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


Times Square at night 1954

 

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

 

 

Is there anything sadder in the world?

Last Male Northern White Rhino Dies (Sky)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What stock market?

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

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

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

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

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

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The many faces of debt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Well, it won’t be boring.

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

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

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

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But Zuckerberg sold just in time.

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

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

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

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Six degrees of Facebook.

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

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

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

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

How Facebook Made Its Data Crisis Worse (BBG)

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

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

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

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You ain’t seen nothing yet.

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

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

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

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RussiaRussiaRussia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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He took the money and then killed him.

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

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

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

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In other news: war is peace.

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

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

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

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Feb 092015
 
 February 9, 2015  Posted by at 8:07 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


Arthur Rothstein Going to church to pray for rain, Grassy Butte, North Dakota Jul 1936

Greek PM Alexis Tsipras yesterday laid out Syriza’s stance, and from what I saw he didn’t pull even one punch. Despite all the suggestions from the financial press throughout the past week that Tsipras and Varoufakis reneged on campaign promises to seek debt write-downs, they didn’t, and never have – other than perhaps in semantics.

Which I don’t find the slightest bit surprising. I would have been very surprised if they had. The misinterpretation, and the faulty expectations, are easily explained through the fact that – most of – these guys are not politicians, which they very deliberately expressed in the way they dressed for their meetings with ‘Europe’s finest’.

They don’t see the ‘space’ career politicians see to negotiate away the mandate their voters have given them. For them it’s simple: we were elected on our program – which in this case happens to be to end the misery forced upon Greece by the European and Troika schemes -, and we’re not going to move away from that just because ‘the other side’ starts threatening us, or (a crucial difference in politics) because our voters may not vote for us again in a next election.

In their view, trying to scare Greece into even more submission, which is the overlying message emanating from Brussels and beyond, is entirely null and void because Greece can’t – and shouldn’t – sink any lower than it has. Very and refreshingly simple. No surprise there, but, at least on my part, just support and admiration. Syriza is fighting the fight many others don’t have the intellect, the chutzpah and/or the courage for.

The first thing they did, apart from hiring back the government offices’ cleaning ladies the Troika got fired, was to say they wanted nothing to do with that same Troika. That to me is the most important statement so far by Yanis Varoufakis and his crew. Because that goes to the heart of why Greece is where it is, and why the entire world is.

I saw a headline last night that said something like ‘Greece doesn’t want to talk to the EU’. But that’s not true. Syriza merely wants the IMF out of the picture. And then it would prefer to talk to separate EU nations and offices, rather than top down Brussels bureaucrats. Not just because of the Colonel Blotto game theory I talked about before, but because they recognize how insidious and ruthless the IMF is. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

The most remarkable ‘news item’ for me yesterday came not from Tsipras (or Greenspan), but from former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who did something he would never have when he was in office. Sarkozy went against the grain of the official western narrative vis à vis Ukraine and Russia. He said what no acting French president could possibly say (including himself), because as president he would have been beholden to the US and NATO dictated doctrine, that Putin is evil, and Ukraine should be ‘liberated’.

Sarkozy: Crimea Cannot Be Blamed For Joining Russia

Crimea cannot be blamed for seceding from Ukraine – a country in turmoil – and choosing to join Russia, said former president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy. He also added that Ukraine “is not destined to join the EU.” “We are part of a common civilization with Russia,” said Sarkozy [..]. “The interests of the Americans with the Russians are not the interests of Europe and Russia,” he said adding that “we do not want the revival of a Cold War between Europe and Russia.”

Regarding Crimea’s choice to secede from Ukraine when the country was in the midst of political turmoil, Sarkozy noted that the residents of the peninsula cannot be accused of doing so. “Crimea has chosen Russia, and we cannot blame it [for doing so],” he said pointing out that “we must find the means to create a peacekeeping force to protect Russian speakers in Ukraine.” In March 2014 over 96% of Crimea’s residents – the majority of whom are ethnic Russians – voted to secede from Ukraine to reunify with Russia.

That is pretty close to 180º different from what the official western position is. Putin has taken note. Because it destroys everything the West, as represented by Germany’s Merkel and France’s Hollande, brought to the talks in Moscow this weekend (and Minsk today). More importantly, it throws out what NATO wants and prepares for. In the exact same way that Greece seeks to throw out the IMF.

And that is no coincidence. Sarkozy reveals his dismay at being told what to do, when he was in office, by the supranational NATO. Tsipras and Varoufakis refuse being told what to do by the supranational IMF. Same difference. Well, to an extent: Sarkozy did the NATO and IMF’s bidding when he was in office, Syriza never has.

Merkel, meanwhile, ceased resisting Mario Draghi’s mad €1 trillion+ QE program recently, and along that same vein she may today, as she’s talking to Obama in Washington, give up her resistance to the west arming Kiev. Which would be equal to a declaration of war against Russia. The pressure on her is obviously huge and increasing, but Angela should be smart enough to know that it’s impossible for Russia to stop looking out for the Donbass.

Because just about every Russian citizen has family connections in the region, who’ve been shelled by their own government for close to a year now. And if Russia were to retreat, chances are these people will be obliterated in very ugly ways. What Merkel should be demanding at the ‘peace’ talks is for not-so-very-democratically-elected PM Yatsenyuk and his shady government to step down, and nationwide fair elections to be held that include the Donbass. But she won’t.

And then Greenspan came, in what will probably be noted as one of his final lucid moments. The man who did so much damage seeks to atone for that while he still can. And do note that the Oracle was in charge of the Fed during the entire set-up and launch of the euro (yeah, yeah, he was a long term ‘critic’ – but not while it made his Wall Street banks a lot of dough off the project, just remember Goldman in Athens).

