Aug 032017
 
 August 3, 2017  Posted by at 8:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Marion Post Wolcott Street scenes. Port Gibson, Mississippi 1940

 

Buybacks and Dividends Eat 100% of Bank Earnings (WS)
America’s Productivity Plunge Explained (ZH)
Amazon is the New Tech Crash (David Stockman)
Public Pensions Average 0.6% Return In 2016 Despite 7.6% Assumption (ZH)
Plan For The Worst (Roberts)
Who Needs $100 Oil? Majors Making More Cash at $50, Goldman Says (BBG)
China’s Fear of Japan-Style Economic Bust Drives Crackdown on Deals (BBG)
The US Just Declared Full-Scale Trade War On Russia (Medvedev)
Seymour Hersh: RussiaGate Is A CIA-Planted Lie, Revenge Against Trump (Zuesse)
The Witch Hunt for Donald Trump Surpasses the Salem Witch Trials (PCR)
Canada Opens Montreal’s Olympic Stadium To House Asylum Seekers (R.)
Number Of Child Refugees In Greek Detention Centres Rises ‘Alarmingly’ (PA)
We Got Too BIG For The World (Kingsnorth)

 

 

And then they go after the Volcker rule. Take away their political power or else.

Buybacks and Dividends Eat 100% of Bank Earnings (WS)

When tighter regulations were imposed on the banks after the Financial Crisis, the largest among them, the very ones that threatened to bring down the financial system, began squealing. Those voices are now being heard by Congress, which is considering deregulating the banks again. In particular, they claim that current capital requirements force banks to curtail their lending to businesses and consumers, and thus hurt the economy. Nonsense! That’s in essence what FDIC Vice Chairman Thomas Hoenig told Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo and the committee’s senior Democrat, Sherrod Brown, in a letter dated Tuesday, according to Reuters. The senators are trying to find a compromise on bank deregulation. If banks wanted to increase lending, they could easily do so without lower capital requirements, Hoenig pointed out.

Rather than blowing their income on share-buybacks or paying it out in form of dividends, banks could retain more of their income, thus adding it to regulatory capital. Capital absorbs the losses from bad loans. Higher capital levels make a bank more resilient during the next crisis. If there isn’t enough capital, the bank collapses and gets bailed out. But banks that increase their capital levels through retained earnings are stronger and can lend more. Alas, in the first quarter, the 10 largest bank holding companies in the US plowed over 100% of their earnings into share buybacks and dividends, he wrote. If they had retained more of their income, they could have boosted lending by $1 trillion. The CEO of the top bank on this list has been very vocal about plowing more of the bank’s income into share buybacks and dividends, while pushing regulators to lower capital requirements.

In his “Dear Fellow Shareholders” letter in April, Jamie Dimon wrote under the heading “Regulatory Reform,” among many other things: “It is clear that the banks have too much capital.” “And we think it’s clear that banks can use more of their capital to finance the economy without sacrificing safety and soundness. Had they been less afraid of potential CCAR stress losses, banks probably would have been more aggressive in making some small business loans, lower rated middle market loans and near-prime mortgages. But the government was preventing them from doing it, he suggested.

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I think it started when manufacturing was exported to China et al. How are you supposed to be productive when you don’t make anything?

America’s Productivity Plunge Explained (ZH)

For the first time since the financial crisis, US multifactor productivity growth turned negative last year, mystifying economists who have struggled to find something to blame for the fact that worker productivity is declining despite a technology boom that should make them more efficient – at least in theory. To be sure, economists have struggled to find explanations for the exasperating trend, with some arguing that the US hasn’t figured out how to properly measure productivity growth correctly now that service-sector jobs proliferate while manufacturing shrinks. But what if there’s a more straightforward explanation? What if the decline in US productivity measured since the 1970s isn’t happening in spite of technology, but because of it?

To wit, Facebook has just released user-engagement data for its popular Instagram photo-sharing app. Unsurprisingly, the data show that the average user below the age of 25 now spends more than 32 minutes a day on the app, while the average user aged 25 and older. The last time Facebook released this data, in October 2014, its users averaged 21 minutes a day on the app.

According to Bloomberg, “time spent is an important metric for advertisers, which like to hear that users are browsing an app beyond quick checks for updates, making them more likely to run into some marketing.” Maybe they should matter more to economists, too. Aside from short-lived booms in the 1990s and 2000s, US productivity growth has averaged just 1.2% from 1975 up to today after peaking above 3% in 1972. As we detailed previously, adjusting for the WWII anomaly (which tells us that GDP is not a good measure of a country’s prosperity) US productivity growth peaked in 1972 – incidentally the year after Nixon took the US off gold.

The productivity decline witnessed ever since is unprecedented. Despite the short lived boom of the 1990s US productivity growth only average 1.2 per cent from 1975 up to today. If we isolate the last 15 years US productivity growth is on par with what an agrarian slave economy was able to achieve 200 years ago. As we reported last year, users spent 51% of their total internet time on mobile devices, for a total of 5.6 hours per day snapchatting, face-booking, insta-graming and taking selfies.

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The new wonders are the ones who don’t make dick all.

Amazon is the New Tech Crash (David Stockman)

It won’t be long now. During the last 31 months the stock market mania has rapidly narrowed to just a handful of shooting stars. At the forefront has been Amazon.com, Inc., which saw its stock price double from $285 per share in January 2015 to $575 by October of that year. It then doubled again to about $1,000 in the 21 months since. By contrast, much of the stock market has remained in flat-earth land. For instance, those sections of the stock market that are tethered to the floundering real world economy have posted flat-lining earnings, or even sharp declines, as in the case of oil and gas. Needless to say, the drastic market narrowing of the last 30 months has been accompanied by soaring price/earnings (PE) multiples among the handful of big winners.

In the case of the so-called FAANGs + M (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google and Microsoft), the group’s weighted average PE multiple has increased by some 50%. The degree to which the casino’s speculative mania has been concentrated in the FAANGs + M can also be seen by contrasting them with the other 494 stocks in the S&P 500. The market cap of the index as a whole rose from $17.7 trillion in January 2015 to some $21.2 trillion at present, meaning that the FAANGs + M account for about 40% of the entire gain. Stated differently, the market cap of the other 494 stocks rose from $16.0 trillion to $18.1 trillion during that 30-month period. That is, 13% versus the 82% gain of the six super-momentum stocks.

Moreover, if this concentrated $1.4 trillion gain in a handful of stocks sounds familiar that’s because this rodeo has been held before. The Four Horseman of Tech (Microsoft, Dell, Cisco and Intel) at the turn of the century saw their market cap soar from $850 billion to $1.65 trillion or by 94% during the manic months before the dotcom peak. At the March 2000 peak, Microsoft’s PE multiple was 60X, Intel’s was 50X and Cisco’s hit 200X. Those nosebleed valuations were really not much different than Facebook today at 40X, Amazon at 190X and Netflix at 217X. The truth is, even great companies do not escape drastic over-valuation during the blow-off stage of bubble peaks. Accordingly, two years later the Four Horseman as a group had shed $1.25 trillion or 75% of their valuation.

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“The media don’t crow every time the price of milk goes up, so why should it cheer higher prices in a different market? It’s great only if you own the cow.”

Dow 22,000 Is Not Good News For Most Americans (MW)

The U.S. stock market hit another record Wednesday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average surpassing 22,000 for the first time. The media acted like Dow 22,000 is a good thing. The cheerleaders in the anchor desks are wearing goofy hats and high-fiving each other like their team just won the Super Bowl. But record-high stock prices are not inherently a good thing. Whether it’s good for you individually depends on whether you own lots of shares or not. Most people do not own very many shares at all, so most of us aren’t benefiting much from high stock prices. The media don’t crow every time the price of milk goes up, so why should it cheer higher prices in a different market? It’s great only if you own the cow.

Who owns the stock market? About half of all equity is owned by the richest 1 million or so families, and another 41% is owned by the rest of the top 10%. The bottom 90% of families own about 9% of outstanding shares. [..] High stock prices might have a benefit if it meant that more capital would be invested in America’s corporations. That’s the myth of the stock market, anyway. In reality, the stock market doesn’t funnel any additional capital into corporations at all. Nonfinancial corporations have been net buyers — not sellers — of equities for the past 23 years in a row. The stock market is actually a process for extracting wealth from corporations and passing it along to the wealthy people who owns shares.

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The headline bumbers are all you need really. Ponzi as far as the eye can see.

Public Pensions Average 0.6% Return In 2016 Despite 7.6% Assumption (ZH)

We’ve frequently argued that public pension funds in the U.S. are nothing more than thinly-veiled ponzi schemes with their ridiculously high return assumptions specifically intended to artificially minimize the present value of future retiree payment obligations and thus also minimize required annual contributions from taxpayers…all while actual, if immediately intangible, underfunded liabilities continue to surge. As evidence of that assertion, we present to you the latest public pension analysis from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. As part of their study, Boston College reviewed 170 public pension plans in the U.S. and found that their average 2016 return was an abysmal 0.6% compared to an average assumed return of 7.6%. Meanwhile, per the chart below, the average return for the past 15 years has also been well below discount rate assumptions, at just 5.95%.

All of which, as we stated above, continues to result in surging liabilities and collapsing funding ratios.

But, perhaps the most telling sign of the massive ponzi scheme being perpetrated on American retirees is the following chart which shows that net cash flows have become increasingly negative, as a percentage of assets, as annual cash benefit payments continue to exceed cash contributions.

Conclusion, you can hide behind high discount rates and a “kick the can down the road” strategy in the short-term…but in the long run actual cash flows matter.

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Pensions, planning: good luck in the bubble.

Plan For The Worst (Roberts)

One of the biggest mistakes that people make is assuming markets will grow at a consistent rate over the given time frame to retirement. There is a massive difference between compounded returns and real returns as shown. The assumption is that an investment is made in 1965 at the age of 20. In 2000, the individual is now 55 and just 10 years from retirement. The S&P index is actual through 2016 and projected through age 100 using historical volatility and market cycles as a precedent for future returns. While the historical AVERAGE return is 7% for both series, the shortfall between “compounded” returns and “actual” returns is significant. That shortfall is compounded further when you begin to add in the impact of fees, taxes, and inflation over the given time frame.

The single biggest mistake made in financial planning is NOT to include variable rates of return in your planning process. Furthermore, choosing rates of return for planning purposes that are outside historical norms is a critical mistake. Stocks tend to grow roughly at the rate of GDP plus dividends. Into today’s world GDP is expected to grow at roughly 2% in the future with dividends around 2% currently. The difference between 8% returns and 4% is quite substantial. Also, to achieve 8% in a 4% return environment, you must increase your return over the market by 100%. The level of “risk” that must be taken on to outperform the markets by such a degree is enormous. While markets can have years of significant outperformance, it only takes one devastating year of losses to wipe out years of accumulation.

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A new business model? Does this apply only to oil, or should all businesses cut their sales prices in half to increase their profits? Alternatively, maybe shareholders should sue BP and Shell for all missed profits in the past?

Who Needs $100 Oil? Majors Making More Cash at $50, Goldman Says (BBG)

Oil majors are raking in more cash now than they did in the heyday of $100 oil, according to Goldman Sachs. Integrated giants like BP and Royal Dutch Shell have adapted to lower prices by cutting costs and improving operations, analysts at the bank including Michele Della Vigna said in a research note Wednesday. European majors made more cash during the first half of this year, when Brent averaged $52 a barrel, than they did in the first half of 2014 when prices were $109. Back then, high oil prices had caused executives to overreach on projects, leading to delays, cost overruns and inefficiency, Goldman said. Those projects are coming online now, producing more revenue, while companies have tightened their belts and divested some assets to reduce debt burdens.

“Simplification, standardization and deflation are repositioning the oil industry for better profitability and cash generation in the current environment than in 2013-14 when the oil price was above $100 a barrel,” the analysts said. In the second quarter, Europe’s big oil companies generated enough cash from operations to cover 91 percent of their capital expenses and dividends, showing that they’re close to being able to fund shareholder payments with business-generated revenue, according to Goldman. That will give companies the ability to stop paying dividends by issuing new stock, which has diluted major European energy shares by 3 to 13 percent since 2014.

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Too late.

China’s Fear of Japan-Style Economic Bust Drives Crackdown on Deals (BBG)

President Xi Jinping’s top economic adviser commissioned a study earlier this year to see how China could avoid the fate of Japan’s epic bust in the 1990s and decades of stagnation that followed. The report covered a wide range of topics, from the Plaza Accord on currency to a real-estate bubble to demographics that made Japan the oldest population in Asia, according to a person familiar with the matter who has seen the report. While details are scarce, the person revealed one key recommendation that policy makers have since implemented: The need to curtail a global buying spree by some of the nation’s biggest private companies. Communist Party leaders discussed Japan’s experience in a Politburo meeting on April 26, according to the person, who asked not to be identified as the discussions are private.

State media came alive afterward, with reports trumpeting Xi’s warning that financial stability is crucial in economic growth. Then in June came a bombshell: reports that the banking regulator had asked lenders to provide information on overseas loans made to Dalian Wanda Group Co., Anbang Insurance Group Co., HNA, Fosun International Ltd. and the owner of Italian soccer team AC Milan. While the timing of those requests is unclear, other watchdogs soon issued directives to curb excessive borrowing, speculation on equities and high yields in wealth-management products. Jim O’Neill, previously chief economist at Goldman Sachs and a former U.K. government minister, said Chinese policy makers are constantly looking to avoid the mistakes of other countries — and Japan in particular.

“You see it in repeated attempts to stop various potential property bubbles so China doesn’t end up with a Japan-style property collapse,” O’Neill said in an email. “There does appear to be some signs that some Chinese investors don’t invest in clear understandable ways, but they wouldn’t be the only ones where that is true!” [..] The moves reflect concerns that China’s top dealmakers have borrowed too much from state banks, threatening the financial system and ultimately the party’s legitimacy to rule — a key worry ahead of a once-in-five-year conclave later this year that will cement Xi’s power through 2022.

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Well argued by Russia’s PM, and it shows just how extensive the sanctions are. Does America need decades more of Cold War?: “The sanctions codified into law will now last for decades, unless some miracle occurs. [..] the future relationship between the Russian Federation and the United States will be extremely tense, regardless of the composition of the Congress or the personality of the president.”

The US Just Declared Full-Scale Trade War On Russia (Medvedev)

The signing of new sanctions against Russia into law by the US president leads to several consequences. First, any hope of improving our relations with the new US administration is over. Second, the US just declared a full-scale trade war on Russia. Third, the Trump administration demonstrated it is utterly powerless, and in the most humiliating manner transferred executive powers to Congress. This shifts the alignment of forces in US political circles.

What does this mean for the U.S.? The American establishment completely outplayed Trump. The president is not happy with the new sanctions, but he could not avoid signing the new law. The purpose of the new sanctions was to put Trump in his place. Their ultimate goal is to remove Trump from power. An incompetent player must be eliminated. At the same time, the interests of American businesses were almost ignored. Politics rose above the pragmatic approach. Anti-Russian hysteria has turned into a key part of not only foreign (as has been the case many times), but also domestic US policy (this is recent).

The sanctions codified into law will now last for decades, unless some miracle occurs. Moreover, it will be tougher than the Jackson-Vanik law, because it is comprehensive and can not be postponed by special orders of the president without the consent of the Congress. Therefore, the future relationship between the Russian Federation and the United States will be extremely tense, regardless of the composition of the Congress or the personality of the president. Relations between the two countries will now be clarified in international bodies and courts of justice leading to further intensification of international tensions, and a refusal to resolve major international problems.

What does this mean for Russia? We will continue to work on the development of the economy and social sphere, we will deal with import substitution, solve the most important state tasks, counting primarily on ourselves. We have learned to do this in recent years. Within almost closed financial markets, foreign creditors and investors will be afraid to invest in Russia due to worries of sanctions against third parties and countries. In some ways, it will benefit us, although sanctions – in general – are meaningless. We will manage.

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No, Hersh is not some kind of nut.

Seymour Hersh: RussiaGate Is A CIA-Planted Lie, Revenge Against Trump (Zuesse)

During the latter portion of a phone-call by investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, Hersh has now presented “a narrative [from his investigation] of how that whole fucking thing began,” including who actually is behind the ‘RussiaGate’ lies, and why they are spreading these lies.

In a youtube video upload-dated August 1st, he reveals from his inside FBI and Washington DC Police Department sources — now, long before the Justice Department’s Special Counsel Robert Mueller will be presenting his official ‘findings’ to the nation — that the charges that Russia had anything to do with the leaks from the DNC and Hillary Clinton’s campaign to Wikileaks, that those charges spread by the press, were a CIA-planted lie, and that what Wikileaks had gotten was only leaks (including at least from the murdered DNC-staffer Seth Rich), and were not from any outsider (including ’the Russians’), but that Rich didn’t get killed for that, but was instead shot in the back during a brutal robbery, which occurred in the high-crime DC neighborhood where he lived. Here is the video…

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So maybe Paul Craig Roberts lays it on a bit thick sometimes. But what happens in America is dangerous, and Trump is not the principal danger.

The Witch Hunt for Donald Trump Surpasses the Salem Witch Trials (PCR)

In 1940 US attorney general Robert Jackson warned federal prosecutors against “picking the man and then putting investigators to work, to pin some offense on him. It is in this realm—in which the prosecutor picks some person whom he dislikes or desires to embarrass, or selects some group of unpopular persons and then looks for an offense—that the greatest danger of abuse of prosecuting power lies. It is here that law enforcement becomes personal, and the real crime becomes that of being unpopular with the predominant or governing group, being attached to the wrong political views or being personally obnoxious to, or in the way of, the prosecutor himself.” Robert Jackson has given a perfect description of what is happening to President Trump at the hands of special prosecutor Robert Mueller.

Trump is vastly unpopular with the ruling establishment, with the Democrats, with the military/security complex and their bought and paid for Senators, and with the media for proving wrong all the smart people’s prediction that Hillary would win the election in a landslide. From day one this cabal has been out to get Trump, and they have given the task of framing up Trump to Mueller. An honest man would not have accepted the job of chief witch-hunter, which is what Mueller’s job is. The breathless hype of a nonexistent “Russian collusion” has been the lead news story for months despite the fact that no one, not the CIA, not the NSA, not the FBI, not the Director of National Intelligence, can find a scrap of evidence.

In desperation, three of the seventeen US intelligence agencies picked a small handful of employees thought to lack integrity and produced an unverified report, absent of any evidence, that the hand-picked handful thought that there might have been a collusion. On the basis of what evidence they do not say. That nothing more substantial than this led to a special prosecutor shows how totally corrupt justice in America is. Furthermore the baseless charge itself is an absurdity. There is no law against an incoming administration conversing with other governments. Indeed, Trump, Flynn, and whomever should be given medals for quickly moving to smooth Russian feathers ruffled by the reckless Bush and Obama regimes. What good for anyone can come from ceaselessly provoking a nuclear Russian bear?

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Spent so much time in that stadium watching baseball etc. Good memories.

Canada Opens Montreal’s Olympic Stadium To House Asylum Seekers (R.)

Canadian health authorities and aid workers are using an Olympic stadium to shelter asylum seekers as a growing number of people walk into the country from the United States. The Quebec Red Cross and local health authorities opened Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on Wednesday to asylum seekers brought in by bus after having crossed the U.S. border, Red Cross spokeswoman Stephanie Picard said. The city is seeing a growing influx in refugee claimants coming from the United States and is scrambling to house them all. The Red Cross is assisting with beds and providing bedding and other personal-care items. Montreal’s health authority would not provide exact numbers on how many people are being housed in the stadium, built for the 1976 Olympics and which now serves as an event space.

More than 4,300 people have walked across the U.S. border into Canada this year seeking refugee status. The vast majority of them come to Quebec, according to figures from the federal government. Many asylum seekers who spoke to Reuters say they left the United States fearing President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown. People who cross the border illegally to file refugee claims are apprehended and held for questioning by both police and border officials before being allowed to file claims and live in Canada while their application is processed. Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre welcomed the asylum seekers on Twitter Wednesday afternoon, saying 2,500 people had come in July alone. He said on Twitter that providing for the new arrivals is a “humanitarian gesture.”

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Look, there have to be limits, or we will not survive this, none of us. Locking up children just because they have fled bombs is beyond insane.

