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 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.)
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German Politicians Hammer the ECB, But Only to Get Votes (DQ)
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Mueller Has “Not Yet” Decided Whether To Investigate Trump (ZH)
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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 152017
 
 June 15, 2017  Posted by at 9:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Francisco de Goya Saturn Devouring His Son 1819–1823

 

Fed Raises Rates, Unveils Balance Sheet Cuts In Sign Of Confidence (R.)
The Fed Is Flying Blind (BBG)
Peak Economic Delusion Signals Coming Crisis (Smith)
When the Fed Tightens, It Leads to Financial “Events (Phoenix)
Senate Overwhelmingly Approves New Sanctions To “Punish” Russia (ZH)
What If The Russia Russia Russia Story Was Nothing? (HotAir)
Pentagon Agrees To Sell $12 Billion In F-15s To Qatar (ZH)
The Old Are Eating the Young (Satyajit Das)
Greek Economy Minister Calls Wolfgang Schäuble ‘Dishonest’ (R.)
Greece Is Germany’s ‘De Facto Colony’ (Pol.)
EU Officials Warn Athens Not To Take Debt Issue To Leaders’ Summit (K.)

 

 

It’s getting increasingly frustrating to try and find objective views of anything to do with Trump or Putin. And I don’t want to live in an echo chamber. So I left out Mueller’s Trump investigation.

Yellen is stuck. Next.

Fed Raises Rates, Unveils Balance Sheet Cuts In Sign Of Confidence (R.)

The Federal Reserve raised interest rates on Wednesday for the second time in three months and said it would begin cutting its holdings of bonds and other securities this year, signaling its confidence in a growing U.S. economy and strengthening job market. In lifting its benchmark lending rate by a quarter%age point to a target range of 1.00% to 1.25% and forecasting one more hike this year, the Fed seemed to largely brush off a recent run of mixed economic data. The U.S. central bank’s rate-setting committee said the economy had continued to strengthen, job gains remained solid and indicated it viewed a recent softness in inflation as largely transitory. The Fed also gave a first clear outline on its plan to reduce its $4.2 trillion portfolio of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities, most of which were purchased in the wake of the 2007-2009 financial crisis and recession.

It expects to begin the normalization of its balance sheet this year, gradually ramping up the pace. The plan, which would feature halting reinvestments of ever-larger amounts of maturing securities, did not specify the overall size of the reduction. “What I can tell you is that we anticipate reducing reserve balances and our overall balance sheet to levels appreciably below those seen in recent years but larger than before the financial crisis,” Fed Chair Janet Yellen said in a press conference following the release of the Fed’s policy statement. She added that the balance sheet normalization could be put into effect “relatively soon.” The initial cap for the reduction of the Fed’s Treasuries holdings would be set at $6 billion per month, increasing by $6 billion increments every three months over a 12-month period until it reached $30 billion per month.

For agency debt and mortgage-backed securities, the cap will be $4 billion per month initially, rising by $4 billion at quarterly intervals over a year until it reached $20 billion per month. [..] The Fed has now raised rates four times as part of a normalization of monetary policy that began in December 2015. The central bank had pushed rates to near zero in response to the financial crisis. Fed policymakers also released their latest set of quarterly economic forecasts, which showed only temporary concern about inflation and continued confidence about economic growth in the coming years. They forecast U.S. economic growth of 2.2% in 2017, an increase from the previous projection in March. Inflation was expected to be at 1.7% by the end of this year, down from the 1.9% previously forecast.

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The Fed’s been flying blind for well over 10 years.

The Fed Is Flying Blind (BBG)

The architects of U.S. monetary policy at the Federal Reserve should be happy. They’ve succeeded beyond their own expectations in bringing down the unemployment rate without triggering an outburst of inflation. Stock indexes are near record highs, and interest rates remain low. But those who set interest rates are in the awkward position of not understanding how things got so good—and are therefore confused about what to do next. “The Fed isn’t run by computers, it’s run by people,” says David Rosenberg, chief strategist at Gluskin Sheff. “Like all of us they have their flaws and their blind spots. On June 14, the Federal Open Market Committee voted as expected to raise the federal funds rate a quarter point, to a range of 1% to 1.25%. It said it expects inflation to rise to its 2% target “over the medium term.”

For Fed Chair Janet Yellen and company, the central mystery continues to be why inflation remains below 2% despite unemployment having dropped to just 4.3% in May. Even ex-convicts and high school dropouts are getting job offers one reason why many economists believe it’s inevitable that wages must rise. When you have a shortage of supply of something, its price will go up, says Gad Levanon, chief U.S. economist at the Conference Board, a business-supported research group. A tight job market, however, hasn’t translated into inflation. The Fed’s preferred measure of inflation, the personal consumption expenditures price index, rose just 1.7% in April from a year earlier. On June 14, as the Fed was meeting, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the Consumer Price Index excluding food and energy rose just 0.1% in May, the third surprisingly low reading in three months.

Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan Chase., sympathizes with Yellen’s predicament. He said in an interview before the FOMC meeting that Yellen is relying out of necessity on the Phillips curve, which says that lower unemployment leads to higher inflation. “It’s kind of the best we’ve got” as a descriptor of the economy, he says. Still, Feroli couldn’t resist headlining his report on the puzzlingly low CPI number, “Captain Phillips goes overboard.” Some economists worry that the Fed rate increases will abruptly cool the economy by increasing the cost of borrowing via credit cards, auto loans, and student loans, as well as business loans. Rosenberg, who’s more bearish than most economists, points out that recessions occurred 10 of the last 13 times the Fed raised interest rates. He says the U.S. is due for a recession within the next 12 months.

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“The question is not “when” we will enter collapse; we are already in the midst of an economic collapse. ”

Peak Economic Delusion Signals Coming Crisis (Smith)

According to the Atlanta Fed, US GDP in the first quarter of 2017 has declined to 0.7% , going back to lows touched on in 2014 after the Fed reduced QE.

The US has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs since the year 2000, and this trend has accelerated in recent years. Manufacturing in the US only accounts for 8.48% of all jobs according to May statistics. 102 million working age Americans do not currently have a job. This includes the 95 million Americans not counted by the Bureau of Labor because they assume these people have been unemployed so long they “do not want to work”. Thousands of retail outlet stores, the primary engine of the American economy, are set to close in 2017. Sweeping bankruptcies and downsizing are ravaging the retail sector, and internet retailers are not taking up the slack despite highly publicized growth. In 2016, online retail sales only accounted for 8.1% of all retail sales.

Oil inventories continue to amass as US energy demand declines. Declining energy demand is a sure sign of overall economic decline. OPEC and other entities continue to argue that “too much supply” is the issue; an attempt to distract away from the reality of lower consumption and the falling wealth of consumers. Corporate earnings expectations continue their dismal path, suggesting that stock markets have been supported by central bank stimulus and blind investor faith in central bank intervention. The stimulus is now being cut off. How long before investor faith is finally lost?

It is unfortunate that so many people only track stocks when accounting for economic health. They have crippled themselves and their own observations, and actually condescend when confronted with counter-observations and data. They help globalists and international financiers by perpetuating false narratives; sometimes knowingly but often unconsciously. And, when the system does destabilize to the point that they actually realize it, they will blame all the wrong culprits for their pain and suffering. The question is not “when” we will enter collapse; we are already in the midst of an economic collapse. The real question is, when will the uneducated and the biased finally notice? I suspect the only thing that will shock them out of their stupor will be a swift stock market drop, since this is the only factor they seem to pay attention to. This will happen soon enough.

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That much is obvious.

When the Fed Tightens, It Leads to Financial “Events (Phoenix)

The Fed concludes its June meeting today. The Fed fund futures markets put the odds of the Fed hiking rates again at 99.6%. This would mark the third rate hike by the Fed during this cycle. Why would this matter? Because it indicates the Fed is embarked on a serious tightening cycle. One rate hike can be a fluke. Two rate hikes could even be just policy error. But three rate hikes means the Fed is determined.

As Bank of America noted in a recent research note, when the Fed becomes determined to tighten… it usually ends in an “event.” What would an “event” look like for today’s market? A Crash is coming…

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It’s a craze. It’s doing so much damage.

Senate Overwhelmingly Approves New Sanctions To “Punish” Russia (ZH)

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved new sanctions to punish Russia for “meddling” in the 2016 election. The bipartisan legislation, which passed with an overwhelming 97-2 vote, slaps new sanctions on Russia and restricts President Trump from easing them in the future without first receiving congressional approval. The only two senators to vote against the measure were Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rand Paul (R-KY), while Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) abstained. Known as the Crapo Amendment, after Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, the measure was endorsed by Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) and ranking member Ben Cardin (D-Maryland). The deal was attached to an Iran sanctions bill that is expected to pass later this week.

While top Republican senators had initially wanted to give the White House space to try improving U.S.-Russia relations, but ultimately decided talks with Russia have been moving too slowly. The sanctions against Russia are “in response to the violation of the territorial integrity of the Ukraine and Crimea, its brazen cyber-attacks and interference in elections, and its continuing aggression in Syria,” according to the deal’s sponsors. The amendment also allows “broad new sanctions on key sectors of Russia’s economy, including mining, metals, shipping and railways” and authorizes “robust assistance to strengthen democratic institutions and counter disinformation across Central and Eastern European countries that are vulnerable to Russian aggression and interference.”

New sanctions would be imposed on “corrupt Russian actors” and those “involved in serious human rights abuses,” anyone supplying weapons to the Syrian government or working with Russian defense industry or intelligence, as well as “those conducting malicious cyber activity on behalf of the Russian government” and “those involved in corrupt privatization of state-owned assets.” The biggest neocon in Congress, John McCain, was delighted with the outcome: “We must take our own side in this fight. Not as Republicans, not as Democrats, but as Americans,” said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) before the vote. “It’s time to respond to Russia’s attack on American democracy with strength, with resolve, with common purpose, and with action.” As AP adds, lawmakers took action against Russia in the absence of a forceful response from President Donald Trump.

While the president has sought to improve relations with Moscow and rejected the implication that Russian hacking of Democratic emails tipped the election his way, non-stop “anonymous sources” have repeatedly leaked “news” to the NYT and WaPo, suggesting Trump colluded with Russia and/or was being probed by the FBI. Following Comey’s testimony, which confirmed there is no “there” there, the media attacks against Trump have shifted, and now accuse the president of obstruction of justice and interference with the FBI’s investigation into Mike Flynn. Speaking earlier on Wednesday, Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said told reporters the Kremlin will hold out with its reaction until the U.S. decides on new sanctions against Russia. “We wouldn’t like to enter this sanctions spiral again. But that’s not our choice.” Indeed, and with the US having made Russia’s choice for them, we now look for Moscow’s response.

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They’ll just keep digging until they find something, and then blow that up way out of proportion.

What If The Russia Russia Russia Story Was Nothing? (HotAir)

Everyone has been busily trying to parse the Jeff Sessions testimony since the Attorney General took the stand but there doesn’t seem to be a lot to work with. Allahpundit talked about the number of times that Sessions declined to answer certain questions about private conversations he had with the president, but that’s some fairly thin gruel to build a presidency-ending scandal out of. But the one question which seems to still be off limits for most of the MSM is the really ugly one: what if this turns out to be a dry hole? Much of the speculation swirling around this entire saga has been based on anonymous sources supposedly spilling secrets about Oval Office conversations or supposed Russians hiding behind the potted plants. With all of that smoke, there certainly must be a fire, right? But that depends whether the smoke is coming from an actual blaze or some reporting blazing up some prime wacky tobacky.

Having hearings was supposed to clear up many of these questions. Take for example the widely reported and frequently repeated assertion that the Attorney General had a third, unreported meeting with the Russians at the Mayflower. That’s been stated so often that it’s basically become an article of faith on CNN and MSNBC. But yesterday Sessions was asked about it and he simply said… no. There was no third meeting. And? What happens now? Unless the New York Times can produce some video or at least a credible witness who saw Session sneaking off into the cloak room with the Russian ambassador or one of his henchmen that’s pretty much a dead end. And that’s falling into a pattern with so many other aspects of the entire tapestry of accusations against the Trump administration, a group of allegedly nefarious traitors who were colluding with the Russians to cripple the American elections.

David French at National Review tackles what may eventually become the biggest question of all. What if that never happened and it was all a fictional tale assembled by the media? “While we certainly aren’t privy to all the relevant information or all the relevant testimony, nothing that James Comey said last week or that Jeff Sessions said today (much less any of the questions directed his way) contained so much as a meaningful hint that the Committee was on the verge of uncovering the political scandal of the century. Rather, the focus keeps shifting to much narrower questions regarding Trump’s decision to fire James Comey — questions that are important but far less historically consequential than any claim that a president or his attorney general are traitors to their country…

Truth is truth, and it’s important for responsible people to not just understand and respond to actual evidence — no matter where it leads — but also acknowledge its absence. And so far the absence of evidence points to Trump’s innocence of some of the worst allegations ever leveled against an American president or his senior team.”

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Pentagon wouldn’t mind a little war.

Pentagon Agrees To Sell $12 Billion In F-15s To Qatar (ZH)

Remember when Trump called on Qatar to stop funding terrorism, claiming credit for and endorsing the decision of Gulf nations to isolate their small neighbor (where the most important US airbase in the middle east is located),even as US Cabinet officials said their blockade is hurting the campaign against ISIS. You should: it took place just 5 days ago. “We had a decision to make,” Trump said, describing conversations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. “Do we take the easy road or do we finally take a hard but necessary action? We have to stop the funding of terrorism.” Also last week, Trump triumphantly announced on twitter that “during my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!”

Well, Qatar funding terrorism apparently is not a problem when it comes to Qatar funding the US military industrial complex, because just two weeks after Trump signed a record, $110 billion weapons deal with Saudi Arabia, moments ago Bloomberg reported that Qatar will also buy up to 36 F-15 jets from the Pentagon for $12 billion …. even as a political crisis in the Gulf leaves the Middle East nation isolated by its neighbors and criticized by President Donald Trump for supporting terrorism, according to three people with knowledge of the accord. According to the Pentagon, the sale will give Qatar a “state of the art” capability, not to mention the illusion that it can defend itself in a war with Saudi Arabia. If nothing else, Uncle Sam sure is an equal-opportunity arms dealer, and best of all, with the new fighter planes,

Qatar will be able to at least put on a token fight when Saudi Arabia invades in hopes of sending the price of oil surging now that every other “strategy” has failed. To be sure, the sale comes at an opportune time: just days after Qatar put its military on the highest state of alert, and scrambled its tanks. All 16 of them. Maybe the world’s wealthiest nation realized it’s time beef up its defensive capabilities? Qatar’s defense minister will meet with Pentagon chief Jim Mattis on Wednesday to seal the agreement, Bloomberg reported citing people who spoke on condition of anonymity because the sale hasn’t been announced. Last year, congress approved the sale of up to 72 F-15s in an agreement valued at as much as $21 billion but that deal took place before the recent political crisis in the region.

It is unclear what the Saudi reaction will be to the news that Trump is arming its latest nemesis. If our thesis that Riyadh is hoping for Qatar to escalate the nest leg of the conflict is correct, then the Saudis should be delighted.

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“..society as a partnership between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are yet to be born.”

The Old Are Eating the Young (Satyajit Das)

Edmund Burke saw society as a partnership between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are yet to be born. A failure to understand this relationship underlies a disturbing global tendency in recent decades, in which the appropriation of future wealth and resources for current consumption is increasingly disadvantaging future generations. Without a commitment to addressing this inequity, social tensions in many societies will rise sharply. entral to the issue is that the rapid rise in living standards and prosperity of the past 50 years has been largely based on rising debt levels, ignoring the costs of environmental damage and misallocation of scarce resources. A significant proportion of recent economic growth has relied on borrowed money – today standing at a dizzying 325% of global GDP.

Debt allows society to accelerate consumption, as borrowings are used to purchase something today against the promise of future repayment. Unfunded entitlements to social services, health care and pensions increase those liabilities. The bill for these commitments will soon become unsustainable, as demographic changes make it more difficult to meet. Degradation of the environment results in future costs, too: either rehabilitation expenses or irreversible changes that affect living standards or quality of life. Profligate use of mispriced non-renewable natural resources denies these commodities to future generations or increases their cost. The prevailing approach to dealing with these problems exacerbates generational tensions. The central strategy is “kicking the can down the road” or “extend and pretend,” avoiding crucial decisions that would reduce current living standards, eschewing necessary sacrifices, and deferring problems with associated costs into the future.

Rather than reducing high borrowing levels, policy makers use financial engineering, such as quantitative easing and ultra-low or negative interest rates, to maintain them, hoping that a return to growth and just the right amount of inflation will lead to a recovery and allow the debt to be reduced. Rather than acknowledging that the planet simply can’t support more than 10 billion people all aspiring to American or European lifestyles, they have made only limited efforts to reduce resource intensity. Even modest attempts to deal with environmental damage are resisted, as evidenced by the recent fracas over the Paris climate agreement. Short-term gains are pursued at the expense of costs which aren’t evident immediately but will emerge later.

This growing burden on future generations can be measured. Rising dependency ratios – or the number of retirees per employed worker – provide one useful metric. In 1970, in the U.S., there were 5.3 workers for every retired person. By 2010 this had fallen to 4.5, and it’s expected to decline to 2.6 by 2050. In Germany, the number of workers per retiree will decrease to 1.6 in 2050, down from 4.1 in 1970. In Japan, the oldest society to have ever existed, the ratio will decrease to 1.2 in 2050, from 8.5 in 1970. Even as spending commitments grow, in other words, there will be fewer and fewer productive adults around to fund them.

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Schäuble couldn’t care less.

Greek Economy Minister Calls Wolfgang Schäuble ‘Dishonest’ (R.)

Greek Economics Minister Dimitri Papadimitriou has accused German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble of being “dishonest” by blocking debt relief for Greece despite his acknowledgement that Athens has implemented significant reforms. Euro zone finance ministers and the IMF are expected to strike a compromise deal on Greece on Thursday, paving the way for new loans for Athens while leaving the contentious debt relief issue for later. Papadimitriou told German newspaper Die Welt in an interview published on Thursday that Schaeuble first had acknowledged that Greece had met the requirements, but then changed his mind. “I haven’t met Schaeuble yet and I don’t want to be impolite, but his behavior seems dishonest to me,” he added.

Papadimitriou said German resistance to debt relief for Greece raised questions about the very idea and structure of the euro zone. The success of right-wing populists in Europe also showed dissatisfaction with such European structures, he said. “Greece is being made a sacrificial lamb,” he said. Papadimitriou also warned Schaeuble against making decisions based purely on domestic politics, noting that Germany had also received debt relief when it was rebuilding after World War Two. Debt relief is needed to help Greece expand its economy, he said, noting that Athens was not asking for a debt cut, but rather lower interest rates or longer repayment schedules. Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos also called on the euro zone finance ministers to spell out concrete measures to reduce the Greek debt burden.

“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,” Pavlopoulos said in an interview with German business daily Handelsblatt. German opposition politicians also criticized Schaeuble by honing in on the fact that the IMF is likely to participate in the third bailout, but will only disburse any loans when debt measures have been clearly outlined. Gerhard Schick from the Greens party accused Schaeuble of a “lousy trick” with the IMF participation. Thomas Oppermann, senior member of the co-governing Social Democrats (SPD), told Bild newspaper: “Schaeuble must put his cards on the table ahead of the election and say what German taxpayers will have to expect.”

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“Europe stopped listening to Greece a long time ago.”

Greece Is Germany’s ‘De Facto Colony’ (Pol.)

Poor Alexis Tsipras. For days, the Greek leader has been working the phones, trying to secure the best possible terms for his country as it enters the last mile of its seemingly endless cycle of bailouts. So far, his efforts have won him more mockery than respect — especially in Germany. “He keeps calling the whole time, and the chancellor says again and again, ‘Alexis, this issue is for the finance ministers,’” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble told an audience here on Tuesday, referring to the Greek prime minister’s attempts to win over Angela Merkel to his cause. Eurozone finance ministers are set to decide at a meeting in Luxembourg on Thursday whether to release a more than €7 billion tranche of aid to Greece. No one doubts Athens will get the money. Schäuble all but committed to it on Tuesday.

But Tsipras wants something even more precious: debt relief. No serious economist believes Greece will ever crawl out from under its more than €300 billion debt without significant forgiveness from its creditors. That means convincing Germany, the country to which Greece owes the most. For much of Greece’s nearly decade-long depression, the country was hostage to its domestic politics. Now, it’s hostage to Germany’s. Berlin, which has long opposed outright debt relief, refuses to budge. With a general election in Germany set for late September, Merkel and Schäuble are unlikely to soften their position anytime soon. The Greek bailouts remain politically toxic in Germany, and any agreement involving debt forgiveness would be seen domestically as an admission the rescue effort had failed — and at the German taxpayers’ expense.

Over the years, Germany has quietly accepted more subtle forms of forgiveness, like extending maturities on Greece’s loans and reducing the interest burden. But a straightforward cut, as demanded by the International Monetary Fund, remains out of the question. At least until after the election. Unfortunately for Tsipras, he has very little say in the matter. One big reason he wants debt relief now is that it would allow the European Central Bank to include Greece in its bond-buying program, known as quantitative easing. That would go a long way toward boosting investor confidence in Greece’s stability. But Greece won’t be eligible for the program as long as its debt burden isn’t deemed sustainable. And with the ECB’s program set to be wound down soon, Greece may never benefit. Tsipras may yet try to resist a deal this week and take the matter to next week’s summit of European leaders in Brussels. That’s unlikely to make much difference. Truth is, Europe stopped listening to Greece a long time ago.

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More blackmail.

EU Officials Warn Athens Not To Take Debt Issue To Leaders’ Summit (K.)

As Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos braces for a Eurogroup meeting in Luxembourg on Thursday which all evidence suggests will not yield a satisfactory debt solution for Greece, European officials on Wednesday warned Athens against trying to broach the issue at an EU leaders’ summit next week. “If the matter is not resolved today, then it will be discussed at the next Eurogroup, where the agreement won’t be any better,” one source in Brussels told Kathimerini. Sources in Berlin, which has taken a hard line in the face of calls by the IMF for Greek debt relief, struck a similar tone, with one official noting that the matter falls squarely within the remit of the Eurogroup, “a message that has been made absolutely clear.”

“I don’t remember any Greek problem being solved at the EU leaders’ summit level,” another source representing Greece’s international creditors told Kathimerini, referring to previous efforts by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to broach issues relating to the country’s international bailouts with Angela Merkel and other EU leaders. A spokesman for Germany’s Finance Ministry, however, struck a positive tone, saying he was looking forward to agreeing on a “viable comprehensive package.” A proposal by French officials, that a solution to Greek debt relief be linked to the country’s growth rate, is expected to be discussed in Luxembourg on Thursday, though it is unlikely to be embraced in its entirety.

Meanwhile, Athens sounded a defiant note on Wednesday, with a high-ranking government official warning that if German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble does not budge from his positions to make way for a final agreement, then “there are others in higher positions than him that can give a solution.” “If there is no positive move, in the next few days or during the Eurogroup, from the German minister, then it looks like Angela Merkel will be forced to hold the hot potato,” a government official told the Athens News Agency on Wednesday.

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May 032017
 
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Leonardo da Vinci A Copse of Trees 1508

 

Trump: US “Needs A Good Shutdown In September To Fix This Mess” (ZH)
Home Capital Fails to Draw Buyout Interest From Canada Banks (BBG)
Hot Air Hisses Out of US Auto Bubble (WS)
May’s Election Fighting Talk Fuels Brexit War of Words With EU (BBG)
Le Pen Wants A French National Currency Within Two Years After Election (R.)
Macron Victory Could Mark The Start Of Political Upheaval For France (CNBC)
Italy Is Europe’s Next Big Problem (BBG)
Soros At it Again – Trying to Overthrow Polish Government? (Martin Armstrong)
In Tense Encounter, Merkel Tells Putin Sanctions Must Remain (BBG)
‘It’s Very Important We Hear What Putin Has To Say’ – Oliver Stone (RT)
Adults in the Room – One Of The Greatest Political Memoirs Ever (Mason)
Greece, Creditors To Discuss Options For Debt Restructuring (CNBC)
Greece Will Avoid Default After Bailout Deal – But Faces More Austerity (G.)
Greek Poverty Deepens During Seven Years Of Austerity (AP)

 

 

September’s a long way away.

Trump: US “Needs A Good Shutdown In September To Fix This Mess” (ZH)

With Congress poised this week to approve a deal to fund the government through September, the first major bipartisan legislation of Trump’s presidency, after lengthy negotiations (which have appeared to signal numerous ‘folds’ by President Trump), apparently frustrated by the lack of tryannical powers that a simple majority grants him, President Trump has lashed out this morning at disagreeable Democrats, and in particular Senate Democrats. As a reminder, the proposed government funding deal does not include funding for Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border or include language stripping federal money from so-called sanctuary cities, both of which the White House demanded at the outset of negotiations. In fact, as we reported yesterday, the bill has been seen widely as a victory for Democrats, something which has been panned by the conservative press.

While the White House also backed off a threat to withhold ObamaCare subsidy payments to insurance companies, Trump did secure increased military spending in the 2017 budget deal. According to the Hill, the comments are likely irk top Republican lawmakers, who have been frustrated by Trump’s repeated attempts to intervene in the legislative process. The businessman-turned-president, in turn, has vented frustration with the slow pace of work on Capitol Hill. “I’m disappointed that it doesn’t go quicker,” Trump told Fox News last week when asked about the Republican effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare. Commenting on Trump’s tweets, Citi asks rhetorically whether “this could be a case of cutting one’s nose to spit one’s face? – Potentially problematic when the nose in question is attached to the current administration… It seems counterintuitive that a sitting president would want a shutdown, unless he was to blame it on the opposition in order to force through reform/encourage a voter backlash.”

Bloomberg reports that “The message appeared to encourage the Republican-controlled Senate to change rules that now require 60 votes to end a filibuster of legislation. Republicans reduced the threshold to 51 votes for Supreme Court nominees this year and could do the same for legislation with a simple majority vote.” USD does not seem to have reacted to the President’s tweet (it can’t every time, after all), which may just be more political manoeuvring rather than a signal of intent. In any case, we’re not so sure there is such a thing as a “good” shutdown of the US government – and with what will be over $20 trillion in debt and a declining GDP by that time, one wonders which ratings agency will have the balls to downgrade the world’s reserve currency this time?

