Feb 072016
 
 February 7, 2016  Posted by at 9:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Chamber of Commerce, Boston MA 1904

$100 Trillion Up in Smoke (Mauldin)
As Big Oil Shrinks, Boards Plot Different Paths Out Of Crisis (Reuters)
Exxon Ends Share Buybacks – It Must Be Acquisition Time (Forbes)
Hess Oil: A “Folly For The Ages” (ZH)
Debt, Defaults, And Devaluations: A Crash Like Nothing Before (Telegraph)
Our Dysfunctional Monetary System (Steve Keen)
Why The Bulls Will Get Slaughtered (Stockman)
Obscure Chinese Firm Dives Into $22 Trillion US Market (BBG)
China’s FX Reserves Decline to $3.23 Trillion (BBG)
The Great Escape from China (Rogoff)
Albert Edwards: China Has Only “Months Left” To Stop Collapse (VW)
Why Doesn’t 4.9% Unemployment Feel Great? (CNN)
Risk of WWIII as Saudi Arabia, Turkey –and Ukraine– Wade Into Syria (Trayner)
EU Ministers Want To Buttress Borders To Stem Refugee Flow (AP)
Austria Threatens To Extend Border Controls (Reuters)
Austria Wants EU To Cover Costs Of Additional Migrants (Reuters)

That is a big number. Add losses in commodities, and you’re talking destruction, of money, credit, virtual wealth, it doesn’t matter anymore what you call it..

$100 Trillion Up in Smoke (Mauldin)

If energy powers the world, then whoever owns that energy must have power over the world. That’s certainly been the case for the last century or two. Ownership of our primary energy source, crude oil, is what made billionaires of John D. Rockefeller, H.L. Hunt, and assorted Middle Eastern kings, emirs, and sheikhs. Oil in the ground is wealth only on paper – you may own that oil, but it earns you nothing until you recover and sell it. Yet paper wealth is still wealth. It goes on your balance sheet as an asset that you can sell. You can use it as collateral to borrow cash and buy other assets. The ongoing oil price collapse is having a severely negative impact on the wealth of those who own oil reserves. The numbers, as you will see below, are almost incomprehensibly big.

They are so big, in fact, that many analysts have simply tuned out. The attitude seems to be, “These numbers blow up my models, so I will ignore them.” Today we’ll stop dancing around the truth and call the oil collapse what it is: global wealth destruction of epic proportions. In mid-2014, crude oil prices were about $100, depending on which grade you wanted to buy. Now prices hover near $30 – roughly a 70% decline in 18 months. That’s well-known, but we usually discuss the price collapse in terms of particular countries or companies: we don’t look at the bigger picture. Last week someone showed me this from Twitter. I almost fell out of my chair.

Stop for a minute. Let that sink in. The total value of all the world’s oil reserves is over $100 trillion less than it was just a year and a half ago.

(By the way, I verified Mr. Levine’s reserve total by consulting the CIA’s World Fact Book. It says total world “proved” oil reserves were 1.656 trillion barrels as of January 1, 2015.) To put these figures in perspective, consider that Google’s parent company, Alphabet, briefly surpassed Apple last week as the planet’s largest publicly traded company. Both are worth around $500 billion, depending on the day. The lost value in crude oil is equivalent to a couple of hundred Googles and Apples going up in smoke. If stock values were crashing to that degree, we would call the losses earth-shattering. Yet otherwise intelligent people are saying the oil collapse is a minor issue.

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They’re all fully unprepared. Deer and headlights.

As Big Oil Shrinks, Boards Plot Different Paths Out Of Crisis (Reuters)

As oil and gas companies cut ever-deeper into the bone to weather their worst downturn in decades, boards have adopted contrasting strategies to lead them out of the crisis. Crude prices have tumbled around 70 percent over the past 18 months to around $35 a barrel, leading to five of the world’s top oil companies reporting sharp declines in profits in recent days. Executives at energy firms face a tough balancing act: they must cut spending to stay financially afloat while preserving the production infrastructure and capacity that will allow them to compete and grow when the market recovers. Companies have opted for differing approaches to secure future growth, often choosing to narrow focus to their areas of expertise and the geographic location of their main assets.

American firms Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Hess are withdrawing from more costly deepwater projects to focus on shale oil fields on their home turf, for example. Britain’s BP is betting on offshore gas in Egypt, while Royal Dutch Shell has opted for an alternative route as it seeks to safeguard its future: the $50 billion takeover of BG Group. In the five years before the downturn began in mid-2014, when crude prices held above $100 a barrel, big energy firms had raced to expand production capacity, including buying stakes in vast, costly fields sometimes located thousands of meters under the sea, and miles from land.

Over the past year however, companies have slashed their overall capital expenditure, scrapping plans for mega projects that cost billions to develop and take up to a decade to bring online. “Companies want to strike a balance between long and short-cycle investments while maintaining a robust balance sheet to fund their way through the down cycle,” said BMO Capital analyst Brendan Warn. Focusing on a specific set of expertise and geographies allowed them to offer investors a “unique value proposition”, he added.

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Quick, before somone figures out what you’ve lost.

Exxon Ends Share Buybacks – It Must Be Acquisition Time (Forbes)

If the company was happy buying its own stock in 2014, it should be all the more eager to buy now that shares are down 25%. Unless it sees a better bargain elsewhere. In its fourth-quarter financial release Tuesday, Exxon Mobil announced a halt to share buybacks. The company purchased $4 billion of its own shares in 2015, and has averaged about $20 billion a year in buybacks over the past decade, according to Reuters. The peak buyback year was 2008, when oil prices hit a record high and Exxon bought in $35 billion worth. At first glance, halting buybacks might seem reasonable. Perhaps amid this oil industry depression Exxon just wants to conserve cash — it also expects to reduce capital spending by $8 billion this year.

But think about it. The key to good investing is to buy low and sell high. If Exxon was happy buying back shares in 2014, when its stock price hit $103, it should be all the more eager to continue buying now that shares are down to $74.50. If Exxon didn’t think its own shares weren’t a great investment it wouldn’t have bought $200 billion of them over the past decade. Don’t take my word for it. As CEO Rex Tillerson said in a statement Tuesday, “The scale and diversity of our cash flows, along with our financial strength, provide us with the confidence to invest through the cycle to create long-term shareholder value.” It’s a hallmark of Exxon’s discipline that it continues to invest whether oil prices are low or high. In 2015 it brought on six big projects with 300,000 barrels per day of new production.

Exxon is not worried about running out of cash. Cash flows were on the order of $30 billion for the year. Even in the fourth quarter it generated net income of $2.8 billion (and $16 billion for the year). And don’t think for a second that Exxon intends to cut its dividend payouts, which totaled $12 billion last year. A more plausible reason Exxon is ending buybacks: it’s preparing to acquire another company whose shares are even more deeply discounted than Exxon’s. And with “just” $3.7 billion in cash on hand at the end of the fourth quarter, its likely that Exxon would use its shares as currency for a buyout. Who would they buy? The options abound for a company still sporting an equity market cap of $318 billion. Anadarko Petroleum has long been rumored to be a prime Exxon target; its shares are down about 65% to a market cap of $19 billion.

Occidental Petroleum float is $51 billion, ConocoPhillips $47 billion and Apache is at $15 billion. Deeper in the discount bin, Marathon Oil shares could be had for $6.5 billion, or Devon Energy for $11 billion. Of course Exxon would also need to assume any debt carried by an acquisition target. But that wouldn’t be a problem — compared with the averaged overleveraged oil company, Exxon has modest gearing with $38 billion in debt outstanding. Other than Royal Dutch Shell ’s $52 billion takeover of BG Group , we haven’t seen a landmark merger during this downturn. The last time things got this bad for the industry, back in 1998, BP bought Amoco for $48 billion and Exxon bought Mobil for $75 billion. Ending buybacks is just Exxon’s way of telling the market it’s ready to make a deal.

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Hess oil is the case study. “..Hess just sold 25 million shares at a price of $39 after purchasing 63 million shares through 2015 at an average price that was more than double, or $83 a share..”

Hess Oil: A “Folly For The Ages” (ZH)

[..] back in 2013, when it was trading at a discount to its peers, Hess became the target of an activist campaign led by Paul Singer’s Elliott Management who demanded a quick boost in the stock price, as a result of which the energy producer decided to exit its refining business (arguably the only line of business that would have benefited from the current depressed oil price) while not only raising its dividend but also authorizing a $4 billion share buyback. The company then boosted its buyback further with proceeds from the sale of its retail gas stations (for $2.9 billion) while growing its debt by $1 billion from 2013 to 2015, leading to the repurchase of a total of 62.7 million shares through the end of 2014 at an average price of $83. The stock price reacted as expected: it soared past $100 from below $60 before Elliott turned up. It then continued to spend more billions under additional buyback all the way through the third quarter of 2015, which however took place just as the worst oil downturn in history was taking place.

And then the stock crashed, as investors finally realized that plunging oil, sliding cash flow and surging debt meant the company found itself in a life and death fight for survival. Which brings us to yesterday, when in an attempt to shore up liquidity and avoid halting its dividend, Hess sold 25 million shares at a price of $39/share: a 10% discount to the prior closing price. As Reuters puts it, the “Hess folly is one for the ages.” The silver lining? Unlike before, when Hess’ weak management team was kicked around by a hedge fund, at least it is being proactive now and scrambling to preserve its business even it means huge pain and dilution for shareholders. The company ended 2015 with $2.7 billion in cash and a big revolving line of credit it hasn’t dipped into yet. Capital just raised will push net debt from 5.4x EBITDA to below four times, according to Cowen estimates.

That should allow Hess to keep investing in future production and pay dividends. If oil remains at $30, however, it has just bought itself a few quarters of time. Still, that does not absolve management of pandering to a vocal shareholder: if instead of spending billions on buybacks Hess had done the right thing and saved the cash, it would not only have avoided the wild swings in the stock price which rewarded just activist investors while punishing long-term holders, and have a far bigger war chest to defend itself from $30 oil. The bottom line: Hess just sold 25 million shares at a price of $39 after purchasing 63 million shares through 2015 at an average price that was more than double, or $83 share. As Reuters concludes, “this modern Hess era is a case study that should be required reading in boardrooms everywhere.”

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The right wing is getting concerned.

Debt, Defaults, And Devaluations: A Crash Like Nothing Before (Telegraph)

A global recession is on the way. This truism of economics holds at any point in which the world is not in the grips of a contraction. The real question is always when and how deep the upcoming downturn will be. “The crash will come, but it would be nice if it came two years from now”, Thomas Thygesen, head of economics at SEB told over 200 commodity investors and analysts in London last month. His audience was rapt with unusual attention. They could be forgiven for thinking the slump had not already arrived. Commodity prices have crashed by two thirds since their peaks in 2014. Oil has borne the brunt of the sell-off, suffering the worst price collapse in modern history. Brent crude has fallen from $115 a barrel in the summer of 2014, to just $27.70 in mid-January.

Plenty of investors sitting in the blue-lit, cavernous surrounds of Bloomberg’s London HQ would have had their fingers burnt by the price capitulation. “They tell you should start your presentations with a joke, but making jokes at a commodities seminar is hardly appropriate these days,” Thygesen told his nervous audience. Major oil price falls have a number of historical precedents. Today’s glutted oil market is often compared to the crash of 1986, the last major episode over global over-supply. Back in the late 90s, a barrel of Brent crude fell to as low as $10 in the wake of the Asian financial crisis. But is the current oil price collapse really like anything the world economy has ever experienced?

For many market watchers, a confluence of factors – led by oil, but encompassing China, the emerging world, and financial markets – are all brewing to create a perfect storm in a global economy that has barely come to terms with the Great Recession. “We are in a very unusual situation where market sentiment is of a different nature to anything we’ve seen before,” says Thygesen. Unlike previous pre-recessionary eras, the current sell-off has seen commodity prices, equities and credit conditions all move in dangerous lockstep. Although a 75pc oil price collapse should represent an unmitigated positive for the world’s fuel thirsty consumers, the sheer scale of the price rout is already imperiling the finances of producer nations from Nigeria to Azerbaijan, and is now threatening to unleash a wave of bankruptcies across corporate America.

It is the prospect of this vicious feedback loop – where low oil prices create financial tail risks that spill over into the real economy – which could now propel the world into a “full blown crisis” adds Thygesen. So will it materialise? The world economy is throwing up reasons to worry, as the globe’s largest emerging markets have shown signs of deterioration over the last six months, says Olivier Blanchard, the former long-serving chief economist of the IMF. “China’s growth is probably less than officially reported. Russia and Brazil are doing very badly. South Africa is flirting with recession. Even India may not be doing as well as was forecast,” says Blanchard, who left the Fund after seven years late last year. As it stands however, he says market ructions still represent a classic case of “herd” behaviour. “Investors worry that other investors know something bad, and so just sell, although they themselves have no new information.”

But a tipping point may well be approaching. According to Blanchard’s calculations, a 20pc decline in stock markets that persists for more than six months, will translate into a decline in consumption of between 0.5pc to 1.0pc. “This would be a serious shock. My biggest fear is precisely that the dramatic shift in mood becomes self-fulfilling”. For now, oil-induced financial stress is concentrated in the energy sector. With Brent set to languish around $30-35 barrel for the rest of the year, prices will persist below the $40-60 barrel break-even point that renders the bulk of US oil and gas companies profitable. Spreads on high yield US energy corporates have soared to unprecedented highs. “They make Lehman look like a walk in the park” says Thygesen. More than a third of the entire US high yield bond index is now vulnerable to crude prices remaining low or falling even further, according to calculations from Oxford Economics.

