Oct 092017
 
 October 9, 2017  Posted by at 9:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Joan Miro The tilled field 1924

 

CEO Stock Buybacks Parasitize the Economy (Ralph Nader)
The Economy Is Humming. Bankers Are Cheering. What Could Go Wrong? (NYT)
Flatliners (NT)
Schäuble: Another Financial Crisis Is Coming Due To Spiraling Global Debt (ZH)
EU Plan To Prevent Bank Runs Could Backfire, Create Panic (BBG)
Hackers And Fraudsters Are Causing Cryptocurrency Chaos (Ind.)
Is This The Geopolitical Shift Of The Century? (OP)
Tensions Rise As US, Turkey Halt Visitor Visas, Send Lira Tumbling (BBG)
Sanctions Against Russia Have Cost European Union €30 Billion (RT)
Spain is the Blueprint for How All Governments Will Act (Martin Armstrong)
Catalans Call for Talks as Spain Enters Crunch Week (BBG)
Greece Foreclosures Target Seems Unattainable (K.)
Nearly There, But Never Further Away (FP)

 

 

And the parasite is killing its host.

CEO Stock Buybacks Parasitize the Economy (Ralph Nader)

The monster of economic waste—over $7 trillion of dictated stock buybacks since 2003 by the self-enriching CEOs of large corporations—started with a little noticed change in 1982 by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) under President Ronald Reagan. That was when SEC Chairman John Shad, a former Wall Street CEO, redefined unlawful ‘stock manipulation’ to exclude stock buybacks. Then after Clinton pushed through congress a $1 million cap on CEO pay that could be deductible, CEO compensation consultants wanted much of CEO pay to reflect the price of the company’s stock. The stock buyback mania was unleashed. Its core was not to benefit shareholders (other than perhaps hedge fund speculators) by improving the earnings per share ratio. Its real motivation was to increase CEO pay no matter how badly such burning out of shareholder dollars hurt the company, its workers and the overall pace of economic growth.

In a massive conflict of interest between greedy top corporate executives and their own company, CEO-driven stock buybacks extract capital from corporations instead of contributing capital for corporate needs, as the capitalist theory would dictate. Yes, due to the malicious, toady SEC “business judgement” rule, CEOs can take trillions of dollars away from productive pursuits without even having to ask the companies’ owners—the shareholders—for approval. What could competent management have done with this treasure trove of shareholder money which came originally from consumer purchases? They could have invested more in research and development, in productive plant and equipment, in raising worker pay (and thereby consumer demand), in shoring up shaky pension fund reserves, or increasing dividends to shareholders.

The leading expert on this subject—economics professor William Lazonick of the University of Massachusetts—wrote a widely read article in 2013 in the Harvard Business Review titled “Profits Without Prosperity” documenting the intricate ways CEOs use buybacks to escalate their pay up to 300 to 500 times (averaging over $10,000 an hour plus lavish benefits) the average pay of their workers. This compared to only 30 times the average pay gap in 1978. This has led to increasing inequality and stagnant middle class wages. [..] In a review of 64 companies, including major retailers such as JC Penny and Macy’s, these firms spent more dollars in stock buybacks “than their businesses are currently worth in market value”! [..] The scholars concluded that “Buybacks are a way of disinvesting – we call it ‘committing corporate suicide’..

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How much time do I have?

The Economy Is Humming. Bankers Are Cheering. What Could Go Wrong? (NYT)

For decades, the global economy has been defined by dissonance. There has been the Japanese recession. The financial crises in the United States and Europe. And drama in emerging markets throughout. But as central bankers, finance ministers and money managers descend on Washington this week for the fall meetings of the IMF, they will confront an unusual reality: global markets and economies rising in unison. Never mind political turmoil, populist uprisings and threats of nuclear war. From Wall Street to Washington, economists have been upgrading their forecasts for the global economy this year, with the consensus now pointing to an expansion of more than 3% — up noticeably from 2.6% in 2016. Economists from the IMF are likely to follow suit when the fund releases its biannual report on the global economy on Tuesday.

The rosy numbers are noteworthy. But what’s more startling is that virtually every major developed and emerging economy is growing simultaneously, the first time this has happened in 10 years. “In terms of positive cycles, it is difficult to find very many precedents here,” said Brian Coulton, the chief economist at Fitch, the debt ratings agency. “It is the strongest growth we have seen since 2010.” In Japan, a reform-minded government and aggressive action by the central bank have pushed growth to 1.5% — up from 0.3% three years ago. In Europe, strong domestic demand in Germany and robust recoveries in countries like Spain, Portugal and Italy are expected to spur 2.2% growth in the eurozone. That would be more than double its average annual growth in the previous five years.

Aggressive infrastructure spending by China; bold economic reforms by countries including Brazil, Indonesia and India; and rising commodities prices (helping countries such as Russia) have spurred growth in emerging markets. And in the United States, despite doubts about President Trump’s ability to pass a major tax bill, the economy and financial markets chug along. In fact, one of the few large economies not following an upward path is Britain, whose pending exit from the European Union is taking a toll. Having grown at an average annual pace of just over 2% from 2012 to 2016, the British economy is expanding just 1.5% this year. [..] “We are in a boom today, but we should not forget that the financial system is still relatively unstable,” said Jim Reid, a credit strategist at Deutsche Bank.

Mr. Reid, who spices up his market analyses by regaling clients with pop songs on the piano, recently published a detailed study on what he expects will be the causes of the next global financial crisis. Pick your poison: an abrupt slowdown in China, the rise of populism, debt problems in Japan or an ugly outcome to Britain’s move to leave the European Union. His overriding worry, though, is that investors and policy makers aren’t prepared for what will happen when global central banks put a halt to their easy-money policies. Since the 2008 crisis, Mr. Reid noted, central banks have accumulated more than $14 trillion in assets — an amount that exceeds the annual output of China by $3 trillion. What happens when the central banks all start to sell? “This is unprecedented,” Mr. Reid said. “And no one knows what the outcome will be.”

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Compressed volatility.

Flatliners (NT)

We find ourselves in a very unique point in history and in a world dominated by false narratives. It is a challenge to keep an analytical grip on reality, but I’ll try to tie a few threads together here to put everything in a macro context. Firstly the underlying base reality: Free money, easy money, whatever you want to call it, permeates everything we see in financial markets. Indeed I would argue price appreciation has been paid for with unprecedented and, in my view, unsustainable volatility compression. A couple of charts really highlight this. Most clearly perhaps is the precise trend line tagging we can observe in the correlated picture of price appreciation and volatility compression since the February 2016 lows:

The $VIX’s corollary, the inverse $XIV, embarked on an explosive near one way journey since the US election coinciding with over $2 trillion central bank intervention in just the first 9 months of 2017:

And it has continued to this day and just made another all time high this past week on a massive negative divergence. It is the magnitude of this volatility compression that explains the current trading environment we find ourselves in. Aside from the obvious artificial liquidity avalanche we’ve had speculated about the driver of all this and the answer may simply be the promise of even more free money, specifically tax cuts. As some of you may recall from my analysis over the past year I’ve been very clear that math ultimately will bring out truth in any narrative. In this case that notion that tax cuts pay for themselves is a fantasy. It always has been. Can it result in a short term bump in spending or even growth? Yes it is possible, especially if structured right.

But any historical analysis will show you that tax cuts, especially already coming from a relatively low base, will just add to debt via larger deficits. Recently the White House budget director finally acknowledged this very reality: “a tax plan that doesn’t add to the deficit won’t spur growth” My criticism has been that all this marketing talk is simply a lie and will structurally put the country further at risk of trillion dollar deficits and a massive debt explosion that is already baked in even without tax cuts.

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But he makes no attempt to apologize?!

Schäuble: Another Financial Crisis Is Coming Due To Spiraling Global Debt (ZH)

Schauble warned that the world was in danger of “encouraging new bubbles to form”. “Economists all over the world are concerned about the increased risks arising from the accumulation of more and more liquidity and the growth of public and private debt. I myself am concerned about this, too,” he said echoing the concern voiced just one day earlier by IMF head Christine Lagarde, said the world was enjoying its best growth spurt since the start of the decade, but warned of “threats on the horizon” from “high levels of debt in many countries to rapid credit expansion in China, to excessive risk-taking in financial markets”. Schäuble also echoed the latest warning from the BIS, which last month said that the world had become so used to cheap credit that higher interest rates could derail the global economic recovery.

Meanwhile, Schäuble defended austerity, saying the word was, “strictly speaking, an Anglo-Saxon way of describing a solid financial policy which doesn’t necessarily see more, or higher deficits as a good thing.” The soon to be former finance minister also took a pot shot at the UK: “The UK always made fun of Rhineland capitalism,” he said, contrasting Germany’s consensus-driven, social market model with Anglo-American free markets and deregulation. “[But] we have seen that the tools of the social market economy were more effective at dealing with the [financial] crisis…than in the places where the crisis arose.”

Of course, Germany’s success – almost entirely a function of the common currency which has effectively kept the Deutsche Mark from soaring – has come at the expense of crisis after crisis among Europe’s southern states. Unfortunately it has resulted in an entire generation of unemployed youth in countries like Greece, Italy and Spain. Still, in keeping with his dour image, Schäuble’s last words were pessimistic: “We have to ensure that we will be resilient enough if we ever face a new economic crisis,” he added. “We won’t always have such positive economic times as we have now” concluded the jolly 75-year-old. Perhaps Wolfi is worrying too much: after all, according to Janet Yellen, “we will not see another crisis in our lifetime.” And if we do, well central banks are primed and ready to injects trillions more to keep the artificial “recovery” and market “all time highs” can kicked just a little bit further.

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They’ll screw this one up, too.

EU Plan To Prevent Bank Runs Could Backfire, Create Panic (BBG)

Three years since their banking union began to take shape, European Union regulators are seeking fresh powers to deal with lenders in trouble. Their plan would let them stop withdrawals from a failing bank for a few days while they address the problem, with the aim of preventing a run. But this approach could easily have the opposite effect, spreading panic to the whole financial system. There’s a better way. Instead of freezing bank accounts, EU governments should enable regulators to keep a bank going while they restructure it and search for a new owner. This will require EU governments to commit additional resources for the task. The ECB and the euro zone’s Single Resolution Board have been calling for the power to freeze bank accounts – a so-called moratorium – since the swift resolution of Banco Popular in June.

They succeeded in winding down the troubled Spanish lender by selling it to rival Banco Santander, but had to do it on a weekday night with a run on deposits in progress. The regulators say that next time it might be impossible to find a buyer overnight. A moratorium would relieve that pressure and perhaps allow them to sell the bank at a better price. This approach would mirror an arrangement which is currently in place in Germany, and it’s superficially appealing: Closing a bank would certainly stop a run. But it could also have unintended consequences. Depositors may run from a bank in trouble sooner — fearing that if they wait too long they may not be able to withdraw their money. It could also lead depositors to empty their accounts as soon as the bank re-opens. Most dangerous of all, freezing accounts in one bank could spread panic to the rest of the system, as other depositors fear the same will happen to them.

The idea also puts international cooperation on bank resolution at risk. The EU regulators’ plan threatens to disrupt measures put in place after the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in 2008. Bank of England economists recently warned in a working paper that adopting the new moratorium might prompt banks to back out of the existing arrangements for handling financial emergencies.

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An extensive look at crypto. Much better than the headline makes you think.

Hackers And Fraudsters Are Causing Cryptocurrency Chaos (Ind.)

Cryptocurrencies were supposed to offer a secure, digital way to conduct financial transactions but they have been dogged by doubts. Concerns have largely focused on their astronomical gains in value and the likelihood of painful price crashes. Equally perilous, though, are the exchanges where virtual currencies are bought, sold and stored. These exchanges, which match buyers and sellers and sometimes hold traders’ funds, have become magnets for fraud and mires of technological dysfunction, posing an underappreciated risk to anyone who trades digital coins. Huge sums are at stake. As the prices of bitcoin and other virtual currencies have soared this year – bitcoin has quadrupled – legions of investors and speculators have turned to online exchanges.

Billions of dollars’ worth of bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies, which aren’t backed by any governments or central banks, are now traded on exchanges every day. “These are new assets. No one really knows what to make of them,” said David L Yermack, chairman of the finance department at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “If you’re a consumer, there’s nothing to protect you.” Regulators and governments are still debating how to handle cryptocurrencies, and Mr Yermack says the US Congress will ultimately have to take action. Some of the freewheeling exchanges are plagued with poor security and lack investor protections common in more regulated financial markets. Some Chinese exchanges have falsely inflated their trading volume to lure new customers, according to former employees.

There have been at least three dozen heists of cryptocurrency exchanges since 2011; many of the hacked exchanges later shut down. More than 980,000 bitcoins have been stolen, which today would be worth about $4bn. Few have been recovered. Burned investors have been left at the mercy of exchanges as to whether they will receive any compensation. Nearly 25,000 customers of Mt. Gox, once the world’s largest bitcoin exchange, are still waiting for compensation more than three years after its collapse into bankruptcy in Japan. The exchange said it lost about 650,000 bitcoins. Claims approved by the bankruptcy trustee total more than $400m.

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Not without China, no.

Is This The Geopolitical Shift Of The Century? (OP)

The geopolitical reality in the Middle East is changing dramatically. The impact of the Arab Spring, the retraction of the U.S. military, and diminishing economic influence on the Arab world – as displayed during the Obama Administration – are facts. The emergence of a Russian-Iranian-Turkish triangle is the new reality. The Western hegemony in the MENA region has ended, and not in a shy way, but with a long list of military conflicts and destabilization. The first visit of a Saudi king to Russia shows the growing power of Russia in the Middle East. It also shows that not only Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but also Egypt and Libya, are more likely to consider Moscow as a strategic ally.

King Salman’s visit to Moscow could herald not only several multibillion business deals, but could be the first real step towards a new regional geopolitical and military alliance between OPEC leader Saudi Arabia and Russia. This cooperation will not only have severe consequences for Western interests but also could partly undermine or reshape the position of OPEC at the same time. Russian president Vladimir Putin is currently hosting a large Saudi delegation, led by King Salman and supported by Saudi minister of energy Khalid Al Falih. Moscow’s open attitude to Saudi Arabia—a lifetime Washington ally and strong opponent of the growing Iran power projections in the Arab world—show that Putin understands the current pivotal changes in the Middle East.

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Direct result of Turkey’s deal with Russia on Syria.

Tensions Rise As US, Turkey Halt Visitor Visas, Send Lira Tumbling (BBG)

The U.S. and Turkey each suspended visa services for citizens looking to visit the other country, a sharp escalation of a diplomatic spat that sent the lira down more than 6% against the U.S. dollar. The moves followed the Oct. 4 arrest of a Turkish national who works at the U.S. consulate in Istanbul for alleged involvement in the July 2016 coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Hours after the Trump administration halted visa services in Turkey on Sunday, Erdogan’s government responded in kind, even repeating verbatim much of the U.S. statement. Both sides said “recent events” had forced them to “reassess the commitment” of the other to the security of mission facilities and personnel.

Only two weeks ago, U.S. President Donald Trump had heaped praise on Erdogan when they met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, saying the Turkish leader “is becoming a friend of mine” and “frankly, he’s getting high marks.” The U.S. on Thursday called charges against the man “wholly without merit,” saying it was “deeply disturbed” by the arrest and “by leaks from Turkish government sources seemingly aimed at trying the employee in the media rather than a court of law.” Turkey responded by saying the arrested Turkish citizen wasn’t part of the U.S. Consulate’s staff but a “local employee.” The lira was at 3.7323 per dollar as of 10:37 a.m. in Singapore on Monday, down more than 3% from Friday’s close, and touched as low as 3.8533. The currency is heading for a seventh day of declines, the longest stretch since May 2016.

Relations between Turkey, a NATO member, and some Western countries soured after the failed 2016 coup. Erdogan has accused U.S.-based Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen of organizing the attempted overthrow, and has become increasingly impatient with the U.S. for not turning him over. “I would expect that there will be some sort of de-escalation at the leadership level – Trump and Erdogan will speak or meet,” said Murat Yurtbilir, who specializes in Turkish affairs at the Australian National University. “But the underlying problems won’t go away: the Gulen issue, Turkey’s slow switch toward Russia’s policy in Syria and the economy. ”

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But but but….

Sanctions Against Russia Have Cost European Union €30 Billion (RT)

New research by the Austrian Institute of Economic Research (WIFO) suggests the EU’s economic sanctions against Russia introduced three years ago have cost European countries billions of euro. The survey, which was conducted at the request of the European Parliament and published on Friday, showed EU exports to Russia declining annually by 15.7% since 2014. Up to 40% of that decrease was due to sanctions, it said. As a result of the penalties, Russia has lost its place as EU’s fourth largest trading partner and currently ranks fifth behind the US, Switzerland, China, and Turkey. WIFO calculated EU exports to Russia nosedived from €120 billion four years ago to €72 billion in 2016. According to the research, Cyprus was hit most as exports to Russia plunged 34.5% over the past two years. Greece suffered a 23.2% fall; Croatia’s exports were down 21%.

Austrian exports to Russia dropped by almost ten% or by €1 billion, WIFO said. Poland and the UK have lost €3 billion each. The researchers said the impact of sanctions was most damaging during the first year, as “not much progress has been made in switching trade flows to other countries.” EU sanctions against Russia were introduced in 2014 over the country’s alleged involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The penalties targeted Russia’s financial, energy, and defense sectors, along with some government officials, businessmen, and public figures. Moscow responded by imposing an embargo on agricultural produce and food and raw materials on countries that joined the anti-Russian sanctions. Since then the sides have repeatedly broadened and extended the restrictive measures.

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“You can always write a law and claim it is unconstitutional to separate. That does not make it legal, moral, or ethical.”

Moreover, it contradicts the UN Charter.

Spain is the Blueprint for How All Governments Will Act (Martin Armstrong)

What is going on in Spain is the blueprint what what other governments will do. The Spanish people themselves outside of Catalonia are deeply divided. Many see this as offensive and others see the government as offensive. We are looking at the breakup of the USA as well and do not forget the civil war to prevent separatists in America. The real issue is that people ban together for creating society and civilization and then government abuses its power and the process of decline begins. This is throughout history and it really does not matter what culture or country. It is all the same. Spain’s Constitutional Court, the puppet of Rajoy, on Thursday ordered the suspension of Monday’s session of the regional Catalan parliament. Rajoy is demonstrating that government will not tolerate losing power.

You can always write a law and claim it is unconstitutional to separate. That does not make it legal, moral, or ethical. Reuters reported: “The suspension order further aggravated one of the biggest crises to hit Spain since the establishment of democracy on the 1975 death of General Francisco Franco. But Spanish markets rose on perceptions the order might ward off, at least for now, an outright independence declaration.” The structure of the EU in attempting to federalize Europe required a single federal debt. That is what they failed to do so you ended up with a half-baked cake. This is why we have the problems in Europe as we do. But make no mistake about it, this is a political problem and what happens in Europe will be a contagion as it was in 1931. This will eventually cause major problems politically in the States as well.

Justice Scalia I greatly admired. However, his letter on the separatist movement in the USA said that the civil war decided there was no right to separate. I disagree with that opinion, but that is my opinion. There are those who object to my writing about Catalonia from the Madrid side. They create a list of hateful names directed at me personally and then say I know nothing of Spain. They are making the same mistake as government. They assume that government and Rajoy is Spain. The people are the sovereign of Spain – not Rajoy nor his Constitutional Court. If you cannot see that government is supposed to be “elected” by the people, they are not to be the ruler of the people as some monarch, they you have missed the entire point of history. You can hate me all you want, but it is your life you are surrendering to government and that of your posterity. We have a choice. We either understand that government when unchecked will go too far and surrender as sheep, or we stand up and try to make the future better for our posterity.

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Someone better intervene.

Catalans Call for Talks as Spain Enters Crunch Week (BBG)

A senior member of the Catalan administration called for dialogue with Spain, warning that all of Europe faces economic damage unless a resolution is found to his region’s standoff with the central government in Madrid. After a weekend of mass demonstrations in favor of Spanish unity, Raul Romeva, foreign affairs chief for the separatist government in Barcelona, insisted that the door was open for talks if Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy would grasp the chance of dialogue. “We need two to tango, we need the other side to be at the table,” Romeva said in an interview in Barcelona on Sunday. “We’re always going to be at the negotiation table, but to start negotiations we need the other party to negotiate with.”

The hint of an olive branch came as both sides hurtle toward crunch time in a dispute that threatens the breakup of Spain. Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has vowed to press ahead with his independence drive in a declaration due as soon as Tuesday, while Rajoy pledged that “national unity will be maintained” by using all instruments available to him. “The risk of this getting a lot worse, with correspondingly bad market development for Spanish assets, is still too great for my risk appetite,” said Erik Nielsen, chief economist at UniCredit. He predicted at least another week of pressure on Spanish and Catalan debt and assets before “things will eventually normalize.”

[..] Romeva invoked the crisis in the euro area that sent yields soaring on Spanish government debt and curbed access to finance, warning that the economic fallout of any worsening of the situation won’t be limited to Catalonia. “This simply won’t affect the Catalan economy, it’s going to affect the Spanish economy, it’s going to affect the European economy,” Romeva said. He blamed Madrid for causing the political uncertainty that’s prompted a stampede for the exit. “What causes uncertainty is the incapability of the political central state – or the Spanish state – to provide a political solution,” he said.

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Since Greece entered the bailout mechanism, foreclosures are down by 89%. Good.

Greece Foreclosures Target Seems Unattainable (K.)

Foreclosures, which have been practically frozen for the last eight years, represent the credit system’s Achilles’ heel. The impact from the paralysis of the auction system is already obvious in banks’ financial results on the reduction of nonperforming loans and threatens to undermine the target set for containing nonperforming exposures (NPEs). The ECB’s Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM) has asked Greek lenders to bring down their NPEs by €11.5 billion through liquidations (property auctions) up to 2019. Meeting this target requires foreclosures worth €5.5 billion per year while takings from auctions have been poor.

The foreclosures scheduled for this year only concern 5,600 properties, worth €1.1 billion. This is the smallest number of auctions in recent years, given that 2016 (when auctions were held for 4,800 properties) was practically wasted due to protracted strikes by Greece’s lawyers and notaries. This year’s figures actually concern mostly auctions demanded by the state or private lenders, while banks have only instigated few auctions, mainly concerning commercial or industrial properties. For comparison purposes, one has to see the statistics from 2009, before Greece entered the bailout mechanism, when foreclosures numbered 52,000 and their value reached €4.2 billion. This means an 89% drop since then.

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I’ve said it before: the EU is the mafia.

Nearly There, But Never Further Away (FP)

The guard forced the migrants to kneel and began barking orders in Arabic, a language that few of the once-hopeful souls who had traveled to Libya from sub-Saharan Africa spoke. A gaunt, elderly man in ripped jeans and a tattered T-shirt failed to comply. The guard, wearing a crisp new uniform emblazoned with the insignia of Libya’s anti-illegal immigration police division, raised his wooden club and brought it down hard on the man’s back, driving him face down into the ground with the first blow. It was early May, three weeks after the staff at the Triq al-Sikka migrant detention center in the Libyan capital of Tripoli had received human rights training from the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The guard struck the elderly man again on the back and clubbed the back of his legs.

Then he moved methodically down the line of kneeling migrants, beating each man as if he were responsible for his fellow prisoner’s infraction. Cries of pain echoed through the barren, warehouse-like facility, where more than 100 half-starved migrants were locked away in crowded cells. Some had been there for months, enduring regular beatings and surviving on a few handfuls of macaroni and a single packet of juice each day. Others had recently been rounded up off the streets in raids targeting black African migrants. Soon after the beatings began, other guards at the facility noticed my presence and quickly ushered me into a waiting area outside the well-appointed office of Col. Mohamed Beshr, the urbane head of Libya’s anti-illegal immigration police.

Beshr is a key player in recent joint EU-Libyan efforts to halt migration to Europe, including intercepting migrants at sea and detaining them on land. He has welcomed high-level European diplomats and U.N. representatives to the Triq al-Sikka facility, and his office is filled with certificates from workshops run by IOM, the European Union, and Britain’s development agency. Yet Beshr seemed frustrated by my questions about the abuses openly taking place at the detention center he oversaw. To hear him tell it, his European partners cared about only one thing, even if they wouldn’t say it: preventing migrants from showing up on Italy’s shores. “Are they looking for a real solution to this humanitarian crisis?” Beshr asked, smirking and raising his eyebrows. “Or do they just want us to be the place where migrants are stopped?”

Eighteen months after the EU unveiled its controversial plan to curb illegal migration through Libya — now the primary point of departure for sub-Saharan Africans crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe — migrants have become a commodity to be captured, sold, traded, and leveraged. Regardless of their immigration status, they are hunted down by militias loyal to Libya’s U.N.-backed government, caged in overcrowded prisons, and sold on open markets that human rights advocates have likened to slave auctions. They have been tortured, raped, and killed — abuses that are sometimes broadcast online by the abusers themselves as they attempt to extract ransoms from migrants’ families.

The detention-industrial complex that has taken hold in war-torn Libya is not purely the result of a breakdown in order or the work of militias run amok in a state of anarchy. Visits to five different detention centers and interviews with dozens of Libyan militia leaders, government officials, migrants, and local NGO officials indicate that it is the consequence of hundreds of millions of dollars in pledged and anticipated support from European nations as they try to stem the flow of unwanted migrants toward their shores.

Read more …

Sep 232017
 
 September 23, 2017  Posted by at 8:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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Salvador Dalí Mi esposa desnuda 1945

 

Why the Stock Market’s Up and Why it Won’t Last (MO)
The Great Corporate Cash Shell Game (BBG)
Debt Has Become A Way Of Life In Canada (OweC)
Housing Affordability NEVER Worse…By a Long-Shot (Hanson)
The Demise of the Dollar: Don’t Hold Your Breath (CH Smith)
China Slashes Trade Ties With North Korea (BBC)
Russia Steps In To Prevent ‘Domino Effect’ In Its Banking Sector (CNBC)
UK’s Credit Rating Downgraded By Moody’s (BBC)
The Scandals That Brought Down Uber (Ind.)
Uber Had This Coming – It Was Never Just A ‘Tech Platform’ (Ind.)
Puerto Rico Is Back In The 18th Century (Kunstler)
It Gets Ugly in Catalonia (DQ)
The Killing of History (John Pilger)

 

 

“Once the Fed stops buying that paper, the dealers will have a lot less cash and that means a lot more selling.”

Why the Stock Market’s Up and Why it Won’t Last (MO)

The U.S. Treasury has been up against its debt ceiling since March 15 when the ceiling was re-imposed. Since then, there has been no net new issuance from the Treasury. The Treasury has run down its cash balances and borrowed internally from its own resources, which are not subject to the ceiling. This period has been very helpful to the financial markets. With the federal government not selling any net new supply of securities—just rolling the maturing stuff over—the markets have been flush with cash that would otherwise have been absorbed by the government. This hit of extra liquidity is about to disappear and then some. President Trump has made a three-month debt ceiling deal with the Democrats which means that the Treasury can resume borrowing without restrictions through December.

This increase in the debt ceiling is needed to reliquify the federal government (which is down to $38 billion in cash) and repay the internal funds the Treasury raided since the debt ceiling was imposed back in March. The Treasury needs to borrow a substantial amount of money. There hasn’t been a material increase in the Treasury’s borrowing schedule yet, but it is coming. The Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee (TBAC), a group of senior Wall Street executives, has advised the Treasury to issue $501 billion in net new supply in the fourth quarter, virtually all in November and December, and the Treasury almost always follows the TBAC script. That’s an outrageous amount of money. The cash the Treasury needs is not sitting somewhere in primary dealer bank accounts; it’s invested in the financial markets. Securities will have to be sold to accommodate this new issuance.

This is not new. A borrowing spike happens every time we have an increase in the debt ceiling as the chart demonstrates. Note that this chart reflects an estimate of net new issuance needed to return to last year’s cash on hand and was produced before TBAC had issued its recommendations. TBAC is proposing to move more slowly. Nonetheless, past funding spikes are clearly demarcated and the next one is going to be big. While Treasury supply will increase, the trend of demand for Treasuries has been going the other way. Bid coverage at auctions has been declining in recent months and the largest banks have been reducing their inventories of Treasury securities. Falling demand in the face of increasing supply is a recipe for a bear market in bonds. Bond yields will rise and that will put pressure on stocks as well.

The Federal Reserve has given the market extraordinary support over the past eight years by financing most new Treasury supply. Even after it stopped outright QE in November of 2014, the Fed continued to buy $25–$45 billion per month in maturing Mortgage Backed Securities from the primary dealers. That cashed up the dealers and helped finance their purchases of new Treasuries. But now, the Fed intends to join the Treasury as a net seller of Treasuries (and MBS) as it starts to reduce its balance sheet this fall. Once the Fed stops buying that paper, the dealers will have a lot less cash and that means a lot more selling.

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“These companies have a record amount of cash and they’re more deeply indebted than ever before.”

The Great Corporate Cash Shell Game (BBG)

There’s a mystery hidden on the balance sheets of Corporate America: These companies have a record amount of cash and they’re more deeply indebted than ever before.This seems paradoxical and kind of silly. Why raise money from bond investors when you already have the liquid assets on hand? As Bloomberg News reported Thursday, non-financial companies’ liquid assets, which include foreign deposits, currency as well as money-market and mutual fund shares, reached a record of almost $2.3 trillion in the second quarter. That’s an increase of nearly 60% since mid-2009. This cash cushion also appears sort of comforting; companies can do whatever they want. They’re rich. But in reality, it is neither silly nor overly comforting.

First of all, a disproportionate amount of the cash is held by the biggest companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet and General Electric, and it is mostly held in overseas accounts. These corporations can’t bring that cash back without incurring steep tax bills, so they’ve been keeping it offshore. When they need money, they simply raise dollars by borrowing from the bond market at record-low rates. Indeed, the amount of bonds issued by these companies has surged, rising 66% from mid-2009 to $5.24 trillion of bonds outstanding as of the end of June, Federal Reserve data show. That isn’t necessarily a recipe for default because a large chunk of this is an exercise in financial engineering aimed at avoiding onerous taxes. But it has consequences.

First, it limits the benefit to the economy if and when those tax policies are changed because much of the money has already been released through the bond market. And second, to the extent that companies have cash, they’re not using enough of it for exciting projects. There hasn’t been a tremendous wave of innovation or salary increases. Instead, companies have repurchased billions of dollars of their own shares, which is great for the stock market but doesn’t do a whole lot to bolster economic growth.

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A bit poorly written, but still: “For each $1.00 the economy grew in this 1 year period the total debt outstanding increased by $5.48.”

Debt Has Become A Way Of Life In Canada (OweC)

The borrowing and spending binge by Canadian households, businesses and governments (all levels) continues unabated. Growing the debt in the economy significantly faster than the economy itself grows seems to have developed into a way of life in Canada. At the end of June, 2017 the total debt outstanding in Canada was $7.51 trillion. At the end of June, 2016 it was $7.13 trillion. In the 1 year period from the end of June, 2016 to the end of June, 2017 it increased by $375 billion. This is an increase of 5.2%. The approximate beginning of the global financial crisis was June, 2007. At the end of June, 2007 the total debt outstanding in Canada was $3.99 trillion. In the last 10 years it has increased by $3.52 trillion. This is an increase of 88.3%. At the end of June, 2017 the total debt outstanding of domestic non-financial sectors was $5.32 trillion.

At the end of June, 2016 the total debt outstanding of domestic non-financial sectors was $5.04 trillion. In the 1 year period from the end of June, 2016 to the end of June, 2017 it increased by $278 billion. This is an increase of 5.5%. At the end of June, 2007 the total debt outstanding of domestic non-financial sectors was $2.84 trillion. In the last 10 years it has increased by $2.47 trillion. This is an increase of 86.9%. At the end of June, 2017 the annual GDP at market prices in Canada was $2.12 trillion, and in the preceding 1 year it grew by 6.3%, – ie: the size of the economy grew by $133.9 billion. In the 1 year period from the end of June, 2016 to the end of June, 2017 the total debt outstanding in Canada increased by $375 billion. For each $1.00 the economy grew in this 1 year period (using the GDP at market prices metric) the total debt outstanding increased by $2.80.