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“Someone will buy it for a dollar because they want to get the loan book [..] it goes for a lot less than it’s trading at today.”

Home Capital Fails to Draw Buyout Interest From Canada Banks (BBG)

Canadian banks and financial firms are so far showing little interest in buying Home Capital, vindicating short-sellers who say the embattled mortgage lender could be sold off piecemeal, driving the stock down further. “People in the industry would rather see these guys go out of business because the loans aren’t worth the risk, and they’re so leveraged,” said Marc Cohodes, a private investor and part-time chicken farmer in California who has been shorting the stock, or betting on declines, for more than two years. Home Capital’s rival Equitable joined a list of companies that have said they aren’t interested in taking over the struggling mortgage lender, which hired investment banks last week for a possible sale after the stock plunged by two-thirds amid a regulatory probe.

“The bottom line is no,” Equitable Chief Executive Officer Andrew Moor said on Monday. “We have some concerns based on what we’ve read about how they underwrote their loans and their internal controls.” Other banks have indicated that they aren’t interested. Canadian Western Bank CEO Chris Fowler said his Edmonton, Alberta-based lender, which has an alternative mortgage business, would not be a buyer for all of Home Capital. He added the bank will consider “selectively” acquiring loan portfolios. A Laurentian Bank of Canada spokeswoman said that for the lender to be interested in an acquisition it needs to be financially sound and a good strategic fit. Laurentian is active in the alternative lending space.

Canada’s biggest commercial banks, meanwhile, are unlikely to be interested because Home Capital’s mortgages are with customers who wouldn’t qualify for a loan with them, said Sumit Malhotra, an analyst at Bank of Nova Scotia, in a research note. They might be interested in the loan book, he added. [,,] Other short sellers agree with Cohodes. Jerome Hass at Lightwater in Toronto, said he wonders why anybody would buy Home Capital when they could just pick up the mortgages. “It’s got all this litigation against it, it’s going to have all these liabilities against it, so why not just take their loan book off their hands?” Hass said in an interview. “Someone will buy it for a dollar because they want to get the loan book, but I don’t see it going for much, and it goes for a lot less than it’s trading at today.”

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No purchasing power.

Hot Air Hisses out of US Auto Bubble (WS)

A 4.7% drop in sales, bad as it is, wouldn’t qualify for #carmageddon. These things happen. But here’s the thing: Automakers had shelled out $3,465 in incentives per new vehicle sold, on average, according to TrueCar estimates. A record for the month of April. It beat the prior record of $3,393, set in April 2009. It amounts to about 10% of suggested retail price, similar to March. The last period when incentive spending was at this level of MSRP was in 2009 as the industry and sales were collapsing. The #carmageddon point to watch: despite the 13.4% year-over-year surge in incentive spending to nearly $5 billion, total vehicle sales fell 4.7%! When these massive incentives fail to even slow the sales decline, serious problems lurk beneath the surface. This table shows the largest automakers, their year-over-year sales performance – the sea of red ink – along with average per-unit incentive spending and total incentive spending:

GM shelled out the most incentives on average per vehicle, in total $1.23 billion. In March, it had spent about $1.3 billion. At this rate, GM is spending just under $4 billion per quarter in incentives. By comparison, in its Q1 earnings, GM reported “North America” revenue of $29.3 billion. At this rate, it is spending about 13% of its North American revenues on US incentives. But it’s just not working out. Total sales dropped nearly 5.9%, to 244,200 units, with car sales plunging 12.5% and even truck sales falling 3.2%. A gruesome detail: Silverado-C/K pickup sales plunged 20% to 40,154 units. Total retail sales (not including fleet sales) fell 4% to 191,911 vehicles. GM ended the month with 100 days’ supply, up from the nail-biter level of 98 days at the end of March.

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The UK is so divided along multiple fault lines that May has nothing, unless she’s prepared to walk away.

May’s Election Fighting Talk Fuels Brexit War of Words With EU (BBG)

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May vowed she won’t be pushed around in Brexit talks with the European Union as her war of words with Brussels escalates before negotiations even begin. The premier said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is learning she can be “bloody difficult” after leaked details of a dinner meeting between the leaders alleged he was shocked by her approach to negotiating Brexit. May won a measure of support from several European government officials, who distanced themselves from Juncker’s apparent skepticism about the chances of a Brexit deal. The row blew up after details of the allegedly disastrous meal Juncker attended at May’s London residence last week were reported by a German newspaper.

“What we’ve seen recently is that at times these negotiations are going to be tough,” May told BBC television in an interview Tuesday. “During the Conservative Party leadership campaign, I was described by one of my colleagues as a bloody difficult woman. And I said at the time the next person to find that out will be Jean-Claude Juncker.” The clash between London and the European Commission comes as May seeks re-election on June 8 in a campaign defined by Brexit, and the argument won’t necessarily hurt her chances. While EU officials are concerned about such a public dispute ahead of negotiations, it could help May’s Tories convince voters the U.K. needs what she calls her “strong and stable leadership” for the Brexit talks.

May claims her main rival for power, opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, would be too “weak” to succeed at the negotiating table. Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper said on Sunday that Juncker left a dinner on April 26 “10 times more skeptical” of reaching a Brexit deal. In her interview on the campaign trail, May told the BBC she hopes to agree an accord that works for the U.K. and the EU, saying there’s “a lot of similarity” between her proposals and the bloc’s negotiating guidelines.

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Can a national currency exist alongside a European one?

Le Pen Wants A French National Currency Within Two Years After Election (R.)

Far-right presidential challenger Marine Le Pen said capital controls could be used if she won the election and there was a run on banks as she negotiated France’s exit from the European Union, but stressed they were unlikely to be needed. In an interview with Reuters ahead of Sunday’s decisive second round, Le Pen reaffirmed she wanted to take France out of the euro and said she hoped the French people would have a national currency in their pockets within two years. Le Pen said she wanted to replace the EU single currency with another, looser type of cooperation in the form of the ECU basket of currencies that preceded the euro. That would exist alongside a national currency.

“The objective is to transform the euro ‘single currency’ into a euro ‘common currency’, going back to the ancestor of the euro, the ECU, which was an accounting unit that did not stop each country from having each its own currency,” Le Pen said. Calling the euro a deadweight on the French economy, the National Front candidate said a new national currency would better protect French people’s savings. She accused the “establishment” of wanting to “frighten” voters into thinking otherwise. “I am convinced there won’t be any banking crisis,” Le Pen said when asked if French negotiations to quit the EU could trigger a run on French banks.

Asked if she would impose capital controls if savers nevertheless did rush to take their money out of banks, she said: “If there’s a run on banks, we could very well imagine such a solution for a few days, but I’m telling you it won’t happen.” Le Pen said she would launch negotiations over reforms of the EU immediately after winning, saying this would allow France to regain national sovereignty. The talks would include ditching the euro as well as regaining control of France’s borders and being able to decide French legislation alone, she said. Those negotiations could last six to eight months, she said, after which France would hold a referendum on its EU membership.

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Whatever happens in Sunday’s 2nd round, a mess is certain.

Macron Victory Could Mark The Start Of Political Upheaval For France (CNBC)

France’s political course is likely to remain far from certain even with a win for presumed victor Emmanuel Macron, as his inability to form a parliamentary majority threatens to undermine his authority both domestically and across Europe, political analysts have suggested. Sunday’s second round runoff will mark the start of a period of tension for the country as the successful candidate waits to see if they can garner a large enough parliamentary majority in June’s legislative election to enact change, Dominique Reynié, professor of political science at the Sciences Po institute in Paris, told CNBC Tuesday. “I’m not worried about Macron’s ability to win, but the question surrounds what kind of turnout he will achieve and what his ability to gain a majority in the June election will be,” explained Reynié.

Polls are currently pitching centrist Macron to gain anywhere from a 59% to a 64% lead on his far-right opponent Marine Le Pen. However, this lead will do little to boost Macron’s authority in government, Reynié suggests. The independent will have to gain significant support from other parties if he is to form a majority when France once again heads to the polls on June 11 and June 18 to elect the 577 members of its National Assembly. “It will all depend on his margin of victory. A 55 to 45% win for Macron would be a disaster. Even 60 to 40 is not at all a triumph; a 20% margin would be very difficult. “It would be a crisis. It is not normal and would be a problem both on the streets of France and for Europe,” said Reynié.

In the first round of voting, Macron’s En Marche!, or Onwards! party, achieved a majority in 240 constituencies versus Le Pen’s 216. However, Reynié says this is simply not enough. “The smaller Macron’s majority the harder it will be for him to win the general election in June. He needs support; it is not possible to have power as President without support. “This could cause parliament to be largely fragmented like in the first round, with discussions taking place in fractured groups. Macron will have to negotiate with MPs and will be fragile and unpopular.”

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Has been for years.

Italy Is Europe’s Next Big Problem (BBG)

Emmanuel Macron looks on course to become France’s new president, ending the threat of a euroskeptic at the Elysee. Even if Macron wins, though, it’ll be too soon to celebrate a new phase of stability in the euro zone. Across the Alps, an economic and political storm is brewing – and there’s no sign anyone can stop it. Italy’s economic problems are in many ways worse than France’s. Public debt stands at nearly 133% of gross domestic product; in France, it’s 96%. The last time Italy grew faster than France was in 1995. Both countries have struggled to stay competitive internationally – but French productivity has risen by roughly 15% since 2001, whereas Italy’s has stagnated.

Meanwhile Italian politics goes from bad to worse. The Five Star Movement, a populist force that wants to hold a referendum on Italy’s membership of the euro system, is riding high in the polls and currently neck and neck with the center-left Democratic Party. The general election, scheduled for next spring, is unlikely to produce a clear winner – and there’s even a small chance it may result in a Eurosceptic government, if the Five Stars were to win enough votes and form an alliance with the fiercely anti-euro Northern League. Europhiles in Italy are busily looking for an Italian Macron – someone who could offer a liberal remedy for Italy’s economic woes while fighting off the threat of “It-exit.” Investors would like that. In the autumn, the European Central Bank looks set to slow its purchases of government debt. The prospect of political instability in Rome could spook investors, raising doubts over the sustainability of Italy’s debt.

In many ways, Matteo Renzi, Italy’s former prime minister, who resigned after a heavy defeat in December’s constitutional referendum, would be the obvious choice. At 42, he is only three years older than Macron. He too has sought to modernize the left, even though he preferred to climb through the ranks of his party, rather than set up a new one as Macron did. The trouble is that Renzi looks increasingly like a spent force. He has just obtained a fresh mandate as party leader, but many Italians doubt his promises because he reneged on a pledge to quit politics if he lost the referendum. His message has also become muddled. He claims to be pro-EU, but never misses a chance to bash Brussels – for imposing fiscal austerity, especially. Why should voters opt for Renzi’s half-hearted euroskepticism when they can have the real thing?

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“Money does not give you the right to fund revolutions to recast the world in your image.”

Soros At it Again – Trying to Overthrow Polish Government? (Martin Armstrong)

QUESTION: Mr. Armstrong, I attended your March 1999 conference in Tokyo when I worked for ___ bank. I remember you called out Soros and crew and said they were trying to manipulate the yen for fiscal year end. You warned the Japanese how to defeat the Club. If I remember, he and his crew lost $1 billion when everyone in Tokyo followed your advice. Many assumed what they did to you 6 months later was retribution. Now he is at it in Poland funneling money he made from such trading in through Norway to create political unrest. What is it with this guy? Why does he play God?

ANSWER: Oh yes. I remember that event very clearly. That’s why they started calling me Mr. Yen because it was me and our clients against the Club and the Club lost. They were trying to push the yen down for the fiscal year-end roll of March 31st and then run it up into April 1st. They had our clients lock it in and that forced the manipulators out. That was a wild day – 3 big figures in a single day in an outside-reversal was a big move back then. I know the rumor was that Soros was in on that and the Club lost $1 billion. Not sure how much they lost on that one. It was the good-old fun days of confrontations. The Polish government wants to stop the distribution of Norwegian money flowing into Poland coming from Soros’ funded Batory Foundation, which manages over 800 million euros with a target of overthrowing the Polish government by 2020.

Since 2014, the Batory Foundation has distributed some 130 million zlotys (around 31.7 million euros) to various associations and organizations within Poland to change the government. According to Bloomberg, this includes organizations for the promotion of parliamentary democracy , but only if it agrees with Soros agenda. Effectively, Soros is trying to defeat ‘Catholic values’ in Poland which are supported by the population and government. [..] Soros has publicly stated he does not believe in God. Many who worked for him said they think he believes he is a god with the right to reshape the world in his image. So have many throughout history and they are responsible for the murder of countless millions. Money does not give you the right to fund revolutions to recast the world in your image.

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Merkel knows Putin can’t give in on Ukraine. Useless rhetoric.

In Tense Encounter, Merkel Tells Putin Sanctions Must Remain (BBG)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told President Vladimir Putin that EU sanctions will have to remain on Russia as the two leaders clashed over Ukraine, human rights and election meddling at a chilly encounter in the Black Sea city of Sochi. Addressing a joint press conference with Putin after about two hours of talks on Tuesday, Merkel raised concerns about the rights of homosexuals in Chechnya and Russia’s role in the war in Syria. She devoted much of her time to the lack of progress in resolving the three-year-old conflict in Ukraine. While Putin sought to lay the blame on the Ukrainian government, the chancellor said that a cease-fire is required as part of the “arduous” so-called Minsk process for restoring peace in eastern Ukraine and appealed to him to make it happen.

“My goal remains to get to the point where we can lift EU sanctions, but there’s a link here,” Merkel told reporters on her first visit to Russia since May 2015. The peace process is “moving very slowly, we only make progress in small steps and constantly have setbacks.” Merkel, who met with President Donald Trump at the White House in March, is visiting Putin in her capacity as holder of the presidency of the Group of 20 nations. As well as Ukraine, Merkel and Putin discussed the civil war in Syria and the G-20 summit in Hamburg in July, when the Russian and U.S. presidents are scheduled to meet for the first time. Ukraine was the main flashpoint, with Putin reiterating his stance that the Russian-backed breakaway regions in southeastern Ukraine split off because of a “coup d’etat, an unconstitutional change of power in Kiev.”

Merkel noted the two leaders’ “different opinions” about the origins of the conflict in Ukraine, which spiraled after protests over a scrapped accord with the EU triggered the downfall of the Russian-backed government in 2014. “We don’t share this view,” Merkel said in the briefing, which dispensed with the usual pleasantries or leaders’ banter. “We think that the Ukrainian government came to power through democratic means.” Although she’s among Putin’s sternest critics, Merkel has sought to keep a channel open to the Russian leader even as she holds the line on EU sanctions, which are a response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and backing for Ukrainian separatists. Hours before Putin was scheduled to speak by phone with Trump on Tuesday, he responded again to allegations of electoral interference, saying “we never interfere in the political life of other countries.”

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There are people with less bias on Putin. Just not in US or EU politics.

‘It’s Very Important We Hear What Putin Has To Say’ – Oliver Stone (RT)

The man behind three films about American presidents, Oliver Stone, says his upcoming feature about Russian President Vladimir Putin “opens up a whole viewpoint that we as Americans haven’t heard,” and could help prevent “a dangerous situation – on the brink of war.” Academy Award-winning director and revered documentary filmmaker Stone said in interview with the Sydney Morning Herald that his new film about Putin will be released soon. “It’s not a documentary as much as a question and answer session,” he said. “Mr. Putin is one of the most important leaders in the world and in so far as the United States has declared him an enemy – a great enemy – I think it’s very important we hear what he has to say.” The film will present Putin’s viewpoint of political events since he was first elected president of Russia in March 2000.

“It opens up a whole viewpoint that we as Americans haven’t heard,” Stone told the newspaper, adding that his crew went to see the indefatigable Russian leader four times over the course of two years. “I talked to him originally about the Snowden affair, which is in the film. And out of that grew, I think, a trust that he knew that I would not edit it so much,” he said, adding that Putin “talks pretty straight.” “I think we did him the justice of putting [his comments] into a Western narrative that could explain their viewpoint in the hopes that it will prevent continued misunderstanding and a dangerous situation – on the brink of war.” The 70-year-old director also commented the accusations of Russian influence on the US presidential elections.

“That’s a path that leads nowhere to my mind. That’s an internal war of politics in the US in which the Democratic Party has taken a suicide pact or something to blow him up; in other words, to completely de-legitimize him and in so doing blow up the US essentially. “What they’re doing is destroying the trust that exists between people and government. It’s a very dangerous position to make accusations you cannot prove,” he added. Stone also said he does not believe claims circulating in the mainstream media that Moscow allegedly passed some classified documents to WikiLeaks in a bid to influence the November US elections. “I hold Assange [WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange] in high regard in many issues of state. I take very seriously his statement that he received no information from Russia or any state actors,” Stone said.

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“.. it is French and German taxpayers who will pay the price when the Greek debt is inevitably written off.”

I should get the book later this week.

Adults in the Room – One Of The Greatest Political Memoirs Ever (Mason)

Varoufakis began on the outside – both of elite politics and the Greek far left – swerved to the inside, and then abruptly abandoned it, after he was sacked by his former ally, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras, in July 2015. He dramatises his intent throughout the crisis with a telling anecdote. He’s in Washington for a meeting with Larry Summers, the former US treasury secretary and Obama confidant. Summers asks him point blank: do you want to be on the inside or the outside? “Outsiders prioritise their freedom to speak their version of the truth. The price is that they are ignored by the insiders, who make the important decisions,” Summers warns. Elected politicians have little power; Wall Street and a network of hedge funds, billionaires and media owners have the real power, and the art of being in politics is to recognise this as a fact of life and achieve what you can without disrupting the system.

That was the offer. Varoufakis not only rejected it – by describing it in frank detail now, he is arming us against the stupidity of the left’s occasional fantasies that the system built by neoliberalism can somehow bend or compromise to our desire for social justice. In this book, then, Varoufakis gives one of the most accurate and detailed descriptions of modern power ever written – an achievement that outweighs his desire for self-justification during the Greek crisis. He explains, with a weariness born of nights in soulless hotels and harsh-lit briefing rooms, how the modern power network is built. Aris gets a loan from Zorba’s bank; Zorba writes off the loan but Zorba’s construction company gets a contract from Aris’s ministry. Aris’s son gets a job at Zorba’s TV station, which for some reason is always bankrupt and so can never pay tax – and so on.

“The key to such power networks is exclusion and opacity,” Varoufakis writes. As sensitive information is bartered, “two-person alliances forge links with other such alliances … involving conspirators who conspire de facto without being conscious conspirators”. In the process of telling this story, Varoufakis not only spills the beans but beans of the kind the Greeks call gigantes – fat ones, full of juice. The first revelation is that not only was Greece bankrupt in 2010 when the EU bailed it out, and that the bailout was designed to save the French and German banks, but that Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy knew this; and they knew it would be a disaster.

This charge is not new – it was levelled at the financial elite at the time by leftwing activists and rightwing economists. But Varoufakis substantiates it with quotes – some gleaned from the tapes of conversations and phone calls he was, unbeknown to the participants, making at the time. Even now, two years after the last Greek election, this is of more than academic interest. Greece remains burdened by billions of euros of debt it cannot pay. Because of the actions taken in 2010-11 – saving private banks by saddling north European states with massive debts – it is French and German taxpayers who will pay the price when the Greek debt is inevitably written off.

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Not going to happen until after the German fall election.

Greece, Creditors To Discuss Options For Debt Restructuring (CNBC)

Greece and its creditors are expected to discuss ways to restructure the country’s debt ahead of a meeting of euro zone finance ministers on May 22, a European official told CNBC on Tuesday. Athens agreed on Tuesday to introduce new laws on labor, energy reforms, pension cuts, and tax rises. This paves the way for a fresh disbursement of money from creditors in mid-June, but above all it allows Greece, its European creditors, and the IMF to consider how they will restructure the country’s debt. A European official who follows the bailout talks told CNBC that there isn’t a specific date for a solution to Greece’s debt but the first discussions on this issue will start soon. “From now until the Eurogroup meeting of May 22 there will be discussions to consider options for debt relief,” the official said.

Greece has to legislate the new reforms within two weeks. However, these new laws won’t take effect until 2019 and 2020 and will be dependent on the country’s economic performance. For example, among the new measures is the promise to cut pensions in 2019 and cut the tax-free threshold in 2020 to produce savings worth 2% of GDP. But if Athens exceeds its targets, it is allowed to offset the austerity measures and reduce taxes. During the first stages of talks on debt restructuring, the European Stability Mechanism, which is the euro zone’s permanent bailout fund, will produce a new debt sustainability analysis. Current economic forecasts indicate that Greece’s public debt stood at about 180% of GDP in 2016. The IMF will also be doing its debt sustainability analysis to include the recently-agreed measures.

The Fund wants an agreement on measures to make Greece’s debt more sustainable before deciding whether it is participating with its own money in the Greek bailout program. Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, spokesperson to the Greek government told reporters last month, that the IMF will make a “small” funding contribution that will not last for more than one year, so it ends at the same time as the current European program, which runs out in August of 2018. The IMF’s participation in the third bailout program to Greece is key for many euro countries, which perceive the fund’s involvement as giving credibility to the reform process in Greece. One of these countries is Germany, but the upcoming federal election might reduce Berlin’s room to restructure Greece’s debt.

“We will get some IMF participation, but no significant number,” Johannes Mayr, head of economic research at Bayern LB ,told CNBC via email. On the debt issue, “we need a compromise between the IMF and the EU/ESM (European Stability Mechanism), he said, “and this is realistic only after the German elections.” Neil Dwane, global strategist at Allianz Global Investors, added: “National governments, like Germany, would lose popularity if they wrote off Greek debt.” “I would expect more extend and pretend from the EU and the IMF,” he said via email.

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No Greek default, but nothing else either: again, until after the German fall election. And even then.

Greece Will Avoid Default After Bailout Deal – But Faces More Austerity (G.)

The long road to Greece emerging from its worst financial crisis in modern times reached another milestone on Tuesday as the country concluded a crucial compliance review that will allow it to avert default in July. At the cost of yet more painful austerity – in the form of extra pension cuts and tax increases – international creditors agreed to disburse €7.5bn (£6.3bn) in emergency loans to enable Athens to honour maturing debt repayments. More importantly, lenders accepted to set talks in motion on making Greece’s debt mountain more manageable – vital if the country is to gain access to the capital markets from which it has been almost completely exiled since 2009. [..] The deal ends more than six months of intense wrangling over the fiscal and structural reforms that Athens must implement in exchange for loans from its third, €86bn bailout programme.

Although the programme was outlined in 2015 when Greece came closest to crashing out of the eurozone and reverting to the drachma, the conditions attached to the lifeline remained open to negotiation. Discord most recently had focused on labour reforms and pensions – two issues that Tsakalotos, a British-trained Marxist economics professor, had felt especially strongly about. Under the agreement, the leftist-led government undertook to further slash pensions by 18% as of 2019. Pension payments have now been reduced 12 times since the start of the crisis, and cut by 40% in the past six years. With poorer out-of-work families often depending on them, news of a further drop was met with fury by union leaders, who immediately announced industrial action.

The two-party coalition led by the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, also agreed to broaden the tax-free threshold by effectively dispensing with tax breaks as of 2020. Both measures are expected to produce savings worth €3.6bn or 2% of GDP. “It will be a very hot spring,” Odysseus Trivalas, acting president of the union of public sector employees, told the Guardian. “We have yet to see the details of this agreement but what we know is that it will mean further cuts. There will be a lot of strikes and a general 24-hour lockdown when the measures are brought to parliament for vote.”

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“On a corner of Monastiraki Square full of tourists and passers-by, a group of volunteers from the soup kitchen O Allos Anthropos (The Fellow Man) cook chicken with rice. In less than 20 minutes, 230 hot meals are delivered to people who waited more than an hour to get them.”

Greek Poverty Deepens During Seven Years Of Austerity (AP)

Over the past seven years, austerity has left visible scars in Greece’s capital. A walk around Athens reveals more homeless people than ever despite some signs of a rosier economic outlook. Thousands of shops, mostly small businesses, are shuttered here and across the country. In what used to be a busy shopping arcade, closed stores are padlocked against a backdrop of hanging Greek flags. Whole families can be seen lining up for free meals at a growing number of soup kitchens. “Every day we feed 400 to 500 people, and this number has increased even more in the past two years,” says Evangelia Konsta, organizer and sponsor of the meals offered by the Church of Greece in a run-down neighborhood in central Athens.

Yesterday, IMF and European negotiators bailout negotiators reached an agreement with Greece’s government to continue rescue funding in return for a painful new round of cuts and higher taxes over the next three years. High unemployment and a steady decline of living standards for most Greeks for seven consecutive years have had lasting effects. Greece has survived on international rescue loans since 2010, granted by the IMF and other countries using the euro currency in exchange for drastic cuts in public spending and benefits. Greece is now in its third bailout. A few steps away from the Church-run soup kitchen is a homeless shelter also run by the Church. Guests in its tiny rooms include one family with their young children and a retired nurse suffering from cancer who is still waiting to get her pension application approved.

Another shelter, the “Shelter of Love and Solidarity,” has a great view of the ancient Acropolis that’s barely noticed by the hundreds of homeless and poor who come twice a week to wash their clothes and take a hot bath. “The shelter is the best option for us because the government doesn’t really do anything for us,” says Ilias Kosmidis, 38, who has been sleeping on the street for the past two years. While waiting to wash their clothes, people at the shelter have developed friendships, and catch up on the news, including the French presidential election. Sofia Vitalaki and her husband Costas, both retired civil servants, have run the shelter since 1991. “It’s not just the food,” she says. “Most people want their dignity back and here we try to support them.”

On a corner of Monastiraki Square full of tourists and passers-by, a group of volunteers from the soup kitchen O Allos Anthropos (The Fellow Man) cook chicken with rice. In less than 20 minutes, 230 hot meals are delivered to people who waited more than an hour to get them. At the end of every month, it’s become a familiar sight outside banks: pensioners waiting in huge lines to collect their monthly checks. Few know how to use ATMs. While in line, they fret over how to make ends meet after years of cuts to their earnings, worrying about more austerity being planned. They won’t have long to wait till the next round of cuts. The government on Tuesday finalized its agreement with bailout lenders to ax pensions further, starting on January 1, 2019.