Number Of Child Refugees In Greek Detention Centres Rises ‘Alarmingly’ (PA)

The number of unaccompanied child migrants living in “dirty” Greek detention centres has increased “alarmingly”, a human rights organisation has warned. An estimated 117 children were in police cells or custody centres in Greece at the end of July, compared to just two in November 2016, according to figures released by the country’s government. Under Greek law, the authorities should separate minors into safe accommodation, where they are appointed guardians who represent them in legal proceedings. But when there is no space in safe shelters, the authorities detain them in police stations and immigration detention facilities, sometimes with unrelated adults. “Instead of being cared for, dozens of vulnerable children are locked in dirty, crowded police cells and other detention facilities across Greece, in some cases with unrelated adults,” said Eva Cossé, the country’s researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“The Greek government has a duty to end this abusive practice and make sure these vulnerable kids get the care and protection they need.” Human Rights Watch has written to Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas to stop the automatic detention of unaccompanied children. It suggested the government should amend legislation and significantly shorten the amount of time a child can be detained in protective custody. While they wait for a space in a shelter, many children are not provided with information about their rights and are not told how to apply for asylum, the organisation said. Aid workers have previously reported that the uncertainty and distress caused by the asylum process, exacerbated an ongoing mental health crisis among migrants living on the islands. Children as young as nine have harmed themselves, while 12-year-olds have attempted to kill themselves, Save the Children said in March.

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Too big NOT to fail.

We Got Too BIG For The World (Kingsnorth)

Living through a collapse is a curious experience. Perhaps the most curious part is that nobody wants to admit it’s a collapse. The results of half a century of debt-fueled “growth” are becoming impossible to deny convincingly, but even as economies and certainties crumble, our appointed leaders bravely hold the line. No one wants to be the first to say the dam is cracked beyond repair. To listen to a political leader at this moment in history is like sitting through a sermon by a priest who has lost his faith but is desperately trying not to admit it, even to himself. Watch your chosen president or prime minister mouthing tough-guy platitudes to the party faithful. Listen to them insisting in studied prose that all will be well. Study the expressions on their faces as they talk about “growth” as if it were a heathen god to be appeased by tipping another cauldron’s worth of fictional money into the mouth of a volcano.

In times like these, people look elsewhere for answers. A time of crisis is also a time of opening up, when thinking that was consigned to the fringes moves to center stage. When things fall apart, the appetite for new ways of seeing is palpable, and there are always plenty of people willing to feed it by coming forward with their pet big ideas. But here’s a thought: what if big ideas are part of the problem? What if, in fact, the problem is bigness itself? The crisis currently playing out on the world stage is a crisis of growth. Not, as we are regularly told, a crisis caused by too little growth, but by too much of it. Banks grew so big that their collapse would have brought down the entire global economy. To prevent this, they were bailed out with huge tranches of public money, which in turn is precipitating social crises on the streets of Western nations. The European Union has grown so big, and so unaccountable, that it threatens to collapse in on itself.

Corporations have grown so big that they are overwhelming democracies and building a global plutocracy to serve their own interests. The human economy as a whole has grown so big that it has been able to change the atmospheric composition of the planet and precipitate a mass-extinction event. One man who would not have been surprised by this crisis of bigness, had he lived to see it, was Leopold Kohr. Kohr has a good claim to be the most interesting political thinker that you have never heard of. Unlike Karl Marx, he did not found a global movement or inspire revolutions. Unlike Friedrich Hayek, he did not rewrite the economic rules of the modern world. Kohr was a modest, self-deprecating man, but this was not the reason his ideas have been ignored by movers and shakers in the half-century since they were produced. They have been ignored because they do not flatter the egos of the power-hungry, be they revolutionaries or plutocrats. In fact, Kohr’s message is a direct challenge to them.

“Wherever something is wrong,” he insisted, “something is too big.”

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Aug 022017
 
 August 2, 2017  Posted by at 9:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Stanley Kubrick Men’s fashion show, New York 1948

 

New Rule Makes It Easier To Get A Mortgage With Student Loan Debt (F.)
US Auto Market Slump Persists (BBG)
US Plans Trade Measures Against China (WSJ)
US Begins Russia Drawdown After Kremlin Retaliates For Sanctions (R.)
Former Obama Aide Rhodes A Person Of Interest In Unmasking Investigation (C.)
For Sale: Two Half-Finished Nuclear Reactors -Never Used- (BBG)
Nissan Runs One Of ‘Nastiest Anti-Union Campaigns’ In Modern US History (G.)
Monsanto’s Sway Over Research Is Seen in Disclosed Emails (NYT)
Pesticide ‘Drifting’ Wreaks Havoc Across US Crops (BBG)
Bees Are Bouncing Back From Colony Collapse Disorder – A Little (BBG)
8 Migrants Dead Off Libya, 500 Rescued As Italy Prepares Naval Mission (AFP)
EasyJet Passengers Left High And Dry In Greece Due to Mating Turtles (G.)

 

 

Desperately mining for a new generation of greater fools. Courtesy of government-owned Fannie Mae. What a world.

New Rule Makes It Easier To Get A Mortgage With Student Loan Debt (F.)

For millions of Americans drowning in student loan debt, the prospect of getting a mortgage might seem out of reach. Last week, Fannie Mae changed underwriting rules that could make it much easier for people with student loan debt to qualify for a mortgage. The new rule impacts people with federal student loan debt who are currently on an income-driven repayment program. An income-driven repayment plan sets your monthly student loan payment at an amount that is intended to be affordable based upon your income and family size. Depending upon the plan, your monthly payment could be capped as low as 10% of your discretionary income. And if your discretionary income is low enough, your monthly payment could be as low as $0.

In order to qualify for a mortgage, a borrower needs to meet certain debt-to-income (DTI) requirements. That seems simple enough. However, there was confusion regarding federal student loan debt on an income-driven repayment program. When calculating a debt burden, should the underwriter include the standard student loan payment, the reduced payment, or something in between? The new statement from Fannie Mae makes it clear: the reduced payment can be used, even when the payment is $0. According to Fannie Mae, “if the lender obtains documentation to evidence the actual monthly payment is $0, the lender may qualify the borrower with the $0 payment as long as the $0 payment is associated with an income-driven repayment plan.”

This is important, because the payment calculation for a student loan (10% of the discretionary income) is different from the DTI requirement of a mortgage. Many Americans could find it easier to qualify for a mortgage while in student loan debt. Michigan-based mortgage broker Cassandra Evers told MagnifyMoney that the changes “allow a lot more borrowers to qualify for a home.” Previously, there was a lot of confusion among borrowers, lenders, and brokers, Evers said. “[The rules have] changed at least five or six times in the last five years.”

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“You can’t jawbone the economy..”

US Auto Market Slump Persists (BBG)

Here’s a bad sign for the U.S. economy: Auto sales just fell the most since August 2010, a year after the federal government’s “Cash for Clunkers” program to stimulate demand came to an end. Sales at General Motors plunged 15% in its home market in July, the biggest drop in more than a year. Its Detroit rivals didn’t fare much better: Ford reported its biggest sales decline since October and Fiat Chrysler had its second worst tumble this year. The disappointing showing underscores how Detroit has been struggling to live up to President Donald Trump’s prediction that it would become “the car capital of the world again.” The hometown automakers are instead laying off U.S. workers, particularly those who build passenger cars that have fallen out of favor with American consumers.

A demand slump has rendered spending on vehicles and parts a drag on U.S. economic growth, after years of contributing to expansion. “You can’t jawbone the economy,” said Diane Swonk, CEO and founder of DS Economics. “The auto industry was stronger than the rest of the economy for a while because they were giving credit to people who couldn’t pay loans. Sales crested sooner and now they are paying the price.” The traditional U.S. automakers each missed projections for declines that analysts gave in a Bloomberg News survey. While Nissan and Honda both beat projections, only Toyota posted a gain. Industrywide deliveries fell 7%, the steepest drop since the anniversary of “Cash for Clunkers,” a program that inflated U.S. sales in August 2009 as buyers traded in for more fuel-efficient wheels. The annualized pace of light-vehicle sales, adjusted for seasonal trends, slowed to 16.7 million in July, according to Autodata Corp., from 17.8 million a year earlier.

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China is not liking this.

US Plans Trade Measures Against China (WSJ)

The Trump administration is planning trade measures to force Beijing to crack down on intellectual-property theft and ease requirements that American companies share advanced technologies to gain entry to the Chinese market. The administration is considering invoking a little-used provision of U.S. trade law to investigate whether China’s intellectual-property policies constitute “unfair trade practices,” according to people familiar with the matter. That would pave the way for the U.S. to impose sanctions on Chinese exporters or to further restrict the transfer of advanced technology to Chinese firms or to U.S.-China joint ventures. American business frustration with Chinese trade and market-access practices has mounted in recent years, with U.S. business groups urging the government to take a tougher trade line with China.

Many organizations have complained that the Trump administration hasn’t pushed hard enough in areas like intellectual property, as it has focused more on Chinese manufacturing and China’s $347 billion trade surplus with the U.S. last year. That discontent has intensified as China’s economy continued to expand and its computer and software sectors became bigger competitors internationally. Western firms fear China will use the regulations to bar foreign investments in areas that Beijing targets for investment, including semiconductors, advanced-machine tools and artificial intelligence. One big question hanging over the White House review is whether the administration pursues any complaint through the World Trade Organization, or whether it chooses to impose penalties on its own without first seeking permission from the international body, which some Trump advisers have argued is incapable of dealing with China’s trade practices.

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Has Trump even signed the new sanctions yet?

US Begins Russia Drawdown After Kremlin Retaliates For Sanctions (R.)

The United States began removing furniture and equipment from a diplomatic property in Moscow on Tuesday in the first sign of compliance with a Kremlin order to slash its presence in Russia as retaliation for new U.S. sanctions. President Vladimir Putin has ordered the United States to cut around 60% of its diplomatic staff in Russia by Sept. 1, and said Moscow will seize two U.S. diplomatic properties in response to sanctions approved by Congress last week. The White House has said U.S. President Donald Trump will sign the sanctions bill, meant as a response to alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and to further punish Moscow for its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

On Tuesday, removal men began dismantling play equipment and barbecues at a U.S.-owned dacha (country villa) on the outskirts of Moscow, after being refused access the day before, according to a Reuters journalist at the scene. The dacha, which is being confiscated along with a U.S. warehouse in the south of the Russian capital, was used by U.S. diplomatic staff at the weekends and to host parties for students, journalists and other diplomats. [..] The ultimatum issued by the Russian leader is a display to voters at home that he is prepared to stand up to Washington – but is also carefully calibrated to avoid directly affecting the U.S. investment he needs, or burning his bridges with Trump. One person at the embassy, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to the media, said staff there were feeling depressed and despondent as they came to terms with the Kremlin’s order. “The mood in the office is very pessimistic,” the person said. “Everyone is just loitering, or sitting on job websites looking for a new job.”

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Strange things were taking place.

Former Obama Aide Rhodes A Person Of Interest In Unmasking Investigation (C.)

Former Obama White House National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes is now an emerging as a person of interest in the House Intelligence Committee’s unmasking investigation, according to a letter sent Tuesday by the committee to the National Security Agency (NSA). This adds Rhodes to the growing list of top Obama government officials who may have improperly unmasked Americans in communications intercepted overseas by the NSA, Circa has confirmed. The House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-CA, sent the letter to the National Security Agency requesting the number of unmaskings made by Rhodes from Jan. 1, 2016 to Jan. 20, 2017, according to congressional sources who spoke with Circa.

Rhodes, who worked closely with former National Security Adviser Susan Rice and was a former deputy national security adviser for strategic communications for President Obama, became a focus of the committee during its review of classified information to assess whether laws were broken regarding NSA intercepted communications of President Trump, members of his administration and other Americans before and after the election, according to congressional officials. The committee is requesting that the NSA deliver the information on Rhodes by August, 21. Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, Rice and former CIA Director John Brennan have all been named in the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the unmasking of Americans.

A letter sent last week from Nunes to Dan Coats, the director of National Intelligence, suggested that top Obama aides made hundreds of unmasking requests during the 2016 presidential elections. The story, which was first reported by The Hill last week, stated that the requests were made without specific justifications as to why the unmasking was necessary. Rice and Brennan have confirmed they sought the unredacted names of Americans in NSA-sourced intelligence reports but insisted their requests were routine parts of their work and had no nefarious intentions. Power also has legal authority to unmask officials, though the practice has not reportedly been common for someone in her position. Rhodes also had legal authority to unmask Americans in NSA-source intelligence reports. But intelligence and congressional sources question the extent of the unmasking.

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Testament to insanity and waste.

For Sale: Two Half-Finished Nuclear Reactors -Never Used- (BBG)

Looking to buy two half-finished nuclear reactors? It may be your lucky day. U.S. utility owner Scana Corp. dropped a plan to build two reactors at the V.C. Summer power plant in South Carolina on Monday after the projected total costs exceeded $20 billion. The cancelation of the project is another blow to the much-hyped (and thus far non-existent) nuclear renaissance in the U.S. As cheap natural gas squeezes the margins of nuclear generators, there’s only one company currently building reactors in the country — Southern Co., at its Vogtle plant in Georgia. So what’s a utility to do with two unfinished nukes laying around in South Carolina? Scana CEO Kevin Marsh said in a call with analysts that he wants to keep the equipment in operating condition in case someone in China, India or the U.K. wants to buy it.

A sale like that is easier said than done. “The Chinese are developing a competitive product, the Brits are in trouble with their nuclear projects and the Indians want to develop their own supply chain,” said Chris Gadomski, a nuclear industry analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance. It’s more likely the South Carolina project is “mothballed,” he said. Reactors have found new buyers and new life in the past. In 2016, the Tennessee Valley Authority turned on its Watts Bar 2 reactor after work had been suspended in 1985. Franklin L. Haney bought an unfinished, decades-old nuclear plant in northern Alabama at an auction last November for $111 million. The Bellefonte plant came with two partially built nuclear reactors, one that’s about 55% complete and another about 35% finished.

Haney still has to get the mothballed station into working order, find customers for its power and qualify for a federal nuclear production tax credit. Perhaps a similar fate awaits the V.C. Summer plant. “It makes more sense to let them sit in place, maintain them, and see if they can be revisited,” Gadomski said.

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What, there are still unions?

Nissan Runs One Of ‘Nastiest Anti-Union Campaigns’ In Modern US History (G.)

Days before a potentially historic union vote at the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi, the car company has been accused of running one of the “nastiest anti-union campaigns in the modern history of the American labour movement”. The vote, a fiercely contested effort by the United Auto Workers (UAW) union to represent a foreign automaker’s US plant, is planned for Thursday and Friday this week. It comes as US unions are hopeful they can overturn a series of defeats as they seek to build membership in southern states, where manufacturers have moved to take advantage of lower wages and non-union workforces. In the closing days of the campaign, which has attracted support from the former presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, UAW officials and their allies have become increasingly confident of victory even as managers have pressured workers to vote no.

“People are rallying,” says Frank Figgers, co-chair of the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan. The UAW is undertaking an extensive door-to-door campaign to visit workers in their homes to discuss the union. The UAW has shipped in staff from all over the country to help in the effort. Other unions from around the south have shipped in organizers from across the country to assist in the outreach to the plant’s nearly 4,000 workers. Nissan has responded with fierce opposition. The company has blitzed local TV with anti-union ads and stands accused of both threatening and bribing workers to vote no. It requires workers to regularly attend anti-union roundtable group meetings as well as one-on-one meetings with their direct supervisors, some of whom have worn “vote no” T-shirts to work. The Republican governor, Phil Bryant, has also come out hard for Nissan. “If you want to take away your job, if you want to end manufacturing as we know it in Mississippi, just start expanding unions,” Bryant said last week.

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Evil incorporated.

Monsanto’s Sway Over Research Is Seen in Disclosed Emails (NYT)

Documents released Tuesday in a lawsuit against Monsanto raised new questions about the company’s efforts to influence the news media and scientific research and revealed internal debate over the safety of its highest-profile product, the weed killer Roundup. The active ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, is the most common weed killer in the world and is used by farmers on row crops and by home gardeners. While Roundup’s relative safety has been upheld by most regulators, a case in federal court in San Francisco continues to raise questions about the company’s practices and the product itself. The documents underscore the lengths to which the agrochemical company goes to protect its image. Documents show that Henry I. Miller, an academic and a vocal proponent of genetically modified crops, asked Monsanto to draft an article for him that largely mirrored one that appeared under his name on Forbes’s website in 2015.

A similar issue appeared in academic research. An academic involved in writing research funded by Monsanto, John Acquavella, a former Monsanto employee, appeared to express discomfort with the process, writing in a 2015 email to a Monsanto executive, “I can’t be part of deceptive authorship on a presentation or publication.” He also said of the way the company was trying to present the authorship: “We call that ghost writing and it is unethical.” A Monsanto official said the comments were the result of “a complete misunderstanding” that had been “worked out,” while Mr. Acquavella said in an email on Tuesday that “there was no ghostwriting” and that his comments had been related to an early draft and a question over authorship that was resolved. The documents also show internal talk about Roundup’s safety.

“If somebody came to me and said they wanted to test Roundup I know how I would react — with serious concern,” one Monsanto scientist wrote in an internal email in 2001. Monsanto said it was outraged by the documents’ release by a law firm involved in the litigation. “There is a standing confidentiality order that they violated,” said Scott Partridge, vice president of global strategy for Monsanto. He said that while “you can’t unring a bell,” Monsanto would seek penalties on the firm. “What you’re seeing are some cherry-picked things that can be made to look bad,” Mr. Partridge said. “But the substance and the science are not affected by this.”

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How does a farmer protect himself from Monsanto, DuPont and BASF?

Pesticide ‘Drifting’ Wreaks Havoc Across US Crops (BBG)

Larry Martin in Illinois says he’s never seen anything like it in his 35 years of farming. Arkansas soybean grower Joe McLemore says he faces the loss of his life savings. They’re among farmers across the U.S. suffering from a pesticide “drifting” across from neighboring fields onto their crops, leaving behind a trail of damage. Although not a new problem, it’s re-emerged with a vengeance this year. At least 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares) have been damaged in this growing season through mid-July, according to estimates from Kevin Bradley, a professor of plant sciences at the University of Missouri. Dicamba, the offending herbicide, is produced by seed and crop-chemical giants Monsanto, DuPont and BASF.

It’s been around for decades, but in recent years it gained a new lease of life after the companies developed new dicamba-resistant soybean and cotton seeds, allowing farmers to spray crops later in the growing process. Dicamba is fine if you’re growing those genetically modified varieties, but not if you’re cultivating others and the chemical wafts over from another farm. The situation is so bad that states including Missouri, Arkansas, and Tennessee have placed restrictions on dicamba use at various times during the summer. Martin, a third-generation farmer, says an 80-acre soybean field of his has been damaged by dicamba. McLemore, who started out on his own eight years ago, after two decades working on someone else’s farm, says 800 of his 1,026 acres of soybeans have suffered damage.

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3%? That’s hardly ‘bouncing back’.

Bees Are Bouncing Back From Colony Collapse Disorder – A Little (BBG)

The number of U.S. honeybees, a critical component in the agriculture industry, rose in 2017 from a year earlier, and deaths of the insects attributed to a mysterious malady that’s affected hives in North America and Europe declined, according a U.S. Department of Agriculture honeybee health survey released Tuesday. The number of commercial U.S. honeybee colonies rose 3% to 2.89 million as of April 1, 2017 compared with a year earlier, the Agriculture Department reported. The number of hives lost to Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon of disappearing bees that has raised concerns among farmers and scientists for a decade, was 84,430 in this year’s first quarter, down 27% from a year earlier. Year-over-year losses declined by the same%age in April through June, the most recent data in the survey.

Still, more than two-fifths of beekeepers said mites were harming their hives, and with pesticides and other factors still stressing bees, the overall increase is largely the result of constant replenishment of losses, the study showed. “You create new hives by breaking up your stronger hives, which just makes them weaker,” said Tim May, a beekeeper in Harvard, Illinois and the vice-president of the American Beekeeping Federation based in Atlanta. “We check for mites, we keep our bees well-fed, we communicate with farmers so they don’t spray pesticides when our hives are vulnerable. I don’t know what else we can do.” Environmental groups have expressed alarm over the 90% decline during the past two decades in the population of pollinators, from wild bees to Monarch butterflies. Some point to a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids as a possible cause, a link rejected by Bayer AG and other manufacturers.

In the USDA study, beekeepers who owned at least five colonies, or hives, reported the most losses from the varroa mite, a parasite that lives only in beehives and survives by sucking insect blood. The scourge, present in the U.S. since 1987, was reported in 42% of commercial hives between April and June this year, according to the USDA. That’s down from 53% in the same period one year earlier. Among other factors, beekeepers said 13% of colonies in the second quarter of this year were stressed by pesticides, 12% by mites and pests other than varroa and 4.3 by diseases. Bad weather, starvation, insufficient forage and other reasons were listed as problems with 6.6% of hives.

