Jan 192019
 
 January 19, 2019  Posted by at 10:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Guitar on a table 1922

 

Mueller Shoots Down Buzzfeed’s Latest Russiagate Scoop With Rare Dismissal (RT)
US Asked Ecuadorean Officials About Alleged Assange-Manafort Meeting (R.)
56% Majority Of Britons Now Want To Remain In The EU – Poll (DM)
Extending The Brexit Deadline Could Clash With Coming EU Elections (CNBC)
EU Loves British Money More Than It Loves Democracy (Clark)
UK Patients Stockpile Drugs In Fear Of No-Deal Brexit (G.)
UK Shoppers Rein In Spending As Fears Grow Over Economy (G.)
Rising Credit-Card Use Shows US Consumers Are Strapped (DDMB)
Tesla Cuts 7% Of Workforce, Musk Sees ‘Very Difficult’ Road Ahead (CNBC)
Tesla Has $920 Million In Debt Coming Due, A Third Of Company’s Cash (CNBC)
Russia Outshines China To Become World’s 5th Biggest Holder Of Gold (RT)
French Court Cites Precautionary Principle To Cancel Monsanto Permit (R.)

 

 

Is this the worst day for fake news to date? It’s hard to keep track. It’s just that this one was taken up by so many hoping for -finally!- impeachment. Please Lord make it stop.

Two reasons why Mueller issued his statement: 1) the credibility of the Special Counsel itself (since every outlet ran with the -false- BuzzFeed story), 2) members of Congress were calling for investigations based on the story (would have been even more embarrassing than making the statement).

One Shimon Prokupecz on Twitter: “We cannot underestimate the statement disputing Buzzfeed’s story from the special counsel. I’m sure it pained them to do this. I’m sure this went through many levels at the DOJ and FBI. They don’t talk. This is massive.”

Trump on Twitter: “Remember it was Buzzfeed that released the totally discredited “Dossier,” paid for by Crooked Hillary Clinton and the Democrats (as opposition research), on which the entire Russian probe is based! A very sad day for journalism, but a great day for our Country!”

Mueller Shoots Down Buzzfeed’s Latest Russiagate Scoop With Rare Dismissal (RT)

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has poured cold water on BuzzFeed’s latest Russiagate “bombshell” with a rare public statement calling the article, which claims Trump told his ex-lawyer Cohen to lie to Congress, “not accurate.” BuzzFeed reported that President Donald Trump directly instructed his former attorney, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about his plans to build a Trump Tower property in Moscow, citing two anonymous “federal law enforcement officials” as sources that the president had suborned perjury – which, being an actual crime, triggered talk of impeachment “walls closing in” among the anti-Trump “Resistance.”

While half of Congress took to Twitter to wave the story as the long-awaited proof of Collusion, the BuzzFeed reporters could not seem to agree on their own sourcing. Anthony Cormier admitted to CNN he hadn’t seen the proof directly but had two “law enforcement” sources claiming they had seen it, while Jason Leopold told MSNBC they had in fact seen the documents themselves. The smoking gun du jour collapsed further when word came down from Mueller himself – via spokesman Peter Carr – that Buzzfeed’s “description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony” were “not accurate.”

Mueller has been extremely tight-lipped about the numerous previous “Russiagate” scoops, and considering the time and effort involved in his own ongoing crusade to take Trump down, his dismissal of BuzzFeed’s would-be bombshell knocked the legs out from under a story whose vague sourcing had already raised questions.

Read more …

And this fits in seamlessly with the Mueller/BuzzFeed thing: The Guardian story has been thoroughly discredited, but 2 months later, US officials are still chasing it. What’s new to me is that it’s the first time I see a Guardian response: “The Guardian has defended the article and said it “relied on a number of sources.” Lame poppycock. And the same thing Buzzfeed says.

US Asked Ecuadorean Officials About Alleged Assange-Manafort Meeting (R.)

U.S. officials spoke with officials from Ecuador’s British embassy on Friday about an alleged meeting there between President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, an Ecuadorean government source said. The Guardian newspaper reported the meeting in November, alleging the two met at least three times, including in 2016, just before WikiLeaks released damaging emails about Trump’s rival in the 2016 presidential elections, Hillary Clinton. Manafort and Assange have both previously denied meeting each other at the embassy.

WikiLeaks, in a statement on Friday entitled the “U.S. interrogation of Ecuadorian diplomats,” accused Ecuador’s government of assisting the United States in prosecuting Assange, who first sought asylum in the embassy in 2012. The source said the embassy officials, at the request of the U.S. Justice Department, provided testimony in Quito at facilities provided by Ecuadorean authorities. [..] Part of Mueller’s probe has involved looking into whether Trump associates may have had advance notice before WikiLeaks published emails stolen by Russian hackers from Democratic computer networks to damage Clinton. WikiLeaks called the Guardian’s story “indisputably fabricated” and said it was being used as a pretext for the United States to prosecute Assange. The Guardian has defended the article and said it “relied on a number of sources.”

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But neither one of the two main parties do. How screwed up is that? Nobody represents the majority.

56% Majority Of Britons Now Want To Remain In The EU – Poll (DM)

A majority of Britons now say they want to stay in the EU after Theresa May’s Brexit plan suffered a massive defeat, a new poll published today has found. A YouGov survey asked 1,070 voters how they would vote in a second Brexit referendum if it were held today – and found Remain has stretched out a 12-point lead over Leave, with 56% saying they would vote to stay in the EU versus 44% in favour of leaving. The voters were questioned the day after the PM’s Brexit plan suffered a crushing defeat – leaving the machinery of government deadlocked and with the bitter divisions among MPs offering no clear way ahead.

Ministers are now at war over Brexit, openly clashing over whether Britain should be willing to crash out without a deal on March 29, or back a softer Brexit or second referendum. The Prime Minister must make a statement on Monday where she will lay out her ‘next steps’ on a Brexit ‘plan B’ before a week of debate on the various options. The following week, MPs will vote on their preferred course of action, putting huge pressure on the Prime Minister to adopt it. With Westminster gripped by chaos, the new poll suggests voters are losing faith in Brexit with growing numbers now backing Remain. The survey for The Times found that 56% of those polled would now back staying in the EU, while the same proportion back a second referendum. And voters were even more likely to want to stay in the bloc if the only other option was the PM’s Brexit deal, with Remain leading by 65% to 35%.

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If Article 50 were extended, which looks pretty sure, Britain will have to vote in European elections. But their seats have already been given out to others.

Extending The Brexit Deadline Could Clash With Coming EU Elections (CNBC)

Extending the official Brexit deadline for the U.K. could bring a wave of extra logistical and political problems for the EU. The ongoing deadlock has sparked a debate on the potential extension of Article 50 — the legal means by which the U.K. leaves the EU. However, there is strong opposition from some European lawmakers over giving more time to the U.K. to sort out its domestic politics. The U.K. is set to leave the EU on March 29 — but this could change if the U.K. asks for an extension and the other 27 member nations accept the request. Extending the departure beyond the agreed date would likely clash with European parliamentary elections that are set to take place between May 23 and 26. The chamber is made of lawmakers from all 28 European member countries, including the U.K., and is responsible for approving European policies, such as the Union’s total budget.

