Oct 302018
 
 October 30, 2018  Posted by at 9:27 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Sleeping peasants 1919

 

Global Wildlife Populations Have Fallen By 60% Since 1970 (R.)
Alarm As China Eases 25-Year Ban On Rhino And Tiger Parts (BBC)
Climate Change Is ‘Escalator To Extinction’ For Mountain Birds (BBC)
Massive Canadian Glaciers Shrinking Rapidly (G.)
Fed May Have To Adjust The Way It’s Raising Rates (CNBC)
Amazon Shares Are Cratering – Down 6% Monday, 23% In The Past Month (CNBC)
China’s Economic Slump Accelerated In October (ZH)
5 More Years Of Austerity In Event Of No-Deal Brexit – Chancellor (Ind.)
With Just Days to the Midterms, Russiagate Is MIA (Maté)
Khashoggi Murder Tape Will Never Be Made Public: Turkish Source (MEE)
Britain ‘Knew Of Khashoggi Plot And Begged Saudi Arabia To Abort Plans’ (Exp.)
Seeking A Bargain, And Taste Of The Good Life, Chinese Buy Greek Homes (R.)
Assange’s Lawsuit Over Asylum Conditions Denied By Ecuador Judge (RT)
Decline Of Greyhound Service Mirrors Rural Canada’s Plight (G.)

 

 

“We are the first generation to know we are destroying the planet and the last to be able to do anything about it”

Global Wildlife Populations Have Fallen By 60% Since 1970 (R.)

Global wildlife populations have fallen by 60% since 1970 as humans overuse natural resources, drive climate change and pollute the planet, a report warns. WWF has called for an ambitious “global deal” for nature and people, similar to the international Paris Agreement to tackle climate change, as the conservation charity’s new report spelled out the damage being done to the natural world. Only a quarter of the world’s land area is free from the impacts of human activity and by 2050 that will have fallen to just a tenth, the Living Planet Report 2018 says. The percentage of the world’s seabirds with plastic in their stomach is estimated to have increased from 5% in 1960 to 90% today, and the world has already lost around half its shallow water corals in just 30 years.

Overall, populations of more than 4,000 species of mammals, reptiles, birds, fish and amphibians have declined by an average of 60% between 1970 and 2014, the most recent year for which data is available. Tropical areas have seen the worst declines, with an 89% fall in populations monitored in Latin America and the Caribbean since 1970. Species which live in fresh water habitats, such as frogs and river fish, have seen global population falls of 83%, according to the living planet index by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) which tracks the abundance of wildlife. From hedgehogs and puffins to elephants, rhinos and polar bears, wildlife is in decline, due to the loss of habitats, poaching, pollution of land and seas and rising global temperatures, the Living Planet report warns.

Current action to protect nature is failing because it is not enough to match the scale of the threat facing the planet, the conservationists claim. “Exploding” levels of human consumption are driving the impacts on nature, with over-exploitation of natural resources such as over-fishing, cutting down forests to grow crops such as soy and palm oil and the use of pesticides in agriculture. Climate change and plastic pollution are also significant and growing threats.

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We’re going to have to boycott trade with China because of this.

Alarm As China Eases 25-Year Ban On Rhino And Tiger Parts (BBC)

Animal conservationists are alarmed over China’s decision to partially reverse a ban on the trade of tiger bones and rhino horn. Rhinos and tigers are both endangered in the wild and China prohibited their trade in 1993. But on Monday it said parts from captive animals would be authorised for scientific, medical and cultural use. Experts worry this will increase demand for the animals and jeopardise efforts to protect them. Rhino and tiger parts are highly valued in traditional Chinese medicine. They are prescribed to treat a large variety of ailments including fever, gout, insomnia and meningitis, thought any benefits have not been proven.

In a statement announcing the replacement of the 25-year old ban, the State Council said powdered forms of rhino horn and bones from dead tigers could be used in “qualified hospitals by qualified doctors”. The animal products can only be obtained from farms, it said. Parts from those animals classified as “antiques” could be used in cultural exchanges if approved by the cultural authorities, the statement adds. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said in a statement that the move would have “devastating consequences” and be an “enormous setback” to efforts to protect the animals in the wild.

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Species already living in the earth’s ‘extremes’ have nowhere to go.

Climate Change Is ‘Escalator To Extinction’ For Mountain Birds (BBC)

Scientists have produced new evidence that climate change is driving tropical bird species who live near a mountain top to extinction. Researchers have long predicted many creatures will seek to escape a warmer world by moving towards higher ground. However, those living at the highest levels cannot go any higher, and have been forecast to decline. This study found that eight bird species that once lived near a Peruvian mountain peak have now disappeared. Researchers are particularly concerned about tropical mountain ranges and the impacts of climate change. “The tropical mountain areas are the hottest of biodiversity hotspots; they harbour more species than any other place on Earth,” lead author Dr Benjamin Freeman from the University of British Columbia told BBC News.

“It’s only got a little bit warmer in the tropics and tropical plants and animals seem to be living quite a bit higher now than they used to.” The species that live in these regions are also hugely vulnerable because the difference in temperatures between lower and higher elevations in tropical regions is not as great as it is in other parts of the world. This means that moving up the slopes may not be as much of a solution for species in the tropics as it is elsewhere. [..] scientists carried out a survey in 2017 of bird species that lived on a remote Peruvian mountain peak. The team covered the same ground, at the same time of year, and used the the same methods as a previous survey, carried out in 1985.

They found that on average, species’ ranges had shifted up the slope between the two surveys. Most of the species that had been found at the highest elevations declined significantly in both range and abundance. The researchers say that recent warming constitutes an “escalator to extinction” for some of these species with temperatures in the area increasing by almost half a degree Celsius between the two surveys. Of 16 species that were restricted to the very top of the ridge, eight had disappeared completely in the most recent survey.


A scarlet-breasted fruiteater which inhabits high elevations on the Cerro de Pantiacolla in Peru Photo: Graham Montgomery

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“We’re slated to lose 80% of the ice cover in the Rocky Mountains over the next 50 years.”

Massive Canadian Glaciers Shrinking Rapidly (G.)

Scientists in Canada have warned that massive glaciers in the Yukon territory are shrinking even faster than would be expected from a warming climate – and bringing dramatic changes to the region. After a string of recent reports chronicling the demise of the ice fields, researchers hope that greater awareness will help the public better understand the rapid pace of climate change. The rate of warming in the north is double that of the average global temperature increase, concluded the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in its annual Arctic Report Card, which called the warming “unprecedented”. “The region is one of the hotspots for warming, which is something we’ve come to realize over the last 15 years,” said David Hik of Simon Fraser University. “The magnitude of the changes is dramatic.”

In their recent State of the Mountains report published earlier in the summer, the Canadian Alpine Club found that the Saint Elias mountains – which span British Columbia, the Yukon and Alaska – are losing ice faster than the rest of the country. Previous research found that between 1957 and 2007, the range lost 22% of its ice cover, enough to raise global seal levels by 1.1 millimetres. “When I first went to the St Elias range, it felt like time travel – into the past,” said Hik, who co-edited the report. “What we’re seeing now feels like time travel into the future. Because as the massive glaciers are retreating, they’re causing a complete reorganization of the environment.”

“We’re seeing a 20% difference in area coverage of the glaciers in Kluane national park and reserve and the rest of the Unesco world heritage site [over a 60-year period],” Diane Wilson, a field unit superintendent at Parks Canada, told the CBC. “We’ve never seen that. It’s outside the scope of normal.” In the St Elias range, researchers have found warming intensifies at higher altitudes – a phenomenon they are not quite able to explain. “These types of events aren’t isolated to glacial events in the St Elias,” said Zac Robinson, the report’s co-author and professor at the University of Alberta. “We’re slated to lose 80% of the ice cover in the Rocky Mountains over the next 50 years.”

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Take away their power.

Fed May Have To Adjust The Way It’s Raising Rates (CNBC)

Along with an expected rate hike in December, some central bank watchers expect the Federal Reserve to approve another tweak to ensure that its current policy path, which has come under increasing pressure lately, proceeds smoothly. If the Fed is unable to manage the range where it keeps its benchmark interest rate, that could lead it to halt the unwinding of its balance sheet comprised of bonds it purchased to lower mortgage rates and stimulate the economy. The economic and market ramifications could be substantial, though there’s no indication now that the Fed is considering halting the balance sheet reduction.

The market has long been expecting the Fed to go through with a 25 basis point (0.25 percentage point) increase in its benchmark funds rate at the year’s final Federal Open Market Committee Meeting. Under normal circumstances, such a move would be accompanied by a commensurate quarter-point hike in the interest the Fed pays on excess reserves from banks, or the IOER. The current level is 2.2%, compared to the 2% to 2.25% range for the funds rate. However, the funds rate has risen near the top boundary of its range, to 2.2% to equal the IOER, and that presents a problem. The Fed uses the IOER to guide the funds rate, generally as a floor for where the funds rate should be.

The central bank manages its funds rate through the interest rate on reserves and its overnight repo facility, which also helps the Fed to set a floor on rates. This year, as government debt issuance has surged and rates have increased on the repo purchases in which the Fed has purchased, the funds rate has drifted to the upper end of its target range. Back in June, the Fed addressed the issue by raising the IOER just 20 basis points to try to push the funds rate more toward the center of the range. That worked for a few months, but the two rates have drifted closer together and on Oct. 23 met at 2.2%. The Fed has “lost control over rates” at the upper bounds of its target range, said Michael Pearce, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics.

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Bezos lost 23% of his fortune in a month. That’s tens of billions.

Amazon Shares Are Cratering – Down 6% Monday, 23% In The Past Month (CNBC)

Amazon shares closed down 6.3% on Monday suffered their steepest two-day tumble in more than four years, as investors continued to flee the stock following Thursday’s disappointing earnings report. The stock dropped $103.93 to $1,538.88 at the close, after losing $139.36, or 7.8%, on Friday, and is trading at its lowest price since April, down 23% over the past month. The 13.7-percent drop over two days is the biggest decline since February 2014, when the shares plummeted 14.1%. Amazon reported third-quarter revenue last week that trailed analysts’ estimates and also provided a fourth-quarter outlook that was below expectations.

The stock dragged down the Nasdaq, which closed down 1.6% on Monday. Netflix, which like Amazon has been a favored stock for tech investors in recent years, is in the midst of a hefty two-day drop, down 9%. Monday was a tumultuous day for tech stocks broadly as markets opened to the news that IBM agreed to buy cloud software distributorRed Hat for $34 billion, a 63% premium. Red Hat surged on the news, while IBM was down 4.1%.

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Nothing stabilizes.

China’s Economic Slump Accelerated In October (ZH)

As corporate defaults surge, forcing a desperate PBOC to reverse its deleveraging efforts and threaten more interventions to stave off a more serious retrenchment in growth in the world’s second largest economy, it seems like not a day goes by without another warning sign that China’s economic precarious situation is even worse than we thought. The impact this has had on the mainland investors’ psyche has been obvious to all. Repeated interventions by China’s ‘National Team’ have done little to arrest the inexorable decline in mainland stocks in October, leaving the Shanghai Composite, the country’s main benchmark index, on track for one of its worst months since the financial crisis, and its worst year since 2011.

Meanwhile, a flood of FX outflows has pushed the Chinese yuan dangerously close to the 7 yuan-to-the dollar threshold which, if breached, could unleash another wave of chaos across global markets. And as Chinese policy makers are probably already scrambling to pad the official stats, Bloomberg has released its own proprietary preliminary gauge of Chinese GDP in October which showed that the slowdown unleashed by the US-China trade war worsened in October. The Bloomberg Economics gauge aggregates the earliest-available indicators on business conditions and market sentiment, and unequivocally affirmed that the Communist Party’s efforts to stabilize the country’s economy and markets – the party this month introduced a raft of measures to stabilize sentiment, including steps to boost liquidity in the financial system, new tax deductions for households and targeted measures aimed at helping exporters – haven’t been successful – at least not yet.

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Okay, well, get a deal then.

5 More Years Of Austerity In Event Of No-Deal Brexit – Chancellor (Ind.)

Austerity will continue for five more years if Britain crashes out of the EU with no deal, Philip Hammond signalled, in a Budget warning to MPs threatening to vote down Theresa May’s Brexit plans. The chancellor unveiled a Budget giveaway that cut income tax, announced a tax on the tech giants and conceded to pressure to help the victims of the bungled universal credit shake-up. But, most significantly, Mr Hammond made clear the prime minister’s promise that “austerity will be over” would only be met in full if Britain sidesteps economic damage from Brexit and the growing risk of leaving the EU with no agreement next March. pending would rise by 1.2% per year from next year, he announced – but immediately acknowledged the £20bn for the NHS would gobble up all the extra cash.

All other departments would only “keep pace with inflation”, a Treasury source said, before adding, tantalisingly: “If there’s a good deal, there’s an increase”. It appeared to be a clear warning to MPs that plunging Britain into the chaos and damage of a no-deal Brexit would prolong the pain of austerity for years to come. Some key departments – covering spending on the police, the courts and benefits – are still heading for cuts in day-to-day spending until 2022, the Budget book showed.

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Ain’t that curious?

With Just Days to the Midterms, Russiagate Is MIA (Maté)

The upcoming midterms are widely seen as a referendum on Donald Trump’s presidency, but its defining issue to date is notably MIA. “Campaign ads and debates are mostly avoiding the Russia investigation,” Politico reports, “in favor of other issues important to voters…like the economy, health care and taxes.” One study of political ads over a four-week period through mid-October found that 0.1% of ads aired in congressional races mentioned Russia; there were zero mentions of Russia in ads for Senate races.

On one level, it is unsurprising that the election has been focused on issues that impact voters’ lives, rather than the byzantine bureaucratic drama that has consumed Washington and elite media since Trump’s election. But after months of fearmongering about a sweeping Russian interference effort and a compromised, complicit president, perhaps we are also seeing the penny start to drop: Russiagate, for all its hype, has not gone as advertised.

Take the supposed Russian threat to the midterms. For months, intelligence officials and prominent media outlets have bombarded us with warnings about “a pervasive messaging campaign by Russia to try to weaken and divide the United States” (Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats), a threat so dire that we might as well dub the vote the “The Moscow Midterms” (FiveThirtyEight) and acknowledge that “we’re defenseless against Russian sabotage in the midterm elections,” (Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin). The New York Times informed readers in July that Coats had likened “the persistent danger of Russian cyberattacks today…to the warnings the United States had of stepped-up terror threats ahead of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.” “The warning lights are blinking red again,” he said.

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Pompeo didn’t want to listen b/c he didn’t want to make a statement on it: Fox

Saudi Prosecutor demanded but couldn’t get the tape: AJ

Khashoggi Murder Tape Will Never Be Made Public: Turkish Source (MEE)

Turkey will never make its recordings of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder public, a government source told Middle East Eye, because they were made secretly and in contravention of international law. Instead, Turkey is placing the onus of officially revealing the details of the journalist’s assassination on Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate on Riyadh. On Monday, as the Saudi prosecutor met with his Turkish counterpart in Istanbul, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called on Riyadh to release the “whole truth” behind Khashoggi’s killing. Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist and critic of the kingdom’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), was murdered on 2 October by a hit squad of 15 Saudis sent to kill him.

Turkish sources who have listened to the audio recording of Khashoggi’s death have told MEE that the Washington Post columnist was tortured, murdered and dismembered after entering the consulate to obtain divorce papers The existence of the audio recording of Khashoggi’s murder has long been touted as a crucial piece of evidence held by the Turkish government. However, a government source told MEE on Monday that the tape would never officially be made public because the recording was obtained through “intelligence work” and could therefore not be used as legal evidence. Diplomatic missions such as the Saudi consulate in Istanbul are protected under the Vienna Convention, meaning Turkish spying on the building would be unlawful.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the United Nations’ human rights chief have both said the extreme circumstances of the Khashoggi murder should be grounds enough to strip the consulate and its workers of diplomatic immunity, in order to facilitate the best possible investigation.

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They knew and didn’t tell anyone, not even the US.

Britain ‘Knew Of Khashoggi Plot And Begged Saudi Arabia To Abort Plans’ (Exp.)

Murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi was about to disclose details of Saudi Arabia’s use of chemical weapons in Yemen, sources close to him said last night. The revelations come as separate intelligence sources disclosed that Britain had first been made aware of a plot a full three weeks before he walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Intercepts by GCHQ of internal communications by the kingdom’s General Intelligence Directorate revealed orders by a “member of the royal circle” to abduct the troublesome journalist and take him back to Saudi Arabia.

[..] Speaking last night the intelligence source told the Sunday Express: “We were initially made aware that something was going in the first week of September, around three weeks before Mr Khashoggi walked into the consulate on October 2, though it took more time for other details to emerge. “These details included primary orders to capture Mr Khashoggi and bring him back to Saudi Arabia for questioning. However, the door seemed to be left open for alternative remedies to what was seen as a big problem. “We know the orders came from a member of the royal circle but have no direct information to link them to Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. “Whether this meant he was not the original issuer we cannot say.”

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The entire country’s for sale. Athens will all be on Airbnb, and there’ll be no place left for Greeks.

Seeking A Bargain, And Taste Of The Good Life, Chinese Buy Greek Homes (R.)

Three times a week, hundreds of Chinese investors arrive at Athens airport to be greeted by Greek real estate agents who drive them straight into the city to view apartments for sale. The visitors are drawn to Greece by rock-bottom property prices and one of Europe’s most generous “golden visa” schemes, offering a renewable five-year resident’s permit in return for a 250,000 euro ($285,000)investment in real estate. That’s enough to buy a three-bedroom apartment in the capital with a view to the Acropolis hill. It is also enough to bring the first glimmers of recovery to the market since the Greek economy started to collapse after the debt crisis in 2009, although prices are still down by about 40% from their peak.

One Athens resident, who gave his name only as Vassilis, had almost given up finding a buyer for his home last year when a minivan pulled up outside his maisonette and a Chinese family of four got out. A day later, he got an offer. “They didn’t see the house again. We went and got a down-payment, and everything was set in motion,” he said. Vassilis had bought the home in the up-and-coming suburb of Gerakas for 320,000 euros ($367,000) in 2007 and decided to sell in order to buy his two adult children their own apartments. He sold it to the Chinese family for 220,000 euros. Real estate prices rose 0.8% in the second quarter year-on-year after a 0.1% rise in the first – the first pick-up since 2008, according to Bank of Greece data.

Foreign direct investment in property jumped 91% to 287 million euros last year from 2016, the bank’s data showed. Meanwhile, taxes from property sales rose by an annual 41% in the seven months to July to 204.7 million euros, according to data from state revenue authority AADE. “We are getting much more phone calls,” said Lefteris Potamianos, head of the Real Estate Association of Athens, which represents about 3,000 brokers. “The overwhelming majority is foreigners and there are yet some Greeks. Certainly, Chinese are by far ahead of the game.”

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He’ll appeal.

Assange’s Lawsuit Over Asylum Conditions Denied By Ecuador Judge (RT)

An Ecuadorian judge has thrown out the lawsuit by Julian Assange, who objected to the harshly revised terms of his asylum. The WikiLeaks co-founder has been trapped at the Embassy of Ecuador in London since 2012.
The judge made the decision following a lengthy hearing held by teleconference. Ecuador will maintain Assange’s asylum as long as he wants to keep it, but he must follow the rules laid out for him by the government, an unnamed government official told Reuters on Monday. The new rules, which were leaked earlier this month by an opposition politician, involve a list of restrictions Assange has argued violate his “fundamental rights and freedoms” as well as Ecuadorian and international law.

Among them are restrictions on discussing politics and receiving visitors, and demands of Assange to pay for his own food, medical care, laundry and related expenses of living at the embassy starting December 1. Ecuador has also threatened to seize Assange’s pet cat if he did not care for it properly, according to the leaked regulations. In the teleconference Monday, Assange accused Ecuador of using him as a “bargaining chip” in talks with the US and UK governments, and submitting to pressure from Washington and London. Ecuadorian Attorney General Inigo Salvador Crespo responded by calling those statements “malicious and perverse,” according to the newspaper El Comercio.

The new regulations and special protocols governing Assange’s visitations were put together for the purpose of making Assange’s continued stay at the embassy “harmonious,” Crespo argued. “It is a public building that was not intended for housing, so there must be regulation,” he told the judge.

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Canada is huge. We’re talking 10 hour bus trips. There’s nothing to replace them.

Decline Of Greyhound Service Mirrors Rural Canada’s Plight (G.)

It’s 10 to midnight when the Winnipeg-bound Greyhound bus swings off of the empty highway and into a dirt lot illuminated by a single street lamp. Its headlights sweep across the only passenger waiting in this remote lumber town: Mary Reimer, 80, is bundled in a purple parka against the cold. “Since my husband passed away four years ago, this is how I get to my sister,” she says, before climbing aboard. It’s the last time she’ll make the journey this way. Amid cratering passenger figures, Greyhound will discontinue all service in Canada’s western provinces on 31 October. The cuts will eliminate routes that have existed for nearly a century and sever the only transit link for dozens of towns where the British-owned company has endured even as other businesses have trickled away.

Some analysts see it as yet another indicator that rural Canada is not only struggling, but slowly decoupling from the country’s thriving urban cores. Don Warkentin has witnessed these changes. After 34 years driving Greyhound buses between Winnipeg and the mining city of Flin Flon eleven hours north, he’ll retire next week along with his route. One of 415 employees phased out by the cuts, he remembers when Greyhound made three runs a day on this stretch, with 24-hour depots at each stop. Now there’s one bus nightly, and most stops are bare-bones roadside pull-offs like this one. “Not as many people are riding these days,” he says, pushing Reimer’s luggage into the undercarriage. “It’s an Uber culture now.”

For those that can’t afford an Uber or the high cost of gas, Greyhound’s decision to write off much of the Canadian frontier is more than an inconvenience. “Greyhound is a private company, but they were almost public transportation in terms of the service they provided,” says Cathy Sproule, a member of the New Democratic party congress in Saskatchewan. But Greyhound hasn’t turned a profit on some of those routes in over a decade. Since 2010, ridership has tumbled by 41%, hollowed out by urban migration, discount airlines and rising car ownership. After this month, its buses will no longer travel to points west of Sudbury, Ontario. [..] “We see a confluence of events happening,” says Laura Neidhart, spokesperson for the advocacy group Canada Without Poverty. “More and more people are leaving rural Canada, and the people who remain are often the ones who are unable to leave.”

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Mar 202018
 
 March 20, 2018  Posted by at 10:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Times Square at night 1954

 

Last Male Northern White Rhino Dies (Sky)
Alzheimer Care For Americans Alive Today Projected To Cost $47 Trillion (BBG)
The Stock Market Meltup Is Over: Morgan Stanley (MW)
It’s Not Just Tech. Credit Markets Give Fuel to Equity Rout (BBG)
How Economies Could Insure Themselves Against The Bad Times (Shiller)
US Expected To Impose Up To $60 Billion In China Tariffs By Friday (R.)
Facebook Stock Value Down $35 Billion On Cambridge Analytica Controversy (Ind.)
Former Obama Campaign Director: Facebook Was “On Our Side” (ZH)
How Facebook Made Its Data Crisis Worse (BBG)
Tech World Experiencing A Major ‘Trust Crisis’ – Futurist (CNBC)
If You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It (Jim Kunstler)
Over 70% of US Citizens Believe America Is Controlled By A ‘Deep State’ (RT)
UK Tories Set To Slump To Record Low At Local Elections (G.)
Former French President Sarkozy In Custody Over Libya Funding Probe (F24)
Greece Undermining EU-Turkey Migrant Deal, German Report Says (K.)

 

 

Is there anything sadder in the world?

Last Male Northern White Rhino Dies (Sky)

The last male northern white rhino has died in Kenya, keepers have confirmed. The 45-year-old animal died from “age-related complications”, leaving only two females of his subspecies alive. In a statement, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya said the rhino, called Sudan, was put down after his condition “worsened significantly” and he was unable to stand. Scientists have gathered his genetic material and are working on developing in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) to save his subspecies. In a statement, the zoo wrote: “Sudan will be remembered for his unusually memorable life. “In the 1970s, he escaped extinction of his kind in the wild when he was moved to Prague Zoo. Throughout his existence, he significantly contributed to survival of his species as he sired two females.

“Additionally, his genetic material was collected yesterday and provides a hope for future attempts at reproduction of northern white rhinos through advanced cellular technologies. “During his final years, Sudan came back to Africa and stole the heart of many with his dignity and strength.” Richard Vigne, Ol Pejeta’s CEO, said: “We on Ol Pejeta are all saddened by Sudan’s death. “He was a great ambassador for his species and will be remembered for the work he did to raise awareness globally of the plight facing not only rhinos, but also the many thousands of other species facing extinction as a result of unsustainable human activity. “One day, his demise will hopefully be seen as a seminal moment for conservationists worldwide.”

The northern white rhino population in Uganda, Sudan, Chad and Central African Republic was largely wiped out by poachers in the 1970s and 1980s, fuelled by a demand for rhino horn in traditional Chinese medicine and dagger handles in Yemen. Four fertile northern white rhinos, two male and two female, were moved from a zoo in the Czech Republic to Ol Pejeta with high hopes they would breed in an environment similar to their native habitat. Although they were seen mating, there were no successful pregnancies.

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To be fair, we’re killing our own species too. Where is the US going to find the $47 trillion?

Alzheimer Care For Americans Alive Today Projected To Cost $47 Trillion (BBG)

Alzheimer’s disease is among the most expensive illnesses in the U.S. There’s no cure, no effective treatment and no easy fix for the skyrocketing financial cost of caring for an aging population. Spending on care for people alive in the U.S. right now who will develop the affliction is projected to cost $47 trillion over the course of their lives, a report issued Tuesday by the Alzheimer’s Association found. The U.S. is projected to spend $277 billion on Alzheimer’s or other dementia care in 2018 alone, with an aging cohort of baby boomers pushing that number to $1.1 trillion by 2050. Research so far has been stymied by clinical failures. By one count, at least 190 human trials of Alzheimer’s drugs have ended in failure.

No company has successfully marketed a drug to treat it, though many big pharmaceutical companies, including Merck and Pfizer, have tried. Biogen, a company based in Cambridge, MA, saw its shares dive last month after it said it was expanding the number of participants in its trial for the drug aducanumab. However, significant cost savings can be achieved, according to the new report, by the simple act of early diagnosis. Currently, individuals are typically diagnosed in the dementia stage, rather than when they have developed only mild cognitive impairment [MCI]. Identifying the disease early can allow it to be better managed, in part with existing drugs that treat its symptoms. In doing so, the study postulates, America could save $7.9 trillion over the lifetimes of everyone alive right now.

The Alzheimer’s Association commissioned researchers at Precision Health Economics to study the potential savings of obtaining an earlier diagnosis. It used data from the Health and Retirement Study, a “nationally representative sample of adults age 50 and older,” run by the University of Michigan and supported by the National Institute on Aging and the Social Security Administration. The $7.9 trillion in savings was derived from a scenario in which all adults who develop Alzheimer’s receive an early diagnosis in the MCI stage. The cumulative cost in such a circumstance is projected at $39.2 trillion—far below the $47.1 trillion that would be spent under current diagnostic patterns.

[..] There are now an estimated 5.5 million Americans aged 65 or older with Alzheimer’s. In 2025, that number is projected to be 7.1 million. By 2050, it could reach 13.8 million. Along with the increasing costs, the report also found Alzheimer’s to be increasingly lethal. It’ss currently the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S., and deaths attributed to it jumped by 123% between 2000 to 2015, the report found.

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What stock market?

The Stock Market Meltup Is Over: Morgan Stanley (MW)

The stock market meltup is over. At least, that’s the prognosis of one prominent Wall Street strategist who believes the torrid January rally that gave way to a correction may have been the market’s short-term apex. The S&P 500 jumped 7.5% between the end of 2017 and Jan. 26, when it notched the last in a string of record closes at 2,872.87. “We think January was the top for sentiment, if not prices, for the year. With volatility moving higher we think it will be difficult for institutional clients to gross up to or beyond the January peaks,” said Michael Wilson, chief U.S. equity strategist at Morgan Stanley Institutional Securities, in his weekly note on Monday. “Retail sentiment indicators also look to have peaked in January and we do not see anything on the horizon to get retail investors more bullish than they were following a tax cut.”

As a result, the much-anticipated meltup in stocks that numerous strategists had been forecasting since last year won’t likely happen in 2018, he said. A meltup is an unexpected rise in asset prices as investors surge into the market on fear of missing out. “When we look at our internal data combined with industry flows and sentiment, we think there is a strong case that January was the melt-up, or at least the culmination of it,” Wilson added. One key point in Wilson’s thesis is that gross leverage by Morgan Stanley’s hedge fund clients hit an all-time high in January. Gross leverage, according to the strategist, is a good measure of investor willingness to assume risk.

The record was also set right before the early February “volatility shock” forced investors to scale back their exposure to risk and Wilson does not expect gross leverage to return to January levels any time in the near future.

Going forward, Wilson expects U.S. stock returns to be mostly driven by increase in earnings estimates. “If we just roll forward the current bottom-up estimates, the forward earnings per share would be $166 and $170 by June 30 and September 30, respectively. That is approximately 3% and 5% higher than today’s $161. Not exciting, but not very bad either,” he said. “However, those numbers might need to come down if we start to see some evidence of lower margins since consensus forecasts assume no operating margin degradation. That is another reason why we think the S&P 500 makes its highs for the year this summer. It’s also a wild card that has big idiosyncratic risk at the stock level in our view.”

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The many faces of debt.

It’s Not Just Tech. Credit Markets Give Fuel to Equity Rout (BBG)

Equity investors grappling with a technology selloff, trade tensions and hawkish monetary chatter have a new foe to contend with: growing angst in credit markets. After resisting the full force of the gales that swept through markets earlier this year, corporate bonds are sending ominous messages. Traders are jumping out of the asset class as investment-grade spreads sit near their widest in six months and yields rise to the highest in more than six years – just as stock investors seek to recover from the first S&P 500 correction in two years. “If credit spreads widen, the equities with bad balance sheets will underperform,” said Louis de Fels at Raymond James Asset Management. “We’re quite cautious on the quality of the assets.”

Corporate bonds held by smart money have historically proven a leading indicator for the direction of stocks. That may spell disappointment for investors heeding Wall Street advice to shift towards equity, a late-cycle outperformer. “Credit leads equities and will underperform,” said Andrew Brenner at Natalliance Securities in New York, citing Federal Reserve hikes, signs of softer U.S. output and corporate sales of short-term U.S. debt. “We expect equities to catch up on the downside.” For now, stock investors appear sanguine. U.S. equity funds took in a record $34.5 billion in the week to March 14, compared to just $2.4 billion for bonds, according to Stanford C Bernstein. That brings the quarterly total for debt funds to $37.3 billion, the slimmest quarterly addition since the three months ending in December 2016, the data show.

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But in the end it’s just another form of debt.

How Economies Could Insure Themselves Against The Bad Times (Shiller)

The time has come for national governments around the world to start issuing their debt in a new form, linked to their countries’ resources. GDP-linked bonds, with coupons and principal that rise and fall in proportion to the issuing country’s GDP, promise to solve many fundamental problems that governments face when their countries’ economies falter. And, once GDP-linked bonds are issued by a variety of countries, investors will be attracted by the prospect of high returns when some of these countries do very well. This new debt instrument is especially exciting because of its monumental size. Although issues may start out small, they will be very important from the outset. The capitalised value of total global GDP is worth far more than the world’s stock markets and could be valued today in the quadrillions of US dollars.

[..] I have been advocating something like GDP-linked bonds for 25 years. In my 1993 book Macro Markets, I described the world’s GDPs as the “mother of all markets” and emphasised a form of debt called “perpetual claims”. But I did not work out a real plan of implementation and advocacy. [The book] ‘Sovereign GDP-Linked Bonds’ does just that. The basic idea is simple enough. Governments issue GDP-linked bonds to raise funds, just as corporations issue shares. By issuing such bonds, governments pledge to pay in proportion to the resources they have, measured by their countries’ GDP. The price-to-GDP ratio of GDP-linked bonds is essentially analogous to the price-to-earnings ratio of corporate shares. The difference is that GDP is an order of magnitude larger than corporate profits represented by the stock market.

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Well, it won’t be boring.

US Expected To Impose Up To $60 Billion In China Tariffs By Friday (R.)

The Trump administration is expected to unveil up to $60 billion in new tariffs on Chinese imports by Friday, targeting technology, telecommunications and intellectual property, two officials briefed on the matter said Monday. One business source, who has discussed the issue with the administration, said that the China tariffs may be subject to a public comment period, which would delay their effective date and allow industry groups and companies to lodge objections. This would be considerably different from the quick implementation of the steel and aluminum tariffs, which are set to go into effect on March 23, just 15 days after President Donald Trump signed the proclamations.

A delayed approach could allow time for negotiations with Beijing to try to resolve trade issues related to the administration’s “Section 301” probe into China’s intellectual property practices before tariffs take effect. The White House declined to comment Monday. China has vowed to take retaliatory measures in response. A source who had direct knowledge of the administration’s thinking told Reuters last week that the tariffs, authorized under the 1974 U.S. Trade Act, would be chiefly targeted at information technology, consumer electronics and telecoms and other products benefiting from U.S. intellectual property. But they could be much broader and hit consumer products such as clothing and footwear, with a list eventually running to 100 products, this person said.

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But Zuckerberg sold just in time.

Facebook Stock Value Down $35 Billion On Cambridge Analytica Controversy (Ind.)

Facebook stock dropped $35bn (£25bn) by close of trading on Wall Street, as the company deals with questions over its privacy rules in the wake of a scandal involving data firm Cambridge Analytica harvesting a vast repository of user information. The social media giant’s stock value declined by around 7%, paralleling losses throughout the technology industry and raising questions about the controversy inflicting lasting damage to Facebook’s bottom line. It amounted to the largest single-day%age decline for Facebook stock since 2014, with the drop outpacing broader declines across Wall Street.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite all shed more than a percentage point in value by market’s close. Prominent tech companies like Apple, Microsoft and Alphabet all saw declines as political pressure on Facebook intensified, building on months of deepening scrutiny of the tech sector by elected officials.

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Six degrees of Facebook.

Former Obama Campaign Director: Facebook Was “On Our Side” (ZH)

The recent controversy and escalating scandal over Facebook’s decision to ban Trump-linked political data firm Cambridge Analytica over the use of data harvested through a personality app under the guise of academic research has opened a veritable Pandora’s box of scandal for the Silicon Valley social media giant. Carol Davidsen, who served as Obama’s director of integration and media analytics during his 2012 campaign (in her LinkedIn profile she says she was responsible for “The Optimizer” & “Narwhal” big data analytics platforms), claims – with evidence, that Facebook found out about a massive data-mining operation they were conducting to “suck out the whole social graph” in order to target potential voters.

After Facebook found out, they knowingly allowed them to continue doing it because they were supportive of the campaign. “[M]ore than 1 million Obama backers who signed up for the [Facebook-based app] gave the campaign permission to look at their Facebook friend lists. In an instant, the campaign had a way to see the hidden young voters. Roughly 85% of those without a listed phone number could be found in the uploaded friend lists. What’s more, Facebook offered an ideal way to reach them,” reads an article Davidsen posted as a prelude to her postings.

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I doubt that it can make it worse. We haven’t seen the beginning of it.

How Facebook Made Its Data Crisis Worse (BBG)

Facebook tried to get ahead of its latest media firestorm. Instead, it helped create one. The company knew ahead of time that on Saturday, the New York Times and The Guardian’s Observer would issue bombshell reports that the data firm that helped Donald Trump win the presidency had accessed and retained information on 50 million Facebook users without their permission. Facebook did two things to protect itself: it sent letters to the media firms laying out its legal case for why this data leak didn’t constitute a “breach.” And then it scooped the reports using their information, with a Friday blog post on why it was suspending the ad firm, Cambridge Analytica, from its site. Both moves backfired.

On Friday, Facebook said it “received reports” that Cambridge Analytica hadn’t deleted the user data, and that it needed to suspend the firm. The statement gave the impression that Facebook had looked into the matter. In fact, the company’s decisions were stemming from information in the news reports set to publish the next day, and it had not independently verified those reports, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. By trying to look proactive, Facebook ended up adding weight to the news.

On Saturday, any good will the company earned by talking about the problem first was quickly undone when reporters revealed Facebook’s behind-the-scenes legal maneuvering. “Yesterday Facebook threatened to sue us. Today we publish this,” Carole Cadwalladr, the Observer reporter, wrote as she linked her story to Twitter, in a post shared almost 15,000 times. The Guardian said it had nothing to add to her statement. The Times confirmed that it too received a letter, but said it didn’t consider the correspondence a legal threat.

