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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Aug 122017
 
 August 12, 2017  Posted by at 8:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Giorgio de Chirico The Enigma of the Hour 1910

 

The Logic of War (Jim Rickards)
Russia Says Bellicose Rhetoric On North Korea Is ‘Over The Top’ (R.)
US ‘Volatility Index’ Spikes To Highest Level Since Election (G.)
Chinese Foreign Real-Estate Spending Plunges 82% (ZH)
Battle of the Behemoths (Jim Kunstler)
US Poised To Become World’s Largest Public-Private Partnership Market (IBT)
The Fed Has 6,200 Tons of Gold in a Manhattan Basement—Or Does It? (WSJ)
UK Risks International Court Case Over Theresa May’s Brexit Plans (Ind.)
Greenspan’s Legacy Explains Current Conundrums (DDMB)
Social Security Requires Bailout 60x Greater Than 2008 Bank Bailout (Black)
All Is Not As It Seems In Venezuela (Ren.)
Asylum Seekers At Canada Border Tents Unfazed By Delays, Uncertainty (R.)
People Smugglers Pushing Refugees To Their Deaths At Sea Off Yemen (Ind.)

 

 

There are different kinds of logic. I hope for once Rickards is wrong.

The Logic of War (Jim Rickards)

This was the week that the logic of war collided with the illogic of bubbles. So far, the bubble is winning, but that’s about to change. The “logic of war” is an English translation of a French phrase, la logique de la guerre, which refers to the dynamic of how wars begin despite the fact that the war itself will be horrendous, counterproductive, and possibly end in complete defeat. [..] Given these outcomes, “logic” says that war should be prevented. This would not be difficult to do. If North Korea verifiably stopped its weapons testing and engaged in some dialogue, the U.S. would meet the regime more than halfway with sanctions relief and some expanded trade and investment opportunities.

The problem is that the logic of war proceeds differently than the logic of optimization. It relies on imperfect assessments of the intentions and capabilities of an adversary in an existential situation that offers little time to react. North Korea believes that the U.S. is bluffing based in part on the prior failures of the U.S. to back up “red line” declarations in Syria, and based on the horrendous damage that would be inflicted upon America’s key ally, South Korea. North Korea also looks at regimes like Libya and Iraq that gave up nuclear weapons programs and were overthrown. It looks at regimes like Iran that did not give up nuclear weapons programs and were not overthrown.

It concludes that in dealing with the U.S., the best path is not to give up your nuclear weapons programs. That’s not entirely irrational given the history of U.S. foreign policy over the past thirty years. But, the U.S. is not bluffing. Trump is not Obama, he does not use rhetoric for show, he means what he says. Trump’s cabinet officials, generals and admirals also mean what they say. No flag officer wants to lose an American city like Los Angeles on his or her watch. They won’t take even a small chance of letting that happen. The Trump administration will end the North Korean threat now before the stakes are raised to the nuclear level. Despite the logic of diplomacy and negotiation, the war with North Korea is coming. That’s the logic of war.

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It is crucial that Trump communicate with Putin and Lavrov. And Washington does all it can to prevent it. Let’s hope they’ve found a back channel.

Russia Says Bellicose Rhetoric On North Korea Is ‘Over The Top’ (R.)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday the risks of a military conflict over North Korea’s nuclear program are very high, and Moscow is deeply worried by the mutual threats being traded by Washington and Pyongyang. “Unfortunately, the rhetoric in Washington and Pyongyang is now starting to go over the top,” Lavrov said. “We still hope and believe that common sense will prevail.” Asked at a forum for Russian students about the risks of the stand-off escalating into armed conflict, he said: “The risks are very high, especially taking into account the rhetoric.” “Direct threats of using force are heard… The talk (in Washington) is that there must be a preventive strike made on North Korea, while Pyongyang is threatening to carry out a missile strike on the U.S. base in Guam. These (threats) continue non-stop, and they worry us a lot.”

“I won’t get into guessing what happens ‘if’. We will do whatever we can to prevent this ‘if’.” “My personal opinion is that when you get close to the point of a fight breaking out, the side that is stronger and cleverer should take the first step away from the threshold of danger,” said Lavrov, in remarks broadcast on state television. He encouraged Pyongyang and Washington to sign up to a joint Russian-Chinese plan, under which North Korea would freeze its missile tests and the United States and South Korea would impose a moratorium on large-scale military exercises. “If this double freezing finally takes place, then we can sit down and start from the very beginning – to sign a paper which will stress respect for the sovereignty of all those parties involved, including North Korea,” Lavrov said.

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And that’s a good thing. Ultra low VIX means no price discovery.

US ‘Volatility Index’ Spikes To Highest Level Since Election (G.)

A US stock market gauge known as the “fear index” has spiked to its highest level since Donald Trump was elected president in a sign that his brinkmanship with North Korea is starting to unnerve investors. The Vix index has been at record lows in recent weeks but has been rattled by the remarks Trump has been making about North Korea. A breakthrough in Pyongyang’s weapons programme prompted Trump to warn on Tuesday that he would unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen” on North Korea if the regime continued to threaten the US. On Friday the US president tweeted that US military options were “locked and loaded” for use if Pyongyang “acted unwisely”. The Vix index measures expectations of volatility on the S&P 500 index of the US’s largest publicly quoted companies.

Its rise in the early hours of Friday prompted Neil Wilson, a senior market analyst at financial firm ETX Capital, to comment: “Volatility is back.” “The Vix just popped to its highest since the election of Donald Trump as jitters about North Korea roil risk sentiment. It’s about time the market woke up – nothing like the prospect of a nuclear standoff to sharpen mind of investors who had become a tad complacent,” said Wilson. oshua Mahony, a market analyst at IG, said: “For a week that has been largely devoid of major economic releases, Donald Trump’s confrontational stance with North Korea has raised volatility across the board, pushing the Vix from a rock-bottom reading on Tuesday, to the highest level in almost a year. “This has been a week of two halves, with complaints over a lack of volatility giving way to complaints over unpredictable volatility,” he added.

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Does that cover all housing bubbles? Well, not Holland and Scandinavia, probably.

Chinese Foreign Real-Estate Spending Plunges 82% (ZH)

Earlier this month, Morgan Stanley warned that commercial real estate prices in New York City, Sydney and London would likely take a hit over the next two years as Chinese investors pull out of foreign property markets. The pullback, they said, would be driven by China’s latest crackdown on capital outflows and corporate leverage, which they argued would lead to an 84% drop in overseas property investment by Chinese corporations during 2017, and another 18% in 2018. Sure enough, official data released by China’s Ministry of Commerce have proven the first part of Morgan Stanley’s thesis correct. Data showed that outbound investment in real estate was particularly hard hit during the first half of the year, plunging 82%. “According to official data, outbound investment by China’s real estate sector fell 82% year-on-year in the first half, to comprise just 2% of all outbound investment for the period.”

Overall, outbound direct investment to 145 countries declined to $48.19 billion, an annualized drop of 45.8%, according to China Banking News. The decline is a result of a crackdown by Chinese authorities after corporations went on a foreign-acquisition spree that saw them spend nearly $300 billion buying foreign companies and assets, with China’s four most acquisitive firms accounting for $55 billion, or 18%, of the country’s total. The acquisitions aggravated capital outflows, creating a mountain of debt and making regulators uneasy. Late last month, Chinese authorities ordered Anbang Insurance Group to liquidate its overseas holdings. In June, authorities asked local banks to evaluate whether Anbang and three of its peers posed a “systemic risk” to the country’s financial system. As Morgan Stanley noted, these firms were responsible for billions of dollars of commercial real-estate investments in the US, UK, Australia and Hong Kong.

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“..a great deal of American suburbia will have to be abandoned..”

Battle of the Behemoths (Jim Kunstler)

This has been a sensational year for retail failure so far with a record number of brick-and-mortar store closings. But it is hardly due solely to Internet shopping. The nation was vastly over-stored by big chain operations. Their replication was based on a suicidal business model that demanded constant expansion, and was nourished by a regime of ultra-low interest rates promulgated by the Federal Reserve (and its cheerleaders in the academic econ departments). The goal of the business model was to enrich the executives and shareholders as rapidly as possible, not to build sustainable enterprise. As the companies march off the cliff of bankruptcy, these individuals will be left with enormous fortunes — and the American landscape will be left with empty, flat-roofed, throwaway buildings unsuited to adaptive re-use. Eventually, the empty Walmarts will be among them.

Just about everybody yakking in the public arena assumes that commerce will just migrate to the web. Think again. What you’re seeing now is a very short term aberration, the terminal expression of the cheap oil economy that is fumbling to a close. Apart from Amazon’s failure so far to ever show a corporate profit, Internet shopping requires every purchase to make a journey in a truck to the customer. In theory, it might not seem all that different from the Monkey Ward model of a hundred years ago. But things have changed in this land. We made the unfortunate decision to suburbanize the nation, and now we’re stuck with the results: a living arrangement that can’t be serviced or maintained going forward, a living arrangement with no future. This includes the home delivery of every product under sun to every farflung housing subdivision from Rancho Cucamonga to Hackensack.

Of course, the Big Box model, like Walmart, has also recruited every householder in his or her SUV into the company’s distribution network, and that’s going to become a big problem, too, as the beleaguered middle-class finds itself incrementally foreclosed from Happy Motoring and sinking into conditions of overt peonage. The actual destination of retail in America is to be severely downscaled and reorganized locally. Main Street will be the new mall, and it will be a whole lot less glitzy than the failed gallerias of yore, but it will represent a range of activities that will put a lot of people back to work at the community level. It will necessarily entail the rebuilding of local and regional wholesale networks and means of distribution that don’t require trucking.

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But then combine Jim Kunstler’s piece with this:

US Poised To Become World’s Largest Public-Private Partnership Market (IBT)

As the debate over infrastructure policy intensifies, there is no dispute that the Trump administration’s initiative could open up a huge new market for financial firms on Wall Street. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that there are $4.6 trillion worth of needed investments to maintain and upgrade infrastructure throughout the U.S. In light of that, recent reports from Moody’s and AIG project a financial jackpot for private investors, with the latter predicting that America “is poised to become the largest public-private partnership market in the world for infrastructure projects.” That market appears to be a ripe profit opportunity for politically connected firms. On top of Pence’s overtures to investors in Australia, a country that has aggressively embraced privatization, Trump recently secured a pledge from Saudi Arabia’s government to invest billions in American infrastructure.

The Saudi money is slated to flow through the private equity firm Blackstone, which has been eyeing opportunities to profit from American infrastructure privatization since its CEO, Stephen Schwarzman, was named by Trump to run a White House economic advisory panel shaping federal infrastructure policy. At the same time, Cohn’s former employer, Goldman Sachs, has said in its financial filings that it too has plans to expand investment in privatized infrastructure. (Neither Schwarzman or Cohn have recused themselves from working on White House infrastructure policy that could benefit the firms, even though both own stakes in the companies.)

In the United States, the recent enthusiasm for public-private partnerships has stemmed from the visible success of several late-1990s toll road projects such as California’s State Route 91, the first fully-automated toll road with electronic transponders in the U.S., and Virginia’s Dulles Greenway, according to Robert Poole, the director of transportation policy at the libertarian Reason Foundation. More recently, he noted, states like Florida have enacted laws streamlining the legislative approval process for public-private partnership transportation projects. Both the GOP and Democratic Party listed infrastructure spending as objectives in their 2016 platforms. The Republican platform explicitly embraced public-private partnerships and “outside investment.” Prominent Democrats from former President Barack Obama to Bill and Hillary Clinton have also warmed to the idea of public-private partnerships — and the party’s officials have led some of America’s earliest precedent-setting privatization projects.

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Do we send in Dan Brown and Tom Hanks?

The Fed Has 6,200 Tons of Gold in a Manhattan Basement—Or Does It? (WSJ)

Eighty feet below the streets of lower Manhattan, a Federal Reserve vault protected by armed guards contains about 6,200 tons of gold. Or doesn’t. The Fed tells visitors its basement vault holds the world’s biggest official gold stash and values it at $240 billion to $260 billion. But “no one at all can be sure the gold is really there except Fed employees with access,” said Ronan Manly, a precious-metals analyst at gold dealer BullionStar in Singapore. If it is all there, he said, the central bank has “never in its history provided any proof.” Mr. Manly is among gold aficionados who wonder if the bank is hiding something about what it’s hiding. Other theorists suspect the gold beneath the New York Fed’s headquarters at 33 Liberty St. may be gold-plated fakes. Some conspiracy-minded investors think the Fed has been secretly leasing out the gold to manipulate prices.

“There has to have been a central bank spewing their gold into the market,” said John Embry, an investment strategist for Sprott Asset Management in Toronto until 2014 who once managed its gold fund. “The gold price didn’t act right” during the time he was watching it and the likely explanation for the movement was Fed action, said Mr. Embry. Fed officials have heard theories about their gold holdings for many years and don’t think much of them. After this article was published, a Fed spokeswoman said the Fed doesn’t own any of the gold housed at the New York Fed, which “does not use it in any way for any purposes including loaning or leasing it out.” The Fed has been selective in giving details about the contents of the vault and in the past has said it can’t comment on individual customer accounts due to confidentiality agreements.

[..] The Fed gives some information about the vault on a website and offers tours. A guide on one tour gave some details: Inside is enough oxygen for a person to survive 72 hours, should someone get trapped; custodians wear magnesium shoe covers to help prevent injuries, should they drop 27-pound bars; the Fed charges $1.75 a bar to move gold but nothing to store it; most of the gold is owned by foreign governments. [..] Visitors on vault tours see only a display sample and can’t verify bars up close. “All you see is the front row of gold bars,” said James Turk, co-founder of Goldmoney, a gold custodian. “There’s no way of knowing how deep the chamber is or how many rows there are.” Mr. Turk, based in London, believes much of the gold has been “hypothecated,” or lent out to other parties, and then rehypothecated, or lent to multiple parties at once. In doing so, he says, “central banks actually own less gold than people believe.”

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A phenomenal mess lies in your future. Wait till various courts get involved, representing entirely different jurisdictions, different laws.

UK Risks International Court Case Over Theresa May’s Brexit Plans (Ind.)

Britain risks a new Brexit fight in international courts if it tries to quit the EU’s single market without giving other countries official notice, The Independent can reveal. Legal experts, including one who advised the Treasury, agree Theresa May will leave the UK open to legal action in The Hague if she pulls out of the European Economic Area (EEA) without formally telling its other members 12 months in advance, to avoid disrupting their trade. The notice is demanded by an international agreement, but ministers do not intend to follow the process because, insiders believe, they want to avoid a Commons vote on staying in the EEA – and, therefore, the single market – that they might lose. As well as the a court battle, experts warn the stigma from breaking the agreement could also make it harder for Britain to secure the trade deals it desperately needs to secure the economy after Brexit.

Pro-EU MPs hope the legal opinion will help persuade the Commons to force and win the vote on staying in the EEA planned for the autumn. The Government has insisted EEA membership will end automatically with EU withdrawal but former Treasury legal adviser Charles Marquand, said: “A failure by the UK to give notice of its intention to leave would, I think, be a breach of the EEA Agreement, which is an international treaty.” The barrister said it was difficult to predict how another EEA states might seek to take action, if it believed its single market rights had been removed wrongly. But he added: “I believe there is a potential for international proceedings. One possibility is the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.”

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Are we going to lock him up?

Greenspan’s Legacy Explains Current Conundrums (DDMB)

On Aug. 11, 1987, the U.S. Senate confirmed Alan Greenspan as chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Thirty years later, the fallout from that occasion is still being felt around the world as the central bank’s focus shifted under Greenspan from economics and the banking system to the financial industry. Greenspan’s first speech as Fed chairman took place less than a month into his tenure when he dedicated the Jacksonville, Florida, branch of the Atlanta Fed. Some 73 miles north of where he stood was Jekyll Island, Georgia, where the foundations of the Fed were first laid in November 1910. Rather than look back at the Fed’s roots, however, Greenspan peered into its future: “We have entered the age of the truly global marketplace. Today the monetary policy decisions of our nation reverberate around the globe.”

Those words resonate today as policy makers worldwide struggle to extricate themselves from extraordinary levels of market intervention. How did we get to the point where central bankers endeavor to resolve structural issues with the power of the printing press? Greenspan’s legacy provides the answers. It is notable that in the days before the Senate vote, President Ronald Reagan cited the “banking system” as one of the Fed’s primary responsibilities. While Greenspan included banking system stability as one of the “instrumentalities” of the government’s designs of the Fed, he emphasized that the Fed was “NOT just another federal agency.” The Fed was also a leader “within the financial industry.” It wouldn’t take long for the financial system to stress test Greenspan’s resolve. On Oct. 19, 1987, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 22.6% in what remains the steepest one-day loss on record. From his first day in office to that October closing low, the Dow was down by 35%.

Few recall that Greenspan was in the air on his way to Dallas during the worst of Black Monday’s selloff, where he was scheduled to address the American Bankers Association convention the next morning. It wasn’t until he landed that he learned of the day’s events. Against his wishes, Greenspan never made it to the podium; he thought the better way to communicate calm was by maintaining his scheduled appearance. Compelled back to Washington due to the gravity of the situation, Greenspan issued the following statement in his name at 8:41 a.m. that Tuesday, less than an hour before stocks opened for trading: “The Federal Reserve, consistent with its responsibilities as the Nation’s central bank, affirmed today its readiness to serve as a source of liquidity to support the economic and financial system.”

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Best reason ever for a Universal Basic Income.

Social Security Requires Bailout 60x Greater Than 2008 Bank Bailout (Black)

A few weeks ago the Board of Trustees of Social Security sent a formal letter to the United States Senate and House of Representatives to issue a dire warning: Social Security is running out of money. Given that tens of millions of Americans depend on this public pension program as their sole source of retirement income, you’d think this would have been front page news… and that every newspaper in the country would have reprinted this ominous projection out of a basic journalistic duty to keep the public informed about an issue that will affect nearly everyone. But that didn’t happen. The story was hardly picked up. It’s astonishing how little attention this issue receives considering it will end up being one of the biggest financial crises in US history. That’s not hyperbole either– the numbers are very clear.

The US government itself calculates that the long-term Social Security shortfall exceeds $46 TRILLION. In other words, in order to be able to pay the benefits they’ve promised, Social Security needs a $46 trillion bailout. Fat chance. That amount is over TWICE the national debt, and nearly THREE times the size of the entire US economy. Moreover, it’s nearly SIXTY times the size of the bailout that the banking system received back in 2008. So this is a pretty big deal. More importantly, even though the Social Security Trustees acknowledge that the fund is running out of money, their projections are still wildly optimistic. In order to build their long-term financial models, Social Security’s administrators have to make certain assumptions about the future. What will interest rates be in the future? What will the population growth rate be? How high (or low) will inflation be?

These variables can dramatically impact the outcome for Social Security. For example, Social Security assumes that productivity growth in the US economy will average between 1.7% and 2% per year. This is an important assumption: the higher US productivity growth, the faster the economy will grow. And this ultimately means more tax revenue (and more income) for the program. But -actual- US productivity growth is WAY below their assumption. Over the past ten years productivity growth has been about 25% below their expectations. And in 2016 US productivity growth was actually NEGATIVE.

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Venezuela is dead simple. It has the largest oil reserves on the planet. Chavez kept Exxon and CIA out. Now they’re moving back in.

All Is Not As It Seems In Venezuela (Ren.)

An opposition backed by Exxon Mobil, a failed military coup that killed 40 people, staged photo-propaganda designed to create the perception of a failed state: Foreign powers have conspired to create the perfect conditions for yet another western ‘humanitarian’ intervention, this time in Venezuela. Former US Army solider turned documentary-maker, Mike Prysner, says the reality of Venezuela is very different from what we are being fed by the western press. [..] When I heard that Jeremy Corbyn had condemned violence on both sides in Venezuela, I was angry at first – because 80% or more of the violence is being committed by anti-government protesters. Their violence has far surpassed anything committed against them – and what has been done to them has been deliberately provoked. But then I began to recognise the skill in his statement – forcing everyone to confront the reality of what’s happening on the ground there. The reality bears little resemblance to what’s being presented to people.

The BBC is responsible for some of the most disingenuous portrayals. They’re showing violent protesters as if they’re some kind of defenders of peaceful protesters against a repressive police force, but in reality peaceful protests have been untouched by police. What happens is that the Guarimbas (violent, armed opposition groups) follow the peaceful protests and when they come near police, they insert themselves in between the two. They then push and push and push until there’s a reaction – and they have cameras and journalists on hand to record the reaction, so it looks like the police are being aggressive. We were once filming a protest and a group of Guarimbas challenged us. If we’d said we were with teleSur, at the very least they’d have beaten us and taken our equipment. But we told them we were American freelance journalists – they need Americans to film them and publicise them, so we were accepted.

The battles with police are actually quite small, but they’re planned, co-ordinated to disrupt different area each day to maximise their impact – but in most places life is pretty normal. It’s all about the portrayal. The US media mobilise everything for Guarimbas – there will be maybe 150 people but it’s made to look bigger and tactics are 100% violent – trying to provoke a response. And the level of police restraint is remarkable – the government knows the world is watching. One evening protesters were burning buildings for around two hours, with no intervention by the police. They only react when the protesters start throwing petrol bombs at the police or military, or their bases – but as soon as they do react, the Guarimbas film as if they’re victims of an unprovoked attack.

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Over 200 a day into Québec alone.

Asylum Seekers At Canada Border Tents Unfazed By Delays, Uncertainty (R.)

Asylum seekers, mainly from Haiti, clambering over a gully from upstate New York into Canada on Friday were undeterred by the prospect of days in border tents, months of uncertainty and signs of a right-wing backlash in Quebec. More than 200 people a day are illegally walking across the U.S. border into Quebec to seek asylum, government officials said. Army tents have been erected near the border to house up to 500 people as they undergo security screenings. Over 4,000 asylum seekers have walked into Canada in the first half of this year, with some citing U.S. President Donald Trump’s tougher stance on immigration. The cars carrying the latest asylum seekers begin arriving at dawn in Champlain, New York, across from the Canadian border.