“What we will not let happen, deal or no deal, is that the mess in British politics is again imported into European politics. While we understand the U.K. could need more time, for us it is unthinkable that Article 50 is prolonged beyond the European Elections,” Guy Verhofstadt, a member of the European Parliament and its representative in Brexit negotiations, said on Twitter on Wednesday. [..] Seb Dance, member of the European Parliament for the U.K. Labour party, said the prospect of having Brexit and the European elections clashing “is a logistical headache.” “The impact of delaying Brexit on the EU elections is certainly troublesome logistically speaking,” he said, “but politically speaking it shouldn’t make a difference as it is entirely possible that elections take place in the other member states without needing to take place in Britain.”

[..] According to a Brussels-based European official, who did not want to be named due to the sensitivity surrounding the Brexit talks, an extension would likely mean that the U.K. would have to participate in the vote. This is because it would still technically be a member of the European Union. Zsolt Darvas, senior fellow at Bruegel, reiterated this point in an email to CNBC Friday. “If the extension goes beyond the elections, the U.K. would have to elect members of the European Parliament. Not expecting this, the European Parliament has already agreed on how to allocate the U.K. seats after Brexit. That agreement will have to be revised, or perhaps its implementation be postponed after the actual, delayed Brexit date.”

“From the U.K. side, it might look awkward to elect members of the European Parliament when people expect that the U.K. will leave the EU not much after the European elections; plus the U.K. would need to act quickly to make the European Parliament election possible, which would also involve some costs.”

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“..the Common Fisheries Quota has for the past 34 years given 84% of the cod in the English Channel to France and just 9% to the UK..”

EU Loves British Money More Than It Loves Democracy (Clark)

The European establishment is desperate for Britain to reconsider Brexit. Internationalist ideals about ‘preserving European unity’, don’t come in to it, this is all about protecting income streams. Consider a few facts. If Britain does leave without a deal, then the EU as an institution would be considerably worse off. The UK has consistently been one of the top three countries that puts most into the EU budget (after Germany and France). It is one of ten countries that puts more into the EU than it gets out. In 2017, the UK’s net contribution was £9bn. If Britain leaves, the EU faces a financial shortfall. In 2016, 16 countries were net receivers, including Donald Tusk’s Poland. Little wonder that he regards Britain staying as “the only positive solution”.

The very generous financial remuneration packages of EU officials might also be threatened by British withdrawal. In December, it was reported that the EU’s top civil servants would be paid over €20,000 a month for the first time, and that Tusk and Juncker would see their packages rise to €32,700 a month. Austerity? Not in Brussels, mon ami! The EU is a fabulous gravy train once you are on board. But the gravy train relies on its richest members not leaving, otherwise who’s going to foot the bill? If Britain leaves with ‘No Deal’, it’s not just the EU budget which will take a hit. In 2017, EU countries sold around £67 billion more in goods and services to the UK, than the UK sold to them. Europe needs full and unfettered access to British markets, much more than Britain needs full and unfettered access to European markets.

[..] The country that would lose out the most with Brexit is Germany. Britain’s trade deficit with Germany is higher than with any other country, even higher than China, whose products are everywhere in our shops! In 2016, the year of the EU referendum, Britain imported around £26 billion more from Germany than it exported. [..] We also have to discuss fishing. The other EU countries do extremely well out of the Common Fisheries Policy, which provides them with access to UK waters. Belgian fleets get around half their catch from British waters! As reported in the Independent, the Common Fisheries Quota has for the past 34 years given 84% of the cod in the English Channel to France and just 9% to the UK. Overall, EU vessels take out around four times as much fish out of UK waters as British vessels take out of EU waters.

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Is it Brexit or just the overall state of affairs as the Tories dismantle the NHS?

UK Patients Stockpile Drugs In Fear Of No-Deal Brexit (G.)

Ministers have been urged by top doctors to reveal the extent of national drug stocks, amid growing evidence patients are stockpiling medication in preparation for a no-deal Brexit. The Royal College of Physicians (RCP), which represents tens of thousands of doctors, urged the government to be more “transparent about national stockpiles, particularly for things that are already in short supply or need refrigeration, such as insulin”. Prof Andrew Goddard, the RCP president, said: “Faith in the system will be created by openness and regular updates to trusts and clinicians; this will allow clinicians to reassure patients.” The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) has warned medical shortages have increased in recent months.

Generic drugs are usually bought through nationally set tariff prices. However, pharmacies can apply for price concessions under which the NHS will temporarily pay more when the drugs are in short supply. The number of concessions the PSNC applied for went up from 45 in October, to 72 in November and 87 in December. The Guardian has also found evidence some patients are stockpiling drugs, against official guidance. They said they were doing so by ordering drugs from abroad, and by asking their GPs for emergency prescriptions. One diabetic patient has been stockpiling insulin for four months, ordering twice the amount he needs for each of his drugs from the pharmacist.

Robin Hewings, the head of policy at Diabetes UK, backed calls for more transparency from the government about current stock levels to reassure patients. “There is a level of concern that has risen quite a lot [in the last few months] and people with diabetes are talking about stockpiling. The government needs to be more transparent about insulin supplies.”

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Only, not really: “..sales grew by 2.7% last year, compared with a growth rate of 2% in 2017.”

UK Shoppers Rein In Spending As Fears Grow Over Economy (G.)

British consumers reined in their spending in December after splashing out during November on Black Friday promotions, according to official figures that confirmed the tough festive shopping period on the high street. The Office for National Statistics said the quantity of goods bought last month fell by 0.9% compared to November, when Black Friday deals encouraged shoppers to bring forward some of their Christmas spending. All sectors except food and petrol declined on the month, the figures showed, coming after the British Retail Consortium said the key Christmas shopping period had been the worst for retailers since the financial crisis a decade ago.

James Smith, an economist at the City bank ING, said: “After another bumpy week for Brexit, today’s UK retail sales data is a timely reminder that all is not particularly well in the UK economy.” Figures for the three months to December, highlighting the wider trend for consumer spending, showed that the quantity of goods bought dropped by 0.2%. [..] Despite the downturn last month, the latest snapshot showed that retail sales growth for 2018 as a whole was above the level recorded a year earlier. Although significantly below the peak growth rate of 4.7% seen before the Brexit vote in 2016, sales grew by 2.7% last year, compared with a growth rate of 2% in 2017.

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Or does it show that they are more confident? Always a nice puzzle. A popular industry POV: people get deeper in debt because they feel so great.

Rising Credit-Card Use Shows US Consumers Are Strapped (DDMB)

Even though evidence is mounting that the U.S. economy may be soon heading into a recession, there are plenty of analysts who say that the surge in credit card borrowing is a sign of strong confidence among households. That’s hardly the case. In fact, households’ confidence in the future growth of their incomes has been cooling since late last summer, which means borrowers will only reach for what’s in their wallet to compensate for what their paychecks will not cover. Many working adults have no recollection of credit card borrowing not being a mainstay among their financing options. But then, few would be able to identify a Diners Club card, which was a popular brand during the 1980s “yuppie” era when Americans first began to embrace credit card spending in earnest.

