following:

“In every generation we have faced down evil, and we have always prevailed. We prevailed because we know who we are and what we are fighting for.”

Unfortunately, here’s the cold hard truth: We have no idea who we are, and we have no idea what we are fighting for. We’ve become the very evil he claims to be fighting against as the nation morphed into a pernicious, destructive, and immoral empire. This is the heart of the problem — we are constantly lying to ourselves. Of course, we’ll never set things on the right track if we can’t diagnose the disease in the first place. We’ve torched our national treasure and goodwill by running around the world trying to push everybody around, and simultaneously institutionalized a corrupt and predatory neo-feudal society at home. We’ve ignored our own people in a foolish and self-destructive quest to maintain and grow empire and the results will not be pretty.

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Good story. The world is not black and white, there are simply people who don’t want to see color.

The Confederate General Who Was Erased (Dailey)

A native Virginian, a railroad magnate, a slaveholder, and an ardent secessionist, Mahone served in the Confederate army throughout the war. He was one of the Army of Northern Virginia’s most able commanders, distinguishing himself particularly in the summer of 1864 at the Battle of the Crater outside Petersburg. After the war, Robert E. Lee recalled that, when contemplating a successor, he thought that Mahone “had developed the highest qualities for organization and command.” General William Mahone has not been forgotten entirely. Rather, he has been selectively remembered. There is a Mahone Monument, for example, erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy, at the Crater Battlefield in Petersburg, and Civil War scholars have treated Mahone’s military career with respect.

There is an able biography. The problems posed by William Mahone for many Virginians in the past — and what makes it worthwhile for us to think about him in the present — lie in his postwar career. Senator William Mahone was one of the most maligned political leaders in post-Civil War America. He was also one of the most capable. Compared to the Roman traitor Cataline (by Virginia Democrats), to Moses (by African American congressman John Mercer Langston), and to Napoleon (by himself), Mahone organized and led the most successful interracial political alliance in the post-emancipation South. Mahone’s Readjuster Party, an independent coalition of black and white Republicans and white Democrats that was named for its policy of downwardly “readjusting” Virginia’s state debt, governed the state from 1879 to 1883.

During this period, a Readjuster governor occupied the statehouse, two Readjusters represented Virginia in the United States Senate, and Readjusters represented six of Virginia’s ten congressional districts. Under Mahone’s leadership, his coalition controlled the state legislature and the courts, and held and distributed the state’s many coveted federal offices. A black-majority party, the Readjusters legitimated and promoted African American citizenship and political power by supporting black suffrage, office-holding, and jury service. To a degree previously unseen in Virginia, and unmatched anywhere else in the nineteenth-century South, the Readjusters became an institutional force for the protection and advancement of black rights and interests.

At the state level, the Readjusters separated payment of the school tax from the suffrage, thereby enfranchising thousands of Virginia’s poorest voters. They restored and reinvigorated public education in the state, and they lowered real estate and personal property taxes. They banned the chain gang and the whipping post. At the municipal level, Readjuster governments paved streets, added sidewalks, and modernized water systems.

The Readjusters lost power in 1883 through a Democratic campaign of violence, electoral fraud, and appeals to white solidarity. While Democrats suppressed progressive politics in the state, other groups of elite white Virginians worked fast to eradicate the memory of Virginia’s experiment in interracial democracy. These were mutually reinforcing projects. Convinced that black enfranchisement was “the greatest curse that ever befell this country,” members of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA), founded in 1889, equated the Readjuster’ rule with “mobocracy” and called for radical pruning of the electorate. After 1900, William Mahone was characterized by whites in Virginia as a demagogic race traitor with autocratic tendencies. This representation was so powerful that as late as the 1940s the worst charge that could be brought against an anti-Democratic opposition candidate was that he had been associated with Mahone and the Readjusters.

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Monopolizing food should be fought for reasons much more profound than legal or economic ones.

EU Opens Probe Into Bayer Takeover Of Monsanto (AFP)

The European Commission said Tuesday that it was opening an in-depth investigation into the proposed $66 billion (56-billion-euro) takeover of US seed and pesticide supplier Monsanto by Germany’s Bayer, citing concerns it could reduce competition in key products for farmers. “Seeds and pesticide products are essential for farmers and ultimately consumers,” said EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager. “We need to ensure effective competition so that farmers can have access to innovative products, better quality and also purchase products at competitive prices.” In its own statement, Leverkusen-based Bayer said it “believes that the proposed combination will be highly beneficial for farmers and consumers.” The firm “will continue to work closely and constructively with the European Commission” and still aims to receive approval for the deal by the end of the year, it added.

After a months-long pursuit in which it raised its offer price several times, Bayer won over Monsanto’s management in September for the deal, which would create the world’s largest integrated pesticides and seeds company. If the tie-up goes ahead, the new company would have some 140,000 employees around the world with combined annual revenues from agriculture alone of about €23 billion. But the deal has drawn criticism from environmental groups because of Monsanto’s long history of promoting genetically modified crops. “There’s not much to investigate. One monster corporation controlling our food is a bad idea for farmers and citizens everywhere,” said Nick Flynn of the Avaaz advocacy group. “Over a million people are hoping Commissioner Vestager comes back with a long-term rejection of Monsanto and Bayer’s marriage from hell.”

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Trojan.

Schaeuble Wants To Allow Eurozone Countries To Tap ESM For Investments (R.)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble is working on a proposal that would allow southern eurozone countries to tap into the single currency bloc’s bailout fund to boost investments during recessions, a newspaper said on Wednesday. If the unsourced report in the mass-selling German daily Bild is confirmed, the plan would mark a major change of policy for Schaeuble who had until recently always opposed transfers from richer eurozone countries to poorer members like Greece. Germany is the biggest contributer to the European Stability Mechanism, the eurozone’s bailout fund. Bild said Schaeuble intended to make the proposal after Germany’s Sept.24 election, which his conservatives led by Chancellor Angela Merkel are expected to win. In exchange for more flexible access to the ESM, Schaeuble wants the fund to have more say over national debt and budgets.

Bild added that the proposal was a goodwill gesture toward French President Emmanuel Macron who has vowed to work with Merkel on a roadmap for closer eurozone integration. Schaeuble said earlier this year that he shared Macron’s view that financial transfers from richer to poorer states are necessary within the eurozone. A joint eurozone budget and a common finance minister are among ideas for deeper European Union integration around the single currency after Britain leaves the EU in 2019. Completing a banking union has also been proposed. Schaeuble is loathed in many southern eurozone countries and especially in Greece, for insisting on tough austerity measures in exchange for bailout funds during the bloc’s debt crisis that started seven years ago.

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Time for Greece to get scared again.

Fears Of Tensions As Refugee Arrivals in Greece Rise Again (K.)

Authorities on the islands of the eastern Aegean were unnerved on Tuesday by the arrival of 397 undocumented migrants in just one day, though it remained unclear whether a recent spike in newcomers is the beginning of a new, stronger influx from neighboring Turkey. The 397 new arrivals – 225 on Chios, 61 on Samos, 93 on Leros and 18 on Kos – came on the heels of 643 who landed on the islands over the weekend. August has seen the people smugglers intensify their operations, with more than 2,400 migrants landing on Greek shores following journeys aboard smuggling vessels from Turkey. The renewed influx is putting further pressure on already overcrowded migrant reception facilities on the islands, with authorities acknowledging that a key problem is the slow rate at which hundreds of asylum applications are being processed.

“There has been a noticeable increase in refugee and migrant arrivals over the past few days, which underlines the need for asylum services to be boosted immediately so that the the process is completed more quickly and the islands can be decongested,” the regional governor for the northern Aegean, Christina Kalogirou, told Kathimerini. Most migrants who see their inital asylum claims rejected lodge appeals, which drags out the process even longer, Kalogirou said, adding that the presence of hundreds of migrants in crowded venues for months on end leads to “aggravated situations, tension and even outbreaks of violence.”

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Aug 222017
 
 August 22, 2017  Posted by at 8:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Pierre Bonnard Nude in an Interior c1935

 

Periods Of Re-Pricing Are Usually Quick And Brutal (Roberts)
US House Price Bubbles 2.0 (Hanson)
QE Is Like Heroin, Says Former UK Treasury Official (G.)
UK Credit Card Lending Booms As Real Wages Fall (Ind.)
Cash is Not The Curse (Mark GB)
US Gross National Debt to Spike by $800 Billion in October? (WS)
Why Peter Costello Is Not Even Half Right On Housing (ND)
Diminishing Returns (Jim Kunstler)
What Would A US Civil War Look Like? (Copley)
Hate is the New Sex (Greer)
Greece Concerns Peak Amid Sudden Spike In Refugee Arrivals (K.)
US Farmers Confused By Monsanto Weed Killer’s Complex Instructions (R.)
UK Blasted Over ‘Shocking’ Export Of Deadly Weedkiller To Poorer Countries (G.)
The Blue Dogs of Mumbai (G.)

 

 

And the longer re-pricing is postponed, through QE etc., the steeper the fall will be.

Periods Of Re-Pricing Are Usually Quick And Brutal (Roberts)

1. Stock prices run in cycles. Periods of re-pricing are usually quick and powerful.

7. Your first loss will often be your best loss. No one is right all the time and you don’t have to be. There are market participants that are immensely profitable by being right only 30% of the time. It is good to have conviction in your investment thesis, but discipline should always trump conviction.

8. Optimism and pessimism in the stock market are contagious. Investor psychology often loses its logic and become emotional. The news media and the most recent price action play a particularly important role in developing moods of mass optimism or pessimism.

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Debt slaves.

US House Price Bubbles 2.0 (Hanson)

A big problem with house prices experiencing even a “moderate” correction of 10% to 20% — already underway in many of the most over-priced regions — is with between 40% and 50% of all house purchases for years being of the “less than 10% down” variety — and because it takes 8% to 10% equity to sell plus the 3% to 10% down payment on the new house — it doesn’t take much downside to swamp the nation in “NEGATIVE EQUITY” once again. And we know for certain that many homeowners rather pay their credit cards and car payments before their mortgage when they are underwater.

ITEM 1) Household income INCREASE needed to Buy the Median Priced House in Key Cities. Bottom Line: On a “national” basis the divergence isn’t too bad…6%. But, in the key cities that drive the US economy, Bubble 2.0 has blown large. This represents significant downside, especially in the sand states, just like in Bubble 1.0.

ITEM 2) DIVERGENCE between Actual Household Income & Income Needed to Buy the Median Priced House. Bottom Line: Here too, on a “national” basis the divergence isn’t too bad…-6%. But, in the key cities that drive the US economy, Bubble 2.0 has blown large.

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It’s worse, actually. Heroin cold turkey is doable though hard. QE cold turkey is definitely not.

QE Is Like Heroin, Says Former UK Treasury Official (G.)

A former senior Treasury mandarin has compared quantitative easing to heroin and called for an end to almost a decade of electronic money printing by central banks. Nick Macpherson was permanent secretary to the Treasury when Bank of England officials started buying UK government bonds to stimulate the economy following the financial crisis. On Monday, he said it was “time to move on” from QE, which is credited with helping Britain into recovery but remains in use nine years later amid concerns over Brexit. Threadneedle Street initially began pumping £200bn into the gilt market in 2009 to boost the economy, before expanding the programme to £435bn, including an extra £60bn following the EU referendum. The bond buying scheme is similar to massive stimulus packages used by other countries, such as the Fed’s $4.5tn of asset purchases (£3.5tn) and the ECB ’s €2.3tn (£2.1tn) plan.

Lord Macpherson’s call comes as pressure mounts on the world’s central bankers to give more clues about how they intend to exit QE in a process known as “normalisation” almost a decade on from the crash. Some indications could be given at a meeting of senior officials at Jackson Hole in the US later this week. Mario Draghi, the ECB governor, is expected to be the star turn at the event watched by global investors, although he is not thought to be preparing to announce the end of QE just yet. While QE is credited with lowering borrowing costs and helping banks to lend more to consumers and businesses, critics say such schemes inflate assets owned by the richest in society, while punishing savers without large amounts of wealth. Macpherson did not single out the specific bond-buying programme of a particular central bank. “QE like heroin: need ever increasing fixes to create a high. Meanwhile, negative side effects increase. Time to move on,” he wrote on Twitter.