Greenspan Predicts Greece Exit From Euro Inevitable

The former head of the US central bank, Alan Greenspan, has predicted that Greece will have to leave the eurozone. He told the BBC he could not see who would be willing to put up more loans to bolster Greece’s struggling economy. Greece wants to re-negotiate its bailout, but Mr Greenspan said “I don’t think it will be resolved without Greece leaving the eurozone”. Mr Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve from 1987 to 2006, said: “I believe [Greece] will eventually leave. I don’t think it helps them or the rest of the eurozone – it is just a matter of time before everyone recognises that parting is the best strategy.

Alan Greenspan has long been a critic of the European single currency. Now, the 88-year-old former chairman of the US Fed has repeated a claim that nothing short of full political union – a United States of Europe – can save the euro from extinction. Given that few (if any) of the current 19 sovereign governments which make up the eurozone would choose to create such an entity at this time, that means – for Greenspan at least – the euro is doomed. Before all that, though, he foresees Greece quitting the single currency, but the euro surviving intact.

Greenspan turns against what the Troika – IMF – wants the same way Sarkozy turns against NATO. Once you get them out of their official roles, turns out they’re not as stupid as they pretend to be when they were ‘in function’. That says something about the capture the ‘leaders’ are in, and also about the extent to which they actually represent their voters. Which is not a lot. And that’s the core of the issue.

The entire system has been pre-empted by, first, the wrong kind of organizations, second, the wrong kind of people, and third, the wrong kind of multinational corporations. As in, Wall Street banks, Big Oil, Big Ag -including Monsanto and Sygenta – and a few handfuls of the likes of GE, Boeing, a bunch of carmakers, plus Halliburton etc. They control the planet, they send us to war, they decide what does and does not go. And we’re not going to get rid of them until and unless we realize, loudly and screamingly, that they must go or else.

To illustrate this, please allow me to quote myself a few times from last year:

Oct 7 2014

Germany’s Bad Numbers Are Great News For All Of Us

Nobody in Europe has anything to lose from the demise of the eurozone, at least nothing that they wouldn’t lose anyway, but every single European save for a cabal of power brokers and narcissists has a ton and a half of happiness and self-fulfillment and independence to lose from the continuation of the failed project. [..] What’s wrong with the EU is the same as what’s wrong with NATO, the IMF, the World Bank.

They are institutions that start with noble ideals, but soon start to gobble up ever more power, and with no-one to hold them to account. That kind of structure in turn attracts a certain kind of people, the ones who don’t like to be held to account. And though I’m a little hesitant to include the US in all this, since its so much older, I certainly wouldn’t discard Washington offhand as a place where the wrong kind of people have gathered far too much power.

Oct 18 2014

Wealth Inequality Is Not A Problem, It’s A Symptom

.. the IMF, the World Bank, UN, NATO and the EU absolutely all fit the picture of organizations that have – happily – grown beyond our range of view, and that exhibit the exact same inverted pyramid characteristics we see on wealth inequality, only for these organizations it’s not wealth that floats and concentrates increasingly from the bottom to the top, it’s power. Wealth comes after that. And one shouldn’t confuse that order. Because power buys wealth infinitely faster than wealth buys power.

..but then we forgot, ignored, to check on them, and they accumulated ever more power when we weren’t watching.. And what we see now is that any effort, any at all, to break up the IMF, World Bank, UN, NATO and EU would be met with the same derision that an effort to break up the USA would be met with. We have built, in true sorcerer’s apprentice or Frankenstein fashion, entities that we cannot control. And they have taken over our lives. They serve the interests of elites, not of the people. So why do we let them continue to exist?.

Nov 8 2014

The Broken Model Of The Eurozone

I stumbled upon these few words in an Ambrose Evans Pritchard article the other day, and they hit me almost like some sort of epiphany, which in turn made me feel a little stupid, because it’s all so obvious. What Ambrose wrote (and this time I’m not making fun of him), was about the eurozone (EMU), of which he said:

The North is competitive. The South is 20% overvalued.

And I realized that’s all you need to know about the eurozone, and about why it will fail. Or has already failed, to put it more accurately. [..] Northern Europeans see their lifestyles being cramped from many sides in the ongoing crisis, and they would not accept more being taken from them to be handed to Greece. Even if 50%+ of young Greeks have no jobs, and over 40% of Greek children grow up in poverty. That’s not how the union was explained to them. And they would not have agreed if it had been.

The fact that Brussels has attracted a highly dubious breed of politician and bureaucrat certainly hasn’t helped, and still doesn’t. But it’s not the core problem. The core problem is that there never was a mechanism to reconcile the 20% differences, which means we’re fast on our way to 30% and more. Nothing anybody can do about that other than to leave the union.

Nov 10 2014

A World Run On Broken Economic Models

Leaders of entities like the US, the EU or China have little in common with the people they supposedly represent, and they don’t have to, nobody expects them to. The US midterms were mostly a a battle of the bulge, as in candidates’ bulging wallets. And on top large scale national politics we have created yet another, even more anonymous layer of power. UN, World Bank, IMF, NATO, there’s an ever growing collection of supra-national organizations that keep on guzzling up more power and more money every single day.

Like ‘smaller’ entities such as the US and EU, only more, the supra-nationals attract a certain kind of people, those that like to assert power without being held directly accountable. In structures that far exceed the human scale, they are like fish in water. And that’s why we should never accept having them in those positions. IMF and World Bank have a history of at best disputable and at worst very bloody interventions in nations across the globe.

We should have today celebrated the end of NATO along with that of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago. But it’s still there, and playing an active role in the flaring up of the Ukraine civil war. As for the UN, there should be a place for an organization like it, but not with the money gobbling corporate structure, serving shady interests, that it has today.

Our political systems don’t work. Our economic systems don’t work. We live on a steady – but hardly nutritious – diet of debt and propaganda. Our societies are no longer productive enough to allow for the numbers of intermediaries they have given birth to. But it’s the intermediaries who have more often than not taken up the most powerful positions in our societies. So they will fight, and initially often successfully, to keep their positions, at the cost of the more productive segments. It’s a mechanism that’s much easier to understand than it is to fight.