These days, consumers are not keen to lean on credit cards, partly due to a cultural and financial shift in the industry. The financial crisis arguably altered households’ views on charging beyond their means. It didn’t hurt that the availability of subprime credit all but disappeared for a few years or that the interest rate on credit cards remained in double-digit territory despite the Federal Reserve’s zero interest rate policy. That said, the idea of frugality re-entered many households’ thinking in the wake of the severe hardship the foreclosure crisis brought to bear on millions of working Americans. Debit cards became the predominant form of plastic used at the checkout.

And yet, consumer credit likely rounded out 2019 at a new $4 trillion milestone as runaway higher educationand car-price inflation coupled with ridiculously looser lending standards pushed households to take on record levels of student loan and auto debt. At roughly $1 trillion, credit cards are but a co-star in a star-studded, full-length feature film. A long history of credit card borrowing suggests that we would have multiples of today’s $1.04 billion in outstanding balances had the growth rate of spending on plastic maintained the headier double-digit paces clocked in the 1980s and 1990s.

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Shares down 13%.

Tesla Cuts 7% Of Workforce, Musk Sees ‘Very Difficult’ Road Ahead (CNBC)

Tesla is cutting its full-time staff headcount by about 7 percent, as it ramps up production of its Model 3 sedans, CEO Elon Musk said Friday. The announcement follows recent cost-cutting measures the company has made in a bid to reduce the price of its products and boost margins. Tesla shares fell 13 percent by the end of trading Friday. In an email to employees, Musk said the company faces a “very difficult” road ahead in its long-term goal to sell affordable renewable energy products, noting the company is younger than other players in the industry. “Tesla will need to make these cuts while increasing the Model 3 production rate and making many manufacturing engineering improvements in the coming months,” Musk said.

“Attempting to build affordable clean energy products at scale necessarily requires extreme effort and relentless creativity, but succeeding in our mission is essential to ensure that the future is good, so we must do everything we can to advance the cause.” The exact number of employees who will be laid off has not been disclosed. However in an October tweet, Musk said Tesla had a staff count of 45,000. If still true today, that would mean 3,150 layoffs. Musk said Friday that Tesla faces “an extremely difficult challenge” in making its electric vehicles and solar products a competitive alternative to traditional vehicles and energy products that rely on fossil fuels.

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Plunging share prices are the last thing Tesla needs.

Tesla Has $920 Million In Debt Coming Due, A Third Of Company’s Cash (CNBC)

Tesla has a billion dollar debt coming due, and it could wipe out nearly a third of the company’s cash if the stock price doesn’t improve. About $920 million in convertible senior notes expires on March 1 at a conversion price of $359.87 per share. But Tesla’s stock hasn’t traded above $359 for weeks. If the shares are about $359.87, then Tesla’s debt converts into Tesla shares. If not, Tesla will have to pay the debt in cash. Tesla reported cash and cash equivalents of $3.37 billion at the end of its September quarter. The company continues to reveal pressure to maintain profitability, and announced Friday it would cut 7 percent of its full-time workforce. Shares fell more than 10 percent Friday following the announcement to trade around $310 per share.

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If only because of the sanctions.

Russia Outshines China To Become World’s 5th Biggest Holder Of Gold (RT)

The Central Bank of Russia reported purchasing 8.5 million troy ounces of gold in January-November 2018. With its 67.6 million ounces of gold Russia is now the world’s fifth largest holder behind the US, Germany, France and Italy. China dropped to sixth place as it reported an increase in gold reserves just once in more than two years – to 59.6 million ounces in December 2018 from 59.2 million ounces in October 2016. Industry sources told Reuters that Western sanctions against Russia lifted the country’s gold buying to record highs in 2018. One of the reasons Russia’s Central Bank was betting on the yellow metal was because it could not be frozen or blacklisted, sources explained.

“It seems that there is an aim to diversify from American assets,” said a source in one of Russia’s gold producers, referring to the Central Bank’s holdings. While purchases of the precious metal by Russia jumped last year the country continued getting rid of US Treasury securities. Earlier this month, Russia’s Central Bank reported that it cut the share of the US dollar in the country’s foreign reserves to a historic low, transferring nearly $100 billion into the euro, the Japanese yen and the Chinese yuan. The step came as a part of a broader state policy on eliminating reliance on the greenback. According to sources, the Central Bank has been purchasing a significant portion of Russia’s domestic gold production, which is also rising.

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As the EU promotes Roundup, this court has the only right attitude, referring to “a precautionary principle in French law.” All GMO crops should be banned because of that principle. The risks are too great, and there’s likely no way back. You can’t put the onus of proof on society at large, Monsanto will have to prove there is no risk or damage at all, not the other way around. Nassim Taleb is the only person I’ve seen who also says this as the most important thing concerning GMO.

French Court Cites Precautionary Principle To Cancel Monsanto Permit (R.)

A French court canceled the license for one of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based weedkillers on Tuesday over safety concerns, placing an immediate ban on Roundup Pro 360 in the latest legal blow to the Bayer-owned business. Germany’s Bayer, which bought Monsanto for $63 billion last year, faces thousands of U.S. lawsuits by people who say its Roundup and Ranger Pro products caused their cancer. A court in Lyon in southeast France ruled that the approval granted by French environment agency ANSES in 2017 for Roundup Pro 360 had failed to take into account potential health risks. Bayer, which said it disagreed with the decision and was considering its legal options, has cited regulatory rulings as well as scientific studies that found glyphosate to be safe.

The firm is appealing a first U.S. court ruling that awarded $78 million in damages to a school groundskeeper from California. “Bayer disagrees with the decision taken by the Administrative Court of Lyon to cancel the marketing authorization for RoundUp Pro 360,” it said in a statement. “This product formulation, like all crop protection products, has been subject to a strict evaluation by the French authorities (ANSES), an independent body and guarantor of the public health security.” The French court said ANSES had not respected a precautionary principle in French law, notably by not conducting a specific evaluation of health risks for Roundup Pro 360.

“Despite the European Union’s approval of the active substance (glyphosate), the court considered that scientific studies and animal experiments showed Roundup Pro 360 … is a potentially carcinogenic product for humans, suspected of being toxic for human reproduction and for aquatic organisms,” the court said in a summary of its ruling. ANSES said it was still examining the court ruling, but that the decision was effective immediately. “As a consequence, the sale, distribution and use of RoundUp Pro 360 are banned as of today,” the agency said in an email.