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What does it mean to be human?

8 Migrants Dead Off Libya, 500 Rescued As Italy Prepares Naval Mission (AFP)

The bodies of eight migrants have been found at sea off the coast of Libya by rescuers coming to the aid of four rubber dinghies, the Italian coast guard said Tuesday. Some 500 survivors were pulled to safety, the coast guard told AFP, illustrating the huge challenge that continues to bedevil authorities as people try to reach Europe. The latest deaths came as the Italian government presented plans for a naval mission in Libyan territorial waters that aims to reduce the flow of migrants from the coast. Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms, which was taking part in the rescues, said the corpses were recovered by the Santa Lucia merchant ship.

“We are here to stop more people drowning, today eight dead and four drifting boats” in distress, Proactiva’s founder, Oscar Champs, said on Twitter. The charity said there were 79 women and 39 minors — including four young children — among those rescued. Nearly 95,000 people have been brought to safety in Italy this year, a rise of 1% on the same period last year, according to the interior ministry. The government intends to send a logistics ship that could support Libyan units and will also offer a patrol boat, Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti told lawmakers on Tuesday. However, Italy has no intention to create a naval blockade, which would be a “hostile act,” she said, insisting that support for the Libyan mission was the aim and cooperation was necessary.

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If you read between the whining, what a lovely story. Night curfew because turtles are important. Perhaps that’s what it means to be human.

EasyJet Passengers Left High And Dry In Greece Due to Mating Turtles (G.)

Scores of easyJet passengers were stranded on the Greek island of Zakynthos (also known as Zante) after their plane developed technical difficulties and a replacement aircraft was prevented from flying in because of mating turtles. [..] The airline said the night curfew – apparently in place because of vulnerable loggerhead turtles breeding nearby – had prevented an alternative aircraft being sent out. The sea turtle breeding season is well under way in Zakynthos. According to Archelon, a group dedicated in protecting sea turtles in Greece, late June to early July see the highest levels of spawning. The group has recorded 500 nests on the island so far, but that is fewer than in previous years.

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

 

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

 

 

More incentives for the Fed to trigger a crisis.

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

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

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

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

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A curious move. An ultimate power game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Price discovery.

The Great Transatlantic Bond Divergence Unwind (WSJ)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jul 282017
 
 July 28, 2017  Posted by at 8:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Gordon Burt Bond Street, Wellington, New Zealand c1957

 

Senate Blocks ‘Skinny’ Obamacare Repeal Bill In Dramatic Late-Night Vote (CNBC)
Russia Promises Retaliation As Senate Passes Sanctions Bill (G.)
US Housing Bubble 2.0 (Mark Hanson)
Is This The Bubble? (Lance Roberts)
Japan Defense Minister Quits Amid Plunging Support For PM Abe (R.)
Libor, The Scandal-Ridden Financial Benchmark, Doesn’t Have Long To Live (Qz)
Shell’s Profits Treble As Cost Cuts Take Effect (PA)
Oil Companies Trim Drilling Budgets in Sign of Rising Caution (BBG)
US Indicts Russian Suspected of $4 Billion Bitcoin Laundering Scheme (R.)
The Syrian Army Were Standing Up To Isis Long Before The Americans (Fisk)
France Plans Asylum ‘Hotspots’ In Libya (BBC)
Italy Loses Patience With France’s Macron Over Migrants, Libya (VoA)
EU Announces New Emergency Support For Greek Refugee Crisis (AP)

 

 

Three things:

1) Boy, was I right to say US politics should be observed through the eyes of Shakespeare.

2) Playing with people’s health care, let alone for petty political reasons, is not forgiveable.

3) What a bunch of has-beens these people are. Limit their terms, close the revolving doors, and let the future be decided by people young enough to actually have a future. Oh, and get money out of politics.

Senate Blocks ‘Skinny’ Obamacare Repeal Bill In Dramatic Late-Night Vote (CNBC)

The Senate blocked the latest Republican attempt to repeal Obamacare in a dramatic floor vote early Friday morning, yet again stalling — for now — the key campaign goal that eludes the GOP six months into the Trump administration. Three GOP defections — Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and John McCain of Arizona — sank the measure in a 49-51 vote. McCain, who recently returned to the Senate after getting diagnosed with brain cancer, cast his “no” vote to audible gasps on the chamber’s floor, according to reporters there. Senate Republicans released the plan late Thursday just hours before voting on an amendment to take up the bill. The GOP could only afford to lose two votes on the proposal, which many senators suggested they would not even want to see become law.

The measure came after separate pushes to immediately replace the Affordable Care Act or repeal it with a two-year transition period failed amid GOP divisions. Several Republican senators slammed the plan and appeared to not even want it to become law. It marks another blow to the sprawling agenda that Republicans hoped to accomplish when President Donald Trump won the White House and the GOP held both chambers of Congress in November. After the vote, a visibly frustrated Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called it “clearly a disappointing moment.” “So yes, this is a disappointment, a disappointment indeed … I regret that our efforts were simply not enough this time,” McConnell said.

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But this they do agree on. More reasons to get rid of the old order in Washington.

Russia Promises Retaliation As Senate Passes Sanctions Bill (G.)

Vladimir Putin has accused US lawmakers of “insolence”, and promised Russia will retaliate if the latest round of US sanctions against Russia are signed into law. The House of Representatives voted by 419 votes to three on Tuesday to pass the new sanctions bill, which targets Russia as well as North Korea and Iran. The US legislation was passed overwhelmingly by the Senate on Thursday, and will now go to Donald Trump for his signature. Trump, who enjoyed two warm conversations with Putin at the G20 summit earlier this month, is likely to face a major backlash if he attempts to veto the legislation, with his administration already embroiled in a Russia scandal. “We are behaving in a very restrained and patient way, but at some moment we will need to respond,” said Putin at a press conference with his Finnish counterpart, Sauli Niinistö.

“It’s impossible to endlessly tolerate this kind of insolence towards our country,” Putin said, referring to the sanctions. “This practice is unacceptable – it destroys international relations and international law.” Putin was vague on exactly how Russia might respond. The newspaper Kommersant quoted two unnamed sources saying a range of potential responses was under consideration in Moscow, including expelling US diplomats, seizing diplomatic properties, increasing restrictions on US companies working in Russia and halting enriched uranium shipments to US power plants. [..] Putin and other Russian officials have repeatedly denied any meddling in the US election, while US intelligence agencies say they have overwhelming evidence of a coordinated Russian campaign. Putin on Thursday described the allegations as “hysteria”, and said: “It’s a great pity that Russian-US relations are being sacrificed to resolve questions of domestic politics.”

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And you thought the US housing bubble was over?

US Housing Bubble 2.0 (Mark Hanson)

The striking Case-Shiller regional charts shown below, courtesy of MHanson.com, make Mark Hanson angry: “so, 2006/2007 was the largest house price bubble ever, but there is nothing to see here in 2017?” and sarcastically points out that “if this isn’t a house price bubble, I would hate to see one.” His bottom line: “If 2006/07 was the peak of the largest housing bubble in history with affordability never better vis a’ vis exotic loans; easy availability of credit; unemployment in the 4%’s; the total workforce at record highs; and growing wages, then what do you call “now” with house prices at or above 2006 levels; worse affordability; tighter credit; higher unemployment; a weakening total workforce; and shrinking wages? Whatever you call it, it’s a greater thing than the Bubble 1.0 peak.”

[..] Income required to buy the avg priced builder house is at historical highs and has completely diverged from the multi-decade trend line. Historically low growth & rebound relative to resales suggest “lack of supply” meme in the Existing Sales market is over-stated.

“Peak builder is here.”
1) New Home Sales “up to” 1995 levels after $15 TRILLION in debt and Fed liquidity aimed largely at the sector.
2) Builder pricing power largely flat for 2-years.
3) Income required to buy the average priced builder house has completely diverged from the multi-decade trend line. This obviously explains why sales are only at 600k SAAR now vs 1.2 million in Bubble 1.0. Reversion to this mean will occur…either thru a sharp rise in income; new exotic loan programs, which make payment less; or house prices dropping.

4) Last time builders were this euphoric was the peak of the biggest credit bubble in history.

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Rinse, forget and repeat.

Is This The Bubble? (Lance Roberts)

Every major market peak, and subsequent devastating mean reverting correction, has ever been the result of the exact ingredients seen previously. Only the ignorance of its existence has been a common theme. The reason that investors ALWAYS fail to recognize the major turning points in the markets is because they allow emotional “greed” to keep them looking backward rather than forward. Of course, the media foster’s much of this “willful” blindness by dismissing, and chastising, opposing views generally until it is too late for their acknowledgement to be of any real use. The next chart shows every major bubble and bust in the U.S. financial markets since 1871 (Source: Robert Shiller)

At the peak of each one of these markets, there was no one claiming that a crash was imminent. It was always the contrary with market pundits waging war against those nagging naysayers of the bullish mantra that “stocks have reached a permanently high plateau” or “this is a new secular bull market.” Yet, in the end, it was something that was unexpected, unknown or simply dismissed that yanked the proverbial rug from beneath investors. What will spark the next mean reverting event? No one knows for sure, but the catalysts are present from: • Excess leverage (Margin debt at new record levels) •IPO’s of negligible companies (Blue Apron, Snap Chat) • Companies using cheap debt to complete stock buybacks and pay dividends, and; • High levels of investor complacency.

Either individually, or in combination, these issues are all inert. Much like pouring gasoline on a pile of wood, the fire will not start without a proper catalyst. What we do know is that an event WILL occur, it is only a function of “when.” The discussion of why “this time is not like the last time” is largely irrelevant. Whatever gains that investors garner in the between now and the next correction by chasing the “bullish thesis” will be wiped away in a swift and brutal downdraft.

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Abe should just go. But before he does, he’ll throw Kuroda under the bus first, if he has the time.

Japan Defense Minister Quits Amid Plunging Support For PM Abe (R.)

Embattled Japanese Defence Minister Tomomi Inada on Friday said she was resigning, after a series of gaffes, missteps and a cover-up at her ministry that have contributed to a sharp plunge in public support for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Inada, 58, an Abe protege who shares his conservative views and had been suggested as a possible future premier, had already expected to be replaced in a likely cabinet reshuffle next week that Abe hopes will help rebuild his ratings. Support for the prime minister has sunk below 30% in some polls, due to scandals over suspected cronyism and a view among many voters that he and his aides took them for granted.

Abe apologized “to the people from my heart”, in comments to reporters carried live on national television after Inada announced her resignation. He said Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida would add the defense portfolio to his duties, to eliminate any gap at a time when Japan faces tough security challenges, such as from a volatile North Korea. “I want to make every effort to maintain a high degree of vigilance and protect the security of the people,” Abe said. Abe had drawn fire from both ruling and opposition party lawmakers for retaining Inada despite her perceived incompetence. “He should have thrown Inada under the bus long ago … doing so on the eve of a cabinet reshuffle only looks like desperation,” said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University Japan.

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Taking it out before the real big scandals come up?

Libor, The Scandal-Ridden Financial Benchmark, Doesn’t Have Long To Live (Qz)

A global borrowing benchmark that became synonymous with rigged financial markets, and cost banks some $9 billion in fines, is going away. Andrew Bailey, the head of Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority, said in a speech today that the regulator will phase out the indicator, Libor, by the end of 2021. Bailey said the reason the London interbank offered rate is being scrapped is because the market underpinning the benchmark—unsecured bank lending—has dried up. For one particular Libor benchmark—there are many rates for various durations and currencies—there were only 15 transactions last year, he said. Such benchmarks have long been problematic and susceptible to manipulation. Libor, for example, is based on an estimate of what supposed experts at banks think a borrowing rate would be.

Bloomberg describes the process like this: “The benchmark is the average rate a group of 20 banks estimate they’d be able to borrow funds from each other in five different currencies across seven time periods, submitted by a panel of lenders every morning. Its administration was overhauled in the wake of the scandal, with Intercontinental Exchange Inc. taking over from the then-named British Bankers’ Association.” Before the financial crisis, banks submitted daily estimates of borrowing rates to the BBA, which then averaged them to calculate that day’s Libor rate. Via allegedly colluding, the banks submitting rates could nudge the average up or down, depending on what was needed to increase a profit or reduce a loss in their portfolios.

Libor is of global importance because it’s used to help determine borrowing costs for more than $300 trillion in securities, for things like student loans and mortgages. But as a trader once said in a transcript uncovered by regulators, it’s “just amazing how libor fixing can make you that much money.” The Libor scandal was also part of an era in which recorded electronic communications—chat messages—became evidence and got a lot of people in a lot of trouble. Similar market manipulation was discovered in things like foreign-currency exchange rates and commodity prices. And now Libor is being scrapped. Banks didn’t really want to participate in the rate-setting process anymore anyway, Bailey said, given the market had shrank by so much. (Their recent history of being fined billions for their role in daily rate submissions probably didn’t help.) Some new indicator will have to be agreed on.

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When I saw the headline, I thought they must either have been real inefficient before, or they’re selling teh kitchen sink and not investing a penny. And whaddaya know?

Shell’s Profits Treble As Cost Cuts Take Effect (PA)

Royal Dutch Shell has reported a large rise in second quarter profits after the energy giant was boosted by higher oil and gas prices. The firm said adjusted earnings rose from £800m to £2.7bn, an increase of 245 per cent, as chief executive Ben van Beurden said he is making progress on “reshaping the company”. He said: “Cash generation has been resilient over four consecutive quarters, at an average oil price of just under $50 per barrel. “The external price environment and energy sector developments mean we will remain very disciplined, with an absolute focus on the four levers within our control, namely capital efficiency, costs, new project delivery, and divestments.

“I am confident that we are on track to deliver a world-class investment to our shareholders.” The figures were flattered by a disastrous second quarter in 2016, when it was stung by dilapidated crude prices and costs linked to its takeover of BG Group. This time last year Brent Crude was trading at round 45 US dollars a barrel compared to circa 50 US dollars today. Shell is also embarking on an ambitious cost-cutting drive and a £24.6bn divestment initiative. To this end, the oil major has sold off more than £16bn of assets since the BG takeover. Shell this year announced it will sell off a package of North Sea assets for up to £3bn to smaller rival Chrysaor, and recently agreed to sell its stake in Irish gas project Corrib in a deal worth up to £956 million.

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Everybody does it.

Oil Companies Trim Drilling Budgets in Sign of Rising Caution (BBG)

Caution lights are flashing for the oil industry. Facing lower-than-expected commodity prices, drillers from ConocoPhillips to Hess to Statoil have slashed their capital spending plans in recent days, as companies lay out their plans to cope with oil prices stuck below $50 a barrel. The budget cuts won’t necessarily mean less oil or natural gas on the market, with some of the companies saying they can now do more with less and expect to produce just as much oil and gas in 2017. But they speak to an investor community that’s grown anxious as a global rally in crude prices has stalled out this year.

“The expectation was that oil would be at least above $50 by this time,” said Brian Youngberg, an energy analyst with Edward Jones & Co. in St. Louis. “Right now, the market wants you to spend within your cash flow, no exceptions allowed. It’s just a response to that.” The “modest tweaks” in this week’s second-quarter earnings reports will probably continue in the coming days, Youngberg said, as drillers focused on U.S. shale plays take center stage. “Companies are going to be cautious,” he said. “No one wants to be the outlier.”

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The Mt. Gox link is interesting. Will BTC-e also close?

US Indicts Russian Suspected of $4 Billion Bitcoin Laundering Scheme (R.)

A US jury indicted a Russian man on Wednesday as the operator of a digital currency exchange he allegedly used to launder more than $4 billion for people involved in crimes ranging from computer hacking to drug trafficking. Alexander Vinnik was arrested in a small beachside village in northern Greece on Tuesday, according to local authorities, following an investigation led by the US Justice Department along with several other federal agencies and task forces. US officials described Vinnik in a Justice Department statement as the operator of BTC-e, an exchange used to trade the digital currency bitcoin since 2011.

They alleged Vinnik and his firm “received” more than $4 billion in bitcoin and did substantial business in the United States without following appropriate protocols to protect against money laundering and other crimes. US authorities also linked him to the failure of Mt. Gox, a Japan-based bitcoin exchange that collapsed in 2014 after being hacked. Vinnik “obtained” funds from the hack of Mt. Gox and laundered them through BTC-e and Tradehill, another San Francisco-based exchange he owned, they said in the statement.

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Robert Fisk is part of our conscience.

The Syrian Army Were Standing Up To Isis Long Before The Americans (Fisk)

I don’t like armies. They are dangerous institutions. Soldiers are not heroes just because they fight. And I’ve grown tired of saying that those who live by the sword sometimes die by the sword. But in an age when the Americans and the Iraqis and Isis can account for 40,000 civilian deaths in Mosul in the past twelve months, compared to 50,000 civilians slaughtered by the Mongols in 13th-century Aleppo – a human rights improvement of US aircrews, Iraqi brutality and Isis sadism over the Mongol hordes by a mere 10,000 souls – death sometimes seems to have lost its meaning. Unless you know the victims or their families. I have a friend whose mother was murdered in the Damascus suburb of Harasta near the start of the Syrian war, another whose brother-in-law was kidnapped east of the city and never seen again.

I met a little girl whose mother and small brother were shot down by al-Nusrah killers in the town of Jisr al-Shughour, and a Lebanese who believes his nephew was hanged in a Syrian jail. And then, this month, in the eastern Syrian desert, near the dust-swept shack village of al-Arak, a Syrian soldier I’d come to know was killed by Isis. He was, of course, a soldier in the army of the Syrian regime. He was a general in an army constantly accused of war crimes by the same nation – the United States – whose air strikes contributed so generously to the obscene massacre in Mosul. But General Fouad Khadour was a professional soldier and he was defending the oil fields of eastern Syria – the crown jewels of Syria’s economy, which was why Isis tried to occupy them all and why they killed Khadour – and the war in the desert is not a dirty war like so many of the conflicts perpetrated in Syria.

When I met him west of Palmyra, Isis had just conquered the ancient Roman city and publicly chopped or blown off the heads of the civilians and soldiers and civil servants who did not manage to flee. Just a year before, the general’s son, also a soldier, had been shot dead in battle in Homs. Fouad Khadour merely nodded when I mentioned this. He wanted to talk about the war in the hot, brown mountains south of Palmyra, where he was teaching his soldiers to fight back against the Isis suicide attackers, to defend their isolated positions around the oil pumping and electricity transmission station where he was based, and to save the T4 pipelines on the road to Homs. The Americans, who proclaimed Isis to be an “apocalyptic” force, sneered that the Syrian army did not fight Isis. But Khadour and his men were standing up to Isis before the Americans ever fired a missile, and learning the only lesson that soldiers can understand when confronted by a horrific enemy: not to be afraid.

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The idea is not exactly new. But Macron wants to go it alone.

France Plans Asylum ‘Hotspots’ In Libya (BBC)

France says it plans to set up “hotspots” in Libya to process asylum seekers, in a bid to stem the flow of migrants to Europe. President Emmanuel Macron said the move would stop people not eligible for asylum from “taking crazy risks”. The centres would be ready “this summer”. He said that between 800,000 and a million people were currently in camps in Libya hoping to get into Europe. But many of them did not have a right to asylum, Mr Macron said. The French leader said that migrants were destabilising Libya and Europe by fuelling people-smuggling, which in turn funded terrorism. “The idea is to create hotspots to avoid people taking crazy risks when they are not all eligible for asylum. We’ll go to them,” he said on Thursday at a naturalisation ceremony in the central city of Orléans.

On Tuesday, Mr Macron mediated talks in Paris between Libya’s opposing governments. UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and Khalifa Haftar, the rival military commander who controls the east, committed to a conditional ceasefire after the meeting. They are aiming to end the conflict which has engulfed the country since Col Muammar Gaddafi was ousted in 2011. Mr Macron and other EU leaders had been hoping for some sort of agreement, as Libya has become a key route for migrants making their way to Europe. The French leader said he hoped the deal would be a blow to the human traffickers who work in the region.

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This is not over. Macron wants to show he’s a tough guy, but pushing aside Italy is bad theater.

Italy Loses Patience With France’s Macron Over Migrants, Libya (VoA)

Macron’s Libya diplomacy is just one irritant in increasingly tension-filled Franco-Italian relations. In May, after meeting Gentiloni in Paris, Macron announced: “We have not listened enough to Italy’s cry for help on the migration crisis.” But Macron’s position since hasn’t changed much from Francois Hollande, his predecessor in the Elysee Palace, to the Italian government’s rising anger. “Italian pleas for more burden-sharing by other EU countries have, so far, fallen on deaf ears. Italy’s refugee centers and shelters have reached their capacity of 200,000. So far this year nearly 100,000 asylum seekers have crossed the Mediterranean from Libya — a 17% increase over the same period last year — and with months more of good weather, another 100,000 asylum seekers are likely to land at Italian ports.