Looking at just the total debt outstanding of domestic non-financial sectors in Canada: In the 1 year period from the end of June, 2016 to the end of June, 2017 the total debt outstanding of domestic non-financial sectors increased by $278 billion. For each $1.00 the economy grew in this 1 year period (using the gdp at market prices metric) the total debt outstanding of domestic non-financial sectors increased by $2.08. At the end of June, 2017 the total debt outstanding in Canada was 3.5 times greater than our annual gdp at market prices, and looking at just the total debt outstanding of domestic non-financial sectors, that was 2.5 times greater than our annual gdp at market prices. [..] In the 1 year period from the end of June, 2016 to the end of June, 2017 the total debt outstanding in Canada increased by $375 billion. For each $1.00 the economy grew in this 1 year period the total debt outstanding increased by $5.48.

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Communities and societies don’t matter. Only money does.

Housing Affordability NEVER Worse…By a Long-Shot (Hanson)

My chart highlights how for DECADES the income required to buy a median priced house – using popular programs & rates for each era – remained mostly flat (red line) and WELL BELOW the level of household income (black line). How could house prices rise so much for decades but income required to buy (red) them remain flattish? Because of the accompanying falling rates/easing credit guideline cycle. In fact, during Bubble 1.0 house prices soared but exotic loans legitimately made them more affordable than ever, as shown.

But in ’12, as trillions in unorthodox capital, credit & liquidity began to drive massive speculation (just like Bubble 1.0) income required to buy began to surge, with prices, shooting above median HH income (boxed in yellow). Meaningful sales growth with this affordability backdrop is impossible. …This is the point in this inflationary cycle at which affordability detached from end-user fundamentals. Now, in ’17, end-user purchase power & house prices have never been more diverged from the multi-decade trend line and a mean reversion – via surging wages, new era exotic loans, plunging rates, and/or falling house prices, as speculation ebbs – is inevitable.

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Must read. Like Charles, I don’t see it either. There is nothing to replace the USD for the foreseeable future.

The Demise of the Dollar: Don’t Hold Your Breath (CH Smith)

Every form of credit/debt is denominated in a currency. A Japanese bond is denominated in yen, for example. The bond is purchased with yen, the interest is paid in yen, and the coupon paid at maturity is in yen. What gets tricky is debt denominated in some other currency. Let’s say I take out a loan denominated in quatloos. The current exchange rates between USD and quatloos is 1 to 1: parity. So far so good. I convert 100 USD to 100 quatloos every month to make the principal and interest payment of 100 quatloos. Then some sort of kerfuffle occurs in the FX markets, and suddenly it takes 2 USD to buy 1 quatloo. Oops: my loan payments just doubled. Where it once only cost 100 USD to service my loan denominated in quatloos, now it takes $200 to make my payment in quatloos. Ouch. Notice the difference between payments, reserves and debt: payments/flows are transitory, reserves and debt are not.

What happens in flows is transitory: supply and demand for currencies in this moment fluctuate, but flows are so enormous–trillions of units of currency every day–that flows don’t affect the value or any currency much. FX markets typically move in increments of 1/100 of a percentage point. So flows don’t matter much. De-dollarization of flows is pretty much a non-issue. What matters is demand for currencies that is enduring: reserves and debt.The same 100 quatloos can be used hundreds of times daily in payment flows; buyers and sellers only need the quatloos for a few seconds to complete the conversion and payment. But those needing quatloos for reserves or to pay long-term debts need quatloos to hold. The 100 quatloos held in reserve essentially disappear from the available supply of quatloos.

Another source of confusion is trade flows. If the U.S. buys more stuff from China than China buys from the U.S., goods flow from China to the U.S. and U.S. dollars flow to China. As China’s trade surplus continues, the USD just keep piling up. What to do with all these billions of USD? One option is to buy U.S. Treasury bonds (debt denominated in dollars), as that is a vast, liquid market with plenty of demand and supply. Another is to buy some other USD-denominated assets, such as apartment buildings in Seattle. This is the source of the petro-dollar trade. All the oil/gas that’s imported into the U.S. is matched by a flow of USD to the oil-exporting nations, who then have to do something with the steadily increasing pile of USD.

The USD is still the dominant reserve currency, despite decades of diversification. Global reserves (allocated and unallocated) are over $12 trillion. Note that China’s RMB doesn’t even show up in allocated reserves–it’s a non-player because it’s pegged to the USD. Why hold RMB when the peg can be changed at will? It’s lower risk to just hold USD. While total global debt denominated in USD is about $50 trillion, the majority of this is domestic, i.e. within the U.S. economy. $11 trillion has been issued to non-banks outside the U.S., including developed and emerging market debt:

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Well, not entirely.

China Slashes Trade Ties With North Korea (BBC)

China has moved to limit North Korea’s oil supply and will stop buying textiles from the politically isolated nation, it said on Saturday. China is North Korea’s most important trading partner, and one of its only sources of hard currency. The ban on textiles trade will hurt Pyongyang’s income, while China’s oil exports are the country’s main source of petroleum products. The tougher stance follows North Korea’s latest nuclear test this month. The United Nations agreed fresh sanctions – including the textiles and petroleum restrictions – in response. A statement from China’s commerce ministry said restrictions on refined petroleum products would apply from 1 October, and on liquefied natural gas immediately.

A limited amount, allowed under the UN resolution, would still be exported to North Korea. The current volume of trade between the two countries – and how much the new limits reduce it by – is not yet clear. But the ban on textiles – Pyongyang’s second-biggest export – is expected to cost the country more than $700m a year. China and Russia had initially opposed a proposal from the United States to completely ban oil exports, but later agreed to the reduced measures. North Korea has little energy production of its own, but does refine some petroleum products from crude oil it imports – which is not included in the new ban. The AFP news agency reports that petrol prices in Pyongyang have risen by about 20% in the past two months.

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Spring cleaning: “Russia’s central bank has reportedly now closed more than a third of the country’s banks – approximately 300 lenders – in the last three years..”

Russia Steps In To Prevent ‘Domino Effect’ In Its Banking Sector (CNBC)

Russia’s central bank has been forced to rescue two major lenders in less than a month, intensifying concerns among global investors that a systemic banking crisis could be in the offing. The Russian government’s latest rescue of a major bank was confirmed on Thursday, when the Central Bank of Russia (CBR) said it had nationalized the country’s 12th largest lender in terms of assets, B&N Bank. Last month, the CBR stepped in to launch one of the largest bank rescues in Russia’s history when Otkritie Bank required a bailout to help plug a $7 billion hole in its balance sheet. Russia’s central bank moved to dismiss intensifying concerns that a brewing systemic crisis could be forthcoming on Thursday, as it said its second major bank nationalization in three weeks had prevented a “domino effect” in the country’s ailing banking sector.

“We realized that it’s better to isolate a bit more so that the domino effect does not arise, and according to the results of this work the domino effect is excluded, there is no risk of this,” Vasily Pozdyshev, deputy governor at the CBR, told a press conference as reported by state media. B&N Bank requires an estimated capitalization of around $4.3 billion to $6 billion, according to Pozdyshev, an amount approximately equivalent to 25% of the lender’s balance sheet. The failure of two major lenders in relatively quick succession has fueled anxiety over the health of Russia’s banking sector, which has been hampered by an economic slowdown and Western sanctions in recent years.

In 2014, Russian regulators were jolted into action after a dramatic slump in oil prices as well as tough international sanctions for its annexation of Crimea and Russia’s perceived role in destabilizing eastern Ukraine. The CBR has been attempting to clean up the banking sector since 2013, shutting down scores of banks that it believed represented a risk to the system. Russia’s central bank has reportedly now closed more than a third of the country’s banks – approximately 300 lenders – in the last three years as it sought to eradicate undercapitalized institutions.

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Brexit becomes expensive.

UK’s Credit Rating Downgraded By Moody’s (BBC)

The UK’s credit rating has been cut over concerns about the UK’s public finances and fears Brexit could damage the country’s economic growth. Moody’s, one of the major ratings agencies, downgraded the UK to an Aa2 rating from Aa1. It said leaving the European Union was creating economic uncertainty at a time when the UK’s debt reduction plans were already off course. Downing Street said the firm’s Brexit assessments were “outdated”. The other major agencies, Fitch and S&P, changed their ratings in 2016, with S&P cutting it two notches from AAA to AA, and Fitch lowering it from AA+ to AA.

Moody’s said the government had “yielded to pressure and raised spending in several areas” including health and social care. It says revenues were unlikely to compensate for the higher spending. The agency said because the government had not secured a majority in the snap election it “further obscures the future direction of economic policy”. It also said Brexit would dominate legislative priorities, so there could be limited capacity to address “substantial” challenges. It added “any free trade agreement will likely take years to negotiate, prolonging the current uncertainty for business”. Moody’s has also changed the UK’s long-term issuer and debt ratings to “stable” from “negative”.

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Uber was allowed to grow massively, elbowing any competition out of the way. It’s just dumb.

The Scandals That Brought Down Uber (Ind.)

Transport for London has announced it will not renew ride-sharing app Uber’s licence, because it had identified a “lack of corporate responsibility” in the company. The statement highlighted four major areas of concern: the company’s approach to reporting criminal offences, the obtaining of medical certificates, its compliance with Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks on employees, and its use of controversial Greyball software to “block regulatory… access to the app”. The company has recently been dogged by a number of corporate scandals in the UK and its international operations, which ultimately led to the resignation of CEO Travis Kalanick in June. Uber has repeatedly come under fire for its handling of allegations of sexual assault by its drivers against passengers.

Freedom of Information data obtained by The Sun last year showed that the Metropolitan Police investigated 32 drivers for rape or sexual assault of a passenger between May 2015 and May 2016. In August, Metropolitan Police Inspector Neil Billany wrote to TfL about his concern that the company was failing to properly investigate allegations against its drivers. He revealed the company had continued to employ a driver after he was accused of sexual assault. According to Inspector Billany, the same driver went on to assault another female passenger before he was removed. The letter said: “By not reporting to police promptly, Uber are allowing situations to develop that clearly affect the safety and security of the public.”

The statement by London’s transport body also expresses concern about “its approach to explaining the use of Greyball in London”. In March it emerged that Uber had been secretly using a tool called Greyball to deceive law enforcement officials in a number of US cities where the company flouted state regulations. Greyball used personal data of individuals it believed were connected to local government and ensured that its drivers would not pick them up if they requested a ride on the app. It was used in Portland, Oregon, Philadelphia, Boston, and Las Vegas, as well as France, Australia, China, South Korea and Italy. Uber denies ever using the software in the UK.

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Politicians are too scared to call for regulation of things they don’t understand.

Uber Had This Coming – It Was Never Just A ‘Tech Platform’ (Ind.)

Uber isn’t the only sharing economy app that has become part of daily life in the capital. Since 2008, over four million people have stayed in an Airbnb in London. The company, which links guests up with empty rooms or homes in the capital, recently came under fire in the US for not properly screening a host who attempted to sexually assault a woman (a spokesman for Airbnb later told The Independent that a background check had been done on the host and that there had been no prior convictions). The legal ruling over Uber could now bring the responsibilities of other companies such as Airbnb into the limelight. The rapid proliferation of these types of “gig economy” companies over the past few years has meant that many of them have forgotten their basic responsibilities toward their customers.

As The Independent’s Josie Cox has written, they forgot that the sharing economy business model was based on trust – we had to have confidence that the strangers we were sharing cars with were safe, and they couldn’t provide that. For too long, Uber tried to evade its role as anything more than a provider of tech. But we were never just sharing software; we were sharing our lives. Uber tried to get away with pretending it was a neutral software platform for far too long – all it did was link people together, and its responsibilities went as far as fixing glitches. But it was always a private taxi hire firm. It was a company with employees, who it should have been paying properly from that start, and customers, who it should have been protecting.

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“We’re only two days past the Hurricane Maria’s direct hit on Puerto Rico and there is no phone communication across the island, so we barely know what has happened. We’re weeks past Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, and news of the consequences from those two events has strangely fallen out of the news media. Where have the people gone who lost everything? The news blackout is as complete and strange as the darkness that has descended on Puerto Rico.”

Puerto Rico Is Back In The 18th Century (Kunstler)

Ricardo Ramos, the director of the beleaguered, government-owned Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, told CNN Thursday that the island’s power infrastructure had been basically “destroyed” and will take months to come back “Basically destroyed.” That’s about as basic as it gets civilization-wise. Residents, Mr. Ramos said, would need to change the way they cook and cool off. For entertainment, old-school would be the best approach, he said. “It’s a good time for dads to buy a ball and a glove and change the way you entertain your children.” Meaning, I guess, no more playing Resident Evil 7: Biohazard on-screen because you’ll be living it — though one wonders where will the money come from to buy the ball and glove? Few Puerto Ricans will be going to work with the power off.

And the island’s public finances were in disarray sufficient to drive it into federal court last May to set in motion a legal receivership that amounted to bankruptcy in all but name. The commonwealth, a US territory, was in default for $74 billion in bonded debt, plus another $49 billion in unfunded pension obligations. So, Puerto Rico already faced a crisis pre-Hurricane Maria, with its dodgy electric grid and crumbling infrastructure: roads, bridges, water and sewage systems. Bankruptcy put it in a poor position to issue new bonds for public works which are generally paid for with public borrowing. Who, exactly, would buy the new bonds? I hear readers whispering, “the Federal Reserve.” Which is a pretty good clue to understanding the circle-jerk that American finance has become.

Some sort of bailout is unavoidable, though President Trump tweeted “No Bailout for Puerto Rico” after the May bankruptcy proceeding. Things have changed and the shelf-life of Trumpian tweets is famously brief. But the crisis may actually strain the ability of the federal government to pretend it can cover the cost of every calamity that strikes the nation — at least not without casting doubt on the soundness of the dollar. And not a few bonafide states are also whirling around the bankruptcy drain: Illinois, Connecticut, New Jersey, Kentucky. Constitutionally states are not permitted to declare bankruptcy, though counties and municipalities can. Congress would have to change the law to allow it. But states can default on their bonds and other obligations. Surely there would be some kind of fiscal and political hell to pay if they go that route.

Nobody really knows what might happen in a state as big and complex as Illinois, which has been paying its way for decades by borrowing from the future. Suddenly, the future is here and nobody has a plan for it. The case for the federal government is not so different. It, too, only manages to pay its bondholders via bookkeeping hocuspocus, and its colossal unfunded obligations for social security and Medicare make Illinois’ predicament look like a skipped car payment. In the meantime — and it looks like it’s going to be a long meantime – Puerto Rico is back in the 18th Century, minus the practical skills and simpler furnishings for living that way of life, and with a population many times beyond the carrying capacity of the island in that era.

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Still 8 days to go. How can this remian peaceful? Will Rajoy try to provoke violence (if he isn’t already) and blame it on the Catalans?

It Gets Ugly in Catalonia (DQ)

Madrid’s crackdown on Catalonia is already having one major consequence, presumably unintended: many Catalans who were until recently staunchly opposed to the idea of national independence are now reconsidering their options. A case in point: At last night’s demonstration, spread across multiple locations in Barcelona, were two friends of mine, one who is fanatically apolitical and the other who is a strong Catalan nationalist but who believes that independence would be a political and financial disaster for the region. It was their first ever political demonstration. If there is a vote on Oct-1, they will probably vote to secede. The middle ground they and hundreds of thousands of others once occupied was obliterated yesterday when a judge in Barcelona ordered Spain’s militarized police force, the Civil Guard, to round up over a dozen Catalan officials in dawn raids.

Many of them now face crushing daily fines of up to €12,000. The Civil Guard also staged raids on key administrative buildings in Barcelona. The sight of balaclava-clad officers of the Civil Guard, one of the most potent symbols of the not-yet forgotten Franco dictatorship, crossing the threshold of the seats of Catalonia’s (very limited) power and arresting local officials, was too much for the local population to bear. Within minutes almost all of the buildings were surrounded by crowds of flag-draped pro-independence protesters. The focal point of the day’s demonstrations was the Economic Council of Catalonia, whose second-in-command and technical coordinator of the referendum, Josep Maria Jové, was among those detained. He has now been charged with sedition and could face between 10-15 years in prison. Before that, he faces fines of €12,000 a day.

[..] yesterday’s police operation significantly — perhaps even irreversibly — weakens Catalonia’s plans to hold a referendum on October 1, as even the region’s vice-president Oriol Junqueras concedes. But that doesn’t mean Spain has won. As the editor of El Diario, Ignacio Escolar, presciently notes, yesterday’s raids may have been a resounding success for law enforcement, but they were an unmitigated political disaster that has merely intensified the divisions between Spain and Catalonia and between Catalans themselves. Each time Prime Minister Rajoy or one of his ministers speak of the importance of defending democracy while the Civil Guard seizes posters and banners related to the October 1 vote and judges rule public debates on the Catalan question illegal and then fine their participants, a fresh clutch of Catalan separatists is born.

In the days to come they will be swarming the streets, waving their flags, clutching their red carnations and singing their songs. For the moment, the mood is still one of hopeful, resolute indignation. But the mood of masses is prone to change quickly, and it’s not going to take much to ignite the anger.

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Pilger was a Vietnam correspondent. He knows what he’s talking about.

The Killing of History (John Pilger)

One of the most hyped “events” of American television, The Vietnam War, has started on the PBS network. The directors are Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. Acclaimed for his documentaries on the Civil War, the Great Depression and the history of jazz, Burns says of his Vietnam films, “They will inspire our country to begin to talk and think about the Vietnam war in an entirely new way”. In a society often bereft of historical memory and in thrall to the propaganda of its “exceptionalism”, Burns’ “entirely new” Vietnam war is presented as “epic, historic work”. Its lavish advertising campaign promotes its biggest backer, Bank of America, which in 1971 was burned down by students in Santa Barbara, California, as a symbol of the hated war in Vietnam. Burns says he is grateful to “the entire Bank of America family” which “has long supported our country’s veterans”.

Bank of America was a corporate prop to an invasion that killed perhaps as many as four million Vietnamese and ravaged and poisoned a once bountiful land. More than 58,000 American soldiers were killed, and around the same number are estimated to have taken their own lives. I watched the first episode in New York. It leaves you in no doubt of its intentions right from the start. The narrator says the war “was begun in good faith by decent people out of fateful misunderstandings, American overconfidence and Cold War misunderstandings”. The dishonesty of this statement is not surprising. The cynical fabrication of “false flags” that led to the invasion of Vietnam is a matter of record – the Gulf of Tonkin “incident” in 1964, which Burns promotes as true, was just one. The lies litter a multitude of official documents, notably the Pentagon Papers, which the great whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg released in 1971.

There was no good faith. The faith was rotten and cancerous. For me – as it must be for many Americans – it is difficult to watch the film’s jumble of “red peril” maps, unexplained interviewees, ineptly cut archive and maudlin American battlefield sequences. In the series’ press release in Britain – the BBC will show it – there is no mention of Vietnamese dead, only Americans. “We are all searching for some meaning in this terrible tragedy,” Novick is quoted as saying. How very post-modern. All this will be familiar to those who have observed how the American media and popular culture behemoth has revised and served up the great crime of the second half of the twentieth century: from The Green Berets and The Deer Hunter to Rambo and, in so doing, has legitimised subsequent wars of aggression. The revisionism never stops and the blood never dries. The invader is pitied and purged of guilt, while “searching for some meaning in this terrible tragedy”. Cue Bob Dylan: “Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?”

I thought about the “decency” and “good faith” when recalling my own first experiences as a young reporter in Vietnam: watching hypnotically as the skin fell off Napalmed peasant children like old parchment, and the ladders of bombs that left trees petrified and festooned with human flesh. General William Westmoreland, the American commander, referred to people as “termites”. In the early 1970s, I went to Quang Ngai province, where in the village of My Lai, between 347 and 500 men, women and infants were murdered by American troops (Burns prefers “killings”). At the time, this was presented as an aberration: an “American tragedy” (Newsweek ). In this one province, it was estimated that 50,000 people had been slaughtered during the era of American “free fire zones”. Mass homicide. This was not news.

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Aug 292017
 
 August 29, 2017  Posted by at 8:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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MC Escher Still life and street 1937

 

China Is Going To Hit A Wall (FuW)
Nomi Prins: Big Bank Concentration and Counterparty Risk Expands (DR)
China’s Central Bank Is Working Hard to Stand Still (BBG)
Pundits And Politicians Are Tacitly Admitting They Lied About Russia (M.)
The Media Is the Villain – for Creating a World Dumb Enough for Trump (Taibbi)
The 5 Steps to World Domination (CHS)
Pure Rubbish? What The Buffett Indicator Is Really Predicting (Roberts)
When the Butterfly Flaps Its Wings (Jim Kunstler)
France, Germany, Italy, Spain Agree on Plan to Stem Migration Flows (BBG)
Debt Cut For Greece Not On Agenda For Now, Schaeuble Says (R.)
Chastised by EU, a Resentful Greece Embraces China’s Cash and Interests (NYT)
Kenya Gets World’s Toughest Plastic Bag Ban: 4 Years Jail Or $40,000 Fine (R.)

 

 

How much longer?

China Is Going To Hit A Wall (FuW)

Anne Stevenson-Yang, co-founder and research director at J Capital, warns that the monster bubble in the Chinese housing market is ripe to pop and that the Chinese currency will crash. There have been warnings about a bubble in China’s housing market for some time now. How hot is the real estate market? So far this year has been crazy, particularly in the area around Beijing. Just a few weeks ago I was in this little rustbelt city called Zhuozhou in the Hebei province where the steel mills are. It’s a very unpleasant place to spend time. It’s very polluted, there’s nothing to do, the food is bad and the landscape is awful. It’s just no place you want to be and yet property prices have doubled, tripled and in some places even quadrupled in a year.

What’s fueling this boom? It’s like in every property bubble: People build these stories. In Florida for example, the idea in the housing bubble was that all Americans are going to retire there. Florida has nice beaches, it’s warm and Americans are getting older, so everybody’s going to retire there. In China, the idea is that all these areas 200 miles outside of Beijing are going to be bedrooms for the working class of Beijing. So they’re going to build subways, schools, hospitals and other public facilities there and the prices are going to go up. The story goes that all these people who can’t afford to live in Beijing but work there are going to live in places like Zhuozhou instead and that they are going to take the high speed rail into Beijing. Everybody is speculating like mad but in the end nobody wants to live there.

And how are such ghost towns financed? There is probably no company that is more representative of the investment bubble than Evergrande. It’s the biggest pyramid scheme the world has yet seen. Evergrande is highly leveraged and has like 270 projects all over the country. I have been easily to 40 of them yet I have only seen one that was fully occupied. Many of these projects are megalomaniac visions and totally empty. Yet you go to these places and you see their sales room filled with young buyers. When I open my eyes I see crumbling stone and empty jungles or deserts. What they see is a future with wealthy Europeanized people strolling on modern paths. It’s just amazing. It’s a mass illusion and Evergrande more than any of these developers plays to this illusion by building developments that are specifically positioned for the investor, not to live there but to buy for some future appreciation in price.

How long can these crazy times last? I’ve been wondering that for years now. In a few places, property bubbles already have popped but the government keeps information from going out. Back in 2011 for instance, there was a property bust in the region of Ordos where most of China’s coal is. Prices dropped like 50% but if you looked at the official statistics they may have dropped 4%. Another place was in Wenzhou which is a place in China’s Zhejiang province where there is a lot of private money. After the bubble popped the central government had to go in and had to create a bailout fund. But nobody ever got information about it. In fact, all the newspapers put out information about how actually Wenzhou is fine. So will China’s housing frenzy ever come to an end at all? China is going to hit a wall. They’re not positioned to take the political pain that’s entailed by just stopping with all that madness.

So there will be a bust but it’s very hard to say exactly how long it takes. Basically, there are two paths. One of them is you break public confidence in some way. For that to happen you have to have a bank failure, a well-known investment product that doesn’t pay or some property developer that goes bust. You’ve had that locally in all sorts of places but you have to have a really big bust that everyone is aware of. And what would be the other path? The other thing that eventually has to happen is that the Chinese currency has to devalue. The reason why the developers can just keep on selling is because they keep getting refinanced. All the refinancing means that China has to keep on expanding the money supply and when you keep on expanding the money supply you have too much money and the value of the money declines. Obviously it’s not quite that simple but that’s basically what’s going on.

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Nomi is asked the same question: how much longer? She thinks it could be a few years yet.

Nomi Prins: Big Bank Concentration and Counterparty Risk Expands (DR)

Prins notes, “As we learned from the global financial crisis, the Federal Reserve has done a lousy job at regulating the risks that were coming into the financial system from the major private banks.” “Not only did it do a bad job at detecting risks, it did the opposite and deflected concerns from those highlighting the risks. From the standpoint of monetary policy, looking ten years out, its pursuit of policy with absolutely no limitation from the outside (printing money, buying securities) was a failure.” “If the Federal Reserve policies were able to make a real impact, we wouldn’t have needed them to go on for ten years following the financial crisis. What we are seeing right now is that there is no particular end in sight. The fact that there is no jurisdiction that can instruct the Fed what to do, where it is currently working under unconventional policy for artificial markets, has created more risk instead of less.”

“If we were to create an external benchmark that at the very least pulls them into some coordinated approach, that would be a better way of maintaining stability. Whether that is a standard currency approach or whatever that might be.” When speaking on how long the central banks might be able to stall and what tools in the face of another crisis Nomi Prins elaborates on her most recent research. “There has been collusion and collaboration amongst the G7 central banks. They have been ensuring that central banks like the Federal Reserve and others coordinate in their policy consortium moves. In effect we have seen a consistent global zero % interest rate policy and ongoing quantitative easing policy be unveiled, even if some banks reduce their engagement. That’s why we have been able to perpetuate this system for so long.”

“This is not one individual central bank but a coordinated, collusive approach. Can that continue? The guidance, as well as the actions of the central banks has indicated there could be multiple years of this to come. Because there is no external limitation on their policy and there’s no voting them out I’d say this could go on for at least a few more years. For the most part the people in power are going to stay in power. Even in the case of the U.S, if we were to see Janet Yellen leave and Gary Cohn step in at the Fed, I’d expect we would see much of the same.”

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Control illusion.

China’s Central Bank Is Working Hard to Stand Still (BBG)

While some of the biggest central banks are agonizing over changing direction, the People’s Bank of China is working hard to stay right where it is. That’s because, as the U.S. Federal Reserve or the European Central Bank are heading into phases of tighter policy, China’s monetary authority is engaged in an increasingly complex effort to preserve the status quo while the world changes around it. According to 60 % of economists in a Bloomberg survey conducted this month, the PBOC’s broad policy stance will remain “roughly the same” through the end of 2017. It’s how they maintain the hold, though, that matters. Through the use of a wide range of monetary instruments, the PBOC is attempting to meet two seemingly conflicting goals at once – weed out excessive borrowing in the financial system while ensuring credit to an economy that’s on a long-term slowdown.

The need to maintain the balance is especially acute amid the political sensitivity around the approaching leadership transition of the 19th Party Congress in the fall. “High leverage has put the central bank in a dilemma where easing could further expand the scale of debt and where tightening pushes up interest expenses and weighs on growth,” said Wen Bin at China Minsheng Banking in Beijing. “The PBOC is using open-market monetary tools to stay flexible and strike a balance.” Achieving those aims, without a change in the benchmark lending rate, in practice means constant fine-tuning of daily conditions in the inter-bank money market. Over the past year, the PBOC has poked and prodded traders using an array of lending and cash-absorbing instruments of different maturities. Here’s that process in charts:

Using different tenors to inject and withdraw funds from markets is the practical aspect of the PBOC’s stated policy of keeping liquidity “neither tight nor loose.” Yet at the same time, for much of the past year, gradually-rising interbank rates have been desirable amid a push to stabilize debt — crimping incentives to lend short-term within the financial system, while remaining wary of choking off credit to the real economy. The PBOC’s preference for longer-dated tools such as 28-day reverse repo has raised borrowing costs. Now, as the economy may be set for deceleration in the second half of the year and some progress in debt reduction has been achieved, use of longer-dated repurchase agreements has been pared back.

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“You need to either thoroughly refute every single argument against the narrative you’ve been spinning or admit publicly that you’ve been catastrophically wrong. ”

Pundits And Politicians Are Tacitly Admitting They Lied About Russia (M.)

It has been nearly three weeks since The Nation pushed an explosive memo from the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity into mainstream consciousness with an article detailing the evidence that the DNC leaks last year could not have been the result of a Russian hack. By continuing to ignore it, the US intelligence community and all the pundits and politicians who have advanced the Russian hacking narrative are tacitly admitting that they lied. The report is unequivocal. Not only could Russian hackers not have obtained the DNC emails in the way they are alleged to have obtained them, but metadata was in fact manipulated to implicate Russia in the leak. Since publication of the viral Nation article, even more evidence has come to light showing that a hack is far more improbable even than originally suspected. This means that there is currently more publicly-available evidence indicating that Russia did not hack the DNC than there is that it did.

These earth-shattering revelations have gone all but ignored by the mainstream media, which had until the report surfaced been pummelling the American psyche with relentless fearmongering about the Great Russian Menace. The unquestioned narrative that Russia attacked American democracy in what many establishment politicians have horrifyingly labeled an “act of war” quickly transformed into ridiculous unsubstantiated claims about the Kremlin having taken over the highest levels of the US government and McCarthyite witch hunts against anyone who questioned these baseless assertions. This fact-free hysteria was used to manufacture support for new cold war escalations which remain in place to this day, threatening the existence of all life on earth.

Far from addressing the massive, gaping plot holes that have suddenly emerged in its frenzied narrative, the mass media has all but ghosted from the scene. Russia gets an occasional mention now and again, but the fever-pitch shrieking panic has unquestionably been dialed down by several orders of magnitude. This is unacceptable. You don’t get to lie to the American people for nine months, terrify them with fact-free ghost stories that their nation has been taken over by a hostile foreign body, use their terror to manufacture support for a new cold war, and then change the subject to Nazis and Joe Arpaio as soon as evidence emerges that you’ve been reporting blatant falsehoods. That is not a thing. You need to either thoroughly refute every single argument against the narrative you’ve been spinning or admit publicly that you’ve been catastrophically wrong.

You need to either (A) prove that you have not knowingly and/or unknowingly deceived the world, or (B) do everything you can to fix the damage that you have done. Until the US intelligence community, the mainstream media, and the politicians who’ve been advancing this Russian hacking narrative do one of these two things, their silence on the matter should be interpreted as a tacit admission that they’ve been lying to us this entire time. After Iraq there was already no reason to give these institutions the benefit of the doubt, and since the VIPS report there is every reason in the world to believe that they’ve been lying to advance domestic and foreign agendas. They either refute the VIPS report in its entirety, or we must treat their refusal to do so as a tacit admission of nothing less than a crime against humanity.

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I like Taibbi. He’s a good writer. But he’s gotten awkwardly close to the whole anti-Trump frenzy. Suggesting that CNN has been covering Trump ‘responsibly’ is simply not credible. See article above. CNN et al go after Trump because it’s profitable in the echo chamber. Where it doesn’t matter whether what you say is true.

The Media Is the Villain – for Creating a World Dumb Enough for Trump (Taibbi)

No news director would turn off the feed in the middle of a Trump-meltdown. This presidency has become the ultimate ratings bonanza. Trump couldn’t do better numbers if he jumped off Mount Kilimanjaro carrying a Kardashian. This was confirmed this week by yet another shruggingly honest TV executive – in this case Tony Maddox, head of CNN International. Maddox said CNN is doing business at “record levels.” He hinted also that the monster ratings they’re getting have taken the sting out of being accused of promoting fake news. “[Trump] is good for business,” Maddox said. “It’s a glib thing to say. But our performance has been enhanced during this news period.” Maddox, speaking at the Edinburgh TV festival, added that most of the outlets that have been singled out by Trump are doing a swimming business.