On Friday, the first groups included two young Haitian men, a family of five from Yemen and a Haitian family with young twins. “We have no house. We have no family. If we return we have nowhere to sleep, no money to eat,” said a Haitian mother of a 2-year-old boy, who declined to give her name. Each family pauses a moment when a Royal Canadian Mounted police officer warns them they will be arrested if they cross the border illegally, before walking a well-trodden path across the narrow gully into Canada. Asylum seekers are crossing the border illegally because a loophole in a U.S. pact allows anyone who manages to enter Canada to file an asylum claim and stay in Canada while they await their application outcome.

Because the pact requires refugees to claim asylum in whatever country they first arrive, they would be turned back to the United States at legal border crossings. They Haitian family is arrested immediately and bussed to the makeshift camp. Border agents led a line of about two dozen asylum seekers on Friday into a government building at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle to be processed. The Red Cross is providing food, hygiene items and telephone access, spokesman Carl Boisvert said. He estimated the fenced-off camp, which has been separated into sections for families and single migrants, is about half full. Border staff and settlement agencies are straining to accommodate the influx, which has been partly spurred by false rumors of guaranteed residency permits.

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The values of our own lives are set by how we value other people’s lives.

People Smugglers Pushing Refugees To Their Deaths At Sea Off Yemen (Ind.)

At least 19 migrants are presumed to have drowned after 160 people were forced from a boat into rough seas off the coast of Yemen by smugglers in what may be a worrying new trend, the UN migration agency has said. The report from the International Organisation for Migration came less than a day after it said up to 50 migrants from Ethiopia and Somalia were “deliberately drowned” by smugglers who pushed them from a separate boat off the coast of Shabwa province in southern Yemen. “We’re wondering if this is a new trend,” Olivia Headon, an IOM spokesperson, told The Independent. “The smugglers are well aware of what’s happening in Yemen, so it may just be they’re trying to protect their own neck while putting other people’s lives at risk.” Six bodies were found on the beach, while 13 remain missing, presumed dead, Ms Headon said.

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Aug 102017
 
 August 10, 2017  Posted by at 9:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Dorothea Lange Rooms for Rent, Mission District. Slums of San Francisco, California 1936

 

An Indicator of Peril (Lebowitz)
Former CBO Director: Fall 2017 Will Be “Very Scary”, Expect A Market Crash (ZH)
US Still Stuck Firmly In The Great Recession (BI)
10 Years After Crisis, Another Crash Is ‘Almost Inevitable’ – Steve Keen (RT)
This $5 Trillion Time Bomb Will Devastate Americans (IM)
New Report Raises Big Questions About Last Year’s DNC Hack (N.)
Unverified ‘Russiagate’ Allegations a Grave Threat to America (Stephen Cohen)
European Commission Spending Thousands On ‘Air Taxis’ For Top Officials (G.)
Refugee Crisis Triggers Heightened Risk Of Slavery In EU Supply Chains (G.)

 

 

“The data point, Real Value Added, is currently in negative territory and may, therefore, be a harbinger of an economic downturn. If it is a false signal, it would be the first in a 70-year history of observations.”

An Indicator of Peril (Lebowitz)

Gross Value Added (GVA) and Real Value Added (RVA). GVA is a measure of economic activity, like GDP, but formulated from the production side of the economy. It measures the dollar value of all goods and services produced less all the costs required to produce those goods or services. For example, if 720Global buys $100 worth of wood, $20 worth of other materials and employs $30 worth of labor to build a chair, we have produced a good for $150. If that good is sold for $200, 720Global has created $50 of economic value. Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the more popular measure of economic activity, calculates the level of commerce based on the dollar value of the final goods and services produced. It may help to think of GDP as economic activity measured from the demand side and GVA as measured from the supply side.

Despite the differences, the levels of economic activity reported are remarkably consistent. Since 1948, nominal GDP has averaged annual growth of 6.55% while GVA has averaged 6.50%. It is important to note that, while they track each other very well over the longer term, they are less correlated quarter to quarter. Economists prefer to measure economic activity without the effect of inflation. If inflation were rampant when making the chair in the example above, some of the incremental value was due to the general trend of rising prices and not value added by 720Global. To strip out the effect of inflation and compute a pure measure of value added, it is commonplace to subtract inflation from GVA. The result is Real Value Added (RVA = GVA less CPI). The graph below plots RVA since 1948. Periods deemed recessionary by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) are denoted in gray.

Currently, three of the last four quarters have produced negative RVA levels. Real GDP is not producing similar results, having averaged 2% growth over the same quarters. As mentioned earlier, RVA and Real GDP may not be well correlated over short time frames. RVA is just one source of data arguing that economic trouble lies ahead, therefore, we would be wise not to read too much into this one indicator. Of concern, however, is that negative RVA readings have an impeccable pattern of signaling recession as a coincident indicator.

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Debt ceiling solution far from done.

Former CBO Director: Fall 2017 Will Be “Very Scary”, Expect A Market Crash (ZH)

Rudy Penner, the former director of the Congressional Budget Office and the person described by MarketNews international as “one of Washington’s most respected fiscal policy experts”, told MNI Wednesday in an exclusive interview that he expects a “very scary” fall 2017 due to fiscal issues, with market-disrupting battles ahead on both the debt ceiling and fiscal year 2018 spending. Penner directed the CBO under president Reagan, worked at high level posts in the White House budget office, and the Council of Economic Advisers. He is currently a fellow at the Urban Institute and sits on the board of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “There are so many politically hard issues and so little consensus on budget and tax policy. I assume we’ll somehow get through this, but not without getting frightened on a regular basis,” Penner said.

“Probably the best we can hope for is muddling through the (FY 2018) budget and the debt limit and getting very limited health, tax, and infrastructure legislation. There is not going to be significant stimulus coming out of Washington in the foreseeable future,” he said, echoing what many other pundits have said before. Penner said a “bipartisan negotiation is badly needed” to forge even a limited FY 2018 spending agreement. But he’s not certain this will occur. “Even a very limited spending agreement might be an impossible dream. We may just stumble into a series of short-term CRs,” he said, referring to temporary spending bills to keep the government funded. While the “record polarization” rhetoric is familiar, the clock is starting to tick ever louder: the 2018 fiscal year begins on October 1, 2017 and extends until September 30, 2018. None of the 12 annual spending bills for FY 2018 have yet been approved by Congress.

On to the debt ceiling, the one item on the calendar which Morgan Stanley (and others) have said will be the biggest hurdle for the market in the next two months, Penner said he believes it will be “very challenging” for Congress to pass legislation this fall to increase the statutory debt ceiling. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has asked Congress to lift the debt ceiling by the end of September. Penner countered that a “plausible path” for dealing with the debt ceiling is to pass legislation in September to suspend the debt ceiling until after the November 2018 mid-term elections. However, such legislation, he said, may have to be negotiated by an unusual coalition assembled by House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat. Such an agreement, Penner said, “could put Speaker Ryan’s job in peril” by conservative Republicans who oppose it. He said he believes the debt ceiling is “an incredibly stupid law that makes no logical sense.”

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What happens when you save banks only.

US Still Stuck Firmly In The Great Recession (BI)

Expectations are everything, especially in economics. That’s why a distinct lack of progress in a few basic measures of economic progress, particularly relative to pre-crisis expectations, has left many Americans questioning how much they have personally benefitted from the economic recovery. A new report from the Roosevelt Institute, a liberal think tank in Washington, highlights a number of ways in which “the recovery since 2009 is, in a sense, a statistical illusion.” The study finds the nation’s total economic output, its gross domestic product, “remains about 15% below the pre-recession trend, a larger gap than at the bottom of the recession.” The first chart below shows that lag, while the second offers insights into just how badly the crisis dented expectations about the future.

Strong employment gains in recent months have brought the jobless rate down to a historically-low 4.3%. However, this decline has not been accompanied by rising incomes or consumer prices, generally associated with a sustainable economic boom. Some Federal Reserve policymakers have found this trend puzzling, while many labor economists point to underlying weaknesses in the job market, including high levels of underemployment and long-term joblessness, as drags on income. Stagnant wages amid rising profits have meant that the wage share in US national income has fallen from 63% to 57% in the last 15 years, according to the report. “It is impossible for the wage share to ever rise if the central bank will not allow a period of ‘excessive’ wage growth,” writes J.W. Mason, who authored the report. “A rise in the wage share necessarily requires a period in which wages rise faster than would be consistent with longterm macroeconomic stability.”

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Zombie-to-be economies.

10 Years After Crisis, Another Crash Is ‘Almost Inevitable’ – Steve Keen (RT)

Speaking to RT, Keen said another financial crisis could be just around the corner unless a fundamentally different approach to debt is adopted. He says we are too focused on government debt, when what actually caused the crisis was “run-away private debt.” “The economy in the UK is not stable. It’s in the aftermath of the biggest financial crisis since the great depression, and there’s still a lack of awareness in the political classes about what actually caused the crisis in the first place,” Keen said. “The Tories were incredibly successful in convincing the electorate that the crisis was caused by government spending, which is absurd. That is technically saying government spending in the UK caused the financial crisis in the United States. Which is just nonsense. “And that gave us austerity for the last 10 years. That austerity has actually further weakened the economy.”

Keen says the level of private debt in the UK peaked at about 195% of GDP post-crisis. While it is now down to about 170% of GDP, it is roughly three times the level of debt England carried before the Margaret Thatcher era, he says. “That’s the stuff that’s being ignored. Nothing is really being done about that. With the amount of debt just sitting there we are still likely to have another crisis – but more likely, we are going to have stagnation.” What is cause for concern, Keen says, is what he calls the “zombie-to-be” economies, such as Australia, Belgium, China, Canada, and South Korea, which avoided the 2008 crisis by borrowing their way through it. Now they have a bigger debt burden to deal with when the next crisis hits, which could be between 2017 and 2020, he says.

“[The ‘zombie-to-be’ economies] are roughly equivalent in size to the American economy. So when they fall, then there will be a crisis that affects the rest of the world, including the UK.” Keen sees China as a terminal case. It has expanded credit at an annualized rate of around 25% for years on end. With private sector debt exceeding 200% of GDP, China resembles the over-indebted economies of Ireland and Spain prior to 2008. He also has little hope for his native Australia, whose credit and housing bubbles failed to burst in 2008. Last year, Australian private sector credit nudged above 200% of GDP, up more than 20 percentage points since the global financial crisis. Australia shows “that you can avoid a debt crisis today only by putting it off until tomorrow,” Keen says.

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Pensions.

This $5 Trillion Time Bomb Will Devastate Americans (IM)

Over 3,000 millionaires have fled Chicago in recent months. This is the largest outflow of wealthy people from any US city right now. It’s also one of the largest outflows of wealthy people in the world. But it’s not just millionaires… Every five minutes someone leaves Illinois. In a recent poll, 47% of people in Illinois said they want to leave the state. Over the last decade, more than half a million people have done just that. This is the largest outflow of people from any state in the country. The people who leave are generally better educated, more skilled, and earn more money than those who stay. Entire towns of affluent Illinois refugees have sprouted up in Florida, Arizona, and other states. Illinois is bleeding productive people. This is a major warning sign. Wealthy people are often the first to leave a bad situation. They have the means to simply get up and go.

And when they do, they take their money and their businesses with them. This hurts the local property market and the rest of the local economy. Many of Illinois’ millionaires own businesses that employ large numbers of people. As they leave, there are fewer people and businesses left to shoulder the state’s enormous and growing financial burdens. Many of these people are leaving for one simple reason: rising taxes. Illinois’ leftist tax-and-spend politicians are continuing to increase all sorts of taxes, which were already high in the first place. The state just passed a 32% income tax hike. Rising taxes are pushing more and more productive people to make the chicken run… and at the worst possible moment for the state’s coffers. Illinois is the most financially distressed state in the US. Every month, it spends $600 million more than it takes in.

It’s now $15 billion behind on its bills and counting. Illinois is about to become America’s first failed state. Even its governor has described it as a “banana republic.” Today, Illinois can’t pay contractors to fix the roads. It doesn’t have enough cash to pay lottery winners. (What happened to the money it collected selling lottery tickets?) The state can’t even afford food for its prisoners. Here are the sad facts. Illinois has: Nearly $15 billion in overdue bills (including $800 million in interest). A $7 billion budget deficit. And an eye-watering $250 billion bottomless pit of unfunded pension obligations. This $250 billion tab is one of the worst public pension crises in the US.

[..] While Illinois has the worst pension situation, it’s not the only state or city in crisis. California’s public pension system is also broken beyond repair. It’s $750 billion underfunded. State pension plans in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and many other states are taking on water, too. Unfunded public pension liabilities in the US have surpassed $5 trillion. And that’s during an epic stock and bond market bubble.

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A long overview of all the evidence.

New Report Raises Big Questions About Last Year’s DNC Hack (N.)

It is now a year since the Democratic National Committee’s mail system was compromised—a year since events in the spring and early summer of 2016 were identified as remote hacks and, in short order, attributed to Russians acting in behalf of Donald Trump. A great edifice has been erected during this time. President Trump, members of his family, and numerous people around him stand accused of various corruptions and extensive collusion with Russians. Half a dozen simultaneous investigations proceed into these matters. Last week news broke that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had convened a grand jury, which issued its first subpoenas on August 3. Allegations of treason are common; prominent political figures and many media cultivate a case for impeachment.

The president’s ability to conduct foreign policy, notably but not only with regard to Russia, is now crippled. Forced into a corner and having no choice, Trump just signed legislation imposing severe new sanctions on Russia and European companies working with it on pipeline projects vital to Russia’s energy sector. Striking this close to the core of another nation’s economy is customarily considered an act of war, we must not forget. In retaliation, Moscow has announced that the United States must cut its embassy staff by roughly two-thirds. All sides agree that relations between the United States and Russia are now as fragile as they were during some of the Cold War’s worst moments. To suggest that military conflict between two nuclear powers inches ever closer can no longer be dismissed as hyperbole.

All this was set in motion when the DNC’s mail server was first violated in the spring of 2016 and by subsequent assertions that Russians were behind that “hack” and another such operation, also described as a Russian hack, on July 5. These are the foundation stones of the edifice just outlined. The evolution of public discourse in the year since is worthy of scholarly study: Possibilities became allegations, and these became probabilities. Then the probabilities turned into certainties, and these evolved into what are now taken to be established truths. By my reckoning, it required a few days to a few weeks to advance from each of these stages to the next. This was accomplished via the indefensibly corrupt manipulations of language repeated incessantly in our leading media.

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America still ignores its no. 1 Russia expert.

Unverified ‘Russiagate’ Allegations a Grave Threat to America (Stephen Cohen)

Considering all these unprecedented factors, it needs to be emphasized again: President Trump is right about this “all-time low & very dangerous” moment in US-Russian relations. Having recently returned from Russia, Cohen reports that the political situation there is also worsening, primarily because of the Cold War fervor in Washington, including the politics of Russiagate and and new sanctions. Contrary to opinion in the American political-media establishment, Putin has long been a moderate, restraining factor in the new Cold War, but his political space for moderation is rapidly diminishing. His reaction to the congressional sanctions—reducing the number of personnel in US official outposts in Russia to the far lesser number of Russians in American ones—was the least he could have done.

Far harsher political and economic countermeasures are being widely discussed in Moscow, and urged on Putin. For now, he resists, explaining, “I do not want to make things worse,” but he too has a surrounding political elite and it is playing a growing role against any accommodation or restraint in regard to US policy. Meanwhile, the pro-American faction in Russian governmental circles is being decimated by Washington’s actions; and, as always happens in times of escalating Cold War, the space for Russian opposition and other dissident politics is rapidly shrinking.

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Well, if you build yourselves €1 billion offices, who cares?

European Commission Spending Thousands On ‘Air Taxis’ For Top Officials (G.)

Jean-Claude Juncker and his top officials are spending tens of thousands of euros on chartering private planes, according to documents detailing the European commission’s travel expenses. After three years of battling with transparency campaigners fighting for full disclosure, the EU’s executive has released two months of travel costs for 2016, revealing regular use of chartered planes to transport Brussels’ 28 commissioners. The most expensive mission for which details have been released was in the name of Federica Mogherini, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs. It cost €77,118 for her and aides to travel by “air taxi” to summits in Azerbaijan and Armenia between 29 February and 2 March 2016.

A two-day visit by Juncker, the European commission president, with a delegation of eight people to see Italy’s political leaders in Rome in February 2016 cost €27,000, again due to the chartering of a private plane. Mina Andreeva, a commission spokeswoman, said the use of air taxis was only allowed where commercial flights were either not available or their flight plans did not fit in with a commissioner’s agenda. Security concerns would also allow the chartering of a private plane under commission rules. She said of Juncker’s trip that there had been “no available commercial plane to fit the president’s agenda” in Italy, where he met the Italian president and prime minister, among other dignitaries. The spokeswoman added that the EU’s total spending on such administrative costs was publicly available and that the organisation led the way in being transparent in their work.

The commission was not able to provide details of how many planes are chartered by Brussels every year, although she insisted the number was limited. The travel costs accumulated by the commissioners come out of the general budget, agreed by the member states. [..] According to documents relating to the two months in 2016, total travel and accommodation costs for visits by commissioners to European parliament sessions in Strasbourg, the World Economic Forum in Davos and official missions to countries came to €492.249, an average of €8,790 a month per commissioner.

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That’ll teach them to stay home.

Refugee Crisis Triggers Heightened Risk Of Slavery In EU Supply Chains (G.)

The migrant crisis has increased the risk of slavery and forced labour tainting supply chains in three-quarters of EU countries over the past year, researchers have found. Romania, Italy, Cyprus and Bulgaria – all key entry points into Europe for migrants vulnerable to exploitation – were identified by risk analysts as particularly vulnerable to slavery and forced labour. The annual modern slavery index, produced by Verisk Maplecroft, assessed the conditions that make labour exploitation more likely. Areas covered by the index include national legal frameworks and the severity, and frequency, of violations. Countries outside Europe, such as North Korea and South Sudan, were judged to be at the greatest risk of modern slavery, but the researchers said the EU showed the largest increase in risk of any region over the past year.

“In the past, the slavery story has been in supply chains in countries far away, like Thailand and Bangladesh,” said Dr Alexandra Channer, a human rights analyst at Verisk Maplecroft. “But it is now far closer to home and it something that consumers, governments and businesses in the EU have to look out for. With the arrival of migrants, who are often trapped in modern slavery before they enter the workplace, the vulnerable population is expanding.” The International Labour Organisation estimates that 21 million people worldwide are subject to some form of slavery. The biggest global increase in the risk of slavery was in Romania, which rose 56 places in the indexand is the only EU country classified as “high risk”. Turkey came a close second, moving up 52 places, from medium risk to high risk.

The influx of hundreds of thousands of Syrians fleeing war, combined with Turkey’s restrictive work permit system, has led to thousands of refugees becoming part of an informal workforce, said the study. The government, which is focused on political crackdown, does not prioritise labour violations, further adding to the risk. Over the past year, several large brands from Turkish textile factories have been associated with child labour and slavery. The picture in Romania is more complex, researchers said. The country’s high risk category reflects more severe and frequent instances of modern slavery, but also reflects a greater number of criminal investigations in Romania, usually in collaboration with EU enforcement authorities. Both Romania and Italy, which rose 17 places, have the worst reported violations in the EU, including severe forms of forced labour such as servitude and trafficking, the study said.

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Aug 092017
 
 August 9, 2017  Posted by at 7:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Fred Stein Police car, New York 1942

 

The Only Thing Keeping Italy’s Debt Alive is the ECB (DQ)
Federal Bank Regulator Drops a Bombshell as Corporate Media Snoozes (Martens)
Officials Spend Big In The Run Up To China’s Communist Party Congress (BBG)
China Is Taking on the ‘Original Sin’ of Its Mountain of Debt (BBG)
Jeff Gundlach Predicts He Will Make 400% On Bet Against Stock Market (CNBC)
Our Broken Economy, in One Simple Chart (NYT)
The Economic Crash, Ten Years On (Pettifor)
Opioid Deaths In US Break New Record: 100 People A Day (RT)
New Hampshire Sues Purdue Pharma Over Opioid Marketing Practices (R.)
Americans Are Dying Younger, Saving Corporations Billions (BBG)
Unlearning The Myth Of American Innocence (G.)
EU Nations Start Process Of Returning Refugees, Migrants To Greece (AP)

 

 

As Trump sinks into opioids and nuke threats (talking to Kim in his own language, and no, Trump does not like the Korea thing), and Google sinks into its self-dug moral morass, let’s not forget this one thing: we would not have what poses as an economy if not for central banks buying anything not bolted down. And they cannot keep doing that. And what then?

“At current government debt net issuance rates and announced QE levels, the ECB will have been responsible for financing 100% of Italy’s deficits from 2014 to 2019”

The Only Thing Keeping Italy’s Debt Alive is the ECB (DQ)

New statistical data from the investment bank Jefferies LLC has revealed a startling new trend that could have major implications for Europe’s economic future: Italian banks have begun dumping unprecedented volumes of Italian sovereign debt. Holdings of government debt by Italian financial institutions slumped by a record €20 billion in June – almost 10% of the total – after €9.4 billion of sales in May. As the FT reports, the selling by Italian banks is the most emphatic example yet of a broader trend: banks sold €46 billion of government paper in June across Europe, taking the total reduction since the start of this year to €257 billion. The banks’ mass sell-off is probably being driven by two main factors: first, as an attempt to preempt a pending Basel III reform package that could eliminate the equity capital privilege for EU government bonds and second, to position themselves for an anticipated autumn announcement from the ECB that it will begin tightening monetary policy.

“Maybe we are seeing an indication of Italian banks catching up with what their counterparts in Spain have known for a long time – that sovereign debt is not the place to be in a world of rising interest rates, said Jefferies’ senior European economist, Marchel Alexandrovich. But then: who’s buying it? The answer, in the case of Italy, is the ECB and its Italian branch office, the Bank of Italy, where Italian bank deposits rose by €22 billion in June and €50 billion since the start of 2017. The ECB “overbought” Italian government debt in July with purchases of €9.6 billion — its highest monthly quota since quantitative easing began. As Italian banks offload their holdings, the ECB, with Italian native and former Bank of Italy governor Mario Draghi at the helm, is picking up the slack.