We, as in mankind, the human species, didn’t develop to have just a few of us take decisions for hundreds of millions of us. It is simply too much for our brains to comprehend, and that is true for both the brains of the rulers and of the ruled. For some of us, though, the brains developed in such a way that they are geared towards seeking maximum power over others. Those people are called sociopaths or psychopaths, depending on the case.

We’re not going to solve this the way we are. We need a much deeper and more comprehensive change to how we’ve organized our societies. Syriza understand this, and they’re acting on it, but they can’t do it alone, and besides their priority must be the Greek population, not the systems that are strangling the world, because that’s what they were voted into office for. We need to support them much more than we have so far, or both their fight and ours will end in defeat.

Supranational organizations will all tend towards developing dictatorial traits, both because of their very structures, and because of the type of people they attract to rise in their ranks.

I’m by no means the only one to say that NATO should be disbanded, Ron Paul made a passionate speech about it in 2008. The problem is that if NATO is not disbanded, it will run amok (it already has). NATO’s purpose was to defend Europe from the Soviet Union’s communist threat. When Russia was no longer a threat, some 25 years ago, the whole apparatus was still left intact, albeit with a few budget cuts, and so NATO went looking for a purpose. I give you: Ukraine.

Whether it’s NATO, or the IMF, or the EU, they’re all part of the same problem. A problem that won’t be solved as long as these institutions are in place. That is not possible. They are organizations that find their purpose in NOT solving problems, because once they’re solves, they no longer have a reason to exist. And they’re not going to volunteer to become obsolete. They’re going to find a reason to find relevance, even if that hurts whoever it is they’re supposed to represent.

We’re never ever going to find a solution to problems like Ukraine or the Eurozone, because we’ve – all over the world – allowed an alphabet soup of institutions to build up that we have no control over, and that we claim can and will solve the issues for us.

We have put the sociopaths in charge, in an international and largely anonymous dictatorship. Who really pulls the levers in the IMF, or NATO etc? We have no way of knowing. And that’s the problem. And that is what Syriza, and precious few besides them, are set to fight. And why they deserve – and need – our support. Because if they don’t win, we don’t.

Feb 082015
 
 February 8, 2015  Posted by at 11:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


DPC New Orleans milk cart 1903

Tsipras Scrambles to Find a Way Forward for Greece (Bloomberg)
Europe’s Revolt Isn’t Just In Greece Or Spain (MarketWatch)
Greece Could Run Out of Cash in Weeks (WSJ)
Syriza and the French indemnity of 1871-73 (Michael Pettis)
Democracy Could Have Saved Europe From The Disastrous Single Currency (Hannan)
Sarkozy: Crimea Cannot Be Blamed For Joining Russia (RT)
Merkel Objection to Arms for Ukraine May Spur Backlash for Obama (Bloomberg)
Lavrov: US Escalated Ukraine Crisis At Every Stage, Blamed Russia (RT)
Europeans Laugh as Lavrov Talks Ukraine (Bloomberg)
4 Reasons Stocks Aren’t Soaring After That Stellar Jobs Report (MarketWatch)
America’s Shrinking Middle Class Is Holding On For Dear Life (MarketWatch)
Fears For US Economy As Shale Industry Goes Into Hibernation (Observer)
Bitter Economic Winds Hasten Oil Industry Retreat From North Sea (Observer)
US Oil Rig Count Plunges 29% from Peak. Halfway to Bottom? (WolfStreet)
Bracing for Another Storm in Emerging Markets (Kevin Gallagher)
China’s Exports Slump, Imports Crash In January, Record Trade Surplus (Reuters)
China’s Record Trade Surplus Highlights Weak Domestic Demand (Bloomberg)
Stream of ‘Dark’ Foreign Wealth Flows to Elite New York Real Estate (NY Times)
Twitter Execs Enrich Themselves At Shareholders’ Expense (MarketWatch)
Peak Food Is The World’s No. 1 Ticking Time Bomb (Paul B. Farrell)

Should be a good speech. 1 PM EDT.

Tsipras Scrambles to Find a Way Forward for Greece (Bloomberg)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will outline his plans to keep Greece financially afloat while breaking free from its bailout program when he addresses the nation’s parliament on Sunday. “It is very unlikely that the euro zone will give new money to Greece for months, as the Greek positions are uncertain and significant negotiation is necessary,” Nicholas Economides, professor of economics at New York University’s Stern School of Business, said by e-mail. “This puts cash-strapped Greece in a very dire position.” Jeroen Dijsselbloem, head of the group of 19 euro-area finance ministers, on Friday rejected a short-term financing agreement while Greece negotiates a successor program to its current bailout provided by the EU and IMF. The prime minister will need to address doubts about Greece’s ability to pay its bills, possibly as early as the end of the month.

Tsipras will set out measures for the government to take from now until the end of June, corresponding to the bridge program it has requested from country’s creditors, a government official said after a cabinet meeting Saturday. The prime minister will also set out policies for the next 3 1/2 years, said the official, who commented by e-mail and asked not to be identified in line with policy. The speech is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. local time. Tsipras, 40, will be addressing lawmakers exactly two weeks after his Syriza party swept into power with a promise to reject EU demands for more budget austerity. “Faced with financial reality, the new Greek government will have to reverse or severely pare down its pre-election program,” Economides said. “Already, in a major U-turn, the government has abandoned the position that Greece will not fully pay its debt.”

The next showdown with Greece’s EU partners is scheduled for Feb. 11 in Brussels, when Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis faces his 18 euro-area counterparts in an emergency meeting. Standard & Poor’s lowered Greece’s long-term credit rating one level to B- and kept the ratings on CreditWatch negative. The rating downgrade to B- pushes Greece’s debt six levels into non-investment grade, or junk status. S&P said it plans to “update or resolve” the CreditWatch status by next month. “We could lower our ratings on Greece if we perceive that the likelihood of a distressed exchange of Greece’s commercial debt has increased further because official funding has been curtailed, government borrowing requirements have deteriorated beyond our expectations, or Greece’s external financing has come under greater stress,” S&P said in a statement on Friday.