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You ain’t seen nothing yet.

Tech World Experiencing A Major ‘Trust Crisis’ – Futurist (CNBC)

Big brands have to reestablish trust with consumers on data safety, futurist Chris Riddell told CNBC at Credit Suisse’s annual Asian Investment Conference on Tuesday. Riddell, who describes his job title as “fundamentally seeing how technology is changing humanity,” said the world is currently experiencing a severe “trust crisis.” “People now are more willing to share data than ever before” but the of data breaches at major companies break “trust and confidence,” he stated.

Social media platform Facebook is currently under fire amid allegations that private data firm Cambridge Analytica lied about deleting user data it had improperly obtained from a Russian-American researcher in 2015. “We’re in an era of category killers, where one organization is dominating in an industry,” Riddell said, pointing to Facebook and Google as examples. The challenge for those businesses is to rebuild trust and use technology to create transparency, he continued.

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RussiaRussiaRussia

If You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It (Jim Kunstler)

Various readers, fans, blog commenters, Facebook trolls, and auditors twanged on me all last week about my continuing interest in the RussiaRussiaRussia hysteria, though there is no particular consensus of complaint among them — except for a general “shut up, already” motif. For the record, I’m far more interested in the hysteria itself than the Russia-meddled-in the-election case, which I consider to be hardly any case at all beyond 13 Russian Facebook trolls.

The hysteria, on the other hand, ought to be a matter of grave concern, because it appears more and more to have been engineered by America’s own intel community, its handmaidens in the Dept of Justice, and the twilight’s last gleamings of the Obama White House, and now it has shoved this country in the direction of war at a time when civilian authority over the US military looks sketchy at best. This country faces manifold other problems that are certain to reduce the national standard of living and disrupt the operations of an excessively complex and dishonest economy, and the last thing America needs is a national war-dance over trumped-up grievances with Russia.

The RussiaRussiaRussia narrative has unspooled since Christmas and is blowing back badly through the FBI, now with the firing (for cause) of Deputy Director Andrew McCabe hours short of his official retirement (and inches from the golden ring of his pension). He was axed on the recommendation of his own colleagues in the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility, and they may have been influenced by the as-yet-unreleased report of the FBI Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, due out shortly.

The record of misbehavior and “collusion” between the highest ranks of the FBI, the Democratic Party, the Clinton campaign, several top political law firms, and a shady cast of international blackmail peddlars is a six-lane Beltway-scale evidence trail compared to the muddy mule track of Trump “collusion” with Russia. It will be amazing if a big wad of criminal cases are not dealt out of it, even as The New York Times sticks its fingers in its ears and goes, “La-la-la-la-la….” It now appears that Mr. McCabe’s statements post-firing tend to incriminate his former boss, FBI Director James Comey — who is about to embark, embarrassingly perhaps, on a tour for his self-exculpating book, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership.

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Going mainstream doesn’t seem to fit the deep state’s preferences.

Over 70% of US Citizens Believe America Is Controlled By A ‘Deep State’ (RT)

Over 70% of US citizens in the Republican and Democratic parties believe America is controlled by a “deep state” of unelected government officials, according to a new poll. They also fear state surveillance, it reveals.
Although most Americans interviewed are not familiar with the term ‘deep state’, when they heard the definition as a cadre of unelected government and military officials who secretly influence government policies, a majority expressed belief in its ‘probable existence’ according to the Monmouth University poll released Monday.

Additionally six in 10 of those polled think that these unelected government figures wield too much power when it comes to shaping federal policy. “We usually expect opinions on the operation of government to shift depending on which party is in charge. But there’s an ominous feeling by Democrats and Republicans alike that a ‘deep state’ of unelected operatives are pulling the levers of power,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Donald Trump has popularized the term ‘deep state’ over the course of his presidency. In January he blasted the ‘deep state’ Department of Justice for allegedly shielding a Hillary Clinton aide who used a non-secure private email account while conducting government business. The poll also highlights widespread fears of state surveillance, with 80% of Americans believing that the US government currently spies on the activities of its citizens. “This is a worrisome finding. The strength of our government relies on public faith in protecting our freedoms, which is not particularly robust. And it’s not a Democratic or Republican issue. These concerns span the political spectrum,” Murray added.

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When incompetence shines through. They’re pitching anti-Corbyn attack ads on…Facebook.

UK Tories Set To Slump To Record Low At Local Elections (G.)

Conservative party support in London looks set to slump to a record low at the local elections on 3 May as the young, ethnically diverse electorate turns to Labour in increasing numbers. Projections from the Tory peer and psephologist Robert Hayward indicate the Conservatives will lose about 100 council seats. If they lose more than 93 – less than three seats in each of London’s boroughs – the Tories would fall below their previous low of 511 councillors in the capital. That came in 1994, just after the pound had fallen out of the exchange rate mechanism and Labour had begun the recovery that led to its 1997 general election landslide. “I’d be surprised if the Tories did not have an all-time low number of councillors,” Hayward said.

“Labour were very successful in London in the general election last year and I’d expect that to continue in 2018.” The Tories could even lose their two flagship boroughs of Wandsworth, which has been in Conservative control since 1978, and Westminster, which has been Tory since the last local government reorganisation in 1964. More likely, Barnet in north London might go Labour and the Liberal Democrats could triumph in Kingston in south-west London where they are also targeting the neighbouring council, Richmond. The most spectacular reverse would be the loss of Kensington and Chelsea, the Conservative heartland won by Labour with the narrowest of margins at last year’s general election, where the Tory council has come under fire for its mishandling of the Grenfell Tower fire.

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He took the money and then killed him.

Former French President Sarkozy In Custody Over Libya Funding Probe (F24)

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has been called in for questioning by investigators looking into suspected Libyan financing of his 2007 election campaign, an official in the French judiciary said Tuesday. Libyan officials from the Gaddafi era have claimed they helped finance Sarkozy’s election campaign. An investigation into the case has been underway since 2013. It is the first time Sarkozy has been questioned in the inquiry. The hearing comes several weeks after a former associate, Alexandre Djouhri, was arrested in London as part of the investigation and later released on bail. Investigators are examining claims that Gaddafi’s regime secretly gave Sarkozy €50 million overall for the 2007 campaign. Such a sum would be more than double the legal campaign funding limit at the time of €21 million.

In November 2016, French-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine said he delivered three suitcases from Libya, containing five million euros in cash, to Sarkozy and his former chief of staff and campaign director, Claude Guéant, between 2006 and 2007. Sarkozy, who was president from 2007 to 2012, has always denied the allegations. A lawyer for the former French president could not be reached immediately for comment on Tuesday. Sarkozy had a complex relationship with Gaddafi. Soon after his election to the presidency, Sarkozy invited the Libyan leader to France for a state visit and welcomed him with high honors. But Sarkozy then put France in the forefront of NATO-led airstrikes against Gaddafi’s troops that helped rebel fighters topple his regime in 2011.

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In other news: war is peace.

Greece Undermining EU-Turkey Migrant Deal, German Report Says (K.)

Data published by the German newspaper Die Welt suggest that Greece has been undermining the European Union-Turkey deal signed two years ago to stem the flow of refugees and migrants to the continent. Citing unnamed officials in Berlin, Brussels and the EU’s border agency Frontex, the report alleges that the Greek government has moved a large number of asylum seekers from the Aegean islands to the mainland, effectively preventing their return to Turkey. The message is that any asylum seeker who manages to land on one of the Greek islands, he can then move on to central Europe, officials told the newspaper.

According to EU figures cited by the newspaper, between March 2016 and January 2018, 62,190 asylum seekers landed on the Aegean islands, of whom 27,635, or 45%, were subsequently transferred to mainland Greece. German officials told the newspaper that only a very small number of people whose asylum request had been turned down by authorities had been returned to Turkey. Greece, the same officials said, is effectively creating an incentive for migrants hoping to enter the continent which could lead to a spike in arrivals.

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Feb 012018
 
 February 1, 2018  Posted by at 11:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Frederic Edwin Church The Parthenon 1871

 

FBI Opposes Memo Release Due To “Inaccurate Information” (ZH)
Alan Greenspan Sees Bubbles in Stocks and Bonds (BBG)
Janet Yellen’s Fed Era Ends With Unanimous Vote of No Rate Hike (BBG)
Two Out Of Three UK Pension Schemes Are In The Red (Yahoo)
Secret Price Fixing Among German Carmakers (Spiegel)
Germany Reaches Limit of Support for Macron’s Europe Plans (BBG)
Hungary Rejects Macron’s ‘Arrogance’ as EU Reform-Fight Looms (BBG)
More Than One Million Greeks Trapped In Tax Payment Scheme Nightmare (K.)
Planting Wildflowers Across Farm Fields Could Cut Pesticide Spraying (G.)
Earth’s Magnetic Field Is Shifting, Poles May Flip (ZH)
‘Super Blue Blood Moon’ Rises Over The Acropolis (K.)
Latest Rhino Poaching Figures Show A Decade Of Bloodshed (Ind.)

 

 

Bad theater. But not releasing the memo is no longer an option.

FBI Opposes Memo Release Due To “Inaccurate Information” (ZH)

Update 1240ET: In what CNN described as a “rate public warning,” the FBI released a statement Wednesday saying it has “grave concerns” over the accuracy of the House Intel Committee’s memo describing purportedly egregious FISA abuses. “With regard to the House Intelligence Committee’s memorandum, the FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it. As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy,” the FBI said in a statement.
* * *
Update 1130ET: Bloomberg reports that FBI Director Christopher Wray told the White House he opposes release of a classified Republican memo alleging bias at the FBI and Justice Department because it contains inaccurate information and paints a false narrative, according to a person familiar with the matter. Of course, given the allegedly terrible picture the memo paints of The FBI, it is perhaps not entirely surprising that Wary would oppose its release, however, if this sourced reporting proves correct, it plays very badly for Republicans as it would seem to confirm Rep. Schiff’s accusations.
* * *
As we detailed earlier, just before President Trump headed to the Capitol for last night’s “State of the Union”, the Washington Post reported that top Justice Department officials made a last-ditch plea on Monday to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly about the dangers of publicly releasing the memo. Shortly before the House Intelligence Committee voted to make the document public, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein warned Kelly that the four-page memo prepared by House Republicans could jeopardize classified information and implored the president to reconsider his support for making it public. But those pleas from Rosenstein – who isn’t exactly the West Wing’s favorite lawman, and whose name apparently appears in the memo – have apparently fallen on deaf ears.

Last night, President Trump promised a lawmaker that the memo would “100%” be released now that the House Intel Committee has voted to approve its release. And during a Fox News Radio interview with Brian Kilmeade, Chief of Staff John Kelly added that the memo would be publicly released “pretty quick.” “I’ll let all the experts decide that when it’s released. This president wants everything out so the American people can make up their own minds,” he said.

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He should know, he created them both.

Alan Greenspan Sees Bubbles in Stocks and Bonds (BBG)

The man who made the term “irrational exuberance” famous says investors are at it again. “There are two bubbles: We have a stock market bubble, and we have a bond market bubble,” Alan Greenspan, 91, said Wednesday on Bloomberg Television with Tom Keene and Scarlet Fu. Greenspan, who led the Federal Reserve from 1987 until 2006, memorably used the phrase to describe asset values during the 1990’s dot-com bubble. Greenspan’s comments come as stock indexes remain near record highs, despite selling off in recent days, and as the yields on government notes and bonds hover not far from historic lows. Interest rates are expected to move up in coming years as the Fed continues with a campaign to gradually tighten monetary policy.

“At the end of the day, the bond market bubble will eventually be the critical issue, but for the short term it’s not too bad,” Greenspan said. “But we’re working, obviously, toward a major increase in long-term interest rates, and that has a very important impact, as you know, on the whole structure of the economy.” The Fed on Wednesday opted to leave rates unchanged and markets are pricing in an increase at the central bank’s March meeting. Greenspan sounded an alarm on forecasts that the U.S. government deficit will continue to climb as a share of GDP. He said he was “surprised” that President Donald Trump didn’t specify how he would fund new government initiatives in Tuesday’s State of the Union speech. The president last month signed into law about $1.5 trillion in tax cuts that critics say will further balloon the budget gap.

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The nonsense is deafening. Great solid economy, but no rate hikes.

Janet Yellen’s Fed Era Ends With Unanimous Vote of No Rate Hike (BBG)

Federal Reserve officials, meeting for the last time under Chair Janet Yellen, left borrowing costs unchanged while adding emphasis to their plan for more hikes, setting the stage for an increase in March under her successor Jerome Powell. “The committee expects that economic conditions will evolve in a manner that will warrant further gradual increases in the federal funds rate,” the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee said in a statement Wednesday in Washington, adding the word “further” twice to previous language. The changes to the statement, collectively acknowledging stronger growth and more confidence that inflation will rise to their 2% target, may spur speculation that the Fed will pick up the pace of interest-rate increases.

Officials also said inflation “is expected to move up this year and to stabilize” around the goal, in phrasing that marked an upgrade from their statement in December. At the same time, the Fed repeated language saying that “near-term risks to the economic outlook appear roughly balanced.” “It opens the door to four hikes for them, but I don’t think they have walked through it,” said Michael Gapen at Barclays in New York. “It closes the door to two hikes.” Fed officials penciled in three rate moves this year in quarterly forecasts they updated last month, according to their median projection.

With her term ending later this week after President Donald Trump chose to replace her, Yellen is handing the reins to Powell, who has backed her gradual approach and is widely expected to raise interest rates at the FOMC’s next meeting for the sixth time since late 2015. Fed officials are hoping to keep a tight labor market from overheating without raising borrowing costs so fast that it would stifle the economy. “Gains in employment, household spending and business fixed investment have been solid, and the unemployment rate has stayed low,” the Fed said, removing previous references to disruptions from hurricanes. “Market-based measures of inflation compensation have increased in recent months but remain low.”

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People won’t understand their pensions are Ponzis until there are no payments.

Two Out Of Three UK Pension Schemes Are In The Red (Yahoo)

Two out of three pension funds are in the red – to the tune of a combined £210 billion, it has been revealed. Some 3,710 schemes are in deficit according to the Pension Protection Fund watchdog, putting a serious question mark over the retirement plans of millions of workers. The PFF has been called into action on two high profile occasions of late – working with Toys R Us to secure a near £10m injection into its ailing fund to protect the company’s short-term future and also sorting through the debris of the Carillion collapse. The giant contractor folded earlier this month with debts of above £1.3bn, including an estimated £800m hole in its pension fund. The PFF monitors the health of 5,588 pension pots, with some of the biggest names on the FTSE 100 running schemes with major shortfalls.

The biggest include £9.1billion at BT, as well as deficits of £6.9billion at Royal Dutch Shell, £6.7billion at BP and £6.6billion at both Tesco and BAE Systems. Sir Steve Webb, a former pensions minister under the recent coalition government, said Carillion would not be the last big company to fold leaving its pension scheme in jeopardy. “The question isn’t if there will be another Carillion – it’s when,” said Webb, who is now director of policy at pensions group Royal London. “With two-thirds of schemes in deficit it is inevitable there will be more insolvencies and more schemes ending up in the PPF.”

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They had more than 60 active working groups.. And thought it’d remain secret? Anyone going to jail?

Secret Price Fixing Among German Carmakers (Spiegel)

The Federal Cartel Office suspects that major carmakers and a few of their suppliers have been fixing prices for years, and possibly even decades. It’s not the prices at which the companies sell their cars or car parts that is at issue, but rather a significant component of the prices they pay for steel. “The aim of the suspected collusion,” the court ruling that granted the search warrants read, was to “unify the purchasing price for steel in the automobile industry and, by doing so, create a commonality of costs.” The Federal Cartel Office believes that the alleged collusion existed back in the 1990s and that “it existed again from March 2007 until February 2013.” Investigators have also found indications there may have been collusion in 2016.

Collusion of that nature is the antithesis of competition. It means that VW, Daimler and BMW were no longer competing to buy steel cheaper than their rivals and passing their savings down to customers – as is normally the case in a functioning market economy. And steel is one of the most important supplies purchased by carmakers. The nationwide searches didn’t remain secret, with the media quickly reporting on them. But until now, the background and details of the raids have remained largely unknown, the case having been overshadowed by a European Commission investigation into another case that also involves the automobile industry – a case that DER SPIEGEL exposed last summer.

That case was triggered when Daimler and Volkswagen essentially admitted wrongdoing, and since then the Brussels authority has been looking into suspicions that the companies engaged in collusion for several years with BMW, Porsche and Audi, in the form of more than 60 working groups covering areas such as technological development, suppliers and how to deal with environmental protection authorities. The companies had created working groups for almost every part of a vehicle. They existed for “gasoline engines,” “diesel engines,” “car body,” “chassis,” “total vehicle” and many more areas. With five brands involved – Daimler, BMW, Audi, Porsche and VW – the groups were referred to internally as “groups of five.” All together, they met more than 1,000 times in past years.

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Say no more: “Desired ambiguities..”

Germany Reaches Limit of Support for Macron’s Europe Plans (BBG)

French President Emmanuel Macron will be disappointed if he expects Germany’s next government to drum up more goodwill for his European reform plans in this week’s talks, according to four people familiar with the current coalition negotiations. Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union-led bloc and its prospective Social Democratic Party partner are not planning any fundamental changes to their proposals on Europe’s future as set out in a preliminary agreement reached Jan. 12, according to the people, who represent all three parties involved in the talks. All asked not to be named as the negotiations are private and ongoing. Representatives of Merkel’s CDU, its Christian Social Union sister party and Martin Schulz’s Social Democrats met in the Chancellery in Berlin on Wednesday to discuss Europe policy.

While Schulz hailed the outcome as a “fresh start” for Europe, details were in short supply. The negotiators didn’t go much beyond those measures already agreed, one of the people attending the meeting said. These include higher German contributions to the EU budget; expanding the European Stability Fund (ESM) into a European Monetary Fund; and a European framework for minimum wages. The SPD proposed giving the EU its own means to raise revenue, whether by taxes or tolls, prompting Merkel’s bloc to warn against a debate over tax increases. On a visit to Macron in Paris on Jan. 19, Merkel said the coalition’s common Europe plans contained “desired ambiguities,” since any attempt to agree on the final details now would reduce the room to negotiate.

In reality, her CDU/CSU and the SPD, as the Social Democrats are known in German, have different interpretations of the proposals, and these divergent positions are likely to bubble up in the coming months in the debate over euro-area reform.

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Hungary won’t be easy to strong-arm. But Brussels will try. The only people who want more Europe are politicians.

Hungary Rejects Macron’s ‘Arrogance’ as EU Reform-Fight Looms (BBG)

French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to bring to heel renegade European Union nations as part of a drive to reform the bloc smacks of arrogance and will fail, a senior Hungarian ruling party official said. Unanimity is required both to change the EU constitution and approve a multi-year, post-2020 EU budget. That means proposed sanctions on countries like Hungary and Poland for alleged rule-of-law violations won’t gain traction, according to Gergely Gulyas, parliamentary leader of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party. Governments are drawing battle lines as the EU mulls plans to re-invent itself, with some members saying the euro crisis, Brexit, the biggest refugee influx since World War II and ex-communist members ditching the bloc’s liberal values have necessitated a revamp.

Macron has presented the most ambitious proposals, with a plan to deepen integration in everything from defense to the economy. He has also called for sanctions against member states seen as backsliding on democracy. “If we’re going to play the game that western European countries want to launch rule-of-law procedures against eastern European countries because of differences over values, then that’s not going to work,” said Gulyas, 36. “That would destroy the Union.” Hungary received 3.6 billion euros ($4.5 billion) in net EU funding in 2016. That made it the fourth-biggest beneficiary in the 28-member bloc after Poland, Romania and Greece and underscores the risk to its economy if Macron can make good on his pledge. Gulyas dismissed proposals aimed at punishing Hungary and Poland, arguing that France has for years failed to meet EU spending limits yet has escaped penalties for fiscal offenders.

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Under an alleged left-wing government.

More Than One Million Greeks Trapped In Tax Payment Scheme Nightmare (K.)

More than 1 million Greeks are now trapped in programs to pay off their tax and social security dues in installments, a situation likely to continue for years to come. On Wednesday the Finance Ministry announced taxpayers can apply for a 12- or 24-installment payment scheme, which under certain circumstances can include non-expired dues, on the website of the Independent Authority for Public Revenue. Citizens are resorting to various payment programs offered by the ministries of Finance and Labor because they would otherwise be unable to meet their obligations. In many cases taxpayers are forced to pay additional installments in order not to default on their plans.

The million-plus taxpayers and businesses that are trapped in the various schemes they have entered to pay off the tax authorities and the social security funds have no other choice but to keep paying, otherwise they will have their assets confiscated. The payment schemes are the outcome of the growth in taxation and of social security contributions in recent years. Worse, as of this year, if anyone delays the payment of an installment by more than 24 hours, the debt will be classified as overdue and the process of the monitoring mechanism will be triggered for the state to safeguard its interests. Particularly in the case of the 100-payment program for dues to the tax authorities, missing a deadline means the entire amount due is classified as expired and becomes immediately payable along with fines and penalties.

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You mean, monoculture is not the greatest thing ever?!

Planting Wildflowers Across Farm Fields To Cut Pesticide Spraying (G.)

Long strips of bright wildflowers are being planted through crop fields to boost the natural predators of pests and potentially cut pesticide spraying. The strips were planted on 15 large arable farms in central and eastern England last autumn and will be monitored for five years, as part of a trial run by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH). Concern over the environmental damage caused by pesticides has grown rapidly in recent years. Using wildflower margins to support insects including hoverflies, parasitic wasps and ground beetles has been shown to slash pest numbers in crops and even increase yields. But until now wildflower strips were only planted around fields, meaning the natural predators are unable to reach the centre of large crop fields.

“If you imagine the size of a [ground beetle], it’s a bloody long walk to the middle of a field,” said Prof Richard Pywell, at CEH. GPS-guided harvesters can now precisely reap crops, meaning strips of wildflowers planted through crop fields can be avoided and left as refuges all year round. Pywell’s initial tests show that planting strips 100m apart means the predators are able to attack aphids and other pests throughout the field. The flowers planted include oxeye daisy, red clover, common knapweed and wild carrot. In the new field trials, the strips are six metres wide and take up just 2% of the total field area. They will be monitored through a full rotation cycle from winter wheat to oil seed rape to spring barley.

“It’s a real acid test – we scientists are having to come up with real practical solutions,” said Pywell, who led a landmark study published in 2017 showing that neonicotinoids insecticides damage bee populations, not just individual insects. In the new trials, the researchers will be looking out for any sign that drawing the wild insects into the centre of fields, and therefore closer to where pesticides are sprayed, does more harm than good.

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Old threat. But a real one.

Earth’s Magnetic Field Is Shifting, Poles May Flip (ZH)

[..] scientists from the University of Colorado in Boulder are sounding the alarm that the Earth’s magnetic poles are showing signs of reversing. Although the pole reversal, in and of itself, isn’t unprecedented, the solar winds that would take out the power grid and make parts of the globe uninhabitable could cause widespread disasters. The Earth has a fierce molten core that generates a magnetic field capable of defending our planet against devastating solar winds. This magnetic field is vital to life on Earth and has weakened by 15 percent over the last 200 years. This protective field acts as a shield against harmful solar radiation and extends thousands of miles into space and its magnetism affects everything from global communication to power grids.

Historically, Earth’s North and South magnetic poles have flipped every 200,000 or 300,000 years. However, the last flip was about 780,000 years ago, meaning our planet is well overdue. The latest satellite data, from the European Space Agency’s Swarm trio which monitors the Earth’s magnetic field, suggest a pole flip may be imminent. The satellites allow researchers to study changes building at the Earth’s core, where the magnetic field is generated. Their observations suggest molten iron and nickel are draining the energy out of the Earth’s core near where the magnetic field is generated. While scientists aren’t sure why exactly this happens, they describe it as a “restless activity” that suggests the magnetic field is preparing to flip.

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A lot more timeless than most other pics of this.

‘Super Blue Blood Moon’ Rises Over The Acropolis (K.)

A ‘super blue blood moon’ rises behind the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple on the Acropolis hill in Athens on Wednesday evening, when thousands of city residents took to the streets and balconies to witness the rare spectacle. People in many parts of the world caught a glimpse of the moon as a giant reddish globe thanks to a rare lunar phenomenon that combines a total eclipse with a blue moon and super moon. The spectacle – the first in 152 years – has been coined a ‘super blue blood moon’ by NASA. [Petros Giannakouris/AP]

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Just refuse to do any trade with any country that imports the horns. For starters.

Latest Rhino Poaching Figures Show A Decade Of Bloodshed (Ind.)

Dr Ian Player, the veteran South African game ranger and doyen of global rhino conservation, would be turning in his grave today were he to discover that another 1,000 rhinos had been slaughtered in the last calendar year. The African-wildlife warrior died just over three years ago aged 87, at a point when poaching had just exploded to record levels in South Africa – with nearly three rhinos gunned down daily. Annual government statistics announced last week complete the picture of 7,130 rhino carcasses piled up in South Africa over the last decade. Shortly before his death, I visited Player at his home in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands to ask him about his thoughts on the poaching crisis and the future of one of the “big five” (lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and Cape buffalo) species he devoted most of his life to protecting.

Frail and dispirited, he had reached a point in life where he should have been taking things easy, after more than six decades of service to nature conservation. Instead, his cellphone rang incessantly as colleagues from all corners of the country reported the discovery of yet another rhino butchered for its horns. Having worked so hard to save rhinos from extinction once before, there was no way Player could hang up his conservation boots amidst this new crisis. He also told me about a dream that haunted him. “My dream was about a young white rhino which came to lie down next to me and then gently placed its head on my shoulder. That does not need too much interpretation – the rhinos still need our help more than ever before,” he explained.

Player first came across a rhino in Imfolozi Game Reserve in the early 1950s when he joined the Natal Parks Board as a learner game ranger. A disciple of Carl Jung and Sir Laurens van der Post, Player went on to spearhead a global operation to safeguard the world’s second-largest land animal from extinction. Less than a decade ago, poaching deaths were limited to roughly 20 rhinos per year in South Africa, the country that provides sanctuary to 93% of Africa’s white rhinos and nearly 40% of the continent’s black rhinos. In 2007, only 13 rhinos were poached in South Africa. But in 2008 that tally rose steeply to 80 deaths; to 333 in 2010 and then to a record level of 1,205 during 2014. Last year the death toll topped the 1,000 mark for the fifth year in a row.

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Feb 202017
 
 February 20, 2017  Posted by at 10:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Henri Cartier Bresson Moscow Metro 1954

 

Seven Years of Demanding The Impossible in Greece (MP)
Cost Of Greece, Troika Impasse Over Numbers Is Adding Up (K.)
Pre-Departure Migrant Camps Planned For Greek Islands (K.)
Democrats Suggest Invoking The 25th Amendment Unless Trump “Gets A Grip” (ZH)
Greenspan Blames Productivity Decline For Political, Economic Crises (BI)
S&P 500 Earnings Stuck at 2011 Levels, Stocks up 87% Since (WS)
The Nasty Little Secret About Housing Affordability (ABC.au)
The Unthinkable Just Happened in Spain (DQ)
Kim Dotcom Loses New Zealand Extradition Case But Claims Major Victory (NZH)
UK Vegetable Shortage A Sign Of Things To Come (G.)
Fukushima Aborts Latest Robot Mission Radiation At “Unimaginable” Levels (ZH)
Tulsi Gabbard vs. ‘Regime Change’ Wars (Wright)
UN Envoy Questions US Engagement On Syria (AFP)
Kaziranga: The Park That Shoots People To Protect Rhinos (BBC)

 

 

A glimpse of the madness bestowed upon Greece. You might think this settles it, that the IMF is going to back off. You would be wrong.

Seven Years of Demanding The Impossible in Greece (MP)

In a recent presentation of his book, Laid Low, which examines the IMF’s role in the eurozone crisis, author and journalist Paul Blustein disclosed a memo dated May 4, 2010, from the IMF’s then head of research Olivier Blanchard, to Poul Thomsen, who headed the Greek mission at the time. In his missive, Blanchard warned that the cumulative fiscal adjustment of 16 %age points being demanded of Greece in such a short period of time and with such a high level of frontloading had never been achieved before. According to Blanchard, not only was the task unprecedented, but Greece was being asked to achieve the impossible in unfavourable external circumstances, when everyone was barely recovering from the 2008 global financial crisis and without any other policy levers (low interest rates or exchange rate adjustment).

Blanchard foresaw what became a reality only about a year later: Even with “perfect policy implementation” the programme will be thrown off track rather quickly and the recession will be deeper and longer than expected, he warned. Blanchard’s scepticism and warnings were ignored. Instead, political limitations took hold of the decision-making process and domestic-focussed calculations pushed Greece into trying to achieve the impossible. This week, the former IMF chief economist admitted on Twitter that although he was not the one that leaked the memo he was not unhappy that the truth has been revealed because “it is seven years and still there is no clear/realistic plan” for Greece.

Athens is currently under pressure to adopt another 2% of GDP in new fiscal measures, which relate to the tax-free threshold and pension spending. Since 2010, Greece has adopted revenue-raising measures and spending cuts that are equivalent to more than a third of its economy and more than double what Blanchard had described as unprecedented almost seven years ago.

The Greek economy has been burdened with €35.6 billion in all sorts of taxes on income, consumption, duties, stamps, corporate taxation and increases in social security contributions. When totting all this up, it is remarkable that the economy still manages to function. During the same period, the state has also found savings of €37.4 billion from cutting salaries, pensions, benefits and operational expenses. Discretionary spending is now so lean that even the IMF argues that in certain areas it needs to increase if Greece is to meet the minimum requirements in the provision of public services. When this misery started, Greece had to correct a primary deficit of €24 billion. But the painful fiscal adjustment Greeks have had to endure had turned out to be three times as much. The IMF’s Thomsen, now the director of its European Department, recently argued that Greece doesn’t need any more austerity but brave policy implementation. Somehow, though, the discussion has ended up being about finding another €3.5 billion in taxes and cuts to pension spending. Bravery is nowhere to be seen.

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The cuts have hit Greek consumer spending so severely that a recovery is no longer possible. And without a recovery, the Troika demands will get more severe, rinse and repeat.

Cost Of Greece, Troika Impasse Over Numbers Is Adding Up (K.)

Another week of back-and-forth between Greece and its lenders seems to have brought us no closer to an agreement between all the parties involved in the country’s bailout. Monday’s Eurogroup meeting may produce some progress, but the complexity of the situation facing Athens, the eurozone and the IMF means it is likely that any forward movement will involve inching, rather than hurtling, towards an agreement. One of the key areas of disagreement is Greece’s fiscal performance. The government insists that the primary surplus for 2016 provides all the evidence needed that there should be no concerns about Greece meeting its fiscal targets in the coming years. Finance Ministry estimates put the primary surplus for 2016 at 2% of gross domestic product, against a target of 0.5%.

In an interview with Germany’s Bild newspaper last week, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos suggested that last year’s primary surplus is actually 1.7 %age points above the target, ie 2.2% of GDP in total. On Friday, reports indicated that government officials believe the final figure, which is not due to be announced until April, will be around 3% of GDP. There is skepticism on the creditors’ side. Even before we get to debating how large last year’s primary surplus was, some of those who are lending Greece money are not convinced that enough of the overperformance is structural and that much of it may be driven by one-off occurrences. It will require further scrutiny of the final data to come up with a definitive answer to this question. The director of the IMF’s European Department, Poul Thomsen, told another German newspaper, Handelsblatt, last week that the Fund may revise its fiscal forecasts for Greece once it has last year’s statistics at its disposal.

This is crucial because the volume of measures being demanded of Greece by the institutions has been set at 3.6 billion euros largely due to the fact that the IMF believes Greece will fall short of the 3.5% of GDP primary surplus target it has been set for an, as yet, unspecified period after 2018. Athens hopes that if the IMF rethinks its figures, this may lead to a lower volume of measures being demanded and the first step in the grand bargain between the government and the institutions being taken. However, there are several added layers of complexity that have to be addressed. For example, the IMF does not only have doubts about the structural nature of Greece’s primary surplus, it also has lingering reservations about the reliability of the fiscal data coming out of Athens.

“Lack of fiscal transparency was clearly one of the factors that led to Greece finding itself in a difficult spot in 2010,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said in response to a question when she spoke at the Atlantic Council on February 8. “A lot has been improved but I’m not sure that the job is entirely completed. We are still seeing frequent revisions of some of those numbers. Everybody revises, let’s face it… but it’s a fact that Greece revises quite often and with significant variations.”

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People or cattle?

Pre-Departure Migrant Camps Planned For Greek Islands (K.)

Greek authorities are planning the creation of pre-departure detention facilities on the eastern Aegean islands, where thousands of migrants and refugees remain stranded, so as to accelerate returns to Turkey. According to officials from the Citizens’ Protection Ministry, the biggest%age of new arrivals over the past few months are from countries without a refugee profile: Pakistan, Morocco, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Significant numbers also arrived from Egypt, the Dominican Republic, Tunisia, Nigeria and Libya. Officials say that the creation of closed-structure facilities, each with a capacity of 150-200 people, is key to taking some of the pressure off the islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros, which have borne the brunt of the influx.

The mayors of these five islands are expected to travel to Brussels in early March to meet with Europe’s Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos to voice their concerns. During a tour of these islands last week, the EU’s special envoy on migration, Maarten Verwey, said that the aim was to cut current numbers by half by the end of April. According to official figures, some 14,600 migrants and refugees are currently accommodated at official facilities on the islands. In comments made during the visit, Verwey, who is also the coordinator for the implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement to stem migrant flows, repeated that these detention facilities would be “temporary.”

Sources suggest that authorities have almost finalized plans for facilities on Samos, Lesvos and Kos, while looking for spaces on Leros and Chios. The plans have met with resistance from locals. Since the beginning of 2017, authorities have reportedly deported 160 individuals from Pakistan, 150 from Iraq, 70 from Algeria, 30 from Afghanistan, 25 from Morocco and 20 from Bangladesh. Police said 60 Syrians had left Greece voluntarily.

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Regime change. Who’s crazy now?

Democrats Suggest Invoking The 25th Amendment Unless Trump “Gets A Grip” (ZH)

After questioning President Trump’s sanity earlier in the week, it appears Democrats have found another narrative to cling to – invoke the 25th Amendment unless Trump “gets a grip.” With a growing number of Democrats openly questioning President Trump’s mental health. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) in a floor speech this week called for a review of the Constitution’s procedures for removing a president. He warned the 25th Amendment of the Constitution falls short when it comes to mental or emotional fitness for office. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) during a weekend interview with CNN’s “State of the Union” said that “a few” Republican colleagues have expressed concern to him about Trump’s mental health. And Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) plans to introduce legislation that would require the presence of a psychiatrist or psychologist in the White House.

[..] So, what’s Article 4 to the 25th Amendment? In the abstract, the amendment itself is about presidential succession, and includes language about the power of the office when a president is incapacitated. But Digby recently highlighted the specific text of growing relevance: “Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.”

What does that mean exactly? Well, it means Congress isn’t the only institution that can remove a president from office between elections. Under the 25th Amendment, a sitting vice president and a majority of the executive branch’s cabinet could, on their own, agree to transfer power out of the hands of a sitting president. At that point, those officials would notify Congress, and the vice president would assume the office as the acting president. And what if the challenged president wasn’t on board with the plan to remove him/her from the office? According to a recent explainer, “If the president wants to dispute this move, he can, but then it would be up to Congress to settle the matter with a vote. A two-thirds majority in both houses would be necessary to keep the vice president in charge. If that threshold isn’t reached, the president would regain his powers.”

All of this comes up in fiction from time to time, and in all likelihood, Americans will probably never see this political crisis play out in real life. And that’s probably a good thing: by all appearances, the intended purpose of the constitutional provision was to address a president with a serious ailment – say, a stroke, for example – in which he or she is alive, but unable to fulfill the duties of the office. In other words, for the first time, the concept of a “soft palace coup” has been officially brought up on public media; we expect such speculation will only get louder. The ball is now in Trump’s court.

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“Populism is not a philosophy or a concept, like socialism or capitalism, for example. Rather it is a cry of pain, where people are saying: Do something. Help!”