This month, Italy’s deputy foreign minister, Mario Giro, complained, “it doesn’t seem like France wants to help us concretely.” French police are blocking hundreds of migrants on the Italian side of the border at Ventimiglia from entering France; the French government is refusing to allow asylum seekers rescued in the Mediterranean from landing at French ports and, like nearly every other EU country, France hasn’t come anywhere near meeting its quota of migrants as agreed to under a 2015 EU refugee relocation scheme. Macron this month talked of distinguishing between war refugees and economic migrants, indicating that France won’t admit any asylum-seekers who are just escaping poverty and hunger. But that doesn’t help Italy as it tries to cope with a mounting influx of mainly economic migrants, who, under EU rule, it has little alternative but to admit, at least for processing and to save lives.

Paris has also scorned an Italian proposal for an EU military mission to monitor and interdict migrants along Libya’s southern border. Italians question why a large French military mission in Niger isn’t being used to disrupt migrant trafficking when it is right by the main route being used by smugglers and would-be asylum seekers traveling north. Last month, the European Parliament’s most senior left-wing politician, Italian Gianni Pittella, launched a scathing attack on Macron after French police frogmarched back into Italy more than 100 migrants who’d crossed into France. “The situation is shameful. Italy and the Italians are being abandoned, they’re being expected to deal with all these migrants on their own with no support,” he said.

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I’ve said it before: help for refugees in fine, even though its distribution through NGOs is a colossal mess. But renting homes for refugees, and supplying them with money to live, is a huge blow in the face of the Greeks devastated by EU-induced austerity, who get nothing.

EU Announces New Emergency Support For Greek Refugee Crisis (AP)

The European Commission announced a new emergency support package for Greece Thursday to help it deal with the refugee crisis that has seen tens of thousands of migrants and refugees stuck in the country. The €209 million ($243 million) package includes a €151 million program to help refugee families rent accommodation in Greek cities and provide them with money in an effort to help them move out of refugee camps, EU officials said during a visit to Athens. The Commission said the new funding more than doubles the emergency support extended to Greece for the refugee crisis, bringing it to a total of €401 million.

The rental project is in cooperation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and will provide 22,000 rental places with the aim of increasing the number of refugees living in rented apartments to 30,000 by the end of the year, including 2,000 places on Greek islands. A parallel scheme worth €57.6 million will provide refugees and asylum seekers with monthly cash stipends distributed through cash-cards for expenses such as transport, food and medication. “The projects launched today are one part of our wider support to the country but also to those in need of our protection,” said Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos. “Around €1.3 billion of EU funds are at the disposal of Greece for the management of the migration crisis.”

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Jul 272017
 
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Hieronymus Bosch St. Jerome in Prayer 1482

 

Fed Says Balance-Sheet Unwind to Start ‘Relatively Soon’ (BBG)
Time Flies for Draghi and the Bumblebees (BBG)
The Greater Moderation (DDMB)
Thursday Is the ‘Day From Hell’ for Europe’s Stock Watchers (BBG)
Market Hype Triggers ‘New Major Warning’ Sign For Stocks (CNBC)
Financialization and Risk Asymmetry (CHS)
China’s Banks Now Stable, ‘Shadow’ Banking Less Threatening – Moody’s (CNBC)
Investor Howard Marks Says Bitcoin Is A ‘Pyramid Scheme’ (CNBC)
German Business Lobby Urges EU Action Against New US Sanctions On Russia (RT)
Macron Unleashes a Decade of Italian Anger (BBG)
Sweden Leaks Details Of Almost All Of Its Citizens (Ind.)
Armageddon Is Two and One-half Minutes Away (PCR)
Half Our Bodies’ Atoms ‘Formed Beyond The Milky Way’ (G.)

 

 

Far too much power. And then you get inane stuff like: Fed Chair Janet Yellen has allowed the labor market to strengthen .. That means exactly nothing at all.

Fed Says Balance-Sheet Unwind to Start ‘Relatively Soon’ (BBG)

Federal Reserve officials said they would begin running off their $4.5 trillion balance sheet “relatively soon” and left their benchmark policy rate unchanged as they assess progress toward their inflation goal. The start of balance-sheet normalization – possibly as soon as September – is another policy milestone in an economic recovery now in its ninth year. The Fed bought trillions of dollars of securities to lower long-term borrowing costs after cutting the main interest rate to zero in December 2008. “Near-term risks to the economic outlook appear roughly balanced,” the Federal Open Market Committee said in a statement Wednesday following a two-day meeting in Washington. “Household spending and business fixed investment have continued to expand.”

Fed watchers had anticipated that the inclusion of the term “relatively soon” would signal the central bank could announce the timing of the balance-sheet reduction program at its next meeting, scheduled for Sept. 19-20. U.S. stocks rose slightly and 10-year Treasury yields fell following the Fed’s statement. “I expect an announcement of the onset of the balance-sheet reduction at the conclusion of the September meeting, effective on the first of October,” Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at Northern Trust Corp. in Chicago, said after Wednesday’s statement. U.S. central bankers have raised the benchmark policy rate four times since they began removing emergency policy in December 2015, and project another increase before the end of this year.

In June, the FOMC outlined gradually rising runoff caps for maturing Treasuries and mortgage-related securities, and said the program would start “this year.” Fed Chair Janet Yellen has allowed the labor market to strengthen while inflation has remained lower than the 2% goal of officials, with price pressures declining in recent months. The target range for the benchmark federal funds rate was held at 1% to 1.25%. The FOMC said it’s “monitoring inflation developments closely.”

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Also far too much power. It’s crazy to see the man’s babytalk endanger entire societies.

Time Flies for Draghi and the Bumblebees (BBG)

Five years ago today, Mario Draghi was talking about bumblebees. The European Central Bank president’s speech in London on July 26, 2012, became instantly famous because of his pledge to do “whatever it takes” to save the euro. But for all the power and clarity of that phrase, he started his remarks more obliquely. “The euro is like a bumblebee. This is a mystery of nature because it shouldn’t fly but instead it does. So the euro was a bumblebee that flew very well for several years. And now — and I think people ask “how come?”– probably there was something in the atmosphere, in the air, that made the bumblebee fly. Now something must have changed in the air, and we know what after the financial crisis.”

At the time, the currency bloc was being buffeted by soaring bond yields in peripheral nations as speculators bet the union’s fundamental flaws would rip it apart. Draghi’s answer was to state unequivocally that the immediate crisis fell under the ECB’s responsibility and he would deal with it. “The ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro. And believe me, it will be enough.” That pledge was followed by a program to buy the debt of stressed countries in return for structural reforms, and in that respect the words alone proved to be enough. Yield spreads collapsed even though the program has never been tapped.

The bumblebee metaphor tends to be forgotten, but Draghi’s point was this: even with many national governments and more than a dozen different languages dividing the labor force, the single currency can fly. He went further though, saying that it would fly better if European governments overhaul their economies and work more closely together. On that point, the ECB has less reason to be satisfied with the past five years. The institution has since become the regional banking supervisor but European-level integration has otherwise largely stalled, and Draghi has repeatedly lamented the sluggish pace of national economic reforms.

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“The last great central banker that we had in the last 110 years other than Volcker was J.P. Morgan. The difference is, when Morgan tried to contain the 1907 crisis, he wasn’t using zeros and ones of imaginary computer money; he was using his own capital.”

The Greater Moderation (DDMB)

In late June, the recently retired Robert Rodriguez, a 33-year veteran of the markets, sat down for a lengthy interview with Advisor Perspectives (linked here). Among his many accolades, Rodriguez carries the unique distinction of being crowned Morningstar Manager of the Year for his outstanding management of both equity and bond funds. He likens the current era to that of the nine years ended 1951, a period during which the Fed and Treasury held interest rates at artificially low levels to finance World War II. His main concern today is that price discovery has been so distorted by the Fed that the stage is set for a ‘perfect storm.’ His personal allocation to equities is at the lowest level since 1971. The combination of meteorological forces to bring on said storm, you ask? It may well be an act of God, an earthquake. It could just as easily be a geopolitical tremor the system cannot absorb; it’s easy enough to name a handful of potential aggressors.

Or history may simply rhyme with the unrelenting shock waves that catalyzed the subprime mortgage crisis, coupled per chance with a plain vanilla recession. We may simply and slowly wake to the realization that the assumptions we’ve used to delude ourselves into buying the most expensive credit markets in the history of mankind are built on so much quicksand. The point is panics do not randomly come to pass; they must be shocked into existence as was the case in advance of 1907 and 2007. One of Rodriguez’s observations struck a raw nerve for yours truly, who prides herself on being a reformed central banker: “The last great central banker that we had in the last 110 years other than Volcker was J.P. Morgan. The difference is, when Morgan tried to contain the 1907 crisis, he wasn’t using zeros and ones of imaginary computer money; he was using his own capital.”

It is only fair and true to honor history and add that Morgan’s efforts rescued depositors. Income inequality in the years that followed 1907 declined before resuming its ascent to its prior peak, reached at the climax of the Roaring Twenties. The Fed’s intrusions since 2007, built on the false premise of a fanciful wealth effect concocted using models that have no place in the real world, have accomplished the opposite. Income inequality has not only grown in the aftermath of The Great Financial Crisis and throughout The Greater Moderation; it has long since smashed through its former 1927 record and kept rising. The Fed’s actions have not saved the little guy; they’ve skewered him.

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Oh so busy with no price discovery.

Thursday Is the ‘Day From Hell’ for Europe’s Stock Watchers (BBG)

If you think your Thursday looks bad, spare a thought for James Edwardes Jones. The RBC analyst is bracing for what he calls the busiest earnings day he’s experienced in about 20 years covering the consumer-goods industry. Edwardes Jones plans to arrive at RBC Europe’s London offices along the River Thames about the time the world’s largest brewer, Anheuser-Busch InBev, reports results at 6 a.m. local time. Fifteen minutes later he has Nestle, followed by Danone at 6:30. Then come Diageo and British American Tobacco, along with a trading update from Britvic, all before the morning team meeting at 7:15 a.m. Next up are calls with executives of some of those companies at 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Edwardes Jones has client notes to write before his final set of results from L’Oreal SA at 5 p.m. – 11 hours after the first batch.

Other retail or consumer-goods companies reporting Thursday include French grocer Casino, U.K. bookmaker Ladbrokes Coral and Paris-based luxury conglomerate Kering. “There has never been a day like that,” Edwardes Jones said. His recipe for getting through the day: “Maybe a quadruple espresso.” Across London’s financial district, analysts are readying themselves for what Martin Deboo at Jefferies called a “day from hell”: a bumper earnings session in which European companies worth more than $3 trillion are set to report results, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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Everyone still thinks they’ll be able to get out in time.

Market Hype Triggers ‘New Major Warning’ Sign For Stocks (CNBC)

With a fresh round of record-breaking highs in the stock market has come a surge in investor optimism, and that eventually could create problems. Bullishness in the most recent Investors Intelligence survey hit 60.2%, the highest level since late February. The survey comes from editors of market newsletters and thus provides a snapshot of what professional investors are thinking. Elevated levels of optimism often coincide with market dips. The last time the II survey hit this level, the S&P 500 proceeded to fall nearly 3%. John Gray, editor at II, cautions that the big spread between bulls and bears, who are at just 16.5%, is an indicator of potential danger ahead. “The latest sentiment is not encouraging for the rest of the year as markets rarely fulfill expectations,” Gray wrote.

“This is a new major warning calling for defensive measures to protect profits, renewing the same signal from earlier this year.” While there’s been plenty of talk in the market about elevated levels that could trigger a correction — or a 10% drop — II respondents don’t see it happening. Expectations for a correction dipped to 23.3% of respondents. By comparison, the correction reading was at a comparatively lofty 34% prior to the November presidential election — just before the market surged on hopes that President Donald Trump would usher in a new pro-business era in Washington. Since hitting the most recent bottom earlier in July, the market has been on what is just the latest leg higher. Defying expectations that stocks could see limited gains this year, the S&P 500 has climbed 10.6% on strength in tech, materials, health care and discretionary stocks.

Among the sampling of newsletter sentiment that II cited was a warning from Bert Dohmen’s Wellington Letter, which said the Fed could thwart the rally. “As long as Fed officials talk about hiking rates, it will enhance concerns about the Fed producing a recession,” Dohmen wrote. “We interpret each rate hike as another nail in the coffin for an economic recovery.” Ten of the last 13 Fed rate-hiking cycles ended with recession. Dohmen said that could be the case again, though he did not advocate that investors panic. “We are seeing warning signs, but not enough to run for the hills just yet. We have said for a number of months that the final phase in the bull market should be a noticeable spurt to the upside, forcing all skeptics into the market,” he wrote. “We haven’t seen that yet.”

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The opposite of skin in the game.

Financialization and Risk Asymmetry (CHS)

One of the most pernicious consequences of financialization is the shifting of risk from the top of the wealth-power pyramid to the bottom: those who benefit the most from financialization’s leveraged, speculative credit bubbles protect themselves from losses while those at the bottom of the pyramid (the bottom 99.5%) face the full fury of financialization’s formidable risk. Longtime correspondent Chad D. and I recently exchanged emails exploring how the higher debt loads and higher interest payments of financialization inhibits people at the bottom of the wealth-power pyramid (i.e. debt-serfs) from taking risks such as starting a small business. But this is only one serving of financialization’s toxic banquet of risk-related consequences.

Chad summarized how those at the apex of the wealth-power pyramid protect themselves from risk and losses. At the top levels of the pyramid, members in those groups collect way more interest than they pay out and at the very top, they get a ton of interest and pay little to none. The people at the top can take all sorts of risk, because of this dynamic and further, they also usually have a heavy influence on the financial/political machinery, so they get bailed out by taxpayers when their investments go bad. In addition, because their influence extends to the criminal justice system, they are able to commit fraud and at the same time neutralize regulators and prosecutors, thereby escaping any ramifications from their excessive risk taking and in many cases massive fraud.

As Chad observed, the wealthy own the income streams from debt (bonds, etc.), while everyone else owes the interest and principal due on debt. As this chart shows, the wealthy own business equity and financial securities and have a modest slice of debt. The bottom 90% owe most of the debt, and their primary asset is the family home– an asset that doesn’t generate income while it generates interest income for those who own the mortgage. In other words, it’s less an investment than a form of consumption– especially when the current housing bubble deflates.

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Moody’s is smoking the good stuff. What utter nonsense.

China’s Banks Now Stable, ‘Shadow’ Banking Less Threatening – Moody’s (CNBC)

Moody’s Investors Service no longer takes a negative view on China’s banking system, raising its outlook to stable on Thursday as concerns over so-called shadow banking eased. “The government’s adoption of more coordinated policy measures to curb shadow banking will help mitigate asset risks for banks, and address some key imbalances in the financial system,” Yulia Wan, a Moody’s banking analyst, said in a statement on Thursday. Shadow banking is a broad category of banking-like services from non-traditional players; it can include loans from non-financial companies as well as investment products. It is outside the bounds of normal banking regulation, so it largely goes unregulated.

Earlier this month, Moody’s had noted that actions on shadow-banking had included the central bank changing its monetary policy setting in the last quarter of 2016 to “moderate neutral” from “moderate,” which raised market funding costs and refinancing risks for banks, reducing the return from supporting long-term investments with short-term market funds. In March and April, the China Banking Regulatory Commission also requested banks test whether their interbank liabilities would exceed the regulatory ceiling at one-third of total liabilities. Moodys’ noted in the Thursday report that there were signs of declines in outstanding wealth management products issued by the mainland’s banks and fewer investments in loans and receivables among the 26 listed banks.

But it added that profit growth would be limited by continued pressure on net interest margins and slower fee-income growth on higher funding costs and stricter shadow-banking regulations. [..] “Overall delinquency rates will stabilize as corporate profit continues to recover, helped by stable and solid economic growth, steady commodity prices and a slower increase in corporate leverage,” the Moody’s statement said.

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In the present evironment, there’s no need to consider underlying value. Everything’s just a big leveraged bet on the Fed.

Investor Howard Marks Says Bitcoin Is A ‘Pyramid Scheme’ (CNBC)

Howard Marks, one of the most respected value investors out there, starkly warned his clients to avoid high-flying digital currencies. “In my view, digital currencies are nothing but an unfounded fad (or perhaps even a pyramid scheme), based on a willingness to ascribe value to something that has little or none beyond what people will pay for it,” Marks wrote in the investor letter Wednesday. Ethereum cryptocurrency is up more than 2,300% year to date through Wednesday, while bitcoin is up nearly 160% this year, according to data from industry website CoinDesk.

The co-chairman of Oaktree Capital is famous for his prescient investment memos, which predicted the financial crisis and the dotcom bubble implosion. The manager then went on to compare cryptocurrencies to the Tulip mania of 1637, the South Sea bubble of 1720 and the internet bubble of 1999. “Serious investing consists of buying things because the price is attractive relative to intrinsic value,” he wrote. “Speculation, on the other hand, occurs when people buy something without any consideration of its underlying value or the appropriateness of its price.”

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“There are suspicions the US government is introducing the new sanctions against Russia to boost exports of American natural gas to the European market.”

German Business Lobby Urges EU Action Against New US Sanctions On Russia (RT)

A US move to expand sanctions against Russia may have an adverse impact on Europe’s energy security, hurt the German economy, and appears to favor American firms, says Volker Treier, chief economist at the German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK). Treier has urged European authorities to address the new round of anti-Russian sanctions approved by the US House of Representatives on Tuesday. “The European Commission now must make efforts to shed light on the current situation, as well as resist the exterritorial effect of new US penalties. We get the impression the US pursues their own economic interests”, he told in an interview with TASS.

“If German firms are banned from participating in gas pipeline enterprises, very important projects in the energy supply security sector can be halted. In that case, the German economy will be discernibly influenced,” Treier said. The future of the Nord Stream-2 natural gas pipeline project from Russia to Germany is of particular concern to Europeans. Roughly a third of the European Union’s natural gas supply still comes from Russia. The proposed expansion would double the existing pipeline’s capacity and make Germany EU’s main energy hub. There are suspicions the US government is introducing the new sanctions against Russia to boost exports of American natural gas to the European market.

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What is happening to Italy’s sovereignty? And what do Italians think about that?

Macron Unleashes a Decade of Italian Anger (BBG)

The 2006 World Cup final should have been a triumph for Italians, but all people remember now is the iconic French soccer captain Zinedine Zidane headbutting an opponent in the last minutes. The controversy overshadowed much of the glory for the winning team that night and the subsequent carping of French fans convinced many Italians that their bigger, richer neighbor will never give them the respect they deserve, whether the field is sports, business or politics. That resentment burst into the open on Wednesday when Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said France is ready to nationalize the STX shipyard in Saint-Nazaire if its would-be Italian buyer Fincantieri SpA doesn’t accept his government’s conditions. Fincantieri stock plunged as much as 13% and Italian ministers erupted.

Italian Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan said there’s “no reason” why Fincantieri should accept only a minority stake and his colleague Carlo Calenda, in charge of economic development, told Ansa newswire that Italy is ready to walk away from the deal after Le Maire changed terms already agreed with the previous administration, citing the need to protect a key national asset from foreign influence. The Italians have struggled to accept that rationale, given STX’s previous owner was Korean. President Emmanuel Macron’s June election victory may have reinvigorated the Franco-German relationship at the heart of the European Union. But ties with Italy, the continent’s No. 3 economy, are going from bad to worse, suggesting that competition for jobs, security, and indeed glory, could quickly dampen hopes for tighter EU cooperation.

“This situation is not good for business and not good for European integration,” Alessandro Ungaro, a security and defense analyst at Rome’s Institute for International Affairs, said in a phone interview. “We were hoping for a more market-friendly and pro-European stance, but they’re rejecting a European ally and reasonable industrial project in favor of a possible nationalization.” Italian officials were already smarting when they woke up on Wednesday. The previous day Macron had snubbed their Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni by leaving him out of peace talks in Paris with Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj and Khalifa Haftar, leader of the country’s powerful eastern-based military force. Italy sees Libya, its former colony, as its sphere of influence. Privately many Italian officials blame French meddling for contributing to the collapse of the North African country’s institutions.