In doing so, the central bank surpassed its own capital key rules by which member state debt is bought in proportion to the size of each country’s economy. By contrast, the ECB’s German Bund purchases slipped below its capital key rules for the fourth month in a row, which further depressed the spread between Italian and German 10-year debt to 152 basis points, its lowest level of the year. This spread is artificial, derived from the ECB’s binge buying of European sovereign bonds, particularly those belonging to countries on the periphery. A report published in May by Astellon Capital revealed that since 2008, 88% of Italy’s government debt net issuance was acquired by the ECB and Italian Banks. At current government debt net issuance rates and announced QE levels, the ECB will have been responsible for financing 100% of Italy’s deficits from 2014 to 2019. That was before taking into account the current sell-down of Italian bonds by Italian banks.

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As central banks buy 100% of a country’s new debt, US banks pay out more than 100% of earnings, and “share buybacks represent 72% of the total payouts for the 10 largest bank holding companies”. What better way to characterize a non-functioning economy?

Federal Bank Regulator Drops a Bombshell as Corporate Media Snoozes (Martens)

Last Monday, Thomas Hoenig, the Vice Chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), sent a stunning letter to the Chair and Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Banking Committee. The letter contained information that should have become front page news at every business wire service and the leading business newspapers. But with the exception of Reuters, major corporate media like the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, the Business section of the New York Times and Washington Post ignored the bombshell story, according to our search at Google News. What the fearless Hoenig told the Senate Banking Committee was effectively this: the biggest Wall Street banks have been lying to the American people that overly stringent capital rules by their regulators are constraining their ability to lend to consumers and businesses.

What’s really behind their inability to make more loans is the documented fact that the 10 largest banks in the country “will distribute, in aggregate, 99% of their net income on an annualized basis,” by paying out dividends to shareholders and buying back excessive amounts of their own stock. Hoenig writes that the banks are starving the U.S. economy through these practices and if “the 10 largest U.S. Bank Holding Companies were to retain a greater share of their earnings earmarked for dividends and share buybacks in 2017 they would be able to increase loans by more than $1 trillion, which is greater than 5% of annual U.S. GDP.” Backing up his assertions, Hoenig provided a chart showing payouts on a bank-by-bank basis. Highlighted in yellow on Hoenig’s chart is the fact that four of the big Wall Street banks are set to pay out more than 100% of earnings: Citigroup 127%; Bank of New York Mellon 108%; JPMorgan Chase 107% and Morgan Stanley 103%.

What’s motivating this payout binge at the banks? Hoenig doesn’t offer an opinion in his letter but he does state that share buybacks represent 72% of the total payouts for the 10 largest bank holding companies. What share buybacks do for top management at these banks is to make the share price of their bank’s stock look far better than it otherwise would while making themselves rich on their stock options. If just the share buybacks (forgetting about the dividend payouts) were retained by the banks instead of being paid out, the banks could “increase small business loans by three quarters of a trillion dollars or mortgage loans by almost one and a half trillion dollars.” Hoenig also urged in his letter that there be a “substantive public debate” on what the biggest banks are doing with their capital rather than allowing this “critical” issue to be “discussed in sound bites.” Most corporate media responded to this appeal by ignoring Hoenig’s letter altogether.

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They all want to show nice numbers at the Congress. Shadow banks lend them the money to do it. In exchange for power.

Officials Spend Big In The Run Up To China’s Communist Party Congress (BBG)

In the run up to China’s blockbuster Communist Party congress later this year, officials have spent big to ensure the economy is humming along nicely when the conclave begins. It’s after that that things get interesting. With the central government’s deficit limit capped at 3%, officials usually turn on the taps around November and December, once they know they’ll have raised enough to fund a late-year splurge. Not this time. A push to smooth out spending means the fiscal pump is unlikely to go into high gear at year end, which is when economists see growth moderating toward the government’s baseline of 6.5%. While policy makers have quasi-fiscal options up their sleeve – like accelerating infrastructure project approvals or ratcheting up lending via policy banks – efforts to curb profligate local governments and limit debt may restrain those channels too.

“It’s China’s political-business cycle: this year is very important for the political transition, so they front-loaded fiscal spending to ensure a stable economic backdrop,” Larry Hu, head of China economics at Macquarie in Hong Kong. “China’s economy has a fiscal system and a shadow fiscal system. If growth really slows to threaten the target, then we’re going to see spending.” The question is, how much. China ran a fiscal deficit of 918 billion yuan ($137 billion) in the first half, or more than 2% of economic output during the period, Bloomberg calculations show. That’s a record both by value and share. The spending fueled better-than-expected economic growth of 6.9% in the first six months, and infrastructure investment surging at over 20%.

China International Capital Corp. analysts led by Liu Liu say the budgeted deficit will be 1.46 trillion yuan in the second half, versus 2.46 trillion yuan in the same period last year. The world’s second-largest economy still depends on government spending at all levels, as construction of things like roads and railways can be a key buffer when private investors start pulling back or, as now, political sensitivities make robust growth especially important. But those priorities are now clashing with the need to clamp down on indebtedness at lower levels of government, and the desire to avoid a year-end spending glut. In the past, officials have been able to use off-balance sheet spending, such as policy bank loans and funds raised through local government financing vehicles, to keep their deep pockets open.

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It’s starting to feel increasingly like a big fat Ponzi.

China Is Taking on the ‘Original Sin’ of Its Mountain of Debt (BBG)

China’s much-vaunted campaign to tackle its leverage problem has captured headlines this year. But to understand why they’re taking on the challenge – and the threat it could pose to the world’s second-largest economy – you need to dig into the mountain. Characterized in state media as the “original sin” of China’s financial system, leverage has swelled over the past decade – partly because policy makers were trying to cushion a slowdown in growth from the old normal of 10% plus. What’s fueled the leverage has been a rapid expansion in household and corporate wealth looking for higher returns in a system where bank interest rates have been held down. The unprecedented stimulus unleashed since 2008 effectively brought to life the “monster” China’s leadership is now trying to tackle, says Andrew Collier at Orient Capital Research in Hong Kong and author of “Shadow Banking and the Rise of Capitalism in China.”

Implicit backing from the central government meant borrowers had free license to take on debt. “You basically have anybody selling anything they want as they think they can’t lose,” Collier said. Deleveraging – championed by President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party Politburo in April – hasn’t truly begun, as “they’re trying to forestall the pain as long as possible,” he said. The equivalent of trillions of dollars are now held in all manner of assets in China, from high-yielding wealth management products to so-called entrusted investments. Taking the heftiest piece of the leverage mountain first, wealth management products had a precipitous rise over the past several years.

A way for borrowers who have trouble getting traditional bank loans to win funding, WMPs have grown in popularity as they typically offer savers much higher yields than banks offer on deposits. WMPs are also a hit because they give lenders a way to keep loans off of their balance sheets, and to skirt regulatory requirements when channeling funds to borrowers, according to Raymond Yeung at Australia & New Zealand Banking in Hong Kong. The regulatory crackdown this year — mostly in the form of more stringent guidelines on use of financial products — has seen the amount of WMPs outstanding taper off from a peak in April, while yields on them have surged as providers competed for funds. In July, the bank watchdog is said to have told some lenders to cut the rates they offered on the products.

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“It’s not really a bear call on the S&P 500. It’s more of a bull call on volatility..”

Jeff Gundlach Predicts He Will Make 400% On Bet Against Stock Market (CNBC)

DoubleLine CEO Jeffery Gundlach expects his bet for a decline in the S&P 500 will return 400%. “I’ll be disappointed if we don’t make 400% on the puts, and we don’t even need a big market decline for that to happen,” Gundlach said Tuesday on CNBC’s “Halftime Report.” He said that in his firm’s analysis, volatility is so low that it can make a big return by buying put options — bets for a decline — on the S&P 500 for December. “It’s not really a bear call on the S&P 500. It’s more of a bull call on volatility,” he said. In its slow grind higher, the S&P 500 has only closed more than 1% higher or lower on four trading days this year.

As a result of the muted market performance, the CBOE Volatility Index (.VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, has persistently held near historical lows around 10 or below this year and hit an all-time low of 8.84 on July 26. The VIX was near 10.1 midday Tuesday as the S&P 500 edged up to a record high. “I think going long the VIX is really sort of free money at a 9.80 VIX level today,” Gundlach said. “I believe the market will drop 3% at a minimum sometime between now and December. And when it does I don’t think the VIX will be at 10.” Gundlach reiterated his expectations for a snap higher in the VIX once volatility picks up, since hedge funds have piled heavily into bets that volatility will remain low.

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OK, got it. Now what?

Our Broken Economy, in One Simple Chart (NYT)

Many Americans can’t remember anything other than an economy with skyrocketing inequality, in which living standards for most Americans are stagnating and the rich are pulling away. It feels inevitable. But it’s not. A well-known team of inequality researchers — Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman — has been getting some attention recently for a chart it produced. It shows the change in income between 1980 and 2014 for every point on the distribution, and it neatly summarizes the recent soaring of inequality.= The line on the chart (which we have recreated as the red line above) resembles a classic hockey-stick graph. It’s mostly flat and close to zero, before spiking upward at the end. That spike shows that the very affluent, and only the very affluent, have received significant raises in recent decades.

This line captures the rise in inequality better than any other chart or simple summary that I’ve seen. So I went to the economists with a request: Could they produce versions of their chart for years before 1980, to capture the income trends following World War II. You are looking at the result here. The message is straightforward. Only a few decades ago, the middle class and the poor weren’t just receiving healthy raises. Their take-home pay was rising even more rapidly, in%age terms, than the pay of the rich. The post-inflation, after-tax raises that were typical for the middle class during the pre-1980 period — about 2% a year — translate into rapid gains in living standards. At that rate, a household’s income almost doubles every 34 years. (The economists used 34-year windows to stay consistent with their original chart, which covered 1980 through 2014.)

In recent decades, by contrast, only very affluent families — those in roughly the top 1/40th of the income distribution — have received such large raises. Yes, the upper-middle class has done better than the middle class or the poor, but the huge gaps are between the super-rich and everyone else. The basic problem is that most families used to receive something approaching their fair share of economic growth, and they don’t anymore.

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Nice try, Ann. But people have no political power left. Just look at the mess that all parties are in, in both the UK and US. So are you going to break the power of finance?

The Economic Crash, Ten Years On (Pettifor)

Challenging and dismantling gargantuan financial markets that operate beyond democratic regulatory oversight will not be easy, but it is long overdue. Some believe that the management of financial markets by governments will never be restored. I do not agree. Because of global imbalances, economic and financial tensions could lead to the onset of wars. These could dismantle global financial markets just as the two world wars did. There is a more peaceful way of restoring finance to the role of servant to, and not master of, economies and regions. For that to happen the public must realise that citizens can exercise economic power over global financial markets. The global ‘House of Finance’ is almost entirely dependent, and indeed largely parasitic, on the public sector. In other words, private finance is largely dependent for its capital gains on taxpayers like you and me.

Commercial banks do not need savings or tax revenues to lend. All they need is to provide finance to viable projects that will generate employment and income in the future – which will repay the loans. The most viable projects today are those needed to protect Britain from climate change. Any government with political spine would have insisted that the banks lend, at low affordable rates, to transformative projects in the real, productive economy where jobs are created, income generated, and society protected. And if shareholders and executives object to such conditions, then politicians should withdraw access to the Bank of England’s QE and low interest rates, and to government guarantees for deposits.

Quantitative easing – the creation of liquidity currently directed only at the financial sector – is only possible because central banks, if not directly publicly owned, are dependent for their legitimacy and money-creation powers, on taxpayers. The Federal Reserve is ultimately backed by US taxpayers. The Bank of England is a nationalised bank, whose authority is derived from Britain’s 31 million-plus taxpayers.

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” ..in 2015, the amount of opioids prescribed in the US was enough for every American to be medicated around the clock for three weeks.”

Opioid Deaths In US Break New Record: 100 People A Day (RT)

The first nine months of 2016 saw a sharp increase in opioid drug overdoses in the US compared to the prior year, according to new data by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). The government is struggling to respond to the crisis. Deaths due to drug overdose peaked in the third quarter of last year – 19.7 cases for every 100,000 people, compared to 16.7 in the same period the year before, according to newly released numbers from the NCHS, which is part of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Centers attributed 33,000 deaths in 2015 to opioid drugs, including legal prescription painkillers as well as illicit drugs like heroin and street fentanyl. “Opioid prescribing continues to fuel the epidemic. Today, nearly half of all US opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid,” according to the CDC.

A new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine says actual opioid mortality rate changes are on average 22% higher than federal statistics indicate, due to information missing from CDC records. “Opioid mortality rate changes were considerably understated in Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Jersey and Arizona,” said the study’s author, Dr. Christopher Ruhm, a health economist at the University of Virginia. Top US officials have consistently raised the alarm about the addiction crisis in the US, but a solution is yet to be found. [..] Last week, the Trump-appointed commission on combating the drug addiction crisis in America called on the president to declare “a national emergency.”

After the meeting with Trump on Tuesday, Price said the administration will act without such a declaration. “Here is the grim reality,” the commission wrote in their letter to Trump. “Americans consume more opioids than any other country in the world. In fact, in 2015, the amount of opioids prescribed in the US was enough for every American to be medicated around the clock for three weeks.”

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And this is how the opioid disaster started, and still rolls on. Easy fix (pun intended), but who’s going to do it?

New Hampshire Sues Purdue Pharma Over Opioid Marketing Practices (R.)

New Hampshire sued OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP on Tuesday, joining several state and local governments in accusing the drugmaker of engaging in deceptive marketing practices that have helped fuel a national opioid addiction epidemic. The lawsuit filed in Merrimack County Superior Court claimed that Purdue Pharma significantly downplayed the risk of addiction posed by OxyContin and engaged in marketing practices that “opened the floodgates” to opioid use and abuse. The lawsuit came after the state’s top court in June overturned a ruling that barred the enforcement of subpoenas against Purdue and four other drugmakers because of the use of a private law firm by the office of the attorney general.

The complaint said the Stamford, Connecticut-based company had spent hundreds of millions of dollars since the 1990s on misleading marketing that overstated the benefits of opioids for treating chronic, rather than short-term, pain. Purdue and three executives in 2007 pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the misbranding of OxyContin, and agreed to pay a total of $634.5 million to resolve a U.S. Justice Department probe. That year, the privately held company reached a $19.5 million settlement with 26 states and the District of Columbia. It agreed in 2015 to pay $24 million to resolve a lawsuit by Kentucky. The lawsuit by New Hampshire, which was not among those settled, said Purdue has continued to benefit from its earlier misconduct and has since 2011 expanded the market for opioids in the state.

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No wonder with the opioid cases.

Americans Are Dying Younger, Saving Corporations Billions (BBG)

Steady improvements in American life expectancy have stalled, and more Americans are dying at younger ages. But for companies straining under the burden of their pension obligations, the distressing trend could have a grim upside: If people don’t end up living as long as they were projected to just a few years ago, their employers ultimately won’t have to pay them as much in pension and other lifelong retirement benefits. In 2015, the American death rate—the age-adjusted share of Americans dying—rose slightly for the first time since 1999. And over the last two years, at least 12 large companies, from Verizon to General Motors, have said recent slips in mortality improvement have led them to reduce their estimates for how much they could owe retirees by upward of a combined $9.7 billion, according to a Bloomberg analysis of company filings.

“Revised assumptions indicating a shortened longevity,” for instance, led Lockheed Martin to adjust its estimated retirement obligations downward by a total of about $1.6 billion for 2015 and 2016, it said in its most recent annual report. Mortality trends are only a small piece of the calculation companies make when estimating what they’ll owe retirees, and indeed, other factors actually led Lockheed’s pension obligations to rise last year. Variables such as asset returns, salary levels, and health care costs can cause big swings in what companies expect to pay retirees. The fact that people are dying slightly younger won’t cure corporate America’s pension woes—but the fact that companies are taking it into account shows just how serious the shift in America’s mortality trends is.

It’s not just corporate pensions, either; the shift also affects Social Security, the government’s program for retirees. The most recent data available “show continued mortality reductions that are generally smaller than those projected,” according to a July report from the program’s chief actuary. Longevity gains fell short of what was projected in last year’s report, leading to a slight improvement in the program’s financial outlook. [..] Absent a war or an epidemic, it’s unusual and alarming for life expectancies in developed countries to stop improving, let alone to worsen. “Mortality is sort of the tip of the iceberg,” says Laudan Aron, a demographer and senior fellow at the Urban Institute. “It really is a reflection of a lot of underlying conditions of life.” The falling trajectory of American life expectancies, especially when compared to those in some other wealthy countries, should be “as urgent a national issue as any other that’s on our national agenda,” she says.

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Not sure where this article aims to go, but Americans entering another dimension is a nice starting point.

Unlearning The Myth Of American Innocence (G.)

I grew up in Wall, a town located by the Jersey Shore, two hours’ drive from New York. Much of it was a landscape of concrete and parking lots, plastic signs and Dunkin’ Donuts. There was no centre, no Main Street, as there was in most of the pleasant beach towns nearby, no tiny old movie theatre or architecture suggesting some sort of history or memory. Most of my friends’ parents were teachers, nurses, cops or electricians, except for the rare father who worked in “the City”, and a handful of Italian families who did less legal things. My parents were descendants of working-class Danish, Italian and Irish immigrants who had little memory of their European origins, and my extended family ran an inexpensive public golf course, where I worked as a hot-dog girl in the summers. The politics I heard about as a kid had to do with taxes and immigrants, and not much else. Bill Clinton was not popular in my house. (In 2016, most of Wall voted Trump.)

We were all patriotic, but I can’t even conceive of what else we could have been, because our entire experience was domestic, interior, American. We went to church on Sundays, until church time was usurped by soccer games. I don’t remember a strong sense of civic engagement. Instead I had the feeling that people could take things from you if you didn’t stay vigilant. Our goals remained local: homecoming queen, state champs, a scholarship to Trenton State, barbecues in the backyard. The lone Asian kid in our class studied hard and went to Berkeley; the Indian went to Yale. Black people never came to Wall. The world was white, Christian; the world was us. We did not study world maps, because international geography, as a subject, had been phased out of many state curriculums long before. There was no sense of the US being one country on a planet of many countries. Even the Soviet Union seemed something more like the Death Star – flying overhead, ready to laser us to smithereens – than a country with people in it.

I have TV memories of world events. Even in my mind, they appear on a screen: Oliver North testifying in the Iran-Contra hearings; the scarred, evil-seeming face of Panama’s dictator Manuel Noriega; the movie-like footage, all flashes of light, of the bombing of Baghdad during the first Gulf war. Mostly what I remember of that war in Iraq was singing God Bless the USA on the school bus – I was 13 – wearing little yellow ribbons and becoming teary-eyed as I remembered the video of the song I had seen on MTV. “And I’m proud to be an American; Where at least I know I’m free”. That “at least” is funny. We were free – at the very least we were that. Everyone else was a chump, because they didn’t even have that obvious thing. Whatever it meant, it was the thing that we had, and no one else did. It was our God-given gift, our superpower.

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Because Greece has the absolutely worst accomodations for them.

EU Nations Start Process Of Returning Refugees, Migrants To Greece (AP)

European Union countries have begun the process of sending migrants who arrived in Europe via Greece over the last five months back to have their asylum applications assessed there. EU rules oblige migrants to apply for asylum in the country they first enter. But the rules were suspended as hundreds of thousands of people, many of them Syrian refugees, entered Greece in 2015. The European Commission recommended in December that EU countries gradually resume transfers to Greece of unauthorized migrants arriving from March 15 onwards. “Some member states have made requests but transfers have not begun. Greece has to give assurances that they have adequate reception conditions,” European Commission spokeswoman Tove Ernst said Tuesday.

“Reception conditions in Greece have significantly improved since last year, which is why the Commission recommended a gradual resumption of transfers,” she said. The recommendation is not binding on EU countries. Greece’s asylum service says requests have been made to return more than 400 migrants. Seven requests have been accepted so far. In Athens, Greece’s migration minister said the returns would involve “tiny numbers.” “We will accept a few dozen people in coming months,” Yiannis Mouzalas told private Skai TV Tuesday. “This will be done provided we have the proper conditions to receive them.” Mouzalas said it was a “symbolic move” dictated by Greece’s EU obligations.

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Aug 082017
 
 August 8, 2017  Posted by at 9:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
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Vincent van Gogh Tree Roots 1890 (painted July 28, the day before he died)

 

That Whoosh You Heard? It’s The Great Chinese Property Pullback (BBG)
Has China’s Rise Topped Out? (BBG)
Credit Card Debt; Student, Auto Loans All Set New Record Highs (ZH)
Asking Prices Slashed At High End of the House Price Bubble (WS)
Is Trump Winning? (Robert Gore)
Jeff Sessions Endorses Theft (Ron Paul)
Just Wait a Little While (Jim Kunstler)
Fossil Fuel Subsidies Are A Staggering $5 Trillion Per Year (G.)
Bernie Sanders Tells Big Pharma: Stop Making Americans Pay Twice
Call For ‘Military Schengen’ To Get NATO Troops Moving (Pol.)
Erdogan Says Turkey To Tackle – US-Supported – Kurds In Syria (R.)
Greece Accepts Resettlement of Refugees from Germany (GR)

 

 

China needs foreign reserves. It needs to stop bleeding them.

That Whoosh You Heard? It’s The Great Chinese Property Pullback (BBG)

That whoosh you just heard? It’s Chinese money pulling back from property in London to Sydney to New York. Capital centres globally should brace for tumbling real-estate prices as Beijing manages to do what Brexit and higher interest rates haven’t. Reflecting tighter regulations, China overseas direct property investment could drop 84% to $US1.7 billion ($2.15 billion) this year and about another 15% to $US1.4 billion in 2018, according to Morgan Stanley. Mainland money began piling into offshore commercial property in 2013. Land prices were expensive at home, and investors wanted to find a hedge against a weakening yuan. Another draw was the prospect of higher returns in cities such as Sydney where yield spreads – the difference between rental yields and what government bonds pay – are higher.

A slumping British pound post June 2016’s Brexit vote helped, too. While some marquee transactions are still being inked – think the purchase earlier this year of London’s “Cheesegrater” tower by Chongqing-based, Hong Kong-listed CC Land Holdings – their numbers are dwindling. A strengthening yuan, along with China’s One Belt One Road initiative that needs funding, will see many property deals dry up. Over the past few months, Beijing has made it tougher to get money out, clamped down on more fanciful transactions such as the buying of football clubs and luxury hotels, and is now going after some of the country’s most prolific acquirers. Dalian Wanda Group, Anbang Insurance Group, HNA Group and Fosun International have all included real estate in their global buying binges.