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Apr 292017
 
 April 29, 2017  Posted by at 10:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Pablo Picasso Self portrait 1972

 

US Q1 Growth Weakest In Three Years As Consumer Spending Falters (R.)
Don’t Show President Trump This Chart (ZH)
Just Five Companies Account For 28% Of The S&P’s 2017 Returns (ZH)
Germany Knew Austerity Would Destroy Greece, Says Varoufakis (Tel.)
EU Deletes UK from Official Map – Two Years Before Brexit (BT)
These Americans Will Never Get Social Security Benefits (MW)
Julian Assange Speaks Out: The War On The Truth (Ron Paul)
US Spy Agency Abandons Controversial Surveillance Technique (R.)
Russian Economy Has Grown Immune to Western Sanctions – UN (Sp.)
California Enacts $52 Billion Fuel Tax Hike For Road, Bridge Repairs (R.)
Melenchon Attacks Macron as Le Pen Fights to Win His Supporters (BBG)
US Troops Deploy Along Syria-Turkish Border (AP)
Tensions Escalate Between Kurdish Forces, Turkish Troops in North Syria (ARA)
‘Europe’s Dirty Secret’: Officials On Chios Scramble To Cope With Rising Tensions (G.)

 

 

Consumption growth lowest since 2009.

US Q1 Growth Weakest In Three Years As Consumer Spending Falters (R.)

The U.S. economy grew at its weakest pace in three years in the first quarter as consumer spending almost stalled, but a surge in business investment and wage growth suggested activity would regain momentum as the year progresses. The soft patch at the start of the year is bad news for the Trump administration’s ambitions to significantly boost growth. “It marks a rough start to the administration’s high hopes of achieving 3% or better growth; this is not the kind of news it was looking for to cap its first 100 days in office,” said Sal Guatieri, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto. GDP increased at a 0.7% annual rate also as the government further cut defense spending and businesses spent less on inventories, the Commerce Department said on Friday in its advance estimate.

That was the weakest performance since the first quarter of 2014. The pedestrian first-quarter growth pace is, however, not a true picture of the economy’s health. Wage growth in the first quarter was the fastest in 10 years as the labor market nears full employment and business investment on equipment was the strongest since the third quarter of 2015. Also underscoring the economy’s underlying strength, consumer and business confidence are near multi-year highs. First-quarter GDP tends to underperform because of difficulties with the calculation of data that the government has acknowledged and is working to rectify.

[..] Growth in consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, braked to a 0.3% rate, the slowest pace since the fourth quarter of 2009. That followed the fourth quarter’s robust 3.5% growth rate. A mild winter undercut demand for heating and utilities production. Higher inflation, with the personal consumption expenditures price index averaging 2.4% – the highest since the second quarter of 2011 – was also a drag.

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Anti-Trump rally?!

Don’t Show President Trump This Chart (ZH)

It's been (almost) 100 days and stocks are higher, hype is at its peak, hope remains higher-ish… there's just one problem, real economic data is collapsing…

 

As today's Q1 GDP proved, relying on 'hope' and 'soft' data to lift a 'real' economy is simply a false narrative…

 

How will that translate into Making America Great Again?

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Bubble. But their power is real. And scary.

Just Five Companies Account For 28% Of The S&P’s 2017 Returns (ZH)

On the last day of the busiest earnings week in a decade, here is a striking statistic from Goldman Sachs, showing just how dominant a handful of large cap companies have become in terms of both overall profitability and market impact: “Year to date the top 10 contributors have combined to account for 37% of the S&P 500 index return (more than double their market cap representation of 17%). The concentration among the top five is even greater, with those firms – AAPL, FB, AMZN, GOOGL, and MSFT – accounting for 28% of the return and 12% of market cap.” Some further perspective, courtesy of the WSJ, which notes that the combined market capitalization of AMZN, MSFT, INTC and GOOG makes up about 8% of the Index’s total.

Throwing in Apple and Facebook puts about 13% of the S&P 500’s combined market cap into the hands of just six companies. This wasn’t always the case. “Ten years ago, Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Intel made up just 5% of the S&P 500’s market cap, while Facebook was four years away from becoming a public company. The newfound prominence of big tech companies now can be chalked up to a few factors. One is that most big tech companies are profit machines—unlike many of their smaller peers that are still losing money. Alphabet, Microsoft, Intel and Amazon reported a combined $16.8 billion in operating income for the March quarter on Thursday. That is about 7% of the total projected for the S&P 500. ”

“Amazon looks like an outlier with a rather thin operating margin of 2.8% for the quarter, but even that is a notable gain from its average of just 1.5% over the last five years. But the other, even bigger factor is that demand for technology products and services keeps increasing, even as some market segments like PCs have declined. That has allowed several big tech companies to pivot into new segments with the help of strong cash flows generated by their original businesses. Amazon, Microsoft and Google have built large cloud services used by businesses shifting from more traditional computing setups.”

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New book, series in the Telegraph.

Germany Knew Austerity Would Destroy Greece, Says Varoufakis (Tel.)

Greece was forced to sign up to crippling austerity policies even though the German finance minister privately admitted he would not have endorsed the deal. The extraordinary admission by Wolfgang Schauble was made to Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister, whose new memoir is serialised in The Telegraph all this weekend. In a frank private exchange, Mr Varoufakis asked Mr Schauble if he personally would sign up to the EU-ordered austerity plan which saw billions cut from Greek budgets and many Greeks lose their jobs. “As a patriot, no. It’s bad for your people,” the German minister replied. The Germans are also accused in the book of blocking a Chinese rescue deal for Greece and of repeatedly going back on promises and pledges made by other senior European figures as the EU battled to hold the eurozone together.

In a 500-page insider’s account of nearly six months of encounters with the leading political figures of Europe, Mr Varoufakis exposes the lengths to which Germany will go to maintain the EU and single currency. The minister secretly recorded many of his conversations with senior global figures and today exposes the gulf between private conversations and public pronouncements. In an interview today, Mr ≠Varoufakis says his experience contains dark warnings for Britain’s coming Brexit negotiations with a German-dominated EU. Angela Merkel warned this week that Britain should have no illusions about the coming talks and the EU yesterday put the ( issue of Irish reunification on the Brexit negotiating table. He warns that Theresa May must prepare an alternative deal as the EU will use dubious negotiating tactics to block reasonable discussion and potential solutions.

My advice to Theresa May is to avoid negotiation at all costs. If she doesn’t do that she will fall into the trap of [Greek prime minister] Alexis Tsipras, and it will end in capitulation, he told The Daily Telegraph. The parallel with Brexit is the tactic of stalling negotiations. They will get you on the sequencing. First there is the price of divorce to sort out before they will talk about free trade in the future, he added. In his book, Mr Varoufakis recounts how Germany used its political and financial muscle to impose austerity on Greece, despite widespread acknowledgement in other EU capitals that the policy was self-defeating and unsustainable. He reveals private encounters -many recorded secretly- with leading figures including Barack Obama, George Osborne and ( Emmanuel Macron, who polls say is almost certain to become the next president of France. In one conversation at the White House Mr Obama readily agrees that ‘austerity sucks’ but can do nothing to deflect the German agenda.

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Almost funny.

EU Deletes UK from Official Map – Two Years Before Brexit (BT)

This could be the first official map produced by the European Union to exclude the UK. But it is also an inaccurate one: the UK is still a member state of the EU. Brexit means Brexit: on 29 March, British Prime Minister Theresa May officially notified EU Council President Donald Tusk of Britain’s intention to leave the European Union. But Britain hasn’t left yet. By invoking Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, May triggered a process that gives both sides two years to reach an agreement. Meaning that Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on 29 March 2019. Until that time, the United Kingdom remains a full member of the European Union.

It is no secret that hardline brexiteers would rather leave today than tomorrow, and ‘crash out’ of the EU, even if that means falling back on the most rudimentary of agreements for trade and cooperation with ‘EU27’ – shorthand for the EU minus the UK. Now it seems that sentiment is reciprocated in the highest circles of the EU bureaucracy in Brussels. The map shows the unemployment rates of the member states – and the stark differences for those rates between member states in the north and south of the Union. But the eye is immediately drawn to the land mass of the United Kingdom: coloured not in the blues or oranges that indicate unemployment rates in the EU, but the grey of the non-member states that dot the map.

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Giving the news to you bite size.

These Americans Will Never Get Social Security Benefits (MW)

Today’s young people fear that they will never see Social Security benefits. The reality is, 3% of elderly Americans already don’t. The three main groups of people who never receive Social Security benefits include infrequent workers (44.3%) who do not have sufficient earnings to qualify for the benefits, immigrants who arrived in the US at 50 or older (37.3%) and therefore haven’t worked long enough to qualify for the benefits, and non-covered workers (11.4%), such as state and local government employees. A little less than 7% of “never beneficiaries” were individuals who were expected to get Social Security benefits, but died before receiving them, according to a 2015 Social Security Administration report.

What’s worse, most Americans may not realize how much they will – or will not – receive in Social Security benefits, said Bill Meyer, chief executive of Social Security Solutions, a software provider that strategizes how to claim Social Security. Social Security benefits are based on earnings history from the past 35 years – “The onus is on the individual retiree that the Social Security Administration has the right information,” Meyer said. Social Security benefits are hotly contested, specifically how — or even whether — those benefits will be distributed in the future. Young Americans say they’re not confident they’ll ever collect Social Security benefits (81% of millennials didn’t think so, at least, according to a recent Investopedia survey) but current near retirees may also be at risk.

In December, the House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee introduced a bill that would “save” Social Security by cutting benefits for above-average earners, eliminating the cost-of-living adjustment for individuals who make more than $85,000 (and $170,000 for couples), and increasing the full retirement age to 69 from 66.

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Vault7 the largest ever publication?

Julian Assange Speaks Out: The War On The Truth (Ron Paul)

Wikileaks Founder and Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange joins the Liberty Report to discuss the latest push by the Trump Administration to bring charges against him and his organization for publishing US Government documents. How will they get around the First Amendment and the Espionage Act? The US government and the mainstream media – some of which gladly publish Wikileaks documents – are pushing to demonize Assange in the court of public opinion.

Tyler Durden: Having blasted the Trump administration for their hyprocritical flip-flop from “loving WikiLeaks” to “arrest Assange,” Ron Paul made his feelings very clear on what this signals: “If we allow this president to declare war on those who tell the truth, we have only ourselves to blame.” Today he sits down with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for a live interview…

“The CIA has been deeply humiliated as a result of our ongoing publications so this is a preemptive move by the CIA to try and discredit our publications and create a new category for Wikileaks and other national security reporters to strip them of First Amendment protections,” Assange said in a preview clip from the interview below…:

 

Full interview below… 

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US intelligence has gone bonkers, and it may well be too late to rein it in.

US Spy Agency Abandons Controversial Surveillance Technique (R.)

The U.S. National Security Agency said on Friday it had stopped a form of surveillance that allowed it to collect without a warrant the digital communications of Americans who mentioned a foreign intelligence target in their messages, marking an unexpected triumph for privacy advocates long critical of the practice. The decision to stop the once-secret activity, which involved messages sent to or received from people believed to be living overseas, came despite the insistence of U.S. officials in recent years that it was both lawful and vital to national security. The halt is among the most substantial changes to U.S. surveillance policy in years and comes as digital privacy remains a contentious issue across the globe following the 2013 disclosures of broad NSA spying activity by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

“NSA will no longer collect certain internet communications that merely mention a foreign intelligence target,” the agency said in a statement. “Instead, NSA will limit such collection to internet communications that are sent directly to or from a foreign target.” NSA also said it would delete the “vast majority” of internet data collected under the surveillance program “to further protect the privacy of U.S. person communications.” The decision is an effort to remedy privacy compliance issues raised in 2011 by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a secret tribunal that rules on the legality of intelligence operations. [..] The NSA is not permitted to conduct surveillance within the United States. The so-called “about” collection went after messages that mentioned a surveillance target, even if the message was neither to nor from that person. That type of collection sometimes resulted in surveillance of emails, texts and other communications that were wholly domestic.

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Unintended consequences.

Russian Economy Has Grown Immune to Western Sanctions – UN (Sp.)

Maintaining the sanctions imposed by Western states will not negatively affect Russia’s economy, which has adapted to these restrictive measures, UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures Idriss Jazairy said Thursday. Jazairy stressed that the economy is adaptive to sanctions and the policies of its main trade partners, and thus the introduction of sanctions mostly harms the effectiveness of international trade, but not the country itself for which the sanctions were aimed against. Jazairy expressed his view on the anti-Russian sanctions during a meeting with the Russian upper house Council of the Federation Committee on Constitutional Legislation and State-Building chairman Andrei Klishas in Moscow.

Since 2014, relations between Russia and the European Union and the United States, deteriorated amid the crisis in Ukraine. Brussels, Washington and their allies introduced several rounds of sanctions against Russia on the pretext of its alleged involvement in the Ukrainian conflict, which Moscow has repeatedly denied. In response to the restrictive measures, Russia has imposed a food embargo on some products originating in countries that have targeted it with sanctions. On April 18, the IMF said in its World Economic Outlook report that Russian economic growth is expected to pick up in 2017 – 2018 and will reach 1.4% for both years.

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There are too many cars. That’s the only real problem. But no-one dares touch it.

California Enacts $52 Billion Fuel Tax Hike For Road, Bridge Repairs (R.)

California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law on Friday a bill to raise gasoline taxes and other transportation-related fees for the first time in decades in an ambitious $52 billion plan to repair the state’s long-neglected roads and bridges. The measure, increasing excise taxes on gasoline by 12 cents per gallon, from the current rate of $0.28 a gallon, and on diesel fuel by 20 cents per gallon over the next 10 years, goes into effect in November. It cleared the state legislature three weeks ago, on the strength of a two-thirds super-majority the Democrats wield in both houses that allows them to pass new taxes with little or no Republican support. Republicans condemned the increases, saying the state’s transportation taxes and fees are already among the highest in the nation. They call the newly enacted measure the largest gasoline tax in California’s history.

The average motorist in California, a state renowned for its car culture, will see transportation costs rise by about $10 a month under the measure, according to Brown, a Democrat who has governed largely as a fiscal moderate. He has refused to back any transportation overall plans that involved borrowing money. Supporters say the measure is needed to address a mounting backlog of crumbling infrastructure projects, including more than 500 bridges statewide requiring major repair, most of them considered structurally deficient. The fuel tax increases, together with higher vehicle licensing fees and a new $100 annual fee on owners of electric-only vehicles, would raise $5.2 billion a year, all earmarked for road, highway and bridge repairs and anti-congestion projects.

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Too many people are too sure Le Pen has no chance.

Melenchon Attacks Macron as Le Pen Fights to Win His Supporters (BBG)

The left-wing populist Jean-Luc Melenchon, who was eliminated from France’s presidential election this week, declined to endorse centrist front-runner Emmanuel Macron as he looked to keep hold of his 7.1 million voters ahead of a parliamentary ballot in June. Melenchon, who came fourth in Sunday’s first-round vote, said he won’t vote for the anti-euro nationalist Marine Le Pen in the runoff on the May 7 in a 32-minute video posted on his official YouTube channel late Friday. But he also aimed criticism at the centrist Macron who has won endorsements from most of his mainstream rivals, as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “We can’t really call this a choice,” Melenchon said. “The nature of the two candidates makes it impossible to come out of this with stability.”

“One because he’s the extreme of finance, the other because she’s the extreme right,” he added, saying his party, France Unbowed, will reach the second round in 450 of the 577 constituencies up for grabs in the lower chamber of parliament in June and Macron sees him as a “threat.” Politicians and observers across the European Union have been transfixed by the French election with Le Pen promising to pull out of the euro and erect barriers to trade with the rest of the bloc while Macron has vowed to revive the Franco-German partnership to begin a new era of continental cooperation. Le Pen is fighting to win over Melenchon’s supporters as she seeks to close a gap of some 20 %age points on her rival.

Despite the personal antipathy between Melenchon and Le Pen, their protectionist, anti-European platforms had lots in common. In a speech in Arras on Wednesday, Macron praised Melenchon’s “panache” and the wave of support he created in the campaign. Le Pen said on France 2 television on Monday that they had “very similar” economic ideas and her team acclaimed his “noble” act to hold back an endorsement. Surveys show that Melenchon voters are increasingly likely to abstain rather than back Macron on May 7. An OpinionWay polled Friday showed that 45% of Melenchon supporters plan to abstain in the second round, up from 23% at the start of the week. Macron’s support among that group fell to 40% from 55%, while Le Pen’s dropped to 15% from 22%.

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Looks like a positive development.

US Troops Deploy Along Syria-Turkish Border (AP)

US armoured vehicles are deploying in areas in northern Syria along the tense border with Turkey, a few days after a Turkish airstrike that killed 20 US-backed Kurdish fighters, a Syrian war monitor and Kurdish activists said Friday. Footage posted by Syrian activists online showed a convoy of US armoured vehicles driving on a rural road in the village of Darbasiyah, a few hundred meters from the Turkish border. Clashes in the area were reported between Turkish and Kurdish forces Wednesday a day after the Turkish airstrike which also destroyed a Kurdish command headquarters. The Turkish airstrikes, which also wounded 18 members of the US-backed People’s Protection Units, or YPG, in Syria were criticized by both the US and Russia.

The YPG is a close US ally in the fight against Daesh, also known as ISIS and ISIL, but is seen by Ankara as a terrorist group because of its ties to Turkey’s Kurdish rebels. Further clashes between Turkish and Kurdish forces in Syria could potentially undermine the US-led war on Daesh. A senior Kurdish official, Ilham Ahmad told AP that American forces began carrying out patrols along the border Thursday along with reconnaissance flights in the area. She said the deployment was in principle temporary, but may become more permanent. A Kurdish activist in the area, Mustafa Bali, said the deployment began Friday afternoon and is ongoing. He said deployment stretches from the Iraqi border to areas past Darbasiyah in the largely Kurdish part of eastern Syria.

“The US role has now become more like a buffer force between us and the Turks on all front lines,” he said. He said US forces will also deploy as a separation force in areas where the Turkish-backed Syrian fighting forces and the Kurdish forces meet. It is a message of reassurance for the Kurds and almost a “warning message” to the Turks, he said. Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, did not dispute that U.S. troops are operating with elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) along the Turkish border, but he would not get into specifics. The SDF is a Kurdish-dominated alliance fighting Daesh that includes Arab fighters. “We have U.S. forces that are there throughout the entirety of northern Syria that operate with our Syrian Democratic Force partners,” Davis said. “The border is among the areas where they operate.”

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Here’s why there are US tropps in the region.

Tensions Escalate Between Kurdish Forces, Turkish Troops in North Syria (ARA)

Clashes continued for the third consecutive day between Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Turkey’s military in several areas in northern Syria, military sources reported on Friday. The Turkish Army bombed several villages in the Kurdish Afrin district, including Panerak, Shankila, Midan Akbas and Rajo. “The Turkish artillery bombarded YPG security checkpoints and residential buildings in Afrin countryside, killing and wounding dozens, most of them civilians,” a spokesperson for the YPG told ARA News. The bombardment led to clashes between the Kurdish units and Turkish military forces in the sub-districts of Rajo and Shiya. “Our units responded to the Turkish offensive by hitting the positions of the Turkish troops near Susk hill in Afrin. At least three military vehicles were destroyed by YPG fire,” the Kurdish official said.

The YPG also released a video showing the destruction of a Turkish base in northwestern Aleppo. “At least 17 Turkish soldiers were killed and three others were wounded under heavy bombardment by the YPG,” a member of the YPG media office in Afrin told ARA News. The source added that the clashes between the YPG and Turkey’s military are still ongoing in the Shiya and Rajo sub-districts. Clashes broke out on Wednesday between the Syrian Kurdish forces and Turkish troops after the latter targeted the Kurdish town of Derbassiye in Syria’s northeastern Hasakah province with heavy artillery, shutting down the road between Derbassiye and Serikaniye. This coincided with similar clashes between the YPG and Turkish troops in Afrin. This comes after the Turkish jets killed over 25 Kurdish fighters in Iraq and Syria on Tuesday.

The US-led coalition expressed concerns over the Turkish attacks against the Kurdish fighters who are in war with ISIS in northern Syria. “We call on all forces to remain focused on the fight to defeat ISIS, which is the greatest threat to regional and worldwide peace, security,” said Air Force Col John L. Dorrian, Spokesman for the US-led coalition against ISIS. “Turkish strikes were conducted without proper coordination with the Coalition or the Government of Iraq,” he said. “Our partner forces have been killed by Turkey strike, they have made many sacrifices to defeat ISIS,” the American Colonel said. “We are troubled by Turkey airstrikes on SDF and Kurdish forces,” he added.

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This will not go quiet for much longer.

‘Europe’s Dirty Secret’: Officials On Chios Scramble To Cope With Rising Tensions (G.)

On a clear day the channel dividing Chios from the Turkish coast does not look like a channel at all. The nooks and crevices of Turkey’s western shores, its wind turbines and summer homes could, to the naked eye, be a promontory of the Greek island itself. For the men, women and children who almost daily make the crossing in dinghies and other smuggler craft, it is a God-given proximity, the gateway to Europe that continues to lure. Samuel Aneke crossed the sea almost a year ago on 1 June. Like those before him, and doubtless those who will follow, he saw the five-mile stretch as the last hurdle to freedom. “You could say geography brought me here,” said the Nigerian, a broad smile momentarily dousing his otherwise dour demeanour. “But it was not supposed to keep me prisoner.”

Refugee flows via Greece were meant to stop when the EU and Turkey announced what was seen as a pioneering agreement to stem the influx in March 2016. In Chios, like other Aegean isles, residents initially welcomed the accord. It was short-lived. The influx – one that saw more than 850,000 refugees arrive into the country in 2015 – was soon replaced by a steady flow, with asylum seekers arriving in groups that were sometimes small, sometimes large, but always propelled by the same ambition: to reach Europe by way of its southern shores. On Chios, more than 825 asylum seekers, the vast majority Syrians, arrived from Turkey in March. This month almost 600 have come. With at least 3,000, according to authorities, housed in two overcrowded camps – one makeshift, the other a razor-wire topped detention centre in a former factory known as Vial – it is anger that hangs in the air.

Greece’s Aegean isles have become de facto detention facilities – a dumpling ground for nearly 14,000 stranded souls, unable to move until permits are processed and fearful of what lies ahead. “Anything could happen because everything is hanging by a thread,” says Makis Mylonas, a policy adviser at the town hall. “Chios, Samos, Lesvos, Kos, Leros were sacrificed in the name of Europe’s fixation to keep immigrants out,” he claims, listing the isles that continue to bear the brunt of the flows.

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Jan 282017
 
 January 28, 2017  Posted by at 10:23 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Wassily Kandinsky Autumn Landscape with Boats 1908

US Economy Back Below “Stall Speed” (WS)
Dow Hits 20,000 As US National Debt Reaches $20 Trillion (Snyder)
US Auto Industry In Crisis Amid “Inventory Bubble” (ZH)
Trump’s Crusade on Drug Pricing Puts Both Parties on the Spot (BBG)
Trump Bars Door To Refugees, Visitors From Seven Nations (R.)
EU Lacks Leadership to Tackle Global Crises – Czech Minister (BBG)
‘It Looks as if the World Is Preparing for War’ – Gorbachev (Time)
Congresswoman Returns From Syria With ‘Proof’ Obama Funded ISIS (YNW)
UN Agency Cuts Food Aid To 1.4 Million Displaced Iraqis (AlJ)
The Media Is Now The Political Opposition (Paul Craig Roberts)
Lifting of Sanctions Could Be Costly To Russia (Paul Craig Roberts)
Want To Know How Society’s Doing? Forget GDP – Try These Alternatives (G.)
Canada May Contribute To Dutch-Led International Abortion Fund (AFP)
IMF Says Greece Debt ‘Explosive’ In Long Term (AFP)
Greece: The Game Is On Again (Coppola)

 

 

Nothing is real. And nothing to get hung about. Strawberry Fields forever.

US Economy Back Below “Stall Speed” (WS)

The consensus forecast by economists predicted that the US economy would grow at an rate of 2.2% in the fourth quarter, as measured by inflation-adjusted GDP. The forecasts ranged from 1.5% to 2.8%. The New York Fed’s “Nowcast” pegged it at 2.1%, and the Atlanta Fed’s “GDPNow” at 2.9%. And today, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that growth in the fourth quarter was a measly 1.9%. That was down from 3.5% in the third quarter, a spurt that had once again given rise to the now gutted hopes that the US economy would finally emerge from its stall speed. But instead it has slowed down. For the year 2016, the growth rate dropped to 1.6%. It was worse even than 2013, when GDP growth tottered along at 1.7%. And it matched the growth rate in 2011. Both 2016 and 2011 were the worst since 2009 when the US was in the middle of the Great Recession:

In fact, over the past 50 years, anytime the economy grew less than 2% in a year, it was either already in a recession for part of the year, or there’d be a recession the following year. Hence “stall speed” – a speed that is too slow to keep the economy from stalling altogether. [..] So stall speed for the year. But this time it’s different. This is the third year since the Great Recession when GDP growth dropped below 2%. The Fed’s policies of eight years of cheap credit have entailed soaring debt levels among companies, governments, and consumers – money borrowed from tomorrow that was spent today. Borrowing for productive investment is one thing. Borrowing for consumption is another: it boosts GDP but creates a debt overhang with no productive assets that generate income to service that debt in the future; that debt service for prior consumption then acts as a burden on future consumption.

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You can’t buy growth. You can just fake it for a while.

Dow Hits 20,000 As US National Debt Reaches $20 Trillion (Snyder)

The Dow Jones Industrial Average provides us with some pretty strong evidence that our “stock market boom” has been fueled by debt.  On Wednesday, the Dow crossed the 20,000 mark for the first time ever, and this comes at a time when the U.S. national debt is right on the verge of hitting 20 trillion dollars

 

Is this just a coincidence?  As you will see, there has been a very close correlation between the national debt and the Dow Jones Industrial Average for a very long time.