[..] On Wednesday, Italy’s front pages were filled with anger at the French. “Macron’s blitz overshadows Italy,” said La Stampa, later adding on its website, “Italy and France head for naval battle.” Il Messaggero went with “Libya deal without Italy.” In response, Gentiloni invited the Libyan leader al-Serraj to Rome and held his own press conference on television to reassert his influence. “This is getting a bit childish,” said Sofia Ventura, a professor of politics at the University of Bologna, whose father is Italian and mother is French. “The problem is individual countries are looking after their interests and not really keeping with the European spirit. Among the bigger nations, Italy is weaker, it can’t fully compete.”

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IBM doesn’t look good either, I would say. Government ministers may not have the know-how, but IBM personnel does.

Sweden Leaks Details Of Almost All Of Its Citizens (Ind.)

Sweden appears to have accidentally leaked the details of almost all of its citizens. And now it’s getting worse. The brewing scandal – based around a leak that actually happened in 2015 but only emerged last week – could see prominent members of Sweden’s government removed from their post. The leak allowed unvetted IT workers in other countries to see the details of people registered in Swedish government and police databases. It happened after the government looked to outsource data held by the Transport Agency, but did so in a way that allowed that information to be available to almost anyone, critics have claimed. The opposition is seeking to boot out the ministers of infrastructure, defence and the interior – Anna Johansson, Peter Hultqvist and Anders Ygeman, respectively – for their role in outsourcing IT-services for the Swedish Transport Agency in 2015.

The minority government has said that contract process – won by IBM Sweden – was speeded up, bypassing some laws and internal procedures in a manner that may have led to people abroad, handling servers with sensitive materials. Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said on Monday his country and its citizens were exposed to risks by potential leaks as a result of the contract. The centre right opposition Alliance, comprising the Moderate, Centre, Liberal and Christian Democrat parties, has taken aim at the three ministers. “It is obvious (they) have neglected their responsibility. They have not taken action to protect Sweden’s safety”, Centre party leader Annie Loof told a news conference.

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“America has failed itself and the world.”

Armageddon Is Two and One-half Minutes Away (PCR)

Are you ready to die? You and I are going to die and not from old age, because our fellow Americans are so stupid, ignorant, and brainwashed that they believe the lies that are leading us to our certain destruction. This is what the Atomic Scientists tell us. And they are right. Can you comprehend the absurdity? President Trump is under full-scale attack from the military/security complex, the US presstitute media, the Democratic Party, and from many Republicans, such as Republican Senator from South Carolina Lindsey Graham and Republican Senator from Arizona John McCain simply because President Trump wants to reduce the dangerous tensions between the two major nuclear powers. What explains the total lack of concern for their own lives on the part of the populations in South Carolina and Arizona who send to the Senate and keep sending to the Senate two morons determined to provoke war between the US and Russia?

It should send shivers up your spine that you can ask this same question about all 50 states, and almost all congressional districts. You can ask the same question about the bordello known as “the American media.” There will be no one alive to post or to read the headlines of the war that they are helping to promote. The United States and the rest of the world with it along with all life on earth are being sent to their graves by the total failure of American leadership. What is wrong with Americans that they cannot understand that any “leader” who provokes war with a major nuclear power should be instantly institutionalized as criminally insane? Why do Americans sit night after night in front of the TV absorbing lies that commit them beyond all doubt to their deaths? America has failed itself and the world.

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We are stardust from far away.

Half Our Bodies’ Atoms ‘Formed Beyond The Milky Way’ (G.)

Nearly half of the atoms that make up our bodies may have formed beyond the Milky Way and travelled to the solar system on intergalactic winds driven by giant exploding stars, astronomers claim. The dramatic conclusion emerges from computer simulations that reveal how galaxies grow over aeons by absorbing huge amounts of material that is blasted out of neighbouring galaxies when stars explode at the end of their lives. Powerful supernova explosions can fling trillions of tonnes of atoms into space with such ferocity that they escape their home galaxy’s gravitational pull and fall towards larger neighbours in enormous clouds that travel at hundreds of kilometres per second.

Astronomers have long known that elements forged in stars can travel from one galaxy to another, but the latest research is the first to reveal that up to half of the material in the Milky Way and similar-sized galaxies can arrive from smaller galactic neighbours. Much of the hydrogen and helium that falls into galaxies forms new stars, while heavier elements, themselves created in stars and dispersed in the violent detonations, become the raw material for building comets and asteroids, planets and life. “Science is very useful for finding our place in the universe,” said Daniel Anglés-Alcázar, an astronomer at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. “In some sense we are extragalactic visitors or immigrants in what we think of as our galaxy.”

The researchers ran supercomputer simulations to watch what happened as galaxies evolved over billions of years. They noticed that as stars exploded in smaller galaxies, the blasts ejected clouds of elements that fell into neighbouring, larger galaxies. The Milky Way absorbs about one sun’s-worth of extragalactic material every year. “The surprising thing is that galactic winds contribute significantly more material than we thought,” said Anglés-Alcázar. “In terms of research in galaxy evolution, we’re very excited about these results. It’s a new mode of galaxy growth we’ve not considered before.” The simulations showed that elements carried on intergalactic winds could travel a million light years before settling in a new galaxy, according to a report in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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Jul 262017
 
 July 26, 2017  Posted by at 9:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Jackson Pollock Greyed Rainbow 1953

 

The Rise And Fall Of The Property-Owning Democracy (FCFT)
Case-Shiller Home Prices Disappoint But Hit New Record High (ZH)
Australian Housing Affordability the Worst in 130 Years (Soos/David)
There Are More ‘Zombie’ Companies In Europe Now Than Pre-Lehman (CNBC)
Netherlands and UK Are Biggest Channels For Corporate Tax Avoidance (G.)
US Sanctions Have Taken A Big Bite Out Of Russia’s Economy (CNBC)
The Value of Everything (Jim Kunstler)
Bolivia’s President Declares ‘Total Independence’ from World Bank and IMF (AHT)
Germany Fails To Honour Its Part Of The Greek Bailout Deal (Bilbo)
Insolvent Greece Goes To Market 2.0 (Varoufakis)
Nine Out Of 10 People Call For ‘Plastic-Free Aisle’ In Supermarkets (Ind.)
Sperm Counts In The West Plunge By 60% In 40 Years (Ind.)

 

 

The article is somewhat confusing to me, bear of little brain and unpopular in China. But it’s good to make the point that bubbles spark poverty.

The Rise And Fall Of The Property-Owning Democracy (FCFT)

Sometime in the late 1980s, a friend who was on the libertarian right of the Conservative Party explained the idea of the property-owning democracy to me. The point, he said, was to detach the respectable working class from their poorer neighbours, encourage them to identify with the middle-class and thereby turn them into Tories. It worked for a while. Middle earners had been doing relatively well since the 1970s and home ownership was within the reach of many once mortgages became more readily available. Helped along by cheap council house sales, home ownership rose. In recent years, though, things have started shifting back the other way. The property-owning democracy is now looking like a one-off event rather than the ongoing process it was meant to be. Property analyst Neal Hudson pointed out that, as a proportion of all tenure, home ownership peaked in 2003 but mortgage ownership peaked in 1996. As older property owners paid off their housing debts, they were not being replaced at the same rate by new mortgagors.

[..] As the Resolution Foundation comments: The typical mortgagor AHC income is now twice that of the typical social renter, and over the past decade this income has grown by 17% compared to just 4% growth for the typical private renter. Even more than was the case before the financial crisis, the living standards split between those who own their own home and those who do not has become a key divide. While the proportion of households owning their own homes has fallen generally, that decline has been sharper among those on low to middle incomes. (Defined by the Resolution Foundation as working-age households with someone in work but with less than the median household income.) In the mid 1990s, over half of those on low to middle incomes were mortgagors. Now that has fallen to a third. Over the same period, private renting among this group rose.

Last week’s report on poverty and inequality by the Institute for Fiscal Studies notes that most of those in poverty (defined as income less than 60% of the median) are now from households where someone is in work. “[R]elative poverty among children and working-age adults has increased and, over the past 20 years or so, has increasingly become an in-work phenomenon due to declines in worklessness, low earnings growth and widening earnings inequality.”

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What bubble?

Case-Shiller Home Prices Disappoint But Hit New Record High (ZH)

Great news ‘Murica – your house has never been worth more than it was in May (according to Case-Shiller’s national home price index). On the slightly less silver-lining side of the equation, April’s 0.28% gain in price was revised to 0.18% MoM drop and May’s proint disappointed at just 0.1% rise MoM. The 20-city property values index increased 5.7% y/y (est. 5.8%). All cities in the index showed year-over-year gains, led by a 13.3% advance in Seattle, an 8.9% increase in Portland and a 7.9% gain in Denver.

After seasonal adjustment, Seattle had the biggest month-over-month increase, at 0.9%, while New York posted a 0.6% decline. “Home prices continue to climb and outpace both inflation and wages,” David Blitzer, chairman of the S&P index committee, said in a statement. “The small supply of homes for sale, at only about four months’ worth, is one cause of rising prices. New home construction, higher than during the recession but still low, is another factor in rising prices.”

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Just keep paying the piper.

Australian Housing Affordability the Worst in 130 Years (Soos/David)

The astronomical bubble in Australian housing prices has generated plenty of commentary regarding the current lack of affordability. This state of affairs clearly concerns aspiring home buyers everywhere, and Sydney and Melbourne in particular. First home buyers (FHBs) face almost insurmountable odds: the highest price to income and deposit to income ratios, the lowest savings rates, runaway dwelling prices, weak wage growth, including a political and economic establishment hell-bent on ensuring land prices keep on inflating no matter the wider cost to the economy. The legion of vested interests – basically 99% of commentators – choose to contend housing is actually more affordable today than back in the days of high mortgage interest rates, especially when rates peaked at 17% in 1989.

This is demonstrated by the standard mortgage payment to household income formula shown above, assuming 80% loan to value ratio (LVR). Their contention is bogus, however, because the metric is a static one, displaying mortgage payments to income at a particular point in time. The peak in 1989, for instance, is very high if, and only if, prices, interest rates and incomes remain constant over the life of the mortgage. Yet, these variables change by the next period. So, a more dynamic approach is required to assess housing affordability. The correct method was advocated by Glenn Stevens in 1997, Guy Debelle in 2004 and other economists like Dean Baker, who identified the US housing bubble and predicted the Global Financial Crisis in 2002. The important factor to consider is the effect wage inflation has upon mortgage payments.

While high mortgage interest rates result in large mortgage payments relative to income, this only occurs in the early years of the mortgage as high wage growth inflates away the burden. In contrast, borrowers facing high housing prices with low interest rates and poor wage growth face a greater burden across the life of the mortgage due to greater payments to income. This housing affordability analysis is applied to long-term annual data between 1880 and 2016, anchored to the median house price at an LVR of 80% at the start of each decade thereon. While data on mortgage interest rates and wage growth for the years after 2016 cannot be known, they are assumed to hold still at the present rates: 5.4% for the mortgage interest rate and 1.4% for wages. The following chart illustrates the outcome of applying this method, demonstrating the proportion of aggregate mortgage payments to household income over the 25 years of the mortgage. The results are overpowering.

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Well, that’s what Draghi’s QE guarantees.

There Are More ‘Zombie’ Companies In Europe Now Than Pre-Lehman (CNBC)

The ECB needs to beware of raising interest rates too quickly as there are a significant number of “zombie firms” in Europe that have become too dependent on cheap credit, according to analysis by the Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Barnaby Martin, head of European Credit Strategy at BofA Merrill Lynch, said businesses in Europe which have benefited from the ECB’s corporate bond purchase program would struggle once the bank raises interest rates, expected sometime in 2018. “The worst kept secret in the market is Mario Draghi is going to be tapering monetary policy next year and yet last week he was super, super dovish so I think that we’ve forgotten that monetary policy in Europe is on its way out,” he told CNBC on Tuesday, adding “there’s clearly political pressure for him to move away from this extraordinary era.”

“So the question becomes ‘can we handle a rapid rise in interest rates?’,” he said. ECB stimulus measures as part of its quantitative easing program designed to boost the European economy currently amount to €60 billion ($69.9 billion) a month. Some of this money goes into purchasing corporate bonds. While these purchases have enabled companies to continue to operate and invest, aiding a recovery in the European economy, the bank’s purchases have been credited for keeping ailing companies alive, hence the name “zombies.” The ECB started purchasing corporate bonds in June 2016 as part of its “corporate sector purchase program” (CSPP) and, as of June 7, 2017, its CSPP holdings stood at €92 billion, the bank said.

In a note examining “The rise of the Zombies” BofA Merrill Lynch’s credit strategists Martin, Ionnis Angelakis and Souhair Asba noted that 9% of non-financial companies in Europe (by market cap of Stoxx 600) are zombies, with “very weak interest coverage metrics.” “Note that this is still quite a high number: It was around 6% pre-Lehman, and fell to 5% in late 2013 after the peripheral crisis had faded,” they said. “The plethora of monetary support in Europe over the last 5 years has allowed companies with weak profitability to continue to refinance their debt and stave off defaults.” The analyst team also noted that bond issuance had been concentrated in “the hands of a few.” “Year-to-date, the top 20 bonds issuers have accounted for 40% of supply. In 2015 and 2016, the number was closer to 25%. The result has been that “superfirms” have been quietly building across the credit market,” they noted.

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“The Netherlands says they won’t let the UK be an offshore tax haven. That’s because they don’t want them taking their business.”

Netherlands and UK Are Biggest Channels For Corporate Tax Avoidance (G.)

Almost 40% of corporate investments channelled away from authorities and into tax havens travel through the UK or the Netherlands, according to a study of the ownership structures of 98m firms. The two EU states are way ahead of the rest of the world in terms of being a preferred option for corporations who want to exploit tax havens to protect their investments. The Netherlands was a conduit for 23% of corporate investments that ended in a tax haven, a team of researchers at the University of Amsterdam concluded. The UK accounted for 14%, ahead of Switzerland (6%), Singapore (2%) and Ireland (1%). Every year multinationals avoid paying £38bn-£158bn in taxes in the EU using tax havens. In the US, tax evasion by multinational corporations via offshore jurisdictions is estimated to be at least $130bn (£99bn) a year.

The researchers reported that there were 24 so-called “sink” offshore financial centres where foreign capital was ultimately stored, safe from the tax authorities. Of those, 18 are said to have a current or past dependence to the UK, such as the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands and Jersey. The tax havens used correlated heavily to which conduit country was chosen by the multinational’s accountants. The UK is a major conduit for investments going to European countries and former members of the British Empire, such as Hong Kong, Jersey, Guernsey or Bermuda, reflecting the historical links and tax treaties enjoyed by firms setting up in Britain. The Netherlands is a principal conduit for investment ending in Cyprus and Bermuda, among others. Switzerland is used as a conduit to Jersey. Ireland is the route for Japanese and American companies to Luxembourg.

[..] Dr Eelke Heemskerk, who led the research, said that the work showed the importance of developed countries cleaning up their financial sectors. He said: “In the context of Brexit, where you have the UK threatening, unless they get a deal, to change their model to be attractive to companies who want to protect themselves from taxes, well, they are already doing it. “The Netherlands says they won’t let the UK be an offshore tax haven. That’s because they don’t want them taking their business.”

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Russia’s getting an invaluable lesson in self-suffciency. There’s nothing like it.

US Sanctions Have Taken A Big Bite Out Of Russia’s Economy (CNBC)

Congress moved Tuesday to step up sanctions on a shrinking Russian economy that is already struggling under the weight of low oil prices, high inflation and a battered currency that has sent capital fleeing. In response to Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the House voted overwhelmingly to tighten existing economic sanctions imposed in 2014 following the Russian invasion of Crimea. Among other things, the measures freeze assets and prohibit transactions with specific Russian companies and individuals, restrict financial transactions with Russian firms, and ban certain exports that are used in oil and gas exploration or have possible military uses.

Those 2014 U.S. sanctions were paired with related measures imposed by the European Union, which placed restrictions on business with Russia’s financial, defense and energy sectors. Today, Russia’s economy is still feeling the harsh impact of those measures, which coincided with a crash in global oil prices that cut deeply into revenues from the country’s main export. The loss of oil revenues – a drop of as much as 60%, according to a 2017 Congressional Research Service report — helped spark a collapse in Russia’s currency, the ruble, sending the prices of Russian consumer goods soaring. The Russian economy has also been hurt by a wave of capital flight out of the country, as individual Russians sought to move money offshore and convert their shrinking rubles to dollars and euros to protect their wealth. That money flow slowed in 2014 as U.S. and European sanctions took hold.

Though U.S. sanctions have put pressure on the Russian economy, the impact on American business has been limited because Russia makes up less than 1% of U.S. exports. Only six U.S states count Russia as a significant market for goods and services. Washington, the most reliant, sells roughly 1% of its total exports to Russia, consisting mostly of machinery and farm products. That’s half the level before the 2014 sanctions took effect. European nations, which export greater volumes to Russia than the U.S., imposed their own set of sanctions response to the Crimean annexation.

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“The floundering non-elite masses have not learned the harsh lesson of our time that the virtual is not an adequate substitute for the authentic..”

The Value of Everything (Jim Kunstler)

We are looking more and more like France on the eve of its revolution in 1789. Our classes are distributed differently, but the inequity is just as sharp. America’s “aristocracy,” once based strictly on bank accounts, acts increasingly hereditary as the vapid offspring and relations of “stars” (in politics, showbiz, business, and the arts) assert their prerogatives to fame, power, and riches — think the voters didn’t grok the sinister import of Hillary’s “it’s my turn” message? What’s especially striking in similarity to the court of the Bourbons is the utter cluelessness of America’s entitled power elite to the agony of the moiling masses below them and mainly away from the coastal cities. Just about everything meaningful has been taken away from them, even though many of the material trappings of existence remain: a roof, stuff that resembles food, cars, and screens of various sizes.

But the places they are supposed to call home are either wrecked — the original small towns and cities of America — or replaced by new “developments” so devoid of artistry, history, thought, care, and charm that they don’t add up to communities, and are so obviously unworthy of affection, that the very idea of “home” becomes a cruel joke. These places were bad enough in the 1960s and 70s, when the people who lived in them at least were able to report to paying jobs assembling products and managing their distribution. Now those people don’t have that to give a little meaning to their existence, or cover the costs of it. Public space was never designed into the automobile suburbs, and the sad remnants of it were replaced by ersatz substitutes, like the now-dying malls. Everything else of a public and human associational nature has been shoved into some kind of computerized box with a screen on it.

The floundering non-elite masses have not learned the harsh lesson of our time that the virtual is not an adequate substitute for the authentic, while the elites who create all this vicious crap spend millions to consort face-to-face in the Hamptons and Martha’s Vineyard telling each other how wonderful they are for providing all the artificial social programming and glitzy hardware for their paying customers. The effect of this dynamic relationship so far has been powerfully soporific. You can deprive people of a true home for a while, and give them virtual friends on TV to project their emotions onto, and arrange to give them cars via some financing scam or other to keep them moving mindlessly around an utterly desecrated landscape under the false impression that they’re going somewhere — but we’re now at the point where ordinary people can’t even carry the costs of keeping themselves hostage to these degrading conditions.

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The kind of independence that tends to be bad for a man’s health.

Bolivia’s President Declares ‘Total Independence’ from World Bank and IMF (AHT)

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales has been highlighting his government’s independence from international money lending organizations and their detrimental impact the nation, the Telesur TV reported. “A day like today in 1944 ended Bretton Woods Economic Conference (USA), in which the IMF and WB were established,” Morales tweeted. “These organizations dictated the economic fate of Bolivia and the world. Today we can say that we have total independence of them.” Morales has said Bolivia’s past dependence on the agencies was so great that the IMF had an office in government headquarters and even participated in their meetings. Bolivia is now in the process of becoming a member of the Southern Common Market, Mercosur and Morales attended the group’s summit in Argentina last week.

Bolivia’s popular uprising known as the The Cochabamba Water War in 2000 against United States-based Bechtel Corporation over water privatization and the associated World Bank policies shed light on some of the debt issues facing the region. Some of Bolivia’s largest resistance struggles in the last 60 years have targeted the economic policies carried out by the IMF and the World Bank. Most of the protests focused on opposing privatization policies and austerity measures, including cuts to public services, privatization decrees, wage reductions, as well the weakening of labor rights. Since 2006, a year after Morales came to power, social spending on health, education, and poverty programs has increased by over 45%.

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A tour de force by Bill Mitchell. Germany’s profiting so much off of Greece’s despair that it can hide its own economic pitholes with it.

