May 182017
 
 May 18, 2017  Posted by at 9:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Paul Klee Fire at Full Moon 1933

 

‘Bobby Three Sticks’ Mueller to Probe Russia-Trump imbroglio (R.)
Trump To Announce $350bn Saudi Arabia Arms Deal – One Of Largest Ever (Ind.)
America’s Reign of Terror: A Nation Reaps What It Sows (Whitehead)
Investors Supercharge Bet Amazon Will Destroy US Retail (BBG)
Fed’s Kashkari Says Don’t Use Rate Hikes To Fight Bubbles (R.)
US Banks Tighten Auto Lending as More Borrowers Fall Into Default (BBG)
Canadian Officials Say Housing Risks Are Contained (BBG)
Prosecutor To Label Deutsche Bank An International Criminal Association (BBG)
Germany Asks US For Classified Briefing On Lockheed’s F-35 Fighter (R.)
Brazil: Explosive Recordings Implicate President Michel Temer In Bribery (G.)
Get Ready For The Franco-German Revival (Pol.)
Greek Parliament Committee Finds Salary, Pension Cuts Unconstitutional (GR)
Deal On Greece Is Touch And Go (K.)
Traffickers, Smugglers Exploit Record Rise In Unaccompanied Child Refugees (G.)

 

 

The echo chamber expands. It’s ironic to see how everyone praises Mueller’s independence, yet many are sure he will be Trump’s undoing. What flack will he get when he doesn’t do what the MSM demand?

‘Bobby Three Sticks’ Mueller to Probe Russia-Trump imbroglio (R.)

Former FBI director and prosecutor Robert Mueller, known for his independence in high-profile government investigations, is taking on a new challenge in the midst of a crisis that threatens the presidency of the United States. Mueller, 72, was named on Wednesday by the Justice Department to probe alleged Russian efforts to sway November’s presidential election in favor of Donald Trump and to investigate whether there was any collusion between Trump’s campaign team and Moscow. President Trump said in a statement there was no collusion between his campaign and “any foreign entity.” Mueller is known by some as “Bobby Three Sticks” because of his full name – Robert Mueller III – a moniker that belies the formal bearing and no-nonsense style of the former Marine Corps officer who was decorated during the Vietnam War.

Democrats and Republicans alike praised his appointment and hailed his integrity and reputation. Mueller was named to the post by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. His investigation will run in parallel to those being carried out by the FBI and the U.S. Congress. It would be difficult to fire Mueller, and past special counsel appointments have shown that the job comes with independence and autonomy. Chicago federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed during the George W. Bush administration in 2003 to a similar role to investigate the leak of the identity of Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA officer whose husband had criticized Bush administration policies. Fitzgerald indicted I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. Bush granted Libby clemency from a prison sentence before he left office.

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If you want to protest Trump, protest this….

Trump To Announce $350bn Saudi Arabia Arms Deal – One Of Largest Ever (Ind.)

Donald Trump will use his upcoming Saudi Arabia trip to announce one of the largest arms sales deals in US history – somewhere in the neighbourhood of $98bn to $128bn worth of arms. That could add up to $350bn over ten years. The deal will be what the Washington Post said is a “cornerstone” of the proposal encouraging the Gulf states to form its own alliance like the NATO military alliance, dubbed “Arab Nato.” Nato is comprised of 28 countries including the US. Mr Trump been an outspoken critic of the organisation but after a face-to-face meeting with Nato Secretary General Jens Stollenberg, he said the alliance was “no longer obsolete.” The White House said the president will propose it as a template for an alliance that will fight terrorism and keep Iran in check.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began negotiations on this deal shortly after the 2016 US election when he sent a delegation to Trump Tower to meet with the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is serving as a senior advisor of sorts to Mr Trump. The idea of an Arab Nato is not new. There was talk in 2015 of a “response force” in Egypt, comprised of approximately 40,000 troops from Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and a few other Gulf nations. The “response force” would have had a Nato-like command structure, with soldiers paid for by their own countries and the Gulf Cooperation Council made up of wealthy oil economies finance operations and management of the force.

President Barack Obama’s administration brokered more arms sales than any US administration since World War II – estimated at $200bn. They sold Saudi Arabia alone $60bn in arms, which sparked criticism by Democrats concerned with Saudi Arabia’s alleged human rights violations. Mr Trump benefits by bringing about a more “fair” deal; he has claimed several times that Nato is unfair to the US because of the amount of contributions and support provided by the US compared to countries like Germany. If Arab Nato succeeds, the White House official said the US could shift the responsibility for security to those in the region and create jobs at home through the arms sales.

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…because that Saudi arms deal is a further expansion of this long-term insanity. Military industrial complex.

America’s Reign of Terror: A Nation Reaps What It Sows (Whitehead)

Who designed the malware worm that is now wreaking havoc on tens of thousands of computers internationally by hackers demanding a king’s ransom? The US government. Who is the biggest black market buyer and stockpiler of cyberweapons (weaponized malware that can be used to hack into computer systems, spy on citizens, and destabilize vast computer networks)? The US government. What country has one the deadliest arsenals of weapons of mass destruction? The US government. Who is the largest weapons manufacturer and exporter in the world, such that they are literally arming the world? The US government. Which is the only country to ever use a nuclear weapon in wartime? The United States. How did Saddam Hussein build Iraq’s massive arsenal of tanks, planes, missiles, and chemical weapons during the 1980s? With help from the US government.

Who gave Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida “access to a fortune in covert funding and top-level combat weaponry”? The US government. What country has a pattern and practice of entrapment that involves targeting vulnerable individuals, feeding them with the propaganda, know-how and weapons intended to turn them into terrorists, and then arresting them as part of an elaborately orchestrated counterterrorism sting? The US government. Where did ISIS get many of their deadliest weapons, including assault rifles and tanks to anti-missile defenses? From the US government. Which country has a history of secretly testing out dangerous weapons and technologies on its own citizens? The US government. Are you getting the picture yet? The US government isn’t protecting us from terrorism. The US government is creating the terror. It is, in fact, the source of the terror.

Just think about it for a minute: almost every tyranny being perpetrated against the citizenry—purportedly to keep us safe and the nation secure—has come about as a result of some threat manufactured in one way or another by our own government. Cyberwarfare. Terrorism. Bio-chemical attacks. The nuclear arms race. Surveillance. The drug wars. In almost every instance, the US government has in its typical Machiavellian fashion sown the seeds of terror domestically and internationally in order to expand its own totalitarian powers.

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Let’s celebrate progress.

Investors Supercharge Bet Amazon Will Destroy US Retail (BBG)

Investors who think Amazon.com Inc. is about to destroy the retail industry as we know it have figured out a way to supercharge that bet – by buying the online giant’s stock and pairing it with a short position in the SPDR S&P Retail ETF, symbol XRT, a foundering fund that primarily holds bricks-and-mortar stores. “If you are long Amazon, wouldn’t it make sense to be short the stocks Amazon will look to decimate?” said Ihor Dusaniwsky, head of research for S3 Partners. “It’s going long the ‘best of the breed’ and shorting the ‘worst of the breed.’” Traders are building up short positions in anticipation of XRT dropping to $40 or $41, Dusaniwsky said. The fund, which is down more than 5% this year, closed at $41.74 on Tuesday.

XRT’s top holdings include furniture stores, supermarkets and groceries, electronics chains and media streaming, all areas where Amazon is spending heavily, Dusaniwsky said. “If Amazon succeeds, it will be at the expense of companies like Wayfair, Sprouts Farmers Market, Whole Foods, Best Buy and Netflix,” Dusaniwsky said. These five companies make up around 7% of XRT, which also holds $3.37 million of Amazon stock, making it 1.2% to the portfolio. So far Amazon is holding up its end of the bet. The world’s largest online retailer beat profit and revenue estimates in the first quarter and said sales may top projections in second quarter, according to an April 27 statement. The stock’s up 28% this year, as the company continues to add subscribers to its $99-a-year Prime program, locking in loyalty and building a moat against competitors.

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Is Kashkari denying the existence of bubbles?

Fed’s Kashkari Says Don’t Use Rate Hikes To Fight Bubbles (R.)

Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank President Neel Kashkari on Wednesday warned against using interest-rate hikes to address unwanted asset bubbles, saying that bubbles are hard to identify and such hikes would likely do more harm than good. Kashkari is a voting member this year on the U.S. central bank’s policy committee, and in March was the lone dissenter on a Fed vote to raise rates for the third time since the Great Recession. He has previously said he opposed the rate hike because he felt keeping rates low would result in more jobs for Americans who want to work. Some Fed officials have worried that keeping rates too low for too long could create asset bubbles that could set the U.S. economy up for another recession.

But the main reason Fed chair Janet Yellen and others have given for raising rates is not to tamp down bubbles, but to keep a now nearly fully employed economy from going into overdrive. Kashkari’s latest essay argues that keeping a sharp eye out for potential bubbles and using supervisory powers to protect banks from failures are better options than raising rates. “Given the challenges of identifying bubbles with any confidence and the costs of making a policy mistake, I believe the odds of circumstances ever making sense to use monetary policy to try to slow asset prices down are very low,” he wrote. “I won’t say never but a whole lot of evidence would have to line up just right for it to be the prudent course of action.”

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Horse. Barn.

US Banks Tighten Auto Lending as More Borrowers Fall Into Default (BBG)

Lenders are tightening the spigot on new auto loans, making it harder for U.S. consumers with weak credit to buy a car, data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York show. New car loans for subprime borrowers fell in the first quarter to $25.9 billion, the lowest in two years, according to the New York Fed’s quarterly report on household debt and credit. Drivers with credit scores below 620 now comprise less than 20% of new loans, down from almost 30% a decade ago. Borrowers with the highest credit scores – 760 or more – made up nearly a third of new auto loan originations in the first quarter as lenders target the safer deals. Banks including Fifth Third Bank have been trimming their loan books and cutting back on riskier credit as delinquent auto loan balances surge.

The share of auto debt more than 90 days overdue rose to 3.82% in the first quarter, the highest in four years. While caution may be good for banks’ balance sheets, it doesn’t offer much relief for automakers, who relied on cheap credit to fuel a seven-year stretch of booming sales. Now they’re boosting discounts and cutting production to address swelling inventory on dealer lots. Ford said Wednesday it’s cutting 1,400 jobs in North America and Asia to improve profits as the U.S. auto industry recorded a fourth straight drop in monthly sales in April, after eking out a record year in 2016. Tighter credit “is a big impediment to future strength in auto sales,” said Yelena Shulyatyeva, senior U.S. economist for Bloomberg Intelligence. “A lot of this demand was driven by loose lending standards.”

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Not helping.

Canadian Officials Say Housing Risks Are Contained (BBG)

Canadian government officials delivered a vote of confidence in the country’s housing sector and banking system, telling lawmakers that Vancouver and Toronto’s real estate markets are supported by fundamentals that leave risks well-contained. Senior officials from Canada’s Finance Department testified Wednesday evening to the Senate finance committee, fielding questions about the stability of the housing market, risks posed by high household debt levels in Canada and the recent downgrade of banks by Moody’s Investors Service Inc. The hearing came amid questions about the future of Home Capital and any knock-on effect that a potential failure there could have on Canada’s housing sector, particularly in Vancouver and Toronto.

The core message from the officials was Canada’s market was stable and, despite some risks, policy makers’ measures are taking effect. “We don’t think there’s any systemic risk across the country,” said Phil King, a director at the economic and fiscal policy branch at Finance Canada. “There are specific pockets of concern, which seem to have ameliorated somewhat in the very-near term but we’re keeping a very close eye on those.” Vancouver and Toronto have “very, very strong fundamentals” supporting prices including immigration, strong job creation, strong income gains and high wealth, he said. King described a national housing market with distinct regions — surging Toronto and Vancouver, soft markets in energy-producing regions such as Calgary, and other cities like Montreal and Ottawa where policy makers have “no concerns whatsoever.”

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As Goldman Sachs should be for its activities in Greece.

Prosecutor To Label Deutsche Bank An International Criminal Association (BBG)

Deutsche Bank, on trial in Milan for allegedly helping Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena conceal losses, must face accusations that it was running an international criminal organization at the time. Prosecutors used internal Deutsche Bank documents and emails to persuade a three-judge panel to consider whether there were additional, aggravating circumstances to the charges the German lender already faces related to derivatives transactions. The material included a London trader’s “well done!” message to a banker who is now on trial, evidence seen by Bloomberg shows. Allowing prosecutors to argue that the alleged market manipulation crimes were committed by an organization operating in several countries could lead to higher penalties if they win a conviction.

Giuseppe Iannaccone, a lawyer for Deutsche Bank and some of the defendants, sought to block the move at Tuesday’s hearing, saying there wasn’t a clear connection between the original charge of market manipulation and the alleged aggravating circumstances. “The trial for Deutsche Bank managers becomes more problematic after the judge’s decision,” said Giampiero Biancolella, an attorney specializing in financial crime who isn’t involved in the case. “If proven, the aggravating circumstance may increase the eventual jail sentence for the market manipulation to a maximum of nine years.” The German bank and Nomura went on trial in Milan in December, accused of colluding with Monte Paschi to cover up losses that almost toppled the Italian lender before its current battle for survival. Thirteen former managers of Deutsche Bank, Nomura and Monte Paschi were charged for alleged false accounting and market manipulation.

Deutsche Bank and Nomura are accused of using complex derivative trades to hide losses at the Italian lender, leading to a misrepresentation of its finances between 2008 and 2012. After the deals came to light in a 2013 Bloomberg News report, Monte Paschi restated its accounts and tapped shareholders twice to replenish capital. Deutsche Bank and six current and former managers were indicted in Milan Oct. 1 for allegedly helping falsify the Siena-based lender’s accounts through a deal known as Santorini. The prosecution’s request to label Deutsche Bank an international criminal association hinged on events that occurred in other parts of the globe, including the possible manipulation of an index, which isn’t the subject of charges in the Milan case.

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History’s biggest ever financial boondoggle. And nobody dares stop it.

Germany Asks US For Classified Briefing On Lockheed’s F-35 Fighter (R.)

The German Air Force this month sent the U.S. military a written request for classified data on the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jet as it gears up to replace its current fleet of fighter jets from 2025 to 2035. The letter, sent by the Air Force’s planning command and seen by Reuters, makes clear that the German government has not yet authorized a procurement program and is not committed to any particular aircraft to replace its current warplanes. It said the defense ministry would carry out “an in-depth evaluation of market available solutions, including the F-35, later this year,” with a formal “letter of request” to be issued in coming months.

Germany’s interest in the F-35 – the Pentagon’s most advanced warplane and its costliest procurement program – may surprise some given that it is part of the four-nation consortium that developed the fourth-generation Eurofighter Typhoon, which continues to compete for new orders. The Eurofighter is built by Airbus as well as Britain’s BAE Systems and Leonardo of Italy. Germany will need to replace its current fleet of fourth-generation warplanes – Tornadoes in use since 1981 and Eurofighters – between 2025 and 2035. The F-35 is considered a fifth-generation fighter given stealth capabilities that allow it to evade enemy radars.

Berlin’s letter also comes amid growing tensions between the West and Russia over Moscow’s support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, with NATO officials saying that Russian naval activity now exceeds levels seen even during the Cold War. Britain, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey and Italy – key NATO allies of Germany – are already buying the F-35 fighter jet to replace their current aircraft, and other European countries such as Switzerland, Belgium and Finland are also looking at purchasing the fifth-generation warplane. Germany’s gesture may be aimed at strengthening its hand in negotiations with its European partners over the scale and timing of development of a next generation of European fighters. Any moves to buy a U.S. built warplane could run into political resistance in Germany, which has strong labor unions.

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Just turn parliament into a prison building. Most effective solution.

Brazil: Explosive Recordings Implicate President Michel Temer In Bribery (G.)

Angry crowds and outraged members of Brazil’s congress have demanded the impeachment of President Michel Temer following reports he was secretly recorded discussing hush money pay-offs to a jailed associate. The tapes were presented to prosecutors as part of a plea bargain by Joesley and Wesley Batista, brothers who run the country’s biggest meat-packing firm JBS, according to O Globo newspaper. They are said to contain conversations that incriminate several leading politicians, including the former presidential candidate Aecio Neves and the former finance minister Guido Mantega. Temer is alleged to have talked with Joesley about cash payments to Eduardo Cunha, the former speaker of the House who has been jailed for his role in the sprawling Petrobras corruption scandal.

Cunha is in the same ruling Brazilian Democratic Movement party as Temer and initiated the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff that allowed him to take over the presidency. He has alluded to the many secrets he knows about his former colleagues. In covert recordings made during two conversations in March, Joesley tells Temer he is paying Cunha to keep him quiet, to which the president allegedly replies: “You have to keep it going, OK?” According to Globo, police also have audio and video evidence that Temer’s aide Rocha Loures negotiated bribes worth 500,000 reais (US$160,000) a week for 20 years in return for helping JBS overcome a problem with the fair trade office.

No audio or transcripts were released. The supreme court has refused to comment on the validity of the alleged leak – but the news has enraged the public. Shouts and pot-banging (a traditional form of protest in Latin America) could be heard when the allegations were aired on TV. Crowds also gathered outside the presidential palace chanting “Fora Temer” (Temer out). Two congressmen submitted impeachment motions in the lower house.

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Macron falls in line with what Berlin wants as much as Hollande did. Where’s the difference? Merkel and Schäuble like it, because now no-one will dare speak up anymore.

Get Ready For The Franco-German Revival (Pol.)

With none of the previous three presidents Merkel has sat across from in the past 12 years did the cautious chancellor achieve the deep mutual understanding and political serendipity that powered European integration in the eras of Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle, Helmut Schmidt and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, or Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand. Macron promised to be a “frank, direct and constructive partner” for Berlin. If he can convince Merkel to revive the frequent, unscripted, plain-speaking meetings between French and German leaders of the past, it will be a crucial step toward setting a joint agenda for Europe. July’s joint cabinet session — where both defense and the economy will be on the agenda — will be a first test of the promised Franco-German revival.

Macron has made it clear he intends to use France’s major contribution to European defense and security as a lever to help secure progress in the eurozone. But his influence in Berlin, as he acknowledged, will depend on his ability to break the rigidities in the French labor market and put the country’s young people to work. He will need to overcome deep-seated resistance to eurozone intervention in national budget policies. The last Socialist government was as defiant as its Gaullist predecessors when the European Commission repeatedly criticized France’s excessive deficits, high tax burden on business and employment, and generous welfare and pension systems. But Macron is committed to the right track. Honoring commitments to EU-supervised economic reforms are part of his vision for a more integrated eurozone, he said in Berlin.

[..] When it comes to the eurozone, Germany will have to end its resistance to further risk-sharing to complete the EU’s banking union. And here progress is likely to be difficult. Macron will need Berlin to lift its blockade on common deposit insurance and a joint fiscal backstop for the European bank resolution fund. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble — who has expressed support for some of Macron’s ideas — will hold both steps hostage at least until after the German general election in September. Schäuble is holding out for a very different form of eurozone governance, in which an inter-governmental (i.e. German-controlled) European Monetary Fund, built on the existing European Stability Mechanism, would impose automatic debt restructuring and an austerity program on any eurozone country that needed assistance.

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Can Tsipras impose cuts when they violate his constitution? Can the Troika?

Greek Parliament Committee Finds Salary, Pension Cuts Unconstitutional (GR)

The Parliamentary Scientific Committee in its new report that accompanies the new omnibus bill expressed concern over the constitutionality of the provisions of Law 4387/2016 that calls for new cuts to pensions and special salaries. According to Professor and former SYRIZA lawmaker Alexis Mitropoulos, the report was posted on the parliament site shortly after midnight on Tuesday. Mitropoulos spoke on Ant1 television on Wednesday saying that, “After the recent Court of Audit decision, and following a long meeting, the committee found that the cuts in special wages, pensions and taxation were found to be unconstitutional.”

The new bill includes deep cuts in pensions and slashes in salaries of army and police personnel, sectors where special salary regulations apply. “The proposed reductions disrupt the balance that must exist between, on the one hand, the pension as a personal asset, which is protected by Article 1 and, on the other, of the public interest,” the report says regarding the pension cuts. As for cuts in special salaries, the report argues that, the cuts “are part of a wider fiscal adjustment program containing a package of measures to revive the Greek economy and consolidate public finances” but their implementation “is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the constitutionality of these cuts.”

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A child can tell that this is nonsense:

Growth predicted at “..2.1% this year and 2.5% in 2018, and continuing at a similar pace until 2060(!)..”. While the demanded budget surplus is 3.5% for the next 5 years. Which guarantees the growth predictions won’t be achieved.

Deal On Greece Is Touch And Go (K.)

A senior eurozone official put on Wednesday the chances of a complete agreement on Greece being reached at this Monday’s Eurogroup meeting at 50%, while many issues remain open and the negotiation battle at this stage is mainly between Berlin and the IMF. The official also reiterated that there will be no tranche disbursement without the IMF agreeing to participate in the Greek program. There are three scenarios on the negotiating table, according to two eurozone officials who took part in last Monday’s Euro Working Group. All three provide for the primary budget surplus to remain at 3.5% of GDP until 2022, showing that this is not negotiable anymore.

The main obstacle to an agreement among Greece’s creditors is that they disagree on the rate of Greek growth in the coming years, a key parameter for the extent of Greek debt easing. The first scenario provides for growth to match the European Commission’s estimates for 2.1% this year and 2.5% in 2018, and continuing at a similar pace until 2060. If there is a primary surplus of 2-2.6% of GDP, then the measures agreed last May will suffice to make the Greek debt sustainable. According to the second scenario, growth will be below even the IMF forecast and will not exceed 1% per year in the long term. That should take the primary surplus down to 1.5% of GDP from 2023, and more measures will be needed to render the debt sustainable. The third scenario is similar to the second, but the growth forecast is slightly higher, at 1.25%.

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Forget about hoping Brussels is looking for a solution NOT located in southern Libya. Just imagine what you would do if this was your child.

Traffickers, Smugglers Exploit Record Rise In Unaccompanied Child Refugees (G.)

A record increase in the number of refugee and migrant children travelling alone has left many exposed to sexual abuse and exploitation at the hands of traffickers and opportunists. At least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children were recorded in 80 countries in 2015-16, a rise of almost 500% on the 66,000 documented in 2010-2011, according to a Unicef report published on Wednesday. The central Mediterranean passage is one of several migration routes identified as particularly dangerous for children. More than 75% of the 1,600 14- to 17-year-olds who arrived in Italy reported being held against their will or forced to work.

“One child moving alone is one too many and yet, today, there are a staggering number of children doing just that – we as adults are failing to protect them,” said Unicef’s deputy executive director, Justin Forsyth. “Ruthless smugglers and traffickers are exploiting their vulnerability for personal gain, helping children to cross borders, only to sell them into slavery and forced prostitution. It is unconscionable that we are not adequately defending children from these predators.” The sheer number of migrant and refugee arrivals has left states struggling to cope, with children often falling through the cracks.

Border closures, aggressive pushback measures, overcrowded shelters, makeshift camps and heavy-handed authorities have only served to exacerbate the risk of child exploitation, encouraging unaccompanied minors to take highly dangerous routes in a desperate bid to reach their destinations. One 17-year-old girl from Nigeria told Unicef that she was trapped in Libya for three months and sexually assaulted by her smuggler-turned-trafficker as she attempted to travel alone to Italy. “Everything [he] said – that we would be treated well and that we would be safe – it was all wrong. It was a lie,” she said of the man who offered to help her. “He said to me if I didn’t sleep with him, he would not bring me to Europe. He raped me.”

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Apr 232017
 
 April 23, 2017  Posted by at 8:30 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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How we got here

 

Disintegrating Left-Right Divide Sets Stage For French Political Upheaval (G.)
The Main Issue in the French Presidential Election: National Sovereignty (CP)
ECB Stands Ready to Support Banks If Needed After France Vote (BBG)
It Is Time To Break Up The Fed (IFT)
China’s Credit Excess Is Unlike Anything The World Has Ever Seen (Brown)
The US Retail Bubble Has Now Burst (ZH)
UK Retail Sales Volumes Fall At Fastest Rate In Seven Years (Ind.)
BHS Crash Sets Trend For A Chain Of Store Closures On UK High Streets (G.)
German Intelligence Spied On Interpol In Dozens Of Countries (R.)
Pope Likens Refugee Holding Centers To ‘Concentration Camps’ (G.)

 

 

This is a global issue, the left has moved so far right it has no identity left. Nice detail: The Parti Socialiste of the current president could be bankrupted by its dismal campaign.

Disintegrating Left-Right Divide Sets Stage For French Political Upheaval (G.)

Do they vote for or against? Do they choose a candidate who represents their politics or one who, opinion polls suggest, is most likely to defeat the woman whose presence as one of two candidates in the second-round runoff in a fortnight seems a given, but whose name still provokes a frisson of fear for many: the far-right Front National leader Marine Le Pen, with her anti-Europe, anti-immigration, “French-first” programme? As election day has approached, and with the added complication of the terrorist threat following the shooting of a police officer on the Champs-Elysées in Paris, the dilemma has caused particular anguish for France’s mainstream leftwing voters, whose candidate is trailing in fifth place.

There are no certainties, but barring all other candidates “dropping from a nasty virus”, as one political analyst put it, Benoît Hamon is facing a crushing defeat in the first round, ending his leadership dreams and putting the future of the country’s Socialist party (PS) in question. In a decline that mirrors that of Britain’s Labour party, the PS is facing years in a political desert, if it survives. If Hamon finishes last among the leading candidates, as polls predict, the party’s only hope of salvaging a thread of power will lie in winning enough parliamentary seats in the legislative elections that follow to form an influential group in the national assembly. Even then it will most likely be part of a coalition rather than a fully functioning opposition.

Even worse, and even more unthinkable, if leftwing voters turn en masse to Jean-Luc Mélenchon as their best hope of a place in the second round against the frontrunners – independent centrist Emmanuel Macron, Le Pen or the conservative François Fillon – and Hamon polls less than 5%, none of Hamon’s campaign expenses will be reimbursed, bankrupting the PS. “Under 5% and the situation is really catastrophic,” Marc-Olivier Padis, of the Paris-based thinktank Terra Nova, told the Observer. “And it’s possible. We are hearing many socialists wondering if they should vote Mélenchon or Macron. The only thing that can save the party in this election is if enough socialists vote for Hamon out of loyalty.”

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It’s about the economy, guys. Too many people are left with too little. That’s when they choose to be their own boss -again-.

The Main Issue in the French Presidential Election: National Sovereignty (CP)

The 2017 French Presidential election marks a profound change in European political alignments. There is an ongoing shift from the traditional left-right rivalry to opposition between globalization, in the form of the European Union (EU), and national sovereignty. Standard media treatment sticks to a simple left-right dualism: “racist” rejection of immigrants is the main issue and that what matters most is to “stop Marine Le Pen!” Going from there to here is like walking through Alice’s looking glass. Almost everything is turned around. On this side of the glass, the left has turned into the right and part of the right is turning into the left. Fifty years ago, it was “the left” whose most ardent cause was passionate support for Third World national liberation struggles.

The left’s heroes were Ahmed Ben Bella, Sukarno, Amilcar Cabral, Patrice Lumumba, and above all Ho Chi Minh. What were these leaders fighting for? They were fighting to liberate their countries from Western imperialism. They were fighting for independence, for the right to determine their own way of life, preserve their own customs, decide their own future. They were fighting for national sovereignty, and the left supported that struggle. Today, it is all turned around. “Sovereignty” has become a bad word in the mainstream left. National sovereignty is an essentially defensive concept. It is about staying home and minding one’s own business. It is the opposite of the aggressive nationalism that inspired fascist Italy and Nazi Germany to conquer other countries, depriving them of their national sovereignty.

The confusion is due to the fact that most of what calls itself “the left” in the West has been totally won over to the current form of imperialism – aka “globalization”. It is an imperialism of a new type, centered on the use of military force and “soft” power to enable transnational finance to penetrate every corner of the earth and thus to reshape all societies in the endless quest for profitable return on capital investment. The left has been won over to this new imperialism because it advances under the banner of “human rights” and “antiracism” – abstractions which a whole generation has been indoctrinated to consider the central, if not the only, political issues of our times.

The fact that “sovereignism” is growing in Europe is interpreted by mainstream globalist media as proof that “Europe is moving to the right”– no doubt because Europeans are “racist”. This interpretation is biased and dangerous. People in more and more European nations are calling for national sovereignty precisely because they have lost it. They lost it to the European Union, and they want it back. That is why the British voted to leave the European Union. Not because they are “racist”, but primarily because they cherish their historic tradition of self-rule.

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French government debt could become ineligible as collateral if Le Pen and/or Melenchon do too well.

ECB Stands Ready to Support Banks If Needed After France Vote (BBG)

ECB officials signaled that their liquidity facilities remain available to counter any market tension that may arise in the aftermath of France’s presidential election, the first round of which takes place Sunday. “The central bank should be ready for any shocks that should materialize,” Governing Council member Ignazio Visco said at a press conference during the IMF spring meetings in Washington on Saturday. “And if there were to be such a shock, the instruments are the instruments that a central bank should use, which are liquidity provision, refinancing when needed. And intervening very quickly is really very easy now given the instruments we have.” Like the U.K.’s vote on whether to continue its membership of the EU in June, central bank readiness to support the banking system has been sought given the potential for such political events to create market turmoil.

In this case, a strong showing in the first round by anti-euro candidate Marine Le Pen could cast doubt over the future of the single currency. Visco argued that the presence of central bank facilities makes it less likely they’ll actually be needed. [..] The euro area has years of experience with banking freeze-ups and has multiple instruments to address liquidity shortages that strike otherwise solvent banks. In particular, in the event a sudden credit-rating downgrade made French government debt ineligible as collateral for normal ECB refinancing operations, so-called Emergency Liquidity Assistance may be available from the Bank of France. “If there should be problems for specific French banks, liquidity-wise, then the ECB has instruments to help solvent banks with liquidity problems,” Governing Council member Ewald Nowotny said on Saturday. “This is ELA, emergency liquidity assistance. That could be given of course. But we don’t expect any special movements.”

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“Donald Trump and the GOP need an easy, highly visible legislative victory. Breaking up the Fed meets this criteria.”

It Is Time To Break Up The Fed (IFT)

Donald Trump and the GOP need an easy, highly visible legislative victory. Breaking up the Fed meets this criteria. In the aftermath of the Great Financial Crisis, policymakers rushed out the Dodd-Frank Act. This Act increased the Fed’s responsibilities. However, policymakers did this without examining the Fed’s performance in the run-up to the financial crisis. Had they done so, they would have seen the Fed failed as a bank supervisor and regulator. This failure alone mandates breaking up the Fed. After all, why should the Fed be given a second chance given how much its failure hurt the global real economy and taxpayers? Furthermore, this failure strongly suggests policymakers shouldn’t have rewarded the Fed with additional responsibilities. After all, there is no reason to believe the Fed’s failure as a bank supervisor and regulator won’t be repeated with any new responsibilities.

To the extent these new responsibilities exist in the Dodd-Frank Act, they too should be stripped away. What the Fed should be left with is responsibility for monetary policy and the payment system. All of the Fed’s bank supervision and regulatory responsibility should be transferred to the FDIC. There are many significant benefits from doing this including it reinforces market discipline on the banks. Unlike the Fed, the FDIC is responsible for protecting the taxpayers and has the authority to close a bank. The FDIC’s primary responsibility is minimizing the risk of loss by the taxpayer backed deposit insurance fund. It achieves this initially through regulation and supervision, but more importantly by a willingness to step in and close a bank that threatens to cause a loss to the fund.