Greenspan Blames Productivity Decline For Political, Economic Crises (BI)

Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the US Federal Reserve whose low-interest policies (some say) helped inflate the dot-com and mortgage bubbles of 2000 and 2008, did a fascinating interview with Gold Investor recently. In it, Greenspan produced an incredibly cogent explanation of the role that reduced long-term productivity has had in fuelling populism, Brexit and Trump. Before we deliver Greenspan’s quote, some background: “Productivity” is one of the least-sexy areas of macroeconomics, even though right now it is one of the biggest issues bedevilling it. Here’s a chart from the Resolution Foundation showing the phenomena:

The “productivity puzzle” is this: The amount investors get in return, in aggregate, for investing in new workers is in long-term decline. Productivity growth is in decline globally and heading toward zero. This is counterintuitive because new technology ought to make workers more productive and more efficient. A single employee with a laptop can do more today than a roomful of secretaries, mathematicians, and writers could in the 1960s. We ought to be getting more bang for our bucks. Fix productivity, and you fix everything, economists believe – including GDP growth, workers’ pay, investment returns, and so on. But instead we’ve got stagnating incomes, low growth, and low productivity for money invested. The productivity decline isn’t a complete mystery, of course. We know it is a mixture of deflationary forces, an aging population, excessive debt, and increased inequality. But putting that all together in a simple, elegant way is tough. That’s why this answer from Greenspan is so good. He was asked whether he was concerned about Stagflation.

“We have been through a protracted period of stagnant productivity growth, particularly in the developed world, driven largely by the aging of the ‘baby boom’ generation. Social benefits (entitlements in the US) are crowding out gross domestic savings, the primary source for funding investment, dollar for dollar. The decline in gross domestic savings as a share of GDP has suppressed gross non-residential capital investment. It is the lessened investment that has suppressed the growth in output per hour globally. Output per hour has been growing at approximately 0.5% annually in the US and other developed countries over the past five years, compared with an earlier growth rate closer to 2%.

That is a huge difference, which is reflected proportionately in GDP and in people’s standard of living. As productivity growth slows down, the whole economic system slows down. That has provoked despair and a consequent rise in economic populism from Brexit to Trump. Populism is not a philosophy or a concept, like socialism or capitalism, for example. Rather it is a cry of pain, where people are saying: Do something. Help!”

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Seek shelter.

S&P 500 Earnings Stuck at 2011 Levels, Stocks up 87% Since (WS)

The S&P 500 stock index edged up to an all-time high of 2,351 on Friday. Total market capitalization of the companies in the index exceeds $20 trillion. That’s 106% of US GDP, for just 500 companies! At the end of 2011, the S&P 500 index was at 1,257. Over the five-plus years since then, it has ballooned by 87%! These are superlative numbers, and you’d expect superlative earnings performance from these companies. Turns out, reality is not that cooperative. Instead, net income of the S&P 500 companies is now back where it first had been at the end of 2011. Hype, financial engineering, and central banks hell-bent on inflating asset prices make a powerful fuel for stock prices. And there has been plenty of all of it, including financial engineering.

Share buybacks, often funded with borrowed money, have soared in recent years. But even that is now on the decline. Share buybacks by the S&P 500 companies plunged 28% year-over-year to $115.6 billion in the three-month period from August through October, according to the Buyback Quarterly that FactSet just released. It was the second three-month period in a row of sharp year-over-year declines. And it was the smallest buyback total since Q1 2013. Apple with $7.2 billion in buybacks in the quarter, GE with $4.3 billion, and Microsoft with $3.6 billion topped the list again. Still, despite the plunge in buybacks, 119 companies spent more on buybacks than they’d earned in the quarter. On a trailing 12-month basis, 66% of net income was blown on buybacks.

Alas, net income has been a problem. By now, with 82% of the S&P 500 companies having reported their results for Q4 2016, earnings rose 4.6% year-over-year, according to FactSet. It’s the second quarter in a row of year-over-year earnings growth, after six quarters in a row of earnings declines. For the entire year 2016, earnings edged up 0.4% from 2015. And revenue inched up 2.4% – in a year when inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, rose 2.8%.

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“..Australians are in hock to the tune of more than $1.4 trillion on housing. That’s a hell of a lot of debt just to keep the wind and rain out.”

The Nasty Little Secret About Housing Affordability (ABC.au)

There’s a nasty little secret about housing affordability. For all the furrowed brows, the sombre looks and the public handwringing from policy makers, no-one is actually serious about fixing the problem because they all fear the potential fallout. The Government is running in circles on the issue while the Reserve Bank is praying the mess will slowly evaporate over time. It’s become a regular event; a politician conjures up an outlandish idea to again make housing affordable to the masses. If it’s not a cash splash to first home buyers, it’s a harebrained scheme to allow younger Australians to dip into their superannuation. Last week, it was a plan to force banks to lower lending standards. In each case, the net effect would be to lift demand and raise the cost of housing. Unfortunately, at this point in the economic cycle, there are only two mechanisms that could solve the social and political issue of our time.

The first is for housing prices to experience a dramatic fall. And the second is for wages to rise substantially. The first comes with a nasty side-effect: it would create economic chaos and send many of our banks to the wall. Achieving, or at least promising, the second might get you elected but ultimately would prove disastrous with spiralling inflation and, you guessed it, a probable spike in housing prices. Both are unthinkable. A crash could be catastrophic because our banks essentially have morphed into glorified building societies, with the bulk of their earnings geared towards residential mortgages. The two biggest lenders, Commonwealth and Westpac, have around 60% of their loan books devoted to housing.

Real estate is baked into the Australian psyche. We talk about it ad nauseam, owners obsess over upgrades and renovations and those outside the owners’ club fret about how to enter. All up, Australians are in hock to the tune of more than $1.4 trillion on housing. That’s a hell of a lot of debt just to keep the wind and rain out. Of that, more than half a trillion is on loan to property investors.

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Bankers going to court.

The Unthinkable Just Happened in Spain (DQ)

Untouchable. Inviolable. Immunity. Impunity. These are the sort of words and expressions that are often associated with senior central bankers, who are, by law, able to operate more or less above the law of the jurisdictions in which they operate. Rarely heard in association with senior central bankers are words or expressions like “accused”, “charged” or “under investigation.” But in Spain this week a court broke with that tradition, in emphatic style. As part of the epic, multi-year criminal investigation into the doomed IPO of Spain’s frankenbank Bankia – which had been assembled from the festering corpses of seven already defunct saving banks – Spain’s national court called to testify six current and former directors of the Bank of Spain, including its former governor, Miguel Ángel Fernández Ordóñez, and its former deputy governor (and current head of the Bank of International Settlements’ Financial Stability Institute), Fernando Restoy.

It also summoned for questioning Julio Segura, the former president of Spain’s financial markets regulator, the CNMV (the Spanish equivalent of the SEC in the US). The six central bankers and one financial regulator stand accused of authorizing the public launch of Bankia in 2011 despite repeated warnings from the Bank of Spain’s own team of inspectors that the banking group was “unviable.” Though they have so far only been called to testify, the evidence against the seven former public “servants” looks pretty conclusive. Testifying against them are two of Banco de España’s own inspectors who have spent the last two years investigating Bankia’s collapse on behalf of the trial’s presiding judge, Fernando Andreu.

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“We have won. We have won the major legal argument. This is the last five years of my life and it’s an embarrassment for New Zealand.”

Kim Dotcom Loses New Zealand Extradition Case But Claims Major Victory (NZH)

The evidence of the case has not been argued in New Zealand courts with the legal debate here being one of trying to match the crimes Dotcom and others are charged with to the crimes listed in the Extradition Act. In an interview with the Herald, Dotcom said the ruling was a “major victory” because it ruled that there was no New Zealand equivalent to the US criminal charges of copyright violation. “The major part of this litigation has been won by this judgment – that copyright is not extraditable. “They destroyed my family, destroyed my business, spied on me and raided my home and they did all of this on a civil copyright case. “We have won. We have won the major legal argument. This is the last five years of my life and it’s an embarrassment for New Zealand.”

He said it was effectively a statement from the court that neither he, his co-accused or Megaupload had broken any New Zealand laws. “Now they’re trying through the back door to say this was a fraud case. I’m confident going with this judgment to the Court of Appeal. The ruling today has created an unusual bureaucratic contradiction – the warrant which was served on Dotcom when he was arrested on January 20, 2012, stated he was being charged with “copyright” offences. Likewise, the charges Dotcom will face in the US are founded in an alleged act of criminal copyright violation. Dotcom said there were plans to take a separate court action over the arrest warrant, given it showed he had been arrested for a crime which effectively did not exist in New Zealand. “My arrest warrant, the document that kicked everything off in New Zealand, is not for fraud. In my arrest warrant, there is nothing about fraud.”

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Recognize this? “The shelves looked wonderful, perfect, almost clinical, as though invented in a lab in my absence; but there was no smell.”

UK Vegetable Shortage A Sign Of Things To Come (G.)

The UK’s clock has been set to Permanent Global Summer Time once more after a temporary blip. Courgettes, spinach and iceberg lettuce are back on the shelves, and the panic over the lack of imported fruit and vegetables has been contained. “As you were, everyone,” appears to be the message. But why would supermarkets – which are said to have lost sales worth as much as £8m in January thanks to record-breaking, crop-wrecking snow and rainfall in the usually mild winter regions of Spain and Italy – be so keen to fly in substitutes from the US at exorbitant cost? Why would they sell at a loss rather than let us go without, or put up prices to reflect the changing market? Why indeed would anyone air-freight watery lettuce across the whole of the American continent and the Atlantic when it takes 127 calories of fuel energy to fly just 1 food calorie of that lettuce to the UK from California?

The answer is that, in the past 40 years, a whole supermarket system has been built on the seductive illusion of this Permanent Global Summer Time. As a result, a cornucopia of perpetual harvest is one of the key selling points that big stores have over rival retailers. If the enticing fresh produce section placed near the front of each store to draw you in starts looking a bit empty, we might not bother to shop there at all. But when you take into account climate change, the shortages of early 2017 look more like a taste of things to come than just a blip, and that is almost impossible for supermarkets to admit. Add the impact of this winter’s weather on Mediterranean production, the inflationary pressures from a post-Brexit fall in the value of sterling against the euro, and the threat of tariffs as we exit the single market, and suddenly the model begins to look extraordinarily vulnerable.

I can remember the precise moment I first understood that we had been taken into this fantastical, nature-defying system without most of us really noticing. It was 1990 and I had been living and working with Afghan refugees in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier province for a long period. The bazaars where we bought our food were seasonal, and stocked from the immediate region. Back home on leave in the UK, I had that sense of dislocation that enables you to see your own culture as if from the outside. It was winter, but the supermarkets were full of fresh fruits and vegetables from around the world. The shelves looked wonderful, perfect, almost clinical, as though invented in a lab in my absence; but there was no smell. It was vaguely troubling in a way I couldn’t identify at the time.

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Excellent overview of the very scary latest on Fukushima from multiple sources at Zero Hedge.

Fukushima Aborts Latest Robot Mission Radiation At “Unimaginable” Levels (ZH)

Two years after sacrificing one robot, TEPCO officials have aborted their latest robot mission inside the Fukushima reactor after the ‘scorpion’ became unresponsive as it investigated the previously discovered hole where the core is believed to have melted. A “scorpion” robot sent into a Japanese nuclear reactor to learn about the damage suffered in a tsunami-induced meltdown had its mission aborted after the probe ran into trouble, Tokyo Electric Power company said Thursday. As Phys.org reports, TEPCO, the operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant, sent the remote-controlled device into the No. 2 reactor where radiation levels have recently hit record highs.

The “scorpion” robot, so-called because it can lift up its camera-mounted tail to achieve better viewing angles, is also designed to crawl over rubble inside the damaged facility. But it could not reach its target destination beneath a pressure vessel through which nuclear fuel is believed to have melted because the robot had difficulty moving, a company spokeswoman said. “It’s not immediately clear if that’s because of radiation or obstacles,” she said, adding that TEPCO is checking what data the robot was able to obtain, including images.

[..] The robot, 60 centimetres (24 inches) long, is made by Toshiba and equipped with two cameras and sensors to gauge radiation levels and temperatures. Scorpion’s mission is to take images of the situation and collect data inside the containment vessel,” TEPCO spokesman Shinichi Nakakuki said earlier. “Challenges include enduring high levels of radiation and moving on the rough surface,” he said. Radiation levels inside the reactor were estimated last week at 650 sieverts per hour at one spot, which can effectively shut down robots in hours.

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Ann Wright served 29 years in the US Army/Army Reserves and retired as a colonel. She also was a U.S. diplomat for 16 years and served in U.S. Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She resigned in March 2003 in opposition to the war in Iraq. She has lived in Honolulu since 2003.

Tulsi Gabbard vs. ‘Regime Change’ Wars (Wright)

I support Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, going to Syria and meeting with President Bashar al-Assad because the congresswoman is a brave person willing to take criticism for challenging U.S. policies that she believes are wrong. It is important that we have representatives in our government who will go to countries where the United States is either killing citizens directly by U.S. intervention or indirectly by support of militia groups or by sanctions. We need representatives to sift through what the U.S. government says and what the media reports to find out for themselves the truth, the shades of truth and the untruths. We need representatives willing to take the heat from both their fellow members of Congress and from the media pundits who will not go to those areas and talk with those directly affected by U.S. actions.

We need representatives who will be our eyes and ears to go to places where most citizens cannot go. Tulsi Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran who has seen first-hand the chaos that can come from misguided “regime change” projects, is not the first international observer to come back with an assessment about the tragic effects of U.S. support for lethal “regime change” in Syria. Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire began traveling to Syria three years ago and now having made three trips to Syria. She has come back hearing many of the same comments from Syrians that Rep. Gabbard heard — that U.S. support for “regime change” against the secular government of Syria is contributing to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Syrians and – if the “regime change” succeeded – might result in the takeover by armed religious-driven fanatics who would slaughter many more Syrians and cause a mass migration of millions fleeing the carnage.

[..] During the Obama administration, Rep. Gabbard spoke critically of the U.S. propensity to attempt “regime change” in countries and thus provoking chaos and loss of civilian life. On Dec. 8, 2016, she introduced a bill entitled the “Stop Arming Terrorists Act” which would prohibit the U.S. government from using U.S. funds to provide funding, weapons, training, and intelligence support to extremists groups, such as the ones fighting in Syria – or to countries that are providing direct or indirect support to those groups. In the first days of the Trump administration, Rep. Gabbard traveled to Syria to see the effects of the attempted “regime change” and to offer a solution to reduce the deaths of civilians and the end of the war in Syria. A national organization Veterans For Peace, to which I belong, has endorsed her trip as a step toward resolution to the Syrian conflict.

Not surprisingly, back in Washington, Rep. Gabbard came under attack for the trip and for her meeting with President Assad, similar to criticism that I have faced because of visits that I have made to countries where the U.S. government did not want me to go — to Cuba, Iran, Gaza, Yemen, Pakistan, North Korea, Russia and back to Afghanistan, where I was assigned as a U.S. diplomat.

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“How you square this circle, that I understand is what they are discussing in Washington..”

UN Envoy Questions US Engagement On Syria (AFP)

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura on Sunday questioned US President Donald Trump’s engagement in solving the Syrian war, just days ahead of a new round of peace talks in Geneva. “Where is the US in all this? I can’t tell you because I don’t know,” he said, adding that the new administration was still trying to work out its priorities on the conflict. The top three US priorities include fighting Islamic State jihadists, “how to limit the influence of some major regional players and how to not to damage one of their major allies in the region,” de Mistura told the Munich Security Conference. “How you square this circle, that I understand is what they are discussing in Washington,” he said. He did not say who the regional player or major ally were but the first reference appeared to be to Iran, with the second likely to be either Turkey or Saudi Arabia.

Mistura stressed that what was ultimately key was an inclusive political solution to end the six-year conflict. “Even a ceasefire with two guarantors can’t hold too long if there is no political horizon,” he said, referring to a fragile truce brokered by Russia and Turkey in December. Any political solution has to be inclusive to be credible, he said, stressing that peace talks in Astana last week organised by Russia, Turkey and Iran, and the ceasefire deal provided an opening that should be explored. The US envoy for the anti-IS coalition, Brett McGurk, acknowledged that Trump’s administration is “re-looking at everything, which is a very healthy process from top to bottom.” “We will be very selfish about protecting and advancing our interests,” he told the same forum.

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This will always remain controversial. But it’s the only way.

Kaziranga: The Park That Shoots People To Protect Rhinos (BBC)

Kaziranga National Park is an incredible story of conservation success. There were just a handful of Indian one-horned rhinoceros left when the park was set up a century ago in Assam, in India’s far east. Now there are more than 2,400 – two-thirds of the entire world population. This is where David Attenborough’s team came to film for Planet Earth II. William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, came here last year. But the way the park protects the animals is controversial. Its rangers have been given the kind of powers to shoot and kill normally only conferred on armed forces policing civil unrest. At one stage the park rangers were killing an average of two people every month – more than 20 people a year. Indeed, in 2015 more people were shot dead by park guards than rhinos were killed by poachers. Innocent villagers, mostly tribal people, have been caught up in the conflict.

Rhinos need protection. Rhino horn can fetch very high prices in Vietnam and China where it is sold as a miracle cure for everything from cancer to erectile dysfunction. Street vendors charge as much as $6,000 for 100g – making it considerably more expensive than gold. Indian rhinos have smaller horns than those of African rhinos, but reportedly they are marketed as being far more potent. But how far should we go to protect these endangered animals? I ask two guards what they were told to do if they encountered poachers in the park. “The instruction is whenever you see the poachers or hunters, we should start our guns and hunt them,” Avdesh explains without hesitation. “You shoot them?” I ask. “Yah, yah. Fully ordered to shoot them. Whenever you see the poachers or any people during night-time we are ordered to shoot them.” Avdesh says he has shot at people twice in the four years he has been a guard, but has never killed anybody. He knows, however, there are unlikely to be any consequences for him if he did.

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Oct 082016
 
 October 8, 2016  Posted by at 9:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Royal Street, New Orleans 1900

US Consumer Borrowing Rises by Most in Nearly a Year (BBG)
US Consumer Credit Has Second Biggest Jump On Record (ZH)
US Payrolls Up 156K, Missing Expectations, Unemployment Rate Rises To 5.0% (ZH)
EU Leaders Line Up To Insist UK Will Pay A High Price For Brexit Stance (G.)
Worries Deepen That Globalization Is Hitting the Skids (WSJ)
Worries Grow That China Faces a Perilous Property Bubble (WSJ)
EU Imposes Import Duties Of Up To 73.7% On Cheap Chinese Steel (G.)
He’ll Likely Lose – But Trump Is The Final Warning To Elites (G&M)
Why Does This Happen on My Vacation? -The Trump Tapes (Scott Adams)
Hounds Hot On The Heels Of Poachers In Rhino Country (G.)
New Zealand Child Poverty A Source Of Deep Concern: UN (G.)
UN Watchdog Demands Saudis Stop Child Executions (AFP)

 

 

No deleveraging: Household debt rises 8.5% annualized.

US Consumer Borrowing Rises by Most in Nearly a Year (BBG)

Household borrowing increased in August at the fastest pace in almost a year, led by a jump in loans for school and automobile purchases. The $25.9 billion increase, or an annualized 8.5%, followed a revised $17.8 billion gain the prior month, Federal Reserve figures showed Friday. The median projection called for a $16.5 billion advance. Non-revolving credit, which includes car and educational loans, also posted the largest advance since September of last year. Steady hiring and income growth may be making Americans more willing to borrow, helping to sustain consumer spending and the economic expansion.

Non-revolving credit increased $20.2 billion, while revolving debt rose $5.6 billion during the month, the Fed’s report showed. Lending by the federal government, mostly for student loans, climbed $18.7 billion in August on an unadjusted basis as students prepared to return to school for the fall semester. The Fed’s consumer credit report doesn’t track debt secured by real estate, such as home equity lines of credit and home mortgages.

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Tyler on the household debt topic, delving a bit deeper, as in beyond seasonal adjustments.

US Consumer Credit Has Second Biggest Jump On Record (ZH)

It will likely not come as a big surprise that at a time when US personal savings are once again declining, perhaps as a result of soaring health insurance costs, that US consumers are forced to borrow increasingly more to make ends meet. And, as expected, the latest consumer credit report confirmed this, when moments ago the Federal Reserve announced that in August, total US credit surged by $25.9 billion on a seasonally adjusted basis, smashing expectations of a $16.5 billion increase, and the third biggest monthly jump since 2001.[..] what was perhaps most interesting is that on a non-seasonally adjusted basis, when removing the artificial Arima-X-13 seasonal factors, August consumer credit soared by a near record $46.8 billion, an absolute outlier month, and surpassed just once in history.

So for all those who, still, erroneous claim that US consumers are deleveraging, show them this chart, because the scramble if not so much into revolving debt then certainly into government-funded auto and student loans, is unlike anything ever seen. And speaking of just those two kinds of debt, here they are broken out: they have both never been higher.

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Last big jobs report before the elections (November’s will come too late to make much difference) is mixed, but certainly not very good.

US Payrolls Up 156K, Missing Expectations, Unemployment Rate Rises To 5.0% (ZH)

With Wall Street all bulled up on the economy, expecting a print of 175K while the whipser number was decidedly higher, and closer to 200K thanks to Goldman’s optimism, moments ago the BLS reported that in September the US created only 156K jobs, missing expectations, and down from the upward revised 167K in August, leaving the question of whether the Fed will hike imminently, unanswered. However, offsetting the September miss, last month’s disappointing print of 151K was revised to 167K. At the same time, the change in total nonfarm payroll employment for July was revised down from +275,000 to +252,000. With these revisions, employment gains in July and August combined were 7,000 less than previously reported.

Over the past 3 months, job gains have averaged 192,000 per month. The household survey employment number of 151.968MM was 354K bigger than last month, and pushed the annual increase higher by 2.0%, the biggest since March 2016. The unemployment rate, at 5.0%, and the number of unemployed persons, at 7.9 million, changed little in September, up 0.1% from August and the highest in 6 months. Both measures have shown little movement, on net, since August of last year. The participation rate rose by 0.1% t 62.9% as people not in the labor force declined by 207K.

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Which should make Britons very happy to leave that bunch of mobsters behind. Even if their own new ‘leaders’ are just as bad. But those you can vote out next time around.

EU Leaders Line Up To Insist UK Will Pay A High Price For Brexit Stance (G.)

Britain and the EU appear more bitterly divided over Brexit than at any time since the referendum, with European leaders ramping up their rhetoric after Theresa May signalled she would seek a clean break with the bloc. The prime minister’s Conservative conference speech, in which she indicated Britain would prioritise immigration control and restore the primacy of UK law to become an “independent, sovereign nation” without full access to the single market, drew a sharp response from continental capitals. In Paris, François Hollande said Britain must suffer the consequences of its decision. “The UK has decided to do a Brexit. I believe even a hard Brexit,” he said. “Well, then we must go all the way through the UK’s willingness to leave the EU. We have to have this firmness.”

If not, “we would jeopardise the fundamental principles of the EU”, the French president said on Thursday night. “Other countries would want to leave the EU to get the supposed advantages without the obligations.. There must be a threat, there must be a risk, there must be a price.” Hollande’s message was underlined on Friday by the president of the European commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, who said the 27 remaining member states must not give an inch in exit negotiations. “You can’t have one foot in and one foot out,” he said. “We must be unyielding on this point.” Britain risked “trampling everything that has been built” over six decades of European integration, he said.

In Berlin, Angela Merkel rammed home the same point. “If we don’t insist that full access to the single market is tied to complete acceptance of the four basic freedoms, then a process will spread across Europe whereby everyone does and is allowed what they want.”

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Turns out, globalization is just another religion. Hilarious that the CEO of United Parcel Service is quoted; yes, we understand they are all for ‘free’ trade, it’s what their business is based on.

Worries Deepen That Globalization Is Hitting the Skids (WSJ)

Global finance ministers and central bankers are descending on Washington this week with a central concern in mind: fear that the modern age of globalization is hitting a wall. Last year’s $646 billion in foreign direct investment in rich economies represents a 40% drop from the peak before the financial crisis. International lending, as measured by cross-border banking claims at the Bank for International Settlements, is down nearly $2.6 trillion, or 9%, over the past two years. International trade this year will grow at the slowest pace since 2007, according to the World Trade Organization, which has slashed its forecast for growth in global trade volumes to 1.7% in 2016 from a previous estimate in April of 2.8%.

Imports among the world’s 20 largest economies have fallen as a share of their GDP for four consecutive years, and growth in demand for shipping containers fell to 4% this year after four decades of double-digit expansion. As financial officials gather in the U.S. capital this week at semiannual meetings of the IMF and the World Bank, there is widespread concern that this global malaise could worsen if nations intentionally turn inward. Too many politicians are backing trade barriers in a misguided effort to boost national growth in the short term, said Roberto Azevedo, director general of the WTO. “The medicine that is being often prescribed is protectionism, and that is exactly the kind of medicine that is going to hurt the patient, not help him,” he said.

The head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, also expressed concern over rising protectionism around the world, including in the U.S. “Curbing free trade would be stalling an engine that has brought unprecedented welfare gains around the world over many decades,” she said. The slower-than-expected economic activity is feeding a cycle of banks pulling back from international risk, companies hesitant to invest in new production, and governments issuing regulations—often linked to national security—favoring domestic producers. “Now that we’re in this 2% [growth] range in the U.S. and less than that in other countries, people are clinging more to the past and thinking more how to protect versus embracing the future,” said David Abney, CEO of United Parcel Service.

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“The reality speaks of morbid financial excess..” (BTW, two WSJ articles in a row that start with Worries, some that deepen, others grow -same thing)

Worries Grow That China Faces a Perilous Property Bubble (WSJ)

The latest buying frenzy began late last year, when Mr. Xi set a national goal of reducing the number of unsold homes in 2016. In the following months, cities rushed to relax home-purchase curbs that were put in place to discourage speculation during the last housing boom. Beijing also made it easier for homebuyers to access credit. The Chinese leadership’s hope was that modest borrowing by families and individuals would boost property sales and cut inventory, aiding related industries such as construction that, all told, account for about a fifth of China’s gross domestic product. It hasn’t gone as planned. Too much investment went into housing, economists say, aided by a series of central-bank easing measures since late 2014.

Government data show more than a third of new loans in the first half of 2016 went to housing. By comparison, an average 17.4% of new loans went to housing between 2010 and 2015, according to BNP Paribas. “The reality speaks of morbid financial excess,” said Harrison Hu at RBS. In July, six major cities showed home-price gains of more than 20% from the prior year; in August, 10 cities did. In the coastal city of Xiamen, prices skyrocketed 44.3%. Average new home prices across 70 Chinese cities in August rose far less, 7.5%, suggesting that many smaller cities are still struggling with too much inventory.

Chinese households’ leverage, meanwhile, is fast rising to dangerous levels. A study by China’s Haitong Securities shows that total home loans are expected to make up 30% China’s GDP this year, up from less than 20% three years ago. That is higher than Japan’s level during its property-bubble years in the late 1980s. One moderating factor: Most Chinese households pay down payments equal to about a third of the home’s value, making homeowners less vulnerable to price drops.

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Yeah, about that globalization thing… You know, protectionism and all that…

EU Imposes Import Duties Of Up To 73.7% On Cheap Chinese Steel (G.)

The European Union has slapped tariffs of up to 73.7% on Chinese steel after manufacturers were forced to cut jobs due falling prices and demand for the material amid an influx of cheap imports from Asia. Thousand of job have already been lost in the steel industry in Britain in the last year with thousands more at risk as the sector remains under pressure. Industry leaders have partly blamed the squeeze on the sector on China’s dumping of cheap steel in Europe as it struggles to find buyers for its products domestically. The EU has agreed to impose import duties of between 13.2% and 22.6% on Chinese hot-rolled steel, which is used in pipelines and gas containers, and 65.1% and 73.7% on heavy plates, which are used in civil engineering projects.

The state of the steel industry became part of the debate about Britain’s future in the EU before the referendum in June, with Brexiters claiming that the country would be better able to protect workers and introduce tariffs on Chinese imports if it voted to leave. UK Steel, the industry trade body, welcomed the speed at which the new EU tariffs had been introduced but warned that the levy on hot-rolled steel was not high enough, which could hurt Port Talbot, the biggest steelworks in Britain. Dominic King, head of policy and external affairs at UK Steel, said: “The speed at which tariffs have been imposed on dumped steel from China by the EU is very welcome. However, while we hope the tariffs for heavy plate are robust enough to ensure free and fair trade, the proposed levels for hot-rolled steel are not high enough, which might encourage China to continue dumping it on to the EU market.”

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I don’t think Trump will lose. But good perspective, from Canada.

He’ll Likely Lose – But Trump Is The Final Warning To Elites (G&M)

Donald Trump will probably lose the election. But he is a final warning. Unless political elites of both the left and the right become more humble, unless they once again ask themselves how their agendas will play in Peoria, the next rough beast might slouch over the corpse of the republic. “Will it play in Peoria?” goes back to the days of vaudeville. The city of 115,000 in central Illinois was once considered the ultimate focus group, the embodiment of Middle America, the place to test a joke or a soda or a social policy to learn what white folks without a fancy degree thought of it. Back in the day, you knew better than to defy the settled judgment of this ultimate test market. You went as far as Peoria would let you, and no further.

But we grew impatient. You have to fight Jim Crow, whatever Peoria thinks. Free trade will lift most boats, even if it swamps a few. The environment is too precious, and at too much risk, to go slow. Lower taxes and less red tape will help the economy grow, even if it profits some more than others. The left wanted social justice, protection for minorities, a cleaner environment. The right wanted lower taxes and trade deals. Despite the rhetoric, each accommodated the other. Republicans left the Democrats’ progressive policies largely intact; Democrats learned to embrace, or at least reluctantly accept, globalization. And everybody knew what was really going on in Washington. A tax break for you. A subsidy for me. You take care of my client and I’ll take care of yours. Deal? Then let’s celebrate. We’ll expense it.

What did the guy on the line think about this? The wife at Wal-mart? The folks at the ball park? No one really cared. Yeah, politicians chased their vote. But respect them, even defer to their collective wisdom? Not so much. The accommodation between left and right started unravelling in the 1980s. The Bork confirmation. The Thomas confirmation. Contract with America. Impeaching Bill Clinton. Iraq. Obama. The Tea Party. Gay marriage. And now the Democrats want to replace a black president with a woman? A CLINTON? Meanwhile, Peoria is hurting. The city is home to Caterpillar. But the heavy-equipment giant has outsourced most of its work force overseas or to so-called right-to-work states.

But what does Washington care? The left worries more about combatting global warming than about blue-collar workers with bad backs and no jobs. The right promises to retrain them, but somehow never gets around to it. The laid-off boys in the bars of Peoria blame the illegals, the only ones even more voiceless than themselves. They seethe at the Wall Street suits who destroyed the economy and got off scot-free. And what the hell is transgender, anyway? They look at their daughter’s report card. She’s only getting Cs. What future is there for anyone who’s only getting Cs?

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How wrong is Dlibert’s alter ego? “It is fair to assume that Bill and Hillary are about to experience the worst weeks of their lives.”

Why Does This Happen on My Vacation? -The Trump Tapes (Scott Adams)

By now you know about the Access Hollywood recording in which Donald Trump said bad things eleven years ago. Many of my readers asked me to weigh in. I’ll give you my thoughts, in no particular order.

1. If this were anyone else, the election would be over. But keep in mind that Trump doesn’t need to outrun the bear. He only needs to outrun his camping buddy. There is still plenty of time for him to dismantle Clinton. If you think things are interesting now, just wait. There is lots more entertainment coming.

2. This was not a Trump leak. No one would invite this sort of problem into a marriage.

3. I assume that publication of this recording was okayed by the Clinton campaign. And if not, the public will assume so anyway. That opens the door for Trump to attack in a proportionate way. No more mister-nice-guy. Gloves are off. Nothing is out of bounds. It is fair to assume that Bill and Hillary are about to experience the worst weeks of their lives.

4. If nothing new happens between now and election day, Clinton wins. The odds of nothing new happening in that timeframe is exactly zero.

5. I assume that 75% of male heads of state, including our own past presidents, are total dogs in their private lives. Like it or not, Trump is normal in that world.

6. As fictional mob boss Tony Soprano once said in an argument with his wife, “You knew what you were getting when you married me!” Likewise, Trump’s third wife, Melania, knew what she was getting. It would be naive to assume Trump violated their understanding.

7. Another rich, famous, tall, handsome married guy once told me that he can literally make-out and get handsy with any woman he wants, whether she is married or not, and she will be happy about it. I doubted his ridiculous claims until I witnessed it three separate times. So don’t assume the women were unwilling. (Has anyone come forward to complain about Trump?)

8. If the LGBTQ community wants to be a bit more inclusive, I don’t see why “polyamorous alpha male serial kisser” can’t be on the list. If you want to label Trump’s sexual behavior “abnormal” you’re on shaky ground.

9. Most men don’t talk like Trump. Most women don’t either. But based on my experience, I’m guessing a solid 20% of both genders say and do shockingly offensive things in private. Keep in mind that Billy Bush wasn’t shocked by it.

10. Most male Hollywood actors support Clinton. Those acting skills will come in handy because starting today they have to play the roles of people who do not talk and act exactly like Trump in private.

11. I’m adding context to the discussion, not condoning it. Trump is on his own to explain his behavior.

12. Clinton supporters hated Trump before this latest outrage. Trump supporters already assumed he was like this. Independents probably assumed it too. Before you make assumptions about how this changes the election, see if anyone you know changes their vote because of it. All I have seen so far is people laughing about it.

12. I hereby change my endorsement from Trump to Gary Johnson, just to get out of the blast zone. Others will be “parking” their vote with Johnson the same way. The “shy Trump supporter” demographic just tripled.

13. My prediction of a 98% chance of Trump winning stays the same. Clinton just took the fight to Trump’s home field. None of this was a case of clever strategy or persuasion on Trump’s part. But if the new battleground is spousal fidelity, you have to like Trump’s chances.

14. Trump wasn’t running for Pope. He never claimed moral authority. His proposition has been that he’s an asshole (essentially), but we need an asshole to fight ISIS, ignore lobbyists, and beat up Congress. Does it change anything to have confirmation that he is exactly what you thought he was?

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Stop bombing teh Middle East and send your troops to protect Afrian wildlife. Much better use of force. May actually save mankind instead of destroying it.

Hounds Hot On The Heels Of Poachers In Rhino Country (G.)

“I am ready to die for conserving the rhino,” says Wisdom Makhubele. But the brave young ranger now has another weapon in the war against rhino poaching: the extraordinary nose of tracking hounds. The trained dogs can run poachers to ground far faster than people, sometimes even being set free in packs and followed from helicopters. The new canine training unit at the Southern African Wildlife College (SAWC), near Acornhoek, opened earlier this year and dogs have already brought armed poachers to heel in Kruger national park, the epicentre of the rhino poaching crisis. At least 6,000 African rhinos have been slaughtered by poachers since 2008, to fuel the soaring demand for its horn in Asia, where it is highly valued as a supposed tonic and status symbol.

The rhino poaching epidemic across Africa has exploded in recent years, with annual increases in killings every year since 2009: 1,338 were slaughtered in 2015. It was a hot topic at the major wildlife trade summit in Johannesburg this week, where an attempt by Swaziland to legalise rhino horn trade was defeated. South Africa hosts more than 90% of the 20,000 surviving white rhinos and almost half the 4,800 remaining black rhinos and saw a slight dip in the slaughter in 2015, the first decrease in nine years. Over 70% of the rhino kills occur in Kruger and a sign on the way into the park reads “Poachers will be poached”. Dogs have been used for camp security for years, but the escalating poaching crisis has found them a new role.

“They are awesome – they are instinctive to tracking,” says Johan van Straaten, manager of the dog unit, which has been funded by WWF Nedbank Green Trust. “All these dogs can track, it’s in their genes. But we train them to track the scent we want. These dogs are imprinted on human scent, like narcotics dogs are on drugs.” [..] Being a ranger in the war on poaching can be deadly – more than 1,000 rangers were killed around the world in the last decade and many more injured. The danger follows the rangers home too. “They are targets and their families can be targets, that’s for certain,” says van Straaten. Makhubele comes from a local village. “People there know me and some of them are poachers, but I am not afraid,” he says. “This [rhino population] is our legacy and we have to look after it.”

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New Zealanders must stand up against their government. It’s very much your shame too.

New Zealand Child Poverty A Source Of Deep Concern: UN (G.)