Read more …

“In France and Germany, the mainstream center-left parties have dropped any pretense of fighting the neoliberal orthodoxy that dominates EU economic policy and have been punished by voters accordingly.”

Europe’s Revolt Isn’t Just In Greece Or Spain (MarketWatch)

Greek voters crowded into Athens’ Syntagma Square to celebrate the landslide election of the leftist Syriza party last month, just as they had the victory of the center-left Pasok party in 1981, which ushered in Greece’s first leftist government after it threw off military dictatorship in 1974. The tens of thousands of Spanish voters who filled Madrid’s Puerta del Sol last Saturday also wanted to celebrate the leftist victory in Greece and rally support for a similar result for Spain’s new left-wing party, Podemos, in parliamentary elections at the end of this year. But the electoral victory of Syriza and the rise of Podemos are not signs of a resurgence of the left in Europe. The huge square in Madrid was also filled with demonstrators in May 2011 when a wave of protests opposed the Socialist government’s willingness to go along with European Union austerity policies.

One of the major ironies of the eurozone crisis, in fact, is that the historic left-wing parties in Europe have been so compromised by the austerity policies dictated by Brussels and Berlin that they have lost significant voter support or collapsed altogether. The once-celebrated Pasok, for instance, which led the government when the euro crisis erupted in 2009, has seen its electoral support plunge from its zenith of 48% in 1981 to a paltry 4.7% in last month’s election. The Spanish Socialist Party, which governed Spain for 14 years under Felipe Gonzalez, has seen its support fall from 48% in 1982 to just 22% in the most recent polls, putting it in third place behind Podemos, which is just one-year-old.

In France and Germany, the mainstream center-left parties have dropped any pretense of fighting the neoliberal orthodoxy that dominates EU economic policy and have been punished by voters accordingly. French Socialist President François Hollande, who swept into office with a parliamentary majority in 2012 on pledges that he would fight German-imposed austerity, saw his approval ratings plummet below 20% when he failed to deliver on that promise. Germany’s Social Democrats, too timid to resist the popularity of conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel, have not only been co-opted into her stringent view of European economic policy but into most every aspect of domestic policy as part of a coalition government.

Read more …

“Greece “will be the first country to go bankrupt over €5 billion.”

Greece Could Run Out of Cash in Weeks (WSJ)

Greece warned it was on course to run out of money within weeks if it doesn’t gain access to additional funds, effectively daring Germany and its other European creditors to let it fail and stumble out of the euro. Greek Economy Minister George Stathakis said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that a recent drop in tax revenue and other government income had pushed the country’s finances to the brink of collapse. “We will have liquidity problems in March if taxes don’t improve,” Mr. Stathakis said. “Then we’ll see how harsh Europe is.” Government revenue has declined sharply in recent weeks, as Greeks with unpaid tax bills hold back from settling arrears, hoping the new leftist government will cut them a better deal. Many also aren’t paying an unpopular property tax that their new leaders campaigned against. Tax revenue dropped 7%, or about €1.5 billion ($1.7 billion), in December from November and likely fell by a similar percentage in January, the minister said.

Other senior Greek officials said the country would have trouble paying pensions and other charges beyond February. Greece has made no secret of its precarious financial position, but the minister’s comments suggest the country has even less time than many policy makers thought to resolve its standoff with Europe. Eurozone officials have asked Greece to come up with a specific funding plan by Wednesday, when finance ministers have called a special meeting to discuss the country’s financial situation. The country needs €4 billion to €5 billion to tide it over until June, by which time it hopes to negotiate a broader deal with creditors, Mr. Stathakis said, adding that he believes “logic will prevail.” If it doesn’t, he warned, Greece “will be the first country to go bankrupt over €5 billion.” If the Greek government runs out of cash, the country would be forced to default on its debts and reintroduce its own currency, thus abandoning the euro.

Most of the €240 billion in aid that Europe and the International Monetary Fund have pumped into the country would be lost. Greece’s new, leftist government has been in a tug of war with its European creditors for days over relaxing strictures of its bailout program. Athens is pressing for less-onerous terms so it can reverse some of the austerity measures weighing on the country, but its partners in the euro currency area, led by Germany, have refused. Before the two sides can address Greece’s broader bailout framework, however, they need to quickly find a way to keep the country solvent. Mr. Stathakis said Athens has asked for €1.9 billion in profits from Greek bonds held by other eurozone governments. In addition, the government wants the eurozone to allow Greece to raise an additional €2 billion by issuing treasury bills, he said. Both proposals clash with the rules governing Greece’s bailout and eurozone officials have dismissed them.

Read more …

Very long in-depth analysis of the eurozone by Pettis.

Syriza and the French indemnity of 1871-73 (Michael Pettis)

1. The euro crisis is a crisis of Europe, not of European countries. It is not a conflict between Germany and Spain (and I use these two countries to represent every European country on one side or the other of the boom) about who should be deemed irresponsible, and so should absorb the enormous costs of nearly a decade of mismanagement. There was plenty of irresponsible behavior in every country, and it is absurd to think that if German and Spanish banks were pouring nearly unlimited amounts of money into countries at extremely low or even negative real interest rates, especially once these initial inflows had set off stock market and real estate booms, that there was any chance that these countries would not respond in the way every country in history, including Germany in the 1870s and in the 1920s, had responded under similar conditions.

2. The “losers” in this system have been German and Spanish workers, until now, and German and Spanish middle class savers and taxpayers in the future as European banks are directly or indirectly bailed out. The winners have been banks, owners of assets, and business owners, mainly in Germany, whose profits were much higher during the last decade than they could possibly have been otherwise

3. In fact, the current European crisis is boringly similar to nearly every currency and sovereign debt crisis in modern history, in that it pits the interests of workers and small producers against the interests of bankers. The former want higher wages and rapid economic growth. The latter want to protect the value of the currency and the sanctity of debt.