Shareholders and unsecured bank creditors are keenly aware they are likely to lose their entire investment should the FDIC step up and close the bank they are invested in. As a result, they have an incentive to exert discipline on bank management to limit its risk taking so the bank is never taken over by the FDIC. For those who would argue that it is important to keep bank supervision and regulation together with monetary policy, I would point out there is no evidence showing this produces a better outcome. In the run-up to the Great Financial Crisis, the Bank of England and the ECB did not have supervision and regulation responsibility. The Fed did. Talk about a perfect controlled experiment.

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China needs more than $13 to create $1 of growth.

China’s Credit Excess Is Unlike Anything The World Has Ever Seen (Brown)

From a global macroeconomic perspective, we encourage readers to consider that the world is experiencing an extended, rolling process of deflating its credit excesses. It is now simply China’s turn. For context, Japan started deflating their credit bubble in the early 1990s, and has now experienced more than 20 years of deflation and very little growth since. The US began its process in 2008, and after eight years has only recently been showing signs of sustainable recovery. The euro zone entered this process in 2011 and is still struggling six years onward. We believe China is now entering the early stages of this process. Having said that, we believe that Chinese authorities have a viable plan for deflating their credit excess in an orderly fashion.

Please stay posted as we will review this multi-pronged, market-based approach in our next column. For now, let’s turn our attention to the size of the credit excess that China created and why we estimate it to be the largest in the world. A credit excess is created by the speed and magnitude of credit that is created – if too much is created in too short a time period, excesses inevitably occur and non-performing loans (NPLs) emerge. To illustrate the credit excess that has been created in China, let’s review several key indicators, including the: 1) flow of new credit; 2) stock of outstanding credit; 3) credit deviation ratio (i.e., excess credit); 4) incremental capital output ratio (efficiency of credit allocation).

The US created 58% of GDP between 2002-07, and the global financial crisis followed. Japan created credit equivalent to the entire size of its economy between 1985-90 and subsequently experienced more than 20 years of deflation (admittedly reflecting the lack of restructuring). Thailand created a significant real estate bubble between 1992-97 and ended up with about 45% NPL ratios. Spain created credit equivalent to 116% of GDP between 2002-07 and still is trying to address a 20% unemployment rate. China created 139% of GDP in new credit between the first quarter of 2009 and the third quarter of 2014 (when GDP growth peaked), far greater than what was created in other major credit bubbles globally.

[..] Another important measure to assess the amount of credit in the economy which is “excessive” is the credit-to-GDP gap, as reported by the Bank of International Settlements. This ratio measures the difference between the current credit-to-GDP ratio in an economy against its long-term trend of what is necessary to optimally support long-term GDP growth. It is akin to measuring the amount of credit that is productively deployed into an economy. This metric is used by the Basel III framework in determining countercyclical capital buffers for a country’s banking system when credit creation becomes too fast (i.e., high credit growth requires higher capital ratios for banks).

Finally, to show that the pace of credit creation will necessarily slow, thereby exposing misallocated credit and driving the emergence of new NPL formation, we turn to the deterioration in China’s incremental capital output ratio. This ratio is the measure of the number of units of input required to produce one unit of GDP. For the 15 years prior to the credit impulse in 2009-14, China’s incremental capital output ratio has been consistently between two and four. Meaning that two to four yuan in fixed asset investment created one yuan in GDP. But as a result of the credit-driven economic growth model, and the excessive credit that has been created (and the subsequent excess capacity in the industrial economy), China’s investment efficiency has deteriorated to the point that its incremental capital output ratio is now over 13. Said another way, every 1 yuan in new fixed asset investment is now creating only 7 fen in GDP.

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Full employment, anyone?

The US Retail Bubble Has Now Burst (ZH)

The devastation in the US retail sector is accelerating in 2017, and in addition to the surging number of brick and mortar retail bankruptcies, it is perhaps nowhere more obvious than in the soaring number of store closures. While the shuttering of retail stores has been a frequent topic on this website, most recently in the context of the next “big short”, namely the ongoing deterioration in the mall REITs and associated Commercial Mortgage-Backed Securities and CDS, here is a stunning fact from Credit Suisse:”Barely a quarter into 2017, year-to-date retail store closings have already surpassed those of 2008.”

According to the Swiss bank’s calculations, on a unit basis, approximately 2,880 store closings were announced YTD, more than twice as many closings as the 1,153 announced during the same period last year. Historically, roughly 60% of store closure announcements occur in the first five months of the year. By extrapolating the year-to-date announcements, CS estimates that there could be more than 8,640 store closings this year, which will be higher than the historical 2008 peak of approximately 6,200 store closings, which suggests that for brick-and-mortar stores stores the current transition period is far worse than the depth of the credit crisis depression.

As the WSJ calculates, at least 10 retailers, including Limited Stores, electronics chain hhgregg and sporting-goods chain Gander Mountain have filed for bankruptcy protection so far this year. That compares with nine retailers that declared bankruptcy, with at least $50 million liabilities, for all of 2016. On Friday, women’s apparel chain Bebe Stores said it would close its remaining 170 shops and sell only online, while teen retailer Rue21 Inc. announced plans to close about 400 of its 1,100 locations. Another striking fact: on a square footage basis, approximately 49 million square feet of retail space has closed YTD. Should this pace persist by the end of the year, total square footage reductions could reach 147M square feet, another all time high, and surpassing the historical peak of 115M in 2001.

There are several key drivers behind the avalanche of “liquidation” signs on store fronts. The first is the glut of residual excess retail space. As the WSJ writes, the seeds of the industry’s current turmoil date back nearly three decades, when retailers, in the throes of a consumer-buying spree and flush with easy money, rushed to open new stores. The land grab wasn’t unlike the housing boom that was also under way at that time. “Thousands of new doors opened and rents soared,” Richard Hayne, chief executive of Urban Outfitters Inc., told analysts last month. “This created a bubble, and like housing, that bubble has now burst.”

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No matter how you try to explain it away, in the end it’s just people having less to spend.

UK Retail Sales Volumes Fall At Fastest Rate In Seven Years (Ind.)

Retail sale volumes slumped in March, seeming to confirm doubts about the robustness of the consumer-led economy in the wake of last summer’s Brexit vote. According to the Office for National Statistics, sales were down 1.8% in the month, against City expectations of a 0.2% decline. The monthly data can be volatile and March’s decline follows a 1.7% spike in February, but the ONS itself highlighted the weakening trend this year and noted that over the three months to March there was the first quarterly decline in volumes since 2013. In the first quarter of 2017 sales were down 1.4%, the biggest decline since the first three months of 2010 when they fell 2%.

Retail sales performed much better than expected in the immediate wake of last June’s Brexit vote, helping to boost overall GDP growth and confounding widespread expectations that the economy would fall into recession. But economists said the latest data suggested gravity was now asserting itself as inflation, stemming from the sharp depreciation of the pound since last June, eats into incomes and wage growth remains chronically weak. “We should see these retail sales figures as the start of a period of much weaker consumer spending growth – which will act as a drag on the overall progress of the UK economy over this year and next,” said Andrew Sentance, senior economic adviser at PwC.

“This is the clearest indication yet that the expected slowdown in the UK economy has begun, and we should expect to see this confirmed in other economic data over the next few months.” James Knightley, an economist at ING described the figures as “dreadful”. “The story for the household sector isn’t great right now. Inflation is eating into household spending power with wages once again failing to keep pace with the rising cost of living. There is also a growing sense of job insecurity highlighted in some surveys, which may also be making households a little nervous,” he said. The household saving ratio, the gap between the sector’s aggregate income and spending, fell to just 3.3% in the final quarter of 2016, the weakest on record, prompting questions about the sustainability of the rate of consumer spending. Retail sales account for around 30% of household consumption, which in turn accounts for 60% of UK GDP.

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“..1.5 million people work in low-paid UK retail jobs..” They can’t afford the products they sell. Henry Ford had a solution to that.

BHS Crash Sets Trend For A Chain Of Store Closures On UK High Streets (G.)

The fact that Britain’s unemployment rate has fallen to its joint lowest level since 1975 belies the experience of thousands of BHS staff, who have struggled to find an equivalent job with a contract and regular hours. The jobless rate may be just 4.7% but official records show the number of people on zero-hours contracts hit a record high of 905,000 in the final three months of 2016. That was an increase of 101,000, or 13%, compared with the same period a year earlier. Last year, research by industry trade body the British Retail Consortium (BRC) identified a “lost generation” of predominantly female shop workers who – as thousands of BHS staff would find out – risk losing their jobs as structural change chews up the high street. It estimated there were nearly 500,000 retail workers, aged between 26 and 45, many of whom have children and need to work close to their family home, who would find it hard to find alternative jobs.

Using the benchmark of those earning less than £8.05 an hour, the BRC says 1.5 million people work in low-paid UK retail jobs. About 70% are female and one in five receive means-tested working age tax credits. Norman Pickavance, chair of the Fabian Society taskforce on the future of retail, says the majority of companies in the sector are trying to save money by moving towards less secure employment models. “There are more and more zero-hours-type contracts and self employment,” he says. “A year on from the demise of BHS, most retailers are continuing down that route of flexibility but there is a risk to them from Brexit. They have only been able to use these methods because of the abundance of labour and might have to rethink.”

[..] This trend is writ larger in the US, where analysts are talking about a “retail apocalypse”, as main street veterans like Macy’s and Sears line up to announce major store closure programmes. With American Apparel, Abercrombie & Fitch and JCPenney also axing stores, hundreds of American shopping mall outlets are closing for good. The cost in job terms has been stark, with more than 89,000 retail positions eliminated over the last six months. New York-based Global Data analyst Neil Saunders says the US and UK retail markets are not mirror images, with the American woes resulting from the fallout from a belated move by store chiefs to address the threat posed by the internet.

With more than five times more retail square footage per person than the UK, American store chiefs have also got a bigger problem on their hands than their British counterparts. “In terms of online penetration, the US is where the UK was five or so years ago,” continues Saunders. “What we are seeing is large US retailers scrabbling to adjust.” He adds: “Generally, UK retail is at a much later evolutionary stage than the US. There has already been quite a lot of adjustment in terms of the closure and adaptation of physical space.

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Everyone spies on everyone. Growth industry.

German Intelligence Spied On Interpol In Dozens Of Countries (R.)

Germany’s BND foreign intelligence agency spied on the Interpol international police agency for years and on the group’s country liaison offices in dozens of countries such as Austria, Greece and the United States, a German magazine said. Der Spiegel magazine, citing documents it had seen, said the BND had added the email addresses, phone numbers and fax numbers of the police investigators to its sector surveillance list. In addition, the German spy agency also monitored the Europol police agency Europol which is based in The Hague, the magazine said. Der Spiegel reported in February that the BND also spied on the phones, faxes and emails of several news organizations, including the New York Times and Reuters.

The BND’s activities have come under intense scrutiny during a German parliamentary investigation into allegations that the US National Security Agency conducted mass surveillance outside of the United States, including a cellphone used by Chancellor Angela Merkel. Konstantin von Notz, a Greens party member who serves on the investigative committee, described the latest report about the BND’s spying activities as “scandalous and unfathomable.” “We now know that parliaments, various companies and even journalists and publishers have been targeted, as well as allied countries,” von Notz said in a statement. He said the latest reports showed how ineffective parliamentary controls had been thus far, despite new legislation aimed at reforming the BND. “It represents a danger to our rule of law,” he said.

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So what as the Pope done to alleviate the issue? How has he used the Vatican’s opulent riches to make life better for refugees?

Pope Likens Refugee Holding Centers To ‘Concentration Camps’ (G.)

Pope Francis urged governments on Saturday to get migrants and refugees out of holding centers, saying many had become “concentration camps”. During a visit to a Rome basilica, where he met migrants, Francis told of his visit to a camp on the Greek island of Lesbos last year. There he met a Muslim refugee from the Middle East who told him how “terrorists came to our country”. Islamists had slit the throat of the man’s Christian wife because she refused to throw her crucifix the ground. “I don’t know if he managed to leave that concentration camp, because refugee camps, many of them, are of concentration (type) because of the great number of people left there inside them,” the pope said.

Francis praised countries helping refugees and thanked them for “bearing this extra burden, because it seems that international accords are more important than human rights”. He did not elaborate but appeared to be referring to agreements that keep migrants from crossing borders. In February, the European Union pledged to finance migrant camps in Libya as part of a wider European Union drive to stem immigration from Africa. Humanitarian groups have criticized efforts to stop migrants in Libya, where – according to a U.N. report last December – they suffer arbitrary detention, forced labor, rape and torture.

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Apr 112017
 
 April 11, 2017  Posted by at 9:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Carole Lombard 1934

 

54% Of Canadians Think Home Prices Will Never Fall (BNN)
Wild Housing Speculation Drives Entire Canadian Economy (WS)
Third of US Car Owners Can’t Afford Surprise Repairs (UT)
The Retail Apocalypse’s Terrifying Impact On One Corner Of Wall Street (BI)
China Is Playing a $9 Trillion Game of Chicken With Savers (BBG)
Currency-Issuing Governments Never Have To Worry About Bond Markets (Bilbo)
Recessions Are Never Desirable Events And Are Always Avoidable (Bilbo)
So Many Triggers (Thomas)
American Carnage – The New Landscape of Opioid Addiction (Caldwell)
How Erdogan’s Referendum Gamble Might Backfire (Spiegel)
Share of Member States in EU GDP (EC)
Austria FinMin Calls For €1 Billion EU Investment In Greece (R.)
JP Morgan Report Sees ‘Light At The End Of The Tunnel’ For Greece (Amna)
Refugee Community Center Set To Open On Lesvos (K.)

 

 

Stupefying. “Of those in the younger generation who are already in the housing market, more than four of every five plan to sell..”

54% Of Canadians Think Home Prices Will Never Fall (BNN)

More than half of the country believes home prices will never fall, according to a new poll from CIBC. Despite lofty valuations in the Toronto and Vancouver housing markets, 54% of respondents to the CIBC poll say housing prices will rise indefinitely, while only 40% think prices will decline over the course of the next five years. David Madani, senior Canadian economist at Capital Economics, thinks the unbridled optimism is just one more sign the Toronto housing market is in bubble territory. “The fact that the majority of Canadians still think home prices can continue to shoot up is sort of testament to the fact we’re in a full-blown housing bubble,” he said in an interview with BNN. According to the poll, those high prices are keeping homeowners on the sidelines, with 62% of respondents saying they’re reluctant to sell their home, lest they become buyers again.

Home prices in Toronto are up more than 30% over the course of the last year, and prices in Vancouver have risen more than 14%. Those who are looking to sell are largely of the baby boomer cohort, with more than two-thirds of respondents older than 55 saying they plan to downsize to a smaller home or condo. CIBC says boomers are motivated to sell not just due to the ease of maintaining a smaller home, but also as a boost to their retirement savings. What’s less clear is who they’re going to sell their home to: 52% of the millennial generation either don’t believe they’ll ever own a home, or are unsure if home ownership is in their future, according to the CIBC poll. Of those in the younger generation who are already in the housing market, more than four of every five plan to sell, with 63% complaining the mortgage and housing costs are making them cash-poor.

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It drives it and will make it crumble. But Justin isn’t listening.

Wild Housing Speculation Drives Entire Canadian Economy (WS)

Here’s another data point on the Canadian housing bubble, how immense it really is, and how utterly crucial wild housing speculation has become to the Canadian economy. Housing starts surged to 253,720 units in March seasonally adjusted, the highest since September 2007, according to Canada Mortgage & Housing Corp. Of them, 161,000 were multi-family starts of condos and rental units in urban areas. In Toronto, one of the hot beds of Canada’s house price bubble, housing starts jumped by 16,600 units, all of them condos and apartments, defying any expectation of a slowdown. Housing starts are an indication of construction activity, a powerful additive to the local economy with large secondary effects. Housing construction gets fired up by the promise of ever skyrocketing housing prices, and thus big payoffs for developers, lenders, real estate agents, and the entire industry.

National home price data covers up the real drama in certain cities, particularly Vancouver (British Columbia) and Toronto (Ontario), but it does show by how much Canadian housing prices have overshot the already lofty US housing prices. The chart below by Stéfane Marion, Chief Economist at Economics and Strategy, National Bank of Canada, compares US home prices per the Case-Shiller 20-City index to Canadian home prices per the Teranet-National Bank 26-market index. Both indices are based on similar methodologies of comparing pairs of sales of the same home over time. The shaded areas denote recessions in Canada. Note that during the housing crisis in the US, there was only a blip in Canada’s housing market:

How important is real estate and housing construction to the Canadian economy? Hugely important! It accounts for an ever larger proportion of the Canadian economy. For all of Canada, according to data by Statistics Canada, housing construction and real estate activities combined account for 15.5% of GDP, up from 14.7% in 2011. This chart shows housing construction and real estate activities in the largest four provinces as percent of the province’s GDP in 2015, and for Canada overall. StatCan data for 2016 are not yet available. Note British Columbia: 22% of its economy is based on residential construction and real estate activities – due to Canada’s number one housing hot-bed Vancouver:

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As I said last week: it seems there’s an article on this theme every week now.

Third of US Car Owners Can’t Afford Surprise Repairs (UT)

Nearly one-in-three American motorists cannot pay for vehicle repairs without taking on debt, according to a new study from AAA. The study estimates 64 million drivers could not pay out-of-pocket for an average repair bill of $500 to $600. There are about 210 million licensed motorists in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. About 76% of men said they could afford the expense, while only 62% of women could do the same. “We were a little shocked at the results,” said Michael Calkins, AAA manager of technical services. “That one-third of American drivers couldn’t afford the cost of a $500 auto repair is a little concerning.”

AAA suggests motorists adhere to a scrupulous vehicle maintenance schedule and set aside $50 a month to build a fund for maintenance and unexpected repairs. But some motorists don’t – or can’t. About one-third of U.S. drivers delay or skip recommended car maintenance, Calkins said, a possible lingering repercussion of the 2008 recession. Motorists pay later for putting off vehicle maintenance now, as worn-down parts increase the likelihood of costly roadside breakdowns, Calkins said. A car-care fund can help motorists stick to their maintenance schedules, but for many low-income families, $50 a month is a big ask, said Asley Orr, executive director of Good News Mountaineer Garage, a nonprofit that donates used cars to West Virginians who need transportation to work.

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Who owns the stores and malls? Who owns the debt that keeps them going until it doesn’t?

The Retail Apocalypse’s Terrifying Impact On One Corner Of Wall Street (BI)

One of the biggest waves of retail closures in decades is killing off malls across the US and taking some Wall Street investments with it. Struggling with online competition, huge retailers like Sears, JCPenney, and Macy’s are closing hundreds of stores that typically anchor malls, meaning they occupy the largest spaces at mall entrances and drive most shopper traffic. When a big store shuts down, it triggers a chain reaction that can end with the shopping mall being unable to collect enough rent to cover its debts, forcing it to default. By one measure, as many as a third of the malls in the US are at risk of facing this situation. This has become a nightmare for investors who are expecting to collect on those debts. They own bonds – called commercial mortgage-backed securities, or CMBSs – that are backed by the mall properties’ rents.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s similar to one element of the financial crisis. Back then, mortgage-backed securities, which pooled homeowners’ mortgages into a multitrillion-dollar financial market, were part of the problem. They encouraged risky lending, and together with derivatives on the bonds that were ginned up by Wall Street, they left banks and investors with massive losses that threatened the financial system. Nobody is predicting anything that dire today, but CMBSs, which Morgan Stanley says account for nearly 10% of the $3.6 trillion commercial real-estate mortgage market, work similarly. They pool debt payments from several malls or other commercial properties and then splice them so that investors can buy the segment and take on the kind of risk they want.

What’s happening in the retail market, though, is worse than anyone who invested in the bonds could’ve imagined a few years ago. “Malls are hard to turn around once they go downhill,” said Steve Jellinek, vice president of CMBS analytical services for Morningstar Credit Ratings. As a result, many CMBS investments are getting wiped out, and “retail lending has really taken a beating,” he said. About $48 billion in loans backed by mall properties are at risk of default, according to Morningstar.

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This is how the Chinese see Beijing, first as full of hot air (true), and second as capable of making good on any and all losses (not true): “Cracking down on implicit guarantees is just like curbing home prices,” she says. “It’s something that the government needs to say, but it’s not something they will eventually do.”

China Is Playing a $9 Trillion Game of Chicken With Savers (BBG)

Like many individual investors in China, Yang Mo has no idea what’s in the wealth management products that make up a big chunk of her net worth. She says there’s really no point in finding out. Sure, WMPs invest in all kinds of risky assets, but the government would never let a big one fail, she explains. “It’s not how the Chinese government does things, and it’s not even Chinese culture,” says Yang, a 29-year-old public relations professional in Beijing. Hers is a common refrain in Asia’s largest economy, where savers have poured $9 trillion into WMPs and similar products on the assumption that they’ll get bailed out if the investments sour. Even after news in February that policy makers are drafting rules to make it clear that state guarantees don’t exist, Yang is undaunted.

She says she’ll only withdraw money from WMPs in the unlikely event that they start to suffer losses. “Cracking down on implicit guarantees is just like curbing home prices,” she says. “It’s something that the government needs to say, but it’s not something they will eventually do.” Yang’s steadfast faith in bailouts illustrates the dilemma for authorities as they try to reduce moral hazard and improve the pricing of risk in China’s financial system: It may require a major WMP blowup to shake investors out of their complacency, an event that could wreak havoc on banks that increasingly rely on the products for funding. [..] WMPs – a key part of China’s shadow banking system – are getting squeezed as the nation’s central bank increases interest rates to discourage excessive leverage.

That’s not only putting pressure on products that use borrowed funds to meet their fixed return targets, it’s also weighing on the Chinese bond market, where WMPs allocate the biggest portion of their funds. For as long as they can, banks will make investors whole when WMPs run into trouble because they fear the reputational damage of a failed product, according to Hong. At some point, though, WMP shortfalls may be too large for the banks to cover, forcing policy makers to decide whether they’re willing to allow losses. Intervention is becoming less likely, if the new draft rules are anything to go by. Regulators are working on language that would make clear there are no state guarantees on asset-management products – which include WMPs, trusts, mutual funds and other products – people familiar with the matter said in February.

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Snippets from a great and long article by Australian economist Bill Mitchell. Everything they tell you about austerity is a lie.

Currency-Issuing Governments Never Have To Worry About Bond Markets (Bilbo)

How many times have you heard a politician claim they had to cut government spending and move the fiscal balance to surplus because they had to engender the confidence of the bond markets. Apparently, this narrative alleges that if bond markets are not ‘confident’ (whatever that means) then they will stop begging treasury departments for more debt issues and the government, in question, will run out of money and then pensions will stop being paid and the public service will be sacked and public trains and buses will stop running and before we know it the skies will blacken and collapse on us. The narrative ignores the usual statistics that bid-to-cover ratios are typically high (hence my ‘begging’ terminology) which are supplemented by well documented cases where the bond dealers (including banks etc) do actually beg central banks to stop driving yields down in maturity segments where these characters have pitched their “business model” (read: where they make the most profits).

The facts are exactly the opposite to the neo-liberal pitch. Currency-issuing governments never need to worry about how bond markets ‘feel’. Essentially, the bond markets are irrelevant to the ability of such a government to design and implement its fiscal plans. And, the central bank always can counteract any tendencies that the bond markets might seek to impose where governments do actually issue debt. [..] Nothing a student learns in a mainstream macroeconomics course at university (at any level – and the deception becomes worse the in later years as the student enters graduate school) about the relative powers of governments and bond markets is true. [..] So next time you hear an economist or a politician talk about how bond markets have to be satisfied and they use that as a justification for hacking into public spending (and driving up unemployment and poverty rates) you know they are lying and are frauds.

The bond traders never have to be satisfied. They can be forced to live on crumbs by the central bank if it so chooses. [..] The narrative that asserts that governments have to assuage the sentiments of the bond markets – which is an oft-repeated claim to justify job-destroying and poverty-inducing austerity – is just fake. It is a lie. It is just one of many lies that the elites use to pursue their biased austerity. Biased because they never advocate cutting spending or government support that helps them. They just support cuts that help the most disadvantaged who have little political voice and so can be disregarded. The point is that currency-issuing governments never have to worry about bond markets. And it would be better if the government eliminated the public debt market altogether – then the bond traders would have to do something productive for a living and get off the corporate welfare teat!

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More Bill Mitchell.

Recessions Are Never Desirable Events And Are Always Avoidable (Bilbo)

Bloomberg published an article last week (April 7, 2017) that it should not have published given that the article offers only fake knowledge to its readership. The article in question – Australia’s Delayed Recession Fallout Is Showing Up in Its Jobs Data – carried the sub-title “There may be trouble ahead” and purported to argue that because the Australian government’s fiscal stimulus allowed our nation to avoid a recession in 2009 we now have to ‘pay the piper’ and take our medicine and suffer a recession anyway. The proposition is ridiculous to say the least. The article uses as authority some nonsensical statements from a “business management consultant”, who doesn’t appear to have a very sound grasp of either history or what is actually going on. This is another case of misinformation.

The fact is that the Australian government’s fiscal stimulus in 2008 and 2009 saved the economy from recession. The current slowdown and parlous labour market is not some delayed effect from that. Rather, it is because the Australian government caught the ‘fiscal surplus bug’ obsession, and began a misguided pursuits of surpluses, irrespective of what the external and private domestic sectors were doing. It caused an immediate slowdown and all the virtuous dynamics that were accompanying the stimulus-led growth (for example, fall in household debt and the rise in the household saving ratio) were reversed, as we would expect. Far from being delayed effects, the poor jobs data is because current fiscal policy is too restrictive. Simple solution: expand the discretionary fiscal deficit (preferably with a large-scale public sector job creation strategy).

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“..Deutsche is ten times larger than Lehman Brothers..”, ” (90% of Deutsche’s revenue has been from derivative trading, which is what brought down Lehman.)”

So Many Triggers (Thomas)

Deutsche Bank has announced that it will create more shares, selling them at a 35% discount. Existing shareholders have not been pleased and, in the first four days since the offer was announced, the value of existing shares dropped by 13% as shareholders began dumping them. So why on earth would Germany’s foremost bank do something so rash? Well, in recent years, the bank has been involved in many arbitrations, litigations, and regulatory proceedings as a result of fraudulent activities, including the manipulation of markets. Having been found guilty, they presently owe $7.2 billion to the US Department of Justice and are now facing an additional $10 billion litigation bill. Unfortunately, the bank is already broke and, should Deutsche actually be able to sell the new shares, the $8.6 billion they hope to receive will still not save them from bankruptcy.

Business has also not been so good. They’ve lost nearly $2 billion in the last two years, instituted a hiring freeze, cut bonuses by 80%, and are facing a $2.5 million civil penalty to pay to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission for failure to report transactions and, not surprisingly, have been downgraded. The German government has stated that they will not bail out Deutsche and, indeed, under the EU agreement, they cannot do so. It’s safe to say that Germany’s largest bank will soon go the way of the dodo. For those who don’t live in Europe, this may not seem all that significant. However, Deutsche is the bank that funds the euro system, which they can now no longer do. Further, Deutsche is ten times larger than Lehman Brothers, an American bank that famously went down in 2008, heralding in that year’s economic crash. (90% of Deutsche’s revenue has been from derivative trading, which is what brought down Lehman.)

Upon the collapse of Deutsche Bank, four major US banks would be expected to become insolvent in a matter of days. The ripples would then continue to spread outward into the economic system as a whole. For many years, I’ve made repeated reference to the fact that the Western powers have been headed south economically, repeatedly relying on strategies that would provide short-term gain but would ultimately create long-term pain. They’ve been remarkably consistent and steadfast in this trend and, at this point, Deutsche is merely the latest trigger that may bring down the system.

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Chilling.

American Carnage – The New Landscape of Opioid Addiction (Caldwell)

There have always been drug addicts in need of help, but the scale of the present wave of heroin and opioid abuse is unprecedented. Fifty-two thousand Americans died of overdoses in 2015—about four times as many as died from gun homicides and half again as many as died in car accidents. Pawtucket is a small place, and yet 5,400 addicts are members at Anchor. Six hundred visit every day. Rhode Island is a small place, too. It has just over a million people. One Brown University epidemiologist estimates that 20,000 of them are opioid addicts—2% of the population. Salisbury, Massachusetts (pop. 8,000), was founded in 1638, and the opium crisis is the worst thing that has ever happened to it. The town lost one young person in the decade-long Vietnam War. It has lost fifteen to heroin in the last two years.

Last summer, Huntington, West Virginia (pop. 49,000), saw twenty-eight overdoses in four hours. Episodes like these played a role in the decline in U.S. life expectancy in 2015. The death toll far eclipses those of all previous drug crises. And yet, after five decades of alarm over threats that were small by comparison, politicians and the media have offered only a muted response. A willingness at least to talk about opioid deaths (among other taboo subjects) surely helped Donald Trump win last November’s election. In his inaugural address, President Trump referred to the drug epidemic (among other problems) as “carnage.” Those who call the word an irresponsible exaggeration are wrong.

Jazz musicians knew what heroin was in the 1950s. Other Americans needed to have it explained to them. Even in the 1960s and 1970s, with bourgeois norms and drug enforcement weakening, heroin lost none of its terrifying underworld associations. People weren’t shooting it at Woodstock. Today, with much of the discourse on drug addiction controlled by medical bureaucrats, it is common to speak of addiction as an “equal-opportunity disease” that can “strike anyone.” While this may be true on the pharmacological level, it was until quite recently a sociological falsehood. In fact, most of the country had powerful moral, social, cultural, and legal immunities against heroin and opiate addiction. For 99 percent of the population, it was an adventure that had to be sought out. That has now changed.

America had built up these immunities through hard experience. At the turn of the nineteenth century, scientists isolated morphine, the active ingredient in opium, and in the 1850s the hypodermic needle was invented. They seemed a godsend in Civil War field hospitals, but many soldiers came home addicted. Zealous doctors prescribed opiates to upper-middle-class women for everything from menstrual cramps to “hysteria.” The “acetylization” of morphine led to the development of heroin. Bayer began marketing it as a cough suppressant in 1898, which made matters worse. The tally of wrecked middle-class families and lives was already high by the time Congress passed the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act in 1914, threatening jail for doctors who prescribed opiates to addicts. Americans had had it with heroin. It took almost a century before drug companies could talk them back into using drugs like it.

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Referendum on April 16: “..some pollsters see the “no” camp ahead by as much as 10%.”

How Erdogan’s Referendum Gamble Might Backfire (Spiegel)

Support for the presidential system is crumbling. Erdogan may be giving the impression that the entire country is behind him, with his speeches resembling religious masses. On Sunday a week ago, tens of thousands cheered him on in Ankara. But some pollsters see the “no” camp ahead by as much as 10%. Even previously loyal Erdogan supporters, including party functionaries, don’t understand why the president so desperately wants this referendum. According to polls, one third of AKP voters are fluctuating between yes and no. The new system would concede powers to the president that even the nation’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, didn’t have.

The president would be able to appoint ministers and 12 of 15 constitutional judges, and he would have the power to dissolve parliament any time he wanted to. The position of prime minister would also be eliminated. Erdogan claims the reform is necessary to secure stability and prevent further coup attempts. But he already has more power than any other politician in recent Turkish history. Campaign posters plasterd with Erdogan’s visage hang everywhere in Bursa. The balconies are decorated with Turkish flags and vehicles drive through the streets blaring AKP election songs. The AKP is trying to create excitement, and that shouldn’t be too difficult here in Bursa. The city is Turkey’s fourth-largest and a higher-than-average share of residents voted for the AKP in the November 2015 parliamentary election.