Against that backdrop, and with increasing foreign-government scrutiny thrown into the mix, it’s hard to see how Chinese offshore real estate acquisitions can continue at such a pace. Domestic developers are already finding it harder to tap international debt markets, and have been resorting to short-term securities instead. This matters because Chinese capital accounted for one-quarter of commercial property transactions in central London last year, up from 1% a decade ago. China is now the second-largest foreign investor in the US after Canada, and is responsible for between 12 and 25% of all office transactions by value in Australia over the past two to three years.

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Again, China needs foreign reserves: “Nowhere is the disconnect between China’s global ambitions and actual policy greater than with the government’s interference in overseas direct investment.”

Has China’s Rise Topped Out? (BBG)

Most people around the world still seem to believe China’s ascent is relentless and inevitable. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center showed that while more of those polled still see the U.S. as the world’s leading economy, China is quickly narrowing the gap. Chinese President Xi Jinping has been feeding that positive image by presenting his country as a champion of globalization, trade and economic progress. Statistics tell a different story. The common perception is that China is swamping the world with exports of everything from mobile phones to steel to sneakers. In fact, the entire Chinese export machine is sputtering. Between 2006 and 2011, China’s total merchandise exports nearly doubled, powering the country through the Great Recession. Since then, they’ve increased less than 11%, according to World Trade Organization data.

The same trend holds for China’s currency. In late 2014, the renminbi broke into the top five most-used currencies for global payments, reaching an almost 2.2% share. China seemed well on the way to achieving its long-stated goal of turning the yuan into a true rival to the dollar. But that progress has reversed. In June, the renminbi chalked up only a 2% share, according to Swift, slipping behind the Canadian dollar. The situation isn’t very different in China’s capital markets. While the government has cracked open its stock and bond markets to foreign investors, they still prefer buying Chinese shares listed in Hong Kong or New York to those in Shanghai or Shenzhen. For instance, domestically traded A-shares in a China equities fund managed by Zurich-based GAM account for less than 10% of its holdings.

In part, China is simply running into the difficult transition every country faces when losing its low-cost advantage. Facing stiff competition from countries like India and Vietnam, where wages are lower, China is losing ground in apparel and textile exports to the United States. Meanwhile, the Chinese economy isn’t replacing these traditional exports with new, high-value ones quickly enough. For example, in 2016, China exported 708,000 passenger and commercial vehicles, a sharp deterioration from the more than 910,000 shipped abroad in 2014. Rather than boosting China’s global expansion, government policy is holding it back. The renminbi remains a sideshow in currency markets because the state can’t stop fussing with its value. In May, the central bank actually reversed its stated policy to liberalize the renminbi’s trading and imposed more control.

[..] Nowhere is the disconnect between China’s global ambitions and actual policy greater than with the government’s interference in overseas direct investment. For a while, officials were encouraging big companies to shop abroad, resulting in a surge of deal-making by firms like Anbang. That led to a debt-crazed buying binge. Having created the problem, the government then stepped in to “fix” it, by suddenly changing course and clamping down on foreign deals. According to the American Enterprise Institute, China’s offshore investment still grew by 9% in the first half of 2017, but only because of one giant deal – state-owned China National Chemical Corp.’s acquisition of Syngenta AG. Take that one out, and overseas investment would have fallen by about a third.

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Masters and debt slaves.

Credit Card Debt; Student, Auto Loans All Set New Record Highs (ZH)

Who would have expected that today’s otherwise boring monthly consumer credit report would be the day’s most exciting event. Well, moments ago the monthly update from the Federal Reserve confirmed that as of the end of June, total revolving (i.e. credit card) credit rose to $1,021.7 billion, an increase of $4.1 billion on the month, and a new all time high, taking out the previous record high set during the summer of 2008.

Coupled with the monthly $8.3 billion increase in non-revolving credit, which also rose to an all time high of $2,834.1 billion…

… means that total consumer credit in June increased by $12.4 billion, slightly less than the $13.9 billion expected and modestly less than the $18.4 billion increase in May, to $3,855.8 billion, also a record high.

Taking a closer look at the quarterly update in non-revolving debt, we find that for another consecutive quarter, both student and auto loans hit record highs, of $1.450 trillion and $1.131 trillion respectively, although there does appears to be a modest slowdown in credit issuance for these two largest categories.

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“Aspirational pricing”: pumping the market.

Asking Prices Slashed At High End of the House Price Bubble (WS)

No, Cantor Fitzgerald CEO Howard Lutnick didn’t “save” $81 million when he bought the most expensive listing in New York City, the 12,000-square-foot, 16-room triplex penthouse on the 41st, 42nd, and 43rd floors of The Pierre, a co-op tower on Fifth Avenue dating from 1930s. By the way, the owner also pays monthly maintenance charges for the apartment of $51,840). Asking price was $125 million when it was first listed in March 2013. In December that year, the price was slashed to $95 million. In 2015, it was cut to $63 million. That’s half of the original asking price. But it still didn’t sell. So it was taken off the market. After it underwent a modern redesign, it was re-listed in April 2016 for $57 million. It still didn’t sell. But on August 2, Page Six reported that Lutnick bought it for $44 million. At 65% below asking.

“Cantor Fitzgerald CEO buys iconic triplex at $81M discount,” said the Page Six headline. “Best Real Estate Headline Ever,” said Jonathan Miller, real-estate appraiser and author of the Elliman Report series, in his Housing Notes. Miller has a word for this phenomenon of enormous blue-sky asking prices that trigger subsequent massive and serial price reductions until finally someone bites: “Aspirational pricing.” “The very idea that a home seller would discount their home by $81 million to make the sale is an insane thought. This speaks to the concept I call “aspirational pricing.” The asking price was set to a price so ridiculous that it would literally sit on the market for years and the market would unlikely catch up in a lifetime. More importantly, it serves as misdirection for other high-end properties coming to the market by influencing them to also wildly over price as well.”

The 6,800-square-foot fully furnished penthouse occupying the top floor of the beachfront condo tower at 321 Ocean in South Beach, Miami Beach, was listed for sale in December 2015 for $53 million. The sellers had bought it when the building was completed six months earlier, for $20 million. “Financier Aims for Ambitious $53 Million Miami Penthouse Flip,” The Wall Street Journal said at the time. The hopeful flippers are Boris Jordan and Elizabeth Jordan: Founder of the private-equity and advisory firm the Sputnik Group, Mr. Jordan previously served as chief executive of the state-controlled Russian media conglomerate Gazprom-Media, and as head of the Russian television network NTV. But the hot air has come out of the condo market in Miami Beach. In the second quarter, after years of soaring, the median sale price for non-distressed condos dropped 7.5%, and the average price plunged 15.2%, according to the Elliman Report.

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A different look.

Is Trump Winning? (Robert Gore)

We’ve asserted that President Trump is far smarter and the powers that be far stupider and weaker than current consensus estimates. Trump’s primary motivation is power. The nonstop vilification campaign against him has little to do with policy differences and instead reflects establishment fears that Trump will investigate, expose, and punish its criminality. The upshot of these hypotheses: Trump is winning and has consolidated his power. [..] Even the Washington Post has admitted the Russia probe is “crumbling.” Trump and Sessions know Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller won’t find much because there’s nothing there, although there may be a sacrificial offering or two to propitiate the investigatory gods.

Trump read Sessions the riot act via Twitter and a Wall Street Journal interview about not investigating Hillary Clinton, intelligence community leaks to the press, and Ukrainian efforts to sabotage his presidential campaign. He’s been roundly condemned for publicly criticizing Sessions, but here’s a speculative leap: perhaps publicly criticizing Sessions was not really what Trump was doing. Perhaps Trump was giving his attorney general political cover to pursue investigations against high-profile Democrats who cannot help Trump, sub rosa or otherwise. Investigations of Hillary Clinton, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Susan Rice, Samantha Power, Fusion GPS, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz would demoralize the Democrats, preoccupy and harass key players, expose criminality, and electrify Trump’s base.

Providing Sessions further cover, twenty Republican representatives have sent a letter to the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein demanding the appointment of a second Special Counsel to look into potentially illegal acts by Clinton, Lynch, and former FBI director James Comey. After recusing himself from the Russiagate investigation, which he knows is pointless, and being “scolded” by Trump, Sessions is now a sympathetic, squeaky-clean figure; even Democrats have expressed support. He has far more latitude to pursue the investigations his boss wants him to pursue. Most of the ensuing criticism will be directed at Trump, which will bother Trump not at all (although there will undoubtedly be answering Twitter blasts).

Trump has quietly (when Trump does anything quietly, take note) made two sea changes in US policy in Syria. At the G20 summit, he negotiated a cease fire with Vladimir Putin for southwest Syria. Last week he ended a CIA program that armed Syrian jihadists fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Both changes are anathema to the US Deep State, the mainstream media, and US allies Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Israel, and Turkey, yet other than “rote denunciation,” they have been surprisingly docile. The latter change could presage abandonment of a pillar of US foreign and military policy since President Carter supplied arms and other aid to the mujahideen in Afghanistan during their successful fight against the Soviet Union. The US may be out of the business of arming Islamic insurgents against regimes it seeks to change.

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Another look, different from the last one.

Jeff Sessions Endorses Theft (Ron Paul)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently ordered the Justice Department to increase the use of civil asset forfeiture, thus once again endorsing an unconstitutional, authoritarian, and increasingly unpopular policy. Civil asset forfeiture, which should be called civil asset theft, is the practice of seizing property believed to be involved in a crime. The government keeps the property even if it never convicts, or even charges, the owner of the property. Police can even use civil asset theft to steal from people whose property was used in criminal activity without the owners’ knowledge. Some have even lost their homes because a renter or houseguest was dealing drugs on the premises behind the owners’ backs. Civil asset theft is a multi-billion dollar a year moneymaker for all levels of government.

Police and prosecutors receive more than their “fair share” of the loot. According to a 2016 study by the Institute for Justice, 43 states allow police and prosecutors to keep at least half of the loot they got from civil asset theft. Obviously, this gives police an incentive to aggressively use civil asset theft, even against those who are not even tangentially involved in a crime. For example, police in Tenaha, Texas literally engaged in highway robbery — seizing cash and other items from innocent motorists — while police in Detroit once seized every car in an art institute’s parking lot. The official justification for that seizure was that the cars belonged to attendees at an event for which the institute had failed to get a liquor license. The Tenaha police are not the only ones targeting those carrying large sums of cash.

Anyone traveling with “too much” cash runs the risk of having it stolen by a police officer, since carrying large amounts of cash is treated as evidence of involvement in criminal activity. Civil asset theft also provides an easy way for the IRS to squeeze more money from the American taxpayer. As the growing federal debt increases the pressure to increase tax collections without raising tax rates, the IRS will likely ramp up its use of civil asset forfeiture. Growing opposition to the legalized theft called civil asset forfeiture has led 24 states to pass laws limiting its use. Sadly, but not surprisingly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is out of step with this growing consensus. After all, Sessions is a cheerleader for the drug war, and civil asset theft came into common usage as a tool in the drug war. President Trump could do the American people a favor by naming a new attorney general who opposes police state policies like the drug war and police state tactics like civil asset theft.

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“We’ll use every kind of duct tape and baling wire we can find to keep the current systems operating, and we have..”

Just Wait a Little While (Jim Kunstler)

The authorities in this nation, including government, business, and academia, routinely lie about our national financial operations for a couple of reasons. One is that they know the situation is hopeless but the consequences are so awful to contemplate that resorting to accounting fraud and pretense is preferable to facing reality. Secondarily, they do it to protect their jobs and reputations — which they will lose anyway as collapse proceeds and their record of feckless dishonesty reveals itself naturally.

The underlying issue is the scale of human activity in our time. It has exceeded its limits and we have to tune back a lot of what we do. Anything organized at the giant scale is headed for failure, so it comes down to a choice between outright collapse or severe re-scaling, which you might think of as managed contraction. That goes for government programs, military adventures, corporate enterprise, education, transportation, health care, agriculture, urban design, basically everything.

There is an unfortunate human inclination to not reform, revise, or re-scale familiar activities. We’ll use every kind of duct tape and baling wire we can find to keep the current systems operating, and we have, but we’re close to the point where that sort of cob-job maintenance won’t work anymore, especially where money is concerned. Why this is so has been attributed to intrinsic human brain programming that supposedly evolved optimally for short-term planning. But obviously many people and institutions dedicate themselves to long-term thinking. So there must be a big emotional over-ride represented by the fear of letting go of what used to work that tends to disable long-term thinking.

It’s hard to accept that our set-up is about to stop working — especially something as marvelous as techno-industrial society. But that’s exactly what’s happening. If you want a chance at keeping on keeping on, you’ll have to get with reality’s program. Start by choosing a place to live that has some prospect of remaining civilized. This probably doesn’t include our big cities. But there are plenty of small cities and small towns out in America that are scaled for the resource realities of the future, waiting to be reinhabited and reactivated. A lot of these lie along the country’s inland waterways — the Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri river system, the Great Lakes, the Hudson and St. Lawrence corridors — and they also exist in regions of the country were food can be grown.

You’ll have to shift your energies into a trade or vocation that makes you useful to other people. This probably precludes jobs like developing phone apps, day-trading, and teaching gender studies. Think: carpentry, blacksmithing, basic medicine, mule-breeding, simplified small retail, and especially farming, along with the value-added activities entailed in farm production. The entire digital economy is going to fade away like a drug-induced hallucination, so beware the current narcissistic blandishments of computer technology. Keep in mind that being in this world actually entitles you to nothing. One way or another, you’ll have to earn everything worth having, including self-respect and your next meal. Now, just wait a little while.

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Political power.

Fossil Fuel Subsidies Are A Staggering $5 Trillion Per Year (G.)

Fossil fuels have two major problems that paint a dim picture for their future energy dominance. These problems are inter-related but still should be discussed separately. First, they cause climate change. We know that, we’ve known it for decades, and we know that continued use of fossil fuels will cause enormous worldwide economic and social consequences. Second, fossil fuels are expensive. Much of their costs are hidden, however, as subsidies. If people knew how large their subsidies were, there would be a backlash against them from so-called financial conservatives. A study was just published in the journal World Development that quantifies the amount of subsidies directed toward fossil fuels globally, and the results are shocking. The authors work at the IMF and are well-skilled to quantify the subsidies discussed in the paper.

Let’s give the final numbers and then back up to dig into the details. The subsidies were $4.9 tn in 2013 and they rose to $5.3 tn just two years later. According to the authors, these subsidies are important because first, they promote fossil fuel use which damages the environment. Second, these are fiscally costly. Third, the subsidies discourage investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy that compete with the subsidized fossil fuels. Finally, subsidies are very inefficient means to support low-income households. With these truths made plain, why haven’t subsidies been eliminated? The answer to that is a bit complicated. Part of the answer to this question is that people do not fully appreciate the costs of fossil fuels to the rest of us. Often we think of them as all gain with no pain.

So what is a subsidy anyway? Well, that too isn’t black and white. Typically, people on the street think of a subsidy as a direct financial cost that result in consumers paying a price that is below the opportunity cost of the product (fossil fuel in this case). However, as pointed out by the authors, a more correct view of the costs would encompass: “..not only supply costs but also (most importantly) environmental costs like global warming and deaths from air pollution and taxes applied to consumer goods in general.” The authors argue, persuasively, that this broader view of subsidies is the correct view because they “reflect the gap between consumer prices and economically efficient prices.”

Without getting too deep into the weeds, the authors discuss both consumer subsidies (when the price paid by a consumer is below a benchmark price) and producer subsidies (when producers receive direct or indirect support which increases their profitability). The authors then quantify what benefits would be achieved if the fossil fuel subsidies were reformed. Interested readers are directed to the paper for further details, but the results are what surprised me. Pre-tax (the narrow view of subsidies) subsidies amount to 0.7% of global GDP in 2011 and 2013. But the more appropriate definition of subsidies is much larger (8 times larger than the pre-tax subsidies). We are talking enormous values of 5.8% of global GDP in 2011, rising to 6.5% in 2013.

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Just how simple it really is. If you can’t stop this, forget about it.

Bernie Sanders Tells Big Pharma: Stop Making Americans Pay Twice

While both political parties have denounced the rising cost of prescription drugs, neither Democrats nor Republicans have done much to address the problem. But this summer, a new tool to restrict the rising prices of drugs developed with taxpayer dollars has been introduced by the two U.S. senators who don’t belong to either party. The mechanism works like this: Drug manufacturers who take federal money to develop drugs must keep their U.S. prices in line with the prices they charge in other economically advanced nations — typically much lower than drug prices in the U.S. The system would prevent pharmaceutical companies from effectively double-charging U.S. consumers by using their tax money for research and then charging them some of the steepest prices in the world at the pharmacy.

Pharmaceutical companies, who pour millions of dollars into both the Democratic and Republican parties, are against the idea, which is perhaps why the fix is being pushed by Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine, the only independents in congress. The U.S. has the highest level of per capita pharmaceutical spending of any nation on Earth, according to the OECD. And while Americans spend more than any other country to buy their drugs, they also spend more than any other country to develop those same drugs. In June, King successfully added an amendment to the 2018 military spending bill (still working its way through congress) that would allow the Department of Defense to take away exclusive patents from drug companies that benefitted from DoD funding if their drug price in the U.S. rises above the median price in seven foreign countries with similar economies.

Then last week, Sanders introduced legislation that would tie the prices of drugs made with government funding to costs in other countries. Unlike King’s amendment, Sanders’ bill would expand the concept beyond the DoD. The bill requires companies taking federal funds to develop drugs to enter into “reasonable pricing” agreements with the Secretary of Health and Human Services. “Under this insane system, Americans pay twice. First we pay to create these lifesaving drugs, then we pay high prices to buy those drugs,” wrote Sanders in a New York Times op-ed. “Our government must stop being pushovers for the pharmaceutical industry and its 1,400 lobbyists.”

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Soon to come: US soldiers parading in your streets. Will German and Estonian batallions appear in Kansas and Texas as well?

Call For ‘Military Schengen’ To Get NATO Troops Moving (Pol.)

European leaders have made a priority of greater military cooperation, yet the ability of NATO forces to operate in Europe is still hindered by border restrictions and mismatched infrastructure, according to uniformed commanders and EU defense ministers. While NATO has made substantial progress in surmounting legal hurdles to cross-border operations, lingering bureaucratic requirements — such as passport checks at some border crossings and infrastructure problems, like roads and bridges that can’t accommodate large military vehicles — could slow or even cripple any allied response to an emerging threat, officials warned. To lift the roadblocks, and speed coordinated military action, the Dutch defense minister, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, called on EU officials to create a so-called military Schengen zone.

The idea, loosely modeled on the open-border travel zone that has covered most of Europe since 1996, has also been a long-time goal of the senior United States Army commander in Europe, Lieutenant General Ben Hodges. “We must be able to move quickly to any place where there is a threat,” Hennis-Plasschaert said in a statement announcing her proposal at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in June. NATO leaders insist they have addressed the most problematic obstacles to cross-border operations, but nonetheless welcomed the Dutch proposal as a way to raise political pressure and create a sense of urgency around further improving the “interoperability” of allied countries. Officials say the obstacles are only apparent during peacetime exercises and planning, and that during a real military emergency, NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe — based in Mons, Belgium — would simply warn allies and deploy as needed.

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“Turkey, which has the second largest army in NATO after the United States..”

Erdogan Says Turkey To Tackle – US-Supported – Kurds In Syria (R.)

Days after a reshuffle of Turkey’s top military commanders, President Tayyip Erdogan has revived warnings of military action against Kurdish fighters in Syria that could set back the U.S.-led battle against Islamic State. Kurdish militia are spearheading an assault against the hardline militants in their Syrian stronghold Raqqa, from where Islamic State has planned attacks around the world for the past three years. But U.S. backing for the Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria has infuriated Turkey, which views their growing battlefield strength as a security threat due to a decades-old insurgency by the Kurdish PKK within in its borders. There have been regular exchanges of rocket and artillery fire in recent weeks between Turkish forces and YPG fighters who control part of Syria’s northwestern border.

Turkey, which has the second largest army in NATO after the United States, reinforced that section of the border at the weekend with artillery and tanks and Erdogan said Turkey was ready to take action. “We will not leave the separatist organization in peace in both Iraq and Syria,” Erdogan said in a speech on Saturday in the eastern town of Malatya, referring to the YPG in Syria and PKK bases in Iraq. “We know that if we do not drain the swamp, we cannot get rid of flies.” The YPG denies Turkish allegations of links with Kurdish militants inside Turkey, saying it is only interested in self-rule in Syria and warning that any Turkish assault will draw its fighters away from the battle against Islamic State which they are waging in an alliance with local Arab forces.

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Bend over. We have something for you.

Greece Accepts Resettlement of Refugees from Germany (GR)

For the first time since 2011, Germany will again begin the resettlement of refugees to Greece under the EU Dublin Regulation. Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas confirmed on German television that Greece will accept refugees who are currently in Germany and whose first entry into the EU was from Greece. The regulation applies to all refugees entering the EU since March 2017. The Dublin Regulation determines the EU Member State responsible to examine an application for asylum seekers seeking international protection. Usually, the responsible Member State will be the state through which the asylum seeker first entered the EU.

In an interview with the German TV to be aired on Monday evening, Mouzalas says: “A few days ago, we approved a small number of refugee returns related to the Dublin Regulation, by Germany and some other EU member states. Greek asylum authorities have undertaken the implementation of the procedure. “There was pressure from EU countries to start accepting resettlements. I understand that governments want to convince their citizens that they are doing something [about the refugee crisis]. That’s why I want to help them.” Deutsche Welle reports that according to the German Ministry of Interior, up to July 31, a total of 392 applications for resettlement were filed with the Greek authorities. The German ministry adds that “the specific dates for their return to Greece depends on the Greek authorities.”