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My friend Steve is losing his cool, and high time too. Is he really the only economist who undertands this, and can explain it? Y’all better listen closely, then.

“As someone who spent 2 years warning about this crisis before it happened, and another 8 years diagnosing it (and proposing remedies that would, I believe, be effective, if only banks and governments together would implement them), I find this dual idiocy incredibly frustrating. Rather than understanding the real cause of the crisis, we’ve seen the symptom—rising public debt—paraded as its cause. Rather than effective remedies, we’ve had inane policies like QE, which purport to solve the crisis by inflating asset prices when inflated asset prices were one of the symptoms of the bubble that caused the crisis.”

Our Dysfunctional Monetary System (Steve Keen)

The great tragedy of the global economic malaise is that it is caused by a shortage of something that is essentially costless to produce: money. Both banks and governments can produce money at physically trivial costs. Banks create money by creating a loan, and the establishment costs of a loan are miniscule compared to the value of the money created by it—of the order of $3 for every $100 created. Governments create money by running a deficit—by spending more on the public than they get back from the public in taxes. As inefficient as government might be, that process too costs a tiny amount, compared to the amount of money generated by the deficit itself. But despite how easy the money creation process is, in the aftermath to the 2008 crisis, both banks and governments are doing a lousy job of producing the money the public needs, for two very different reasons.

Banks aren’t creating money now because they created too much of it in the past. The booms that preceded the crisis were fuelled by a wave of bank-debt-financed speculation on some useful products (the telecommunications infrastructure of the internet, the DotCom firms that survived the DotCom bubble) and much rubbish (the Liar Loans that are the focus of The Big Short). That lending drove private debt levels to an all-time high across the OECD: the average private debt level is now of the order of 150% of GDP, whereas it was around 60% of GDP in the “Golden Age of Capitalism” during the 1950s and 1960s—see Figure 1.


Figure 1: The private debt mountain that has submerged commerce

In the aftermath of the Subprime bubble, credit-money creation has come to a standstill across the OECD. In the period from 1955 till 1975, credit grew at 8.7% per year in the United States; from 1975 till 2008, it grew at 8% per year; since 2008, it has grown at an average of just 1.5% per year. The same pattern is repeated across the OECD—see Figure 2. Globally, China is the only major country with booming credit growth right now, but that will come crashing down (this probably has already started), and for the same reason as in the West: too much credit-based money has been created already in a speculative bubble.


Figure 2: Credit growth is anaemic now, and will remains so as it has in Japan for 25 years

Japan, of course, got mired in this private debt trap long before the rest of the world succumbed. As Figure 1 shows, its private debt bubble peaked in 1995, and since then it’s had either weak or negative credit growth, so that its private debt to GDP level is now in the middle of the global pack. Economic growth there has come to a standstill since: Japan’s economy grew at an average of 5.4% a year in real terms from 1965 till 1990, when its crisis began; since then, it has grown at a mere 0.4% a year. That gives us a simple way to perform a “what if?”. What if the rest of the OECD is as ineffective at escaping from the private debt trap as Japan has been? Then the best case scenario for global credit growth is that it will match what has happened since Japan “hit the credit wall” in 1990

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Seasonally adjusted slaughter, that is.

Why The Bulls Will Get Slaughtered (Stockman)

Needless to say, none of that stink was detected by Steve Liesman and his band of Jobs Friday half-wits who bloviate on bubblevision after each release. This time the BLS report actually showed the US economy lost 2.989 million jobs between December and January. Yet Moody’s Keynesian pitchman, Mark Zandi described it as “perfect” Yes, the BLS always uses a big seasonal adjustment (SA) in January——so that’s how they got the positive headline number. But the point is that the seasonal adjustment factor for the month is so huge that the resulting month-over-month delta is inherently just plain noise. To wit, the seasonal adjustment factor for the month was 2.165 million. That means the headline jobs gain of 151k reported on Friday amounted to only 7% of the adjustment amount!

Any economist with a modicum of common sense would recognize that even a tiny change in the seasonal adjustment factor would mean a giant variance in the headline figure. So the January SA jobs number cannot possibly reveal any kind of trend whatsoever – good, bad or indifferent. But that didn’t stop Beth Ann Bovino, US chief economist at Standard & Poor’s Rating Services, from dispatching the usual all is swell hopium: “Today’s numbers are about momentum, so while 151,000 new jobs in January is below expectations and off pace from prior months, the data shows America’s recovery is continuing. Amid all the global economic turmoil and domestic market gyrations, positive job growth, the drop in the unemployment rate to 4.9%, and the uptick in wages show the U.S. is heading in the right direction.” Actually, it proves none of those things.

For one thing, the January NSA (non-seasonally adjusted) job loss this year of just under 3 million was 173,000 bigger than last January – suggesting that things are getting worse, not better. In fact, this was the largest January job decline since the 3.69 million job loss in January 2009 during the very bottom months of the Great Recession. So are we really “heading in the right direction” as claimed by Bovino, Zandi and the rest of the Cool-Aid crowd? Well, just consider two alternative seasonal adjustment factors for January that have been used by the BLS in the last five years. Had they used the January 2013 adjustment factor this time, the headline gain would have been 171,000 jobs; and had they used the 2010 adjustment factor there would have been a headline loss of 183,000 jobs. We could say in a variant of the Fox News motto – we report, you decide. But believe me, you can look at years of seasonal adjustment factors for January (or any other month) and not find any consistent, objective formula. They make it up, as needed.

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“..to help bring Chinese companies to U.S. markets..” Which is not that easy on most exchanges.

Obscure Chinese Firm Dives Into $22 Trillion US Market (BBG)

When Cromwell Coulson heard that an obscure Chinese real estate firm had agreed to buy the Chicago Stock Exchange, he was shocked. “My first reaction was, ‘Wow, that’s who they’re selling to?”’ said Coulson, CEO of OTC Markets in New York. “These new buyers have no connection to Chicago’s existing business. They’re completely disconnected from the current business of supporting the Chicago trading community. So wow, that’s out of left field.” While the world has gotten used to seeing Chinese companies snap up overseas businesses, the purchase of a 134-year-old U.S. stock market by Chongqing Casin Enterprise – a little-known property and investment firm from southwestern China – raises a whole host of questions. For starters, why does a provincial Chinese business with no apparent ties to the securities industry have any interest in buying one of America’s smallest equity exchanges? And will U.S. regulators sign off?

So far, Casin Group’s intentions are unclear, with calls to the company’s Chongqing headquarters going unanswered on Friday. If the deal does pass muster with American regulators, it would mark the first-ever Chinese purchase of a U.S. equity exchange, giving Casin Group a foothold in a $22 trillion market where even the smallest bourses have room to grow if they can provide the best price for a stock at any given moment. The Chicago Stock Exchange – a subsidiary of CHX Holdings – is minority-owned by a group including E*Trade, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan, according to the company. The minority shareholders are also selling their stake, Chicago Stock Exchange CEO John Kerin said. The deal values the exchange at less than $100 million, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Casin Group’s offer, announced on Friday in a statement from the Chicago exchange, comes amid an unprecedented overseas shopping spree by Chinese companies. Businesses from Asia’s largest economy have announced $70 billion of cross-border acquisitions and investments this year, on track to break last year’s record of $123 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. While many of those deals had obvious business rationales, the reasons for Casin Group’s bid are less clear. The company, founded in the 1990s through a privatization of state-owned assets, initially focused on developing real estate projects in Chongqing, before expanding into the environmental and financial industries. While the firm owns stakes in banks and insurers, it has no previous experience owning an exchange. Lu Shengju, the majority owner and chairman of Casin Group, wants to help bring Chinese companies to U.S. markets, according to the statement from Chicago’s bourse.

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Another $100 billion spent. That leaves about 2 months at this pace till alarm bells will start going off.

China’s FX Reserves Decline to $3.23 Trillion (BBG)

China’s foreign-exchange reserves shrank to the smallest since 2012, indicating that the central bank sold dollars as the yuan’s retreat to a five-year low exacerbated depreciation pressure. The world’s largest currency hoard declined by $99.5 billion in January to $3.23 trillion, according to a People’s Bank of China statement released on Sunday. The stockpile fell by more than half a trillion dollars in 2015, the first-ever annual decline. Policy makers fighting to hold up the weakening yuan amid slower economic growth, plunging stocks and increasing outflows have been burning through the reserves. The draw-down has continued since the central bank’s surprise devaluation of the currency in August, when the stockpile tumbled $94 billion, a monthly record at the time.

“While the remaining reserves represent a substantial war chest, the rapid pace of depletion in recent months is simply unsustainable,” said Rajiv Biswas at IHS Global Insight in Singapore. “Domestic private investors and global currency traders see a one-way bet against the currency. This has resulted in large-scale private capital outflows since early 2015 as expectations mount that the PBOC will eventually be forced to capitulate once its reserves are sufficiently depleted.” Capital outflows increased to $158.7 billion in December, the most since September and were $1 trillion last year, according to estimates from Bloomberg Intelligence. That’s more than seven times the amount of cash that left in 2014. The PBOC has stepped up efforts to stem the exodus, warning speculators that they will be punished.

It intervened in the Hong Kong market last month after the yuan’s offshore exchange rate sank to a record 2.9% discount to the onshore rate. Apart from selling dollars, the monetary authority also gave guidance to some Chinese lenders in the city to suspend yuan lending to curb short selling, a move that contributed to the overnight interbank lending rate surging to an all-time high of 66.8% on Jan. 12.

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“Now that Chinese firms have bought up so many US and European companies, money laundering can even be done in-house. ”

The Great Escape from China (Rogoff)

Since 2016 began, the prospect of a major devaluation of China’s renminbi has been hanging over global markets like the Sword of Damocles. No other source of policy uncertainty has been as destabilizing. Few observers doubt that China will have to let the renminbi exchange rate float freely sometime over the next decade. The question is how much drama will take place in the interim, as political and economic imperatives collide. It might seem odd that a country running a $600 billion trade surplus in 2015 should be worried about currency weakness. But a combination of factors, including slowing economic growth and a gradual relaxation of restrictions on investing abroad, has unleashed a torrent of capital outflows. Private citizens are now allowed to take up to $50,000 per year out of the country.

If just one of every 20 Chinese citizens exercised this option, China’s foreign-exchange reserves would be wiped out. At the same time, China’s cash-rich companies have been employing all sorts of devices to get money out. A perfectly legal approach is to lend in renminbi and be repaid in foreign currency. A not-so-legal approach is to issue false or inflated trade invoices – essentially a form of money laundering. For example, a Chinese exporter might report a lower sale price to an American importer than it actually receives, with the difference secretly deposited in dollars into a US bank account (which might in turn be used to purchase a Picasso). Now that Chinese firms have bought up so many US and European companies, money laundering can even be done in-house.

The Chinese hardly invented this idea. After World War II, when a ruined Europe was smothered in foreign-exchange controls, illegal capital flows out of the continent often averaged 10% of the value of trade or more. As one of the world’s largest trading countries, it is virtually impossible for China to keep a tight lid on capital outflows when the incentives to leave become large enough. Indeed, despite the giant trade surplus, the People’s Bank of China has been forced to intervene heavily to prop up the exchange rate – so much so that foreign-currency reserves actually fell by $500 billion in 2015. With such leaky capital controls, China’s war chest of $3 trillion won’t be enough to hold down the fort indefinitely. In fact, the more people worry that the exchange rate is going down, the more they want to get their money out of the country immediately.

That fear, in turn, has been an important factor driving down the Chinese stock market. There is a lot of market speculation that the Chinese will undertake a sizable one-time devaluation, say 10%, to weaken the renminbi enough to ease downward pressure on the exchange rate. But, aside from providing fodder for the likes of Donald Trump, who believes that China is an unfair trader, this would be a very dangerous choice of strategy for a government that financial markets do not really trust. The main risk is that a big devaluation would be interpreted as indicating that China’s economic slowdown is far more severe than people think, in which case money would continue to flee.

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But they can’t afford to wait that long.

Albert Edwards: China Has Only “Months Left” To Stop Collapse (VW)

In this week’s issue of Société Générale’s Global Strategy research note, Edwards writes that “China has burned through almost $800bn of its FX reserves mountain since it peaked at almost $4 trillion in mid-2014. January’s FX data to be released this weekend is set to register another sharp drop of $120bn (consensus estimate).” He goes on: “But at $3.2bn the market remains content that massive firepower remains to support the renminbi. It does not. Our economists estimate that when FX reserves reach $2.8 trillion – which should only take a few more months at this rate – FX reserves will fall below the IMF’s recommended lower bound. If that occurs in the next few months, expect to see a tidal wave of speculative selling, forcing the PBoC to throw in the towel and let the market decide the level of the renminbi exchange rate.”

Edwards’ view is based on the predictions of Société Générale’s China economist Wei Yao. Wei Yao has written that in her view, the PBoC might, “move to a free-float within six months, after burning through a significant amount of FX reserves.” Both Yao and Edwards’ doom-mongering is based on the level of China’s FX reserves. China has been depleting its FX reserves in an effort to slow the pace of currency depreciation. However, if the country continues to spend its reserves at the current rate, FX reserves will fall through the $2.8 trillion level that the IMF believes is the lowest acceptable level. The IMF’s ‘lowest acceptable’ reserves level is based on four specific elements that reflect potential drains on the balance of payments: (1) exports, (2) broad money, (3) short-term external debt, and (4) other liabilities (long-term external debt and portfolio liabilities).