The UN has said in a damning report that it is deeply concerned about New Zealand’s persistently high rates of child poverty. Unicef says 300,000 children – a third of New Zealand’s child population – now live below the poverty line. This is a rise of 45,000 in a year. Government representatives travelled to Geneva last month to present the country’s progress on its commitment to protecting the rights of the child to the UN. The UN committee’s report acknowledges widespread public debate and media attention on child poverty in New Zealand, but expresses serious concern about the government’s failure to address the issue systematically.

“The committee is deeply concerned about the enduring high prevalence of poverty among children,” the report says, highlighting “the effect of deprivation on children’s right to an adequate standard of living and access to adequate housing, with its negative impact on health, survival and development, and education”. The report expresses particular concern about the number of Maori and Pasifika children living in deprived circumstances. Both groups are disproportionately represented in child poverty statistics.

It calls for “urgent measures to address disparities in access to education, health services and a minimum standard of living for Maori and Pasifika children and their families” and says more effort should be invested in preserving Maori children’s cultural identity. The government of the National party is urged to take a systematic approach to tackling child poverty, and to establish a “national definition” to measure child poverty, something it has repeatedly refused to do. The Green party co-leader Metiria Turei welcomed the UN report. “The national government has repeatedly denied the seriousness of the problem and deserves the criticism it has received from the committee,” she said. “And that means thousands on NZ children are missing out on their chance for a decent life, especially Maori and Pasifika children.”

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What is more sickening, that the Saudis do this, or that we insist on continuing to call them our friends? “..the stoning, amputation and flogging of children..” does not belong in our world.

UN Watchdog Demands Saudis Stop Child Executions (AFP)

UN rights experts demanded Friday that Saudi Arabia immediately overturn laws allowing for the execution of children, and for punishments of minors including stonings, amputations and flogging. In a report on the plight of children in the wealthy Gulf state, a UN committee took Riyadh to task for allowing minors to be sentenced as adults, including to harsh corporal punishment and even the death penalty. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child also criticised what it called Saudi Arabia’s systematic discrimination against girls, who are not considered full subjects, and who can be married off as early as nine years of age.

In its report, the committee expressed its “deepest concern” that Saudi Arabia “tries children above 15 years as adults and continues to sentence to death and to execute persons for offences that they allegedly committed when they were under the age of 18”. The committee, which is composed of 18 independent experts who monitor the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, pointed to a number of cases where minors had been sentenced to death. It said that at least four of the 47 people executed on January 2 this year were under 18 when they were sentenced to death.

And it demanded that Riyadh “immediately halt the execution” of those currently on death row who allegedly committed their crimes when they were minors, including Ali Mohammed Baqr al-Nimr, Abdullah Hasan al-Zaher, and Salman Bin Ameen Bin Salman Al-Qureish. Committee chairman Benyam Mezmur told reporters Saudi Arabia was only one of five countries, alongside China, Iran, Pakistan, and the Maldives, where child rights experts had ever needed to raise concerns about executions. “This is a very, very serious issue,” he said. The committee also demanded that Saudi Arabia immediately repeal laws permitting “the stoning, amputation and flogging of children”.

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May 142016
 
 May 14, 2016  Posted by at 8:05 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Camp Meade, Maryland 1917

IMF Meddling On Brexit Is Scandalous Skulduggery (AEP)
The Zombies Return: Steel Firms In China Come Back From The Dead (SCMP)
Europe Launches Probe Into Claims China Is Subsidising Steel Producers (Tel.)
China Complains To WTO That US Fails To Implement Tariff Ruling (R.)
China Inc. Misses Best Shot to Repay $430 Billion as Yuan Drops (BBG)
S&P 500 Companies Plan $600 Billion Buybacks In Losing Strategy (CNBC)
US Energy Bankruptcy Wave Surges Despite Recovering Oil Prices (R.)
The Other Fire: Fort McMurray’s Slow Burn (Tyee)
The New Era Of Monopoly Is Here (Stiglitz)
Vicious Feedback Loops in New York Art and European Equities (Dizard)
What If Greece Got Massive Debt Relief But No One Admitted It? – Part 1 (FT)
“I’ll Never Retire”: Americans Break Record for Working Past 65 (BBG)
Retiree To Fly 80 South African Rhinos To Australia (G.)
Merkel’s Deal with Turkey in Danger of Collapse (Spiegel)
EU to Work with African Despot to Keep Refugees Out (Spiegel)

Ambrose strikes. Can’t go wrong with a headline like that. “..the rescue of the euro and the North European banking system in 2010, otherwise known by some cruel twist of language as the Greek bail-out.” And “..take your rotting pile of damp wood elsewhere Madame Lagarde.”

IMF Meddling On Brexit Is Scandalous Skulduggery (AEP)

If the IMF and its co-conspirators in the Treasury wish to deter undecided voters from flirting with Brexit, they have certainly failed in my case. Having listened to their irritating lectures, I am more inclined to opt for defiance, for their mask of objectivity has fallen. There can no longer be any doubt that they are playing politics with the democratic self-determination of this country. The Fund gives the game away in point 8 of its Article IV conclusion on the UK economy. It states that “the cost of insuring against a UK sovereign default has doubled (albeit from a low level)”. Any normal person who does not follow the derivatives markets would interpret this as a grim warning from global investors. Yes, the price of credit default swaps on 5-year UK debt – the proxy we all use – has jumped from 17 to 37 since late last year.

But the IMF neglected to mention that it has risen from 15 to 33 in Switzerland, from 26 to 43 in France, and from 45 to 65 in Korea. The jump has almost nothing to do with Brexit, and the IMF knows this perfectly well. The French have an expression that will be familiar to the IMF’s Christine Lagarde: ils font feu de tout bois. Her own IMF mentor and long-time chief economist, Olivier Blanchard, told me last month that there was no risk whatsoever of a sovereign bond crisis, or a Gilts strike, or a sudden stop of any kind. “Will financing be more difficult after Brexit? Will investors see the British government as more risky? I don’t think so,” he said. Professor Blanchard, who recently stepped down from the Fund and is free to speak his mind, says there may be a price to pay for Brexit but it is impossible to calculate.

“The cost of exiting will not be seamless, and the uncertainty will last for a very long time afterwards. Firms deciding whether to locate a plant in the UK or in the Continent will wait. Investment will drop,” he said. But he also said weaker pound would cushion the effects of falling investment to some degree. So bare this in mind when you comb through today’s Article IV statement with its delicious mix of precision and selective vagueness on the alleged damage of Brexit. The hit ranges from 1.5pc to 9.5pc of GDP. Note the decimal points. The range depends on whether it is “a la Switzerland, a la Norway, or a la WTO,” said Madame Lagarde. Perhaps it is churlish to point out that the IMF completely missed the onset of the global financial crisis, and was blindsided when the US fell into recession in November 2007. The Fund’s staff were still predicting sunlit uplands as far as the eye could see, even when the blackest of black storms was upon them.


The IMF misjudged the fiscal multiplier horribly in Greece

Its forecasts for Greece were wrong every single year following the rescue of the euro and the North European banking system in 2010, otherwise known by some cruel twist of language as the Greek bail-out. They originally said the Greek economy would contract by 2.6pc in 2010 and then recover briskly. What actually happened – as predicted at the time by the Indian member of the IMF board – was the most spectacular collapse of a developed economy in the post-war era. Output ultimately fell by 26pc from peak to trough. To its credit, the IMF later admitted that it had horribly misjudged the fiscal multiplier. Indeed. I don’t wish the denigrate the Fund. It remains a superb institution. I use its research all the time in my work. But on this occasion it has been misused for political purposes.

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Maybe they can pay people to dig a big hole to throw the produced steel in.?!

The Zombies Return: Steel Firms In China Come Back From The Dead (SCMP)

The grey smoke pouring once again into the sky above a rusty steel plant in a town in northern China is seen as a blessing by people who live nearby. One of the plant’s six blast furnaces was put back into operation earlier this month, breathing new life into Dongzhen in Shanxi province. The plant, formally known as Haixin Iron and Steel, was closed two years ago as demand for the metal plunged in China. Steel companies with little hope of turning a profit are among the enterprises known as “zombie firms” in China, many operating in ailing heavy industries that the central government has pledged to cut back as it attempts to create a modern, high-tech and innovation driven economy. Millions of jobs are due to be axed in the steel and coal sectors in the coming years.

But the plant at Dongzhen has been given a lifeline. It has been renamed and taken over by new owners amid signs of a rise in steel prices, plus massive support from the local government. And there is evidence that increasing numbers of other steel plants are also reopening in China, despite the government’s pledges that the industry must be cut back. Local people in Dongzhen, at least, now dare to believe there may still be hope for their beleaguered industry. Restaurants have reopened, new food stalls set up, and even watermelon vendors are driving their carts and trucks nearby to serve the thousands of workers coming in and out of the compound. Uniformed workers in red and blue helmets flow through the foundry gate, heavy trucks and cars blow their horns and there is a renewed sense of dynamism in this dusty town.

The fate of the Dongzhen steel plant highlights the dilemma facing many local government across the country: the need for massive economic reforms, weighed against the suffering created by massive job losses and the fear of social unrest. President Xi Jinping has said cutting overcapacity in ailing industries such as steel is an essential part of the government’s “supply-side” economic reforms. An unidentified “authoritative figure” was also quoted in a prominent article in the Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily on Monday renewing calls to terminate “zombie companies”. Haixin, however, is not the only “zombie” steel firming coming back from the dead. As China pumped unprecedented amounts of credit to boost growth in the first quarter, many steel plants are back on stream to take advantage of a rise in steel prices.

Daily steel output on the mainland in March rebounded to a nine-month high and output in April could be even higher, according to analysts, although the steel price rally has started to fizzle away this month. “It’s difficult to take Chinese pledges to address surplus capacity seriously,” said Christopher Balding, an associate professor of economics at Peking University HSBC Business School. “There is a recent track record of talking about the problem and not taking the steps required to solve it: like a dieter who wants to lose weight and still eats chocolate chip cookies.”

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Fighting for a share of a collapsing market.

Europe Launches Probe Into Claims China Is Subsidising Steel Producers (Tel.)

A new front has opened up in the “steel war” between China and Europe after Brussels launched an investigation into whether the Beijing government is subsidising its steel producers. The European Commission said it was starting a probe into a complaint that China is subsiding its producers of hot rolled flat steel – one of the most widely used forms of the alloy. The Commission has already imposed tariffs on some forms of steel being exported into Europe after earlier investigations determined they were being “dumped” – sold at below cost – by Chinese plants, as they get rid of excess production in the wake of a drop in domestic demand. However, the new investigation could tackle the problem at source, by looking into claims China is subsidising its largely state-owned steel industry, damaging European rivals.

If it finds subsidisation is taking place, further duties could be imposed on Chinese imports in an attempt to level the playing field. The announcement comes less than 24 hours after the European Parliament voted with an overwhelming majority against China being given the coveted Market Economy Status. The move follows a complaint from Eurofer, the European steel association, and a spokesman said the group “welcomed the move into unfair subsidisation originating in China”. “Hot rolled flat steel is the bread and butter of the industry, going into everything from cans to cars and by far the most commonly used form of steel,” the spokesman added. “The European steel industry suffers damage from unfair trading practices originating in China.”

The European steel industry is in crisis at the moment as it battles the flood of cheap steel from China, and struggles against tougher environmental controls and higher prices, which are particularly punishing in the UK. More than 5,000 jobs have been lost in Britain’s steel industry in the past year as plants have struggled to compete. In April Tata launched the sale of its loss-making British steel operations based around the massive Port Talbot plant. Gareth Stace, director of trade body UK Steel, said the widening of investigations from dumping into subsidies was a progression of the campaign to fight unfair trade. “This is a welcome and much-needed investigation into Chinese Government subsidies which will run in parallel to its ongoing investigation into dumping of steel into the EU. The significant unfair trading practices carried out by China has been a major cause of the worst steel crisis in over a generation here in the UK.”

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“China’s complaint to the WTO was filed just days after Washington lodged a similar complaint against China..”

China Complains To WTO That US Fails To Implement Tariff Ruling (R.)

In another sign of escalating trade tensions between China and the United States, Beijing told the World Trade Organization on Friday that Washington was failing to implement a WTO ruling against punitive U.S. tariffs on a range of Chinese goods. China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) said it had requested consultations with the United States over the issue, and anti-subsidy duties on products including solar panels, wind towers and steel pipe used in the oil industry. China’s complaint to the WTO was filed just days after Washington lodged a similar complaint against China, accusing it of unfairly continuing punitive duties on U.S. exports of broiler chicken products in violation of WTO rules.

“By disregarding the WTO rules and rulings, the United States has severely impaired the integrity of WTO rules and the interests of Chinese industries,” MOFCOM said in a statement distributed by the Chinese embassy in Washington. The case was first brought before the WTO by China in 2012 against U.S. duties on 15 diverse product categories that also include thermal paper, steel sinks and tow-behind lawn grooming equipment. In December 2014, the WTO’s Appellate Body ruled in favor of Chinese claims that the products subject to duties had not benefited from subsidies from “public bodies” favoring particular manufacturers.

The deadline for implementation of the rulings and recommendations of the WTO Dispute Settlement Body, set through binding arbitration, expired on April 1, according to WTO records. A U.S. Trade Representative spokesman said the United States had been “working diligently to comply with the recommendations” and to fully conform with its WTO obligations. He added that the U.S. response to China’s request for consultations would come “in due course.”

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Dollar-denominated debt is the sword of Damocles.

China Inc. Misses Best Shot to Repay $430 Billion as Yuan Drops (BBG)

The best time for China Inc. to repay its dollar debt may be coming to an end. The greenback is rallying after its worst quarter since 2010, threatening to drive up costs for companies seeking to either repay U.S. currency borrowings or hedge exposure. The yuan declined 1% since March 31, following a 2% rally between February and March. Royal Bank of Canada and Credit Suisse see more depreciation. “If corporates haven’t taken advantage of this period of yuan gains, they really only have themselves to blame,” said Sue Trinh, Hong Kong-based head of Asian foreign-exchange strategy at RBC. “The government won’t hold down the exchange rate forever.”

RBC estimates Chinese companies’ outstanding dollar borrowings have now been trimmed to $430 billion, while Daiwa Capital Markets says as much as $3 trillion was borrowed to plow into the higher-yielding yuan, including by individuals and foreign companies. A rush to repay risks accelerating capital outflows and yuan weakness amid China’s slowest economic growth in 25 years. The yuan’s renewed depreciation is a challenge for companies that took advantage of the currency’s gains in the four years through 2013 to borrow dollars offshore, profiting from both an appreciating exchange rate and higher interest rates at home. The one-way bets began to unravel as the currency dropped 2.4% in 2014 and 4.5% last year.

The yuan sank 2.6% in August last year after a shock devaluation, and then rose for the next two months as the People’s Bank of China intervened in the market to support the exchange rate. The authority reiterated in its latest monetary policy implementation report released last week that it wants to keep the currency stable. “The recent yuan stability was artificial and likely helped by consistent verbal intervention from the PBOC that there is no depreciation pressure,” said Koon How Heng at Credit Suisse in Singapore. “However, in the background, there is growing concern of increasing debt issues. We are watching growing incidences of coupon defaults.”

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Pretty damning. But it will continue short term. And a few years down the road, infrastructure will start falling apart.

S&P 500 Companies Plan $600 Billion Buybacks In Losing Strategy (CNBC)

Companies are planning to devote billions to buying back their own stock this year, even though the strategy seems to be losing its bite. Statements accompanying first-quarter earnings indicate corporations are preparing to buy a total of $600 billion in their own shares, according to Goldman Sachs calculations. That comes after a year in which S&P 500 buybacks amounted to $572.2 billion, which itself was a 3,3% increase from 2014 and part of a trend that has seen repurchases amount to more than $2.7 trillion since 2010, data from S&P Dow Jones Indices show. Buybacks slowed in the first part of the year, with TrimTabs reporting a 35% decline over 2015. However, that’s not likely to last as companies struggle to find the best way to spend cash. S&P 500 companies have nearly $1.5 trillion in cash on their balance sheets.

“The main thing that determines that is whether they see their markets pop or not,” said Jim Paulsen, chief market strategist at Wells Capital Management. “One of the things we really haven’t had in this recovery is getting all the economic boats moving north at the same time.” With the lack of sustained economic growth, companies have turned to buybacks and dividends to pick up the slack. However, the effectiveness of returning cash directly to shareholders doesn’t have the same pop it once had. Where buybacks had helped fuel the S&P 500’s meteoric rise and the second longest bull market in history, the market has been volatile but flat over the past year or so. Moreover, companies that have been the biggest movers in buybacks have underperformed significantly.

The PowerShares BuyBack Achievers Portfolio exchange-traded fund tracks companies that have bought back at least 5% of their shares over the past 12 months. The ETF is down about 0.7% in 2016 and off 8.4% over the past year. The fund’s biggest holdings include McDonald’s, Boeing, Qualcomm, Lowes and Mondelez. A big name missing from the top holdings is Apple, which has buyback plans totaling $175 billion for a stock that is down 13.2% year to date and 27.5% over the past year. Yet the buyback and dividend trend continues as companies remain reluctant to hire and invest in equipment and as the deal climate cools after a blistering 2015. Mergers and acquisitions activity plunged 25% in the first quarter, with much of the steam taken out by the collapse of multiple big-ticket deals, the most recent being the $6 billion Staples-Office Depot marriage.

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“..once the hedges roll off you can’t support that debt.”

US Energy Bankruptcy Wave Surges Despite Recovering Oil Prices (R.)

The wave of U.S. oil and gas bankruptcies surged past 60 this week, an ominous sign that the recovery of crude prices to near $50 a barrel is too little, too late for small companies that are running out of money. On Friday, Exco Resources, a Dallas-based company with a star-studded board, said it will evaluate alternatives, including a restructuring in or out of court. Its shares fell 35% to 62 cents each. Exco’s notice capped off one of the heaviest weeks of bankruptcy filings since crude prices nosedived from more than $100 a barrel in mid-2014. Prices have bounced back to $46 a barrel from February lows in the mid-$20s, but the futures market shows investors do not expect U.S. benchmark crude to rise above $50 for more than a year.

That will not help smaller producers built for far higher prices. These companies have largely exhausted funding alternatives after issuing more equity and debt, tapping second-lien loans and shedding assets over the last two years to stay afloat as banks trimmed credit lines. Some companies are in more acute distress, faced with the expiration of derivative contracts that had allowed them to sell oil above market prices. “Everybody was able to hold on for a while,” said Gary Evans, former CEO of Magnum Hunter Resources, which emerged from bankruptcy protection this week. “But once the hedges roll off you can’t support that debt.”

Bankruptcy filers this week included Linn Energy and Penn Virginia. Struggling SandRidge, a former high flyer once led by legendary wildcatter Tom Ward, said it would not be able to file quarterly results on time. The number of U.S. energy bankruptcies is closing in on the staggering 68 filings seen during the depths of the telecommunications sector bust of 2002 and 2003, according to Reuters data, the law firm Haynes & Boone and bankruptcydata.com.

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I would normally shudder at the very thought of anyone quoting Larry Summers or god forbid Jeff Rubin, but this is a topic that warrants attention.

The Other Fire: Fort McMurray’s Slow Burn (Tyee)

At the end of the day the $10-billion wildfire that consumed 2400 homes and buildings in Fort McMurray may be the least of the region’s problems. Although the chaotic evacuation of 80,000 people through walls of flame will likely haunt its brave participants for years, a slow global economic burn has already taken a nasty toll on the region’s workers. That fire began last year when global oil prices crashed by 40% and evaporated billions of investment capital in the tarsands. As the project’s most hight cost producers started to bleed cash, corporations laid off 40,000 engineers, labourers, cleaners, welders, mechanics and trades people with little fanfare and even less thanks. Many of these human “stranded assets” endured home foreclosures and lineups at the food bank.

Worker flights to Red Deer and Kelowna got cancelled and traffic at the city’s new airport declined by 16%. Unemployment in Canada’s so-called economic engine soared to nearly nine%. Despite the high cost of the oil price crash, most residents of Fort McMurray, along with Canada’s politicians, think that oil prices will rebound and things will turn around sooner or later. They’ve seen it all before, they say. But a number of economic trends and analyses suggest that bitumen’s glory days may be over. What resembles a string of bad luck may actually be the unfortunate consequence of rapidly developing a high risk and volatile resource with no real safety net. The first undeniable factor is weakening demand for oil, the engine of global economic growth. China’s economy, the world’s largest oil importer, is faltering as its industrial revolution peaks and fades.

Europe, Japan and the United States are also using less oil, and their economies are stagnating too. The global economy has become so stuck in neutral that famous financial power brokers such as Larry Summers now write depressing articles entitled “The Age of Secular Stagnation,” in Foreign Affairs no less. In such a world, little if any bitumen will be needed in the international market place. In fact economists now trace about 50% of the oil price collapse to evaporating demand. But there are many other potent signs and they have already covered the economic landscape with smoke. Murray Edwards, the billionaire tycoon behind Canadian Natural Resources, one of the largest bitumen extractors, has decamped from Alberta to London, England. Edwards and company slashed $2.4-billion from CNRL’s budget in 2015. Since the oil price crash, by some accounts, Murray’s company has lost 50% of its market value.

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“..the large bonuses paid to banks’ CEOs as they led their firms to ruin and the economy to the brink of collapse are hard to reconcile with the belief that individuals’ pay has anything to do with their social contributions.”

The New Era Of Monopoly Is Here (Stiglitz)

For 200 years, there have been two schools of thought about what determines the distribution of income – and how the economy functions. One, emanating from Adam Smith and 19th-century liberal economists, focuses on competitive markets. The other, cognisant of how Smith’s brand of liberalism leads to rapid concentration of wealth and income, takes as its starting point unfettered markets’ tendency toward monopoly. It is important to understand both, because our views about government policies and existing inequalities are shaped by which of the two schools of thought one believes provides a better description of reality. For the 19th-century liberals and their latter-day acolytes, because markets are competitive, individuals’ returns are related to their social contributions – their “marginal product”, in the language of economists.

Capitalists are rewarded for saving rather than consuming – for their abstinence, in the words of Nassau Senior, one of my predecessors in the Drummond Professorship of Political Economy at Oxford. Differences in income were then related to their ownership of “assets” – human and financial capital. Scholars of inequality thus focused on the determinants of the distribution of assets, including how they are passed on across generations. The second school of thought takes as its starting point “power”, including the ability to exercise monopoly control or, in labour markets, to assert authority over workers. Scholars in this area have focused on what gives rise to power, how it is maintained and strengthened, and other features that may prevent markets from being competitive. Work on exploitation arising from asymmetries of information is an important example.

In the west in the post-second world war era, the liberal school of thought has dominated. Yet, as inequality has widened and concerns about it have grown, the competitive school, viewing individual returns in terms of marginal product, has become increasingly unable to explain how the economy works. So, today, the second school of thought is ascendant. After all, the large bonuses paid to banks’ CEOs as they led their firms to ruin and the economy to the brink of collapse are hard to reconcile with the belief that individuals’ pay has anything to do with their social contributions. Of course, historically, the oppression of large groups – slaves, women, and minorities of various types – are obvious instances where inequalities are the result of power relationships, not marginal returns.

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“The ECB’s requirement for an “investment-grade” rating turns out to be an elastic condition; something you tell the Germans to put them off until the next meeting.”

Vicious Feedback Loops in New York Art and European Equities (Dizard)

The remarkable swing in sentiment, from depression to relief, and, in some cases, euphoria, around the New York art auctions this past week was one of the most astonishing examples of herd mentality I have seen. Back in 1990, we would buy a paper from the newsboy that would describe a decline in the Japanese stock market that had taken place the previous year. Weeks later, bids for Renoirs would dry up, and there would be talk about a correction in the art market. These days, we are all in short-cycle businesses. But I am trying to take the long-term view here, one that might hold up until the US elections in November. So in that spirit of philosophical detachment, I would say it is time to buy euro-denominated high-yield bonds before the other bidders come in next month in response to the ECB’s corporate bond-buying programme.

I understand that most of the quantitative analysis done on art and securities markets tells us that equity prices “cause” art prices to rise or fall, but it seems to me that the present volatility and vicious feedback loops in both markets are being caused by a more general instability. The weak equity markets at the beginning of this year, and the decline in art prices that had set in by early 2015, apparently led collectors to hold off on consigning contemporary works of art to the spring auctions in New York. Then when the Christie’s evening contemporary sale on Tuesday night worked out better than many expected, with 87% of the lots sold, there was suddenly a shortage of works on public offer. This led to more frantic bidding for contemporary art in that market’s equivalent of junk or high yield, the day sales. All within a couple of days.

The same risk-averse sentiment earlier this year led euro-area junk-rated companies to hold off on selling new bond issues. According to Richard Briggs, credit strategist at CreditSights, a fixed income research provider, euro high-yield debt issuance declined to just €12.7bn in the year to date up to May 9, compared with €47.9bn in the same period in 2015. So euro-based investors are even more starved for yield than New York collectors were for contemporary art. Not everyone agrees with me about the relative value of European junk bonds. As Matt King at Citi Research says: “A lot of investors prefer, or have preferred, US high yield. Optically, the yields are higher. Most of that, though, is about duration and credit quality, and you should adjust for those. The US has more CCC credits [the bottom of the non-defaulting junk pile], and when you take that into account, all the US HY advantage disappears.”

[..] The ECB’s bond-buying programme could have an outsized effect. It is targeted specifically at non-financial corporate bonds. The ECB has indicated it will buy €3bn-€5bn of corporate bonds each month, which is about the same rate of non-financial bond purchases as euro-area financial institutions have maintained since 2012. The ECB’s requirement for an “investment-grade” rating turns out to be an elastic condition; something you tell the Germans to put them off until the next meeting. If just one rating agency, including the Canadian DBRS, will give a corporate bond an investment-grade stamp, the ECB will be open to buying it. Mr King calculates that one little tweak will make about 4% of the European junk-bond market eligible for purchase. In a relatively illiquid €310bn market, every little bit helps.

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Intriguing by Matthew Klein. To be continued.

What If Greece Got Massive Debt Relief But No One Admitted It? – Part 1 (FT)

In 2012, the “official sector” lenders realised they needed to do something different. Over the course of the year they made new loans at low interest rates, lowered interest rates on existing loans, gave the Greek government much more time to repay existing loans, remitted profits from the ECB’s holdings of Greek government bonds back to the Greek government, and forced private lenders to accept getting repaid less than originally owed, among other things. The net effect was to sharply reduce the present value of the Greek government’s debt burden. According IMF data, the Greek government spent about €15 billion, or 7.3% of GDP, on debt interest payments in 2011. For perspective, the Italian government was spending 4.4% and the Portuguese government was spending 3.8%.

By 2013, the Greek economy had shrunk by 13%, in nominal euro terms, yet the sovereign debt interest burden was now 4.0% of GDP, against 4.5% for Italy and 4.2% for Portugal. Put another way, the debt modifications in 2012 cut the amount spent by the Greek government on interest payments by more than half. Subsequent debt modifications and the general decline in euro area interest rates have cut the amount the Greek government spends on interest payments by another 12.6%. Interest expense was 3.6% of Greek GDP in 2015, compared to 4.0% in Italy and 4.1% in Portugal. So why didn’t the 2012 modifications end the crisis? My colleague Martin Sandbu puts it well:

“The problem is the chill caused by the uncertainty the debt overhang causes: will the debt service cost at some point increase (perhaps to crippling levels), and will there be another refinancing crisis whenever a large portion of debt is set to mature? It is this uncertainty that must be erased for investment to pick up.”

In other words, investors don’t care about the decline in the interest burden nearly as much as they worry, reasonably, about the headline debt figures. This makes it impossible for the Greek government to fund itself in the markets at reasonable rates, leaving it dependent on the whims of “official sector” creditors to make its small interest payments and roll over its large debts. This is why it matters whether Kazarian is right about the accounting treatment of Greek sovereign obligations. There are plenty of weak economies in the euro area with miserable productivity growth, terrible demographics, and lots of debt. Greece isn’t that different except insofar as it’s excluded from ECB bond-buying and insofar as the markets and ratings companies treat it as a pariah.

So if the Greek government’s actual debt number were far lower than what’s commonly reported, investors would have little reason to charge it more than they demand from Portugal. And that would have big implications for an economy wracked for years by uncertainty about debt default, sky-high capital costs, and outside demands for “structural reform” and budget surpluses. In part 2, we’ll look at why exactly Kazarian thinks the Greek government’s net debt is only 39% of GDP, rather than 177%, as well as some potential objections. In part 3, we’ll imagine what sorts of budget surpluses would have been required to make the Greek government compliant with Maastricht criteria for debt levels by 2020 under different assumptions of the impact of the 2012 modifications, in comparison to what “official sector” creditors actually demanded.

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The US is falling apart in many places.

“I’ll Never Retire”: Americans Break Record for Working Past 65 (BBG)

Almost 20% of Americans 65 and older are now working, according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s the most older people with a job since the early 1960s, before the U.S. enacted Medicare. Because of the huge baby boom generation that is just now hitting retirement age, the U.S. has the largest number of older workers ever. When asked to describe their plans for retirement, 27% of Americans said they will “keep working as long as possible,” a 2015 Federal Reserve study found. Another 12% said they don’t plan to retire at all. Why are more people putting off retirement? Three in five retirees surveyed by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies said making money or earning benefits was at least one reason they had retired later than they planned to.

Almost half said financial problems were their main reason for working past 65. The financial crisis, and the tech bust before it, devastated many baby boomers’ retirement savings. That’s if they had any to begin with. Today, 60% of U.S. households have no money in a 401(k) or similar retirement account, and the benefits of 401(k)s are skewed toward the wealthiest Americans, a recent report by the Government Accountability Office found. The waning of traditional, defined-benefit pensions could also be delaying retirement, even for wealthier Americans. Instead of getting a monthly check, many retirees end up with a pot of 401(k) assets they’re not sure how they should be spending. The ups and downs of the market can heighten their anxiety and keep them going into the office.

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The sadness is hard to describe.

Retiree To Fly 80 South African Rhinos To Australia (G.)

A retired South African sales executive who emigrated to Australia 30 years ago is hatching a daring plan to airlift 80 rhinos to his adopted country in an attempt to save the species from poachers. Flying each animal on the 11,000-kilometre journey will cost about $A60,500, but Ray Dearlove believes the expense and risk is essential as poaching deaths have soared in recent years. The rhinos will be relocated to a safari park in Australia, which is being kept secret for security reasons, where they will become a “seed bank” to breed future generations. “Our grand plan is to move 80 over a four-year period. We think that will provide the nucleus of a good breeding herd,” Dearlove said while visiting South Africa to organise for the first batch to be flown out.

The Australian Rhino Project, which the 68-year-old founded in 2013, hopes to take six rhinos to their new home before the end of the year. Funding – from private and corporate sources – is nearly in place, and the first rhinos have been selected from animals kept on private reserves in South Africa. “We have got to get this first one right because it’s a big task, it’s expensive, it’s complex,” Dearlove said. When they are settled successfully in Australia, “then we hopefully will go up in gear,” he added. [..] Poachers slaughtered 1,338 rhinos across Africa last year – the highest level since the poaching crisis exploded in 2008, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The IUCN, which rates white rhinos as “near threatened” as a species, says that booming demand for horn and the involvement of international criminal syndicates has fuelled the explosion in poaching since 2007.

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A German point of view.

Merkel’s Deal with Turkey in Danger of Collapse (Spiegel)

On Thursday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was standing on a stage in Ankara raging against the European Union. “Since when are you controlling Turkey?” he demanded. “Who gave you the order?” He then accused Brussels of dividing his country. “Do you think we don’t know that?” It sounded as though he was laying the groundwork for a break with Europe. Erdogan’s fit of rage is only the most recent escalation in the conflict over German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee deal with Turkey. Thus far, officials in Berlin have been dismissing the Turkish president’s tirades as mere theater. “Erdogan is following the Seehofer playbook,” says one Chancellery official, a reference to the outspoken governor of Bavaria who has been extremely critical of Merkel’s refugee policies.

But things aren’t looking good for the deal, which the chancellor has declared as the only proper way to solve the refugee crisis. Indeed, Merkel’s greatest foreign policy project is on the verge of collapsing. The chancellor still hopes that Erdogan will stick to the refugee deal. A key element of that deal is visa-free travel to the EU for Turkish citizens, and Merkel believes that Erdogan’s popularity would take a hit if that didn’t come to pass. That’s why she believes that Erdogan will come around in the end. But she could be mistaken. After all, no one aside from the German chancellor appears to have much interest in the agreement anymore. Erdogan certainly doesn’t: He does not want to make any concessions on his country’s expansive anti-terror laws, the reform of which is one of a long list of conditions Turkey must meet before the EU will grant visa freedoms.

The Europeans at large, wary of selling out their values to the autocrat in Ankara, are also deeply skeptical. And in Germany, Merkel’s junior coalition partners, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), have seized on the deal as a way to finally score some much needed political points against the powerful chancellor. Even within Merkel’s own conservatives, many are seeing the troubles the deal is facing as an opportunity to break with the chancellor’s disliked refugee policies.

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Brussels and Berlin would make a deal with Hitler if it suited them.

EU to Work with African Despot to Keep Refugees Out (Spiegel)

The ambassadors of the 28 European Union member states had agreed to secrecy. “Under no circumstances” should the public learn what was said at the talks that took place on March 23rd, the European Commission warned during the meeting of the Permanent Representatives Committee. A staff member of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini even warned that Europe’s reputation could be at stake. Under the heading “TOP 37: Country fiches,” the leading diplomats that day discussed a plan that the EU member states had agreed to: They would work together with dictatorships around the Horn of Africa in order to stop the refugee flows to Europe – under Germany’s leadership.

When it comes to taking action to counter the root causes of flight in the region, Angela Merkel has said, “I strongly believe that we must improve peoples’ living conditions.” The EU’s new action plan for the Horn of Africa provides the first concrete outlines: For three years, €40 million is to be paid out to eight African countries from the Emergency Trust Fund, including Sudan. Minutes from the March 23 meetings and additional classified documents obtained by SPIEGEL and German public TV station ARD show that the focus of the project is border protection. To that end, equipment is to be provided to the countries in question. The International Criminal Court in The Hague has issued an arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges relating to his alleged role in genocide and crimes against humanity in the Darfur conflict.

Amnesty International also claims that the Sudanese secret service has tortured members of the opposition. And the United States accuses the country of providing financial support to terrorists. Nevertheless, documents relating to the project indicate that Europe want to send cameras, scanners and servers for registering refugees to the Sudanese regime in addition to training their border police and assisting with the construction of two camps with detention rooms for migrants. The German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development has confirmed that action plan is binding, although no concrete decisions have yet been made regarding its implementation. The German development agency GIZ is expected to coordinate the project.

The organization, which is a government enterprise, has experience working with authoritarian countries. In Saudi Arabia, for example, German federal police are providing their Saudi colleagues with training in German high-tech border installations. The money for the training comes not directly from the federal budget but rather from GIZ. When it comes to questions of finance, the organization has become a vehicle the government can use to be less transparent, a government official confirms.

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Mar 102016
 
 March 10, 2016  Posted by at 9:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


William Henry Jackson Tunnel 3, Tamasopo Canyon, San Luis Potosi, Mexico 1890

IMF Says World At Risk Of ‘Economic Derailment’ (BBC)
Whole Of Europe Risks Spinning Into Crisis If Leaders Mishandle Brexit (AEP)
This Is Jeff Gundlach’s Favorite -& Scariest- Chart (ZH)
“However It Takes” #Draghi (BM)
Senior European Bankers Voice Concerns Over ECB Cut (FT)
Markets Betting On Near-Zero Interest Rates For Another Decade (Reuters)
What’s In A Growth Target? For China, Hope And Simple Math (WSJ)
China To Allow Commercial Banks To Swap Bad Debt For Equity Stakes (Reuters)
Albany Can Solve the World’s Sovereign Debt Crisis (BBG)
Germany Needs 470,000 Immigrants Per Year For Next 25 Years (GM)
Record Number Of African Rhinos Killed In 2015 (Guardian)
Syrians Under Siege: ‘We Have No Children Any More, Only Small Adults’ (G.)
Did Michel Foucault Predict Europe’s Refugee Crisis? (Baele)
Refugees At Border Should Move To Camps, Says Greek Minister (AP)
Conditions At Idomeni Refugee Camp Worsen By The Day (Kath.)
Five Iranians, Afghans Drown Trying To Reach Greece (Reuters)

And the IMF worked hard to get it there.