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Aug 052017
 
 August 5, 2017  Posted by at 8:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Pablo Picasso Absinthe Drinker 1901

 

The Body Language of Power (Handelsblatt)
Let This Be Your Final Warning On US Stocks’ Overvaluation (MW)
Beneath The Glow Of Stock-Market Records Lurk Darkly Bearish Trends (MW)
Albert Edwards: Central Banks To Blame For Impending Disaster (CW)
Paul Singer Rages Against Everything From Passive Investing To Safe Spaces (ZH)
The Amazon Effect: Part Time Jobs Soar By 393K, Full Time Jobs Slide (ZH)
Where The Jobs Were: Waiters And Bartenders Topped The List (ZH)
Volkswagen Executive Pleads Guilty In US Emissions Cheating Scandal (R.)
Krauthammer Warns Impeachment Would Be “A Catastrophic Mistake” (ZH)
Russiatosis (Jim Kunstler)
Greece Erasing Asylum Backlog (K.)
Italy Seizes Refugee Rescue Ship (Ind.)

 

 

Germans making fun of Trump and lauding Merkel. What else can they do? She’s as strong as ever. That’s why I added a second picture at the bottom. But someone should write “The Dark Side of Merkel”.

The Body Language of Power (Handelsblatt)

Much about her unique style of power was already evident at the very moment she was closing in on the office of chancellor. It occurred on German television shortly after eight in the evening of September 18, 2005. Germans had just voted, and the polls showed Ms. Merkel’s center-right bloc falling far short of expectations with a tiny lead at 35 percent. The Social Democrats led by the incumbent chancellor Gerhard Schröder were in effect tied at 34 percent. As is customary in Germany, all the parties’ leaders gathered with two journalists to take stock on air. Ms. Merkel, with much larger hair than today, was the only woman among seven men. In the German parliamentary system, various coalition options were still open for either Mr. Schröder or Ms. Merkel to control a majority of the Bundestag. So Mr. Schröder, whom the German press called an “alpha animal”, decided to create facts on the ground.

He burst out with a forceful verbal barrage, insinuating that the moderators were biased, asserting that he was the real winner and disparaging Ms. Merkel. Constantly interrupting all his interlocutors as though in some dominance ritual, he blurted out, “Do you seriously think that my party will take up an offer of coalition talks from Ms. Merkel in this situation, in which she says she wants to be chancellor?” The other men in the round were not his primary targets, but they spent the following 40 minutes sparring with him. Ms. Merkel’s reaction was more interesting. Whenever the camera strayed from the dueling silverbacks and zoomed in on her, she had a neutral expression, or a look of mild puzzlement, but never one of anger or annoyance. Her hands mostly stayed folded on the table in front of her. She hardly spoke at all. In effect, she responded to Mr. Schröder by not reacting.

In the following hours and days, Mr. Schröder’s political career collapsed, as all of Germany wondered what demon had got into him. In at least one interview, he later had to deny that he was drunk during the debate. Meanwhile, Ms. Merkel quietly began coalition negotiations that led her to be sworn in as chancellor two months later, with the Social Democrats as her junior partners. Something had revealed itself that day on television between Mr. Schröder and Ms. Merkel. “When he entered the room, she had lost the election. When he left, she had won the chancellor’s office,” recalls Wolfgang Nowak, a former adviser to Mr. Schröder, who nowadays also has the ear of Ms. Merkel. “Nobody is like her,” says Gregor Gysi, who was opposition leader in parliament for much of Ms. Merkel’s current term. Mr. Gysi is widely considered the wittiest speaker in German politics, and his job in the Bundestag was to needle and provoke the chancellor. But all of his attacks fell flat. Merkel never took his baits; he never got a rise out of her.

Mr. Gysi, now retired, does not contest the point. Ms. Merkel, he says, reminds him of his experience in the 1970s, when he was a lawyer in the East German dictatorship. During interrogations he could always crack the men, he says, but against a certain kind of woman he had “no chance”, provided they did not make the mistake of trying to be like men. Hillary Clinton made that mistake, Mr. Gysi says. She blew a presidential election in America against a man who is almost comical in his pseudo-virility. By contrast, Mr. Gysi says, “Merkel’s secret is that she has found a method against the men, but the men have found no method against her.” “Merkel gets stronger by letting the men be men,” Mr. Nowak agrees. Many of these encounters resemble that televised encounter with Mr Schröder. “She let him do all his wrestling poses,” recalls Mr. Nowak. And in the end the macho always throws himself on the mat, with her left standing.


The flipside. Pic posted on Twitter with caption: “Don’t play with superglue”

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“People on Wall Street always tell you “this time is different,” but it never has been yet.”

Let This Be Your Final Warning On US Stocks’ Overvaluation (MW)

The Shiller PE [..] compares stocks against the average earnings of the past 10 years, rather than just one year, as Wall Street likes to do. The argument is that longer-term measures smooth out the distortions of booms and busts. Shiller has tracked his data back to 1881. The stock market’s average reading has been about 16 over that time. But that’s masked a wide range, from the single digits all the way up to 45 in early 2000. Critics sometimes like to argue that the reading of late has been distorted because it includes the abysmal corporate earnings during the 2008-2009 crash. So I decided to exclude those, and just compare stock prices to the average of the past five years, rather than 10, to see how that affected the measure. And, yes, it does. But it only cuts the reading from 31 to 25.5.

For reference, it’s only reached a level of about 25 on five previous occasions: 1901, 1928-9, 1966, 1996-2002 and 2003-2007. Each one ended with a crash. People on Wall Street always tell you “this time is different,” but it never has been yet. The “new era” of the 1920s, the “Nifty Fifty” stocks of the 1970s, the “new economy” of the 1990s. Investors in those eras have been told to ignore the lessons of the past and look only to the bright and unprecedented future. Each time they’ve lost their shirts. Other metrics with long-term records are also flashing yellow or red. Those include the so-called Tobin’s q, which compares stock valuations to how much it would cost to rebuild all those companies from scratch; and the Warren Buffett indicator, which compares the value of the stock market to the size of the national economy. (Buffett himself has somewhat backed away from that measure recently.)

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“As the indexes continue to produce a series of higher highs, subsurface conditions are painting an entirely different picture..”

Beneath The Glow Of Stock-Market Records Lurk Darkly Bearish Trends (MW)

Major U.S. stock-market indexes are trading near record levels, but does that statistic simply mask an ominous picture that’s being painted behind the scenes? Market breadth, a measure of how many stocks are rising versus the number that are dropping, has turned “exceedingly negative,” according to Brad Lamensdorf, a portfolio manager at Ranger Alternative Management. Lamensdorf writes the Lamensdorf Market Timing Report newsletter and runs the AdvisorShares Ranger Equity Bear, an exchange-traded fund that “shorts” stocks, or bets that they will fall. “As the indexes continue to produce a series of higher highs, subsurface conditions are painting an entirely different picture,” Lamensdorf wrote in the latest edition of the newsletter. He noted that the year-to-date advance in equities — the S&P 500 is up 10.6% in 2017 — has been driven by outsize gains in some of the market’s biggest names.

Most notably, the so-called FAANG stocks, which refers to a quintet of technology and internet names, have by themselves contributed more than 28% of the benchmark index’s gain. Separately, megacap names like Boeing and Johnson & Johnson have also outperformed the broader market. “The good performance of these large companies is masking the fact that many stocks, including REITs and those in the retail sector, have already entered bear-market territory,” Lamensdorf wrote, referring to real estate investment trusts. According to an analysis of FactSet data, 79 components of the S&P 500 are trading at least 20% below their 52-week high; a bear market is typically defined as a 20% drop from a peak. However, more than half the components are in what could be deemed bull market territory — at least 20% above their 52-week low.

Lamensdorf also cited a measure that compares market volume on advancing days to volume on days when the major indexes decline. This is a volatile metric, one that has both spikes and pronounced dips. However, since mid-2016, the spikes have topped out at progressively smaller highs. “This situation has occurred while the indexes have simultaneously hit higher highs; a classic negative divergence illustrating that large institutional sponsorship has not been following the indexes,” he wrote.

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Wait. Wasn’t that my line?

Albert Edwards: Central Banks To Blame For Impending Disaster (CW)

Notoriously bearish strategist Albert Edwards believes the UK is sitting on a ‘massive credit bubble that is primed to burst’ as another recession looms. The Société Générale global strategist said the recent sharp decline in household saving ratios (SR) in the UK and the US was last seen in 2007 just before the global financial crisis. This week, the US saw a substantial downward revision to its SR, with 1.5% lopped off the estimates taking the ratio to 3.8%, a level which Edwards claimed was last seen prior to the recession. In the UK, household SR slumped in the first quarter of this year to 1.9%, which he said was ‘shockingly low’. He said: ‘I’m genuinely getting tired of bashing the major central banks, but every day more evidence mounts that almost exactly the same debt excesses that caused the global financial crisis in 2008 are present today.

‘The UK Bank of England and US Federal Reserve deserve particular vilification for failing to remove the monetary punchbowl quickly enough just like the 2003-2007 period, allowing grotesque debt excesses to build.’ Edwards previously said he believed the US corporate sector ‘borrowing binge’ will take ‘centre stage in the next credit crisis’, but now thinks the household sector will play a bigger part thanks to the latest SR data. Blaming the Fed, he said: ‘QE has not only inflated corporate debt to grotesque levels, but finally the US SR has responded to the surge in household paper wealth that QE has produced. ‘Typically the SR always declines with rising wealth. Why do you need to bother saving if interest rates are close to zero and house and stock prices are rising?’

Edwards also believes the Bank of England (BoE) should have normalised rates ‘long ago’ and thinks it is ‘100%’ the BoE’s ‘own responsibility’ if credit growth spirals out of control. Comparing the UK to SR data from other European countries, Edwards said huge swings in the SR, representing credit booms and busts, are most apparent in the UK – ‘especially relative to the stability of somewhere like France.’ He added: ‘But the recent decline in the UK SR is almost without historical precedent. It is a credit disaster waiting to happen.’

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“..most fiscal and monetary policymakers’ knowlege of the world is somewhere between “close to nothing” and “way less than zero..”

Paul Singer Rages Against Everything From Passive Investing To Safe Spaces (ZH)

On Central Bankers: The combination of central banker-applied brute force (buying everything in sight) and deity-like central banker pronouncements has dampened market volatility and frisky free-lancing, but at the same time it has encouraged risk taking (in market positioning, not it business formation). We have thought, and still think, that confidence in central banks and policymakers has been unjustified and thus could erode or collapse at any time. Since the major financial institutions which comprise the financial system are still way overleveraged and opaque (in fact with record amounts of debt and derivatives at present), such a break in confidence could happen abruptly and without warning. Investors should come to grips, intellectually and viscerally, with the likelihood that most fiscal and monetary policymakers’ knowlege of the world is somewhere between “close to nothing” and “way less than zero,” and that their pronouncements and policies usually range from “silly but harmless” to “dumb and dangerous.

On whether labor markets are tight: Short answer: no. Programs which foster long-term dependency are not creating social justice; rather, they are creating demeaned citizens and preventing people from experiencing the dignity and contribution to society of work. Given record stock prices and low unemployment rates, the slow rate of increases in wages is “surprising.” But it clearly demonstrates that there is something wrong with the existing prosperity-delivering mechanism. In this regard, America is catching up (but not in a good way) with Europe, which long has lived with much higher rates of unemployment and long-term dependency.

On Chinese Debt: In response to the world economic slowdown after the GFC, China undertook a large debt-fueled stimulus. In 2008, it had a non-financial sector debt-to-GDP ratio of 141% or $6.6 trillion; by 2016 that number was 257% or $27.5 trillion. Combined with wild real estate booms and overbuilding, plus an unhealthy dose of corruption and severe neglect in “rule of law” infrastructure, a serious economic dislocation (or crash) is the obvious (but not necessarily correct) expectation based on the numbers, the leverage, the interconnectivity and the likely quality of debt. A Chinese financial market collapse would likely push the global economy into a deep recession.

Whether they will succeed or fail is completely unknown as this letter is written. A reasonable conclusion about China is that it is foolish to ignore the signs of developing storm but also ill-advised to put a “clock” on it or deem it to be inevitable. Our instinct is that close to perfection will be required to avoid a very painful sequence of events in the global financial system and hence the world economy.

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Still haven’t got a serious way to measure job quality. A job is a job is a job is nonsense.

The Amazon Effect: Part Time Jobs Soar By 393K, Full Time Jobs Slide (ZH)

On the surface the July jobs report was solid, with 209K jobs added, more than the expected, as the recent auto sector slowdown appears to skip the labor market (for now), with Trump quick to take credit for the report. However, digging through the numbers reveals some troubling features: while the Household survey reported that an impressive 345K jobs were added, more than 50% higher than the Establishment survey, the bulk of these jobs was part-time. According to the BLS, in July 393,000 part time jobs were added, offset by a drop of 54,000 full-time workers.

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Most jobs now go to people with high school or less.

Where The Jobs Were: Waiters And Bartenders Topped The List (ZH)

We already showed that contrary to the strong headline payrolls print, the sole source of job gains in July was part-time jobs, which rose by 393K in the month, the biggest monthly increase since September 2016, as full-time jobs sunk by 54K. Which is why it should not surprise that of the 209K jobs added according to the Establishment survey, the sector that added the most jobs was the “food services and drinking places”, i.e. “waiters and barenders” category, which added 53,000 jobs, the highest monthly increase since March 2014. There have now been 89 consecutive months without a decline for waiter and bartender jobs, the strongest sector for US employment. Needless to say, these jobs fall within leisure and hospitality, that sector pays the worst wages, an average of $13.35 an hour, and $331.08 a week.

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Will the others pick a plea deal as well now?

Volkswagen Executive Pleads Guilty In US Emissions Cheating Scandal (R.)

Volkswagen executive Oliver Schmidt pleaded guilty on Friday in U.S. District Court in Detroit in connection with a massive diesel emissions scandal that has cost the German automaker as much as $25 billion. Under a plea agreement, Schmidt faces up to seven years in prison and a fine of between $40,000 and $400,000 after admitting to conspiring to mislead U.S regulators and violating clean air laws. Schmidt will be sentenced on Dec. 6. In March, Volkswagen pleaded guilty to three felony counts under a plea agreement to resolve U.S. charges it installed secret software in vehicles to evade emissions tests. U.S. prosecutors have charged eight current and former Volkswagen executives.

Earlier this year, Schmidt was charged with 11 felony counts and federal prosecutors said he could have faced a maximum of up to 169 years in prison. As part of his guilty plea, prosecutors agreed to drop most of the counts and Schmidt has consented to be deported at the end of his prison sentence. After being informed of the existence of the emissions software in the summer of 2015, according to the agreement, Schmidt conspired with other executives to avoid disclosing “intentional cheating” by the automaker in a bid to seek regulatory approval for its model 2016 VW 2 liter diesel vehicles. During the period in question, Schmidt was working at the companys Wolfsburg, Germany, headquarters as one of three subordinates to the head of engine development. He was arrested when he traveled to the United States in early January.

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“..if you think a man is unfit, you vote against him. But you don’t remove him from office..”

Krauthammer Warns Impeachment Would Be “A Catastrophic Mistake” (ZH)

“I think [impeaching Trump] would be a catastrophic mistake,” warned outspoken conservative, and Fox News contributor, Charles Krauthammer, noting that there’s no evidence Trump has committed any crime. As The Hill reports, Krauthammer stressed that he doesn’t defend Trump, but only thinks that impeachment is a mistake. “Again, I think he’s unfit,” Krauthammer said, “but that’s not the grounds for removal.” “I don’t think he’s very well fit for the presidency. But fitness is not a reason for impeachment and removal.” Crucially, Krauthammer notes, as demonstrated by last night’s rally in West Virginia… Trump’s base is still firmly behind him and worries “I think we’re really headed into very choppy and dangerous constitutional waters” “Here’s a guy whose numbers are down in the 30s,” Krauthammer said on Fox News’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”

“He’s got this grand jury, reports of a grand jury being convened, he’s got the walls kind of closing in on him in Washington. And here he’s going out into the country and saying ‘These are my people. These are real people. Forget about the numbers. Forget about the chatter in Washington. Forget about the stories about Russia – which he spent a lot of time on – but I represent a huge constituency of tremendous support and enthusiasm.’” Townhall notes that Krauthammer then stressed the importance of our democratic process. “Again, I think he’s unfit but that’s not the grounds for removal,” Krauthammer said. What it means is, if you think a man is unfit, you vote against him. But you don’t remove him from office and that’s where I’m afraid we are headed given the forces that are surrounding the president. I just hope that cooler heads prevail. There will be another election – there always are – people can make their choices.”

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“All of this psychotic political behavior screams for the rise of a new party, or more than one new party..”

Russiatosis (Jim Kunstler)

So what exactly was Mr. Trump thinking when he signed the “deeply flawed” (his words) Russian Sanctions bill coughed up like a hairball by congress? It’s a ridiculous piece of legislation from any angle. It limits the president’s own established prerogatives for negotiating with foreign nations (probably unconstitutionally), and will only provoke economic warfare (at least) against the US that can easily lead to shattering global trade relations entirely. Some observers say he had to sign it because the vote for it in congress was so overwhelming (419 to 3) that they would only override a Trump veto. But the veto would have had, at least, symbolic value in the Jacksonian spirit that Trump pretended to want to emulate at the outset of his term. Perhaps he sees the Deep State endgame and is tired of resisting.

On the home front, Russia paranoia is at the center of Robert Mueller’s intensifying probe of Trump and his political associates as he calls a federal grand jury to hear testimony — which implies that he some lined up. This opens up all kinds of opportunities for prosecutorial mischief, for instance going after every business transaction Trump made as a private citizen before he ran for president, and coercing Trump intimates into immunization deals in exchange for testimony, real or cooked-up, to enable the establishment’s ultimate goal of shoving Trump out. The “Russian meddling in our election” story hasn’t produced any credible evidence after a full year — and speaking to foreign diplomats is not a crime — but the Russian meddling juggernaut rolls on perfectly well, and might accomplish its ends, without it.

Just repeating “Russian meddling” five thousand times on CNN has surely induced many poorly-informed citizens to believe that Russia changed the numbers in American voting machines though, in fact, voting machines are not connected to the Internet. All of this psychotic political behavior screams for the rise of a new party, or more than one new party, composed of men and women who have not lost their minds. I’m sure they’re out there. Plenty of traces on the Internet attest to the existence of a higher and better political consciousness in this country. It just hasn’t found a way to congeal. Yet.

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It’s still a godalmighty mess. And we can thank Merkel for that, too.

Greece Erasing Asylum Backlog (K.)

Greece has taken a significant step toward restoring the credibility of its asylum system as – according to the latest data from sources within the Migration Policy Ministry – authorities have processed 97.5 percent of a backlog of about 84,000 claims submitted under the old procedure in place before 2011. Progress has been achieved mostly thanks to an amendment to Law 4375/2016. Adopted in the wake of an EU-Turkey deal aimed at stemming the flow of migrants into Europe, the law introduced a series of changes to the institutional framework. Now applicants for international protection who lodged a claim more than five years ago, have a pending appeal and possess a valid asylum seeker’s permit are granted a residence permit on humanitarian grounds. The measure affects about 800 cases.

“It’s a fair decision as these people have lived in the country for many years with no final decision on their cases without it being their fault. They have become integrated and grown ties with Greece and the people. Some may have even made a family here,” Maria Stavropoulou, head of the Greek Asylum service, told Kathimerini. “It would be harsh and unfair to demand after all those years that these people return to their country of origin,” she said. With the same amendment that was voted in Parliament early last week, individuals with pending appeals under the old system who have not appeared before the Greek authorities to renew their asylum-seeker permit for a minimum of eight months are considered to have implicitly withdrawn their applications – and their claims are thereby discontinued.

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Another case of non-existent collusion, played out in the media for political reasons.

Italy Seizes Refugee Rescue Ship (Ind.)

Italian authorities have seized a refugee rescue ship operated by a German charity over allegations volunteers had contact with Libyan smugglers. Prosecutors in Trapani said an investigation started in October had uncovered evidence suggesting that the Iuventa was used “to aid and abet illegal immigration”. The vessel, operated by Jugend Rettet, was seized on the island of Lampedusa on Wednesday after it was ordered to take rescued migrants to shore there and its crew have been interviewed by police. Ambrogio Cartosio, a public prosecutor from Trapani, said there was evidence some members had contact with smugglers during one incident in September and two others in June. “There were contacts, meetings, understandings,” between the group’s boat and the smugglers, he said.

The prosecutor alleged that migrants were “handed over” to the Iuventa by smugglers rather than being “rescued”, and later transferred to other ships to be taken ashore in Italy. “The evidence is serious,” Mr Cartosio said. “We have evidence of encounters between traffickers, who escorted illegal immigrants to the Iuventa, and members of the boat’s crew.” But the prosecutor stressed that there was no evidence of Jugend Rettet receiving any money from Libyan traffickers and no indication of a wider conspiracy between the two groups – a favourite theory of the European far-right. “My personal conviction was that the motive is humanitarian, exclusively humanitarian,” Mr Cartosio said. “It would be fantasy to say there was a coordinated plan between the NGOs and the Libyan traffickers.”

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Aug 032017
 
 August 3, 2017  Posted by at 8:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Marion Post Wolcott Street scenes. Port Gibson, Mississippi 1940

 

Buybacks and Dividends Eat 100% of Bank Earnings (WS)
America’s Productivity Plunge Explained (ZH)
Amazon is the New Tech Crash (David Stockman)
Public Pensions Average 0.6% Return In 2016 Despite 7.6% Assumption (ZH)
Plan For The Worst (Roberts)
Who Needs $100 Oil? Majors Making More Cash at $50, Goldman Says (BBG)
China’s Fear of Japan-Style Economic Bust Drives Crackdown on Deals (BBG)
The US Just Declared Full-Scale Trade War On Russia (Medvedev)
Seymour Hersh: RussiaGate Is A CIA-Planted Lie, Revenge Against Trump (Zuesse)
The Witch Hunt for Donald Trump Surpasses the Salem Witch Trials (PCR)
Canada Opens Montreal’s Olympic Stadium To House Asylum Seekers (R.)
Number Of Child Refugees In Greek Detention Centres Rises ‘Alarmingly’ (PA)
We Got Too BIG For The World (Kingsnorth)

 

 

And then they go after the Volcker rule. Take away their political power or else.