Société Générale’s analysts believe that (assuming the level of short-term external debt at remaining maturity was unchanged from year-end 2014) China’s reserves are at 118% of the recommended level (estimated to be $2.8 trillion). If China’s reserves fall below the key $2.8 trillion level, the market could lose confidence in the PBoC’s ability to resist currency depreciation and manage future balance of payments shocks. Only two major emerging market countries (Malaysia and South Africa) have reserves that are below the IMF’s recommended range and many EM countries now have a more robust reserve balance than China in terms of the percentage above the IMF’s recommended minimum.

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Because it’s just a narrative. More right wing worry signs.

Why Doesn’t 4.9% Unemployment Feel Great? (CNN)

The U.S. unemployment rate just fell below 5% for the first time since 2008. Normally, this would merit a celebration. But these aren’t normal times. The economy is better than it was in the Great Recession, but not even President Obama is ready to declare it’s booming. In a special speech Friday touting the job gains during his presidency, Obama admitted there’s more “to tackle.” “We should be proud of the progress we’ve made…we’ve recovered from the worst economic crisis since the 1930s,” Obama said. He doesn’t believe he gets enough credit for creating over 14 million jobs. People as diverse as Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican Donald Trump don’t put it gently. They claim the “real” unemployment rate is much higher. Sanders calls the economy “rigged,” and Trump says the U.S. never wins anymore. There are three key reasons why everyone from Main Street to Wall Street isn’t cheering 4.9% unemployment.

1. Fewer adults are working Only 62.7% of adult Americans are working. The so-called Labor Force Participation rate hasn’t been this low since the late 1970s. The rate measures how many people over age 16 are working or actively seeking work. Back in the ’70s, it was low because fewer women worked outside the home. That’s not the story today. Now, three factors are driving the decrease in workers. The first is that a huge part of the adult population, Baby Boomers, are retiring. That’s expected and healthy. It explains about half of the decline in the workforce. The second is more young people are going to college and graduate school. They are studying more, which should be a positive for the nation. But the third one is alarming: some people have just given up on finding work. It’s hard to quantify how many people fall into this dropout category, but it’s large enough to matter. Politicians like Trump talk about it in stump speeches.The WSJ estimates that about 2.6 million of the roughly 92 million American adults who don’t work want a job but aren’t looking for one.

2. Long-term unemployment is still high Another reason why the jobs picture still looks gloomy is that an unusually high number of people can’t find jobs even though they have been looking for a long time. About 2.1 million Americans have been unable to get a job for over half a year. The government calls these people the “long-term unemployed.” During the worst of the Great Recession, 6.8 million people were long-term unemployed. So there’s been improvement, but there are still roughly double the number of long-term unemployed than in normal times.

3. Wage growth is anemic The last big issue is that wages aren’t going up for many Americans. The typical take home pay (often called “median income” by the Census Bureau) is about the same today as it was 20 years ago, once you adjust for inflation. In other words, middle class families aren’t really getting ahead. They’re just getting by. To be fair, this was a problem even before the Great Recession came along, but experts keep predicting wages will go up and it’s not happening. On Friday, Obama tried to celebrate the small gains that have been made in recent months. “This progress is finally starting to translate into bigger paychecks,” he said. But the reality is wage growth is only 2.5% a year. As Sharon Stark of D.A. Davidson notes, normally when unemployment is this low, wage growth should be humming along at about 4% a year.

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So many crazies. Trying to provoke Russia by sending Ukraine’s fascist troops into Syria.

Risk of WWIII as Saudi Arabia, Turkey –and Ukraine– Wade Into Syria (Trayner)

A terrifying array of rival superpowers are wading into the chaotic conflict on opposing sides. Analysts now fear the bloodbath – already longer than World War One – is mutating into a full-scale regional war. Saudi Arabia has threatened to send in ground troops and intelligence reports suggest Turkey is preparing to invade. Ukraine is also weighing up sending in soldiers. If their forces clashed with Russians or Iranians already on the ground, NATO – including Britain – could be dragged into an apocalyptic World War 3. Most military experts see the conflict as a proxy war between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia – supported by the US – on one side and Shia Muslim Iran – backed by Russia – on the other. The civil war in Yemen is also a victim of the new power struggle for control of the Middle East – which dates back to the death of Muhammed in 632 AD.

But the new Cold War – which some claim involved Saudi Arabia arming ISIS and Iran backing militants such as the Houthi rebels in Yemen – would turn searing hot if Saudi troops met the Iranian Army on the battlefield. The US fears Saudi Arabia may have obtained – or tried to obtain – nuclear weapons for an final battle with its centuries-old enemy. Tom Wilson, a research fellow for think tank the Henry Jackson Society, said: “The proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran is now in a rapid state of escalation. “Saudi talk of sending troops to Syria may be a bluff to try and force the West to take more decisive action in that country instead. “But if the Saudis do put troops on the ground in Syria then this would represent the opening of a major new front in what is increasingly a full scale regional conflict.”

Russia claims aerial photographs reveal Turkey is preparing to invade Syria, its neighbour. Turkish Islamic extremists are already fighting in Syria – some on the side of ISIS – with well-attended funerals for “martyrs” held back home in Turkey. Ultra-nationalist “Grey Wolves” – who want to protect Turkmen living in northern Syria and restore the Ottoman Empire – are also battling the Syrian army and Russian forces. Enmity between Black Sea rivals Russia and Turkey dates back so long a Jewish “oracle” prophesied an apocalyptic war between Russia and Turkey would usher in the End of Days 200 years ago. Turkey is now a member of NATO and if the old enemies came to blows again – as almost happened when Turkey shot down a Russian jet last year – the US and UK would be compelled to back Turkey. Britain has already been dragged into war with Russia by Turkey once: the Crimean War.

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Everything they can do wrong, they do.

EU Ministers Want To Buttress Borders To Stem Refugee Flow (AP)

European Union nations anxious to stem the flow of asylum-seekers coming through the Balkans are increasingly considering sending more help to non-member Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) as a better way to protect European borders instead of relying on EU member Greece. With Athens unable to halt the tens of thousands of people making the sea crossing from Turkey, EU nations fear that Europe’s Schengen border-free travel zone could collapse, taking with it one of the cornerstones on which the 28-nation bloc is built. “If Greece is not ready or able to protect the Schengen zone and doesn’t accept any assistance from the EU, then we need another defense line, which is obviously Macedonia and Bulgaria,” Hungarian Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Szijjarto said at Saturday’s meeting of EU foreign ministers in Amsterdam.

An estimated 850,000 migrants arrived in Greece in 2015, overwhelming its coast guard and reception facilities. Aid groups say cash-strapped Greece has shelter for only about 10,000 people, just over 1% of those who have entered. Most of the asylum-seekers then travel on across the Balkans and into the EUs heartland of Germany and beyond. Szijjarto said EU nations are “defenseless from the south. There are thousands of irregular migrants entering the territory of the EU on a daily basis.” Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said the cash-strapped government in Athens still underestimates the crisis. “I still don’t have the feeling that it has dawned on Greece how serious the situation is” for receiving nations like Austria, he said.

The situation has pushed some EU nations to send bilateral aid to FYROM, a non-EU nation, to control its border with EU member Greece. There has been even talk of sending military troops to FYROM to beef up the Greek border. FYROM Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki said after the meeting it did not matter what the aid was technically called. “The essential thing is that we have people and equipment to control the border and do registration where legal crossing should happen,” he said. He said FYROM has already put its own military on the job. “They’re making sure that we have decreased the illegal crossings through our border and were going to continue to make these efforts,” he said.

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There certainly is no such thing as an EU policy.

Austria Threatens To Extend Border Controls (Reuters)

Austria will extend its border controls if Turkey does not take back refugees picked up at sea on their way to Greece, Chancellor Werner Faymann said in an interview with the daily Oesterreich, being published on Sunday. He had earlier said that migrants picked up at the Greek external EU border should be sent back directly to Turkey because this was the only measure that would make a radical enough impact. Austria is set to introduce a new border management system at Spielfeld, a key crossing point on its south-eastern border with Slovenia, which aims at speeding up applications and making the country less attractive to asylum seekers. More such border management facilities on other routes may be needed if Turkey does not respond to his proposal, the chancellor was quoted as saying.

Faymann said Turkey must make a decision by Feb. 18, when EU leaders meet for a summit. It would not be a solution if Turkish border controls led to 10,000 refugees arriving at EU borders instead of 20,000, Faymann was quoted as saying in the interview. “Then we must secure our borders even more,” Faymann said. “To protect internal borders is a makeshift solution. But we have to be prepared.” Ankara and Brussels agreed to slow down the flow of migrants in a Nov. 29 deal, but refugees continue to stream into Greece. Austria, which has a population of 8.4 million and last year received 90,000 applications for asylum, has said that the number of refugees it will accept this year will be limited to 37,500.

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And let me guess, Greece should pay its share?!

Austria Wants EU To Cover Costs Of Additional Migrants (Reuters)

Austria’s Finance Minister Hans-Joerg Schelling has asked the European Commission to provide €600 million to cover the costs of taking in additional refugees, a ministry spokesman said on Saturday. Austria budgeted for 35,000 asylum seekers annually at a cost of €11,000 per person but took in some 90,000 people in 2015, the spokesman quoted the minister as saying in a letter to the head of the EU executive, Jean-Claude Juncker. “Concerning the migration crisis it is high time the Commission returned to its normal function as an independent institution representing the general Community interest and start acting as such,” Schelling said in the letter, part of which was published by the daily Kurier.

Austria and neighboring Germany threw open their borders last year to hundreds of thousands of people pouring into Europe, many of them fleeing conflicts in Syria and elsewhere. Despite an initial outpouring of sympathy for the migrants, public concern about the influx has fueled a rise in support for the far right in Austria. Last week Vienna said it would step up deportations of migrants to countries it deems safe.

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Feb 062016
 
 February 6, 2016  Posted by at 10:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


NPC Shoomaker’s saloon at 1311 E Street N.W. Washington DC 1917

Oil Market Spiral Threatens To Prick Global Debt Bubble, Warns BIS (AEP)
Gundlach Says Financials Below Crisis Prices ‘Frightening’ (BBG)
Global Financial System Risk Is Soaring Worldwide (ZH)
Standard Chartered Down 57%, Returns to 1998 (WSJ)
US Exports Fell In 2015 For First Time Since Recession (AP)
Oil Rout Threatens Vicious Cycle for US Economy (WSJ)
The Chart of Doom: When Private Debt Stops Expanding… (CHS)
Why It Would Be Wise To Prepare For The Next Recession (Wolf)
Citi: World Economy Trapped In ‘Death Spiral’ (CNBC)
Negative-Interest-Rate Effect Already Dead, Central Banks Lost Control (WS)
China’s Reserves Pose The Next Hurdle For Yuan (CNBC)
Europe’s Economic Outlook Darkens, Sends Shudder Through Markets (BBG)
LinkedIn Sheds $11 Billion In Value On Stock’s Worst Day Since Debut (Reuters)
Armed With New US Money, NATO To Strengthen Russia Deterrence (Reuters)
Why Pensions Are The New Flashpoint In Greece’s Crisis (AP)

All growth is being exposed as debt. Don’t know that it’s wise to claim that it’s oil whodunnit.

Oil Market Spiral Threatens To Prick Global Debt Bubble, Warns BIS (AEP)

The global oil industry is caught in a self-feeding downward spiral as falling prices cause producers to boost output even further in a scramble to service $3 trillion of dollar debt, the world’s top watchdog has warned. The Bank for International Settlements fears that a perverse dynamic is at work where energy companies in Brazil, Russia, China and parts of the US shale belt are increasing production in defiance of normal market logic, leading to a bad “feedback-loop” that is sucking the whole sector into a destructive vortex. “Lower prices have not removed excess capacity from the market, but instead may have exacerbated it. Production has been ramped up, rather than curtailed,” said Jaime Caruana, the general manager of the Swiss-based club for central bankers.

The findings raise serious questions about the strategy of Saudi Arabia and the core Opec states as they flood the global crude market to knock out rivals in a cut-throat battle for export share. The process of attrition may take far longer and do more damage than originally supposed. Oil exporters are embracing austerity and slashing government spending, leading to a form of fiscal tightening that is slowing the global economy. Speaking at the London School of Economics, Mr Caruana said the sheer scale of leverage in the oil and gas industry is amplifying the downturn since companies are attempting to eke out extra production to stay afloat. The risk spreads on high-yield energy bonds have jumped from 330 basis points to 1,600 over the past 18 months, amplifying the effects of the oil price crash itself.

The industry has issued $1.4 trillion of bonds and taken out a further $1.6 trillion in syndicated loans, driving up the combined energy debt threefold to $3 trillion in less than a decade. While US shale frackers hog the limelight in the Anglo-Saxon press, many of these energy groups are giant “parastatals”, such as Rosneft, Petrobras or CNOOC. The BIS said state-owned oil companies increased debt at annual rate of 13pc in Russia, 25pc in Brazil and 31pc in China between 2006 and 2014, much it in the form of dollar debt through offshore subsidiaries. These oil companies do not respond to pure market pressures since they are cash cows for government budgets. The nexus of oil and gas debt is just one part of an over-stretched financial system, increasingly exposed to the dangers of a “maturing financial cycle” and to punishing moves in the global currency markets.

Mr Caruana said an “illusion of sustainability” has blinded borrowers and debtors, lulling them into a false of security when credit was easy and asset prices were rising. This illusion can die in the blink of an eye. “The turning of the financial cycle can be quite abrupt,” he said. The BIS calculates that debt in US dollars outside the United States has surged to $9.8 trillion, a fivefold rise since 2000 and an unprecedented level for the global monetary system as a whole. While some of this dollar debt is matched by dollar assets and dollar earnings, a big chunk has been used to play the local property markets of east Asia, Latin America or eastern Europe, and another chunk has been gobbled up by “non-tradable” sectors that have no natural currency hedge if it all goes wrong. [..] The BIS seems to be telling us that reckoning can still be orderly if we face up to reality, or end in a chaotic wave of defaults if we do not. Either way, the debt must clear.