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And after all the QE, people are poorer than before.

UK Credit Card Lending Booms As Real Wages Fall (Ind.)

UK consumers are increasingly purchasing goods on plastic with the number of transactions on credit and debit cards jumping 12% in the last year. The increase was the fastest annual rise in the number of card transactions since 2008 and comes after warnings from the Bank of England about the growth of personal debt. Shoppers spent 7.2% more on all types of cards in the year to the end of June, despite real wages falling over the period, data from industry body UK Finance showed. The total value of credit and charge card purchases increased 6.9% over the 12 months with credit card lending accelerating in April, May and June to an annual growth rate of 9%. During those three months, the number of people defaulting on their credit card bills and personal loans “increased significantly”, the Bank of England said in a recent report.

The rise comes as official figures show real earnings have declined. Average pay rose at an annual rate of 2.1% in the three months to June – well below the inflation rate of 2.6% in the year to the end of June. Overall consumer spending was up 1.3% in the year to July, the Office for National Statistics said in a separate release this month. Peter Tutton, head of policy at StepChange debt charity, expressed concern at the findings. “With our research estimating 3.2 million people are using credit cards to pay for everyday household expenses, the growing stock of credit card debt should focus attention on households in financial difficulties,” he said. Mr Tutton said the growth in credit card cash advances was particularly worrying. This type of borrowing is expensive and can be a warning sign that borrowers are facing financial difficulty.

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More on Ken Rogoff and Larry Summers’ crazy ideas of power over people’s money.

Cash is Not The Curse (Mark GB)

There’s a pub in the Welsh hills, not far from where I live, called ‘The Tylers Arms’ – pronounced ‘tillers’. The name originated, I believe, in the 18th century. The local villagers, who all worked on the land, would go there to pick up their wages in the form of ‘tyles’ – some of which would be immediately exchanged for beer, and thus returned to the landowner…who also owned the pub…and the local store. Thus, the ‘tyles’ circulated regularly, providing employment & cheap produce for the villagers, a steady and almost ‘captive’ profit for the landowner, and stability for the community. As the industrial revolution progressed some of the larger UK manufacturers adopted a similar system, but using fiat currency – e.g. there is a ‘village’ in Birmingham known as Bourneville, which was built by the Cadbury family.

Now before anyone thinks I’ve got unresolved baggage on feudalism, a ‘downer’ on capitalism, or a yearning for socialism…hold your horses please…this is about something far more serious than the ‘isms’. This is about who controls the money. The folks who do that…can, and do, call the tune for the rest of us. And that’s what I want to talk about here.

These days our monetary masters are much more sophisticated – our ‘tyles’ are pieces of paper backed by government fiat. You can work for pretty much whomever you like, and you can buy from whomever you like, but one way or another the government will take a cut of everything you earn and everything you spend. You can do the odd ‘swapsie’ with your pals but you can’t pay taxes with home grown tomatoes – the IRS don’t do vegetables – they can’t digitise them or create them with a keystroke so veggies would confuse the poor dears.

What happens next is technical and varies between territories, so let’s just deal with the ‘myth’: The taxman’s ‘cut’ is used to boost the economy on your behalf by spending it on useful things like building roads and bridges. It also includes an ever-growing list of things that you didn’t even realise you need, like cruise missiles & other stuff that goes ‘BANG’, along with other seemingly ‘essential’ services like bribing foreign governments and funding ‘moderate rebels’ to remove the foreign governments that can’t be bribed. Clearly we’ve come a long way from tyles, especially in the case of the dollar, which can used to bribe governments on seven continents. The chap who owned the Tillers never dreamt of such power – this is considered to be progress…

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Now that Goldman rules the White House, default risk is definitely down.

US Gross National Debt to Spike by $800 Billion in October? (WS)

“There is zero chance, no chance we won’t raise the debt ceiling,” swore Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) at an event in Louisville, Kentucky, on Monday. He who couldn’t get his Republican ducks all lined up in a row to get any major legislation passed this year was confident that the Senate would pass a bill that would raise the debt ceiling so that the government could continue to pay for things that Congress told the Government to pay for, and so that the government could service its debts, rather than default on them. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was there with him, pleading once again for a “clean” debt-ceiling increase, according to the Wall Street Journal. His “magic super Treasury powers” that allow the government to conserve cash to avoid having to issue more debt will expire at the end of September, he said.

“This is not about spending money,” he said. “This is about paying for what we’ve spent, and we cannot put the credit of the United States on the line.” The debt ceiling is just under $20 trillion. While the government can issue bonds to redeem maturing bonds – and it does this all the time – it cannot allow the gross national debt to go beyond the debt ceiling. But because it has to continue to pay for things that Congress mandated in its various spending bills over the years, the Treasury scrounges up the money from other government accounts, robbing Peter to pay Paul, so to speak. For example it temporarily short-changes the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund. These “extraordinary measures,” as they’re called, or the “magic super Treasury powers,” as Mnuchin called it, run out after a while.

Mnuchin said in his last letter to Congress that the out-of-money-date is September 29. But as in the past, the real out-of-money date can probably be stretched into October. These shenanigans make the entire world shake its collective head and pray that Congress, after going through its charade, will for the umpteenth time raise the debt limit. The other option is a US default. Its global consequences are too ugly to even imagine. But this charade has some peculiar effects, beyond its entertainment value: for months on end, it covers up the true extent of US government debt, and the current surge of this debt. This chart shows the gross national debt going back to 2011, including the last two debt-ceiling fights. Note the long flat lines leading into October or November, followed each time by an enormous spike:

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A good example of exatly how stuck governments and central banks are after blowing housing bubbles. There was an Australian tycoon this week who said the Oz bubble won’t pop because people are too heavily invested in property…

Why Peter Costello Is Not Even Half Right On Housing (ND)

When former treasurer Peter Costello called on Monday for interest rates to be ‘normalised’ upwards to stop Australia’s credit bubble getting any larger, he was very nearly half right. As long as the Reserve Bank keeps the official cash rate at the record low of 1.5%, the economy will become increasingly “unbalanced”, as he put it. And although struggling families will protest that they can’t afford higher mortgage repayments, the other side of that coin is that each successive wave of first home owners is taking on even higher debts. The longer that super-low rates persist, the more debt the banks will be able to balance on the shoulders of new home buyers. That has already created huge property-based inequality. But Mr Costello’s comments weren’t focused on that imbalance – he’s worried about the impact that unstable house prices or teetering banks could have on economic growth more generally.

He told The Australian that “once [the price of] money returns to more normal levels” Australia could face a “big problem” with asset prices and the housing market. Quite right, but what could prevent that? A gradual increase in rates will not, in itself, ‘fix’ the housing market. To do that, two other abnormalities need to be addressed. The one mentioned most by Mr Costello’s side of politics is the availability of suitable dwellings – the ‘supply problem’. That is a wildly misunderstood problem, so I will look at it separately in coming days. But bigger than either low rates or the supposed ‘supply problem’ is the abnormality that Mr Costello himself created – tax laws that reward investors for making annual losses in the housing market, so as to reap lightly-taxed capital gains years down the track.

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“..an impenetrable smokescreen of legal blather in the service of racketeering.”

Diminishing Returns (Jim Kunstler)

These two words are the hinge that is swinging American life — and the advanced techno-industrial world, for that matter — toward darkness. They represent an infection in the critical operations of daily life, like a metabolic disease, driving us into disorder and failure. And they are so omnipresent that we’ve failed to even notice the growing failure all around us. Mostly, these diminishing returns are the results of our over-investments in making complex systems more complex, for instance the replacement of the 37-page Glass-Steagall Act that regulated American banking, with the 848 page Dodd-Frank Act, which was only an outline for over 22,000 pages of subsequent regulatory content — all of it cooked up by banking lobbyists, and none of which replaced the single most important rule in Glass-Steagall, which required the separation of commercial banking from trafficking in securities.

Dodd-Frank was a colossal act of misdirection of the public’s attention, an impenetrable smokescreen of legal blather in the service of racketeering. For Wall Street, Dodd-Frank aggravated the conditions that allow stock indexes to only move in one direction, up, for nine years. During the same period, the American economy of real people and real stuff only went steadily down, including the number of people out of the work force, the incomes of those who still had jobs, the number of people with full-time jobs, the number of people who were able to buy food without government help, or pay for a place to live, or send a kid to college. When that morbid tension finally snaps, as it must, it won’t only be the Hedge Funders of the Hamptons who get hurt. It will be the entire global financial system, especially currencies (dollars, Euros, Yen, Pounds, Renminbi) that undergo a swift and dire re-pricing, and all the other things of this world priced in them.

And when that happens, the world will awake to a new reality of steeply reduced possibilities for supporting 7-plus billion people. The same over-investments in complexity have produced the racketeering colossus of so-called health care (formerly “medicine”), in case you’re wondering why the waiting room of your doctor’s office now looks exactly like the motor vehicle bureau. Meanwhile, it’s safe to say that the citizens of this land have never been so uniformly unhealthy, even as they’re being swindled and blackmailed by their “providers.” The eventual result will be a chaotic process of simplification, as giant hospital corporations, insurance companies, and overgrown doctors’ practices collapse, and the braver practitioners coalesce into something resembling Third World clinics.

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“..such a conflict – physical or political – could, equally, lead to a victory for nationalism over globalism, and to the protection of currencies and values.”

What Would A US Civil War Look Like? (Copley)

There is little doubt that the US, despite the evidence that economic recovery is at hand, could spiral into a self-destructive descent of dysfunction, dystopia, and anomie. The path toward a “second civil war” has significant parallels with the causes of the first US Civil War (1861-65). Both events — the 19th Century event and a possible 21st Century one — saw the polarization of a fundamentally urban, abstract society against a fundamentally regional, traditional society. In some respects, it is a conflict between people with long memories (even if those memories are flawed and selective) and people to whom memories and history are irrelevant. Equally, it is a conflict between identity and materialism, with the abstract social groups (the urban populations) the most preoccupied with short-term material gain.

I have covered the US for 50 years, and my earliest view of it was, a half century ago, that its populations would inevitably polarize into protective islands of self-interest, surrounded by seas of unthinking locusts. What is ironic is that the present islands of wealth and power — the cities — have come to represent short-term materialism, as cities have throughout history. But what is interesting is that, despite the global attention on the political/geographic polarizations occurring in the US and other parts of the Western world, there has been a reversion in other parts of the world to a sense of Westphalian or pre-Westphalian nationalism. The fact that “the West” may have ring-fenced Iran, Russia, and so on, with sanctions and other forms of isolation may well be what ensures their enduring status.

They have avoided the contagion of globalism. Russia, indeed, recovered from the Soviet form of globalism in 1991. An urban globalist “victory” over Trump and Brexit would trigger that meltdown toward a form of civil societal collapse – civil war in some form or other – as the regions disavow the diktats of the cities. That would, in turn, bring about the global economic uncertainty which could impact the PRC and then the en-tire world. But such a conflict – physical or political – could, equally, lead to a victory for nationalism over globalism, and to the protection of currencies and values. We have seen this cycle repeated for millennia. It is the eternal battle.

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The Archdruid from a few weeks ago.

Hate is the New Sex (Greer)

It occurred to me the other day that there’s a curious disconnect between one of the most common assumptions most of us make about how to make the world better, on the one hand, and the results that this assumption has had when put into practice, on the other. It’s reminiscent of the realization that led James Hillman and Michael Ventura to title a once-notorious book of theirs We’ve Had A Hundred Years Of Psychotherapy And The World’s Getting Worse. In this case as in that one, something that’s supposed to make things better doesn’t seem to be doing the trick—in fact, quite the opposite—and it’s time that we talked about that. You know the assumption I have in mind, dear reader. It’s the conviction that certain common human emotions are evil and harmful and wrong, and the way to make a better world is to get rid of them in one way or another.

That belief is taken for granted throughout the industrial societies of the modern West, and it’s been welded in place for a very long time, though—as we’ll see in a moment—the particular emotions so labeled have varied from time to time. Just now, of course, the emotion at the center of this particular rogue’s gallery is hate. These days hate has roughly the same role in popular culture that original sin has in traditional Christian theology. If you want to slap the worst imaginable label on an organization, you call it a hate group. If you want to push a category of discourse straight into the realm of the utterly unacceptable, you call it hate speech. If you’re speaking in public and you want to be sure that everyone in the crowd will beam approval at you, all you have to do is denounce hate.