Buybacks and Dividends Eat 100% of Bank Earnings (WS)

When tighter regulations were imposed on the banks after the Financial Crisis, the largest among them, the very ones that threatened to bring down the financial system, began squealing. Those voices are now being heard by Congress, which is considering deregulating the banks again. In particular, they claim that current capital requirements force banks to curtail their lending to businesses and consumers, and thus hurt the economy. Nonsense! That’s in essence what FDIC Vice Chairman Thomas Hoenig told Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo and the committee’s senior Democrat, Sherrod Brown, in a letter dated Tuesday, according to Reuters. The senators are trying to find a compromise on bank deregulation. If banks wanted to increase lending, they could easily do so without lower capital requirements, Hoenig pointed out.

Rather than blowing their income on share-buybacks or paying it out in form of dividends, banks could retain more of their income, thus adding it to regulatory capital. Capital absorbs the losses from bad loans. Higher capital levels make a bank more resilient during the next crisis. If there isn’t enough capital, the bank collapses and gets bailed out. But banks that increase their capital levels through retained earnings are stronger and can lend more. Alas, in the first quarter, the 10 largest bank holding companies in the US plowed over 100% of their earnings into share buybacks and dividends, he wrote. If they had retained more of their income, they could have boosted lending by $1 trillion. The CEO of the top bank on this list has been very vocal about plowing more of the bank’s income into share buybacks and dividends, while pushing regulators to lower capital requirements.

In his “Dear Fellow Shareholders” letter in April, Jamie Dimon wrote under the heading “Regulatory Reform,” among many other things: “It is clear that the banks have too much capital.” “And we think it’s clear that banks can use more of their capital to finance the economy without sacrificing safety and soundness. Had they been less afraid of potential CCAR stress losses, banks probably would have been more aggressive in making some small business loans, lower rated middle market loans and near-prime mortgages. But the government was preventing them from doing it, he suggested.

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I think it started when manufacturing was exported to China et al. How are you supposed to be productive when you don’t make anything?

America’s Productivity Plunge Explained (ZH)

For the first time since the financial crisis, US multifactor productivity growth turned negative last year, mystifying economists who have struggled to find something to blame for the fact that worker productivity is declining despite a technology boom that should make them more efficient – at least in theory. To be sure, economists have struggled to find explanations for the exasperating trend, with some arguing that the US hasn’t figured out how to properly measure productivity growth correctly now that service-sector jobs proliferate while manufacturing shrinks. But what if there’s a more straightforward explanation? What if the decline in US productivity measured since the 1970s isn’t happening in spite of technology, but because of it?

To wit, Facebook has just released user-engagement data for its popular Instagram photo-sharing app. Unsurprisingly, the data show that the average user below the age of 25 now spends more than 32 minutes a day on the app, while the average user aged 25 and older. The last time Facebook released this data, in October 2014, its users averaged 21 minutes a day on the app.

According to Bloomberg, “time spent is an important metric for advertisers, which like to hear that users are browsing an app beyond quick checks for updates, making them more likely to run into some marketing.” Maybe they should matter more to economists, too. Aside from short-lived booms in the 1990s and 2000s, US productivity growth has averaged just 1.2% from 1975 up to today after peaking above 3% in 1972. As we detailed previously, adjusting for the WWII anomaly (which tells us that GDP is not a good measure of a country’s prosperity) US productivity growth peaked in 1972 – incidentally the year after Nixon took the US off gold.

The productivity decline witnessed ever since is unprecedented. Despite the short lived boom of the 1990s US productivity growth only average 1.2 per cent from 1975 up to today. If we isolate the last 15 years US productivity growth is on par with what an agrarian slave economy was able to achieve 200 years ago. As we reported last year, users spent 51% of their total internet time on mobile devices, for a total of 5.6 hours per day snapchatting, face-booking, insta-graming and taking selfies.

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The new wonders are the ones who don’t make dick all.

Amazon is the New Tech Crash (David Stockman)

It won’t be long now. During the last 31 months the stock market mania has rapidly narrowed to just a handful of shooting stars. At the forefront has been Amazon.com, Inc., which saw its stock price double from $285 per share in January 2015 to $575 by October of that year. It then doubled again to about $1,000 in the 21 months since. By contrast, much of the stock market has remained in flat-earth land. For instance, those sections of the stock market that are tethered to the floundering real world economy have posted flat-lining earnings, or even sharp declines, as in the case of oil and gas. Needless to say, the drastic market narrowing of the last 30 months has been accompanied by soaring price/earnings (PE) multiples among the handful of big winners.

In the case of the so-called FAANGs + M (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google and Microsoft), the group’s weighted average PE multiple has increased by some 50%. The degree to which the casino’s speculative mania has been concentrated in the FAANGs + M can also be seen by contrasting them with the other 494 stocks in the S&P 500. The market cap of the index as a whole rose from $17.7 trillion in January 2015 to some $21.2 trillion at present, meaning that the FAANGs + M account for about 40% of the entire gain. Stated differently, the market cap of the other 494 stocks rose from $16.0 trillion to $18.1 trillion during that 30-month period. That is, 13% versus the 82% gain of the six super-momentum stocks.

Moreover, if this concentrated $1.4 trillion gain in a handful of stocks sounds familiar that’s because this rodeo has been held before. The Four Horseman of Tech (Microsoft, Dell, Cisco and Intel) at the turn of the century saw their market cap soar from $850 billion to $1.65 trillion or by 94% during the manic months before the dotcom peak. At the March 2000 peak, Microsoft’s PE multiple was 60X, Intel’s was 50X and Cisco’s hit 200X. Those nosebleed valuations were really not much different than Facebook today at 40X, Amazon at 190X and Netflix at 217X. The truth is, even great companies do not escape drastic over-valuation during the blow-off stage of bubble peaks. Accordingly, two years later the Four Horseman as a group had shed $1.25 trillion or 75% of their valuation.

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“The media don’t crow every time the price of milk goes up, so why should it cheer higher prices in a different market? It’s great only if you own the cow.”

Dow 22,000 Is Not Good News For Most Americans (MW)

The U.S. stock market hit another record Wednesday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average surpassing 22,000 for the first time. The media acted like Dow 22,000 is a good thing. The cheerleaders in the anchor desks are wearing goofy hats and high-fiving each other like their team just won the Super Bowl. But record-high stock prices are not inherently a good thing. Whether it’s good for you individually depends on whether you own lots of shares or not. Most people do not own very many shares at all, so most of us aren’t benefiting much from high stock prices. The media don’t crow every time the price of milk goes up, so why should it cheer higher prices in a different market? It’s great only if you own the cow.

Who owns the stock market? About half of all equity is owned by the richest 1 million or so families, and another 41% is owned by the rest of the top 10%. The bottom 90% of families own about 9% of outstanding shares. [..] High stock prices might have a benefit if it meant that more capital would be invested in America’s corporations. That’s the myth of the stock market, anyway. In reality, the stock market doesn’t funnel any additional capital into corporations at all. Nonfinancial corporations have been net buyers — not sellers — of equities for the past 23 years in a row. The stock market is actually a process for extracting wealth from corporations and passing it along to the wealthy people who owns shares.

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The headline bumbers are all you need really. Ponzi as far as the eye can see.

Public Pensions Average 0.6% Return In 2016 Despite 7.6% Assumption (ZH)

We’ve frequently argued that public pension funds in the U.S. are nothing more than thinly-veiled ponzi schemes with their ridiculously high return assumptions specifically intended to artificially minimize the present value of future retiree payment obligations and thus also minimize required annual contributions from taxpayers…all while actual, if immediately intangible, underfunded liabilities continue to surge. As evidence of that assertion, we present to you the latest public pension analysis from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. As part of their study, Boston College reviewed 170 public pension plans in the U.S. and found that their average 2016 return was an abysmal 0.6% compared to an average assumed return of 7.6%. Meanwhile, per the chart below, the average return for the past 15 years has also been well below discount rate assumptions, at just 5.95%.

All of which, as we stated above, continues to result in surging liabilities and collapsing funding ratios.

But, perhaps the most telling sign of the massive ponzi scheme being perpetrated on American retirees is the following chart which shows that net cash flows have become increasingly negative, as a percentage of assets, as annual cash benefit payments continue to exceed cash contributions.

Conclusion, you can hide behind high discount rates and a “kick the can down the road” strategy in the short-term…but in the long run actual cash flows matter.

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Pensions, planning: good luck in the bubble.

Plan For The Worst (Roberts)

One of the biggest mistakes that people make is assuming markets will grow at a consistent rate over the given time frame to retirement. There is a massive difference between compounded returns and real returns as shown. The assumption is that an investment is made in 1965 at the age of 20. In 2000, the individual is now 55 and just 10 years from retirement. The S&P index is actual through 2016 and projected through age 100 using historical volatility and market cycles as a precedent for future returns. While the historical AVERAGE return is 7% for both series, the shortfall between “compounded” returns and “actual” returns is significant. That shortfall is compounded further when you begin to add in the impact of fees, taxes, and inflation over the given time frame.

The single biggest mistake made in financial planning is NOT to include variable rates of return in your planning process. Furthermore, choosing rates of return for planning purposes that are outside historical norms is a critical mistake. Stocks tend to grow roughly at the rate of GDP plus dividends. Into today’s world GDP is expected to grow at roughly 2% in the future with dividends around 2% currently. The difference between 8% returns and 4% is quite substantial. Also, to achieve 8% in a 4% return environment, you must increase your return over the market by 100%. The level of “risk” that must be taken on to outperform the markets by such a degree is enormous. While markets can have years of significant outperformance, it only takes one devastating year of losses to wipe out years of accumulation.

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A new business model? Does this apply only to oil, or should all businesses cut their sales prices in half to increase their profits? Alternatively, maybe shareholders should sue BP and Shell for all missed profits in the past?

Who Needs $100 Oil? Majors Making More Cash at $50, Goldman Says (BBG)

Oil majors are raking in more cash now than they did in the heyday of $100 oil, according to Goldman Sachs. Integrated giants like BP and Royal Dutch Shell have adapted to lower prices by cutting costs and improving operations, analysts at the bank including Michele Della Vigna said in a research note Wednesday. European majors made more cash during the first half of this year, when Brent averaged $52 a barrel, than they did in the first half of 2014 when prices were $109. Back then, high oil prices had caused executives to overreach on projects, leading to delays, cost overruns and inefficiency, Goldman said. Those projects are coming online now, producing more revenue, while companies have tightened their belts and divested some assets to reduce debt burdens.

“Simplification, standardization and deflation are repositioning the oil industry for better profitability and cash generation in the current environment than in 2013-14 when the oil price was above $100 a barrel,” the analysts said. In the second quarter, Europe’s big oil companies generated enough cash from operations to cover 91 percent of their capital expenses and dividends, showing that they’re close to being able to fund shareholder payments with business-generated revenue, according to Goldman. That will give companies the ability to stop paying dividends by issuing new stock, which has diluted major European energy shares by 3 to 13 percent since 2014.

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Too late.

China’s Fear of Japan-Style Economic Bust Drives Crackdown on Deals (BBG)

President Xi Jinping’s top economic adviser commissioned a study earlier this year to see how China could avoid the fate of Japan’s epic bust in the 1990s and decades of stagnation that followed. The report covered a wide range of topics, from the Plaza Accord on currency to a real-estate bubble to demographics that made Japan the oldest population in Asia, according to a person familiar with the matter who has seen the report. While details are scarce, the person revealed one key recommendation that policy makers have since implemented: The need to curtail a global buying spree by some of the nation’s biggest private companies. Communist Party leaders discussed Japan’s experience in a Politburo meeting on April 26, according to the person, who asked not to be identified as the discussions are private.

State media came alive afterward, with reports trumpeting Xi’s warning that financial stability is crucial in economic growth. Then in June came a bombshell: reports that the banking regulator had asked lenders to provide information on overseas loans made to Dalian Wanda Group Co., Anbang Insurance Group Co., HNA, Fosun International Ltd. and the owner of Italian soccer team AC Milan. While the timing of those requests is unclear, other watchdogs soon issued directives to curb excessive borrowing, speculation on equities and high yields in wealth-management products. Jim O’Neill, previously chief economist at Goldman Sachs and a former U.K. government minister, said Chinese policy makers are constantly looking to avoid the mistakes of other countries — and Japan in particular.

“You see it in repeated attempts to stop various potential property bubbles so China doesn’t end up with a Japan-style property collapse,” O’Neill said in an email. “There does appear to be some signs that some Chinese investors don’t invest in clear understandable ways, but they wouldn’t be the only ones where that is true!” [..] The moves reflect concerns that China’s top dealmakers have borrowed too much from state banks, threatening the financial system and ultimately the party’s legitimacy to rule — a key worry ahead of a once-in-five-year conclave later this year that will cement Xi’s power through 2022.

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Well argued by Russia’s PM, and it shows just how extensive the sanctions are. Does America need decades more of Cold War?: “The sanctions codified into law will now last for decades, unless some miracle occurs. [..] the future relationship between the Russian Federation and the United States will be extremely tense, regardless of the composition of the Congress or the personality of the president.”

The US Just Declared Full-Scale Trade War On Russia (Medvedev)

The signing of new sanctions against Russia into law by the US president leads to several consequences. First, any hope of improving our relations with the new US administration is over. Second, the US just declared a full-scale trade war on Russia. Third, the Trump administration demonstrated it is utterly powerless, and in the most humiliating manner transferred executive powers to Congress. This shifts the alignment of forces in US political circles.

What does this mean for the U.S.? The American establishment completely outplayed Trump. The president is not happy with the new sanctions, but he could not avoid signing the new law. The purpose of the new sanctions was to put Trump in his place. Their ultimate goal is to remove Trump from power. An incompetent player must be eliminated. At the same time, the interests of American businesses were almost ignored. Politics rose above the pragmatic approach. Anti-Russian hysteria has turned into a key part of not only foreign (as has been the case many times), but also domestic US policy (this is recent).

The sanctions codified into law will now last for decades, unless some miracle occurs. Moreover, it will be tougher than the Jackson-Vanik law, because it is comprehensive and can not be postponed by special orders of the president without the consent of the Congress. Therefore, the future relationship between the Russian Federation and the United States will be extremely tense, regardless of the composition of the Congress or the personality of the president. Relations between the two countries will now be clarified in international bodies and courts of justice leading to further intensification of international tensions, and a refusal to resolve major international problems.

What does this mean for Russia? We will continue to work on the development of the economy and social sphere, we will deal with import substitution, solve the most important state tasks, counting primarily on ourselves. We have learned to do this in recent years. Within almost closed financial markets, foreign creditors and investors will be afraid to invest in Russia due to worries of sanctions against third parties and countries. In some ways, it will benefit us, although sanctions – in general – are meaningless. We will manage.

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No, Hersh is not some kind of nut.

Seymour Hersh: RussiaGate Is A CIA-Planted Lie, Revenge Against Trump (Zuesse)

During the latter portion of a phone-call by investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, Hersh has now presented “a narrative [from his investigation] of how that whole fucking thing began,” including who actually is behind the ‘RussiaGate’ lies, and why they are spreading these lies.

In a youtube video upload-dated August 1st, he reveals from his inside FBI and Washington DC Police Department sources — now, long before the Justice Department’s Special Counsel Robert Mueller will be presenting his official ‘findings’ to the nation — that the charges that Russia had anything to do with the leaks from the DNC and Hillary Clinton’s campaign to Wikileaks, that those charges spread by the press, were a CIA-planted lie, and that what Wikileaks had gotten was only leaks (including at least from the murdered DNC-staffer Seth Rich), and were not from any outsider (including ’the Russians’), but that Rich didn’t get killed for that, but was instead shot in the back during a brutal robbery, which occurred in the high-crime DC neighborhood where he lived. Here is the video…

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So maybe Paul Craig Roberts lays it on a bit thick sometimes. But what happens in America is dangerous, and Trump is not the principal danger.

The Witch Hunt for Donald Trump Surpasses the Salem Witch Trials (PCR)

In 1940 US attorney general Robert Jackson warned federal prosecutors against “picking the man and then putting investigators to work, to pin some offense on him. It is in this realm—in which the prosecutor picks some person whom he dislikes or desires to embarrass, or selects some group of unpopular persons and then looks for an offense—that the greatest danger of abuse of prosecuting power lies. It is here that law enforcement becomes personal, and the real crime becomes that of being unpopular with the predominant or governing group, being attached to the wrong political views or being personally obnoxious to, or in the way of, the prosecutor himself.” Robert Jackson has given a perfect description of what is happening to President Trump at the hands of special prosecutor Robert Mueller.

Trump is vastly unpopular with the ruling establishment, with the Democrats, with the military/security complex and their bought and paid for Senators, and with the media for proving wrong all the smart people’s prediction that Hillary would win the election in a landslide. From day one this cabal has been out to get Trump, and they have given the task of framing up Trump to Mueller. An honest man would not have accepted the job of chief witch-hunter, which is what Mueller’s job is. The breathless hype of a nonexistent “Russian collusion” has been the lead news story for months despite the fact that no one, not the CIA, not the NSA, not the FBI, not the Director of National Intelligence, can find a scrap of evidence.

In desperation, three of the seventeen US intelligence agencies picked a small handful of employees thought to lack integrity and produced an unverified report, absent of any evidence, that the hand-picked handful thought that there might have been a collusion. On the basis of what evidence they do not say. That nothing more substantial than this led to a special prosecutor shows how totally corrupt justice in America is. Furthermore the baseless charge itself is an absurdity. There is no law against an incoming administration conversing with other governments. Indeed, Trump, Flynn, and whomever should be given medals for quickly moving to smooth Russian feathers ruffled by the reckless Bush and Obama regimes. What good for anyone can come from ceaselessly provoking a nuclear Russian bear?

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Spent so much time in that stadium watching baseball etc. Good memories.

Canada Opens Montreal’s Olympic Stadium To House Asylum Seekers (R.)

Canadian health authorities and aid workers are using an Olympic stadium to shelter asylum seekers as a growing number of people walk into the country from the United States. The Quebec Red Cross and local health authorities opened Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on Wednesday to asylum seekers brought in by bus after having crossed the U.S. border, Red Cross spokeswoman Stephanie Picard said. The city is seeing a growing influx in refugee claimants coming from the United States and is scrambling to house them all. The Red Cross is assisting with beds and providing bedding and other personal-care items. Montreal’s health authority would not provide exact numbers on how many people are being housed in the stadium, built for the 1976 Olympics and which now serves as an event space.

More than 4,300 people have walked across the U.S. border into Canada this year seeking refugee status. The vast majority of them come to Quebec, according to figures from the federal government. Many asylum seekers who spoke to Reuters say they left the United States fearing President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown. People who cross the border illegally to file refugee claims are apprehended and held for questioning by both police and border officials before being allowed to file claims and live in Canada while their application is processed. Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre welcomed the asylum seekers on Twitter Wednesday afternoon, saying 2,500 people had come in July alone. He said on Twitter that providing for the new arrivals is a “humanitarian gesture.”

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Look, there have to be limits, or we will not survive this, none of us. Locking up children just because they have fled bombs is beyond insane.

Number Of Child Refugees In Greek Detention Centres Rises ‘Alarmingly’ (PA)

The number of unaccompanied child migrants living in “dirty” Greek detention centres has increased “alarmingly”, a human rights organisation has warned. An estimated 117 children were in police cells or custody centres in Greece at the end of July, compared to just two in November 2016, according to figures released by the country’s government. Under Greek law, the authorities should separate minors into safe accommodation, where they are appointed guardians who represent them in legal proceedings. But when there is no space in safe shelters, the authorities detain them in police stations and immigration detention facilities, sometimes with unrelated adults. “Instead of being cared for, dozens of vulnerable children are locked in dirty, crowded police cells and other detention facilities across Greece, in some cases with unrelated adults,” said Eva Cossé, the country’s researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“The Greek government has a duty to end this abusive practice and make sure these vulnerable kids get the care and protection they need.” Human Rights Watch has written to Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas to stop the automatic detention of unaccompanied children. It suggested the government should amend legislation and significantly shorten the amount of time a child can be detained in protective custody. While they wait for a space in a shelter, many children are not provided with information about their rights and are not told how to apply for asylum, the organisation said. Aid workers have previously reported that the uncertainty and distress caused by the asylum process, exacerbated an ongoing mental health crisis among migrants living on the islands. Children as young as nine have harmed themselves, while 12-year-olds have attempted to kill themselves, Save the Children said in March.

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Too big NOT to fail.

We Got Too BIG For The World (Kingsnorth)

Living through a collapse is a curious experience. Perhaps the most curious part is that nobody wants to admit it’s a collapse. The results of half a century of debt-fueled “growth” are becoming impossible to deny convincingly, but even as economies and certainties crumble, our appointed leaders bravely hold the line. No one wants to be the first to say the dam is cracked beyond repair. To listen to a political leader at this moment in history is like sitting through a sermon by a priest who has lost his faith but is desperately trying not to admit it, even to himself. Watch your chosen president or prime minister mouthing tough-guy platitudes to the party faithful. Listen to them insisting in studied prose that all will be well. Study the expressions on their faces as they talk about “growth” as if it were a heathen god to be appeased by tipping another cauldron’s worth of fictional money into the mouth of a volcano.

In times like these, people look elsewhere for answers. A time of crisis is also a time of opening up, when thinking that was consigned to the fringes moves to center stage. When things fall apart, the appetite for new ways of seeing is palpable, and there are always plenty of people willing to feed it by coming forward with their pet big ideas. But here’s a thought: what if big ideas are part of the problem? What if, in fact, the problem is bigness itself? The crisis currently playing out on the world stage is a crisis of growth. Not, as we are regularly told, a crisis caused by too little growth, but by too much of it. Banks grew so big that their collapse would have brought down the entire global economy. To prevent this, they were bailed out with huge tranches of public money, which in turn is precipitating social crises on the streets of Western nations. The European Union has grown so big, and so unaccountable, that it threatens to collapse in on itself.

Corporations have grown so big that they are overwhelming democracies and building a global plutocracy to serve their own interests. The human economy as a whole has grown so big that it has been able to change the atmospheric composition of the planet and precipitate a mass-extinction event. One man who would not have been surprised by this crisis of bigness, had he lived to see it, was Leopold Kohr. Kohr has a good claim to be the most interesting political thinker that you have never heard of. Unlike Karl Marx, he did not found a global movement or inspire revolutions. Unlike Friedrich Hayek, he did not rewrite the economic rules of the modern world. Kohr was a modest, self-deprecating man, but this was not the reason his ideas have been ignored by movers and shakers in the half-century since they were produced. They have been ignored because they do not flatter the egos of the power-hungry, be they revolutionaries or plutocrats. In fact, Kohr’s message is a direct challenge to them.