“If you look at the groups that Trump has primarily targeted: CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Saturday Night Live, Stephen Colbert,” he said, “every single one of those has seen a quite remarkable growth in their viewing figures, in their sales figures.” Everyone hisses whenever they hear quotes like these. They recall the infamous line from last year by CBS chief Les Moonves, about how Trump “may not be good for America, but he’s damn good for CBS.” Moonves was even cheekier than Maddox. He laughed and added, “The money’s rolling in, and this is fun. They’re not even talking about issues, they’re throwing bombs at each other, and I think the advertising reflects that.” For more than two years now, it’s been obvious that Donald Trump is a disaster on almost every level except one – he’s great for the media business.

Most of us who do this work have already gone through the process of working out just how guilty we should or should not feel about this. Many execs and editors – and Maddox seems to fall into this category – have convinced themselves that the ratings and the money are a kind of cosmic reward for covering Trump responsibly. But deep down, most of us know that’s a lie. Donald Trump gets awesome ratings for the same reason Fear Factor made money feeding people rat-hair tortilla chips: nothing sells like a freak show. If a meteor crashes into jello night at the Playboy mansion, it doesn’t matter if you send Edward R. Murrow to do the standup. Some things sell themselves.

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All you need is the power to print money.

The 5 Steps to World Domination (CHS)

1. Turn everything into a commodity that can be traded on the global market: land, leases on land, options to purchase land, houses, buildings, rooms in slums, labor, tools, robots, water, water rights, mineral rights, rights to air routes, ships, aircraft, political power, shares in corporations, government bonds, municipal bonds, corporate bonds, student loans that have been bundled into debt-based instruments, the income from city parking meters, electricity, software, advertising, marketing, media, social media, food, energy, insurance, gold, metals, credit, interest-rate swaps and last but not least, financial instruments that control and/or pyramid all the real-world goods and assets that have been commoditized (i.e. almost everything).

Why is this the essential first step in World Domination? Once something has been commoditized, it can be bought and sold in the global marketplace in fiat currencies–currencies that are not backed by any real-world asset and that can be created out of thin air by central and private banks. You see the dynamic, right? Create credit-currency out of thin air, and then use this “free money” to buy up the real world. Quite a trick, isn’t it? Get a means of exchange for essentially nothing (i.e. money at near-zero interest rates) and then trade this for assets that produce goods and services everyone else needs or wants. Now we understand steps 2 and 3:

2. Enable private banks to create money out of thin air via fractional reserve banking. You know the drill: banks can issue $15 in new loans for every $1 in cash they hold in reserve. (Depending on the current regulations, it might as little as $10 or as much as $35 that can be created and lent out for every $1 held in cash reserve.) In the current zero-interest rate environment, this new money can be borrowed for near-zero carrying costs by corporations and financiers.

3. Establish a central bank with essentially unlimited ability to bring money into existence and use it to backstop the private banking sector. If the private banks get in trouble, no problem, the central bank is there to bail them out with unlimited lines of credit and an unlimited ability to create new money.

4. Undermine/destroy local economies’ ability to organize production and consumption without using credit and fiat currencies (i.e. money controlled and issued by central and private banks). Trading goods on barter? Get rid of that. Using social ties rather than cash or bank credit to organize production and consumption? Eliminate that capability. Locally issued currencies? That’s against the law. Using cash? bad, very bad–everyone must use banks and bank credit instead. Once these four steps are in place, the 5th step is easy:

5. Buy up all the productive assets and income streams of the world with nearly free credit-money. No saver can compete with corporations and financiers with access to billions of dollars in nearly-free credit-money. It doesn’t matter if you earn $1,000 or $100,000 a year–you will be outbid.

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Too much focus on Buffett. Like there was on Greenspan.

Pure Rubbish? What The Buffett Indicator Is Really Predicting (Roberts)

While we are indeed currently in a very bullish trend of the market, there are two halves of every market cycle. “In the end, it does not matter IF you are ‘bullish’ or ‘bearish.’ The reality is that both ‘bulls’ and ‘bears’ are owned by the ‘broken clock’ syndrome during the full-market cycle. However, what is grossly important in achieving long-term investment success is not necessarily being ‘right’ during the first half of the cycle, but by not being ‘wrong’ during the second half.” Will valuations currently pushing the 3rd highest level in history, it is only a function of time before the second-half of the full-market cycle ensues. That is not a prediction of a crash. It is just a fact.

[..] valuations DO NOT predict market crashes. Valuations are predictive of future returns on investments from current levels. Period. I recently quoted Cliff Asness on this issue in particular: “Ten-year forward average returns fall nearly monotonically as starting Shiller P/E’s increase. Also, as starting Shiller P/E’s go up, worst cases get worse and best cases get weaker. If today’s Shiller P/E is 22.2, and your long-term plan calls for a 10% nominal (or with today’s inflation about 7-8% real) return on the stock market, you are basically rooting for the absolute best case in history to play out again, and rooting for something drastically above the average case from these valuations.” We can prove that by looking at forward 10-year total returns versus various levels of PE ratios historically.

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“Ordinarily, failure to raise the debt ceiling would lead to a government shut-down, including hurricane recovery operations, unless the president invoked some kind of emergency powers.”

When the Butterfly Flaps Its Wings (Jim Kunstler)

It remains to be seen what the impact will be from Mother Nature putting the nation’s fourth largest city out-of-business. And for how long? It’s possible that Houston will never entirely recover from Hurricane Harvey. The event may exceed the physical damage that Hurricane Katrina did to New Orleans. It may bankrupt large insurance companies and dramatically raise the risk of doing business anywhere along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the USA — or at least erase the perceived guarantee that losses are recoverable. It may even turn out to be the black swan that reveals the hyper-fragility of a US-driven financial system.

Houston also happens to be the center of the US oil industry. Offices can be moved elsewhere, of course, but not so easily the nine major oil refineries that sprawl between Buffalo Bayou over to Beaumont, Port Arthur, and then Lake Charles, Louisiana. Harvey is inching back out to the Gulf where it will inhale more energy over the warm ocean waters and then return inland in the direction of those refineries. The economic damage could be epic. Much of the supply for the Colonial Pipeline system emanates from the region around Houston, running through Atlanta and clear up to Philadelphia and New York. There could be lines at the gas stations along the eastern seaboard in early September.

The event is converging with the US government running out of money this fall without new authority to borrow more by congress voting to raise the US debt ceiling. Perhaps the emergency of Hurricane Harvey and its costly aftermath will bludgeon congress into quickly raising the debt ceiling. If that doesn’t happen, and the debt ceiling is not raised, the federal government might have to pretend that it can pay for emergency assistance to Texas and Louisiana. That pretense can only go so far before government contractors balk and maybe even walk.

Ordinarily, failure to raise the debt ceiling would lead to a government shut-down, including hurricane recovery operations, unless the president invoked some kind of emergency powers. That would be decisive action, but it could also be the beginning of something that looks like a full-out dictatorship. Powers assumed are often not surrendered when the original emergency is over. And what would the president use for money if a substantial enough number of congresspersons and senators are prompted by their distaste for Mr. Trump to drag out the process of financially re-liquefying the government? (And nevermind even passing a budget.)

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Kabuki theater for the home front. Empty nonsense.

France, Germany, Italy, Spain Agree on Plan to Stem Migration Flows (BBG)

France, Germany, Italy and Spain agreed a plan to stem migration across the Mediterranean at talks with Libya, Chad and Niger in Paris, as summit host President Emmanuel Macron called for asylum seekers to be processed on African soil. Safe zones should be set up in Chad and Niger to “identify” asylum seekers in Africa, under the supervision of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Macron told reporters after the talks in the Elysee Palace Monday. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but I think we have a framework in which we can move forward,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at the briefing.

Leaders said in a joint statement that they would work with countries of origin and transit to boost the fight against smuggler networks. France, Germany, Italy and Spain stressed their commitment “to stopping irregular migration flows well ahead of the Mediterranean coast.” In reaction to reports about poor humanitarian conditions in refugee camps in Libya, leaders also promised to set up “facilities with adequate humanitarian standards” for refugees stranded there. France, Germany and Spain remained committed to giving further help to Italy – which has often complained in the past that it was left alone to cope with the migrant flows – by stepping up relocations and appropriately staffing the European Union’s Frontex border management force, they said.

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Maybe Greece’s best hope is for Merkel to dump him.

Debt Cut For Greece Not On Agenda For Now, Schaeuble Says (R.)

Greece must press ahead with implementing its reforms-for-aid program and become more competitive, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble was quoted as saying, adding that debt relief for Athens was “currently” not on the agenda. Eurozone finance ministers and the IMF reached an agreement on Greece in June, paving the way for new emergency loans for Athens while leaving the contentious issue of debt relief for later. Asked in an interview with the newspaper Mannheimer Morgen if he could envisage a partial cut in debt for Greece, Schaeuble said, “That’s currently not on the agenda at all.” Chancellor Angela Merkel and Schaeuble do not want to discuss any details of debt relief for Greece before federal elections on September 24, in which the far-right euro-skeptic AfD party is forecast to enter parliament for the first time.

Starting a discussion about debt relief would send the wrong signal to Athens at a time when the economy was doing better and recovering, Schaeuble told Mannheimer Morgen. “The country doesn’t need a debt cut now, but it must continually work on its competitiveness,” Schaeuble said. He pointed out that Greece’s borrowing costs for the next 10 to 15 years were already relatively low. “Above all, as long as member states are responsible for financial and economic policy, they must also bear the consequences of their own decisions themselves”, he said. Schaeuble, whose insistence on reforms to public finances in Athens have long made him a hate figure for many Greeks, has signaled his readiness to deepen eurozone integration as long as risks and liabilities arising from political decisions remain linked.

Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats are leading the center-left Social Democrats by about 15 percentage points in opinion polls and are the heavy favorites to retain power after the election. Schaeuble, who has been finance minister since 2009 and will turn 75 on September 18, has signaled his willingness to continue as finance minister. But Merkel could be forced to sacrifice him to secure a coalition deal.

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Strange innuendo-laced piece from NYT. It’s all they do these days. “While the Europeans are acting towards Greece like medieval leeches, the Chinese keep bringing money..” Varoufakis made a deal with China in spring 2015. Merkel called Beijing to say: keep your hands off. That should have been part of this article.

Chastised by EU, a Resentful Greece Embraces China’s Cash and Interests (NYT)

After years of struggling under austerity imposed by European partners and a chilly shoulder from the United States, Greece has embraced the advances of China, its most ardent and geopolitically ambitious suitor. While Europe was busy squeezing Greece, the Chinese swooped in with bucket-loads of investments that have begun to pay off, not only economically but also by apparently giving China a political foothold in Greece, and by extension, in Europe. Last summer, Greece helped stop the European Union from issuing a unified statement against Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. This June, Athens prevented the bloc from condemning China’s human rights record. Days later it opposed tougher screening of Chinese investments in Europe.

Greece’s diplomatic stance hardly went unnoticed by its European partners or by the United States, all of which had previously worried that the country’s economic vulnerability might make it a ripe target for Russia, always eager to divide the bloc. Instead, it is the Chinese who have become an increasingly powerful foreign player in Greece after years of assiduous courtship and checkbook diplomacy. Among those initiatives, China plans to make the Greek port of Piraeus the “dragon head” of its vast “One Belt, One Road” project, a new Silk Road into Europe. When Germany treated Greece as the eurozone’s delinquent, China designated a recovery-hungry Greece its “most reliable friend” in Europe. “While the Europeans are acting towards Greece like medieval leeches, the Chinese keep bringing money,” said Costas Douzinas, the head of the Greek Parliament’s foreign affairs and defense committee and a member of the governing Syriza party.

China has already used its economic muscle to stamp a major geopolitical footprint in Africa and South America as it scours the globe for natural resources to fuel its economy. If China was initially welcomed as a deep-pocketed investor — and an alternative to America — it has faced growing criticism that it is less an economic partner than a 21st-century incarnation of a colonialist power. If not looking for natural resources in Europe, China has for years invested heavily across the bloc, its largest trading partner. Yet now concerns are rising that Beijing is using its economic clout for political leverage. Mr. Douzinas said China had never explicitly asked Greece for support on the human rights vote or on other sensitive issues, though he and other Greek officials acknowledge that explicit requests are not necessary. “If you’re down and someone slaps you and someone else gives you an alm,” Mr. Douzinas said, “when you can do something in return, who will you help, the one who helped you or the one who slapped you?”

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We need Kenya to show us how to do this?!

Kenya Gets World’s Toughest Plastic Bag Ban: 4 Years Jail Or $40,000 Fine (R.)

Kenyans producing, selling or even using plastic bags will risk imprisonment of up to four years or fines of $40,000 (£31,000) from Monday, as the world’s toughest law aimed at reducing plastic pollution came into effect. The east African nation joins more than 40 other countries that have banned, partly banned or taxed single use plastic bags, including China, France, Rwanda, and Italy. Many bags drift into the ocean, strangling turtles, suffocating seabirds and filling the stomachs of dolphins and whales with waste until they die of starvation. “If we continue like this, by 2050, we will have more plastic in the ocean than fish,” said Habib El-Habr, an expert on marine litter working with the UN environment programme in Kenya.

Plastic bags, which El-Habr says take between 500 to 1,000 years to break down, also enter the human food chain through fish and other animals. In Nairobi’s slaughterhouses, some cows destined for human consumption had 20 bags removed from their stomachs. “This is something we didn’t get 10 years ago but now it’s almost on a daily basis,” said county vet Mbuthi Kinyanjui as he watched men in bloodied white uniforms scoop sodden plastic bags from the stomachs of cow carcasses. Kenya’s law allows police to go after anyone even carrying a plastic bag. But Judy Wakhungu, Kenya’s environment minister, said enforcement would initially be directed at manufacturers and suppliers.[..] Kenya is a major exporter of plastic bags to the region.

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Jul 292017
 
 July 29, 2017  Posted by at 9:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Dorothea Lange Grocery store in Widtsoe, Utah 1936

 

Trump’s Mistake In Taking Ownership Of The Stock Market Bubble (LR)
Congress Checkmates Trump (And The American People) (LR)
Russia Hits Back Over Sanctions, Orders US Diplomats To Leave (R.)
EU Explores Account Freezes To Prevent Runs At Failing Banks (R.)
The Great Transatlantic Bond Divergence Unwind (WSJ)
Top German Automakers Sued in US Over Two-Decade ‘Cartel’ (BBG)
Wells Fargo Faces Angry Questions After New Sales Abuses Uncovered (R.)
Wells Fargo Cuts 70 Senior Managers in Retail Bank After Accounts Scandal (BBG)
What Explains amazon.com’s Share Price? (PCR)
Panama Leaks and the Fall of Pakistan’s Prime Minister (Niaz)
Plastic Microparticles Found In Flesh Of Fish Eaten By Humans (Ind.)

 

 

More incentives for the Fed to trigger a crisis.

Trump’s Mistake In Taking Ownership Of The Stock Market Bubble (LR)

Let’s start at the beginning. Bubbles and Busts are both created by The Federal Reserve. Presidents are merely along for the ride. They like to credit themselves for the bubbles, and then look for scapegoats, usually the (non-existent) free market during the busts. But it is The Fed that creates them both. President Trump has made a big (yet understandable) mistake. He’s tried to portray himself as the cause of the current bubble in the stock market. He wants credit where credit is due. In this case, credit is not due. As we already mentioned, the Fed created the current bubble, and did so a long time ago. One look at a chart of the S&P 500 says it all:

Chances are, Trump realizes that most people won’t look at a chart of the stock market and he just wants some good PR. The president wants people to think that he is the reason for the stock market bubble. This is a big mistake. The Fed is the premier member of the so-called “Deep State”. In fact, without The Fed, there would hardly be a “Deep State” to speak of. The Fed sits at the top of the Deep State. They have the ultimate power (that no human beings should ever have) to create new money out-of-thin-air. In case Trump hasn’t figured it out yet, the Deep State does not like him. Should a major decline in the stock market occur during Trump’s Administration, guess who will take the blame? President Trump. After all, he took ownership of the bubble!

Should the market tumble, the mainstream media (that also despises Trump) will have plenty of his quotes, YouTubes, and Tweets to use against him. The economic woes will be pinned on Trump. Will Trump deserve the blame? No, but it’ll be too late. This is not to say that a major decline will occur during Trump’s tenure. Bubbles can take on a life of their own, and this one may last during Trump’s full term. But that’s a risky gamble to make. This bubble is going on almost 10 years now without a serious decline. Should we see a major selloff, Trump has very few friends in the major power centers that will come to his aid. As Peter Schiff points out in this fantastic clip below: The Fed now has their fall guy:

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A curious move. An ultimate power game.

Congress Checkmates Trump (And The American People) (LR)

Yesterday, the US Senate passed HR 3364, the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act by a massive 98 yeas to two nays. Opposing the bill were Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rand Paul (R-KY). The bill passed in the House by 419-3 on Tuesday, with Reps Massie (R-KY), Amash (R-MI), and Duncan (R-TN) opposing. The new sanctions bill ties President Trump’s hands on foreign policy, as he will be forced to ask Congress for permission to ease the measures. Speaking in favor of the legislation, Sen. Bob Menendez (R-NJ) cited the need to send Russia a message that it cannot meddle in US elections, that it cannot annex Crimea, that it cannot invade Ukraine, and that it cannot indiscriminately kill women and children in Syria.

Those of us living in the actual real world recognize that the first count remains unproven and the remaining counts are simply fatuous, fact-free bluster by Washington’s uninformed, group-thinking, foreign policy elites. Fueled by the millions coming in to the military-industrial complex. The House and Senate passed “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” now goes to President Trump’s desk, where he faces a damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t scenario. A veto would certainly be over-ridden, handing the president a bitter bi-partisan blow that would likely end whatever aspirations he may retain to keep his campaign promises to get along better with Russia.

Similarly, signing the bill signs a death warrant for any foreign policy different than the one served up by the neocons for decades: create enemies; push war propaganda; collect massive checks from military industrial complex; demonize any American refusing to go along; repeat, adding bombs as necessary. Checkmate, President Trump.

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Over 600 would have to leave. Question: why does the US have over 6000 more staff in Russia than vice versa?

Russia Hits Back Over Sanctions, Orders US Diplomats To Leave (R.)

Russia told the United States on Friday that some of its diplomats had to leave the country in just over a month and said it was seizing some U.S. diplomatic property as retaliation for what it said were proposed illegal U.S. sanctions. Russia’s response, announced by the Foreign Ministry, came a day after the U.S. Senate voted to slap new sanctions on Russia, putting President Donald Trump in a tough position by forcing him to take a hard line on Moscow or veto the legislation and anger his own Republican Party. President Vladimir Putin had warned on Thursday that Russia had so far exercised restraint, but would have to retaliate against what he described as boorish and unreasonable U.S. behaviour. Relations between the two countries, already at a post-Cold War low, have deteriorated even further after U.S. intelligence agencies accused Russia of trying to meddle in last year’s U.S. presidential election, something Moscow flatly denies.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Friday that the United States had until Sept. 1 to reduce its diplomatic staff in Russia to 455 people, the same number of Russian diplomats it said were left in the United States after Washington expelled 35 Russians in December. It said in a statement that the decision by Congress to impose new sanctions confirmed “the extreme aggression of the United States in international affairs.” “Hiding behind its ‘exceptionalism’ the United States arrogantly ignores the positions and interests of other countries,” said the ministry. “Under the absolutely invented pretext of Russian interference in their “Under the absolutely invented pretext of Russian interference in their domestic affairs the United States is aggressively pushing forward, one after another, crude anti-Russian actions. This all runs counter to the principles of international law.”

[..] An official at the U.S. embassy in Moscow, who declined to be named because they were not allowed to speak to the media, said there were around 1,100 U.S. diplomatic staff in Russia. That included Russian citizens and U.S. citizens. Most staff, including around 300 U.S. citizens, work in the main embassy in Moscow with others based in outlying consulates. The Russian Foreign Ministry said it was also seizing a Moscow dacha compound used by U.S. diplomats to relax from Aug. 1 as well as a U.S. diplomatic warehouse in Moscow.

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Confidence spelled backwards. How to cause a bank run in 3 easy lessons.

EU Explores Account Freezes To Prevent Runs At Failing Banks (R.)

European Union states are considering measures which would allow them to temporarily stop people withdrawing money from their accounts to prevent bank runs, an EU document reviewed by Reuters revealed. The move is aimed at helping rescue lenders that are deemed failing or likely to fail, but critics say it could hit confidence and might even hasten withdrawals at the first rumors of a bank being in trouble. The proposal, which has been in the works since the beginning of this year, comes less than two months after a run on deposits at Banco Popular contributed to the collapse of the Spanish lender. It also come amid a bitter wrangle among European countries over how to deal with troubled banks, roughly a decade after a financial crash that required the ECB to print billions of euros to prevent a prolonged economic slump.

Giving supervisors the power to temporarily block bank accounts at ailing lenders is “a feasible option,” a paper prepared by the Estonian presidency of the EU said, acknowledging that member states were divided on the issue. EU countries which already allow a moratorium on bank payouts in insolvency procedures at national level, like Germany, support the measure, officials said. “The desire is to prevent a bank run, so that when a bank is in a critical situation it is not pushed over the edge,” a person familiar with German government’s thinking said. To cover for savers’ immediate financial needs, the Estonian paper, dated July 10, recommended the introduction of a mechanism that could allow depositors to withdraw “at least a limited amount of funds.”

Banks, though, say it would discourage saving. “We strongly believe that this would incentivize depositors to run from a bank at an early stage,” Charlie Bannister of the Association for Financial Markets in Europe (AFME), a banking lobby group, said. The Estonian proposal was discussed by EU envoys on July 13 but no decision was made, an EU official said. Discussions were due to continue in September. The plan, if agreed, would contrast with legislative proposals made by the European Commission in November that aimed to strengthen supervisors’ powers to suspend withdrawals, but excluded from the moratorium insured depositors, which under EU rules are those below 100,000 euros ($117,000).

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Price discovery.

The Great Transatlantic Bond Divergence Unwind (WSJ)

Many of the trades embraced by markets after President Donald Trump’s election have been slowly unwinding in 2017. Here’s an important one that could have further to go: the gap between U.S. and German government bond yields. The spread between 10-year Treasurys and bunds ballooned after Mr. Trump’s November victory to a level not seen since before the fall of the Berlin Wall, around 2.3 percentage points by the end of 2016. U.S. yields rose sharply on the idea of reflation and stimulus, while Europe appeared stuck in a rut. At 1.75%age points, the gap is close to its pre-election level. But even that is unusual by historical standards. Between 1990 and 2014, the spread was only rarely wider than one percentage point, and over that period averaged just 0.2 point, according to data from FactSet.

Such a tight relationship between German and U.S. bonds reflected the long global bull market for bonds in the glory years of globalization. Relatively synchronized monetary policy meant yields fell on both sides of the Atlantic together. The Fed’s 2013 taper, followed by signals of coming European Central Bank bond buying helped set the bond markets apart. That both helped weaken the euro and encouraged a rush of bond issuance by U.S. companies in European markets as borrowing costs fell. Where policy goes now is key. Markets doubt how far the Fed might get with its tightening, and seem unflustered by the prospect of the central bank shrinking its balance sheet. Investors may be too relaxed, but in the absence of fiscal stimulus and inflation, much higher yields for Treasurys might be hard to achieve in the near term.

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But they rule Germany. So yeah, some fines etc., but the culture just goes on.

Top German Automakers Sued in US Over Two-Decade ‘Cartel’ (BBG)

German’s major automakers were accused in a U.S. lawsuit of acting as a cartel, colluding for nearly two decades to limit the pace of technological advances in their vehicles and stifle competition – allegations that widen the scope of the latest scandal to hit the nation’s auto industry. BMW AG, Daimler AG, Volkswagen AG and its Audi and Porsche brands shared competitive information about vehicle technologies with one another from 1996 through at least 2015 in violation of antitrust laws, according to a complaint filed Friday in San Francisco federal court. “These coordinated actions enabled the manufacturer defendants — the self-named ‘Fünfer-Kreise,’ or Circle of Five — to impose a German automobile premium on consumers premised on superior German engineering, while secretly stunting incentives to innovate,” the suit alleges.

The suit, which seeks class-action status on behalf of U.S. drivers, says the companies agreed to limit the development of vehicle systems, including emissions control. The arrangement allegedly led to the development of so-called “defeat devices” used by Volkswagen to cheat on pollution tests. Plaintiffs claim the operation of convertible roofs, body design, brakes and electronic systems were also part of the “technological innovations inhibited” by the pacts. The supplier of VW’s cheat software, Robert Bosch Gmbh, was also named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

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“The added cost of insurance pushed 274,000 customers into delinquency..”

Elizabeth Warren has called on the Fed to remove Wells Fargo board members. I think if your legal system does not allow you to put these people behind bars, maybe you should look there first. Many of these people should be put before a judge and Wells Fargo should be forced to close. Institutions like that are diseases in a society.

Wells Fargo Faces Angry Questions After New Sales Abuses Uncovered (R.)

New revelations that Wells Fargo spent years enrolling unknowing borrowers in costly auto insurance has put the bank under new pressure to answer for a months-long scandal over sales practices that have harmed millions of Americans. The latest news that 800,000 Wells Fargo auto borrowers were improperly charged for insurance rattled investors yet again, and sent its stock down 2.6% on Friday. Shareholders, analysts, lawmakers and consumer advocates demanded answers about how the situation manifested, and why Wells Fargo did not disclose the problems sooner, given existing turmoil over phony deposit and credit card accounts opened in customers’ names without their permission.

“This is a full-blown scandal — again,” said New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who oversees public pension funds that hold roughly 11.6 million Wells Fargo shares. “It’s unbelievable, outrageous, sad, and yet quintessential Wells Fargo. This isn’t just a corporate debacle. It’s caused real human harm.” Stringer called on the bank to install a new independent chair and “immediately” disclose more information. Wells Fargo first became aware of potential problems a year ago, when the auto lending business began receiving an unusually high number of complaints, Franklin Codel, head of consumer lending, said in an interview. The auto insurance program was quickly suspended, and the problem escalated to senior management, the board and regulators, he said.

Wells Fargo planned to delay public disclosure until it could notify affected customers and reimburse them. “The problem with disclosing to the marketplace today or several months ago is customers start calling and asking when they’re going to get their money,” he said. “It’s not a great customer experience to say, ‘Yeah, we’ll get back to you.'” [..] Wall Street analysts expect the financial damage to go beyond the $80 million in reimbursements. In a note on Friday, Piper Jaffray’s Kevin Barker predicted the true cost would be “multiples” of that figure, with lawsuits and further customer remediation. The added cost of insurance pushed 274,000 customers into delinquency, and led to at least 20,000 wrongful repossessions, according to the Times.

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“Community bank” and Wells Fargo in one sentence. Take out the ones that are most guilty and go on as you were.

Wells Fargo Cuts 70 Senior Managers in Retail Bank After Accounts Scandal (BBG)

Wells Fargo, the lender struggling to overcome a fake-accounts scandal in its community bank, said the division’s new leader is cutting about 70 senior executive jobs. The lender will reduce the number of regional and area presidents to 91, Mary Mack, head of the retail bank, said Friday in a memo to staff, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg. Bank spokeswoman Bridget Braxton confirmed the contents of the memo and said employees whose positions are eliminated will remain staff members for 60 days until further steps are decided. Most of the remaining managers will be re-titled as region bank presidents with direct responsibility for more employees than before, in a move aimed at reducing management levels across the branch network, Mack wrote.

Across its 10 geographical divisions, Wells Fargo previously employed 160 regional and area presidents. “Change is hard, yet change is necessary to make sure we are well positioned for the future,” Mack wrote. “In order to truly be better, we must put the right structure in place,” she added. The community-banking division, which houses the retail bank, has generated weaker profit since September when Wells Fargo was fined $185 million because employees had been opening accounts for more than a half decade without customers’ permission. This week, the firm’s consumer operations revealed another scandal, announcing that the bank had charged as many as 500,000 customers for auto insurance they didn’t need.

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“..Bill Gates who heads the largest digital technology company is on occasion second fiddle to Bezos who heads an online Sears or Macy’s.”

What Explains amazon.com’s Share Price? (PCR)

“Here are today’s top stories on Bloomberg” “Jeff Bezos briefly overtook Bill Gates as the world’s richest person. A surge in Amazon shares Thursday morning in advance of its earnings report gave Bezos a net worth of $92.3 billion, surpassing the Microsoft founder’s $90.8 billion fortune. In afternoon trading, Bezos remains ranked second on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Gates has held the top spot since May 2013.” Amazon’s stock closed yesterday at $1,046 per share. Amazon’s profits do not support this extraordinary price. Apple, a very profitable company, has a share price of $150.56, an overprice itself. What or who is making Bezos so rich from an online sales company? Note, amazon.com is just sales. It is not some new manufacturing technology that produces valuable output at low cost.

amazon.com is what Walmart, Sears, and Macy’s do, the difference being that amazon.com is online and Walmart, Sears, and Macy’s are in physical locations where real merchandise can be experienced hands on and tried on for fit. In other words, online purchases are convenient, but you don’t know what you are getting. Does it fit? What is the quality? And so forth. How many times do you send it back before you get what you want? There are two answers to the question about who is making Bezos rich. One is that Wall Street is betting that the collapse of US anti-trust law and regulatory authority—it is still on the books but not enforced, just look at the Big Banks—and the ability of Bezos to use his ownership of the Washington Post, the newspaper of the country’s capital, to support those who support him, ensure that amazon.com will be an online monopoly.

Once this is put in place, amazon’s prices and profits will rise, and the extraordinary amazon.com P/E ratio will come into line with reality. Another is that Bezos’ cooperation with Washington’s spy network over all Americans is paid for by the CIA’s many front companies driving up the price of amazon.com’s stock. As the price of amazon.com rises, so does Bezos’ wealth. I don’t know that either of these answers is correct. What I notice is that Bill Gates who heads the largest digital technology company is on occasion second fiddle to Bezos who heads an online Sears or Macy’s.

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Just in case you’re thinking things are a mess where you are. His brother is rumored to succeed him.

Panama Leaks and the Fall of Pakistan’s Prime Minister (Niaz)

On July 28, 2017, the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) rendered a unanimous verdict by a five-member bench that disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from holding public office. This outcome was the result of the Panama Leaks, which revealed that the premier and his family owned assets disproportionate to their known sources of income. The opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), led by Imran Khan, seized on this issue and managed to compel Pakistan’s normally apathetic state institutions to take notice. For over a year, the premier and his family failed to explain how they acquired upscale properties in London. The ruling family dug themselves even deeper into the hole in their effort to establish some kind of cover for their acquisitions by being deliberately inaccurate before the SCP and even forging documents.

Surrounded by sycophants, the premier was evidently badly advised at each step and he and his family have paid a very high political price and could well face jail time. Pakistan has a long tradition of dragging its civilian chief executives over the coals. No prime minister has completed a regular term in office, their tenures cut short by assassination, civilian or military coups, judicial intervention, and intra-party machinations. Many premiers have been overthrown or dismissed for alleged abuse of power, mal-administration, and corruption. Nawaz Sharif and his family, in being unable to account for their wealth, and in their crude attempts at a cover up, have demonstrated that they are evidently crooks.

This said, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has done a better job of delivering on its campaign promises than any political party in Pakistan’s democratic experience. Pakistan’s energy crisis has eased, the economy is headed towards 6% annual growth, FDI is the highest in a decade, per capita income has risen perceptively, major cities have seen considerable investment in their infrastructure, and the gross level of terrorist violence has declined. Given that the ruling party won in 2013 with as many votes as the next two largest parties combined, its victory in 2018 seemed all but assured.