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All banks.

Gundlach Says Financials Below Crisis Prices ‘Frightening’ (BBG)

DoubleLine Capital’s Jeffrey Gundlach said it’s “frightening” to see major financial stocks trading at prices below their financial crisis levels. He cited Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse as examples in a talk outlining bearish views at a conference in Beverly Hills, California, on Friday. Both banks fell this week to their lowest levels since the early 1990s in European trading. “We see the price of major financial stocks, particularly in Europe, which are truly frightening,” Gundlach said. “Do you know that Credit Suisse, which is a powerhouse bank, their stock price is lower than it was in the depths of the financial crisis in 2009? Do you know that Deutsche Bank is at a lower price today than it was in 2009 when we were talking about the potential implosion of the entire global banking system?”

The manager of the $54.7 billion DoubleLine Total Return Bond Fund said the dollar is headed lower in 2016 and that he’s buying non-U.S. currencies for the first time in five years. The euro is likely to strengthen against the greenback as the probability that the Federal Reserve will increase borrowing costs at its March meeting is virtually zero, and only 50% for the rest of the year, he told the Tiger 21 conference for high-net-worth investors. Gundlach, 56, said he’s considering buying corporate bonds later this year as prices continue to fall, including investing his personal money. “The whole question for me is when am I going to buy enormous amounts of corporate credit, because it’s crystal clear that that’s the next opportunity that’s out there,” Gundlach said. “There’s plenty of things out there that will have 100% returns. It’s a whole question of: Don’t tell me what to buy, tell me when to buy it.”

Debt related to energy and mining is still very risky, because of weakness in China’s economy and a worldwide oil glut, he said. “There’s simply no bullish case for oil right now,” Gundlach said. While he’s considering buying corporate debt, Gundlach said he’s moving away from municipal bonds, which have become overpriced. Puerto Rican general obligation bonds, which are priced for a haircut, are an exception, he said. The possibility for a workout is high because of the large number of Puerto Ricans in Florida, which is a key battleground state in this year’s presidential election, Gundlach said. “My guess is if you get defaulted on, you’re probably going to get something like 70 cents anyway,” he said.

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So are losses.

Global Financial System Risk Is Soaring Worldwide (ZH)

We warned earlier in the week that the credit risk of the world's financial institutions were on the rise and that trend has worsened as the week ends.

 

Global Bank Risk is spiking…

 

European Bank Risk is blowing out in Core and Peripheral nations…

 

And China Bank credit risk has broken to new cycle highs..

 

Some idiocysncratic names to keep an eye on…

Deutsche Bank – Europe's largest derivatives exposure (and thus epicenter of collapse should things turn out as bad as the bank's CoCos suggest) – is suffering seriously… It is becoming very clear that banks are buying protection on DB to hedge their counterparty exposure…

 

ICBC Bank is among China's largest banks (depending on the volatility of the day) and as China bank risk soars so China's sovereign risk is soaring too with devaluation and systemic crisis co-priced into these contracts…

 

National Commercial Bank – the largest Saudi bank and proxy for The Kingdom's wealth – is seeing its credit risk explode. As one analyst noted, if NCB has a crisis then Saudi military adventurism is in grave jeopardy…

 

And finally – yes it is spilling over to American banks and their "fortress" balance sheets…

 

But apart from that "storm in a teacup" – Buy The F**king Dip, right?

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Just one example.

Standard Chartered Down 57%, Returns to 1998 (WSJ)

Standard Chartered’s share price has fallen over 20% this year, reaching depths last seen in 1998, in the midst of the Asian economic crisis. The problems the bank faced back then are much the same as they are now. Back in 1997, StanChart’s share price was soaring. But following a crisis of confidence in Asia’s economy, the bank’s stock had collapsed 60% a year later. It was also still suffering from a tarnished reputation, after it was banned for a year from the Hong Kong IPO market in 1994 for creating a false market for shares. The board turned to a former senior banker from a Wall Street giant to solve its problems. Rana Talwar, a senior banker at Citigroup, was appointed head of StanChart in June 1998, a year after joining from the US bank. Talwar quickly set about re-organising the bank’s focus – binning unwanted regions (such as its British consumer finance arm) and concentrating on Asia via a series of acquisitions.

He also looked to refocus the investment bank, focusing in currency dealing, corporate banking and cash management, and eventually making some strategic deals in Asia. Fast forward almost 20 years, and new chief executive Bill Winters – an ex-JP Morgan banker – is also trying extract StanChart from a period of underperformance driven by a sputtering Asian economy, and ongoing run-ins with regulators. A new strategy is also underway, with a move toward retail, private banking and wealth management, cutting back on higher-risk corporate business and some investment banking units, such as equity capital markets. But investors have continued to sell the stock.Under Talwar, StanChart’s share price rebounded, as China’s economy kicked into overdrive. Today, while Standard Chartered’s share price continues to drop, Winters will be keen that China’s economy finds a second wind.

56.97%
The amount Standard Chartered share price has dropped since Winters joined in May 2015

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Omen.

US Exports Fell In 2015 For First Time Since Recession (AP)

The U.S. trade deficit rose in December as American exports fell for a third straight month, reflecting the pressures of a stronger dollar and spreading global weakness. Those factors contributed to the first annual drop in U.S. export sales since the Great Recession shrank global trade six years ago. The December deficit increased 2.7% to $43.4 billion, the Commerce Department reported Friday. Exports fell by 0.3%, driven by sales declines of civilian aircraft, autos and farm products. Imports increased 0.3% as Americans bought more foreign-made cars and petroleum. For all of 2015, the deficit rose 4.6% to $531.5 billion. Exports fell 4.8%, the first setback since 2009 when the world was in the grips of recession. Imports also retreated 3.1%.

American exporters have been hurt by global economic weakness and a stronger dollar, which makes their products more expensive on overseas markets. A wider trade deficit is a drag on economic growth because it means fewer overseas sales by American producers and larger imports of foreign goods. The deficit subtracted about one-half percentage point from growth in 2015, a year when the economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, grew by a modest 2.4%. Analysts say trade will also subtract from growth this year as well given that the dollar has continued to rise and China, the world’s second largest economy, is still struggling to cope with slowing growth. The U.S. deficit with China set a record in 2015, rising 6.6% to $365.7 billion. The deficit with the EU also set a record, rising 7.9% to $153.3 billion.

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The real impact of low oil prices starts to shine through even for the dimmest amongst us.

Oil Rout Threatens Vicious Cycle for US Economy (WSJ)

With oil hovering at $30 a barrel and gasoline below $2 a gallon, the pleasure of lower fuel prices is turning painful for more of the U.S. economy. The problem isn’t just the layoffs and investment cutbacks in the oil patch, two effects that have been expected since crude oil began sliding in 2014. Worries about energy-related bankruptcies and loan defaults also are helping to tighten financial conditions, weighing on a broader swath of the economy. Can the U.S. have too much of a good thing? Few economists expect the crude slump will tip the economy into recession. But the fallout could grow harder to contain if the oil-price declines are instead a symptom of broader weaknesses in the global economy, including soft demand and an oversupply of raw material, productive capacity and labor.

Cheap oil reflects a strengthening dollar, which has already crimped U.S. exports. And consumer sentiment could take a hit if the early-year stock-market declines are sustained. The bottom line: Even if cheap gas is still good for consumers, the forces behind it could be more corrosive than initially imagined. This past month’s declines in oil “are less a sign that things are about to get a lot better, and more a sign that things are in danger of getting a lot worse,” said HSBC senior economist Stephen King. Typically, markets treat higher energy prices as tax increases and lower prices as tax cuts. Indeed, cheap gasoline has been a boon to American households, which saved around $140 billion last year as a result, roughly double the savings in 2014. Gas prices averaged $1.82 a gallon last week, down from $3.68 in June 2014.

And last year’s fuel-price drop contributed around 0.5 percentage point in consumption growth, according to Jason Thomas at private-equity firm Carlyle Group. But the overall boost was weaker than expected, suggesting high household debt levels along with rising housing, health-care and college-education costs have American consumers refraining from bigger purchases. Cutbacks in the oil patch have so far “swamped whatever benefits you had on the consumer side,” said Lewis Alexander, chief U.S. economist at Nomura Securities.

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NOTE: private debt is also what causes these crises. So adding more won’t solve the issue.

The Chart of Doom: When Private Debt Stops Expanding… (CHS)

Once private credit rolls over in China and the U.S., the global recession will start its rapid slide down the Seneca Cliff. Few question the importance of private credit in the global economy. When households and businesses are borrowing to expand production and buy homes, vehicles, etc., the economy expands smartly. When private credit shrinks-that is, as businesses and households stop borrowing more and start paying down existing debt-the result is at best stagnation and at worst recession or depression. Courtesy of Market Daily Briefing, here is The Chart of Doom, a chart of private credit in the five primary economies:

Why is this The Chart of Doom? It’s fairly obvious that private credit is contracting in Japan and the Eurozone and stagnant in the U.K. As for the U.S.: after trillions of dollars in bank bailouts and additional liquidity, and $8 trillion in deficit spending, private credit in the U.S. managed a paltry $1.5 trillion increase in the seven years since the 2008 financial meltdown. Compare this to the strong growth from the mid-1990s up to 2008. This chart makes it clear that the sole prop under the global “recovery” since 2008-09 has been private credit growth in China. From $4 trillion to over $21 trillion in seven years–no wonder bubbles have been inflated globally.

Combine this expansion of private credit in China with the expansion of local government and other state-sector debt (state-owned enterprises, SOEs, etc.) and you have the makings of a global bubble machine. In other words, the faltering global “recovery” and all the tenuous asset bubbles around the world both depend on a continued hyper-velocity rocket rise in China’s private credit. What are the odds of this happening? Aren’t the signs that this rocket ship has burned its available fuel abundant? Three out of the five major economies are already experiencing stagnant or negative private credit growth. Three down, two to go. Helicopter money-government issued “free money” to households-is no replacement for private credit expansion.

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Martin Wolf stating the obvious.

Why It Would Be Wise To Prepare For The Next Recession (Wolf)

What might central banks do if the next recession hit while interest rates were still far below pre-2008 levels? As a paper from the London-based Resolution Foundation argues, this is highly likely. Central banks need to be prepared for this eventuality. The most important part of such preparation is to convince the public that they know what to do. Today, eight-and-a-half years after the first signs of the financial crisis, the highest short-term intervention rate applied by the Fed, the ECB, the Bank of Japan or the Bank of England is the latter’s 0.5%, which has been in effect since March 2009 and with no rise in sight. The ECB and the BoJ are even using negative rates, the latter after more than 20 years of short-term rates of 0.5%, or less.

The plight of the UK might not be that dire. Nevertheless, the latest market expectations imply a base rate of roughly 1.6% in 2021 and around 2.5% in 2025 — less than half as high as in 2007. What are the chances of a significant recession in the UK before 2025? Very high indeed. The same surely applies to the US, eurozone and Japan. Indeed, the imbalances within the Chinese economy, plus difficulties in many emerging economies, make this a risk now. The high-income economies are likely to hit a recession with much less room for conventional monetary loosening than before previous recessions. What would then be the options? One would be to do nothing. Many would call for the cleansing depression they believe the world needs. Personally, I find this idea crazy, given the damage it would do to the social fabric.

A second possibility would be to change targets, possibly to ones for growth or level of nominal gross domestic product or to a higher inflation rate. It would probably have been wise to have had a higher inflation target. But changing it when central banks are unable to deliver today’s lower target might destabilise expectations without improving outcomes. Moreover, without effective instruments a more ambitious target might just seem empty bombast. So the third possibility is either to change instruments or to use the existing ones more powerfully. One instrument, not much discussed, would be to organise the deleveraging of economies. This might need forced conversion of debt into equity. But, while desirable in extreme circumstances, this would be practically difficult.

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Light at the end of the death spiral?! “Rational behavior, most likely, will prevail,..”

Citi: World Economy Trapped In ‘Death Spiral’ (CNBC)

The global economy seems trapped in a “death spiral” that could lead to further weakness in oil prices, recession and a serious equity bear market, Citi strategists have warned. Some analysts -including those at Citi- have turned bearish on the world economy this year, following an equity rout in January and weaker economic data out of China and the U.S. “The world appears to be trapped in a circular reference death spiral,” Citi strategists led by Jonathan Stubbs said in a report on Thursday. “Stronger U.S. dollar, weaker oil/commodity prices, weaker world trade/petrodollar liquidity, weaker EM (and global growth)… and repeat. Ad infinitum, this would lead to Oilmageddon, a ‘significant and synchronized’ global recession and a proper modern-day equity bear market.”

Stubbs said that macro strategists at Citi forecast that the dollar would weaken in 2016 and that oil prices were likely bottoming, potentially providing some light at the end of the tunnel. “The death spiral is in nobody’s interest. Rational behavior, most likely, will prevail,” he said in the report. Crude oil prices have tumbled by around 70% since the middle of 2014, during which time the U.S. dollar has risen by around 20% against a basket of currencies. The world economy grew by 3.1% in 2015 and is projected to accelerate to expand by 3.4% in 2016 and 3.6% in 2017, according to the IMF. The forecast reflects expectations of gradual improvement in countries currently in economic distress, notably Brazil, Russia and some in the Middle East.