“Wherever something is wrong,” he insisted, “something is too big.”

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Jul 302017
 
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Gertrude Käsebier Young negro woman, Newport, Rhode Island 1902

 

Wall Street Isn’t Ready For A 1,100-Point Tumble In The Dow Industrials (MW)
Dangerous Game: Shorting the VIX (Barron’s)
Zombie Companies Littering Europe May Tie the ECB’s Hands for Years (BBG)
Markets Relax Merrily on a Powerful Time Bomb (WS)
US Economic Resilience Is An Exaggeration (DDMB)
The Quest To Prove Collusion Is Crumbling (WaPo)
What’s The Matter With Democrats – Thomas Frank (IBT)
Decades From Now, They’ll Say He Had “The Tweets” (Jim Kunstler)
Leasehold Tycoon Whose Firms Control 40,000 UK Homes (G.)
Companies Abandon Nearly One Million Hectares of Alberta Oilsands (CP)
EU Accused Of ‘Wilfully Letting Refugees Drown’ In The Mediterranean (Ind.)

 

 

And it never will be.

Wall Street Isn’t Ready For A 1,100-Point Tumble In The Dow Industrials (MW)

The U.S. stock market has been on such a parabolic march higher that Wall Street investors may have forgotten what a typical, sharp downturn feels like. Indeed, much has been made about the lack of volatility. The CBOE Volatility Index otherwise known as the “fear gauge,” had been flirting with its lowest close on record, implying that market expectations for a sharp, sudden fall are near rock bottom, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite Index scale new heights. (The Dow notched a fresh record on Friday to end the week 1.2% higher.) The recent level of complacency permeating the market has pundits talking about the lack of 5% falls in the market—an occurrence that isn’t unusual in a normal market environment. However, a 5% tumble, while normal, isn’t that common either. It has occurred at least 75 times over the course of the blue-chip index’s, according to WSJ Market Data Group, using data going back to 1901.

The Dow, however, hasn’t experienced a 5% decline since 2011, and before that a 5% drop hadn’t happened since 2008, when there were 9 such drops: At this point, with the Dow just 200 points shy of 22,000, a 5% selloff would equate to a 1,100-point, one-day slide in the gauge. Is the market ready for that sort of sudden jolt lower, given the optics of a quadruple-digit downturn and how it might rattle investment psyche? Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities, doesn’t think so. “I would say no because we’re out of practice. Your usual standard garden-variety volatility just hasn’t been around, and we haven’t seen it for 12 months,” Hogan told MarketWatch. “Quiet markets have been the norm and not the exception and I think a major pullback is going to feel a whole lot larger for lack of experience and the numbers are larger,” he said.

Even a 2.5% drop in the Dow, adding up a 550-point decline, could be unsettling, market participants said. Those sorts of tumbles are far more frequent, with 564 such moves of that magnitude occurring in the Dow since 1901. The most recent slump of at least 2.5% was on June 24, 2016, when the Dow tumbled about 610 points, or 3.4%, a day after U.K. citizens voted to end the country’s membership in the EU. There were 3 falls for the Dow of at least 2.5% in 2015. Hogan said it is even hard to imagine what the landscape of the market would like in the face of a plunge of the same magnitude of the 1987 crash, when the Dow lost 22.6% of its value, or 508 points, in a single session. “That’s why it is hard for investors to think about it intuitively. We have no muscle memory for it. It’s hard to harken back to 30 years ago. We have been lulled to sleep,” he said.

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What always happpens when everyone is on the same side of the boat.

Dangerous Game: Shorting the VIX (Barron’s)

As stocks keep dancing around record highs, and the CBOE Volatility Index remains historically low, some investors are preparing for a violent end to one of the world’s most popular trades: shorting volatility. A one-day Standard & Poor’s 500 correction of 3% to 4% could force some funds that short futures on the index, such as the ProShares Short VIX Short-term Future s exchange-traded fund (ticker: SVXY) and the VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX ST ETN (XIV), to cover their positions. That could make the VIX skyrocket. If the weighted-average of 30-day VIX futures sharply jumped—say by 80% in one day—it would, in turn, trigger an “acceleration event” that would force more funds to buy back short VIX futures contracts. Some VIX funds could face margin calls.

And a chain reaction would likely explode across the volatility spectrum and ultimately the stock market, pushing down share prices and boosting volatility further. So many institutional investors use strategies that increase portfolio leverage as equity volatility declines that Marko Kolanovic, JPMorgan’s top quantitative strategist, fears the markets are nearing a turning point. “While these strategies include concepts like ‘risk control’, ‘crisis alpha’, etc. in various degrees they rely on selling into market weakness to cut losses. This creates a ‘stop-loss order’ that gets larger in size and closer to the current market price as volatility gets lower,” Kolanovic wrote last week. The S&P 500’s realized volatility–the level that’s materialized already—is the lowest since 1966. That influences expectations for future, or implied, volatility.

In fact, CBOE Volatility Index levels are so meager that relatively small point moves can create big percentage changes, creating a major problem for VIX funds. “The one-day percentage change is a big deal in the VIX complex because the levered and inverse VIX ETFs and ETNs rebalance daily, based on the percentage change, and some of the thresholds for forced [unwinding of positions] are based on the percentage change. This is why lower volatility creates higher risk,” Christopher Metli, a Morgan Stanley quantitative derivatives strategist, recently warned clients.

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But Draghi gets praised for saving the EU economy. Well, you can’t have it both ways. Decide.

Zombie Companies Littering Europe May Tie the ECB’s Hands for Years (BBG)

Watch out for the zombies. The plethora of companies propped up by the ECB will limit policy makers’ ability to withdraw monetary stimulus that’s been supporting the continent’s bond market since the financial crisis, according to strategists at Bank of America. About 9% of Europe’s biggest companies could be classified as the walking dead, companies that risk collapse if the support dries up, according to the analysts. After the crash of Lehman Brothers sent global markets into a tailspin, a decade of easy-money policies gave breathing room for nations to get their balance sheets in check and allowed for a spirited revival in corporate profits. But as central bankers look to pull back stimulus for fear of overheating, the potentially grim outlook for vulnerable companies may give them pause, according to Bank of America.

“Monetary support in Europe over the last five years has allowed companies with weak profitability to continue to refinance their debt and stave off defaults,” analysts led by Barnaby Martin wrote in a note Monday. “This supports the point that our economists have been making: that the ECB will likely be very slow and patient in removing their extraordinary stimulus over the next year and a half.” The strategists classify zombies as non-financial companies in the Euro Stoxx 600 with interest-coverage ratios – earnings relative to interest expenses – at 1 or less. The thinking goes that companies in this category are particularly vulnerable to rising interest rates. About 6% of European companies had a coverage ratio of less than 1 on the eve of Lehman’s downfall, a %age that fell to as low as 5% in 2013 when the euro-area sovereign debt crisis cooled.

Zombies shot up to as high as 11% in June 2016 before easing in recent months. Energy companies, thanks to weak oil prices, and those based in southern Europe –particularly smaller firms faced with weak profit generation amid feeble growth – make up a disproportionate share of the zombie world, according to Bank of America. To be sure, different metrics tell different stories about the health of corporate leverage, with some investors citing growth projections and yardsticks like net debt to earnings as reasons bond buyers can be more sanguine. But the coverage ratio is particularly useful in projecting how companies can cover debt costs from their earnings as interest costs rise.

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Leverage kills.

Markets Relax Merrily on a Powerful Time Bomb (WS)

Stock and bond market leverage is everywhere. Some of it is transparent, such as NYSE margin debt which was $539 billion as of the June report. But the hottest form of stock and bond market leverage is opaque, offered by financial firms that usually don’t disclose the totals: securities-based loans (SBLs) — or “shadow margin” because no one knows how much of it there is. But it’s a lot. And it’s booming. These loans can be used for anything – pay for tuition, fix up that kitchen, or fund a vacation. The money is spent, the loan remains. When security prices fall, the problems begin. Finra, the regulator for brokerages, doesn’t track this shadow margin, nor does the SEC. Both, however, have been warning about the risks. No one knows the overall amount of this shadow margin, but some details have been reported:

Morgan Stanley had $36 billion of these loans on its balance sheet as of the end of 2016, up 26% from 2016, and more than twice the amount in 2013. • Bank of America Merrill Lynch had $40 billion in SBLs on the balance sheet at the end of 2016, up 140% from 2010; • UBS and Wells Fargo “also have made billions in such loans, people familiar with those banks” told the Wall Street Journal. Raymond James, Stifel Nicolaus… they’re all doing it. • Fidelity used to fund its own SBLs for its clients, but three years ago partnered with US Bancorp. • Even the little ones are trying to get their slice of the pie: In April, robo-advisory startup Wealthfront, with less than $6 billion, announced that it would offer SBLs to its clients.

And now Goldman Sachs, which has been offering SBLs to its 12,000 super-wealthy clients through its Private Banking unit — accounting “for more than half of the unit’s $29 billion in loans outstanding,” according to the Wall Street Journal — announced on Thursday that this wasn’t enough and that it is partnering with Fidelity Investments to spread these loans far and wide.

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No. It’s an outright lie. Pure make believe.

US Economic Resilience Is An Exaggeration (DDMB)

Are US Federal Reserve stress tests leading economic indicators? That certainly seems to be the case. Just ask Capital One. As of the first quarter, credit card loss provisions at Capital One were above 5%, a six-year high. The company recorded some improvement for the second quarter, yet Fed stress tests of the bank’s overall loan portfolio in a deep downturn show losses topping 12%. That explains Capital One’s “conditional” passing score, a black eye that prompted a reduced share buy-back plan and no increase in its dividend. Most economists today applaud the resilience of the current recovery, which has stretched into its eighth year, the third-longest in postwar history. Resilience and rising household defaults, though, don’t tend to go hand in hand.

Pressures have been building in the background for some time. When adjusted for inflation, credit card usage has grown faster than incomes for 18 months. According to Fed data, that time frame coincides with the upturn in revolving credit, a proxy for credit card debt. In November 2015, outstanding revolving credit crossed above the $900-billion threshold for the first time since December 2009. By May of this year, annual growth was clocking 8.7%. Meanwhile, credit card balances hit $1.02 trillion, the highest level in almost eight years. Whether by choice or force, the aftermath of the financial crisis prompted households to ratchet back their usage of credit cards. As the recovery got underway, frugality prevailed, punctuated by an increase in debit card purchases.

It is thus notable that Bank of America data find debit card usage has weakened in recent years as households grew more comfortable rebuilding their credit card balances. “Confidence” is the term most associated with the rising credit card debt. But it’s fair to ask why confident households would choose to pay so dearly for the privilege. At 15.83%, the average rate on credit card balances is at a record high. It is more likely that households are increasingly tapping their credit cards to cover the cost of necessities, that they are less confident and more anxious about their future finances.

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This should be presented as a major mea culpa by WaPo, but no, it’s not them, it’s “the media” who screwed up. NYT runs similar piece. WIll they all fit through the exit door at the same time?

The Quest To Prove Collusion Is Crumbling (WaPo)

While everyone is fixated on President Trump’s unbecoming and inexplicable assault on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the media has been trying to sneak away from the “Russian collusion” story. That’s right. For all the breathless hype, the on-air furrowed brows and the not-so-veiled hopes that this could be Watergate, Jared Kushner’s statement and testimony before Congress have made Democrats and many in the media come to the realization that the collusion they were counting on just isn’t there. As the date of the Kushner testimony approached, the media thought it was going to advance and refresh the story. But Kushner’s clear, precise and convincing account of what really occurred during the campaign and after the election has left many of President Trump’s loudest enemies trying to quietly back out of the room unnoticed.

Cable news airtime and in-print word count dedicated to the nonexistent collusion story appear to be dwindling. Democrats and their allies in the media seem less eager to talk about it, and when they do, they say something to the effect of “but, but, but … Kushner didn’t answer every question … He wasn’t under oath … There are still more witnesses … What about this or that new gadfly?” They are stammering. And it hasn’t taken long for news producers and editors to realize that the story is fading. At last, the story that never was is not happening. There are a few showstoppers from Kushner’s testimony that make it obvious to any fair-minded, thinking person that there was no collusion with Russia. In his own words, Kushner makes it clear that his actions were innocent but, at times, misguided and ill-conceived.

He plainly states he had “hardly any” contacts with Russians during the campaign and found his June 2016 meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and the infamous Russian lawyer to be an absolute “waste of time.” Democrats and their allies in the media have exhausted themselves building a scandalous narrative surrounding the Russian lawyer meeting, but according to Kushner, the meeting was so useless that he “actually emailed an assistant from the meeting after [he] had been there for ten or so minutes and wrote ‘Can u pls call me on my cell? Need excuse to get out of meeting.”’ Maybe the collusion didn’t take very long, or maybe he realized what the lawyer had to say was a useless farce and he wanted to get on with his day.

Much to the dismay of Trump’s haters, Kushner’s account of events even further proves just how far the media has stretched the collusion story. When the campaign received an official note of congratulations from Russian President Vladimir Putin the day after the election, Kushner had to send Dimitri Simes of the Center for the National Interest an email asking for the name of the Russian ambassador so that he could reach out and confirm the message’s authenticity. So, that’s that. If you can’t remember your handler’s name, you can’t be guilty of nefariously colluding with that person. How much collusion could Kushner have possibly done with someone whom he had so little communication with that he could not remember his name and did not know how to contact him?

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From interview with David Sirota. Party has no future. Get out or go down with it.

What’s The Matter With Democrats – Thomas Frank (IBT)

Basically, I think the Democratic party is in deep trouble. The evidence of that is now plain, I think, to everyone — that they’re in a state of historic wipe-out across the country and in both of Houses of Congress, and of course, they lost the presidency, too… The leadership of the party have persuaded themselves that they don’t really have a problem, that all they have to do is wait for [Donald] Trump to screw up and they’ll waltz right back in, and so they don’t have to do anything different. I think Trump represents the culmination of a long-term shift of working people, working-class people away from the Democratic Party.

[..] The way I look at it is that this is a long-term problem. This is a culmination of a very long-term problem with the Democrats very gradually, but definitely, abandoning the interests of working-class voters, identifying themselves instead with a more affluent group, with the affluent white-collar professionals. It starts in the 1970s with the Democrats removing organized labor from its structural position in the Democratic party, and then it goes up through Bill Clinton getting NAFTA done, the free trade deals that the Democrats have … By the way, in my opinion, free trade or the trade agreements, I should say, was probably the issue that if there was one issue that really did Hillary in, I think that’s what it was: the trade deals under the Clinton administration, Obama sort of dropping the ball on labor’s various issues, doing these incredible favors for Wall Street while he blew off the concerns of union.

[..] Bailouts. The Wall Street bailout was the worst. This was, of course, George W. Bush … No, take a step back further. The deregulation under Clinton. Do you remember, bank deregulation was something that we now think of it as one of the central elements of neoliberalism, but Reagan couldn’t get it done. Reagan tried. They put some dents in Glass Steagall when Reagan was president, but it took a Democrat to really get it done, Bill Clinton, and it wasn’t just blowing up Glass-Steagall. There was this whole series of bank deregulatory measures when he was president. By the end of his term in office, basically, Wall Street was more or less openly identified with the Democratic Party. This is an enormous historical shift…

The Democratic party [used to be] this sworn enemy of Wall Street. Franklin Roosevelt broke up all of these banks, the Glass Steagall Act, put all these banks out of business, and set up the Securities and Exchange Commission to regulate these guys, all of these regulatory measures. That’s the Democratic heritage. That’s the legacy of the New Deal. Up until the days of Clinton, that’s really who the Democratic Party was. They had a very populist tone, and they would never identify themselves with Wall Street. Barack Obama comes in, and I was one of these people who thought that he represented a turn back in the other direction and that he would be, very shortly would be, getting tough with Wall Street. He had all the bailouts were underway. He had total authority over these guys, and he didn’t do it. Instead, he appointed all these various Clinton people to come in and manage the bailout situation.

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Like that line.

Decades From Now, They’ll Say He Had “The Tweets” (Jim Kunstler)

I know I’m not the first to point out how Anthony Scaramucci, President Trump’s brand new Communications Director, is suddenly and eerily carrying on like his namesake, the arch-rascal / buffoon of the Old World Commedia dell’Arte in lashing out at his fellow scamps and bozos in the clown school that the White House has become. Of course, these antics only reflect the astounding violent vulgarity of current US culture in general, especially as it recursively re-amplifies itself in the distorting echo chamber of TV. It’s how we roll nowadays – right up the collective butt-hole of history until some fateful event provokes a last frightful purging of our own bullshit. Still, it was rather shocking to hear Scaramucci refer to White House Chief of Staff Rance Priebus as “a fucking paranoid schizophrenic” and Trump ultra-insider Steve Bannon as someone who “enjoys sucking his own cock.”

It’s kind of like Paulie Walnuts of “The Sopranos” wandered into the West Wing of “Veep.” Somebody’s gonna get whacked, and it’ll be a laugh-riot when it happens. We need a little comic relief in these midsummer horse latitudes of the mind as the ill-starred Trump Show appears to enter its ceremonial death dance. There’s also something satisfyingly Napoleonesque about Scaramucci. Here’s a guy who cuts through the odious blubber of US politics right to the bone of things with a flensing blade of profane righteousness. Personally, I’d like to see him take some whacks at a few more deserving targets, and I can even imagine a somewhat farfetched scenario where the little guy shoves Trump out during a concocted national emergency and manages to declare himself First Citizen, or some such innovative title allowing him to run things for a while – say, until the generals toss him out a window.

Or maybe he’ll last less than a week in his current position. I would not be surprised, either, if Mr. Bannon beats little Mooch to death with an Oval Office fireplace poker right in front of the Golden Golem of Greatness himself. The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine – in this case, inexorably toward the restorative medicine of the 25th amendment. There is, after all, that hoary old artifact called the national interest lurking somewhere offstage aside of all this colorful mummery, especially as the Russian Meddling gambit appears to be dribbling away to nothing. It’s more than self-evident that poor Trump is in so far over his head that he’s come down with something like the bends, a debilitating systemic disorder rendering him unfit to execute the powers of office. Decades from now, they’ll say he had “the tweets.”

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You do know you live in a feudal society, right?

Leasehold Tycoon Whose Firms Control 40,000 UK Homes (G.)

He does not appear on any rich list but he has built a property empire that rivals that of the Duke of Westminster. Companies controlled by James Tuttiett, aged 53, have quietly snapped up the freeholds of tens of thousands of houses and flats in almost every city in Britain, which are now at the centre of controversy over spiralling ground rents. The scale of Tuttiett’s property empire has never been previously disclosed. Documents at Companies House reveal that he is frequently the sole director of companies that own the freehold of large-scale developments in Newcastle, Birmingham, Leeds, Coventry and London. Leaseholders are obliged to pay ground rents to his company, E&J Estates, that in some cases will soar to £10,000 a year per home.

The government this week proposed a ban on new-build leaseholds, and said ground rents on new apartments should fall towards zero. At the launch of an eight-week consultation, the communities secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “It’s clear that far too many new houses are being built and sold as leaseholds, exploiting homebuyers with unfair agreements and spiralling ground rents.” “Enough is enough. These practices are unjust, unnecessary and need to stop,” said Javid, adding on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that ground rent had been used “as an unjustifiable way to print money”. [..] Research by Guardian Money found an extraordinary web of 85 ground rent companies controlled by Tuttiett, where the freeholds include not just homes but also schools, health clubs and petrol stations.

In 2016 one of these 85 companies, SF Funding Ltd, recorded an £80m increase in the value of its ground rents from the year before, taking them to £267.4m. Tuttiett is the sole director of the company, which has no other employees. The financing of Tuttiett’s property empire is helped by low-interest loans totalling £336m made by an insurance company, Rothesay Life, spun out of Goldman Sachs, in which the US investment bank remains the largest shareholder. Among the Rothesay Life loans made to E&J is one at £128m with a stated interest rate of just 0.95% a year, although it is understood the real rate paid is likely to be higher. The existence of the Rothesay loans opens a back door into Tuttiett’s interests, as Companies House lists all the properties over which Rothesay has a charge.

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Lenders are getting out. But not because they care about the earth.

Companies Abandon Nearly One Million Hectares of Alberta Oilsands (CP)

In another sign the bloom is off the boom for the oilsands, the industry has returned almost one million hectares of northern Alberta exploration leases to the province over the past two years. The total area covered by oilsands leases remained constant at about nine million hectares between 2011 and 2014. But it fell to 8.5 million hectares in 2015 and 8.1 million in 2016, following the crash in world oil prices from over US$100 to under $60 per barrel in 2014. Most of the returned acreage either represents expired or surrendered leases, according to Alberta Energy. Observers were surprised by the size of the lease returns which they attributed to industry cost-cutting and disinterest in spending to develop new prospects when there’s no money to build projects already on the books.

“It costs money to maintain these lands,” said Brad Hayes, president of Petrel Robertson Consulting in Calgary. “You can’t convince shareholders to continue to put that money out if there’s no prospect for success.” Alberta’s oilsands have been getting little respect lately, thanks to the exit of large foreign companies, the province’s hard cap on oilsands emissions, increasing carbon taxes and the stumbling price of crude oil. Its troubles have been welcomed by environmentalists who point out the industry’s outsized impact on air, land and water pollution. “This is good news. It’s a sign that investment dollars are shifting out of carbon-intensive energy,” said Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist with Greenpeace Canada.

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Feels like all they do is try to create an ever bigger mess. Throw in another €100 million and say: We tried!

EU Accused Of ‘Wilfully Letting Refugees Drown’ In The Mediterranean (Ind.)

Aid workers have accused the EU of “wilfully letting people drown in the Mediterranean” as they face being forced to suspend rescue missions for refugees attempting the world’s deadliest sea crossing. Italy is attempting to impose a code of conduct on NGOs operating ships in the search and rescue zone off the coast of Libya, which is now the main launching point for migrants trying to reach Europe on smugglers’ boats. Humanitarian groups have argued the code will impede their work by banning the transfer of refugees to larger ships, which allows vessels to continue rescues, and forcing them to allow police officers on board. A revised code of conduct is expected to be presented by the Italian interior ministry on Monday, following meetings between officials and NGOs.