 

For example, when Ronald Reagan took office in 1991, the U.S. national debt had just hit 994 billion dollars and the Dow was sitting at 951.  And as you can see from this chart by Matterhorn.gold via David Stockman, roughly that same ratio has held true throughout subsequent presidential administrations…

During the Clinton years the Dow raced out ahead of the national debt, but an “adjustment” during the Bush years brought things back into line. The cold hard truth is that we have been living way above our means for decades.  Our “prosperity” has been fueled by the greatest debt binge in the history of the world, and we are greatly fooling ourselves if we think otherwise.We would never have gotten to 20,000 on the Dow if Barack Obama and Congress had not gotten us into an extra 9.3 trillion dollars of debt over the past eight years. Unfortunately, most people do not understand this, and the mainstream media is treating “Dow 20,000″ as if it is some sort of great historical achievement

“The average began tracking the most powerful corporate stocks in 1896, and has served as a broad measure of the market’s health through 22 presidents, 22 recessions, a Great Depression, at least two crashes and innumerable rallies, corrections, bull and bear markets. The blue chip reading finally cracked the 20,000 benchmark for the first time early Wednesday. During the current bull market, the second longest in history, the Dow has more than tripled since March 2009.”

Since Donald Trump’s surprise election victory, the Dow has now climbed by approximately 2150 points. And it took just 64 calendar days for the Dow to go from 19,000 to 20,000.  That is an astounding pace, and financial markets around the rest of the planet are doing very well right now too. In fact, global stocks rose to a 19 month high on Wednesday. So where do we go from here? Well, if Donald Trump wants to see Dow 30,000 during his presidency, then history tells us that he needs to take us to 30 trillion dollars in debt.

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“The last thing the auto industry needs is more capacity.”

US Auto Industry In Crisis Amid “Inventory Bubble” (ZH)

Despite record U.S. auto sales last year, the number of vehicles on car-dealer lots remains near record highs, and, as J.D.Power analyst Thomas King warned this week, 2016 ended with an inventory “bubble” that will require less production or more incentives to clear. With near record high inventories of 3.9 million vehicles… U.S. auto inventory finished 2016 at about 66 days supply, up from 60 days a year earlier. Inventory would last 2.23 months at the November sales pace, according to the latest available data from the Census Bureau. The stock-to-sales ratio in 2016 is extremely elevated compared to historical norms…

More problematically, King warns, about one-third of inventory were older model-year vehicles, rather than more typical level of less than a quarter. Of course this massive stockpile hits just as President Trump pressures the auto-industry to onshore more jobs and more production… But as the industry automates, factories don’t create jobs like they used to, said Marina Whitman, a professor of business administration and public policy at the University of Michigan. “The American auto industry last year produced more cars than it ever had before, but they did it with somewhere between one-third and one-half the number of workers that they had decades ago,” said Whitman, who was an adviser to President Richard Nixon and GM’s chief economist from 1978 to 1992. “The last thing the auto industry needs is more capacity,” she said.

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Hilarious to see how much money all these people get from the industry. And insane.

Trump’s Crusade on Drug Pricing Puts Both Parties on the Spot (BBG)

Donald Trump has a chance to rally his core supporters as well as left-wing Democrats, wrapping himself in the populist flag to take on the politically powerful drug industry. He is vowing to keep a campaign pledge to push legislation allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, a practice currently prohibited by law. Proponents say this would reduce drug prices and Medicare costs for the federal government. Medicare pays for about 29% of prescription drugs in the U.S. and would have considerable leverage. Trump would be taking on the leaders of his own party, starting with House Speaker Paul Ryan. Most Republicans have long argued that giving Medicare such power is tantamount to government price-setting, which ideologically they oppose and which they say would stifle innovation and research in the drug industry.

Many of them receive huge campaign contributions from the industry’s sizable political war chest. There are arguments over the merits and effects, but the politics are clear cut. In a Kaiser Foundation poll last autumn, the public, by 82% to 17%, favored allowing the federal government to negotiate lower drug prices. Huge majorities say costly drug prices – in recent years they have risen about four times the rate of inflation – are a major concern. These costs are felt by some of Trump’s strongest supporters, non-college educated whites. And liberals, led by politicians like Bernie Sanders, champion a robust government role to keep drug prices down.

[..] There was an instructive vote in the Senate this month on a closely related issue, allowing the importation of cheaper drugs from Canada. It failed 52 to 46. But it garnered the support of 10 Republicans, including deficit hawks like Rand Paul of Kentucky and Utah’s Mike Lee. However, 13 Democrats, most of them beneficiaries of industry political contributions, voted against the measure. Subsequently, they have gotten a lot of flak from liberal groups, which especially have targeted Cory Booker of New Jersey. He received $49,830 from the industry in the last election. If Trump goes all out on this issue, it will be near impossible for most of these Democrats to side with the industry over a Republican president whom they accuse of representing the interests of the rich. And, knowledgeable Congress watchers say, a number of Republicans, in the face of White House pressure and public opinion, would cave, too.

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This is a bump the entire west must go through.

Trump Bars Door To Refugees, Visitors From Seven Nations (R.)

President Donald Trump on Friday put a four-month hold on allowing refugees into the United States and temporarily barred travelers from Syria and six other Muslim-majority countries, saying the moves would help protect Americans from terrorist attacks. In the most sweeping use of his presidential powers since taking office a week ago, Trump paused the entry of travelers from Syria and the six other nations for at least 90 days, saying his administration needed time to develop more stringent screening processes for refugees, immigrants and visitors. “I’m establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America. Don’t want them here,” Trump said earlier on Friday at the Pentagon. “We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country and love deeply our people,” he said.

The order seeks to prioritize refugees fleeing religious persecution, a move Trump separately said was aimed at helping Christians in Syria. That led some legal experts to question whether the order was constitutional. One group said it would announce a court challenge on Monday. The Council on American-Islamic Relations said the order targets Muslims because of their faith, contravening the U.S. Constitutional right to freedom of religion. “President Trump has cloaked what is a discriminatory ban against nationals of Muslim countries under the banner of national security,” said Greg Chen of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. The bans, though temporary, took effect immediately, causing havoc and confusion for would-be travelers with passports from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Trump has long pledged to take this kind of action, making it a prominent feature of his campaign for the Nov. 8 election, but people who work with Muslim immigrants and refugees were scrambling on Friday night to determine the scope of the order. [..] Trump’s order also suspends the Syrian refugee program until further notice, and will eventually give priority to minority religious groups fleeing persecution. Trump said in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network that the exception would help Syrian Christians fleeing the civil war there. Legal experts were divided on whether this order would be constitutional. “If they are thinking about an exception for Christians, in almost any other legal context discriminating in favor of one religion and against another religion could violate the constitution,” said Stephen Legomsky, a former chief counsel at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Obama administration.

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But apparently he thinks this can change. Shame he doesn’t say how.

EU Lacks Leadership to Tackle Global Crises – Czech Minister (BBG)

The EU is unable to work with global superpowers in addressing conflicts and crises because it lacks leadership, Czech Finance Minister Andrej Babis said. “Europe is very slow, very bureaucratic,” Babis said. “The problem is who will sit together at the table” with leaders of the U.S., U.K., Russia “to solve the problem in the Middle East, North Africa, the migration. Europe is always waiting for elections” in countries including Germany and France, he said. The Czech billionaire, whose party leads polls ahead of the fall general elections, has been critical of the bloc his country joined in 2004 and the way it tackled a series of issues, including the migration crisis. He rejected a call from his fellow Czech interior minister to lead separate talks with the U.K. on Brexit, saying the EU needs to stay united in the negotiations. Babis said he was surprised by the announced “hard Brexit,” and urged Britain to activate Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty quickly to speed up the negotiations.

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He’s been here before.

‘It Looks as if the World Is Preparing for War’ (Gorbachev)

The world today is overwhelmed with problems. Policymakers seem to be confused and at a loss. But no problem is more urgent today than the militarization of politics and the new arms race. Stopping and reversing this ruinous race must be our top priority. The current situation is too dangerous. More troops, tanks and armored personnel carriers are being brought to Europe. NATO and Russian forces and weapons that used to be deployed at a distance are now placed closer to each other, as if to shoot point-blank. While state budgets are struggling to fund people’s essential social needs, military spending is growing. Money is easily found for sophisticated weapons whose destructive power is comparable to that of the weapons of mass destruction; for submarines whose single salvo is capable of devastating half a continent; for missile defense systems that undermine strategic stability.

Politicians and military leaders sound increasingly belligerent and defense doctrines more dangerous. Commentators and TV personalities are joining the bellicose chorus. It all looks as if the world is preparing for war. In the second half of the 1980s, together with the U.S., we launched a process of reducing nuclear weapons and lowering the nuclear threat. By now, as Russia and the U.S. reported to the Non-proliferation Treaty Review Conference, 80% of the nuclear weapons accumulated during the years of the Cold War have been decommissioned and destroyed. No one’s security has been diminished, and the danger of nuclear war starting as a result of technical failure or accident has been reduced. This was made possible, above all, by the awareness of the leaders of major nuclear powers that nuclear war is unacceptable.

I urge the members of the U.N. Security Council — the body that bears primary responsibility for international peace and security — to take the first step. Specifically, I propose that a Security Council meeting at the level of heads of state adopt a resolution stating that nuclear war is unacceptable and must never be fought. I think the initiative to adopt such a resolution should come from Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin — the Presidents of two nations that hold over 90% of the world’s nuclear arsenals and therefore bear a special responsibility.

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Tulsi Gabbard is a Democrat. Can we now please finally have a serious conversation about what the US has done to the Middle East/Northern Africa region? How are we ever going to atone for this if we don’t? Or would we rather continue in denial?

Congresswoman Returns From Syria With ‘Proof’ Obama Funded ISIS (YNW)

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard told CNN that she has proof the Obama administration was funding ISIS and Al-Qaeda.Hawaii Rep. Gabbard went to Syria on a secret fact-finding mission to wade through the lies and propaganda and find out what is really happening on the ground. Immediately on her return CNN booked her for an “exclusive” interview – and Gabbard told them exactly what they didn’t want to hear: she has proof the Obama administration was funding ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Explaining to Jake Tapper that she met people from all walks of life in Aleppo and Damascus, Gabbard said that Syrians “expressed happiness and joy at seeing an American walking their streets.” But they also wanted to know “why is it that the United States, its allies and other countries, are providing support, are providing arms, to terrorist groups like Al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda, ISIS, who are on the ground there, raping, kidnapping, torturing, and killing the Syrian people?

“They asked me why is the United States supporting these terrorist groups who are destroying Syria – when it was Al-Qaeda who attacked the United States on 9/11, not Syria. “I didn’t have an answer for that.“ That was more than Jake Tapper, who was hostile from the beginning of the interview, could handle. His face screwed up, he lashed out, saying, “Obviously the United States government denies providing any sort of help to the terrorist groups you are talking about, they say they provide help for the rebel groups.“ If that was supposed to Tapper’s knockout blow, Gabbard saw it coming a mile away. Without missing a beat, she calmly deconstructed his ideological, and savagely wrong, talking points.

“The reality is, Jake – and I’m glad you bought up that point – every place that I went, every person I spoke to, I asked this question to them. And without hesitation, they said ‘there are no moderate rebels, who are these moderate rebels that people keep speaking of?’ “Regardless of the name of these groups, the strongest fighting force on the ground in Syria is Al-Nusra or Al-Qaeda and ISIS. That is a fact. There are a number of different other groups, all of them are fighting alongside, with or under the command of the strongest group on the ground that is trying to overthrow Assad.”

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We have so much to answer for.

UN Agency Cuts Food Aid To 1.4 Million Displaced Iraqis (AlJ)

The World Food Programme (WFP) has slashed food rations distributed to 1.4 million displaced Iraqis by 50% because of delays in payments from donor states. The sharp cutbacks come at a time when a growing number of Iraqis flee the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group. At least 160,000 people have been displaced since October when the Iraqi military, backed by Kurdish forces and Shia militias. launched a military campaign to recapture Mosul from the armed group. WFP spokeswoman Inger Marie Vennize said the UN agency was talking to the United States – its biggest donor, Germany, Japan and others to secure funds to restore full rations.

“We have had to reduce [the rations] as of this month,” she was quoted by the Reuters news agency as saying. “The 50% cuts in monthly rations affect over 1.4 million people across Iraq,” she added. The effect is already being felt in camps east of Mosul, ISIL’s last major bastion in northern Iraq. “They are giving an entire family the food supply of one person … we want to go back home,” said Omar Shukri Mahmoud at the Hassan Sham camp. Safa Shaker, who fled with her extended family, said: “We are a big family and this ration is not going to be enough. “We escaped from [ISIL] in order to have a chance to live and now they have cut the aid. How are we supposed to live?” she added.

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I wouldn’t shoot from the hip as much as PCR does, but in essence he’s right. Old media, CNN, WaPo, NYT, have wasted so much of their credibility. And they’re not taking any step back from that. it’s till all just echo-chambering.

The Media Is Now The Political Opposition (Paul Craig Roberts)

Stephen Bannon is correct that the US media—indeed, the entire Western print and TV media—is nothing but a propaganda machine for the ruling elite. The presstitutes are devoid of integrity, moral conscience, and respect for truth. Who else but the despicable Western media justified the enormous war crimes committed against millions of peoples by the Clinton, Bush, and Obama regimes in nine countries—Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, Palestine, and the Russian areas of Ukraine? Who else but the despicable Western media justified the domestic police states that have been erected in the Western world in the name of the “war on terror”? Along with the war criminals that comprised the Clinton, Bush, and Obama regimes, the Western media should be tried for their complicity in the massive crimes against humanity.

The Western media’s effort to sustain the high level of tension between the West and Russia is a danger to all mankind, a direct threat to life on earth. Gorbachev’s warnings are correct. Yet presstitutes declare that if Trump lifts the sanctions it proves that Trump is a Russian agent. It is paradoxical that the Democrats and the liberal-progressive-left are mobilizing the anti-war movement to oppose Trump’s anti-war policy! By refusing to acknowledge and to apologize for its lies, euphemistically called “fake news,” the Western media has failed humanity in a number of other ways. For example, by consciously telling lies, the media has legitimized the suborning of perjury and false testimony used to convict innocent defendants in America’s “justice” system, which has about the same relation to justice as genocide has to mercy.

If the media can lie about world events, police and prosecutors can lie about crimes. By taking the role of the political opposition to Trump, the media has discredited itself as an honest critic on topics where Trump needs criticism, such as the environment and his tolerance of oppressive methods used by police. The presstitutes have ended all chance of improving Trump’s performance with reports and criticism. Trump needs moderating on the environment, on the police, and on the war on terror. Trump needs to understand that “the Muslim threat” is a hoax created by the neoconservatives and the military/security complex with the complicity of the presstitutes to serve the hegemony agenda and the budget and power of the CIA, Pentagon, and military industries.

If the US stops bombing and slaughtering Muslims and training and equiping forces to overthrow non-compliant Muslim governments such as Syria, Iraq, and Libya, “the Muslim threat” will disappear. Maybe Trump will add to his agenda breaking into hundreds of pieces the six mega-media companies that own 90% of the US media and selling the pieces to seperate independent owners who have no connection to the ruling elites. Then America would again have a media that can constrain the government with truth rather than use lies to act for or against the government.

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Russia knows.

Lifting of Sanctions Could Be Costly To Russia (Paul Craig Roberts)

Tweets on social media say Trump is about to lift the sanctions placed on Russia by the Obama regime. Being a showman, Trump would want to make this announcement himself, not have it made for him by someone outside his administration. Nevertheless, the social media tweets are a good guess. Reports are that Trump and Putin will speak tomorrow. The conversation cannot avoid the issue of sanctions. Trump during his first week has moved rapidly with his agenda. He is unlikely to delay lifting the sanctions. Moreover, there is no cost to Trump of lifting them. The sanctions have no support in the US and Western business communities. The only constituency for the sanctions were the neoconservatives who are not included in the Trump administration.

Victoria Nuland, Susan Rice, Samantha Power are gone along with much of the State Department. So there is nothing in Trump’s way. President Putin is correct that the sanctions helped Russia by pushing Russia to be more economically independent and by pushing Russia toward developing economic relationships with Asia. Lifting the sanctions could actually hurt Russia by integrating Russia into the West. The Russian government should take note that the only sovereign country in the West is the United States. All the rest are US vassals. Could Russia escape the same fate? Anyone integrated into the West is subject to Washington’s pressure. The problem with the sanctions is that they are an insult to Russia. The sanctions are based on lies that the Obama regime told.

The real purpose of the sanctions was not economic. The purpose was to embarrass Russia as an outlaw state and to isolate the outlaw. Trump cannot normalize relations with Russia if he lets this insult stand. Therefore, the social media tweets are likely to be correct that Trump is about to lift the sanctions. This will be good for US-Russian relations, but perhaps not so good for the Russian economy and Russian sovereignty. The Western capitalists would love to get Russia deep in debt and to buy up Russia’s industries and raw materials. The sanctions were a partial protection against foreign influence over the Russian economy, and so the removal of the sanctions is like removing a shield as well as removing an insult.

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I like measuring well-being through grain prices, but at the same time I don’t think basic needs should be subject to the same ‘market forces’ as cellphones etc. As growth and globalism vanish, we should all produce out own basics.

Want To Know How Society’s Doing? Forget GDP – Try These Alternatives (G.)

Here are the week’s leading indicators. The Dow Jones industrial average topped 20,000 points for the first time. British GDP grew 0.6% in the final quarter of 2016. The FTSE 100 and Germany’s DAX 30 persisted close to record highs, while US GDP softened slightly. Bored yet? I am. As a former financial journalist, I’m well acquainted with the merry-go-round of indicators that blip in and out of our lives like digital dopamine, telling us how well we’re doing. As a human being, I’m increasingly alarmed that these are just irrelevant numbers that have little or no bearing on how well we are really doing. [..] I’d rather suggest a series of other metrics that give a clearer indication of where humanity is at. Perhaps these are the key performance indicators we should hardwire into our reporting calendar:

Inequality ratios One of the lessons of the 20th century was that inequality breeds revolt and revolutions never end well. One of the lessons of the 21st century is that people seem to be determined not to learn the lessons of the 20th century. The Gini coefficient is a crude measure of how unequal societies are becoming. Some economists have been toying with another measure, the Palma ratio, which is better at discerning how much richer the richest cohort are getting, compared with the poorest. Both tell us much about our direction of travel.

Grain prices If we must focus on financial instruments, edible commodities are surely more interesting than stock and bond prices. You can’t eat a three-month Treasury bill, after all. In 2007/08, a wave of riots swept the developing world as the cost of basic foodstuffs soared. Governments fell. A dotted line joined that manifestation of unrest with the Arab spring four years later. Food matters. We routinely write that as many as a billion people on the planet are hungry, malnourished. That’s far more than the number with Dow Jones tracker funds.

Carbon dioxide, parts per million, in the atmosphere The most scary dataset of all. It goes up every year. And so do global temperatures. If this carries on for another couple of decades, people won’t be inspecting their portfolios – they’ll be foraging in the woods. Has anyone read The Road?

Antidepressant prescriptions A veritable bellwether for so much – from the wretched state we’re in psychologically to the inadequacies of our healthcare systems. Prescriptions have doubled in England in the past decade. An interest to declare: I take them, and believe they work for me. But I also firmly believe they are prescribed far too readily, by overstretched GPs who have only six minutes to speak to patients and little recourse to anything other than pills. Personally, I’d be willing to shave a couple of points off GDP in return for a more comprehensive programme to address this 21st-century epidemic.

Homelessness Not just in the UK, where it’s risen for six years in a row, but in California, Paris, Moscow. Surely, one of the first questions a newly arrived alien might ask upon landing in Britain would be “why do so many of you earthlings live outside?”, and not “how are my BT shares doing?”

Dependency ratio Admittedly, this is not a thrilling one to monitor as it doesn’t move much. But it is moving – and in the wrong direction for lots of developed countries. The dependency ratio is the number of working-age people compared with the number of children and those over retirement age. According to the Resolution foundation, there are currently seven dependants for every 10 working-age Britons, but this will increase to eight in the 2020s and nine by 2050.

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It’s not an abortion fund, it’s much wider than that: “sexual reproductive rights, including abortion”.

Canada May Contribute To Dutch-Led International Abortion Fund (AFP)

Canada is considering contributing to a Dutch-led international fund to support abortion services in developing countries, set up in response to Donald Trump’s order to halt financing of NGOs that support the practice. A spokesman for Canada’s international development minister, Marie-Claude Bibeau, told AFP the minister had spoken with her Dutch counterpart about the fund, and was considering donating an unspecified sum to it or a similar measure that would support “sexual reproductive rights, including abortion” abroad. “Sexual health and reproductive rights will be at the heart of Canada’s new international assistance policy,” spokesman Louis Belanger said in an email.

“We will continue to explore opportunities to work together to advance women’s empowerment by expanding access to sexual and reproductive health services including abortion,” he said. Canada is set to unveil its new foreign aid strategy in the coming weeks. A decision on the fund would either be included or follow soon after that announcement. Trump on Monday signed a decree barring US government funding for foreign NGOs that support abortion. The restrictions prohibit them from also providing abortion information, counseling or referrals, or engaging in advocacy to promote abortion. Lilianne Ploumen, the Dutch minister for foreign trade and development cooperation, said when she announced the new fund that the Netherlands must do everything in its power to offset the US ban so that “women can remain in control of their own bodies”.

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Broken record.

IMF Says Greece Debt ‘Explosive’ In Long Term (AFP)

Greece’s government debt remains “highly unsustainable,” and will be “explosive” in the longer run, requiring a more credible debt relief plan from Europe, the International Monetary Fund said in a report obtained by AFP. Addressing the debt burden of the beleaguered nation will require “significant debt relief” from European institutions, including dramatically extending the grace periods and maturities of the loans, the IMF said in it’s annual report on the Greek economy, which includes a debt sustainability analysis. The IMF board is due to discuss the report February 6. Even with full implementation of the economic reforms the country has agreed to, “Greece’s debt is highly unsustainable” and “will become explosive in the long run,” as the government will have to replace highly-subsidized official financing with market financing at much higher rates, the IMF said.

The pessimistic report, though in keeping with the fund’s repeated statements on the topic, makes it more unlikely the IMF stays on the sidelines of any new European loan deal for Greece. Months of bickering have delayed progress of Greece’s 86-billion-euro ($92.4 billion) bailout program agreed in 2015 and officials increasingly are worried that elections this year in the Netherlands, France and Germany could further poison any progress. The IMF report says that in order to “provide more credibility to the debt strategy for Greece, further specificity will be needed regarding the type and scope of debt relief to be expected” from Europe. This must include “ambitious extensions of grace and maturity periods, a full deferral of interest on European loans, as well as a locking in of the interest rate on a significant amount of European loans … to put debt on a sustained downward path.”

The IMF calls for extending the grace period until 2040, during which time no debt payments would be required, and extending the maturity of the loans to 30 years in some cases to 2070, dramatically longer than what Europe agreed to in 2012. At the heart of the dispute over the new loan program is a demand by the eurozone that Greece deliver a primary balance, or surplus on public spending before debt repayments, of 3.5% of GDP, far in excess of the 1.5% the IMF says is feasible. The target is very high – and most countries do not even come close – but Germany and other eurozone hardliners are insistent that Greece reach it for several years after its current program concludes in 2018. Eurogroup head Jeroen Dijsselbloem insisted on Thursday that the IMF remained committed to the Greek bailout program, despite repeated calls by the IMF for more realistic targets and more debt relief.

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1) The IMF is to a large extent playing a double role, and is comfortable in that role.

2) Yes, ‘pensions-to-GDP’ is very high in Greece, but that is only because other benefits simply don’t exist. Pensions can only be cut further if an unemployment benefits program is initiated. Everyone involved knows this, it’s just that some (IMF) prefer to act as if they don’t. Because such a program would cost money.

3) The demise of Greece as a nation is as much the shame of the IMF as that of Germany and the EU. The consequences of the demise will be too.

Greece: The Game Is On Again (Coppola)

In 2015, Yanis Varoufakis tried to renegotiate the terms of the Greek bailout. He expected his peers in the Eurogroup to treat him as an equal. But they were expecting a repentant supplicant. Greece had sinned, it was receiving just punishment for its sins, and who did Varoufakis think he was, coming along and telling them that the treatment Greece was receiving was unjust and counterproductive? This misunderstanding made a bad situation far worse. It led eventually to Greece’s near-expulsion from the Euro and the breaking of Alexis Tsipras. And, of course, to Varoufakis’s resignation. Now it is the IMF’s turn to misread the psychological framing. This is not a four-handed poker game, it is a duel to the death. And it is not really about Greece. The surface conflict is between Greece and its creditors, but the underlying power struggle is between the German-led creditor bloc and the European Commission.

The eventual outcome will determine the shape of the Eurozone, and indeed the whole EU, in the future. Neither the Greek government nor the European Commission want the IMF involved. The only reason the IMF is still involved is that the creditors want it to be. And the reason the creditors want the IMF involved is that they do not trust the Commission to deliver the harsh penance they have prescribed for Greece. The IMF has been cast in the role of creditors’ second. Unfortunately, this is not how the IMF sees itself. It is still trying to act as a neutral broker, crafting a deal acceptable to both sides. It has repeatedly called for substantial debt relief, and has also demanded deep reforms to the Greek economy. But because it is no longer perceived as neutral, its call for debt relief is ignored while its reform initiative is inevitably seen as a disguised demand for more austerity.

[..] Greece’s pension expenditure as a proportion of GDP is the highest in the EU, even though payments are only about 70% of the EU average. That’s the problem with quoting fixed payments like pensions (and debt service) in relation to GDP: as GDP falls, the cost rises. The Greek economy is now about 27% smaller than it was in 2008, and still shrinking. The IMF’s case is that pension cost as a proportion of GDP is now unsustainable, and further, that the creditors are not going to agree to debt relief while pension cost remains so high. It is probably right on both counts. But once again, what really matters is the psychological framing.

[..] the IMF’s position is untenable. Since it can no longer credibly claim to be neutral, it must explicitly back one side or the other. If it backs neither, it will de facto be seen as supporting the creditors – and that is not consistent with its international mandate, since it effectively means giving up its quest for substantial debt relief (since the creditors have no desire to agree to this). But coming out in support of Greece probably means abandoning its long-standing commitment to ensuring fiscal sustainability through pension and tax reforms. It appears an impossible choice. If the IMF can concede neither of these, then it must do what it should have done long ago. Walk.