Germany Fails To Honour Its Part Of The Greek Bailout Deal (Bilbo)

Effectively the “German Federal Government – through KfW” is providing funds to Greece as part of the bailout. On May 20, 2014, the KfW issued a further press statement – Institution for Growth in Greece (IfG) – which further details the way in which German government bailout support is channeled through the KfW. For example, in relation to the “three planned IfG sub-funds … The Hellenic Republic and KfW — on behalf of the German Federal Government — will each contribute EUR 100 million in funding debt to this sub-fund.” Clear enough. The Süddeutsche Zeitung article says that since 2010, these loans granted to Greece through the KfW have generated 393 million euros of interest income net of refinancing costs [..] A handy sum. And what is more – the profits generated have not been transferred to the Greek government.

Further gains were made on the Greek bailouts via the ECB’s Securities Market Program (SMP), which has generated German gains of around $€952 million, through ECB distributions of the profits to the Member State central banks. A similar story appeared in the English-version of the Handelsbatt next day (July 12, 2017) – Germany Profits From Greek Debt Crisis. It essentially sourced the Süddeutsche Zeitung and made the story more accessible (repeating it in English). It says that: “The German government has long been accused by critics of profiting from Greece’s debt crisis. Now there are some new numbers to back it up: Loans and bonds purchased in support of Greece over nearly a decade have resulted in profits of €1.34 billion for Germany’s finance ministry.”

The issue became public because the Greens parliamentary representatives have challenged the morality of the German government’s decision not to redistribute the profits and the role played by the KfW. The Greens representative was reported as saying that: “The profits from collecting interest must be paid out to Greece … Wolfgang Schäuble cannot use the Greek profits to clean up Germany’s federal budget …” It has long been claimed that “Greece’s crisis has helped” Schäuble keep the German fiscal balance in surplus. The KfW have been part of that. We knew back in 2015 that the KfW was helping the Finance Ministry generate fiscal surpluses.

On March 5, 2015, the German daily newspaper Rheinische Post published a report – So geht es den Griechen wirklich – presented a summary of a 40-page document that the German Finance Ministry had provided in response to a demand for information from the Linksfraktion (German Left Party Die Linke). The Finance Ministry document conceded that: “Between 2010 to 2014, the KfW has paid out around 360 million euro in revenues to the German government and in the coming years the federal government is expecting around 20 million euro per year on interest revenues.”

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The Greek economy is worse than ever, but now people trust it?

Insolvent Greece Goes To Market 2.0 (Varoufakis)

Why do I refuse to be impressed by the news of Greece’s return to the markets? “It is because the Greek state and the Greek banks remain deeply insolvent. And, their return to the money markets is a harbinger of the next terrible phase of Greece’s crisis, rather than a cause for celebration”. The above was my answer in a BBC interview on 9th April… 2014! It is also the only answer that fits today’s announcement of Greece’s new bond issue. Indeed, why script a new article, when that old post offers a most helpful response to the question: “What should the world think of Greece’s new bond issue?”

The only thing I need to add to these circa 2014 posts is this: The Tsipras government today is simply rolling over precisely the same bond that the Samaras-Venizelos-Stournaras government issued in 2014 – the subject matter of my criticism above. This is a remarkable U-turn by Mr Tsipras and his ministers. In 2014 they had sided entirely with my criticism of the then government’s argument that Greece’s return to the markets, with the issue of that one bond, was a sign the country was achieving escape velocity from the gravitational pull of its debt-deflationary crisis. Now, they are not only parroting the same arguments as Samaras-Venizelos-Stournaras but they are, lo and behold, rolling over the same bond! I rest my case.

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It’s not that hard.

Nine Out Of 10 People Call For ‘Plastic-Free Aisle’ In Supermarkets (Ind.)

Nine out of 10 people want supermarkets to introduce a “plastic-free aisle”, according to a new poll amid rising concern about pollution. The survey – of 2,000 British adults by Populus – was commissioned by campaign group A Plastic Planet, which said it was clear that the public wanted an alternative to “goods laden with plastic packaging”. Evidence of the synthetic substance’s harmful effects on the natural world is growing. Since 1950, humans have produced 8.3 billion tons of the stuff, with 6.3 billion tons being sent to landfill sites or simply being dumped in what scientists described as an “uncontrolled experiment” on the planet. Plastic, which acts like a magnet for toxic chemicals in the environment, breaks down into tiny pieces that are capable of passing through animals’ gut walls and into their body tissue.

The UN warned in a report last year that “the presence of microplastic in foodstuffs could potentially increase direct exposure of plastic-associated chemicals to humans and may present an attributable risk to human health”. A third of seabirds in the North Sea were also found to be suffering “widespread breeding failure”, largely because of plastic waste. The new poll found 91% of people supported aisles free from plastic packaging and 81% said they were concerned “about the amount of plastic packaging that is thrown away in the UK”. Sian Sutherland, a co-founder of A Plastic Planet, said: “It’s becoming increasingly clear that the Great British public wants a fresh alternative to goods laden with plastic packaging. Too much of our plastic waste ends up in oceans and landfill.

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Am I a bad person for thinking that maybe this isn’t such a bad thing? Who wants more of us?

I like the term “semen parameters”. Name for a band. Double billing with Pussy Riot.

Sperm Counts In The West Plunge By 60% In 40 Years (Ind.)

Sperm counts have plunged by nearly 60% in just 40 years among men living in the West, according to a major review of scientific studies that suggests the modern world is causing serious damage to men’s health. Pesticides, hormone-disrupting chemicals, diet, stress, smoking and obesity have all been “plausibly associated” with the problem, which is associated with a range of other illnesses such as testicular cancer and a generally increased mortality rate. The researchers who carried out the review said the rate of decline had showed no sign of “levelling off” in recent years. The same trend was not seen in other parts of the world such as South America, Africa and Asia, although the scientists said fewer studies had been carried out there.

One expert commenting on the study said it was the “most comprehensive to date”, and described the figures as “shocking” and a “wake-up call” for urgent research into the reasons driving the fall. Writing in the journal Human Reproduction Update, the researchers – from Israel, the US, Denmark, Brazil and Spain – said total sperm count had fallen by 59.3% between 1971 and 2011 in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. Sperm concentration fell by 52.4%. “Sperm count and other semen parameters have been plausibly associated with multiple environmental influences, including endocrine disrupting chemicals, pesticides, heat and lifestyle factors, including diet, stress, smoking and body-mass index,” the paper said. “Therefore, sperm count may sensitively reflect the impacts of the modern environment on male health throughout the life course.”

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Jul 252017
 
 July 25, 2017  Posted by at 8:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle July 25 2017
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Vincent van Gogh Sunflowers 1887

 

The Next Financial Crisis Is Parked Out Front (G.)
Bank of England Warns of ‘Spiral Of Complacency’ on Household Debt (G.)
How Big Of A Deleveraging Are We Talking About? (Roberts)
IMF: US Looks Weaker, Rest Of The World Picks Up Economic Slack (CNBC)
Bloated London Property Prices Fuel Exodus (G.)
The Foreclosure ‘Pig’ Moves Through The Housing-Crisis ‘Python’ (MW)
Australian Housing Market At Risk Of Crash – UBS Research (CNBC)
It’s Time To Rethink Monetary Policy (Rochon)
Scandals Threaten Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Grip On Power (G.)
Brussels To Act ‘Within Days’ If US Sanctions Hurt EU Trade With Russia (RT)
EU Divided On How To Answer New US Sanctions Against Russia (R.)
US ‘May Send Arms’ To Ukraine, Says New Envoy (BBC)
Tsipras and Varoufakis Go Public With Spat (K.)
Alexis Tsipras’s Mixed Messages Over Appointing Me As Finance Minister (YV)
Greece Plans Return To Bond Market As Athens Sees End To Austerity (G.)
Greek Spending Cuts Prettify Budget Data (K.)

 

 

Can’t let a headline like that go to waste. More on the topic in the 2nd article.

The Next Financial Crisis Is Parked Out Front (G.)

Good morning – Warren Murray here with your Tuesday briefing. Britain’s rising level of personal debt has prompted a warning from the Bank of England about dire consequences for lenders and the economy. There are “classic signs” that the risks involved in car finance, credit cards and personal loans are being underestimated as financial institutions make hay while the sun shines, says Alex Brazier, the Bank’s director for financial stability. The economy defied expectations when it grew strongly in the six months after the EU referendum. But that was partly fuelled by consumers racking up their credit cards and loans, as lenders offered easier terms and longer interest-free deals. Much higher levels of borrowing compared with income are now being allowed, at a time when household incomes have only marginally risen.

As the anniversary of the global financial meltdown approaches, Brazier has suggested current low rates of default on personal credit may have again caused banks to become blinkered to the potential for disaster. Back in 2007, “banks – and their regulators – were blind to the basic fact that more debt meant greater risk of loss”. “Lenders have not entered, but they may be dicing with, the spiral of complacency. The spiral continues, and borrowers rack up more and more debt. “[In 2007] complacency gave way to crisis. Companies and households were unable to refinance their debts. The result was economic disaster.”

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The BoE creates huge bubbles, and afterwards starts warning about them. Typical central bank behavior.

Bank of England Warns of ‘Spiral Of Complacency’ on Household Debt (G.)

The Bank of England has told banks, credit card companies and car loan providers that they risk fresh action against reckless lending as it warned of a looming “spiral of complacency” about mounting consumer debt. In its toughest warning yet about the possibility of a rerun of the financial crisis that devastated the economy 10 years ago, Threadneedle Street admitted it was alarmed about the increase in the amount of money being borrowed on easy terms over the past year. “Household debt – like most things that are good in moderation – can be dangerous in excess”, Alex Brazier, the Bank director for financial stability, said in a speech in Liverpool. “Dangerous to borrowers, lenders and, most importantly from our perspective, everyone else in the economy.”

Brazier’s said there were “classic signs” of lenders thinking the risks were lower following a prolonged period of good economic performance and low losses on loans. The first signs of the Bank’s anxiety about consumer debt came from its governor, Mark Carney, a month ago, but Brazier’s comments marked a ratcheting up of Threadneedle Street’s rhetoric. “Lenders have been the lucky beneficiaries of the benign way the economy has evolved. In expanding the supply of credit, they may be placing undue weight on the recent performance of credit cards and loans in benign conditions,” Brazier said. The willingness of consumers to take on more debt to fund their spending helped the economy grow strongly in the six months after the EU referendum, a period when the Bank expected growth to fall sharply.

Over the past year, Brazier said, household incomes had grown by just 1.5% but outstanding car loans, credit card balances and personal loans had risen by 10%. He added that terms and conditions on credit cards and personal loans had become easier. The average advertised length of 0% credit card balance transfers had doubled to close to 30 months, while advertised interest rates on £10,000 personal loans had fallen from 8% to around 3.8%, even though official interest rates had barely changed.

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More great work by Lance. if these graphs and numbers don’t scare you, look again.

How Big Of A Deleveraging Are We Talking About? (Roberts)

Debt, if used for productive investments, can be a solution to stimulating economic growth in the short-term. However, in the U.S., debt has been squandered on increases in social welfare programs and debt service which has an effective negative return on investment. Therefore, the larger the balance of debt becomes, the more economically destructive it is by diverting an ever growing amount of dollars away from productive investments to service payments. The relevance of debt growth versus economic growth is all too evident as shown below. Since 1980, the overall increase in debt has surged to levels that currently usurp the entirety of economic growth. With economic growth rates now at the lowest levels on record, the growth in debt continues to divert more tax dollars away from productive investments into the service of debt and social welfare.

It now requires nearly $3.00 of debt to create $1 of economic growth.

In fact, the economic deficit has never been greater. For the 30-year period from 1952 to 1982, the economic surplus fostered a rising economic growth rate which averaged roughly 8% during that period. Today, with the economy growing at an average rate of just 2%, the economic deficit has never been greater.

But again, it isn’t just Federal debt that is the problem. It is all debt. As discussed last week, when it comes to households, which are responsible for roughly 2/3rds of economic growth through personal consumption expenditures, debt was used to sustain a standard of living well beyond what income and wage growth could support. This worked out as long as the ability to leverage indebtedness was an option. The problem is that eventually, the debt reaches a level where the level of debt service erodes the ability to consume at levels great enough to foster stronger economic growth. In reality, the economic growth of the U.S. has been declining rapidly over the past 35 years supported only by a massive push into deficit spending by households.

[..]The massive indulgence in debt, or a “credit induced boom”, has now begun to reach its inevitable conclusion. The debt driven expansion, which leads to artificially stimulated borrowing, seeks out diminishing investment opportunities. Ultimately these diminished investment opportunities lead to widespread malinvestments. Not surprisingly, we clearly saw it play out in “real-time” in 2005-2007 in everything from sub-prime mortgages to derivative instruments. Today, we see it again in mortgages, subprime auto loans, student loan debt and debt driven stock buybacks and acquisitions.

When credit creation can no longer be sustained the markets will begin to “clear” the excesses. It is only then, and must be allowed to happen, can resources be reallocated back towards more efficient uses. This is why all the efforts of Keynesian policies to stimulate growth in the economy have ultimately failed. Those fiscal and monetary policies, from TARP and QE to tax cuts, only delay the clearing process. Ultimately, that delay only potentially worsens the inevitable clearing process. That clearing process is going to be very substantial. With the economy currently requiring roughly $3 of debt to create $1 of real, inflation-adjusted, economic growth, a reversion to a structurally manageable level of debt would involve a nearly $35 Trillion reduction of total credit market debt from current levels.

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Difference: BOJ and ECB still buy trilions in ‘assets’.

IMF: US Looks Weaker, Rest Of The World Picks Up Economic Slack (CNBC)

Despite cutting the economic growth outlook for the U.S. and U.K., the IMF kept its global growth forecast unchanged on expectations the euro zone and Japanese growth would accelerate. In the July update of its World Economic Outlook, the IMF forecast global economic growth of 3.5% for 2017 and 3.6% for 2018, unchanged from its April outlook. That was despite earlier cutting its U.S. growth projection to 2.1% from 2.3% for 2017 and to 2.1% from 2.5% for 2018, citing both weak growth in the first quarter of this year as well as the assumption that fiscal policy will be less expansionary than previously expected. A weaker-than-expected first quarter also spurred the IMF to cut its forecast for U.K. growth for this year to 1.7% from 2.0%, while leaving its 2018 forecast at 1.5%.

But slowdowns in the U.S. and U.K. were expected to be offset by increased forecasts for many euro area countries, including Germany, France, Italy and Spain, where first quarter growth largely beat expectations, the IMF said. “This, together with positive growth revisions for the last quarter of 2016 and high-frequency indicators for the second quarter of 2017, indicate stronger momentum in domestic demand than previously anticipated,” the IMF said in its release. It raised its euro-area growth forecast for 2017 to 1.9% from 1.7%. For 2018, it increased its forecast to 1.7% from 1.6%.

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The Guardian has the guts to claim that people don’t move out because they don’t have the money to stay, but because they want to get on the f*cking property ladder.

Bloated London Property Prices Fuel Exodus (G.)

In the Kent seaside town of Whitstable, long-term residents call them DFLs – people who have moved “down from London”, sometimes for the lifestyle but more often for cheaper housing. The number of people fleeing the capital to live elsewhere has hit a five-year high. In the year to June 2016, net outward migration from London reached 93,300 people – more than 80% higher than five years earlier, according to analysis of official statistics. A common theme among the leavers’ destinations is significantly cheaper housing, according to the estate agent Savills, which analysed figures from the Office for National Statistics and the Land Registry. Cambridge, Canterbury, Dartford and Bristol are reportedly among the most popular escape routes for people who have grown tired of London and its swollen property prices.

The most likely destination for people aged over 25 moving from Islington is St Albans in Hertfordshire, where the average home is £173,000 cheaper. People moving from Ealing to Slough – the most popular move from the west London borough – stand to save on average £241,000. Among all homeowners leaving London, the average house price was £580,000 while the average in the areas they moved to was £333,000. The exodus is not just of homeowners, but of renters too. Rents in London have soared by a third in the last decade, compared to 18% in the south-west, 13% in the West Midlands and 11% in the north-west of England.

The only age group that has a positive net migration figure in the capital is those in their twenties, the research found. Everyone else, from teens to pensioners, is tending to get out. Since 2009, the trend has been steadily increasing among people in their thirties with 15,000 more people in that age bracket leaving every year than at the end of the last decade – a 27% rise. The phenomenon is being driven by a widespread desire to “trade up the housing ladder”, something that is all too often impossible in London according to Lucian Cook, Savill’s head of residential research. “Five years ago people would have been reluctant [to move out] because the economy wasn’t as strong and some owners didn’t want to miss out on house price growth [in London],” he said.

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Pretending it’s the last of the pig. We’ll see about that.

The Foreclosure ‘Pig’ Moves Through The Housing-Crisis ‘Python’ (MW)

As the effects of the housing crisis further recede, markers of distress are declining, with one notable exception: Among the batches of severely delinquent mortgages bought by institutional investors, foreclosures are on the rise. The trend is a reminder of the reasons many community advocates resisted allowing institutional investors to buy delinquent mortgages in government auctions that began in 2010. Wall Street, those advocates said, shouldn’t be rewarded for its role in creating the housing crisis with the chance to buy for pennies on the dollar the very assets whose values it dented. The government auctions promised a risk-sharing solution that would benefit nearly everyone: Homeowners whose mortgages had been bought dirt-cheap could get loan modifications, investors would get profitable assets, and communities would see tax revenues restored and neighborhoods revitalized.

But that win-win-win scenario may bring little relief to the most distressed among those troubled assets. A new Attom Data analysis for MarketWatch shows increasing foreclosures in the mortgages auctioned by the government. A subsidiary of private-equity firm Lone Star Investments, for example, has foreclosed on nearly 2,000 homeowners this year, through early July, and has increased foreclosures every year since 2013. And a Goldman Sachs subsidiary called MTGLQ, which has more than doubled foreclosures each year from 2014 to 2016, may do the same again this year, based on early 2017 data. Those figures stand in stark contrast to the housing market overall, where foreclosures fell 22% in the second quarter, touching an 11-year low of just over 220,000.

The institutional-investor foreclosure figures are a small fraction of the total, noted Daren Blomquist, Attom’s senior vice president of communications. And they don’t surprise investors who intentionally snatch up the most distressed mortgages available because their elevated risk promises higher yield. Attom Data does show an uptick in foreclosures by other lenders, though not all participated in the government auctions. But they’re a reminder that a decade after the housing downturn began, the pockets of foreclosures that still pop up represent the worst of the worst, prompting even those questioning the program to agree that some foreclosures were inevitable, no matter who owned the mortgages. Analysts call the current crop of foreclosures “the last of the pig moving through the python.”

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All bubble countries now face the issue. There’s no way out. So they’ll deny their bubble for a while longer.

Australian Housing Market At Risk Of Crash – UBS Research (CNBC)

The Australian housing market has peaked and could crash if the country’s central bank raises rates by too much or too quickly according to researchers at the Swiss bank, UBS. Property in Australia has boomed and the most recent government data marked growth in residential property prices at 10.2% year on year for the 2017 March quarter. In a note Monday, UBS Economist George Tharenou said any rash interest rate action from the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) could trigger a crash. “We still see rates on hold in the coming year, amid macroprudential tightening on credit growth and interest only loans. “Hence we still see a correction, but not a collapse, but if the RBA hikes too early or too much (as flagged by its hawkish minutes), it risks triggering a crash,” Tharenou warned.

Housing starts fell 19% in the first quarter of the year and May’s mortgage approvals also slid 20%. After a multi-year boom, the cost of an average home in the country now sits at 669,700 Australian dollars ($532,000) but Tharenou said price growth is certain to slow. “Despite weaker activity, house prices just keep booming with still strong growth of 10% y/y in June. However, this is unsustainably 4-5 times faster than income. “Looking ahead, we still see price growth slowing to 7% y/y in 2017 and 0-3% in 2018, amid record supply & poor affordability,” the economist added.

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Raising rates into a gigantesque bubble. No problem.

It’s Time To Rethink Monetary Policy (Rochon)

July 12 marks the date the Bank of Canada ignored common sense and increased its rate for the first time in seven years. Economists are largely divided on whether this was a good move, but in my opinion this was an ill-informed decision, largely based on the usually strong first quarter data, which may prove unsustainable in the longer term. In turn, it raises important questions about the conduct of monetary policy and the need to rethink the role and purpose of central bank policy. For the record, I don’t think there is much to fear from a single increase to 0.75% from 0.50, though it will have an immediate impact on mortgage rates — some Canadians will pay more for their homes. However, it is the prospect of what that move represents that sends chills down this economist’s spine.