The 11-point plan, which has been approved by the European Commission and border agency Frontex, could see any groups refusing to sign up denied access to Italian ports or forbidden from carrying out rescues. They are currently deployed by officials at Rome’s Maritime Rescue and Coordination Centre (MRCC) and charities fear any move to restrict their operations, leaving just Italian coastguard and naval ships, will dramatically reduce rescue capacity during peak season. German charity Sea-Watch announced the deployment of a second rescue vessel in response to the plans, which it called a “desperate reaction” by a country abandoned on the frontline of the refuge crisis by its European allies. “The EU is wilfully letting people drown in the Mediterranean by refusing to create a legal means of safe passage and failing to even provide adequate resources for maritime rescue,” said CEO Axel Grafmanns.

“The NGOs are currently bearing the brunt of the humanitarian crisis and they are being left alone.” Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which has staff on two rescue ships, said it was engaging with Italian authorities in an “open and constructive way” over the proposed code but had serious concerns over several clauses. “MSF employees are humanitarian workers, not police officers, and that for reasons of independence they will do what is strictly requested by the law but nothing more so as to protect our independence and neutrality,” a spokesperson said.

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Jul 282017
 
 July 28, 2017  Posted by at 8:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Gordon Burt Bond Street, Wellington, New Zealand c1957

 

Senate Blocks ‘Skinny’ Obamacare Repeal Bill In Dramatic Late-Night Vote (CNBC)
Russia Promises Retaliation As Senate Passes Sanctions Bill (G.)
US Housing Bubble 2.0 (Mark Hanson)
Is This The Bubble? (Lance Roberts)
Japan Defense Minister Quits Amid Plunging Support For PM Abe (R.)
Libor, The Scandal-Ridden Financial Benchmark, Doesn’t Have Long To Live (Qz)
Shell’s Profits Treble As Cost Cuts Take Effect (PA)
Oil Companies Trim Drilling Budgets in Sign of Rising Caution (BBG)
US Indicts Russian Suspected of $4 Billion Bitcoin Laundering Scheme (R.)
The Syrian Army Were Standing Up To Isis Long Before The Americans (Fisk)
France Plans Asylum ‘Hotspots’ In Libya (BBC)
Italy Loses Patience With France’s Macron Over Migrants, Libya (VoA)
EU Announces New Emergency Support For Greek Refugee Crisis (AP)

 

 

Three things:

1) Boy, was I right to say US politics should be observed through the eyes of Shakespeare.

2) Playing with people’s health care, let alone for petty political reasons, is not forgiveable.

3) What a bunch of has-beens these people are. Limit their terms, close the revolving doors, and let the future be decided by people young enough to actually have a future. Oh, and get money out of politics.

Senate Blocks ‘Skinny’ Obamacare Repeal Bill In Dramatic Late-Night Vote (CNBC)

The Senate blocked the latest Republican attempt to repeal Obamacare in a dramatic floor vote early Friday morning, yet again stalling — for now — the key campaign goal that eludes the GOP six months into the Trump administration. Three GOP defections — Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and John McCain of Arizona — sank the measure in a 49-51 vote. McCain, who recently returned to the Senate after getting diagnosed with brain cancer, cast his “no” vote to audible gasps on the chamber’s floor, according to reporters there. Senate Republicans released the plan late Thursday just hours before voting on an amendment to take up the bill. The GOP could only afford to lose two votes on the proposal, which many senators suggested they would not even want to see become law.

The measure came after separate pushes to immediately replace the Affordable Care Act or repeal it with a two-year transition period failed amid GOP divisions. Several Republican senators slammed the plan and appeared to not even want it to become law. It marks another blow to the sprawling agenda that Republicans hoped to accomplish when President Donald Trump won the White House and the GOP held both chambers of Congress in November. After the vote, a visibly frustrated Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called it “clearly a disappointing moment.” “So yes, this is a disappointment, a disappointment indeed … I regret that our efforts were simply not enough this time,” McConnell said.

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But this they do agree on. More reasons to get rid of the old order in Washington.

Russia Promises Retaliation As Senate Passes Sanctions Bill (G.)

Vladimir Putin has accused US lawmakers of “insolence”, and promised Russia will retaliate if the latest round of US sanctions against Russia are signed into law. The House of Representatives voted by 419 votes to three on Tuesday to pass the new sanctions bill, which targets Russia as well as North Korea and Iran. The US legislation was passed overwhelmingly by the Senate on Thursday, and will now go to Donald Trump for his signature. Trump, who enjoyed two warm conversations with Putin at the G20 summit earlier this month, is likely to face a major backlash if he attempts to veto the legislation, with his administration already embroiled in a Russia scandal. “We are behaving in a very restrained and patient way, but at some moment we will need to respond,” said Putin at a press conference with his Finnish counterpart, Sauli Niinistö.

“It’s impossible to endlessly tolerate this kind of insolence towards our country,” Putin said, referring to the sanctions. “This practice is unacceptable – it destroys international relations and international law.” Putin was vague on exactly how Russia might respond. The newspaper Kommersant quoted two unnamed sources saying a range of potential responses was under consideration in Moscow, including expelling US diplomats, seizing diplomatic properties, increasing restrictions on US companies working in Russia and halting enriched uranium shipments to US power plants. [..] Putin and other Russian officials have repeatedly denied any meddling in the US election, while US intelligence agencies say they have overwhelming evidence of a coordinated Russian campaign. Putin on Thursday described the allegations as “hysteria”, and said: “It’s a great pity that Russian-US relations are being sacrificed to resolve questions of domestic politics.”

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And you thought the US housing bubble was over?

US Housing Bubble 2.0 (Mark Hanson)

The striking Case-Shiller regional charts shown below, courtesy of MHanson.com, make Mark Hanson angry: “so, 2006/2007 was the largest house price bubble ever, but there is nothing to see here in 2017?” and sarcastically points out that “if this isn’t a house price bubble, I would hate to see one.” His bottom line: “If 2006/07 was the peak of the largest housing bubble in history with affordability never better vis a’ vis exotic loans; easy availability of credit; unemployment in the 4%’s; the total workforce at record highs; and growing wages, then what do you call “now” with house prices at or above 2006 levels; worse affordability; tighter credit; higher unemployment; a weakening total workforce; and shrinking wages? Whatever you call it, it’s a greater thing than the Bubble 1.0 peak.”

[..] Income required to buy the avg priced builder house is at historical highs and has completely diverged from the multi-decade trend line. Historically low growth & rebound relative to resales suggest “lack of supply” meme in the Existing Sales market is over-stated.

“Peak builder is here.”
1) New Home Sales “up to” 1995 levels after $15 TRILLION in debt and Fed liquidity aimed largely at the sector.
2) Builder pricing power largely flat for 2-years.
3) Income required to buy the average priced builder house has completely diverged from the multi-decade trend line. This obviously explains why sales are only at 600k SAAR now vs 1.2 million in Bubble 1.0. Reversion to this mean will occur…either thru a sharp rise in income; new exotic loan programs, which make payment less; or house prices dropping.

4) Last time builders were this euphoric was the peak of the biggest credit bubble in history.

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Rinse, forget and repeat.

Is This The Bubble? (Lance Roberts)

Every major market peak, and subsequent devastating mean reverting correction, has ever been the result of the exact ingredients seen previously. Only the ignorance of its existence has been a common theme. The reason that investors ALWAYS fail to recognize the major turning points in the markets is because they allow emotional “greed” to keep them looking backward rather than forward. Of course, the media foster’s much of this “willful” blindness by dismissing, and chastising, opposing views generally until it is too late for their acknowledgement to be of any real use. The next chart shows every major bubble and bust in the U.S. financial markets since 1871 (Source: Robert Shiller)

At the peak of each one of these markets, there was no one claiming that a crash was imminent. It was always the contrary with market pundits waging war against those nagging naysayers of the bullish mantra that “stocks have reached a permanently high plateau” or “this is a new secular bull market.” Yet, in the end, it was something that was unexpected, unknown or simply dismissed that yanked the proverbial rug from beneath investors. What will spark the next mean reverting event? No one knows for sure, but the catalysts are present from: • Excess leverage (Margin debt at new record levels) •IPO’s of negligible companies (Blue Apron, Snap Chat) • Companies using cheap debt to complete stock buybacks and pay dividends, and; • High levels of investor complacency.

Either individually, or in combination, these issues are all inert. Much like pouring gasoline on a pile of wood, the fire will not start without a proper catalyst. What we do know is that an event WILL occur, it is only a function of “when.” The discussion of why “this time is not like the last time” is largely irrelevant. Whatever gains that investors garner in the between now and the next correction by chasing the “bullish thesis” will be wiped away in a swift and brutal downdraft.

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Abe should just go. But before he does, he’ll throw Kuroda under the bus first, if he has the time.

Japan Defense Minister Quits Amid Plunging Support For PM Abe (R.)

Embattled Japanese Defence Minister Tomomi Inada on Friday said she was resigning, after a series of gaffes, missteps and a cover-up at her ministry that have contributed to a sharp plunge in public support for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Inada, 58, an Abe protege who shares his conservative views and had been suggested as a possible future premier, had already expected to be replaced in a likely cabinet reshuffle next week that Abe hopes will help rebuild his ratings. Support for the prime minister has sunk below 30% in some polls, due to scandals over suspected cronyism and a view among many voters that he and his aides took them for granted.

Abe apologized “to the people from my heart”, in comments to reporters carried live on national television after Inada announced her resignation. He said Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida would add the defense portfolio to his duties, to eliminate any gap at a time when Japan faces tough security challenges, such as from a volatile North Korea. “I want to make every effort to maintain a high degree of vigilance and protect the security of the people,” Abe said. Abe had drawn fire from both ruling and opposition party lawmakers for retaining Inada despite her perceived incompetence. “He should have thrown Inada under the bus long ago … doing so on the eve of a cabinet reshuffle only looks like desperation,” said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University Japan.

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Taking it out before the real big scandals come up?

Libor, The Scandal-Ridden Financial Benchmark, Doesn’t Have Long To Live (Qz)

A global borrowing benchmark that became synonymous with rigged financial markets, and cost banks some $9 billion in fines, is going away. Andrew Bailey, the head of Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority, said in a speech today that the regulator will phase out the indicator, Libor, by the end of 2021. Bailey said the reason the London interbank offered rate is being scrapped is because the market underpinning the benchmark—unsecured bank lending—has dried up. For one particular Libor benchmark—there are many rates for various durations and currencies—there were only 15 transactions last year, he said. Such benchmarks have long been problematic and susceptible to manipulation. Libor, for example, is based on an estimate of what supposed experts at banks think a borrowing rate would be.

Bloomberg describes the process like this: “The benchmark is the average rate a group of 20 banks estimate they’d be able to borrow funds from each other in five different currencies across seven time periods, submitted by a panel of lenders every morning. Its administration was overhauled in the wake of the scandal, with Intercontinental Exchange Inc. taking over from the then-named British Bankers’ Association.” Before the financial crisis, banks submitted daily estimates of borrowing rates to the BBA, which then averaged them to calculate that day’s Libor rate. Via allegedly colluding, the banks submitting rates could nudge the average up or down, depending on what was needed to increase a profit or reduce a loss in their portfolios.

Libor is of global importance because it’s used to help determine borrowing costs for more than $300 trillion in securities, for things like student loans and mortgages. But as a trader once said in a transcript uncovered by regulators, it’s “just amazing how libor fixing can make you that much money.” The Libor scandal was also part of an era in which recorded electronic communications—chat messages—became evidence and got a lot of people in a lot of trouble. Similar market manipulation was discovered in things like foreign-currency exchange rates and commodity prices. And now Libor is being scrapped. Banks didn’t really want to participate in the rate-setting process anymore anyway, Bailey said, given the market had shrank by so much. (Their recent history of being fined billions for their role in daily rate submissions probably didn’t help.) Some new indicator will have to be agreed on.

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When I saw the headline, I thought they must either have been real inefficient before, or they’re selling teh kitchen sink and not investing a penny. And whaddaya know?

Shell’s Profits Treble As Cost Cuts Take Effect (PA)

Royal Dutch Shell has reported a large rise in second quarter profits after the energy giant was boosted by higher oil and gas prices. The firm said adjusted earnings rose from £800m to £2.7bn, an increase of 245 per cent, as chief executive Ben van Beurden said he is making progress on “reshaping the company”. He said: “Cash generation has been resilient over four consecutive quarters, at an average oil price of just under $50 per barrel. “The external price environment and energy sector developments mean we will remain very disciplined, with an absolute focus on the four levers within our control, namely capital efficiency, costs, new project delivery, and divestments.

“I am confident that we are on track to deliver a world-class investment to our shareholders.” The figures were flattered by a disastrous second quarter in 2016, when it was stung by dilapidated crude prices and costs linked to its takeover of BG Group. This time last year Brent Crude was trading at round 45 US dollars a barrel compared to circa 50 US dollars today. Shell is also embarking on an ambitious cost-cutting drive and a £24.6bn divestment initiative. To this end, the oil major has sold off more than £16bn of assets since the BG takeover. Shell this year announced it will sell off a package of North Sea assets for up to £3bn to smaller rival Chrysaor, and recently agreed to sell its stake in Irish gas project Corrib in a deal worth up to £956 million.

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Everybody does it.

Oil Companies Trim Drilling Budgets in Sign of Rising Caution (BBG)

Caution lights are flashing for the oil industry. Facing lower-than-expected commodity prices, drillers from ConocoPhillips to Hess to Statoil have slashed their capital spending plans in recent days, as companies lay out their plans to cope with oil prices stuck below $50 a barrel. The budget cuts won’t necessarily mean less oil or natural gas on the market, with some of the companies saying they can now do more with less and expect to produce just as much oil and gas in 2017. But they speak to an investor community that’s grown anxious as a global rally in crude prices has stalled out this year.

“The expectation was that oil would be at least above $50 by this time,” said Brian Youngberg, an energy analyst with Edward Jones & Co. in St. Louis. “Right now, the market wants you to spend within your cash flow, no exceptions allowed. It’s just a response to that.” The “modest tweaks” in this week’s second-quarter earnings reports will probably continue in the coming days, Youngberg said, as drillers focused on U.S. shale plays take center stage. “Companies are going to be cautious,” he said. “No one wants to be the outlier.”

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The Mt. Gox link is interesting. Will BTC-e also close?

US Indicts Russian Suspected of $4 Billion Bitcoin Laundering Scheme (R.)

A US jury indicted a Russian man on Wednesday as the operator of a digital currency exchange he allegedly used to launder more than $4 billion for people involved in crimes ranging from computer hacking to drug trafficking. Alexander Vinnik was arrested in a small beachside village in northern Greece on Tuesday, according to local authorities, following an investigation led by the US Justice Department along with several other federal agencies and task forces. US officials described Vinnik in a Justice Department statement as the operator of BTC-e, an exchange used to trade the digital currency bitcoin since 2011.

They alleged Vinnik and his firm “received” more than $4 billion in bitcoin and did substantial business in the United States without following appropriate protocols to protect against money laundering and other crimes. US authorities also linked him to the failure of Mt. Gox, a Japan-based bitcoin exchange that collapsed in 2014 after being hacked. Vinnik “obtained” funds from the hack of Mt. Gox and laundered them through BTC-e and Tradehill, another San Francisco-based exchange he owned, they said in the statement.

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Robert Fisk is part of our conscience.

The Syrian Army Were Standing Up To Isis Long Before The Americans (Fisk)

I don’t like armies. They are dangerous institutions. Soldiers are not heroes just because they fight. And I’ve grown tired of saying that those who live by the sword sometimes die by the sword. But in an age when the Americans and the Iraqis and Isis can account for 40,000 civilian deaths in Mosul in the past twelve months, compared to 50,000 civilians slaughtered by the Mongols in 13th-century Aleppo – a human rights improvement of US aircrews, Iraqi brutality and Isis sadism over the Mongol hordes by a mere 10,000 souls – death sometimes seems to have lost its meaning. Unless you know the victims or their families. I have a friend whose mother was murdered in the Damascus suburb of Harasta near the start of the Syrian war, another whose brother-in-law was kidnapped east of the city and never seen again.

I met a little girl whose mother and small brother were shot down by al-Nusrah killers in the town of Jisr al-Shughour, and a Lebanese who believes his nephew was hanged in a Syrian jail. And then, this month, in the eastern Syrian desert, near the dust-swept shack village of al-Arak, a Syrian soldier I’d come to know was killed by Isis. He was, of course, a soldier in the army of the Syrian regime. He was a general in an army constantly accused of war crimes by the same nation – the United States – whose air strikes contributed so generously to the obscene massacre in Mosul. But General Fouad Khadour was a professional soldier and he was defending the oil fields of eastern Syria – the crown jewels of Syria’s economy, which was why Isis tried to occupy them all and why they killed Khadour – and the war in the desert is not a dirty war like so many of the conflicts perpetrated in Syria.

When I met him west of Palmyra, Isis had just conquered the ancient Roman city and publicly chopped or blown off the heads of the civilians and soldiers and civil servants who did not manage to flee. Just a year before, the general’s son, also a soldier, had been shot dead in battle in Homs. Fouad Khadour merely nodded when I mentioned this. He wanted to talk about the war in the hot, brown mountains south of Palmyra, where he was teaching his soldiers to fight back against the Isis suicide attackers, to defend their isolated positions around the oil pumping and electricity transmission station where he was based, and to save the T4 pipelines on the road to Homs. The Americans, who proclaimed Isis to be an “apocalyptic” force, sneered that the Syrian army did not fight Isis. But Khadour and his men were standing up to Isis before the Americans ever fired a missile, and learning the only lesson that soldiers can understand when confronted by a horrific enemy: not to be afraid.

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The idea is not exactly new. But Macron wants to go it alone.

France Plans Asylum ‘Hotspots’ In Libya (BBC)

France says it plans to set up “hotspots” in Libya to process asylum seekers, in a bid to stem the flow of migrants to Europe. President Emmanuel Macron said the move would stop people not eligible for asylum from “taking crazy risks”. The centres would be ready “this summer”. He said that between 800,000 and a million people were currently in camps in Libya hoping to get into Europe. But many of them did not have a right to asylum, Mr Macron said. The French leader said that migrants were destabilising Libya and Europe by fuelling people-smuggling, which in turn funded terrorism. “The idea is to create hotspots to avoid people taking crazy risks when they are not all eligible for asylum. We’ll go to them,” he said on Thursday at a naturalisation ceremony in the central city of Orléans.

On Tuesday, Mr Macron mediated talks in Paris between Libya’s opposing governments. UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and Khalifa Haftar, the rival military commander who controls the east, committed to a conditional ceasefire after the meeting. They are aiming to end the conflict which has engulfed the country since Col Muammar Gaddafi was ousted in 2011. Mr Macron and other EU leaders had been hoping for some sort of agreement, as Libya has become a key route for migrants making their way to Europe. The French leader said he hoped the deal would be a blow to the human traffickers who work in the region.

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This is not over. Macron wants to show he’s a tough guy, but pushing aside Italy is bad theater.

Italy Loses Patience With France’s Macron Over Migrants, Libya (VoA)

Macron’s Libya diplomacy is just one irritant in increasingly tension-filled Franco-Italian relations. In May, after meeting Gentiloni in Paris, Macron announced: “We have not listened enough to Italy’s cry for help on the migration crisis.” But Macron’s position since hasn’t changed much from Francois Hollande, his predecessor in the Elysee Palace, to the Italian government’s rising anger. “Italian pleas for more burden-sharing by other EU countries have, so far, fallen on deaf ears. Italy’s refugee centers and shelters have reached their capacity of 200,000. So far this year nearly 100,000 asylum seekers have crossed the Mediterranean from Libya — a 17% increase over the same period last year — and with months more of good weather, another 100,000 asylum seekers are likely to land at Italian ports.

This month, Italy’s deputy foreign minister, Mario Giro, complained, “it doesn’t seem like France wants to help us concretely.” French police are blocking hundreds of migrants on the Italian side of the border at Ventimiglia from entering France; the French government is refusing to allow asylum seekers rescued in the Mediterranean from landing at French ports and, like nearly every other EU country, France hasn’t come anywhere near meeting its quota of migrants as agreed to under a 2015 EU refugee relocation scheme. Macron this month talked of distinguishing between war refugees and economic migrants, indicating that France won’t admit any asylum-seekers who are just escaping poverty and hunger. But that doesn’t help Italy as it tries to cope with a mounting influx of mainly economic migrants, who, under EU rule, it has little alternative but to admit, at least for processing and to save lives.

Paris has also scorned an Italian proposal for an EU military mission to monitor and interdict migrants along Libya’s southern border. Italians question why a large French military mission in Niger isn’t being used to disrupt migrant trafficking when it is right by the main route being used by smugglers and would-be asylum seekers traveling north. Last month, the European Parliament’s most senior left-wing politician, Italian Gianni Pittella, launched a scathing attack on Macron after French police frogmarched back into Italy more than 100 migrants who’d crossed into France. “The situation is shameful. Italy and the Italians are being abandoned, they’re being expected to deal with all these migrants on their own with no support,” he said.

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I’ve said it before: help for refugees in fine, even though its distribution through NGOs is a colossal mess. But renting homes for refugees, and supplying them with money to live, is a huge blow in the face of the Greeks devastated by EU-induced austerity, who get nothing.

EU Announces New Emergency Support For Greek Refugee Crisis (AP)

The European Commission announced a new emergency support package for Greece Thursday to help it deal with the refugee crisis that has seen tens of thousands of migrants and refugees stuck in the country. The €209 million ($243 million) package includes a €151 million program to help refugee families rent accommodation in Greek cities and provide them with money in an effort to help them move out of refugee camps, EU officials said during a visit to Athens. The Commission said the new funding more than doubles the emergency support extended to Greece for the refugee crisis, bringing it to a total of €401 million.

The rental project is in cooperation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and will provide 22,000 rental places with the aim of increasing the number of refugees living in rented apartments to 30,000 by the end of the year, including 2,000 places on Greek islands. A parallel scheme worth €57.6 million will provide refugees and asylum seekers with monthly cash stipends distributed through cash-cards for expenses such as transport, food and medication. “The projects launched today are one part of our wider support to the country but also to those in need of our protection,” said Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos. “Around €1.3 billion of EU funds are at the disposal of Greece for the management of the migration crisis.”

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