For a long time, the residents of Bursa were the way Erdogan wanted them to be: hard-working and pious. The city has developed into an industrial center and the government built brand new residential neighborhoods, with shopping malls and mosques. But since the attempted coup, the economy has collapsed and many storefronts now stand empty. Mumcu’s cousin, who runs a textile company, says that his revenue has dropped from €50 million to €2 million in the past year.

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Germany and France are half of EU GDP. The rest are mere pawns.

Share of Member States in EU GDP (EC)

In 2016, the GDp of the European Union (EU) amounted to €14 800 billion (bn) at current prices. Over half of it was generated by three Member States: Germany, the United Kingdom and France. With a GDP worth €3 100bn in 2016, Germany was the leading EU economy, accounting for over a fifth (21.1%) of EU GDP. It was followed by the United Kingdom (16.0%), France (15.0%), Italy (11.3%), Spain (7.5%) and the Netherlands (4.7%). At the opposite end of the scale, eleven Member States had a GDP of less than 1% of the EU total. They were: Malta, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Slovakia and Hungary. As regards the 19 Member States which form the euro area, their cumulated GDP stood at €10 700 bn in 2016, meaning that they accounted all together for 72.5% of the EU GDP. Germany (29.2%) and France (20.7%) made up half of the euro area GDP.

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Schäuble is shaking his head.

Austria FinMin Calls For €1 Billion EU Investment In Greece (R.)

The European Union should consider a one-billion-euro special investment programme to spur growth in debt-ridden Greece, Austria’s finance minister told daily Der Standard in an interview published on Monday. Hans Joerg Schelling said Greece would only be able to get back on track and regain access to capital markets if it was able to generate sustainable growth in the mid- and long-term. It was important to help the country participate in a pick-up in growth in the euro zone, he added. There was no immediate comment from Athens which has called for more help and debt relief as it struggles to cope with its financial crisis and attain a budget surplus of 3.5% of economic output, excluding debt servicing outlays next year.

“You must assess whether to start a big investment programme through the European Investment Bank or maybe with the (European bailout fund) ESM… to get an additional boost (for the Greek economy),” the paper quoted Schelling as saying. “I would define a scale of one billion euros.” Schelling, seen as a possible successor to Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem, said one project could be an investment in renewable energy to make Greece less dependent on energy imports. The European Investment Bank (EIB) launched a one billion euro credit line to Greek banks in December, mainly to be used for on-lending to small and medium sized companies and firms promoting youth employment.

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JP Morgan doesn’t understand the state the Greek economy is in.

JP Morgan Report Sees ‘Light At The End Of The Tunnel’ For Greece (Amna)

The decision reached by Eurozone finance ministers in Malta concerning Greece increases the chances of a solution for completing the second review of the Greek programme before May 22, according to a report by J. P. Morgan released on Monday. The U.S. banking and financial services giant said the decisions appears to have clarified most of the obstacles that were delaying talks for concluding the review and point to a higher possibility of a good outcome for Greece. J.P. Morgan’s central scenario, to which it gives an 85 pct probability, predicts that the next step will be the return of the institutions’ missions to Greece to finalise the technical details that will support a staff-level agreement (SLA).

If its predictions are correct, the report said, there will be great progress over the next few weeks, while the sequence of events will be the signature of the SLA, passing of the measures agreed by the Greek Parliament and the completion of the review ensuring future disbursements and further details on debt relief measures. As a part of this positive scenario, J.P. Morgan said, it was also expected that Greece will become eligible for inclusion in the ECB’s quantitative easing programme in the summer. “We give an 85 pct probability to this development. This is the most positive result for the Greek bond market and we expect that 10-year Greek bonds will have price/yield rations of about 85 euros/5.5-6 pct with this scenario,” the report says. Even if the worst of the three scenarios it has drawn up should be proved right, J.P. Morgan said that an accident leading to Grexit was extremely unlikely after last Friday’s decisions and that in its medium-term outlook on Greek bonds “the reward for the risk remains attractive.”

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Fantastic. The Automatic Earth and its very generous readers play a substantial role in this. Thank you so much for making it possible.

Refugee Community Center Set To Open On Lesvos (K.)

Just a 10-minute walk from the municipal-run camp of Kara Tepe and a bit over a half-hour from the Moria migrant camp north of Mytilene, the capital of Lesvos, a community center currently under construction on a 1.5-acre site aspires to become a magnet for individuals stranded on the eastern Aegean island by offering a wide range of activities. Run by the Swiss Cross charity, the center, which is set to open in the coming days, was built by migrants with the help of volunteers who arrived here from different parts of Europe. The project is called “One Happy Family.” The facility will provide a coffee shop (complete with nargile), a home cinema, a library and a garden.

The O Allos Anthropos (Fellow Man) group has agreed to provide about 1,000 servings of food [daily]. The entire project will cost 200,000 euros, which includes rent for the first 12 months. “The Swiss are very good at organizing, while the Greeks are good at hospitality, so great things can come out of that mix,” Achilleas Peklaris, a writer and journalist now working for Swiss Cross, told Kathimerini. After doing charity work in Thessaloniki, northern Greece, Swiss Cross moved to Lesvos, prompted by the tragic deaths of Moria camp residents living outdoors in tents in freezing conditions this past winter.

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Apr 082017
 
 April 8, 2017  Posted by at 8:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Dorothea Lange Wife of sharecropper in town to sell crop at tobacco auction, Douglas Georgia 1938

 

US Credit Card Debt Tops $1 Trillion For The First Time In A Decade (ZH)
Store Wars: US Retail Sector Is Shedding Jobs Like It’s A Recession (MW)
Apparel Retailers Lead The Charge Out Of Brick-And-Mortar (Forbes)
Wall Street Is Making It Harder to Buy a Car (BBG)
US Jobs Growth Slumps To 98,000 In March (MW)
Millions Of Americans Desperate To Trade Part-Time Work For Full-Time (MW)
Toronto Real Estate Is In A Bubble Of Historic Proportions (Rosenberg)
Rosenberg: Toronto Housing Bubble ‘On Par With What We Had In The US’ (BNN)
Could Europe Copy America’s Supersized Corporate Debt? (BBG)
Syrian Gas Attack is a Lie: “Stop Your Governments!” – Russia (FR)
US Missile Strikes in Syria Cross Russian ‘Red Lines’ (RI)
Greece On Course To Avoid Debt Default As Athens Agrees Pension Cuts (Tel.)
Letting People Drown Is Not A European Value (EUO)

 

 

On top of auto and student loans, both already well over $1 trillion. Get a fork and turn ’em over.

US Credit Card Debt Tops $1 Trillion For The First Time In A Decade (ZH)

Unlike last month’s unexpectedly week consumer credit report, which saw a plunge in revolving, or credit card, debt moments ago the Fed, in its latest G.19 release, announced that there were few surprises in the February report: Total revolving credit rose by $2.9 billion, undoing last month’s $2.6 billion drop – the biggest since 2012 – while non-revolving credit increased by $12.3 billion, for a total increase in February consumer credit of $15.2 billion, roughly in line with the $15 billion expected. However, while in general the data was uneventful, there was one notable milestone: in February, following modest prior revisions, total revolving/credit card debt, has once again risen above the “nice round number” of $1 trillion for the first time since January 2007… where it now joins both auto ($1.1 trillion) and student ($1.4 trillion) loans, both of which are well above $1 trillion as of this moment.

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It IS a recession.

Store Wars: US Retail Sector Is Shedding Jobs Like It’s A Recession (MW)

The U.S. retail industry is shedding jobs at an unparalleled pace outside of recession and stands to lose many more as the industry continues to shrink its physical footprint, a response to the shift in consumer shopping habits away from purchasing in stores and malls in favor of e-commerce. The U.S. retail sector lost 60,600 jobs in February and March, the worst two months for the sector since the tail end of 2009, according to Labor Department data. The category called general merchandise stores – Target, J.C. Penney and the like – has shed jobs for five consecutive months. Media reports have tallied more than 3,500 store closures for 2017, with retailers including J.C. Penney, Sears, Macy’s and others announcing that they are shutting doors and making job cuts.

Ralph Lauren has outlined the next phase of its turnaround effort, which includes shutting stores and cutting jobs. Bankruptcies and liquidations have also picked up, with Payless ShoeSource just this week announcing nearly 400 store closures. Wet Seal, Aeropostale, Sports Authority, and Hhgregg are among the many other retailers that have either filed for bankruptcy or liquidated. The current state of retail, which is weighed by less foot traffic, more promotions, and increased competition, particularly from Amazon.com, suggests that additional closures are on the horizon. The U.S. simply has too many stores, according to a report from Cowen & Company titled “Retail’s Disruption Yields Opportunities – Store Wars!,” which found that up to 2,000 stores should close.

“[W]e expect online penetration of apparel to increase to 35% to 40% from 20%, yielding closures of 20% at oversized chains,” the report said. Cowen analysts say there are about 1,200 malls in the U.S. and they represent about 15% of retail square footage. Cowen anticipates that up to about 20%, or 240 malls, will close or be repurposed, with anchor store closures and the rise of digital among the primary drivers.

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The Amazon bubble. Killing off America’s last remaining meeting places.

Apparel Retailers Lead The Charge Out Of Brick-And-Mortar (Forbes)

This week, Payless ShoeSource filed for bankruptcy, joining many other U.S. apparel brands, including The Limited and Wet Seal, that have sought Chapter 11 protection in recent months. These three chains alone will shutter almost 1,000 stores. Fung Global Retail & Technology estimates that all of the major U.S. store closures announced so far this year total 2,507. That total is just for announcements made in the three months through April 4, 2017, yet it already dwarfs the 1,674 store closures we recorded across major U.S. chains in all of 2016. Closures are impacting multiple sectors: electronics is represented by RadioShack, furniture and appliances by Hhgregg, office products by Staples and healthcare by CVS. Apparel, however, is leading the charge out of brick-and-mortar. We calculate that apparel retailers and department stores account for 2,060 (82%) of the 2,507 closures announced so far this year.

What can we infer from this surge in store closures? We see three principal takeaways: Weak demand for apparel persists. The most obvious conclusion from the recent bankruptcy filings is that apparel retailers continue to feel the impact of subdued consumer demand. American shoppers have been flush with cash thanks to low gas prices, but they have chosen to spend on cars and their homes rather than on fashion. The latest retail sales data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that apparel specialist stores saw a 1% year-over-year decline in sales in February. There is little reason to think shoppers will switch back to apparel as interest rates rise and if fuel prices creep up.

Second, pure-play retailing is fashionable again. Amid all the talk of omnichannel retailing and Internet pure plays opening brick-and-mortar stores, we are now seeing a trend of retailers going the opposite way, moving from operating stores to selling only online. Bebe is one such retailer that is planning to become an Internet pure play. The Limited considered a similar plan but is no longer selling online after filing for bankruptcy. Third, more retailers are facing reality. Not all store closures are being forced by bankruptcies. J.C. Penney and Macy’s, for instance, are slimming down their store networks in order to prepare for the future. We expect more retailers to join them in recognizing a need for fewer stores. Accordingly, we do not expect this year’s store-closure count to stop at 2,507.

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Just in time economy?!

Wall Street Is Making It Harder to Buy a Car (BBG)

On countless occasions in recent years, the U.S. auto industry has relied on cheap and easy credit from Wall Street to get it through rough patches. Not this time. With both bad loans and interest rates on the rise, financial institutions are becoming more selective in doling out credit for new-car purchases, adding to the pressure for automakers already up against the wall with sliding sales, swelling inventories and a used-car glut. “We’ve been having a party for a few years and it was fun,” said Maryann Keller, an industry consultant in Stamford, Connecticut. “Now lenders are getting back to basics.” Many figure they have to. For one thing, subprime borrowers have been falling behind on their car-loan payments at a rate not seen since just after the 2008 financial crisis.

Delinquencies for auto debt of all stripes have been climbing, with the value of those behind for at least 30 days swelling to $23.3 billion in December, a 14% jump from a year earlier, according to the Federal Reserve. This helps explain why 10% of senior bank-loan officers said they expect to pull back on extending credit to car buyers this year, according to a Fed survey. Expectations are that terms will toughen for loans the vast majority of Americans need to buy new vehicles as the Fed boosts benchmark rates. “There are only so many people wanting a new car and only so much capital available,” said Daniel Parry, CEO of Praxis Finance and co-founder of Exeter Finance, a subprime lender. “Manufacturers and lenders will have to reset to reduced volume levels.”

The reset has already started, with auto sales dipping in each of the first three months of the year. In March, the annualized pace, adjusted for seasonal trends, slowed to 16.6 million from 16.7 million a year earlier, according to Autodata Corp. Analysts had projected it would accelerate to about 17.2 million. Now Goldman Sachs economists figure there’s only demand for about 15 million per year, they said in an April 4 report. The industry set a record by selling 17.6 million cars and trucks in 2016 and has been on a seven-year growth streak. But General Motors, Ford and others had to pile on discounts and incentives to keep the expansion going, with both their finance arms and third-party lenders giving them a boost with easy credit. “This has come full circle,” Keller, the consultant, said. “We’ve created an auto market of 17.5 million vehicles based on accommodating credit. There will be consequences.”

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Whaddaya think? Yup, weather.

US Jobs Growth Slumps To 98,000 In March (MW)

The U.S. created just 98,000 new jobs in March to mark the smallest gain in almost a year, a sign the labor market is not quite as strong as big hiring gains earlier in 2017 suggested. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, fell to 4.5% from 4.7% and touched a nearly 10-year low despite the slowdown in hiring. U.S. stocks ended the session pretty much where they started as investors sifted through the March employment report. The U.S. had added more than 200,000 jobs in January and February, but hiring in weather-sensitive industries such as construction was helped by unusually high temperatures in the dead of winter.

Many economists were skeptical the recent pace of job creation was sustainable after a six-year hiring boom that chopped the unemployment rate in half and ignited growing complaints among companies about a shortage of skilled workers to fill open jobs. As a result, economists polled by MarketWatch had estimated the number of new jobs created in March would taper off to 185,000 in the third month of Donald Trump’s young presidency. Instead the decline was even steeper, speared by plunging employment in a beleaguered retail industry. “The 200,000-plus numbers reported for job gains in January and February always seemed a bit outlandish,” said Steven Blitz, chief U.S. economist at TS Lombard. Added economist Harm Bandholz of UniCredit: “Most of this is weather related and correct for exaggerated strengths seen earlier in the year.”

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It’s going so well, get me come shades.

Millions Of Americans Desperate To Trade Part-Time Work For Full-Time (MW)

Millions of Americans don’t want to work part-time. The U.S. economy added just 98,000 jobs in March, the smallest gain in nearly a year, after adding more than 200,000 jobs in January and February. Economists predicted that the number of jobs created in March would hit 180,000, so the actual figures fell far short of that. Unemployment fell to a 10-year-low of 4.5% in March from 4.7% in February, but the “real” unemployment rate that includes part-time workers who would rather work full-time and job hunters who gave up searching for work was 8.9%, although this was also down from 9.2% in February. Part-time work is still a contentious alternative for many workers. On Thursday, Amazon said it will create 30,000 part-time jobs in the U.S. over the next year, nearly double the current number. Of those, 25,000 will be in warehouses and 5,000 will be home-based customer service positions.

Amazon said in January it would create 100,000 full-time jobs over the next 18 months, according to a separate announcement made in January. Last year, Amazon’s world-wide workforce grew by 48% to 341,400 employees. In the U.S., it has over 70 “fulfillment centers” and 90,000 full-time employees. There were some 5.6 million involuntary part-time workers in March 2017, little changed from the month before, but down from 6.4 million a year earlier, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number is up from 4.5 million in November 2007, but way off a peak of 8.6 million in September 2012. These figures are almost entirely due to the inability of workers to find full-time jobs, leaving many workers to take or keep lower-paying jobs, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit think-tank in Washington, D.C. And 54% of the growth in these involuntary part-time jobs between 2007 and 2015 were in retail, leisure and hospitality industries, the EPI said.

[..] Perhaps not surprisingly, involuntary part-time workers tend to earn less than their voluntary part-time counterparts. Approximately 40% of involuntary part-time workers report a total family income of less than $30,000, compared with just 18% of the latter and 29% of the population as a whole, according to an earlier report published in 2015 by Rutgers University. More than four out of every five involuntary part-time workers says it’s hard to save for retirement and about seven out of every 10 say they earn less money than they and their family need to get by and pay bills.

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It’s too late to gently deflate.

Toronto Real Estate Is In A Bubble Of Historic Proportions (Rosenberg)

The concerns about froth in Toronto’s housing market are not likely to subside given the sticker-shock from the latest report from the Toronto Real Estate Board. As per the March report, the average single-detached house in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) sold for $1,214,422 last month up from $910,375 in March of last year – that is a 33% YoY surge, and follows a 16% run-up over the prior 12 months. Whatever the term is for an acceleration in an already parabolic curve, well, that is what we have on our hands today. And it isn’t just detached homes seeing this degree of rapid price appreciation — the benchmark single-family home selling price was up 29% YoY, the benchmark townhouse price was up 28% and the condo/apartment composite was up 24%. This is a bubble of historic proportions.

Not only to have home prices in the GTA now absorb an unprecedented 13 years of median family income, but to have 30%-ish run-ups against a backdrop of a 2% inflation rate, wages that are barely going up 2% as well, and nominal GDP growth of around 4%. This should put 30% into some sort of perspective when we conclude that what we have on our hands is a near three standard deviation event. That alone qualifies as a bubble — if you don’t like that term, then call it a giant sud. In the past, Toronto home prices went up at an annual rate of 4% in real terms, in the past year they have surged by nearly 30%. [..] it goes without saying that if the name of the game is to tame the flame then have the foreign investor share the blame. A tax on foreign transactions, as was already done in Vancouver, seems like a pretty good idea.

And the government can at the very least use the revenues to either provide greater tax incentives to build and/or provide tax relief for the low/mid income entry-level buyer who is struggling to cobble together the funds for a down payment. So yes, in this sense, I would be advocating a Robin Hood style of economic policy. Indeed, what may be needed is a very progressive tax on foreign buying of local residential real estate in the bid to cool demand and reverse the exponential surge in home prices – a surge that is creating tremendous social problems by crowding out young families (or individuals) from chasing the homeownership dream (a typical response is for these folks is to go out and buy a condo instead, but the reality is that average prices here have also skyrocketed 24% in the past year and are in a bubble of their own).

Everyone says that the Bank of Canada cannot raise interest rates to curb the excess demand because of the deleterious effect this would have on the economy writ large (for example, taking the Canadian dollar back up to or above 80 cents which would thwart our export competitiveness which has become a longstanding role of the central bank). Be that as it may, the home price surge in the GTA over the past year has impaired homeowner affordability to such an extent that it is basically the equivalent of the Bank of Canada having raised rates 150 basis points – actually a 200 basis point increase if you were to look at what home prices have done to affordability ratios over the past two years …

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“Where home prices are in Toronto, they absorb 13 years of average family income. That is completely abnormal. We’ve never seen this before.”

Rosenberg: Toronto Housing Bubble ‘On Par With What We Had In The US’ (BNN)

Gluskin Sheff Chief Economist David Rosenberg is joining the growing chorus of calls for government intervention into the Toronto housing market. In an interview on BNN, Rosenberg, who correctly called the U.S. housing bubble in 2005, said the massive deviation from historical norms has him drawing comparisons between the two situations. “This bubble is on par with what we had in the States back in ’05, ’06, ’07,” he said. “We have to actually take a look at the situation. The housing market here is in a classic price bubble. If you don’t acknowledge that, you have your head in the sand.” Rosenberg warned unchecked increases in home prices are becoming a social issue. “It’s not an equity, it’s not a bond – it’s where people live,” he said. “Where home prices are in Toronto, they absorb 13 years of average family income. That is completely abnormal. We’ve never seen this before.”

Rosenberg said he’d be singing a different tune if price increases were running in line with any of the usual economic fundamentals, such as job growth, rising incomes, or nominal GDP growth. “We’re out of equilibrium, and when we’re out of equilibrium, or there’s some sort of market failure, are there grounds there for government intervention? I think even the most ardent libertarian would say ‘yes,’” he said. Rosenberg said there are a trio of levers the government can pull to cool down the market. Authorities can address supply, which he said has already been “kiboshed.” Interest rates can be raised, but Rosenberg doesn’t believe the Bank of Canada will do that. Or new policy can be drafted to address the prevalence of speculation.

“These are not prices driven by the local fundamentals – this is the foreign buyer coming in,” Rosenberg said. “Toronto has really emerged as a first-class city, not just politically, not just culturally and economically, but also in terms of being a major financial centre. But if you’re going to ask me at this stage, ‘do we need to approach taxation of this capital coming in differently to curb the demand?’ [That’s] absolutely right.”

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In a word: YES.

Could Europe Copy America’s Supersized Corporate Debt? (BBG)

Unilever CEO Paul Polman must have had one eye focused across the Atlantic when he unveiled his revamp of the consumer goods giant this week. And not just because erstwhile suitors 3G Capital, Kraft Heinz and Warren Buffett will have been watching. In an effort to appease shareholders, Polman also ripped a couple of pages from any U.S. CEO’s post-crisis playbook: load more debt on the balance sheet and buy back lots of your own shares. So Unilever will lift its net debt to Ebitda ratio from 1.3 to 2 and buy back 5 billion euros ($5.3 billion) of stock.In Europe, that counts as relatively bold. Faced with anemic economic growth since the global financial crisis, non-financial companies here have typically been reluctant to take on more debt, as the chart below shows.

They’re also far less likely to buy back stock: U.S. corporations repurchased more than $530 billion of stock last year. In Europe the total was a fraction of that.Polman seems to have belatedly recognized the obvious: having a lightly geared balance sheet makes a company vulnerable to a takeover. That’s especially true if the buyer is holding dollars and your stock is priced in relatively cheap euros or pounds.

Of course there’s an argument what Polman is doing is common sense. Debt is cheap compared to equity, so Unilever’s balance sheet is simply becoming more efficient. Having more debt shouldn’t pose a problem for Unilever as its earnings power is considerable. People still need to buy soap and deodorant, even in a recession.Still, this sets a rather uncomfortable precedent. Polman rebuffed Kraft Heinz’s $143 billion bid in part because he’s no fan of financial engineering. It would be a shame if other European companies now drew the conclusion that to remain independent they need to indulge in some financial engineering of their own. Especially if they load up on too much debt just as the current economic cycle starts to look long in the tooth.

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She’s crystal clear.

Syrian Gas Attack is a Lie: “Stop Your Governments!” – Russia (FR)

On April 7th, US warships delivered an illegal blow to a Syrian airbase in Homs. Their justification was the recent “chemical weapon” attack on behalf of the Syrian government in Idlib. The Kremlin condemned the strike as an act of aggression against a sovereign state, and a violation of international law. Meanwhile, at the UN, representatives of Western governments attempt to push through a resolution that is based on information taken out of thin air. It includes the removal of Assad, whether or not he was behind the attack.

It is noteworthy, that the only real source of information on what took place, are the videos made by the White Helmets, an infamous propaganda organisation as it pertains to the Syrian civil war. In this clip, Maria Zakharova calls on Western respresenatives/ journalists to hear Russia, and what it has to say. The attack against the Syrian government, much like the Ghouta gas attack in 2013, which precipitated the Syrian civil war, is a giant facade for the military industrial warhawks in the US, to put their money where their mouth is.

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“Putin has a cool mind and we may anticipate that the Russian response will come at a time of his choosing and in a manner that is appropriate to the seriousness of the U.S. offense. Look for this before the end of the month.”

US Missile Strikes in Syria Cross Russian ‘Red Lines’ (RI)

My days as apologist for Donald Trump’s backsliding on his electoral campaign promise of a new direction in foreign policy are over. From being the solution, he has become an integral part of the problem. And with his bigger than life ego, petulance and stubbornness, Commander-in-Chief Trump is potentially a greater threat to world peace than the weak-willed Barack Obama whom he replaced. Trump has ignored Russian calls for an investigation into the alleged chemical gas attack in Idlib province before issuing conclusions on culpability, as happened within hours of the event. He has accepted a narrative that is very possibly a false flag produced by anti-government rebels in Syria, disseminated by the White Helmets and other phony NGO’s paid from Washington and London.

He ordered the firing of 50 or more Tomahawk missiles against a Syrian Government air base in Homs province, thereby crossing all Russian “red lines” in Syria. Until this point, the Kremlin has chosen not to react to all signs coming from Washington that Trump’s determination to change course on Russia and global hegemony was failing. The wait-and-see posture antedated Trump’s accession to power when Putin overruled the dictates of protocol and did not respond to Obama’s final salvo, the seizure of Russian diplomatic property in the U.S. and the eviction of Russian diplomats. The Russians also looked the other way when the new administration continued the same Neocon rhetoric from the tribune of the UN Security Council and during the visits of Vice President Pence, Pentagon boss Mattis and Secretary of State Tillerson to Europe.

However, the missile attack in Syria is a game changer. The pressure on Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin to respond in kind is now enormous. Putin has a cool mind and we may anticipate that the Russian response will come at a time of his choosing and in a manner that is appropriate to the seriousness of the U.S. offense. Look for this before the end of the month. In the meantime, we who have been hoping for a change of direction, for the rooting out of the Neocons and Liberal hawks directing the Deep State should drop what we are doing, and help form a grass roots political statement that Donald Trump and the political establishment will hear loud and clear.

A mass letter-writing campaign to Congress and the White House? A march on Washington? One way or another, the White House must be told that arranging foreign policy moves out of purely domestic calculations, such as likely happened yesterday puts the nation’s very existence at risk. Acting tough, striking out at Russia and its allies, is not the way to form a coalition to pass a tax reform act. The same may be said of an alternative reading of the missile attack yesterday: that it was intended as a message to visiting Chinese President Xi that should there be no joint action to restrain North Korea, the United States will act alone and with total disregard for international law. Either logic in the end is a formula for suicide.

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I predict very large demonstrations, and quite possibly more violent ones. This could well be the end of Tsipras, and of SYRIZA; there’s no credibility left. They should have fought for the people.

Greece On Course To Avoid Debt Default As Athens Agrees Pension Cuts (Tel.)

Greece is on course to avoid a debt default this summer after creditors reached a deal with Athens on reforms including pension cuts and tax changes that will continue until the end of the decade. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who leads the group of eurozone finance ministers, said creditors had reached an agreement in principle on the “size, sequencing and timing” of Greek reforms. The agreement also paves the way for the IMF to join the country’s third, €86bn bail-out programme. The Eurogroup chief said “significant progress” had been made in all areas, with debt inspectors expected to return to Greece shortly to “put the last dots on the ‘i’s and to reach a full staff-level agreement as soon as possible”.

A final agreement among finance chiefs will unlock a fresh tranche of rescue funds, enabling Athens to pay back around €6bn to creditors in July, including the ECB. “We’ve solved all the big issues,” said Mr Dijsselbloem. “The big blocks have now been sorted out and that should allow us to speed up and go for the final stretch.” The measures, which include controversial cuts to pensions and a widening of the tax base, amount to 2pc of Greek GDP in 2019 and 2020. Greece will be able to implement “parallel expansionary measures” if the economy is strong enough, said Mr Dijsselbloem. He said discussions on medium-term debt relief would not be discussed at a political level until a full agreement is reached and approved by the Greek government, which has a slim majority.

The pension cuts are likely to spark a fresh wave of protests across the country. Euclid Tsakalotos, the Greek finance minister, said austerity measures would be legislated “in the coming weeks”. “There are things that will upset the Greek people,” he said. Mr Tsakalotos said the government would also adopt stimulus measures in parallel, which will be “activated” if Athens meets its fiscal targets. Gerry Rice, a spokesman at the IMF, welcomed the “important progress” made in recent weeks, but said it still needed “satisfactory assurances” on debt sustainability before the Fund would seek board approval to participate in Greece’s third rescue programme.

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There is so much in the way of international law and UN conventions to protect refugees, but none of it has any meaning in Brussels.

Letting People Drown Is Not A European Value (EUO)

595. A nice round number, right? It refers to the dead and missing in the central Mediterranean, mostly between Libya and Italy, in the first three months of 2017. The known dead died from drowning, exposure, hypothermia, and suffocation. Horrible, agonising deaths. 24,474. This is a nicer number. It refers to the women, men, and children who made it safely to Italy this year, all of them plucked from flimsy, overcrowded boats by European vessels. Many were rescued by teams from nongovernmental organisations patrolling international waters just off Libya, where most migrant boats depart. Those groups – including Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), SOS Mediterranee, Proactiva Open Arms, Sea-Watch and others – are now being accused of encouraging boat migration. Or worse, of collusion with people smugglers.

The EU border agency, Frontex, has suggested that the presence of rescue operations by nongovernmental groups is a pull factor, encouraging people to take the dangerous journey in hopes of rescue. A prosecutor in Catania, Sicily, has opened an inquiry into the funding streams for these groups, indicating a suspicion that they may be profiting illicitly from the movement of people in search of safety and better lives. This is the latest cruel twist in the EU’s response to boat migration from Libya. It reflects concern over increasing numbers of people embarking from Libya, the strain on the reception system in Italy and beyond, and the rise of xenophobic populism in many EU countries. But blaming the lifesavers ignores history, reality, and basic morality.

As MSF’s Aurelie Ponthieu explained, the NGO group rescuers are not “the cause but a response” to an ongoing human tragedy. Even before the significant increase in numbers in 2015, tens of thousands of people have been risking their lives in unseaworthy boats in the Mediterranean for decades; almost 14,000 have died or been reported missing since 2011. After the October 2013 Lampedusa tragedy, in which 368 people lost their lives, there was increased talk among organisations about mounting rescue missions in the central Mediterranean. In 2015, that became a reality, in large part because the end of the Italian navy’s humanitarian rescue mission Mare Nostrum and the gaps in its poor replacement by the EU border agency Frontex. People embark on these dangerous journeys for myriad reasons; they are fleeing persecution, violence, and poverty, and moving toward freedom, safety, and opportunity.

Both pull and push factors are always in play when people are on the move. Insofar as more freedoms, liberties, and policies grounded in respect for human rights – including vital rescue-at-sea operations – serve as pull factors, these should not be sacrificed in the name of limiting migration. The presence of EU vessels just off Libyan waters has changed the dynamic of boat migration. There is more hope of rescue, and smugglers have adopted even more unscrupulous tactics like using inflatable (throw-away) Zodiacs instead of wooden boats and providing only enough fuel to reach international waters. But to question the humanitarian imperative of rescue at sea is to discard our most basic respect for life. And the logic of those who criticise the rescue operations as a pull factor is that the groups should stop rescuing people and let them drown to discourage others from coming.

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Mar 302017
 
 March 30, 2017  Posted by at 9:05 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Carole Lombard 1926

 

Fed’s Williams Says Bank Lending Slowdown Doesn’t Worry Him Yet (YF)
Retailing in America: Game Theory in Reverse (DiMartinoBooth)
‘Deep Subprime’ Auto Loans Are Surging (BBG)
Margin Debt Hit All-Time High in February (WSJ)
US Oil Export Surge Steals More OPEC Share (CNBC)
Australia World’s Worst Money Laundering Property Market (TI)
Sydney, Melbourne House Price Gains Accelerate (AFR)
Auckland Housing Market Losing All Capital Gains Of The Last 12 Months (INZ)
House Panel Passes Bill To Audit The Fed (MW)
Hawaii Judge Places Indefinite Hold On Trump Travel Ban (BBC)
Paul Ryan Opposes Trump Working With Democrats On Healthcare (R.)
Democrats Against Single Payer (Jacobin)
American Empire Crumbling (Quinn)
The EU Cannot Survive If It Sticks To Business As Usual (Varoufakis)
Capitalism Inevitably Creates A ‘Sad’ Unfair World – Physicist (Ind.)
‘That Was Some Weird Shit’ (NYMag)
146 Feared Dead In Mediterranean, Boy The Sole Survivor (R.)