[..] Since 1947, Pakistan state elites have presided over a massive privatization of public wealth. Entitlements in the form of plots, perks, benefits, are part of an elaborate system of bureaucratically induced shortages that breed systemic corruption and undermines governance. Pakistani private and public sector corporations and entrepreneurs guzzle subsidies and thrive only in a cartelized environment. Any attempt by a government to rationalize the economy or improve productivity is met with howls of protest and demands for more subsidies. Pakistani professionals, be they lawyers, doctors, engineers, educators, behave like mafias, seeking to avoid ethical checks while relentlessly pursuing self-aggrandizement.

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We’ll eat our own crap yet. Garbage in, garbage out.

Plastic Microparticles Found In Flesh Of Fish Eaten By Humans (Ind.)

Plastic microparticles are getting into the flesh of fish eaten by humans, according to a new study. A team of scientists from Malaysia and France discovered a total of 36 tiny pieces of plastic in the bodies of 120 mackerel, anchovies, mullets and croakers. They warned that as plastic attracts toxins in the environment, these poisons could be released into people’s bodies after they ate the fish. The plastics found included nylon, polystyrene and polyethylene. Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, the researchers said: “The widespread distribution of microplastics in aquatic bodies has subsequently contaminated a diverse range of aquatic biota, including those sold for human consumption such as shellfish and mussels.

“Therefore, seafood products could be a major route of human exposure to microplastics. “Microplastics were suggested to exert their harmful effects by providing a medium to facilitate the transport of other toxic compounds such as heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants to the body of organisms. Upon ingestion, these chemicals may be released and cause toxicity.” They suggested people eating the fish examined in this study, which are often dried and sold across Malaysia and neighbouring countries, could consume up to 246 pieces of microplastic a year. However, they added: “The majority of the tested fish in this study did not contain microplastics. Therefore, it is less likely that an individual would ingest the suggested maximum number of microplastics per annum.”

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Jun 272017
 
 June 27, 2017  Posted by at 10:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »
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Egon Schiele Port of Trieste 1907

 

Trump Eager For Big Meeting With Putin; Some Advisers Wary (AP)
Three Journalists Quit CNN In Fallout From Retracted Russia Story (Fox)
US Congress To Stop Arms Sales To Gulf Until Qatar Crisis Is Solved (G.)
Democrats Help Corporate Donors Block California Single-Payer (IBT)
Bernanke: Economists Missed Populism, Inequality, But Are Here To Help (CNBC)
Europe’s Inequality Highly Destabilizing – Draghi (R.)
Change the Way Money Is Created, Or More Inequality, Disorder Inevitable (CHS)
ECB Chief Draghi Rules Out Greece Joining QE Soon (K.)
Europe’s Gradualist Fallacy (Varoufakis)
Italy Bank Deal Makes Germans Wary of Macron’s Euro Agenda
Italy’s Latest Bank Bailout Has Created A Two-Speed Eurozone (Coppola)
Brazil Top Prosecutor Charges President With Bribery (AFP)
The Technicolor Swan (Jim Kunstler)
California To List Glyphosate As Cancer-Causing; Monsanto Vows Fight (R.)

 

 

What a great idea to try and prevent the US President from talking to other world leaders (i.e. doing his job).

Trump Eager For Big Meeting With Putin; Some Advisers Wary (AP)

President Donald Trump is eager to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin with full diplomatic bells and whistles when the two are in Germany for a multinational summit next month. But the idea is exposing deep divisions within the administration on the best way to approach Moscow in the midst of an ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. elections. Many administration officials believe the U.S. needs to maintain its distance from Russia at such a sensitive time – and interact only with great caution. But Trump and some others within his administration have been pressing for a full bilateral meeting. He’s calling for media access and all the typical protocol associated with such sessions, even as officials within the State Department and National Security Council urge more restraint, according to a current and a former administration official.

Some advisers have recommended that the president instead do either a quick, informal “pull-aside” on the sidelines of the summit, or that the U.S. and Russian delegations hold “strategic stability talks,” which typically don’t involve the presidents. The officials spoke anonymously to discuss private policy discussions. The contrasting views underscore differing views within the administration on overall Russia policy, and Trump’s eagerness to develop a working relationship with Russia despite the ongoing investigations. Asked about the AP report that Trump is eager for a full bilateral meeting, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow on Monday that “the protocol side of it is secondary.” The two leaders will be attending the same event in the same place at the same time, Peskov said, so “in any case there will be a chance to meet.”

Peskov added, however, that no progress in hammering out the details of the meeting has been made yet. There are potential benefits to a meeting with Putin. A face-to-face meeting can humanize the two sides and often removes some of the intrigue involved in impersonal, telephone communication. Trump — the ultimate dealmaker — has repeatedly suggested that he can replace the Obama-era damage in the U.S.-Russia relationship with a partnership, particularly on issues like the ongoing Syria conflict. There are big risks, though. Trump is known to veer off-script, creating the possibility for a high-stakes diplomatic blunder. In a brief Oval Office meeting with top Russian diplomats last month, Trump revealed highly classified information about an Islamic State group threat to airlines that was relayed to him by Israel, according to a senior administration official. The White House defended the disclosures as “wholly appropriate.”

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Here’s why people don’t want Trump to talk to Putin.

Three Journalists Quit CNN In Fallout From Retracted Russia Story (Fox)

Three CNN journalists who worked on a now-retracted story about Russia and a top Trump adviser are leaving the network. CNN is casting their departure as resignations in the wake of the fiasco, but the network has come under substantial criticism since apologizing for the story. The move would also help CNN’s legal position in case of a lawsuit. Anthony Scaramucci, the Trump adviser who is the target of the story, told me that he has no plans to sue. He said he has accepted CNN’s apology and wants to move on. But Scaramucci also told me in an earlier interview, “I was disappointed the story was published. It was a lie.” Lex Harris, executive editor of CNN’s investigative unit, was the highest-ranking official to resign. Thomas Frank, who wrote the story, and Eric Lichtblau, who edited it, also turned in their resignations.

Lichtblau is a highly regarded reporter who spent nearly a decade and a half at the New York Times. The story tried to draw a link between Scaramucci and the Russian Direct Investment Fund. Scaramucci was a Trump transition team member who has been nominated to an ambassadorial-level post based in Paris. The CNN.com article said that Scaramucci, back in January, held a secret meeting with an official from the Russian fund. According to an unnamed source, Scaramucci discussed the possibility of lifting U.S. sanctions at the meeting. But Scaramucci told me there was no secret meeting. He said he had given a speech on Trump’s behalf at Davos, and fund official Kirill Dmitriev approached him in a restaurant to say hello and they had a brief conversation, with no discussion of sanctions. In the retraction, the network said the story “did not meet CNN’s editorial standards.” The network is now requiring approval from two top editors before any Russia-related story can be published.

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Amazing how easy it can be. Now make it permanent.

US Congress To Stop Arms Sales To Gulf Until Qatar Crisis Is Solved (G.)

The Republican chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee has said the US Congress will hold up approval of arms sales to the Gulf as a result of the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar. Senator Bob Corker said the nations of Gulf Cooperation Council had failed to take advantage of a summit with President Trump in May to overcome their differences and had “instead chosen to devolve into conflict”. Corker continued: “For these reasons, before we provide any further clearances during the informal review period on sales of lethal military equipment to the GCC states, we need a better understanding of the path to resolve the current dispute and reunify the GCC.”

Earlier this month, the Senate narrowly fended off a bid to block a Trump administration plan to sell Saudi Arabia $500m in precision-guided munitions, part of a proposed $110bn arms sales package announced during the president’s visit to Riyadh last month. Congress has the power to block individual sales during a 30-day review period from when the state department gives notification of an impending sale. A Saudi-led coalition that includes Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar on 5 June, but only provided a justification 18 days later with the presentation of a list of 13 demands. They want Doha to close the al-Jazeera TV channel, restrict diplomatic ties with Iran, halt the construction of a Turkish military base in the country, and sever contacts with extremist organisations.

Qatar has been given 10 days to meet the demands, but the Saudi-led group has not said what action it would take if the deadline is not met. The US has sent mixed signals on the standoff. In the immediate aftermath of the embargo, Trump gave Riyadh and its allies fulsome support, echoing Saudi claims about Qatari funding for terrorism. However, Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, last week called on the coalition present its complaints and negotiate a solution. Since the list of 13 demands was presented, Tillerson has been non-committal, observing that some of them would be “very difficult for Qatar to meet”, but arguing there were “significant areas which provide a basis for ongoing dialogue leading to resolution.”

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David Sirota: “Jerry Brown campaigned for president supporting single-payer, then he got big cash from insurers/drugmakers, now he refused to back the bill.”

Single payer is the only thing that can save US health care. But all sides are in debt to the very interests who will block it.

Democrats Help Corporate Donors Block California Single-Payer (IBT)

As Republican lawmakers grapple with their unpopular bill to repeal Obamacare, Democrats have tried to present a united front on health care. But for all their populist rhetoric against insurance and drug companies, Democratic powerbrokers and their allies remain deeply divided on the issue — to the point where a political civil war has spilled into the open in America’s largest state. In California last week, Democratic state Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon helped his and his party’s corporate donors block a Democrat-sponsored bill to create a universal health care program in which the government would be the single payer. Rendon’s decision shows how progressives’ ideal of universal health care remains elusive — even in a liberal state where government already foots 70% of the total health care bill.

Until Rendon’s move, things seemed to be looking up for Democratic single-payer proponents in deep blue California, which has been hammered by insurance premium increases. There, the Democratic Party — which originally created Medicare — just added a legislative supermajority to a Democratic-controlled state government that oversees the world’s sixth largest economy. That 2016 election victory came as a poll showed nearly two-thirds of Californians support the creation of a taxpayer-funded universal health care system in a state whose population is roughly the size of Canada — which already has such a system. California’s highest-profile federal Democratic lawmaker recently endorsed state efforts to create single-payer systems, and 25 members of its congressional delegation had signed on to sponsor a federal single-payer bill.

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They missed everything so far, but now we need them.

Bernanke: Economists Missed Populism, Inequality, But Are Here To Help (CNBC)

Former chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke said Monday that economists have a “responsibility” to help address populist frustrations. “The credibility of economists has been damaged by our insufficient attention, over the years, to the problems of economic adjustment and by our proclivity toward top-down, rather than bottom-up, policies,” Bernanke, now distinguished fellow in residence, Brookings Institution, said in prepared remarks for a dinner speech called “When growth is not enough.” “Nevertheless, as a profession we have expertise that can help make the policy response more effective, and I think we have a responsibility to contribute wherever we can,” the former Fed chair said.

In the last 18 months, growing populist sentiment contributed to the UK’s surprise vote to leave the European Union last June, and the election of U.S. President Donald Trump last November. Trump promised to bring jobs back from China and Mexico to the U.S., winning him support. The U.S. Census Bureau’s latest report on household income showed the Gini index of income inequality for the U.S. in 2015 of 0.482 was significantly higher than the prior year’s 0.480. “This increase suggests that income inequality increased across the country,” the report said. “Policymakers in recent decades have been slow to address or even to recognize those trends, an error of omission that has helped fuel the voters’ backlash,” Bernanke said. He was speaking at the European Central Bank’s Forum on Central Banking in Sintra, Portugal.

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Bernanke and Draghi greatly increased inequality with their ZIRP and NIRP policies. And today both all of a sudden come out as being worried about it?

Europe’s Inequality Highly Destabilizing – Draghi (R.)

Europe’s growing inequality is highly destabilizing and needs to be tackled with education, innovation and investment in human capital, particularly jobs for young people, ECB President Mario Draghi said on Monday. Income inequality has grown among euro zone countries since the global financial crisis and some measures also show divergence between the bloc’s richer and poorer members, a source of tension for the 19-member currency bloc. “Is this a seriously destabilizing factor that we should cope with?” Draghi said in a rare town-hall style meeting with university students in Lisbon. “Yes it is.” “We have to fight against inequality,” Draghi in response to a student question. Draghi, leading one of Europe’s most respected institutions, has for years called on governments to enact fundamental reforms, arguing that the ECB is able to prop up growth, but only temporarily, giving governments a window of opportunity.

Eurostat data has shown that only a handful of countries have managed to shrink income inequality since the crisis while it has grown sharply in places like France or Spain. Figures also show the highest level of income inequality in the bloc’s periphery, like Greece, Spain and Portugal, hit hardest by the crisis. Calling convergence among euro zone members “fundamental,” Draghi said the best way to fight inequality is by creating jobs, which comes from an increased investment in education, skills development and innovation. He also called on governments to consider better income and wealth redistribution policies. Defending the ECB’s ultra easy monetary policy, Draghi said that super low rates create jobs, foster growth and benefit borrowers, ultimately easing inequality. He also rejected calls to exit super easy monetary policy quickly, arguing that premature tightening would lead to a fresh recession and more inequality.

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Here’s how ZIRP creates more inequality.

Change the Way Money Is Created, Or More Inequality, Disorder Inevitable (CHS)

Compare the limited power of an individual with cash and the enormous power of unlimited cheap credit. Let’s say an individual has saved $100,000 in cash. He keeps the money in the bank, which pays him less than 1% interest. Rather than earn this low rate, he decides to loan the cash to an individual who wants to buy a rental home at 4% interest. There’s a tradeoff to earn this higher rate of interest: the saver has to accept the risk that the borrower might default on the loan, and that the home will not be worth the $100,000 the borrower owes. The bank, on the other hand, can perform magic with the $100,000 they obtain from the central bank. The bank can issue 19 times this amount in new loans—in effect, creating $1,900,000 in new money out of thin air.

This is the magic of fractional reserve lending. The bank is only required to hold a small%age of outstanding loans as reserves against losses. If the reserve requirement is 5%, the bank can issue $1,900,000 in new loans based on the $100,000 in cash: the bank holds assets of $2,000,000, of which 5% ($100,000) is held in cash reserves. This is a simplified version of how money is created and issued, but it helps us understand why centrally issued and distributed money concentrates wealth in the hands of those with access to the centrally issued credit and those who have the privilege of leveraging every $1 of cash into $19 newly created dollars that earn interest. Imagine if we each had a relatively modest $1 million line of credit at 0.25% interest from a central bank that we could use to issue loans of $19 million.

Let’s say we issued $19 million in home loans at an annual interest rate of 4%. The gross revenue (before expenses) of our leveraged $1 million would be $760,000 annually –let’s assume we net $600,000 per year after annual expenses of $160,000. (Recall that the interest due on the $1 million line of credit is a paltry $2,500 annually). Median income for workers in the U.S. is around $30,000 annually. Thus a modest $1 million line of credit at 0.25% interest from the central bank would enable us to net 20 years of a typical worker’s earnings every single year. This is just a modest example of pyramiding wealth.

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So Draghi whines about inequality and at the same time makes sure Greece gets hammered even more economically. Does his ass know where his mouth is located?

ECB Chief Draghi Rules Out Greece Joining QE Soon (K.)

The president of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, said on Monday that Greece will not join its quantitative easing program (QE) until international creditors specify what sort of debt relief measures the country can expect. “Until sufficient details are given on debt-related measures, serious concerns remain about the sustainability of Greek government debt,” he said in response to a question from Popular Unity (LAE) MEP Nikos Hountis over whether the ECB had completed its own debt sustainability analysis (DSA), and if it had come to any conclusions on the issue. Draghi said that ECB experts “are not currently in a position to complete a fully fledged DSA analysis of Greece’s public debt.” Up until very recently, Greece was banking on its inclusion in QE as a way to return to bond markets, which would put an end to its dependence on bailout programs.

If the ECB were to buy Greek debt it would boost the confidence of investors about the prospects of the Greek economy. But given Draghi’s comment on Monday and the failure of the government to secure more concrete language on debt relief at the Eurogroup on June 15, Athens now believes it can achieve the goal to enter bond markets without having to join QE. And it believes that it has three windows of opportunity to issue a bond in the period stretching from July until early next year. These three opportunities are, reportedly, in July, given the improved climate in international markets. The second chance will be at the end of September and beginning of October after German elections, while the third will be at the end of the year or early 2018, as predicted by the head of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), Klaus Regling.

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Macron is Merkel’s messenger boy. France has nothing to say in the EU. That’s the essence of Europe’s problem.

Europe’s Gradualist Fallacy (Varoufakis)

Europe is at the mercy of a common currency that not only was unnecessary for European integration, but that is actually undermining the European Union itself. So what should be done about a currency without a state to back it – or about the 19 European states without a currency that they control? The logical answer is either to dismantle the euro or to provide it with the federal state it needs. The problem is that the first solution would be hugely costly, while the second is not feasible in a political climate favoring the re-nationalization of sovereignty. Those who agree that the cost of dismantling the euro is too high to contemplate are being forced into a species of wishful thinking that is now very much in vogue, especially after the election of Emmanuel Macron to the French presidency.

Their idea is that, somehow, by some unspecified means, Europe will find a way to move toward federation. “Just hang in there,” seems to be their motto. Macron’s idea is to move beyond idle optimism by gaining German consent to turn the eurozone into a state-like entity – a federation-lite. In exchange for making French labor markets more Germanic, as well as reining in France’s budget deficit, Germany is being asked to agree in principle to a common budget, a common finance ministry, and a eurozone parliament to provide democratic legitimacy. Macron knows that such a federation would be macroeconomically insignificant, given the depth of the debt, banking, investment, and poverty crisis unfolding across the eurozone. But, in the spirit of the EU’s traditional gradualism, he thinks that such a move would be politically momentous and a decisive step toward a meaningful federation.

“Once the Germans accept the principle, the economics will force them to accept the necessary magnitudes,” is how a French official put it to me recently. Such optimism may seem justified in light of proposals along those lines made in the past by none other than Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s finance minister. But there are two powerful reasons to be skeptical. First, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Schäuble were not born yesterday. If Macron’s people imagine a federation-lite as an entering wedge for full-blown political integration, so will Merkel, Schäuble, and the reinvigorated Free Democrats (who will most likely join a coalition government with Merkel’s Christian Democrats after the September federal election). And they will politely but firmly reject the French overtures.

Second, in the unlikely event that Germany gives federation-lite the go-ahead, any change to the functioning of the eurozone would, undoubtedly, devour large portions of the reformers’ political capital. If it does not produce economic and social results that improve, rather than annul, the chances of a proper federation, as I suspect it will not, a political backlash could ensue, ending any prospect of a more substantial federation in the future. In that case, the euro’s dismantling will become inevitable, will cost more, and will leave Europe in even greater shambles.

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Germany doesn’t care one bit about Macron’s agenda; they may pay lip service, but that’s it. In this particular case, do you think Germany wants an Italian bank collapse a few months before Merkel’s election?

Italy Bank Deal Makes Germans Wary of Macron’s Euro Agenda

Germany sounded the alarm over Italy’s latest bank bailout, saying the apparent bending of EU rules casts doubt on efforts to further integrate the euro zone. The government in Rome announced the country’s biggest bank rescue to date on Sunday evening as it committed as much as €17 billion ($19 billion) to clean up two failed banks. While the European Commission approved the plan, German officials pointed to the involvement of state aid to shield senior creditors from losses as working around EU law established to deal with bank failures. That exemption drew criticism from members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition, who cited the need to uphold European law without setting unhealthy precedents.

“We’re in a phase where we are faced with the question of whether we can succeed at applying European law, irrespective of all the understandable domestic policy discussions,” Alexander Radwan, a lawmaker from Merkel’s CSU Bavarian sister party who sits on the Bundestag’s finance committee, said in an interview on Monday. “Cases like these make it more difficult to think about deepening the economic and monetary union.” The growing drumbeat for closer euro-area integration following Emmanuel Macron’s election in France is making some German lawmakers increasingly uneasy. Citing election results in France and the Netherlands this year that open “an opportunity for moving Europe forward,” Merkel has spoken of joint projects with France and left the door open to creating a euro-area budget and a joint finance minister.

“This decision discredits the further completion of the banking union and moves the common deposit-guarantee scheme into the distant future,” said Carsten Schneider, a deputy head of the Social Democrat caucus in Germany’s lower house. “It’s not acceptable that bank wind-downs under national rules offer better conditions for creditors than under the European regime.” Italy’s decision is “a grave mistake,” Schneider said in emailed comments to Bloomberg.

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Brussels hubris in its full splendor. (BRRD= Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive)

Italy’s Latest Bank Bailout Has Created A Two-Speed Eurozone (Coppola)

The bailout is dressed up as a rescue by a larger bank along the same lines as Santander’s recent acquisition for a nominal 1 euro of the insolvent Banco Popular. Like Santander, Intesa Sanpaolo, Italy’s second-biggest lender, will buy the two banks 1 euro. But there the similarity ends. Santander took on full responsibility for recapitalizing Banco Popular, for which it announced a 7bn euro rights issue. But Intesa isn’t taking financial responsibility for anything. The Italian government is paying Intesa about 5bn euros in cash to take over the two banks, and is additionally providing guarantees worth 12bn euros for the two banks’ bad assets. The total bailout amount is thus around 17bn euros, though according to the European Commission, the net cost will be much lower: Both guarantees and cash injections are backed up by the Italian State’s senior claims on the assets in the liquidation mass. Correspondingly, the net costs to the Italian State will be much lower than the nominal amounts of the measures provided.

The bailout imposes losses on the two banks’ shareholders and subordinated debtholders. But the all-important seniors have been spared, and small subordinated debtholders will be compensated by Intesa from the funds provided by the Italian government. The BRRD has effectively been sidestepped. Did the EU oppose this sleight of hand? Not a bit of it. In this statement, the European Commission approved the use of taxpayers’ funds to bail out these banks: “The Commission found these measures to be in line with EU State aid rules, in particular the 2013 Banking Communication. Existing shareholders and subordinated debt holders have fully contributed to the costs, reducing the cost of the intervention for the Italian State. Both aid recipients, BPVI and Banca Veneto, will be wound up in an orderly fashion and exit the market, while the transferred activities will be restructured and significantly downsized by Intesa, which in combination will limit distortions of competition arising from the aid.”

Remarkable. Winding up two banks in the Venetian area would cause massive economic disruption. So the solution is to create an effective banking monopoly in that area. And this doesn’t distort competition, apparently. I detect a distinct odor of Eurofudge. Italy’s decision, supported by the European Commission, tramples the BRRD to death. Senior creditors need never again fear losses due to a failing bank. If it is systemically important, it will be given a precautionary recapitalization at taxpayers’ expense. If it is not, an excuse will be found to bail it out at taxpayers’ expense. Either way, seniors and unsecured depositors are safe. That is, they are as safe as politicians want them to be. Italy is able to bail out these banks – and will no doubt in due course bail out others too – because it is a big country which can easily borrow the funds needed.

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“..”abundant” proof that the president received bribe money..”

Brazil Top Prosecutor Charges President With Bribery (AFP)

Brazil’s top prosecutor charged President Michel Temer with bribery on Monday, plunging Latin America’s biggest country into what could be prolonged new political turmoil. The bribery charge filed by Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot swept Temer into the forefront of a giant graft scandal that has engulfed Latin America’s biggest country over the last three years. Although several past Brazilian presidents and scores of other politicians are currently being investigated for corruption in the “Car Wash” probe, Temer is the first leader in the country’s history to face criminal charges while still in office. Temer acted “in violation of his duties to the state and to society,” Janot wrote, citing “abundant” proof that the president received bribe money.

For Temer to go on trial, the lower house of Congress must first approve Janot’s charge by a two-thirds majority. Temer would then be suspended for six months for the trial. Janot is also probing Temer for alleged obstruction of justice and membership of a criminal group. He could file those charges at a later date, guaranteeing a sustained legal assault. However, Temer’s aides say they are confident he has sufficient support in Congress to get the charges thrown out. In his first comments since returning from a trip to Russia and Norway, the president was defiant. “There is no plan B,” he said at a ceremony to sign a new bill in the capital Brasilia. “Nothing will destroy us – not me and not our ministers.”

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Nothing black about it.

The Technicolor Swan (Jim Kunstler)

I registered as a Democrat in 1972 — largely because good ole Nixon was at the height of his power (just before his fall, of course), and because he was preceded as party leader by Barry Goldwater, who, at the time, was avatar for the John Birch Society and all its poisonous nonsense. The Democratic Party was still deeply imbued with the personality of Franklin Roosevelt, with a frosting of the recent memory of John F. Kennedy and his brother Bobby, tragic, heroic, and glamorous. I was old enough to remember the magic of JFK’s press conferences — a type of performance art that neither Bill Clinton or Barack Obama could match for wit and intelligence — and the charisma of authenticity that Bobby projected in the months before that little creep shot him in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel. Even the lugubrious Lyndon Johnson had the heroic quality of a Southerner stepping up to abolish the reign of Jim Crow.

Lately, people refer to this bygone era of the 1960s as “the American High” — and by that they are not talking about smoking dope (though it did go mainstream then), but rather the post World War Two economic high, when American business might truly ruled the planet. Perhaps the seeming strength of American political leaders back then was merely a reflection of the country’s economic power, which since has been squandered and purloined into a matrix of rackets loosely called financialization — a criminal magic act whereby wealth is generated without producing anything of value. Leaders in such a system are bound to be not just lesser men and women but something less than human. Hillary Clinton, for instance, lost the 2016 election because she came off as demonic, and I mean that pretty literally.

To many Americans, especially the ones swindled by the magic of financialization, she was the reincarnation of the little girl in The Exorcist. Donald Trump, unlikely as it seems — given his oafish and vulgar guise — was assigned the role of exorcist. Unlike poor father Merrin, he sort of succeeded, even to his very own astonishment. I say sort of succeeded because the Democratic Party is still there, infested with all its gibbering demons, but it has been reduced politically to impotence and appears likely to soon roll over and die. None of this is to say that the other party, the Republicans, have anything but the feeblest grip on credibility or even an assured continued existence. First of all there is Trump’s obvious plight as a rogue only nominally regarded as party leader (or even member).

Then there is the gathering fiasco of neither Trump nor his party being able to deliver remedies for any of the ills of our time that he was elected to fix. The reason for that is simple: the USA has entered Hell, or at least a condition that looks a lot like it. This is not just a matter of a few persons or a party being possessed by demons. We’ve entered a realm that is populated by nothing but demons — of our own design, by the way. Our politics have become so thoroughly demonic, that the sort of exorcism America needs now can only come from outside politics. It’s coming, too. It’s on its way. It will turn our economic situation upside down and inside out. It’s a Technicolor swan, and you can see it coming from a thousand miles out. Wait for it. Wait for it.

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It’s crazy that we’re still talking about this.

California To List Glyphosate As Cancer-Causing; Monsanto Vows Fight (R.)

Glyphosate, an herbicide and the active ingredient in Monsanto Co’s popular Roundup weed killer, will be added to California’s list of chemicals known to cause cancer effective July 7, the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) said on Monday. Monsanto vowed to continue its legal fight against the designation, required under a state law known as Proposition 65, and called the decision “unwarranted on the basis of science and the law.” The listing is the latest legal setback for the seeds and chemicals company, which has faced increasing litigation over glyphosate since the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer said that it is “probably carcinogenic” in a controversial ruling in 2015.

Dicamba, a weed killer designed for use with Monsanto’s next generation of biotech crops, is under scrutiny in Arkansas after the state’s plant board voted last week to ban the chemical. OEHHA said the designation of glyphosate under Proposition 65 will proceed following an unsuccessful attempt by Monsanto to block the listing in trial court and after requests for stay were denied by a state appellate court and the California’s Supreme Court. Monsanto’s appeal of the trial court’s ruling is pending. “This is not the final step in the process, and it has no bearing on the merits of the case. We will continue to aggressively challenge this improper decision,” Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s vice president of global strategy, said.

Listing glyphosate as a known carcinogen under California’s Proposition 65 would require companies selling the chemical in the state to add warning labels to packaging. Warnings would also be required if glyphosate is being sprayed at levels deemed unsafe by regulators. Users of the chemical include landscapers, golf courses, orchards, vineyards and farms. Monsanto and other glyphosate producers would have roughly a year from the listing date to re-label products or remove them from store shelves if further legal challenges are lost.

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Jun 252017
 
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Marc Riboud Paris 1953

 

Dems Push Leaders To Talk Less About Russia (Hill)
UK Housing Crisis Threatens A Million Families With Eviction By 2020 (G.)
The Answer Is Wages, Not Capital (Angusto)
Not All Fossil Fuels Are Going Extinct (BBG)
Reclaiming Public Services (TNI)
Contagion from the 2 Friday-Night Bank Collapses in Italy? (DQ)
Health Spending In Greece Down 40% In 2009-2015 (Amna)
Moody’s Raises Greece’s Sovereign Bond Rating After Bailout (AFP)
Greece, A Guinea Pig For A Cashless And Controlled Society (MPN)
Monsanto And Bayer Are Maneuvering To Take Over The Cannabis Industry (WT)

 

 

Endlessly ironic that publications like the Hill write on this. They are more responsible for all the nonsense than any politicians are.

Dems Push Leaders To Talk Less About Russia (Hill)

Frustrated Democrats hoping to elevate their election fortunes have a resounding message for party leaders: Stop talking so much about Russia. Democratic leaders have been beating the drum this year over the ongoing probes into the Trump administration’s potential ties to Moscow, taking every opportunity to highlight the saga and forcing floor votes designed to uncover any business dealings the president might have with Russian figures. But rank-and-file Democrats say the Russia-Trump narrative is simply a non-issue with district voters, who are much more worried about bread-and-butter economic concerns like jobs, wages and the cost of education and healthcare.

In the wake of a string of special-election defeats, an increasing number of Democrats are calling for an adjustment in party messaging, one that swings the focus from Russia to the economy. The outcome of the 2018 elections, they say, hinges on how well the Democrats manage that shift. “We can’t just talk about Russia because people back in Ohio aren’t really talking that much about Russia, about Putin, about Michael Flynn,” Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) told MSNBC Thursday. “They’re trying to figure out how they’re going to make the mortgage payment, how they’re going to pay for their kids to go to college, what their energy bill looks like. “And if we don’t talk more about their interest than we do about how we’re so angry with Donald Trump and everything that’s going on,” he added, “then we’re never going to be able to win elections.”

Ryan is among the small group of Democrats who are sounding calls for a changing of the guard atop the party’s leadership hierarchy following Tuesday’s special election defeat in Georgia — the Democrats’ fourth loss since Trump took office. But Ryan is hardly alone in urging party leaders to hone their 2018 message. Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) has been paying particularly close attention to voters’ concerns because he’s running for governor in 2018. The Russia-Trump investigation, he said, isn’t on their radar. “I did a 22-county tour. … Nobody’s focusing on that,” Walz said. “That’s not to say that they don’t think Russia and those things are important, [but] it’s certainly not top on their minds.”

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Elections it is then. A rudderless society.

UK Housing Crisis Threatens A Million Families With Eviction By 2020 (G.)

More than a million households living in private rented accommodation are at risk of becoming homeless by 2020 because of rising rents, benefit freezes and a lack of social housing, according to a devastating new report into the UK’s escalating housing crisis. The study by the homelessness charity Shelter shows that rising numbers of families on low incomes are not only unable to afford to buy their own home but are also struggling to pay even the lowest available rents in the private sector, leading to ever higher levels of eviction and homelessness. The findings will place greater pressure on the government over housing policy following the Grenfell Tower fire disaster in west London, which exposed the neglect and disregard for people living in council-owned properties in one of the wealthiest areas of the capital.