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Dec 292016
 
 December 29, 2016  Posted by at 10:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Esther Bubley Negro alley dwellings near the Capitol, Washington DC 1943

 

Trump On Russia Sanctions: ‘We Ought To Get On With Our Lives’ (R.)
Moscow Says It’s “Tired Of The Lie About The ‘Russian Hackers'” (Ptv)
Talking about Starwars: What is Henry Kissinger Up To? (PCR)
US Escalates Tensions With Israel (WSJ)
Hillary Clinton Could Face New Email Probe After Explosive Ruling
House Flipping Makes a Comeback as Home Prices Rise (WSJ)
A China-Watcher’s Guide to 2017 (Balding)
China’s ‘Godfather of Real Estate’ Pitches Reverse Mortgages (NYT)
China Slashes First Round Of Oil Products Export Quotas (R.)
China Fault Lines: Where Economic Turbulence Could Erupt in 2017 (BBG)
Trump Tax Reforms Could Depend On Little-Known ‘Scoring’ Panel (R.)
Greek Migration Minister Vows To Improve Conditions At Camps (Kath.)

 

 

It’s very simple: either the White House shows us prrof of hacking today when sanctions are announced, or all credibility is shot, across US intelligence.

Trump On Russia Sanctions: ‘We Ought To Get On With Our Lives’ (R.)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday suggested that the United States and Russia lay to rest the controversy over Moscow’s computer hacking of Democratic Party computers, saying, “We ought to get on with our lives.” Trump has cast doubt on the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russian hackers took information from Democratic Party computers and individuals and posted it online to help Trump win the election. The Obama administration plans to announce on Thursday a series of retaliatory measures against Russia for hacking into U.S. political institutions and individuals and leaking information, two U.S. officials said on Wednesday.

Asked by reporters if the United States should sanction Russia, Trump replied: “I think we ought to get on with our lives. I think that computers have complicated lives very greatly. The whole age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what’s going on.” Trump made his remarks at Mar-a-Lago, his seaside Florida resort where he is spending the Christmas and New Year’s holidays while also interviewing candidates for administration jobs. Trump said he was not familiar with remarks earlier on Wednesday by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who said Russia and President Vladimir Putin should expect tough sanctions for the cyber attacks. “We have speed. We have a lot of other things but I’m not sure you have the kind of security that you need. But I have not spoken with the senators and I certainly will be over a period of time,” he said.

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Again: proof or ridicule.

Moscow Says It’s “Tired Of The Lie About The ‘Russian Hackers'” (Ptv)

Moscow has vowed retaliation if Washington issues further economic sanctions over alleged Russian cyber attacks during the US presidential elections. “To be honest, we are tired of the lie about the ‘Russian hackers’, which is being poured down in the United States from the very top,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Wednesday. She warned that her country would respond to any manner of “hostile steps” the US decides to undertake. “It concerns any actions against the Russian diplomatic missions in the US which will immediately ricochet the American diplomats in Russia,” she added.

Zakharova went on to stress that the US was attempting to intimidate Moscow with extending sanctions, taking diplomatic measures and sabotage against Russian computer systems, in retaliation for alleged Russian hacking interference during the US presidential elections in November. Earlier in the day, US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said that Moscow needed to understand it had gone too far during the election, and that new sanctions would target Russian President Vladimir Putin. “It is now time for Russia to understand – enough is enough,” he said. “You can expect that the Congress will investigate the Russian involvement in our elections and there will be bipartisan sanctions coming that will hit Russia hard, particularly Putin as an individual,” he added.

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Oh, right, Starwars. Paul Craig Roberts contends the neocons are still as strong as ever in the US, even under Trump.

Talking about Starwars: What is Henry Kissinger Up To? (PCR)

The myth is widespread that President Reagan won the cold war by breaking the Soviet Union financially with an arms race. As one who was involved in Reagan’s effort to end the cold war, I find myself yet again correcting the record. Reagan never spoke of winning the cold war. He spoke of ending it. Other officials in his government have said the same thing, and Pat Buchanan can verify it. Reagan wanted to end the Cold War, not win it. He spoke of those “godawful” nuclear weapons. He thought the Soviet economy was in too much difficulty to compete in an arms race. He thought that if he could first cure the stagflation that afflicted the US economy, he could force the Soviets to the negotiating table by going through the motion of launching an arms race. “Star wars” was mainly hype. (Whether or nor the Soviets believed the arms race threat, the American leftwing clearly did and has never got over it.)

Reagan had no intention of dominating the Soviet Union or collapsing it. Unlike Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama, he was not controlled by neoconservatives. Reagan fired and prosecuted the neoconservatives in his administration when they operated behind his back and broke the law. The Soviet Union did not collapse because of Reagan’s determination to end the Cold War. The Soviet collapse was the work of hardline communists, who believed that Gorbachev was loosening the Communist Party’s hold so quickly that Gorbachev was a threat to the existence of the Soviet Union and placed him under house arrest. It was the hardline communist coup against Gorbachev that led to the rise of Yeltsin. No one expected the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The US military/security complex did not want Reagan to end the Cold War, as the Cold War was the foundation of profit and power for the complex. The CIA told Reagan that if he renewed the arms race, the Soviets would win, because the Soviets controlled investment and could allocate a larger share of the economy to the military than Reagan could. Reagan did not believe the CIA’s claim that the Soviet Union could prevail in an arms race. He formed a secret committee and gave the committee the power to investigate the CIA’s claim that the US would lose an arms race with the Soviet Union. The committee concluded that the CIA was protecting its prerogatives. I know this because I was a member of the committee.

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Place this in the context of what’s being said about Russian hackers at the same time.

US Escalates Tensions With Israel (WSJ)

Secretary of State John Kerry rebuked Israel for its settlement policy and warned in unusually harsh terms that a two-state solution was in serious jeopardy as the Obama administration raced to preserve its approach to the Middle East weeks before President-elect Donald Trump takes power. Mr. Kerry’s speech on Wednesday—in which he defended a U.S. decision to allow a United Nations resolution condemning Israel’s settlements—was seen by Israeli leaders as a parting shot from an unfriendly American administration in its final weeks. But the address appeared equally intended as a message to the incoming Trump team.

Mr. Kerry spelled out principles that have long been largely consistent in American policy—the goal of Israel existing alongside a separate Palestinian state, the notion that the settlements are an impediment to peace, and the idea that Jerusalem should be the capital of both an Israeli and a Palestinian state. Mr. Trump has suggested he would consider breaking with those principles. “President Obama and I know that the incoming administration has signaled that they may take a different path,” Mr. Kerry said at the State Department. “But we cannot in good conscience do nothing, and say nothing, when we see the hope of peace slipping away.”

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“This ruling means that the Trump Justice Department will have to decide if it wants to finally enforce the rule of law..”

Hillary Clinton Could Face New Email Probe After Explosive Ruling

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has ruled in favor of a conservative group’s lawsuit against the State Department over whether or not enough was done to try to restore Clinton’s missing emails, opening a potential further probe into Clinton’s emails by the Trump administration. Back in January, a District Court judge ruled that the lawsuit brought by the conservative group Judicial Watch, against the State Department, had no validity because it had there had been a “sustained effort” to recover the emails. In the new ruling, however, Judge Stephen Williams wrote that this wasn’t enough.

“The Department has not explained why shaking the tree harder – e.g., by following the statutory mandate to seek action by the Attorney General – might not bear more still,” wrote Williams. He added: “Absent a showing that the requested enforcement action could not shake loose a few more emails, the case is not moot.” Williams also said that it’s “abundantly clear that, in terms of assuring government recovery of emails” the conservative group that brought the lawsuit hasn’t “been given everything [they] asked for.” Additionally, because former State Secretary Clinton used her Blackberry email account during the first few weeks of her term, the judge felt that efforts to restore just the messages from Clinton’s private email server weren’t sufficient either.

“Because the complaints sought recovery of emails from all of the former Secretary’s accounts, the FBI’s recovery of a server that hosted only one account does not moot the suits,” he wrote. Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton issued a statement after the ruling, claiming “The courts seem to be fed up with the Obama administration’s refusal to enforce the rule of law on the Clinton emails.” Fitton added, “This ruling means that the Trump Justice Department will have to decide if it wants to finally enforce the rule of law and try to retrieve all the emails Clinton and her aides unlawfully took with them when they left the State Department,” he added.

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Homes are definitely not places for people to live in. Not in the US.

House Flipping Makes a Comeback as Home Prices Rise (WSJ)

House flipping, a potent symbol of the real-estate market’s excess in the run-up to the financial crisis, is once again becoming hot, fueled by a combination of skyrocketing home prices, venture-backed startups and Wall Street cash. After nearly being felled by real-estate forays almost a decade ago, a number of banks are now arranging financing vehicles for house flippers, who aim to make a profit by buying and selling homes in a matter of months. The sector is small—participants say roughly several hundred million dollars in financing deals have been made in recent months—but is expected to keep growing. In recent months, big banks, including Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan have started extending credit lines to companies that specialize in lending to home flippers.

[..] Over the past year, 37-year-old David Franco has collected profits of more than $200,000 on houses that he has quickly refurbished and resold, turning a hobby into an unexpectedly lucrative business. “There’s plenty of money to be made,” says Mr. Franco, who lives just outside of Los Angeles. House-flipping television shows and training “schools” for new investors are proliferating. One “super-intense, hardcore” house-flipping boot camp in Bourne, Mass., promised to teach students about real-estate investing in three days to make “REALLY MASSIVE PROFITS,” according to marketing literature. The increasing amount of speculative housing in recent months is “concerning,” ATTOM noted in a recent report. “We’re starting to see home flipping hit some milestones not seen since prior to the financial crisis.”

ATTOM said profit margins are getting squeezed in some markets. While house flippers typically aim to purchase a house at a 30% discount to the market, in some areas they’re buying homes at a 15% or 10% discount, said Senior Vice President Daren Blomquist. The research firm noted that the number of smaller, inexperienced house flippers entering the market is a sign of rising speculation. George Geronsin, 36, a Southern California real-estate agent and house-flipper who has been in the business since 2008, said he recently sold the majority of the homes he was working on and is sitting on cash “until the next big correction” in the housing market. “Anybody and everybody is getting into the business of house-flipping—that’s when you know it’s the end of the rope,” said Mr. Geronsin.

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Chris Balding confirms what I wrote yesterday.

A China-Watcher’s Guide to 2017 (Balding)

Last year, China’s leaders were touting plans for deleveraging and supply-side reform. This year, they’re touting yet more plans for deleveraging and supply-side reform. In between, total outstanding credit rose from 246% of gross domestic product to about 265%… Although reining in credit is essential for addressing many of China’s economic problems, the government is still targeting 6.5% growth next year, much of which will be reliant on yet more debt. So pay less attention to the talk and more to the data – specifically, metrics such as credit growth and real-estate prices.

Follow the Fed.China remains tied to the U.S. economy, whether it wants to be or not. Unfortunately, not everything that’s good for the U.S. is good for China. With the U.S. labor market tightening, and President-elect Donald Trump promising a $1 trillion economic stimulus, it is all but certain that the Federal Reserve will continue raising interest rates in 2017. That could have some positive effects for China’s real economy, but it will also put pressure on the People’s Bank of China to raise its own interest rates or risk breaking the soft peg of the yuan to the U.S. dollar. Higher rates, in turn, would raise borrowing costs for heavily indebted Chinese companies, many of which could end up in bankruptcy. How fast the U.S. economy grows, and how many times the Fed raises rates, could have as much impact on China’s economy as anything next year.

The cure can be worse than the disease. Rising asset prices in China have helped prop up everything from coal and steel firms to consumer sentiment. But with potential bubbles popping up everywhere, the government seems to be laying the groundwork for reform. That could mean raising interest rates, applying new restrictions on trading or tightening other regulations. Remember that such measures, however necessary, carry risks of their own. For example, given that China has some of the world’s most expensive housing relative to income, and extremely low turnover, withdrawing credit could result in a real-estate price shock. That might cause indebted developers to fail, or lead to much stronger government action to prevent a hard landing. As regulators try to rein in other asset prices, watch for similar turmoil in bonds and the yuan.

Expect the unexpected. China has long been plagued by poor-quality data, with even senior leadership expressing frustration at getting inaccurate information from the provinces. Unreliable data makes it nearly impossible to properly assess risk, which raises the probability of some type of internal shock. It could come from the nearly $4 trillion market in murky wealth-management products. It could come from social instability tied to hidden unemployment. It could come from something totally unexpected: With the bond market in turmoil, liquidity concerns mounting and defaults rising, there are many ways in which a panic could materialize.

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Prey on the elderly.

China’s ‘Godfather of Real Estate’ Pitches Reverse Mortgages (NYT)

He is known in China as the “godfather of real estate,” helping lay the groundwork for private homeownership in China, a move that enriched millions and laid the foundations for a vibrant and thriving Chinese middle class. Now, Meng Xiaosu wants a lot of Chinese — the older ones, specifically — to cash out. Older people need to mortgage their homes to address China’s looming demographic bust, Mr. Meng argues. Because of China’s now-defunct one-child policy and other social trends, the country has a rapidly graying population that someday soon may become too expensive for the Chinese government to support. Mr. Meng’s proposed solution is to bring reverse mortgages to China. Called a house-for-pension plan in China, a reverse mortgage allows homeowners to tap the equity in their homes by taking out loans against it.

His argument faces deep business and cultural opposition – mortgaging homes is a tough sell in a country where parents traditionally passed them on to their children – and only a few dozen people in all the country have signed up so far. But he argues that China may have little choice. “China’s elderly do not have much money,” said Mr. Meng, who drew much of his inspiration about the Chinese property market from a stint studying in America, “but they have valuable homes.” China is increasingly pondering tough questions as it looks to a graying future. Right now, China’s 215 million elderly people account for 15% of the total population. By 2050, that number is expected to rise to 350 million – nearly one-quarter of the population.

That has China scrambling to find a more sustainable pension system for its people. In the 1990s, the government dismantled the cradle-to-grave welfare system and borrowed money from younger workers to pay older ones. The country’s pension fund will be $116 trillion in the red by 2050, according to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a top government think tank. Enter Mr. Meng.

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What I see between the lines is a huge glut building. They simply can’t sell it anymore. Oh, and what was that question? Market economy?

China Slashes First Round Of Oil Products Export Quotas (R.)

China has cut oil product export quotas to the nation’s four oil majors by 40% in the first round of licences for 2017, according to two sources who have seen the documents, even as traders expect allowances for overseas sales to meet or exceed this year’s record levels. The notice did not include quotas for independent refiners, known as “teapots”, in line with a report by Reuters earlier this month that the government has ditched the small refiners from its export program. In a notice dated Dec. 23, the Ministry of Commerce and the General Administration of Customs said the four state majors will be allowed to sell 12.4 million tonnes of gasoline, gasoil and jet fuel abroad next year.

That’s down from 20.54 million tonnes in the same round this year. Still, the cut is likely to bring little relief to the stubbornly saturated Asian oil market as China’s majors did not use up the huge quotas issued at the start of last year, and have simply applied for more realistic quotas this year, traders said. “The shrinking quota doesn’t reflect shrinking demand from overseas. Instead, it reflects a shift in company exporting strategy,” said a China-based trader who declined to be named, adding that companies were better matching exports to quotas. “We expect the total quota for 2017 to be on par or a bit higher than 2016,” the trader added. China issued allowances for a record 46.08 million tonnes of oil products in 2016, up 80% from 2015. In the first 11 months of the year, it exported 43 million tonnes of oil products – including products other than gasoline, gasoil and jet fuel – up 35% on a year earlier.

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“The real nightmare for Beijing – and for markets – is a vicious cycle of capital outflows triggering bigger devaluations of the yuan that in turn drive bigger and faster outflows..”

China Fault Lines: Where Economic Turbulence Could Erupt in 2017 (BBG)

China’s balancing act isn’t getting any easier. Policy makers are grappling with how to attack excessive borrowing and rein in soaring property prices while maintaining rapid growth. They’re also battling yuan depreciation and capital outflow pressures as U.S. interest rates rise, while on the horizon looms the risk of confrontation with America’s President-elect Donald Trump on trade and Taiwan. It’s a high-wire act with the potential to produce shocks, like the one erupting in the bond market as tighter liquidity threatens financing for small companies. President Xi Jinping told top officials he’s open to growth below the 6.5% target to 2020 if it carries too much risk, a person familiar with the situation said last week. Leaders have pledged to reduce hazards for 2017.

While forecasters have been raising growth estimates for next year and don’t expect major turbulence, the following are among areas they flag as having the potential to trigger a plunge in growth or systemic risk in the financial system: Outflows will exceed $200 billion in the fourth quarter and rise further in the first quarter, said Pauline Loong, managing director at research firm Asia-Analytica in Hong Kong. Capital is leaving for more fundamental reasons than rising U.S. rates and a stronger dollar, she said. Drivers include rising expectations of yuan weakness, fears of an abrupt policy U-turn trapping funds in the country, and a lack of profitable investment opportunities at home amid rising costs and slowing growth.

“The real nightmare for Beijing – and for markets – is a vicious cycle of capital outflows triggering bigger devaluations of the yuan that in turn drive bigger and faster outflows,” Loong said. “We expect capital outflows to increase in the coming months as Chinese money seeks to maximize exit quotas in case of more stringent restrictions later on.”

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Clueless prognosticators.

Trump Tax Reforms Could Depend On Little-Known ‘Scoring’ Panel (R.)

President-elect Donald Trump’s goal of overhauling the U.S. tax code in 2017 will depend partly on the work of an obscure congressional committee tasked with estimating how much future economic growth will result from tax cuts. Known as the Joint Committee on Taxation, or JCT, the nonpartisan panel assigns “dynamic scores” to major tax bills in Congress, based on economic models, to forecast a bill’s ultimate impact on the federal budget. The higher a tax bill’s dynamic score, the more likely it is seen as spurring growth, raising tax revenues and keeping the federal deficit in check. As Trump and Republicans in Congress plan the biggest tax reform package in a generation, the JCT has come under pressure from corporate lobbyists and other tax cut advocates who worry that too low a dynamic score could show the legislation to add billions, if not trillions of dollars to the federal deficit.

“The problem is that the Joint Committee staff has adopted a whole series of assumptions that truly minimize the effects and underestimate the impact that a properly done tax reform could have,” said David Burton at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank. A low dynamic score could force Republicans to scale back tax cuts or make the reforms temporary, severely limiting the scope of what was one of Trump’s top campaign pledges. Other analysts warn that pressure for a robust dynamic score raises the danger of a politically expedient number that could help reform pass Congress but lead to higher deficits down the road. Until last year, JCT used a variety of economic models in its arcane calculations, reflecting the uncertainties in such work. But House of Representatives Republicans changed the rules in 2015 to require that a bill’s score reflect only a single estimate of the estimated impact on the wider economy and resulting impact on tax revenues.

Next year’s anticipated tax reform package would be the biggest piece of legislation that JCT has scored using this new, narrower approach, presenting the committee with a daunting challenge. JCT Chief of Staff Thomas Barthold acknowledged the challenge of dynamic scoring in an interview with Reuters. “The U.S. economy is so darn complex, you really can’t have one model that picks up all of the complexity and nuance. So the essence of modeling is to try to slim things down, try to emphasize certain points,” he said. Tax reform is still months away. But the initial legislation expected in 2017 is likely to fall somewhere between two similar but separate plans, one backed by Trump and the other by House Republicans including Speaker Paul Ryan.

[..]The Tax Foundation estimates that the House Republican tax plan would lead to a 9.1% higher GDP over the long term, 7.7% higher wages and 1.7 million new full-time-equivalent jobs. It predicts the plan would reduce government revenue by $2.4 trillion over a decade, not counting macroeconomic effects, but by only $191 billion once economic growth is taken into account. By contrast, the centrist Tax Policy Center estimates the House plan would add 1% to GDP over 10 years and erase $2.5 trillion of revenue, even with positive macroeconomic feedback, due to higher federal debt interest.

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Biometric data cards and €400 a month allowances in a country where many pensioners don’t even get that much.

Greek Migration Minister Vows To Improve Conditions At Camps (Kath.)

Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas vowed on Wednesday to improve living conditions for migrants stranded on the islands, boost policing and create detention centers. “We are planning to have new, small venues on the islands, either by setting up small, two-story houses, in order to empty the tents, or by finding other places… to improve conditions,” he said, adding that it will take time but “we will do it.” Overcrowded conditions, coupled with the slow processing of asylum requests, have fueled tensions, while outbreaks of violence are not uncommon – especially on the islands, where some 15,000 migrants are crammed into ill-equipped camps. Mouzalas, however, insisted that the situation is better on the mainland and all refugees in the 36 camps there are staying in sheltered, heated areas.

The exception, he said, is the camp at Elliniko, southern Athens, where some migrants are still living outdoors in 70 tents. He also announced that by March, soup kitchens at camps around the country will be abolished. Instead, he said, migrants will be given money – no more than the minimum wage of €400. Mouzalas said Greece will hire more staff to deal with the slow pace of processing asylum requests, which he called an Achilles’ heel. Moreover, he said that migrants living legally in Greece will receive an electronic card that will replace their residence permits. The card, he said, will contain biometric data and other information, and will be given to migrants who want to renew their residence permits or to new arrivals.

The cards will be ready by April, he said, adding that they are part of the effort to modernize the system that processes residence permits, and to help fight forgeries. Roughly 60,000 migrants – mostly Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans fleeing war and poverty – are scattered throughout the country, many living in overcrowded and poor living conditions.

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Jun 222015
 
 June 22, 2015  Posted by at 10:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Unknown Dutch Gap, Virginia. Picket station of Colored troops 1864

Five Horsemen Of The Euro’s Future (Politico)
The Three Victories Of The Greek Government (Jacques Sapir)
Greece and Germany Agree the Euro Can’t Work (Crook)
The Euro Was Doomed From The Start (Norman Lamont)
If Greece Defaults, Europe’s Taxpayers Lose (Bloomberg)
Why On Earth Is Greece In The EU? (Angelos)
EU Welcomes 11th-Hour Greek Proposals In ‘Forceps Delivery’ (Reuters)
EU Commission Gives Guarded Welcome To Greek Plan Before Talks Bloomberg)
Greece Creditors Aim To Strike Deal To Include 6-Month Extension (Guardian)
Pro-Greek Demos In Brussels, Amsterdam Before Crunch Summit (AFP)
The Flash-Crash Trader’s Kafkaesque Nightmare (Bloomberg)
China Regulator Official Fired After Husband Suspected of Illegal Trading (WSJ)
Australian Housing Market Facing ‘Bloodbath’ Collapse: Economists (SMH)
Canada’s Giant Pension Funds Are The New Masters Of The Universe (Telegraph)
EU Extends Economic Sanctions Against Russia For 6 Months (RT)
Ayn Rand Killed The American Dream (Mathieu Ricard)
Behind the Scenes With the Pope’s Secret Science Committee (Bloomberg)
UK Scientific Model Flags Risk Of Civilisation’s Collapse By 2040 (Nafeez Ahmed)

What a list of incompetent power hungry doofuses.

Five Horsemen Of The Euro’s Future (Politico)

The threat of an imminent Greek exit from the euro may be the talk of Brussels, but the EU is unveiling bold proposals this week to deepen political and financial integration inside the eurozone. A so-called “five presidents’ report” obtained by POLITICO includes calls for a eurozone finance minister and stricter controls over the budgets of the 19 countries, including Greece, that use the single currency. The glossy 24-page document — entitled “Completing Europe’s Monetary and Economic Union” — will be published on Monday. It’s to be discussed at the EU summit that begins Thursday in Brussels. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker drafted the report with European Council chief Donald Tusk; Eurogroup head Jeroen Dijsselbloem; Mario Draghi, president of the ECB; and European Parliament President Martin Schulz.

Coming ahead of an emergency EU summit on Greece Monday night in Brussels, a report on the future of the eurozone may seem ill-timed. But several governments, including Berlin, are more open now than ever to at least discuss steps toward deeper integration proposed by the “five presidents,” seeing it as a signal of reassurance to financial markets that the euro will endure any outcome on Greece. The proposals mostly echo calls by Germany and other rich northern eurozone countries to enforce spending rules across the eurozone. It won’t go down well in Greece or the poorer southern rim states, which want more “solidarity” within the eurozone — in other words, financial support in times of trouble.

The report doesn’t foresee common lending (“euro bonds”) and only alludes to a “euro area-wide fiscal stabilisation function” in case national budgets are “overwhelmed.” The “five presidents” call their proposal for future eurozone governance a “roadmap that is ambitious yet pragmatic,” sketching out several stages to deepen the union. In a first “deepening by doing” stage, the EU would “build on existing instruments and make the best possible use of the existing Treaties” to enforce the eurozone’s fiscal rules. The second stage, which potentially could mean changes to the EU treaties that would cause difficult discussions about transferring more powers to the EU, is not supposed to start until 2017, the report says. A “genuine Fiscal Union” requires more joint decision-making on fiscal policy, the report says.

While not every aspect of each country’s spending and tax policies will be overseen by Brussels, “some decisions will increasingly need to be made collectively while ensuring democratic accountability and legitimacy,” report says. It calls for a “future euro area treasury“ that “could be the place for such collective decision-making.”

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“..the EU’s political and economic apparatus has openly demonstrated its harmfulness, incompetence and rapacity.”

The Three Victories Of The Greek Government (Jacques Sapir)

Whatever the outcome of the Eurogroup to be held on June 22, it is now clear that the Greek government – improperly called “government of the radical left” or “government of SYRIZA,” but in reality a government union (and the fact that this union was made with the sovereigntist party ANEL is significant) – has won spectacular successes. These successes show that Greece, where the people have regained their dignity, is the one European country where the example set by its government is now showing the way forward. But, and this is most important, this government – in the fight it has led against what is euphemistically called the “institutions”, ie mainly the political-economic apparatus of the EU, the Eurogroup, the ECB – has shown that the “Emperor has no cIothes.” 