 

 

Today’s main theme just has to be W’s ‘That Was Some Weird Shit’. Here’s the graph to go with it.

Fed’s Williams Says Bank Lending Slowdown Doesn’t Worry Him Yet (YF)

A recent slowdown in bank lending has some observers concerned that the post-election pops in optimism are sending a false signal about the strength of the U.S. economy. To San Francisco Fed president John Williams, however, this decline is out of step with everything else credit markets are saying about the economy. “The big picture is: I don’t see any signs of a slowing either on the demand side or on the credit supply side,” Williams told Yahoo Finance on Wednesday. “Overall, the other indicators, everything we see, [says] economic conditions are good,” Williams added. “Confidence is good, and we’re not seeing any signs of bank lending standards changing fundamentally. So it’s hard to see anything, from my viewpoint, that [says] credit is less available.”

In recent months, the growth rate of commercial and industrial loans, as tracked by the Federal Reserve’s weekly H.8 report on assets and liability of U.S. banks, has been on the decline. This is viewed by many as a negative development in an economy where lending and borrowing activity serve as proxies for the economy’s overall health. But Williams also cautioned that lending data can reveal economic developments on a lag. For example, he noted to Yahoo Finance that in 2008 bank lending increased, which contradicted the notion that the financial markets were seizing up. Indeed, companies were unable to borrow by tapping the bond markets. However, the lending did increase because companies drew from existing lines of credit.

Right now, Williams noted that one story behind the drop in C&I loan growth going around is that oil and gas companies last year drew on lines of credit, boosting loan growth at the time. And thus the current decline in lending, which appears out of step with broader economic conditions, is occurring largely because of difficult year-over-year comparisons.

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Retail demise exposes banks.

Retailing in America: Game Theory in Reverse (DiMartinoBooth)

On March 21st, Sears Holding Corporation submitted a filing with its regulators that it has “substantial doubt” it can continue as a “going concern.” Don’t recall companies being charged with making their own death throes’ announcements from your Accounting coursework? You are correct. Meet the new and improved U.S. accounting rules that have just come into effect for public companies reporting annual periods that ended after December 15, 2016, Sears included. The change shifted the onus to disclose from a given company’s auditors to its management. It was telling that the Sears news fell on the very same day discount retailer Payless announced it could soon file for bankruptcy protection. That same day, the less ubiquitous Bebe female fashion chain said it too was ‘exploring strategic options,’ typically code for that same ill-fated Chapter in the court system.

[..] At the opposite end of the denial spectrum sits Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren, who is and has been publicly worried about an entirely different sort of challenge facing the real estate market. It’s no secret that apartment prices are soaring. Over the past year, prices have risen 11%, leading the broad market. While that increase may seem benign in and of itself, consider how the sector has fared over the course of the recovery: prices have recouped an eye-watering 240% of their peak-to-trough losses. In sharp contrast, retail has performed the worst; it’s only recovered 96% of its losses. Rosengren is rightly worried that the “sharp” increase in apartment prices could catalyze financial instability. He went on to say that, “Because real estate holdings are widespread, and the monetary and macro-prudential tools for handling valuation concerns are somewhat limited, I believe we must acknowledge that the commercial real estate sector has the potential to amplify whatever problems may emerge when we at some point face an economic downturn.”

If you would indulge a translation: The bubble in commercial real estate (CRE) could trigger systemic risk, which of course, no central bank can contain. The ‘macro-prudential’ tools to which Rosengren refers include rules and caps on banks’ exposure to CRE. Odds are, however, that the horse has already fled the barn. Over the past five years, CRE lending has been running at roughly double economic growth, a dangerous dynamic. The result: banks’ exposure to CRE has reached record levels. Last year alone, bank holdings of CRE and multifamily mortgages rose nine and 12%, respectively. More worrisome yet is that the most concentrated cohort – those with more than 300% of their risk-based capital at risk – is banks with less than $50 billion in assets; most have assets south of $10 billion. How exactly will small banks confront a systemic risk conflagration? That pesky potential presumably is what’s robbing Rosengren of sleep at night. He might just remember that small German lenders called Landesbanks were where subprime bombs detonated unexpectedly way back when.

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Anyone who can fog a mirror is back

‘Deep Subprime’ Auto Loans Are Surging (BBG)

About a third of the risky car loans that are bundled into bonds are considered “deep subprime,” a level that has surged since 2010 and is translating to higher delinquencies on the loans, according to Morgan Stanley. Consumers are falling behind on most subprime car loans, but deep subprime borrowers have deteriorated fastest, the analysts said. Sixty-day delinquencies for bonds backed by these loans have risen 3 percentage points since 2012, compared with just 0.89 percentage points on all other subprime auto securities, Morgan Stanley’s Vishwanath Tirupattur, James Egan and Jeen Ng said in a report dated March 24. “The securitization market has become more heavily weighted towards issuers that we would consider deep subprime,” the strategists wrote. “Auto loan fundamental performance, especially within ABS pools, continues to deteriorate.”

The percentage of subprime auto-loan securitizations considered deep subprime has risen to 32.5% from 5.1% since 2010, Morgan Stanley said. The researchers define deep subprime as lenders with consumer credit grades known as FICO scores below 550. The scale from Fair Isaac Corp. ranges from 300 to 850 and while there’s no firm definition of subprime, borrower scores below 600 are in general considered high credit risks. As Wall Street banks have found it tougher to profit under new regulatory regimes born out of the last subprime crisis, they’ve become more willing to underwrite riskier auto-loan asset-backed security sales. Investors, starved for returns with about $8 trillion of debt globally carrying negative yields, have in turn proven to be insatiable, further facilitating higher levels of risk in the market for the securities.

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The casino’s open for business.

Margin Debt Hit All-Time High in February (WSJ)

Margin debt climbed to a record high in February, a fresh sign of bullishness for flummoxed investors trying to navigate the political and economic crosscurrents driving markets. The amount investors borrowed against their brokerage accounts climbed to $528.2 billion in February, according to the most recent data available from the New York Stock Exchange, released Wednesday. That is up 2.9% from $513.3 billion in January, which had been the first margin debt record in nearly two years. With margin debt, investors pledge securities, typically stocks or bonds, to obtain a loan from their brokerage firms. The money doesn’t have to be used to buy more investments, though it often is. The gauge tends to climb—and pull back—along with broader stock market gauges, which have been rising to fresh records in the wake of November’s presidential election.

Rising levels of margin debt are generally considered to be a measure of investor confidence. Investors are more willing to take out debt against investments when shares are rising and they have more value in their portfolios to borrow against. But experts say a steep rise can indicate that investors are losing sight of market risks and betting that stocks can only go up. Margin debt has a history of peaking right before financial collapses like the ones in 2000 and 2008. When stocks move lower, investors who are buying with borrowed money often must pull out of the market, exacerbating the decline. Before January, the previous record high for margin debt was $505 billion in the spring of 2015. Margin debt then started falling, months ahead of a summer swoon that sent major indexes down more than 10%.

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As demand falls.

US Oil Export Surge Steals More OPEC Share (CNBC)

As OPEC tries to keep oil off the world market, U.S. oil producers are pouring more onto it. The U.S. last week sent more than 1 million barrels a day of crude out of the country, the third biggest export week ever, and double the average amount exported in 2016. It is also the third time this year that U.S. exports exceeded a million barrels a day, an industry record. “It should be somewhat supportive of [U.S. oil prices] in the short run, particularly if the exports keep up. But it obviously is a challenge for the global market and a renewed threat to OPEC and their designs of keeping prices up,” said John Kilduff of Again Capital While the U.S. exported oil, it also exported fuel last week — a steadily growing business. The U.S. sold 1.1 million barrels of diesel fuel, in line with the recent average, but 608,000 barrels a day of gasoline, up from less than 400,000 barrels a day a year ago.

Analyst say the jump in exports means U.S. producers are grabbing more share at the expense of OPEC and its partners, at a time when the cartel and other producers are considering whether to extend their deal to hold 1.8 million barrels of oil off the market. But the U.S. may also be seeing the early signs of a potential rebalancing of its own supply picture, and that could ultimately help clear a logjam of domestic oil barrels. “What we’re now seeing in the U.S. is refinery utilization increasing, as the maintenance season draws to a close. At the same time, there’s good demand for gasoline and diesel which is helping get inventories under control. Those product inventories are less than they were this time last year,” said Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates. U.S. refineries supplied 9.5 million barrels a day of gasoline last week, up from 9.2 million the week earlier. Refinery runs increased by 425,000 barrels a day.

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Transparency International reports.

Australia World’s Worst Money Laundering Property Market (TI)

The real estate market has long provided a way for individuals to secretly launder or invest stolen money and other illicitly gained funds… According to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), real estate accounted for up to 30% of criminal assets confiscated worldwide between 2011 and 2013… In many such cases, property is purchased through anonymous shell companies or trusts without undergoing proper due diligence by the professionals involved in the deal. The ease with which such anonymous companies or trusts can acquire property and launder money is directly related to the insufficient rules and enforcement practices in attractive markets… This assessment identifies the following 10 main problems that have enabled corrupt individuals and other criminals to easily purchase luxurious properties anonymously and hide their stolen money in Australia, Canada, the UK and the US:

• Inadequate coverage of anti-money laundering provision
• Identification of the beneficial owners of legal entities, trusts and other legal arrangements is still not the norm
• Foreign companies have access to the real estate market with few requirements or checks
• Over-reliance on due diligence checks by financial institutions leads to cash transactions going unnoticed
• Insufficient rules on suspicious transaction reports and weak implementation
• Weak or no checks on politically exposed persons and their associates
• Limited control over professionals who can engage in real estate transactions: no “fit and proper” test
• Limited understanding of and action on money laundering risks in the sector
• Inconsistent supervision
• Lack of sanctions

Australia has severe deficiencies under all 10 areas identified in the research and is therefore not in line with any of the commitments to tackle corruption and money laundering in real estate made in international forums. In Australia, real estate agents are not subject to the provisions of the Anti-Money Laundering and CounterTerrorism Financing Act 2006. Other professionals such as lawyers and accountants who may also play a role in the sector are not covered either. This means that properties can be bought and sold without any due diligence on the parties. Currently there are no requirements for real estate agents or any professional involved in real estate deals to submit STRs, even if they suspect illegal activity is taking place, and there are no requirements or rules for verifying whether customers are PEPs or their close associates…

In Australia, Canada and the US, the current anti-money laundering framework shows a tendency to rely on financial institutions to conduct the necessary background checks on real estate transactions… there are no checks on cash transactions. In Australia, 70% of Chinese buyers pay in cash and they represent the largest proportion of foreign purchases in the country.

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How this does not scare very single person out of their socks, I can’t imagine.

Sydney, Melbourne House Price Gains Accelerate (AFR)

House price growth accelerated further in March, with gains in Sydney and Melbourne pushing higher than previous cyclical peaks, preliminary CoreLogic figures show. Data for the first 28 days of the month shows Sydney prices have risen 19% over the past year while Melbourne has posted a 16% gain, the company said on Thursday. The combined capital city average of 1.4% – the same pace of growth as February – suggests that the strengthening in the two largest cities offsets further weakness in other markets. “The early results come after a strong rebound in housing market conditions through the latter half of 2016 and into 2017,” CoreLogic head of research Asia Pacific Tim Lawless said. “The strong capital gain results are further evidenced by a continuation in low stock levels, high auction clearance rates and strong investment demand.”

In other data that will underpin property prices, official figures released on Thursday show Sydney’s population hit five million, and Melbourne is the country’s fastest-growing capital. Some caution is needed. A methodology change by CoreLogic last year exaggerated price growth in Sydney and Melbourne while also exacerbating the declines in the falling Perth market. CoreLogic has not yet revised the figures to account for the methodology and distortions will only drop out of the year-on-year comparison in June. It’s clear the market is buoyant, however. Even with lenders tightening loan conditions to investor borrowers, they are increasing discounts to owner owner occupiers to protect market share, Deloitte’s annual Australian mortgage report said on Thursday.

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Nice bubble you got there. Wouldn’t want anything to happen to it, would you?

Auckland Housing Market Losing All Capital Gains Of The Last 12 Months (INZ)

The Auckland housing market is on the verge of having all of the capital gains it made in the last 12 months wiped out. Prices of Auckland properties have fallen so much in the last few months that median prices are within a hair’s breadth of going into negative territory on an annual basis. They may already be there. In February the average price of Auckland homes sold by Harcourts, the country’s largest real estate agency, was $934,428, down 1.1% compared to where it was in February last year. While Harcourts’ average prices can be a bit choppy on a month by month basis, the figures do not appear to be an aberration. According to the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand, Auckland’s median selling price peaked at $868,000 in October last year and has declined every month since. In February it hit $800,000, down 7.8% from October’s peak.

But just as significantly, Auckland’s median price in March last year was $820,000. So even if the median price for March this year doesn’t fall any further from where it was in February, or if it increases by anything less than $20,000, Auckland’s median price will have declined to the point where it will be below where it was 12 months previously. Then it’s goodbye capital gains. The interesting thing about those numbers is that the downward trend they show is occurring at a time when Auckland’s migration-driven population growth is increasing at record levels and construction of new housing continues to fall miserably below the numbers that are required, exacerbating the region’s growing housing shortage. How can this be? As you might expect, the market is being influenced by forces converging from several different directions.

One of the biggest changes to affect the Auckland market over the last few months has been the relative absence of local ethnic Chinese buyers. It would be hard to underestimate the impact they were having on Auckland’s residential property market up until about the end of the third quarter of last year. They dominated some of what are often called the “big room” auctions where several dozen properties could be auctioned in a single day, and it wasn’t uncommon for them to account for around 70% of sales. Often they were competing amongst themselves for properties and their bidding could be fierce. Sometimes it seemed as if the prices they were prepared to pay knew no limits. Then late last year, just as the market geared up for the summer selling season, the Chinese tide went out.

Auckland now has a significant population of Chinese people, so there will always be some who are actively buying or selling properties. But the numbers are well down on where they were a year ago. Auctions that were packed with Chinese buyers this time last year are now much quieter and Chinese faces are often more notable by their absence rather than their presence. When they are buying, they are more likely to be buying a home for themselves or perhaps their children than a pure investment property, and their bidding has been far more cautious than it was just a few months ago. Often they will bid on a property only to let it be passed in, figuring that they may not face much competition from other buyers in post-auction negotiations. With the odd exception, the days of the bidding frenzy are over.

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All for it.

House Panel Passes Bill To Audit The Fed (MW)

A House panel on Tuesday approved legislation that would let a government watchdog audit the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy decisions, a move bitterly opposed by the central bank. The House Committee on oversight and government reform passed the measure by voice vote after roughly 30 minutes of debate. The bill was the brainchild of Ron Paul, the former House Republican and libertarian presidential candidate and sharp critic of the U.S. monetary policy. Versions of the bill have twice passed the House by wide margins but then stalled due to lack of support from Democrats in the Senate and the Obama administration. Analysts said the measure has a better chance to become law now that Republicans control both houses of Congress and the White House. Paul’s son, Rand, the Republican senator from Kentucky, has introduced a similar measure in the Senate.

Democrats in the committee were firmly against the bill. “This bill would open the floodgates to political interference in monetary-policy making,” said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat from the District of Columbia. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York, said the measure would lead to higher interest rates because it would undermine the market’s confidence in the independence of the central bank. Republicans said the measure was needed to rein in the Fed. “It is ironic that the arsonists that caused the financial collapse are now being given credit…for putting out the fire. Almost every macroeconomist concedes in retrospect that [the Fed’s] extended period of easy money led to the financial crisis,” said Rep. Thomas Massie, a Republican from Kentucky.

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What good could it do to go to the Ninth Circuit Court at this point?

Hawaii Judge Places Indefinite Hold On Trump Travel Ban (BBC)

A US federal judge in Hawaii has indefinitely extended the suspension of President Trump’s new travel ban. Judge Derrick Watson’s ruling means Mr Trump will be barred from enforcing the ban on six mostly Muslim nations while it is contested in court. In a lawsuit, the US state says the ban would harm tourism and the ability to recruit foreign students and workers. President Trump says his revised travel ban seeks to prevent terrorists from entering the United States. Judge Watson made the ruling late on Wednesday after hearing arguments from attorneys for the state of Hawaii and the US Department of Justice. The judge turned his earlier temporary restraining order into a preliminary injunction that would have a more lasting effect.

President Trump’s executive order on 6 March would have placed a 90-day ban on people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen and a 120-day ban on refugees. An earlier version of the order, issued in late January, sparked confusion and protests, and was blocked by a judge in Seattle. Other courts across the US have issued different rulings on Mr Trump’s revised ban, with a judge in Maryland halting a part of the ban earlier this month. Mr Trump has complained of “unprecedented judicial overreach”, pledging to take the case “as far as it needs to go”. An appeal against the Hawaii decision would be expected to go next to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals – the same court which in February said it would not block a ruling by a Seattle court to halt the original travel ban.

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Because working together is so last century?!

Paul Ryan Opposes Trump Working With Democrats On Healthcare (R.)

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, the top Republican in Congress, said he does not want President Donald Trump to work with Democrats on new legislation for revamping the country’s health insurance system, commonly called Obamacare. In an interview with “CBS This Morning” that will air on Thursday, Ryan said he fears the Republican Party, which failed last week to come together and agree on a healthcare overhaul, is pushing the president to the other side of the aisle so he can make good on campaign promises to redo Obamacare. “I don’t want that to happen,” Ryan said, referring to Trump’s offer to work with Democrats. Carrying out those reforms with Democrats is “hardly a conservative thing,” Ryan said, according to interview excerpts released on Wednesday.

“I don’t want government running health care. The government shouldn’t tell you what you must do with your life, with your healthcare,” he said. On Tuesday, Trump told senators attending a White House reception that he expected lawmakers to reach a deal “very quickly” on healthcare, but he did not offer specifics. “I think it’s going to happen because we’ve all been promising – Democrat, Republican – we’ve all been promising that to the American people,” he said. Trump said after the failure of the Republican plan last week that Democrats, none of whom supported the bill, would be willing to negotiate new healthcare legislation because Obamacare is destined to “explode.”

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Who’s left to represent actual Americans?

Democrats Against Single Payer (Jacobin)

Virginia Democratic senator Chuck Robb, one of the DLC’s founders, warned in 1989 that “policies forged in the economic crisis of the 1930s and the social and cultural schisms of the 1960s” were irrelevant to most Americans. Two years later, Bill Clinton’s issue director Bruce Reed, who doubled as policy director for the DLC, made sure to distance Clinton from single payer. The issue flared up again during the 2008 Democratic primary fight, where both Obama and Hillary Clinton tried hedging their bets. Clinton put forward a plan that was basically Obamacare while insisting that “Medicare for All” could still be on the cards under the right circumstances. Meanwhile Obama repeatedly flip-flopped, at one point telling an audience that “the Canadian model won’t work in the United States” and that “we’ve got to develop a uniquely American approach,” and nine days later hinting to a different audience that over time single payer may be on the table.

DLC leaders felt reassured however, telling the New York Times they were “pleased that none of the Democratic candidates supports a single-payer health-care system.” So Democrats’ attempts to quell their base’s clamoring for a comprehensive, public health-care system isn’t new. What is new is the open, public disparagement of such a goal — not just by Democratic leaders, but by leading liberal commentators, too. Ironically, this appears largely to have been due to the Sanders campaign — or rather, the challenge it posed to Hillary Clinton’s previously wide-open road to the White House. Needing to differentiate herself from Sanders’s unabashed progressivism, and to dampen popular enthusiasm for his message, Clinton began attacking his policies, despite her historic sympathy toward single payer.

Sanders’s proposals were “ideas that sound good on paper but will never make it in real life,” she told crowds; for good measure, she insisted that single-payer health care “will never, ever come to pass.” Two years earlier, she explained her opposition to the policy on the basis that “we don’t have a one size fits all; our country is quite diverse.” In January 2016, she warned breathlessly that Sanders’s plan would “end all the kinds of health care we know” and claimed it would “send health insurance to the states,” while her daughter warned that it would “dismantle Obamacare” and “strip millions and millions and millions of people off their health insurance.”

As late as October, Clinton’s team was still trying to distance herself from Trump’s accusation that she — heaven forbid! — “wants to go to a single-payer plan,” with her spokesman directing Politifact to an earlier fact-check confirming her lack of support for the policy. (Lest we mistake this for mere expediency, we can rest assured that at least some of the Clinton camp really felt this way: campaign manager John Podesta declared in an email to ThinkProgress editor-in-chief Judd Legum that Sanders’s “actual proposal sucks, but we live in a leftie alternative universe.”)

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Jim Quinn’s series on the similarities between Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy and Strauss & Howe’s Fourth Turning.

American Empire Crumbling (Quinn)

You can hear the creaking as the winds of this Fourth Turning winter howl through the branches of this dying empire. Trump may have forced the Deep State Second Foundation to reveal itself as they seek to destroy him, but the relentless decline of the American Empire continues unabated. Tinkering around the edges of a healthcare system designed to benefit mega-corporations and the Deep State will do nothing to reverse or even delay the decline. Slowing the growth of government when the national debt is already $20 trillion and headed to $30 trillion within the next decade won’t cure the rot in our tree trunk. Completely ignoring the $200 trillion of unfunded welfare state liabilities helps accelerate the inevitable collapse of this empire. Cutting taxes while expanding the war making machine known as the military industrial complex does nothing to reverse what is already in motion.

In addition to the absolutely quantifiable reasons why the American Empire will collapse, there are demographic, cultural, and societal trends which will contribute dramatically to the fall. The rapidly aging populace, with 10,000 Americans per day turning 65 years old, is the driving force towards national bankruptcy, as this inexorable demographic tsunami sweeps over the fraying fabric of welfare state promises. The onslaught of illegal immigrants and purposeful execution of a plan by the effete liberal elite to weaken our common American culture through the insertion of Muslim refugees into our communities, is undermining the shared values which built the country. The immigrants who built this country assimilated, learned the language, worked hard, and adopted our common culture. The hordes invading America at this time hate our values and refuse to assimilate. This Soros funded effort to create diversity havoc throughout the world is part of the globalization one world order plan.

As Europe disintegrates under the unrelenting wave of violent refugees creating upheaval, chaos, and spreading religious zealotry through viciousness, the next target is the mighty American Empire. Fighting in the streets between the normal law abiding Trump supporters and the Soros funded, draped in black, flag burning, social justice warrior criminals has begun. Widespread societal strife is just around the corner. When the next financial crisis, created by the Deep State to further their plans, destroys the remaining wealth of the barely surviving middle class, all hell will break loose in the streets. The 86% of the country occupied by red state, gun owning, Trump supporters will openly go to war against the condescending, left wing, violence provoking blue state liberals. Blood will be spilled in copious amounts. It always does during Fourth Turnings.

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It cannot survive, period.

The EU Cannot Survive If It Sticks To Business As Usual (Varoufakis)

Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, had for years opposed the idea of a Europe that proceeds at different speeds – allowing some countries to be less integrated than others, due to their domestic political situation. But now – after the colossal economic mismanagement of the euro crisis has weakened the EU’s legitimacy, given Eurosceptics a major impetus, and caused the EU to shift to an advanced stage of disintegration – Mrs Merkel and her fellow EU leaders seem to think that a multi-speed Europe is essential to keeping the bloc together. At the weekend, as EU leaders gathered to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, leaders of the remaining 27 member states signed the Rome Declaration, which says that they will “act together, at different paces and intensity where necessary, while moving in the same direction, as we have done in the past.”

The failure to keep the EU together along a single path toward common values, a common market and a common currency will come to be embraced and rebranded as a new start, leading to a Europe in which a coalition of the willing will proceed with the original ambition while the rest form outer circles, connected to the inner core by unspecified bonds. In principle, such a manifold EU will allow for the East’s self-proclaimed illiberal democracies to remain in the single market, refusing to relocate a single refugee or to adhere to standards of press freedom and judicial independence that other European countries consider essential. Countries like Austria will be able to put up electrified fences around their borders. It could even leave the door open for the UK to return as part of one of Europe’s outer circles. Whether one approves of this vision or not, the fact is that its chances depend on a major prerequisite: a consolidated, stable eurozone.

One only needs to state this to recognize the second paradox of our post-Brexit reality: In its current state, the eurozone cannot provide the stability that the EU – and Europe more broadly – needs to survive. The refusal to deal rationally with the bankruptcy of the Greek state is a useful litmus test for the European establishment’s capacity to stabilize the eurozone. As it stands, the prospects for a stabilized eurozone do not look good. Business as usual – the establishment’s favored option – could soon produce a major Italian crisis that the eurozone cannot survive. The only alternative under discussion is a eurozone federation-light, with a tiny common budget that Berlin will agree to in exchange for direct control of French, Italian and Spanish national budgets. Even if this were to happen, which is doubtful given the political climate, it will be too little, too late to stabilize the eurozone.

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“Professor Jeremy Baumberg, director of the NanoPhotonic Centres at Cambridge University, was distinctly unimpressed. “It seems to me an extremely poorly written paper, conflating many ideas in a rather unrigorous mishmash,” he said.”

Capitalism Inevitably Creates A ‘Sad’ Unfair World – Physicist (Ind.)

Capitalism is inherently unfair and will produce a world full of ‘sad’ and disgusting inequalities, but Communism is also “doomed to fail”, a leading scientist claims to have proved using the laws of physics. Professor Adrian Bejan told The Independent he was so excited by the “huge” implications of his theory that he kept having to pinch himself. A former member of the Romanian national basketball team, he is now an expert in thermodynamics and fluid mechanics at Duke University in the US, having written 30 books and more than 600 scientific papers. He now claims to have shown that physics can essentially explain economics. Inequality has been seen as a factor in the election of Donald Trump as US President and in the UK referendum vote in favour of Brexit.According to Oxfam, the richest eight men own the same wealth as the poorest 50% of the world’s population.

Professor Bejan said it was possible to explain how such inequality can develop by demonstrating that wealth moves around in a society like water in a river basin using the laws of physics. In a natural environment, water flows from small tributaries into larger and larger streams. And, according to Professor Bejan’s theory, the same is true of money. So, in a free market system, wealth will naturally flow from the poorest in the small tributaries to the richest in the wide rivers. Using this analogy, Communism is comparable to an attempt to restrict the flow of water to a network of equally sized concrete channels, which Professor Bejan said would inevitably be overcome by the forces of nature. But, just as humans do sometimes harness rivers to produce energy or divert them around cities, it is possible to alter the flow of money in society, he added.

And this is exactly what is being done by liberal democracies around the world with measures such as free education and healthcare, anti-trust regulations designed to prevent large corporations abusing their power, and the rule of law. “I want to see less inequality in the distribution of wealth. I get not just sad, but disgusted by it,” Professor Bejan said.

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Getting more popular by the day.

‘That Was Some Weird Shit’ (NYMag)

The inauguration of Donald Trump was a surreal experience for pretty much everyone who witnessed it, whether or not they were at the event and regardless of who they supported in the election. On the dais, the stoic presence of Hillary Clinton – whom candidate Trump had said he would send to prison if he took office – underlined the strangeness of the moment. George W. Bush, also savaged by Trump during the campaign, was there too. He gave the same reason for attending that Bill and Hillary Clinton did: to honor the peaceful transfer of power. Bush’s endearing struggle with his poncho at the event quickly became a meme, prompting many Democrats on social media to admit that they already pined for the relative normalcy of his administration. Following Trump’s short and dire speech, Bush departed the scene and never offered public comment on the ceremony. But, according to three people who were present, Bush gave a brief assessment of Trump’s inaugural after leaving the dais: “That was some weird shit.” All three heard him say it.

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On and on and on.

146 Feared Dead In Mediterranean, Boy The Sole Survivor (R.)

Dozens of people are feared to have drowned after a rubber boat carrying migrants and refugees from Libya sank in the Mediterranean. The sole survivor – a 16-year-old Gambian boy – told rescuers that 146 other people were on board when the boat sank. A Spanish frigate, the Canarias, found the boy hanging on to a piece of debris in the sea on Tuesday. He was transferred to an Italian Coast Guard ship and brought to the Sicilian island of Lampedusa early on Wednesday. “He was very tired when they found him. He’s resting now, so we’ll have more details later,” said the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) spokesman Flavio Di Giacomo in Rome, after speaking to staff in Lampedusa.

“The boy said they left Sabratha, Libya, a couple of days ago on a rubber boat with 147 sub-Saharan Africans on board, including five children and some pregnant women,” Di Giacomo said. In the past two days, rescuers have picked up more than 1,100 migrants at sea and recovered one body, Italy’s Coast Guard said. The Coast Guard did not comment on the latest shipwreck. So far this year nearly 600 migrants have died trying to reach Italy from North Africa, IOM estimates, after 4,600 deaths last year. Migrant arrivals to Italy are up more than 50% this year on the same period of last year. Early on Wednesday the Golfo Azzurro, a humanitarian vessel, rescued about 400 migrants – mainly from Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Gambia and Bangladesh – including 16 women and two children.

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Mar 242017
 
 March 24, 2017  Posted by at 8:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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DPC “Broad Street and curb market, New York” 1906

 

Trump Ultimatum: Pass Health Bill Now Or Live With Obamacare (MW)
The US Has the Most Expensive Healthcare System in the World (Statista)
‘Deaths of Despair’ Surge in White US Middle Class (Vox)
The Retail Apocalypse Has Officially Descended On America (BI)
WikiLeaks Releases Vault 7 “Dark Matter”: CIA Bugs “Factory Fresh” iPhones (WL)
China’s Property Bubble Risks Youth Revolt (CNBC)
China’s Largest Dairy Operator Crashes Over 90% In Minutes (ZH)
Eurozone Whistles Past its Biggest Threat: Italy’s Multi-Headed Hydra (ZH)
Schäuble Annoyed By Foreign Minister Saying Germany Should Pay More To EU (R.)
Greek Objections Mar Preparations For EU’s 60th Birthday (R.)
Greece Says To Support Rome Declaration, Calls For EU Backing On Reforms (R.)
40% Of Greek Businesses Say Likely To Close Shop Within The Year (K.)
EU Envoy: Three Million Migrants Waiting To Cross Into Greece (K.)
Over 250 Migrants Feared Drowned On ‘Black Day’ In Mediterranean (AFP)

 

 

This will attract some media attention. Better do it after the markets close.

Trump Ultimatum: Pass Health Bill Now Or Live With Obamacare (MW)

President Donald Trump reportedly laid down an ultimatum to House Republicans on Thursday night: Pass the health-care bill, as is, on Friday, or live with Obamacare. The hard line came after more than a day of frantic negotiations to win the support of conservative Republicans who oppose the bill, and could block its passage. A vote on the bill had been scheduled for Thursday night, but was postponed earlier in the day after the GOP couldn’t win over holdout lawmakers. White House budget director Mitch Mulvaney dropped Trump’s demand in a meeting with rank-and-file House Republicans, and said the administration and House Speaker Paul Ryan were done with negotiations, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. If Friday’s bill fails, Trump is resigned to live with Obamacare and move on, he said.

CNN similarly reported that the closed-door meeting ended with an ultimatum, and Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) told the network that the vote is expected to be held Friday afternoon. The move is a gamble by the Trump administration, which has placed much political capital in its promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. “They’re going to bring it up, pass or fail,” Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) told the Washington Post. The GOP can’t afford more than 21 dissenting votes, but CNN counted 26 “no” votes and four more “likely” no votes. Every House Democrat is expected to oppose the bill.

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And what’s worse, no way out.