4. I am not smart enough to say with any confidence that one side or the other is right. There have been cases in history in which the bankers were probably right, and cases in which the workers were probably right. I can say, however, that the historical precedents suggest two very obvious things. First, as long as Spain suffers from its current debt burden, it does not matter how intelligently and forcefully it implements economic reforms. It will not be able to grow out of its debt burden and must choose between two paths. One path involves many, many more years of economic hell, as ordinary households are slowly forced to absorb the costs of debt — sometimes explicitly but usually implicitly in the form of financial repression, unemployment, and debt monetization. The other path is a swift resolution of the debt as it is restructured and partially forgiven in a disruptive but short process, after which growth will return and almost certainly with vigor

5. Second, it is the responsibility of the leading centrist parties to recognize the options explicitly. If they do not, extremist parties either of the right or the left will take control of the debate, and convert what is a conflict between different economic sectors into a nationalist conflict or a class conflict. If the former win, it will spell the end of the grand European experiment.

Read more …

“Distrust of the masses is in the EU’s genome.”

Democracy Could Have Saved Europe From The Disastrous Single Currency (Hannan)

“Elections change nothing,” said Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s tough-minded finance minister. He was talking about Greece, but he could have been talking about the entire EU racket. The Europhile elites have a guarded and contingent attitude towards democracy. It has its place, to be sure, but it must never be allowed to slow the process of political integration. As the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, put it in response to Syriza’s election victory, “There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties”. He means it. In 2011, in order to keep the euro intact, the EU connived at the toppling of two elected prime ministers: Silvio Berlusconi in Rome and George Papandreou in Athens. Both men were replaced by Eurocrats who presided over, in effect, Brussels-approved civilian juntas.

Although their regimes were called “national governments”, their purpose was to drive through policies that would be rejected at the ballot box. Distrust of the masses is in the EU’s genome. Its founders had lived through the horrors of the Second World War, and associated democracy – especially in its plebiscitary form – with the demagoguery and fascism of the 1930s. They made no bones about vesting supreme power with a group of Commissioners who were immune to public opinion. Sure enough, those Commissioners and their successors saw it as their role to step in when the voters got it wrong – as when, for example, they voted against closer integration in referendums. I could easily fill the rest of this column with either anger or mockery; but I’d rather do Eurocrats the courtesy of taking their argument seriously.

Their contention is, in effect, that voters often misjudge things – that they are likely simultaneously to demand higher spending and lower taxes, and then complain when the money runs out. As José Manuel Barroso, Mr Juncker’s predecessor, put it four years ago, at the height of the economic crisis: “Governments are not always right. If governments were always right we would not have the situation that we have today. Decisions taken by the most democratic institutions in the world are very often wrong.” At first glance, the recent Greek election seems to sustain that view. Here, after all, is a country brought to ruin by excessive spending and borrowing. Yet its voters have just opted for a party that offers more of the medicine that sickened them: a 50% hike in the minimum wage, higher pensions, free electricity for 300,000 households and other fantasies.

[..] When the EU assumed responsibility for the Greek economy, it licensed Greeks to behave irresponsibly. If voters are treated like recalcitrant teenagers, they will behave like recalcitrant teenagers, storming petulantly at the parents whom they none the less expect to pay their phone bills. Greece is an example, not of too much democracy, but of too little. Had the Hellenic Republic been a sovereign country, wholly accountable to its own electorate, things would have worked out very differently. But for the euro, the debt crisis would never have got so badly out of hand: the markets would have imposed their own discipline years ago.

Read more …

Dead on: “we must find the means to create a peacekeeping force to protect Russian speakers in Ukraine.” and “It is not destined to join the EU; Ukraine must preserve its role as a bridge between Europe and Russia.”

Sarkozy: Crimea Cannot Be Blamed For Joining Russia (RT)

Crimea cannot be blamed for seceding from Ukraine – a country in turmoil – and choosing to join Russia, said former president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy. He also added that Ukraine “is not destined to join the EU.” “We are part of a common civilization with Russia,” said Sarkozy, speaking on Saturday at the congress of the Union for a Popular Movement Party (UMP), which the former president heads. “The interests of the Americans with the Russians are not the interests of Europe and Russia,” he said adding that “we do not want the revival of a Cold War between Europe and Russia.” Regarding Crimea’s choice to secede from Ukraine when the country was in the midst of political turmoil, Sarkozy noted that the residents of the peninsula cannot be accused for doing so.

“Crimea has chosen Russia, and we cannot blame it [for doing so],” he said pointing out that “we must find the means to create a peacekeeping force to protect Russian speakers in Ukraine.” In March 2014 over 96% of Crimea’s residents – the majority of whom are ethnic Russians – voted to secede from Ukraine to reunify with Russia. The decision was prompted by a massive uprising in Ukraine, that led to the ouster of its democratically elected government, and the fact that the first bills approved by the new Kiev authorities were infringing the rights of ethnic Russians. Concerning Kiev’s hopes of joining the EU in the near future Sarkozy voiced the same position as had been previously expressed by some EU leaders.

“It is not destined to join the EU,” he said. “Ukraine must preserve its role as a bridge between Europe and Russia.” While the West has been criticizing Russia’s stance on Crimea, the Russian Foreign Minister said on Saturday that the peninsula’s residents had the right to “self-determination” citing the March referendum. He gave the example of Kosovo, which despite not holding a referendum, was allowed to leave Serbia and create its own state. “In Crimea what happened complies with the UN Charter on self-determination,” Lavrov said during his speech at the Munich security conference. “The UN Charter has several principles, and the right of a nation for self-determination has a key position.”

Read more …

I still don’t get this bit after reading it multiple times: “Obama won’t authorize weapons deployment if Merkel signals that she will not publicly condemn individual nations from arming Ukraine..” Does that mean he will if she will?