Read more …

Dec 092018
 
 December 9, 2018  Posted by at 10:31 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edouard Manet Berthe Morisot with a bouquet of violets 1872

 

Incoming House Judiciary Chair Planning To End Probe Into FBI, DOJ (ZH)
France Is The New Tax Hell In Europe And Beyond (RT)
Paris Under Siege As Gilets Jaunes Open ‘Act IV’ – 4th Weekend Of Protest (O.)
No Hope Of Success And No Plan B – But Theresa May Won’t Blink (O.)
UK Cabinet Splits Over Second Referendum On Brexit Deal (G.)
Majority Of UK Now Wants To Remain In The EU – Poll (Ind.)
Theresa May Warns Of ‘Uncharted Waters’ Ahead Of Key Vote (BBC)
EU Will Negotiate If May Loses Commons Brexit Vote – Prodi (G.)
China Threatens Canada With ‘Grave Consequences’ If Huawei CFO Not Freed (R.)
Putin Doesn’t Rule Out Extending Turkish Stream Pipeline Into Greece (RT)
COP24 Fails To Adopt Key Climated Change Report (BBC)

 

 

But of course. Let’s invite more chaos in.

Incoming House Judiciary Chair Planning To End Probe Into FBI, DOJ (ZH)

During a break during former FBI Director James Comey’s heated closed-door testimony on Capitol Hill on Friday, incoming House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler confirmed to reporters what many had already suspected: That Nadler (and probably his fellow Democratic leaders) would put the kibosh on the House’s investigation into alleged political bias at the highest levels of the FBI and DOJ as they launched an investigation into the Trump campaign – an investigation that eventually morphed into the Mueller probe. While Democrats prepare to ramp up investigations into everything from Trump’s “war on the media” to his involvement in his family business, Nadler told a group of reporters that he intends to end the House Judiciary Committee’s involvement in the Congressional probe as soon as he takes the reins next year.

Asked why he intends to end the committee’s involvement in the probe, Nadler responded that “it was a waste of time to begin with” and a “distraction” from the real-wrong doing here – that is, lawbreaking committed by Republicans, according to the Hill. “Yes, because it is a waste of time to start with,” Nadler said in response to a question about whether he would end the probe. Nadler characterized the Republican investigation as a political sideshow that aims to distract from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. “The entire purpose of this investigation is to be a diversion of the real investigation, which is Mueller. There is no evidence of bias at the FBI and this other nonsense they are talking about,” he continued.

If the House investigation into suspected FBI malfeasance is just a “sideshow”, as Nadler claims, how would he explain the fact that the FBI knew the allegations contained in the Steele dossier – the linchpin of the FBI’s FISA warrant application that kicked off the Russia probe in earnest – were bogus before applying for surveillance? Or the many conflicts of interest between senior FBI officials involved with the probe (Andrew McCabe, Bruce Ohr, Peter Strzok, and, yes, Comey himself) – or the fact that McCabe was fired following after the DOJ’s inspector general confirmed that McCabe had lied under oath to try and conceal the fact that he told an FBI spokesman to leak a story about the FBI’s investigation into the Clinton Foundation just days before the election. McCabe could still face criminal charges from his lies. But Congress’s attempt to hold the FBI accountable is just a “distraction?”

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Not unimportant when it comes to the yellow vests.

France Is The New Tax Hell In Europe And Beyond (RT)

While the dust has not yet settled in the streets of Paris, after sweeping protests against fuel tax hikes, it just so happens that France has taken the crown from Denmark as the most taxed country in 2017, the OECD found. Among the 34 developed members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Emmanuel Macron leads the nation with the highest tax-to-GDP ratio, the organization reported. France leads with 46.2% of GDP against the average of 34.2% of other members, thus dropping the long-standing leader in the rating, Denmark.

The Scandinavian country’s numbers, meanwhile, shrank to 46%, down by 0.2 since last year. Sweden, Italy, and Greece round out the top five, while Mexico is the last on the list at 16.2%. Notably, tax revenues for OECD member states, on average, reached historically high levels in 2017, rising to 34.2% of GDP. It is up only slightly from 34%, the previous peak recorded by the organization in 2016.

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Quite the series of demands. But hard to gauge how much support they have; there are not leaders or anything.

Paris Under Siege As Gilets Jaunes Open ‘Act IV’ – 4th Weekend Of Protest (O.)

A charter of gilets jaunes’ “suggestions to end this crisis” has been circulating on Facebook. While far from “official” – the movement has no agreed representatives – it does illustrate the diverse, and sometimes contradictory, nature of their demands:

Economy/work A full review of taxation, with no citizen to be taxed at more than 25% of income; an immediate 40% increase in the minimum wage, pensions and benefits; “mass hirings” in the state sector to restore quality of services in hospitals, schools, etc; 5m new homes; make banks “smaller”.

Politics France’s constitution to be rewritten “by the people and for the interests of the people”; lobbying to be banned; France should leave the EU; recover €80bn lost to tax evasion each year; halt and/or reverse all privatisations; removal of “useless” speed cameras; reform of education system, removal of all “ideologies”; quadruple budget of judicial system, which must be simplified, free and accessible for all; break up media monopolies and end cosy relationship between media and the political class; open media up to the people.

Health/environment 10-year guarantee on products to end planned obsolescence; ban plastic bottles; limit power of pharmaceutical companies; ban GM foods, carcinogenic pesticides, monoculture; reindustrialise France to reduce imports and therefore pollution.

Geopolitics Pull France out of Nato and foreign wars; end the plunder of French-speaking Africa; prevent migration flows that cannot be welcomed or integrated given current “civilisational crisis”; scrupulous respect for international law and engagements.

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Tuesday is the big vote in the Commons. May looks certain to lose big. So, chaos in France AND the UK. Where are Britain’s yellow vests anyway?

No Hope Of Success And No Plan B – But Theresa May Won’t Blink (O.)

For several weeks Theresa May has been holding private meetings in Downing Street and the Commons with MPs [..] She has used all her powers of persuasion to try to win them around ahead of Tuesday’s historic “meaningful vote” on her deal. Tory whips have tried to cajole their wavering backbenchers day and night, arguing the case for the May deal and reminding the more ambitious among them where their best career interests lie. Two weeks ago May made the campaign a national one – writing directly to the people of Britain and asking them to put more pressure on their MPs to support her. A special Tory website called Back the Brexit Deal was launched by the party to rally grassroots Tories behind the cause, with limited success.

Constituency chairmen were lobbied heavily, too. Ominously for the prime minister, however, the ultra-hard sell has achieved almost nothing. Some Tories even think it has had the reverse effect to that intended – making people focus in more detail on her deal than they would have done, only for them to conclude they could never back it. One senior Conservative said the party machine had deployed every resource it could muster but had failed totally. “Whether it is our backbenchers, or the party faithful, or the public, it is the same. If anything, I think the whole ‘going to the country thing’ has made things worse.”

[..] By this weekend more than 100 backbench Tory MPs had declared themselves ready to vote against May’s deal. Surveys of Tory members show they are against, too, by a big majority. After a dreadful week in which May’s government was found to be in contempt of parliament for refusing to publish the full legal advice on Brexit, the chief whip, Julian Smith, has been telling No 10 that it is on course for a huge defeat. [..] More junior members of the government are rumoured to be ready to quit before Tuesday because they can’t live with the deal as it is. With two days to go, there is no sign May is ready to delay, change course or blink at all. One senior Tory said: “If she has a plan B, no one knows what it could be. It looks like a crisis with no solution. She seems ready to march on into the gunfire.”