At the far end of this sort of rhetoric, you get the meretricious slogan used by Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful presidential campaign last year: LOVE TRUMPS HATE. I hope that none of my readers are under the illusion that Clinton’s partisans were primarily motivated by love, except in the sense of Clinton’s love for power and the Democrats’ love for the privileges and payouts they could expect from four more years of control of the White House; and of course Trump and the Republicans were head over heels in love with the same things. The fact that Clinton’s marketing flacks and focus groups thought that the slogan just quoted would have an impact on the election, though, shows just how pervasive the assumption I’m discussing has become in our culture.

Now of course most people these days, when confronted with the sort of things I’ve just written, are likely to respond, “Wait, are you saying that hate is good?”—as though the only alternatives available are condemning something as absolutely bad or praising it as absolutely good. Let’s set that simplistic reaction to one side for the moment, and ask a different question: what happens when people decide that some common human emotion is evil and harmful and wrong, and decide that the way to make a better world is to get rid of it?

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Watch Erdogan. German elections coming up.

Greece Concerns Peak Amid Sudden Spike In Refugee Arrivals (K.)

A sudden spike in the number of undocumented migrants arriving from neighboring Turkey has led to concern on the part of Greek authorities, who expect the next few days to reveal whether the rapid increase is a random occurence or the beginning of a new trend. A total of 643 migrants who had set out from the Turkish coast landed on the islands of the eastern Aegean between Friday and Monday morning, according to government figures. Another 114 people arrived in two separate smuggling boats later on Monday, putting authorities on alert.

Early on Monday, a vessel belonging to the European Union’s border monitoring agency Frontex spotted a smuggling boat off the coast of Chios and intercepted the 53 migrants who had been aboard. Later in the day another 61 migrants were found in a boat that had reached Samos and were also detained. Tensions are already high in reception centers on several Aegean islands. Most of the facilities are at around twice their capacity as hundreds of migrants and refugees await the outcome of asylum applications or deportation orders. Tolerance has been tested in several island communities as dozens of migrants continue to arrive daily from nearby Turkish shores. There are currently more than 14,400 migrants living on camps on Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros.

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Confused? The instructions are impossible to follow, not confusing.

US Farmers Confused By Monsanto Weed Killer’s Complex Instructions (R.)

With Monsanto’s latest flagship weed killer, dicamba, banned in Arkansas and under review by U.S. regulators over concerns it can drift in the wind, farmers and weed scientists are also complaining that confusing directions on the label make the product hard to use safely. Dicamba, sold under different brand names by BASF and DuPont, can vaporize under certain conditions and the wind can blow it into nearby crops and other plants. The herbicide can damage or even kill crops that have not been genetically engineered to resist it. To prevent that from happening, Monsanto created a 4,550-word label with detailed instructions. Its complexity is now being cited by farmers and critics of the product. It was even singled out in a lawsuit as evidence that Monsanto’s product may be virtually impossible to use properly.

At stake for Monsanto is the fate of Xtend soybeans, it largest ever biotech seed launch. Monsanto’s label, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reviewed and approved, instructs farmers to apply the company’s XtendiMax with VaporGrip on its latest genetically engineered soybeans only when winds are blowing at least 3 miles per hour, but not more than 15 mph. Growers must also spray it from no higher than 24 inches above the crops. They must adjust spraying equipment to produce larger droplets of the herbicide when temperatures creep above 91 degrees Fahrenheit. After using the product, they must rinse out spraying equipment. Three times. “The restriction on these labels is unlike anything that’s ever been seen before,” said Bob Hartzler, an agronomy professor and weed specialist at Iowa State University. The label instructions are also of interest to lawyers for farmers suing Monsanto, BASF and DuPont over damage they attribute to the potent weed killer moving off-target to nearby plants.

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It’s not ‘shocking’, it’s criminal.

UK Blasted Over ‘Shocking’ Export Of Deadly Weedkiller To Poorer Countries (G.)

Paraquat, a pesticide so lethal that a single sip can be fatal, has caused thousands of accidental deaths and suicides globally, and was outlawed by EU states in 2007. But Swiss pesticide manufacturer Syngenta is exporting thousands of tonnes of the substance to other parts of the world from an industrial plant in Huddersfield. Campaigners have condemned the practice as an “astonishing double standard”, while a UN expert said it was deeply disquieting that the human rights implications of producing a substance for export that is not authorised in the EU were being ignored. “The fact that the EU has decided to ban the pesticide for health and environmental reasons, but they still export it to countries with far weaker regulation and far weaker controls, is shocking to me,” said Baskut Tuncak, the UN special rapporteur on toxic wastes.

Syngenta is responsible for 95% of Europe’s exports of paraquat, which it sells under the brand name Gramoxone. The substance can be absorbed through the skin and has been linked with Parkinson’s disease. Syngenta has exported 122,831 tonnes of paraquat from the UK since 2015, an average of 41,000 tonnes a year, according to export licensing data analysed by the Swiss NGO Public Eye and shared with the Guardian. Since 2015, when a facility in Belgium stopped exporting paraquat, all EU exports of the pesticide have come from Syngenta’s UK base, according to Public Eye. Almost two-thirds of these exports by volume – 62% – go to poor countries, including Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, Guatemala, Venezuela and India. A further 35% is exported to the US, where paraquat can only be applied by licensed users.

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We are a brilliant species.

The Blue Dogs of Mumbai (G.)

Authorities in Mumbai have shut down a manufacturing company after it was accused of dumping untreated industrial waste and dyes into a local river that resulted in 11 dogs turning blue. The group of strangely coloured canines was first spotted on 11 August, according to the Hindustan Times, prompting locals to complain to the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board about dyes being dumped in the Kasadi river, where the animals often swim. Footage shows the animals roaming the streets with bright blue fur. “It was shocking to see how the dog’s white fur had turned completely blue,” said Arati Chauhan, head of the Navi Mumbai Animal Protection Cell, told the Times. “We have spotted almost five such dogs here and have asked the pollution control board to act against such industries.”

Chauhan had posted images of the blue dogs on the group’s Facebook page, saying the “pollutants from Taloja Industrial area not only ruining the water bodies affecting humans there but also affecting animals, birds, reptiles”. The board investigated, shutting down the company on Wednesday after confirming that canines were turning blue due to air and water pollution linked to the plant. An animal welfare agency managed to capture one of the dogs and wash some of the blue dye off. The group concluded that animal seemed unharmed in all other ways. The Kasadi River flows through an area with hundreds of factories.

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Aug 172017
 
 August 17, 2017  Posted by at 9:02 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Laura Gilpin The Rio Grande 1947

 

The ‘Wall Of Worry’ That Stocks Have Climbed To Rally 271% Since 2009 (MW)
Global Negative-Yielding Debt Surges To Highest Since October (ZH)
The Fed Is Asking Questions, Not Providing Answers (BBG)
Fed Starts to Wonder If Cornerstone Inflation Model Still Works (BBG)
Goldman Sachs Is Infiltrating The Fed In Ways Most People Haven’t Noticed (BI)
Chinese Takeovers Of US Companies Plummet This Year (CNBC)
The World’s Most Ridiculous Constitutional Crisis (BBG)
Hell Hath No Fury Like An Australian Retiree Scorned (BBG)
Americans Are Rapidly Descending Into Madness (Krieger)
A Primer On Bitcoin: The Ultimate Fiat Currency (Lebowitz)
Spain Rescues 600 Migrants, Refugees In Busiest Day as 120 Drown (BBC)

 

 

Stocks have been disconnected from reality. But that can’t last.

The ‘Wall Of Worry’ That Stocks Have Climbed To Rally 271% Since 2009 (MW)

This may be the most sedated stock-market rally of our times. Even as tensions heightened between the U.S. and North Korea and violence broke out on the streets of Charlottesville, Va., stocks took the alarming news in stride, continuing to scale the “wall of worry” in defiance of doomsday predictions of an imminent selloff. “It seems like every day the headlines outside of the market get more and more frightening,” said Michael Batnick, director of research at Ritholtz Wealth Management, who illustrated the resilience of the market in the chart below. As the graph shows, since stocks bottomed in March 2009, the S&P 500 index has soared 271% to multiple records, meandering higher through the European debt crisis, Brexit, and the U.S. presidential election.

Batnick had originally published the chart in March but updated it Wednesday given the recent developments. “This year has been the perfect reminder that political volatility does not necessarily translate into the stock market, with this being the quietest year since 1965,” he said. The S&P 500’s daily trading range averaged 0.32% in the first half of the year, the narrowest in over half a century, underscoring the gap between market volatility and the political upheaval that has marked Trump’s presidency so far, according to Batnick.

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We can all figure what could happen if you throw $20 trillion or so into non-functional markets. Can we figure what happens when they start to function again?

Global Negative-Yielding Debt Surges To Highest Since October (ZH)

The market value of bonds yielding less than zero percent has jumped by a quarter over the past month to $8.68 trillion, the highest since October… which is odd given the mainstream narrative that everything is awesome and global growth is heading for escape velocity?

“probably nothing”

As Bloomberg notes, slower-than-forecast inflation data and haven demand on geopolitical risk have revived bond bulls around the world. With global borrowing costs already so low, central banks should be prepared to cut interest rates deep into negative territory in the next economic downturn, warn economists including Harvard professor Kenneth Rogoff.

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Oh well, it’ summer after all.

The Fed Is Asking Questions, Not Providing Answers (BBG)

The Federal Reserve is either lucky or clever. By signaling that it won’t touch interest rates again until December, it’s bought itself time to have a longer – and much needed – conversation about inflation. Good. There are very legitimate doubts that traditional models explain what’s happening or, rather, what’s not happening. Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee’s July meeting show a growing debate about inflation and why it’s retreating, instead of advancing, in the face of 4.3% unemployment. The central bank is puzzled that prices have been soft for several months. In the absence of any real inflation pressure, the Fed might be reasonably expected to take a break from raising rates while it got a handle on what’s happening. By acting in March and June and hinting that September will be about balance sheet reduction, the Fed gave itself some wiggle room.

Policy makers basically have until December to either see inflation head back toward their 2% target or figure out how to respond if it doesn’t behave. There’s a meeting scheduled for late October, but the Fed’s historical aversion to moving in the absence of new forecasts and a press conference effectively rules out a surprise then. Delaying until December gives officials at least four more months of inflation data. Most still see it returning to its target, in keeping with traditional economic models. And to be fair, as I have written, this isn’t exclusively an American phenomenon. Inflation is weak in Europe and Japan despite a pronounced pickup in growth. (It’s above target in the U.K.; Brexit complicates that particular picture.) But the U.S. is still the world’s largest economy, and the Fed is still the world’s de facto central bank.

The country’s financial markets dwarf others despite frequent predictions of decline. How this inflation mystery ends will matter greatly. What if the book doesn’t have an end? The minutes show some self-doubt starting to creep in alongside the confidence of the majority: Most participants indicated that they expected inflation to pick up over the next couple of years from its current low level and to stabilize around the Committee’s 2% objective over the medium term. Many participants, however, saw some likelihood that inflation might remain below 2% for longer than they currently expected, and several indicated that the risks to the inflation outlook could be tilted to the downside. The account of the July conclave even suggested some heretical questioning of the link between very low unemployment and wages and inflation. The majority are still wedded to the traditional models.

Until we start to see a convincing swing back to the Fed’s target of 2%, we will probably see more of this public questioning of assumptions. Something less contentious was skepticism about the prospects for large-scale fiscal stimulus, the domain of Congress and the White House. A few participants at the Fed meeting doubted it would happen and, if it did, they suspected the boost would be less than might have once been anticipated. That observation went unchallenged. Stay tuned for the last day of August. That’s when the Commerce Department publishes closely watched inflation figures. Enjoy the debate.

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Over 1000 utterly useless PhD economists work for the Fed. The world doesn’t behave like my models do!