IMF Says World At Risk Of ‘Economic Derailment’ (BBC)

The IMF has warned that the global economy faces a growing “risk of economic derailment.” Deputy director David Lipton called for urgent steps to boost global demand. “We are clearly at a delicate juncture,” he said in a speech to the National Association for Business Economics in Washington on Tuesday. “The IMF’s latest reading of the global economy shows once again a weakening baseline,” he warned. The comments come after weaker-than-expected trade figures from China showing that exports in February plunged by a quarter from a year ago. With the world’s second largest economy often referred to as as “the engine of global growth”, weaker global demand for its goods is read as an indicator of the general global economic climate. The IMF has already said it is likely to downgrade its current forecast of 3.4% for global growth when it releases its economic predictions in April.

Last month, the international lender had warned that the world economy was “highly vulnerable” and called for new efforts to spur growth. In a report ahead of last month’s Shanghai G20 meeting, the IMF said the group should plan a co-ordinated stimulus programme as world growth had slowed and could be derailed by market turbulence, the oil price crash and geopolitical conflicts. In his Washington speech, Mr Lipton said “the burden to lift growth falls more squarely on advanced economies” which have fiscal room to move. “The downside risks are clearly much more pronounced than before, and the case for more forceful and concerted policy action, has become more compelling.” “Moreover, risks have increased further, with volatile financial markets and low commodity prices creating fresh concerns about the health of the global economy,” he added. The downbeat picture is one that has continuing ramifications for businesses and industries that bet on China’s growth story.

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“..the whole of Europe is sitting on a bed of nitroglycerin..”

Whole Of Europe Risks Spinning Into Crisis If Leaders Mishandle Brexit (AEP)

[..] Personally, I find talk about “retaliation” against Britain to be a little odd, though I do not rule it out. Any such madness would risk a political crisis in Denmark and Sweden, and ultimately spread to Germany. British withdrawal would be a thunderous shock to the EU project. The immediate imperative for Europe’s leaders at that point would be to patch things up and ensure a velvet divorce as quickly as possible to stop the crisis spinning out of control. France’s Marine Le Pen likens Brexit to the collapse of the Berlin Wall. “It will be the beginning of the end. If Britain knocks down part of the wall, it s finished, it’s over, she said. Whether she is right or wrong depends on the statecraft of Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande, Mateo Renzi and Poland’s Beata Szydlo. A report this week by Morgan Stanley spells out the grim price Europeans will pay if they mishandle this event.

Foreign investors would start to withdraw their $8.3 trillion of investments in the eurozone. There might be a bond run with Spain in the firing line. The bank’s base case for Brexit is that the MSCI Europe index of equities will fall 15pc-20pc, and 0.7 percentage points will be knocked off growth by late 2017. Its “high stress” scenario is a stock market crash of up to 30pc, a tightening in financial conditions by 200 basis points, severe contagion, and a 2pc blow to GDP that pushes the eurozone into recession, with “growing concerns around the sustainability of the entire European project”. Whether the eurozone could withstand a fresh shock of this force is an open question. The region already has one foot in deflation, with toxic effects on debt dynamics. Public debt ratios are massively higher than they were at the top of the last credit cycle in 2008, and pushing safe limits of 133pc of GDP in Italy and 129pc in Portugal.

The hysteresis effects of mass unemployment have done lasting damage to economic dynamism, lowering the eurozone’s speed limit for a decade to come. There is no fiscal union, and no genuine banking union. Little has been done to make monetary union viable. The ECB is running low on ammunition. Populist movements are simmering everywhere. I do not wish to gloss over the risks to the UK. These are real and have been widely aired, emphatically by the Bank of England recently. My point is that the whole of Europe is sitting on a bed of nitroglycerin. It is a fair bet that EU leaders would refrain from reprisals that would make their crisis infinitely worse, but it is only a bet. No level of folly can ever be excluded in the march of human affairs.

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“These lines will converge..”

This Is Jeff Gundlach’s Favorite -& Scariest- Chart (ZH)

According to DoubleLine’s Jeff Gundlach, this is his favorite chart – backing his persepctive that equity markets have “2% upside and 20% downside) from here. In his words: “These lines will converge…” It should be pretty clear what drove the divergence, and unless (and maybe if) The Fed unleashes another round of money-printing (or worse), one can’t help but agree with Gundlach’s ominous call.


Chart: Bloomberg

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“We don’t want to play any more.” Sounds nice, but a ton of bankers, investors etc. MUST play.

“However It Takes” #Draghi (BM)

Never has an ECB meeting been so eagerly anticipated, and yet so confused. In October’s meeting, we expected nothing. Instead we got that “things have changed” about “going into further negative territory”. Sell the Euro! Buy Euribors! In December’s meeting, we expected everything. But we thought we didn’t. So we got a market that was overly short of Euros/long of Euribors and forced to exit. Buy the Euro! Sell Euribors! In January’s meeting, we didn’t want to listen. But we had to, because this time Draghi didn’t leave it to the Q&A to deliver his own thoughts. He managed to shoehorn some kind of consensus towards further easing into the actual statement: ‘we decided to keep the key ECB interest rates unchanged and we expect them to remain at present or lower levels for an extended period of time’. Sell the Euro a bit! Buy Euribors a bit more!

Now the time has come. It’s the March meeting and they can present new staff forecasts as they indicate just how much lower, and for how much longer, the stimulus can continue. Are we buying or selling everything? There was an important step between 3 and 4, however, and that was the impact of the Bank of Japan moving into negative rates, as well as the ongoing cumulative bout of fear subsuming the markets. In February, we all decided that lower interest rates might not actually be very good for the banking system. Which is a bit of a shame, given that the banks are the transmission mechanism by which those super-stimulative rates are supposed to super-stimulate the economy. This now leaves us in this position:
• October: We forgot that Draghi always over-delivers!
• December: No, we didn’t, and EUR/USD has its biggest upmove of the year
• January: No, we were wrong again, he does want to over-deliver, here he is putting in his fresh order for a kitchen sink
• March: We don’t want to play any more.

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Don’t think the ECB is done blowing bubbles.

Senior European Bankers Voice Concerns Over ECB Cut (FT)

Some of Europe’s most senior bankers have warned the European Central Bank of the dangers of negative interest rates ahead of a widely anticipated cut at the bank’s policy meeting on Thursday. The ECB is expected to cut its deposit rate by 10 basis points to minus 0.4% as it takes further action in its struggles to lift persistently low inflation and boost economic growth back to normal levels. Bank leaders are alarmed by the crippling effect on their profits of negative rates which they cannot pass on to ordinary customers, adding to concerns about the fragility of financial stability in some parts of the eurozone. But any attempt by the ECB to shield lenders from the effects of negative rates could weaken the policy and open the central bank to claims that it is engaged in a beggar-thy-neighbour devaluation.

Andreas Treichl, chief executive of Austria’s Erste Bank, told the Financial Times that another cut could encourage financial bubbles, hurt economic growth and create “social disparity” by penalising savers. José García Cantera, Santander’s chief financial officer, added that the banks that would take the biggest hit to their profits if rates were cut again were those least able to bear it. Last week, Sergio Ermotti, UBS chief executive, warned that excessively low rates were prompting banks to extend too many risky loans because they “don’t know what to do” with deposits. The industry hopes to lay out concrete evidence of the detrimental impact negative rates are already having in mid-April, when the European Banking Federation will present the results of a review into how its members are being affected.

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Nobody oversees 10 years in this climate.

Markets Betting On Near-Zero Interest Rates For Another Decade (Reuters)

World markets may have recovered their poise from a torrid start to the year, but their outlook for global growth and inflation is now so bleak they are betting on developed world interest rates remaining near zero for up to another decade. Even though the U.S. Federal Reserve has already started what it expects will be a series of interest rate rises, markets appear to have bought into a “secular stagnation” thesis floated by former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. The idea posits that the world is entering a peculiarly prolonged period in which structurally low inflation and wage growth – hampered by aging populations and slowing productivity growth – means the inflation-adjusted interest rate needed to stimulate economic demand may be far below zero.

As there’s likely a lower limit to nominal interest rates just below zero – because it’s cheaper to hold physical cash and bank profitability starts to ebb – then even these zero rates do not gain traction on demand. For all the debate about the accuracy of that view, it’s already playing out in world markets, with long-term projections from the interest rate swaps market showing developed world interest rates stuck near zero for several years. Take overnight interest rate swaps. They imply ECB policy rates won’t get back above 0.5% for around 13 years and aren’t even expected to be much above 1% for at least 60 years. Japan’s main interest rate won’t reach 0.5% for at least 30 years, they suggest, and even U.S. and UK rates are set to remain low for years. It will be six years before U.S. rates return to 1%, and a decade until UK rates reach that level.

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Poetry in motion: “In China, you can see it visibly”, she said.”

What’s In A Growth Target? For China, Hope And Simple Math (WSJ)

What’s in an economic growth target? When it comes to China, not all that much. That the government has a passion for setting targets is well-established; the nation’s top economic planning agency lists 59 in the appendix of its annual report to China’s parliament, of which it says it only undershot in four categories last year. Given that, one might assume that the policymakers of Beijing arrive at their numbers through reams of Excel sheets and several lecture-hall chalkboards worth of mathematical formula. Not so, according to Wu Xiaoling, deputy director of China’s congressional finance and economy committee. Ms. Wu is a former deputy governor of the central bank, the former head of its foreign-exchange regulator, and a respected thinker in China’s financial policy circles.

In explaining China’s current monetary policy, which is trying to strike a balance between providing enough money for growth without sparking another round of debt bingeing, Ms. Wu walked reporters through the steps the government takes to build its target for M2, the broadest measurement of money, capturing all the cash, savings and deposits flowing through an economy. M2 is an indicator that economists watch not just for its sheer size in China, but also because it s driving an accumulation of debt at twice the speed that the world’s second-largest economy is growing. M2’s growth is the result of deliberate government policy. Last year, it set a goal of 12%; the actual expansion came in at 13.3%. This year, Beijing is setting an expansion in the money supply by 13%. How did the officials arrive at these numbers? It begins, Ms. Wu says, with China s’all-important indicator: its economic growth target.

Last year, the gross domestic product expansion target was 7%. This year, as growth slows, the government has lowered the target to a range of 6.5% to 7%. That target is the minimum that would enable Beijing to accomplish a lofty government goal to double household income per capita between 2010 and 2020. The central bank then takes that GDP target and tacks on its expectations of consumer price inflation -3% both this and last year- and “then we add 2% or 3% points to take into account ‘uncertainty'”, Ms. Wu said earlier this week. The final sum becomes the government’s goal of monetary expansion for the year: 12% last year, and 13% this year, since the central bank this year chose to use the upper bound of the GDP growth range for its planning purposes. The nub of China’s M2 growth strategy isn t unique. Economists have long theorized that monetary supply can have a strong correlation with economic growth; managing M2 is therefore potentially a key way that central banks influence economic growth.

The problem, as Ms. Wu also acknowledged, is that an unbridled reliance on monetary expansion often drives debt and inflation. “In China, you can see it visibly”, she said. “Property prices have risen a lot since 2009.” The other major problem for China is that such an expansion in money supply is coinciding with a period of currency weakness fueled by worries over its economic slowdown and the ability of China s leaders to manage it that has led to an unprecedented rundown of its foreign-exchange reserves. Economists look at the correlation between broad money and foreign reserves for clues to how likely an economy is exposed to the risk of capital flight. The higher the M2-to-reserves ratio or conversely, the lower the reserves-to-M2 ratio the higher the likelihood of capital flight. In China s case, the reserves-to-M2 measurement is currently about 15%, which is about as low as Indonesia s when the Asian financial crisis struck in 1997. Indonesia saw capital flight, a plummeting currency and civil unrest.

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Until truly nobody knows what anything is worth anymore. Just nationalize everything that smells bad.

China To Allow Commercial Banks To Swap Bad Debt For Equity Stakes (Reuters)

China’s central bank is preparing regulations that would allow commercial banks to swap non-performing loans of companies for stakes in those firms, two sources with direct knowledge of the new policy told Reuters. The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the release of a new document explaining the regulatory change was imminent. On paper, the move would represent a way for indebted corporates to reduce their leverage, reducing the cost of servicing debt and making them more worthy of fresh credit. It would also reduce NPL ratios at commercial banks, reducing the cash they would need to set aside to cover losses incurred by bad loans. These funds could then be freed up for fresh lending for investment in the new wave of infrastructure products and factory upgrades the government hopes will rejuvenate the Chinese economy.

The sources said the new regulations would be promulgated with special approval from the State Council, China’s cabinet-equivalent body, thus skirting the need to revise the current commercial bank law, which prohibits banks from investing in non-financial institutions. In the past Chinese commercial banks usually dealt with NPLs by selling them off at a discount to state-designated asset management companies. The AMCs would turn around and attempt to recover the debt or resell it at a profit to distressed debt investors. The sources did not have further detail about how the banks would value the new stakes, which would represent assets on their balance sheets, or what ratio or amount of NPLs they would be able to convert using this method. Official data from the China Banking Regulatory Commission shows Chinese banks held NPLs and “special mention” troubled loans in excess of 4 trillion yuan ($614.04 billion) at the end of 2015.

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Paul Singer won’t let them.

Albany Can Solve the World’s Sovereign Debt Crisis (BBG)

In recent years, many countries – including Greece, Argentina and Ukraine – have found themselves indebted beyond their ability to pay. Argentina may now be on the brink of resolving a decade-long dispute with some of its creditors, but its predicament highlights a fundamental problem of sovereign debt. Unlike individuals and corporations, countries cannot use bankruptcy laws to restructure unsustainable debt. They are forced to try to separately renegotiate each of their debt contracts, which often fails because it requires unanimity. Although attempts have been made to try to bypass this requirement by including so-called collective action clauses in sovereign debt contracts, many contracts still lack them. Furthermore, most collective action clauses only bind a party to the particular contract that includes it.

The parties to any given sovereign debt contract, therefore, can act as holdouts in any debt restructuring plan that requires the parties to all of the country’s other debt contracts to agree to it. Recent judicial decisions interpreting New York law, which governed the relevant Argentine debt contracts, have made sovereign debt restructuring even harder; they allow “vulture funds” to extract ransom money by buying debt claims to block the ability of majority creditors to reach a settlement. These decisions broadly threaten New York’s dominance as the law that governs sovereign debt contracts. Yet New York has the unique ability not only to preserve its dominance but also to help solve the sovereign debt crisis. Because around half the world’s sovereign debt contracts are governed by New York law, the state could pass a measure to amend the voting requirements under those contracts.

For example, contracts that now require unanimity for revisions could be amended to allow changes that are approved by at least a supermajority of similarly situated creditors (even if those creditors’ claims arise under different debt contracts); such a law would overcome the major hurdle to sovereign debt restructuring. That, in turn, would give struggling nations the real prospect of equitably restructuring their debt to sustainable levels, thereby lowering sovereign borrowing costs and increasing creditor confidence by reducing uncertainty. This is a financially powerful opportunity for New York. Never before has a U.S. state had the power to influence the international community to such an extent. Being that New York City is the world’s financial center and home of the United Nations headquarters, it is fitting that circumstances have endowed the state with this power. Enactment of such a measure would also reinforce New York’s legitimacy as the governing law for future sovereign debt contracts.

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Try tell that to the right wing.

Germany Needs 470,000 Immigrants Per Year For Next 25 Years (GM)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel continues to receive both praise and criticism for her decision last year to open Germany’s doors to hundreds of thousands of the migrants arriving on Europe’s shores. ‘It goes without saying that we help and accommodate people who seek safe haven with us,’ she declared. However, while recent immigration has added enough people to offset any natural population shrinkage as a result of increasing death rates compared to birth rates, the next few decades are still likely to see the country’s increasingly elderly population go into a steady decline. Destatis, Germany’s national statistics office, estimates that the number of Germans between the ages of 20 and 66 is expected to shrink by a quarter – around 13 million people – between 2013 and 2040, while the number of people over 67 is expected to rise from 15.1 million to 21.5 million over the same time.

‘The shrinking of the population has consequences,’ explains Stephan Sievert, researcher at the Berlin Institute for Population and Development. ‘It has repercussions on the economy, on social security, and on infrastructure. A more gradual, incremental shrinking would be preferable to a rapid decline. The more time you have to adjust to the new situation, the more time you have to adapt the functioning of your society.’ Destatis confirms that immigration cannot be expected to make up this shortfall. It concludes that the country would require an estimated 470,000 immigrants ready to join the workforce every year between now and 2040 to prevent a significant demographic shift, a rate which the current unprecedented period of high immigration cannot be expected to sustain.

‘It’s not necessarily about the number of people, it’s about what they bring to the table,’ continues Sievert. ‘What kind of qualifications do they have? Can they find employment? Can they relieve some of the burden on the social security systems that increasingly more people are getting money out of than people are paying in to?’ He also raises the issue of where immigrants might settle spatially; whether they could help revive rural parts of the country where populations are dwindling. ‘It’s a different question to whether or not this would be desirable,’ he adds. ‘To have immigration on the scale that could make up for these losses, we’d be talking about more than half a million every year, and that doesn’t make the task of integration any easier.’

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The animal man truly is.

Record Number Of African Rhinos Killed In 2015 (Guardian)

A record number of rhinos were killed by poachers across Africa last year, driven by demand in the far east for their horn. The number slaughtered in their heartland in South Africa, which has four-fifths of the continent’s rhino, dipped for the first time since the crisis exploded nearly a decade ago. But increases in the number of rhino poached in Nambia and Zimbabwe offset the small signs of hope in South Africa, leading to a record 1,338 to be killed continent-wide. A total of 5,940 have been poached since 2008. Conservationists said it was possible that a clampdown by authorities in South Africa, where ministers have stepped up efforts against an illegal trade that they say threatens the tourism industry, have led to organised criminals moving their operations.

“They [poachers] operate like an amoeba so if you push in one place they expand elsewhere. What you may be seeing is a response at the regional level, where increased pressure in South Africa makes it more difficult for operatives to operate, having a response elsewhere,” said Mike Knight, chair of the respected International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s African rhino specialist group.

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The legacy of the ‘developed’ world.

Syrians Under Siege: ‘We Have No Children Any More, Only Small Adults’ (G.)

Sick children dying as lifesaving medicine waits at checkpoints, youngsters forced to survive on animal feed and leaves, and families burning their mattresses just to find something to keep them warm. Schools moving underground for shelter from barrel bombs, the crude, explosive-filled and indiscriminate crates that fall from the sky and are so inaccurate that some observers have said their use is a de facto war crime. The wounded left to die for lack of medical supplies, anaesthetics, painkillers and chronic medicine; children dying of malnutrition and even rabies due to the absence of vaccines, while landmines and snipers await anyone trying to escape. The scenes are not from second world war death camps or Soviet gulags.

They are the reality of life for more than a million Syrians living in besieged areas across the war-torn nation, according to a report by Save the Children. Tanya Steele, the charity’s chief executive, said: “Children are dying from lack of food and medicines in parts of Syria just a few kilometres from warehouses that are piled high with aid. They are paying the price for the world’s inaction.” At least a quarter of a million children are living in besieged areas across Syria, Save the Children estimates, in conditions that the charity describes as living in an open-air prison. The report is based on a series of extensive interviews and discussions with parents, children, doctors and aid workers on the ground in besieged zones.

It illustrates with startling clarity the brutality with which the conflict in Syria is being conducted, five years into a revolution-turned-civil-war that has displaced half the country and killed more than 400,000 people. The suffering of people in besieged areas in Syria is also an indictment of the failure of the international community to bring an end to the crisis. Less than 1% of them were given food assistance in 2015 and less than 3% received healthcare. Rihab, a woman living in eastern Ghouta near Damascus, which has been besieged by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, was quoted as saying: “Fear has taken control. Children now wait for their turn to be killed. Even adults live only to wait for their turn to die.”

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Nice theory, though maybe a little farfetched.

Did Michel Foucault Predict Europe’s Refugee Crisis? (Baele)

In March 1976, philosopher Michel Foucault described the advent of a new logic of government, specific to Western liberal societies. He called it biopolitics. States were becoming obsessed with the health and wellbeing of their populations. And sure enough, 40 years later, Western states are prodigiously promoting healthy food, banning tobacco, regulating alcohol, organizing breast cancer checks, and churning out information on the risk probabilities of this or that disease. Foucault never claimed this was a bad trend—it saves lives after all. But he did warn that paying so much attention to the health and wealth of one population necessitates the exclusion of those who are not entitled to—and are perceived to endanger—this health maximization program. Biopolitics is therefore the politics of live and let die.

The more a state focuses on its own population, the more it creates the conditions of possibility for others to die, “exposing people to death, increasing the risk of death for some people.” Rarely has this paradox been more apparent than in the crisis that has seen hundreds of thousands of people seeking asylum in Europe over the past few years. It is striking to watch European societies investing so much in health at home and, at the same time, erecting ever more impermeable legal and material barriers to keep refugees at bay, actively contributing to human deaths. The conflict in the Middle East is a deadly war. Most estimates suggest 300,000 have been killed in Syria alone. The conflict has shown us some of the most gruesome practices that war can produce, including the gassing of several thousands of civilians in Damascus in 2013.

Extremist groups such as the Islamic State display unimaginable levels of violence. They have beheaded people with knives or explosives, burned people locked in cages, crucified people, thrown people from the tops of buildings, or more recently exploded people locked in a car (a child supposedly detonated the bomb). This violence has been exported to Europe. Some of the biggest Syrian cities now look pretty much like Stalingrad in 1943. Inevitably, people escape—just like, for example, the Belgians who fled their country in the first years of World War I (250,000 to the UK alone, with up to 16,000 individuals arriving per day). This emigration is inevitable simply because normal life has become impossible in most parts of the country—and it will continue for almost as long as there are people living in this war-torn region. Jordan—a country just short of 10 million inhabitants—currently hosts more than a million refugees. Turkey hosts almost two million.

Faced with this disaster in its neighbourhood, what do the EU and its member states do? Exactly what Foucault predicted. Germany apart, they compete in imagination to design policies making sure refugees don’t arrive, and send ever-clearer deterrent signals. Austria has unilaterally fixed quotas on the number of asylum seekers that will be accepted at its border each day, effectively leaving bankrupt Greece to handle the burden of the influx alone. A week previously, French prime minister Manuel Valls announced that France and Europe “cannot accept more refugees.” His country originally agreed to receive 30,000 refugees over two years. To put that in perspective in terms of population size, if France was a village of 2,200 inhabitants, it would accept no more than a single person over that time.

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Makes sense, but most won’t want to. Greek government indicates it wants to start moving people out of Idomeni as per Sunday. Reports of dozens of sick children.

Refugees At Border Should Move To Camps, Says Greek Minister (AP)

Greece’s public order minister says refugees living in a squalid camp at the country’s border with Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) must accept that the border is shut and move to organized facilities. Nikos Toskas says the country can provide better conditions in other camps within 10-20 kilometers (6-12 miles) of the Idomeni crossing, where up to 14,000 people live in a waterlogged tent city. Toskas told state ERT TV Wednesday that Greece can offer “no serious support” to such a large number of people gathered in one spot. He said authorities will hand out fliers telling refugees seeking to reach central Europe that “there is no hope of you continuing north, therefore come to the camps where we can provide assistance.” More than 36,000 transient refugees and migrants are stuck in financially struggling Greece.

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42,000 refugees stuck in Greece today. One week from now, it’ll be over 60,000.

Conditions At Idomeni Refugee Camp Worsen By The Day (Kath.)

Refugees were still flowing into the Idomeni border camp in northern Greece Wednesday, despite the complete border closure by authorities in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia over the last few days, while torrential rain has made conditions even worse. “The situation is stifling as more people are arriving daily on foot,” the coordinator of the Hellenic Red Cross in northern Greece, Despina Filipidaki, told Kathimerini on Wednesday. “The biggest problem is that the bad living conditions are worsening the health problems,” she added. According to the latest estimates, more than 12,000 refugees are camped there in deplorable conditions while a further 3,050 are at Piraeus port, bringing the total number of migrants throughout Greece to 35,945.

Government sources told Kathimerini that the total cost of managing the crisis has risen to 278 million euros but that EU assistant funds are on the way. Giorgos Kyritsis, spokesman for the Coordinating Body for the Management of Migration, reiterated Wednesday that the main priority is to eventually evacuate Idomeni and “transfer people to structures affording better living conditions.” But, he said, it won’t be an easy task to convince the refugees. Nor will it be easy to overcome the reaction of locals in other areas where shelters are being erected.

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No comment anymore.

Five Iranians, Afghans Drown Trying To Reach Greece (Reuters)

Five migrants, including a baby, hoping to reach Europe via Greece drowned when their speedboat capsized off the Turkish coast, Dogan News Agency said on Thursday. The Turkish Coast Guard rescued nine people after they called for help late on Wednesday and recovered five bodies, it said. The group, comprised of Afghans and Iranians, were trying to reach the Greek island of Lesvos in the Aegean Sea. The EU has offered Turkey billions of euros in aid to curb illegal migration. Under a draft deal struck on Monday, Turkey agreed to take back all irregular migrants in exchange for more funding, faster visa liberalisation for Turks, and a speeding up of Ankara’s long-stalled EU membership talks. The aim is to discourage illegal migrants and break the grip of human smugglers who have sent them on perilous journeys across the Aegean. But migrants have continued to try to cross from Turkey’s coast in recent days.

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Sep 222015
 
 September 22, 2015  Posted by at 9:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Arthur Rothstein Accident on US 40 between Hagerstown and Cumberland, MD 1936

“We Are On The Precipice Of A Liquidation In Emerging Markets” (FT)
Currency Market Braces For Renminbi Weakness (FT)
‘Made In Germany’ Lies In The ‘Gutter’ After Volkswagen Caught Cheating (AEP)
Volkswagen Said Focus of U.S. Criminal Probe on Emissions (Bloomberg)
It Took More Than a Year of EPA Pressure to Get VW to Admit Fault (NY Times)
VW’s Worst Nightmare Is For The Scandal To Spread To Europe (Bloomberg)
VW Emissions Scandal Could Snare Other Firms, Whistleblower Claims (Guardian)
VW Faces More Legal Fallout From Cheating – This Time at Home (Bloomberg)
Volkswagen: The Curse Of The World’s Biggest Carmaker (Forbes)
Alexis Tsipras Has Been Set Up To Fail (Yanis Varoufakis)
Greece’s New Government ‘Doomed To Fail’ Over Flawed Bail-Out (Telegraph)
Greece’s Tsipras To Demand EU Action On Refugees (Reuters)
Eastern European Leaders Defy EU Effort To Set Refugee Quotas (Guardian)
EU Set To Water Down Refugee Relocation Plan (AFP)
Putin’s Plan: Moscow Handles Syria, US Looks After Iraq (AlArabiya)
Are Financial Markets Losing Faith In The Fed? (CNBC)
Fed Cred Dead (Jim Kunstler)
Catalans Threaten Not To Pay Public Debt If Spain Refuses Secession Deal (SP)
Joris Luyendijk: ‘Bankers Are The Best Paid Victims’ (Standard)
Sumatran Rhinos Likely To Become Extinct (Guardian)

“The wrong people got the capital..”

“We Are On The Precipice Of A Liquidation In Emerging Markets” (FT)

The world economy is locked on a course towards an emerging markets crisis and a renewed slowdown in the US, regardless of the Federal Reserve holding off on a rise in rates last week, according to one of 2015’s most successful hedge fund managers. John Burbank, whose Passport Capital has placed a raft of lucrative bets against commodities and emerging markets this year, forecast that the Fed would eventually be forced into a fourth round of quantitative easing to shore up the economy. In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Burbank said years of QE had caused a misallocation of capital across the world, while the end of QE last year triggered a dollar rally with consequences that were only now beginning to be realised.

“The wrong people got the capital — emerging markets countries and corporates and a lot of cyclical companies like mining and energy, particularly shale companies — and this is now a major problem for the credit markets,” he said. Passport, based in San Francisco, manages $4.1bn in three main funds. Its $2.1bn Passport Global fund was up 14.6% at the end of August and a smaller, more concentrated “special opportunities” fund was up 30.6%. Both funds are in the top 15 best performers, year to date, according to the industry league table compiled by HSBC. Among Passport’s publicly-declared short positions is Glencore, the commodities trader that has suffered a 55% tumble in its share price this year.

The Fed last week decided against raising US interest rates from their present level of zero. Although one dissident member of its Federal Open Market Committee did vote for a quarter of a point increase, the committee took a cautious stance, warning of “global economic and financial developments” that could restrain US growth.

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“I don’t think [China] had any idea just how many people there are out there who think their economy is collapsing..”

Currency Market Braces For Renminbi Weakness (FT)

It is hard to say who was more surprised by China’s devaluation of the renminbi last month — international markets, with no inkling whatsoever it was coming, or Chinese officials, stunned by the resulting reaction overseas. This week, President Xi Jinping’s visit to Washington will at least allow officials from both sides to have it out. The common view outside of the mainland is that China bungled it, rocking asset prices from government bonds to iron ore as well as the currency world with its unexpected promise of a “market-based” regime — a pledge its subsequent heavy intervention implies is dead at least for now. The biggest casualty came last week, however, with the Federal Reserve’s decision to hold, not raise, overnight interest rates following the market turmoil triggered by China’s move to shift exchange rate policy and push the renminbi lower.

For Fed chair Janet Yellen, the move by the People’s Bank of China clearly rankled as she highlighted global concerns, pointedly questioning “the deftness with which [Chinese] policymakers were addressing those concerns”. Hence, what China does next with its currency is critical — to the dollar’s path, market sentiment, the Fed’s rate deliberations and the US economy. Stuart Oakley, managing director, global EM, Nomura, says the renminbi would remain stable for the duration of the state visit. “After that, the chance of another leg of weakness for the [renminbi] rises considerably,” he said. “The PBoC will undoubtedly be very mindful of how its own policy decisions on the [renminbi] will affect the dollar on the broader level. I think they will have no issue with seeing the dollar stronger still from here.”

To China bears, the PBoC’s dramatic 1.9% devaluation of August 11 looked like a desperate attempt to bolster flagging exports by starting a currency war under the figleaf of introducing the sort of market-friendly reform designed to impress the IMF. Another interpretation is that Beijing really was focused on the IMF and winning acceptance for the renminbi as a reserve currency, and misjudged the likely reaction. “I don’t think [China] had any idea just how many people there are out there who think their economy is collapsing,” said Chris Wood at CLSA, the pan-Asia brokerage. He thinks further big moves this year are unlikely as officials continue to focus on moving from an investment-led to a consumer-driven economy. “A big devaluation would be an admission their economic shift had failed,” he added.

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“The US press is already calling VW the “Lance Armstrong” of the car market..”

‘Made In Germany’ Lies In The ‘Gutter’ After Volkswagen Caught Cheating (AEP)

Volkswagen has suffered a shocking loss of credibility after conspiring to violate US pollution laws and dupe customers on a systemic scale. The scandal has once again exposed a culture of corrupt practices at the top of German export industry. “We are facing a blatant abuse of consumer trust and a degradation of the environment,” said Jochen Flasbarth, the German state secretary in charge of pollution enforcement. The scandal is intrinsically worse than the explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. While BP and its contractors may have been negligent, VW appears to have engaged in a cynical plan to trick regulators in a wholesale breach of the US Clean Air Act.

“It is profoundly serious. The accusation is that VW deliberately set out to mislead regulators with a cleverly hidden piece of software,” said Max Warburton from AllianceBernstein. It is of an entirely different character from earlier breaches of US law by Hyundai and Ford, which stemmed mostly from errors. The US Justice Department is weighing serious criminal charges. “‘Made in Germany’ in the gutter,” said German newspaper Bundesdeutsche Zeitung. The financial daily Handelsblatt called the deception a “catastrophe for the whole of German industry”, warning that it had completely undermined a joint campaign by Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Bosch and VW to convince Americans that diesel is no longer dirty and is the best way to meet tougher US emission standards.

Germany is the world leader in clean diesel. Its car companies have bet heavily on the technology, hoping to win the strategic prize in the US as new rules come into force imposing fuel efficiency of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. “We are worried that the justifiably excellent reputation of the German car industry and in particular that of Volkswagen will suffer,” said Sigmar Gabriel, the country’s vice-chancellor and economy minister. Volkswagen’s own vow to become the “greenest” car producer in the world by 2018 has been exposed as a hollow publicity stunt. Theoretically, the company could face fines of $18bn in the US, based on a standard penalty of $37,500 for each of the 482,000 cars fitted with “defeat devices”, which allowed them to mask exhaust emissions of nitrogen oxide (NOx) in pollution control tests.

The actual release of these toxic particles – blamed for emphysema and respiratory diseases – is in reality 40 times above the acceptable levels imposed by the US Environmental Protection Agency. The cars will be recalled and modified, greatly reducing their fuel efficiency. The US press is already calling VW the “Lance Armstrong” of the car market, an apt allusion to drug cheating in sport, and a deadly epithet in an industry where brand image and goodwill are the lifeblood of sales. VW’s share price crashed 19pc in Frankfurt. The company’s strategic ambition to dominate clean diesel sales in the US lies in ruins. “There is no way to put an optimistic spin on this. The best case for VW is probably still a multi-billion dollar fine, pariah status in the US, and damage to its leading position in diesel,” said Mr Warburton.

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Don’t hold your breath.

Volkswagen Said Focus of U.S. Criminal Probe on Emissions (Bloomberg)

The U.S. Justice Department is investigating Volkswagen over its admission that it cheated on federal air pollution tests, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the inquiry. That adds the specter of criminal proceedings to challenges the world’s biggest automaker already faces from regulators, lawmakers and vehicle owners in the three days since it admitted that it had rigged diesel vehicles to pass emissions tests in the lab. The vehicles emitted as much as 40 times the legal limit of pollutants when they were on the road, the Environmental Protection Agency alleges.

The criminal probe, which the officials described on condition of anonymity because it is continuing, will provide an early test of the Justice Department’s newly stated commitment to holding individuals to account for corporate wrongdoing. Earlier this month, the department said companies that want credit for cooperating with investigators must name individuals they allege are responsible for misconduct. The probe is being led by the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, which prosecutes violations of pollution-control laws, according to the officials.

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Good account.

It Took More Than a Year of EPA Pressure to Get VW to Admit Fault (NY Times)

Two years ago, the International Council on Clean Transportation, a nonprofit environmental group staffed by a number of former E.P.A. officials, had been testing the real-world performance of so-called clean diesel cars in Europe, and were less than impressed with the emissions results. The group decided it would test diesel-powered cars in the United States, where regulations were much more strict, as a way of almost shaming the European automakers to tighten their compliance. The group fully expected the American cars to do well, and run cleaner than their counterparts across the pond. What they could not have foreseen was that they would stumble onto one of the biggest frauds in recent automotive history.

Further, on the campus of West Virginia University, a group of emissions researchers who mainly dealt with heavy trucks noticed an unusual posting by the transportation council, which was looking for a partner to test diesel-powered cars. “No one had done that before in the U.S.,” said Arvind Thiruvengadam, a professor at the university. “It sounded very interesting, to test light-duty diesel vehicles in real-world conditions. We looked around at each other said, ‘Let’s do it.’ ” The university’s team bid on the project and got the contract. Mr. Thiruvengadam and his colleagues never envisioned where it would lead. “We certainly didn’t have an aim of catching a manufacturer cheating,” he said. “It didn’t even cross our minds.” The study also did not target Volkswagen specifically.

It was something of a fluke, he said, that two out of three diesel vehicles bought for the testing were VWs. It did not take long for suspicions to set in. The West Virginia researchers were well-versed in diesel performance on real roads, and had certain expectations for how the test cars should ebb and flow in their emissions. But the two Volkswagens behaved strangely. “If you’re idling in traffic for three hours in L.A. traffic, we know a car is not in its sweet spot for good emissions results,” Mr. Thiruvengadam said. “But when you’re going at highway speed at 70 miles an hour, everything should really work properly. The emissions should come down. But the Volkswagens didn’t come down.”

Even then, however, it is difficult for most researchers to be sure exactly what is going on. There are so many factors involved in real-world driving — speed, temperature, topography, braking habits. It is not unheard-of for cars to perform much differently in on-the-road tests than one expected. But this time there was a key difference: the California Air Resources Board heard about the groups’ tests and signed on to participate. The regulators tested the same vehicles in their specially equipped lab used to judge cars’ compliance with state emissions standards. That gave the project what most studies lacked: a baseline. “That broke loose everything,” Mr. Thiruvengadam said.

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But in Europe, Merkel reigns. And she won’t want one of Germany’s largest corporations to go down.