Labour is keen to make out that Tuesday’s vote will be tighter than everyone expects. It is desperate to promote this view in case May limits a defeat to far less than 100. [..] But with all but a handful of the 257 Labour MPs, the entire block of 35 SNP members, all but one of the 11 Liberal Democrats, and the 10 DUP members set to vote against it – and more than 100 Tories on record as being opposed – the arithmetic points to a far worse outcome for the prime minister.

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Divisions everywhere. And opportunism. If you’re in the Cabinet, and May loses real bad, what’s your political future?

UK Cabinet Splits Over Second Referendum On Brexit Deal (G.)

A deep cabinet split has opened up over whether Theresa May should back a second referendum in a final attempt to end the political deadlock over Brexit, as senior Conservatives predicted on Saturday night that her blueprint for leaving the EU was heading for a crushing House of Commons defeat. Adding to a mounting sense of constitutional crisis ahead of Tuesday’s crucial parliamentary vote, No 10 is braced for more resignations of ministers and aides who want another referendum, or who believe May’s deal fails to deliver on Brexit. Will Quince, the Colchester MP and aide to the defence secretary Gavin Williamson, quit his post on Saturday night in protest at the Brexit deal.

Cabinet ministers have told the Observer that attempts to convince May to delay the vote to avoid one of the largest and most humiliating defeats in recent parliamentary history had not been heeded. This was despite what they saw as a clear danger that such a result could provoke a leadership challenge and split the party irrevocably. Some cabinet ministers now believe that May is so wedded to her Brexit deal that her only method of gaining approval will be through another referendum – and that the arguments for a second vote are emerging as stronger than those for a soft Brexit. The prime minister has so far refused to entertain any idea of a second public vote.

One cabinet source said it might prove to be the only way of saving May’s deal and her reputation. “She is so committed to her deal, and a second referendum could now be the only way of getting it. The polls have been remarkably stable for a while, but there does seem to be some kind of movement [to Remain], and that could well develop in the coming days and weeks.”

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1,500 people is not a large enough poll.

Majority Of UK Now Wants To Remain In The EU – Poll (Ind.)

A majority of the country now think Britain should remain inside the European Union, according to a new poll released days before the critical Brexit vote in parliament. The exclusive research for The Independent shows that, as of this month, 52% favour staying in the trading bloc. The data from pollsters BMG Research reveals support for remaining has grown month by month since the summer, and broke past 50% in December as the complex realities of Brexit were brought home to the country. The poll also revealed that almost half of people think the withdrawal agreement settled by Theresa May is a “bad deal” for Britain, with around as many saying MPs should reject the deal outright when they take the critical decision on Tuesday.

The BMG Research study lays waste to any hope that a concerted publicity drive, which has seen Ms May and her ministers tour the country to persuade people of its merits, has been a success. Instead it shines a light on the deep divisions that still exist, with none of the immediate alternative paths beyond Ms May’s plan – a second referendum, a Norway-style relationship or no deal – enjoying majority support. [..] In a further development ex-European Commission president Romano Prodi said Brussels could renegotiate the deal if MPs vote against it, creating the opportunity for Ms May to seek further concessions.

[..] When BMG asked some 1,500 respondents, “should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union, or leave the European Union”, 52% said “remain”, 40% said “leave”, six% said they did not know and one% refused to say. The remain option has been in the high 40s most of this year, but from September to October it rose one point and then another point to 49% in November, meaning it rose three points in December to its current level. When respondents were asked whether they believed the withdrawal agreement and political declaration on the future relations secured by Ms May are a “good deal” or a “bad deal”, 49% chose the latter. Just over one in ten, 13%, said it was a good deal,

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As in something to fear. Whereas her party strangling the poorer is not.

Theresa May Warns Of ‘Uncharted Waters’ Ahead Of Key Vote (BBC)

With two days to go until the crucial Brexit vote, the prime minister has warned MPs they face “uncharted waters” if they reject her deal. Speaking to the Mail on Sunday, the PM said a rejection of her proposals would mean “grave uncertainty” for the UK. She warned MPs their actions could lead to a general election, and there was a “very real risk of no Brexit”. Downing Street has also denied newspaper suggestions that Theresa May could postpone Tuesday’s vote. “The vote is going ahead,” a spokesman said. Last month, the UK agreed a Brexit deal with the EU – but it still needs to be approved by Parliament. Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the DUP, and dozens of Conservative MPs have said they cannot support the deal, meaning it is unlikely to pass.

If the deal is rejected, it is unclear what happens next – with Mrs May insisting her deal was best for the country. “When I say if this deal does not pass we would truly be in uncharted waters, I hope people understand this is what I genuinely believe and fear could happen,” Mrs May said. “It would mean grave uncertainty for the nation with a very real risk of no Brexit or leaving the European Union with no deal. “We have a leader of the opposition who thinks of nothing but attempting to bring about a general election, no matter what the cost to the country. “As someone who cares passionately about my country and my party, I believe Jeremy Corbyn getting his hands on power is a risk we cannot afford to take.”

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Who asked Prodi?

EU Will Negotiate If May Loses Commons Brexit Vote – Prodi (G.)

The EU will come back to the negotiating table if parliament votes down Theresa May’s deal with Brussels, according to Romano Prodi, a former European commission president. Prodi, who twice served as Italian prime minister and had Jean-Claude Juncker’s job until 2004, said that the EU needed to do everything it could to avoid the “economic catastrophe” of a no-deal Brexit. On signing an agreement with the British prime minister last month, Juncker described the draft withdrawal treaty and accompanying political declaration on the future relationship as “the deal – the only deal possible”.

May has also said there is no scope for any further negotiation in Brussels if her deal is rejected when it comes to a vote in the Commons on Tuesday, and that the consequence of it being rejected would be “no deal or no Brexit”. The chancellor, Philip Hammond, described those who believed there could be a renegotiation as “delusional”. But in an interview with the Observer, Prodi suggested it would still be possible to find a negotiated settlement in the increasingly likely event May suffers a heavy defeat in the Commons.

Asked how he expected the commission to respond after the vote, Prodi said: “Negotiate. We must keep free trade between us because it is in the British interests and European interest. The UK has no alternative – the EU is a large part of its trade. Always the problem of Northern Ireland, but it is possible. Common sense helps.” On the EU’s insistence there could be no more negotiations, Prodi added: “Look, when the British parliament has still to vote you are obliged to be in this position. But then of course the day after you start dealing. This is politics.”

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And Canada will seek to blame the US.

China Threatens Canada With ‘Grave Consequences’ If Huawei CFO Not Freed (R.)

China has warned Canada there would be severe consequences if it did not immediately release Huawei’s chief financial officer, calling the case “extremely nasty”. Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada on 1 December and faces extradition to the United States, which alleges that she covered up her company’s links to a firm that tried to sell equipment to Iran despite sanctions. The executive is the daughter of Huawei’s founder. If extradited to the US, Meng would face charges of conspiracy to defraud multiple financial institutions, a Canadian court heard on Friday, with a maximum sentence of 30 years for each charge. No decision was reached at the extradition hearing after nearly six hours of arguments and counter-arguments, and the hearing was adjourned until Monday.