Fed Starts to Wonder If Cornerstone Inflation Model Still Works (BBG)

Federal Reserve officials are looking under the hood of their most basic inflation models and starting to ask if something is wrong. Minutes from the July 25-26 Federal Open Market Committee meeting showed a revealing debate over why the economy isn’t producing more inflation in a time of easy financial conditions, tight labor markets and solid economic growth. The central bank has missed its 2% price goal for most of the past five years. Still, a majority of FOMC participants favor further rate increases. The July minutes showed an intensifying debate over whether that is the right policy response. “These minutes to me were troubling,” said Ward McCarthy, chief financial economist at Jefferies in New York. “They don’t have their confidence in their policy decisions; and they don’t have confidence that they can provide the right kind of guidance.”

The FOMC tried hard to avoid that kind of message. In several passages, the minutes asserted that “most” officials were sticking with a forecast that higher inflation would eventually show up. However, the debate over resource slack models and whether standard data sources were telling them the whole story also showed convictions about their forecast are fraying. Price indexes have shown unusual inertia even as the U.S. unemployment rate has fallen, matching a 16-year low of 4.3% in July. The U.S. consumer price index rose 1.7% for the 12 months ending July, while the Fed’s preferred measure, which is tied to consumption, rose 1.4% in June. Another gauge calculated by the Dallas Fed, which trims index outliers to highlight the underlying price trend, rose 1.7% for the 12 months ending June.

That was the same as May, which was down from 1.74% in April. The minutes said “a few” officials described resource slack models as “not particularly useful” while “most” thought the framework was valid. The committee also pondered a number of theories as to why inflation wasn’t responding to tightening labor resources, such as “the possibility that slack may be better measured by labor market indicators other than unemployment.” “It is a battle between data and theory,” said Ethan Harris, head of global economic research at Bank of America in New York.

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A silent coup.

Goldman Sachs Is Infiltrating The Fed In Ways Most People Haven’t Noticed (BI)

Since when do underlings get to chime in on who their next boss should be? That’s just what William Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, did in an interview with AP this week. His fairly strong recommendation of Gary Cohn, Donald Trump’s economic advisor and apparent favorite, was especially egregious since Cohn is former president at Goldman Sachs, where Dudley essentially spent most of his career as chief economist and partner. The Fed’s chairperson is appointed by the president of the United States. Dudley should stick to monetary policy and regulating big banks. As a matter of central bank independence and integrity, he has no business opining on future candidates.

As Bloomberg’s veteran Fed watcher, Rich Miller, put it: “It’s rare for Fed officials like Dudley to comment publicly on such personnel matters because they usually want to avoid doing anything that might be seen as undermining the central bank’s political independence.” “AP: On a personal level, Gary Cohn has been mentioned as potentially a Fed Chair if Yellen were not to be reappointed or declined. Did you work with Gary Cohn at Goldman Sachs? What is your impression of him as a potential Federal Reserve Chair? DUDLEY: I don’t want to evaluate the various candidates for the Federal Reserve, except to say that I think Gary is a reasonable candidate. He knows a lot about financial markets. He knows lots about the financial system. I don’t think you have to have a PhD in Economics, which I have, to be a Chair of the Fed or Governor or a President of one of the Federal Reserve Banks. I think it’s important to have a committee that has diversity. That has different backgrounds and perspectives. So I think Gary’s a reasonable candidate.

[..] Despite the clear conflict, he apparently sees nothing wrong with recommending Cohn while saying nothing to praise his current boss, Fed Chair Janet Yellen, who is also supposedly in the running for reappointment (but not really, it’s just another Trump reality TV suspense stunt). Dudley then coyly declines to discuss other names being floated for the post. Dudley has crossed a line, although it’s not a new one for his institution. The New York Fed was home to one of the financial crises most blatant conflicts of interest, and it’s all related to how Dudley was hired to head it in the first place.

This is what happened: Stephen Friedman was chairman of the New York Fed at the height of the crisis — but at the same time he was a member of Goldman Sachs’ board of directors. He also held a significant financial stake in the megabank, even as he was involved in the bank bailout negotiations. Yes, really (The New York Fed is supposed to play a pivotal role in regulating Wall Street). And here’s the kicker: The Fed’s board granted Friedman a waiver to buy Goldman stock just as prices had hit bottom and the central bank was stepping in to make all the banks, including Goldman, whole on their misguided bets on housing and related assets. Friedman was eventually pressured to step down, but that’s about it. In his role as NY Fed board chair, Friedman got to pick its next president. Who did he run with? Bill Dudley.

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it’s about foreign reserves.

Chinese Takeovers Of US Companies Plummet This Year (CNBC)

As the Trump administration looks to take a tougher stance against Beijing, Chinese investments in the U.S. have more than halved this year, according to Dealogic. “Amid growing regulatory scrutiny of China outbound M&A targeting the U.S., volume has seen a 65% year-on-year decline in 2017 year-to-date,” Nicholas Farfan and Karl But of Dealogic Research said in an Aug. 8 note. “In comparison, such deals peaked at $65.2 billion last year, with high-profile deals including HNA’s acquisition of 25% of Hilton Worldwide.” “With tightening restrictions, Chinese buyers may look to stop pursuing or shelve potential acquisitions in the U.S.,” the note said. The pressure and uncertainty are coming from both countries. On Beijing’s side, authorities are reportedly targeting some of the largest Chinese dealmakers to try to keep capital from fleeing the country and contributing to yuan weakness.

On the American side, reports indicate the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States is looking to use national security concerns to prevent more Chinese purchases of U.S. firms, especially in technology. Anecdotally, Gregory Husisian, chair of the export controls and national security group at law firm Foley & Lardner, noted that an increasing number of clients are concerned about working with Chinese buyers due to the potential for regulatory intervention. The dealmaking industry could also suffer some significant business setbacks. The Dealogic analysts estimate about $9.7 billion in pending Chinese deals to buy U.S. firms could fall under regulatory scrutiny, potentially putting $75 million in advisor fees at risk.

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Baffling. They really don’t seem to know their own laws. Which might be a problem if you’re in government?!

The World’s Most Ridiculous Constitutional Crisis (BBG)

Australia’s parliament is in the grip of the world’s most ridiculous constitutional crisis. The situation threatens the country’s democratic process, which is reason enough for politicians and courts to work to unpick it. More importantly, though, it raises questions the rest of the world would do well to ponder. Over the past month, five members of Australia’s 226-member parliament have admitted that they may have unwittingly held dual citizenship – a condition that, under Australia’s 1900 constitution, disqualifies them from political office in Canberra. The latest blow on Monday ensnared Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, putting into jeopardy the government’s one-seat majority in the governing House of Representatives. Joyce’s father was born in New Zealand in 1924. As a result, Kiwis officially consider him one of their own.

Journalists and political staffers have launched a hunt to see who will fall next. The country’s justice minister Michael Keenan took to social media Thursday to confirm he renounced his British citizenship 13 years ago, after the Sydney Morning Herald reported that he may have been a dual citizen. In total, 13 senators and 11 House members were born overseas, equivalent to about 17% and 7.3% of the respective chambers. More may be caught, like Joyce, as a result of their parentage. With both chambers finely-balanced between parties – and renouncing foreign citizenship, in many cases, a long and complex process – the crisis could hamstring the government’s ability to pass legislation. Australia has one of highest proportions of foreign-born residents among democratic countries. Nearly half of permanent residents are first- or second-generation migrants, with about 28% born overseas and 21% having at least one foreign-born parent.

About 4.6% were, like me, born in the U.K.; another 2.6% in China, Hong Kong and Macau, plus 2.2% from New Zealand and 1.9% from India. More than 27% of the population speaks a language other than English at home. That’s a vast population whose ability to serve in parliament is potentially restricted. There are so many different regulations around the world that it’s not always obvious to individuals which countries might claim them as citizens. Larissa Waters, a Greens senator who was born in Winnipeg but has lived in Australia since infancy, quit last month after discovering that a Canadian law that entered into force when she was seven days old meant Canada still considered her a citizen. A week later, Australia’s then-Resources Minister Matthew Canavan was caught out after discovering his mother had once sought Italian citizenship for herself and for him. “Until last week I had no suspicion I could be an Italian citizen,” he wrote on Twitter. “I was not born in Italy and have never been to Italy.”

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Your pension has left the building. Those are its foorprints over there.

Hell Hath No Fury Like An Australian Retiree Scorned (BBG)

Hell hath no fury like an Australian retiree scorned.Shares in the country’s giant phone company Telstra fell as much as 12% after it announced annual results Thursday, wiping off some A$6.2 billion ($4.9 billion) of value. The reason for this massive hissy fit was a cut to Telstra’s historically lavish dividend policy. Investors who’ve been scraping by on payouts equivalent to about 100% of underlying earnings will in future have to subsist on a mere 70% to 90%. Why should Telstra shareholders be so sensitive about dividends, especially as net income came in ahead of analyst estimates at A$3.89 billion? The answer lies in the nature of Australia’s equity market, and in particular the 1.1 million retirees managing their own investments via self-managed superannuation funds.

Helped by years of tax breaks and laws mandating that companies fund their employees’ retirement savings, Australia’s gray army has built up a A$648 billion piggy bank. The A$340 billion they have in equities and investment funds is equivalent to a fifth of the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index, and their might is such that some analysts, such as Credit Suisse’s Hasan Tevfik, argue they’ve distorted the investment priorities of the wider market. Retirees’ love of a household-name stock that provides a steady income without the fuss of buying or selling helps explain the Australian share market’s obsession with dividend yield. There’s certainly something unusual in the water: Of the 42 companies in developed markets with dividend yields above 5% and market capitalizations above $10 billion, 11 are Australian, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

In some ways, this trend is a favorable one. Australia’s big four retail banks and Macquarie, which all meet the key criteria of familiarity and generous payouts, trade on some of the highest price-book multiples in the world. As a result, when they want to raise equity capital – as they all did in 2015, to the tune of an aggregate A$18.5 billion – it works out rather cheap. Still, Telstra’s experience is a lesson that playing footsie on dividends can be a dance with the devil. Its desire to hold back just a thin slice of earnings alongside a 70% to 90% payout ratio would be considered reasonable in most markets. Chinese companies are notoriously stingy, as Gadfly’s Shuli Ren wrote this week. Among major equity indexes, only the U.K. boasts ratios on a par with Australia’s; the Shanghai Composite rarely turns more than a third of earnings into dividends.

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No kidding. Conversation is impossible just when it’s most needed.

Americans Are Rapidly Descending Into Madness (Krieger)

I don’t live in an echo chamber, partly because there aren’t enough people out there who think like me, but also because I constantly and intentionally attempt to challenge my worldview by reading stuff from all over the political map. I ingest as much as I can from a wide variety of intelligent sources, picking and choosing what makes sense to me, and then synthesizing it the best I can. Though I’m certainly grounded in certain key principles, my perspective on specific issues remains malleable as I take in additional information and perspectives. I try to accept and acknowledge my own ignorance and view life as a journey of constant mental, emotionally and spiritual growth. If I’m not growing my capacity in all of those realms until the day I die, I’m doing it wrong. Life should be seen as a battle against one’s own ignorance, as opposed to an obsession with the ignorance of others.

You can’t legislate morality, nor can you legislate wisdom. The only way the world will improve on a long-term sustainable basis is if more of us get wise. That’s a personal journey and it’s our individual duty to accept it. While I’m only in control of my own behavior, this doesn’t mean that the behavior of others is irrelevant to my life. Unfortunately, what I see happening to the population of America right now seems very troublesome and foreboding. What I’m witnessing across the board is hordes of people increasingly separating themselves into weird, unthinking cults. Something appears to have snapped in our collective consciousness, and many individuals I used to respect (on both sides of the political spectrum) are becoming disturbingly polarized and hysterical. People are rapidly morphing into radicalized mental patients.

What’s worse, this environment is providing a backdrop for the most destructive people of my lifetime – neoconservatives and neo liberals – to preen around on corporate media as “the voices of reason.” This is one of the most perverse and dangerous side-effects of the current political climate. If in your disgust with Trump, you’re willing to run into the cold embrace of these destroyers of the middle class and the Middle East, you’ll get what you deserve. In contrast, if we really want to deal with our very real and very systemic problems, the last thing we need is a population-level mental breakdown that leads to a longing for the criminally destructive political status quo, yet that’s exactly what seems to be happening.