The US Has the Most Expensive Healthcare System in the World (Statista)

If the American Healthcare Act, President Trump’s first major legislative effort, is going to a vote in the House of Representatives as scheduled on Thursday, it is by no means clear that it will receive the 215 votes it needs for passage. When the Republican healthcare plan was first presented to the public on March 6, it left people from both sides of the political spectrum dissatisfied. While Democrats fear that the suggested bill, which would repeal large portions of Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, would leave millions of Americans uninsured and hurt the poor and vulnerable, many Republicans think it doesn’t go far enough in erasing all traces of Obamacare.

For many years now, the American healthcare system has been flawed. As our chart illustrates, U.S. health spending per capita (including public and private spending) is higher than it is anywhere else in the world, and yet, the country lags behind other nations in several aspects such as life expectancy and health insurance coverage. This chart shows health spending (public and private) per capita in selected countries.

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Not my original observation, but true: it looks a lot like Russia in the 1990s.

‘Deaths of Despair’ Surge in White US Middle Class (Vox)

In 2015, a blockbuster study came to a surprising conclusion: Middle-aged white Americans are dying younger for the first time in decades, despite positive life expectancy trends in other wealthy countries and other segments of the US population. The research, by Princeton University’s Anne Case and Angus Deaton, highlighted the links between economic struggles, suicides, and alcohol and drug overdoses. Since then, Case and Deaton have been working to more fully explain their findings. They’ve now come to a compelling conclusion: It’s complicated. There’s no single reason for this disturbing increase in the mortality rate, but a toxic cocktail of factors. In a new 60-page paper, “Mortality and morbidity in the 21st Century,” out in draft form in the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity Thursday, the researchers weave a narrative of “cumulative disadvantage” over a lifetime for white people ages 45 through 54, particularly those with low levels of education.

[..] The US, particularly middle-aged white Americans, is an outlier in the developed world when it comes to this mid-life mortality uptick. “Mortality rates in comparable rich countries have continued their pre-millennial fall at the rates that used to characterize the US,” Case and Deaton write. “In contrast to the US, mortality rates in Europe are falling for those with low levels of educational attainment, and are doing so more rapidly than mortality rates for those with higher levels of education.” If American wants to turn the trend around, then it has to become a little more like other countries with more generous safety nets and more accessible health care, the researchers said.

Introducing a single-payer health system, for example, or value-added or goods and services taxes that support a stronger safety net would be top of their policy wish list. (America right now is, of course, moving in the opposite direction under Trump, and shredding the safety net.) They also admit, though, that it’s taken decades to reverse the mortality progress in America, and it won’t be turned around quickly or easily. But there is one “no-brainer” change that could help, Case added. “The easy thing would be close the tap on prescription opioids for chronic pain.” Unlike health care and increasing taxes, opioids are actually a public health issue with bipartisan support. Deaton, for his part, was hopeful. Paraphrasing Milton Friedman, he said, “All policy seems impossible until it suddenly becomes inevitable.”

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“Visits declined by 50% between 2010 and 2013..” “What’s going on is the customers don’t have the fucking money. That’s it. This isn’t rocket science.”

The Retail Apocalypse Has Officially Descended On America (BI)

Thousands of mall-based stores are shutting down in what’s fast becoming one of the biggest waves of retail closures in decades. More than 3,500 stores are expected to close in the next couple of months. Department stores like JCPenney, Macy’s, Sears, and Kmart are among the companies shutting down stores, along with middle-of-the-mall chains like Crocs, BCBG, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Guess. Some retailers are exiting the brick-and-mortar business altogether and trying to shift to an all-online model. For example, Bebe is closing all its stores — about 170 — to focus on increasing its online sales, according to a Bloomberg report. The Limited also recently shut down all 250 of its stores, but it still sells merchandise online.

Others, such as Sears and JCPenney, are aggressively paring down their store counts to unload unprofitable locations and try to staunch losses. Sears is shutting down about 10% of its Sears and Kmart locations, or 150 stores, and JCPenney is shutting down about 14% of its locations, or 138 stores. According to many analysts, the retail apocalypse has been a long time coming in the US, where stores per capita far outnumber that of any other country. The US has 23.5 square feet of retail space per person, compared with 16.4 square feet in Canada and 11.1 square feet in Australia, the next two countries with the most retail space per capita, according to a Morningstar Credit Ratings report from October. Visits to shopping malls have been declining for years with the rise of e-commerce and titanic shifts in how shoppers spend their money. Visits declined by 50% between 2010 and 2013, according to the real-estate research firm Cushman & Wakefield.

[..] as longtime retail analyst Howard Davidowitz observed in 2014, “What’s going on is the customers don’t have the fucking money. That’s it. This isn’t rocket science.”

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This could be a huge blow to Apple. Who wants to buy something the CIA has already tinkered with in the factory? Expect giant lawsuits too. Apple knew.

WikiLeaks Releases Vault 7 “Dark Matter”: CIA Bugs “Factory Fresh” iPhones (WL)

Today, March 23rd 2017, WikiLeaks releases Vault 7 “Dark Matter”, which contains documentation for several CIA projects that infect Apple Mac Computer firmware (meaning the infection persists even if the operating system is re-installed) developed by the CIA’s Embedded Development Branch (EDB). These documents explain the techniques used by CIA to gain ‘persistence’ on Apple Mac devices, including Macs and iPhones and demonstrate their use of EFI/UEFI and firmware malware. Among others, these documents reveal the “Sonic Screwdriver” project which, as explained by the CIA, is a “mechanism for executing code on peripheral devices while a Mac laptop or desktop is booting” allowing an attacker to boot its attack software for example from a USB stick “even when a firmware password is enabled”. The CIA’s “Sonic Screwdriver” infector is stored on the modified firmware of an Apple Thunderbolt-to-Ethernet adapter.

“DarkSeaSkies” is “an implant that persists in the EFI firmware of an Apple MacBook Air computer” and consists of “DarkMatter”, “SeaPea” and “NightSkies”, respectively EFI, kernel-space and user-space implants. Documents on the “Triton” MacOSX malware, its infector “Dark Mallet” and its EFI-persistent version “DerStake” are also included in this release. While the DerStake1.4 manual released today dates to 2013, other Vault 7 documents show that as of 2016 the CIA continues to rely on and update these systems and is working on the production of DerStarke2.0.

Also included in this release is the manual for the CIA’s “NightSkies 1.2” a “beacon/loader/implant tool” for the Apple iPhone. Noteworthy is that NightSkies had reached 1.2 by 2008, and is expressly designed to be physically installed onto factory fresh iPhones. i.e the CIA has been infecting the iPhone supply chain of its targets since at least 2008. While CIA assets are sometimes used to physically infect systems in the custody of a target it is likely that many CIA physical access attacks have infected the targeted organization’s supply chain including by interdicting mail orders and other shipments (opening, infecting, and resending) leaving the United States or otherwise.

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A lot of cities around the world share that risk.

China’s Property Bubble Risks Youth Revolt (CNBC)

China faces the risk of youth disenchantment as property prices rise beyond their reach, a renowned Chinese economist said Friday. “In a regular country, wealth should be concentrated in the financial markets, not fixed assets,” said Renmin University of China Vice President Wu Xiaoqiu at a media interview at the Boao Forum in the province of Hainan. He highlighted the risks from the current property bubble in China, such as negative asset values if prices tank. More importantly, the social risks that come from the property bubble in the form of youth disenchantment with not being to afford a home will be damaging, he said. “If young people lose hope, the economy will suffer, as housing is a necessity,” he said.

Wu said he was hopeful the authorities would find a solution to constrain the froth in Chinese real estate, but admitted that repeated measures to curb speculation have so far only met with short-term success. Wu’s comments follow a People’s Bank of China survey published on Tuesday, which found that 52.2% of urban households perceived housing prices to be “unacceptably high” in the first quarter of the year, Reuters reported. In February, gains in Chinese home prices picked up pace after they slowed in the previous four months despite government efforts to curb speculation, Reuters reported on Sunday. Prices in the big cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen rose 22.1%, 21.1% and 13.5%, respectively, from a year ago.

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Wow.

China’s Largest Dairy Operator Crashes Over 90% In Minutes (ZH)

In December 2016, Muddy Waters’ Carson Block said China’s largest dairy farm operator, Hong-Kong listed China Huishan Dairy, is “worth close to zero” and questioned its profitability in a report. Today, with no catalyst, it suddenly almost is. The stock collapsed over 90% in minutes to a record low. The sudden crash wiped out about $4.2 billion in market value in the stock, which is a member of the MSCI China Index.

In December, Muddy Waters alleged that Huishan had been overstating its spending on its cow farms by as much as 1.6 billion yuan to “support the company’s income statement.” The report also alleged that the company made an unannounced transfer of a subsidiary that owned at least four cow farms to an undisclosed related party and Muddy Waters concluded that Chairman Yang Kai controls the subsidiary and farms. Those findings came from several months of research including visits to 35 farms and five production facilities, drone flyovers of Huishan sites and interviews with alfalfa suppliers, according to the report. Muddy Waters said it has shorted Huishan’s stock.

“It will be even harder for Huishan to get funded in the capital market after the report, amid a couple of earlier allegations that have raised some red flags to investors,” said Robin Yuen at RHB OSK Securities Hong Kong. Still, Huishan’s shares and operations are unlikely to “collapse” due to its high share concentration and sufficient cash flow generated by its dairy business, he said by telephone. About 73% of Huishan’s shares are held by Champ Harvest Ltd., a company that’s in turn 90% owned by Yang. A buying spree by Yang had supported the shares last year, making it a painful trade for short sellers. A one-year rally of about 80% through a peak in June had made the shares expensive.

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“If roughly half of all Italians are against the single currency today, imagine what it will be like when austerity begins really biting.”

Eurozone Whistles Past its Biggest Threat: Italy’s Multi-Headed Hydra (ZH)

For the last three years, the political establishment in Italy and beyond have had a field day attacking, ridiculing, and vilifying Beppe Grillo’s 5-star movement. Europe’s media have tarred him with the brush of populism. In 2013 The Economist labelled him a clown on its front cover. Yet his party still leads the polls. And that lead is growing. A new Ipsos poll in Corriere della Sera newspaper has put Beppe Grillo’s 5-Star Movement on 32.3% – its highest ever reading. It placed 5.5 points ahead of the governing PD, on 26.8%, after the PD dropped more than three%age points in a month, as former prime minister Matteo Renzi battles to reassert his authority following a walkout by a left-wing faction. Internal political battles are nothing new in Italy. The country enjoys a hard-earned reputation for political instability and paralysis, having seen 63 governments come and go since 1945.

The problem this time around is that internal weakness and strife in Italy’s traditional center-left and center-right parties could end up gifting the next election to a party that refuses to play by the book. If it wins the next elections, which could be brought forward to as early as June this year, 5-Star Movement has pledged to hold a referendum of its own – albeit a non-binding one – on Italy’s membership of the euro. As polls have shown, there is much broader public apathy toward the single currency than in just about any other euro zone nation. Grillo’s plan could also receive the backing of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi who is determined to pull off a political comeback and is talking of restoring the Italian Lira.

As Reuters reports, such a scenario could spook financial markets “wary of both the 5-Star’s euroskepticism and the threat of prolonged political instability in Italy,” which boasts a public debt burden of over €2 trillion (133% of GDP). In any normal situation that would be a problem. But Italy is not in a normal situation; it is on the cusp of a potentially very large financial crisis that, if mishandled, could bring down Europe’s entire financial system. Unlike many other Eurozone economies like Spain, Ireland Portugal, Italy did not experience a real estate or stock market bubble in the 2000s; nor were its banks heavily exposed to the financial derivatives that helped spread the fallout from the U.S. subprime crisis all around the world. As such, Italy has not had cause to bail out its financial system — until now.

[..] Italy’s current predicament is a multi-headed hydra: a banking crisis, an economic crisis, a debt crisis, and a political crisis all rolled into one, and all coming to a head at the same time. It’s the reason why economists including Deutsche Bank’s Marco Stringa are calling Italy, not France or Greece, the “main risk” to euro-area stability. From a Eurozone-stability point of view, and from a bondholder point of view, the best-case scenario would be the rescue of Italy’s banks, with taxpayers bearing most of the brunt. That should help steady investor nerves and put an end to the gathering exodus of funds out of Italian assets. But even then, the social, political and economic price to be paid in a country already with public debt of over €2 trillion, youth unemployment of almost 40%, and an economy that is 12% smaller than it was 10 years ago, will almost certainly be way too high. If roughly half of all Italians are against the single currency today, imagine what it will be like when austerity begins really biting.

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He’s blowing up the EU without noticing a thing.

Schäuble Annoyed By Foreign Minister Saying Germany Should Pay More To EU (R.)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble on Friday criticised Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel for saying Germany should provide more money for Greece and the European Union overall. Schaueble told Deutschlandfunk radio he was annoyed by Gabriel’s suggestion because it “goes in the wrong direction completely” and sent the wrong message. He added that Europe’s problem was not primarily money but that its money needed to be used in the right way. On whether Greece can stay in the euro zone, Schaeuble said: “Greece can only do that if it has a competitive economy.” He said the country needed to carry out reforms and that would take time, adding: “But if the time is not used to carry out reforms because that’s uncomfortable, then that’s the wrong path.”

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Feels like a funeral party.

Greek Objections Mar Preparations For EU’s 60th Birthday (R.)

Greece has stuck to its objections to a declaration to mark the European Union’s 60th anniversary, officials in Brussels and Athens said on Thursday, a potentially embarrassing setback for the bloc as it seeks to rebuild unity ahead of Brexit. The leaders of the EU’s 27 remaining states will mark the anniversary on Saturday at a gathering in Rome overshadowed by Britain’s unprecedented decision to leave. London is due to formally trigger the divorce negotiations next week. Athens has threatened not to sign the Rome declaration charting the future of the post-Brexit EU, making a link between agreeing to the text and separate talks on reforms that lenders are seeking from Greece in exchange for new loans. “The negotiations on the draft Rome Declaration have ended as the text was finalized by the EU27,” an EU source said. “Only Greece has a general reservation on the text.”

Greece has said it wants the Rome text to spell out more clearly the protection of labor rights. Greece’s separate debt talks with international lenders are now stuck over this specific issue. One diplomat in Brussels said the issue may now only be resolved at the highest level with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Another EU diplomat said any attempt by Athens to win leverage on the international debt talks by holding off in Rome should not succeed: “We won’t be blackmailed by one member state which is linking one EU issue with a totally different one.” As well as Greece, Poland indicated on Thursday it might also refuse to endorse the declaration, though diplomats played down the threat. Warsaw is particularly opposed to a ‘multi-speed Europe,’ an idea promoted by Germany, France and Brussels, among others, to help improve decision-making in the post-Brexit EU.

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“Whether, in other words, the European acquis is valid for all member states without exception, or for all except Greece.”

Greece Says To Support Rome Declaration, Calls For EU Backing On Reforms (R.)

Greece will support a declaration marking the EU’s 60th birthday but needs the bloc’s backing against IMF demands on labour reforms, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said ahead of a Summit in Rome on Friday. In a letter addressed to EU Council President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean Claude Juncker, Tsipras called for a clear statement on whether the declaration would apply to Greece, as talks over a key bailout review hit a snag again. “We intend to support the Rome Declaration, a document which moves in a positive direction,” Tsipras said. “Nevertheless, in order to be able to celebrate these achievements, it has to be made clear, on an official level, whether they apply also to Greece. Whether, in other words, the European acquis is valid for all member states without exception, or for all except Greece.”

Earlier this week, Greece threatened not to sign the Rome declaration, demanding a clearer commitment protecting workers’ rights – an issue on which it is at odds with its international lenders who demand more reforms in return for new loans. The disagreements among Athens, the EU and the IMF – which has yet to decide whether it will participate in the country’s current bailout – have delayed a crucial bailout review. As leaders prepared for the summit, Greek ministers were negotiating with lenders’ representatives in Brussels pension cuts and labour reforms, including freeing up mass layoffs and on collective bargaining. The latest round of talks ended inconclusively late on Thursday, according to Greek officials. [..] Greece has cut pensions 12 times since it signed up to its first bailout in 2010. It has also reduced wages and implemented labour reforms to make its market more flexible and competitive.

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Just imagine that. And then talk about recovery. No, all you need to do is reform!

40% Of Greek Businesses Say Likely To Close Shop Within The Year (K.)

Four in 10 Greek businesses (40.3%) consider it likely that they will have to close shop within the year, according to a survey by the Hellenic Confederation of Professionals, Craftsmen and Merchants (GSEVEE), presented by the ANA-MPA news agency on Thursday. According to the survey, around 18,700 businesses will close in the first six months of the year, forcing thousands to join growing unemployment lines in the crisis-hit country. The majority of shutdowns, according to GSEVEE, will be in and around the capital and will concern the manufacturing sector, while some 34,000 jobs will be lost by the closure of companies that are currently considered high risk. 7 in 10 businesses have reported increasing liquidity problems and a shortage of capital from the market, with the number of firms indebted to the state and their suppliers growing by 10% compared to last year.

Over four in five small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) admit to being exposed to credit risks, seeing a slump in economic activity and operating with the prospect of shrinking rather than expanding in the near future. In terms of employment, the forecasts for the first half of the year do not bode well, as for every two businesses (8.1% of the total) that plan to hire new staff, another three will be letting people go. GSEVEE estimates that 2,000 salaried jobs will be lost by June, without accounting for the impact on employment of the projected shutdowns. Moreover, 40% of those businesses that do plan to hire staff in the first half of 2017 said they won’t be offering payroll positions, but part-time or outsourced work.

Sentiment is also bleak, with 58.8% of respondents expecting conditions to deteriorate and just 11% seeing a possible improvement through June. As such, just 3.6% of businesses plan to make new investments and 6.4% have applied to investment funding programs for that period. “There needs to be a national plan for the country irrespective of who is in power, and politicians need to learn how to make decisions and give orders,” GSEVEE President Giorgos Kavvathas was quoted by the ANA-MPA news agency as saying. “Moreover, the uncertainty of the situation concerning the outcome of the negotiation [with foreign creditors] exacerbates fears and risks, which in turn make small businesses and the self-employed more vulnerable.”

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Could be another scary spring and summer.

EU Envoy: Three Million Migrants Waiting To Cross Into Greece (K.)

European Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos on Thursday underlined the need to safeguard a deal between Brussels and Ankara to curb human smuggling in the Aegean, noting that some 3 million refugees were in Turkey waiting to cross into Greece in a bid to reach Western and Northern Europe. In comments during a visit to Athens, Avramopoulos said the deal signed last year between Turkey and the EU had reduced an influx of migrants toward Europe and curbed deaths at sea. Reception centers on the islands of the eastern Aegean, the first point of arrival for most migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey, are already overcrowded. A woman and a child were injured in clashes between Afghan and Algerian migrants on Chios on Wednesday night.

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We’re on track for multiple records.

Over 250 Migrants Feared Drowned On ‘Black Day’ In Mediterranean (AFP)

More than 250 African migrants were feared drowned in the Mediterranean Thursday after a charity’s rescue boat found five corpses close to two sinking rubber dinghies off Libya. The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) said it was “deeply alarmed” after the Golfo Azzuro, a boat operated by Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, reported the recovery of the bodies close to the drifting, partially-submerged dinghies, 15 miles off the Libyan coast. “We don’t think there can be any other explanation than that these dinghies would have been full of people,” Proactiva spokeswoman Laura Lanuza told AFP. “It seems clear that they sunk.” She added that the inflatables, of a kind usually used by people traffickers, would typically have been carrying 120-140 migrants each.

“In over a year we have never seen any of these dinghies that were anything other than packed.” Lanuza said the bodies recovered were African men with estimated ages of between 16 and 25. They had drowned in the 24 hours prior to them being discovered shortly after dawn on Thursday in waters directly north of the Libyan port of Sabrata, according to the rescue boat’s medical staff. Vincent Cochetel, director of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR)’s Europe bureau, said NGO boats patrolling the area had been called to the aid of a third stricken boat on Thursday afternoon, raising fears others may have perished on what Proactiva called “a black day in the Mediterranean.”

Despite rough winter seas, migrant departures from Libya on boats chartered by people traffickers have accelerated in recent months from already-record levels. Nearly 6,000 people have been picked up by Italian-coordinated rescue boats since the end of last week, bringing the number brought to Italy since the start of 2017 to nearly 22,000, a significant rise on the same period in previous years. Aid groups say the accelerating exodus is being driven by worsening living conditions for migrants in Libya and by fears the sea route to Europe could soon be closed to traffickers. Prior to the latest fatal incident, the UN had estimated that at least 440 migrants had died trying to make the crossing from Libya to Italy since the start of 2017. Its refugee agency estimates total deaths crossing the Mediterranean at nearly 600.

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Jan 022017
 
 January 2, 2017  Posted by at 9:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Cary Grant and Constance Bennett, stars of the film ‘Topper’, drive the Topper Buick 1937

‘Patients Who Should Live Are Dying’: Greece’s Public Health Meltdown (G.)
Jean-Claude Juncker Secretly Blocked EU Tax Reforms When Luxembourg PM (G.)
German Ifo Think Tank Chief Says Italy Risks Quitting Euro Zone (R.)
Trump Aide Says US Sanctions On Russia May Be Disproportionate (R.)
Cuomo Vetoes Bill Requiring NY State To Fund Legal Services For Poor (NYDN)
A Giant Wave Of Store Closures Is About To Hit The US (BI)
PBOC’s Ma Says New Cash Transaction Rules Are Not Capital Controls (BBG)
China Central Bank Adviser Calls For Flexible 2017 Growth Target (R.)
Australia House Prices Defy 2016 Predictions, Rise More Than 15% (AFR)
2017: The Wheels Finally Come Off (Jim Kunstler)
The Mosul Dam: A Bigger Problem Than Isis? (New Yorker)
‘Bad Boys of Brexit’ Headed For Screen (R.)

 

 

This is the EU. This is what it stands for. There are no fiancial reasons for this to happen. It’s pure malice. And it’s why it’s way past time to close up shop in Brussels. The EU is the mob. Or as I’ve been saying for a long time: the EU eats people alive.

‘Patients Who Should Live Are Dying’: Greece’s Public Health Meltdown (G.)

Rising mortality rates, an increase in life-threatening infections and a shortage of staff and medical equipment are crippling Greece’s health system as the country’s dogged pursuit of austerity hammers the weakest in society. Data and anecdote, backed up by doctors and trade unions, suggest the EU’s most chaotic state is in the midst of a public health meltdown. “In the name of tough fiscal targets, people who might otherwise survive are dying,” said Michalis Giannakos who heads the Panhellenic Federation of Public Hospital Employees. “Our hospitals have become danger zones.” Figures released by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control recently revealed that about 10% of patients in Greece were at risk of developing potentially fatal hospital infections, with an estimated 3,000 deaths attributed to them.

The occurrence rate was dramatically higher in intensive care units and neonatal wards, the body said. Although the data referred to outbreaks between 2011 and 2012 – the last official figures available – Giannakos said the problem had only got worse. Like other medics who have worked in the Greek national health system since its establishment in 1983, the union chief blamed lack of personnel, inadequate sanitation and absence of cleaning products for the problems. Cutbacks had been exacerbated by overuse of antibiotics, he said. “For every 40 patients there is just one nurse,” he said, mentioning the case of an otherwise healthy woman who died last month after a routine leg operation in a public hospital on Zakynthos. “Cuts are such that even in intensive care units we have lost 150 beds.” “Frequently, patients are placed on beds that have not been disinfected.

Staff are so overworked they don’t have time to wash their hands and often there is no antiseptic soap anyway.” No other sector has been affected to the same extent by Greece’s economic crisis. Bloated, profligate and corrupt, for many healthcare was indicative of all that was wrong with the country and, as such, badly in need of reform. Acknowledging the shortfalls, the government announced last month that it planned to appoint more than 8,000 doctors and nurses in 2017. Since 2009, per capita spending on public health has been cut by nearly a third – more than €5bn – according to the OECD. By 2014, public expenditure had fallen to 4.7% of GDP, from a pre-crisis high of 9.9%. More than 25,000 staff have been laid off, with supplies so scarce that hospitals often run out of medicines, gloves, gauze and sheets.

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Symbol of everything that’s wrong with Brussels. He was Luxembourg PM for 18 years.

Jean-Claude Juncker Secretly Blocked EU Tax Reforms When Luxembourg PM (G.)

The president of the European commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, spent years in his previous role as Luxembourg’s prime minister secretly blocking EU efforts to tackle tax avoidance by multinational corporations, leaked documents reveal. Years’ worth of confidential German diplomatic cables provide a candid account of Luxembourg’s obstructive manoeuvres inside one of Brussels’ most secretive committees. The code of conduct group on business taxation was set up almost 19 years ago to prevent member states from being played off against one another by increasingly powerful multinational businesses, eager to shift profits across borders and avoid tax. Little has been known until now about the workings of the committee, which has been meeting since 1998, after member states agreed a code of conduct on tax policies and pledged not to engage in “harmful competition” with one another.

However, the leaked cables reveal how a small handful of countries have used their seats on the committee to frustrate concerted EU action and protect their own tax regimes. Efforts by a majority of member states to curb aggressive tax planning and to rein in predatory tax policies were regularly delayed, diluted or derailed by the actions of a few of the EU’s smallest members, frequently led by Luxembourg. The leaked papers, shared with the Guardian and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists by the German radio group NDR, are highly embarrassing for Juncker, who served as Luxembourg’s prime minister from 1995 until the end of 2013. During that period he also acted as finance and treasury minister, taking a close interest in tax policy. Despite having a population of just 560,000, Luxembourg was able to resist widely supported EU tax reforms, its dissenting voice often backed only by that of the Netherlands.

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“The standard of living in Italy is at the same level as in 2000..” Wait a minute, why is that such a bad thing? How awful were things in Italy 17 years ago?

German Ifo Think Tank Chief Says Italy Risks Quitting Euro Zone (R.)

The head of Germany’s Ifo economic institute believes Italians will eventually want to quit the euro currency area if their standard of living does not improve, he told German daily Tagesspiegel. “The standard of living in Italy is at the same level as in 2000. If that does not change, the Italians will at some stage say: ‘We don’t want this euro zone any more’,” Ifo chief Clemens Fuest told the newspaper. He also said that if Germany’s parliament were to approve a European rescue program for Italy, it would impose on German taxpayers risks “the size of which it does not know and cannot control.” He said German lawmakers should not agree to do this. Italy is not seeking such a rescue program. The government in Rome is focusing on underwriting the stability of its banking sector, starting with a bailout of Monte dei Paschi di Siena.

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Diplomatic language. Trump was partially briefed a few days ago. Oh, to be a fly on the wall for the full briefing today or tomorrow…

Trump Aide Says US Sanctions On Russia May Be Disproportionate (R.)

A top aide to President-elect Donald Trump said in an interview aired on Sunday that the White House may have disproportionately punished Russia by ordering the expulsion of 35 suspected Russian spies. Incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer said on ABC’s “This Week” that Trump will be asking questions of U.S. intelligence agencies after President Barack Obama imposed sanctions last week on two Russian intelligence agencies over what he said was their involvement in hacking political groups in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Obama also ordered Russia to vacate two U.S. facilities as part of the tough sanctions on Russia.

“One of the questions that we have is why the magnitude of this? I mean you look at 35 people being expelled, two sites being closed down, the question is, is that response in proportion to the actions taken? Maybe it was; maybe it wasn’t but you have to think about that,” Spicer said. Trump is to have briefings with intelligence agencies this week after he returns to New York on Sunday. On Saturday, Trump expressed continued skepticism over whether Russia was responsible for computer hacks of Democratic Party officials. “I think it’s unfair if we don’t know. It could be somebody else. I also know things that other people don’t know so we cannot be sure,” Trump said.

He said he would disclose some information on the issue on Tuesday or Wednesday, without elaborating. It is unclear if, upon taking office on Jan. 20, he would seek to roll back Obama’s actions, which mark a post-Cold War low in U.S.-Russian ties. Spicer said that after China in 2015 seized records of U.S. government employees “no action publicly was taken. Nothing, nothing was taken when millions of people had their private information, including information on security clearances that was shared. Not one thing happened.” “So there is a question about whether there’s a political retribution here versus a diplomatic response,” he added.

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By the end of November, Cuomo had already vetoed 70 other bills in 2016. ¿Qué pasa?

Cuomo Vetoes Bill Requiring NY State To Fund Legal Services For Poor (NYDN)

Gov. Cuomo vetoed a bill late Saturday that would have required the state to fund legal services for the poor in each county. Cuomo’s office in a New Year’s Eve statement released just over an hour before the bill was required to be signed or vetoed said last-minute negotiations with the Legislature to address the governor’s concerns failed to yield a deal. “Until the last possible moment, we attempted to reach an agreement with the Legislature that would have achieved the stated goal of this legislation, been fiscally responsible, and had additional safeguards to ensure accountability and transparency,” Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi said. “Unfortunately, an agreement was unable to be reached and the Legislature was committed to a flawed bill that placed an $800 million burden on taxpayers – $600 million of which was unnecessary – with no way to pay for it and no plan to make one.”

He said the issue will be revisited in the upcoming legislative session. The bill, which had support from progressive and conservative groups, would have given the state seven years to take over complete funding of indigent legal services from towns. Dozens of groups representing public defenders, municipalities and others expressed disappointment. Jonathan Gradess, executive director of the New York State Defenders Association, called Cuomo’s decision to veto the bill “stunning.” “We are all shocked that the Governor vetoed a bill that would have reduced racial disparities in the criminal justice system, helped ensure equal access to justice for all New Yorkers, provided improved public defense programs for those who cannot afford an attorney, and much-needed mandate relief for counties, Gradess said. “The governor refused to accept an independent oversight mechanism on state quality standards, and now, sadly tens of thousands of low-income defendants will pay the price.”

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“As shopping patterns have changed..” means: as more credit cards have maxed out.

A Giant Wave Of Store Closures Is About To Hit The US (BI)

Retailers are bracing for a fresh wave of store closures at the start of the new year. The industry is heading into 2017 with a glut of store space as shopping continues to shift online and foot traffic to malls declines, according to analysts. “If you are weaker player, it’s going to be a very tough 2017 for you, ” said RJ Hottovy, a consumer equity strategist for Morningstar. He said he’s expecting a number of retailers to file for bankruptcy next year, in addition to mass store closures. Nearly every major department store, including Macy’s, Kohl’s, Walmart, and Sears, have collectively closed hundreds of stores over the last couple years to try and stem losses from unprofitable stores and the rise of ecommerce. But the closures are far from over.

Macy’s has already said that it’s planning to close 100 stores, or about 15% of its fleet, in 2017. Sears is shuttering at least 30 Sears and Kmart stores by April, and additional closures are expected to be announced soon. CVS also said this month that it’s planning to shut down 70 locations. Mall stores like Aeropostale, which filed for bankruptcy in May, American Eagle, Chicos, Finish Line, Men’s Wearhouse, and The Children’s Place are also in the midst of multi-year plans to close stores. Many more announcements like these are expected in the coming months. The start of the year is a popular time to announce store closures. Nearly half of annual store closings announced since 2010 have occurred in the first quarter, CNBC reports.

In addition to closing stores, retailers are also looking to shrink their existing locations. “As leases come up, you’re going to see a gradual rotation into smaller-footprint stores,” Hottovy said. Despite recent closures, the US is still oversaturated with stores. The US has 23.5 square feet of retail space per person, compared with 16.4 square feet in Canada and 11.1 square feet in Australia — the next two countries with the highest retail space per capita, according to a Morningstar report from October. “Across retail overall the US has too much space and too many shops,” said Neil Saunders, CEO of the retail consulting firm Conlumino. “As shopping patterns have changed, some of those shops are also in the wrong place and are of the wrong size or configuration.”