In a statement on Saturday, China’s foreign ministry said the vice-foreign minister, Le Yucheng, had issued the warning to release Meng to Canada’s ambassador in Beijing, summoning him to lodge a “strong protest”. China’s official news agency Xinhua reported Le summoned the Canadian ambassador, John McCallum, in protest and urged Ottawa to release Meng immediately or face “grave consequences that the Canadian side should be held accountable for”. Adam Austen, a spokesman for the Canadian foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, said on Saturday there was “nothing to add beyond what the minister said yesterday”. Freeland told reporters on Friday the relationship with China was important and valued, and Canada’s ambassador in Beijing has assured the Chinese that Meng would receive consular access.

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Greece wants to be everyone’s friend.

Putin Doesn’t Rule Out Extending Turkish Stream Pipeline Into Greece (RT)

Russia is ready to cooperate with Athens in the energy sector, President Vladimir Putin has said, not ruling out the prospect of extending the Turkish Stream gas pipeline into Greece. “We are ready to carry out large infrastructural energy projects together with Greece. It includes the possibility to link Southern Europe through Greece to the Turkish Stream,” Putin said on Friday during a joint conference with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Moscow. “A pipeline from Greece to Italy has been nearly completed. The pipe is built, yet there’s no gas there. Yet we’ll think together on how to fill this line with some real product,” Putin added.

“It’s certainly possible, I don’t rule it out, moreover I believe it to be quite realistic.” Such a project increases the significance of Greece as the “regional energy hub,” Tsipras said on his part, complaining, however, over “double standards” the EU bureaucrats have been showing over the Turkish Stream and other projects involving Russia. Greece used to be one of the countries to host a section of the now-deprecated South Stream gas pipeline. The project, however, met stiff resistance in Brussels, which pressed participating countries – namely Bulgaria – to stop working on it. The project was scrapped late in 2014, ultimately giving way to the Turkish Stream

The Turkish Stream was agreed by Russia and Turkey in October 2016. The first branch will deliver gas to Turkish consumers, while the second one will bring it to countries in southern and south-eastern Europe. In November, Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, unveiled the offshore section of the pipeline, which is expected to be fully completed late in 2019. So far, there are plans to extend it into Bulgaria, Hungary and Serbia.

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Useless reports anyway. These conferences will not solve a thing. Our political systems don’t allow for that.

COP24 Fails To Adopt Key Climated Change Report (BBC)

Attempts to incorporate a key scientific study into global climate talks in Poland have failed. The IPCC report on the impacts of a temperature rise of 1.5C, had a significant impact when it was launched last October. Scientists and many delegates in Poland were shocked as the US, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait objected to this meeting “welcoming” the report. It was the 2015 climate conference that had commissioned the landmark study. The report said that the world is now completely off track, heading more towards 3C this century rather than 1.5C. Keeping to the preferred target would need “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”. If warming was to be kept to 1.5C this century, then emissions of carbon dioxide would have to be reduced by 45% by 2030.

The report, launched in Incheon in South Korea, had an immediate impact winning praise from politicians all over the world. But negotiators here ran into serious trouble when Saudi Arabia, the US, Russia and Kuwait objected to the conference “welcoming” the document. Instead they wanted to support a much more lukewarm phrase, that the conference would “take note” of the report. Saudi Arabia had fought until the last minute in Korea to limit the conclusions of the document. Eventually they gave in. But it now seems that they have brought their objections to Poland. The dispute dragged on as huddles of negotiators met in corners of the plenary session here, trying to agree a compromise wording. None was forthcoming. With no consensus, under UN rules the passage of text had to be dropped.

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Dec 172017
 
 December 17, 2017  Posted by at 10:31 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Russell Lee Shasta Dam under construction. Shasta County, California 1942

 

Zombie Corporations: 10% Of Global Companies Depend On Cheap Money (Mish)
America’s Inequality Machine Is Sending the Dow Soaring (BBG)
“Dark Money” Runs the World (Nomi Prins)
‘There’s No Life Here’: A Journey Into Britain’s Precarious Future (O.)
Brexit: Britons Now Back Remain Over Leave By 10 Points (Ind.)
Call Off Brexit Bullies Or Face Defeat, Conservative Peers Tell May (G.)
Metlife Says It Failed To Pay Some Pensions, Flags Hit To Reserves (R.)
EU Banks Told to Get Crisis-Ready by Removing Wind-Down Hurdles (BBG)
Humans At Maximum Limits For Height, Lifespan And Physical Performance (SD)

 

 

Only 10? You sure?

Zombie Corporations: 10% Of Global Companies Depend On Cheap Money (Mish)

10% of corporations survive only because central banks have kept real interest rates negative. The BIS defines Zombie firms as those with a ratio of earnings before interest and taxes to interest expenses below one, with the firm aged 10 years or more. In simple terms, Zombies are those firms that could not survive without a flow of cheap financing. The chart shows the median share of zombie firms across AU, BE, CA, CH, DE, DK, ES, FR, GB, IT, JP, NL, SE and US. According to the BIS Quarterly Report one out of ten corporations in emerging and advanced countries is a “Zombie”. Let’s dive into the report for more details.

The inability to come to grips with the financial cycle has been a key reason for the unsatisfactory performance of the global economy and limited room for policy manoeuvre. Since 2007, productivity growth has slowed in both advanced economies and EMEs. One potential factor behind this decline is a persistent misallocation of capital and labour, as reflected by the growing share of unprofitable firms. Indeed, the share of zombie firms – whose interest expenses exceed earnings before interest and taxes – has increased significantly despite unusually low levels of interest rates. Over the past 10 years, there has been a close positive correlation between the growth of corporate credit and investment.

A build-up of corporate debt has financed investment in many economies, particularly in EMEs, including high investment rates in China. Turning financial cycles in these economies could therefore weigh on investment. As with consumption, the level of debt can affect investment. Rising interest rates would push up debt service burdens in countries with high corporate debt. Moreover, in EMEs with large shares of such debt in foreign currency, domestic currency depreciation could hurt investment. As mentioned before, an appreciation of funding currencies, mainly the US dollar, increases debt burdens where currency mismatches are present and tightens financial conditions (the exchange rate risktaking channel).

Empirical evidence suggests that a depreciation of EME currencies against the US dollar dampens investment significantly, offsetting to a large extent the positive impact of higher net exports. For the above reasons, I believe the end of the global recovery is at hand. And when the next bust happens, the last thing central banks will be doing is raising interest rates.

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How to define the Fed.