VW’s Worst Nightmare Is For The Scandal To Spread To Europe (Bloomberg)

Just days after General Motors settled with federal prosecutors for its deadly negligence over faulty ignition switches, Volkswagen has admitted that it cheated for years on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency emissions tests. Having built its brand in the U.S. around diesel technology, VW faces severe damage to its reputation here, along with billions in EPA fines and now a federal criminal investigation. Worse for consumers, there’s no guarantee that the fallout of this scandal will be limited to VW alone. Clearly, shareholders are spooked: No amount of damage to VW’s relatively weak U.S. market position could justify the huge declines in VW’s stock price (near 23% on the day, for a market-value hit of $17.6 billion).

The fear, almost certainly, is that this scandal could end up affecting VW’s European market dominance, which is also highly dependent on diesel sales. Having to bring its entire EU fleet into compliance could cost orders of magnitude more than U.S. market repairs, as well as the firm’s widely-respected chief executive officer, Martin Winterkorn, his job. In the U.S., nearly a half-million vehicles equipped with VW’s 2.0 liter TDI engine have been deemed out of compliance with EPA regulations after the International Council on Clean Transportation, a nonprofit watchdog group, discovered they emitted far more nitrogen oxide in normal driving than in testing environments. Faced with an EPA threat to decertify new diesel models, VW admitted that it had installed a “defeat device” to give artificially low emissions results in Audi A3, VW Jetta, Beetle, Golf and Passat models.

The EPA is raining righteous fury down on Volkswagen, but its record of clamping down on automakers’ malfeasance shows it’s on thin ice here. A 2012 scandal in which Hyundai and Kia goosed the numbers on fuel-efficiency tests provided ample evidence that the agency’s protocol – which allows automakers “broad latitude” to test their own vehicles and involves spot-checks on just 10% to 15% of all models – is an invitation to corner-cutting and outright cheating. Until emissions tests are improved, or a consistent complimentary “real world” testing regime is put into place, regulators will lack the leverage to pressure automakers into admitting who is cheating and who is merely gaming the rules. Nor will the agency know if the common discrepancies between test and real-world results reflect shortcomings in the test procedure itself.

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Seems inevitable. But political pressure will be severe.

VW Emissions Scandal Could Snare Other Firms, Whistleblower Claims (Guardian)

The emissions-fixing scandal that has engulfed Volkswagen in the US could extend to other companies and countries, one of the officials involved in uncovering the alleged behaviour has told the Guardian. Billions of pounds have been wiped off the value of global carmakers amid growing concerns that emissions tests may have been rigged across the industry. “We need to ask the question, is this happening in other countries and is this happening at other manufacturers? Some part of our reaction is not even understanding what has happened exactly,” said John German, one of the two co-leads on the US team of the International Council for Clean Transportation (ICCT), the European-based NGO that raised the alarm.

Shares in Volkswagen fell by almost a fifth after the world’s second biggest carmaker issued a public apology in response to US allegations that it used a defeat device to falsify emissions data. South Korea said on Tuesday it would investigate emissions of VW Jetta and Gold models and Audi A3 cars produced in 2014 and 2015. If problems are found, South Korea’s environment ministry said its probe could be expanded to all German diesel imports, which have surged in popularity in recent years in a market long dominated by local producers led by Hyundai. US Congress confirmed it is investigating the scandal on Monday. House energy and commerce committee chairman Fred Upton and oversight and investigations subcommittee chairman Tim Murphy announced that the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee will hold a hearing.

The US Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation of Volkswagen admission, according to Bloomberg, which cited two officials familiar with the inquiry. The company could face a fine of up to $18bn, criminal charges for its executives, and legal action from customers and shareholders. The US law firm Hagens Berman has already launched a class-action law suit on behalf of customers who bought the affected cars. VW shares fell by 19% in Frankfurt, wiping almost €15bn off its value. Shares in Renault, Volkswagen’s French rival, also dropped by 4%, while Peugeot was down 2.5%, Nissan 2.5% and BMW 1.5% amid concerns they could be caught up in investigations.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said on Friday that VW had installed illegal software to cheat emission tests, allowing its diesel cars to produce up to 40 times more pollution than allowed. The US government ordered VW to recall 482,000 VW and Audi cars produced since 2009. In response, Martin Winterkorn, chief executive of VW, said on Sunday he was “deeply sorry” for breaking the trust of the public and ordered an external investigation. German tipped off regulators at the California Air Resources Board (Carb) and the EPA after conducting tests that showed major discrepancies in the amount of toxic emissions some VW cars were pumping out compared with the legal limits. Max Warburton, an analyst at the financial research group Bernstein, said: “There is no way to put an optimistic spin on this – this is really serious.”

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The biggest challenge may come from investors, car owners and environmental groups.

VW Faces More Legal Fallout From Cheating – This Time at Home (Bloomberg)

Volkswagen’s legal problems started in the U.S., but the world’s biggest carmaker is finding the fallout over its cheating on U.S. environmental tests and declining share price is extending to its home market. The German company’s shares lost nearly a quarter of their value Monday in Frankfurt, and financial regulator Bafin is looking at possible violations of German rules. VW also faces legal threats from investors and environmental groups. “Like in comparable cases, with strong share movements we look at the VW stock as to insider trading, market manipulation, and ad-hoc disclosure rules,” Bafin spokeswoman Anja Schuchhardt said in an e-mail. “But this is a matter of routine.”

The Wolfsburg, Germany-based company admitted to fitting its U.S. diesel vehicles with software that turns on full pollution controls only when the car is undergoing official emissions testing, the Environmental Protection Agency said Friday. With 482,000 autos part of the case, the U.S. fine could total more than $18 billion. During normal driving, the cars with the software – known as a “defeat device” – would pollute 10 times to 40 times the legal limits, the EPA estimated. The discrepancy emerged after the International Council on Clean Transportation commissioned real-world emissions tests of diesel vehicles including a Jetta and Passat, then compared them to lab results. VW halted sales of the models involved on Sunday and said it’s cooperating with the probe and ordered its own external investigation.

Chief Executive Officer Martin Winterkorn, who has led the company since 2007, said he was “deeply sorry” for breaking the public’s trust and that VW would do “everything necessary in order to reverse the damage this has caused.” Andreas Tilp, a lawyer representing investors in German court, says VW may have to pay damages to stockholders in Germany if the allegations of U.S. authorities are upheld. Investors may seek to recover losses incurred because of the stock’s decline. “We’re convinced that VW failed to properly inform the markets and is liable to investors who can seek billions,” Tilp said. “Concealing for years the immense risks of the pollution manipulation and the U.S. probes is a violation of capital market rules.”

Environmental group Deutsche Umwelthilfe said it will sue carmakers to have diesel vehicles removed from the streets starting 2016. It will also take legal action to have Germany’s Federal Motor Transport Authority revoke licenses for the vehicles. While rules on emissions are similar in the U.S. and Germany, the Federal Motor Transport Authority isn’t properly controlling its implementation, Juergen Resch, DUH’s director, said in an e-mailed statement. The German agency isn’t controlling pollution, and should use recalls in case of violations of environmental rules, Resch said.

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It’s lonely at the top.

Volkswagen: The Curse Of The World’s Biggest Carmaker (Forbes)

GM ruled as the No. 1 seller for decades before the problems that led to its 2009 bankruptcy and federal bailout. But those issues caused GM to lose the title in 2008 to Toyota, which spent that decade on a deliberate expansion plan. Once it got to the top, however, Toyota found itself awash in an existential safety crisis that its chief executive, Akio Toyoda, blamed in part on Toyota’s quest to build a global manufacturing empire. Now comes VW, which has been on its own worldwide march over the past five years. It was not aiming to achieve dominance of the car market before 2018, only to find itself taking the top spot this past year, due to its manufacturing growth, especially in China.

Veteran auto industry executives know not to gloat when a car company runs into difficulty. They understand that any carmaker can have “its turn in the barrel,” as the saying goes. The industry has seen what happens when a Japanese company gets in trouble with American regulators, and what transpires when an American company encounters its own scandal. Now, as with Volkswagen’s reign at the top of the industry, the automobile world will see how it handles its emissions case. The one saving grace for VW is that unlike GM or Toyota, the emissions situation did not result in fiery crashes or devastation for the families of accident victims.

It’s primarily a technology issue, on a specific type of vehicle, and in far smaller numbers than affected GM and Toyota. So, it’s possible that recalls can be handled faster, and VW can get the issue behind it more quickly. Nonetheless, it will likely be a huge challengefor Winterkorn,who could face skepticism that he should continue to lead VW, according to at least one analyst. At a time when his company otherwise could have reveled in its industry dominance, VW should expect scrutiny from Congress, legal problems, a potential multibillion-dollar fine and a batch of uncomfortable headlines. GM and Toyota know what that’s like.

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Greece as a country has been set up. As I wrote on July 19: Was Greece Set Up To Fail?

Alexis Tsipras Has Been Set Up To Fail (Yanis Varoufakis)

Alexis Tsipras has snatched resounding victory from the jaws of July’s humiliating surrender to the troika of Greece’s lenders. Defying opposition parties, opinion pollsters and critics within his ranks (including this writer), he held on to government with a reduced, albeit workable, majority. The question is whether he can combine remaining in office with being in power. The greatest losers were smaller parties occupying the extremes of the debate following the referendum. Popular Unity failed stunningly to exploit the grief felt by a majority of “No” voters following Tsipras’s U-turn in favour of a deal that curtailed national sovereignty further and boosted already vicious levels of austerity. Potami, a party positioning itself as the troika’s reformist darling, also failed to rally the smaller “Yes” vote.

With the all-conquering Tsipras now firmly on board with the troika’s programme, new-fangled, pro-troika parties had nothing to offer. The greatest winner is the troika itself. During the past five years, troika-authored bills made it through parliament on ultra-slim majorities, giving their authors sleepless nights. Now, the bills necessary to prop up the third bailout will pass with comfortable majorities, as Syriza is committed to them. Almost every opposition MP (with the exception of the communists of KKE and the Nazis of Golden Dawn) is also on board. Of course, to get to this point Greek democracy has had to be deeply wounded (1.6 million Greeks who voted in the July referendum did not bother to turn up at the polling stations on Sunday) – no great loss to bureaucrats in Brussels, Frankfurt and Washington DC for whom democracy appears, in any case, to be a nuisance.

Tsipras must now implement a fiscal consolidation and reform programme that was designed to fail. Illiquid small businesses, with no access to capital markets, have to now pre-pay next year’s tax on their projected 2016 profits. Households will need to fork out outrageous property taxes on non-performing apartments and shops, which they can’t even sell. VAT rate hikes will boost VAT evasion. Week in week out, the troika will be demanding more recessionary, antisocial policies: pension cuts, lower child benefits, more foreclosures.

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“Greece would return to economic growth if it complied with economic reforms, the European Commission said…” Only in fairy tales can economies grow in which people are forced to reduce spending.

Greece’s New Government ‘Doomed To Fail’ Over Flawed Bail-Out (Telegraph)

Investors cheered the return of Alexis Tsipras as Greece’s new prime minister despite concerns that the new government was doomed to fail in its bid to keep the country in the eurozone. Greece’s 10-year bond yields, a key indicator of default risk, dropped to a yearly low of 8.09pc, as markets bet that political continuity would ease the implementation of the country’s draconian third bail-out programme. Economists, however, warned that the left-wing Syriza party – who lost only four seats in Sunday’s general election – would struggle to jump through the hoops of an €86bn bail-out programme. Athens faces a punishing schedule over the next few months, where it will be required to pass 60 “prior action” laws through parliament by the end of the year. These include hiking taxes on food, hotels and baked goods.

Bail-out monitors will carry out their first review of the government’s progress in October. The reforms are unlikely to be blocked in the majority pro-euro parliament, but Mr Tsipras, who was sworn into office on Monday, still faces a sizeable majority of disgruntled MPs in his own party Failure to make satisfactory progress is set to hinder the prime minister’s battle for much-needed debt relief for the ravaged economy. “Mr Tsipras is unlikely to lie down and accept every new measure forced upon Greece by its creditors and the eurozone’s ‘institutions’,” said Jonathan Loynes, at Capital Economics. “The days of extended negotiations at late-night Brussels summits are not necessarily over,” he added. Despite being plunged into recession, Greece would return to economic growth if it complied with economic reforms, the European Commission said.

GDP is set to contract by more than 2pc this year.] “The underlying growth potential is still there,” said EU vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis. “If the reforms agreed in the new ESM programme are properly implemented, Greece can grow again quite quickly.” But cracks were already beginning to emerge between the new government and Brussels. European parliament president Martin Schulz welcomed Mr Tsipras’s reappointment but questioned the premier’s “bizarre” decision to continue his coalition with the anti-bail-out Independent Greeks (Anel). “I called [Tsipras] a second time to ask him why he was continuing a coalition with this strange, far-right party,” Mr Schulz told French radio on Monday. “He pretty much didn’t answer. He is very clever, especially by telephone. He told me things that seemed convincing, but which ultimately in my eyes are a little bizarre.”

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He’s had 10 months to do that. Why would it work now?

Greece’s Tsipras To Demand EU Action On Refugees (Reuters)

As an icon for many on Europe’s left, Greece’s newly elected prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, can be expected to rattle the cages of the continent’s elite whenever he can. After Sunday’s solid re-election, he may start with the migrant crisis, which he believes is emblematic of the European Union’s failure to stick with its founding principles of unity. “When the Mediterranean turns into a watery grave, and the Aegean Sea is washing dead children up on its shores, the very concept of a united Europe is in crisis, as is European culture,” he told a campaign rally last week. European unity, Tsipras reckons, was also sorely lacking when the EU began imposing harsh austerity on his country when it needed to be bailed out over debt.

But not unlike in the debt crisis, Tsipras must balance his outrage at what he sees as the European Union’s failure to respond to the migrants with a need for its help in meeting the cost to frontline Greece. And as over debt, the criticism goes both ways. Most of the refugees who make their way to Europe arrive via Greece, which transports them from its islands to the mainland, from where they trek north via the Balkans. Croatia said on Monday it would demand Greece stop moving the migrants on. Athens received €33 million in EU aid earlier this month to help cope with the migrants. But Nicos Christodoulakis, caretaker economy minister during the election campaign, said a lack of preparation meant Greece was missing out on up to €400 million in EU aid for the crisis.

Tsipras’ first international meeting after re-election will be a Wednesday discussion in Brussels with his EU counterparts about the hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants pouring into Europe, many via Greek islands that border Turkey. Officials from his leftist Syriza party say he will ally again with other EU countries bordering the Mediterranean such as Italy and demand that the bloc shares the burden of dealing with hundreds of thousands of refugees. “Member states (must) take and share the responsibility, that’s where the rupture is,” a senior Syriza official said.

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Will this be the straw that breaks the Union’s back?

Eastern European Leaders Defy EU Effort To Set Refugee Quotas (Guardian)

Central and eastern European leaders have defied attempts by Brussels and Berlin to impose refugee quotas ahead of two days of high-stakes summits in Brussels to try to decide on what already looks like a vain attempt to limit the flow of refugees and migrants into Europe. After months of being consistently behind the curve in grappling with the EU’s huge migration crisis, interior ministers will meet on Tuesday to focus on the highly divisive issue of mandatory quotas to share refugees across the union. There will then be an emergency summit of leaders on Wednesday. Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s foreign minister, who is chairing Tuesday’s meeting, failed to reach a breakthrough in Prague on Monday with his counterparts from the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Latvia.

The Czech government wrote to Brussels arguing that compulsory quotas were illegal and that it could take the issue to the European court of justice in Luxembourg, while the anti-immigration Hungarian government brought in new laws authorising the army to use non-lethal force against refugees massing on its borders. “There are still a few problems to solve,” said Asselborn. “We still have 20 hours.” “The terrain is still very uncertain,” said a senior source from Luxembourg. “We don’t yet have agreement. It’s going to be very, very difficult.” This week’s fresh attempt to agree on a quota system comes amid the deepest divisions between western and eastern Europe since the former Soviet-bloc countries joined the EU a decade ago.

At issue is the paltry figure of 66,000 refugees being shared across the EU after being moved from Italy and Greece. They have already agreed to share 40,000 and were to redistribute a further 120,000. But 54,000 of those were from Hungary, which passed a law on Monday allowing the army to use non-lethal force on migrants and whose hardline government wants no part of the scheme. Given that up to a million people are expected to enter Germany alone this year and that Frontex, the EU’s border agency, says 500,000 are currently preparing to leave Turkey for the EU, the figures being fought over in Brussels are risible.

But the numbers are not the real issue. The row is about power and sovereignty. In the end it seems that all countries will join in sharing refugees, with the exception of Britain, which has opted out of the scheme. The other two countries with opt-outs – Ireland and Denmark – have agreed to take part, leaving the UK isolated.

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Oh, wait, there’s always backpaddling…

EU Set To Water Down Refugee Relocation Plan (AFP)

EU ministers are considering a watered down plan to relocate 120,000 refugees throughout the bloc, which drops binding quotas and leaves Hungary out of the scheme, sources said Monday. The softer stance emerged on the eve of a new emergency meeting in Brussels of the 28 EU interior ministers, who last week failed to agree on a European Commission plan for compulsory quotas for refugees fleeing war in Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere. “Whether voluntary or mandatory, that is an artificial debate,” a source from Luxembourg, which holds the rotating EU presidency, told reporters, despite Commission officials insisting that they still want compulsory quotas. Another Luxembourg source said the word “mandatory” will not appear in the draft document that will go before the ministers when they meet Tuesday afternoon to discuss how many refugees each country will take.

Hopes of a unanimous deal last week collapsed in the face of opposition from Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania, officials said. With populist parties exploiting anti-immigrant sentiment, many eastern countries argued that a Europe-wide relocation plan made little sense for refugees who preferred to settle in wealthier northern European nations. The original plan envisaged quotas for the relocation to other EU states of 54,000 asylum seekers from Hungary, 50,400 from Greece and 15,600 from Italy. But Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has insisted that by being included in the plan, his country would be erroneously confirmed as a frontline state for refugee arrivals. He insists that many of the migrants are coming from Greece and should have been registered there first and kept there under EU rules.

“It is established that Hungary will not appear in the draft as a beneficiary country,” a Luxembourg source told AFP. “However, it will have to join the solidarity” by hosting refugees from Greece and Italy, the source added. The figure of 120,000 to be relocated will remain in the draft, but it is not immediately clear which countries will now benefit from the relocation of the 54,000 asylum seekers that were originally earmarked in Hungary, sources said. One proposal is for Italy and Greece to benefit, while a second is for other countries along the Western Balkans route, such as Croatia and Slovenia, to be given relief. Despite failing to reach a deal on the larger figure, the EU ministers last week formally approved a plan first aired in May to relocate 40,000 refugees from Greece and Italy.

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Obama’s new headache.

Putin’s Plan: Moscow Handles Syria, US Looks After Iraq (AlArabiya)

At the end of this month, New York will be see several initiatives, talks, understandings, and deals come together under two main themes: terrorism and immigration. Both issues in the minds of world leaders are closely linked to Syria and other crises in the Arab world. U.S. President Barack Obama called for a world summit on terrorism, with ISIS first and foremost in his mind. And Russian President Vladimir Putin tasked his foreign minister Sergei Lavrov to chair a ministerial session of the U.N. Security Council titled “Maintenance of International Peace and Security: Settlement of Conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa and Countering the Terrorist Threat in the Region.” The common denominator between the U.S. and Russian priorities today is reducing the Syrian issue to a terrorism issue.

President Putin has effectively declared to the world that Russia intends to fight a war directly against ISIS and similar groups in Syria, while keeping the Syrian regime as a key ally in this war. Russia wants the United States to be a military partner – including of the Syrian regime – in this bid. Putin wants to meet with Obama on the sidelines of the 70th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations. Obama is now considering whether the meeting will serve one of the key goals behind the Russian leader’s movements in Syria, namely, diverting attention away from Ukraine. The U.S. president is also considering whether he really wants to be drawn into the Syrian crisis, which he has avoided for years. He might therefore bless Russia’s involvement in the Syrian war against ISIS, as long as Putin does not ask the US to officially bless the alliance with the Assad regime.

It is worth quickly examining what Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s shrewd envoy to the U.N., told the U.S. network CBS about the Russian strategy. He said: “I think this is one thing we share now with the United States, with the U.S. government: They don’t want the Assad government to fall. They don’t want it to fall. They want to fight (ISIS) in a way which is not going to harm the Syrian government.” He added: “On the other hand, they don’t want the Syrian government to take advantage of their campaign against [ISIS]. But they don’t want to harm the Syrian government by their action. This is very complex.” It is not clear whether what Churkin is saying is based on assumptions or whether it is a fact that the U.S. government does not acknowledge publicly. If this is just a Russian interpretation of U.S. policy, then it is part of its strategy to sell its pitch because it assumes that Washington will not demur.

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Long lost.

Are Financial Markets Losing Faith In The Fed? (CNBC)

When the U.S. Federal Reserve kept rates on hold on Thursday, the central bank explained it made the decision because of the unstable global outlook. However, some investors have criticized the move, warning that the world could soon lose faith in the Fed. “They (Fed) should not base a rate decision on market volatility, because if you do that, then nobody is going to predict what you’re going to do,” David Kelly, chief global strategist at JPMorgan Funds, told CNBC Monday. “Not only does this now put into doubt when the first rate hike will be, but it means when they begin to raise rates, we don’t know if something could happen in overseas markets and suddenly they stop raising rates.”

In last Thursday’s statement, the central bank pointed to concerns over “global economic and financial developments” as reasons to delay a rate hike, but now investors worry whether this is the right decision and whether this would greatly influence the U.S. economy. St. Louis Fed president, James Bullard, echoed this Monday, telling CNBC it is “inappropriate” for the U.S. central bank to react to financial market turmoil, and focus more on growth and labor markets. Bullard added that to avoid a “1994 scenario”, the Fed should “go early, go gradually”, giving them flexibility to react to future problems that occur. If the U.S. central bank publicizes its concerns over financial markets, markets will in turn become more uncertain over when the Fed will hike, Kelly added.

“Markets hate uncertainty and what the Federal Reserve managed to do is add a huge serving of uncertainty to markets,” Kelly argues, adding that before the Fed had a clear criteria as to what should trigger a first hike and how to maintain, but now talk about China, volatility and commodities adds a whole host of uncertainty for markets. By keeping rates so low, the Federal Reserve is actually helping subdue the U.S. economy, Kelly adds, saying that instead of speeding up economic growth, the central bank is afraid over fears that the economy could be too weak. “If they are going to get derailed by any move in market volatility, then it just makes it more and more cloudy. That is not good for financial markets.”

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“The Federal Reserve itself is the victim du jour of its own grandiose fatuous fecklessness, in particular the idea that it could play a national economy like a three-button flugelhorn.”

Fed Cred Dead (Jim Kunstler)

Last week was the watershed for central banking and for the illusion that the current disposition of things has a future. The Federal Reserve blinked on its long-touted Fed funds interest rate hike and chairperson Janet Yellen was left standing naked in the hot glare of her own carbonizing credibility, a pitiful larval creature, still maundering about “the data,” and “the median growth projection,” and other previously-owned figments spun out of the great PhD wonk machine in the Eccles Building. The Federal Reserve itself is the victim du jour of its own grandiose fatuous fecklessness, in particular the idea that it could play a national economy like a three-button flugelhorn.

What seemed like a good idea at the time when Alan Greenspan and then Ben Bernanke stepped into the pilot house now just looks like the fraud of frauds: enabling corporations to borrow ever more money from the future to pretend that their balance sheets are sound. That scam has nowhere left to go, except into the black hole that has been waiting for it. All the Fed really has left is to destroy the value of the dollar (to save it! Just like Vietnam!). This ought to be an interesting week in the financial markets as the players have had a long, anxious weekend to absorb the death of Fed cred. And October, too. Expect dramatic re-pricing. Sometime a few months down the line, financial markets will present a “relief rally.” Don’t get suckered on that one.

Meanwhile, what remains on the other head of this two-headed economy besides driving to-and-from the Walmart? Pornography? The tattoo industry? Meth and narcotics? Prostitution? Professional sports on the flat screen? Kim and Kanye? Grand theft auto? Do you really think Donald Trump can fix this?

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This may be quite the event this weekend. More Merkel headaches.

Catalans Threaten Not To Pay Public Debt If Spain Refuses Secession Deal (SP)

The First Minister of Catalonia, Artur Mas, decried the comments made by the Governor of the Bank of Spain, Luis María Linde, earlier in the day as “immoral, irresponsible and indecent” and warned an independent Catalonia might not pay its share of the public debt if Spain refused to do a deal. Mr. Mas, echoing what other Junts Pel Sí candidates had said over the weekend, said the central government was promoting a pre-electoral climate of fear to pressure Catalans before the vote on Sunday: “It won’t work, we won’t swallow it”. “The stakes are high for Spain”, he said, according to a report in El País: “Imagine there is no agreement on Spanish public debt. How would the state face its debt if there is no agreement for Catalonia to assume its part?”

On Monday morning, the governor of the Bank of Spain, Luis María Linde, had said during a breakfast meeting in Madrid that capital controls in a newly independent Catalonia were a possibility, although he said his remarks were made in reference to a “highly unlikely future scenario”, according to a report in Europa Press. He also confirmed what others had said before him—including Angela Merkel, David Cameron and European Commission chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas—about a newly independent Catalonia immediately being left out of the European Union. “There are people who have power and don’t want to lose out”, said Mr. Mas in reference to Mr. Linde: “Today we have another example, the governor of the Bank of Spain. People at the service of the state who don’t want to lose power”.

“It is irresponsible and indecent”, said the First Minister: “to threaten things that no democratic country would dare to insinuate”. On Friday evening, after the close of business, Spain’s leading banks issued a statement via the Spanish Banking Association (AEB) warning of the risks of secession to financial security and the banks’ own continued presence in Catalonia should an attempt at secession be made. The governor of the Bank of Spain said on Monday that the banks’ statement “said very obvious things” and that the secession of Catalonia would create “insecurity, uncertainty and tension”.

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” If interest rates return to a historical average of 6%, [London] is finished. It will just go boom.”

Joris Luyendijk: ‘Bankers Are The Best Paid Victims’ (Standard)

When Joris Luyendijk was interviewing bankers, many clearly felt his deepest desire was to be them. “It’s cult-like,” he says of the City. “The macho, master of the universe type has bought into this idea so deeply: ‘I may be working 80 hours a week, I don’t see my family, and my body looks 10 years older than it is, but I am living the life. Everybody wants to be me.’” And as in a cult, insiders were afraid to speak out, fearing expulsion. Whenever he was talking to a financier in a coffee shop and a colleague walked in, they would morph into a “shivering wreck”: “How much of a master of the universe are you if you’re afraid to give your views to a fellow citizen?” Yet many still spoke to him. “I wondered why they would risk their jobs. Some said: ‘I am terrified about what my bank can do to society, and how it is being run’.”

Luyendijk, a 43-year-old investigative journalist, used to cover the Middle East — “interviewing real terrorists not financial terrorists”. But then he started talking to banking employees about the 2008 financial meltdown. The conversations became a Guardian blog and now a book, Swimming With Sharks. It has been so successful in his native Netherlands that he jokingly calls it “Fifty Shades of Joris”. He wants the book to help others see past the obfuscation of the City: “It’s a fundamental misunderstanding that we’re too stupid to understand the problems of finance. A seven-year-old understands perverse incentives. Tell them: ‘Half the class doesn’t do their homework, half does and they all get the same grade; what will happen?’ That’s the bank.”

His view of the future is frightening. “We’ll continue to have ever bigger crashes, until we can no longer save the system. And then we will do what we could do now: rebuild it.” He feels little has changed in banking in the seven years since the crash. “The old mindset is intact: ‘If it’s legal, we’ll do it, and our well-paid lobbyists will ensure it’s legal’. You have these financial empires: too vast, too complex, too toxic to manage. Something happens and they blow up like nuclear reactors.” He has two major predictions. The first is that the next crisis could be caused by terrorists hijacking banking IT systems. “They’re so vulnerable. Because banks were merging and acquiring like crazy, they glued systems together. Imagine if a bank says we can no longer access our data and companies can no longer get their money.”

The second is that the London housing bubble will burst. “It’s a when and not an if. If interest rates return to a historical average of 6%, this city is finished. It will just go boom. Everybody knows this, just as all the [analysts] knew the subprime market in America would explode. It’s just really attractive for George Osborne to reinflate the bubble, so all the home-owning voters are happy.” On the 2008 crisis, Luyendijk argues it wasn’t a failure of capitalism: it showed finance wasn’t really capitalist at all. “I go to the heart of capitalism and I find…” he pauses for effect. “Socialism. Because in most niches, four or five banks control the market, divide it up among themselves and they can’t go bust. Rather than going on about greed, we should make sure there are free market forces in finance again.”

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Another notch in our belts.

Sumatran Rhinos Likely To Become Extinct (Guardian)

Earth’s last remaining Sumatran rhinos are edging perilously close to extinction, according to one of the world’s top conservation bodies. There are fewer than 100 of the animals left in the rainforests of the Indonesian island of Sumatra and the Kalimantan province of Borneo. The last Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) in Malaysia was spotted two years ago in the Sabah region of Borneo but experts last month declared the species extinct in that country. That has prompted the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to sound the alarm over the species’ fate, which it said is headed for extinction if urgent action is not taken.

“It takes the rhino down to a single country,” said Simon Stuart, chair of the IUCN’s species survival commission. “With the ongoing poaching crisis, escalating population decline and destruction of suitable habitat, extinction of the Sumatran rhino in the near future is becoming increasingly likely.” The rhino is the smallest of the three Asian rhino species – there are also just 57 Javan rhinos (Rhinoceros sondaicus) and more than 3,000 Indian rhinos (Rhinoceros unicornis). The population of the Sumatran species is believed to have halved in the last decade. The last official assessment in 2008 put their number at about 250 but Stuart said, with hindsight, the true number then had probably been about 200.

Poachers kill the rhinos for their horn, which is even more valuable than that of African rhinos. “For hundreds of years, we’ve been unable to stem the decline of this species. That’s due to poaching. It’s due to the fact they get to such a low density the animals don’t find each other and they don’t breed. It’s due to the fact that if the females don’t breed regularly, they develop these tumours in their reproductive tract that render them infertile,” he said. A large number of females in the wild were likely infertile because they do not breed often enough, he said. The only Sumatran rhino in the western hemisphere, a male called Harapan, is due to be flown from Cincinnati Zoo in the US to a rhino sanctuary in Sumatra this autumn to help the species breed. There are only nine of the animals in captivity worldwide.

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Jul 292015
 
 July 29, 2015  Posted by at 9:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Near Lewiston, Minnesota – The Pulpit. 1899

Varoufakis Faces Criminal Prosecution Over ‘Plan B’ Currency Plot (Telegraph)
Greek Supreme Court Prosecutor Takes Action Over Varoufakis Affair (Kath.)
One Veteran FX Trader: ‘Greece Is Playing It Correctly’ (Zero Hedge)
Why Greece’s Lenders Need to Suffer (NYT Magazine)
Something Is Rotten In The Eurozone Kingdom (Yanis Varoufakis)
Fed Expected To Push Ahead With Rate Hike Plan (Reuters)
“Fed Rate Hike Would ‘Crush’ US Housing” (CNBC)
How Long Can China’s ‘Rescue Squad’ Keep Intervening? (CNBC)
Explainer: Key Factors Behind China’s Investment Rout (FT)
Greek Creditors Seek Third Wave Of Reforms Before Loan (Reuters)
Greek Doctors and Nurses Looking for Jobs Abroad (GR)
Denials Fly In War Of Nerves Over Greek Debt Talks (Reuters)
Greece Isn’t a Morality Tale (Buchanan)
When A Threat Becomes A Possibility (Kostis Fafoutis)
Corbyn, Tsipras, Maggie And TINA (Andreou)
Madrid’s Podemos-Backed Mayor Saves 70 Families From Eviction (TeleSur)
British Prosperity Will Drive Ireland’s Recovery (David McWilliams)
Imposing Losses On Hypo Bond Holders Illegal, Says Austrian Court (FT)
The Costly, Deadly Dangers of Traffic Stops in America’s Police State (Whitehead)
1 Dead After 1,500 Migrants Storm Eurotunnel In France For 2nd Night (RT)
Northern White Rhino Closer to Extinction With Czech Zoo Death (Bloomberg)

Is the mood changing? This just in from a Greek friend: “Varoufakis has to shut up, now, not at some point; it turned out that he is a narcissist and an idiot as well”

Varoufakis Faces Criminal Prosecution Over ‘Plan B’ Currency Plot (Telegraph)

Greece’s state prosecutors have set their sights on former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis who faces possible criminal charges over plans to set up a parallel payments system inside the monetary union. The Greek parliament received two sets of legal complaints about the economist’s “surreptitious” blueprint to introduce a euro-denominated alternative currency as a precursor to an exit from the eurozone. The cases were bought to the parliament by the Supreme Court following complaints from a Greek lawyer and mayor, and separately by a group of opposition conservative parliamentarians. As an MP, Mr Varoufakis has immunity over criminal prosecution. But this could now be overturned by the Greek parliament which is set to review the allegations.

The self-styled “erratic Marxist” convened a five-man team to oversee clandestine plans to introduce “parallel liquidity” in Greece in order ease the credit strangulation imposed by the ECB. Mr Varoufakis’ team included respected US economist James K. Galbraith, and touted the use of smartphone apps to allow the state to continue making its domestic obligations to suppliers and collecting tax revenues. Mr Galbraith could also be facing a criminal trial over his involvement. Controversy centres over whether or not the finance minister ordered a childhood friend and now professor at Columbia University to “hack” into government computer systems to gain access to sensitive taxpayer information and duplicate files for use under the parallel system.

In a recorded phone conversation to private investors, the finance minister is heard saying his team “decided to hack into my minister’s own software programme” to make the copies of taxpayer files and pin codes. Mr Varoufakis has since said the nascent plans were all carried out within “the laws of the land, and at keeping the country in the eurozone”. Following the news, Mr Varoufakis told The Telegraph he feared being hung up on charges of “treason” by political forces in the country. “It is all part of an attempt to annul the first five months of this government and put it in the dustbin of history,” he said on Sunday. The former minister said he was tasked with the responsibility to devise the contingency plan by prime minister Alexis Tsipras as early as December.

He maintains the “Plan B” was fully disclosed to finance ministry officials and journalists when he resigned from office earlier this month. Nevertheless, the airing of a private audio recording has caused a fresh political storm in the country. Brussels has been forced to deny accusations it controls of Greece’s public revenues body, the equivalent of Britain’s Inland Revenue. During the conversation held by the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum and co-hosted by former Tory chancellor Norman Lamont, Mr Varoufakis said the Troika was “fully and directly” in charge of the country’s Secretariat of Public Revenues, forcing him to devise a way to access its computer network. But the European Commission denied the allegations as “false and unfounded”.

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I’m curious to see how far they think they can take this.

Greek Supreme Court Prosecutor Takes Action Over Varoufakis Affair (Kath.)

Supreme Court prosecutor Efterpi Koutzamani on Tuesday took two initiatives in the wake of revelations by former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis that he had planned a parallel banking system: she forwarded to Parliament two suits filed against the former minister last week by private citizens and she appointed a colleague to determine whether any non-political figures should face criminal charges in connection with the affair. The legal suits were filed last week by Apostolos Gletsos, the mayor of Stylida in central Greece and head of the Teleia party, and Panayiotis Giannopoulos, a lawyer. Giannopoulos is suing Varoufakis for treason over his handling of talks with Greece’s creditors. Gletsos, for his part, accuses Varoufakis of exposing the Greek state to the risk of reprisals.

As there is a law protecting ministers, the judiciary cannot move directly against Varoufakis. It is up to Parliament to decide whether his immunity should be lifted so he can stand trial. The first step would be to set up an investigative committee. A third suit was expected to go to Parliament after a group of five lawyers said they were seeking an investigation into whether any non-political figures should face criminal charges in connection with the Varoufakis affair. The charges would involve violation of privacy data, breach of duty, violation of currency laws and belonging to a criminal organization. It was the lawyers’ move that prompted Koutzamani to order an investigation.

In a telephone call with investors, during which Varoufakis detailed his plan for a parallel banking system, he said he recruited a childhood friend, a professor at Columbia University, to hack into the ministry’s online tax system. Varoufakis did not name the head of the General Secretariat for Information Systems, Michalis Hatzitheodorou, but the description of his role at the ministry and his background suggested he was referring to him. In a statement on Tuesday, Hatzitheodorou rebuffed as “absolutely false” reports regarding any type of intervention in the ministry’s information systems. The GSIS, and the current general secratary, have not planned much less attempted any type of intervention in its systems, the statement said.