The Shelter report highlights how a crisis of affordability and provision is gripping millions with no option but to look for homes in the private rented sector due to a shortage of social housing. Shelter says that in 83% of areas of England, people in the private rented sector now face a substantial monthly shortfall between the housing benefit they receive and the cheapest rents, and that this will rise as austerity bites and the lack of properties tilts the balance more in favour of landlords. Across the UK the charity has calculated that, if the housing benefit freeze remains in place as planned until 2020, more than a million households, including 375,000 with at least one person in work, could be forced out of their homes. It estimates that 211,000 households in which no one works because of disability could be forced to go.

Graeme Brown, the interim chief executive at Shelter, said: “The current freeze on housing benefit is pushing hundreds of thousands of private renters dangerously close to breaking point at a time when homelessness is rising.” A total of 14,420 households were accepted by local authorities as homeless between October and December 2016, up by more than half since 2009 – with 78% of the increase since 2011 being the result of people losing their previous private tenancy. Local authorities are under a legal obligation to find emergency accommodation, such as in bed and breakfasts.

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A kernel of truth does not a good reasoning make.,

The Answer Is Wages, Not Capital (Angusto)

As in any other religion, faith lies behind capitalism. Faith that capital is a panacea always and in any situation: to push economic growth or to help less developed countries to catch up. Yet the fact is that the EU countries that were the main receivers of cohesion funds, before the extension to the East, later became rescued countries – and we have never before had as much capital on tap along with current low growth.

Both these facts should be enough to break the faith in capital or, at least, to recognise its limits. Let’s see those limits in the above-mentioned causes. The virtue of capital transfers to help low developed countries is based in old Marshall Plan history, which attributes the successful German recovery after WW2 to USA loans. Sure, those loans helped, but the necessary knowledge was already there and the capital transfers allowed the Germans to rebuild their supply capacity. Conversely, in the EU rescued countries, entering the EU came with a local supply capacity destruction, in Schumpeterian terms, for which cohesion funds were unable to compensate. As a result, their domestic demand outstripped internal supply and trade deficits became recurrent until the financial crash.

The key element was not capital but knowledge and its absence or availability in both situations; something very obvious but all too often forgotten. If capital has any virtue it comes from its origin: the capacity to produce output sufficient to recover the inputs used, to satisfy consumption needs and to save a part to be invested as new inputs for raising future output. It means that the virtue is not in the savings/capital itself but in the capacity to generate it. That’s why capital transfers that simply increased the receivers’ inputs provision, without increasing the output/input ratio –or system efficiency–, were in the end wasted money. To avoid this, it would have been necessary to increase the receivers’ efficiency, which is much more correlated with parameters like educational levels than with capitalization! Again, knowledge is the key question.

Furthermore, capital on its own is not only unable to help less developed countries catch up on their wealthier peers but it’s also unable to propel economic growth on its own, as we are now seeing. After years of letting profits grow at the cost of wages, hoping that greater capital would bring greater growth, now we hear companies claiming that they do not invest because they do not have sufficient demand to justify the investment. The clear solution would be to increase wages, but no single company will do it out of fear that the others won’t follow suit. In fact, what any company hopes is that the others increase wages and salaries but not itself. That’s why a global agent is needed: trade unions and the public administration! The latter to increase its spending to guarantee full employment and the former profiting from full employment to bargain higher salaries.

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Bloomberg’s valiant attempt to make you see it doesn’t understand energy. Well done!

Not All Fossil Fuels Are Going Extinct (BBG)

Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s latest New Energy Outlook points the way to a sunny, windy future for the global electric power industry. That doesn’t mean that fossil fuels (or nuclear power) will vanish. It also doesn’t mean that all fossil fuels are the same. The future of natural gas and coal is a tale of two resources — one a story of rising fortunes, the other of slow decline. The latest outlook on natural gas is brighter than ever: BNEF’s forecast for gas shows a higher estimate for consumption in 2040 than in previous years, with a short decline at the end of this decade.

Coal is a different matter. Coal demand is expected to peak late next decade, then decline almost every year to reach a low of 3.1 billion metric tons in 2040, about 25% lower than at its peak.

This long-term outlook is nuanced, as it should be. The aggregated demand for each fuel from 2020 to 2040 has not changed much in three successive New Energy Outlook reports. Total gas consumption has only increased 6% since the 2015 report, while coal consumption from 2020 to 2040 – despite the plunge that is now expected, as noted above – has only changed 3.5%, and was exactly the same in 2016. However, the shape of that coal curve is still important, even if the volume hasn’t changed much. A coal mine that opens today could have a 60-year life, but it is likely to be one fraught with oversupply and competition from other coal producers, as well as other technologies. So how does the 2017 New Energy Outlook for gas and coal compare to how major oil companies and the International Energy Agency see it? For gas, everyone agrees: Consumption grows. Shell expects gas consumption to more than double and, perhaps not surprisingly, Exxon Mobil and BP also expect consumption to increase at least 50%. BNEF’s expectations are a bit more muted.

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Looks a tad hippyish, but as I’ve said a million times, no society should ever sell its basics to anyone. It’s lethal.

Reclaiming Public Services (TNI)

Reclaiming Public Services is vital reading for anyone interested in the future of local, democratic services like energy, water and health care. This is an in-depth world tour of new initiatives in public ownership and the variety of approaches to deprivatisation. From New Delhi to Barcelona, from Argentina to Germany, thousands of politicians, public officials, workers, unions and social movements are reclaiming or creating public services to address people’s basic needs and respond to environmental challenges. They do this most often at the local level. Our research shows that there have been at least 835 examples of (re)municipalisation of public services worldwide since 2000, involving more than 1,600 municipalities in 45 countries.

Why are people around the world reclaiming essential services from private operators and bringing their delivery back into the public sphere? There are many motivations behind (re)municipalisation initiatives: a goal to end private sector abuse or labour violations; a desire to regain control over the local economy and resources; a wish to provide people with affordable services; or an intention to implement ambitious climate strategies. Remunicipalisation is taking place in small towns and in capital cities, following different models of public ownership and with various levels of involvement by citizens and workers. Out of this diversity a coherent picture is nevertheless emerging: it is possible to build efficient, democratic and affordable public services. Ever declining service quality and ever increasing prices are not inevitable. More and more people and cities are closing the chapter on privatisation, and putting essential services back into public hands.

Ulli Sima, Vienna City Councilor for the Environment and Wiener Stadtwerke: “As early as 2001, Vienna protected drinking water with a constitutional decision. Municipal services must remain public and should not be sacrificed to private profit. We want to ally with other cities for strong municipal servicest.” Eloi Badia, the Barcelona Councilor for presidency, water and energy: “It is important to demystify the process of privatisation that has been launched in recent years by several governments, because it’s a model that has not proved its efficiency, failing to offer a better service or a better price.”

Célia Blauel, President of Eau de Paris and Deputy Mayor of Paris in charge of the environment, sustainable development, water and the energy-climate plan: “Bringing local public services under public control is a major democratic issue, especially for such essential services as energy or water. It means greater transparency and better citizen supervision. In the context of climate change, it can contribute to leading our cities toward energy efficiency, the development of renewables, the conservation of our natural resources, and the right to water. ”

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Yesterday I wrote: “To paraphrase Juncker: “When things get serious in Europe, no rules or laws are immune to lies.”

Today, Don Quijones says: “..when things get serious in the EU, laws get bent.”

That ends to the Cyprus model before it was even truly inaugurated.

Contagion from the 2 Friday-Night Bank Collapses in Italy? (DQ)

When things get serious in the EU, laws get bent and loopholes get exploited. That is what is happening right now in Italy, where the banking crisis has reached tipping point. The ECB, together with the Italian government, have just this weekend to resolve Banca Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca, two zombie banks that the ECB, on Friday night, ordered to be liquidated. Unlike Monte dei Pachi di Siena, they will not be bailed out primarily with public funds. Senior bondholders and depositors will be protected while shareholders and subordinate bondholders will lose their shirts. However, as the German daily Welt points out, subordinate bondholders at Monte dei Pachi di Siena had billions of euros at stake, much of it owned by its own retail customers who’d been sold these bonds instead of savings products such as CDs. So for political reasons, they were bailed out.

Junior bonds play a smaller role at the two Veneto-based banks. According to the Welt, the two banks combined have €1.33 billion (at face value) in junior bonds outstanding. They last traded between 1 cent and 3 cents on the euro. So worthless. Only about €100 million were sold to their own customers, not enough to cause a political ruckus in Italy. So they will be crushed. The good assets and the liabilities, such as the deposits, will be transferred to a competing bank. According to a rescue plan apparently drawn up by investment bank Rothschild that surfaced a few days ago, Intesa Sao Paolo, Italy’s second largest bank, would get these good assets and the deposits (liabilities), for the token sum of €1, while all the toxic assets (non-performing loans) would be shuffled off to a state-owned “bad bank” – and thus, the taxpayer.

According to the Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore, the bad bank would be left holding over €20 billion of festering assets. “Intesa gets a free gift, the state takes on all the bad stuff and the taxpayer pays,” said at the time Renato Brunetta, parliamentary leader for former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party. It is testament to just how desperate the situation has become in Italy’s banking crisis. The country’s largest lender, Unicredit, is in no position to help out: it had to raise €13 billion of new capital earlier this year just to keep itself afloat. Whether the deal with Intesa is still possible after the ECB’s decision to liquidate the banks, and what form this deal, if any, will take, and how much the taxpayer will have to fork over, and how to sugarcoat this in the most palatable terms is what the Italian government is currently trying to hammer out in its emergency meeting.

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How anyone can label this anything but ‘criminal’ is beyond me.

Health Spending In Greece Down 40% In 2009-2015 (Amna)

Health spending in Greece plunged 40% in the 2009-2015 period, Deloitte said in a survey released on Thursday. According to the survey, health spending fell to €14.1 billion in 2014, hit by a significant shrinking in medical/pharmaceutical coverage by the state and the social insurance system. It also stressed that this sharp decline mostly hit pharmacies and other professionals in the health sector and less the country’s hospitals. Hospital spending fell to €6.2 billion in 2015, from €9.0 billion in 2009, for an average annual decline of 6.0%, while average annual decline in the retail sector reached 7.0% and 9.0%, respectively. Deloitte said the state social insurance system covers 59.1% of total health spending in Greece, with patients covering 35.5% -a %age significantly higher compared with other European countries (UK 9.5%, France 6.7%, Italy 21.7%).

3.7% of total health spending is covered by private insurance contracts. Private hospitals were also hit during the 2009-2015 period, leading to more consolidation as the number of private hospitals fell by 6.0% and their size grew by around 1.0%. The total number of private and state hospitals in Greece was 283, mostly in Attica, offering 45,900 beds. The survey said that the number of beds surpassed demand by at least 18%. The survey noted that health spending recovered slightly to €14.7 billion in 2015 and stressed that international investors were showing strong interest for business deals in Greece.

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Want Moody’s to be nice to you? Slash your health system by 40%.

Moody’s Raises Greece’s Sovereign Bond Rating After Bailout (AFP)

Credit ratings agency Moody’s late Friday raised Greece’s long-term issuer rating to “Caa2” from “Caa3” after eurozone governments extended a credit lifeline to the country. Moody’s also changed its outlook to “positive”, up from “stable” previously, saying it saw signs that the heavily indebted country’s economy was stabilising. It pointed to a mid-June agreement reached by Greece’s creditors to relaunch an aid plan to the country, which had been blocked for months due to disagreements between eurozone countries – especially Germany – and the IMF. The move reduces the spectre of a short-term crisis, after eurozone governments agreed to give Greece a new credit lifeline of some €8.5 billion ($9.5 billion). Moody’s said it expected Greece’s debt ratio to stabilise this year at 179% of GDP, adding that growth should return to the economy this year and next.

Greece returned to growth in the first quarter of 2017, with a 0.4% increase in GDP, according to figures revised upwards in early June. “It is too early to conclude that economic growth will be durable,” Moody’s said. The IMF, which links financial aid to debt relief, has also signed an “agreement in principle” to allow immediate assistance that avoids a payment crisis in Athens this summer. It said Thursday that negotiations with creditors for debt reduction had “made progress”. “If we did not think there was a good chance of reaching a debt deal, we would not have chosen that route,” an IMF spokesman said. Moody’s also raised the long-term country ceilings for foreign-currency and local-currency bonds to B3 from Caa2.

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Another kernel of truth that proves writing articles is not that easy.

Greece, A Guinea Pig For A Cashless And Controlled Society (MPN)

The IMF, which day after day is busy “saving” economically suffering countries such as Greece, also happens to agree with this brave new worldview. In a working paper titled “The Macroeconomics of De-Cashing,” which the IMF claims does not necessarily represent its official views, the fund nevertheless provides a blueprint with which governments around the world could begin to phase out cash. This process would commence with “initial and largely uncontested steps” (such as the phasing out of large-denomination bills or the placement of upper limits on cash transactions). This process would then be furthered largely by the private sector, providing cashless payment options for people’s “convenience,” rather than risk popular objections to policy-led decashing.

The IMF, which certainly has a sterling track record of sticking up for the poor and vulnerable in society, comforts us by saying that these policies should be implemented in ways that would augment “economic and social benefits.” These suggestions, which of course the IMF does not necessarily officially agree with, have already begun to be implemented to a significant extent in the IMF debt colony known officially as Greece, where the IMF has been implementing “socially fair and just” austerity policies since 2010, which have resulted, during this period, in a GDP decline of over 25%, unemployment levels exceeding 28%, repeated cuts to what are now poverty-level salaries and pensions, and a “brain drain” of over 500,000 people—largely young and university-educated—migrating out of Greece.

Indeed, it could be said that Greece is being used as a guinea pig not just for a grand neoliberal experiment in both austerity, but de-cashing as well. The examples are many, and they have found fertile ground in a country whose populace remains shell-shocked by eight years of economic depression. A new law that came into effect on January 1 incentivizes going cashless by setting a minimum threshold of spending at least 10% of one’s income via credit, debit, or prepaid card in order to attain a somewhat higher tax-free threshold. Beginning July 27, dozens of categories of businesses in Greece will be required to install aptly-acronymized “POS” (point-of-sale) card readers and to accept payments by card.

usinesses are also required to post a notice, typically by the entrance or point of sale, stating whether card payments are accepted or not. Another new piece of legislation, in effect as of June 1, requires salaries to be paid via direct electronic transfers to bank accounts. Furthermore, cash transactions of over €500 have been outlawed. In Greece, where in the eyes of the state citizens are guilty even if proven innocent, capital controls have been implemented preventing ATM cash withdrawals of over €840 every two weeks. These capital controls, in varying forms, have been in place for two years with no end in sight, choking small businesses that are already suffering.

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Inevitable. Chemists go where they smell money.

Monsanto And Bayer Are Maneuvering To Take Over The Cannabis Industry (WT)

You may remember hearing back in September that Bayer, the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, made a deal to buy out Monsanto for $66 billion. Although Monsanto was voted the most evil company in the world in 2013 and its reputation has continued to fall since, Bayer still went ahead with the buyout. A merger between these two companies is unsurprising, as though they both have long histories of involvement with Nazism and chemical weapons like agent orange which have devastated Vietnam since the war. In fact, Bayer began as a break-off company of the infamous IG Farben, which produced the chemical weapons used on the Jews during the Nazi reign. After the war, Farben was forced to break up into several companies, including BASF, Hoeschst, and Bayer.

Soon after at the Nuremberg trials, 24 Farben executives were sent to prison for crimes against humanity. However, in a matter of just 7 years each of them was released and began filling high positions in each of the former Farben companies, and many of them began working for the Russian, British, and American governments through a joint intelligence venture called “Operation Paperclip”: (“IG (Interessengemeinschaft) stands for “Association of Common Interests”: The IG Farben cartel included BASF, Bayer, Hoechst, and other German chemical and pharmaceutical companies. As documents show, IG Farben was intimately involved with the human experimental atrocities committed by Mengele at Auschwitz. A German watchdog organization, the GBG Network, maintains copious documents and tracks Bayer Pharmaceutical activities.” – Alliance for Human Research Protection)

After all these years, Bayer is now richer and more powerful than their predecessor company I.G. Farben ever was. According to Big Buds Magazine, Monsanto and Scotts Miracle-Gro have a “deep business partnership” and plan on taking over the cannabis industry. Hawthorne, a front group for Scotts, has already purchased three of the major cannabis growing companies: General Hydroponics, Botanicare, and Gavita. Many other hydroponics companies have also reported attempted buyouts by Hawthorne. (“They want to bypass hydroponics retail stores…When we said we won’t get in bed with them they said, ‘Well, we could just buy your whole company like we did with Gavita and do whatever we want.’” – Hydroponics Lighting Representative) Jim Hagedorn, CEO of Scotts Miracle-Gro, has even said that he plans to “invest, like, half a billion in [taking over] the pot business… It is the biggest thing I’ve ever seen in lawn and garden.”

He has also invested in companies such as Leaf, which grows cannabis in an electronically regulated indoor terrarium accessible via smartphone. It is logical that Bayer, being the parent company, would work together with Monsanto in order to share secrets which would advance mutual business. Many people in the cannabis industry have been warning about this, including Michael Straumietis, founder and owner of Advanced Nutrients. (“Monsanto and Bayer share information about genetically modifying crops,” Straumietis notes. “Bayer partners with GW Pharmaceuticals, which grows its own proprietary marijuana genetics. It’s logical to conclude that Monsanto and Bayer want to create GMO marijuana.” – Michael Straumietis)

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Jun 212017
 
 June 21, 2017  Posted by at 9:51 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Fred Lyon Post&Powell Union Square San Francisco 1947

 

100% Chance of Recession Within 7 Months? (DR)
The Secret Source of Eternal Australian Growth (Steve Keen)
We Need A Public Inquiry Into The Economics Profession (Pettifor)
Where Are The Empty Homes In Kensington? (Whoownsengland)
Security…or Surveillance? Ron Paul Edward Snowden Interview (TAM)
Brazil Police Claim To Have Evidence President Temer Received Bribes (G.)
House Republicans Block Russia Sanctions Bill (ZH)
We Are Inches From A New World War (Medium)
Iran Slams Tillerson Call For Regime Change (RT)
The US Seems Keener To Strike At Assad Than To Destroy Isis (Robert Fisk)
EU Says Greece Needs More Debt Relief Despite €10 Billion Buffer (BBG)
Europe’s Unserious Plan for Greece (BBG)
Greek Property Market Has Lost 65% Of Its Value Since 2009 (K.)
At Least 120 Migrants Drown In Mediterranean On World Refugee Day (Ind.)

 

 

The numbers say it.

100% Chance of Recession Within 7 Months? (DR)

We asked this question one week after Trump was elected: “What does history predict for the Trump presidency?” The answer we furnished — based on over a century of data — was this: “A 100% chance of recession within his first year.” Not a 90% chance, that is. Not even a 99% chance. But a 100% chance of recession. That answer came by way of a certain Raoul Pal. He used to captain one of the largest hedge funds in the world. And to prove his case he called the unimpeachable witness of history to the stand… Crunching 107 years worth of data, he showed the U.S. economy enters or is in a recession every time a two-term president vacates the throne: “Since 1910, the U.S. economy is either in recession or enters a recession within 12 months in every single instance at the end of a two-term presidency… effecting a 100% chance of recession for the new president.”

Obama was a two-term president – if memory serves. Only two incoming presidents were not treated to a recession within the first year of office. And both followed one-term reigns: “Not every single election sees a recession, only every two-term incumbent change… Only two presidents in history did not see a recession, and they were inaugurated after single-term presidents.” Mr. Pal couldn’t fully explain the phenomenon. Maybe it takes two terms for presidential mischief to work its way into the economic machinery. One-term presidents just can’t heave enough sand in the gears. Regardless of the reason, this fellow’s research pointed him to one conclusion: “It is not a coincidence.” Trump’s now five months into his first 12. Where does the prediction stand? By grace of God or Janet Yellen or neither or both, no recession yet.

But our pessimistic side reminds us that seven months remain. And anxiety riles the deeps of our being… For we’ve spotted ill omens… disturbing portents of recession among the recent economic data… Old Daily Reckoning hand Wolf Richter: Over the past five decades, each time commercial and industrial loan balances at U.S. banks shrank or stalled… a recession was either already in progress or would start soon. There has been no exception since the 1960s. Last time this happened was during the financial crisis. “Now,” Wolf says, “it’s happening again.” Last month commercial and industrial loans (C&I) outstanding fell to $2.095 trillion, according to the St. Louis Fed. That’s down 4.5% from their November 2016 peak, says Wolf. And it marked the 30th consecutive week of no growth in C&I loans. Wolf argues C&I loans matter because they directly reflect the real economy – unlike today’s stock market, which is crooked as a Brit’s teeth.

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Tons of graphs from Steve. I find his use of ‘debt and ‘credit’ as seemingly separate terms a bit confusing.

The Secret Source of Eternal Australian Growth (Steve Keen)

Much was made of the fact that Australia recently replaced The Netherlands as the world record holder for the longest period without a recession (using the colloquial definition of two consecutive quarters of negative growth). The Netherlands went just under 26 years (103 quarters between 1982 and 2008) without a recession, and Australia surpassed this when it recorded 0.3% growth in the March 2017 quarter (for an annual growth rate of 1.7%).

Rather less attention was given to another Australian record: household debt. Before its recession-free record was set, Australia had already overtaken The Netherlands for the record of the highest level of household debt ever recorded for a large country (one with more than 10 million people).

Australia’s household debt level of 123% of GDP has been exceeded only by Switzerland (population 8.3 million, household debt of 128% of GDP in 2016 Q3) and Denmark (population 5.6 million, 139% of GDP in 2009).2 Australia also stands apart from its household leverage competitors in another important respect: Denmark, Switzerland and The Netherlands also run significant current account surpluses—Switzerland’s average surplus since 2000 has been the highest on the planet at over 10% of GDP; Denmark’s has averaged 5.75% since 2005; The Netherlands’ average current account surplus is around 8% of GDP.

Australia, in contrast, has averaged a current account deficit of 3.2% of GDP since 1960, and 4.3% since 2000. Australia therefore holds the record of the highest level of household debt for a country running a trade deficit, and has done so since 2010, when it overtook the previous record-holder: Ireland. Ireland’s household debt level has also plunged since then, from a peak of 118% of GDP in 2010 to 54%. Australia’s closest competitor now is Canada, which has a household debt level 22% lower than Australia’s, and an average trade deficit of 1.4% of GDP, versus Australia’s long-run average of 3.2%.

 

Why does this matter? Because Australia’s two records are related: Australia avoided a recession in 2008 only by adding additional leverage to its already over-indebted household sector, and the only ways that Australia can keep its winning streak on GDP growth going (given that its government is obsessed with trying to run a surplus) is to either to achieve a huge trade surplus, or for the household sector to continue piling on debt faster than GDP itself grows. A trade surplus is one of three ways to increase both aggregate demand and the amount of money in an economy:3 goods you sell to foreigners are paid for in US dollars, which the exporter then effectively sells to its country’s Central Bank in return for domestic currency (on that front, The Netherlands is, like Germany, a huge beneficiary of the Euro).

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A valiant effort, and economics should be redefined for sure, but Ann shirks far too close to assuming Brexit was about economics only and purely. Tempting when you’re an economist, but…

We Need A Public Inquiry Into The Economics Profession (Pettifor)

If the British economy crashes as a result of Brexit, it will not vindicate economists. It will simply illustrate once again, their failure. I and my colleagues at Policy Research in Macroeconomics (PRIME) believe there is urgent need for an independent, public inquiry into the economics profession, and its role in precipitating both the financial crisis of 2007-9, the subsequent very slow ‘recovery’; and in the British European referendum campaign. Financial disarray is not unlikely under Brexit, but whether this turns into anything material depends in the first instance on economic policy. How can we trust economists at the Treasury not to impose more disastrous policies? Economists have once again proved themselves not only irrelevant, but a dangerous irrelevance. For too long they have resisted call after call for reform. If they will not do it themselves then it is time for others to take control.

The profession should be brought to account through a public inquiry into the this failure. In voting to leave the EU, England overwhelmingly has rejected economics – and in particular the dominant economic narrative. Unfortunately, the economics profession as a whole cannot resign, though perhaps the President of the RES, Andrew Chesher, should consider his position. Because this hardship is indirectly a consequence of the economics profession. Economists led the way to financial liberalisation of the past 40 years, which led to soaring levels of debt, crises and financial ruin. Economists dictated the terms for austerity that has so harmed the economy and society over the past years. As the policies have failed, the vast majority of economists have refused to concede wrongdoing, nor have societies been offered alternative economics policies.

While it is risky to second guess public opinion, it may just be that the prospect of hardship to come might not have been very compelling for those already suffering the hardship of low wages, insecure low-skilled jobs, bad housing, high rents, an under-resourced and increasingly privatised NHS, and other forms of public sector ‘austerity’. With this historic vote, the British people have not just rejected the EU. They have done something that should worry the British establishment, and their friends in the City of London, and internationally, far more. Perhaps most symbolically, even the Queen suggested they did not know what they were doing. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the British public did not find the opinion of Remain ‘experts compelling’.

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If you allow for homes to be speculative ‘assets’, you will end up with homeless people.

Where Are The Empty Homes In Kensington? (Whoownsengland)

As the nightmare of the Grenfell Tower disaster continues to unfold, one of the many painful questions being asked by survivors is: ‘Where are we going to live now?’ Kensington & Chelsea Council have still been unable to give firm assurances that residents will be rehoused in the area, issuing a statement on Friday afternoon (later contradicted) that “Given the number of households involved, it is possible the council will have to explore housing options that may become available in other parts of the capital”. On Friday, the Times reported that Jeremy Corbyn had an alternative solution. “Corbyn: seize properties of the rich for Grenfell homeless” ran its above-the-fold headline (£). This was not, of course, what Corbyn had actually proposed, as the article itself revealed.

In a parliamentary debate, the Labour leader had suggested that “Properties must be found, requisitioned if necessary, to make sure those residents do get rehoused locally… It cannot be acceptable that in London you have luxury buildings and flats kept as land banking for the future while the homeless and the poor look for somewhere to live.” Not quite the State appropriation of private property conveyed by the sub-editor’s fevered headline, then – but a proposal for making better use of empty housing which happens to be supported by 59% of the British public, according to YouGov. So how many empty homes are there in Kensington? A lot, it turns out. The Department for Communities and Local Government regularly publishes statistics on vacant dwellings, broken down by local authority area.

The latest figures for Kensington & Chelsea reveal there are 1,399 vacant dwellings in the borough, as of April 2017 – and the number hasn’t dropped below a thousand for over a decade. 600 people lived in Grenfell Tower – so there are more than enough empty homes in the borough to house them all, if the properties could be accessed. But where are these empty homes? And who owns them? It turns out that Kensington Council themselves know precisely where they are. In a report published in July 2015, the council’s Housing and Property Scrutiny Committee examined in detail the problem of ‘buy to leave’ in the borough. ‘Buy to leave’ is the phenomenon of purchasing a property where the buyer has no intention to live in it; where the home is regarded purely as an investment – one that, in London’s super-heated property market, will rapidly accrue in value.

The council’s report used a variety of methods to locate empty housing, from council tax registers and payment data, to energy use and Land Registry records. Their findings broadly corroborate central government stats – that there are around a thousand long-term empty homes in Kensington & Chelsea. And on page 13 of the report, they display an extraordinary map of the 941 homes classified as unoccupied dwellings for the purposes of council tax:

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Science and technology will not enforce human rights. Moral values will.

Security…or Surveillance? Ron Paul Edward Snowden Interview (TAM)

Saying that you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about freedom of speech because you have nothing to say.” That comment was made by famed whistleblower Edward Snowden during a recent interview on the Ron Paul Liberty Report. In his conversation with Dr. Paul and Daniel McAdams, published Tuesday, an articulate Snowden discusses the true meaning of freedom, the nature of the deep state, and even his upbringing as a child of a government family. “I’d like to know a little bit, what do you do all day long?” a genuinely curious Dr. Paul asks as his opening question. After talking about the insanity that erupted — both in the political spectrum and his personal life — following the revelations he made back in 2013, Snowden says he’s now become a hot commodity for groups championing causes.

“They want me to sort of front for these issues of privacy and civil liberties and protection of people’s rights,” Snowden replies. “And I want to do what I can, but I’m not a politician. I’m an engineer.” The whistleblower goes on to talk about how he’s now, at long last, finally able to devote time to more practical applications. For him, this means focusing on the area that holds the key to finding a balance between rights and laws in the digital age — technology. “How technically is this even happening?” Snowden poses, digging straight to the heart of the issue of mass surveillance. “How is it that so many governments are spying on so many people? Because even if we pass the best legal reforms in the world in the United States, that doesn’t do anything against China, or Russia, or Germany, or France or Brazil or any other country in the world.”

Continuing, Snowden says that future generations’ rights and protections will be dependent on the current generation’s ability to adapt to a constantly shifting environment: “We need to find new means, new mechanisms, for enforcing these rights in the new times. And I think that’s going to be primarily through science and technology.”

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Wherever you live in the world, if you think things are a mess where you are, spare a thought for Brazil.

Brazil Police Claim To Have Evidence President Temer Received Bribes (G.)

Brazil’s federal police has said that investigators have found evidence the president, Michel Temer, received bribes to help businesses, raising a new threat that the embattled leader could be suspended from office pending a corruption trial. Temer has been under investigation due to plea bargain testimony by the wealthy businessman Joesley Batista of the giant meatpacking company JBS that linked the president and an aide to bribes and the president to an alleged endorsement of hush money for jailed ex-House Speaker Eduardo Cunha. Temer has denied any wrongdoing and insists he will not resign. If Brazil’s top prosecutor agrees with the federal police recommendation, Congress will decide whether Temer should be investigated by the supreme court, which is the only body that can formally investigate the president.

If two-thirds of Congress voted to allow the investigation, Temer would be suspended from office pending trial. In a report published on Tuesday by Brazil’s top court, federal police investigators said they had enough evidence of bribes being paid to warrant a formal investigation of Temer for “passive corruption” – Brazil’s charge for the act of taking bribes. It said former Temer aide Rodrigo Rocha Loures directly received bribes from JBS on the president’s behalf. A previously released video made by investigators shows Loures carrying a suitcase filled with about $150,000 in cash allegedly being sent from JBS to the president. Loures later gave the bag and most of the money to Brazil’s federal police, authorities have said.

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They’ll pass at some point.

House Republicans Block Russia Sanctions Bill (ZH)

After recruiting Trump, the KGB and Moscow have clearly also managed to make all House Republicans their puppets, because the Senate bill that passed last week and slapped new sanctions on Russia (but really was meant to block the production on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia and which Germany, Austria and France all said is a provocation by the US and would prompt retaliation) just hit a major stumbling block in the House. At least that’s our interpretation of tomorrow’s CNN “hot take.” Shortly after House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady of Texas said that House leaders concluded that the legislation, S. 722, violated the origination clause of the Constitution, which requires legislation that raises revenue to originate in the House, and would require amendments, Democrats immediately accused the GOP of delaying tactics and “covering” for the Russian agent in the White House.

“House Republicans are considering using a procedural excuse to hide what they’re really doing: covering for a president who has been far too soft on Russia,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said in a statement. “The Senate passed this bill on a strong bipartisan vote of 98-2, sending a powerful message to President Trump that he should not lift sanctions on Russia.” And, if the House does pass it, a huge diplomatic scandal would erupt only not between the US and Russia, but Washington and its European allies who have slammed this latest intervention by the US in European affairs… a scandal which the Democrats would also promptly blame on Trump. That said, the bill may still pass: Brady pushed back against Democrat suggestions that House GOP leadership is trying to delay the bill, stressing that he thought the Senate legislation was sound policy.

“I strongly support sanctions against Iran and Russia to hold them accountable. We were willing to work with the Senate throughout the process, but the final bill and final language violated the origination clause in the Constitution,” Brady told reporters on Tuesday. “I am confident working with the Senate and Chairman [Ed] Royce that we can move this legislation forward. So at the end of the day, this isn’t a policy issue, it’s not a partisan issue, it is a Constitutional issue that we will address.”