Merkel Objection to Arms for Ukraine May Spur Backlash for Obama (Bloomberg)

Germany’s rejection of supplying weapons to Ukrainian forces fighting pro-Russian rebels may heighten the domestic pressure on a reluctant U.S. President Barack Obama to deliver the arms. Increasing numbers of senior military and State Department officials are joining Republican lawmakers in a push to arm Ukraine – an option the commander-in-chief personally opposes, according to three people familiar with the dynamics in the Obama administration. They asked not to be named due to sensitivity of the matter.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who made an impassioned case against shipping lethal military support to Ukraine in a speech Saturday at the Munich Security Conference, will discuss the issue with Obama in Washington on Monday. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he’s confident Obama will make his decision soon after the meeting.

Obama’s delay in making his move until after Merkel’s visit reflects not only the gravity of the situation and the dueling arguments, but his emphasis on international alliances, his own deliberative nature and the degree to which he’s concentrated power on foreign policy in the White House. Obama won’t authorize weapons deployment if Merkel signals that she will not publicly condemn individual nations from arming Ukraine, the three people said. If she opposes any unilateral supplying of weapons, Obama will explain his decision to follow her lead by citing the importance of keeping a united front against Russian President Vladimir Putin and the risk of triggering a proxy war with him, the people said. [..]

Merkel in her Saturday speech said, “The progress that Ukraine needs cannot be achieved by more weapons.” Instead, she evoked the perseverance of the U.S. and European diplomatic efforts in confronting the Soviet Union during four decades of Cold War that ended with collapse of communism. Like then, that approach needs staying power and unity, said Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany. “The problem is that I cannot envisage any situation in which an improved equipment of the Ukrainian army leads to a situation where President Putin is so impressed that he will lose militarily,” she said, reiterating the importance of a negotiated peace without military intervention. “I have to put it in such a blunt manner.” Facing Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko in the audience, she said: “There’s no way to win this militarily — that’s the bitter truth. The international community has to think of a different approach.”

Read more …

“Our partners in the West have closed their eyes to everything that the Kiev government has said and done, which includes xenophobia.”

Lavrov: US Escalated Ukraine Crisis At Every Stage, Blamed Russia (RT)

Sergey Lavrov has lashed out at the US for their double standards over Ukraine and taking steps that “only promoted further aggravation” of the conflict. He added Russia is ready to guarantee agreements between Kiev and the self-proclaimed republics. One of the major sticking points of the crisis so far has been the failure of Kiev to engage in talks with militia leaders in the East of the country. Lavrov is staggered the US, who talked with the Taliban during their invasion of Afghanistan, through channels in Doha, Qatar, is unable to put pressure on Kiev to engage in discussions. “In the case of Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Sudan our partners actively asked governments to enter into dialogue with the opposition, even if they were extremists. However, during the Ukrainian crisis, they act differently, making up excuses and try to justify the use of cluster bombs,” the Russian Foreign Minister said, who was speaking at a security conference in Munich on Saturday.

The issue of the far right’s rise in Ukrainian politics has been swept under the carpet by the US and EU. Some members of the Ukrainian parliament have promoted ideas such as exterminating Russians and Jews. However, these haven’t been reported or caused any alarm in the West, Russia’s foreign minister added. “Our partners in the West have closed their eyes to everything that the Kiev government has said and done, which includes xenophobia. Some have advocated an ethnically clean Ukraine.” Throughout the Ukrainian crisis, the West has viewed Russia as the aggressor. The Kremlin has been accused of arming eastern Ukrainian militia and even sending Russian troops to reinforce them – claims Moscow has repeatedly denied. It has stated on many occasions that despite the damning rhetoric no sufficient evidence has been ever presented.

On the contrary, Lavrov says the US has been the destabilizing factor in Ukraine. “Through every step, as the crisis has developed, our American colleagues and the EU under their influence have tried to escalate the situation,” Lavrov maintained. He pointed to the failure of the EU to engage Russia about Ukraine signing an economic association agreement with the bloc, Western involvement during the Maidan protests, the failure of the West to condemn Ukraine for calling its own citizens terrorists and for supporting a coup, which led to the toppling of a democratically elected president. “The US made it public it brokered the transit of power in Ukraine. But we know perfectly well what exactly happened, who discussed candidates for the future Ukrainian government on the phone, who was at Maidan, and what is going on (in Ukraine) right now,” Lavrov said.

Read more …

The west and its press are no longer even capable anymore of discussing Russia without accusing it of a whole range of alleged misdeeds.

Europeans Laugh as Lavrov Talks Ukraine (Bloomberg)

In the span of 45 minutes today, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov rewrote the history of the Cold War, accused the West of fomenting a coup in Ukraine and declared himself a champion of the United Nations Charter. The crowd here in Germany laughed at and then booed him, but he didn’t seem to care. When Lavrov took the stage Saturday morning at the Munich Security Conference, he knew it was going to be a tough crowd. He was speaking just after German Chancellor Angela Merkel and ahead of U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden. For two days, almost all of the panelists at the conference had railed against Russia’s actions in Ukraine. The debates were not over whether Russia was a bad actor spoiling international security, but rather how to deal with that consensus view.

He looked nervous, perhaps because Sergei Ivanov, chief of staff to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Lavrov’s superior, was sitting in the front row, staring at him as if to warn him not to mess up. But none of that kept him from turning in an audacious performance. “In any situation, the United States is trying to blame Russia for everything,” he said. “Russia will be committed to peace. We are against combat. We would like to see a withdrawal of heavy weapons.” Lavrov then accused the U.S. of supporting military attacks against innocent Ukrainians. (He chose not to mention the Russian heavy weaponry in Eastern Ukraine or the hundreds of Russian military advisers on the ground.) Lavrov accused the Ukrainian military and government of being anti-Jewish and said that the Hungarian minority in Ukraine was being mistreated.

He called out the U.S. for negotiating with the Afghan Taliban but – in his view – not supporting negotiations between the Ukraine government and the Eastern separatists. Talking about the possibility of the U.S. giving lethal aid to the Ukrainian military, Lavrov leveled a thinly veiled threat that the Russians might invade Ukraine outright, as they did Georgia seven years ago after what they saw as provocation from President Mikheil Saakashvili. “I don’t think our Ukrainian colleagues should hope the support they are receiving will solve their problems,” he said. “That support … is going to their heads in the way it did for Saakashvili in 2008, and we know how that ended.” The crowd took that in stride, but then burst out laughing when Lavrov said that the annexation of Crimea, which was invaded by unmarked Russian troops, was an example of international legal norms working well.