The entire structure, complex and lacking in transparency of this politico-economic apparatus was challenged to respond to a political demand, and it has been unable to do so. The image of the EU has been fundamentally altered. Whatever kind of meeting next Monday, if it results in a failure or a surrender of Germany and “austéritaire” or even, which we can not exclude, in the defeat of the Greek government, the EU’s political and economic apparatus has openly demonstrated its harmfulness, incompetence and rapacity. The peoples of the European countries now know who is their worst enemy. The Greek government, in the course of the negotiations which started at the end of January, was faced with the inflexible position of these “institutions”.  But this inflexibility has reflected more a tragic lack of strategy, and the pursuit of conflicting objectives, than real will. 

Indeed, it was well understood that these “institutions” had no intention of yielding on the principle of Euro-austerity, an austerity policy at European level set up under the pretext of “saving the euro”. Therefore, they have refused the pIea of the Greek government whose proposals were reasonable, as many economists have stressed. The proposals made by these “institutions” have been described as the economic equivalent of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 by a columnist who is not listed on the left of the political spectrum. We must understand this as a terrible admission of failure. A position was publicly defended by the representatives of the EU which was in no way based in reality, with the soIe defense for this being a narrow ideology. These representatives were incapable of evoIving their positions and trapped themselves in false arguments, in the same way that the US government chained itself to the issue of weapons of mass destruction attributed to Saddam Hussein.

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The one thing they can agree on, but also the one thing neither acts on. Curious.

Greece and Germany Agree the Euro Can’t Work (Crook)

Ahead of Monday’s European Union summit, the only thing you can rule out is a happy ending. Whatever happens at the leaders’ meeting – even if a deal of some sort emerges – the EU has suffered lasting and perhaps irreparable damage. The available choices run from bad to terrible. The costs to Greece and to the EU of a default followed by Greece’s ejection from the euro system could be huge. But even if the worst doesn’t happen, Europe has suffered a total breakdown of trust and goodwill. That can’t easily be undone – and it’s a dagger pointed at the heart of the entire project. Two things, I believe, will strike historians as they look back on this collapse of European solidarity. The first is that the principals were able to draw such a poisonous dispute out of such an easily solvable problem.

The second helps to explain why that was possible: Greece and its partners fell out thanks to a delusion they have in common — the idea that sharing a currency can leave fiscal sovereignty intact. On the eve of the summit, the economic distance between Greece and its creditors is small. Differences over fiscal targets have narrowed down to timing — what happens next year rather than the year after — and fractions of a%age point of gross domestic product. There’s even tacit agreement that further debt relief will be needed as part of a successor bailout program, though the creditors won’t discuss the details until the current program is completed. That’s a procedural rather than substantive issue, and it simply shouldn’t matter.

The problem is that the creditors don’t trust Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza ministers to hit the targets they might sign up to. The creditors don’t even trust them to try. They want firm commitments to specific policy changes – tax increases and new retirement rules to cut pension spending – that Tsipras has promised not to accept. Again, the revenue these policies would generate is small in relation to the fiscal adjustment Greece has already achieved and to the forecasting errors involved in all such calculations. It isn’t the numbers that separate the two sides. Greece and the creditors are standing on principle, and oddly enough it’s essentially the same principle — that of sovereignty.

Greece has had enough of being dictated to by the rest of the EU. Of course, its government wants debt relief and a milder profile of fiscal adjustment – and that’s justified, because without them the Greek economy will recover too slowly, if at all. But more than debt relief and softer fiscal targets, Greece wants to be back in charge of its own policy. Its years under the creditors’ supervision have been terrible. Being force-fed any more of their medicine is what the country rejected when it voted for Syriza.

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Lamont was instrumental in keeping Britain out of the eurozone.

The Euro Was Doomed From The Start (Norman Lamont)

Next week will be a momentous one for Europe, with a string of crucial meetings including the summit at which the PM will table his renegotiation demands. We may be focused on our renegotiation but it is Greece which will dominate. For some time it has looked as though the Greek drama must reach its final denouement. But the Greeks have become highly skilled at managing to push back deadlines ever further into the future. Whether Greece leaves the euro or stays in, a decision surely cannot be delayed much longer. So what will this mean for the EU? I had the privilege of negotiating Britain’s opt-out from the then new European single currency in 1991. My abiding memory is how clear it was that the euro had nothing to do with economics and was a political project with a dubious rationale.

Some representatives of other countries were openly sceptical, but their political masters were firmly in control. The creation of the euro has been an error of historic dimensions and done great harm to the EU, which in its first 40 years had brought economic prosperity to the citizens of the Continent. Then the less well-off countries benefited from the lowering of tariffs and the increase in internal trade. After the creation of the euro, however, economic growth slowed markedly. Poorer countries fared worse than the more prosperous countries, like Germany, which benefited from the new, weaker currency. The Greek crisis epitomises the complete mess that Europe has made of the single currency.

Greece should never have been admitted in the first place, though it was not the only country – Belgium and Italy were two others – that didn’t meet the strict criteria for membership. From the beginning, the rules put in place for the euro, relating to bail-outs, monetary financing and deficit levels, have been ignored. Europe claims to be a rule-based organisation. But however else the eurozone is run, it is not run strictly according to its own rules.

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Nice graphs! Let’s hope author Whitehouse understands this was not a mistake, but a plan. If Greece had restructured in 2010, the banks would have been on the hook. By waiting 2 years, most could be transferred to taxpayers.

If Greece Defaults, Europe’s Taxpayers Lose (Bloomberg)

The European creditors embroiled in a last-ditch effort to come to terms with Greece face a dilemma: If they can’t prevent a default, their taxpayers stand to lose a lot of money. Ever since the region’s sovereign-debt crisis first flared in 2010, European nations have been stepping in for Greece’s private creditors – largely German and French banks – by lending the country the money to pay them off. Thanks to this bailout, banks and investors have much less at stake than before. Here, for example, are the exposures of countries’ banks to Greece’s government, companies and financial institutions at the end of 2014, compared to the end of 2009:

On the flip side, European governments – and Germany in particular – have become the largest holders of Greece’s €313 billion in sovereign debt, through an alphabet soup of entities that are ultimately backed by taxpayers. Beyond that, as of April, the European Central Bank had lent the Bank of Greece about €115 billion to replace money being pulled out of the country – credit that can turn into losses for the ECB’s remaining shareholders if Greece leaves the euro. Here’s a breakdown of those exposures by country:

The lesson is that in a sovereign debt crisis, dithering can be costly. If European countries had pushed Greece to restructure its private debts back in 2010 (instead of waiting until 2012) and recapitalized banks that were in too deep, the whole region probably could have come out of the crisis much more quickly. As it stands, five years later, Greece and its creditors are back at the negotiating table, with more than 300 billion euros in taxpayer money hanging in the balance.

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Lofty ideals.

Why On Earth Is Greece In The EU? (Angelos)

Europe is a Greek word. After Greece applied to join the European Community in 1975, Konstantinos Karamanlis, the country’s prime minister, often emphasized this point to his European counterparts. The implication was clear: Greece, the font of Europe’s civilization, naturally belonged in the European club. As Karamanlis later put it, “the Greek spirit contributed the idea of Freedom, Truth and Beauty” to European culture. Some had their doubts about whether Greece belonged in the European club, however. The European Commission, in issuing its opinion on Greece’s membership bid, warned that the Greek economy had a weak industrial base, which would limit its capacity to “combine homogeneously” with other member states. German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt worried about Greece’s problematic public administration, and its inability to collect taxes from its wealthiest citizens.

European leaders ultimately found Karamanlis’ argument about Greece’s cultural import persuasive, and it was one reason they set aside their concerns and admitted Greece in 1981. As former French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing later put it in his memoir, Greece is the “mother of all democracies,” and therefore could not be excluded. Two decades later, when Greece joined the euro, further cementing its place in the European project, it seemed only appropriate that the Greek two-euro coin would depict Europa, the beautiful maiden of Greek mythology who shares the continent’s name. Today, Europa’s place on the coin is in peril as Greece remains dangerously close to a default that could lead to a euro exit. Those considerable problems Europe once overlooked seem to have come back to haunt it.

Even Giscard seems to have had a change of heart. “Greece is basically an Oriental country,” he told the German magazine Der Spiegel in 2012. He was interviewed alongside Schmidt, his old counterpart, who had been more skeptical of Greece’s bid. “You were wiser than me,” Giscard told Schmidt. Europeans’ bipolar view of Greece — that it is both intrinsic to Europe and yet does not belong — has been evident since the nation’s modern founding. When the Greeks revolted against the centuries-long rule of the Ottoman Empire in 1821, European admirers of Ancient Greece rejoiced over the possibility of a resurrected Athens that might once again bestow upon Europe the glories of its classical heyday.

“We are all Greeks,” Shelley wrote, the year the Greek revolution broke out. Europe owed to Greece its civilization, he meant, and was therefore obliged to back the Greek cause. Philhellenic societies across Europe raised money for Greece, and European volunteers traveled there to join the fight.

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“In German: ‘eine Zangengeburt. (A birth that requires a pair of pliers).” The German language is full of very descriptive terms.

EU Welcomes 11th-Hour Greek Proposals In ‘Forceps Delivery’ (Reuters)

The European Union welcomed new proposals from Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras as a “good basis for progress” at talks on Monday where creditors want 11th-hour concessions to haul Athens back from the brink of bankruptcy. EU chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker’s chief-of-staff spoke of a “forceps delivery” as officials worked late into the night to produce a deal ahead of a summit of euro zone leaders in Brussels that they hope can keep Greece in the currency bloc. Giving no detail of a proposal he said was also received by the ECB and IMF, German EU official Martin Selmayr tweeted: “Good basis for progress at … Euro Summit. In German: ‘eine Zangengeburt’.”

After four months of wrangling and with anxious depositors pulling billions of euros out of Greek banks, Tsipras’s leftist government showed a new willingness at the weekend to make concessions that would unlock frozen aid to avert default. It was not immediately clear how far the new proposal yielded to creditors’ demands for additional spending cuts and tax hikes, but the offer was a ray of hope that a last-minute deal may yet be wrangled before Athens runs out of cash. Tsipras spent much of Sunday holed up in a marathon cabinet meeting and discussed the new offer with the leaders of Germany, France and the European Commission by phone. “The prime minister presented the three leaders Greece’s proposal for a mutually beneficial agreement that will give a definitive solution and not a postponement of addressing the problem,” a statement from Tsipras’s office said.

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That’s a first.

EU Commission Gives Guarded Welcome To Greek Plan Before Talks Bloomberg)

A new proposal by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras drew a rare positive nod from European officials who indicated it could help break a months-long impasse during marathon talks on Monday. The new offer “was a good basis for progress” ahead of Monday’s emergency summit, European Commission spokesman Martin Selmayr, said in a Twitter posting. He also referred in German to the inception of the plan as “birth by forceps.” “These proposals go in the right direction,” European Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said on Europe 1 radio. Reaching an accord is “very important for Greece, for the Greeks, important for the euro and for Europe. And this time around it’s decisive because we must be aware that the markets are watching.”

The euro gained as much as 0.5% against the dollar in Asian trading and was still trading higher in the early European session. Greek bonds inched higher in early trading Monday, with the yield on notes maturing in 2017 falling 38 basis points to 28.49% at 9:41 a.m. local time. Spanish and Italian government bonds were also trading higher. Before the start of the summit in Brussels, Tsipras will meet with representatives of the countries’ main creditors. He’ll sit down with European Council head Donald Tusk before they’re joined by ECB President Mario Draghi, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Eurogroup head Jeroen Dijsselbloem, an e-mailed statement from the Greek prime minister’s office said.

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“Democracy cannot be blackmailed, dignity cannot be bargained..”

Greece Creditors Aim To Strike Deal To Include 6-Month Extension (Guardian)

Greece’s creditors are aiming to strike a deal on Monday to stop Athens defaulting on its debt and possibly tumbling out of the euro, by extending its bailout by six months, supplying up to €18bn in rescue funds, and pledging later debt relief for the austerity-battered country. But EU officials, privately disclosing details of the proposed deal, stressed that a breakthrough hinged on the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, making concessions on fiscal targets, pensions cuts and tax increases that he has resisted since he came to power five months ago. Following a cabinet meeting in Athens, Tsipras is believed to have offered Greece’s creditors concessions on tax and pensions reform. But it was not clear whether the offer went far enough to make a final agreement possible on Monday.

Time is also running out for the Greek banking system, with Reuters reporting on Sunday that €1bn worth of withdrawal orders had been lodged with Greek banks over the weekend – on top of the €4bn that left the Greek banking system last week – and that the ECB is set to discuss extending financial help to those institutions on Monday morning, amid fears that Greek banks will be unable to open on Tuesday. A hectic round of telephone diplomacy took place on Saturday and Sunday between leaders in Athens, Berlin, Paris, and Brussels while technocrats on both sides sought to hammer out the small print of the fiscal arithmetic forming the basis for a last-minute agreement days before Greece’s bailout expires. Greece must pay €1.6bn owed to the International Monetary Fund by Tuesday 30 June.

With time running out, the only way an IMF default could now be avoided was for the ECB to raise the ceiling on the short-term debt or T-bills Athens is allowed to sell, the officials said. This would need to happen by Monday next week. The sources also signalled moves to assuage Tsipras’s key demand – that the creditors need to offer debt relief to Greece. Some form of debt restructuring would be promised to Athens, but it would come with strings attached and not as part of the current bailout package, they said. Yanis Varoufakis, the outspoken Greek finance minister, said Greece’s fate hinged on the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and told her she faced a stark decision. He added that there would be no agreement that did not include the prospect of debt relief for Greece.

Varoufakis’s spokesman reacted sceptically to suggestions of creditor promises on eventual debt relief, describing the eurozone as “pathological liars”. [..] “Democracy cannot be blackmailed, dignity cannot be bargained,” the party said in a statement on Sunday. “Workers, the unemployed, young people, the Greek people and the rest of the peoples of Europe will send a loud message of resistance to the alleged one-way path of austerity, resistance to the blackmail and scaremongering.”

Read more …

Too late and especially too little.

Pro-Greek Demos In Brussels, Amsterdam Before Crunch Summit (AFP)

Several thousand demonstrators gathered in Brussels on Sunday and several hundred in Amsterdam to plead for solidarity with cash-strapped Greece on the eve of a make-or-break summit with European leaders. Addressing the crowd in Amsterdam, veteran Greek MEP Manolis Glezos urged Athens’ creditors to give the country «one more year» to resolve its debt crisis. “This crisis was caused by the financial sector, not by the Greek people,» said Glezos, a Greek resistance hero against Nazi occupation in World War II, who at 92 years old remains a firebrand politician. “It’s the financial sector that has to pay, not the Greek people,» Glezos said to the loud applause of around 350 demonstrators at Amsterdam’s historic Dam Square. Some of the protesters waved Greek flags while others carried placards saying: «No more EU austerity» and «Stop EU blackmail.”

Demonstrator Sotiris Dialas, 32, told AFP he was «worried about tomorrow» when EU leaders will attend an emergency summit aimed at staving off a Greek default. “I have many friends in Greece and nobody knows what’s going to happen,» he said, draped in a Greek flag. In Brussels, demo organiser Sebastien Franco told Belgian national television channel La Une that austerity was not the answer to Greeces problems. “Austerity is not working, it reduces the income of poor people in the name of reimbursement to creditors… who continue to enrich themselves,» he said. Some 3,500 people turned out for the demo in the Belgian capital, according to Belga news agency, citing police figures. Sunday’s rallies came a day after thousands of people demonstrated in France, Germany and Italy to express solidarity with migrants in Europe and austerity-hit Greece.

Read more …

“A U.K. judge has declared the 36-year-old a flight risk and set his bail at $5 million, which is roughly what Sarao says his net worth is. The problem is that his assets are frozen and the judge refuses to accept his family home as surety..”

The Flash-Crash Trader’s Kafkaesque Nightmare (Bloomberg)

How do you prove you don’t have $35 million of ill-gotten gains parked in an offshore account? That’s the dilemma facing Navinder Singh Sarao, known variously as the “Flash-Crash Trader” and the “Hound of Hounslow” and currently residing at Her Majesty’s pleasure in London’s Wandsworth prison. Sarao is accused of contributing to -but not causing, mind you; the Commodity Futures Trading Commission is adamant about that- the so-called “flash crash” that briefly wiped $1 trillion off the value of U.S. stocks on May 6, 2010. You can read the U.S. Justice Department’s case here. He faces a maximum prison term of 20 years for wire fraud, 25 years for commodities fraud, and 10 years for market manipulation and spoofing. The case against Sarao smells strongly of scapegoating.

First, there’s the issue of whether the misdeed he is accused of -“spoofing” the market- is a crime at all, as my colleague Matt Levine has explained at length, including here and here. (Importantly, if a London judge decides it’s not a crime in the U.K. to rapidly trade and cancel $3.5 billion worth of futures contracts in the space of two hours, then Sarao can’t be extradited.) Second, there are the financial machinations that are keeping Sarao in a prison cell, bringing to mind Franz Kafka’s novel, “The Trial.” A U.K. judge has declared the 36-year-old a flight risk and set his bail at $5 million, which is roughly what Sarao says his net worth is. The problem is that his assets are frozen and the judge refuses to accept his family home as surety, meaning Sarao may end up languishing in prison until he is extradited to the U.S. to face his accusers, which could take years.

What’s more, the CFTC is convinced he’s got money hidden away that he hasn’t declared. The regulator says Sarao made more than $40 million of profit, which is “stashed in a variety of offshore accounts and vehicles, as well as other apparently speculative foreign business ventures and are in danger of being concealed and/or dissipated.” That sounds pretty damning – until you get to the financial evidence presented in the U.S. complaint. A change in U.K. tax law created a heavy tax liability under his existing offshore accounts. To mitigate that, he created something called International Guarantee Corporation in 2012 in Anguilla in the British West Indies. (He also had a company, Nav Sarao Milking Markets, which he had set up two years earlier in Nevis.) Sarao seems to have been borrowing money from his company to fund his trading and reinvesting the profits in the company -a perfectly legal structure some of my wealthy friends have used in the past.

Read more …

A country corrupted from head to toe.

China Regulator Official Fired After Husband Suspected of Illegal Trading (WSJ)

China’s stock-market regulator said Saturday it had dismissed the head of the bureau that monitors share issuance after her husband was suspected of illegal stock trading. The China Securities Regulatory Commission said in a statement on its official Weibo microblog account that the official, Li Zhiling, was suspected of breaking the law and had been turned over to police. Her husband’s name wasn’t given. In the statement, the oversight body vowed to “investigate and deal severely with” any irregularities or legal violations without providing further detail. Calls to the regulatory commission went unanswered. The Wall Street Journal has been unable to contact Ms. Li or her husband. According to the website of the business magazine Caixin, Ms. Li was named to her post in 2012 and remained in charge after a reorganization in April 2014 that saw several departments combined.

The oversight agency said Saturday in its Weibo statement that it would redouble efforts to enhance control. “She’s suspected of breaking the law by taking advantage of her position,” it said. “Once we discover such violations, we will immediately take action to punish them. We do not take this lightly.” The commission’s pledge to root out malfeasance came as China’s benchmark Shanghai Composite Index suffered its worst weekly decline in years, with China’s largest market falling 13% over the past five trading sessions, including more than 6% on Friday. This follows a more than doubling of the market over the past year, fueled in part by a sharp increase in margin trading.

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Better wake up. Sell!

Australian Housing Market Facing ‘Bloodbath’ Collapse: Economists (SMH)

The Australian real estate market is in the grip of the biggest housing bubble in the nation’s history and Melbourne will be at the epicentre of an historic “bloodbath” when it bursts, according to two housing economists. Lindsay David and Philip Soos, who have authored books on the overheated housing market, have berated the housing industry and politicians who refuse to acknowledge the existence of a bubble due to a perceived shortage of housing in the major capitals. In a blunt submission to the upcoming parliamentary inquiry into home ownership, the pair claim there is actually an oversupply of housing, just as there was in the United States just before the market collapse that precipitated the global financial crisis.

And the largest oversupply is in Melbourne, where they forecast available homes outstrip demand by 123,000. “Contrary to the analyses of the vested interests, the data clearly establishes Australia is in the midst of the largest housing bubble on record. Policymakers are caught between a rock and a hard place, as implementing needed reforms will likely burst the bubble,” Mr David and Mr Soos state in a submission on behalf of real estate and financial services research house, LF Economics. They believe the current bubble is worse than those in the 1880s, 1920s, mid-1970s and late 1980s. “Australian economic history and recent international events illustrate collapsing housing bubbles can quickly increase the number of unsold properties (stale stock), shattering the pervasive myth of a deleterious dwelling shortage,” they wrote.

“Should this occur alongside rising unemployment and underemployment, reduced aggregate demand and falling net overseas migration, the combination of declining population growth and an oversupply of investment properties would place further downwards pressure on rental prices. Falling housing and rental prices, including sales, would be a doomsday trifecta for investors as they suffer losses in both capital prices and net rental incomes. “This calamitous outcome is especially likely in Melbourne where rents have not increased in real terms since 2010. Melbourne is primed to become the epicentre of a legendary housing market crash due to the combination of a staggering boom in real housing prices (178%). Perth is also in a serious predicament.”

Read more …

No more safe investments.

Canada’s Giant Pension Funds Are The New Masters Of The Universe (Telegraph)

Since 1790, the United States has suffered 16 banking crises, while Canada, a country that counts the US as its largest trading partner, has experienced none — not even during the Great Depression. How has Canada achieved such an extraordinary feat? Two reasons, according to the IMF: limited exposure to international banking operations, which meant far fewer foreign liabilities than many of their overseas peers and less globally integrated banking systems; and, Canada’s restrictions on mergers of major domestic banks, where rules prohibit a single shareholder – domestic or foreign – from owning more than 20pc of voting rights in a major bank. The World Economic Forum described Canada’s banking system as the most sound in the world, and Mark Carney was appointed Bank of England Governor largely on the basis of his impressive work at the Bank of Canada.

As one Canadian banker once put it, the country’s financial system, unlike those of many other countries, has always been well-capitalised, well-managed, well-diversified and well-regulated. By avoiding the financial crisis, Canada’s experience of recession in the years that followed 2008 was much more forgiving than the rest of the industrialised world, and it led the G-7 pack in terms of growth. As a result, Canada found the confidence to flex its muscles globally. Leading the charge overseas has been a pack of colossal public pension funds taking part in a remarkable spending spree, snapping up prime assets all over the world. According to reports, one of its largest, Borealis Infrastructure, is planning another big swoop.

The infrastructure arm of the $57bn Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System is eyeing a second bid for Severn Trent, the UK FTSE 100 water company. Borealis made a move for Severn Trent two years ago, but as part of a consortium involving investors from the US and Kuwait. This time it isn’t clear whether the Canadians still have partners or are operating alone – the reports are unconfirmed but a solo bid for a company of Severn Trent’s size would be hugely ambitious – the last time a FTSE 100 constituent was taken private was when KKR swooped on Alliance Boots in 2007 – the largest European buyout so far. Still, if anyone could pull off such a deal, it is probably one of the Canadian pension fund beasts. The country’s four largest funds manage more than $600bn between them and rank among the 40 largest in the world. Only the US can make similar claims.

Read more …

How the EU will split.

EU Extends Economic Sanctions Against Russia For 6 Months (RT)

The European Union has extended economic sanctions against Russian for a further six months, an EU official said. This follows the EU’s decision Friday to extend sanctions against Crimea for another year. The decision to extend the sanctions against Russia was announced by the EU Council’s press officer for foreign affairs, Susanne Kiefer. The sanctions are being maintained until January 31, 2016 to ensure the Minsk agreement is implemented, she wrote in her Twitter account. The European Union will review the sanctions regime against Russia in six or seven months, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni told reporters in Luxembourg. Dialogue with Russia, especially on Libya and Syria, is “crucially important” for the EU, Gentiloni added.

Agreement on the extension of sanctions was reached at a meeting of the EU Permanent Representatives Committee on June 17. In March, the EU Summit adopted a political declaration of intent to extend economic sanctions against Russia for another six months. In the document, the lifting of sanctions was linked to the full implementation of the conditions of the Minsk agreement, for the period up until the end of the year. EU sanctions against Russia include restrictions on lending to major Russian state-owned banks, as well as defense and oil companies. In addition, Brussels imposed restrictions on the supply of weapons and military equipment to Russia as well as military technology, dual-use technologies, high-tech equipment and technologies for oil production. No sanctions were imposed against Russia’s gas industry.

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Nice exposé.

Ayn Rand Killed The American Dream (Mathieu Ricard)

The billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros uses the term “free market fundamentalism” to describe the belief that the free market is not only the best but the only way of managing an economic system and preserving civil liberties. “The doctrine of laissez-Faire capitalism holds that the common good is best served by the uninhibited pursuit of self-interest,” he writes. If the laissez-faire attitude of an entirely deregulated free market were based on the laws of nature and had some scientific value, if it were anything other than an act of faith pronounced by the champions of ultraliberalism, it would have stood the test of time. But it hasn’t, since its unpredictability and the abuses it has permitted have led to the financial crises with which we are only too familiar.

For Soros, if the doctrine of economic laissez- faire — a term dear to philosopher Ayn Rand — had been submitted to the rigors of scientific and empirical research, it would have been rejected a long time ago. The free market facilitates the creation of businesses; innovation across many fields, for example in new technology, health, the Internet, and renewable energy; and affords undeniable opportunities to young entrepreneurs wishing to start up business activities that will further society. We have also seen that commercial exchange between democratic nations considerably reduces the risk of armed conflict between them. Yet, in the absence of any safeguard, the free market permits a predatory use of financial systems, giving rise to an increase in oligarchies, inequality, exploitation of the poorest producers, and the monetization of several aspects of human life whose value derives from anything other than money.

In his book What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, Michael Sandel, one of the United States’ most high-profile philosophers and an adviser to President Obama, says that neo-liberal economists understand the price of everything and the value of nothing. In 1997, he ruffled a lot of feathers when he questioned the morality of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, the agreement that removed the moral stigma attached to environmentally harmful activities by simply introducing the concept of buying the “right to pollute.” In his view, China and the United States are the least receptive countries to his outspoken objections to free market fundamentalism: “In other parts of east Asia, Europe and the UK, and India and Brazil, it goes without arguing that there are moral limits to markets, and the question is where to locate them.”