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We’re still not clued in to how dangerous ‘our own’ are.

We Are Inches From A New World War (Medium)

This is your fault, Clinton Democrats. You created this, and if our species is plunged into a new world war or extinction via nuclear holocaust, it will be your fault. You knuckle-dragging, vagina hat-wearing McCarthyite morons made this happen. American military provocations against the pro-Assad coalition in Syria are fast becoming a daily occurrence. In response to the US air force’s gunning down of a Syrian military plane on Sunday, Russia has cut off its hotline with which it was coordinating operations with America to avoid aerial collisions, and has warned that all US aircraft west of the Euphrates river will now be tracked and treated as potential targets. Today, 25 miles northwest of the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, a US reconnaissance plane was intercepted by an armed Russian aircraft which came within five feet of the plane’s wingtip.

This on the same day that the US shot down yet another Iranian military drone in Syria. Clintonists have been working tirelessly since the election to manufacture these new Cold War tensions. Stephen Cohen, easily America’s foremost authority on US-Russia relations, has warned again and again that the political pressures being placed on the Trump administration to maintain escalations with Russia without conceding an inch has placed our species in a situation that is in some ways even more dangerous than those we faced at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. If Kennedy had had to negotiate that crisis while being pressured by his entire country to keep escalating tensions with the USSR without yielding an inch, there is no way any terrestrial life would have existed beyond 1962. The Clintonists (along with their neocon buddies on the other side of the aisle) are responsible for creating those pressures.

“You know it’s easy to joke about this, except that we’re at maybe the most dangerous moment in US-Russian relations in my lifetime, and maybe ever. And the reason is that we’re in a new cold war, by whatever name.

We have three cold war fronts that are fraught with the possibility of hot war, in the Baltic region where NATO is carrying out an unprecedented military buildup on Russia’s border, in Ukraine where there is a civil and proxy war between Russia and the west, and of course in Syria, where Russian aircraft and American warplanes are flying in the same territory. Anything could happen.”
~ Stephen Cohen

It wasn’t enough for these Democratic neocons to try and elect a woman who had been pushing for dangerous escalations with Russia since long before any hacking allegations and who campaigned on a promise to invade Syria and seize control of an airspace wherein Russian military planes were conducting operations. No, once their initial bid to start World War 3 failed, these deranged death cultists began attacking Trump for any movement away from escalations with Russia or regime change in Syria and showering him with praise when he launched a missile strike against a Syrian airbase. The current administration is culpable for its own actions and should be unequivocally condemned for bowing to these pressures instead of honoring Trump’s campaign promises of pursuing detente with Russia and avoiding regime change in Syria, but if Clintonists had been pushing for peace instead of war this entire time the situation would doubtless look very, very different.

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The opposite of what America needs.

Iran Slams Tillerson Call For Regime Change (RT)

Iran has accused the United States of interfering in its domestic affairs after calls by the US Secretary of State to support “elements” that would ensure a “peaceful transition” in the Islamic Republic. Tehran also officially delivered a note of protest to the UN. Speaking last Wednesday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rex Tillerson said Washington will support efforts of a regime change in Iran. “Our policy towards Iran is to push back on this hegemony, contain their ability to develop obviously nuclear weapons, and to work toward support of those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of that government. Those elements are there, certainly as we know,” Tillerson said on June 14. In addition to voicing Washington’s apparent support of a regime change, Tillerson also said the US could pursue sanctions on Iran’s entire Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Tillerson’s remarks sparked an avalanche of criticism and condemnation from Iran. In the latest development, the Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the Swiss charge d’affaires to Tehran to protest Washington’s policy. The Embassy of Switzerland represents American interests in the Islamic Republic after the US cut diplomatic relations with Iran in April 1980 in the wake of the 400-day US Embassy hostage crisis of 1979-1981. “Following the interfering and meddling statements made by the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson… the charge d’affaires of the European country was summoned to express Iran’s complaint about Tillerson’s anti-Iran remarks in the country’s House of Representatives,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson said in a statement, Mehr News reported.

[..] Tillerson’s remarks “is a brazen interventionist plan that runs counter to every norm and principle of international law, as well as the letter and spirit of UN Charter, and constitutes an unacceptable behavior in international relations,” Iran’s UN Ambassador Gholamali Khoshroo said in the letter. Tehran further accused the US of violating the 1981 Algiers Accords, a set of agreements signed by Washington and Tehran to end the Iran hostage crisis. “The United States pledges that it is and from now on will be the policy of the United States not to intervene, directly or indirectly, politically or militarily, in Iran’s internal affairs,” Point I of the Accord reads.

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No surprise here.

The US Seems Keener To Strike At Assad Than To Destroy Isis (Robert Fisk)

On the ground, the Syrian army is now undertaking one of its most ambitious operations since the start of the war, advancing around Sueda in the south, in the countryside of Damascus and east of Palmyra. They are heading parallel with the Euphrates in what is clearly an attempt by the government to “liberate” the surrounded government city of Deir ez-Zour, whose 10,000 Syrian soldiers have been besieged there for more than four years. If they can lift the siege, the Syrians will have another 10,000 soldiers free to join in the recapture of more territory. More importantly, however, the Syrian military suspects that Isis – on the verge of losing Raqqa to US-supported Kurds and Mosul to US-backed Iraqis – may try to break into the garrison of Deir ez-Zour and declare an alternative “capital” for itself in Syria.

In this context, the American strike on Monday was more a warning to the Syrians to stay away from the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces – the facade-name for large numbers of Kurds and a few Arab fighters – since they are now very close to each other in the desert. The Kurds will take Raqqa – there may well have been an agreement between Moscow and Washington on this – since the Syrian military is far more interested in relieving Deir ez-Zour. The map is quite literally changing by the day. But the Syrian military are still winning against Isis and its fellow militias – with Russian and Hezbollah help, of course – although comparatively few Iranians are involved. The US has been grossly exaggerating the size of the Iranian forces in Syria, perhaps because this fits in with Saudi and American nightmares of Iranian expansion. But the success of the Assad regime is certainly troubling the Americans – and the Kurds.

So who is fighting Isis? And who is not fighting Isis? Russia claims it has killed the terrible and self-appointed “caliph of the Islamic State”, al-Baghdadi. Russia says it is firing Cruise missiles at Isis. The Syrian army, supported by the Russians, is fighting Isis. I have witnessed this with my own eyes. But what is America doing attacking first Assad’s air base near Homs, then the regime’s allies near Al-Tanf and now one of Assad’s fighter jets? It seems that Washington is now keener to strike at Assad – and his Iranian supporters inside Syria – than it is to destroy Isis. That would be following Saudi Arabia’s policy, and maybe that’s what the Trump regime wants to do. Certainly, the Israelis have bombed both the Syrian regime forces and Hezbollah and the Iranians – but never Isis.

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Complete nonsense: “..The baseline scenario is based on nominal GDP growth rates between 3 and 4% until 2060

EU Says Greece Needs More Debt Relief Despite €10 Billion Buffer (BBG)

Greece will need additional debt relief to regain the trust of investors, even though it’s likely to exit its bailout with a €9 billion ($10 billion) cash buffer, the European Commission said in a draft report obtained by Bloomberg. The country’s €86 billion third bailout program from the European Stability Mechanism, agreed by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and European creditors in 2015, will expire in August 2018 with €27.4 billion left unused, the commission estimates in the so-called “compliance report” dated June 16. Disbursements up to then should also “cater for the build-up of seizable cash buffer” of around €9 billion, according to the document. The report contains an analysis of the country’s public debt that points to potential wrangling with the IMF following an agreement last week to disburse bailout funds, in which the fund only agreed to a new program “in principle.”

Even as the commission’s analysis points “to serious concerns regarding the sustainability of Greek public debt,” its assumptions about the country’s future growth prospects are still more optimistic than those of the IMF. The IMF hasn’t disbursed funds to Greece in almost three years on fears that the country’s debt is unsustainable. Last week’s compromise deal averts a Greek financing crisis this summer by allowing release of €8.5 billion of ESM funds, while the IMF holds out for more Greek debt relief from European creditors at a later stage before it gives out new loans. The June 15 deal by euro-area finance ministers commits to capping gross financing needs at 15% of GDP for the medium term, and 20% thereafter. The country’s gross financing needs will drop to 9.3% of GDP in 2020 from 17.5% this year, before rising again and surpassing 20% after 2045, according to the baseline scenario of the commission’s debt sustainability report.

[..] The baseline scenario is based on nominal GDP growth rates between 3 and 4% until 2060, considerably higher than past IMF baseline estimates. The fund’s own assessment will be released before its executive board meets to approve the in-principle stand-by arrangement next month. The debt dynamics “become explosive” from the mid-2030s in the the most adverse scenario. In this scenario, which is still more optimistic than IMF assumptions, Greece’s gross financing needs exceed 20% in 2033, reaching 56% by 2060, while debt skyrockets to 241.4% of Greek GDP by 2060.

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Bloomberg, too, will first have to understand that Greece does not have €326 billion in debt, and why it is people state that regardless.

Europe’s Unserious Plan for Greece (BBG)

The deal struck last week between Greece and its euro-zone creditors is business as usual – and that’s not a good thing. This protracted game of “extend and pretend” serves nobody’s long-term interests: not those of the Greek government, the IMF or, most of all, the people of Greece. Euro-zone finance ministers have unlocked a payment of €8.5 billion ($9.5 billion), the newest installment of a rescue plan worth €86 billion. This will let Athens make debt repayments of €7 billion that fall due next month. But there’s still no agreement on how to get Greece’s debt burden under control. The IMF had previously insisted that this question should be settled now. It was right, and it should have stuck to that position. The new agreement fails to recognize what everybody knows: that Greece’s debt is unsustainable on the current terms.

In an effort to pretend otherwise, Athens has promised primary budget surpluses (meaning net of interest payments) of 3.5% of GDP until 2022, and then of “above but close to 2%” until 2060. True, the Greek economy achieved a better-than-expected primary surplus last year. As the European recovery gathers pace, there could be more good fiscal news. But the idea that Greece can maintain this degree of fiscal control for the next 40 years is ridiculous. For instance, at some point during the next four decades, there might be another recession. Stranger things have happened. The blow to the credibility of the IMF could prove to be lasting damage. The fund points to its refusal to disburse money at this point as proof it’s serious about debt relief. Yet it remains a partner in a project that, by its own analysis, is bound to fail.

It should have said, enough. Europe doesn’t need the fund’s money or expertise. Governments only sought the fund’s seal of approval – and should have been denied it. Granted, the euro zone has done a lot to support Greece since its fiscal crisis began. Athens has been granted no fewer three rescue packages, worth €326 billion€ in total. The euro zone has allowed generous grace periods for official loans, extended their maturities and lowered the interest rate. As a result, Greece’s debt repayments are actually quite manageable for now.

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While taxes have risen. An endless hole.

Greek Property Market Has Lost 65% Of Its Value Since 2009 (K.)

The value of the local property market has plummeted some €2 trillion since the outbreak of the financial crisis eight years ago, according to the calculations of a Greek real estate consultancy. CBRE-Atria calculated that the Greek market has lost 65% of its value in the years from 2009 to 2017, dropping from about €3 trillion to €1 trillion today. The head of the consultancy, Yiannis Perrotis, says the problem is that the majority of properties are not quality assets, which means that the economic crisis has affected them more by increasing their value loss. “Properties such as old apartments in less popular areas, fields in non-touristic areas, stores or offices of low standards in secondary spots,” Perrotis explains, have been hardest hit.

The drop in values has been aggravated by the imposition of high taxation. It’s easy to find examples of properties whose value has dropped 60-65% in the last few years: Data from estate agents show that a new fifth-floor apartment of 60 square meters in Kypseli, central Athens, which sold for €150,000 in 2008, was resold at end-2016 for just €60,000, a decline of 60%; a newly built apartment in Ambelokipi, also in Athens, was sold for €270,000 before the crisis, and today is for sale for just €120,000, down 55%.

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So fitting. Though, World Refugee Day is the most cynical expression possible of the disaster we’ve created.

At Least 120 Migrants Drown In Mediterranean On World Refugee Day (Ind.)

More than 120 refugees are feared to have drowned in the Mediterranean after a boat sank off the Libyan cost on Friday, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has said. Four survivors who were rescued by Libyan fishermen said the boat sank after its motor was stolen by human traffickers, according to IOM spokesman Flavio Di Giacomo. After drifting for a while, the boat, believed to have been carrying 130 refugees — most of them of Sudanese and Nigerian nationality — capsized. News of the deaths comes on World Refugee Day, during which NGOs encourage the world to commemorate and show support for those forced to flee persecution. But there is little sign of the plight of refugees in the Mediterranean abating.

The death toll passed 1,000 in April — marking a record high with that figure not reached until the end of May last year — and the latest count by the IOM shows at least 1,850 have lost their lives on the dangerous crossing. Up to 146 people drowned when a refugee boat sunk in March, and up to 250 refugees, including a baby, were reported to have drowned in May after two refugee boats sunk in the Mediterranean Sea. It comes after a report earlier this month accused the EU of disregarding human rights and international law in its desperation to slow refugee boat crossings across the Mediterranean Sea. The bloc has pledged tens of millions of euros in funding for authorities in Libya, despite the country’s ongoing civil war and allegations of torture, rape and killings earning it the moniker “hell on Earth” among migrants, according to the report, published by the US-based Refugees International (RI) group.

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Jun 202017
 
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Pablo Picasso Dans l’atelier 1954

 

Putin: US Routinely Meddles In Russian And Other Elections (Zuesse)
Russia To Consider US Planes In Syria As ‘Targets’ (News.AU)
Absent Without Leave (Jim Kunstler)
Barclays and Four Executives Charged With Fraud In Qatar Case (BBC)
Two-Thirds Of Europeans Believe EU Should Take Hard Line On Brexit (G.)
Britiain’s Carmakers Face Brexit Cliff Edge (BBC)
UK Property Owners’ £2.3 Trillion Windfall ‘Created Huge Inequality Gap’ (G.)
UK’s Co-op Bank In Advanced Talks To Be Rescued By Hedge Funds (G.)
China Cracks Down On Online Moneylenders Targeting Students (BBC)
China’s “Ghost Collateral” Arrives In Canada, “Heralding A Crisis” (ZH)
Household Debt Sees Australian Banks Downgraded Again (ABCAu)
296 Earthquakes Near Yellowstone Supervolcano In Last 7 Days (Snyder)
Drug Prices Far Lower In Countries With Single-Payer Health Systems (IBT)
Could There Be A Bidding War For Whole Foods? (CNN)
Amazon Will Kill Your Local Grocer (BBG)

 

 

Funny how opinions of Russia revert to communism all the time.

Putin: US Routinely Meddles In Russian And Other Elections (Zuesse)

The neoconservative American Jan Wenner’s Rolling Stone magazine headlined on June 16th about these Showtime interviews, «10 Most WTF Things We Learned From Oliver Stone’s Putin Interviews», and sub-headlined: «From denying any involvement with U.S. election hacking to Putin’s love of Judo and Stalin, our takeaways from these truly baffling conversations».

Wenner’s reporter opened: “What’s the Russian equivalent of Kool-Aid? Whatever it is, it’s definitely red – and Oliver Stone has eagerly drunk it down. The trailers for The Putin Interviews, Showtime’s four-part series documenting conversations between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Stone, would have you believe that you’re going to hear some pretty hard-hitting stuff as the autocrat and the filmmaker face off, Frost-Nixon style. What we got instead was a series of softballs lobbed lovingly in the direction of one of the most powerful and dangerous men in the world. Except for a few moments, Stone seems serenely unconcerned with anything beyond flattering his subject – and engaging in some supremely one-sided exchanges about history and policy along the way.”

The term «red» in this context refers, of course, to communism, and alleges that Russia is still a communist country. To allow that type of smear to appear in any ‘news’ vehicle, is to expose itself as being actually a propaganda-vehicle, unless the allegation is backed up by solid documentation, which Wenner’s magazine didn’t do — Wenner’s magazine presented no documentation at all, for the inflammatory allegation. The magazine’s presumption was that their readers will simply believe what Wenner’s operation delivers, to be ipso-facto ‘true’.

But any such reader would be welcoming his own deception by Wenner’s propaganda-operation. Evidently, successful magazines can insult their own subscribers’ intelligence, so long as it’s done in ‘the right way’ — the subscribers won’t despise the publisher for trying to deceive them about such important matters as what countries to invade, or whether to invade, or why to invade. The U.S. military-industrial complex (MIC) can attract cannon-fodder for its operations, by means of such ‘news’ media to produce dupes for that MIC. During the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign, Mr. Wenner’s propaganda-machine had ardently campaigned for the neoconservative Hillary Clinton against the moderately progressive Bernie Sanders in the U.S. Democratic Party primaries.

And, then, once she (and her friend Debbie Wasserman Schultz who ran the DNC) managed to steal the nomination from her opponent, Wenner’s operation campaigned for Ms. Clinton against her Republican opponent Trump, who claimed (falsely as it turns out, in lies exceeding Clinton’s own) to be opposed to neoconservatives (whom he has actually loaded into his Administration). Trump now relies upon neocons for his support, but perhaps Wenner and Robert Kagan and other neoconservatives won’t be satisfied until the U.S. government takes control over Russia — which cannot happen except upon all of our dead bodies (WW III) — which is precisely what Hillary Clinton was aiming for (and maybe Trump is, too). That’s how insane the U.S. aristocracy (and its PR organs such as Wenner’s) now is – they’re pushing the world toward nuclear Armageddon.

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There will come a point when Russia’s had enough. But they won’t shoot down US planes.

Russia To Consider US Planes In Syria As ‘Targets’ (News.AU)

Russia says it will now consider US planes in Syria as “aerial targets” and cease communications via a military hotline in a rapid escalation of tensions between the two nations. The Russian defence ministry released a statement Monday afternoon, local time, condemning the US for shooting down a Syrian warplane that had dropped bombs near ground forces supported by the US. The ministry said it would now track all US-led coalition jets and drones found west of the Euphrates River in Syria and treat them as targets. This is a significant development because, while it is not uncommon for the two nations to criticise each other politically, Russia stays in contact with the US-led coalition via a military hotline to ensure there is no unintended military conflict between the two powers in the region.

The statement says that Russia will no longer use the communication channel, designed to avoid incidents in Syrian airspace. “The command of the coalition forces did not use the established communication channel for preventing incidents in Syrian airspace,” the defence ministry said in the statement. Russia said it would now “end co-operation with the American side”. “Any flying objects, including planes and drones of the international coalition, discovered west of the Euphrates River will be tracked as aerial targets by Russia’s air defences on and above ground,” it said. [..] The campaign has often put the US at odds with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which is leading its own attack against IS with air cover support from Russia. Syria is also in the grip of a civil war that has claimed more than 400,000 lives, according to the United Nations.

An American F/A-18 Super Hornet shot down a Syrian SU-22 about 7pm on Sunday. The coalition said the Syrian plane had dropped bombs near its allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces, which were fighting IS south of Tabqah. Russia said the shooting down of the plane was an act of aggression against Syria and called for a “careful investigation by the US command” into the incident. “Repeated military actions by US aircraft against the lawful armed forces of a United Nations member state, under the guise of a ‘fight against terrorism’, are a profound violation of international law and, in fact, military aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic,” the Russian Defence Ministry said. “As a result of the strike, the Syrian plane was destroyed. The Syrian pilot catapulted into an area controlled by Islamic State terrorists. His fate is unknown.”

The coalition said the Syrian warplane had been shot down “in accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defence of coalition partnered forces”. The deputy chairman of the Russian Senate’s defence committee, Frants Klintsevich, said there was “no defence” for the US shooting down the plane. “Blatant aggression and provocation. To provoke, above all, Russia. It seems that the US under Donald Trump is a source of a qualitatively new level of danger not only in the Middle East but also around the world,” he wrote on Facebook.

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“That well is going dry in the middle of the summer, and without any resolution to the debt ceiling debate, the country will not be able to borrow more to pretend that it’s solvent.”

Absent Without Leave (Jim Kunstler)

After nearly a year of investigating, the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, the DIA, DHS, et. al. haven’t been able to leak any substantial fact about “Russian collusion” with the Trump election campaign — and, considering the torrent of leaks about all manner of other collateral matters during this same period, it seems impossible to conclude that there is anything actually there besides utterly manufactured hysteria. Now, one might imagine that this intelligence community could have manufactured some gift-wrapped facts rather than just waves of hysteria, but that’s where the incompetence and impotence comes in. They never came up with anything besides Flynn and Sessions having conversations with the Russian ambassador — as if the ambassadors are not here to have conversations with our government officials.

You’d think that with all the computer graphics available these days they could concoct a cineplex-quality feature film-length recording of Donald Trump making a “great deal” to swap Kansas for Lithuania, or Jared Kushner giving piggyback rides to Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. But all we’ve really ever gotten was a packet of emails from the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta of the Clinton campaign gloating about how nicely they fucked over Bernie Sanders — and that doesn’t exactly reflect so well on what has evolved to be the so-called “Resistance.” The net effect of all this sound and fury is a government so paralyzed that it can’t even pass bad legislation or execute its existing (excessive) duties. That might theoretically be a good thing, except what we’re seeing are individual departments just veering off on their own, especially the military, which now operates without any civilian control.

Apparently General Mattis, the Secretary of Defense, pretty much decided on his own to dispatch another 8,000 US troops to Afghanistan to move things along there in the war’s 16th year. Or did he get President Trump to look up from his Twitter window for three seconds to explain the situation and get a nod of approval? Perhaps you also didn’t notice the news item over the weekend that a US-led fighter plane coalition shot down a Syrian air force plane in Syrian airspace. In an earlier era that could easily be construed as an act of war. Who gave the order for that, you have to wonder. And what will the consequences be? Reasonable people might also ask: haven’t we already made enough deadly mischief in that part of the world? With the US military gone rogue in foreign lands, and the intelligence community off-the-reservation at home, and the Trump White House all gummed up in the tarbaby of RussiaGate, and the House and Senate lost in the shuffle, you also have to wonder what anybody is going to do about the imminent technical bankruptcy of the USA as the Treasury Department spends down its dwindling fund of remaining cash money to pay ongoing expenses — everything from agriculture subsidies to Medicare.

That well is going dry in the middle of the summer, and without any resolution to the debt ceiling debate, the country will not be able to borrow more to pretend that it’s solvent. I don’t see any indication that the House and Senate will be able to bluster their way through this. Instead, the situation will compel extraordinary new acts of financial fraud via the central banks and its cadre of Too-Big-To-Fail associates. In the event, the likely outcome will be a spectacular fall in the value of the US dollar, and perhaps consecutively, the collapse of the equity and real estate markets.

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Actual bankers charged? Or is this just more of the sudden anti-Qatar campaign?

Barclays and Four Executives Charged With Fraud In Qatar Case (BBC)

Barclays and four former executives have been charged with conspiracy to commit fraud and the provision of unlawful financial assistance. The Serious Fraud Office charges come at the end of a five-year investigation and relate to the bank’s fundraising at the height of 2008’s financial crisis. Former chief executive John Varley is one of the four ex-staff who will face Westminster magistrates on 3 July. Barclays says it is considering its position and awaiting further details. Mr Varley, former senior investment banker Roger Jenkins, Thomas Kalaris, a former chief executive of Barclays’ wealth division, and Richard Boath, the ex-European head of financial institutions, have all been charged with conspiracy to commit fraud in the June 2008 capital raising. In addition, Mr Varley and Mr Jenkins have also been charged with the same offence in relation to the October 2008 capital raising and with providing unlawful financial assistance.

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The Greeks are the only ones who’ve seen the real face of the EU.

Two-Thirds Of Europeans Believe EU Should Take Hard Line On Brexit (G.)

Two-thirds of Europeans believe the EU should take a hard line with the UK over Brexit, according to a survey. 65% of those questioned in Belgium, Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Italy Austria, Hungary and Poland said the EU, while trying to maintain a good relationship with Britain, should not compromise on its core principles. The Chatham House-Kantar survey showed just 18% of people in the nine countries – compared with 49% of people in Britain – believed the opposite; that the European commission should aim to keep the UK as close as possible, at the expense of its principles, during the talks, which began on Monday. f those surveyed across the nine continental countries, 57% said the EU had been weakened by Brexit, while 46% felt Britain’s departure would be bad for the bloc. By contrast, 70% of Britons felt the EU would suffer from the UK leaving.

The survey interviewed more than 1,000 people in each of the 10 countries including Britain earlier this year before elections in the Netherlands and France and an economic uptick that have significantly bolstered pro-European sentiment. The election of pro-European centrist Emmanuel Macron in France has in particular given the bloc a boost. The eurozone economy, too, is now growing faster than that of the UK or US. Britain’s confusion over what Brexit strategy to adopt have also helped swing EU opinion. A Pew survey last week found markedly higher approval for the EU since the Brexit vote: 63% of respondents in the 10 EU countries had favourable views about the bloc.

The figures mark a sharp increase from spring last year, with favourable opinions up 18 points in Germany and France, 15 in Spain, 13 in the Netherlands – and 10 in the UK. Only 18% of continental respondents wanted their country to leave the EU. Overall, the survey revealed that more than half (58%) of people in 10 countries believed another EU country might leave the bloc within the next decade. Four-fifths of Greeks, hardest hit by the 2008 financial crisis, backed this view, compared with less than half of Hungarians and Poles. Asked about what they considered the EU’s greatest achievements, the freedom to live and work across Europe and the creation of the border-free Schengen zone came top among continental respondents (both on 17%), followed by European peace and the euro (13%) and the single market (8%).

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“..almost a million people were employed across the wider automotive industry.”

Britiain’s Carmakers Face Brexit Cliff Edge (BBC)

The government must secure a transitional Brexit deal to protect the future of the UK car industry, a trade group has said. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said Britain was highly unlikely to reach a final agreement with the EU by the March 2019 deadline. That meant carmakers could face a “cliff edge”, whereby tariff-free trade was sharply pulled away. It warned the industry would suffer without a back-up plan in place. The EU is by far the UK’s biggest automotive export market, buying more than half of its finished vehicles – four times as many as the next biggest market. UK car plants also depend heavily on the free movement of components to and from the continent.

The SMMT said any new relationship with the EU would need to address tariff and non-tariff barriers, regulatory and labour issues, “all of which will take time to negotiate”. “We accept that we are leaving the European Union,” said chief executive Mike Hawes. “But our biggest fear is that, in two years’ time, we fall off a cliff edge – no deal, outside the single market and customs union and trading on inferior World Trade Organization terms. “This would undermine our competitiveness and our ability to attract the investment that is critical to future growth.” UK car manufacturing generated £77.5bn of turnover last year and accounted for 12% of all goods exports, according to the trade group. It added that almost a million people were employed across the wider automotive industry.

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At least divvy up the monopoly money with a little sense of justice, you’d say. The fall will be hard enough already.

UK Property Owners’ £2.3 Trillion Windfall ‘Created Huge Inequality Gap’ (G.)

A £2.3tn windfall for those lucky enough to own their own homes during the property boom of the 1990s and early 2000s has opened up a deep and widening inequality gap between the generations, a thinktank has warned. Rising house prices that have enriched older generations have priced the young out of home ownership, said the Resolution Foundation, adding that the pattern whereby each generation was wealthier than the previous one had broken down. In a new report, the thinktank noted that the baby boomers born in the 20 years after the second world war were the big beneficiaries of rapidly rising house prices, but had amassed most of the wealth through no skill of their own. Wealth disparities would have “worrying consequences” for the living standards of younger generations, it added.

Laura Gardiner, senior policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: “Britain’s pre-crash property boom created a huge, unearned and largely tax-free £2.3tn housing wealth windfall for those old enough and lucky enough to be home owners at the time. But while the property bubble hugely benefited many of Britain’s baby boomers, it has also driven generational wealth progress into reverse by pricing younger people out of home ownership. “Property, pension and financial wealth can provide security and opportunities for families, as well as a decent income in retirement. The failure of younger generations to accumulate wealth in the way that earlier generations have been able to is therefore a huge living standards concern for us all.”

The report found that 82% of housing wealth increases between 1993 and 2012-14 were due to the property boom, which saw the average price of a residential property in the UK rise threefold, rather than through any active behaviour – such as buying, moving house or paying off mortgages. At the boom’s zenith in 2003, one in six of all working property-owning adults were earning more from the rising value of their homes than from their jobs.

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What a great idea! Take your money now?!

UK’s Co-op Bank In Advanced Talks To Be Rescued By Hedge Funds (G.)

The Co-operative Group’s stake in the Co-op Bank could fall dramatically under a rescue plan being drawn up by hedge funds. The UK’s largest mutual, which owns supermarkets and funeral homes, has a 20% stake in the bank, which put itself up for sale in February in a search for £750m of extra funding. But under a proposal being discussed by the bank’s controlling hedge fund shareholders, this stake could drop towards zero unless the group decides to pump millions of pounds into the loss-making bank. In April, the group wrote down the value of its stake to zero, taking a further £140m hit on its shareholding that had stood at 100% before the problems at the banking arm were uncovered in 2013.

Four years ago, hedge funds which owned bonds issued by the Co-op bank helped contribute to its rescue and they are again regarded as the most likely source for the extra capital the bank needs to appease the Bank of England. In an update on the sales process on Monday, the Co-op bank, which has 4 million customers, said it was “in advanced discussions with a group of existing investors with a view to a prospective equity capital raise and liability management exercise”. A liability management exercise would involve bondholders agreeing to convert debt into shares. In a previous update to the market, the bank had warned that it would need to undergo a liability management exercise regardless of whether it was sold, signalling that bondholders faced losses under all the options being considered. In the latest announcement, the Co-op Bank said it was still continuing with talks about a sale of the business.

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A few thoughts:

• A) China’s not all that different from the US, is it? Student debt is hot.

• B) This is largely shadow banking, and Beijing has very little grip on it

• C) Well, OK, haven’t heard this from the US yet: “.. borrowers were instructed to send naked pictures of themselves, with their identification cards, to the lender as collateral.”

China Cracks Down On Online Moneylenders Targeting Students (BBC)

China is cracking down on online moneylenders who target university students, following concerns about the largely unregulated industry. A recent government directive has ordered such lenders to suspend all activities wooing student borrowers. The move follows reports of exorbitant interest rates and unsavoury practices in the industry, including demanding “nude selfies” as collateral. Online peer-to-peer moneylending has grown popular in China in recent years. Known as “wang dai” in Chinese, it sees strangers providing small loans to others via websites and phone apps. The directive (in Chinese) was made by China’s banking, education and social security authorities, according to a copy released by the Jiangxi provincial government on its website on Friday.

It said the measures were needed to address moneylenders “making extortionate loans” and other behaviour that has “severely harmed the safety of university students”. The exact number of online moneylenders in China is not known, but one microfinancing portal called Wangdaizhijia lists at least 500 such platforms. In recent years some moneylenders and loan sharks have begun targeting university students in need of quick and easy credit, according to Chinese reports. Some students have since fallen prey to spiralling debt as a result of high interest rates. In some cases, borrowers were instructed to send naked pictures of themselves, with their identification cards, to the lender as collateral. They would threaten to release the pictures if the student defaulted on their debts. In December the naked pictures and contact details of more than 100 young female borrowers were leaked online, causing an outcry and shining a spotlight on the underground business.

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Silly to suggest this is some new development. China prints funny money, and blows bubbles with everywhere. Been going on for years.

China’s “Ghost Collateral” Arrives In Canada, “Heralding A Crisis” (ZH)

Two weeks ago, a key China-linked concern that made headlines back in 2013 and 2014 reemerged after an extensive analysis by Reuters reporter Engen Tham found that China’s “ghost collateral” problem, or collateral that was either rehypothecated between two or more loans, or simply did not exist, had not only not gone away but was still as prevalent as ever if not worse. The report, a continuation of extensive reporting conducted on this site, said that 60% of all loans issued in China’s system are backed by property, and that China’s property values are “wildly misleading, which is part of the reason that China’s credit rating was recently downgraded.” Reuters reported that Chinese lenders are prone to fraud with loan officers turning a blind eye to the quality of collateral and knowingly accepting dubious and even fraudulent documents.