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Every single Bitcoin transaction uses as much energy as 15 UK households do daily. Whatever you think about crypto, that is a problem no matter what.

A Primer On Bitcoin: The Ultimate Fiat Currency (Lebowitz)

Cryptocurrency is an independent, digital currency that uses cryptology to maintain privacy of transactions and control the creation of the respective currency. While not recognized as legal tender, cryptocurrencies are becoming more popular for legal and illegal transactions alike. Bitcoin (BTC), developed in 2009, is the most popular of the cryptocurrencies. It accounts for over half the value of the more than 750 cryptocurrencies outstanding. In this article we refer to cryptocurrencies generally as BTC, but keep in mind there are differences among the many offerings. Also consider that, while BTC may appear to be the currency of choice, Netscape and AOL shareholders can tell you that early market leadership does not always translate into future market dominance.

Before explaining how BTC is created, acquired, stored, used and valued, it is vital to understand blockchain technology, the innovation that spawned BTC. [..] Blockchain is an open database or book of records that can store any kind of data. A blockchain database, unlike all other databases, is stored real time and is accessible for anyone to view its complete history of data. The term block refers to a grouping of transactions, while chain refers to the linkages of the blocks. When a BTC transaction is completed BTC “miners” work to solve the cryptology algorithm that will enable them to link it to the chain of historical transactions. As a reward for being the first to solve the calculation, the miner receives “newly minted” BTC. As the chain grows, the effort needed to solve and verify the algorithms increase in complexity and demand greater computing power. As an aside consider the following statement by Bitcoin Watch (courtesy Goldman Sachs):

“BTC worldwide computational output is currently over 350 exaflops – 350,000 petaflops – or more than 1400 times the combined capacity of the top 500 supercomputers in the world.”

Needless to say, a tremendous amount of computing resources and energy are being used by BTC miners, and it is still in its infancy. Could these resources be better employed in other industries, and if so, how much productivity growth is BTC leeching from the economy? The takeaway is that blockchain is an open, real-time database that provides anonymity to its users. It is not controlled or regulated (yet) by any government. BTC miners, driven by the incentive to earn BTC, and fees at times, verify and authenticate the database. Blockchain technology is incredibly powerful and will likely revolutionize data management regardless of whether cryptocurrencies thrive or disappear.

New Bitcoins are created as payment to BTC miners that solve the aforementioned calculations that verify transaction data and link it to the blockchain. This ingenious reward system incentivizes miners to compete to perform these calculations, enabling the blockchain to exist. Currently there are approximately 16 million bitcoins outstanding out of a proposed limit of 21 million. As the blockchain grows, the calculations required to mine BTC and add to the chain become more complex, making each bitcoin harder and more costly to earn than the prior one.

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The value of life, all life. must trump all else. Or else.

Spain Rescues 600 Migrants, Refugees In Busiest Day as 120 Drown (BBC)

Spain’s coastguard says it has rescued 600 migrants crossing from Morocco in a 24-hour period amid a spike in the number of migrant arrivals. The rescued migrants were in 15 vessels including toy paddleboats and a jet ski and included 35 children and a baby. The UN says more than 9,000 people have arrived in Spain so far this year – three times as many as the previous year. More than 120 people are believed to have drowned attempting the crossing. The increase in crossings means Spain could overtake Greece this year in the number of migrants arriving by sea, the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) said earlier this month.

Most are sailing across the 12km (seven-mile) Strait of Gibraltar and many are choosing cheap, child-sized paddle boats without motors that allow them to bypass people smuggling networks and their fees. Some migrants are using social media to contact the Spanish authorities and inform them of their location once they are in territorial waters, the BBC’s Gavin Lee in the Spanish city of Tarifa says. However, a much larger number – nearly 100,000 – have crossed from Libya to Italy since the start of the year. The IOM says 2,242 people have died on that route. In June, about 5,000 people were rescued in one day in the Mediterranean off Libya, Italian coastguards said.

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Aug 152017
 
 August 15, 2017  Posted by at 8:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Stanley Kubrick Walking the streets of New York 1946

 

Prepare For Negative Interest Rates In The Next Recession – Rogoff (Tel.)
We’re Still Not Ready for the Next Banking Crisis (BBG)
World’s Biggest Banks Face £264 Billion Bill For Poor Conduct (G.)
US Stock Buybacks Are Plunging (BBG)
Consumer Spending Expectations Down Again (Mish)
Dow 30,000, Not If Demographics Have Anything To Say (SA)
Ten Years After The Crash, There’s Barely Suppressed Civil War In Britain (G.)
Broadening Internal Dispersion (Hussman)
Trump Orders Probe Of China’s Intellectual Property Practices (R.)
China Imposes Ban on Imports From North Korea, Yields to Trump’s Calls (Sp.)
North Korea Leader Holds Off On Guam Plan (R.)
Australia’s Central Bank Renews Alert on Mounting Household Debt (G.)
Australia Says New Zealand Opposition Trying To Bring Down Government (G.)
Greek Population Set To Shrink Up To 18% By 2050 (K.)
Sharp Fall In Number Of Refugees, Migrants Arriving In Italy (AFP)

 

 

Feels like we’re being prepared, or maybe set up is a better way to put it. They’re going to take over everything, criminalize anything they can’t control. All for your own good. Rogoff is one scary dude.

Prepare For Negative Interest Rates In The Next Recession – Rogoff (Tel.)

Negative interest rates will be needed in the next major recession or financial crisis, and central banks should do more to prepare the ground for such policies, according to leading economist Kenneth Rogoff. Quantitative easing is not as effective a tonic as cutting rates to below zero, he believes. Central banks around the world turned to money creation in the credit crunch to stimulate the economy when interest rates were already at rock bottom. In a new paper published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives the professor of economics at Harvard University argues that central banks should start preparing now to find ways to cut rates to below zero so they are not caught out when the next recession strikes. Traditionally economists have assumed that cutting rates into negative territory would risk pushing savers to take their money out of banks and stuff the cash – metaphorically or possibly literally – under their mattress.

As electronic transfers become the standard way of paying for purchases, Mr Rogoff believes this is a diminishing risk. “It makes sense not to wait until the next financial crisis to develop plans and, in any event, it is time for economists to stop pretending that implementing effective negative rates is as difficult today as it seemed in Keynes time”, he said. The growth of electronic payment systems and the increasing marginalisation of cash in legal transactions creates a much smoother path to negative rate policy today than even two decades ago. Countries can scrap larger denomination notes to reduce the likelihood of cash being held in substantial quantities, he suggests. This is also a potentially practical idea because cash tends now to be used largely for only small transactions. Law enforcement officials may also back the idea to cut down on money laundering and tax evasion.

The key consequence from an economic point of view is that forcing savers to keep cash in an electronic format would make it easier to levy a negative interest rate. “With today’s ultra-low policy interest rates – inching up in the United States and still slightly negative in the eurozone and Japan – it is sobering to ask what major central banks will do should another major prolonged global recession come any time soon,” he said, noting that the Fed cut rates by an average of 5.5 percentage points in the nine recessions since the mid-1950s, something which is impossible at the current low rate of interest, unless negative rates become an option. That would be substantially better than trying to use QE or forward guidance as central bankers have attempted in recent years.

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If we don’t take away political power from banks and central banks, we’re doomed.

We’re Still Not Ready for the Next Banking Crisis (BBG)

The 10th anniversary of the financial crisis has prompted a lot of analysis about what we’ve learned and whether we’re ready for the next one. Pretty much everything you need to know, though, can be found in one chart: the capital ratios of the largest U.S. banks. Capital, also known as equity, is the money that banks get from shareholders and retained earnings. Unlike debt, it has the advantage of absorbing losses, a feature that makes individual banks and the whole system more resilient. Bank executives typically prefer to use less equity and more debt – that is, more leverage – because this magnifies returns in good times. Hence, capital levels can serve as an indicator of the balance of power between bankers and regulators concerned about financial stability. Here’s a chart showing tangible common equity, as a percentage of tangible assets, at the six largest U.S. banks from December 2001 to June 2017:

The downward slope in the first several years demonstrates the extent to which leverage got out of hand before the crisis. As late as 2008, when the financial sector was already in distress, the Federal Reserve was still allowing banks to pay out capital in the form of dividends, even though some had equity of less than 3% of assets. That proved to be a fatal miscalculation: By 2009, forecasts of total losses on loans and securities reached 10% of assets. A crippled banking system tanked the economy and had to be rescued at taxpayer expense. After the crisis, regulators pushed banks to get stronger. The biggest U.S. institutions more than doubled their tangible common equity ratios – to an average of about 8% of assets (or, by international accounting standards, closer to 6% of assets). That’s an achievement, and better than in Europe, but the starting point was so low that they still fall short of what’s needed. Researchers at the Minneapolis Fed, for example, estimate that capital would have to more than double again to bring the risk of bailouts down to an acceptable level.

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How crime got re-defined. Poor conduct. Orwell.

World’s Biggest Banks Face £264 Billion Bill For Poor Conduct (G.)

Fines, legal bills and the cost of compensating mistreated customers reached £264bn for 20 of the world’s biggest banks over the five years to 2016, according to new research that raises doubts about efforts by the major financial services players to restore trust in the sector. This figure is higher than in the previous five-year period – when the costs amounted to £252bn – and is up 32% on the period 2008-12, the first time the data was collated by the CCP Research Foundation, one of the few bodies that analyses the “conduct costs” of banks. The report said the data showed that 10 years on from the onset of the financial crisis, the consequences of misconduct continue to hang over the banking sector. The latest analysis shows that in 2016 the total amount put aside by the banks surveyed rose to more than £28.6bn – higher than in the previous year when there had been a fall from a peak of £63bn in 2014.

Chris Stears, research director of the foundation, writes in the latest report: “Trust in, and the trustworthiness of, the banks must surely correlate to, and be conditional on, banks’ conduct costs. And persistent level of conduct cost provisioning is worrying. “It remains to be seen whether or not the provisions will crystallise in 2017 [or later] and what effect this will have on the aggregated level of conduct costs.” Two UK high street banks – Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group – are in the top five of banks with the biggest conduct costs. RBS set aside extra provisions for fines and legal costs largely related to a forthcoming penalty from the US Department of Justice for mis-selling toxic bonds in the run-up to the financial crisis. That residential mortgage bond securitisation mis-selling scandal is responsible for £66bn of the costs incurred during the five-year period and the single largest factor, according to the foundation.

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The only thing that propped up stocks is vaporizing.

US Stock Buybacks Are Plunging (BBG)

U.S. stocks have been able to hit fresh highs this year despite a dearth of demand from a key source of buying. Share repurchases by American companies this year are down 20% from this time a year ago, according to Societe Generale global head of quantitative strategy Andrew Lapthorne. Ultra-low borrowing costs had encouraged large firms to issue debt to buy back their own stock, thereby providing a tailwind to earnings-per-share growth. “Perhaps over-leveraged U.S. companies have finally reached a limit on being able to borrow simply to support their own shares,” writes Lapthorne. Repurchase programs account for the lion’s share of net inflows into U.S. equities during this bull market. Heading into 2017, equity strategists anticipated that the buyback bonanza would continue in earnest, fueled in part by an expected tax reform plan that would provide companies with repatriated cash to invest.

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Deflation.

Consumer Spending Expectations Down Again (Mish)

Fed Chair Janet Yellen keeps citing consumer confidence and jobs as reasons consumer spending and inflation will pick up. Curiously, the New York Fed Survey on Consumer Spending Expectations keeps trending lower and lower, despite survey-high expectations for wage growth. The report for July 2017 was released today. I downloaded the survey results and produced the following charts.

Household Spending Projections

 

Household Income Projections

 

Income projections are volatile but at least they are trending higher across the board. Spending projections are less volatile and trending lower at every level. At the 25th%ile level, a group that no doubt spends every cent they make, spending expectations are zero. Those projections were in negative territory in April. Fed Chair Janet Yellen does not believe the Fed’s own reports. Instead, she relies on consumer confidence numbers that tend to track the stock market or gasoline prices more than anything else. Perhaps New York Fed President William Dudley does believe in the report.