By contrast, Citi forecasts the world economy will grow by only 2.7% in 2016 having cut its outlook last month. Overall, advanced economies are mostly making a modest recovery, while many emerging market and developing economies are under strain from the rebalancing of the Chinese economy, lower commodity prices and capital outflows.

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As I remarked the other day, the accelerating speed with which ‘policies’ lose steam looks very much like the Bernanke days.

Negative-Interest-Rate Effect Already Dead, Central Banks Lost Control (WS)

The Bank of Japan’s surprise Negative-Interest-Rate party for stocks set a new record: it lasted only two days. Today a week ago, the Bank of Japan shocked markets into action. As the economy has deteriorated despite years of zero-interest-rate policy and Quantitative and Qualitative Easing (QQE) – a souped-up version of QE – the BOJ announced that it would cut one of its deposit rates from positive 0.1% to negative 0.1%. Headlines screamed Japan had gone “negative,” that it had joined the NIRPs of Europe – the Eurozone countries, Switzerland, Sweden, and Denmark. It was another desperate move, a head fake, and once the dust would settle, the hot air would go out. Now the dust has settled and the hot air has gone out.

On Thursday, January 28, the Nikkei closed at 17,041 down 19% from its Abenomics peak of 20,953 in June 2015. This situation is a bit of an embarrassment for the BOJ which has pushed Japanese asset managers of all kinds, including pension funds, particularly the Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF), the largest such pension fund in the word, to get off their conservative stance, sell their Japanese Government Bonds which made up the bulk or entirety of their portfolios, and buy risk assets with the proceeds. This they did, near the peak of the Abenomics bubble. While the BOJ was eagerly mopping up JGBs, the asset managers bought mostly Japanese equities, but they also bought global equities and corporate bonds. And the mere prospect of all this buying, the front-running by hedge funds, and then the actual buying drove up Japanese stock prices in 2014 and early 2015.

The bet seemed to work out. Wealth had been created out of nothing. A few more years of this, and it might actually resolve the Japanese underfunded pension crisis. Then the party stopped, and Japanese stocks swooned. In the second quarter of fiscal 2015 (June through August), the most recent report available, the GPIF lost ¥7.9 trillion, or 5.6%! It was its first quarterly loss since 2008 during the Financial Crisis. Its decision to yield to the pressures of the government and the BOJ to plow into Japanese stocks, global equities, and corporate bonds, when they were at the peak, has turned into a fiasco. So now the BOJ is trying to re-inflate these assets. For over two years, BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has been giving whatever-it-takes and no-limits speeches that were once lapped up by hedge funds and that fueled the big Abenomics rally, but that have since become ineffectual, and perhaps the butt of many jokes, as Japanese stocks continued to swoon.

Hence, on Friday last week, the bazooka: negative rates. After some volatility, the Nikkei soared 2.8% for the day. On Monday, it gained another 2%. But then the hot NIRP air came out of the market, and the Nikkei has dropped every single day since. Today, it closed at 16,819, having given up all of the two-day NIRP party gains, plus some. It’s now down 19.7% from its Abenomics high. Pension fund beneficiaries in Japan will be ecstatic when they learn what this strategy is doing to their future. [..] The bitter irony for Japanese pension funds? The very JGBs that they sold to the BOJ upon the BOJ’s urging have since soared in price, while the prices of the risk asset they bought upon the BOJ’s urging have plunged.

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Happy Lunar New Year. First, on Sunday China reserves numbers. ‘Eagerly anticipated’ though everyone knows they’re made up.

China’s Reserves Pose The Next Hurdle For Yuan (CNBC)

China has recently struggled to shore up the yuan amid hefty capital outflows. Reserves data over the weekend may offer a glimpse of the severity of the challenge. Analysts are generally calling for a drawdown of around $100 billion, following a decline of $107.9 billion in December. Reserves plunged by $512.66 billion in 2015, a record drop for the country, to $3.33 trillion, a move attributed in part to Beijing’s moves to prop up the yuan. In addition, China suffered almost $700 billion of capital flight in 2015, according to the Institute of International Finance. Local companies rushed to repay overseas loans as the yuan depreciated, while global investors grew increasingly wary of the country’s economic slowdown and Chinese authorities’ interventions in the financial markets.

The reserve data due Sunday will be closely watched, even though China’s financial markets will be closed for the Lunar New Year holiday for the next week. “Global markets aren’t closed. I think we’ll see some contagion effect there if we see a very significant drainage coming through,” Steve Brice at Standard Chartered Wealth Management told CNBC’s Street Signs. “If there were a trend acceleration we’ve seen in December and extended to January that would lead to people putting more pressure on the Chinese authorities to be more clear on their communications.” China’s policymakers have struggled recently to implement changes to the currency, attempting to move from a dollar-peg to a trade-weighted basket.

The move was targeted at shifting the currency towards an exchange rate that better reflects China’s trade links as well as divert attention away from the dollar/yuan exchange rate, which has risen sharply amid the divergence in monetary policy between the U.S. and China. The PBOC has also let market forces play a greater role in setting the value of the yuan although its recent actions have increased rather than curb confusion. In January, the central bank, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), guided the currency sharply lower without providing much indication to the market about its endgame – one factor in the China market selloff that triggered a global stock rout amid expectations the yuan would fall further. That spurred policymakers to intervene in the market by keeping the currency from falling further, but propping up the yuan also likely required selling dollars.

That’s opened up concerns about whether China’s reserves, the world’s largest, could become too depleted. Using IMF methodology, Khoon Goh, senior foreign-exchange strategist at ANZ, estimates that China will need a minimum of around $2.7 trillion in reserves if it keeps a fixed exchange-rate regime without capital controls. That leaves China only around a half a year of continuing to stabilize the yuan at the current drawdown rate, Goh said in a note Friday. Others have expressed concern about how the currency policy is affecting the reserves — and expectations of when the yuan will be allowed a freer float.

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Lipstick’s washing off the pig.

Europe’s Economic Outlook Darkens, Sends Shudder Through Markets (BBG)

Hints of investor optimism in Europe were snuffed out this week, as the darkening economic outlook registered across the continent and sent stocks and credit markets sliding. While market turmoil at the start of this year was sparked by a selloff in commodities and Chinese stocks, the reality of Europe’s own woes hit home as companies reported dismal earnings, and policy makers and institutions lined up to cut economic forecasts and warn of further risks. The European Commission cut its prediction for 2016 growth in the 19-nation bloc to 1.7% from 1.8% and said the largest economies of Germany, France and Italy will all perform worse than predicted just three months ago. While the ECB may spur into action again, moves in the euro and stocks suggest President Mario Draghi may be losing his ability to convince investors he can anesthetize the region from risks.

“Markets had a very rough start,” said Andreas Nigg at Vontobel Asset Management in Zurich. “There’s only so much central bankers, even Draghi, can do. Each incremental dose probably has a lower impact than the previous one. The weaker-than-expected economic growth and the associated increased likelihood of a recession led to selling of risky assets.” The blunt truth is that the euro area is still struggling to recover nearly six years after it first bailed out Greece, while European leaders are trying to tackle their latest crisis and stem the inflow of refugees. The doom and gloom nixed a nascent stock-market recovery in Europe, with a drop of 3.6% in the region’s shares this week almost completely erasing the rebound from the previous two. The losses have left the Stoxx Europe 600 Index down 9.9% this year, its worst start since 2008. It’s trading near its lowest valuation since July relative to a gauge of global equities.

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New tech, too, is just a bubble.

LinkedIn Sheds $11 Billion In Value On Stock’s Worst Day Since Debut (Reuters)

LinkedIn shares closed down 43.6% on Friday, wiping out nearly $11 billion of market value, after the social network for professionals shocked Wall Street with a revenue forecast that fell far short of expectations. The stock plunged as much as 46.5% to a more than three-year low of $102.89, registering its sharpest decline since the company’s high-profile public listing in 2011. The rout in the stock cost LinkedIn chairman Reid Hoffman about $1.2 billion based on his 11.1% stake in the company he co-founded, according to Reuters calculations. At least nine brokerages downgraded the stock to “hold” from “buy”, saying the company’s lofty valuation was no longer justified.

“With a lower growth profile, we believe that LinkedIn should not enjoy the premium multiple it has grown accustomed to,” Mizuho analysts wrote in a note. At least 36 brokerages cut their price targets, with Pacific Crest halving its target to $190. Their median target dropped 34% to $188, according to Reuters data. LinkedIn forecast full-year revenue of $3.60-$3.65 billion, missing the average analyst estimate of $3.91 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. “This would imply that LinkedIn will grow around 15% in 2017 and 10% in 2018,” Mizuho analysts said. Underscoring the slowdown in growth, LinkedIn said online ad revenue growth slowed to 20% in the latest quarter from 56% a year earlier.

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Told you -along with Ron Paul-, we should have dismantled it. Now NATO is a real and clear danger to all of us.

Armed With New US Money, NATO To Strengthen Russia Deterrence (Reuters)

Backed by an increase in U.S. military spending, NATO is planning its biggest build-up in eastern Europe since the Cold War to deter Russia but will reject Polish demands for permanent bases. Worried since Russia’s seizure of Crimea that Moscow could rapidly invade Poland or the Baltic states, the Western military alliance wants to bolster defenses on its eastern flank without provoking the Kremlin by stationing large forces permanently. NATO defense ministers will next week begin outlining plans for a complex web of small eastern outposts, forces on rotation, regular war games and warehoused equipment ready for a rapid response force. That force includes air, maritime and special operations units of up to 40,000 personnel.

The allies are also expected to offer Moscow a renewed dialogue in the NATO-Russia Council, which has not met since 2014, about improved military transparency to avoid surprise events and misunderstandings, a senior NATO diplomat said. U.S. plans for a four-fold increase in military spending in Europe to $3.4 billion in 2017 are central to the strategy, which has been shaped in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. The plans are welcomed by NATO whose chief, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, says it will mean “more troops in the eastern part of the alliance … the pre-positioning of equipment, tanks, armored vehicles … more exercises and more investment in infrastructure.”

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The only way I see to make any pensions sytem “remain viable” is to introduce basic income instead.

Why Pensions Are The New Flashpoint In Greece’s Crisis (AP)

Combine a rapidly aging population, a depleted work force and leaky finances and any country’s pension system would be in trouble. For debt-hobbled, unemployment-plagued Greece, it’s a nightmare. Hemmed in by a grim economic reality and tough-talking bailout creditors, the leftwing-led government in Athens is now attempting the seemingly impossible: to reform the pension system without cutting pensions, largely through a steep increase in social security contributions. The overhaul, which creditors are demanding in return for rescue loans, means Greeks who have a job — and who are outnumbered by the unemployed and retired — have to pay for the rest Unions are up in arms about the move, which has become the main hurdle in Greece’s negotiations with its European creditors and the IMF.

Critics say the reform will heap the most pain on self-employed professionals and farmers, forcing them to pay up to three quarters of their income in pension contributions and taxes. They warn the majority will be forced to change jobs or emigrate — accelerating the brain drain the country has suffered since the crisis started in 2010. “We are fighting for our very survival,” said Georgios Stassinos, head of the country’s biggest engineers’ union. If the reforms are adopted, he said, “the country will be left without engineers, doctors, lawyers, pharmacists and economists.” The head of Greece’s bar associations, Vassilios Alexandris, said the new system would reduce some lawyers’ net incomes to as little as 31% of their gross intakes, from the current 46%. “Professionals will not pay their (pension) contributions, not out of choice but because they will be unable to,” he said.

In Greek cities, a wave of protests has become known as the necktie revolution, from a series of demonstrations by formally-dressed professionals. The discontent is even more obvious in the countryside, where farmers have manned highway blockades for over two weeks. Costas Alexandris, a farmers’ union leader in the northeastern area of Thrace, said he stands to pay 75% of his income in taxes and contributions next year under the government’s proposals, which include taxation on subsidies and a leap in farmers’ pension contributions from 7 to 28%. But if Greece wants to make its pensions system viable, it has few options. Current retirees have already seen their pensions cut repeatedly under austerity programs since 2009 and the retirement age has been raised from about 62 to 67.

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Jan 092016
 
 January 9, 2016  Posted by at 9:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Longacre Square, soon to be Times Square 1904

Worst First Five Days of Year Ever For US Stocks Dim Outlook (WSJ)
The End of the Monetary Illusion Magnifies Shocks for Markets (BBG)
More Than 40% Of Young Americans Use Payday Loans Or Pawnshops (Ind.)
British People Donating Bodies To Science To Avoid Funeral Costs (Tel.)
Multiple Jobholders Responsible For 64% Of Net US Job Gains (ECRI)
First Profit Fall In 48 Years Looms Over US Energy Sector (MarketWatch)
Mining’s $1.4 Trillion Plunge Like Losing Apple, Google, Exxon Combined (BBG)
Inventor of Market Circuit Breakers Says China Got It Wrong (BBG)
China Market Tsar In Spotlight Amid Stock Market Turmoil (Reuters)
As Growth Slows, China’s Era of Easy Choices Is Over (WSJ)
Why China Shifted Its Strategy for the Yuan, and How It Backfired (WSJ)
China Finds $3 Trillion Just Doesn’t Pack the Punch It Used To (BBG)
Shock, Laughter Greet Plan for Saudi Arabia’s Record Oil IPO (BBG)
Saudi Aramco’s Fire Sale (BBG)
US Accuses Volkswagen Of Poor Co-Operation With Probe (FT)
Visible Light From Black Holes Detected For First Time (Guardian)
Refugees Struggle In Sub-Zero Temperatures In Balkans (BBC)
Greek Police, Frontex To ‘Check’ Volunteers On Islands Receiving Migrants (Kath.)