Now, in a follow up by the Vancouver Sun’s Sam Cooper, the real estate reporter explains that China’s “ghost collateral” problem has jumped across the Pacific and is threatening the Canadian banking system. As Cooper notes, “as a result of the flood of money pouring from Mainland China into Vancouver real estate in recent years, some financial experts say they believe Canadian banks are directly exposed to shadow lending in China and the risks of so-called “ghost collateral”, collateral that may not exist or is used continuously to secure loans for multiple borrowers.” And the stunner: “Postmedia confirmed that Canadian banks are allowed by the federal regulator, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, to accept collateral from China to secure real estate mortgages in B.C.” “OSFI does not dictate what type of collateral (federally regulated banks) can accept,” spokeswoman Annik Faucher said. “Whether the borrower is foreign or domestic, OSFI (allows) financial institutions to compete effectively and take reasonable risks.”

The underlying reason for Canada’s growing, if paradoxical, exposure to Chinese collateral is due to an explosion of Canada’s shadow banking system. An investigation by Cooper found “massive and risky home loans are increasing in number across Metro Vancouver, while mortgage fraud cases are also on the rise, connected to the growth of so-called “shadow banking.” This is similar, if smaller in scale, to the gargantuan $8.5 trillion shadow banking market in China, where “shadow” lenders and creditors bypass conventional banks to provide and obtain funding, often at far higher terms than prevailing rates, an increasingly dangerous proposition at a time when Chinese interest rates, especially on the short-end, are suddenly spiking. The Vancouver Sun adds that as a result of tighter federal lending rules, borrowers trying to buy million-dollar-plus properties in Vancouver’s market “are increasingly taking out dangerous loans from shadow bankers in a fast-growing and poorly regulated financial market.”

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First of many. Canada, Denmark, Netherlands et al, there’s a long list.

Household Debt Sees Australian Banks Downgraded Again (ABCAu)

Global ratings agency Moody’s has downgraded the big four banks and eight other institutions over fears about the housing market. Moody’s cut ANZ, CBA, NAB and Westpac by one notch from Aa3 to Aa2. Bendigo and Adelaide Bank and Newcastle Permanent Building Society went from A3 to A2 while Heritage Bank, Members Equity, QT Mutual, Teachers Mutual, Victoria Teachers Mutual and Credit Union went from A3 to Baa1. Moody’s action comes a month after rival agency S&P Global downgraded almost all Australian banks over fears of “a sharp correction in property prices”. Moody’s said while it did not expect a sharp downturn in housing as its key scenario, it could not ignore the risk that high levels of debt and the rapid credit expansion could pose down the track.

“Whilst mortgage affordability for most borrowers remains good at current interest rates, the reduction in the savings rate, the rise in household leverage and the rising prevalence of interest-only and investment loans are all indicators of rising risks,” the Moody’s statement said. The agency worries that while Australians have been taking on record amounts of debt, wages have not increased, while underemployment has. It also did not like “the rising prevalence of interest-only and investment loans” which it believed were indicators of rising risks. Banks are carrying an arsenal of cash, as required now by regulators, in preparedness for any downturn in the economy or problems in the housing market but Moody’s indicates it is not sure whether it will be enough. “The resilience of household balance sheets and, consequently, bank portfolios to a serious economic downturn has not been tested at these levels of private-sector indebtedness,” it said.

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Yellowstone is a huge threat, but specifics must be viewed with extreme caution.

296 Earthquakes Near Yellowstone Supervolcano In Last 7 Days (Snyder)

I spend a lot of time documenting how the crust of our planet is becoming increasingly unstable. Most of this shaking is taking place far away from the continental United States, and so most Americans are not too concerned about it. But we should be concerned about it, because a major seismic event could change all of our lives in a single instant. For instance, a full-blown eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano would have the potential of being an E.L.E. (extinction level event). That is why it is so alarming that there have been 296 earthquakes in the vicinity of the Yellowstone supervolcano within the last 7 days. Scientists are trying to convince us that everything is going to be okay, but there are others that are not so sure.

The biggest earthquake in this swarm occurred last Thursday evening. It was initially measured to be a magnitude 4.5 earthquake, but it was later downgraded to a 4.4. It was the biggest quake in the region since a magnitude 4.8 earthquake struck close to Norris Geyser Basin in March 2014. This magnitude 4.4 earthquake was so powerful that people felt it as far away as Bozeman… “The main quake was centered about 5.8 miles underground. The quake and aftershocks occurred just over 8 miles northeast from West Yellowstone, according to the U.S. Geological Service. A witness reported that she felt the building she was in move. Dozens of people reported that they felt it in and around West Yellowstone, Gardiner, Ennis, and Bozeman”. But by itself that one quake would only be of minor concern. What is troubling many of the experts is that this earthquake has been accompanied by 295 smaller ones.

[..] I would like to try to describe for you what a full-blown eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano would mean for this country. Hundreds of cubic miles of ash, rock and lava would be blasted into the atmosphere, and this would likely plunge much of the northern hemisphere into several days of complete darkness. Virtually everything within 100 miles of Yellowstone would be immediately killed, but a much more cruel fate would befall those that live in major cities outside of the immediate blast zone such as Salt Lake City and Denver. Hot volcanic ash, rock and dust would rain down on those cities literally for weeks. In the end, it would be extremely difficult for anyone living in those communities to survive.

In fact, it has been estimated that 90% of all people living within 600 miles of Yellowstone would be killed. Experts project that such an eruption would dump a layer of volcanic ash that is at least 10 feet deep up to 1,000 miles away, and approximately two-thirds of the United States would suddenly become uninhabitable. The volcanic ash would severely contaminate most of our water supplies, and growing food in the middle of the country would become next to impossible. In other words, it would be the end of our country as we know it today.

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Never privatize basic needs. Always a bad idea.

Drug Prices Far Lower In Countries With Single-Payer Health Systems (IBT)

As the Senate has quietly been toying with the House’s proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act, a new study, from researchers at Harvard Medical School and the University of British Columbia, found evidence that single-payer systems may lead to lower pharmaceutical prices. Could that data impact U.S. health care reform? U.S. drug prices are so high that the researchers didn’t even factor them into the study, focusing instead on other developed countries. It’s common knowledge that drug prices have been on the steady rise, increasing faster than average wages; at issue is how to push prices back down, or at least slow their escalation.

Examining the roots of high drug expenditures in 10 wealthy countries with universal health care, the study, published last week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, discovered lower average drug prices in the nations with single-payer systems, which appeared to be better able to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical manufacturers. “There is some advantage to having a not-for-profit body, whether it’s a government body, a crown body… running a system without a profit motive,” said Steven Morgan, one of the authors and a professor of economics at University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health. “The blunt instrument of government regulation will not in itself lower drug prices.”

Using drug price and expenditure data for 2015, the researchers established that the 10 countries with universal health care systems examined in the study — New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Australia — exhibited relatively little variation in volume of drug price purchases, with a difference as large as 41%. But the disparities in drug prices told a different story, with the two ends of the spectrum differing by 600%. For example, the average price of drug treatment per capita, per day, in New Zealand, which has a single-payer system, stood at just $23, or a third of those of the nine others. Norway, Australia, Sweden and the U.K., the other countries categorized in the study as single-payer, exhibited average daily per-capita drug expenditures of $59, $91, $56 and $81, respectively.

Switzerland, which has a multi-payer, social insurance-based system, had an average per-diem treatment cost of $171, twice as high as the other nine nations. Its fellow multi-payer countries examined in the study — France, Germany and the Netherlands — paid, per capita, on average, $106, $97 and $49, respectively, per day on drug treatments. Canadians, whose health care system the study described as “mixed,” purchased roughly the same volume of drugs as citizens of the other nine countries, but would’ve collectively saved $1.7 billion if their drug prices were comparable to those of the nine other countries, the study noted.

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As long as there’s plenty free money…

Could There Be A Bidding War For Whole Foods? (CNN)

Whole Foods will eventually be part of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s empire. Or will it? Some Wall Street analysts are starting to wonder whether another retailer will come up with a higher offer and start a bidding war. Amazon announced on Friday that it was offering to pay $13.7 billion in cash for Whole Foods – a deal that values the chain of organic grocery stores at $42 a share. But Whole Foods stock closed above $42 on Friday, and it rose again Monday to top $43. That might not sound significant. But any price for Whole Foods stock that is higher than Amazon’s offer could be a sign that Wall Street thinks another company could swoop in with an even better deal. Barclays analyst Karen Short wrote in a report that she “would not be surprised” if other companies make offers for Whole Foods.

She raised her price target on the company to $48 – nearly 15% higher than Amazon’s bid. Short said in the report that “in theory, all retailers that sell food and compete with Amazon” could come up with their own offer for Whole Foods because they may “have too much to lose not to bid.” She said the likely bidders could include Walmart and Target, both of which have big grocery businesses, and the Kroger supermarket chain. She conceded it might be tough to outbid Amazon, but it could still be worth it to drive up the price and make Amazon pay more. Oppenheimer analyst Rupesh Parikh agreed. He raised his price target on Whole Foods to $45 after the Amazon deal was announced. He wrote in a report that “another bid cannot be ruled out” because other big retailers may want to do anything they can to prevent Amazon from getting even more powerful.

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The worst thing you can do is let your food supply be controllled from some point a thousand miles away. But then, Amazon has killed so much community already, and no-one sproke up. It’s labeled ‘progress’.

Amazon Will Kill Your Local Grocer (BBG)

Amazon’s done it to books. And electronics. And clothing. Now it wants to rule the grocery aisles. But Amazon still has a ways to go — the online retailing behemoth has taken a slow, yet calculated approach to attacking the grocery store. After years of testing the AmazonFresh program in its Seattle hometown, it began expanding the grocery delivery service to other cities in 2013. Today, it delivers fresh fruit and meat in parts of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, California, Washington and Maryland. It also delivers food through its Amazon.com website and its Prime Now program. And even though research from Cowen & Co pegs Amazon’s market share of food and beverages sold online in 2015 at about 22 percent, that overall online grocery market in the U.S. is pretty small.

Out of the $795 billion Cowen expects Americans to spend on food and drinks this year, it estimates only about $33 billion of it will be spent online. That’s because it has taken shoppers a long time to grow comfortable with buying their apples, chicken breasts and granola online when they can stop by a physical store on the way home from work and actually touch and smell the food they’re buying. Companies struggle to profit from the very expensive business of picking, packing and transporting fresh food to their customers. It’s much easier to mail a video game or book, which doesn’t have to be kept cold or free of bruises. But for Amazon, the grocery business not only brings more sales, it could also make its business more profitable.

People tend to buy groceries weekly or daily, so getting them hooked on delivery justifies sending trucks out more frequently. Then any general merchandise, like a book or toy, that Amazon sells along with the food adds to profits. And since Amazon will need more trucks for grocery delivery, it could reduce its reliance on shipping companies, which have contributed to soaring costs. For now, Amazon is likely to take added grocery costs on the chin, in hopes it will pay off down the line. Growing its AmazonFresh and Prime Now offerings suggests Amazon is gearing up for the long haul in grocery. Though traditional grocers are not likely to see sales migrate to Amazon right away, that luxury won’t last. And just like bookstores, your local grocer could be toast.

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Jun 192017
 
 June 19, 2017  Posted by at 9:45 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Kandinsky Capricious Line 1924

 

Britain’s Brexit jam is Brussels’ Too (Pol.eu)
EU Leaders Fear Fragile State Of Tories Will Lead To Brutal Brexit (G.)
Pain Without Gain: The Truth About British Austerity (G.)
France Gives Macron Big Majority With Little Enthusiasm (EUO)
German Politicians Hammer the ECB, But Only to Get Votes (DQ)
Central Bank Liquidity Is The ‘IV Drip’ Of The Rally (CNBC)
Mueller Has “Not Yet” Decided Whether To Investigate Trump (ZH)
Cold War Deja Vu Deepens as New Russia Sanctions Anger Europe (BBG)
Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road (Grant)
Australia Has The World’s Most Costly Energy Bills (MB)
Australia’s Haunted Housing Market (BW)
Greece Blocks EU Statement On China Human Rights At UN (R.)
Greece Cracks Down On Voucher Misuse By Employers (EurActiv)
Greek Summer Calm Before The Storm (K.)

 

 

The Brexit talks start today. They should not. Theresa May can start, but she won’t be there to finish them.

Britain’s Brexit jam is Brussels’ Too (Pol.eu)

As Brexit talks start Monday, Britain’s back is hard against a wall. And nobody, not even in Brussels, wanted it that way. Elections in the U.K. were supposed to give Prime Minister Theresa May a stronger hand against the EU and naysayers back home. Instead, her negotiating team will hobble into the talks with May in peril, still working to finalize a power-sharing agreement to allow her to form a minority government. The EU’s stance on major Brexit issues has been ironclad for months, backed by the 27 nations in a disciplined display of unity. Second-guessing about May’s approach has intensified since her election setback, so much so that there have been calls for the EU to avert potential disaster by laying out clear paths for the U.K.’s exit.

The view in Brussels, however, is there is no way to help May short of making clear that Britain is welcome to change its mind — a point reiterated by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, among others. While no one realistically expects such a total reversal, there is unease over the lack of clarity on the U.K.’s goals. “Clearly the Brits are not ready yet and it’s a pity,” a senior Commission official said. “Everybody has sympathy for [May] now because she put herself in an impossible situation,” the official said. “How we can help her? Where she is now, nobody can help her. What she said to the backbenchers, in a way made sense, ‘I put you in this mess. I will take you out of this mess.’ But who else can do anything for her? It’s just hell.”

“And all the questions,” the official added, “Withdrawal? No withdrawal? Now? Later? It’s for them to consider. What can Brussels say?” The EU has published and transmitted to the U.K. its position papers on the two issues Brussels insists take precedence: citizens’ rights and the financial settlement. May’s aides said she wanted to make a “big, generous” offer on citizens’ rights, but so far the U.K. has not published any similar documents laying out its positions.

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Brussels wants an orderly destruction of Britain, not a messy one.

EU Leaders Fear Fragile State Of Tories Will Lead To Brutal Brexit (G.)

European leaders fear that Theresa May’s government is too fragile to negotiate viable terms on which to leave the union, meaning the discussions that officially begin on Monday could end in a “brutal Brexit” – under which talks collapse without any deal. As officials began gathering in Brussels on Sunday night, the long-awaited start of negotiations was overshadowed by political chaos back in Westminster, where chancellor Philip Hammond warned that failing to strike a deal would be “a very, very bad outcome”. The EU side fears that, in reality, the British government will struggle to maintain any position without falling apart in the coming months, because, without support from the Democratic Unionist party, May’s negotiating hand is limited. There are also concerns that any DUP backing to give May a majority in the House of Commons would come with strings attached.

Hammond has been urged to publish the cost of any deals made with the DUP to prop up the government. Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has raised concerns over reports that the DUP wants to end airport tax on visitors to Northern Ireland, which generated about £90m in 2015/16, according to HMRC estimates. The abolition of air passenger duty is one of the DUP’s key demands, as it pits Northern Ireland unfavourably against the Republic of Ireland, where the duty has been abolished. As well as concern over any terms agreed with the DUP, May will have to assuage fears from Ireland’s new taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, when she meets him in Downing Street on Monday, that Brexit will not infringe on the rights of people in Ireland. The taoiseach will also raise the impact of any Tory-DUP deal on power-sharing in Northern Ireland.

The prime minister has said she is confident of getting the Queen’s speech through the Commons, regardless of whether a deal is reached with the DUP by the time of the state opening of parliament on Wednesday. British Brexit negotiators are hoping to shore up confidence in their hardline approach to the start of talks by making early progress on the vexed question of citizens’ rights. [..] Pierre Vimont, a veteran French diplomat, now at the Carnegie Europe thinktank, said lack of clarity did not matter for the opening, which was more about “a first glimpse into their overall attitude and position” and setting the tone. “It will be atmospherics and the way both sides show a genuine commitment to work ahead. I think that will be the most important. “But the British delegation will need to rather quickly put its house in order and to have a clear idea of where it wants to go.”

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We’ve seen that truth in Grenfell Tower.

Pain Without Gain: The Truth About British Austerity (G.)

There are few people in the developed world who still cling to the maxim that “home life ceases to be free and beautiful as soon as it is founded on borrowing and debt”. hese days we can’t afford to take the same view as Helmer, the husband in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, one of literature’s most cautious budgeters. It’s a nice idea to be free of debt and just spend what you earn. But when a home costs many times the average annual income and life’s running costs often exceed the monthly income, borrowing is not something that can be avoided. The government knows this only too well. This week sees publication of the public borrowing total for May and it is not expected to make pleasant reading.

Together with April’s shocker, when government borrowing was higher than the same month last year, the first two months of this financial year are forecast to show the borrowing requirement for the year is on track to be higher, not lower than last year. When David Cameron and George Osborne were in Downing Street, bringing down the deficit was the main aim of domestic policy. Until just last year, the plan was to cut the deficit to zero by 2020 and start bringing down the debt-to-GDP ratio from this year. The EU referendum vote and Theresa May’s arrival at No 10 changed all that. Once she adopted a hard-Brexit stance, the economy began to turn. Her chancellor, Philip Hammond, was forced to loosen the purse strings. It meant that both of the main political parties went into the election with plans for the deficit to remain at about 2.5%.

Independent forecasts for GDP growth over the next five years are below this figure, meaning that far from cutting the overall debt-to-GDP ratio, both parties were content to push it towards 90% – higher than any government has experienced in 50 years. That’s why so many headlines after the election have declared austerity dead and why the deficit was the dog that didn’t bark when the electorate went to the polls. The pressure on the deficit has only worsened since then. It has become clear to many of May’s advisers and close colleagues that the Tory party might not survive a second election this year without stealing some of Labour’s clothes. There is the possibility she will sanction scrapping, or dramatically reducing tuition fees, to nullify one of Labour’s most popular pledges.

The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, hinted that the cap on nurses’ pay might be relaxed, while local authority spending may need to increase after the Grenfell Tower fire. Meanwhile, household debts are on the increase. Credit card, car loan and student debt, and borrowing using that most pernicious of loans, the second mortgage, have all risen sharply in the last couple of years. Making matters worse, the proportion of savings in the economy is at rock-bottom levels. It all adds up to an economy running on empty, with everyone, including ministers, borrowing extra each year just to keep the wheels turning.

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Macron won, but his majority is nowhere near as big as predicted. He was expected to get well over 400 seats, and ended up with 308. See the graphs. Next, he’ll be up against the unions. He’s promised to fire 120,000 public workers. Good luck.

France Gives Macron Big Majority With Little Enthusiasm (EUO)

French president Emmanuel Macron won a three-fifth majority in the lower house in the second round of the legislative elections on Sunday (18 June), but less than half of voters cast a ballot. Macron’s political movement, La Republique en Marche (LRM, The Republic on the Move) won 308 seats in the National Assembly, out of 577, after obtaining 43.06% of the vote. Its centrist ally, the Modem party, got 40 seats (6%). While not as big as expected after the first round, LRM’s majority left other parties behind and completed Macron’s destruction of the old political landscape. The conservative Republicans party will be the main opposition faction, with 113 seats (22.2%), down from 192 in the outgoing assembly.

The party leader, Francois Baroin, said he was happy that the Republicans will be “big enough” to “make its differences with LRM heard”. The Socialist Party (PS), which had been the main party with 270 MPs, was left with 29 seats (5.68%). Several ministers who served under former socialist president Francois Hollande lost out to newcomers. The PS leader, Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, who was himself eliminated in the first round, resigned from his position. Some 431 new MPs will enter the assembly and a record 224 of the MPs will be women.

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The ECB has $4.73 trillion in assets. It buys anythng but Greece.

German Politicians Hammer the ECB, But Only to Get Votes (DQ)

These days it’s easy to tell when general elections are approaching in Germany: members of the ruling government begin bewailing, in perfect unison, the ECB’s ultra-loose monetary policy. Leading the charge this time was Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who on Tuesday urged the ECB to change its policy “in a timely manner”, warning that very low interest rates had caused problems in “some parts of the world.” Werner Bahlsen, the head of the economic council of Merkel’s CDU conservatives, was next to take the baton. “The ongoing purchase of government bonds has already cost the European project a great deal of credibility and has damaged it,” he said. “The ECB can only regain trust with the return to a sound monetary policy.” As Schaeuble and Balhsen well know, that is not likely to occur any time soon.

Indeed, like all other Eurozone finance ministers, Schaeuble is benefiting handsomely from the record-low borrowing costs made possible by the ECB’s negative interest rate policy. But by attacking ECB policy he and his peers can make it seem that they take voters’ concerns about low interest rates seriously, while knowing perfectly well that the things they say have very little effect on what the ECB actually does. In short, they are telling their voters what they want to hear. A survey by the CDU’s economic council showed that less than a quarter of its roughly 12,000 members had confidence in the ECB’s current course. 76% said they backed Bundesbank head Jens Weidmann’s monetary policy stance. Herr Weidmann said on Thursday that the ECB is at risk of coming under political pressure because any hint of policy tightening could push yields higher and blow a hole in national budgets.

It’s a probably a bit late in proceedings for such worries, what with the ECB now boasting the largest balance sheet of any central bank on Planet Earth. At last count, it had €4.22 trillion ($4.73 trillion) in assets, which equates to 39% of Eurozone GDP. Many of those assets are sovereign bonds of Eurozone economies like Italy, Spain and Portugal. The ECB’s binge-buying of sovereign and corporate bonds has spawned a mass culture of financial dependence across Europe. In the case of Italy, the sheer scale of the government’s dependence on the ECB for cheap funding is staggering: since 2008, 88% of government debt net issuance has been acquired by the ECB and Italian Banks. At current government debt net issuance rates and announced QE levels, the ECB will have been responsible for financing 100% of Italy’s deficits from 2014 to 2019.

It’s not just governments that are dependent on the ECB’s largesse: so, too, are the banks. In total, European banks have approximately €760 billion of funding from long-term lending schemes, the bulk of which comes from the four rounds of the most recent program launched in March 2016. As of the end of April 2017, Italian banks were holding just over €250 billion of the total long-term loans — almost a third of the total. Spain had €173 billion, while French banks had €115 billion and German lenders €95 billion. As the FT reports, the funding appears to play much less of a role in stimulating economic activity through lending, and a much larger role in mitigating the pain that low interest rates — and poor asset quality — can inflict on banks.

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Propping up zombies.

Central Bank Liquidity Is The ‘IV Drip’ Of The Rally (CNBC)

If it weren’t for liquidity right now, the stock market rally could be ripping apart, according to BMO Private Bank’s chief investment officer. “Any sense that this IV drip of liquidity coming into the market is slowing down at all is going to cause some issues,” Jack Ablin said on CNBC’s “Futures Now.” He emphasized that investors have been encouraged to take on risk due to the trillions of dollars being pumped into the financial system by central banks. Ablin’s comments came a day after the Federal Reserve decided to lift short-term interest rate by a quarter%age point. Even though the rate hike was expected, Ablin admits there was some concern tied to the Fed’s statement.

The Fed put in some new wording, saying that it “expects to begin implementing a balance sheet normalization program this year, provided that the economy evolves broadly as anticipated.” That part left Ablin “a little bit taken aback with the timing,” he said. However, “I think the good news here is, ‘Look, this is a potentially contrived crisis.’ This could be the taper tantrum all over again where [The Fed says] ‘OK, look, we don’t want to cause major upset here. We will continue to pump if equity risk taking takes a hit.'” Ablin said he’s “somewhat optimistic” that the rally will continue. He prefers developed and emerging markets over U.S. stocks, arguing that places like Europe could see bigger gains than in the United States because the economy has been surprising experts to the upside.

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This story gets insaner by the day.

Mueller Has “Not Yet” Decided Whether To Investigate Trump (ZH)

In the biggest political story of the past week, one which was timed to coincide with Donald Trump’s Birthday, the WaPo reported citing anonymous sources, that Special Counsel Robert Mueller was investigating President Trump for possible obstruction of justice. Just a few hours later on Thursday night, the DOJ’s Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing the Russia probe due to Jeff Sessions recusal, released a stunning announcement which urged Americans to be “skeptical about anonymous allegations” in the media, which many interpreted as being issued in response to the WaPo report. “Americans should exercise caution before accepting as true any stories attributed to anonymous ‘officials,’ particularly when they do not identify the country — let alone the branch or agency of government — with which the alleged sources supposedly are affiliated. Americans should be skeptical about anonymous allegations. The Department of Justice has a long-established policy to neither confirm nor deny such allegations.”

Then on Sunday, the plot thickened further when according to ABC, special counsel Robert Mueller has not yet decided whether to investigate President Trump as part of the Russia probe, suggesting the WaPo report that a probe had already started was inaccurate. “Now, my sources are telling me he’s begun some preliminary planning,” Pierre Thomas, the ABC News senior justice correspondent, said of Mueller on ABC’s “This Week” although he too, like the WaPo, was referring to anonymous sources, so who knows who is telling the truth. “Plans to talk to some people in the administration. But he’s not yet made that momentous decision to go for a full-scale investigation.”On Friday, Trump responded to the Washington Post story by tweeting: “I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt.” But also on Sunday Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow insisted the president was not literally confirming the investigation but was just referring to the story.

“Let me be clear: the president is not under investigation as James Comey stated in his testimony, that the president was not the target of investigation on three different occasions,” Sekulow said Sunday. “The president is not a subject or target of an investigation.” “Now Mueller faces a huge decision,” Thomas told “This Week” host Martha Raddatz. “Does he believe the president, who says there’s no wrongdoing here, or does he go after the president in the way James Comey wants him to do?” And so, yet another blockbuster media report has been cast into doubt as a result of more “he said, he said” innuendo, which will be resolved only if Mueller steps up and discloses on the record whether he is indeed investiating Trump for obstruction, or any other reason. That however is unlikely to happen, and so the daily ping-ponging media innuendos will continue indefinitely.

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“These two countries are in a very deep hole,” he said. Congress needs to “stop digging.”

Cold War Deja Vu Deepens as New Russia Sanctions Anger Europe (BBG)

Russia on Sunday accused the U.S. of returning to “almost forgotten Cold War rhetoric,” after President Donald Trump’s decision to reinstate some sanctions on Cuba. It could have dropped “forgotten.” There’s been a lively debate among historians and diplomats for years over whether the souring of relations between the U.S. and Russia amounts to a new Cold War, and lately the case has been getting stronger by the day. Trump’s restoration on Friday of some of the Cold War restrictions on Cuba his predecessor, Barack Obama, eased just months ago was only one example. Earlier in the week, the U.S. Senate approved a bill to entrench and toughen sanctions on Russia that includes several vivid flashbacks to before the fall of the Berlin wall.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel added her voice on Friday to rising European condemnation of a proposal in the Senate draft that would penalize companies investing in new Russian energy pipelines. Nord Stream 2, a project to double the supply of Russian natural gas to Germany via the Baltic Sea, would be especially vulnerable. President Ronald Reagan used similar sanctions in an attempt to thwart the joint German-Soviet construction of a natural gas pipeline in the early 1980s, only to drop them amid intense opposition from Europe. Again, Germany led the pushback. The Senate bill would also codify a raft of existing sanctions against Russia, so that Trump would need Congressional approval to lift them. That happened in 1974, too, and the measures proved hard to kill.

The legislation wasn’t repealed until a decade after their target, the U.S.S.R., had ceased to exist. The sense of Cold-War deja vu has been building for some time, according to Robert Legvold, a professor at Columbia University and author of “Return of the Cold War.” There’s a renewed arms race, nuclear saber rattling, the buzzing of ships and planes, proxy wars and disputes over whether missile defense systems count as offense or defense. If the trend continues, said Legvold, it will prevent the strategic cooperation between the U.S. and Russia that’s needed to prevent approaching security challenges from spinning out of control: The rise of China, the race to exploit resources in the Arctic, international terrorism and, above all, a world with nine nuclear powers that’s more complex and unstable than in the 20th century. “These two countries are in a very deep hole,” he said. Congress needs to “stop digging.”

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It’s hard to agree on gold. Always has been.

Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road (Grant)

It’s no work at all to make modern money. Since the start of the 2008 financial crisis, the world’s central bankers have materialized the equivalent of $12.25 trillion. Just tap, tap, tap on a computer keypad. “One Nation Under Gold” is a brief against the kind of money you have to dig out of the ground. And you do have to dig. The value of all the gold that’s ever been mined (and which mostly still exists in the form of baubles, coins and ingots), according to the World Gold Council, is a mere $7.4 trillion. Gold anchored the various metallic monetary systems that existed from the 18th century to 1971. They were imperfect, all right, just as James Ledbetter bends over backward to demonstrate. The question is whether the gold standard was any more imperfect than the system in place today.

[..] As if to clinch the case against gold—and, necessarily, the case for the modern-day status quo—Mr. Ledbetter writes: “Of forty economists teaching at America’s most prestigious universities—including many who’ve advised or worked in Republican administrations—exactly zero responded favorably to a gold-standard question asked in 2012.” Perhaps so, but “zero” or thereabouts likewise describes the number of established economists who in 2005, ’06 and ’07 anticipated the coming of the biggest financial event of their professional lives. The economists mean no harm. But if, in unison, they arrive at the conclusion that tomorrow is Monday, a prudent person would check the calendar.

Mr. Ledbetter makes a great deal of today’s gold-standard advocates, more, I think, than those lonely idealists would claim for themselves (or ourselves, as I am one of them). The price of gold peaked as long ago as 2011 (at $1,900, versus $1,250 today), while so-called crypto-currencies like bitcoin have emerged as the favorite alternative to government-issued money. It’s not so obvious that, as Mr. Ledbetter puts it, “we cannot get enough of the metal.” On the contrary, to judge by ultra-low interest rates and sky-high stock prices, we cannot—for now—get enough of our celebrity central bankers.

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Pretty far out.

Australia Has The World’s Most Costly Energy Bills (MB)

In reality, there are three main components of household bills. Whether households actual ultimately pocket these savings will depend on what happens with all three. The first, is the wholesale cost. That’s the cost of actually generating the electricity, be it burning lumps of coal, a gas-fired electricity plant, solar panels, wind turbines or whatever clever ways we may come up with in the future to produce electricity. Today, 77 per cent of Australian electricity comes from mostly brown and black coal, 10 per cent from gas, and 13 per cent from renewable sources. For a long time, this part of the system, of producing the electricity and getting it into the grid, has been going pretty well. Australians have enjoyed a reliable and low-cost supply of wholesale energy.

Basically, we burned ship loads of cheap coal, and to hell with the environment. This is the part of the system that is now utterly falling apart and is in most need of repair – which we’ll get to. The second major component of household electricity bills is the cost of transmission and distribution. The costs involved in building poles and wires and actually getting electricity to your wall sockets makes up about 40 per cent of your total bill. This part of the electricity price equation has been broken for decades, and is the main reason power bills have nearly doubled over the last decade. Power lines are natural monopolies. Traditionally they were all government owned. Jeff Kennett privatised Victorian networks, but until very recently, distribution networks in other states, such as NSW and Queensland, have remained government owned, with regulated pricing.

And basically, they stuffed that up for consumers by deciding to let the networks earn a guaranteed rate of return, based on their costs. That is, the more they spent, the more they earned. …The third and final component of a household’s bill is the margin added by electricity retailers. In theory, anyone can set up a business retailing electricity and there are many suppliers. In reality, pricing structures are so complex consumers do not exercise their power to switch providers, and retail margins remain higher than otherwise.

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Moving towards a very deep black hole.