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If you weren’t scared yet…

Dow 30,000, Not If Demographics Have Anything To Say (SA)

Nowadays, it is easy to get caught up in the day to day of markets with main stream media pumping the hot stock or warning of market crashes that rarely come. Focusing on the longer term cycles is how you stay with the trend, reduce portfolio churn and costs. I am not advocating for a purely passive strategy as I think the current state of passive investing is contributing to over-valuation and a lack of pricing discovery, which is another topic I won’t get into in this piece. Longer term cycles are largely influenced by demographics. Boomers were entering the workforce in the 1970s and started having children (Millennials) in the early 1980s. The surge in home purchases, appliances, and the multitude of things you buy for kids helped drive the economy for 30 years. The giant buildup in credit that I have covered in a previous article is another reason for a 35-year bull market.

The potential problem now is Boomers are hitting retirement, and roughly 10,000 Boomers retire each day. The above chart is the age distribution of the U.S. population by age. You can see the cliff of Boomers that are turning 70 this year. There are a couple ramifications of Boomers retiring. First is the moment they quit their job or sell their business, they are on a finite budget from there on out. Second, fewer people will be available for work down the road leaving less tax payers contributing to already stressed government budgets. Lastly, Boomers are incentivized to retire at 70.5 due to social security rules and will also start drawing on pensions. What makes matters worse is the majority of Boomers have less than $200k saved for retirement and a large portion have less than $50k saved per PWC’s Annual survey. This means that Boomers are heavily relying on Social Security or they have to work longer, which is currently evidenced by the following chart from the BLS.

Boomers have essentially garnered the majority of wage gains and now are working longer either out of necessity or preference. You might be thinking the surge in Millennials entering the work force will save the day, but due to the above facts, younger generations have to wait longer to move up the corporate ladder or have to attain levels of higher education to receive an adequate salary. As a result, student debt has risen exponentially in the U.S. jeopardizing the future of many starting their professional lives.

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“Debt racked up through the greed of financiers being dumped on the poor, the young and people with disabilities in what must rank as the biggest bait and switch in postwar Britain.”

Ten Years After The Crash, There’s Barely Suppressed Civil War In Britain (G.)

All history now, isn’t it? The credit crisis that began in August 2007, the ensuing banking crash and global recession. One bumper episode from the long-ago past, when the iPhone was a newborn and Amy Winehouse still made records. Now done, dusted, reformed and resolved. Or so one assumes, from the official self-congratulation. The European commission marks the 10th anniversary of the credit crisis by trumpeting: “Back to recovery thanks to decisive EU action.” Yes, the same clapped-out European establishment that has spent the last decade kicking a can down the road. The head of the derivatives industry body, ISDA, admits: “We sometimes forget to articulate the social value of what we do.” Indeed so: before the crash, bankers emailed each other about how the derivatives that they were paid so much to flog were “crap” and “vomit”.

Everyone knows history is written by the victors, but this is something else: bullshit recounted by the bullshitters. Even the banks are back to bragging how many billions they generously chip in to Her Majesty’s Exchequer, presumably hoping no one will point out that they took £1.3tn from taxpayers in just a few months in 2008. Let’s get three things straight. First, it was working- and middle-class Britons who paid for the mess, who are still paying for it now and who will keep paying for it decades from now. Second, the crash has prompted almost no fundamental reckoning or reform. And, most importantly, the combination of those first two factors means the crash that began in 2007 cannot be consigned to the past. Today’s politics – from Brexit to Trump and the collapse of centrism – is just one of its products.

For politicians and financiers to treat the crash as history brings to mind Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses: “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” Here’s the stuff of historical bad dreams: at the height of the banking crisis in 2008, every man, woman and child in Britain handed over £19,721 each to bankers. The economy tanked, Gordon Brown got booted out – and David Cameron pretended a private banking catastrophe was a crisis of a supposedly profligate public sector. You know what happened next: first the kids’ Sure Start centre closed, then the library; your mum waited ages to get her hip replacement; the working poor had their social security stolen, and the local comp began sending begging letters. Debt racked up through the greed of financiers being dumped on the poor, the young and people with disabilities in what must rank as the biggest bait and switch in postwar Britain.

I say that, but we have only had seven years of austerity. If Philip Hammond stays in No 11 and sticks to plan (one must hope he does neither), the cuts will continue until the middle of the next decade. After 2025, who knows what will remain of our councils, our welfare state and our public realm. One truism of this era is that the average British worker earns less after inflation than they did when RBS nearly died. Most of us have seen not a recovery, but a ripping up of our social contract – so that over 7 million Britons are now in precarious employment. But the highest earners are way ahead of where they were in 2008. Finance-sector bonuses are as generous as they were during the boom, while a bad year for the average FTSE boss is one in which he or she pulls in a mere £4.53m.

And so we remain reliant on debt – aptly termed “the raw material for bubbles and crashes” by Daniel Mügge at the University of Amsterdam. According to the Bank for International Settlements, the UK is far deeper in the red now than it was when Northern Rock collapsed. Government debt has shot up under the Conservatives, but so too has household borrowing. Were the UK to crash again, its government no longer has the political capital nor the fiscal headroom to save the financial system.

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“The deterioration and widening dispersion in market internals is no longer subtle.”

Broadening Internal Dispersion (Hussman)

It’s important to observe that if short-term interest rates were still at zero and market internals were favorable, even the most extreme overvalued, overbought, overbullish syndromes we identify would not be enough to push us to a hard-negative market outlook. That, in a nutshell, is the central lesson from quantitative easing, and is one that could alone have dramatically altered our own challenging experience in the recent speculative half-cycle. At present, however, we observe not only the most obscene level of valuation in history aside from the single week of the March 24, 2000 market peak; not only the most extreme median valuations across individual S&P 500 component stocks in history; not only the most extreme overvalued, overbought, overbullish syndromes we define; but also interest rates that are off the zero-bound, and a key feature that has historically been the hinge between overvalued markets that continue higher and overvalued markets that collapse: widening divergences in internal market action across a broad range of stocks and security types, signaling growing risk-aversion among investors, at valuation levels that provide no cushion against severe losses.

[..] Again, the principal lesson of the recent half-cycle was that in the face of zero interest rates, even the most extreme “overvalued, overbought, overbullish” syndromes were not enough to anticipate steep market losses (as they typically were in prior market cycles). Instead, investors were driven to believe that they had no other alternative but to continue their yield-seeking speculation. In the face of zero interest rates, one had to wait for market internals to deteriorate before adopting a hard negative market outlook. At present, we observe neither zero interest rates, nor uniformly favorable market internals. In the current environment, we expect that obscene valuations and severe “overvalued, overbought, overbullish” syndromes are likely to be followed by the same outcomes that have attended similar conditions across history. The chart below shows the percentage of U.S. stocks above their respective 200-day moving averages, along with the S&P 500 Index. The deterioration and widening dispersion in market internals is no longer subtle.

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It’s about Apple and Google.

Trump Orders Probe Of China’s Intellectual Property Practices (R.)

President Donald Trump on Monday authorized an inquiry into China’s alleged theft of intellectual property in the first direct trade measure by his administration against Beijing, but one that is unlikely to prompt near-term change. Trump broke from his 17-day vacation in New Jersey to sign the memo in the White House at a time of heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. The investigation is likely to cast a shadow over relations with China, the largest U.S. trading partner, just as Trump is asking Beijing to step up pressure against Pyongyang. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will have a year to look into whether to launch a formal investigation of China’s trade policies on intellectual property, which the White House and U.S. industry lobby groups say are harming U.S. businesses and jobs.

Trump called the inquiry “a very big move.” Trump administration officials have estimated that theft of intellectual property by China could be as high as $600 billion. Experts on China trade policy said the long lead time could allow Beijing to discuss some of the issues raised by Washington without being seen to cave to pressure under the threat of reprisals. Although Trump repeatedly criticized China’s trade practices on the campaign trail, his administration has not taken any significant action. Despite threats to do so, it has declined to name China a currency manipulator and delayed broader national security probes into imports of foreign steel and aluminum that could indirectly affect China.

[..] The Information Technology Industry Council, the main trade group for U.S. technology giants, such as Microsoft, Apple and Google, said it hoped China would take the administration’s announcement seriously. “Both the United States and China should use the coming months to address the issues causing friction in the bilateral trade relationship before Presidents Trump and Xi have their anticipated meeting ahead of the November APEC leaders meeting,” ITI President Dean Garfield said in a statement.

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“On August 15, a full ban on imports of coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore, seafood from North Korea is introduced..”

China Imposes Ban on Imports From North Korea, Yields to Trump’s Calls (Sp.)

China is introducing a ban on imports of some goods from North Korea in line with a UN Security Council resolution, the Chinese Commerce Ministry said Monday. US President Donald Trump has repeatedly called on Beijing to increase economic pressure on North Korea as China is Pyongyang’s biggest trade partner. “On August 15, a full ban on imports of coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore, seafood from North Korea is introduced,” the ministry said in a statement. According to the statement, North Korean products arrived at Chinese ports before the ban would be allowed to enter the country. Import applications of products from North Korea will be halted from September 5. Meanwhile, Chinese companies are still allowed to import coal from third countries via the North Korean port of Rason. However, Chinese importers need to apply for approval from a UN committee set up under the UN Security Council resolution 1718.

Interestingly, Beijing’s move came amid media speculations that Trump is mulling a trade crackdown on China. China is by far the largest trading partner of North Korea. In April, the Chinese General Administration of Customs said trade between the two countries in the first quarter increased 37.4% year-over-year, even despite the UN sanctions on North Korean supplies of coal, the country’s top export earner. The tensions around North Korea have been high over the recent months and they have escalated further after the tightening of economic sanctions against North Korea by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) last week in response to July’s launches of ballistic missiles by Pyongyang. On August 5, new UNSC sanctions against North Korea could cut the nation’s annual export revenue by $1 billion.

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Saving face.

Kim Jong-un Holds Off On Guam Plan (R.)

North Korea’s leader received a report from his army on its plans to fire missiles toward Guam and said he will watch the actions of the United States for a while longer before making a decision, the North’s official news agency said on Tuesday. North Korea said last week it was finalizing plans to launch four missiles into the waters near the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, and its army would report the strike plan to leader Kim Jong Un and wait for his order. Kim, who inspected the command of the North’s army on Monday, examined the plan for a long time and discussed it with army officers, the official KCNA said in a report. “He said that if the Yankees persist in their extremely dangerous reckless actions on the Korean peninsula and in its vicinity, testing the self-restraint of the DPRK, the latter will make an important decision as it already declared,” the report said.

The DPRK stands for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Pyongyang’s detailed plans for the strike near Guam prompted a surge in tensions in the region last week, with U.S. President Donald Trump warning he would unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea if it threatened the Unite States. South Korean and U.S. officials have since sought to play down the risks of an imminent conflict, helping soothe global concerns somewhat on Monday. Kim said the United States should make the right choice “in order to defuse the tensions and prevent the dangerous military conflict on the Korean peninsula,” the KCNA report said.

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Oh, get real: “..poised to benefit from the tailwind of a much improved global backdrop.”

Australia’s Central Bank Renews Alert on Mounting Household Debt (G.)

Australia’s central bank renewed its focus on mounting household debt, even as the outlook for the nation’s economy improved, according to the minutes of this month’s policy decision where interest rates were left unchanged. RBA noted “need to balance the risks associated with high household debt in a low-inflation environment” in its decision to stand pat on policy. Better hiring this year meant “forecasts for the labor market were starting from a stronger position”. The bank reiterated GDP growth was expected to rise to around 3% in 2018 and 2019, supported by low rates; faster growth in non-mining business investment is expected. The main change is one of emphasis after the Reserve Bank of Australia removed the labor market and added household balance sheets – where debt is currently at a record 190% of income – to its key areas of concern alongside the residential property market.

But the minutes convey rising confidence that Australia’s economy will strengthen and is poised to benefit from the tailwind of a much improved global backdrop. Yet areas of substantial uncertainty remain: how China manages the trade-off between growth and the build-up of leverage; the fact the forecasts for the domestic economy are based on no change in the exchange rate in the period through 2019; and whether better employment would lead to higher household income and increased consumption, or whether ongoing weak wage growth and high household debt would cut into consumption.

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Neither country seems to know how one gets a passport down under. Curious.