China went up on Friday, but Wall Street did not. Omen?

Worst First Five Days of Year Ever For US Stocks Dim Outlook (WSJ)

The Dow industrials tumbled more than 1,000 points this week, marking the worst first five days of any year, as volatility across the globe rattled investors. Traders said they are bracing for further big swings in the weeks to come. The Dow fell 1% Friday after starting the day in positive territory amid a strong U.S. jobs report and an uneventful session in China’s markets overnight. But shares slumped in afternoon trading as investors became unwilling to enter the weekend exposed to the risk of further losses. In all, U.S. stocks lost $1.36 trillion in value this past week.

The unusually severe drop highlighted the precarious position of markets caught between relatively high valuations—attributable in part to years of easy money from central banks—and a new round of uncertainty about the fundamental underpinnings of key parts of the global economy. “The conundrum is there are parts of the world that are doing fine…and we have pockets that aren’t doing so well,” said Lawrence Kemp, head of BlackRock’s Fundamental Large Cap Growth team. “Given what’s going on in China and the rest of the world, the U.S. economy could grow a little more slowly.” The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 1,078.58 points in the first week of 2016, down 6.2%. The broader S&P 500 was down 6%, also its worst five-day start to a year, and the Nasdaq Composite Index was down 7.3%.

Traders said the glum tone is likely to carry over into the coming week, as U.S. companies start reporting earnings for the last quarter of 2015. Corporate-earnings reports are widely expected to be underwhelming. The strong dollar is weighing on the competitiveness of U.S. exporters and the dollar value of companies’ overseas sales. Oil prices, which fell below $33 a barrel Friday in New York before closing at $33.16, continue to weaken. And China’s growth remains slow. Fourth-quarter earnings by companies in the S&P 500 are expected to come in 4.7% lower than they were a year earlier, according to FactSet.

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Central banks

The End of the Monetary Illusion Magnifies Shocks for Markets (BBG)

Central bankers are no longer the circuit breakers for financial markets. Monetary-policy makers, market saviors the past decade through the promise of interest-rate reductions or asset purchases, now lack the space to cut further or buy more. Even those willing to intensify their efforts increasingly doubt the potency of such policies. That’s leaving investors having to cope alone with shocks such as this week’s rout in China or when economic data disappoint, magnifying the impact of such events. “The monetary illusion is drawing to a close,” said Didier Saint Georges at Carmignac Gestion, an asset-management company. “With central banks becoming increasingly restricted in their stimulus policies, 2016 is likely to be the year when the markets awaken to economic reality.” Even against the backdrop of this week’s market losses, Fed officials signaled their intention to keep raising interest rates this year.

Those at the ECB and BoJ ended last year playing down suggestions they will ultimately need to intensify economic-aid programs. They have only themselves to blame for becoming agents of volatility, according to Christopher Walen at Kroll Bond Rating. He told Bloomberg TV this week that officials’ willingness to keep interest rates near zero and repeatedly buy bonds and other assets meant they became “way too involved in the global economy” and should have left more of the lifting work to governments. The handover to looser fiscal policy now needs to happen if economic growth and inflation are to get the spur they need, said Martin Malone at London-based brokerage Mint Partners. “Major economies have exhausted monetary and foreign-exchange policies,” he said. “Government action must take over from central-bank policies, triggering more confident private-sector investment and spending.”

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Yeah, recovery.

More Than 40% Of Young Americans Use Payday Loans Or Pawnshops (Ind.)

Young people are turning to desperate means to make ends meet. New figures that show 42% of Millennials, the generation born between 1980 and the mid-1990s, have turned to alternative finance including payday lenders and pawnshops in the past five years. The numbers come from a survey of more than 5,000 Millennials in the US by PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center at George Washington University. Reports show that Millennials are high users of payday loans in the UK too. A 2014 report by the Financial Ombudsman Service showed that customers complaining about payday lenders were far more likely to be drawn from the 25-34 age group than any other.

The PwC study showed that a third of Millennials are very unsatisfied with their current financial situation and 81% have at least one long term debt, like a student loan or mortgage. That’s before they are saddled with interest on a payday loan that can be as much as 2000%. “They have already maxed out everything else and so they’re going to behavior that’s deemed even riskier,” said Shannon Schuyler, PwC’s corporate responsibility leader. The report also found that almost 30% of Millennials are overdrawn on their current accounts and more than half carry a credit card. Millennials are not the only generation suffering from rising debts. Earlier this week the Bank of England published a report showing that household borrowing surged in the run up to Christmas. The monthly cash rise in consumer credit for November 2015 was the highest since February 2008.

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The shape of things to come. Who can afford a $5000-6000 funeral?

British People Donating Bodies To Science To Avoid Funeral Costs (Tel.)

People are choosing to donate their body to science to avoid the cost of paying for a funeral, MPs have been warned. A leading forensic anthropologist said giving remains to anatomy departments can be seen as a way of avoiding the burden of funeral costs. However, science departments are not always able to take a person’s body, because of disease or because there is simply no space. Professor Sue Black, Director of the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at the University of Dundee, told the bereavement benefits inquiry families can be shocked to realise their loved one’s remains cannot be donated. “It is important that bequeathal is not viewed as an option to address funeral poverty although for some individuals it is unquestionably used in this manner,” she said.

As Dundee has one of the highest levels of child and adult poverty in Scotland, Professor Black said it is “not unusual for our bequeathal secretary to receive calls that will relate to concerns over funeral costs.” The Work and Pensions Committee is investigating funeral poverty after a freedom of information request by the BBC found the cost to local councils of so-called “paupers’ funerals” has risen almost 30pc to £1.7m in the past four years. The number of public health funerals, carried out by local authorities for people who die alone or whose relatives cannot afford to pay, has also risen by 11pc. [..] Bodies donated to science are mainly used for medical training and research.

But some are turned down because they are not suitable for educational use, for example if there has been a post-mortem and the body has already been dissected, or because the person has had a particularly destructive form of cancer, or if they have had an organ transplant. Potential donors must also make their wishes clear in their lifetime. “It’s really important that if people think that they want to donate their body, there are things that they must do. It’s not enough to say if verbally, they have to either find the consent forms or make a legal statement in a will or testament,” Professor Black said. The average cost of a basic funeral is now £3,702 according to a recent report.

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Could be the major take-away from yesterday’s BLS report. Employment numbers do not reflect those of the employed.

Multiple Jobholders Responsible For 64% Of Net US Job Gains (ECRI)

The latest jobs report far exceeded consensus expectations as the economy added 292,000 nonfarm payroll jobs. But a closer look at the details reveals why concerns remain about the health of the labor market. In December, year-over-year (yoy) growth in multiple jobholders rose to an 11-month high, while yoy growth in single jobholders eased to a three-month low. Specifically, since May the number of multiple jobholders has increased by 752,000, while single jobholders have increased by 429,000. In other words, multiple jobholders have been responsible for 64% of the net job gains since last spring. The disproportionate importance of multiple jobholders – forced to cobble together a living – shows why the labor market is weaker than it seems. Notably, as long as these multiple jobholders log 35 hours of work per week – no matter how many part-time jobs that takes – they are considered full-time.

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1967. Remember?

First Profit Fall In 48 Years Looms Over US Energy Sector (MarketWatch)

The energy sector will depress U.S. fourth-quarter earnings and subdue growth for the entire S&P 500, making 2015 the weakest year for earnings since 2008, Goldman Sachs said Friday. The bank trimmed its S&P 500 earnings-per-share estimates for 2015, 2016 and 2017 in a note that highlighted three factors it expects to feature in earnings releases and on conference calls this year. The fourth-quarter and 2015 earnings season kicks off next week. The report from Aluminum producer Alcoa, scheduled for Monday after the market’s close, is seen as the unofficial start of several weeks of corporate news. The first factor Goldman highlighted is the energy sector, which the bank says is about to show a decline in operating earnings per share for 2015, its first negative reading since the bank started keeping records in 1967. “Energy EPS has collapsed along with crude oil prices,” analysts wrote in a note.

Energy EPS is highly sensitive to the price of oil, which Goldman is assuming will average $44 a barrel this year. Crude futures were trading below $33 a barrel early Friday, after hitting their lowest level since 2004 this week. Energy companies have been hammered by the slump in oil prices caused by oversupply, which has made some shale plays unprofitable and led companies to slash spending budgets, sell underperforming assets and cut staff and other costs. “The write-down in energy company assets has exacerbated the earnings hit from the 35% fall in Brent crude oil prices in 2015, following a 48% plunge in the commodity price in 2014,” said the note. In 2014, the energy sector accounted for $13, or 12%, of the overall S&P 500’s EPS reading of $113. In 2015, that contribution had tumbled to a loss of $2. That means energy contributed a $15 decline to S&P 500 earnings, which more than outweighed EPS gains in other sectors, said the note.

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Much more downside to come.

Mining’s $1.4 Trillion Plunge Like Losing Apple, Google, Exxon Combined (BBG)

The $1.4 trillion lost in global mining stocks since 2011 exceeds the total market value of Apple, Exxon Mobil and Google’s parent Alphabet. When you’ve spent a decade building new mines from the Andean mountains to the West African jungle, it’s bad news when a downturn in China, your biggest customer, shows no signs of stopping. Investors have been unforgiving and concerns that it will only get worse pushed the Bloomberg World Mining Index to an 11-year low. “It’s terrible, there are no two ways about it,” said Paul Gait at Sanford C. Bernstein in London. “A lot of people were hoping at the start of 2016 to see at least some stabilization in the commodity performance in these stocks. Essentially people were looking to close the consensus short that has characterized 2015. This has clearly not happened.”

BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto were once among the world’s largest companies. Shares of the biggest commodity producers trading in London are now at least twice as volatile as the U.K.’s benchmark stock index. Raw-material prices slipped to the lowest since 1999 on Thursday, with China’s stock market suffering its worst start to the year in two decades after the central bank cut the yuan’s reference rate by the most since August. A weaker currency encourages exports from the nation and makes it costlier for it to import commodities, hurting those that supply them. Anglo American, worth almost £50 billion ($73 billion) in 2008, is now valued at £3.1 billion. The 99-year-old company, which is the world’s biggest diamond and platinum producer and owns some of the best copper and coal mines, is now worth less than mid-tier Randgold and copper miner Antofagasta.

Apple, the world’s most valuable company, is worth about $549 billion. Alphabet is valued at $510 billion and Exxon $321 billion. The Bloomberg mining index of 80 stocks slumped as much as 4.1% on Thursday to the lowest since 2004. Anglo closed down 11% in London to the lowest since it started trading in 1999. BHP tumbled 5% and Rio retreated 3.4%. Glencore settled down 8.3%.

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They seem to get a lot wrong.

Inventor of Market Circuit Breakers Says China Got It Wrong (BBG)

The man responsible for stock circuit breakers says Chinese officials must revise their safety net to avoid creating panic, joining critics who argue the nation’s trading halts are triggered too easily for such a volatile market. “They’re just on the wrong track,” said Nicholas Brady, 85, the former U.S. Treasury secretary who ran a committee that recommended the curbs on equity trading after the 1987 crash. “They need a set of circuit breakers that appropriately reflects their market.” Brady spoke Thursday after Chinese regulators suspended their newly introduced program that ends stock trading for the entire day after a 7% plunge. The halt was set off twice in its first week of operation, bolstering speculation China set its threshold too low. “The right thing to do is to widen their band,” Brady said in an interview.

The U.S. confronted a similar problem in the 1990s. The curb that the Brady Commission helped implement shut the market for the first time on Oct. 27, 1997, when the Dow Jones Industry Average lost 554 points. That was only a 7.2% decline, almost identical to the Thursday plunge in China’s CSI 300 Index. The trouble was that a decade-long surge in U.S. stock prices had diminished the value of each point in the Dow. The 1987 crash’s 508-point slump had amounted to a 23% tumble, three times greater than the decline that froze trading 10 years later. Regulators and exchanges pushed through a revision: If the Dow fell 10%, there would be an hour pause. At 20%, trading would cease for two hours, and at 30%, the day would end early.

In recent years, the benchmark that triggers the halts switched to the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index and the levels changed. Now it takes 7% and 13% drops to prompt a brief pause, and a 20% decline to close markets early for the day. Whereas 7% losses are rare in the U.S. – they were only common during the 2008 financial crisis, October 1987, and the Great Depression – Chinese shares have dropped about that much seven times in the past year. “I don’t think this is an exact science,” said Sang Lee, an analyst at financial-markets researcher Aite Group. With circuit breakers, “If you set these too low, instead of easing volatility it may increase volatility. That echoes the view of Brady, who was chairman of Wall Street powerhouse Dillon Read & Co. when President Ronald Reagan asked him to figure out what happened during the 1987 crash and propose solutions.

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Lost in Beijing hubris.

China Market Tsar In Spotlight Amid Stock Market Turmoil (Reuters)

Xiao Gang, China’s stock market tsar, once remarked that the only thing he’d done right in life was marry his wife. No doubt the self-effacing Xiao, chairman of China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC), has done many other things right. Managing the stock market, though, might not be a high point of his career. Xiao faced internal criticism from the ruling Communist Party for his handling of the stock market crash last year, sources with ties to the leadership said at the time. In another blow, a “circuit breaker” mechanism to limit stock market losses that was introduced on Monday was deactivated by Thursday after it was blamed for exacerbating a sharp selloff. Online media had nicknamed Xiao “Mr Circuit Breaker”.