As we know all too well, central banks never raise rates once or twice, but usually do so several times. Indeed, the consensus among economists is that there will be at least two more raises before the end of 2018, bringing the bank rate to 1.25%. This is still low by historical standards, but the raises begin to add up. I expect many more rate hikes through 2019 and 2020. You see, the Bank of Canada believes the so-called natural rate is 3%, which means we could possibly see nine more interest rate increases. Imagine the damage that will do. Yet, according to their own model, this rate is the “neutral” or “natural” rate and should have no far reaching impact. Try telling that to Canadians who have consumer debt and a mortgage. Clearly, there is nothing “neutral” about these rate increases. This alone is a reason to rethink monetary policy.

Second, the Bank of Canada targets inflation, and has been officially since 1991, a fact it reminds us of all the time. All other objectives, including economic growth and unemployment, or even household debt and income inequality, are far behind the principal objective of trying to keep the inflation rate on target. There is much to say about this, including whether interest rates and monetary policy in general are the best tool to deliver on the inflation crusade. Even if we accept this, inflation is currently at a near two-decade low. In other words, where’s the inflation beef? Inflation does not represent a current threat, and there are no inflationary pressures in the economy, which raises the question: Why raise rates?

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With Abenomics dead, so is Abe.

Scandals Threaten Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Grip On Power (G.)

Shinzo Abe is fighting for his future as Japan’s prime minister as scandals drag his government’s popularity close to what political observers describe as “death zone” levels. Apart from clouding Abe’s hopes of winning another term as leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) when a vote is held next year, the polling slump also undermines his long-running push to revise Japan’s war-renouncing constitution. Abe, who returned to the prime ministership four and a half years ago, was long seen as a steady hand whose position appeared unassailable – so much so that the LDP changed its rules to allow Abe the freedom to seek a third consecutive three-year term at the helm of the party. “He is no longer invincible and the reason why he is no longer invincible is he served his personal friends not the party,” said Michael Thomas Cucek, an adjunct professor at Temple University Japan.

Abe’s standing has been damaged by allegations of favours for two school operators who have links to him. The first scandal centred on a cut-price land deal between the finance ministry and a nationalist school group known as Moritomo Gakuen. The second related to the approval of a veterinary department of a private university headed by his friend, Kotaro Kake. Abe has repeatedly denied personal involvement, but polls showed voters doubted his explanations, especially after leaked education ministry documents mentioned the involvement of “a top-level official of the prime minister’s office” in the vet school story. Abe attempted to show humility in a parliamentary hearing this week by acknowledging it was “natural for the public to sceptically view the issue” because it involved his friend. “I lacked the perspective,” he said. Experts doubt that Abe’s contrition, combined with a planned cabinet reshuffle next week, will do much to reverse his sagging fortunes.

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The limits of the anti-Russia craze.

Brussels To Act ‘Within Days’ If US Sanctions Hurt EU Trade With Russia (RT)

The EU should act “within days” if new sanctions the US plans to impose on Russia prove to be damaging to Europe’s trade ties with Moscow, an internal memo seen by the media says. Retaliatory measures may include limiting US jurisdiction over EU companies. An internal memo seen by the Financial Times and Politico has emerged amid mounting opposition to a US bill seeking to hit Russia with a new round of sanctions. The bill, if signed into law, will also give US lawmakers the power to veto any attempt by the president to lift the sanctions. The document reportedly said European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker was particularly concerned the sanctions would neglect the interests of European companies. Juncker said Brussels “should stand ready to act within days” if sanctions on Russia are “adopted without EU concerns being taken into account,” according to the FT.

The EU memo also warns that “the measures could impact a potentially large number of European companies doing legitimate business under EU measures with Russian entities in the railways, financial, shipping or mining sectors, among others.” Restrictions against Russia come as part of the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act, targeting not only Tehran, but also North Korea. Initially passed by the Senate last month, the measures seek to impose new economic measures on major sectors of the Russian economy. The draft legislation would also introduce individual sanctions for investing in Gazprom’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, outlining steps to hamper construction of the pipeline and imposing sanctions on European companies which contribute to the project.

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So EU vs US, and EU vs EU. The problem seems to be that US companies could profit from the sanctions, as European ones suffer.

EU Divided On How To Answer New US Sanctions Against Russia (R.)

European Commission preparations to retaliate against proposed new U.S. sanctions on Russia that could affect European firms are likely to face resistance within a bloc divided on how to deal with Moscow, diplomats, officials and experts say. A bill agreed by U.S. Senate and House leaders foresees fines for companies aiding Russia to build energy export pipelines. EU firms involved in Nord Stream 2, a 9.5 billion euro ($11.1 billion) project to carry Russian gas across the Baltic, are likely to be affected. Both the European Union and the United States imposed broad economic sanctions on Russia’s financial, defense and energy sectors in response to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and its direct support for separatists in eastern Ukraine. But northern EU states in particular have sought to shield the supplies of Russian gas that they rely on.

Markus Beyrer, director of the EU’s main business lobby, Business Europe, urged Washington to “avoid unilateral actions that would mainly hit the EU, its citizens and its companies”. The Commission, the EU executive, will discuss next steps on Wednesday, a day after the U.S. House of Representatives votes on the legislation, knowing that the U.S. move threatens to reopen divisions over the bloc’s own Russia sanctions. Among the European companies involved in Nord Stream 2 are German oil and gas group Wintershall, German energy trading firm Uniper, Anglo-Dutch Royal Dutch Shell, Austria’s OMV and France’s Engie. The Commission could demand a formal U.S. promise to exclude EU energy companies; use EU laws to block U.S. measures against European entities; or impose outright bans on doing business with certain U.S. companies, an EU official said.

But if no such promise is offered, punitive sanctions such as limiting the access of U.S. companies to EU banks require unanimity from the 28 EU member states. Ex-Soviet states such as Poland and the Baltic states are unlikely to vote for retaliation to protect a project they have resisted because it would increase EU dependence on Russian gas. An EU official said most member states saw Nord Stream 2 as “contrary or at least not fully in line with European objectives” of reducing reliance on Russian energy. Britain, one of the United States’ closest allies, is also wary of challenging the U.S. Congress as it prepares to leave the EU and seeks a trade deal with Washington. In fact, the EU’s chief executive, Jean-Claude Juncker, has few tools that do not require unanimous support from the bloc’s 28 governments.

The Commission could act alone to file a complaint at the World Trade Organisation. But imposing punitive tariffs on U.S. goods would require detailed proof to be gathered that European companies were being unfairly disadvantaged — a process that would take many months. Diplomatic protests such as cutting EU official visits to Washington are unlikely to have much effect, since requests by EU commissioners for meetings with members of Trump’s administration have gone unanswered, EU aides say.

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Let’s hope they don’t try.

US ‘May Send Arms’ To Ukraine, Says New Envoy (BBC)

The new US special representative for Ukraine says Washington is actively reviewing whether to send weapons to help those fighting against Russian-backed rebels. Kurt Volker told the BBC that arming Ukrainian government forces could change Moscow’s approach. He said he did not think the move would be provocative. Last week, the US State Department urged both sides to observe the fragile ceasefire in eastern Ukraine. “Defensive weapons, ones that would allow Ukraine to defend itself, and to take out tanks for example, would actually to help” to stop Russia threatening Ukraine, Mr Volker said in a BBC interview.

“I’m not again predicting where we go on this, that’s a matter for further discussion and decision, but I think that argument that it would be provocative to Russia or emboldening of Ukraine is just getting it backwards,” he added. He said success in establishing peace in eastern Ukraine would require what he called a new strategic dialogue with Russia.

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Undoubtedly not the last we hear of this.

Tsipras and Varoufakis Go Public With Spat (K.)

The coalition on Monday rejected calls for an investigation to be launched into the first months of the government’s time in power, as a dispute between Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and ex-finance minister Yannis Varoufakis over that period in 2015 became public. “The evaluation of this period has to be conducted with political criteria, not myth-making or gossip,” said government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, who accused Varoufakis of trying to advertise his recent book via the “systemic media” he once attacked. Tzanakopoulos’s comments came after Tsipras gave an interview to The Guardian in which he admitted making “big mistakes” in the past and suggested that Varoufakis’s plan for a parallel payment system could not be considered seriously.

“Yanis is trying to write history in a different way,” said Tsipras. “When we got to the point of reading what he presented as his plan B it was so vague, it wasn’t worth the trouble of even talking about. It was simply weak and ineffective.” The former minister immediately responded to the premier’s comments by claiming they displayed a “deep incoherence,” as Varoufakis claims that he had made Tsipras aware of the plan before he came to office yet the SYRIZA leader still chose to appoint him to the cabinet. “Either I was the right choice to spearhead the ‘collision’ with the troika of Greece’s lenders because my plans were convincing, or my plans were not convincing and, thus, I was the wrong choice as his first finance minister,” he wrote in a letter to The Guardian.

New Democracy called for judicial and parliamentary investigations into the claims made by Varoufakis, as well as by former energy minister Panayiotis Lafazanis. The latter claimed in a radio interview on Saturday that he had secured an advance payment from Russia for a gas pipeline to be used to held fund Greece if it left the euro. “Varoufakis and Lafazanis described with clarity the SYRIZA leadership’s plans to take Greece out of the eurozone,” said the conservatives in a statement. “If these plans were seen through to the end, the country would have found itself in a dramatic situation like Venezuela, with unforeseeable social consequences.”

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Makes sense.

Alexis Tsipras’s Mixed Messages Over Appointing Me As Finance Minister (YV)

[..] the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, having admitted to “big mistakes”, was asked if appointing me as his first finance minister was one of them. According to the interviewer, Mr Tsipras said “Varoufakis … was the right choice for an initial strategy of ‘collision politics’, but he dismisses the plan he presented had Greece been forced to make the dramatic move to a new currency as ‘so vague, it wasn’t worth talking about’”. Given that I presented my plans to Mr Tsipras for deterring the troika’s aggression and responding to a potential impasse (and any move by the troika to evict Greece from the eurozone) before we won the election of January 2015, and I was chosen by him as finance minister (one presumes) on the basis of their merit, his answer reflects a deep incoherence.

Either I was the right choice to spearhead the “collision” with the troika of Greece’s lenders because my plans were convincing, or my plans were not convincing and, thus, I was the wrong choice as his first finance minister. Arguing, as Mr Tsipras does, that I was both the right choice for the initial confrontation and that my plan B was so vague it wasn’t worth the trouble of even talking about is disingenuous, albeit insightful, for it reveals the impossibility of maintaining a radical critique of his predecessors while adopting the Tina (There Is No Alternative) doctrine.

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A brand new line of lipstick for farm animals.

Greece Plans Return To Bond Market As Athens Sees End To Austerity (G.)

Athens has outlined plans to return to the financial markets for the first time since 2014, with a plan to sell new five-year bonds to investors. Existing Greek five-year bonds were trading at 3.6% on Monday morning compared with 63% at the height of the Greek financial crisis in 2012 when the finance ministry was unable to pay public sector wages and there were riots in the streets. Following the announcement that Athens would be returning to the market, the yield fell to 3.4%. The Greek finance ministry has set a goal of a 4.2% interest rate on the new bond. But banking sources believe that level will be hard to achieve and say an interest rate of between 4.3% to 4.5% is much more likely. Government sources say valuation will take place on Tuesday 25 July.

The market test is crucial to Greece for not only judging sentiment of the market, from which it has been essentially exiled since the start of its economic crisis, but also for weaning itself off borrowed bailout funds. Speaking after the bond issue was announced, the EU’s economy commissioner, Pierre Moscovici, described the public spending cuts imposed on Greece since it almost went bust as “too tough” but “necessary”, adding there was now “light at the end of austerity”. Reuters reported that Greece had employed six banks – BNP Paribas, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs and HSBC – to act as joint lead managers for a five-year euro bond “subject to market conditions”. Greek ministers will provide more details on Monday afternoon about how much it hopes to borrow, and on what terms.

If the issue is successful, it could help Greece, which is still coping with a debt to GDP ratio of 180%, to exit its long cycle of austerity and rescue packages. Late on Friday, S&P upgraded its outlook on Greek government debt from stable to “positive”, thanks partly to renewed hopes that the country’s creditors could finally grant it debt relief.

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And here’s how it’s done.

Greek Spending Cuts Prettify Budget Data (K.)

Delays in the funding of hospitals, social spending cuts and low expenditure on the Public Investments Program served to prettify the picture of the state budget over the first half of the year, producing a primary surplus of 1.93 billion euros, Finance Ministry figures showed on Monday. At the same time budget revenues posted a marginal increase over the target the ministry had set for the January-June period. However, the big challenge for the government starts at the end of this month with the payment of the first tranche of income tax by taxpayers, followed later on by the Single Property Tax (ENFIA) and road tax at the end of the year.

In total the state will have to collect 33 billion euros by the end of the year, which is considerably higher than in the second half of 2016. According to the H1 budget data, the primary surplus amounted to 1.936 billion euros, against a primary surplus of 1.632 billion in the same period last year, and a target for 431 million for the year to end-June. Expenditure missed its target by 1.15 billion euros, amounting to 22.86 billion in the first half. Compared to last year it was down 757 million euros. Hospital funding missed its target by 265 million.

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Jul 232017
 
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Vincent van Gogh Women Picking Olives 1889

 

Lock Them Up! (David Stockman)
This Recovery Isn’t All That Resilient (DDMB)
Is Productivity Growth Becoming Irrelevant? (Adair Turner)
EU Sounds Alarm, Urges US To Coordinate On Russia Sanctions (R.)
EU Will Hit Poland With Deadline To Reverse Curbs On Judicial Freedom (G.)
EU’s Car Regulator Warns Against Car Diesel Ban In Cities (R.)
100 British Tenants A Day Lose Homes On Rising Rents And Benefit Freeze (G.)
Australia and Its Volatile Future as an LNG Superpower (Nikkei)
Fukushima Robot Images: Massive Deposits Thought To Be Melted Nuclear Fuel (G.)
US Continues Supporting Terrorists in Syria (Lendman)
Meow (Jim Kunstler)
Europe Seeks Long-Term Answer To Refugee Crisis That Needs Solution Now (G.)
Indigenous Australians Take Carbon Farming To Canada (G.)

 

 

Watch out. Stockman’s had enough.

Lock Them Up! (David Stockman)

We frequently hear people say they have nothing to hide—-so surrendering privacy and constitutional rights to the Surveillance State may not be such a big deal if it helps catch a terrorist or two. But with each passing day in the RussiaGate drama we are learning that this superficial exoneration is dangerously beside the point. We are referring here to the unrelenting witch hunt that has been unleashed by Imperial Washington against the legitimately elected President of the United States, Donald J. Trump. This campaign of lies, leaks and Russophobia is the handiwork of Obama’s top national security advisors, who blatantly misused Washington’s surveillance apparatus to discredit Trump and to effectively nullify America’s democratic process.

That is, constitutional protections and liberties were systematically breached, but not simply to intimidate, hush or lock up citizens one by one as per the standard totalitarian modus operandi. Instead, what has happened is that the entire public debate has been hijacked by the shadowy forces of the Deep State and their partisan and media collaborators. The enabling culprits are Obama’s last CIA director, John Brennan, his national security advisor Susan Rice and UN Ambassador Samantha Power. There is now mounting evidence that it was they who illegally “unmasked” NSA intercepts from Trump Tower; they who confected the Russian meddling narrative from behind the protective moat of classified intelligence; and they who orchestrated a systematic campaign of leaks and phony intelligence reports during the presidential transition—-all designed to delegitimize Trump before he even took the oath of office.

So all three of them should be locked up -that’s for sure. But the more urgent solution would be to unlock and make public all the innuendo, surmises, assessments, half-truths and boilerplate intelligence chatter on which the entire false narrative about Russian meddling and collusion is based. Stated differently, without the nation’s massive intelligence apparatus and absurd system of secrecy and classified information to hide behind, the RussiaGate witch hunt would have never gotten off the ground. In truth, as we will essay below, there is no there, there. So what this new chapter in McCarthyite hysteria actually demonstrates is that the Imperial City’s far-flung, 17-agency, $75 billion Intelligence Behemoth is a plenary threat not just to individual liberty, but to the very constitutional democracy on which the latter depends.

To appreciate the severity of the threat, it is necessary to recognize that the post-9/11 Deep State has lowered a double whammy on our system. That is, it unconstitutionally collects the entirety of all internet based communications of America’s 325 million citizen, while at the same time it has effectively disenfranchised 98% of the 535 members of the House and Senate who have been elected to represent them. Accordingly, behind the Surveillance State’s vast wall of secrecy and so-called “classified” information, there operates a Dark Government that is unaccountable to the public and largely unconstrained by normal constitutional limits, which the Patriot Act and secret FISA courts have more or less suspended. [..] Unfortunately, the Donald doesn’t seem to recognize that he is actually President. If he did, he would have the Justice Department launch a prosecution against the faithless officials—-Brennan, Rice and Power—-who concocted the whole RussiaGate defamation in the first place.

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No, Danielle. It’s not about resilience. It’s simply not a recovery. No series of numbers, no matter how impressive looking can change that.

This Recovery Isn’t All That Resilient (DDMB)

Are Federal Reserve stress tests leading economic indicators? That certainly seems to be the case. Just ask Capital One. As of the first quarter, credit card loss provisions at Capital One were above 5%, a six-year high. The company recorded some improvement for the second quarter, yet Fed stress tests of the bank’s overall loan portfolio in a deep downturn show losses topping 12%. That explains Capital One’s “conditional” passing score, a black eye that prompted a reduced share buyback plan and no increase in its dividend. Most economists today applaud the resilience of the current recovery, which has stretched into its eighth year, the third-longest in postwar history. Resilience and rising household defaults, though, don’t tend to go hand in hand. Pressures have been building in the background for some time.

When adjusted for inflation, credit card usage has grown faster than incomes for 18 months. According to Fed data, that time frame coincides with the upturn in revolving credit, a proxy for credit card debt. In November 2015, outstanding revolving credit crossed above the $900-billion threshold for the first time since December 2009. By May of this year, annual growth was clocking 8.7%. Meanwhile, credit card balances hit $1.02 trillion, the highest level in almost eight years. Whether by choice or force, the aftermath of the financial crisis prompted households to ratchet back their usage of credit cards. As the recovery got underway, frugality prevailed, punctuated by an increase in debit card purchases. It is thus notable that Bank of America data find debit card usage has weakened in recent years as households grew more comfortable rebuilding their credit card balances.

“Confidence” is the term most associated with the rising credit card debt. But it’s fair to ask why confident households would choose to pay so dearly for the privilege. At 15.83%, the average rate on credit card balances is at a record high. It is more likely that households are increasingly tapping their credit cards to cover the cost of necessities, that they are less confident and more anxious about their future finances. The latest University of Michigan consumer confidence data suggest anxiety is indeed setting in. At 80.2, the expectations component is at the lowest since October and running below the 2016 average of 81.8.

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Productivity in a so-called service economy. A mirage.

Is Productivity Growth Becoming Irrelevant? (Adair Turner)

Our standard mental model of productivity growth reflects the transition from agriculture to industry. We start with 100 farmers producing 100 units of food: technological progress enables 50 to produce the same amount, and the other 50 to move to factories that produce washing machines or cars or whatever. Overall productivity doubles, and can double again, as both agriculture and manufacturing become still more productive, with some workers then shifting to restaurants or health-care services. We assume an endlessly repeatable process. But two other developments are possible. Suppose the more productive farmers have no desire for washing machines or cars, but instead employ the 50 surplus workers either as low-paid domestic servants or higher-paid artists, providing face-to-face and difficult-to-automate services.

Then, as the late William Baumol, a professor at Princeton University, argued in 1966, overall productivity growth will slowly decline to zero, even if productivity growth within agriculture never slows. Or suppose that 25 of the surplus farmers become criminals, and the other 25 police. Then the benefit to human welfare is nil, even though measured productivity rises if public services are valued, as per standard convention, at input cost. The growth of difficult-to-automate service activities may explain some of the productivity slowdown. Britain’s flat productivity reflects a combination of rapid automation in some sectors and rapid growth of low-productivity, low-wage jobs – such as Deliveroo drivers riding around on plain old-fashioned bicycles. In the United States, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that eight of the ten fastest-growing job categories are low-wage services such as personal care and home health aides.

The growth of “zero-sum” activities may, however, be even more important. Look around the economy, and it’s striking how much high-talent manpower is devoted to activities that cannot possibly increase human welfare, but entail competition for the available economic pie. Such activities have become ubiquitous: legal services, policing, and prisons; cybercrime and the army of experts defending organizations against it; financial regulators trying to stop mis-selling and the growing ranks of compliance officers employed in response; the huge resources devoted to US election campaigns; real-estate services that facilitate the exchange of already-existing assets; and much financial trading. Much design, branding, and advertising activity is also essentially zero-sum. It is certainly good that new fashions can continually compete for our attention; choice and human creativity are valuable per se. But we have no reason to believe that 2050’s designs and brands will make us any happier than those of 2017.