America’s Inequality Machine Is Sending the Dow Soaring (BBG)

The Great Recession is a speck in the rear-view mirror for America’s financial markets. They’ve advanced far beyond pre-crisis levels. In fact, Goldman Sachs says you can go back a century before 2008, and still not find a “bull market in everything” like today’s. If the real economy had roared back the same way, Donald Trump might not be president. Instead, it’s been a grind. While unemployment is near a two-decade low, wages have grown slowly by past standards. They’re nowhere near keeping pace with the asset-price surge. Elected on a promise of better jobs and pay, Trump is about to pull the most powerful lever any government has for firing up the economy: fiscal policy. By slashing taxes on corporate profits, its authors say, the Republican plan will unleash the animal spirits of American business – and everyone will benefit.

A rising tide does lift all boats – but nowadays, in the U.S., not equally. Under both parties, recoveries have become increasingly lopsided. The current one has helped millions of people find work; it’s also benefited asset-owners far more than people who trade their labor for a paycheck. Income distribution, already the most unequal in the developed world, is getting worse. And that’s starting to influence everything from America’s spending habits to its elections. “The story of our time is polarization – by party, by class and by income,” said Mark Spindel, founder and chief investment officer at Potomac River Capital in Washington, and co-author of a 2017 book about the Federal Reserve. “I don’t see anything in the tax bill to make that any better.’’

The Fed’s post-2008 toolkit included massive purchases of financial assets, which supported a liftoff on the markets but took time to trickle through to the real economy. Trump’s tax critics say his plan will have a similar effect, because companies will spend the windfall on share buybacks or dividends, instead of job-creating investments. Plenty of executives say that’s exactly what they’ll do. Bank of America’s most recent buyback program totals $18 billion. Chairman Brian Moynihan championed the tax proposal this month. “It’s good for corporate America, and it’s good for us,” he said.

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Same thing: inequality machine.

“Dark Money” Runs the World (Nomi Prins)

Dark money is the #1 secret life force of today’s rigged financial markets. It drives whole markets up and down. It’s the reason for today’s financial bubbles. On Wall Street, knowledge of and access to dark money means trillions of dollars per year flowing in and around global stock, bond and derivatives markets. I learned this firsthand from my career on Wall Street. My first full year working on Wall Street was in 1987. I wasn’t talking about “dark money” or central bank collusion back then. I was just starting out. Eventually, I would uncover how the dark money system works… how it has corrupted our financial system… and encouraged greed to the point of crisis like in 2008. When I moved abroad to create and run the analytics department at Bear Stearns London as senior managing director, I got my first look at how dark money flows and its effects cross borders.

The “dark money” comes from central banks. In essence, central banks “print” money or electronically fabricate money by buying bonds or stocks. They use other tools like adjusting interest rate policy and currency agreements with other central banks to pump liquidity into the financial system. That dark money goes to the biggest private banks and financial institutions first. From there, it spreads out in seemingly infinite directions affecting different financial assets in different ways. Yet these dark money flows stretch around the world according to a pattern of power, influence and, of course, wealth for select groups. To be a part of the dark money elite means to have control over many. How elite is a matter of degree. These is not built upon conspiracy theories. To the contrary, alliances make perfect sense and operate publicly.

Even better, their exclusive dealings and the consequences that follow are foreseeable — but only if you understand how the system works and follow the dark money flows. It’s easy to see how this dark money affects the stock market at a high level, because we can monitor its constant movement. Here’s the smoking gun:

The red line shows you how much “dark money” the Federal Reserve has printed since 2008. The gray line shows you the S&P 500. They move together — more dark money drives the market higher. Much higher. There are dark money charts from around the world, just like the one I showed you for the Federal Reserve and U.S. stock market. Look at this “dark money” chart from Japan, for example:

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Time for a change.

‘There’s No Life Here’: A Journey Into Britain’s Precarious Future (O.)

Ebbw Vale is the largest town in the county of Blaenau Gwent. This autumn the county was found to be the cheapest place to buy a home in England and Wales (averaging £777 per sq m in 2016, compared with £19,439 for the most expensive, London’s Kensington and Chelsea). It offers the second-lowest mean salary in Britain, and its GCSE results are the worst in Wales. Five food banks operate within an area of about 42 square miles. People here are struggling economically and physically. It’s a grim irony that an area encompassing the former constituency of Aneurin Bevan, architect of the National Health Service, should today be facing a quietly unfolding health crisis. Some 12% of working-age residents receive government support for disability or incapacity – twice the national average.

Life expectancy for both men and women is among the lowest in England and Wales. Out of a population of 60,000, one in every six adults is being prescribed an antidepressant, according to NHS data from 2013. “GPs haven’t got time to listen, to talk to people, to find out what’s going on. They’ve got that five- or 10-minute slot, somebody’s in tears, they’re saying they’re depressed,” Tara Johnstone tells me at the Phoenix Project, the publicly funded drop-in centre where she works in nearby Brynmawr. It’s run by a local charity, Torfaen and Blaenau Gwent Mind, and people come to chat about their problems: anxiety, depression, illness, bereavement. Most stories revolve around the same theme. “It’s lack of work,” explains Trish Richards, another Phoenix staff member. “I’ve had people come to me on zero-hours contracts. They don’t know where they are from one week to the next. Can’t plan. Can’t even plan to go to the dentist in case they get called in to work.”

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The shift is only just starting. Incompetence will rule 2018 in Britain.

Brexit: Britons Now Back Remain Over Leave By 10 Points (Ind.)

The British public has swung behind staying in the EU by its largest margin since the referendum, with those backing Remain outstripping Leavers by ten points, a new poll has revealed. The exclusive survey for The Independent by BMG Research showed 51% now back remaining in the union, while 41% want Brexit. Once “don’t knows” were encouraged to choose one way or the other, or excluded, the Remain lead rises to 11 points. Either way, it is the biggest gap since the June 2016 vote. It comes as leading political figures write in The Independent tomorrow about whether the country needs a further referendum to decide on Brexit, once terms of departure are known.

Michael Heseltine, Peter Mandelson, Gina Miller and Vince Cable call for a rethink, while Leave campaign mastermind Matthew Elliott and Conservatives James Cleverly and Suella Fernandes demand Brexit is seen through. Last week again underlined the difficulties of withdrawal, after the EU set out terms for a Brexit transition period that will likely be unacceptable to leading Conservative Eurosceptics. Theresa May also suffered a damaging defeat in the Commons while trying to pass her key piece of Brexit legislation, before being forced to make a major concession to avoid further embarrassment next week. Amid the furore, the latest poll indicates British voters have slowly but steadily been turning their backs on Brexit.

When a weighted sample of some 1,400 people were asked: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union, or leave the European Union?” – 51% backed Remain, and 41% backed Leave. 7% said “don’t know” and 1% refused to answer. After “don’t knows” were either pushed for an answer or otherwise excluded, 55.5% backed Remain and 44.5 backed Leave. Polling since this time last year appears to demonstrate a clear trend; Leave enjoyed a lead last December which gradually shrank, before turning into a lead for Remain in the month of the general election, that has since grown.

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Pretty soon the only thing left will be dividing lines.

Call Off Brexit Bullies Or Face Defeat, Conservative Peers Tell May (G.)