“There has to be responsibility. People are looking to the leader at the regulator. Xiao Gang is the public face,” said Fraser Howie, an independent China market analyst. “He was lucky to keep his job after the fiasco of July and August.” Xiao, 57, became chairman of the CSRC in the leadership churn when President Xi Jinping came into power, taking the helm of the regulator in March 2013. At the time, Chinese markets had been among the world’s worst-performing for six years – indeed they had not recovered from their collapse during the global financial crisis. Unfortunately for Xiao, they still haven’t. The challenge Xiao faced upon taking up the post was enormous: to attract fresh investment into equities from speculative bubbles in sectors like real estate, while defending against endemic insider trading.

To pull any of this off he needed to first convince China’s legions of small retail investors, who dominate transactions but are infamously fond of quick-hit speculative plays, that stocks are a safe place to park long-term capital. The urgency was heightened by the need to deal with China’s corporate debt overhang – Chinese firms had become almost entirely dependent on bank loans for financing, which naturally prejudiced economic development toward collateral-rich heavy industry and away from the innovative, nimble technology companies that tend to rely more on stock issuances to fund quick growth.

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Chinese politics clash with economics. By default. It’s not just pushing a button or pulling a lever.

As Growth Slows, China’s Era of Easy Choices Is Over (WSJ)

China has pulled hundreds of millions of people from poverty, supercharged its economy and burnished the pride of a nation that stood weak and isolated only decades ago. But swelling levels of debt, bloated state companies and an overall aversion to market forces are swamping the world’s second-largest economy, threatening to derail China’s ascent to the ranks of rich countries. As Beijing battles another bout of stock-market turmoil—and global markets shudder in response—the risks of doing nothing about these deep-seated problems are rising, economists said. Without a change in course, they said, China faces a period of low growth, crimped worker productivity and stagnating household wealth. It’s a condition known as “the middle-income trap.” “The era of easy growth is over,” said Victor Shih, professor at the University of California-San Diego.

“It’s increasingly about difficult choices.” Some economists don’t rule out an abrupt drop in growth, a hard landing that would see bad debts soar, consumer confidence tank, the Chinese yuan plunge, unemployment spiral and growth crater. More likely is that Beijing will continue to prop up growth, steering more capital to money-losing companies, unneeded infrastructure and debt servicing, depriving the economy of productive investment and leading to the sort of protracted malaise seen in Japan in recent decades. But China is less prosperous than Japan. An anemic China would weaken global growth at a time of low demand and prolong the downturn for big commodity producers like Brazil that have been dependent on the Asian economic giant. “They don’t want to take the pain,” said Alicia Garcia Herrero at investment bank Natixis. “But the longer they wait, the more difficult it becomes.”

Chinese leaders are aware of the risks. On Tuesday, Premier Li Keqiang called for a greater focus on innovation to spur new sources of economic growth and to revitalize traditional sectors, according to the Xinhua. A far-reaching economic blueprint laid out in 2013 after President Xi Jinping came to power vowed to let markets take a “decisive” role and build out a legal framework to restructure the economy and benefit consumers and small businesses, rather than industry. Progress to date, economists said, has been disappointing. Political objectives stand in the way. Mr. Xi has committed the government to meeting a goal of doubling income per person between 2010 and 2020, the eve of the 100th anniversary of the ruling Communist Party. That means, in Mr. Xi’s eyes, that growth must reach 6.5% annually. With global demand slipping and fewer Chinese entering the workforce, Beijing will need to resort to stimulus spending to get there, analysts said, delaying the reckoning with restructuring.

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“As of September, China’s outstanding foreign debt stood at $1.53 trillion. More than two-thirds of that amount is expected to come due within a year..”

Why China Shifted Its Strategy for the Yuan, and How It Backfired (WSJ)

The IMF’s decision on Nov. 30 to declare the yuan an official reserve currency removed an incentive for the central bank to keep propping up the currency. Rather, it aims to let it gradually depreciate with an eye toward sending it modestly higher in this year’s second half, according to advisers to the PBOC. That is when Beijing will host leaders from the Group of 20 major economies and will be eager to showcase China’s economic might. But that strategy is fraught with risks. Chief among them, analysts say, is the difficulty in reversing continued market expectations for a still-weaker yuan. In Hong Kong, where the yuan can be bought and sold freely, the Chinese currency now trades at a steep discount to its mainland cousin, whose trading is limited within a government-dictated band.

The gap has led some investors to try to profit from the different exchange rates, causing irregular flow of funds across China’s borders. By intervening in the Hong Kong market Thursday to try to cap the offshore yuan rate and at the same time allowing the onshore rate to weaken faster, the central bank appears to be attempting to find “a near-term market equilibrium level that can help the exchange rates converge,” analysts at HSBC wrote in a research note. The central bank also doesn’t want a too-weak yuan to exacerbate capital outflows and make it more difficult for Chinese companies to pay off their dollar-denominated debt. As of September, China’s outstanding foreign debt stood at $1.53 trillion. More than two-thirds of that amount is expected to come due within a year, according to government data.

Among the big foreign-debt holders are Chinese property companies, which have more than $60 billion of dollar debt outstanding, according to data provider Dealogic. Wary of continued weakening of the yuan, some Chinese companies are moving to pay off their debt early. State-run airliner China Eastern Airlines paid down $1 billion of dollar debts on Monday, citing the need to reduce its exposure to exchange-rate fluctuations. For many years, the prevailing investor sentiment had been the yuan had no way to go but up as China’s trade surplus surged. Investors have now shifted their mind-set to the other extreme.

Read more …

Will they have any FX reserves left a year from now? It’s not all that obvious.

China Finds $3 Trillion Just Doesn’t Pack the Punch It Used To (BBG)

China’s $3 trillion-plus in foreign currency reserves, the biggest such stockpile in the world, would seem to be a gold-plate insurance policy against the country’s current market chaos, a depreciating currency and torrent of capital leaving the country. Maybe not, say economists. First off, data point to an alarming burn rate of dollars at the People’s Bank of China. The nation’s stockpile of foreign exchange reserves plunged by $513 billion, or 13.4%, in 2015 to $3.33 trillion as the nation’s central bank coped with a weakening yuan and an estimated $843 billion in capital that left China between February and November, the most recent tally available according to data compiled by Bloomberg. “My greatest worry is the fast depletion of FX reserves,” said Yu Yongding, a member of China’s monetary policy committee when the currency was revalued in 2005.

True, trillions of dollars under the central bank’s care are thought to be invested in safe liquid securities, including Treasury bonds. The U.S. measure of China’s holdings of Treasuries, the benchmark liquid investment in dollars, stood at $1.25 trillion in October, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, which cautions that the figures may not reflect the true ownership of securities held in a custodial account in a third country. In China, like some other countries, the exact composition of China’s reserves is a state secret. But analysts worry the currency armory may not be as strong as it looks. That’s because some of the investments may not be liquid or easy to sell. Others may have suffered losses that haven’t been accounted for.

In addition, some Chinese reserves may have already been committed to fund pet government projects like the Silk Road fund to build roads, ports and railroad across Asia or tens of billions in government-backed loans to countries such as Venezuela, much of which is repaid through oil shipments. Then there are other liabilities that China needs to cover, such as the nation’s foreign currency debt to finance and manage imports denominated in overseas currencies. When those factors are taken into account, some $2.8 trillion in reserves may already be spoken for just to cover its liabilities, according to Hao Hong at Bocom International. “Considering China’s foreign debt, trade and exchange rate management, it needs around $3 trillion in foreign exchange reserves to be comfortable.” he said.

[..] “Where is the line in the sand, and what happens when we get there?,” said Charlene Chu, the former Fitch analyst known for her warnings over China’s debt risks. “China’s large hoard of foreign reserves gives the country considerable power and influence globally, and I would think they would want to protect that. If there is such a line in the sand, it is very possible we hit it in 2016.” To be sure, intervention isn’t the only thing dragging China’s reserves lower. There’s also a valuation impact from fluctuating currencies. Some of the fall may also reflect authorities accounting for its investments. Chu reckons much of the decline up to June 2015 was mostly due to investments in illiquid assets and valuation changes rather than capital outflows.

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“The company could be worth anything from $1 trillion to upwards of $10 trillion..”

Shock, Laughter Greet Plan for Saudi Arabia’s Record Oil IPO (BBG)

When one financial adviser heard about Saudi Arabia’s plans to list a company larger than the economies of most nations, he had to pull over his car because he was laughing so hard. Saudi Arabian Oil Co., or Aramco, the world’s largest oil producer, said Friday it’s considering an initial public offering. It confirmed an interview with Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman published in the Economist Thursday. The news was greeted with incredulity in the financial industry, according to interviews with a half dozen bankers who do business in the Middle East. They asked not to be identified to protect their business interests. For one thing, Aramco’s inner workings are opaque, making its true value a mystery. Then there’s the timing. The price of crude oil is near its lowest level in more than a decade.

Discussions with Aramco about selling assets in the past had been about much smaller parts of the business, five of the people said. An initial public offering of the entire enterprise had only ever been discussed as a joke, one of the people said. The company could be worth anything from $1 trillion to upwards of $10 trillion, which would make it the most valuable company in the world, according to a note from Jason Tuvey at research firm Capital Economics. The last mega IPO from the oil industry was a decade ago, when Russia’s OAO Rosneft raised more than $10 billion. Even if Saudi Arabia sells a small stake, a listing could easily surpass that of Alibaba whose $25 billion IPO is the largest on record. Still, Aramco is unlikely to list on the biggest exchanges, according to Bloomberg oil strategist Julian Lee.

That would require the government to give investors more detailed information about Aramco’s reserves and production capacity, something oil-producing nations consider state secrets, he said. Aramco is considering selling an “appropriate%age” of its shares in the capital markets or listing a bundle of its subsidiaries, it said in the statement. Saudi Arabia typically sells stakes in state-owned companies to the public at below market value as part of its efforts to redistribute wealth. National Commercial Bank raised $6 billion in 2014 in the Middle East’s largest share sale. As the bankers do the sums, a big IPO won’t necessarily translate into big fees. Governments often pay low fees on their exits.

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“.. it’s hard not to see talk of floating Aramco as a defensive move forced on a kingdom that is under pressure on the financial, political and military fronts.”

Saudi Aramco’s Fire Sale (BBG)

That strange and rather unappetizing sound you just heard was the world’s energy bankers simultaneously salivating over the prospect of the oil deal of the century. In an interview published Thursday by The Economist, Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince Muhammad bin Salman said his country is considering privatizing Saudi Aramco. A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation for a company whose oil reserves dwarf those of Exxon Mobil yields a potential market capitalization of: gajillions. Apart from anything else, Aramco’s role in supplying roughly a tenth of the world’s oil would make its earnings guidance required reading not merely for sell-side analysts, but central bankers, government leaders and generals, too.There are many caveats here, beginning with the fact that the privatization is “something that is being reviewed.”

And if privatization were to proceed, it might well involve listing shares in some downstream part of Aramco such as petrochemicals, rather than the core upstream business or parent company. The bigger issue, though, is the idea appearing to have any traction at all and being spoken of publicly by no less a figure than the deputy crown prince. It adds a further twist to a narrative emanating from Saudi Arabia that suggests the global oil market is undergoing epochal change. The interview was wide-ranging, touching on relations with Iran and the U.S., women in the workforce, tax reform and possible privatization in many sectors, not just energy. And the deputy crown prince was in expansive mode, agreeing with his interviewer’s supposition that the autocratic kingdom is undergoing a “Thatcher revolution” and answering one question on attracting foreign investors with an almost Trumpian “I’m only giving out opportunities.”

The context for this sweeping vision, though, is the OPEC benchmark oil price having just slipped below $30 a barrel. The rational time to sell shares in Aramco would have been, let’s see, about 18 months ago, when oil was still trading in triple digits and the MSCI Emerging Markets Index was nudging 1100 rather than languishing below 750. Of course, other things play a part in deciding to privatize any state jewel of this scale – such as, in the words of the deputy crown prince, fostering transparency and strengthening the domestic stock market. Such factors were there, for example, in the privatization of China’s oil majors at the start of this century. Yet it’s hard not to see talk of floating Aramco as a defensive move forced on a kingdom that is under pressure on the financial, political and military fronts.

Saudi Arabia still sits on sizable foreign reserves. But the increases in (heavily subsidized) domestic fuel prices announced recently, as part of the country’s annual budget, indicate Riyadh’s desire to hunker down for a prolonged period of low oil prices. Indeed, it is possible that raising money from an Aramco IPO would be designed to show that the state is making its own sacrifices. [..] Change is clearly in the air. Riyadh is due later this month to unveil a medium-term “National Transformation Plan” aimed at, among other things, streamlining a public sector where wages swallow up nearly a fifth of GDP and diversifying the country’s tax base. This comes soon after a decision to open the country’s stock market to foreign investors. And, of course, it is happening amid an ongoing policy to maximize oil production in a suddenly much more competitive global oil market.

In one unnerving respect, this is bullish for oil: Ossified political structures are highly vulnerable precisely when they seek even partial reform. Any destabilization in Saudi Arabia could provide the supply shock that clears the glut in oil and raises oil prices. But don’t forget the warnings given by Saudi Arabia’s petroleum minister just over a year ago that global oil demand growth may face a “black swan” in the next few decades. Viewed through that lens, the policy of pumping more barrels out now looks like not merely a strategy to maintain market share but also to simply monetize reserves that might otherwise be left to mire underground. Take it one step further, and you might say the same of Riyadh suddenly deciding it’s time to cash in on Saudi Aramco now, oil price be damned.

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“VW cited German law as its reason for not co-operating.”