It added that the GSIS has enacted procedures with strict specifications which guarantee the security of personal data and make such interventions by anyone impossible. In a related development, European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva on Tuesday described as “false and unfounded” Varoufakis’s claims that Greece’s General Secretariat for Public Revenues is controlled by the country’s creditors.

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“Greece is playing it correctly. Agree to everything. Give Germany no excuse to do what they want. Get the money.”

One Veteran FX Trader: ‘Greece Is Playing It Correctly’ (Zero Hedge)

Some interesting, and contrarian, observations from former FX trader and fund manager, and current Bloomberg commentator, Richard Breslow on Greece – which for all the bashing, may be doing just what it is supposed to be doing. From Breslow:

Greece Has More Friends Than You Think

As frustrating as trading the EUR has been over the last four months, traders in fact are the lucky ones. We can play the range. We can stop out, improve our average, buy options protection or change our minds. We can go trade something that is easier at the moment and decide to come back to the EUR later. Most of Europe has no such luxury. They are stuck in the trade. They are stuck with unemployment rates that are destroying their social fabric. They are stuck with aggregated euro-zone numbers that hide a recession in Finland or a depression in Greece. Every time the EUR rallies, true economic recovery remains merely a projection on an economist’s drawing board. The only way to save the EUR is to devalue it. Everyone is trying in their own way to tell the Germans this reality. So far with little effect.

Economist after Nobel-winning economist apoplectically argue that the conditions being imposed on Greece are unrealistic (how’s that for being diplomatic.) What is playing out is a charade. Most Europeans and the IMF know this as well. Marek Belka in the Sunday Telegraph offered the politician’s solution of dealing with debt relief, “I would call it a debt reprofiling, rather than debt relief which is the same but sounds better and politically more acceptable.” He did go on to agree that “Either way, I think at one point sooner or later Greece needs it.” Greece is playing it correctly. Agree to everything. Give Germany no excuse to do what they want. Get the money.

This is why France, among others, want this all agreed as quickly as possible, because they know this deal is not how it will end, but an end that keeps the EUR together must be found. The Germans know it too. They also know that they have been had and it is their own fault. Too many times in post French Revolution European history, they have opted for injustice over what they perceived as disorder. But Greece is no revolution, yet. It is a long series of mistakes by many actors across the continent and the viable solution won’t be found here without an admission of mutual culpability.

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They bet on Germany paying Greek debt.

Why Greece’s Lenders Need to Suffer (NYT Magazine)

There is definitive proof, for anyone willing to look, that Greece is not solely or even primarily responsible for its own financial crisis. The proof is not especially exciting: It is a single bond, with the identification code GR0133004177. But a consideration of this bond should end, permanently, any discussion of Greece’s crisis as a moral failing on the part of the Greeks. GR0133004177 is the technical name for a bond the Greek government sold on Nov. 10, 2009, in a public auction. Every business day, governments and companies hold auctions like this; it is how they borrow money. Bond auctions, though, are not at all like the auctions we’re used to seeing in movies, with the fast talkers and the loud hammers. They happen silently, electronically.

Investors all over the world type a number on their keyboards and submit it as their bid: the amount of interest they would insist on receiving in exchange for the loan. Just as with mortgages and credit cards, the riskier a loan is, the higher the rate would need to be, compensating the lender for the chance that the borrower in question will fail to pay it back. [..] On that day in 2009 when GR0133004177 was issued, investors had every reason to assume that this was an especially risky loan. The Greek government wanted 7 billion euros, or $10.5 billion, which would not be paid back in full until 2026. These were all sophisticated investors, who were expected to think very carefully about the number they typed, because that number had to reflect their belief in the Greek government’s ability to continually pay its debts for the next 17 years.

I was shocked, looking back, to see the winning number: 5.3%. That is a very low interest rate, only a couple of percentage points above the rate at which Germany, Europe’s most creditworthy nation, was borrowing money. This was a rate that expressed a near certainty that Greece would never miss a payment. In hindsight, of course, we know that the investors should not have lent Greece anything at all, or, if they did, should have demanded something like 100% interest. But this is not a case of retrospective genius. At the time, investors had all the information they needed to make a smarter decision. Greece, then as now, was a small, poor, largely agrarian economy, with a spotty track record for adhering to globally recognized financial controls. Just three weeks earlier, a newly elected Greek prime minister revealed that the previous government had scrupulously hidden billions of dollars in debt from the rest of the world. In fact, the new leader revealed, Greece owed considerably more money than the size of its entire annual economy.

Within a month of the bond sale, faced with essentially the same information the investors had, Moody’s and the other ratings agencies downgraded the country’s credit rating. In less than six months, Greece was negotiating a bailout package from the IMF. The original sin of the Greek crisis did not happen in Athens. It happened on those computer terminals, in Frankfurt and London and Shanghai and New York. Yes, the Greeks took the money. But if I offered you €7 billion at 5.3% interest, you would probably take the money, too. I would be the one who looked nuts. And if I didn’t even own that money – if I was just watching over it for someone else, as most large investors do – I might even go to jail.

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“..our simple idea was to allow the multilateral cancellation of arrears between the state and the private sector using the tax office’s existing payments platform.”

Something Is Rotten In The Eurozone Kingdom (Yanis Varoufakis)

A paradox lurks in the foundations of the eurozone. Governments in the monetary union lack a central bank that has their back, while the central bank lacks a government to support it.\ This paradox cannot be eliminated without fundamental institutional changes. But there are steps member states can take to ameliorate some of its negative effects. One such step that we contemplated during my tenure at the Greek ministry of finance focused on the chronic liquidity shortage of a stressed public sector and its impact on the long-suffering private sector. In Greece, where the central bank is unable to support the state’s endeavours, government arrears to the private sector — both companies and individuals — have been a drag on the economy, adding to deflationary pressures since as far back as 2008.

Such arrears consistently exceeded 3%t of GDP for five years. The phenomenon is both the cause and consequence of delayed tax payments to the state, reinforcing the cycle of generalised illiquidity. To address this problem, our simple idea was to allow the multilateral cancellation of arrears between the state and the private sector using the tax office’s existing payments platform. Taxpayers, whether individuals or organisations, would be able to create reserve accounts that would be credited with arrears owed to them by the state. They would then be able to transfer credits from their reserve account either to the state (in lieu of tax payments) or to any other reserve account. Suppose, for example, Company A is owed €1m by the state; and it owes €30,000 to an employee — plus another €500,000 to Company B, which provided it with goods and services.

The employee and Company B also owe, respectively, €10,000 and €200,000 in taxes to the state. In this case the proposed system would allow for the immediate cancellation of at least €210,000 in arrears. Suddenly, an economy such as Greece’s would acquire important degrees of freedom within the existing European monetary union. In a second phase of development, which we did not have time to consider properly, the system would be made accessible through smartphone apps and identity cards, guaranteeing that it would be widely adopted. The envisaged payments system could be developed to create a substitute for fully functioning public debt markets, especially during a credit crunch such as the one that has afflicted Greece since 2010.

Organisations or individuals could buy credits from the tax office online using their normal bank accounts, and add them to their reserve account. These credits could be used after, say, a year to pay future taxes at a discount (for example, 10%). As long as the total level of tax credits was capped, and fully transparent, the result would be a fiscally responsible increase in government liquidity and a quicker path back to the money markets. Handing over the reins of the finance ministry to my friend, Euclid Tsakalotos, on July 6, I presented a full account of the ministry’s projects, priorities and achievements during my five months in office. The new payments system outlined here was part of that presentation. No member of the press took any notice.

But when a subsequent telephone discussion with a large number of international investors, organised by my friend Norman Lamont, and David Marsh of the London-based Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum, was leaked — despite the Chatham House rule we agreed with listeners, under which speakers are not identified — the press had a field day. Committed to unlimited openness and full transparency, I granted OMFIF permission to release the tapes. While I understand press excitement about elements of that exchange, such as having to consider unorthodox means of gaining access to my own ministry’s systems, only one matter is of significance from a public interest perspective. There is a hideous restriction of national sovereignty imposed by the “troika” of lenders on Greek ministers, who are denied access to departments of their ministries pivotal in implementing innovative policies. When a loss of sovereignty, arising from unsustainable official debt, yields suboptimal policies in already stressed nations, one knows that there is something rotten in the euro’s kingdom.

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You can find as many different opinions on this as you like.

Fed Expected To Push Ahead With Rate Hike Plan (Reuters)

The Federal Reserve is expected on Wednesday to point to a growing U.S. economy and stronger job market as it sets the stage for a possible interest rate hike in September. The U.S. central bank is scheduled to issue its latest policy statement at 2 p.m. EDT following a two-day meeting, spelling out how policymakers feel the economy has progressed since they last met in June. Earlier this year the Fed embraced a meeting-by-meeting approach on the timing of what will be its first rate hike since June 2006, making such a decision solely dependent on incoming economic data. With a slew of employment, inflation and GDP reports to come before its September meeting, the Fed is unlikely to hint too strongly about its plans, Barclays economists Michael Gapen and Rob Martin wrote in a preview of this week’s meeting.

But simply hewing to the language of the June policy statement, when the Fed said the economy was expanding moderately, or even strengthening the outlook a bit, “leaves the door wide open for September,” they wrote. Despite a dovish reputation, Fed Chair Janet Yellen has been among those pulling on the door handle in recent public statements, saying she felt a rate hike would be appropriate sometime this year absent a negative shock to the economy. Although another collapse in energy prices and growing economic uncertainty in China is clouding the global economic outlook, the Fed has largely looked beyond recent turmoil overseas. Instead, it has focused on the steady growth in the U.S. job market and on policymakers’ expectations that inflation will eventually rise to the central bank’s medium-term objective of 2%.

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It would lead to widespread chaos.

“Fed Rate Hike Would ‘Crush’ US Housing” (CNBC)

Demand for U.S. housing in the second half of 2015 looks so weak that the Federal Reserve will not be comfortable starting its interest rate tightening cycle, independent real estate analyst Mark Hanson said Tuesday. “Having rates at zero hasn’t done much if you take a look at the numbers, but having rates 200 basis points higher or 100 basis points higher would crush housing. I don’t think they can take that chance,” the founder of M Hanson Advisors told CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.” Hanson said last week’s new home sales data from the Commerce Department was a sign of a lingering stimulus hangover and a “huge miss.”

The Commerce Department reported new home sales fell 6.8% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 482,000 units. Analysts had expected a 0.7% increase to 550,000 units. With respect to homebuilder’s pricing power, he said new home prices have been down for the last seven months. The picture in 2015 looks worse when compared with 2013, he added, noting that comparisons with 2014 data are misleading because an interest rate plunge and the stimulus cycle boosted demand that year. “When you do that, you’ll see new home sales are only up 4.65% and prices are relatively flat,” he said.

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Better question: how many Chinese investors still believe in stock markets, and in governemt control over them?

How Long Can China’s ‘Rescue Squad’ Keep Intervening? (CNBC)

One month after mainland equities started their sharp selloff, Chinese investors continue to look to the government to help stabilize markets—but just how long can officials maintain their support? Volatility in Shanghai and Shenzhen stocks subsided on Wednesday after a rough start to the week. Tuesday saw markets swing wildly between gains and losses following a precipitous 8% drop on Monday. This week’s declines has been put down to local media reports that the government may withdraw the market support measures it announced in the last bout of seesaw trading in June. But fresh confirmation that officials would remain accommodative has calmed investors down.

The China Securities Regulatory Commission announced late on Monday that local governments will increase stock purchases while the central bank injected $8 billion into money markets on Tuesday and hinted at further monetary easing. “Confidence in China’s Rescue Squad was quick to rise this time around because market-boosting measures were already in place, compared to last month when it took a while for markets to believe in the government’s defense,” said Bernard Aw, IG’s market strategist, during a phone interview. Aw expects the official support program to last for another few months at least, thanks to Beijing’s substantial war chest. Capital outflows have been on the rise with June foreign exchange reserves $299 billion lower than last year but that’s still a drop in the water of Beijing’s total $3.7 trillion reserves.

He believes Beijing is willing to tolerate a modest correction but certainly not the extent of 8% crashes. But for others, the government’s program has no end in sight. “The government entered the market when it was at high levels, around 30 times price-earnings ratio. There is no exit strategy for them; I think they’ve become long-term shareholders,” Francis Cheung, head of China and Hong Kong strategy at CLSA, told CNBC. Unless Beijing allows the market to correct to fundamentally supported levels or wait until earnings grow enough to support valuation, the government cannot stop, he warned. “Until then, we expect the market will trade between the government prescribed range of 3,400 to 4,500, the level that they intervened at the low end and the level brokers are allowed to sell stock at the high-end.”

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“.. the magnitude of China’s investment slump this year is likely to have been much greater than official figures show. ”

Explainer: Key Factors Behind China’s Investment Rout (FT)

Much of the economic weakness rippling through emerging markets is “made in China”. A slump in Chinese investment growth has hammered global demand for commodities and some manufactured products, triggering a chain reaction that is depressing EM exports, deepening deflationary pressures and even sapping consumer demand. The key questions, therefore, are: what lies behind the Chinese investment rout and how long is it likely to last? First, the magnitude of China’s investment slump this year is likely to have been much greater than official figures show. Beijing’s official monthly data series tracks “fixed asset investment” (FAI), which grew by 11.4% year on year in June — not the sort of figure that might be expected to elicit alarm.

But FAI readings are inflated by several elements – such as sales of land and other assets — that do not add to the country’s productive capital stock. A cleaner measure of how much companies are investing in boosting their productive capacities – and therefore in their futures – is gross fixed capital formation (GFCF), which strips out extraneous items to capture capital goods deployment. By this yardstick, investment is tanking. Annual real growth in gross capital formation hit 6.6% in 2014, down from 10.2% in 2013 and a peak of 25% in 2009. Thomas Gatley, China corporate analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics, a research firm, estimates that so far this year GFCF may be running at around 4 to 5%. On a net basis, stripping out depreciation costs, “it is very likely that so far in 2015 net capital formation growth is at or below zero”, Mr Gatley said.

When viewed from this perspective, China’s slumping demand for iron ore, copper, alumina and other commodity imports from Latin America, Africa and elsewhere is easier to comprehend. But what are the main causes of China’s investment slump? Investment demand derives from three key sources — the property sector (25%), infrastructure (22%) and manufacturing (33%), with the remaining 20% made up of various smaller items, according to research by China Everbright Securities. Property investments have been subdued. New residential property investment rose 2.8% in the first half of this year, down from 5.9% in the first quarter, revealing a flagging momentum.

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“The genie of euro zone exit has escaped in the Greek crisis and won’t easily get back in the bottle..”

Greek Creditors Seek Third Wave Of Reforms Before Loan (Reuters)

EU officials played down the latest outbreak of logistical and security issues that have dogged talks between the creditors and Greece since Tsipras’s government took office in January, promising to free Greeks from humiliation and imposed austerity. An EU official said access for the negotiators to ministries and all relevant government bodies had been agreed. An ECB aide said some talks would take place at the Athens Hilton Hotel. The talks will mostly cover a reform programme Greece must implement to receive phased disbursements of loans, money it needs to meet its debt service obligations and help recapitalise the banks. However, an ECB policymaker said they would also cover debt relief for Athens.

ECB Executive Board member Benoit Coeure told French daily le Monde that the euro zone no longer questioned whether to restructure Greece’s debt but rather how best to go about it. “That’s why it’s important to make this restructuring, whatever form it takes, conditional on the application of measures that reinforce the economy and ensure the sustainability of Greek public finances,” he said. Coeure said five months of wrangling had caused huge economic and financial costs for Greece, and exposed how deeply flawed the euro zone’s decision-making was. He called for more integration in order to take tough decisions effectively. Germany’s Schaeuble proposed at the height of the crisis that Greece take a five-year “time out” from the currency bloc if it could not meet the conditions. “The genie of euro zone exit has escaped in the Greek crisis and won’t easily get back in the bottle,” Coeure said.

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All part of the intentional gutting of an entire society.

Greek Doctors and Nurses Looking for Jobs Abroad (GR)

The Athens Medical Association (ISA) warned about major shortages in medical staff over the next years, since an increasing number of Greek doctors, especially those working in highly specialized fields, and nurses are looking for jobs abroad and leaving the country. According to the association’s figures, more than 7,500 doctors have migrated to other countries since 2010. It was reported that in the first six months of 2015, ISA issued 790 certificates of competence, an official document required for medical sector employees who wish to work abroad. However, the report also noted that up until 2009, on average, 550 doctor were taking jobs abroad each year.

“One of the biggest losses in the crisis has been that of great minds,” ISA chief Giorgos Patoulis stated to Greek newspaper Kathimerini. “In a short time, the national healthcare system will have an aged personnel and will be unable to staff services.” Furthermore, the data showed that a total of 8,000 unemployed Greeks have been forced to look for job opportunities abroad. The Greek Nurses Union announced that it issued 349 certificates just last year, 357 in 2012 and 74 certificates in 2010.

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How Reuters would like you to see the world: “former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who continues to heap abuse on the creditors in his blog..”

Denials Fly In War Of Nerves Over Greek Debt Talks (Reuters)

Conflicting statements and denials flew between Athens and Brussels on Tuesday in a war of nerves highlighting the depth of mutual mistrust over a new round of negotiations on an €86 billion bailout that started this week. Any hope of a fresh start in fraught relations between Greece’s leftist government, purged of its most radical members, and the institutions representing its creditors, appeared to be dashed by the flurry of assertions and rebuttals. Differences included the pace and conduct of bailout talks, whether or not Greece needs to enact further laws before a deal, the reopening of the Athens stock exchange, and the activities of former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who continues to heap abuse on the creditors in his blog. [..]

Greek officials were at pains to play down what they see as the humiliating and intrusive aspects of the talks – access to ministries, the right to examine accounts and question civil servants, and the visible presence of the negotiators in Athens. The Finance Ministry official said there had been no organizational issues and all discussions were taking place at the institutions’ residence. When required, creditors’ representatives had met with Greek officials at the Bank of Greece and the State General Accounting Office. EU officials said security and logistical issues had delayed the start of the talks, originally planned for last Friday.

Also hanging over the talks is the growing disarray within Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s Syriza party, whose policy-setting central committee will meet on Thursday to decide whether to hold an emergency congress in September to overhaul the party or hold a referendum on the way forward. In a sign of the deepening rift within the party, three far-left members of the 11 officials on Syriza’s political committee that met on Tuesday demanded the government break off negotiations with EU/IMF creditors and return to its anti-bailout roots. Panagiotis Lafazanis, the leader of the far-left Left Platform wing of Syriza, also stepped up his attack against the pro-bailout Greek establishment, saying they were trying to “criminalize” any alternative to the bailout.

A day earlier, Lafazanis pledged in a defiant public speech that those who voted “No” to the bailout in a referendum this month would not be forgotten. On the negotiations front, the Greek official said suggestions that Greece needed to pass further reform legislation before a bailout deal were not justified by the euro summit statement or subsequent exchanges. However, euro zone officials made clear that Athens must enact measures to curb early retirement and close tax loopholes for farmers before any new aid is disbursed. Greece needs more finance by Aug. 20, when it owes a €3.5 billion payment to the ECB.

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“Why, they wondered, do some things like education, medical care and live musical performances get more expensive with time, while so many other things, like manufactured goods, get cheaper?”

Greece Isn’t a Morality Tale (Buchanan)

One of the more troubling elements of the recent drama over Greece’s debt was the urge by many to see a deficiency of national character, rather than euro-zone economics, as the problem. Right-leaning opinion, not only in Germany but around the world, put the trouble down to Greek corruption and, worse, laziness: The bad people of Greece retire too early and produce less per capita than the European average, despite working longer hours. We shouldn’t conclude much of anything from such comparisons. It’s a complete myth that economic productivity somehow reflects the average ability of people to work hard. It has far more to do with the nature of industries in different nations, and how technology has changed their productivity over time.

Nearly 20% of Greek economic output comes from tourism, which is natural enough, given the nation’s surpassing beauty. Aside from the Internet making it easier to book and advertise trips, however, tourism remains a labor-intensive activity not that different from 30 years ago. People take planes and taxis, stay in hotels, eat meals, listen to music and take excursions on boats. All of that requires a large number of people to cook and serve, entertain, clean rooms and drive taxis for long hours. The amount of these things that can be produced per hour and per person hasn’t changed a lot with time. Compare that with, say, the German automobile industry.

According to Eurostat data, the total output of the European motor-vehicle industry – German companies account for about half of it – grew in the decade before the financial crisis by about 4.4% a year. That corresponds to a doubling of output in 15 years. Much of this increase came from gains in manufacturing productivity – value created per hour of work – which in Germany, according to OECD numbers, grew by 40% over the same period. In other words, rapid economic growth in Germany and other fast-growing, developed nations has come mostly from improvements in industrial efficiency, not from some morally superior character of the workers in those nations. All this links up with a notion that economists call Baumol’s cost disease, originally proposed by William Baumol and William Bowen in the 1960s.

Why, they wondered, do some things like education, medical care and live musical performances get more expensive with time, while so many other things, like manufactured goods, get cheaper? The answer is simply that productivity improves faster in some industries than in others. As auto manufacturers make ever more and better cars – faster and with fewer workers – they can sell them more cheaply and still afford to raise wages. In contrast, a live orchestral performance today takes as long and demands as much skilled labor as it did two centuries ago. Getting good musicians requires wages that rise as fast as elsewhere in the economy, and so prices in “stagnant” sectors of this sort go up relative to others.

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“..almost six years after the crisis began, the country’s European acquis is no longer a given and the European accomplishments of the last 35 years are being challenged.”

When A Threat Becomes A Possibility (Kostis Fafoutis)

“The memorandum, whether we like it or not, is the only political text which set out specific targets, which were binding to the Greek state as a whole,” noted Yannis Stournaras in October 11, 2013, during his tenure as finance minister. Currently Bank of Greece Governor, Stournaras is still systematically taunted by those obsessed with a Greek rift with the eurozone, people whose behavior and actions, nevertheless, reaffirm his evaluation. Back in 2009, the country’s entry in the European Stability Mechanism and its guardianship was caused by the sensational collapse of Greece’s entire economic and social model developed after the fall of the military dictatorship in 1974.

The system was based on the idea of a partisan state, clientelism, under-the-table transactions and choices guided by the desire to impress or benefit certain closed, special interest groups. The structure survived either by transferring the weight onto the next generation or by taking advantage of conscientious taxpayers – salaried employees and pensioners – through a system based on tolerating and rewarding tax evasion. This was rooted in a kind of parallel economy which existed within the framework of a strange perception of democracy, where everyone enjoyed sacred rights but very few had obligations. The memorandum – for all its mistakes and weaknesses – forced the Greek state to adopt obvious changes.

These should have been implemented years ago but the political leadership did not have the willpower or strength to carry them out. Unfortunately, the memorandum was essentially decided by the lenders, and all those who had to implement it presented it as an onus imposed by the “evil” partners. Not only did they fail to present a plan of their own to exit the crisis but they never spoke of the country’s obligation – given that Greece had willingly decided to take part in a supranational organization such as the European Union and the monetary union – to undertake the cost implied by this choice. They never spoke about the fact that we have to decide whether or not we wish to become a modern western European state – which in a globalized world must constantly strive to strengthen in terms of competitiveness – or remain a democracy of cronies.

As a result, almost six years after the crisis began, the country’s European acquis is no longer a given and the European accomplishments of the last 35 years are being challenged. What’s more, a return to the drachma is no longer a threat but an openly supported possibility weighted with ideological tension, populism and the idea that it can be subverted. This position is adopted SYRIZA’s radical left wing, the extraparliamentary left and Golden Dawn. It remains to be seen whether or not it will develop into a new dividing line which will replace the equally handy, but highly confusing, memorandum-anti-memorandum dipole.

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British politics has been pre-empted by an elite.

Corbyn, Tsipras, Maggie And TINA (Andreou)

It is not a coincidence that Corbyn has been likened to Alexis Tsipras and the Syriza movement, by friend and foe alike. It is not a coincidence that Syriza has already expressed its support for him, or that he was the only one of the leadership candidates to voice his disgust at the treatment of Greece in the hands of the EU. A network is forming. Last week Tsipras, according to some commentators, was a class traitor for not pushing the nuclear button of Grexit. Now, in some cases the very same people, are suggesting Corbyn is far too radical. It confirms my instinctive conclusion: Most of the left want revolution. Most of the left would like it to happen somewhere else first, please, thanks.

Some friends, fairly, ask: How can you excuse Tsipras for signing an agreement, for compromising his principles and election promises, and at the same time criticise the other Labour candidates for proposing the same in order to get elected? I have wrestled with this issue. It makes a big difference, on the one hand, going into an election with the right ideals and motives and having to compromise, faced with powerful opposing forces and realpolitik, and on the other, selling out before you even try, because all that matters to you is getting your claws on the throne. Actually, it makes all the difference. Be careful, warns former leadership hopeful Tristram Hunt: “Britain is not Greece or Spain”.

Strange; for years, all those wishing to strengthen the notion that There Is No Alternative to neoliberal austerity, have been telling us ad nauseam that we are just like Greece and Spain. Or at least we will be, unless we happily accept the shrinking of the welfare state, the demise of free health and education, the lowering of salaries, the cruelty to migrants, the disintegration of social cohesion. And shaking this TINA narrative is precisely the point. Neoliberal austerity has become impenetrable dogma, evangelical in its fervour. All that is left to those of us who oppose it, is political guerrilla warfare; seeing the opportunity to hijack processes, like leadership elections, and make unexpected choices, like Corbyn. Greece has shown that such courses of action are the only ones that surprise elites and cause them to reveal themselves and make panicked choices.

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What politics in Europe SHOULD look like, if the EU is to survive: people first.

Madrid’s Podemos-Backed Mayor Saves 70 Families From Eviction (TeleSur)

Madrid’s recently elected left-wing mayor announced Tuesday she had annuled eviction orders for 70 families living in social housing, while preserving over 2,000 similar rental contracts. Manuela Carmena was elected earlier in May under the banner of a local coalition Ahora Madrid, which included anti-austerity party Podemos, with a program focused on protecting housing, as the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis in Spain led to tens of thousands of families evicted from their homes. The ruling conservative Popular Party (PP) had been governing the capital for the past 24 years. “There were 70 processes under way, but today those families have recovered their homes. Nobody is going to be thrown out on the street,” said Carmena.

The evictions followed a 2012 deal made by the Madrid social housing body EMVS to sell five blocks of public housing to the Spanish real estate developer Renta Corporación for about US$24 million. RELATED: Interview with Podemos Founder: Spain’s 2-Party System Is Dying The deal eventually fell apart, although tenants claimed they were asked by EMVS to sign new contracts including a sell-by date on their subsidized terms in the event of a sale, in order to make the flats more attractive to sell to investment funds. The city council confirmed the mayor’s decision in a statement: “The EMVS will no longer pressure the 220 families that live in five blocks owned by them in the center to leave, and it will stop the eviction processes for the 70 homes.”

It said a further 2,086 similar social rental contracts around the city would be safeguarded. Alberto Romeral, a pensioner who benefited from the measure and leader of the “Yo no me voy” (“I’m not going”) group told Reuters: “We are grateful that [Carmena] looks out for the people of the city and their problems and does not want to crush them.”

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“We are the only eurozone country that actually does more trade outside the eurozone than within it…”

British Prosperity Will Drive Ireland’s Recovery (David McWilliams)

I am on Shaftesbury Avenue in London, quite shocked. I have just put my card into an ATM to get £200 and realise that it has cost me nearly €300. I was aware that the British currency was rocketing, but this exchange rate difference is extraordinary and is brilliant news for Irish exporters. We should do a deal with the British, fix the exchange rate here and simply transport Britain’s industrial base to Ireland and hit the restart button. Of course, I am joking, but there is a startling divergence between the British economy, our biggest trading partner, and the eurozone economy that Official Ireland pretends is our biggest trading partner. Employment in Britain is growing for a start. As George Osborne claimed in his recent budget, Yorkshire has created more jobs than France.

Thankfully, the Irish economy is not a European economy in any meaningful sense. We are an Anglo-American economy with a Franco-German currency grafted onto us. Despite politicians and senior civil servants going over and back to Brussels all the time, we are actually part of the Anglosphere which maps a giant global arch from Dublin to London, across the Atlantic through North America and down to Australia and New Zealand. This is our world. This is where we trade, where our investments come from, where our people live. It is an interlinked web of culture, language and family. Granted, there are some significant differences, but if we are honest, these differences are dwarfed by commonalities. Economically, when the Anglosphere does well, we do well. Period.

In the past five years, Ireland’s economy has been dragged upwards by Britain and the US. Ireland’s youth have sought opportunities in booming Australia, Britain, Canada and the US. We head to Boston or Birmingham, not Brussels to look for work. These are the facts. We are the only eurozone country that actually does more trade outside the eurozone than within it. But this type of anomaly describes much of Irish economic policy – it’s an economic policy made up without much reference to the actual economy. However, thankfully for us, our major trading partners – Britain and the US – are motoring and they have dragged Ireland out of the mire and put us on the road to recovery.

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Government sounds like amateurs.

Imposing Losses On Hypo Bond Holders Illegal, Says Austrian Court (FT)

An attempt by Austria to slash the cost to taxpayers of Hypo Alpe Adria bank, a high-profile European casualty of the financial crisis, by imposing losses on some bondholders has been thrown out by the country’s top judges. In a ruling that came as relief for investors who feared a precedent would be set for other European bank failures, Austria’s constitutional court on Tuesday declared illegal a law that would have “bailed in” €890m in subordinated debt. The act would have breached the constitution by reversing guarantees given to bondholders by the province of Carinthia as well as treating investors unfairly, the court ruled. The law would be “repealed in its entirety”, the judges said in a statement.

Introduced last year by Michael Spindelegger, then finance minister, the law created alarm in Austria and elsewhere in Europe amid fears investors would question the value of guarantees given by other regional governments – for instance in Germany. However, investors’ relief could prove shortlived as Austria’s authorities press ahead with plans to wind up the bank under recently introduced national legislation, which has become a trial run for as-yet untested EU rules that set out who should foot the bill when banks go bust. Hypo Alpe Adria was nationalised in 2009 after ambitious international expansion plans went badly wrong. When in March it was revealed that Heta, the “bad bank” created to dispose of non-performing parts, would need a further €7.6bn in state aid, the government in Vienna refused to provide additional funding.

The bank was put into resolution, and Heta suspended bond payments. The Austrian law highlighted the pressures on European politicians to limit the impact of bank failures on stretched government finances. Mr Spindelegger “needed something to show the electorate he would prevent taxpayers bearing the cost”, said Josef Christl at Macro-Consult, a Vienna-based financial consultancy. “It was a political decision, not economically or legally based.” Tuesday’s constitutional court reversal was “a good decision for bondholders but it’s embarrassing for the government. This was not a law you would have expected from Austria and a lot of PR damage has been done,” added Franz Schellhorn, director of the Agenda Austria think-tank.

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Think this insanity can last much longer?

The Costly, Deadly Dangers of Traffic Stops in America’s Police State (Whitehead)

Incredibly, a federal appeals court actually ruled unanimously in 2014 that acne scars and driving with a stiff upright posture are reasonable grounds for being pulled over. More recently, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that driving a vehicle that has a couple air fresheners, rosaries and pro-police bumper stickers at 2 MPH over the speed limit is suspicious, meriting a traffic stop. Unfortunately for drivers, not only have traffic stops become potentially deadly encounters, they have also turned into a profitable form of highway robbery for the police departments involved. As The Washington Post reports, “traffic stops for minor infractions such as speeding or equipment violations are increasingly used as a pretext for officers to seize cash from drivers.”

Relying on federal and state asset forfeiture laws, police set up “stings” on public roads that enable them to stop drivers for a variety of so-called “suspicious” behavior, search their vehicles and seize anything of value that could be suspected of being connected to criminal activity. Since 2001, police have seized $2.5 billion from people who were not charged with a crime and without a warrant being issued. “In case after case,” notes The Washington Post, “highway interdictors appeared to follow a similar script. Police set up what amounted to rolling checkpoints on busy highways and pulled over motorists for minor violations, such as following too closely or improper signaling. They quickly issued warnings or tickets.

They studied drivers for signs of nervousness, including pulsing carotid arteries, clenched jaws and perspiration. They also looked for supposed ‘indicators’ of criminal activity, which can include such things as trash on the floor of a vehicle, abundant energy drinks or air fresheners hanging from rearview mirrors.” If you’re starting to feel somewhat overwhelmed, intimidated and fearful for your life and your property, you should be. Never before have “we the people” been so seemingly defenseless in the face of police misconduct, lacking advocates in the courts and in the legislatures. So how do you survive a police encounter with your life and wallet intact? The courts have already given police the green light to pull anyone over for a variety of reasons.

In an 8-1 ruling in Heien v. North Carolina, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that police officers can pull someone over based on a “reasonable” but mistaken belief about the law. Of course, what’s reasonable to agents of the police state may be completely unreasonable to the populace. Nevertheless, the moment those lights start flashing and that siren goes off, we’re all in the same boat: we must pull over. However, it’s what happens after you’ve been pulled over that’s critical. Survival is the key.

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No, Greece is not even Europe’s biggest -moral- failure.

1 Dead After 1,500 Migrants Storm Eurotunnel In France For 2nd Night (RT)

At least one migrant has died when he tried to enter Eurotunnel’s French terminal near Calais on Tuesday night as about 1,500 refugees attempted to break through fences in a bid to reach UK for a second straight night. “Our teams have found a body this morning and firefighters have confirmed the person’s death,” a spokesman for Eurotunnel told France Info. BMFTV reported that the migrant of was Sudanese origin. The man was run over by a truck from the UK, Francetvinfo website reported. A police spokesman told BFMTV that they were “completely clueless” about the situation, adding that 60 officers are currently working at the scene of the incident.

According to police sources cited by Francetvinfo, migrants were attempting to break into Eurotunnel “at least three times” on Tuesday night. On Monday night about 2,000 migrants tried to breach the fences of the Calais terminal trying to get into UK. A Eurotunnel spokesman, who described the situation as “the biggest incursion effort in the past month and a half.” This is not the first migrant death in recent months. July 7 a man reportedly of Eritrean origin attempting to reach the UK from Calais was found dead on a freight shuttle, Channel Tunnel operator Eurotunnel has said. Overall, with the latest fatality, the number of deaths in Eurotunnel stands at nine, according to French media.

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And we call ourselves a successful species?! (I don’t even want to go into Cecil the lion’s death)…

Northern White Rhino Closer to Extinction With Czech Zoo Death (Bloomberg)

One of the world’s most endangered animals, the northern white rhinoceros, edged closer to extinction when one of the last five of its kind known to exist died in a Czech zoo. The 31-year-old female Nabire, who lived her life at the Dvur Kralove zoo, about 140 kilometers northeast of Prague, died on Monday of a ruptured cyst, the zoo said on its website Tuesday. Nabire’s death “brought another species closer to complete extinction,” zoo director Premysl Rabas said. He blamed the plight of the northern white rhinoceros on “meaningless human greed.” Northern white rhinos were last seen in the wild in central Africa in 2007. Their disappearance stemmed from demand for their horns, which are used for medical and cultural purposes in some parts of Asia and the Arab world. The last surviving male lives in Kenya with two females, and the other female lives in San Diego, according to the Czech zoo.

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Dec 162014
 
 December 16, 2014  Posted by at 11:16 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Conover Building, Third and Main, Dayton, Ohio 1904

Oil Has Become The New Housing Bubble (CNBC)
Oil’s Crash Is the Canary In the Coal Mine for a $9 Trillion Crisis (Phoenix)
Oil Slides Below $55 as U.S. Output Seen Steady Amid OPEC Fight (Bloomberg)
Brent Seen Falling to $50 in 2015 as OPEC Fails to Act (Bloomberg)
Crash-O-Matic Finance (James Howard Kunstler)
Russia Central Bank Raises Interest Rate To 17% On Ruble Collapse (Guardian)
How China’s Interest-Rate Cut Raised Borrowing Costs (Bloomberg)
China Manufacturing In Contraction (BBC)
Why Paul Krugman Is Wrong (AEP)
You Are Hereby Baffled With Bullshit (Zero Hedge)
Bill Gross: US Structural Growth Rate To Be About 2% Or Less (CNBC)
Did Wall Street Need the Swaps Budget to Hedge Against Oil Plunge? (Yves)
Greek Central Bank Boss Warns Of ‘Irreparable’ Economic Damage (BBC)
German Economy at Risk of Downturn as Growth Seen Weak at Best
Russia Says US, NATO Increased Spy Flights Seven-Fold (Bloomberg)
All I Want for Christmas is a (Real) Government Shutdown (Ron Paul)
Peat Is Amazon’s Carbon Superstore (BBC)
Denmark Claims North Pole Via Greenland Ridge Link (AP)
Welcome To Manus, Australia’s Asylum Seeker Dumping Ground Gulag (Guardian)
Only Five Northern White Rhinos Now Exist On The Entire Planet (MarketWatch)
Is The Lima Deal A Travesty Of Global Climate Justice? (Guardian)
Bad News For Florida: Models Of Greenland Ice Melting Could Be Way Off (NBC)

And there’s another nice comparison.