Theresa May was warned on Sunday by Tory peers that she will face a string of parliamentary defeats over Europe in the House of Lords if she tries to “bully” members of the second chamber into backing an extreme form of Brexit. After 11 Conservative MPs joined opposition parties to inflict a humiliating loss on the government last week, Tory grandees are warning that the spirit of rebellion will spread to the Lords unless May shows she respects parliament and decisively rejects those with “extreme views” in her own party. Writing in the Observer, two Tory peers, the former pensions minister Ros Altmann and Patience Wheatcroft, a former editor of the Sunday Telegraph, say they are appalled at the insults heaped by hardline Brexiters on MPs who voted with their consciences, and at the “strong-arm” tactics of the Tory whips.

They say it is vital to democracy that parliamentarians be given the right to assess the Brexit deal on behalf of the British people without being threatened or bullied, and suggest that the aggression of Tory party managers has helped create a “toxic atmosphere”, not only in parliament but across the UK. Altmann and Wheatcroft write: “The resulting appalling insults from Brexiters, calls for expulsion from the party, and even death threats, are worrying symptoms of the toxic atmosphere which has been created in our country.” They add: “There are many moderate Conservatives in both Houses of Parliament who are deeply concerned that some in our party are so desperate to leave the EU, with or without a deal, that they believe any cost is justified to bring Brexit. They maintain ‘freedom is priceless’ but this extreme view does not reflect public opinion.”

The two peers say Conservative members of the House of Lords, in which there was a large pro-Remain majority, will not take kindly to being told by the Tory whips and the executive what to think about Brexit and how to vote. “Mindful of the monumental importance for future generations of getting Brexit right, the Lords is unlikely to be receptive to bullying over a restricted timetable or vigorous whipping to toe the party line,” they say. “The people voted to ‘take back control’ but that has to mean control by parliament, not a small group with extreme views or an executive that will brook no challenge. It is parliament that must have the final say on whether the deal that is negotiated for breaking away from the EU … is in the UK’s best interests.”

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The shape of things to come.

Metlife Says It Failed To Pay Some Pensions, Flags Hit To Reserves (R.)

Metlife failed to pay pensions to potentially tens of thousands of people and will have to strengthen its reserves because of the costs of finding and repaying them, the New York insurer said. Metlife said in a filing on Friday that it believed the group missing out on the payments represented less than 5 percent of about 600,000 people who receive benefits from the company via its retirement business. Those affected generally have average benefits of less than $150 a month, it said. When taken, however, the increase to reserves could be material to Metlife’s financial results. The insurer said it would provide further disclosure on its fourth-quarter earnings call and in its annual report for 2017. MetLife did not say how many years of missing income was owed. The people who missed out on the payments have changed jobs, relocated or are otherwise unreachable based on currently available information, the company said, adding that it was widening its search efforts and making better use of technology.

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Are we really to believe Europe will stand up against its most powerful banks?

EU Banks Told to Get Crisis-Ready by Removing Wind-Down Hurdles (BBG)

Big euro-area lenders face a choice; clean up the complicated corporate structures that make them difficult to wind down in a crisis, or watch Elke Koenig do it for them. Koenig, head of the Brussels-based Single Resolution Board, said in an interview that streamlining banks’ architecture and ensuring they can fund their own demise without taxpayers’ help will be priorities in the year ahead. “You have banks where you end with something that looks more like a spider web than a clean structure,” Koenig said. The message that those banks will receive is: “Please tidy up,” she said. The SRB is part of the EU’s efforts to end the problem of too-big-to-fail banks. In 2018, it will adopt resolution plans for nearly all of the 140-odd lenders within its remit, then start to identify “substantive impediments” to orderly wind-down.

Under EU law, when the SRB finds such obstacles, it sends a report to the bank, which must respond within four months on how it plans to fix the problem. If the SRB isn’t satisfied, it can instruct the supervisor to impose a range of measures on the bank, including issuing loss-absorbing liabilities, altering its legal or operational structures and selling assets. This task assumed greater importance earlier this year when the the European Commission withdrew a bill that could have forced major banks such as Deutsche Bank and BNP Paribas to split their trading and retail operations. Finance Watch, a public-interest watchdog, has said that without that bill, it’s “squarely” on authorities like the SRB to make sure systemically important banks can be wound down in an orderly manner.

Koenig accepts that the SRB is responsible for making sure banks have resolvable structures. “That’s clearly on us,” she said. “And it’s something that needs to be addressed swiftly.” “The ideal structure for me is one where you can with confidence isolate certain functions to keep them up and running in case something unforeseen happens,” Koenig said. “I would not try to differentiate between investment banking functions and retail banking functions, but think about it this way: If you need to separate businesses, are you producing a viable set of companies? Can you really separate them in a timely manner?”

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But we were going to implant robots into ourselves… When will we learn that it’s the limits that set us free?

Humans At Maximum Limits For Height, Lifespan And Physical Performance (SD)

Humans may have reached their maximum limits for height, lifespan and physical performance. A recent review suggests humans have biological limitations, and that anthropogenic impacts on the environment – including climate change – could have a deleterious effect on these limits. Published in Frontiers in Physiology, this review is the first of its kind spanning 120 years worth of historical information, while considering the effects of both genetic and environmental parameters. Despite stories that with each generation we will live longer and longer, this review suggests there may be a maximum threshold to our biological limits that we cannot exceed. A transdisciplinary research team from across France studied trends emerging from historical records, concluding that there appears to be a plateau in the maximum biological limits for humans’ height, age and physical abilities.

“These traits no longer increase, despite further continuous nutritional, medical, and scientific progress. This suggests that modern societies have allowed our species to reach its limits. We are the first generation to become aware of this” explains Professor Jean-François Toussaint from Paris Descartes University, France. Rather than continually improving, we will see a shift in the proportion of the population reaching the previously recorded maximum limits. Examples of the effects of these plateaus will be evidenced with increasingly less sport records being broken and more people reaching but not exceeding the present highest life expectancy. However, when researchers considered how environmental and genetic limitations combined may affect the ability for us to reach these upper limits, our effect on the environment was found to play a key role.

“This will be one of the biggest challenges of this century as the added pressure from anthropogenic activities will be responsible for damaging effects on human health and the environment.” Prof. Toussaint predicts. “The current declines in human capacities we can see today are a sign that environmental changes, including climate, are already contributing to the increasing constraints we now have to consider.” “Observing decreasing tendencies may provide an early signal that something has changed but not for the better. Human height has decreased in the last decade in some African countries; this suggests some societies are no longer able to provide sufficient nutrition for each of their children and maintain the health of their younger inhabitants,” Prof. Toussaint explains.

To avoid us being the cause of our own decline, the researchers hope their findings will encourage policymakers to focus on strategies for increasing quality of life and maximize the proportion of the population that can reach these maximum biological limits. “Now that we know the limits of the human species, this can act as a clear goal for nations to ensure that human capacities reach their highest possible values for most of the population. With escalating environmental constraints, this may cost increasingly more energy and investment in order to balance the rising ecosystem pressures. However, if successful, we then should observe an incremental rise in mean values of height, lifespan and most human biomarkers.” Prof. Toussaint warns however, “The utmost challenge is now to maintain these indices at high levels.”

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