Australia Says New Zealand Opposition Trying To Bring Down Government (G.)

Australia and New Zealand have become embroiled in an extraordinary diplomatic spat over claims the New Zealand opposition colluded with the Australian Labor party (ALP) in an attempt “to try and bring down the government”. During a febrile day of politics in both countries, Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, said New Zealand’s opposition party was threatening the stability of a usually robust partnership between the two nations. She said she would find it “very hard to build trust” if New Zealand’s opposition Labour party were to win the general election in September. Her comments came only 24 hours after it was revealed that Australia’s deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, held New Zealand citizenship and may be ineligible to sit in parliament under the Australian constitution, which disqualifies dual nationals.

Malcolm Turnbull’s government currently commands a majority of one seat in the House of Representatives. But Australia’s ruling coalition has now accused the opposition Labor party of planting a question in the New Zealand parliament in order to extract the information about Joyce’s nationality. Australian government minister Christopher Pyne accused the ALP of being part of a conspiracy to bring down the government. “Clearly the Labor party are involved in a conspiracy using a foreign government, in this case New Zealand, to try and bring down the Australian government,” he said. “How many other foreign governments, or foreign political parties in other countries, has the Labor party been colluding with to try to undermine the Australian government? “Has he been talking to the people in Indonesia, or China, or the Labour party in the UK?”

Joyce made the admission after media inquiries on the subject, but it subsequently also emerged that on 9 August the New Zealand Labour MP Chris Hipkins submitted two written questions to the internal affairs minister, Peter Dunne, in parliament, both of an unusual nature. “Are children born in Australia to parents who are New Zealand citizens automatically citizens of New Zealand; if not, what process do they need to follow in order to become New Zealand citizens?” Hipkins asked. He also asked: “Would a child born in Australia to a New Zealand father automatically have New Zealand citizenship?”

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What austerity also does.

Greek Population Set To Shrink Up To 18% By 2050 (K.)

A new study released by the Berlin Institute for Population and Development suggests that Greece is set to lose up to 18% of its population by the middle of the century. The deep economic crisis – which has hit young people especially hard and is identified as a key reason behind the country now having one of the lowest birth rates in the world – is cited as the primary cause of this decline, which has accelerated in recent years. According to the study, Greece had already lost nearly 3% of its population between 2011 and 2016. In 2016, Greece’s population stood at 10.8 million. That is expected to drop to 9.9 million by 2030 and 8.9 million by 2050. That is a nearly 18% decline in the country’s population over the next 33 years. Greece also has a rapidly aging population, with 21% already over the age of 65 and fewer than 100,000 babies being born each year. This percentage is currently the second highest in Europe, after Italy. Greece will have the highest ratio of pensioners to workers in Europe by 2050.

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They’re stuck in hell.

Sharp Fall In Number Of Refugees, Migrants Arriving In Italy (AFP)

Italy has seen a sharp fall in the number of migrants arriving on its shores, a decline that has left experts scrambling for an explanation. Summer is traditionally the peak season for migrants attempting the hazardous crossing of the Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe. But, to much surprise, only 13,500 have arrived in Italy since July 1, compared to 30,500 over the same period in 2016 – a year-on-year fall of more than 55%. Many migrants are from poor sub-Saharan Africa, fleeing violence in their home country or desperate for a better life in prosperous Europe. “It’s still too early to talk of a real trend,” cautions Barbara Molinario, a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

One mooted reason for the fall is tougher action by the Libyan coastguard. The force which has been strengthened by help from the European Union (EU), which trained about 100 personnel over the winter, while Italy has provided patrol vessels, recently supported by Italian warships in Libyan waters. But according to figures from UN’s International Office of Migration (IOM), the Libyan coastguard have intercepted fewer than 2,000 migrants since early July, compared to more than 4,000 in May. Another reason put forward to explain the decline is tougher action by NGOs who have been accused by critics of colluding with smugglers to pick up migrants at sea to prevent them from drowning. But these organisations have been involved in only a fraction of migrant rescues – and three NGO vessels are still operating in the hope of picking up those in need.

[..] Since 2014, 600,000 migrants have landed in Italy, but more than 14,000 have died. Italian newspapers which, just a few weeks ago, were accusing NGOs of abetting an influx that seemed uncontrollable have now switched to reports on the terrifying conditions faced by migrants in Libya. “Sending them back to Libya right now means sending than back to Hell,” the deputy foreign minister, Mario Giro, said earlier this month.

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Aug 142017
 
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August Strindberg Alpine Landscape I 1894

 

Multiple Contraction : Stock Market Warning Siren is Blaring (WS)
Is The Euro Crisis Really Over? (Lacalle)
US Is The Real Trade Protectionist – China State Media (CNBC)
Fourth Turning: “It’s Going To Be A Rollercoaster Ride” (ZH)
Conspiracy or Chaos? (Jim Quinn)
Forget GDP – There’s More To Britain’s Wealth Than Its Bank Balance (Baggini)
Factory Farming, Antibiotics Use In Asia Creating Global Health Risks (G.)
More NGOs Follow MSF In Suspending Mediterranean Migrant Rescues (R.)
Syrian Refugees Can Return To Aleppo… And Do So In Their 100,000s (RT)
Do Elephants Have Souls? (NA)

 

 

Creative accounting is subject to inherent limits.

Multiple Contraction : Stock Market Warning Siren is Blaring (WS)

“Adjusted” earnings growth is 10.2% year-over-year in the second quarter, according to FactSet, based on the 91% of the companies in the S&P 500 that have reported results. The energy sector was a key driver, with 332% “adjusted” earnings growth from the oil-bust levels of a year ago. The sectors with double-digit earnings growth: information technology (14.7%), utilities (10.8%), and financials (10.3%). The rest were single digit. Earnings in the consumer discretionary sector declined. Revenues grew 5.1%, also led by the energy sector. At the beginning of Q2 last year, the WTI grade of crude oil traded at $35 a barrel. In Q2 this year, WTI ranged from $42 to $53 a barrel.

So the Wall-Street hype machine is cranking at maximum RPM to propagate the great news that earnings are soaring, and that this is the reason why stocks should also be soaring, and forget everything else. The hype machine carefully avoids showing the bigger picture which is dismal for earnings and ludicrous for stock valuations. Aggregate earnings per share (EPS) for the S&P 500 companies on a trailing 12-months basis rose for the second quarter in a row. That’s the foundation of the Wall Street hype. But here’s the thing with these EPS: they’re now back where they had been in… May 2014. Yep. More than three years of earnings stagnation. No growth whatsoever, even for “adjusted” earnings. In fact, on a trailing 12-month basis, aggregate EPS of the S&P 500 companies are down about 5% from their peak in Q4 2014.

And yet, over the same three-plus years of total earnings stagnation, the S&P 500 index has soared 34%. This chart shows those “adjusted” earnings per share for the S&P 500 companies (black line) and the S&P 500 index (blue line). I marked August 2012 as the point five years ago, and May 2014. And these are not earnings under the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). FactSet uses “adjusted” earnings for its analyses. These are the earnings with the bad stuff “adjusted” out of them by management to manipulate earnings into the most favorable light. Not all companies report “adjusted” earnings. Some only report GAAP earnings and live with the consequences. But others put adjusted earnings into the foreground, and that’s what Wall Street dishes up.

[..] This is the peculiar situation of today: On average, these companies have stagnating earnings per share propped up by “adjusting” these earnings and by financial engineering. The price-earnings multiple (P/E ratio) for stagnating companies should be low. In January 2012, the P/E ratio for the companies in the S&P 500 index was 14.9. And that was high. As of Friday, the aggregate P/E ratio is 24.3:

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Brussels keeps Europe from recovering. A continent of zombies.

Is The Euro Crisis Really Over? (Lacalle)

This week we have read that Brussels has certified “the end of the crisis”. In an uncomfortably triumphant statement, the group welcomed the fact that Europe had emerged from the crisis and returned to growth “thanks to the decisive action of the European Union”. Really? Thanks to the “decisive action” of the European Union the “economy is back in shape”? It is true that the communique says that “much remains to be done to overcome the legacy of the crisis years”, but if we can say something about the European crisis is that the “decisive” action of the European Union has not helped to end the crisis, but has perpetuated and silenced it. The European economy is not “in shape”.

According to the Bank of International Settlements and Merrill Lynch, Europe has more zombie companies today than before the crisis, 9% of large listed non-financial corporations are considered walking dead, ie generating operating profits that do not cover their financial costs, in spite of all-time low-interest rates and an unprecedented monetary stimulus. And that is among the big companies, where the business results of the Eurostoxx remain below 2008. If we go to SMEs, the European Union has higher rates of bankruptcies and losses than in 2008, yet the tax burden on companies has increased. In fact, if anything can be said of the European business fabric is that it has been devastated by taxes.

The European Union has continued to hamper the high-productivity sectors to support the so-called national champions and zombies, that large amount of low-value added conglomerates, ridden by high debt and poor margins. While the United States saw the astronomical takeoff of technology giants and corporate profits growing at double digit rates, the EU decided to put obstacles to growth, and today, in the Eurostoxx 100, we have the same collection of dinosaurs that we had a decade ago. European banks, at the end of 2016, had more than €1 trillion in non-performing loans, a figure that represents 5.1% of total loans compared to 1.5% in the US or Japan. Europe has gone from financial crisis to financial crisis, and recently we have had new episodes in Italy, Spain and Portugal.

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Theory: Xi will not put up a real fight if he’s not certain he can win (Deng Xiao Ping’s stance on US).

US Is The Real Trade Protectionist – China State Media (CNBC)

Trump is expected to issue the so-called Section 301 investigation under the 1974 Trade Act later on Monday to investigate Chinese trade practices that force U.S. firms operating in China to turn over intellectual property, multiple outlets reported. China will retaliate in such a case, said the Communist Party-linked Global Times, which is known for its nationalist slant. “The Trump administration should have second thoughts about putting pressure on China on trade and avoid a full-blown trade war,” said the newspaper, adding that the Beijing “should make use of the WTO mechanism to sue the U.S. for trade protectionism.” “The trade policies of the Trump administration have been widely criticized. Although filing a lawsuit with the WTO is time-consuming, it is highly likely that China would win,” it said.

The latest news about a U.S. probe into Chinese trade practices could lead to steep tariffs and comes as Trump is pressing for China’s cooperation in reining in North Korea’s nuclear program. “The U.S. now is walking softly and carrying a huge stick in regards to what it wants. Here, this is tactically nothing more than ‘We need your support with North Korea,’ part and parcel, that’s it. The symbolism of this is just politics and game play,” Frank Troise, managing director at SoHo Capital, told CNBC’s “The Rundown.” China has repeatedly said the two issues were not related, with the Global Times calling the link “illogical” in its Sunday night editorial. Commentaries in state media normally provide insight into government thinking beyond typically thin official statements.

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Neil Howe is an interesting voice, and that’s only partly because Steve Bannon likes his work.

Fourth Turning: “It’s Going To Be A Rollercoaster Ride” (ZH)

[..] .. although 9/11 changed America’s attitude towards the rest of the world, I think that the stock market boom and celebrity circus that’s here in the United States really hadn’t changed very much. And I don’t think you really had a shift, a fundamental shift, in America’s perception of themselves as a people, as their own country, to a fundamental degree until 2008. Also, 2001, as we explained to many people at the time, was simply too early. Every turning starts when each generation is beginning to move into a new phase of life. Back in 2001 boomers were not yet retiring, millennials were still—maybe the first one of them was barely graduating from high school.

So, this was not what we expected. 2008 really did coincide with the generational maturity of the turning, so to speak. And I think that, in terms of the basic shift in our efficacy of the social system, I think 2008 was a bigger change.” The crisis also ushered in an era where central banks exhibit total control of markets, which has created an “artificial quality,” Howe said. “The economic emergency that occurred in 2008-2009 really catapulted us into by far the biggest economic emergency we’ve been in since the early 1930s. And, arguably, we are still living out the consequences of that with complete change in central bank policy, monetary policy, with sustaining these record low interest rates and arguable very high valuations in financial markets—almost anything pushed by that—and people still wondering how we’re going to get out from under that.