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The new House sanctions under fire from Merkel AND Trump.

EU Sounds Alarm, Urges US To Coordinate On Russia Sanctions (R.)

The European Union sounded an alarm on Saturday about moves in the U.S. Congress to step up U.S. sanctions on Russia, urging Washington to keep coordinating with its G7 partners and warning of unintended consequences. In a statement by a spokeswoman after Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress reached a deal that could see new legislation pass, the European Commission warned of possibly “wide and indiscriminate” “unintended consequences”, notably on the EU’s efforts to diversify energy sources away from Russia. Germany has already warned of possible retaliation if the United States moves to sanction German firms involved with building a new Baltic pipeline for Russian gas.

EU diplomats are concerned that a German-U.S. row over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline being built by Russia’s state-owned Gazprom could complicate efforts in Brussels to forge an EU consensus on negotiating with Russia over the project. “We highly value the unity that is prevailing among international partners in our approach towards Russia’s action in Ukraine and the subsequent sanctions. This unity is the guarantee of the efficiency and credibility of our measures,” the Commission said in its statement. “We understand that the Russia/Iran sanctions bill is driven primarily by domestic considerations,” it went on, referring to a bill passed in the U.S. Senate last month and to which lawmakers said on Saturday they had unblocked further obstacles.

“As we have said repeatedly, it is important that any possible new measures are coordinated between international partners to maintain unity among partners on the sanctions that has been underpinning the efforts for full implementation of the Minsk Agreements,” the Commission said, referring to an accord struck with Moscow to try to end the conflicts in Ukraine. “We are concerned the measures discussed in the U.S. Congress could have unintended consequences, not only when it comes to Transatlantic/G7 unity, but also on EU economic and energy security interests. This impact could be potentially wide and indiscriminate, including when it comes to energy sources diversification efforts.

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The heavy hand tactics will backfire at some point, it’s just a matter of time.

EU Will Hit Poland With Deadline To Reverse Curbs On Judicial Freedom (G.)

The EU is expected to give Poland’s rightwing government until September to reverse a controversial set of laws that give the country’s politicians control over its supreme court. The Polish senate defied international condemnation early on Saturday and mass demonstrations in Warsaw to approve a law that allows the firing of its current supreme court judges, except those chosen by the justice minister and approved by the president. Protests continued in Poland on Saturday. But despite increasing dismay at developments, the European commission knows it needs time to build support before moving towards what is regarded as the nuclear option – of suspending a country’s voting rights in the EU for the first time. Last week the first vice-president of the EU’s executive, Frans Timmermans, warned that Brussels was “very close” to triggering the sanction, which would spark a major confrontation with one of the EU’s most populous member states.

The legislation passed on Saturday is only one of a series of contentious legal reforms being pursued by the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) which have prompted thousands to take to the streets in protest against what many claim is the death of Polish democracy. The new law gives the president the power to issue regulations for the supreme court’s work. It also introduces a disciplinary chamber that, on a motion from the justice minister, would handle suspected breaches of regulations or ethics. The law now requires only the signature of the president, Andrzej Duda, who was previously a member of PiS, to become binding. With Brexit negotiations in full flow, there is unease in Brussels at taking any action that could be seen as heavy-handed in relation to a member state.

With the EU engaged in a difficult balancing act, it is understood Timmermans will suggest at a meeting of commissioners on Wednesday that Poland be given until the next general affairs council of EU ministers, on 25 September, to respond to claims that its measures are a systemic threat to the rule of law. While Poland has ignored the commission when it has previously set deadlines on this issue, the move would at least give the commission the summer months to garner the support required to impose tough sanctions. The EU believes, however, that it will be in a position to launch two infringement proceedings against Poland as soon as this week, in an attempt to slow the country’s drift towards what Brussels regards as authoritarianism.

[..] The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, said on Saturday that Budapest would fight to defend Poland. “The inquisition offensive against Poland can never succeed, because Hungary will use all legal options in the European Union to show solidarity with the Poles,” he said.

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So both Berlin and brussels are in bed with the automakers. Lovely.

I have a question: why are cities full of cars in the first place?

EU’s Car Regulator Warns Against Car Diesel Ban In Cities (R.)

Banning diesel cars in European cities could hamper automakers’ ability to invest in zero-emission vehicles, the European Union’s commissioner for industry has warned the bloc’s transport ministers. In a letter seen by Reuters, Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska said there would be no benefit in a collapse of the market for diesel cars and that the short-term focus should be on forcing carmakers to bring dangerous nitrogen oxide emissions into line with EU regulations. “While I am convinced that we should rapidly head for zero-emission vehicles in Europe, policymakers and industry cannot have an interest in a rapid collapse of the diesel market in Europe as a result of local driving bans,” Bienkowska said. “It would only deprive the industry of necessary funds to invest in zero-emissions vehicles,” she said in the letter, dated July 17.

Germany’s three major carmakers have invested heavily in diesel technology, which offers more efficient fuel burn and lower carbon dioxide emissions than gasoline-powered cars. But since Volkswagen admitted in 2015 to cheating on U.S. emissions tests, worries about vehicle pollution have left the entire auto industry under scrutiny. A particular concern is emissions by diesel cars of nitrogen oxide, which is blamed for causing respiratory diseases. In the letter, Bienkowska told ministers she was concerned that the latest emissions violations at Audi and Porsche (PSHG_p.DE) were discovered by prosecutors and not Germany’s vehicle and transport authorities. Bienkowska’s letter also called for all cars with excessively high levels of nitrogen oxide emissions to be taken of European roads, but said carmakers should act on a voluntary basis. The commissioner did raise the prospect of an EU testing agency if national regulators failed to spot more emissions-test cheats.

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Once again: what a society. Makeover!

100 British Tenants A Day Lose Homes On Rising Rents And Benefit Freeze (G.)

A record number of renters are being evicted from their homes, with more than 100 tenants a day losing the roof over their head, according to a shocking analysis of the nation’s housing crisis. The spiralling costs of renting a property and a long-running freeze to housing benefit are being blamed for the rising number of evictions among Britain’s growing army of tenants. More than 40,000 tenants in England were evicted in 2015, according to a study by the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF). It is an increase of a third since 2003 and the highest level recorded. The research appears to confirm fears that a mixture of rising costs and falling state support would lead to a rise in people being forced out of their homes. It will raise concerns that even those in work are struggling to pay their rent.

High numbers of “no-fault” evictions by private landlords is driving the increase. More than 80% of the extra evictions had occurred under a Section 21 notice, which gives a tenant two months to leave. The landlord does not have to give a reason and there does not need to be any wrongdoing on the part of the tenant. The study found that changes in welfare benefits have combined to make rents unaffordable to claimants in many areas. Housing benefit was no longer covering the cost of renting in some cases, with average shortfalls ranging from £22 to £70 a month outside of London, and between £124 and £1,036 in inner London. Housing benefit has not risen in line with private rents since 2010, and a current freeze means the rates paid will not increase until 2020. A series of interviews with private renters who are struggling to meet their bills exposed the pressure some low-paid tenants are now under.

One man said that the £50 shortfall he had suffered was “almost a week’s money in itself”. “And then you’ve got the other bills…I just couldn’t make it work. I had to choose, what do I pay this month – do I pay the rent? Do I pay the electricity? Do I buy some food? And it just snowballed.” A single mother in her 20s said: “I paid it as much as I could, but my youngest child has been quite sickly … If my kids are sick, I don’t get paid.” The problem is particularly acute in London and the south-east. Four out of every five repossessions using Section 21 orders are in London, the east of England and the south-east. Nearly two-thirds are in London. Within the city, Section 21 repossessions are concentrated in the boroughs of Newham, Enfield, Haringey, Brent and Croydon. Of the 40,000 evictions, there were 19,019 repossessions in the social housing sector, and 22,150 in the private rented sector.

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Burn baby burn! But not all of it. Maybe. Or not right now.

Australia and Its Volatile Future as an LNG Superpower (Nikkei)

Australia is expected to overtake Qatar to become the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas in 2019, but a political risk has emerged that is casting a dark cloud over the resource-rich nation’s future as an LNG export superpower. The government of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull introduced a new energy policy this month to prioritize the domestic gas supply and regulate LNG exports. Australian oil and gas major Santos has seen its stock price decline as the company is expected to be subjected to the regulations as early as next year. Australia’s conservative ruling coalition, whose approval rating is languished since a narrow election win a year ago, is aiming to allay public discontent with rising electricity and gas bills. But the new energy policy has sparked confusion across corporate Australia.

On April 27, the Turnbull government announced the introduction of the Australian Domestic Gas Security Mechanism, or ADGSM. According to details released on June 20, the Australian resources minister every summer will discuss plans for the following year’s domestic g

as supplies by consulting gas companies, industry regulators and other parties. The resources minister is to then determine by Sept. 1 – or Nov. 1 at the latest – whether the country will face a gas shortage the following year. LNG export controls will be imposed in the event of a supply shortage at home. Three LNG projects in the eastern state of Queensland will be subject to the new regulations for the time being. They are the world’s first projects to extract coal bed methane, also known as coal seam gas in Australia, and export the gas in the form of LNG.

The three LNG projects, which include the Santos-operated Gladstone LNG, or GLNG, project, went on stream over 2014 and 2015 in anticipation of swelling Asian demand. They have a combined annual production capacity of 25.3 million tons. The resources minister is to take into account the volume of exports and that of domestic shipments from each project and determine whether each project is denting the domestic supply, including through emergency procurements for export purposes. If any of the projects is deemed to be harming domestic supplies, the project operator will be required to take measures, such as cutting exports and increasing domestic shipments.

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Fukushima. Where robots go to die.

Fukushima Robot Images: Massive Deposits Thought To Be Melted Nuclear Fuel (G.)

Images captured by an underwater robot on Saturday showed massive deposits believed to be melted nuclear fuel covering the floor of a damaged reactor at Japan’s destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant. The robot found large amounts of solidified lava-like rocks and lumps in layers as thick as 1m on the bottom inside a main structure called the pedestal that sits underneath the core inside the primary containment vessel of Fukushima’s Unit 3 reactor, said the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. On Friday, the robot spotted suspected debris of melted fuel for the first time since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami caused multiple meltdowns and destroyed the plant. The three-day investigation of Unit 3 ended on Saturday.

Locating and analysing the fuel debris and damage in each of the plant’s three wrecked reactors is crucial for decommissioning the plant. The search for melted fuel in the two other reactors has so far been unsuccessful because of damage and extremely high radiation levels. During this week’s probe, cameras mounted on the robot showed extensive damage caused by the core meltdown, with fuel debris mixed with broken reactor parts, suggesting the difficult challenges ahead in the decades-long decommissioning of the plant. TEPCO spokesman Takahiro Kimoto said it would take time to analyse the debris in the images to figure out removal methods.

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Will the CIA destroy Trump and Putin’s ceasefire?

US Continues Supporting Terrorists in Syria (Lendman)

It’s naive to believe otherwise. It’s central to US strategy since launching war for regime change. Tactics alone changed from then to now, not Washington’s objective – allied with Israel and other rogue states to topple Syria’s legitimate government. In response to Trump’s announced end to covert CIA-arming and training of so-called “moderate rebels” (aka terrorists like all other anti-government groups), Russia’s Information and Press Department deputy director Artyom Kozhin said the following: “We have not heard anything regarding this decision from the official sources. Neither do we know about the status of other similar programs that could be implemented by other US agencies.” “(W)e have expressed how we feel when it comes to the US flirting with militants in Syria more than once. We have forewarned that this flirtation could have unpredictable military and political consequences.”

“We repeatedly pointed to the Americans’ unscrupulous actions taken in Syria in the pursuit of their self-seeking geopolitical interests.” “It is an open secret that a substantial number of militants who have been trained under the US Train and Equip program ultimately joined ISIS and al-Nusra.” “We regard this as a repetition of the tragic story of Afghanistan and Libya. The potential consequences of this should be obvious to everyone.” On Friday, Sergey Lavrov minced no words, saying Washington continues arming anti-government terrorist groups in Syria, euphemistically called the moderate opposition. It has illegal bases in the country, established without Security Council or Damascus authorization. According to CENTCOM commander General Joseph Votel, US forces will remain in Syria after the battle for Raqqa is over – on the phony pretext of stabilizing the region.

Washington wants northern Syrian territory occupied, along with other areas it’s able to gain control over – a scheme risking direct confrontation with Russia and Damascus. Trump wants increased funding for US military bases in Iraq and Syria, reflecting plans for permanent (illegal) US occupation. Saying it’s to continue combating ISIS is willful deception, concealing America’s support for the terrorist group and likeminded ones. On July 19, Russia’s upper house Federation Council ratified a January protocol agreed on in Damascus to establish the legal presence of Russian aerial forces and support personnel in Syria for 49 years – to be automatically extended for subsequent 25-year periods. The move aims to secure and protect Syrian sovereignty. It continues longstanding mutually cooperative bilateral relations. It signifies Russia’s intention to challenge US, NATO and Israeli imperial designs on the country.

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” And then the US Treasury will destroy the dollar trying (again) to save the banks. And the bank accounts will be frozen. And the loans will stop being paid.”

Meow (Jim Kunstler)

I’d actually go further now than the “soft coup d’état” scenario that has Trump run over by the 25th amendment. It will happen, of course, but it will not satisfy anybody. Mike Pence will prove to be as ineffectual and unpopular as Trump, and he will be drowning in financial and fiscal problems, and he will get no help from the legislature in resolving any of it, and before too long there may be a general in the White House – or attempting to run things from someplace else, if he can. The whole nauseating spectacle will be attended by violent popular revolt of region against region and tribe against tribe in a great civil explosion of long-suppressed angst. Too many nasty forces are vectoring in on the scene to overthrow the dream state America has been languishing in.

Most of them involve money (or “money”) and the questions of how can we possibly keep paying for the way we live in this country, and who exactly has been fobbing off with the former wealth of every rusted and busted community in the land? It’s going to start in the stock and bond markets and it will be soon. And then the US Treasury will destroy the dollar trying (again) to save the banks. And the bank accounts will be frozen. And the loans will stop being paid. And the SNAP cards are going to stop working, and pretty soon the just-in-time deliveries to the supermarkets, and the resupply to the gas stations, and there won’t be much that Mike Pence can do about it. He’ll be shoved aside and the military will have to try to restore order in the land. When they do, it will not be the same land we sang about back in the fifth grade. Up in a cloud somewhere over Ohio, maybe, Schrödinger’s Cat will be gazing down on us, grinning.

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Europe only seeks a way to not have to deal with it.

Europe Seeks Long-Term Answer To Refugee Crisis That Needs Solution Now (G.)

European efforts to deal with the influx, hastily enacted two years ago at the height of Syria’s civil war, are faltering. A burden-sharing deal agreed by all 28 EU states in 2015, when Germany took nearly 1 million people, has arguably never worked. Of 160,000 refugees due to be accepted under the scheme, fewer than 21,000 have been relocated. Europe is split down the middle. Poland and Hungary have refused to take anyone. The Czech Republic initially accepted 12 people but has since slammed the door. The European commission has begun legal action against all three. Italy and Greece, so-called “frontline states”, are at odds with their northern neighbours, notably France and Austria. Dashing hopes of a new approach, the new French president, Emmanuel Macron, is proving inflexible on the issue.

As we report today, hundreds of migrants are effectively kettled in Ventimiglia on the Italian side of the border with France. Paris is preventing vessels carrying rescued migrants docking in French ports. Nor has France met its share of the European Union relocation quota. Austria is paying refugees to leave, amid a rise in far right and neo-Nazi attacks. The Vienna government says it will close the Brenner Pass if Italy issues temporary travel visas for the migrants. The Italian government, facing elections in 2018 and under pressure from the populist Five Star movement opposition, is furious about perceived French hypocrisy. “After saying they understand our problem, it doesn’t seem like France wants to help us concretely … we need more solidarity,” says Mario Giro, Italy’s deputy foreign minister.

The new refugee crisis is playing into a bigger, EU-wide battle about respect for national sovereignty. Hungary’s rightwing prime minister, Viktor Orbán, says he will “not give in to blackmail from Brussels”. Poland says the EU relocation scheme encourages more migrants, arguing most refugees do not genuinely fear persecution but are economic migrants seeking a better life. [..] Confusion and division also characterise Europe’s policy towards Libya, the main stepping-off point for migrants. Much of Libya is ungoverned following the US, British and French-backed overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2011, and UN-led efforts to restore order are floundering. Overwhelmed by sheer numbers, Italy has been trying to limit its at-sea rescue efforts. But as elsewhere, political and humanitarian responses are in conflict.

About 3,000 people from Libya were picked up in one day in May in more than 20 rescue operations mounted by the Italian coastguard and navy, ships from the EU’s Mediterranean mission, its Frontex border agency, and merchant vessels. Merkel was widely praised for her open-door response in 2015 but public attitudes have hardened, and she faces a general election in September. Her focus now is her new “compact with Africa”, showcased at the Hamburg G20 summit, which seeks more state and private investment in Africa to combat poverty and the effects of climate change, and thereby deter mass migration to Europe. But Merkel’s solution is long-term. Europe’s new refugee crisis is happening now, as British beach-goers may soon testify.

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Love it. The wiser peoples of the world working together.

Indigenous Australians Take Carbon Farming To Canada (G.)

Australia’s world-leading Indigenous land management and carbon farming programs are spreading internationally, with a formal agreement signed to help build a similar program in Canada. A chance meeting between Rowen Foley from the Aboriginal Carbon Fund and a Candian carbon credit businessman at the 2015 Paris climate conference spawned a relationship that led to an agreement this week that will help Canadian First Nations peoples learn from the Australian Aboriginal carbon farming success. “Sometimes chance meetings are a form of karma or synchronicity at play,” Foley says. Foley set up the Aboriginal Carbon Fund in 2010 to help other Indigenous organisations make money by managing land in such a way that it sequesters carbon in the soil.

One of the most successful types of Indigenous carbon farming in Australia has been savannah burning, in which regular small fires are lit, replicating ancient Aboriginal practices and helping to prevent larger fires that release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The projects are often managed by workers in the Indigenous ranger program, which a recent government review concluded were enormously effective, increasing employment, building stronger communities and reducing violence, while also increasing income tax and reducing welfare payments. “Sustainable Indigenous land management, such as savannah burning, not only reduces carbon emissions but also builds communities by offering meaningful jobs for local traditional owners as rangers and an independent income,” Foley says.

One project – run by the Karlantijpa North Kurrawarra Nyura Mala Aboriginal Corporation – was awarded a contract for carbon credits under the Australian government’s Emissions Reduction Fund. By burning the savannah early in the season, it secured payments for sequestering 24,100 tonnes of carbon, in an auction where the average value for such abatement would have been $257,629. The Aboriginal Carbon Fund works with similar groups to produce carbon credits that can be bought by corporations as carbon offsets. Now the lessons learned in Australia are set to be taken to Canada, with an agreement between the Aboriginal Carbon Fund and the Canadian First Nations Energy and Mining Council. “It feels like the idea is coming of age,” Foley says.

Foley travelled to Vancouver to meet David Porter, the chief executive of the First Nations Energy and Mining Council, to sign the agreement. It notes the “strong similarities” between the First Peoples of Canada and the Indigenous people of Australia in relation to land management and climate mitigation.

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

 

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

 

 

The numbers say it.

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

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

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

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

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

The Secret Source of Eternal Australian Growth (Steve Keen)

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Are The Empty Homes In Kensington? (Whoownsengland)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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They’ll pass at some point.

House Republicans Block Russia Sanctions Bill (ZH)

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

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

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

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

We Are Inches From A New World War (Medium)

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

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

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

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

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

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The opposite of what America needs.

Iran Slams Tillerson Call For Regime Change (RT)

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

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

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

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No surprise here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Europe’s Unserious Plan for Greece (BBG)

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

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

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

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While taxes have risen. An endless hole.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We’ve seen that truth in Grenfell Tower.

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

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

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

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

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

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

France Gives Macron Big Majority With Little Enthusiasm (EUO)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Propping up zombies.

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

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

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

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This story gets insaner by the day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road (Grant)

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

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

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

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Pretty far out.

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

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

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

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

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Moving towards a very deep black hole.

Australia’s Haunted Housing Market (BW)

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

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

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

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The EU should look at its own human rights record.

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

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

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

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

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

Greece Cracks Down On Voucher Misuse By Employers (EurActiv)

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

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

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

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

Greek Summer Calm Before The Storm (K.)

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

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

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

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