Read more …

“Conditions are likely to come together that will allow the Federal Reserve to hike short-term interest rates anytime “from June on,” said Dennis Lockhart, the president of the Atlanta Fed.”

4 Reasons Stocks Aren’t Soaring After That Stellar Jobs Report (MarketWatch)

Why isn’t the stock market ripping higher Friday after that stellar jobs report? The S&P 500 and Dow industrials were up only moderately by around midday, then they turned negative to roughly flat in a hurry. Here are four factors:

1) A rally into the jobs report: Stocks already were showing big gains for the week before the jobs report came out. The S&P 500 is still up 3.4% for the week at last check. The Dow is coming off a four-day winning streak that had it up 720 points for the week as of Thursday’s close. So Friday’s lackluster action probably won’t change a positive weekly trend.

2) Fresh Greek worries: A downgrade of Greece by Standard & Poor’s on Friday afternoon may have sparked a move away from riskier assets like stocks. S&P cut the troubled nation’s long-term rating to B-minus from B, meaning further into junk territory. The folks at ZeroHedge, known for spotlighting the negative, say what’s “scariest” is that S&P itself is mentioning capital controls and bank runs. But other market watchers have been playing down the significance of the latest Greek drama, and they note Friday’s downgrade is similar to an earlier one by Moody’s Investors Service. That said, there are mounting concerns that Greece must get tidy its economic house or risk roiling the market.

3) Rate hikes ahead: The strong jobs report has boosted expectations around the Fed’s rate hikes, and higher rates ought to peel some investors away from stocks. Investors now think the Federal Reserve will raise rates one more time by December 2016 than they expected before Friday’s January job report, as MarketWatch’s Gregg Robb notes. Robb also reports on a notable Fed speech on Friday afternoon. Conditions are likely to come together that will allow the Federal Reserve to hike short-term interest rates anytime “from June on,” said Dennis Lockhart, the president of the Atlanta Fed.

4) A lagging indicator: The January jobs report reveals a lot, but it is important to realize the labor market is often a lagging indicator. Don’t let the stellar report make you forget about real challenges facing the U.S. economy, says MarketWatch’s Steve Goldstein. In a similar vein, Barry Ritholtz at Bloomberg View argues investors might want to ignore every monthly jobs report, since trading off it requires guessing not just the results, but also how much it is already reflected in stock prices.

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And then we go and call that a recovery.

America’s Shrinking Middle Class Is Holding On For Dear Life (MarketWatch)

Middle America is holding on for dear life. The share of Americans who are part of middle-income households has plunged to 51% in 2013 from 61% in 1970, according to new research by the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C. And from 1990 to 2013, the share of adult Caucasians and Asians living in middle-income households decreased the most of any ethnic group, from 58% to 53% (for Caucasians) and from 56% to 50% (for Asians). The decline was less pronounced among Hispanics (from 48% to 47%) and African-Americans (from 47% to 45%). Over the same period, the share of the country that qualifies as ‘lower-income’ has also grown: they make up 29% of all households in 2013, after comprising 25% of all households in 1970.

The share of upper income households, on the other hand, rose from 14% in 1970 to 20% in 2013. (To fall in those categories in 2013, household incomes had to be: $166,623 a year for upper income, $71,014 a year for middle income, and $23,659 a year for lower income.) About one-in-four white and Asian adults are upper income versus just one-in-10 Hispanic and black adults, and there was “no meaningful change in these gaps in the past two decades,” Pew found. What’s more, the median incomes of all households fell by 7% during the “lost decade” of 2000 to 2013. In the last three years (between 2010 and 2013), however, the share of middle-income families has remained steady.

“While the muddled recovery has yet to bolster the middle, this flat trend might actually be good news because, for now, it stems a decades-long slide,” it concluded. Not everyone sees this as a reason for celebration. “Marching in place after the recession is a bit like saying, ‘We survived.’ But who has thrived?” says Mark Hamrick, Washington, D.C. bureau chief at personal finance website Bankrate.com. “The problem is that the middle class hasn’t made much headway over the past decade or so.” High-earning Americans have fared better than Middle America, he says. “Ultimately this is an economic problem that presents itself thoroughly across our society. It helps explain why the interests of the middle class have not been well attended to.”

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“The low oil price is bringing to a halt the world’s great engine of supply growth over the last five years..”

Fears For US Economy As Shale Industry Goes Into Hibernation (Observer)

America’s fracking revolution is becoming a victim of its own success. The controversial boom in shale gas and oil has driven the US economic recovery and helped lower world crude prices. But a price plunge from $115 (£75) a barrel last June to just above $50 last week means many shale operations no longer pay. Rigs across the US are being deactivated at a rate of nearly 100 a week. In the final week of January, 94 were pulled offline – the most since 1987, according to oil services company Baker Hughes. The number of active rigs fell by from 1,609 in October to 1,223 in January and some experts predict fewer than 1,000 will remain by the end of the year. “The low oil price is bringing to a halt the world’s great engine of supply growth over the last five years,” said James Burkhard at IHS Energy. “The US upstream is very responsive to changes in price and drilling is likely to slow down further until prices recover.

“The great revival of US production has been from intensive onshore drilling. These aren’t massive $7bn projects that can’t be stopped: these are mostly onshore fracking that be started and stopped much more easily.” Burkhard said the US fracking boom accounted for more than half of global oil supply growth over the last five years, and it is the easiest tap to turn off while the world waits for the oil price to recover. The US has built up its largest stockpile of crude in 84 years. The profitability of onshore US wells varies considerably, with some only turning a profit when oil price is as high as $90 while others can make money at $30. IHS says nearly 30% of new wells started in 2014 can break even at $81 a barrel. By comparison, Morgan Stanley says some Middle Eastern onshore production is profitable at $10 per barrel.