The constant discussion is when are central banks going to pull back on their balance sheets and actually go back to the old normal? So, I think there is the sense, even in this the booming markets that we see today, that there is this artificial quality: people think that there’s something wrong about this. We have not re-righted where we were. We are not letting price discovery and actual markets function the way they did before then. So, I do believe that 2008 was the beginning of a whole new regime. And I also believe that the political dysfunction, the sense of political dysfunction—created during the two turns of the Obama presidency and, obviously, also into the Trump presidency—of government completely grinding to a halt is going to have some very powerful repercussions in the years shortly to come.”

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Anarchy in the UK.

Conspiracy or Chaos? (Jim Quinn)

Alan Moore, the renowned graphic novel writer, and author of the dystopian classic V for Vendetta, politically identifies as an anarchist. His view that all political states are an outgrowth of anarchy, with the biggest gang taking control and dictating how things will be run, is manifested in V for Vendetta. As an anarchist, you can understand why he is doubtful of conspiracy theories and an all-powerful entity controlling the world. He believes in a chaotic world competing gangs position themselves to gain power and control.

“We live in a badly developed anarchist situation in which the biggest gang has taken over and have declared that it is not an anarchist situation – that it is a capitalist or a communist situation. But I tend to think that anarchy is the most natural form of politics for a human being to actually practice.”- Alan Moore

The Guy Fawkes mask from V for Vendetta has been adopted by anarchist groups around the world, including: Anonymous, WikiLeaks, and the Occupy protestors. Moore’s positive view of the Occupy movement was based on his belief ordinary people had the right to reclaim what had been taken from them by criminal bankers. The initial impetus for the Occupy protests was the destruction of Main Street USA by Wall Street sociopaths, who not only escaped prosecution for their crimes, but were bailed out by the taxpayers they had pillaged and further enriched as captured politicians enabled them to get even bigger. Millions were evicted from their homes and lost their jobs. Middle class families have seen their real income continue to stagnate, while bankers, corporate executives, and politicians have reaped billions in bonuses, stock gains, and payoffs, provided by central bankers in their back pocket.

“I can’t think of any reason why as a population we should be expected to stand by and see a gross reduction in the living standards of ourselves and our kids, possibly for generations, when the people who have got us into this have been rewarded for it – they’ve certainly not been punished in any way because they’re too big to fail. I think that the Occupy movement is, in one sense, the public saying that they should be the ones to decide who’s too big to fail. As an anarchist, I believe that power should be given to the people whose lives this is actually affecting.” – Alan Moore

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Basic argument: technological growth beats economic growth. But why argue this using social housing and libraries?

Forget GDP – There’s More To Britain’s Wealth Than Its Bank Balance (Baggini)

How is this possible? Because “a lot of improvements in standard of living come not through what we normally consider as growth, but through technological improvements”. This is a concrete example of real growth without what is normally understood by economic growth. If we can grasp this, we can see why the argument about whether indefinite growth is environmentally sustainable is bogus. Orthodox economics says that it is essential if the world’s worst-off are to escape their poverty. Critics argue for zero or even negative growth, claiming that this is the only way to ensure we don’t deplete the planet’s resources. Both are wrong. Real wealth is created not just by exploiting more resources and increasing society’s cash pot but by exploiting the same or fewer resources better.

The whole question of GDP growth is a red herring if we are interested in real wealth. What matters is that we do more with the resources we have. Building a better future depends on seeing this clearly. Take the need to reduce inequality, which many now accept is urgent. To do this it is assumed we need to reduce the income gap between rich and poor. But real equality is increased simply by making it possible for the less well-off to do more with the money they have. Social housing was, and could again be, an example of that. Take two people, one of whom earns £30k a year and the other £15k. To close the real wealth gap between the two does not necessarily require increasing the income of the latter. Providing them with a decent council flat at low rent effectively allows their disposable income to equalise.

The basic principle here is that what matters most is giving people the resources they need to live better, which doesn’t necessarily require giving them more cash. This has in effect been the principle behind all sorts of socially levelling initiatives. Local authorities didn’t give local people free books, they gave them the use of libraries. They didn’t give them cars, they gave them bus passes. We need to relearn the wisdom of these policies, and update them for the modern age. In an era where car ownership is not rare, what about low-cost car clubs? Why shouldn’t more people be able to borrow laptops and tablets from libraries as well as books and DVDs?

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“Half of all antibiotics globally are now consumed in China alone.”

Factory Farming, Antibiotics Use In Asia Creating Global Health Risks (G.)

The use of antibiotics in factory farms in Asia is set to more than double in just over a decade, with potentially damaging effects on antibiotic resistance around the world. Factory farming of poultry in Asia is also increasing the threat of bird flu spreading beyond the region, with more deadly strains taking hold, according to a new report from a network of financial investors. Use of antibiotics in poultry and pig farms will increase by more than 120% in Asiaby 2030, based on current trends. Half of all antibiotics globally are now consumed in China alone. The Chinese meat and animal feed producers New Hope Group and Wen’s Group are now among the 10 biggest animal feed manufacturers in the world. The growth of Asian meat production in intensive units is also producing a rise in greenhouse gas emissions from the food chain, with emissions likely to rise by more than 360m tonnes, the equivalent of running 100 coal-fired power plants for a year.

There are knock-on impacts such as deforestation, as China’s need for animal feed is responsible for more than a third of Brazil’s soybean production. The report, Factory Farming in Asia: Assessing Investment Risks, comes three years after a meat scandal in China, in which suppliers to McDonalds, KFC and others were found to be using dirty meat and products past their sell-by date. It also comes in the midst of a growing food scandal in Europe, which has required the recall of millions of eggs tainted with harmful chemicals, and as concerns have been aired over the impact of Brexit on imports of farm products to the UK. Asian food companies have rapidly expanded their meat production in response to growing populations and the tastes of the rising middle class, but this expansion has come to the detriment of food safety.

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They’re being shot at. And the Italian Foreign Minister calls that “a welcome readjustment” and a “positive process”.

More NGOs Follow MSF In Suspending Mediterranean Migrant Rescues (R.)

Two more aid groups have suspended migrant rescues in the Mediterranean, joining Doctors Without Borders, because they felt threatened by the Libyan coastguard. Save the Children and Germany’s Sea Eye said on Sunday their crews could no longer work safely because of the hostile stance of the Libyan authorities. Doctors Without Borders – or Medecins sans Frontieres – cited the same concern when it said on Saturday it would halt Mediterranean operations. “We leave a deadly gap in the Mediterranean,” Sea Eye’s founder Michael Busch Heuer warned on Facebook, adding that Libya had issued an “explicit threat” against non-government organisations operating in the area around its coast. Libyan coastguard boats have repeatedly clashed with NGO vessels on the edge of Libyan waters, sometimes opening fire.

The coastguard has defended such actions, saying the shooting was to assert control over rescue operations. “In general, we do not reject (NGO) presence, but we demand from them more cooperation with the state of Libya … they should show more respect to the Libyan sovereignty,” coastguard spokesman Ayoub Qassem told Reuters on Sunday. Tension has also been growing for weeks between aid groups and the Italian government, which has suggested some NGOs are facilitating people smuggling, while Italy is trying to enhance the role of the Libyan coastguard in blocking migrant departures. This month, Italy began a naval mission in Libyan waters to provide technical and operational support to its coastguard, despite opposition from factions in eastern Libya that oppose the U.N.-backed government based in Tripoli.

[..] Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said in a newspaper interview on Sunday that Libya’s growing role in controlling its waters was curbing people trafficking and producing a welcome “readjustment” in the Mediterranean. MSF’s decision to halt its rescue operations was part of this positive process, he told the newspaper La Stampa.

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There’s propaganda and then there’s reality. You decide who you believe.

Syrian Refugees Can Return To Aleppo… And Do So In Their 100,000s (RT)

Aleppo, a city retaken by Damascus from rebels in December last year, has become a major destination for displaced Syrian returning home in 2017 as numbers of returnees to Syria spills over 600,000, according to the UN. Over the first seven months of 2017, over 600,000 displaced Syrians returned home, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said Friday, citing its own figures as well as those of the UN Migration Agency and partners on the ground. The returnees are overwhelmingly internally-displaced people, but 16% returned to Syria from other nations, primarily Turkey. The number almost matched that recorded in the whole of 2016. An estimated 67% of returnees went to government-controlled Aleppo Governorate, with the provincial capital itself being the primary destination.

Among other places where refugees went in significant numbers, according to ICO, is Al-Hasakah Governorate, the north-eastern province dominated by Kurds. The city of Aleppo – the largest in Syria prior to the conflict – was retaken by the government army last year, aided by Russia, with hostilities ending in mid-December. For years before that, it was divided between two parts, held respectively by government forces and by a disjointed collection of militant groups, including hardcore jihadists. The battle for the city ended with a ceasefire deal, which allowed remaining rebel forces and their families leave Aleppo and go to Idlib governorate, which currently remains a rebel stronghold.

Earlier an increasing number of refugees returning to their homes in Syria was reported by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which said more than 440,000 internally-displaced persons and 31,000 refugees in other countries had done so over the first six months of 2016. Aleppo and other government-controlled governorates like Hama, Homs and Damascus were mentioned as destinations for the returnees. [..] The situation is far from rosy of course, according to IOM. The number of people forced to leave their homes in 2017 still outweighs that of returnees, with over 808,000 people estimated to be displaced. Around 10% of those who returned in 2016 and 2017 have ended up fleeing their homes again. Almost 20% of the returnees have no secure supply of food and access to water and health services is a problem for some 60%, a testament to the damage the Syrian war has taken on its civilian infrastructure.

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Love it. Absolute must read, the whole article. Very rich.

Do Elephants Have Souls? (NA)

The birth of an elephant is a spectacular occasion. Grandmothers, aunts, sisters, and cousins crowd around the new arrival and its dazed mother, trumpeting and stamping and waving their trunks to welcome the floppy baby who has so recently arrived from out of the void, bursting through the border of existence to take its place in an unbroken line stretching back to the dawn of life. After almost two years in the womb and a few minutes to stretch its legs, the calf can begin to stumble around. But its trunk, an evolutionarily unique inheritance of up to 150,000 muscles with the dexterity to pick up a pin and the strength to uproot a tree, will be a mystery to it at first, with little apparent use except to sometimes suck upon like human babies do their thumbs.

Over time, with practice and guidance, it will find the potential in this appendage flailing off its face to breathe, drink, caress, thwack, probe, lift, haul, wrap, spray, sense, blast, stroke, smell, nudge, collect, bathe, toot, wave, and perform countless other functions that a person would rely on a combination of eyes, nose, hands, and strong machinery to do. Once the calf is weaned from its mother’s milk at five or whenever its next sibling is born, it will spend up to 16 hours a day eating 5% of its entire weight in leaves, grass, brush, bark, and basically any other kind of vegetation. It will only process about 40% of the nutrients in this food, however; the waste it leaves behind helps fertilize plant growth and provide accessible nutrition on the ground to smaller animals, thus making the elephant a keystone species in its habitat. From 250 pounds at birth, it will continue to grow throughout its life, to up to 7 tons for a male of the largest species or 4 tons for a female.

Of the many types of elephants and mammoths that used to roam the earth, one born today will belong to one of three surviving species: Elephas maximus in Asia, Loxodonta africana (savanna elephant) or Loxodonta cyclotis (forest elephant) in Africa. There are about 500,000 African elephants alive now (about a third of them the more reticent, less studied L. cyclotis), and only 40,000 – 50,000 Asian elephants remaining. The Swedish Elephant Encyclopedia database currently lists just under 5,000 (most of them E. maximus) living in captivity worldwide, in half as many locations — meaning that the average number of elephants per holding is less than two; many of them live without a single companion of their kind.

For the freeborn, if it is a cow, the “allomothers” who welcomed her into the world will be with her for life — a matriarchal clan led by the oldest and biggest. She in turn will be an enthusiastic caretaker and playmate to her younger cousins and siblings. When she is twelve or fourteen, she will go into heat (“estrus”) for the first time, a bewildering occurrence during which her mother will stand by and show her what to do and which male to accept. If she conceives, she will have a calf twenty-two months later, crucially aided in birthing and raising it by the more experienced older ladies. She may have another every four to five years into her fifties or sixties, but not all will survive.

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