US Accuses Volkswagen Of Poor Co-Operation With Probe (FT)

Volkswagen is failing to co-operate sufficiently with a US investigation into the emissions scandal, according to New York attorney-general Eric Schneiderman, who warned that the authorities’ patience was “wearing thin”. Mr Schneiderman said on Friday that VW’s co-operation with a probe involving 47 state attorneys-general had been “spotty” and “slow”, adding to the German carmaker’s mounting troubles in the US. On Monday, the Department of Justice sued VW in a civil case, seeking at least $45bn in penalties. The US authorities’ clash with VW came as the company said that its annual sales had fallen last year for the first time in more than a decade.

A combination of the emissions scandal and turmoil in emerging markets has taken a toll on Europe’s biggest carmaker, pushing group-wide sales below 10m units in 2015. VW admitted in September that it had installed “defeat devices” in up to 11m cars, including 482,000 in the US, that served to understate the diesel-powered vehicles’ emissions of nitrogen oxides during official tests. The 47 state attorneys-general, plus prosecutors in Washington DC, are investigating whether VW violated environmental laws and misled consumers. The justice department is pursuing a similar probe now relating to almost 600,000 VW cars in the US.

“Volkswagen’s co-operation with the states’ investigation has been spotty — and frankly, more of the kind one expects from a company in denial than one seeking to leave behind a culture of admitted deception,” Mr Schneiderman said. He added that VW had been slow to produce documents from its US files, had sought to delay responses until it completed its own investigation, and had “failed to pursue every avenue to overcome the obstacles it says that German privacy law presents to turning over emails from its executives’ files in Germany”. “Our patience with Volkswagen is wearing thin,” Mr Schneiderman said. The New York Times first reported that VW was not handing over documents to the US authorities. VW cited German law as its reason for not co-operating.

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Not long ago the very idea was considered heresy.

Visible Light From Black Holes Detected For First Time (Guardian)

Astronomers have discovered that black holes can be observed through a simple optical telescope when material from surrounding space falls into them and releases violent bursts of light. The apparent contradiction emerges when a black hole’s gravity pulls in matter from nearby stars, producing light that can be viewed from a modest 20cm telescope. Japanese researchers detected light waves from V404 Cygni – an active black hole in the constellation of Cygnus, the Swan – when it awoke from a 26-year-long slumber in June 2015. Writing in the journal Nature, Mariko Kimura of Kyoto University and others report how telescopes spotted flashes of light coming from the black hole over the two weeks it remained active. The flashes of light lasted from several minutes to a few hours. Some of the telescopes were within reach of amateur astronomers, with lenses as small as 20cm.

“We now know that we can make observations based on optical rays – visible light, in other words – and that black holes can be observed without high-spec x-ray or gamma-ray telescopes,” Kimura said. The black hole, one of the closest to Earth, has a partner star somewhat smaller than the sun. The two objects circle each other every six-and-a-half days about 8,000 light years from Earth. Black holes with nearby stars can burst into life every few decades. In the case of V404 Cygni, the gravitational pull exerted on its partner star was so strong that it stripped matter from the surface. This ultimately spiralled down into the black hole, releasing a burst of radiation. Until now, similar outbursts had only been observed as intense flashes of x-rays and gamma-rays.

At 18.31 GMT on 15 June 2015, a gamma ray detector on Nasa’s Swift space telescope picked up the first signs of an outburst from V404 Cygni. In the wake of the event, Japanese scientists launched a worldwide effort to turn optical telescopes towards the black hole. The flickers of light are produced when x-rays released from matter falling into the black hole heat up the material left behind. Poshak Gandhi, an astronomer at Southampton University, said the black hole looked extremely bright when matter fell in, despite being veiled by interstellar gas and dust. “In the absence of this veil, V404 Cygni would have been one of the most distant objects in the Milky Way visible in dark skies to the unaided eye in June 2015,” he writes in the journal.

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Death stalks Europe.

Refugees Struggle In Sub-Zero Temperatures In Balkans (BBC)

Medics working at refugee aid camps in the Balkans say they are seeing a spike in the number of migrants falling ill as freezing temperatures arrive. It has fallen to as low as -11C (12F) in the region. The medical charities International Medical Corps and Medecins Sans Frontieres say most patients are suffering with respiratory problems such as bronchitis and flu. There are also concerns about people refusing or not seeking treatment. Migrants are offered medical assistance, warm clothes and food at the main refugee points at the Serbian border with Macedonia to the south, and Croatia to the north. International Medical Corps runs a makeshift clinic at the train station in the tiny town of Sid, in northern Serbia “Last week, when temperatures were a bit less, we were seeing around 50 to 60 people a day,” said Sanja Djurica, IMC team leader.

“This week, now that temperatures have fallen, it’s more like 100 or so a day.” “Almost all of them are suffering with respiratory illnesses brought on by the cold.” I met the Al-Maari family, who are making the journey as the snow falls thick and fast. They fled Syria three weeks ago, and have been on the road ever since. They are travelling with four children, the youngest is just two years old. His brother Mohammad, seven, is suffering with fever and a chest infection. “We are on a journey of death,” said Mohammad’s uncle, Iyad Al-Maari. “We can endure. But I am worried about the children – the cold, disease and hunger.” Mohammad is not thought to be seriously ill. Iyad said the family are determined to continue to Germany, where the children’s father is waiting for them.

“Some people are refusing further medical help after we’ve assessed them,” said Tuna Turkmen from MSF in Serbia. “Even if they are referred to hospital, most don’t go. They just want to keep moving… in case borders suddenly close and they are left stranded.” With tears in her eyes, Mohammad’s mother, Malak, said: “We didn’t want any of this… we just want the war to end in Syria.” The stress and anxiety can be seen clearly on Malak’s face. She is traumatised and desperate. Medics have also highlighted the enormous psychological impact on those making these journeys. International Medical Corps has psychologists on hand in Sid, and even though people only tend to stay there for a few hours, medics and aid workers do have some time to deliver “psychological first aid”. “It’s emotional comfort, empathetic listening and encouraging coping techniques,” said Sanja Djurica.

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Checking those who filled in when Europe was a no-show. What a joke.

Greek Police, Frontex To ‘Check’ Volunteers On Islands Receiving Migrants (Kath.)

The Greek Police and [EU border agency] Frontex are to carry out checks on non-governmental organizations and volunteers on islands of the northern Aegean which have been receiving large numbers of migrants, sources have told the Athens-Macedonia News Agency. “Our goal is not to offend the volunteers and employees of NGOs nor to disrupt their work but to simply highlight the presence of the police on the coastline and generally in areas where migrants and refugees are disembarking,” a police source told AMNA. There will also be an investigation into reports that certain individuals posed as refugees in order to steal the personal belongings of refugees or the smuggling boats on which they reach the islands. The broader checks will seek to determine that people declaring themselves as volunteers are working for an accredited organization. The aim is to restore a sense of security on the islands, police source said, not to prevent the work of the NGOs.

Read more …

Oct 102014
 
 October 10, 2014  Posted by at 6:29 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , ,  


DPC School Street and Parker House, Boston MA 1906

It’s been only two months since I last -again – addressed the shale industry, but apparently it’s still not clear enough what a predatory scheme it is. Today, Bloomberg adds even more fuel to the fire. If you want to know how the combination of slip-sliding legal standards and ultra-low interest rates has perverted the US – and global – economy, you need look no further than shale.

The central point the Bloomberg article evokes is simple: does the difference between proved reserves, probable reserves and possible reserves (or resource potential), as reported by oil and gas extraction companies, constitute a lie? And the answer is just as simple: no, it doesn’t. But that’s not where the issue ends, it’s where it begins.

That is, if the difference between the two gets too wide, – potential – investors in company stocks and bonds are not getting the information they are entitled to. The industry may claim, as in the article, that investors are aware of the discrepancy inherent in the numbers, but that’s at best true for most investors, and the bigger ones. Still, the companies shouldn’t be able to use that as some unlimited excuse to claim whatever they wish. Because they can basically throw out any number they want in front of investors, no matter what it’s based on, and it’s legal.

And while there may be a kernel of truth in this bit …

“They’re running a great risk of litigation when they don’t end up producing anything like that,” said John Lee, a University of Houston petroleum engineering professor who helped write the SEC rules and has taught reserves evaluation to a generation of engineers. “If I were an ambulance-chasing lawyer, I’d get into this.”

… there’s also something missing. By the time investors can start any litigation, chances are the companies involved may be long gone. The greater public, and some of the investors, may be fooled, but the industry people themselves? They know about the depletion rates typical of shale wells, of the fact that few wells ever make their owners any real profit, and of the $500 billion(!) the industry lost over the past 5 years.

The shale industry runs on debt, not on energy. And as long as these companies can issue junk bonds at low rates, they will. But that doesn’t mean they will ever be profitable. For their owners, sure, they’re raking in dough like it’s Halloween candy, but for investors in those bonds things don’t look so rosy. Shale is a Ponzi.

And US law allows it to grow. One set of reserves gets presented to the regulator (SEC), and an entirely different one to the investor. One company, Rice Energy, tells investors it has 27 times as many reserves as it tells the SEC.

We’re Sitting on 10 Billion Barrels of Oil! OK, Two

To count as proved reserves to the SEC, companies must have “reasonable certainty” that the oil and gas will be extracted from existing wells and those scheduled to be drilled within five years. [..] The forecasts are based on fuel prices, geology, engineering and the performance of nearby wells. Planned wells must be economically and technically viable.

Whereas forecasts for investor presentations are based on a combination of hopium, wishful thinking, media savvy, creative accounting and pure fantasy. This is ‘justified’ by saying: ‘everybody knows we lie, so who cares if we lie’. Except that it’s not legally a lie.

No such rules apply to appraisals that drillers pitch to the public, sometimes called resource potential. In public presentations, unregulated estimates included wells that would lose money, prospects that have never been drilled, acreage that won’t be tapped for decades and projects whose likelihood of success is less than 10%.

Figures the company executives cite during presentations “are used in the capital allocation process, and are a standard tool the investment community understands and relies on in assessing a company’s performance and value …” [..] The presentations rarely explain how the drillers calculated the figures. The numbers sometimes change from one presentation to the next.

On account of thorough research by the companies, no doubt.

… companies use their own variation of resource potential, often with little explanation of what the number includes, how long it will take to drill or how much it will cost. The average estimate of resource potential was 6.6 times higher than the proved reserves reported to the SEC …

And 6.6 times is really lowballing it when it comes to some of these firms:

Lee Tillman, chief executive officer of Marathon Oil, told investors last month that the company was potentially sitting on the equivalent of 4.3 billion barrels in its U.S. shale acreage. That number was 5.5 times higher than the proved reserves Marathon reported to federal regulators. Such discrepancies are rife in the U.S. shale industry. Drillers use bigger forecasts to sell the hydraulic fracturing boom to investors and to persuade lawmakers to lift the 39-year-old ban on crude exports.

62 of 73 U.S. shale drillers reported one estimate in mandatory filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission while citing higher potential figures to the public, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Pioneer’s estimate was 13 times higher. Goodrich’s was 19 times. For Rice Energy, it was almost 27-fold.

Denver-based Cimarex Energy is one company that doesn’t report a different number to investors than it does to the SEC. “We want to have things on the books that are part of our near-term drilling plans,” Karen Acierno, a Cimarex spokeswoman, said in an interview. “A lot of people appreciate our conservative nature, a lot of investors.” Cimarex shares are up 19% in the past year.

The investor presentation by Rice Energy shows 2.7 billion barrels. Rice, which went public in January, reported 100 million barrels to the SEC in March, records show. At Pioneer Natural Resources, the number they cite to potential investors has increased by 2 billion barrels a year in each of the last five years – even as the proved reserves it files with the SEC have declined. The rising number is “a game changer for this company,” said Sheffield, the CEO. “It’s a game changer for this country.”

No kidding, there, Mr. CEO.

Investors poured $16.3 billion in the first seven months of the year into mutual funds and exchange-traded funds focused on energy companies, including drillers that create fractures in rocks by injecting fluid into cracks to enable more oil and gas to flow out of the formation. That’s almost twice as much as in the same period last year, bringing total assets to $128.2 billion, according to New York-based Strategic Insight. [..]

Lee, the University of Houston professor, said in an interview that he’s alarmed by the inconsistent and overly optimistic estimates published by shale companies. “If a lot of people get burned – and I think a lot of people can and will be burned – by these numbers in the investor presentations, there may be a push by investors to get the SEC to do something about it … ”

Horse, meet barn. The SEC won’t do anything, and it cannot change the law anyway, until these companies are dead broke and their owners longer liable for anything at all.

The US shale industry presents itself to investors as something it is not: it hugely overestimates its reserves, it carries incredible amounts of debt, there is cash flow but it doesn’t even begin to cover expenses, and its wells, which cost $8-20 million a piece to drill, even on average deplete faster than you can say ‘Christmas next year’.

Meanwhile, politics and media sing the Hossanah of energy independence, which in turn makes oil and gas prices slump to such a degree that shale becomes even less viable than it -obviously to us – already is. But as long as you’re legally allowed to overstate your reserves 27-fold, you can squeeze this balloon for another year or so, right.

It all makes me think that if people don’t see through this nonsense, they get what they deserve and perhaps need in life. But as always, it’s the little people who will end up paying up. And I don’t like that one bit. And if this is what America has become, a giant Ponzi, someone should raise their voice before it gets completely out of hand. If this kind of spiel is legal, there’s something deeply wrong with the law.

I could say much more about this, and I have, but it’s probably better if for more, you refer to for instance these past Automatic Earth articles on shale:

Get ready for the North American gas shock

Fracking Our Future

Shale Gas Reality Begins to Dawn

Shale Is A Pipedream Sold To Greater Fools

The Darker Shades Of Shale

Debt and Energy, Shale and the Arctic