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They’re not that secret…

Behind the Scenes With the Pope’s Secret Science Committee (Bloomberg)

Several dozen of the world’s most prominent scientists sprang from their seats and left the Vatican hall where they were holding a conference on the environment in May 2014. They were bound for a meet-and-greet with Pope Francis at the modest Vatican hotel where he lives, the Domus Sanctae Marthae. Among the horde was Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a climate scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Since 2004, he has also been a member of a 400-year-old collective, one that operates as the pope’s eyes and ears on the natural world: the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. He had a message for Pope Francis. Only it was too long The academy’s chancellor, Archbishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, suggested to Ramanathan that he condense his thoughts to just two sentences — and deliver them to Francis in Spanish.

Ramanathan, who speaks no Spanish, spent the balance of the eight-minute jaunt committing the words to memory. He got it down with moments to spare. The phrases vanished as soon as he caught a glimpse of Pope Francis himself. The pope has that effect on people. Ramanathan, who is Hindu, reassembled his message in time, and in English. No pressure. All he had to do was sum up more than a century of thought and research that in the past two decades has been validated repeatedly by climate scientists globally. “We are concerned about climate change,” he told Francis. “The poorest 3 billion people are going to suffer the worst consequences. Ramanathan is one of many scientists and other advisers who have, over the last several decades, conveyed the urgency of climate change to the Vatican.

Now, Francis is responding. On Thursday the Vatican will release an encyclical letter, essentially a teaching document for bishops, on climate change and poverty. It draws on and elevates the utterances and writings of previous popes, particularly John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Yesterday, the Italian magazine L’Espresso published an unauthorized draft of the letter, called “Laudato Sii” or “Praised Be.” “Worth noting is the weakness of the international political response” to environmental decay, Francis writes, according to a Bloomberg translation of the draft. Political leaders bow too readily to technology and finance, he writes, and the results are apparent in their failure to protect natural systems: “There are too many special interests, and economic interest very easily comes to prevail over the common good and to manipulate information so that its plans are not hurt.”

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“The model does not account for the reality that people will react to escalating crises by changing behavior..” How useful is it then?

UK Scientific Model Flags Risk Of Civilisation’s Collapse By 2040 (Nafeez Ahmed)

New scientific models supported by the British government’s Foreign Office show that if we don’t change course, in less than three decades industrial civilisation will essentially collapse due to catastrophic food shortages, triggered by a combination of climate change, water scarcity, energy crisis, and political instability. Before you panic, the good news is that the scientists behind the model don’t believe it’s predictive. The model does not account for the reality that people will react to escalating crises by changing behavior and policies. But even so, it’s a sobering wake-up call, which shows that business-as-usual guarantees the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it: our current way of life is not sustainable.

The new models are being developed at Anglia Ruskin University’s Global Sustainability Institute (GSI), through a project called the ‘Global Resource Observatory’ (GRO). The GRO is chiefly funded by the Dawe Charitable Trust, but its partners include the British government’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO); British bank, Lloyds of London; the Aldersgate Group, the environment coalition of leaders from business, politics and civil society; the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries; Africa Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, and the University of Wisconsin. This week, Lloyds released a report for the insurance industry assessing the risk of a near-term “acute disruption to the global food supply.” Research for the project was led by Anglia Ruskin University’s GSI, and based on its GRO modelling initiative.

The report explores the scenario of a near-term global food supply disruption, considered plausible on the basis of past events, especially in relation to future climate trends. The global food system, the authors find, is “under chronic pressure to meet an ever-rising demand, and its vulnerability to acute disruptions is compounded by factors such as climate change, water stress, ongoing globalisation and heightening political instability.” Lloyd’s scenario analysis shows that food production across the planet could be significantly undermined due to a combination of just three catastrophic weather events, leading to shortfalls in the production of staple crops, and ensuing price spikes. In the scenario, which is “set in the near future,” wheat, maize and soybean prices “increase to quadruple the levels seen around 2000,” while rice prices increase by 500%.

Read more …

Feb 142015
 
 February 14, 2015  Posted by at 9:38 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  23 Responses »
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Harris&Ewing National Capital digs out after storm Jan 14 1939

I’ve addressed the issue a hundred times, and it pains me to see it only gets worse. But it does. And it’s not my pain that counts, it has no meaning whatsoever, it’s the fact that we are inching ever closer to the kind of situations none of us would choose.

That is, war, people dying from sheer misery, people dying because they have no access to the services we take for granted, and even people being shelled by their own government.

All these things are happening as we speak, and we accept them lying down – on our couches -, and choose to ignore and even deny them, because we are trapped in narratives spun by those who see a profit in spreading these narratives. And who have a solid grip on what gets spun and what is not.

This is not going to end well. Not unless we speak up. Not for anyone amongst us. This one will not pass by your door, or mine. We’re approaching decision time. For the world, for your life and mine. It’s time to pick sides.

As I said, I’ve talked about this numerous times. I suggest you read for example 2014: The Year Propaganda Came Of Age. And then realize that the age of innocence is gone. That ‘I didn’t know’ no longer counts for anything. That ‘I’m just trying to make a living’ only goes so far. That your life is not only about you.

February 12 seems to have been a busy day. There had been a 16 hour – largely overnight – meeting in Minsk attended by Merkel, Hollande, Petroshenko and Putin. Why Putin was asked to attend – ostensibly representing the Donbass ‘rebels’ – is up for questioning, but he was there. The rebels themselves were not.

Not long after the cease-fire was announced, perhaps even prior to it, US Senator Jim Inhofe released photos, which he claimed prove Russian troops are in Ukraine. These were subsequently found to be fake. Like every other single ‘proof’ has been found wanting.

Think about that for a second, another second: it’s been a year since Maidan, since Yanukovich was chased out, and still not one piece of ‘evidence’ has been made to stick. Not one. While the US have the most advanced spy technology ever seen on the planet, it has not been able to produce one piece of information, for a whole year, to prove its assertions that Russia provides weapons to the ‘rebels’, sends soldiers to fight in the Donbass, or has anything to do with shooting down a plane. Not one single piece of evidence.

And then comes Inhofe. Who’s a bigwig, and whose claims may well sway Senate votes towards sending US arms to Kiev:

Inhofe Releases ‘Exclusive’ Deathly Images To Free Beacon That Are Not

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) released photographs Thursday of what he says is confirmed Russian military action against Ukraine. He gave them “exclusively” to the Washington Free Beacon. Except there’s just one problem — some of the photographs given to WFB from the 80-year-old senator date back to 2008 from the AP and aren’t exclusive at all.

The photos are fake. Completely fake. Just like all the other evidence presented over the past year. There is nothing that proves any Russian involvement. And if there were anything, you bet your behind they would trump it all over Fox and CNN until the cows had come home and left again for greener pastures. The US is attempting to start a war out of nothing, and for nothing, just because a group of deluded people think they can, and need to, conquer the largest nation on earth for their own advantage.

At roughly the same time Senator Inhofe tried to peddle his fake pictures, Ukraine ultranationalist leader Dmitry Yarosh, of the Right Sector, proclaimed he wouldn’t honor the Minsk deal.

Ukraine Right Sector Leader Rejects Peace Deal, Vows ‘To Continue War’

Ukraine’s Right Sector leader Dmitry Yarosh said his radical movement rejects the Minsk peace deal and that their paramilitary units in eastern Ukraine will continue “active fighting” according to their “own plans.” The notorious ultranationalist leader published a statement on his Facebook page Friday, saying that his radical Right Sector movement doesn’t recognize the peace deal, signed by the so-called ‘contact group’ on Thursday and agreed upon by Ukraine, France, Germany and Russia after epic 16-hour talks. Yarosh claimed that any agreement with the eastern militia, whom he calls “terrorists,” has no legal force.

Not only did Yarosh, who now says he wants to keep on fighting, play a pivotal part in the Maidan movement,and was heavily supported by the US and EU, this same man who ignores the agreement his own president signed, is a member of the Ukraine Parliament. And he’s on Interpol’s wanted list too. Yarosh, an acknowledged neo nazi, fights on ‘our’ side, and if if people like John McCain get their way, he’ll soon be provided with heavy US armory.

Not to be outdone, NATO has this:

Nato Head Says Alliance Has Data On Russian Military Presence In Ukraine

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg claims that the intelligence service of the alliance has some documented data of Russian military presence in eastern Ukraine. Stoltenberg announced it on air of the Kommersant FM radio. According to Stoltenberg, the militias of eastern Ukraine wouldn’t have been able to achieve the success they are demonstrating without Russia’s support. He said that NATO receives data on Russian military presence in Ukraine from the intelligence services, journalists and other sources but presented no concrete facts.

Moscow has repeatedly denied alleged presence of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in late January that those accusing Russia of sending troops and weapons to the conflict-torn south-eastern Ukraine need to substantiate their accusations with proof. “We hear a lot about the flow of Russian troops and arms,” Lavrov said speaking at his annual news conference. “And every time I respond that if one speaks with such certainty, than one should present some facts. However, no one is either capable or willing to present the facts.”

Again, if they has any such data, it would be plastered over every news paper and every TV screen in the western world, and likely beyond. But, turns out, Stoltenberg is as reliable as Senator Inhofe and the rest of them are:

OSCE Chief Saw No Russian Troops In Ukraine’s East

Lamberto Zannier, secretary general of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), told a forum on OSCE’s project coordination in Ukraine he could not confirm the movement or the presence of Russian forces there…

To top off the madness, apparently yesterday, one day after the Minsk cease-fire accord, the EU announced new anti-Russian sanctions for Monday:

New Anti-Russia Sanctions to Enter Into Force Monday

Maja Kocijancic, European Commission’s spokesperson for foreign affairs, confirmed Friday that the EU will add 19 individuals, including five Russians, and nine entities to the list of sanctions over Ukraine on February 16. The statement was made a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin, together with the leaders of Germany, France and Ukraine, brokered a new deal on the crisis reconciliation in Minsk. “The political decision of additional listings has been taken on January 29. The [EU] Foreign Affairs Council on Monday adopted a legal act so it made it fulfilled this political commitment and has set to give the diplomatic efforts a chance that entering into force will happen on February 16, which is this coming Monday,” Kocijancic said.

The European Union, the United States and other countries have imposed several rounds of sanctions against Russia over its alleged role in the Ukrainian conflict. The restrictions target the country’s defense, energy and finance sectors, as well as a number of individuals. Moscow has repeatedly stressed that it is not militarily involved in Ukraine’s internal affairs. Following the Minsk talks, EU leaders convened for an informal meeting but a new-wave of anti-Russia sanctions was not on the agenda, European Council President Donald Tusk announced. Meanwhile European leaders agreed that the implementation of Thursday’s deal will become a touchstone for further relations with Russia.

That doesn’t make any sense at all, to declare new sanctions when you’ve just signed a deal. That smacks of less than honorable intentions.

Ultra right wing military hothead Yarosh, honorable member of the Ukraine parliament, states he will not abide by what his own superior signed, while the ink he signed it with was still fresh. Which means the Kiev government, and by extension the US and EU, can claim it wasn’t them who violated the accord, but it will be violated regardless. And then when the rebels, alternatively labeled pro-Russian or Russian-led, defend themselves against the Right Sector, the west will have its narrative to declare war on Russia.

And that will not turn out well for us, for you and me. There’s nothing there that will benefit us. The lives of our children will be sacrificed on the altar of a few handfuls of crazed psychopaths. Unless we stop them. It would seem there’s not much time left.

Jan 282015
 
 January 28, 2015  Posted by at 11:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Harris&Ewing “Street scene with snow, F STreet Washington, DC” 1918

Why Europe Will Cave to Greece (Bloomberg)
Can Europe Resist Greek Demands For A Debt Haircut? (CNBC)
How Wall Street Squeezed Greece – And Germany (MarketWatch)
Five Things Syriza Wants To Change (BBC)
Greece’s Coming Clash in Europe Starts With Russia Sanctions (Bloomberg)
Greek Finance Minister Varoufakis: ‘End The Vicious Cycle’ (CNBC)
Greek PM Alexis Tsipras Unveils Cabinet Of Mavericks And Visionaries (Guardian)
Stiglitz: Germany’s The Problem, Not Greece (CNBC)
Germany’s Top Institutes Push ‘Grexit’ Plans As Showdown Escalates (AEP)
Why Aren’t Markets Panicking About Greece? (BBC)
New Greek PM Finds Official Residence Strippped Bare By Predecessor (Guardian)
Orders for US Durable Goods Fell in December for Fourth Month (Bloomberg)
ECB Bond Buying Makes Fed Rate Increase More Likely (Bloomberg)
Obama Proposes Offshore Oil Drilling From Virginia to Georgia (Bloomberg)
Crude at $49: The New Reality for Big Oil Companies (Bloomberg)
He Called $50 Oil, Now He Says It’s Going Lower (MarketWatch)
France ‘Proves’ Q€ Is Entirely Useless (Zero Hedge)
Syriza’s ‘Bella Ciao’ Casts Shadow Over Italy President Vote (Bloomberg)
Portugal Repays IMF Early; Greece Prepares Fight (Bloomberg)
Singapore Surprises With Easing, Clubbing Currency (CNBC)
Subprime Bonds Are Back With Different Name 7 Years After US Crisis (Bloomberg)
Looming Recession Will Be “Remembered For 100 Years”: Crispin Odey (Zero Hedge)

“What surprises me is that this all-or-nothing positioning takes anybody in. Debts are debts? Please.”

Why Europe Will Cave to Greece (Bloomberg)

A prediction for you: Greece and the European Union will split the difference in their quarrel over debt relief. What’s uncertain is how their respective governments will justify the new deal, and how much damage they’ll inflict on each other before accepting the inevitable. EU governments, with Germany in the lead, are saying that debt writedowns are out of the question. Debts are debts. Greece’s newly elected leader, Alexis Tsipras, calls the current settlement “fiscal waterboarding” and says his country faces a humanitarian crisis. His government won’t pay and wants much of the debt written off. Neither side is willing to give way. What surprises me is that this all-or-nothing positioning takes anybody in. Debts are debts? Please. Europe’s governments have already provided debt relief to Greece. (In that process, private creditors saw their loans written down; most of what remains is owed to governments.)

However, the plan hasn’t worked. Greece’s fiscal position was so bad that the haircuts, reschedulings and interest-rate concessions weren’t sufficient to restore its creditworthiness. At the same time, thanks to slower-than-expected growth, the fiscal conditions tied to the settlement proved harsher than intended. Greek voters have just repudiated those terms. In other words, the existing settlement has failed. It therefore needs to be revised. No conceptual revolution is required. This conclusion follows from the same kind of analysis that EU governments have already relied on. For sure, granting additional debt relief has drawbacks – just as there were drawbacks to granting debt relief in the first place. It sends a bad message; it encourages bad behavior in future; it will inflame resentment among voters in other EU countries.

That’s why it’s a good idea, so far as possible, to make relief conditional on efforts to behave responsibly. But the likely consequences of any EU refusal to budge are much worse. There’s a serious risk that Greece will default unilaterally. This would not be in Greece’s interests, but it’s too close a call for comfort. The existing settlement will require the government to run primary budget surpluses (that is, excluding interest payments) in the neighborhood of 4% of GDP That means that if Greece defaulted, it could cut taxes or raise public spending substantially without needing to borrow. The downside of default would be huge – possible ejection from the euro system. That would be a calamity for Greece and, because of the risk of contagion, for the rest of the euro area as well. Nonetheless, if the EU offers Tsipras nothing, that’s how things could turn out.

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“.. to bring its debts down to 60% of GDP – in order to meet the terms of the fiscal compact – Greece would require a primary surplus (where government income exceeds spending) of 9% (of GDP).”

Can Europe Resist Greek Demands For A Debt Haircut? (CNBC)

As Greece’s new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras settles into running government, euro zone leaders have rushed to dismiss talk of any haircut or forgiveness of Greek debt, but economists are already wondering how long Europe’s resistance can last. Tsipras became prime minister after his party won a snap general election on Sunday, dramatically ousting the New Democracy party and its leader Antonis Samaras from power. Samaras oversaw tough austerity measures that were imposed as part of a 240 billion euro ($271 billion) bailout terms agreed with the so-called troika, comprising the European Commission, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank.

The left-wing party Syriza – which is joined in a coalition government by the right-wing Independent Greeks party – has said it will repeal unpopular austerity measures, rehire fired public sector workers and aim to get lenders to write off a third of Greece’s debt. Despite euro zone resistance to such a demand, the region’s leaders might not have much of a choice, according to economist Philippe Legrain. “Really, Greece needs a haircut,” Legrain, a former economic advisor to the President of the European Commission, told CNBC Tuesday. “Greece’s debts are unsustainably large.” On Monday, euro zone leaders did not delay in making their feelings on any possible debt haircut known to Syriza.

The head of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, reminded Tsipras of the need to “ensure fiscal responsibility” while German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble ruled out a debt haircut for Greece on Monday, telling ARD Television that Greece was not “overburdened by its debt servicing,” as Syriza argue. However, Legrain dismissed Scheuble’s comments as “propaganda” and criticized the Berlin government for “saying that this is somehow a bearable burden and that the interest costs are low. But to bring its debts down to 60% of GDP – in order to meet the terms of the fiscal compact – Greece would require a primary surplus (where government income exceeds spending) of 9% (of GDP).”

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“Europe, like the United States, seems to be at the beck and call of its financial industry.”

How Wall Street Squeezed Greece – And Germany (MarketWatch)

Europe’s political leaders and bankers would have you believe that the conflict between Greece and the European Union is a tug of war between a deadbeat nation and its richer ones who have come to the debtor’s aid time and time again. Instead, what most of these leaders miss is that it’s a bank bailout in plain view. What’s really happened is that since Greece ran into serious trouble repaying its debts four years ago, Germany, France and the EU have instituted what can only be described as a massive bailout of its own financial system — shifting the burden from its banks to taxpayers. Last week, asset manager Mike Shedlock republished research by Eric Dor, a French business school director, and it shows the magnitude of the shift. To put it simply, German taxpayers are on the hook for roughly $40 billion in Greek debt. German banks? Just $181 million, though they do hold $5.9 billion in exposure to Greek banks. Those numbers are a flip-flop from where things stood less than five years ago.

This massive shift from private gains to public losses was done through the European Financial Stability Facility. Created in 2010, this was the European Union’s answer to the U.S. Troubled Asset Relief Program, the Treasury Department’s 2008 bailout program. There are some differences. The EFSF issues bonds, for instance, but the principle is the same. Governments buy bad bank debt and hold it on the public’s books. The terms set by the EFSF are basically what’s at issue when we hear about Greece’s new government being opposed to austerity in their nation. The Syriza victory, which was a sharp rebuke to the massive cost-cutting in government spending, including pensions and social welfare costs, drew warnings from leaders across Europe. “Mr. Tsipras must pay, those are the rules of the game, there is no room for unilateral behavior in Europe, that doesn’t rule out a rescheduling of the debt,” ECB’s Benoît Coeuré said.

“If he doesn’t pay, it’s a default and it’s a violation of the European rules.” British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Twitter account said, the Greek election results “will increase economic uncertainty across Europe.” And Jens Weidmann, president of the German central bank, warned the new ruling party that it “should not make promises that the country cannot afford.” Those sound like very threatening words. And one wonders if these same officials made the same tough statements to Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank, Credit Agricole or SocGen when they were faced with potentially billions in losses when the banks were holding Greek debt. [..] Perhaps the move to shift Greek liabilities to state-owned banks (Germany’s export/import bank holds $17 billion in Greek debt) was necessary, but that doesn’t make it fair, or the right thing to do. Europe, like the United States, seems to be at the beck and call of its financial industry.

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“Syriza wants Germany to repay a loan that the Nazis forced the Bank of Greece to pay during the occupation. That would work out at an estimated €11bn today.”

Five Things Syriza Wants To Change (BBC)

Syriza, the left-wing party that stormed to power in Greece with 36% of the vote, has promised to ditch austerity and renegotiate the country’s €240bn bailout with the EU and IMF. But what exactly have Greeks signed up to, backing a party that was once a wide-ranging far-left coalition that included Maoists? Here are five of Syriza’s key aims.

Actions on jobs and wages Most eye-catching for Greeks is the promise of 300,000 new jobs in the private, public and social sectors, and a hefty increase in the minimum monthly wage – from €580 to €751. The new jobs would focus on the young unemployed – almost 50% of under-25s are out of work – and the long-term unemployed, especially those over 55. Salaries and pensions plummeted in 2012 as Greek ministers tried to curb spending. Now Syriza aims to reverse many of those “injustices”, bringing back the Christmas bonus pension, known as the 13th month, for pensioners receiving less than €700 a month. Syriza says it will rebuild Greece with what it describes as four pillars: • Confronting the humanitarian crisis • Restarting the economy and promoting tax justice • Regaining employment • Transforming the political system to deepen democracy

Power to the people For Syriza, 300,000 appears to be a magic number. They are promising 300,000 households under the poverty line up to 300 kWh of free electricity per month and food subsidies for the same number of families who have no income. Tax on heating fuel will be scrapped. Then there are plans for free medical care for those without jobs and medical insurance.

Debt write-off The headline-grabbing Syriza policy that has shaken the eurozone is a promise to write off most of Greece’s €319bn debt, which is a colossal 175% of its GDP. But the write-off is only part of it. Syriza also wants: • Repayment of the remaining debt tied to economic growth, not the Greek budget • A “significant moratorium” on debt payments • The purchase of Greek sovereign bonds under the European Central Bank’s €60bn monthly programme of quantitative easing.

Syriza wants a European Debt Conference modelled on the London Debt Conference of 1953, when half of Germany’s post-World War Two debt was written off, leading to a sharp increase in economic growth. If it happened for Germany, it can happen for Greece, the party argues. Syriza wants Germany to repay a loan that the Nazis forced the Bank of Greece to pay during the occupation. That would work out at an estimated €11bn today. The Independent Greeks also want Germany to pay war reparations.

Scrapping of property tax It is not just the poor who voted for Syriza but the middle classes as well. Property owners in Athens’s leafy, northern suburbs were enticed with the promised abolition of a hated annual levy on private property. Known as “Enfia”, the tax was introduced in 2011 as an emergency measure but made permanent under the previous government. Instead, there will be a tax on luxury homes and large second properties.

Closer relations with Russia It did not go unnoticed that the first foreign ambassador whom Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras met as prime minister was Russia’s envoy. Not a great surprise, perhaps, as he was once considered a pro-Moscow communist and visited Russia last May. Mr Tsipras has strongly criticised EU sanctions imposed on Russia for its annexation of Crimea and its involvement in eastern Ukraine, and there are signs that the election of a pro-Russian government in Athens could affect policy in Brussels.

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“Sanctions require unanimity among the 28 governments.”

Greece’s Coming Clash in Europe Starts With Russia Sanctions (Bloomberg)

Greece’s new government questioned moves to impose more sanctions on Russia, adding a foreign-policy angle to its challenge to the status quo in Europe. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s Syriza-led coalition said it opposed a European Union statement issued in Brussels Tuesday paving the way to additional curbs on the Kremlin over the conflict in Ukraine, and complained it hadn’t been consulted. “Greece doesn’t consent,” the government said in a statement. It added that the announcement violated “proper procedure” by not first securing Greece’s agreement. Whether the government in Athens turns that rhetoric into reality will be tested when Greece’s new foreign minister, Nikos Kotzias, has the opportunity to block further sanctions at an EU meeting in Brussels on Thursday.

Sanctions require unanimity among the 28 governments. A Greek veto would shatter the fragile European consensus over dealing with Russia, potentially robbing Syriza of early goodwill as it lobbies for easier terms for Greece’s bailout. It would also deepen a looming stand-off with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has signaled her support to keep up the pressure on Russia amid an escalation in violence in eastern Ukraine. Kotzias, a politics professor and former communist, has advocated closer ties with Russia, spoken out against a German-dominated Europe and, in the 1980s, praised the Polish government’s crackdown on the Solidarity movement.

He said the new government objected to the “rules of operation” within the EU regarding the Russia statement. “Anyone who thinks that in the name of the debt, Greece will resign its sovereignty and its active counsel in European politics is mistaken,” Kotzias said at the ceremony to take over the Foreign Ministry. “We want to be Greeks, patriots, Europeanists, internationalists.” He’s part of a cabinet in Greece named on Tuesday by Tsipras after he formed a coalition with Independent Greeks, a more socially conservative party that also opposes austerity. After winning the election two seats short of a majority, Syriza decided against seeking a deal with To Potami, a new party whose leader has pledged to steer a “European course.”

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“You know that I can’t really repay you the money I already borrowed and now you’re asking me to borrow more..”

Greek Finance Minister Varoufakis: ‘End The Vicious Cycle’ (CNBC)

Greece’s newly elected government will look to “end the vicious cycle” of bailout and borrowing that has persisted through years of financial crisis, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis told CNBC on Tuesday. Varoufakis is a member of the Cabinet of Alexis Tsipras, who was elected prime minister on Sunday. Tsipras leads the leftist Syriza party, which has formed a coalition with the right-wing Independent Greeks party. The new government has made renegotiating Greek debt to the European Central Bank a priority. It wants European leaders, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund to “table [its] comprehensive proposal for ending this never-ending Greek crisis,” Varoufakis said in an interview on CNBC.

Tsipras’ party has promised to repeal austerity policy and seek to shave off some of Greece’s debt. The country has imposed stiff austerity measures in the years following a €240 billion euro bailout package from the “troika” of the European Commission, ECB and IMF. Varoufakis stressed “finding common ground for Europeans.” He argued that Greece has been put in a tough situation where it is being asked to borrow money to pay back debts for which it already borrowed. “You know that I can’t really repay you the money I already borrowed and now you’re asking me to borrow more,” Varoufakis said.

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“Panos Kammenos, who has declared that Europe is governed by “German neo-Nazis”, assumes the helm of the defence ministry.”

Greek PM Alexis Tsipras Unveils Cabinet Of Mavericks And Visionaries (Guardian)

Greece’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, has lined up a formidable coterie of academics, human rights advocates, mavericks and visionaries to participate in Europe’s first anti-austerity government. Displaying few signs of backing down from pledges to dismantle punitive belt-tightening measures at the heart of the debt-choked country’s international rescue programme, the leftwing radical put together a 40-strong cabinet clearly aimed at challenging Athens’s creditors. In a taste of what lies ahead, Yanis Varoufakis, the flamboyant new finance minister, said on his way to the government’s swearing-in ceremony that negotiations would not continue with the hated troika of officials representing foreign lenders. “They have already begun but not with the troika,” said Varoufakis, an economist who has disseminated his anti-orthodox views through blogs and tweets almost daily since the debt crisis exploded in Athens in late 2009 – something he promised on Tuesday to continue to do.