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1) Think it really matters what you call it? Or is it about how people perceive it?

2) It’s alright Ma, I’m only bleeding.

PBOC’s Ma Says New Cash Transaction Rules Are Not Capital Controls (BBG)

China’s new regulations on cash transactions and overseas transfers are not capital controls, according to a central bank researcher cited by the official Xinhua News Agency. New requirements published by the People’s Bank of China Friday stoked concern that the government is imposing capital controls in a disguised form, Xinhua reported late Sunday. “It is not capital control at all,” Ma Jun, chief economist of the central bank’s research bureau, told the state-run news service. The $50,000 annual foreign exchange purchase quota for individuals is unchanged, and the rules won’t affect normal activities such as business investment and operations abroad or overseas travel and study, Ma said.

Ma’s comments follow the annual Jan. 1 reset of the $50,000 limit for individuals, which may potentially aggravate capital outflow pressures that have been intensifying after the yuan suffered its steepest annual slump in more than two decades. The PBOC said Friday it will tighten rules for banks to report cross-border customer transactions starting July 1 as part of stepped-up efforts to curb money laundering and prevent terrorism financing. Financial institutions will assume responsibility for reporting and there will be neither extra documentation nor official approval procedures for businesses and individuals, Ma said.

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The Chinese come up with one creative way after another to tell us their growth is cratering, without actually saying it. But who’s listening?

China Central Bank Adviser Calls For Flexible 2017 Growth Target (R.)

The Chinese government should set a more flexible target for economic growth this year to give more space for reform efforts, a central bank adviser told the official Xinhua news agency in comments published on Sunday. China’s economy grew 6.7% in the third quarter from a year earlier and looks set to achieve the government’s full-year forecast of 6.5-7%, buoyed by higher government spending, a housing boom and record bank lending. However, growing debt and concerns about property bubbles have touched off an internal debate about whether China should tolerate slower growth in 2017 to allow more room for painful reforms aimed at reducing industrial overcapacity and indebtedness.

Huang Yiping, a monetary policy committee member of the central People’s Bank of China and Peking University professor, told Xinhua that China’s GDP growth target range should be 6-7% for this year, compared with 6.5-7% in 2016. “The 6.5% target is just an average rate,” Huang said. “As long as employment is stable, a slightly wider growth target range in the short term will reduce the need for pro-growth efforts and give policy makers more room to focus on reforms.” This year’s growth target will determine the government’s monetary policy, Huang said. “Large-scale monetary loosening is unlikely, while the possibility of tightening can not be ruled out,” he added, citing inflation concerns, higher U.S. interest rates and a weakening yuan.

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Don’t want to wait to see where it leads? Where would the movie end now?

Australia House Prices Defy 2016 Predictions, Rise More Than 15% (AFR)

Home prices defied forecasts they would stagnate in 2016 to grow more than they did during the “boom” year of 2015, according to year-end figures from property research firm CoreLogic. Dwelling prices rose 15.46% in Sydney while Melbourne had a rise of 13.68%. Even the much-maligned Hobart and Canberra housing markets posted strong gains, rising 11.24% and 9.29% respectively.

The data disappointed economists hoping for a more subdued housing market in 2016. At the end of 2015, Sydney and Melbourne closed with 11.5% and 11.2% growth respectively across houses and units, according to CoreLogic. ANZ had been expecting soft price growth and had forecast a 3% price rise for NSW, a 3.2% increase for Victoria, a 2% gain in Queensland and an overall 2.8% rise the country as a whole.

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Long from Jim. And recommended.

2017: The Wheels Finally Come Off (Jim Kunstler)

Apart from all the ill-feeling about the election, one constant ‘out there’ since November 8 is the Ayn Randian rapture that infects the money scene. Wall Street and big business believe that the country has passed through a magic portal into a new age of heroic businessmen-warriors (Trump, Rex T, Mnuchin, Wilbur Ross, et. al.) who will go forth creating untold wealth from super-savvy deal-making that un-does all the self-defeating malarkey of the detested Deep State technocratic regulation regime of recent years. The main signs in the sky, they say, are the virile near-penetration of the Dow Jones 20,000-point maidenhead and the rocket ride of Ole King Dollar to supremacy of the global currency-space. I hate to pound sleet on this manic parade, but, to put it gently, mob psychology is outrunning both experience and reality. Let’s offer a few hypotheses regarding this supposed coming Trumptopian nirvana.

The current narrative weaves an expectation that manufacturing industry will return to the USA complete with all the 1962-vintage societal benefits of great-paying blue collar jobs, plus an orgy of infrastructure-building. I think both ideas are flawed, even allowing for good intentions. For one thing, most of the factories are either standing in ruin or scraped off the landscape. So, it’s not like we’re going to reactivate some mothballed sleeping giant of productive capacity. New state-of-the-art factories would require an Everest of private capital investment that is simply impossible to manifest in a system that is already leveraged up to its eyeballs. Even if we tried to accomplish it via some kind of main force government central planning and financing — going full-Soviet — there is no conceivable way to raise (borrow) the “money” without altogether destroying the value of our money (inflation), and the banking system with it.

If by some magic any new industrial capacity were built, much of the work in it would be performed by robotics, not brawny men in blue shirts, and certainly not at the equivalent of the old United Auto Workers $35-an-hour assembly line wage. We have not faced the fact that the manufacturing fiesta based on fossil fuels was a one-time thing due to special historical circumstances and will not be repeated. The future of manufacturing in America is frighteningly modest. We’ll actually be lucky if we can make a few vital necessities by means of hydro-electric or direct water power, and that will be about the extent of it. Some of you may recognize this as the World Made By Hand scenario. I’ll stick by that.

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Not a new topic for many, but if it is for the New Yorker, there may be more people not aware of the Mosul Dam’s inherent problems: “a multilayer foundation of anhydrite, marl, and limestone, all interspersed with gypsum—which dissolves in contact with water. Dams built on this kind of rock are subject to a phenomenon called karstification..” Oh well, may be a good read up for all.

The Mosul Dam: A Bigger Problem Than Isis? (New Yorker)

On the morning of August 7, 2014, a team of fighters from the Islamic State, riding in pickup trucks and purloined American Humvees, swept out of the Iraqi village of Wana and headed for the Mosul Dam. Two months earlier, isis had captured Mosul, a city of nearly two million people, as part of a ruthless campaign to build a new caliphate in the Middle East. For an occupying force, the dam, twenty-five miles north of Mosul, was an appealing target: it regulates the flow of water to the city, and to millions of Iraqis who live along the Tigris. As the isis invaders approached, they could make out the dam’s four towers, standing over a wide, squat structure that looks like a brutalist mausoleum. Getting closer, they saw a retaining wall that spans the Tigris, rising three hundred and seventy feet from the riverbed and extending nearly two miles from embankment to embankment. Behind it, a reservoir eight miles long holds eleven billion cubic metres of water.

A group of Kurdish soldiers was stationed at the dam, and the isis fighters bombarded them from a distance and then moved in. When the battle was over, the area was nearly empty; most of the Iraqis who worked at the dam, a crew of nearly fifteen hundred, had fled. The fighters began to loot and destroy equipment. An isis propaganda video posted online shows a fighter carrying a flag across, and a man’s voice says, “The banner of unification flutters above the dam.” The next day, Vice-President Joe Biden telephoned Masoud Barzani, the President of the Kurdish region, and urged him to retake the dam as quickly as possible. American officials feared that isis might try to blow it up, engulfing Mosul and a string of cities all the way to Baghdad in a colossal wave. Ten days later, after an intense struggle, Kurdish forces pushed out the isis fighters and took control of the dam.

But, in the months that followed, American officials inspected the dam and became concerned that it was on the brink of collapse. The problem wasn’t structural: the dam had been built to survive an aerial bombardment. (In fact, during the Gulf War, American jets bombed its generator, but the dam remained intact.) The problem, according to Azzam Alwash, an Iraqi-American civil engineer who has served as an adviser on the dam, is that “it’s just in the wrong place.” Completed in 1984, the dam sits on a foundation of soluble rock. To keep it stable, hundreds of employees have to work around the clock, pumping a cement mixture into the earth below. Without continuous maintenance, the rock beneath would wash away, causing the dam to sink and then break apart. But Iraq’s recent history has not been conducive to that kind of vigilance.

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Don’t want to wait to see where it leads? Where would the movie end now?

‘Bad Boys of Brexit’ Headed For Screen (R.)

Three film production companies including Netflix are interested in making a warts-and-all screen dramatization of Nigel Farage’s insurgent Brexit campaign, according to an associate of Farage. This would be another extraordinary twist for Farage, who from the fringes of British politics achieved his life’s goal when Britons voted to leave the European Union last June, and has since befriended U.S. President-elect Donald Trump. The project would be based on “The Bad Boys of Brexit”, an account of Farage’s campaign by Arron Banks, a multi-millionaire British insurance tycoon who bankrolled the campaign, according to Andy Wigmore, a spokesman for Banks.

“We have three interested parties in the rights to the book and we will be meeting representatives from three studios including a Netflix representative on Jan. 19 in Washington DC,” Wigmore told Reuters in a text message. Farage, Banks, Wigmore and others in their circle will travel to Washington for Trump’s inauguration as president, which will take place on Jan. 20. “We have invited all of them (the studio representatives) to our pre-inaugural drinks party … We have also invited many of Trump’s team to the event,” said Wigmore.

The Sunday Telegraph newspaper earlier reported that Hollywood studio Warner Bros. was also interested, but it was unclear from Wigmore’s texts to Reuters whether those who have approached Banks included representatives of Warner Bros. The subtitle of Banks’ book is “Tales of Mischief, Mayhem and Guerrilla Warfare in the EU Referendum Campaign”. It is described on its publisher’s website as “an honest, uncensored and highly entertaining diary of the campaign that changed the course of history”. Asked whether Farage was likely to appear as himself in any screen adaptation of his campaign, Wigmore said: “Yes we all expect to make a Quentin Tarantino appearance”, a reference to the director’s cameo appearances in his own movies.

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Nov 182016
 
 November 18, 2016  Posted by at 10:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Unknown Army of the James, James River, Virginia. 1865

The End of Globalization? (Spiegel)
Global Trade Is Slowing (BBG)
US Recovery Is Heading Towards Its Death: Albert Edwards (CNBC)
US Retail Sales, Ignorance & Return Reality (Roberts)
How “Dynamic Scoring” Could Justify A Debt Driven Keynesian Stimulus (BBG)
How US Federal Revenues Have Been Used To Steer The Economy In The Past (BBG)
Yellen: I’m Not Stepping Down Until My Term Is Done (CNBC)
Europe At Risk Of Collapse; France, Germany Must Lead – French PM (R.)
Renzi Renews Pledge To Resign If He Loses Referendum (Local.it)
Italy Is The Next Country To Fall To Trumpism (David McWilliams)
EU Reinforces 2017 Budget On Migration And Jobs (EUO)
Kremlin Ramps Up Efforts To Crack Down On US Tech Companies (BBG)
Why the World Needs WikiLeaks (Sarah Harrison)
Another 100 Migrants Feared Drowned in Mediterranean (AFP)
The North Pole Is An Insane 36º Warmer Than Normal As Winter Descends (WaPo)

 

 

They all find it terribly hard to acknowledge that globalization is gone because growth is too. Wonder how long it will take them. A long five-part article.

The End of Globalization? (Spiegel)

Who could have imagined in 2006 that such an outlandish billionaire like Donald Trump could become president of the United States? Who would have believed that the British would leave the European Union? Who would have thought it possible that a right-wing populist party in Germany would win over 10% support in several state elections? Nobody. Ten years ago, the world was a vastly different place. In 2006, Germany lived through its “Summer Fairytale” of hosting the football World Cup – still untainted by accusations of corruption – and presented itself as a cosmopolitan host. Russia was still part of the G-8 and welcomed world leaders to the summit in St. Petersburg. Pope Benedict XVI visited Turkey and prayed in the Blue Mosque. In Berlin, the first Islam conference took place, promoting better integration for the religion.

A Romano Prodi-led alliance defeated the populist Silvio Berlusconi in Italian parliamentary elections. And international trade grew by 9% while the Chinese economy spiked by almost 13%. Between then and now lie years of crisis. Banks and entire countries had to be bailed out, debt grew and faith in the economy and politics evaporated. Central banks chopped their interest rates again and again to stimulate the economy – with modest success and significant side-effects: Debt continued climbing around the world while in industrialized countries, savers suffered and middle-class retirement funds in particular took a hit. Now, in 2016, many people in Western, industrialized countries are worried about losing their jobs, their prosperity and that of their children. They see themselves as the losers of a development that has only helped the elite.

[..] It is a fact that globalization and free trade have increased global prosperity, but they have also increased inequality in the world’s wealthiest nations. They have made the biggest companies more powerful, because business operates globally while politics tends to be a local or regional affair, and made the world more vulnerable to crises, because everything is networked and the debts of American homeowners could lead the entire world to the brink of collapse. In short, globalization is responsible for a host of problems that would otherwise not exist. And it is therefore in the process of gambling away the trust of people around the world. Already today, global trade growth has slowed and state interference is on the rise. The world finds itself at a turning point. It must try to eliminate the drawbacks of globalization without destroying its advantages. If, on the other hand, protectionism and populism gain the upper hand, there is a danger that global prosperity could shrink. The age of globalization would be at an end.

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“The days of frenzied trade growth may be over.” No kidding.

Global Trade Is Slowing (BBG)

Until he takes office in January, Donald Trump won’t be able to follow through on his pledges to scrap TPP, renegotiate NAFTA, or penalize Chinese imports. Even without him, protectionism is rising, and world trade is slowing. Responding to an outcry from local steelmakers, the EU this year has punished Chinese competitors for allegedly selling steel below cost. The EU has announced antidumping duties as high as 81.1% on Chinese steel. “Free trade must be fair, and only fair trade can be free,” EC VP Jyrki Katainen said in a statement on Nov. 9, adding that some 30 million European jobs depend on free trade. Around the world, many companies that binged on easy credit after the global financial crisis have excess capacity and are struggling to find buyers, since economic growth in the U.S., Europe, and Japan is relatively weak, and China’s economy is cooling.

“The pie is growing more slowly, and that makes domestic producers more defensive about their share of it and more willing to fight when threatened,” says Tim Condon, chief Asia economist in Singapore with ING. Bloomberg Intelligence chief Asia economist Tom Orlik points out that over the past two decades, consumers and businesses have spent heavily on laptops, tablets, and smartphones, but despite efforts by Apple and others to popularize smart watches, there’s no new must-have device to boost global trade. Stagnant income growth in the West also forces politicians to show they understand voters’ worries. “The pressure grows for governments to appease those voices by giving them the things they want,” says Orlik, “and the things they want are trade restrictions.”

[..] In the five months leading up to mid-October, members of the world’s 20 major economies, the Group of 20, implemented an average of 17 trade constraints a month, the World Trade Organization reported on Nov. 10. “The continued introduction of trade-restrictive measures is a real and persistent concern,” WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo said in a statement. The curbs come while global commerce is sputtering. World trade volume has grown a little more than 3% a year since 2012, the IMF reported last month, less than half the average expansion rate over the prior three decades. Said the IMF, “Between 1985 and 2007, real world trade grew on average twice as fast as global GDP, whereas over the past four years, it has barely kept pace. Such prolonged sluggish growth in trade volumes relative to economic activity has few precedents during the past five decades.”

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As always, I’m uncomfortable with the definition of inflation used here, it obscures the argument.

US Recovery Is Heading Towards Its Death: Albert Edwards (CNBC)

Societe Generale’s resident uber-bear, Albert Edwards, says the very long economic recovery underway in the U.S. is gearing up to suffer a “very traditional death” as consumption will likely crumble under rapidly stepped-up inflation and tighter monetary conditions next year. In Edwards’ own words, “Even if the Fed refuses to tighten, monetary conditions will tighten dramatically anyway as bond yields and the dollar surge, exacerbating the profits recession.” “The surge in headline inflation from zero to 2.5%-3% in Q1 next year is likely to crush consumption,” he continued, adding, “The expected expansion of the fiscal deficit under Trump will not prevent this happening in 2017 as it will come too late – in 2018/19.”

Edwards breaks down the recent spike in nominal bond yields by pointing out it has been driven by spiraling inflation expectations with real yields staying relatively steady. An anomaly in the current situation, he says, is that this has occurred without an accompanying surge in oil prices. However, what has risen more quickly than acknowledged by the U.S. Federal Reserve or the broader market, in his view, is real wage inflation, partially disguised by the weakness of nominal wage inflation given subdued consumer price index (CPI) inflation. But as we move into an era of higher CPI inflation, Edwards warns that it is such real wage inflation that will slip to zero before long. According to Edwards, “We might quibble about how much nominal wage inflation might accelerate in a weak economic and corporate profits environment, but accelerate it will.”

Why this is so important, he notes, is that it is likely to propel the Fed into action. Speaking about the U.S. central bank, he says “to those who retort that the increasingly weak economy in H1 2017 means they should not tighten, I would probably agree. But that doesn’t mean the Fed won’t be forced into it by surging wage inflation.” The knock-on effect for bonds will come through in the form of a continued rise in yields over the next six months with the trend upwards now having become a momentum trade with investors “looking for a narrative to support the direction of travel”.

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“81% of American’s are now worse off than they were in 2005..”

US Retail Sales, Ignorance & Return Reality (Roberts)

There was an awful lot of cheering about the recent retail sales report which showed an uptick of 0.8% which beat the analyst’s estimates of 0.6%. Despite the fact the improvement was driven by a surge in gasoline prices (which is important as consumers did not consume MORE of the product, but just paid more for it) important discretionary areas like restaurants and furniture declined. However, if we dig deeper behind the headlines more troubling trends emerge for the consumer which begins to erode the narrative of the “economy is doing great” and “there is no recession” in sight. [..] Despite ongoing prognostications of a “recession nowhere in sight,” it should be remembered that consumption drives roughly 2/3rds of the economy. Of that, retail sales comprise about 40%. Therefore, the ongoing deterioration in retail sales should not be readily dismissed. More troubling is the rise in consumer credit relative to the decline in retail sales as shown below.

What this suggests is that consumers are struggling just to maintain their current living standard and have resorted to credit to make ends meet. Since the amount of credit extended to any one individual is finite, it should not surprise anyone that such a surge in credit as retail sales decline has been a precursor to previous recessions. Further, the weakness of consumption can be seen in the levels of retailers inventory relative to their actual sales. We can also view this problem with retail sales by looking at the National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Survey. The survey asks respondents about last quarter’s actual sales versus next quarter’s expectations.

[..] it really isn’t just the Millennial age group that are struggling to save money but the entirety of the population in the bottom 80% of income earners. According to a recent McKinsey & Company study, 81% of American’s are now worse off than they were in 2005: “Based on market income from wages and capital, the study shows 81% of US citizens are worse off now than a decade ago. In France the figure is 63%, Italy 97%, and Sweden 20%.”

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If you don’t like the models, well, we have other ones.

How “Dynamic Scoring” Could Justify A Debt Driven Keynesian Stimulus (BBG)

Republicans have long argued that economic growth from tax cuts should be fed back into the model, year by year. They call this approach “dynamic scoring” or “macroeconomic analysis.” For the first time, macroeconomic analysis will likely prevail in next year’s official scores for major revenue bills from the JCT. Some Democrats, who’ve been suspicious of an approach that makes tax cuts look cheaper, are slowly warming to the same idea for appropriations bills. It could make infrastructure spending look cheaper, too. Into this fussing over details strides Donald Trump. During the campaign, he proposed a tax cut that would cost, according to his own preferred estimate, $4.4 trillion. And to pay for it, his campaign proposed a new kind of analysis, an economic model radically more complex than what either academics or policymakers have tried in the past.

All aspects of Trump’s plan, including trade and regulatory rollbacks, would be part of the analysis. Together, the campaign argued, they would create enough growth, and therefore enough tax revenue, to offset all but about $200 billion of those tax cuts. The real challenge of budgeting is to offer something, but at a discount. In 2017 dynamic scoring will let the Republican majority offer tax cuts without having to offset them entirely with spending cuts. It may even offer infrastructure spending—without having to renege on the promise of tax cuts. If the models are right, they’re right. If they’re wrong, the tax cuts will be a debt-driven Keynesian stimulus. Dynamic scoring arrived on the Republican wave of 1994. In January 1995, as one of its first acts, the new GOP majority in Congress invited Alan Greenspan, among others, to a rare joint hearing of the budget committees.

The representatives wanted to talk about macroeconomic models of budget changes. Greenspan, then the chairman of the Federal Reserve and thus in charge of the world’s best-known macroeconomic modeler, was skeptical. Then as now, the CBO every year produces a 10-year projection of economic growth. This is the “baseline,” the fixed point from which everything else is calculated. Under “static analysis,” modelers in Washington make assumptions about human behavior. But as they project out into the future, they can’t change the CBO’s baseline gross domestic product. Under “dynamic analysis,” they can. Next year’s projected growth changes the baseline for the year after, and so on. If static analysis is arithmetic, dynamic analysis is calculus.

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The comparisons only hold up to a point, as Trump will find out. There’s nowhere to grow to anymore. But focusing on domestic production and consumption can still solidify the economy somewhat.

How US Federal Revenues Have Been Used To Steer The Economy In The Past (BBG)

Donald Trump plans massive fiscal stimulus to combat lackluster growth just as the budget deficit begins rising again, making this a good time to look at how federal revenues have been used to steer the economy in the past. After the six recessions prior to the 2007-2009 downturn, lawmakers let the deficit’s share of GDP rise for an average of 15 months to make sure the economy was back on track. Following the last downturn, the most severe since World War II, Barack Obama’s stimulus gave way to Republican-backed spending cuts to shrink the deficit within just eight months – and the weakest recovery in decades.

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She won’t be able to stop the first rate hike, and after that things will be very different anyway.

Yellen: I’m Not Stepping Down Until My Term Is Done (CNBC)

Forget all that talk about Janet Yellen stepping down if Donald Trump becomes president: The Fed chair told Congress on Thursday she’s not leaving. Trump has been critical of the central bank leader and has suggested that he would replace her at some point. He once told CNBC that Yellen should be “ashamed” of her actions, saying her policies were political positions to help President Barack Obama. Amid expectations that the president-elect would step up political pressure on the Fed after he takes office in January, there was chatter that Yellen might just step aside. “No I cannot,” she said when asked by Rep. Carolyn Maloney if there were circumstances under which she might leave before her term expires. “I was confirmed by the Senate to a four-year term, which ends at the end of January of 2018, and it is fully my intention to serve out that term.” If Trump removes her from the chair, she could still stay on as a governor until her 14-year term expires in 2024.

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Yeah, lead the collapse!

Europe At Risk Of Collapse; France, Germany Must Lead – French PM (R.)

The EU is in danger of breaking apart unless France and Germany, in particular, work harder to stimulate growth and employment and heed citizens’ concerns, French PM Manuel Valls said in the German capital on Thursday. Valls said the two countries, for decades the axis around which the EU revolved, had to help refocus the bloc to tackle an immigration crisis, a lack of solidarity between member states, Britain’s looming exit, and terrorism. “Europe is in danger of falling apart,” Valls said at an event organized by the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. “So Germany and France have a huge responsibility.” He said France must continue to open up its economy, not least by cutting corporate taxation, while Germany and the EU as a whole must increase investment that would stimulate growth and job creation, as well as boosting defense.

As Britain seeks to negotiate its post-Brexit relationship with the EU, hoping to restrict immigration from the EU while maintaining as much access as possible to the EU single market, Valls said it must be prevented from cherry-picking. “If they are able to have all the advantages of Europe without the inconveniences, then we are opening a window for others to leave the EU,” Valls said. Immigration was one of the main drivers of Britons’ vote to leave the EU, and Valls said the bloc, which more than a million migrants entered last year, had to regain control of its borders. He said the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s election victory showed how important it was to listen to angry citizens, and that politicians scared of making decisions were opening the door to populists and demagogues.

In France, opinion polls suggest that the far-right, anti-EU, anti-immigration National Front leader Marine Le Pen will win the first round of the presidential election next April, before losing the runoff.

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He has no choice.

Renzi Renews Pledge To Resign If He Loses Referendum (Local.it)

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said on Wednesday that he would have no interest in a government role if he loses Italy’s upcoming constitutional referendum. In an interview on Italian radio, the premier said: “I’m here to change things. If that doesn’t happen, there is no role for me to play.” If the ‘No’ vote wins on December 4th and Renzi’s proposed changes to the constitution are rejected, it is likely that a temporary or technical government will be formed to change the electoral law before general elections can be held. The PM said he would not be willing to seek a deal with other parties to form a coalition if this happens, adding that he didn’t want to take part in “old-style political games”. Renzi vowed to “fight like a lion” to win the vote and said he believed the “silent majority” of voters would back him in the referendum.

He is currently touring the south of the country, where the ‘No’ camp’s lead is strongest. However, he also emphasized that he didn’t envisage a ‘No’ victory causing immediate problems in the country. “The 5th of December won’t be Armageddon,” said Renzi. “If ‘No’ wins, everything will stay as it is. Italians shouldn’t be fooled by politicians who are fighting to keep the privileges they have always had.” The reforms would see the number of senators and their legislative power drastically reduced, which Renzi claims will cut down on bureaucracy, making government more stable and efficient. But his opponents argue that there are inconsistencies in his proposed changes, and that they would put too much power in the hands of the prime minister.

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I like McWilliams, but Trumpism is a nonsensical term, and Italy’s resistance against the EU and globalization was way earlier than Trump became an issue. Correlation and causation.

Italy Is The Next Country To Fall To Trumpism (David McWilliams)

The Bangladeshi selfie-stick hawkers are doing a brisk trade outside the Colosseum. Local chain-smoking lads dressed as gladiators prey on vulnerable tourists, while portly priests on their annual visit to Catholicism’s corporate HQ take time out from soul-searching. Even the heavily armed soldiers, there to protect against a potential Italian Bataclan, are smiling in the Mediterranean sunshine. And as it is midday in Italy, everyone is checking out everyone else. All looks quite normal, chilled out and as it should be. But it is not. Italy is a country going through what could be described as a nervous breakdown. After a decade of almost no economic growth, in two weeks Italians will vote in a referendum which will determine what direction this huge country of nearly 60 million people will take. The result will profoundly affect the EU.

Although the referendum is technically about the way Italy is governed, the country is split down the middle in a plebiscite that has come to symbolise something much bigger. Once again, like the Brexit vote and the Trump election, this referendum is about insiders against outsiders. It is about those who are the victims of inequality and globalisation and those who uphold the status quo. On one side, you have the Italian political elite — the insiders embodied by Matteo Renzi, the youthful prime minister. He represents the people and institutions that have ruled Italy for decades. On the other side, you have an unusual anti-EU coalition, the Left and the Right — the ‘Outsiders’ — who are united by a common belief that, after 10 years of economic stagnation, there must be another way.

We have the same picture we saw in the UK in June and in the US last week, where an elite is desperately trying to connect with the people and large swathes of the population are saying they have had enough. In terms of the big picture, the Italian election can be seen as yet another domino in a year of falling dominos. First we had Brexit, then Trump, and the next big one for Europe after Italy is the potential rise of Le Pen in France. Italy is the triplet in a quartet that will culminate in France, and, in my opinion, if the Italian elite loses on December 4th, Marine Le Pen will win in France.

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The amounts are mind-boggling. Money in, waste out.

EU Reinforces 2017 Budget On Migration And Jobs (EUO)

EU member states and European Parliament have reached an agreement on a budget for next year that focuses on tackling the migration crisis and creating jobs. After 20 hours of discussions, a deal was reached early on Thursday (17 November) to set the total commitments for 2017 at €157.88 billion and payments at €134.49 billion. “The 2017 EU budget will thus help buffer against shocks, providing a boost to our economy and helping to deal with issues like the refugee crisis,” budget commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said. The budget commits €5.91 billion to tackling the migration crisis and reinforcing security, an 11.3% increase on 2016’s figure, according to a statement from the EU Council, which represents member states.

The money will help EU countries resettle refugees, create reception centres, and return those who have no right to stay. Extra spending will also go to help enhance border protection, crime prevention, counter terrorism activities and protect critical infrastructure. A total of €21.3 billion was put aside to boost economic growth and create new jobs, which is an increase of around 12% compared with this year, the council said. The Erasmus+ scheme, a cross-border student programme, will see an increase of its budget of 19%. The 2017 budget also includes €500 million for youth unemployment, and a €42.6 billion support for farmers.

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The Russians are highly aware of what Facebook and Alphabet are doing: “Not replacing foreign IT would be equivalent to dismissing the army.”

Kremlin Ramps Up Efforts To Crack Down On US Tech Companies (BBG)

In a Nov. 14 phone call with President-elect Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin held out the prospect of better relations between their two countries. But U.S. tech companies shouldn’t expect warmer ties to ease a Kremlin effort to freeze out their products. Seeking to cut dependence on companies such as Google, Microsoft, and LinkedIn, Putin in recent years has urged the creation of domestic versions of everything from operating systems and e-mail to microchips and payment processing. Putin’s government says Russia needs protection from U.S. sanctions, bugs, and any backdoors built into hardware or software. “It’s a matter of national security,” says Andrey Chernogorov, executive secretary of the State Duma’s commission on strategic information systems. “Not replacing foreign IT would be equivalent to dismissing the army.”

Since last year, Russia has required foreign internet companies to store Russian clients’ data on servers in the country. In January the Kremlin ordered government agencies to use programs for office applications, database management, and cloud storage from an approved list of Russian suppliers or explain why they can’t—a blow to Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle. Google last year was ordered to allow Android phone makers to offer a Russian search engine. And a state-backed group called the Institute of Internet Development is holding a public contest for a messenger service to compete with text and voice apps like WhatsApp and Viber. Russia’s Security Council has criticized the use of those services by state employees over concerns that U.S. spies could monitor the encrypted communications while Russian agencies can’t. Trump’s election hasn’t changed those policies, according to Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. “This doesn’t depend on external factors,” he says. “It’s a consistent strategy.”

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Do try and wrap your head around the irony of this being published by the NYT, on of the main media companies whose disfunctionality makes Wikileaks so necessary.

Why the World Needs WikiLeaks (Sarah Harrison)

My organization, WikiLeaks, took a lot of heat during the run-up to the recent presidential election. We have been accused of abetting the candidacy of Donald J. Trump by publishing cryptographically authenticated information about Hillary Clinton’s campaign and its influence over the Democratic National Committee, the implication being that a news organization should have withheld accurate, newsworthy information from the public. The Obama Justice Department continues to pursue its six-year criminal investigation of WikiLeaks, the largest known of its kind, into the publishing of classified documents and articles about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay and Mrs. Clinton’s first year as secretary of state. According to the trial testimony of one F.B.I. agent, the investigation includes several of WikiLeaks founders, owners and managers.

And last month our editor, Julian Assange, who has asylum at Ecuador’s London embassy, had his internet connection severed. I can understand the frustration, however misplaced, from Clinton supporters. But the WikiLeaks staff is committed to the mandate set by Mr. Assange, and we are not going to go away, no matter how much he is abused. That’s something that Democrats, along with everyone who believes in the accountability of governments, should be happy about. Despite the mounting legal and political pressure coming from Washington, we continue to publish valuable material, and submissions keep pouring in. There is a desperate need for our work: The world is connected by largely unaccountable networks of power that span industries and countries, political parties, corporations and institutions; WikiLeaks shines a light on these by revealing not just individual incidents, but information about entire structures of power.