Australia’s Haunted Housing Market (BW)

Forget all the headlines about the undimmed pace of house price inflation – up 19% in Sydney during March, pushing the median house price in the city to A$1.15 million ($875,000) according to Domain, a property-listings website. House prices, after all, aren’t so much a guide to the state of the housing market as to the 1% or so of homes that bought or sold in a typical year. Even there, they’re less an indicator of supply and demand for housing than of how supply and demand for mortgage credit interact with real estate fundamentals. Splurge on mortgage credit, and even an overbuilt housing market can enjoy price appreciation; cut back on home loans, and the opposite may be the case. That’s why it’s worth looking at the state of rents. Right now, they’re growing at the slowest pace in more than two decades, according to calculations based on Australian Bureau of Statistics data.

This hasn’t completely escaped notice. Philip Lowe, who took over as Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia in September, has included the same boilerplate reference (with minor cosmetic modifications) in each of the eight monetary policy decision statements he’s put out so far: In the eastern capital cities, a considerable additional supply of apartments is scheduled to come on stream over the next couple of years. Rent increases are the slowest for two decades. As Lowe indicates, the reason for the slowdown in rents isn’t hard to discern. For most of Australia’s recent history, building has struggled to keep pace with household formation. Supply of new homes has kept close to demand, and as a result rents have tended to grow more or less in line with incomes.

Compare the Housing Institute of Australia’s forecasts of housing starts and the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ forecasts of household formation, and the glut really comes into focus: The surplus of homes that Australian cities have built over the past five years, based on those numbers, is equivalent to a whole year’s worth of excess supply. That’s a worrying development for those hoping that Australia’s house price boom is sustainable, especially given the way that the country’s regulators look to be finally attempting to raise credit standards after years of laxity. Still, if Australia manages to deflate the housing bubble without seriously damaging its economy, the heroes and villains will be quite different from the popular perception. While governments and regulators spent years adding to the problem with tax breaks and hostility to macroprudential regulation, it may well be property investors and foreigners who helped ease the crisis.

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The EU should look at its own human rights record.

Greece Blocks EU Statement On China Human Rights At UN (R.)

Greece has blocked a EU statement at the UNs criticizing China’s human rights record, a decision EU diplomats said undermined efforts to confront Beijing’s crackdown on activists and dissidents. The EU, which seeks to promote free speech and end capital punishment around the world, was due to make its statement last week at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, but failed to win the necessary agreement from all 28 EU states. It marked the first time the EU had failed to make its statement at the U.N.’s top rights body, rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said. A Greek foreign ministry official said Athens blocked the statement, calling it “unconstructive criticism of China” and said separate EU talks with China outside the U.N. were a better avenue for discussions. An EU official confirmed the statement had been blocked.

“Greece’s position is that unproductive and in many cases, selective criticism against specific countries does not facilitate the promotion of human rights in these states, nor the development of their relation with the EU,” a Greek foreign ministry spokesperson said on Sunday. Presented three times a year, the statement gives the EU a way to highlight abuses by states around the world on issues that other countries are unwilling to raise. The impasse is the latest blow to the EU’s credentials as a defender of human rights, three diplomats said, and raises questions about the economically powerful EU’s “soft power” that relies on inspiring countries to follow its example by outlawing the death penalty and upholding press freedoms. It also underscores the EU’s awkward ties with China, its second-largest trade partner, diplomats said.

[..] Hungary, another large recipient of Chinese investment, has repeatedly blocked EU statements criticizing China’s rights record under communist President Xi Jinping, diplomats said. One EU diplomat expressed frustration that Greece’s decision to block the statement came at the same time the IMF and EU governments agreed to release funds under Greece’s emergency financial bailout last week in Luxembourg. “It was dishonorable, to say the least,” the diplomat said. The Greek foreign ministry spokesperson said that “during the formulation of the common statement there were also other countries that expressed similar reservations” and that Greece participates on an equal footing in setting up the EU’s common foreign policy.

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Many will claim this is employers seeking illicit profits. But for many it’s the only way not to be forced to fire people, to keep them fed.

Greece Cracks Down On Voucher Misuse By Employers (EurActiv)

The growing trend of distributing vouchers to employees to avoid taxes has raised eyebrows in the Greek government, which has moved to crack down on unprecedented levels of tax evasion in the cash-strapped country. The government says vouchers are allowed only as an extra benefit and not as part of a taxable salary. But according to Greek media reports, more than 200,000 workers, mostly newcomers, receive up to 25% in their salary via vouchers, which they use in supermarkets to buy food. The total amount, according to the reports, reaches €300 million annually. Up to a specific amount, the vouchers are tax-free for businesses, which are also exempt from employer security contributions. A source at the Greek labour ministry told EURACTIV.com that replacing any part of the legal wage of employees with vouchers is illegal.

“Vouchers are only allowed as an extra benefit and in no case can they be a substitution for legally defined earnings,” the source noted, adding that all complaints filed with the Labour Inspectorate are being investigated. As of June, companies are required to pay salaries only to bank accounts in order to put a stop to the practice of avoiding paying salaries altogether or paying only a fragment. “The Labor Inspectorate (SEPE) is in constant collaboration with Greece’s Financial and Crime Unit (SDOE), the financial police and the Independent Public Revenue Authority to address all forms of labour market violations and the coordination of their audit work,” the source said. Vouchers are coupons companies distribute to their employees to improve work, health and safety by supporting proper nutrition.

The rationale behind vouchers is that they process will enhance satisfaction and boost productivity levels while improving the employee living standards. For the government, the proper use of vouchers should also result in more tax revenues. The labour market in Greece has been in turmoil after 7 years of austerity-driven bailout programmes. There are cases of employers who have taken advantage of the “flexible” labour relations to impose unusual working conditions. For many, the use of vouchers is seen as a means to improve the atmosphere at work. Sotiris Zarianopoulos, a non-attached MEP from the Greek Communist Party (KKE), has recently asked the European Commission about these practices. The Greek lawmaker noted that this is only a part of a “jungle labour market” created by EU policies and implemented by the leftist Syriza government.

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On the verge of heading back to Greece, I’m wary of what comes after the calm.

Greek Summer Calm Before The Storm (K.)

Even though Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras hailed last week’s Eurogroup deal as step in the right direction, Greece still has many rivers to cross as the agreement secured in Luxembourg fell far short of the goals set by the government. First and foremost, Tsipras will have to deal with dissent emanating from SYRIZA MPs that had agreed to vote through a batch of tough legislation last month with the understanding that, in exchange, Greece will be granted debt relief and access to the ECB’s quantitative easing program. However, contrary to the government’s aims at the Eurogroup, debt relief talks were deferred to 2018, while Greece’s inclusion in the QE seems highly unlikely before that.

Although analysts believe that dissenters may not raise the ante during the summer – due to the tourist season and relief provided by the release of a bailout tranche – the government is expected to come under new pressure in the fall when Tsipras drafts the 2018 budget, which must stipulate a primary surplus of 3.5%. Given the huge difficulties to achieve this target, Athens will find it hard to convince representatives of the country’s creditors that it will able to achieve this target without the need for yet more measures. The Greek PM will also struggle in the fall to clear the hurdles leading to the completion of the country’s third bailout review, which will also involve the IMF. The review’s focus will be on streamlining the Greek public sector, from which SYRIZA has drawn a large chunk of votes in the past and would not like to rock the boat.

Another sticking point could be Tsipras’s promise to bring back growth, when forecasts for 2017 see an anemic rate of 1.5 to 1.8%. According to reports, the left-led coalition is banking on elections taking place in June 2018 at the earliest so that it avoids having to implement pension cuts in 2019, as it had agreed with creditors and passed into law. On the other had, some reports suggest that Tsipras may seek to spring an election surprise this fall or by the end of the year. This, however, will hinge on whether Greece will be given specifics by creditors about what sort of debt relief it can expect after the German elections in September, and on the degree of difficulty it will have to draft the 2018 budget.

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Jun 162017
 
 June 16, 2017  Posted by at 10:02 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  17 Responses »
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Pablo Picasso Dora Maar au chat 1941

 

‘It’s A ‘Scary’ Time With A Global Crisis On The Way’ (CNBC)
Angry Trump Decries Being Target Of Russia Probe (AFP)
Putin Comey Comment ‘Remark On Circus-like Russia Nonsense Gripping US’ (RT)
Theresa May Is Now Almost As Unpopular As Pre-Campaign Corbyn (YouGov)
UK Student Loan Debt Soars To More Than £100 Billion (G.)
UK Gov Still Hasn’t Submitted Brexit Papers For Talks Starting Monday (Ind.)
Germany, Austria Slam US Sanctions Against Russia (AP)
Debt Deal Gives Clarity To Markets – Greek FinMin Tsakalotos (AP)
Eurogroup Approves Greek Loans, Details Debt Relief, IMF To Join (K.)
IMF Won’t Fund Greek Bailout Until It Gets More Clarity On Debt Restructuring (CNBC)
Have The Greek Bailouts Worked? (BBC)
Greek Government Sabotages Its People With Water Privatization Scheme (Occupy)
Half of Athens’ Ambulances Are Out Of Action (AP)
Uptick In Migrant Arrivals Eyed With Concern By Greece’s Islanders (K.)

 

 

Louis Vuitton CEO knows it; where’s the rest?

‘It’s A ‘Scary’ Time With A Global Crisis On The Way’ (CNBC)

A financial crisis could be just around the corner, according to the chief executive of LVMH, who has described the global economic outlook as “scary”. “For the economic climate, the present situation is…mid-term scary,” Bernard Arnault told CNBC Thursday. “I don’t think we will be able to globally avoid a crisis when I see the interest rates so low, when I see the amounts of money flowing into the world, when I see the stock prices which are much too high, I think a bubble is building and this bubble, one day, will explode.”

Arnault, who is responsible for the world’s largest luxury goods company, couldn’t say whether the crash would be imminent or within the next few years, but he insisted that almost a decade on from the global financial crisis of 2008, one was due. “There has not been a big crisis for almost ten years now and since I’ve had a business I have seen crises more than every ten years, so be careful.” Longer term, however, Arnault said he was “optimistic”, pointing to advances in technology and innovation, which he said would stimulate the economy.

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The echo chamber expands.

Angry Trump Decries Being Target Of Russia Probe (AFP)

President Donald Trump responded angrily to reports he is under criminal investigation Thursday, deriding a “witch hunt” against him led by some “very bad” people. Trump responded to reports he is personally being investigated for obstruction of justice with a characteristic scorched earth defense: claiming mistreatment of historic proportions and calling into question the probity of his accusers. “You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history – led by some very bad and conflicted people!” Trump said in an early morning tweet. Trump did not directly address the allegations that he is being probed for possibly obstructing justice – a potentially impeachable offense. Nor did he deny he has entered the miniscule ranks of sitting presidents who have become the subject of a criminal investigation.

“They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice,” he wrote. Trump’s young presidency has been battered by allegations — under investigation both by Congress and the FBI — that Russia interfered to sway the 2016 election in his favor, in possible collusion with Trump’s campaign team. The FBI probe, now in the hands of special prosecutor Robert Mueller, shifted its focus to allegations of obstruction in the days after Trump fired the agency’s then director James Comey on May 9. The new allegations against Trump center on his own admission that he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation, and suggestions he asked several top intelligence officials for their help altering the direction of the inquiry.

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“..that sounds very strange when a special service chief records a conversation with the commander-in-chief and then gives it to the media via his friend.”

Putin Comey Comment ‘Remark On Circus-like Russia Nonsense Gripping US’ (RT)

Russia wants ties with the US improved, but the American domestic political situation is close to hopeless and while the Russian door is open, no one is going to lose their breath waiting to hold it open, political analyst Adam Garrie said, commenting on Putin’s statement. On Thursday, President Vladimir Putin held his annual live marathon Q&A session with the public, titled: “Direct Line with the president.” During the session, he said Russia was ready to grant former FBI director James Comey asylum. “[Comey] suddenly said that he had recorded a conversation with the president, and then gave the recording of this conversation to the media via his friend. Well, that sounds very strange when a special service chief records a conversation with the commander-in-chief and then gives it to the media via his friend. Then what’s the difference between the FBI director and Mr. [Edward] Snowden? Then he is not the head of the special services, but a human rights advocate who defends a certain position,” Putin said.

Political analyst Adam Garrie described the parallel between Comey and Snowden as “brilliant.” “It was a masterful moment for Vladimir Putin,” he told RT. “With all the lies and disinformation about the Russian president in Western mainstream media, people forget that, like most intelligent men, he’s got a wonderful sense of humor, he can be very cheeky, he can be sarcastic.” “Like Snowden, who thought he was doing a public good, Comey said that he thought he was doing the same. Should things get hairy for Comey, the doors to Russia are equally open to him.

I thought that was a very important remark by Putin on the whole sort of circus-like element of the whole Russia nonsense that’s gripping and probably will grip for some time the pundits in Washington. It just makes it clear that the entire tone of Putin’s statements about America is that we [Russia] want to get on with having good relations. It’s crucial not just bilaterally, but to the wider world, if the two of the three major superpowers do have improved relations, but that the situation domestically in America is close to hopeless – so that while the Russian door is open, no one in Russia is going to lose their breath or their cool waiting to hold it open,” Garrie said.

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She has no authority to negotiate anything anymore. That is a much bigger problem than people seem to think.

Theresa May Is Now Almost As Unpopular As Pre-Campaign Corbyn (YouGov)

New YouGov research highlights just how badly the election campaign and result damaged the public’s view of both the Prime Minister and the Conservative party and how much it boosted Labour and its leader. In April, Theresa May had a healthy net favourability rating of +10. At the end of May, following the campaign and negative reception of the Conservative manifesto, it fell to -5. Following the election result it has plummeted to -34. The Prime Minister is currently about as unpopular as Jeremy Corbyn was in November last year, when he scored -35. Meanwhile, the Labour leader has experienced a remarkable turnaround in public perception. Having experienced increasingly worse favourability ratings since Theresa May took office last summer, Jeremy Corbyn sank to a low of -42 in late April, just after the election was called.

However, the public’s view of the Labour leader improved markedly over the campaign, reaching -14 in the last YouGov favourability survey before election day. Now, following the result, his net favourability score is +0 – meaning that as many people now have a favourable view of him as have an unfavourable view. [..] It is remarkable that there has been such a sharp turnaround for the leaders of the two main political parties. When the election was called, Theresa May was secure in her position and many were speculating over the future of the Labour leader. Now, the roles are reversed, with Jeremy Corbyn having silenced his critics and won over large sections of the public while the Prime Minister faces criticism from across the board.

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Burden the young. An idea with future.

UK Student Loan Debt Soars To More Than £100 Billion (G.)

Student loan debt in the UK has risen to more than £100bn for the first time, underlining the rising costs young people face in order to get a university education. Outstanding debt on loans jumped by 16.6% to £100.5bn at the end of March, up from £86.2bn a year earlier, according to the Student Loans Company. England accounted for £89.3bn of the total. “Lots of prospective and current university students will see these figures and worry about being part of an increasing pool of graduate debt,” said Jake Butler of at money advice website Save the Student. “As fees increase this number will only go up, as more and more money is lent out each year. There is some cause for concern here, mainly for the government, as it is now widely accepted that the majority of graduates will never pay off their whole student loan debt before it is wiped off 30 years after their graduation.”

Sorana Vieru, the vice-president for higher education at the National Union of Students, said student debt had risen to “eye-watering levels”. The rise in student debt has been driven partly by rules introduced in 2012, allowing universities in England to charge up to £9,000 a year in tuition fees. In the year ending 31 March 2012, student debt was less than half the current level, at £45.9bn. Jeremy Corbyn made younger voters a key focus of Labour’s election campaign, promising to scrap tuition fees for new university students. A strong turnout among 18- to 24-year-olds at last week’s election helped the party to win 262 seats, an increase of 30. Sebastian Burnside, a senior economist at NatWest, said student debt was rising at a faster pace than any other form of debt, and eclipsed credit card debt of £68bn. “These latest figures show student debt is becoming of greater priority with every passing year. Student debt is the fastest growing type of borrowing and is rapidly becoming economically significant.”

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Maybe May intends to blame the EU and gather Brits together against them?

UK Gov Still Hasn’t Submitted Brexit Papers For Talks Starting Monday (Ind.)

The British Government has still not sent papers outlining its opening position for Brexit talks to the European Union, despite negotiations beginning on Monday. EU sources told The Independent Brussels had sent its “positioning papers” to London four days ago and while similar documents were expected in return, nothing has arrived as Theresa May’s administration struggles to get on its feet. Brexit Secretary David Davis confirmed on Thursday that talks to pull Britain out of the EU will begin on Monday regardless, despite cabinet splits over how to approach them and Ms May’s withdrawal plans not even being cemented in a Queen’s Speech.

Chancellor Philip Hammond cancelled a speaking event in which he was expected to signal new softer Brexit proposals focusing on jobs, amid fears it might spark an internal row with other Tories demanding Ms May stick to her immigration-centred approach. It came as the Prime Minister confirmed that a Queen’s Speech would go ahead, but only on 21 June – two days later than originally planned. It is still unclear if she has locked in the support of the Northern Irish DUP to prop her up in the House of Commons and give her the majority she needs to pass a vote approving the agenda set out in the Queen’s Speech. Conservatives signalled that talks with the unionists could even continue beyond the start of Brexit talks and the Queen’s Speech, as Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams warned that any deal struck could breach the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland.

On Monday this week, the EU sent to London its positioning papers, officially outlining its negotiating stance ahead of talks, and had expected similar documents to come back in good time before discussions begin. But with the EU’s papers arriving as Ms May staved off a cabinet coup, convinced backbenchers to support her and held talks about realigning Brexit plans, nothing had been sent back to Brussels by Thursday night. One source across the Channel said it was “unbelievable” that the UK had still not sent the “basic” papers for the start of negotiations, with just over three days left before they begin. They added: “The talks are beginning on Monday. There are no positioning papers yet. It’s a basic thing that should happen beforehand. It doesn’t bode well.”

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Haha, Gazprom.

Germany, Austria Slam US Sanctions Against Russia (AP)

Germany and Austria voiced sharp criticism Thursday of the latest U.S. sanctions against Moscow, saying they could affect European businesses involved in piping in Russian natural gas. The United States Senate voted Wednesday to slap new sanctions on key sectors of Russia’s economy and individuals over its interference in the 2016 U.S. election campaign and its aggression in Syria and Ukraine. The measures were attached to a bill targeting Iran. In a joint statement, Austria’s Chancellor Christian Kern and Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said it was important for Europe and the United States to form a united front on the issue of Ukraine, where Russian-based separatists have been fighting government forces since 2014.

“However, we can’t accept the threat of illegal and extraterritorial sanctions against European companies,” the two officials said, citing a section of the bill that calls for the United States to continue to oppose the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that would pump Russian gas to Germany beneath the Baltic Sea. Half of the cost of the new pipeline is being paid for by Russian gas giant Gazprom, while the other half is being shouldered by a group including Anglo-Dutch group Royal Dutch Shell, French provider Engie, OMV of Austria and Germany’s Uniper and Wintershall. Some Eastern European countries, including Poland and Ukraine, fear the loss of transit revenue if Russian gas supplies don’t pass through their territory anymore once the new pipeline is built.

Gabriel and Kern accuse the U.S. of trying to help American natural gas suppliers at the expense of their Russian rivals. They said the possibility of fining European companies participating in the Nord Stream 2 project “introduces a completely new, very negative dimension into European-American relations,” they said. In their forceful appeal, the two officials urged the United States to back off from linking the situation in Ukraine to the question of who can sell gas to Europe. “Europe’s energy supply is a matter for Europe, and not for the United States of America,” Kern and Gabriel said.

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It’s getting close to outright lying.

Debt Deal Gives Clarity To Markets – Greek FinMin Tsakalotos (AP)

Greece’s finance minister says financial markets now have “much greater clarity” about the future of Greece’s debts, which will help the country regain market access when its current bailout program ends next year. Speaking after a meeting of the eurozone’s 19 finance ministers, Euclid Tsakalots said the country can “look forward with much greater confidence.” As well as securing €8.5 billion in bailout funds, which will help Greece meet a big summer repayment, Tsakalotos won a promise on future measures to ease the country’s debt burden and possible IMF financial involvement in the coming year. Greece has relied on bailout money for seven years and hopes that it will be able to stand on its own feet when the bailout ends. Tsakalotos said one big benefit from the deal Thursday was that future debt repayments could be linked to Greece’s growth. In essence, that could mean payments could be postponed in the event of an adverse shock.

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No , there are no details on debt relief, that’s the whole story.

Eurogroup Approves Greek Loans, Details Debt Relief, IMF To Join (K.)

Greece’s international creditors agreed on Thursday to approve the disbursement of €8.5 billion in bailout loans and to detail medium-term debt relief measures following talks in Luxembourg. Describing the agreement as “a major step forward,” Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem said the deal aimed to get Greece standing “on its own feet again,” noting that debt relief would be linked to the country’s growth rates, in line with a proposal that had been promoted by French officials. The deal also outlined the participation of the IMF in Greece’s third bailout with the Fund’s chief Christine Lagarde saying she would formally recommend the IMF’s participation with $2 billion on a standby basis.

As regards the debt relief aspect of the agreement, Lagarde remarked that it was not the best solution for Greece as it was only an agreement in principle but the “second best” solution. European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs Pierre Moscovici sought to focus on the positive aspects of the deal. “Tonight, Greece can see the light at the end of its long tunnel of austerity,” he said. “From tonight, the watchwords are jobs, growth and investment.” His comments were echoed by Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos who, in a separate press conference, said the deal provided greater clarity, for both citizens and investors, “more light at the end of the tunnel.” A spokesperson for the European Central Bank, whose bond buying program Greece wants to join, described the Eurogroup agreement as “a first step towards securing debt sustainability.”

However it remained unclear whether the deal was adequate to pave the way for the ECB to buy Greek bonds or not. The breakthrough last night came after Athens appeared to have shifted its stance slightly from earlier in the week when tensions between Greece and Germany had peaked and two top government ministers had said publicly that Athens mistrusts German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble. Speaking from Thessaloniki, where he met Israeli and Cypriot leaders for talks on energy cooperation, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras remarked to reporters, “The good guys win in the end.” Greek officials have insisted over the past week that Greece has won the right to debt relief.

“Greece has fulfilled its commitments and adopted the required reforms. Now it is time for the Europeans to comply with their commitments on debt relief,” President Prokopis Pavlopoulos said in comments published in Germany’s Handelsblatt. He appealed to Schaeuble to abandon his persistent opposition to Greek debt relief. “Anything else would not be worthy of a great European politician,” he said. “It is important for us that our creditors secure the viability of the debt. Otherwise the ECB cannot buy Greek state bonds,” he said, referring to the European Central Bank.

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But the article above said “IMF to join”!

IMF Won’t Fund Greek Bailout Until It Gets More Clarity On Debt Restructuring (CNBC)

The IMF wants Greek debt to become more sustainable before it channels funds into the country’s bailout program, the organization’s managing director Christine Lagarde told CNBC. “For us to engage and for us to participate financially, more needs to be clarified, defined and approved in terms of restructuring,” she said late on Thursday. “What we believe will be needed is a deferral of interests, an extension of maturity, and a mechanism by which there is an adjustment based on growth … this is where further discussion and negotiation is needed.” Lagarde was speaking in Luxembourg after European finance ministers approved a €8.5 billion loan for Athens that will enable the cash-strapped nation to meet a major July repayment deadline.

European countries have been shouldering the burden of Greece’s current €86 billion rescue fund — its third bailout package since 2010. The IMF financially contributed to Athens’ previous bailouts but refused to join the current pact because it believes Greece needed debt relief — something that European creditors aren’t comfortable with. The organization’s absence has been a thorn in the sides of heavyweight European countries, particularly Germany, who view IMF participation as a key credibility factor. For Berlin to continue backing euro zone loans to Athens, Germany’s parliament is now insisting on IMF contribution. On Thursday, the IMF agreed to offer Athens a standby arrangement of less than $2 billion but won’t be disbursing any of the funds until euro zone countries offer more detail on potential debt relief measures in 2018.

“I’ve always said that the (bailout) program walks on two legs: the leg of policies and the leg of debt sustainability,” Lagarde told CNBC on Thursday. Athens has proved its commitment to key structural reforms, which cover pensions, tax, serial procedures, and labor markets, but the second leg of the bailout program — debt restructuring — needs to be further clarified, she continued. “Progress has been made today, no question about it but more is needed.” Lagarde praised Thursday’s loan agreement, stating that Athens would now be protected from future crisis moments because its financial needs in terms of debt service will be low.

“It (Athens) will actually produce a primary surplus and it should be, in terms of liquidity and stability, in a fairly solid situation to develop its economy to cultivate growth, generate investment , and proceed with the privatization that they have agreed to complete.” On the matter of Brexit negotiations, the IMF chief advised European and U.K. officials to adopt a risk-averse approach. “What is more predictable, more certain, can be calibrated, can be anticipated, can be transitioned into, is going to be more reliable and safer for the people and the economy.” Circumstances were still too premature for the IMF to forecast future economic developments, she added.

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They have for Germnay, yes.

Have The Greek Bailouts Worked? (BBC)

As eurozone finance ministers meet in Brussels for crucial talks on Greece, Reality Check looks at whether the bailouts the country has received have secured Greece’s economic survival or just created unsustainable debt. Neither Greece nor its creditors would say they are happy with how it has worked out. In 2010, when the Greek debt crisis started, Greece received €110bn in bailout money. And in 2012, the country received a second bailout of €130bn. These loans, from the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), were deemed necessary to stop Greece going bankrupt. In exchange, Greece was required to make deep public spending cuts, raise taxes and introduce fundamental changes to the public sector and labour legislation. In August 2015, the eurozone countries agreed to give Greece a third bailout, of up to €86bn, on the condition of further changes.

The next tranche of that bailout, which Greece needs in order to honour repayments due in July, is being discussed at the eurozone finance ministers’ meeting on Thursday. In 2010, they managed to keep Greece in the euro and prevented the collapse of the common currency. So, from the perspective of the eurozone as a whole, a chaotic “Grexit” did not happen. But seven years on, and many more billions of euros later, was this price worth paying, both from the point of view of Greece’s creditors and of the Greek people? It is impossible to know what the situation would be like now had Greece not received the bailouts, but the consequences of receiving them have been painful. For the Greek people, the bailouts and the austerity measures implemented with them have come at a huge cost.

• Unemployment remains staggeringly high: 22.5% of Greeks were unemployed in March 2017. And almost half of people under the age of 25 were out of work
• Those who do work, earn less. The minimum monthly wage at the beginning of the crisis was €863. It has now fallen to €684
• Pensioners have been hit particularly hard. Pension changes since 2010 mean 43% of pensioners now live on less than €660 a month, according to the Greek government
• Government spending on health was almost halved between 2010 and 2015, while the education budget was cut by 20%

Greece’s creditors, strongly influenced by Germany, demanded that Greece start spending less than it earned. In 2016, for the first time, Greece achieved this. The surplus is small, at €1.3bn or 0.7% of GDP. But this can hardly be seen as a success – the economy has shrunk and the overall debt pile is still going up, not down.

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Tsipras is not going to grow a pair anymore. Rule 1 for every country and society should be: Never give up your water.

Greek Government Sabotages Its People With Water Privatization Scheme (Occupy)

The “fire sale” privatization of Greece started in 2015, following the infamous Syriza referendum in which more than three-fifths of the Greek people voted to reject Troika-imposed bailout conditions – and yet their government, led by Alexis Tsipras, chose to accept the deal anyway. The privatization process reached its peak the next year, when the Greek government sold the public transport giant TrainOSE to the Italian company Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane S.p.A for 45 million euros. This happened after a very brief bidding period and despite considerable employee pushback, including a 24-hour strike that paralyzed the country. Now, a second round of fire sales is taking place ahead of the upcoming third bailout negotiations for Greece, whose current bailout package will expire in August 2018.

Since last year, the sale of the country’s roads, rights to the use of its ports, and other public sector resources have only yielded around €4 billion – a far cry from the projected €50 billion that were promised when the privatization plan was put in motion. At best, it will result in a 6 billion euro profit, nowhere near enough to cover the ailing Greek economy’s massive overhead spending. In 2016, under the EYATH initiative (representing Thessaloniki’s public sector water workers) and activists, Save Greek Water was launched in an attempt to curb the Syriza administration’s efforts to privatize public water reserves. The initiative enjoyed enormous support from the public and media, and seemed to curbing further efforts to move the privatization talks forward. That was until last December, when an article published by Stavroula Symeonidou, president of the Workers Union of DEYA of Drama, revealed that Greece’s public water sector was being purposefully sabotaged by its own government.

“…DEYAs are not financially dependent on the State/Central Government, therefore they do not, in any way whatsoever, contribute to the public debt… however they are equally restricted in (actually barred from) recruiting any new personnel, which means that over time their already limited resources will reach zero,” Symeonidou wrote. The article also warned about the danger of further levies being imposed on Greek farmers using public water sources like ground- and rainwater wells. This dire prediction came to pass last month, when an “irregular water source charge” was imposed on the major rural regions of the country, directly targeting farmers and households in the affected areas. According to a statement released by the Syriza administration, 2.5% of the proceeds from this levy will be invested in the interest of supporting the Greek public sector – but not the DEYA initiative. This is being seen as an obvious attempt to further hobble any resistance to privatization.

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Let me guess, this is part of making the country competitive again? This is criminal.

Half of Athens’ Ambulances Are Out Of Action (AP)

Greece’s financial woes have clobbered spending on state-provided health services, even as demand has spiked because fewer Greeks can pay for private treatment. Some of Athens’ ambulances have up to 1 million kilometers (620,000 miles) — nearly three times the distance to the moon — on the clock, and about half are idle because of a lack of spare parts. At night, fewer than 40 vehicles cover a population of more than 4 million. Paramedic Dimitris Dimitriadis says the service is obliged to respond to every call it receives, even if the callers are just taking advantage of a rule that patients brought to hospitals by ambulance jump the line for treatment. “But then you also get elderly people who can’t afford a taxi fare to the hospital, so they call an ambulance,” he said, driving toward a reported suicide in central Athens. Upon arrival, the crew was told that the injured person had been taken to a hospital by relatives.

Unions say rescuers do their best against the odds, focusing on getting urgent cases to emergency treatment within minutes of receiving a call. But other patients, who may still require hospital treatment, can end up waiting well over an hour. Athens ambulance workers’ union leader Giorgos Mathiopoulos says about 70 of the capital’s 140 ambulances are out of action, and the fleet needs to be doubled in size. “Up to 30% of the immobilized ambulances can’t be repaired” and many are stripped for parts to keep others going, Mathiopoulos said. “When we’re trying to get to an incident as fast as possible … and the ambulance has that many kilometers on the clock, it’s a worry.”

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Something’s going to break.

Uptick In Migrant Arrivals Eyed With Concern By Greece’s Islanders (K.)

Official data on Thursday showed an uptick in refugee and migrant arrivals from Turkey to Greece’s shores, increasing concerns among residents on the Aegean islands that have borne the brunt of the refugee crisis. A total of 151 people were reported as entering Greece in 24 hours on Thursday, 74 of whom landed on Chios, 54 on Lesvos and 23 on other islands, slightly above the 146 arrivals in the previous 24-hour period. According to official figures, the number of migrants and refugees that reached Greece between June 8 and Thursday morning came to 538, a significant rise from May when daily arrivals were in the double digits.

The upsurge is stoking fears on islands such as Chios that are already struggling to cope with thousands of refugees and migrants stranded by slow processing and deportation procedures. Residents of Chios held a rally on Thursday night to protest plans for a pre-departure facility on the island, where authorities said they will temporarily detain dozens of migrants who are not eligible for asylum before they are deported. Protesters say that the official line in favor of the facility, pointing to a decrease in arrivals on Lesvos since a similar center was opened there, are disproved by the uptick observed in recent days. A similar rally was also held on the island of Samos on Thursday.

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