Oil Has Become The New Housing Bubble (CNBC)

The same thing that happened to the housing market in 2000 to 2006 has happened to the oil market from 2009 to 2014, contends well-known trader Rob Raymond of RCH Energy. And he believes that just as we witnessed the popping of the housing bubble, we are in the midst of the popping of the energy bubble. “It’s the outcome of a zero interest rate policy from the Federal Reserve. What’s happened from 2009 to 2014 is, the energy industry has outspent its cash flow by $350 billion to go drill all these wells, and create this supply ‘miracle,’ if you will, in the United States,” Raymond said Thursday on CNBC’s “Futures Now.” “The issue with this has become, what were houses in Florida and Arizona in 2000 to 2006 became oil wells in North Dakota and Texas in 2009 to 2014, and most of that was funded in the high-yield market and by private equity.”

And now that a barrel of West Texas Intermediate crude oil has fallen from $100 to $60 in five months, those energy producers are in trouble. “The popping of the credit bubble in the energy industry as a result of the downside volatility in oil is likely to result in a collapse of the U.S. rig count,” Raymond said. “From a longer-term standpoint, what it does is it really impairs the industry’s ability to invest capital.” That said, when it comes to the price of a barrel of oil itself, Raymond expects to see a rebound once U.S. production dries up. “We live in a $90 to $100 world,” he said. “We just don’t live in it today.”

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Phoenix confirms what I’ve been saying all along; the problem is not oil.

Oil’s Crash Is the Canary In the Coal Mine for a $9 Trillion Crisis (Phoenix)

The Oil story is being misinterpreted by many investors. When it comes to Oil, OPEC matters, as does Oil Shale, production cuts, geopolitical risk, etc. However, the reality is that all of these are minor issues against the MAIN STORY: the $9 TRILLION US Dollar carry trade. Drilling for Oil, producing Oil, transporting Oil… all of these are extremely expensive processes. Which means… unless you have hundreds of millions (if not billions) of Dollars in cash lying around… you’re going to have to borrow money. Borrowing US Dollars is the equivalent of shorting the US DOLLAR. If the US Dollar rallies, then your debt becomes more and more expensive to finance on a relative basis. There is a lot of talk of the “Death of the Petrodollar,” but for now, Oil is priced in US Dollars. In this scheme, a US Dollar rally is Oil negative. Oil’s collapse is predicated by one major event: the explosion of the US Dollar carry trade. Worldwide, there is over $9 TRILLION in borrowed US Dollars that has been ploughed into risk assets.

Energy projects, particularly Oil Shale in the US, are one of the prime spots for this. But it is not the only one. Emerging markets are another. Just about everything will be hit as well. Most of the “recovery” of the last five years been fueled by cheap borrowed Dollars. Now that the US Dollar has broken out of a multi-year range, you’re going to see more and more “risk assets” (read: projects or investments fueled by borrowed Dollars) blow up. Oil is just the beginning, not a standalone story. If things really pick up steam, there’s over $9 TRILLION worth of potential explosions waiting in the wings. Imagine if the entire economies of both Germany and Japan exploded and you’ve got a decent idea of the size of the potential impact on the financial system And that’s assuming NO increased leverage from derivative usage. The story here is not Oil; it’s about a massive bubble in risk assets fueled by borrowed Dollars blowing up. The last time around it was a housing bubble. This time it’s an EVERYTHING bubble. And Oil is just the canary in the coalmine.

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No bottom in sight.

Oil Slides Below $55 as U.S. Output Seen Steady Amid OPEC Fight (Bloomberg)

Oil in New York fell below $55 a barrel for the first time in more than five years amid speculation that U.S. producers may further increase output as they battle OPEC for market share. Crude in London traded below $60. West Texas Intermediate futures dropped as much as 2.1%, after closing yesterday at the lowest level since May 2009. U.S. crude drillers are benefiting as costs fall almost as quickly as prices, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Brent, the benchmark for more than half the world’s oil, may decline to $50 a barrel in 2015, a Bloomberg survey of analysts showed. Oil has slumped almost 45% this year as OPEC sought to defend market share amid a U.S. shale boom that’s exacerbating a global glut.

The group, responsible for about 40% of the world’s supply, will refrain from curbing output even if crude drops to $40 a barrel, according to the United Arab Emirates. “It seems like the market is no longer able to respond to the issue of oversupply,” Hong Sung Ki, a commodities analyst at Samsung Futures Inc. in Seoul, said by phone. “On the demand side, the global economy continues to slow while it takes time for U.S. shale production to pull back on the supply side.” West Texas Intermediate for January delivery fell as much as 66 cents to $55.25 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange and was at $55.62 at 1:18 p.m. Singapore time. It decreased $1.90 to $55.91 yesterday. The volume of all futures traded was about 3% above the 100-day average. Prices are set for the biggest annual loss since a 54% collapse in 2008.

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Almost there. What happens after is a more interesting question.

Brent Seen Falling to $50 in 2015 as OPEC Fails to Act (Bloomberg)

Crude oil prices are poised to fall below half where they were six months ago, before producers begin dealing with a global glut. Brent, the global benchmark, will slide to as low as $50 a barrel in 2015, according to the median in a Bloomberg survey of 17 analysts, down from the $115.71 a barrel high for the year on June 19. The grade has already collapsed 47% since then and needs to fall further before producers clear the current glut, said five out of six respondents who gave a reason. Brent futures sank in the weeks after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries decided to maintain output even as the highest U.S. production in three decades swells a global surplus. The organization will stand by its decision even if prices fall to $40, United Arab Emirates Energy Minister Suhail Al-Mazrouei said.

“This won’t stop until oil producers are on their backs,” Bjarne Schieldrop, chief commodities analyst at SEB AB, Sweden’s fourth-biggest bank, said by phone from Oslo. “There will be better demand in the second half, hopefully some demand effects from lower prices, and definitely softer growth in U.S. shale.” The group decided at the Nov. 27 meeting to keep output unchanged to protect OPEC’s market share, even if it has a negative effect on crude prices, the official Kuwait News Agency reported, citing Oil Minister Ali al-Omair. The U.S. pumped 9.12 million barrels a day in the period ended Dec. 5, the most in weekly Energy Information Administration started in 1983. The gain came as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing unlocked supplies from shale formations including the Eagle Ford in Texas and the Bakken in North Dakota.

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“In the good old days of the late 20th century, before Federal Reserve omnipotence, they could depend on a regular annual interest rate churn of between 5 and 10% and do what they had do – write pension checks, pay insurance claims, and pay clients, with a little left over for company salaries.”

Crash-O-Matic Finance (James Howard Kunstler)

“Oil prices have dropped $50 a barrel. That may not sound like much. But when you take $107 and you take $57, that’s almost a 47% decline…!”
–James Puplava, The Financial Sense News Network

May not sound like much? I guess when you hunker down in the lab with the old slide rule and do the math, wow! Those numbers really pop! This, of course, is the representative thinking out there. But then, these are the very same people who have carried pompoms and megaphones for “the shale revolution” the past couple of years. Being finance professionals they apparently failed to notice the financial side of the business, for instance the fact that so much of the day-to-day shale operation was being run on junk bond financing. It all seemed to work so well in the eerie matrix of zero interest rate policy (ZIRP) where investors desperate for “yield” — i.e. some return more-than-zilch on their money — ended up in the bond market’s junkyard. These investors, by the way, were the big institutional ones, the pension funds, the insurance companies, the mixed bond smorgasbord funds.

They were getting killed on ZIRP. In the good old days of the late 20th century, before Federal Reserve omnipotence, they could depend on a regular annual interest rate churn of between 5 and 10% and do what they had do – write pension checks, pay insurance claims, and pay clients, with a little left over for company salaries. ZIRP ruined all that. In fact, ZIRP destroyed the most fundamental index in the financial universe: the true cost of borrowing money. In doing so, it twerked and torqued the concept of “risk” so badly that risk no longer had any meaning. In “risk-on” financial weather, there was no longer any risk. Imagine that? It also destroyed the entire relationship between borrowed money and the cost-structure of the endeavors it was borrowed for. Take shale oil, for instance.

The fundamental limiting factor for shale oil was that the wells were only good for about two years, and then they were pretty much shot. So, if you were in that business, and held a bunch of leases, you had to constantly drill and re-drill and then drill some more just to keep production up. The drilling cost between $6 and $12-million per well. What happened the past seven years is that the drillers and their playmates on Wall Street hyped the hoo-hah out of the business — it was a shale revolution! In a few short years they drilled to beat the band and the results seemed so impressive that investment money poured into the sector like honey, so they drilled some more. It was going to save the American way of life. We were going to be “energy independent,” the “new Saudi America.” We would be able to drive to Wal-Mart forever!

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Let’s all open a bank account in Russia.

Russia Central Bank Raises Interest Rate To 17% On Ruble Collapse (Guardian)

Russia’s central bank has taken drastic action to halt the rouble’s freefall on the foreign exchanges by raising interest rates by 6.5 percentage points to 17%. After a day of turmoil dominated by fears that a crashing global oil price would devastate Russia’s energy-dominated economy, an after-hours meeting of the central bank in Moscow decided emergency action was needed to prevent the rouble’s collapse. The bank said the increase in borrowing costs – which will deepen Russia’s recession if sustained for a prolonged period – was needed to end currency depreciation and to combat inflation. Higher interest rates tend to make currencies more attractive to foreign investors and the rouble rose against the dollar in the wake of the surprise announcement. Earlier, a 10% fall in the value of the rouble against the dollar had badly rattled global markets, with the FTSE 100 index in London closing at its lowest level of 2014.

Investors dumped shares as they weighed up the risk that a deepening economic crisis would destabilise Russia and make it more difficult for the west to deal with its president, Vladimir Putin, adding to geopolitical tensions in eastern Europe and the Middle East. The huge jump in interest rates was seen by analysts as an attempt by the central bank to show that it was determined to protect the rouble. A smaller one-point rise to 10.5% last week had failed to impress financial markets at a time when the price of oil was plunging to a five and a half year low. Earlier, Russia bought roubles for dollars on the foreign exchanges but failed to prevent the biggest one-day decline in the currency since Russia’s debt default in 1998. The fall meant it took 63 roubles to buy a dollar, a decline of 45% since the start of a year that has seen the price of oil drop from $115 a barrel (£73) to barely $60 a barrel.

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“We don’t think the call for aggressive interest rate or reserve-requirement ratio cuts are well-grounded under current circumstances, as it could fuel bubbles in stocks.”

How China’s Interest-Rate Cut Raised Borrowing Costs (Bloomberg)

What if a central bank cut interest rates and borrowing costs rose? Since the People’s Bank of China surprised markets with the first benchmark rate reduction in two years on Nov. 21, the five-year sovereign bond yield climbed 15 basis points, that for similar AAA corporate notes surged 37 and AA debt yields jumped 76. While finance companies did start charging less for mortgages, their funding costs rose as the one-week Shanghai interbank lending rate added 37 basis points. The PBOC move misfired as it triggered an 18% surge in the Shanghai Composite Index of shares, prompting investors to raise cash by selling bonds and seeking loans, driving interest rates higher. Costs for riskier issuers of notes rose as regulators banned the use of riskier debt as collateral for financing. Investors dialed back expectations for further monetary easing as policy makers seek to cool the stock rally. “Financing costs moved in the opposite way than the central bank wished,” said Deng Haiqing at Citic Securities, China’s biggest brokerage.

“We don’t think the call for aggressive interest rate or reserve-requirement ratio cuts are well-grounded under current circumstances, as it could fuel bubbles in stocks.” The central bank reduced the one-year benchmark lending rate by 40 basis points to 5.6% and the deposit rate by 25 basis points to 2.75% starting from Nov. 22. The one-week Shanghai Interbank Offered Rate climbed to 3.59% on Dec. 12, the highest since Aug. 29, while the yield on top-rated five-year company bonds rose to 5.17% on Dec. 10, the highest since Sept. 18. The outstanding value of shares bought with borrowed money climbed to a record 122 billion yuan ($19.7 billion yuan) on Dec. 9, helping lift the benchmark stock index 39% this year. “The fund flows into the stock market could nurture prosperity in the capital market, but the real economy may not necessarily benefit in the short term,” Haitong Securities analysts wrote in a note on Dec. 7. “On the contrary, it could lead to further scarcity of funds, leading to an increase in interest rates.”

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More confirmation of what I’ve been saying for a long time.

China Manufacturing In Contraction (BBC)

China’s factory activity is in contraction, based on a private survey, reinforcing calls for more stimulus. The HSBC/Markit manufacturing purchasing manager’s index’s initial reading fell to 49.5 in December from November’s final reading of 50. A reading above 50 indicates expansion, while one below 50 points to contraction on a monthly basis. China will release its official PMI reading for December in the new year. The state’s official PMI came in at 50.3 for November. This morning’s latest reading from HSBC marks a seven-month low. Qu Hongbin, Chief Economist for China at HSBC said “Domestic demand slowed considerably and fell below 50 for the first time since April 2014. Price indices also fell sharply. The manufacturing slowdown continues in December and points to a weak ending for 2014.”

Earlier this week, China’s central bank said growth could slow to 7.1% next year from about 7.4% this year, because of a property market slump. Growth in the world’s second largest economy fell to 7.3% in the third quarter, which was the slowest pace since the global financial crisis. The risk that China might miss its official growth target of 7.5% this year for the first time in 15 years is growing because economic data is weaker than expected, economists said. A struggling property market, uneven export growth and cooling domestic demand and investment are some of the major factors weighing on overall growth. Last month the People’s Bank of China cut its one year deposit rate to 2.75% from 3.0% to try to revive its economy.

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I thought they were twins?! But Ambrose here just about does a Steve Keen as far as banks’ role in money supply is concerned.

Why Paul Krugman Is Wrong (AEP)

Professor Paul Krugman is the world’s most influential commentator on economic issues by a wide margin. It is a well-deserved ascendancy. He is brilliant, wide-ranging, readable, and the point of his rapier is very sharp. He correctly predicted and described the Long Slump; though whether he did so entirely for the right reasons is an interesting question. He demolished claims by hard-money totemists that zero rates and quantitative easing would lead to spiralling inflation in a global liquidity trap, as he calls it – or in a China-led world of excess supply and deficient demand, as others would put it. He correctly scolded those who claimed that rich developed countries with their own sovereign currencies are at risk of a bond market crisis unless they retrench into the downturn, or might go the way of Greece. So it is disconcerting to find myself on the wrong side of his biting critique. On other occasions I might submit to his Nobel authority, bruised, but wiser. This time I stand my ground.

The dispute is over whether central banks can generate inflation even when interest rates are zero. He says they cannot do so, and that it is jejune to float such an outlandish idea. Monetary policies are to all intents and purposes impotent at that point. He goes on to suggest that the historical and global evidence has demonstrated this beyond any possible doubt, and here he ventures into flinty terrain. Let me counter – and I will return to this – that his own theoretical model of how the economy works has broken down in one key respect over the last six years. Things are happening that he strongly implied would not and could not happen. He has so far been frugal in acknowledging the limitations of his theory, let alone in exploring why it has gone wrong. He has fallen back to a default setting: the IS-LM model. Developed in 1936, it defines the relationship between interest rates and real output. He returns to the IS-LM invariably and reflexively, almost as if were a religious incantation.

He rebukes me for quoting Tim Congdon from International Monetary Research, specifically for invoking traditional monetary theory to suggest that QE can work even when bond yields are hyper-compressed. The precise quote: “The interest rate is totally irrelevant. What matters is the quantity of money. Large scale money creation is a very powerful weapon and can always create inflation.” Mr Congdon’s claim is a self-evident truism. Central banks can always create inflation if they try hard enough. As Milton Friedman said, they can print bundles of notes and drop from them helicopters. The modern variant might be a $100,000 electronic transfer into the bank account of every citizen. That would most assuredly create inflation. I don’t see how Prof Krugman can refute this, though I suspect that he will deftly change the goal posts by stating that this is not monetary policy. To anticipate this counter-attack, let me state in advance that the English language does not belong to him. It is monetary policy. It is certainly not interest rate policy.

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Fun with US stats.

You Are Hereby Baffled With Bullshit (Zero Hedge)

Just in case you were confidently reflecting on America’s decoupling recovery… we present – today’s baffle ’em with bullshit meme:

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“Gross said it would be “very difficult” for oil prices to stabilize.”

Bill Gross: US Structural Growth Rate To Be About 2% Or Less (CNBC)

Bill Gross said in an exclusive interview with CNBC on Monday that economic growth will likely fall to 2%. “Yes, we’re starting from a 3% growth economy that will probably persist for another quarter or so,” he said. “We get back to a relatively new structural growth rate, which is not 3 but probably 2 or even less. “He attributed the decline to falling oil prices, which in turn affects industries such as fracking. Oil’s slide also “determines currency movements,” setting off a chain reaction. “Then financial markets try and readjust,” he said. “Hedge funds reduce leverage and sell other positions.”

Gross said it would be “very difficult” for oil prices to stabilize. Financial conditions are also a problem, Gross said. “Why would the Federal Reserve raise interest rates in order to slow economic growth if in fact inflation was moving lower? They have a dual mandate from that standpoint,” he said. “I think the market basically doesn’t respect the second part of that mandate.” He also sees the 10-year yield holding near 2%.”I think high quality bonds are a safe bet, just not a high returning bet,” he said.

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Interesting point from Yves Smith.

Did Wall Street Need the Swaps Budget to Hedge Against Oil Plunge? (Yves)

Conventional wisdom among banking experts is that Wall Street’s successful fight last week to get a pet provision into the must-pass budget bill (or in political junkies’ shorthand, Cromnibus) as more a demonstration of power and a test for gutting Dodd Frank than a fight that mattered to them. But the provision they got in, which was to undo a portion of Dodd Frank that barred them from having taxpayer-backstopped deposits fund derivative positions, may prove to be more important than it seemed as the collateral damage from the 40% fall in oil prices hits investors and intermediaries. Mind you, all the howling by Big Finance over this measure can’t be seen as an indicator of its importance. Yes, they have been trying to get this passed for two years. In fact, as Akshat Tewary of Occupy the SEC points out:

The provision that just got passed by the House (Section 630 of the Cromnibus) is identical to another bill already passed by the House last year – HR 992 (Swaps Regulatory Improvement Act). So the House has basically passed the same bill twice. Last year the Senate wouldn’t approve it and the banks were not happy…so the Republicans thought they would hide it in the budget bill so the Senate was forced to approve it this time.

Industry participants view any incursion on their right to make profit (as in pay themselves big bonuses) as a casus belli. That leads to regular histrionics about minor restrictions, like the TARP’s pathetically weak limits on executive bonuses. Exerts on regulation said that the Dodd Frank provision at issue, known as derivatives push-out, was simply about the big US financial firms keeping their profit margins via continued access to cheap funding. Banks weren’t barred from engaging in this type of business but they’d have to do it in different legal entities.

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Election propaganda wars.

Greek Central Bank Boss Warns Of ‘Irreparable’ Economic Damage (BBC)

Greece’s economy faces “irreparable” damage from the ongoing political crisis, the boss of its central bank has warned. “The crisis in recent days is now taking serious dimensions…and the risk of irreparable damage for the Greek economy is now great,” said Yannis Stournaras. Greek politicians will start voting on Wednesday for a new Greek president. There will be a snap general election if the government nominee loses. The political uncertainty has rattled Greek markets over the past week. Greece’s economy emerged from a six-year long recession in the first quarter of the year.

However, the size of Greece’s economy is still about a quarter below the peak it reached before the severe recession and debt crisis triggered by the global financial crash. And conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s decision to call an early vote in parliament to elect a new president has caused fresh concerns. His conservative-led coalition needs the support of other parties if its candidate is to obtain the backing of MPs. On Thursday an official in the governing coalition said it was still short of the support needed to stop the government collapsing in the parliamentary vote. Greece’s government has warned of a catastrophe if snap elections are called and left-wing anti-bailout party Syriza wins, but Syriza has accused the government of fear mongering.

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“The German “data are consistent with only marginal gross-domestic-product growth in the fourth quarter at best ..”

German Economy at Risk of Downturn as Growth Seen Weak at Best

German private-sector growth slowed to the weakest in 18 months in December, increasing the risk that a soft phase will turn into a more pronounced economic downturn. Markit Economics said a Purchasing Managers Index for manufacturing and services fell to 51.4 this month from 51.7 in November. Economists forecast an increase to 52.3. A factory gauge rose to 51.2 from 49.5, crossing the 50 mark that divides expansion from contraction, while a measure for services fell to 51.4 from 52.1. While German data showed this month that the economy, Europe’s largest, had a modest start into the last quarter of the year, the Bundesbank has pointed to signs that growth could strengthen. As the rest of the euro area struggles to expand and inflation hovers close to zero, the European Central Bank has held out the prospect of expanding its range of asset-purchases next year.

The German “data are consistent with only marginal gross-domestic-product growth in the fourth quarter at best,” said Oliver Kolodseike, an economist at London-based Markit. “The possibility of a renewed downturn at the start of next year is clearly becoming more and more likely, especially if the survey data continue to disappoint.” The German economy narrowly escaped recession in the third quarter, recording growth of 0.1% after shrinking by the same extent in the April-June period. Economists predict growth of 0.2% in the final three months of the year. Companies signaled a second consecutive monthly decline in new business in December, citing a lack of investment and increased competition, according to today’s report.

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“NATO jets escorted Russian planes 140 times in 2014, a 70% increase on the previous year, while they flew missions that were “in strict compliance with international rules ..”

Russia Says US, NATO Increased Spy Flights Seven-Fold (Bloomberg)

Russia has reported a seven-fold increase in reconnaisance missions by U.S. and NATO aircraft near its border on the Baltic Sea since April as tensions flared over the crisis in Ukraine. Russian fighter jets also flew more than 300 missions in response to NATO and other foreign military aircraft approaching the country’s borders this year, compared with more than 200 in 2013, Lieutenant-General Mikhail Mizintsev, head of the Russian Defense Ministry’s joint military command center, said. The sharp increase in air activity by NATO and countries including Sweden and Finland is taking place without “any mutual exchange of information,” Mizintsev said today in his first interview with foreign media. “All achievements in the field of trust-building and voluntary transparency that NATO and Russia have formed over the years have ceased.” Russia’s disclosures about NATO activities around its borders come as it’s embroiled in the worst standoff since the Cold War with the U.S. and its allies over the conflict in Ukraine.

It mirrors NATO reports of a jump in Russian military flights close to the borders of member states. The number of flights by NATO’s tactical aircraft close to the borders of Russia and Belarus doubled to about 3,000 this year, Mizintsev said. He rejected NATO’s claim that it had intercepted Russian aircraft some 400 times this year, a 50% increase on 2013. NATO jets escorted Russian planes 140 times in 2014, a 70% increase on the previous year, while they flew missions that were “in strict compliance with international rules,” Mizintsev said. NATO will remain vigilant in tracking Russian flights, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters today after a meeting at the military alliance’s Brussels headquarters with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Mizintsev said Russia registered 55 cases of foreign jets flying in “dangerous proximity” to its long-range military aircraft, at a distance of less than 100 meters, in 2013-14. Russia’s missions were “as risky as NATO aircraft flights near the Russian border can be considered risky,” he said.

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Amen.

All I Want for Christmas is a (Real) Government Shutdown (Ron Paul)

The political class breathed a sigh of relief Saturday when the US Senate averted a government shutdown by passing the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill. This year’s omnibus resembles omnibuses of Christmas past in that it was drafted in secret, was full of special interest deals and disguised spending increases, and was voted on before most members could read it. The debate over the omnibus may have made for entertaining political theater, but the outcome was never in doubt. Most House and Senate members are so terrified of another government shutdown that they would rather vote for a 1,774-page bill they have not read than risk even a one or two-day government shutdown. Those who voted for the omnibus to avoid a shutdown fail to grasp that the consequences of blindly expanding government are far worse than the consequences of a temporary government shutdown.

A short or even long-term government shutdown is a small price to pay to avoid an economic calamity caused by Congress’ failure to reduce spending and debt. The political class’ shutdown phobia is particularly puzzling because a shutdown only closes 20% of the federal government. As the American people learned during the government shutdown of 2013, the country can survive with 20% less government. Instead of panicking over a limited shutdown, a true pro-liberty Congress would be eagerly drawing up plans to permanently close most of the federal government, staring with the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve’s inflationary policies not only degrade the average American’s standard of living, they also allow Congress to run up huge deficits.

Congress should take the first step toward restoring a sound monetary policy by passing the Audit the Fed bill, so the American people can finally learn the truth about the Fed’s operations. Second on the chopping block should be the Internal Revenue Service. The federal government is perfectly capable of performing its constitutional functions without imposing a tyrannical income tax system on the American people. America’s militaristic foreign policy should certainly be high on the shutdown list. The troops should be brought home, all foreign aid should be ended, and America should pursue a policy of peace and free trade with all nations. Ending the foreign policy of hyper-interventionism that causes so many to resent and even hate America will increase our national security.

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And what do you think happens when the water evaporates as temperatures rise?

Peat Is Amazon’s Carbon Superstore (BBC)

The most dense store of carbon in Amazonia is not above ground in trees but below ground in peatlands, a study has calculated. An international team of researchers said their work, which uses satellite data and field measurements, provides the “most accurate estimates to date”. Protecting these landscapes is vital if efforts to curb climate change are to be successful, they added. The findings appear in the journal Environmental Research Letters. Writing in the paper, the scientists observed: “This investigation provides the most accurate estimates to date of the carbon stock of an area that is the largest peatland complex in the Neotropics.” They said it also confirmed “the status of the [Pastaza-Marañón foreland basin in north-west Peru] as the most carbon-dense landscape in Amanozia”.

“We expected to find these peatlands but what was more of surprise was how extensive they were, and how much this relatively small area contributed to Peru’s carbon stock,” explained co-author Freddie Draper from the University of Leeds. The 120,000 sq km basin accounts for just about 3% of the Peruvian Amazon, yet it stores almost 50% of its carbon stock, which equates to about three billion tonnes. Mr Draper told BBC News that the team used a new approach to produce their figures: “We used quite a novel method, combining a lot of field data – for about 24 months, we measured how deep the peat was, how dense it was and how much of it was carbon. “That measured how much carbon was in the ground, and then we estimated how much carbon was in the trees.

“Probably the most novel part, because the study covered such a large area, we used different satellite products (radar and images) to identify where these peatlands were.” The team said that the basin remains “almost entirely intact”, but threats are increasing. “Maintaining intact peatlands is crucial for them to continue to act as a carbon sink by continuing to form peat and contribute fully to regional habitat and species diversity,” explained co-author Katy Roucoux from the University of St Andrews. Dr Roucoux told BBC News that scientists are still learning about the contribution these landscapes make to the global carbon cycle. “An important issue is the extent to which the peatland ecosystems are continuing to lock up and store carbon as peat today. It certainly looks as though they are as the environmental conditions are right, ie water-logged.”

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It will take forever to solve this issue.

Denmark Claims North Pole Via Greenland Ridge Link (AP)

Scientific data shows Greenland’s continental shelf is connected to a ridge beneath the Arctic Ocean, giving Danes a claim to the North Pole and any potential energy resources beneath it, Denmark’s foreign minister said. Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard said Denmark will deliver a claim on Monday to a United Nations panel in New York that will eventually decide control of the area, which Russia and Canada are also coveting. The five Arctic countries – the United States, Russia, Norway, Canada and Denmark – all have areas surrounding the North Pole, but only Canada and Russia had indicated an interest in it before Denmark’s claim. Lidegaard told the AP that the Arctic nations so far “have stuck to the rules of the game” and he hoped they would continue to do so.

In 2008, the five pledged that control of the North Pole region would be decided in an orderly settlement in the framework of the United Nations, and possible overlapping claims would be dealt with bilaterally. Interest in the Arctic is intensifying as global warming shrinks the polar ice, opening up possible resource development and new shipping lanes. The area is believed to hold an estimated 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30% of its untapped gas. Lidegaard said he expects no quick decisions, with other countries also sending in claims. “This is a historical milestone for Denmark and many others as the area has an impact on the lives of lot of people. After the U.N. panel had taken a decision based on scientific data, comes a political process,” Lidegaard told The Associated Press in an interview on Friday. “I expect this to take some time. An answer will come in a few decades.”

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Oh boy …

Welcome To Manus, Australia’s Asylum Seeker Dumping Ground Gulag (Guardian)

The 60,000 people of Manus province, a remote island outpost of Papua New Guinea, had no say in the decision by Australian and local leaders to detain, process and at least temporarily resettle foreign asylum seekers on their shores. “We heard about it on the radio,” says Nahau Rooney, a pioneering political leader, former PNG justice minister and Manus’ most famous daughter. In the 14 months since Australia’s “PNG solution” was brokered, sending asylum seekers trying to reach Australia by boat to Manus for processing and eventual resettlement in PNG, the operation has also sent a tsunami of change crashing through every dimension of island life. It has delivered a booming economy, jobs and desperately needed services.

It has also brought social and environmental damage, deaths, dislocation, disputes and deep anxiety about what will come next. What is certain is that life in Manus will never be the same. […] Two years ago there were only a couple of flights a week to faraway Manus province. Today aircraft sweep in every day over the Bismarck Sea, crossing 370km of open water from the Papua New Guinea mainland to bump down on a strip carved into the jungle by Japanese soldiers 72 years ago. It’s here, since November 2012, that more than 1,650 asylum seekers who once tried to sail to a new life in Australia have instead found themselves unloaded on to PNG soil. Most of the first wave, about 300, did fly back to Australia for processing when the regional resettlement arrangement with PNG was signed in August 2013.

But under its terms all who have arrived since have been assured that even if they are ultimately recognised as refugees, they will never live in Australia. PNG will be their home. None of these asylum seekers have yet been released, though this is said to be close. Two have died. More than 240 have flown away again, “voluntary returns” to their homelands. At last count 1,056 remain in detention, 20 minutes from where they landed. They are held in a compound at a place called Lombrum. Though it long predates them, the name in local language refers to the bottom of a canoe where captives are kept. Momote airport has also seen the coming and going of the legions of guards, tradespeople, medics, interpreters and officials required to wrangle, secure, house, assess and care for the asylum seekers.

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Well, done, y’all!

Only Five Northern White Rhinos Now Exist On The Entire Planet (MarketWatch)

One of six known remaining northern white rhinoceroses died at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park on Sunday. The rhino, Angalifu, was around 44 and died of old age, the Associated Press reported. “Angalifu’s death is a tremendous loss to all of us,” said the park’s curator, Randy Rieches, in a statement, according to the AP. “Not only because he was well-beloved here at the park but also because his death brings this wonderful species one step closer to extinction.” The zoo took to Twitter to memorialize Angalifu and draw attention to the plight of the northern white rhino via the #EndExtinction hashtag:

The white rhino is the second largest land mammal and has two subspecies: the northern and southern white rhino. The southern white is currently classified as “near threatened,” with a population of about 20,000, according to the World Wildlife Fund. With the death of Angalifu, only five northern white rhinos exist — all of them in captivity. There are no northern white rhinos known to be in the wild. Of the remaining rhinos, one is at the same San Diego zoo, another is at a zoo in the Czech Republic, and three are at a wildlife conservancy in Kenya.

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Of course it is, there’s no other way. These kinds of conferences never solve a thing.

Is The Lima Deal A Travesty Of Global Climate Justice? (Guardian)

At one point on Saturday night it looked quite likely that the Lima climate talks would collapse in disarray. Instead of the harmony expected between China and the US following their pre-talks pact, the world’s two largest economies were squaring off; workmen were dismantling the venue; old faultlines between rich and poor countries were opening up again and some countries’ delegations were rushing to catch their planes. In the end, after a marathon 32-hour session where everyone stared into the abyss of total failure, a modicum of compromise prevailed. Some deft changes of emphasis in the revised text and the inclusion of key words such as “loss” and “damage” proved just enough for diplomats to bodge a last-minute compromise. There were cheers and tears as the most modest of agreements was reached. The Peruvian president of the UN climate change convention, or Cop20, could say without irony: “With this text, we all win without exception.”

Not so. Countries may technically still be on track to negotiate a final agreement in Paris next year, but the gaps between them are growing rather than closing and the stakes are getting higher every month. We have now reached the point where everyone can see clearly that whatever ambition there once was to respect science and try to hold temperatures to an overall 2C rise has been ditched. We also know that developing countries will not get anything like the money they need to adapt their economies and infrastructure to climate change and that those countries that have been historically responsible for getting the world into its current climate mess will be able to do much what they like. As it stands, 21 years of tortuous negotiations may have actually taken developing countries backwards on tackling climate change.

From an imperfect but legally binding UN treaty struck in 1992, in which industrialised countries accepted responsibility and agreed to make modest but specific cuts over a defined period, we now have the prospect of a less than legally binding global deal where everyone is obliged to do something but where the poor may have to do the most and the rich will be free to do little. In 1992, rich countries were obliged to lead and to help the poor, but we now have a situation where those who had little or no historical responsibility for climate change are likely to cut emissions the most. This travesty of global climate justice, say many developing countries, is largely the fault of the US, which, backed by Britain and others industrialised countries like Canada and Australia, has helped build up distrust in developing countries by continually trying to deregulate the international climate change regime by weakening the rules, shifting responsibility to the south and making derisory offers of financial help.

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“Existing computer models may be severely underestimating the risk to Greenland’s ice sheet..”

Bad News For Florida: Models Of Greenland Ice Melting Could Be Way Off (NBC)

Existing computer models may be severely underestimating the risk to Greenland’s ice sheet — which would add 20 feet to sea levels if it all melted — from warming temperatures, according to two studies released Monday. Satellite data were instrumental for both studies — one which concludes that Greenland is likely to see many more lakes that speed up melt, and the other which better tracks large glaciers all around Earth’s largest island. The lakes study, published in the peer-reviewed Nature Climate Change, found that what are called “supraglacial lakes” have been migrating inland since the 1970s as temperatures warm, and could double on Greenland by 2060. The study upends models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change because they “didn’t allow for lake spreading, so the work has to be done again,” study co-author Andrew Shepherd, director of Britain’s Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling, told NBCNews.com.

Those lakes can speed up ice loss since, being darker than the white ice, they can absorb more of the sun’s heat and cause melting. The melt itself creates channels through the ice sheet to weaken it further, sending ice off the sheet and into the ocean. “When you pour pancake batter into a pan, if it rushes quickly to the edges of the pan, you end up with a thin pancake,” study lead author Amber Leeson, a researcher at Britain’s University of Leeds, explained in a statement. “It’s similar to what happens with ice sheets: The faster it flows, the thinner it will be. “When the ice sheet is thinner,” she added, “it is at a slightly lower elevation and at the mercy of warmer air temperatures than it would have been if it were thicker, increasing the size of the melt zone around the edge of the ice sheet.”

The mix of IPCC models have Greenland contributing 8.7 inches to global sea level rise by 2100 without the doubling of supraglacial lakes, but the team fears that a doubling could add almost as much as that over the next century. Such a rise in sea level would have serious repercussions for heavily populated low-lying areas, like Florida or Bangladesh, which could see beach and barrier island erosion and salt water encroachment, scientists say. The glaciers study, published in the peer-reviewed Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used NASA satellite data to reconstruct how the height of the ice sheet has changed at nearly 100,000 locations from 1993 to 2012.

The team found significant variations that aren’t factored in by existing computer models for future changes on Greenland because they focus on just four glaciers. “The problem is that these models have been applied to four glaciers only, one of which has not been changing much, to predict how these glaciers may change in the future,” Kees van der Veen, a study co-author and University of Kansas geographer, told NBCNews.com. “Results for these four glaciers have been extrapolated to the entire ice sheet to estimate the contribution of the entire ice sheet to sea level rise,” he adds. “Our results show that this is not appropriate because of how differently individual glaciers have changed over the last decade.”

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