While a single document might give a picture of a particular event, the best way to shed light on a whole system is to fully uncover the mechanisms around it – the hierarchy, ideology, habits and economic forces that sustain it. It is the trends and details visible in the large archives we are committed to publishing that reveal the details that tell us about the nature of these structures. It is the constellations, not stars alone, that allow us to read the night sky. [..] WikiLeaks will continue publishing, enforcing transparency where secrecy is the norm. While threats against our editor are mounting, Mr. Assange is not alone, and his ideas continue to inspire us and people around the world.

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Just another day.

Another 100 Migrants Feared Drowned in Mediterranean (AFP)

The toll of missing and dead rose Thursday in a grim week of Mediterranean crossings as African survivors described being robbed of life jackets and boat engines and abandoned to a watery grave. A group of 27 survivors, all men, were plucked to safety on Wednesday, but roughly 100 other passengers who set off with them from Libya were missing and feared drowned, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said. Along with two other shipwrecks this week, the latest incident pushed the toll to 18 confirmed dead and 340 missing, in what was already the most lethal year ever recorded for migrant deaths at sea. The survivors rescued Wednesday by a British Navy ship, described being stripped of their sole means of survival by the men they had paid for safe passage.

They had set off before dawn on Monday from a beach close to Tripoli. After several hours the traffickers, travelling aboard a separate boat, ordered them at gunpoint to hand over life jackets they had paid for, as well as the boat engine, and left them without a satellite phone to call for help. “At that point I thought we were going to die”, said Abdoullae Diallo, 18, according to MSF. “Without a motor, we couldn’t go far. A trafficker told us we would be rescued but I felt like we were going to die.” The overcrowded dinghy began rapidly taking on water and deflated. Tossed for two days and nights on rough seas, some passengers fell overboard, while others succumbed to exhaustion. By the time the British Royal Navy’s HMS Enterprise – engaged in the anti-trafficking Sofia operation – found them, just 27 people were left alive, clinging to what was left of the dinghy.

[..] The first group of survivors were brought to Catania, in Sicily, while the second group were expected to arrive on Italy’s mainland in the port of Reggio Calabria Some were children. “One young boy has been weeping, asking for his mother,” Mathilde Auvillain, a spokeswoman for SOS Mediterranee told AFP. “Another has written a list of names of the people travelling with him and re-reads it over and over. He wants to know if his friends are on the boat or in the sea,” she said.

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Watching in bewilderment.

The North Pole Is An Insane 36º Warmer Than Normal As Winter Descends (WaPo)

Political people in the United States are watching the chaos in Washington in the moment. But some people in the science community are watching the chaos somewhere else — the Arctic. It’s polar night there now — the sun isn’t rising in much of the Arctic. That’s when the Arctic is supposed to get super-cold, when the sea ice that covers the vast Arctic Ocean is supposed to grow and thicken. But in the fall of 2016 — which has been a zany year for the region, with multiple records set for low levels of monthly sea ice — something is totally off. The Arctic is super-hot, even as a vast area of cold polar air has been displaced over Siberia. At the same time, one of the key indicators of the state of the Arctic — the extent of sea ice covering the polar ocean — is at a record low. The ice is freezing up again, as it always does this time of year after reaching its September low, but it isn’t doing so as rapidly as usual.

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Apr 012016
 
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William Henry Jackson Jupiter & Lake Worth R.R., Florida 1896

Asia Stocks Head for Biggest Drop in 7 Weeks Amid Broad Declines (BBG)
Hong Kong Retail Sales Plunge the Most in 17 Years (BBG)
A Bear Market Is Now Underway And It’s Likely To Be A Painful One (Felder)
Foreigners’ ‘Dumb Money’ Flees Japan Stocks (BBG)
‘Protectionist’ China Tax on Overseas Purchases Set to Kick In (WSJ)
Global Steel Industry Facing ‘Ice Age,’ Top China Mill Warns (BBG)
China’s Anbang Abandons $14 Billion Bid To Buy Starwood Hotels (Reuters)
The UK Once Made 40% Of Global Steel. Soon It May Produce Almost None (BBG)
Britain Courts Fate On Brexit With Worst External Deficit In History (AEP)
A Plan To Turn The Euro From Zero To Hero (Andricopoulos)
In Technology We Trust -Maybe- (Coppola)
How To Hack An Election (BBG)
Canada To Accept Additional 10,000 Syrian Refugees (Reuters)
Greece, Turkey Take Legal Short-Cuts In Race To Return Migrants (Reuters)
Amnesty Says Turkey Illegally Sending Syrians Back To War Zone (Reuters)
Turkey ‘Shooting Dead’ Syrian Refugees As They Flee Civil War (Ind.)
Greek Asylum System Under ‘Insufferable Pressure’ (IRIN)

Nikkei off 3.55%.

Asia Stocks Head for Biggest Drop in 7 Weeks Amid Broad Declines (BBG)

Asian stocks headed for the biggest decline in seven weeks as Japanese corporate sentiment deteriorated and a broad-based selloff from consumer discretionary stocks to healthcare engulfed the region’s equities markets. The MSCI Asia Pacific Index slid 2.2% to 126.04 as of 1:49 p.m. in Tokyo. The gauge climbed 8.2% in March, the best month since October, to end a tumultuous quarter for global markets. Equities had rebounded from lows in February as the Federal Reserve reassured investors that it won’t rush to increase borrowing costs. A stellar performance in March was tested immediately on the first day of the second quarter. Japan’s Topix index lost 3.4%, the worst start to a quarter since 2008, after the Tankan index of confidence among large manufacturers missed economist estimates.

“After strong gains from their February lows, shares are overbought and vulnerable to a pullback,” said Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy at Sydney-based AMP Capital Investors Ltd., which oversees about $122 billion. “March quarter Tankan business conditions and confidence readings were disappointing.” The Tankan index of sentiment among large manufacturers fell to a reading of 6 in the first quarter, the lowest level since mid-2013, from 12 in the previous three months, the Bank of Japan reported Friday. Economists had expected a reading of 8. A positive number means there are more optimists than pessimists among manufacturers. The Shanghai Composite Index lost 1.3% even after China’s official factory gauge showed improving conditions for the first time in eight months, suggesting the government’s fiscal and monetary stimulus is kicking in.

A jump in the official factory gauge was overshadowed by a cut in the nation’s credit rating by Standard & Poor’s. S&P cut the outlook for China’s credit rating to negative from stable, saying the nation’s economic rebalancing is likely to proceed more slowly than the ratings firm had expected. The reduction may not have much of an impact on the markets as it comes at a time when the nation’s stocks are rallying and the currency is stabilizing, according to Sinopac Securities.

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Retail sales are getting bad in multiple locations.

Hong Kong Retail Sales Plunge the Most in 17 Years (BBG)

Hong Kong’s retail sales in February have plunged the most since 1999 as fewer Chinese tourists visited the city during the Lunar New Year holiday. Retail sales dropped 21% in February to HK$37 billion ($4.8 billion) year on year, according to a statement from Hong Kong’s statistics department. Combining January and February, sales fell 14%. The monthly decline is the worst since January 1999 when sales were also down 21%. “Apart from the severe drag from the protracted slowdown in inbound tourism, the asset market consolidation might also have weighed on local consumption sentiment,” a government said in a statement on Thursday. “The near-term outlook for retail sales will still be constrained by the weak inbound tourism performance and uncertain economic prospects.”

The government will monitor closely its repercussions on the wider economy and job market, it said. Chow Tai Fook Jewellery, the world’s largest-listed jewelry chain, and Sa Sa International reported slumping sales over the holiday when mainland Chinese tourists to the territory dropped 12% during Feb. 7-13. The stock market rout and a slowing Chinese economy have affected consumer sentiment for luxury goods, Chow Tai Fook has said. Mainland China tourists “are unlikely to come back in the short term,” said Forrest Chan at CCB International Securities. Hong Kong residents are also consuming less due to stagnant property values and the weak stock market, he said. “Hong Kong’s retail market will continue to fall for the rest of 2016 as all the negative factors won’t be solved in the near term,” Chan said.

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Margin debt. Next up is margin calls.

A Bear Market Is Now Underway And It’s Likely To Be A Painful One (Felder)

NYSE margin debt fell again during the month of February. After the selloff in stocks that kicked off 2016, this should come as no surprise. Investors are usually forced to reduce leveraged bets during these sorts of episodes in the stock market. In fact, this forced selling can actually exacerbate the volatility. And because margin debt is only now beginning to come down from record highs, surpassing those seen at the 2000 and 2007 peak, this should be of concern to most equity investors. To fully appreciate this risk, I prefer to look at margin debt relative to overall economic activity. When leveraged financial speculation becomes large relative to the economy, it’s usually a sign investors have become far too greedy. As Warren Buffett would say, this is usually a good time to become more fearful, or conservative towards the stock market.

Not only did margin debt recently hit nominal record-highs, it hit new record-highs in relation to GDP, as well. In other words, over the past several decades, investors have never become so greedy as they did recently. And yes, this includes the dotcom bubble. One reason I prefer this measure is that it has a fairly high negative correlation with forward 3-year returns in the stock market. When investors become too greedy, returns over the subsequent 3 years are poor and vice versa. As of the end of February, the latest forecast implied by this measure is for a loss of about 35% over the next three years. While this measure is pretty good at forecasting 3-year returns that doesn’t help much for investors concerned with the next year or so. In this regard, it may be helpful to observe the trend of margin debt.

Where is the nominal level of margin debt relative to its 12-month moving average or simply its level from one year ago? Historically, when these indicators turn negative from such lofty levels, a bear market, as defined by at least a 20% drawdown, is already underway. Right now both of these measure are, in fact, negative. So margin debt right now is sending a very clear signal that investors have recently become very greedy. This suggests returns over the next several years should be very poor. Finally, the trend in margin debt also suggests that a new bear market is likely underway. If history is to rhyme, that means a decline of at least 20% in the S&P 500 is very likely to occur sometime soon. And because of the sheer size of the potential forced supply that could come to market in this sort of environment, that could easily be just the beginning.

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Abenomics chapter 827-B.

Foreigners’ ‘Dumb Money’ Flees Japan Stocks (BBG)

Brian Heywood, who oversees about $2 billion mostly in Japanese equities, is putting on a brave face as the market tumbles and many foreigners head for the exit. The CEO of Taiyo Pacific Partners says he welcomes the selling by overseas investors as it gives him a better chance to beat his benchmark. His logic is that many money managers invest indiscriminately in Tokyo, pushing up the entire Topix index and making stock-picking less effective. Heywood says his fund is outperforming the equity gauge this year, while declining to give details.

Foreign investors offloaded shares for 12 straight weeks, with net selling reaching a record earlier this month, as they lose faith in the Bank of Japan’s monetary policy and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s commitment to reviving the economy. The Topix is down 13% in 2016, and while Taiyo’s biggest holdings have posted strong gains, many others have fallen. “We don’t do well when there is a flood of money into Japan, because it’s dumb money,” Heywood, 49, said in an interview during a visit to Tokyo last week. “When the market punctures, there are companies that we want to add to. The market overreacts. We know the company. We’re at 3% and we’d like to be at 6%. We use it as an opportunity.”

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We’re going to see a lot of ‘hidden’ protectionism going forward. Globalization is now turning against individual nations.

‘Protectionist’ China Tax on Overseas Purchases Set to Kick In (WSJ)

China is tightening its grip on cross-border e-commerce, imposing a new tax system on overseas purchases that form a growing business catering to Chinese consumers with an appetite for foreign goods. The changes, announced by the Finance Ministry last week, include raising the so-called parcel tax that is currently imposed on foreign retail products that e-commerce firms ship into China. Moreover, such goods sent directly to consumers will now be treated as imports and will be subject to tariffs and value-added and consumption taxes, whose rates vary depending on the type and value of goods. The ministry said the changes, which become effective April 8, are intended to put foreign and domestic products on an equal footing.

Industry analysts said the move seems designed to give a boost to “made-in-China” products and could dent a small, but growing, market for foreign goods sold by Alibaba, JD.com. and other e-commerce players. Those marketplaces feature nutritional supplements and food by brands such as Ocean Spray, as well as diapers and other baby and maternal products. They form a slice of the 5 trillion yuan ($773 billion) in sales by e-commerce firms in China last year, double the level of 2012, according to Beijing-based research firm Analysys International. The new levies could dampen some demand, just as an increasing number of retailers world-wide are hoping to sell into China, said Charles Whiteman, senior vice president of client services for MotionPoint, a technology company that helps international retailers sync their e-commerce websites across languages and currencies.

“Increases in prices always have the effect of driving demand down,” but the effect will be “modest,” Mr. Whiteman said. “It probably won’t be too noticeable for branded products,” for which consumers are willing to pay a premium. Chinese consumers have demonstrated a willingness to pay more for products such as cosmetics, infant formula and other baby products. Chinese e-commerce companies have said that such products form the vast majority of the imported products sold on their websites, because of product-safety concerns in China. Alibaba and JD.com said they expected robust demand from Chinese consumers for overseas products, especially high-quality ones, to continue, even with the changes in policy.

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Yeah, that metaphor sort of works.

Global Steel Industry Facing ‘Ice Age,’ Top China Mill Warns (BBG)

The crisis engulfing the global steel industry is so severe that one of China’s top producers has warned a new Ice Age has set in as mills confront overcapacity and rising competition that threaten their survival. “In 2015, China experienced a slowdown in economic growth and excess steel capacity, which caused the domestic and overseas steel industry to enter into an ‘Ice Age’,” Angang Steel said after posting a net loss of 4.59 billion yuan ($710 million) for last year. There are severe challenges, fierce competition and difficult survival conditions, it said. Steel demand in China is shrinking for the first time in a generation as growth slows and policy makers seek to steer the economy toward consumption.

Faced with declining sales at home, mills in the top producer – which accounts for half of global supply – have shipped record volumes overseas, heightening competition from Europe to the U.S. Tata Steel Ltd. in India said this week it’s planning to sell off its loss-making U.K. plants, prompting Prime Minister David Cameron to call crisis talks on Thursday. The steel industry is set for a “severe winter,” Angang said, describing the market that it and others faced as complex. Output of steel by the country’s fourth-biggest producer contracted 4.4% last year, and the company is seeking to reduce costs and boost efficiency, it said.

Benchmark steel prices sank 31% in China last year, pummeling mills’ margins and spurring the government to step up efforts to force the industry to shut overcapacity and shift workers to other jobs. While reinforcement bar has rebounded since November, Daniel Hynes, senior commodities strategist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd., forecasts the rally may not last. “The short-term rally we’ve seen in steel prices will give way to the longer-term dynamic of weaker steel consumption in China,” Hynes said by phone on Thursday. “I suppose the positive thing is that maybe the restructuring we’re seeing in the steel industry will speed up the rationalization of the market.”

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This is becoming a curious case. Rumor has it Anbang couldn’t produce details on how they would finance the deal.

China’s Anbang Abandons $14 Billion Bid To Buy Starwood Hotels (Reuters)

China’s Anbang Insurance said on Thursday it has abandoned its $14 billion bid for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, paving the way for Marriott International to buy the Sheraton and Westin hotels operator. The surprise withdrawal marks an anticlimactic end to a bidding war that had pitted Marriott’s ambitions to create the world’s largest lodging company, with about 5,700 hotels, against Anbang’s drive to create a vast portfolio of U.S. real estate assets. It also represents a blow to corporate China’s growing ambitions to acquire U.S. assets. Anbang’s acquisition of Starwood would have been the largest takeover of a U.S. company by a Chinese buyer.

“We were attracted to the opportunity presented by Starwood because of its high-quality, leading global hotel brands, which met many of our acquisition criteria, including the ability to generate consistent, long-term returns over time,” Anbang said. “However, due to various market considerations, the consortium has determined not to proceed further,” Anbang added, referring to the joint bid it had put together with private equity firms J.C. Flowers and Primavera Capital. Anbang did not offer Starwood a reason for not following through on its raised offer of March 26, according to people familiar with the matter. They asked not to be identified disclosing confidential discussions. “The reason of withdrawal is simple – Anbang isn’t interested in a protracted bidding war,” Fred Hu, Chairman of Primavera, told Reuters..

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What happens when all your priorities are short term.

The UK Once Made 40% Of Global Steel. Soon It May Produce Almost None (BBG)

The U.K. once made nearly half the world’s steel. Soon it may produce almost none. Tata Steel plans to sell its U.K. business which include the country’s last blast furnace sites in Scunthorpe and Port Talbot. Used to turn iron ore into steel, these giant plants are the focus of the entire industry. They are also the assets that may prove the most difficult to unload, according to at least one potential buyer. Should Tata’s plants follow Redcar, shut last year, the U.K. would become the first member of the Group of Seven leading economies to operate no blast furnaces. It’s a far cry from its Victorian metal-bashing heyday when Britain produced about 40% of global supply. But beyond the immediate impact on employment, does it matter? Does a major industrial economy need to produce steel, a material vital to industries from construction to car making?

“They’re probably done for,” said Keith Burnett, vice-chancellor at the University of Sheffield, a place that won the moniker Steel City before the industry’s decline. “But if we accept that, it’s a really big step and the long-term consequences are to lose the capabilities to make our own railways, make our own weapon systems, make our own nuclear reactors.” The U.K. was already the industrial world’s laggard when it comes to steel, producing just 12.1 million tons in 2014, less than a third of what Germany makes each year and just over a tenth of Japan’s 110.7 million=ton output. China is the world’s biggest producer making about half the world’s 1.67 billion tons of steel.

British steelmaking has been in relative decline for more than a century, eclipsed by the by the U.S. by the start of World War I and later overtaken by Germany. In the 1970s and 1980s, inefficient and outdated plants led to production falling 64% to less than 10 million metric tons, and the country’s output slipped below France, Italy and Belgium. Still, manufacturing in steel-consuming industries is buoyant. U.K. car production hit a 10-year high last year with 1.6 million cars being made in Britain as overseas sales reached record numbers. The country employs 2.6 million people in manufacturing, much of it steel related, and it accounts for 44% of exports.

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More of the same short term focus that will end up damaging Britain for decades to come.

Britain Courts Fate On Brexit With Worst External Deficit In History (AEP)

Britain’s current account deficit is the worst ever recorded in peace-time since the Bank of England started collecting records in 1772 under the reign of George III. Even during the grimmest moments of the First World War it only slightly exceeded the eye-watering figure of 7pc of GDP racked up in the fourth quarter of last year. No other country in the OECD club is close to this. It has been getting worse for the last four years in a row. Excuses are running thin. The Government can no longer blame the double-dip recession in the eurozone, our biggest export market. Europe has been recovering for three years and is currently enjoying as much growth as it is ever likely to see. The UK deficit is prima facie evidence of a nation living beyond its means, reliant on foreign capital to fund consumption.

Global investors have so far chosen to overlook this chronic deterioration, accepting the stock assurance from London that it is a temporary blip caused by declines in investment income. This may change as the vote on Brexit draws near and the polls tighten. Most investors in Asia, the US, and the Middle East have treated the referendum as political pantomime, taking it for granted that British voters would (as the world sees it) make the “rational” choice. “Very few people have been focusing on the current account. Brexit is now bringing it firmly into focus. We are getting a lot more questions about this from clients in Europe,” said David Owen from Jefferies. The dawning realization that Britain might indeed opt for secession has clearly begun to rattle markets. Sterling has fallen 9pc against a trade-weighted basis since November. The spread between Gilts and German Bunds has been creeping up, an early warning sign of trouble.

The Bank of England’s Financial Policy Committee noted signs of stress in the sterling options market in a statement this week, and warned that it may become harder to the inflows of capital needed to cover the external deficit. Lena Komileva from G+Economics said the current account deficit is now so large that it leaves the country vulnerable to external shocks, amplifying the potential impact of Brexit. Britain’s credit-driven consumer credit is “plainly unsustainable”. The UK savings ratio has fallen to a record low of 3.8pc. Consumer credit has risen by 44pc over the last year to £1.3bn. “We are not very different from the structural fragility of the economy that we had prior to the 2007 global crash,” she said. The Office for Budget Responsibility warned earlier this month that households are running an “unprecedented” deficit of 3pc of GDP – worse than the pre-Lehman peak – with no improvement expected through to the early 2020s.

People are running through savings and taking on debt to fund their lifestyles and buy new cars. They are expected to spend £58bn more than they earn this year, rising to £68bn by the end of the decade. This roughly mirrors what was happening just before the 2007 financial crisis when people were treating their homes as a cash machine, drawing down £50bn a year in home equity. Events were to show brutally that this was not benign.

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Well, one can dream, surely. But without -unacceptable to many- ‘transfers’ from north to south, can the euro survive at all?

A Plan To Turn The Euro From Zero To Hero (Andricopoulos)

It is difficult to read the history of inter-war Europe and the US without feeling a deep sense of foreboding about the future of the Eurozone. What is the Eurozone if not a new gold standard, lacking even the flexibility to readjust the peg? For the war reparations demanded at Versailles, or the war debts owed by France and the UK to the US, we see the huge debts owed by the South of Europe to the North, particularly Germany. The growth model of the Eurozone now appears to be based largely on running a current account surplus. Competitive devaluation is required to make exports relatively cheap. While this may have been a very successful policy for Germany during a period of high economic growth in the rest of the world, it cannot work in the beggar-thy-neighbour demand-starved world economy of today.

As I’ve explained elsewhere, reasonably large government deficits are very important for sustainable economic growth. However, in the Eurozone this is prohibited both by the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) and by the fear of losing market confidence in the national debt. At the same time credit growth for productive investment is constrained by weak banks and Basel regulation. And the Eurozone as a whole is already running a large current account surplus; the rest of the world will not allow much more export-led growth. Helicopter money would be a solution, but politically this is a long way away. Summing up, if economic growth cannot be funded by government deficits, private sector debt, export growth or helicopter money it is very difficult to see where nominal GDP growth can come from.

In a way, this can be seen as a Prisoner’s Dilemma. Every country knows (or should know) that if all states provided fiscal stimulus, the Eurozone would benefit from more economic growth. However, for any individual state, a unilateral fiscal boost would increase their own government debt whilst giving a fair amount of the GDP growth to other states (because some of the stimulus would go to increasing imports from the other nations). And if all others provide stimulus, then it is in an individual state’s interest to take the benefit of the other states’ stimulus, and become more competitive versus the rest.

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We could do with more blockchain scrutiny.

In Technology We Trust -Maybe- (Coppola)

David Andolfatto of the St. Louis Federal Reserve wonders if investors see Bitcoin as a “safe asset”. By this he means the sort of asset that investors run to when economic storm clouds gather and other asset classes start to look dangerous: “Loosely speaking, I’m thinking about an asset that people flock to in bad or uncertain economic times. In normal times, it’s an asset that is held despite having a relatively low rate of return, perhaps because of its use as a hedge, or because of its liquidity properties.” Like gold, in fact. In important respects, Bitcoin is indeed like gold. Digital gold. It is “mined”, with mining becoming more difficult and expensive as undiscovered supplies dwindle.

There is an absolute limit (21 million) on the number of bitcoins that can ever be mined: once all have been “discovered”, the supply is fixed, unless the Bitcoin community decides that the hard limit should be changed – which at present seems rather less likely than mining asteroids for gold. The gold-like nature of Bitcoin protects it from hyperinflationary collapse, believed by many goldbugs and Bitcoin geeks to be the inevitable future of today’s government-issued fiat currencies. And, importantly, it is not under the control of governments or central banks. Neither the political mafia nor the economics establishment have any say over how, when or if it is produced, nor over its market price. For people who believe that “GUBBMINT WILL STEAL YOUR MONEY”, Bitcoin is possibly even more secure than gold.

After all, in the 1930s the US government confiscated private sector gold holdings. But it has no means of confiscating Bitcoin holdings, since identifying exactly who holds them is costly and difficult, and they can easily be transferred out of reach anyway. Bitcoin is, after all, an international currency with its own highly efficient money transfer technology. Like gold, Bitcoin’s market price tends to be volatile. And like gold, its value also tends to be counter-cyclical. When the US economy weakens, or global risks rise, up goes gold…..and Bitcoin. The profiles of both vis-à-vis the US dollar since the end of 2013 look remarkably similar. We can perhaps say that investors run to gold when trust in government and its instruments fails. In God We Trust becomes In Gold We Trust. But where does Bitcoin fit in?

Bitcoin’s advocates claim that the system is a “trust-free system”, because there are no intermediaries. But for the system to work at all, there must be trust – trust that the technology will work. In Gold We Trust becomes In Technology We Trust. It is perhaps not surprising that Bitcoin use is highest among those with a background in computer science. But hang on. There’s a problem, isn’t there? After all, governments are human constructs. And so are cryptocurrencies. The coders behind Bitcoin are human. Why should anyone have more trust in a digital currency created by an anonymous group of coders accountable to no-one than in a democratically-elected government accountable to everyone? Why is an essentially feudal governance model “safer” than a democratic one?

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The election hit man.

How To Hack An Election (BBG)

It was just before midnight when Enrique Peña Nieto declared victory as the newly elected president of Mexico. Peña Nieto was a lawyer and a millionaire, from a family of mayors and governors. His wife was a telenovela star. He beamed as he was showered with red, green, and white confetti at the Mexico City headquarters of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which had ruled for more than 70 years before being forced out in 2000. Returning the party to power on that night in July 2012, Peña Nieto vowed to tame drug violence, fight corruption, and open a more transparent era in Mexican politics. Two thousand miles away, in an apartment in Bogotá’s upscale Chicó Navarra neighborhood, Andrés Sepúlveda sat before six computer screens.

Sepúlveda is Colombian, bricklike, with a shaved head, goatee, and a tattoo of a QR code containing an encryption key on the back of his head. On his nape are the words “” and “” stacked atop each other, dark riffs on coding. He was watching a live feed of Peña Nieto’s victory party, waiting for an official declaration of the results. When Peña Nieto won, Sepúlveda began destroying evidence. He drilled holes in flash drives, hard drives, and cell phones, fried their circuits in a microwave, then broke them to shards with a hammer. He shredded documents and flushed them down the toilet and erased servers in Russia and Ukraine rented anonymously with Bitcoins. He was dismantling what he says was a secret history of one of the dirtiest Latin American campaigns in recent memory.

For eight years, Sepúlveda, now 31, says he traveled the continent rigging major political campaigns. With a budget of $600,000, the Peña Nieto job was by far his most complex. He led a team of hackers that stole campaign strategies, manipulated social media to create false waves of enthusiasm and derision, and installed spyware in opposition offices, all to help Peña Nieto, a right-of-center candidate, eke out a victory. On that July night, he cracked bottle after bottle of Colón Negra beer in celebration. As usual on election night, he was alone.

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Bright spot. Europe must study Canadian law.

Canada To Accept Additional 10,000 Syrian Refugees (Reuters)

Canada will take in an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees, adding to the more than 25,000 already received in the last few months, said immigration minister John McCallum. McCallum told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp he was responding to complaints from Canadian groups who want to sponsor Syrian refugees but did not have their applications processed quickly enough to be among the government’s initial target of 25,000. “We are doing everything we can to accommodate the very welcomed desire on the part of Canadians to sponsor refugees,” McCallum said in a phone interview with CBC News from Berlin, where he is meeting with the German interior minister. The Liberal government won election in October 2015 pledging to bring in more Syrian refugees more quickly than the previous Conservative government.

Private groups including church, family and community organizations had lined up to sponsor Syrian families. The welcome contrasts sharply to Europe, where resettlement has sparked an anti-migrant backlash amid security fears. While there have been some delays finding permanent housing for refugees arriving in Canada, particularly in large cities like Toronto where the housing market is tight, the resettlement program has been mostly smooth. [..] . A total of 26,200 Syrian refugees had arrived in Canada as of 28 March, according to the immigration department. But nearly 16,000 more applications are in process or have been finalized, even though the refugees have not yet arrived, according to official figures.

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Fast and loose.

Greece, Turkey Take Legal Short-Cuts In Race To Return Migrants (Reuters)

Greece and Turkey are rushing through changes to their asylum rules in a race to implement a EU-Turkey agreement on the return of refugees and migrants from Greek islands to Turkey from next Monday, EU officials and diplomats said. Both Athens and Ankara must amend their legislation to permit the start of a scheme – denounced by the U.N. refugee agency and rights groups – to send back all migrants who crossed to Greece after March 20. The policy is meant to end the uncontrolled influx of refugees and other migrants in which more than a million people crossed into Europe last year, causing a political backlash and pitting EU countries against each other. Greece, which started evacuating hundreds of people stranded in Athens’ Piraeus port on Thursday, submitted to parliament an asylum amendment bill on Wednesday.

Brussels said it had assurances from Athens that it would be passed this week. But it does not explicitly designate Turkey as a “safe third country” – a formula to make any mass returns legally sound – and a senior official of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that change did not remove its concerns about protecting the rights of asylum seekers. “Our concerns regarding legal safeguards remain unchanged and we hope that the Greek authorities will take them fully into consideration,” UNHCR Europe director Vincent Cochetel said. The EU executive’s spokeswoman, Natasha Bertaud, was unable to say how exactly rejected asylum seekers would be removed from camps on Greek islands or transported back to Turkey, saying those details were still being worked out.

[..]The Greek bill does not name Turkey, but Bertaud said that was not essential provided rules were in place allowing people to be sent back to a “safe third country” or a “safe first country of asylum”, and each case was examined individually. EU officials said the formula was devised to get around unease among lawmakers in Greece’s ruling Syriza party at declaring Turkey safe when it is waging a military crackdown on Kurdish separatists and is accused of curbing media freedom and judicial independence. Asked why Turkey was not mentioned, Greece’s alternate minister for European affairs, Nikos Xydakis, told To Kokkino radio: “It cannot be in a law, because the examination of each application for asylum will be on a case by case basis. That is the safety trigger under international refugee law. Each person is a special case.”

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“It is a deal that can only be implemented with the hardest of hearts and a blithe disregard for international law..”

Amnesty Says Turkey Illegally Sending Syrians Back To War Zone (Reuters)

Turkey has illegally returned thousands of Syrians to their war-torn homeland in recent months, highlighting the dangers for migrants sent back from Europe under a deal due to come into effect next week, Amnesty International said on Friday. Turkey agreed with the EU this month to take back all migrants and refugees who cross illegally to Greece in exchange for financial aid, faster visa-free travel for Turks and slightly accelerated EU membership talks. But the legality of the deal hinges on Turkey being a safe country of asylum, which Amnesty said in its report was clearly not the case. It said it was likely that several thousand refugees had been sent back to Syria in mass returns in the past seven to nine weeks, flouting Turkish, EU and international law.

“In their desperation to seal their borders, EU leaders have wilfully ignored the simplest of facts: Turkey is not a safe country for Syrian refugees and is getting less safe by the day,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia. Turkey’s foreign ministry denied Syrians were being sent back against their will. Turkey had maintained an “open door” policy for Syrian migrants for five years and strictly abided by the “non-refoulement” principle of not returning someone to a country where they are liable to face persecution, it said. “None of the Syrians that have demanded protection from our country are being sent back to their country by force, in line with international and national law,” a foreign ministry official told Reuters.

But Amnesty said testimonies it had gathered in Turkey’s southern border provinces suggested the authorities have been rounding up and expelling groups of around 100 Syrian men, women and children almost daily since the middle of January. Many of those returned to Syria appear to be unregistered refugees, though the rights group said it had also documented cases of registered Syrians being returned when apprehended while not carrying their papers. Amnesty also said its research showed the authorities had scaled back the registration of Syrian refugees in the southern border provinces. Those with no registration have no access to basic services such as healthcare and education. [..] “The large-scale returns of Syrian refugees we have documented highlight the fatal flaws in the EU-Turkey deal. It is a deal that can only be implemented with the hardest of hearts and a blithe disregard for international law,” Amnesty’s Dalhuisen said.

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How can Europe continue with the Turkey deal under these conditions?