“The time to put up or shut up has, I have been told, arrived,” he wrote on his blog. “My plan is to defy such advice.” Tsipras’s Syriza party, which emerged as the winner of snap polls on Sunday, has been adamant that it will deal only with governments, and not the technocrats that represent the EU, ECB and IMF. Varoufakis is to represent Greece at eurozone meetings. Setting its stamp on the new era, the cabinet took the oath of office in two separate ceremonies, with some sworn in during a religious service but most breaking with tradition to conduct their investiture before the president, Karolos Papoulias. Tsipras, an avowed atheist, was sworn in by Papoulias on Monday. At 40 he is Athens’s youngest postwar prime minister. After falling two seats short of attaining a 151-seat majority in Greece’s 300-seat parliament, Syriza was forced into a coalition with the populist rightwing Independent Greeks party.

The junior partner is openly Eurosceptic and withering of the way international creditors have turned Greece into an “occupied zone, a debt colony”. Its leader, Panos Kammenos, who has declared that Europe is governed by “German neo-Nazis”, assumes the helm of the defence ministry. Tsipras acted on pledges to pare back government with the establishment of 10 ministries and four super-ministries amalgamating different portfolios, starkly illuminating the failure of previous Greek governments to act on promises to reform ministry structures. Giorgos Stathakis, a political economics professor, took over the development portfolio, a super-ministry that includes oversight of tourism, transport and shipping, the country’s biggest industries. Panaghiotis Kouroublis, who is blind, was made health minister, becoming the first Greek politician with a disability to hold public office. Euclid Tsakalotos, a British-trained economist who rose out of the anti-globalisation movement, became deputy minister in charge of international economic relations.

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“Greece made a few mistakes … but Europe made even bigger mistakes..”

Stiglitz: Germany’s The Problem, Not Greece (CNBC)

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz told CNBC on Monday that the euro zone should stay together but if it breaks apart, it would be better for Germany to leave than for Greece. “While it was an experiment to bring them together, nothing has divided Europe as much as the euro,” Stiglitz said in a “Squawk Box” interview. The risk of a sovereign default in Greece has increased after the anti-austerity party Syriza won Sunday’s snap elections, raising concerns over the possibility of a Greek exit from the euro zone. Greece is not the only economy struggling under the euro, and that’s why a new approach is needed, Stiglitz said. “The policies that Europe has foisted on Greece just have not worked and that’s true of Spain and other countries.”

The Columbia University professor is one of 18 prominent economists who co-authored a letter saying that Europe would benefit from giving Greece a fresh start through debt reduction and a further conditional extension in the grace period. But in the letter in the Financial Times last week, they stressed that Greece would also have to carry out reforms. “Greece made a few mistakes … but Europe made even bigger mistakes,” Stiglitz told CNBC. “The medicine they gave was poisonous. It led the debt to grow up and the economy to go down.” “If Greece leaves, I think Greece will actually do better. … There will be a period of adjustment. But Greece will start to grow,” he said. “If that happens, you going to see Spain and Portugal, they’ve been giving us this toxic medicine and there’s an alternative course.”

Insisting that it’s best for Europe and the world to keep the euro intact, he argued that keeping the single currency together requires more integration. “There’s a whole set of an unfinished economic agenda which most economists agree on, except Germany doesn’t.” He said the real problem is Germany, which has benefited greatly under the euro. “Most economists are saying the best solution for Europe, if it’s going to break up, is for Germany to leave. The mark would rise, the German economy would be dampened.” Under that scenario, Germany would find out just how much it needs the euro to stay together, he added, and possibly be more willing to help out the countries that are struggling. “The hope was, by having a shared currency, they would grow together.” But he said that should work both ways.

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Ambrose has a more aggressive take.

Germany’s Top Institutes Push ‘Grexit’ Plans As Showdown Escalates (AEP)

A top German body has called for a clear mechanism to force Greece out of the euro if the left-wing Syriza government repudiates the terms of the country’s €245bn rescue. “Financial support must be cut off if Greece does not comply with its reform commitments,” said the Institute of German Economic Research (IW). “If Greece is going to take a tough line, then Europe will take a tough line as well.” IW is the second German institute in two days to issue a blunt warning to the new Greek premier, Alexis Tsipras, who has vowed to halt debt payments and reverse austerity measures imposed by the EU-IMF Troika. The ZEW research group said on Tuesday that the EU authorities should order an immediate stress test of banks linked to Greece, and drive home the threat that they are willing to let a Greek default run its course rather than cave to pressure.

“Europe should clearly signal that it is not susceptible to blackmail,” it said. Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, said in Brussels that debt forgiveness for Greece is out of the question. “Anybody discussing a haircut just shows they don’t know what they are talking about.” Mr Schäuble said he was sick of having to justify his rescue strategy. “We have given exceptional help to Greece. I must say emphatically that German taxpayers have handed over a great deal,” he said. In a clear warning, he said the eurozone is now strong enough to withstand a major shock. “In contrast to 2010, the financial markets have faith in the eurozone. We face no risk of contagion, so nobody should think we can be put under pressure easily. We are relaxed,” he said. Officials in Berlin are irritated that Mr Tsipras has gone into coalition with the Independent Greeks, a viscerally anti-German party that seems to be spoiling for a cathartic showdown over Greece’s debt.

“This increases the risk of a head-on collision with the international creditors,” said Holger Schmieding, from Berenberg Bank. Mr Schmieding said the likelihood of “Grexit” has risen to 35pc. He warned that Mr Tsipras could be in for a reality shock after making “three impossible promises to his country in one campaign”. The risk is that he will end up “ruining his country” like Argentina’s Peronist leader Cristina Kirchner. “Vicious circles can start fast,” he said. Sources close to Mr Tsipras say he is convinced that German leaders are bluffing and will ultimately yield rather than admit to their own people that the whole EMU crisis strategy has been a failure. Markets do not agree. Credit default swaps measuring bankruptcy risk in Greece rocketed on Tuesday by 248 points to 1,654, but those for Portugal, Italy and Spain barely moved.

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“Greece’s debt problem is worse today than it was when it was rescued.”

Why Aren’t Markets Panicking About Greece? (BBC)

The Greek people don’t seem desperately grateful for the 240bn euros in bailouts they’ve had from the eurozone and IMF – and here is one way of seeing why. The country’s economic crisis was caused in large part because its government had taken on excessive debts. So at the time the crisis began in earnest, at the end of 2009, its debts as a share of GDP were 127% of GDP or national income – and rose the following year to 146% of GDP. As a condition of the official rescues, significant public spending cuts and austerity were imposed on Greece. And that had quite an impact on economic activity. The country was already in recession following the 2008 financial crisis. But since 2010, and thanks in large part to austerity imposed by Brussels, GDP has shrunk a further 19%.

GDP per head, perhaps a better measure of the hardship imposed on Greeks, has fallen 22% since the onset of the 2008 debacle. So austerity has certainly hurt. But has it worked to get Greece’s debts down? To the contrary, Greek debt as a share of GDP has soared to 176% of GDP, as of the end of September 2014. Now it has fallen a bit in absolute terms. Greek public sector debt was €265bn in 2008, €330bn in 2010 and was €316bn in September of last year. But it is debt as a share of GDP or national income which determines affordability. And on that important measure, Greece’s debt problem is worse today than it was when it was rescued. To state the obvious, it is the collapse in the economy which has done the damage.

And although Greece started to grow again last year, at the current annual growth rate of 1.6% (which may not be sustained) it would take longer than a generation to reduce national debt to a manageable level. Little wonder therefore that a party – Syriza – campaigning to end austerity and write off debts, has enjoyed an overwhelming victory in the general election. That it appears to be two seats short of a clear majority in the Athens parliament should not disguise the clear message sent by Greek people to Brussels. Or perhaps it would be more apt to talk of the message being sent to Berlin – since it is Germany which has been the big eurozone country most wedded to the economic orthodoxy that there’s no gain without austerity pain.

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Samaras is one sore loser.

New Greek PM Finds Official Residence Strippped Bare By Predecessor (Guardian)

To the victor the spoils? Not in Athens, where the new prime minister arrived at his official residence on Monday night to discover that computers, paperwork and even the toiletries had been removed by the outgoing administration. Shortly after he was sworn in, Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras found himself inside the Maximos Mansion without some basic necessities. “They took everything,” he said. “I was looking for an hour to find soap.” Traditionally, a defeated Greek prime minister will wait until their successor has been anointed to wish them well. But Antonis Samaras was in such a rush to go that he even failed to leave the Wi-Fi password.

“We sit in the dark. We have no internet, no email, no way to communicate with each other,” one staffer told Germany’s Der Spiegel. It took until Tuesday evening for Tsipras to get his hands on the official prime ministerial Twitter account. In his first tweet, he repeated the oath he took 24 hours earlier, pledging to uphold the constitution and always serve the interests of the Greek people. But on Tuesday night, the new administration was struggling to put its mark on the system; 48 hours after the polls closed, an official Greek government website still showed Samaras as prime minister.

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3.4% is no pittance.

Orders for US Durable Goods Fell in December for Fourth Month (Bloomberg)

Orders for business equipment unexpectedly fell in December for a fourth month, signaling a global growth slowdown is weighing on American companies. Bookings for non-military capital goods excluding aircraft dropped 0.6% for a second month, data from the Commerce Department showed today in Washington. Demand for all durable goods – items meant to last at least three years – declined 3.4%, the worst performance since August. Slackening demand from Europe and some emerging markets is probably weighing on orders, making companies less willing to invest in new equipment. At the same time, brightening American consumer attitudes are leading to gains in purchases of big-ticket items such as automobiles and appliances that can ripple through the economy and underpin manufacturing.

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No need for any Yellen announcements this week.

ECB Bond Buying Makes Fed Rate Increase More Likely (Bloomberg)

Dollar bulls say Europe’s €1.1 trillion euro bond-buying plan will bring the Federal Reserve a step closer to raising interest rates before the year’s out. By pumping cash into global markets, the European Central Bank may clear the way for the U.S. to tighten its own money supply without stoking volatility, according to Citigroup and Bank of America. As Fed officials start a two-day policy meeting, the greenback is extending a rally that’s taken it to a more than decade-high versus a basket of its peers even as bond investors express less conviction about the timing of an U.S. central bank’s first rate increase since 2006. “We’ve been expecting dollar strength, and it’s coming quicker than we thought,” Steven Englander at Citigroup said.

Fed officials “may feel they actually have to advance the first tightening rather than put it off.” Money has flooded into dollar assets in recent months as the world’s largest economy outperforms its developed peers and the Fed prepares to raise its main interest rate from the zero-to-0.25% range it’s been in since 2008. That makes the dollar more valuable to investors, particularly as central banks from Japan and Canada to Europe debase their currencies by easing their monetary policies. The anticipated timing of that first Fed increase inched forward as the ECB unveiled its government-bond purchase program. Investors now expect the U.S. central bank to boost borrowing costs from near zero in October, after betting on a December increase just a month ago, according to futures prices compiled by Bloomberg.

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Sure, we don’t have enough of the stuff yet.

Obama Proposes Offshore Oil Drilling From Virginia to Georgia (Bloomberg)

The Obama administration proposed opening to offshore drilling an area from Virginia to Georgia in a policy shift long sought by energy companies but opposed by environmentalists concerned about popular resorts such as the Outer Banks and Myrtle Beach. The proposed offshore plan for 2017 to 2022, marks the second time President Barack Obama has recommended unlocking areas in the U.S. Atlantic for oil drilling, and faced criticism from allies who say the risks of a spill along the populated coast don’t justify the payoff. “At this early stage in considering a lease sale in the Atlantic, we are looking to build up our understanding of resource potential, as well as risks to the environment and other uses,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement.

The agency said it would do one auction in the Atlantic and keep a 50-mile buffer from the shore. Managing the U.S. oil and gas boom has become a fraught issue for Obama, who has continued to trumpet the benefits of the jump in production and falling prices, while also seeking to balance it with a desire to combat climate change. Environmentalists say the administration hasn’t done enough to counter the risks of pollution, spills and greenhouse-gas emissions from the domestic production. “The world is in a very big hole with climate change and when you’re in a hole the first order of business should be to stop digging,” Steve Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International, said in an e-mail. “Unfortunately, the administration’s five-year plan amounts to climate denial.”

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“Our research suggests that the consensus view that oil markets will recover by the second half of 2015 may well be optimistic.”

Crude at $49: The New Reality for Big Oil Companies (Bloomberg)

Financial results from a fourth quarter that saw the collapse of the crude market will provide a window into how the world’s biggest oil companies are adjusting to a new reality of slowing growth and low prices. Oil that topped $115 a barrel as recently as June has been trading below $50 a barrel since the first week of the year, portending a bleak 2015 for the world’s five so-called supermajors – Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, Total and BP. The companies, whose businesses combine oil and natural gas exploration with refining and chemical manufacturing, have historically been among the most resilient players during down cycles. This could be the oil bust that breaks that pattern. “The issue for this group of companies is they don’t have bulletproof business models,” said Brian Hennessey at Alpine Woods. A 57% plunge in the price of oil since June “really tests your convictions.”

The industry’s stark change in fortune set off panic from corporate board rooms to drill-rig floors as companies that pump almost one-tenth of the world’s crude scramble to tighten budgets and preserve cash for dividends, buybacks and capital projects too far along to abandon. BP froze wages, Chevron delayed its 2015 drilling budget and Shell canceled a $6.5 billion Persian Gulf investment; layoffs industrywide have topped 30,000, enough to fill almost every seat in Madison Square Garden twice. Investors will be sifting the data from the fourth quarter for clues to how long the current slump will last. Momentum from $109 a barrel oil during the first half of the year helped carry producers through the last three months, when the price of Brent, the benchmark used by most of the world, averaged $77.07 — well above the current price of $49.

The effects of lower prices will still take their toll as all except Shell are forecast to report earnings declines compared with the fourth quarter of 2013. Shell profits are expected to rise compared with unusually ugly results the year before. Worldwide crude supplies appear likely to exceed demand for the rest of the year and beyond, even as the lowest oil prices since 2009 discourage new developments in high-cost regions such as Canada’s oil sands, said Paul Sankey at Wolfe Research. That would postpone any rebound in share prices of the five biggest oil majors, which have tumbled by an average of 8.1% since crude prices began to slide in June. That compares with a 28% decline in a Standard & Poors index of 18 smaller U.S. oil and gas producers. “Buying oil equities here would be dangerous,” Sankey said. “Our research suggests that the consensus view that oil markets will recover by the second half of 2015 may well be optimistic.”

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“’Never’ is a long time.” Then he paused. “It’s going to be a long time.”

He Called $50 Oil, Now He Says It’s Going Lower (MarketWatch)

Last November, when I was trying to figure out where oil prices were going, I spoke with Shawn Driscoll, manager of the T. Rowe Price New Era Fund, a mutual fund that focuses on natural resource stocks. Brent crude was trading at $80 a barrel, and there was speculation that OPEC would halt its slide by cutting production at its upcoming meeting, scheduled for Thanksgiving Day. Driscoll was having none of it. Oil, gold, and other commodities, he told me, were in a secular bear market that could last another decade. He said oil would bottom out around $50 over the next 10 years. Actually it took less than 10 weeks, as Brent traded under $48 a barrel on Monday. I usually don’t revisit columns or sources that quickly, but events have moved so fast I decided to catch up with Driscoll again. Right off the bat, he acknowledged being surprised by the suddenness of oil’s price drop.

“We expected Saudi Arabia to cut, frankly,” he told me in a phone interview. “Once Saudi Arabia didn’t cut production, it became clear to us there was a problem.” Both supply and demand were heading in opposite directions more drastically than he expected. “Underlying demand got a lot weaker, Libya came back, Iraqi volumes have been pretty good,” he explained. We spoke last Friday, the day after the pro-U.S. Yemeni government had fallen and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia died and was succeeded by his 79-year-old half-brother Salman. Yet despite these new uncertainties in the world’s most volatile, energy-rich region, Driscoll’s view remains unchanged: look out below. He explained that $40 a barrel is the top of the industry’s operating cost curve – the price at which individual wells break even after they’ve been drilled and are producing and below which operators shut in existing wells.

So, does he think Brent will fall below that $40 magic number? “I do,” he told me. Why? Whatever political or competitive motives may be behind Saudi Arabia’s refusal to cut production, the world is awash in oil. “There’s still an overwhelming glut of supply in global markets,” Stephen Schork, president of Schork Group, said. No wonder Wall Street firms have been falling all over each other to predict ever-lower crude prices: Goldman Sachs is looking for $40 Brent and Bank of America Merrill Lynch says crude futures could fall to $31 a barrel in the first quarter, lower than they were during the financial crisis. “The job of correcting markets when they’re oversupplied is to find a price that destroys the oversupply,” Driscoll told me. That destruction is just getting started. Asked about billionaire Saudi investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s comments that “I’m sure we’re never going to see $100 anymore,” Driscoll replied: “’Never’ is a long time.” Then he paused. “It’s going to be a long time.”

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Not for the banks.

France ‘Proves’ Q€ Is Entirely Useless (Zero Hedge)

According to the doctrine of central planners, the idea of Q€ is to lower rates to encourage borrowing (and credit creation) to spark growth and kickstart a virtuous recovery. As the following chart shows, that is total and utter crap… French jobseekers just hit a fresh record high and French rates just hit a record low – and that has been the story for 6 years. So – just as The Fed was finally forced to admit, Q€ is nothing more than wealth redistribution from all taxpayers to the ultra-rich asset owners who – it is hoped- will bless the plebeians with some trickle-down-ness… with every asset under the moon already at record highs, once again we ask – just what do you think this will achieve Draghi.

And finally, we have no words for this idiot…: “Bank Of Italy’s PANETTA: ECB QE TO BOOST GROWTH ‘SIGNIFICANTLY’ OVER NEXT 2 YEARS”. Yep – they really believe that.

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Syriza is sure to wake up sentiments across Europe.

Syriza’s ‘Bella Ciao’ Casts Shadow Over Italy President Vote (Bloomberg)

As Greeks welcome Syriza’s historical victory with the Italian partisan anthem “Bella Ciao,” Italian Premier Matteo Renzi is nervously eyeing resistance within his own party before a key presidential vote this week. “By gaining a clear lead and moving to form a new government in a short time, Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras is also galvanizing his Italian supporters, including a significant number of Renzi’s opponents within his party,” Francesco Galietti, founder of research firm Policy Sonar in Rome, said in a phone interview. Renzi’s grip on the Democratic Party, or PD, will be closely-watched Jan. 29, when 1,009 national lawmakers and regional delegates meet in Rome to start voting for the new head of state, a post left vacant by 89-year-old Giorgio Napolitano earlier this month.

Some lawmakers within the left-wing PD minority, including Giuseppe Civati and Stefano Fassina, were part of a pro-Syriza delegation who visited Athens before the vote. Supporters of Nichi Vendola, leader of the Left, Ecology and Freedom party, one of the strongest supporters of Syriza in Italy, sang the World War II “Bella Ciao” anthem at a three-day event in Milan last week. Now, Vendola is trying to open a dialogue with the anti-Renzi line of the PD to see if they can join forces. “Numerous defections in the first three rounds of voting and an election that drags on past the fifth round will spell trouble” for the premier, Wolfango Piccoli, managing director at Teneo Intelligence in London, wrote in a Jan. 13 note to clients. Such an outcome would probably mark the beginning of the end for “his flagship reforms and the current legislature.”

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Paying off the IMF through record low borrowing. Sounds nice, but what justifies the low rates for places like Portugal?

Portugal Repays IMF Early; Greece Prepares Fight (Bloomberg)

As Greece gets ready to fight the IMF, Portugal wants to pay it off early. While Greece catapulted Alexis Tsipras into power and set up a confrontation with its creditors, Portugal has raised almost half of its planned gross bond issuance for this year. With falling borrowing costs, Portugal now plans to make an early repayment of its IMF bailout loans. “Portugal has already covered about 40% of the maximum size of its own target, and it extended its curve by eight years,” said David Schnautz at Commerzbank. “After this start, Portugal should be able to wrap up its ‘must do’ bond supply activities soon, maybe before the slow supply summer season.” Portugal’s message to investors is this: the country is more like Ireland than Greece. The Irish government has already taken advantage of record low borrowing costs and relative political stability to refinance about €9 billion of its IMF loans.

While anti-austerity parties Podemos in Spain and Tsipras’s Syriza in Greece tap into voter discontent, in Portugal the ruling Social Democrats and the Socialists, the main opposition party, still dominate opinion polls ahead of elections scheduled for September or October. “The political system has proven its maturity,” Economy Minister Antonio Pires de Lima said. “The radical parties exist, but you cannot imagine in Portugal that those parties get more than 10% or 15%, never more than 20% in polls.” Portugal this month sold 5.5 billion euros of 10- and 30-year government securities via banks. Debt agency IGCP plans gross issuance of €12 billion to €14 billion in 2015. The government is paying an estimated 3.7% on 26.5 billion euros of IMF loans. They formed part of the country’s 2011 bailout program, which Portugal exited in May last year after Ireland wrapped up its rescue package in December 2013.

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One more down in the currency race to the bottom.

Singapore Surprises With Easing, Clubbing Currency (CNBC)

Singapore’s central bank surprised markets with a between-meeting easing amid nearly non-existent inflation, sending the city-state’s currency sharply lower. “With material downward revision to the inflation outlook, MAS (Monetary Authority of Singapore) saw cause for preemptive action,” Mizuho Bank said in a note Wednesday. “On the growth front, MAS also sounded more cautious, pointing to a mixed outlook for the global economy, which is likely to weigh on the export-oriented sectors.” Without waiting for its scheduled April review – or today’s U.S. Federal Reserve’s meeting – the MAS Wednesday announced that it was reducing the slope of the Singapore dollar’s appreciation against an undisclosed, trade-weighted basket of currencies.

Rather than using interest rates, Singapore sets its monetary policy by adjusting the currency’s trading range. The slope was last flattened in 2011 and this was the MAS’ first unscheduled policy statement since 2001. Inflation in the trade-dependent city-state has been on the wane despite rising labor shortages as the government limited the number of foreign workers. In December, the consumer price index fell 0.2% on-year after declining 0.3% in November as declining oil prices globally eased fuel costs and as housing costs were lower. The MAS cut its headline inflation forecast for 2015 to a band of negative 0.5% to 0.5% from 0.5-1.5% previously.

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Just great.

Subprime Bonds Are Back With Different Name 7 Years After US Crisis (Bloomberg)

The business of bundling riskier U.S. mortgages into bonds without government backing is gearing up for a comeback. Just don’t call it subprime. Hedge fund Seer Capital Management, money manager Angel Oak Capital and Sydney-based bank Macquarie are among firms buying up loans to borrowers who can’t qualify for conventional mortgages because of issues such as low credit scores, foreclosures or hard-to-document income. They each plan to pool the mortgages into securities of varying risk and sell some to investors this year. JPMorgan analysts predict as much as $5 billion of deals could get done, while Nomura Holdings Inc. forecasts $1 billion to $2 billion. Investment firms are looking to revive the market without repeating the mistakes that fueled the U.S. housing crisis last decade, which blew up the global economy.

This time, they will retain the riskiest stakes in the deals, unlike how Wall Street banks and other issuers shifted most of the dangers before the crisis. Seer Capital and Angel Oak prefer the term “nonprime” for lending that flirts with practices that used to be employed for debt known as subprime or Alt-A. While “subprime is a dirty word” these days, “what everyone is seeing is the credit box has shrunk so much that there’s a lot of good potential borrowers out there not being served,” said John Hsu, the head of capital markets at Angel Oak. The Atlanta-based firm expects to have enough loans for a deal next quarter in which it retains about 20% to 33%, he said. Reopening this corner of the bond market may lower consumer costs and expand riskier lending, aiding the housing recovery.

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“..the slowdown/recession finds a secondary downturn thanks to the immediate closing down of any discretionary capital expenditure..”

Looming Recession Will Be “Remembered For 100 Years”: Crispin Odey (Zero Hedge)

“I think equity markets will get devastated,” warns famed $12bn AUM hedge fund manager Crispin Odey in his latest letter to investors. Having been one of the biggest bulls of this particular central bank artificial-bull cycle, his dramatic bearish tilt (as we discussed what he thinks are the biggest risks underpriced by the market previously), is notable. Finally, Odey fears major economies are entering a recession that will be “remembered in a hundred years,” adding that the “bearish opportunity” to short stocks looks as great as it was in 2007-2009.

Odey Asset Management (report for Dec 2014)
• The themes I have been outlining since the second quarter of 2014 are now establishing themselves:
• A faltering Chinese economy with growth ultimately slowing down to 3%.
• A hard landing for those countries plugged into China’s growth – especially Australia, South Africa and Brazil.

A fall in commodity prices bringing with it pain to those heavily exposed. For oil this is the Middle East, Venezuela, Argentina, mid-west USA, Canada, Norway and Scotland. No one forecast how fast and how far those commodity markets would fall. However, the same people who singly failed to see this coming are the first to say that the benefits of falling prices will outweigh the costs. My problem with such a hopeful outcome is that, in my experience, those that lose out from a fall in their income are quicker to adjust than those that benefit. In that intertemporal space lurks a recession. For me, the slowdown/recession finds a secondary downturn thanks to the immediate closing down of any discretionary capital expenditure in the affected industries and countries, something we are only just seeing.

This obviously has knockon effects for incomes and employment. At that time the exchange rate is likely to be falling to give some support. In my world this slowdown in the commodity producer’s economy is felt via falling exports back in the beneficiary’s economy, which finds external markets weaken. Again, if I am right on timing, the effect can be great because it is not yet affected by a pickup in spending in the beneficiary’s economy. As always, that is the theory and markets will show whether it works in practice. In my world, this hit to the world economy is the first experience of a business cycle since 2008. Most investors do not believe we can experi-ence such a downturn. They rely upon Central bankers who they think have solved the problem.

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