Turkey ‘Shooting Dead’ Syrian Refugees As They Flee Civil War (Ind.)

Turkish security forces have shot dead refugees escaping from the Syrian conflict, according to reports. UK-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights alleged 16 people seeking sanctuary in Turkey have been shot over the past four months. They said those killed included three children. Other examples compiled by the Syrian Observatory include the alleged killings of a man and his child at Ras al-Ain, at the eastern end of the Turkish-Syrian border. In the west of the country, two refugees were reportedly shot dead at Guvveci on 5 March. “It’s in all areas. It happens to people coming from Idlib, Aleppo, Isis areas, Kurdish areas,” a spokesman for the Syrian Observatory told The Independent.

Other sources, including a Syrian people smuggler based in Turkey and an officer of the UK-supported Free Syrian Police, told The Times they believed the number of refugees killed by Turkish forces was actually far higher. They said this was because people killed on the Syrian side of the border were buried in the conflict zone, where record keeping is much more difficult. The smuggler told the newspaper refugees attempting to cross the border would now “either be killed or captured”. Citing Turkey’s former open-door refugee policy, he added: “Turkish soldiers used to help the refugees across, carry their bags for them. Now they shoot at them.” It is not the first time Turkish authorities have faced criticism over their treatment of refugees. In March, the Turkish Coast Guard allegedly attacked a dinghy filled with migrants in the Aegean. The latest allegations are likely to cast further scrutiny on the EU migrant deal with Turkey.

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“This is how true refugees are lost. Do we really think that a Somali woman who has been raped will sit down and merrily rattle off her experiences?”

Greek Asylum System Under ‘Insufferable Pressure’ (IRIN)

As Greece prepares to deport an initial 500 migrants and refugees on Monday under a controversial agreement between the EU and Turkey, senior Greek officials say the pressure to process applications quickly has become too great, at the expense of legal and ethical standards. “Insufferable pressure is being put on us to reduce our standards and minimise the guarantees of the asylum process,” Maria Stavropoulou, who heads the Greek Asylum Service, told IRIN. “[We’re asked] to change our laws, to change our standards to the lowest possible under the EU directive [on asylum procedures].” Under the terms of the 18 March agreement, Greece must screen all new arrivals from Turkey as quickly as possible and return those deemed not in need of international protection on the basis that Turkey is a “safe third country” or “first country of asylum” where they were already protected.

Most of the pressure, according to Stavropoulou, is coming from “countries that are very invested in the deal with Turkey working.” Germany, which received more than one million asylum seekers last year, took a leading role in negotiations with Turkey during a tense two-day summit earlier this month. In addition to having to screen and return new arrivals, Greece is also dealing with high numbers of asylum applications from the more than 50,000 refugees and migrants who were already trapped inside Greece before the agreement with Turkey came into effect. An overland route through the western Balkans to Germany has been closed for a month and many of those who cannot afford to pay smugglers to find a new route to Western Europe are now applying for asylum in Greece. Authorities here expect to receive just under 3,000 applications in March, double the figure for January and three times last year’s monthly average.

But even as the numbers have mounted, so has the pressure for speedy processing. The Greek Asylum Service has just hired three dozen new personnel, bringing its total staff to 295. But it says it will need at least double that number to handle the expected caseload in the wake of the EU-Turkey agreement. The European Commission has estimated that some 4,000 personnel are likely to be needed in Greece and is sending reinforcements. Many of those slated to join the effort are coastguard officers, but some 800 are asylum experts and interpreters from other member states and from the European Asylum Support Office, the EU’s coordinating body for asylum matters. The first 60 are to arrive in Greece on Sunday.

[..] Some asylum experts believe that the pressure for rapid screening will mean that vital information for determining asylum claims is overlooked. “It always takes time,” said Spyros Kouloheris, head of legal research at the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR), the country’s most respected legal aid NGO. “Someone who is traumatised will speak in fits and starts. They appear not to be telling the truth. We’ve lost a lot of cases because we didn’t have the time, the information, the culture, the experience, to understand that the more broken up the narrative, the more likely it is that there is a background of torture and abuse. This is how true refugees are lost. Do we really think that a Somali woman who has been raped will sit down and merrily rattle off her experiences?”

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Jan 162016
 
 January 16, 2016  Posted by at 9:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle January 16 2016
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DPC Union Station, Worcester, Massachusetts 1906

US Stocks Post Worst 10-Day Start To A Year In History (MW)
What Goes Up, Comes Down Considerably Faster (ZH)
Wall Street Hemorrhages As Oil Tumbles And China Fears Deepen (Reuters)
Weak US Data Deluge Points To Sharply Slower Growth (Reuters)
A Recession Worse Than 2008 Is Coming (Michael Pento)
Looming Recession Shifts Fed Support From Equities To Dollar, Banks (Brodsky)
Global Earnings Downgrades Haven’t Been This Bad in Seven Years (BBG)
Retail Sales in U.S. Decrease to End Weakest Year Since 2009 (BBG)
Wal-Mart to Shut Hundreds of Stores (BBG)
A New Year Of Turmoil For China (WaPo)
Currency War Revival Seen After Yen, Euro Rally (BBG)
One Year On, ‘Franckenschock’ Still Hurts Swiss (CNBC)
America’s Student-Debt Crisis Is Only Getting Worse (MW)
MH-17’s Unnecessary Mystery (Robert Parry)
Toxic Chemicals In Scottish Waters Wiping Out Killer Whales (Scotsman)
Baby Found Dead On Greece Migrant Boat (AP)

History being written.

US Stocks Post Worst 10-Day Start To A Year In History (MW)

U.S. stocks closed sharply lower Friday, locking in the worst 10-day start to a calendar year ever, as oil prices plunged and investors worried about slowing growth in the U.S. During the course of the session, the S&P 500 broke below its Aug. 24 low—which several market strategists said would be tantamount to a major sell signal—to trade at its lowest level since October 2014. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was briefly down as much as 537 points. Oil appeared to be the main driver of concern. Both the U.S. and global benchmarks settled below $30 a barrel, as investors feared that supplies will continue to rise as Iran prepares to enter the market ad Russia continues pumping oil to help support its flagging economy.

”There’s not a lot of people willing to take their foot off the gas and prices are adjusting accordingly,” said David Meier, portfolio manager at Motley Fool Asset Management. “As a result of that you’re seeing fear just creep in.” The Dow slumped 390.97 points, or 2.4%, to 15,988.08, while the S&P 500 slid 44.85 points, or 2.3%, to 1,876.99, led lower by the financial, technology and energy sectors. The Nasdaq Composite tumbled 126.59 points, or 2.7%, to 4,488.42. All Dow components ended in negative territory, as were all 10 sectors on the S&P 500. Selling began in China after official data showed that new bank loans were lower than expected in December as lenders sharply curtailed activity amid worries about slowing growth and bad debt.

In a bid to boost liquidity, China’s central bank said it pumped $15 billion of funds into the market via a medium-term lending facility on Friday. The Shanghai Composite dropped 3.5% and is down 20% from a Dec. 22 high, which by one definition puts it in a bear market. All of this was exacerbated as options stopped trading ahead of their expiration on Saturday. Dave Lutz, head of ETFs at JonesTrading, said because of how the market was positioned, options dealers needed to sell more futures to hedge their positions as stocks fell.

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Yeah, those are real losses. Transitory is no longer a valid term.

What Goes Up, Comes Down Considerably Faster (ZH)

What goes up, comes down considerably faster. For global stocks, Bloomberg notes, the way down ($15 trillion lost in 7 months) has been much easier than the climb up ($30 trillion added in 4 years).

With markets from Asia to Europe entering bear markets this month, stocks worldwide have lost more than $14 trillion, or 20%, in value from a record last June amid worries over global growth and deepening oil declines. The pace of the drop has been so fast that it has already unraveled about half of the rally since a low in 2011. And here is a bonus chart from Bank of America, which looks at the S&P on an equal weighted basis, to avoid such aberrations as the collapsing market breadth phenomenon, also known as FANG. Spot the symmetry.

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“Initially when oil was down, the convenient line was ‘Well, it’s good for the other nine sectors’.. [..] Now, it’s contagion to Main Street and Wall Street.”

Wall Street Hemorrhages As Oil Tumbles And China Fears Deepen (Reuters)

Wall Street bled on Friday, with the S&P 500 sinking to its lowest since October 2014 as oil prices sank below $30 per barrel and fears grew about economic trouble in China. Pain was dealt widely, with the day’s trading volume unusually high and more than a fifth of S&P 500 stocks touching 52-week lows. The major S&P sectors all ended sharply lower. The Russell 2000 small-cap index dropped as much as 3.5% to its lowest since July 2013. The energy sector dropped 2.87% as oil prices fell 6.5%, in part due to fears of slow economic growth in China, where major stock indexes also slumped overnight. The energy sector has lost nearly half its value after hitting record highs in late 2014. “Initially when oil was down, the convenient line was ‘Well, it’s good for the other nine sectors’,” said Jake Dollarhide, CEO of Longbow Asset Management.

“That tune has changed. Now, it’s a contagion to the other nine sectors. It’s a contagion to Main Street and Wall Street.” The technology sector was the day’s biggest loser, sliding 3.15% as weak quarterly results from chipmaker Intel weighed heavily on chip stocks. The S&P 500 has fallen about 12% from its high in May, pushing it into what is generally considered “correction territory.” China’s major stock indexes shed over 3%, raising questions about Beijing’s ability to halt a sell-off that has now reached 18% since the start of the year. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 2.39% to end at 15,988.08 and the S&P 500 fell 2.16% to 1,880.33. The Nasdaq Composite lost 2.74% to 4,488.42. For the week, the Dow fell 2.2%, the S&P 500 lost 2.2% and the Nasdaq dropped 3.3%. U.S. stock exchanges will be closed on Monday in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, while China’s equity markets will be open.

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And this is news to whom, exactly?

Weak US Data Deluge Points To Sharply Slower Growth (Reuters)

U.S. retail sales fell in December as unseasonably warm weather undercut purchases of winter apparel and cheaper gasoline weighed on receipts at service stations, the latest indication that economic growth braked sharply in the fourth quarter. The growth picture was further darkened by other data on Friday showing industrial production fell in December, dragged down by cutbacks in utilities and mining output. Business inventories were also weak, posting their biggest drop in just over four years in November. Signs the economy has hit a soft patch – together with weak inflation, a stock market sell-off and faltering global growth – raises doubts on whether the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates again in March. The Fed lifted its benchmark overnight interest rate from near zero last month, the first rate hike in nearly a decade.

“The economy got hit from all sides in December. If these weak data keep going into 2016, the outlook is going to grow even dimmer given the recent financial market turbulence and the fears over what a slowdown in China means for the rest of the world,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG Union Bank in New York. The Commerce Department said retail sales slipped 0.1% after increasing 0.4% in November. For all of 2015, retail sales rose just 2.1%, the weakest reading since 2009, after advancing 3.9% in 2014. Retail sales excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services fell 0.3% after a 0.5% gain the prior month. These so-called core retail sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product.

Though another report from the University of Michigan showed its consumer sentiment index rose to 93.3 early this month from a reading of 92.6 in December, households were less upbeat about current conditions, reflecting the recent equity market turmoil. Friday’s reports joined weak data on construction, manufacturing and export growth in suggesting that growth slowed abruptly in the final three months of 2015. They could raise fears that the malaise from manufacturing and export-oriented sectors was filtering to the rest of the economy.

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“Now that this debt bubble is unwinding, growth in China is going offline”

A Recession Worse Than 2008 Is Coming (Michael Pento)

The S&P 500 has begun 2016 with its worst performance ever. This has prompted Wall Street apologists to come out in full force and try to explain why the chaos in global currencies and equities will not be a repeat of 2008. Nor do they want investors to believe this environment is commensurate with the dot-com bubble bursting. They claim the current turmoil in China is not even comparable to the 1997 Asian debt crisis. Indeed, the unscrupulous individuals that dominate financial institutions and governments seldom predict a down-tick on Wall Street, so don’t expect them to warn of the impending global recession and market mayhem. But a recession has occurred in the U.S. about every five years, on average, since the end of WWII; and it has been seven years since the last one — we are overdue.

Most importantly, the average market drop during the peak to trough of the last 6 recessions has been 37%. That would take the S&P 500 down to 1,300; if this next recession were to be just of the average variety. But this one will be worse. A major contributor for this imminent recession is the fallout from a faltering Chinese economy. The megalomaniac communist government has increased debt 28 times since the year 2000. Taking that total north of 300% of GDP in a very short period of time for the primary purpose of building a massive unproductive fixed asset bubble that adds little to GDP. Now that this debt bubble is unwinding, growth in China is going offline.

The renminbi’s falling value, cascading Shanghai equity prices (down 40% since June 2014) and plummeting rail freight volumes (down 10.5% year over year), all clearly illustrate that China is not growing at the promulgated 7%, but rather isn’t growing at all. The problem is that China accounted for 34% of global growth, and the nation’s multiplier effect on emerging markets takes that number to over 50%. Therefore, expect more stress on multinational corporate earnings as global growth continues to slow. But the debt debacle in China is not the primary catalyst for the next recession in the United States. It is the fact that equity prices and real estate values can no longer be supported by incomes and GDP. And now that the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing and zero interest-rate policy have ended, these asset prices are succumbing to the gravitational forces of deflation. The median home price to income ratio is currently 4.1; whereas the average ratio is just 2.6.

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An inevitable development that we’ve long predicted.

Looming Recession Shifts Fed Support From Equities To Dollar, Banks (Brodsky)

Investors are blaming Fed rate hikes, and hence a strong dollar, for weakening global output, commodity prices, and global equity prices so far in 2016. The Fed knows exactly what it’s doing. Equity returns are certainly dismal thus far in 2016. Through January 14 at 14:00PM EST, the MSCI World Index had declined by 8.6%. Accordingly, “the markets” had begun to doubt the Fed’s resolve to hike rates four times in 2016. Fed funds futures implied the December Fed Funds rate at 0.70%, up only 34 basis points from the current rate (0.36%). This implies the market is betting the Fed will hike once or twice more. Clearly, investors see the equity markets as the leading indicator of Fed policy. We disagree.

The Fed no longer works implicitly for equity investors (i.e., “the Fed Put”); it is primarily working for the U.S. banking system by stabilizing and increasing its deposit base, and for the state by providing an incentive across the world to invest in Treasury debt. By raising rates, it increases the exchange value of the U.S. dollar. We have argued that global output growth would have to naturally decline given the extraordinary leverage already built into the global economy, leaving observers to acknowledge in 2016 that recession is near. We have argued further that the Fed is very aware of an imminent global slowdown, and that a logical strategy in such an environment would be for it to import global capital by keeping the dollar un-challenged as a store of value.

We would like to reiterate and refine our view: despite increasing discomfort among equity investors, we think the Fed will remain resolute in its effort to maintain or increase the interest rate differential between U.S. and foreign sovereign rates. The one thing that would change the Fed’s current policy would be if global growth shows signs of increasing – not decreasing. If the world economy were to strengthen then the Fed’s incentive to keep the dollar strong would fade. Investors should consider this meaningful shift in policy when deciding how to allocate across asset classes. As we noted in The Pain Trade last year, falling long-term Treasury yields are the last thing speculative (i.e., levered) investors expect. Following this week’s auctions, it may be time for them to cover shorts.

“Global equity markets are suffering so far in 2016 because the Fed’s primary policy has shifted from protecting asset prices to protecting the exchange value of the dollar. Buy USDs and Treasuries”

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Bubbles have limited lifespans.

Global Earnings Downgrades Haven’t Been This Bad in Seven Years (BBG)

Stocks are losing their last line of defense. Amid a selloff that erased more than two years of gains – about $14 trillion – from global stocks now on the brink of a bear market, at least earnings stood as a potential bright spot. Those hopes are fading: analyst profit downgrades outnumbered upgrades by the most since 2009 last week, according to monthly data from a Citigroup index that tracks such changes. Declines in oil and and other commodities, the withdrawal of Federal Reserve support, Europe’s fragile recovery and China slowdown fears are combining to jeopardize one of the few remaining stock catalysts after a global rally of as much as 156% since 2009. And profit growth estimates are still too high for this year and 2017, says Bankhaus Lampe’s Ralf Zimmermann.

“The momentum in the global economy is slowing down to such an extent that people are seriously talking about recession,” said Zimmermann, a strategist at Bankhaus Lampe in Dusseldorf. “This is not just China, it’s far more widespread. There are few places to hide. Even defensives will feel the pain.” Economists’ projections for worldwide expansion in 2016 have dropped steadily in the past months to just 3.3%, with estimates for China and the U.S. falling since the summer. The biggest bears are getting more bearish – DoubleLine Capital’s Jeffrey Gundlach sees global growth slowing to just 1.9% in 2016, making it the worst year since the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2009.

This earnings season may not provide much reassurance, say strategists at JPMorgan. Analysts project a 6.7% contraction in fourth-quarter profits for Standard & Poor’s 500 Index members. For peers in Europe, estimates call for growth of just 2.7% for all of 2015, about half the pace predicted four months ago. Investors are also running for the door – they pulled about $12 billion from global stock funds last week.

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No, no, no ‘socking away’, they’re paying off debt: “Americans probably preferred to sock away the savings from cheaper fuel..”

Retail Sales in U.S. Decrease to End Weakest Year Since 2009 (BBG)

Sales at U.S. retailers declined in December to wrap the weakest year since 2009, raising concern about the momentum in consumer spending heading into 2016. The 0.1% drop matched the median forecast of 84 economists surveyed by Bloomberg and followed a 0.4% gain in November, Commerce Department figures showed Friday in Washington. For all of 2015, purchases climbed 2.1%, the smallest advance of the current economic expansion.

The slowdown, including electronics stores, clothing merchants and grocers, indicates Americans probably preferred to sock away the savings from cheaper fuel instead of splurging during the holiday season. While hiring has been robust in recent months, faster wage gains remain elusive, one reason household spending may have a tougher time accelerating as the new year gets under way. “There isn’t anything encouraging in this report,” said Thomas Simons at Jefferies in New York. “It’s very disappointing. The labor market is in good shape, which suggests the outlook is probably better than this.”

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“I think they need to exit some markets totally and close a lot more than they are closing.”

Wal-Mart to Shut Hundreds of Stores (BBG)

Wal-Mart plans to shutter 269 stores, the most in at least two decades, as it abandons its experimental small-format Express outlets and looks to streamline the chain. The move by the largest private employer in the U.S. will affect about 10,000 jobs domestically at 154 locations, according to a statement Friday. Overseas, the effort will eliminate 6,000 jobs and includes the closing of 60 money-losing stores in Brazil, a country where Wal-Mart has struggled. The plan will affect less than 1% of its total square footage and revenue, the company said. CEO Doug McMillon took the step after reviewing the chain’s 11,600 stores, evaluating their financial performance and fit with its broader strategy.

The move also marks the end of its pilot Wal-Mart Express program, a bid to create a network of small corner stores to compete with dollar-store chains and drugstores. Wal-Mart will continue its larger-size Neighborhood Markets effort, though 23 poor-performing stores in that chain also will be closed. The company is still expanding its footprint in the U.S., adding 69 new stores and 6,000 jobs in January alone. “We invested considerable time assessing our stores and clubs and don’t take this lightly,” McMillon said. “We are supporting those impacted with extra pay and support, and we will take all appropriate steps to ensure they are treated well.”

Wal-Mart shares fell 1.8% to $61.93 in New York as the broader market tumbled. They have lost 29% of their value over the past 12 months, dragged down by slow growth and profit declines. Some investors may be disappointed that the cuts aren’t deeper, said Brian Yarbrough, an analyst with Edward Jones. “I don’t think this is enough to move the needle,” he said. “I think they need to exit some markets totally and close a lot more than they are closing.”

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“The endgame of Chinese communist rule has now begun.”

A New Year Of Turmoil For China (WaPo)

A year ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping appeared to be living what he called the “Chinese Dream.” China’s economy seemed strong, its military power was growing and Xi was aggressively consolidating domestic political power. But Xi is off to a bad new year. The Chinese economy is slowing sharply, with actual gross domestic product growth last year now estimated by U.S. analysts at several points below the official rate of 6.5%. The Chinese stock market has fallen 15% this year, and the value of its currency has slipped. Capital flight continues, probably at the $1 trillion annual rate estimated for the second half of last year. But China’s economic woes are manageable compared with its domestic political difficulties. Xi’s anti-corruption drive has accelerated into a full-blown purge.

The campaign has rocked the Chinese intelligence service, toppled some senior military commanders and frightened Communist Party leaders around the country. Jittery party officials are lying low, avoiding decisions that might get them in trouble; the resulting paralysis makes other problems worse. “Xi is in an unprecedentedly powerful position. But because he has dismantled the tools of collective leadership that had been built up over decades, he owns this crisis,” said Kurt Campbell, who was the Obama administration’s top Asia expert until 2013. He worries that Xi will “double down” on his nationalistic push for greater power in Asia, which is one of the few themes that can unite the country. “To scale back shows weakness, which Xi can ill afford now,” Campbell said.

Chinese sometimes use historical parables to explain current domestic political issues. The talk recently among some members of the Chinese elite has been a comparison between Xi’s tenure and that of Yongzheng, the emperor who ruled China from 1722 to 1735. Yongzheng waged a harsh campaign against bribery, but he came to be seen by many Chinese as a despot who had gained power illegitimately. “A lot of historical events of that period are repeating in China today, from power conspiracy to corruption, from a deteriorating economy to an external hostility threat,” one Chinese observer said in an email. Xi’s political troubles illustrate the difficulty of trying to reform a one-party system from within.

Much as Mikhail Gorbachev hoped in the 1980s that reforms could revitalize a decaying Soviet Communist Party, Xi began his presidency in 2013 by attacking Chinese party barons who had grown rich and comfortable on the spoils of China’s economic boom. Many of Xi’s rivals were proteges of former President Jiang Zemin, which meant that Xi made some powerful enemies. David Shambaugh, a China scholar at George Washington University, was an outlier when he argued in March that Xi’s reform campaign would backfire. “Despite appearances, China’s political system is badly broken, and nobody knows it better than the Communist Party itself,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “The endgame of Chinese communist rule has now begun.”

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The USD is the only possible winner.

Currency War Revival Seen After Yen, Euro Rally (BBG)

A flare-up in the global currency war is looming, as a resurgent yen and euro threaten to give policy makers in Japan and Europe an incentive to add monetary stimulus. Japan’s currency advanced versus the dollar for the third time in four weeks, while the euro climbed versus most of its peers. Hedge funds lifted bets on yen strength to the highest in more than three years, and pared wagers against the European common currency. The greenback suffered as sentiment cooled for further currency-supportive interest-rate increases in the U.S. amid sustained market volatility and weaker-than-forecast domestic economic data.

A growing divergence in U.S. growth and monetary policy versus the rest of the world has stalled amid signs the American economy can’t wholly escape a slowdown in China and a patchy recovery elsewhere. That’s weighing on the dollar, while stymieing the economic goals of the Bank of Japan and ECB, which benefit when their currencies depreciate. Further monetary easing is on the cards if the yen strengthens beyond 115 per dollar and the euro gains toward $1.15, according to Lee Ferridge, head of macro strategy for North America at State Street Global Markets. “The currency war is still alive and well,” Ferridge said. “If the dollar starts to suffer, then the ECB or the BOJ come back into play.”

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$23 billion lost in 2015. How much worse could not acting have been?

One Year On, ‘Franckenschock’ Still Hurts Swiss (CNBC)

The Swiss National Bank’s (SNB) decision to scrap its cap on the franc against the euro a year ago today shocked markets and sent the country’s currency rocketing 30%. One year on, the franc is still high, 10% up against the euro, and export-focused Switzerland is still feeling the pain. Looking back at the SNB’s shock move James Watson, MD for UK and Europe at ADS Securities, told CNBC “a lot of people were caught in the headlights.” Hashtags such as #Francogeddon and #Franckenschock were soon trending on Twitter. The decision to impose a maximum value on the franc – the cap had been in place at 1.20 franc per euro since 2011 when investors seeking a safe haven amid the turmoil created by the euro zone debt crisis pushed the franc higher – was made to help Swiss exporters compete.

Switzerland’s goods exports grew by 3.5% in 2014, exceeding the record set in 2008. After the cap was lifted, Swiss exports weakened in the first 11 months of 2015, down 3% according to Swiss Customs Office data, although they picked up to growth of 1% in November. Swiss watch sales – the country exports iconic luxury brands such as Hublot and LVMH’s Tag Heuer – remain depressed and recorded their worst November in five years. “I don’t think the SNB really thought about what the effect would be of what they did,” Watson said. The SNB argued that recent falls in the currency meant that maintaining the peg was no longer justifiable. Analysts have also argued the SNB removed the peg for political reasons. The expected introduction of quantitative easing by the ECB at the time also meant that defending the level against an even weaker euro would have required yet more intervention.

Watson believes the central bank took the approach of stimulating the economy, but “maybe they didn’t give it as much thought as they could have”. While it has been painful for exporters, the strong franc has also made imports cheaper. Inflation for 2015 is forecast at –1.1%. Domestic demand looks set to remain robust, according to the bank, which expects growth of approximately 1.5% this year. For 2015, the SNB anticipates growth of just under 1% in Switzerland. Unemployment stood at 4.9% in the third quarter of 2015, according to the ILO, still well below the 6.3% recorded in November in neighbor Germany. The central bank has also indicated that it is prepared to take measures to curb the strength of the franc. The currency, which has weakened in recent months to trade at about 1.09 euros, is still “considerably” overvalued according to the SNB. Vice chairman Fritz Zurbrügg said in speech earlier this week “business as usual is still a long way off”.

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Servitude.

America’s Student-Debt Crisis Is Only Getting Worse (MW)

It’s getting harder and harder to graduate college without taking on student loans. Nearly 70% of bachelor’s degree recipients leave school with debt, according to the White House, and that could have major consequences for the economy. Research indicates that the $1.2 trillion in student loan debt may be preventing Americans,from making the kinds of big purchases that drive economic growth, like house and cars, and reaching other milestones, such as having the ability to save for retirement or move out of mom and dad’s basement. This student debt crisis has become so huge it’s even captured the attention of presidential candidates who are searching for ways to make college more affordable amid an environment of dwindling state funding for higher education and rising college costs. But meanwhile, the approximately 40 million Americans with student debt have to find ways to manage it.

[..] A few numbers to consider (and some that bear repeating):
• The total outstanding student loan debt in the U.S. is $1.2 trillion, that’s the second-highest level of consumer debt behind only mortgages. Most of that is loans held by the federal government.
• About 40 million Americans hold student loans and about 70% of bachelor’s degree recipients graduate with debt.
• The class of 2015 graduated with $35,051 in student debt on average, according to Edvisors, a financial aid website, the most in history.
• One in four student loan borrowers are either in delinquency or default on their student loans, according the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Over the past few decades a variety of factors coalesced to make student debt an almost-universal American experience. For one, state investment in higher education dwindled and colleges made up the difference by raising tuition. At the same time, financial aid hasn’t kept up with tuition growth. In the 1980s, the maximum Pell Grant — the money the federal money gives to low-income students to attend college — covered more than half the cost of a four-year public school, according to The Institute for College Access and Success, a think tank focused on college affordability. Now, it covers less than one-third the cost.

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18 months after MH-17 was shot down, it has become a full-tard propaganda tool for the west. There’s zero respect for the victims and their families.

MH-17’s Unnecessary Mystery (Robert Parry)

[..] despite the flimsiness of the “blame-Russia-for-MH-17” case in July 2014, the Obama administration’s rush to judgment proved critical in whipping up the European press to demonize President Vladimir Putin, who became the Continent’s bete noire accused of killing 298 innocent people. That set the stage for the EU to accede to U.S. demands for economic sanctions on Russia. The MH-17 case was deployed like a classic piece of “strategic communication” or “Stratcom,” mixing propaganda with psychological operations to put an adversary at a disadvantage. Apparently satisfied with that result, the Obama administration stopped talking publicly, leaving the impression of Russian guilt to corrode Moscow’s image in the public mind.

But the intelligence source who spoke to me several times after he received additional briefings about advances in the investigation said that as the U.S. analysts gained more insights into the MH-17 shoot-down from technical and other sources, they came to believe the attack was carried out by a rogue element of the Ukrainian military with ties to a hard-line Ukrainian oligarch. But that conclusion – if made public – would have dealt another blow to America’s already shaky credibility, which has never recovered from the false Iraq-WMD claims in 2002-03. A reversal also would embarrass Kerry, other senior U.S. officials and major Western news outlets, which had bought into the Russia-did-it narrative. Plus, the EU might reconsider its decision to sanction Russia, a key part of U.S. policy in support of the Kiev regime.

Still, as the MH-17 mystery dragged on into 2015, I inquired about the possibility of an update from the DNI’s office. But a spokeswoman told me that no update would be provided because the U.S. government did not want to say anything to prejudice the ongoing investigation. In response, I noted that Kerry and the DNI had already done that by immediately pointing the inquiry in the direction of blaming Russia and the rebels. But there was another purpose in staying mum. By refusing to say anything to contradict the initial rush to judgment, the Obama administration could let Western mainstream journalists and “citizen investigators” on the Internet keep Russia pinned down with more speculation about its guilt in the MH-17 shoot-down. So, silence became the better part of candor. After all, pretty much everyone in the West had judged Russia and Putin guilty. So, why shake that up?

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PCBs ware phased out decades ago.

Toxic Chemicals In Scottish Waters Wiping Out Killer Whales (Scotsman)

Killer whales could vanish from Scottish waters as a result of the lingering effects of toxic chemicals banned more than 30 years ago, according to new international research. Scientists say European seas are a global hotspot of contamination from man-made polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which weaken the immune systems of whales and dolphins and seriously affect their reproduction. The seas around the Hebrides are home to the UK’s only known resident killer whales, known as the West Coast Community. Only eight are left in the pod, after a female died earlier this month. But experts at the international conservation charity, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), say the group will go extinct in the future as no young have been recorded in more than 20 years.

And other killer whale and dolphin populations around Europe face the same fate. The researchers suggest a failure to breed could be down to high levels of man-made PCBs building up in the animals body fat. “The long life-expectancy and position as apex or top marine predators make species like killer whales and bottlenose dolphins particularly vulnerable to the accumulation of PCBs through marine food webs”, said Dr Paul Jepson, a wildlife vet at ZSL and lead author of the study. “Few coastal orca populations remain in western European waters. Those that do persist are very small and suffering low or zero rates of reproduction. The risk of extinction therefore appears high for these discrete and highly contaminated populations.”

“Without further measures, these chemicals will continue to suppress populations of orcas and other dolphin species for many decades to come.” Dr Jepson’s team will analyse samples taken from the West Coast killer whale known as Lulu, who died recently after entanglement in fishing gear. “This Scottish population feeds on seals, so PCB exposure through diet will be much higher than for killer whales that only eat fish”, he said. “I think the group will, very regrettably, become extinct. Like any animal population, once you stop reproducing you will eventually die out.” But killer whales are very long-lived animals -at least one adult female has lived to over 100 years old in the wild- so local extinction can still take a long time to play out.

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Why the EU must be disbanded.

Baby Found Dead On Greece Migrant Boat (AP)

Greek authorities say a baby has been found dead after a boat full of migrants reached the small eastern Aegean Sea island of Farmakonissi, while 63 people were picked up alive. The incident raises to four the number of deaths that Greek authorities recorded Friday, as migrants continue to make the short but dangerous sea crossing from nearby Turkey to Greeces Aegean islands despite the winter weather. Earlier, three children drowned and 20 people were rescued when another boat carrying migrants foundered off the islet of Agathonissi.

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