Oil companies big and small have been knocked by falling prices. Chevron last month reported a 30% fall in quarterly profits (its worst since 2009), while oil exploration company ConocoPhillips swung to a loss as its average realised price fell 19% to $52.88 per barrel. Continental Resources, one of the largest drillers in North Dakota’s Bakken shale, said late last year it would cut its active rigs by 40% this year, with three-quarters of cuts coming by April. North Dakota’s Department of Mineral Resources says the state’s producers need a wellhead price of around $55-$65 to sustain current output of 1.2m barrels per day. If similar cuts were made across the industry, the rig count would fall below 1,100 by the end of March and 950 by the end of the year. A collapse in US oil production – now at 12m barrels a day after rising from 5m in 2008 – is likely to have a big impact on the nation’s economy. The fracking boom has made millionaires out of landowners, strengthened the country’s energy security and created hundreds of thousands of well-paid jobs.

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“Bob Dudley, CEO of BP, warned last week that the industry had to prepare for a “new phase” of lower prices that could last months, even years.”

Bitter Economic Winds Hasten Oil Industry Retreat From North Sea (Observer)

For one oil industry veteran, the dismantling of the Brent oil field in the North Sea prompts mixed feelings. There is gratitude for the livelihood earned from Britain’s post-war energy boom. And relief that it means farewell to “hell on Earth”. “Brent kept me and my family in gainful employment, so I have something to be grateful for, but these platforms are from an era long gone,” says Jake Molloy, who was a production assistant on the Brent Delta platform. Describing the structure, which Shell plans to remove from the North Sea, Molloy adds: “Putting people down platform legs [which store pumps and vessels] is really bad. You could climb down thousands of steps to the bottom with 40 pounds of breathing apparatus on your back only for the alarms to go off and you had to go all the way back again. It was the worst working environment – horrendous, hell on earth.”

Shell’s announcement that it plans to remove the platform was just one of many symbolic retreats staged by the oil industry last week. A day after the Brent proposals, Shell’s rival BP said it was taking a $4.5bn (£3bn) hit in its quarterly accounts to pay for the cost of bringing forward the closure of some unprofitable UK fields, partly due to lower oil prices. Situated 115 miles east of the Shetland Islands, Brent is estimated to have produced 10% of all North Sea oil and gas while generating £20bn of tax revenues since it opened in 1976. Brent is not the first North Sea field to face decommissioning and BP has been planning closures for some time. But the timing makes the closures all the more pointed. Shell’s field gave its name to a benchmark that has plummeted over the past year.

The price of a barrel of Brent crude has dived from $115 in June last year to less than $50 last month. The price has bounced back in the past two weeks to $58 but Bob Dudley, CEO of BP, warned last week that the industry had to prepare for a “new phase” of lower prices that could last months, even years. There will be more cost-cutting moves by the global oil industry over the next 12 months. BP is halving its exploration activity, slashing its capital expenditure by 20% and spending $1bn on making staff redundant after recording a $1bn loss in the last quarter. The $4.5bn writedown for its North Sea operations includes “increases in expected decommissioning costs” – an accounting footnote viewed by Iain Reid at BMO Capital Markets, as an inevitable outcome of low oil prices. “It’s bound to lead to North Sea field shutdowns being brought forward,” he says.

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“..the levels of crude oil in storage have soared to a record. Which will pressure prices further.”

US Oil Rig Count Plunges 29% from Peak. Halfway to Bottom? (WolfStreet)

In the US, oil companies have been laying off workers and cutting capital expenditures at a feverish pace. With revenues dropping as a function of the price of oil that has fallen by over half since June, preserving cash is suddenly a priority. Wall Street, after years of handing out money no questions asked, shut off the spigot for junk-rated drillers that need new money the most. So it’s crunch time. The number of rigs actively drilling for oil in the US, reported by Baker Hughes every Friday, is a preliminary gauge of these changes. And during the last reporting week, that rig count plunged by 83 to 1,140 rigs, after having plunged by an all-time record of 93 in the prior week. The rig count is now down 469 rigs, or 29%, from the high of 1,609 in October.

And it’s down 359 rigs over the six reporting weeks so far this year. Never before has the rig count plunged this fast this far. During the financial crisis, the oil rig count fell 60% from peak to trough. If this oil bust plays out the same way on a percentage basis, the count would drop to 642 rigs! The bloodletting in the exploration and production sector would be enormous. Having cut the rig count by 29% already since the October peak, the sector might already be about halfway there. But production of oil from existing and recently completed wells continues to set records, and wells to be completed in the near future will add to it. Demand in the US has been slack. And the levels of crude oil in storage have soared to a record. Which will pressure prices further.

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“Floating exchange rates and resulting depreciation can cause the debt burden of firms and fiscal budgets to bloat overnight.”

Bracing for Another Storm in Emerging Markets (Kevin Gallagher)

In 2012, Brazilian President Dilma Roussef scolded U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s monetary easing policies for creating a “monetary tsunami”: Financial flows to emerging markets that were appreciating currencies, causing asset bubbles, and generally exporting financial instability to the developing world. Now, as growth increases in the United States and interest rates follow, the tide is turning in emerging markets. Many countries may be facing capital flight and exchange-rate depreciation that could lead to financial instability and weak growth for years to come. The Brazilian president had a point. Until recently U.S. banks wouldn’t lend in the United States despite the unconventionally low interest rates. There was too little demand in the U.S. economy and emerging market prospects seemed more lucrative.

From 2009 to 2013, countries like Brazil, South Korea, Chile, Colombia, Indonesia, and Taiwan all had wide interest rate differentials with the United States and experienced massive surges of capital flows. The differential between Brazil and the U.S. was more than 10 percentage points for a while—a much better bet than the slow growth in the United States. According to the latest estimates from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), emerging markets now hold a staggering $2.6 trillion in international debt securities and $3.1 trillion in cross border loans—the majority in dollars. Official figures put corporate issuance at close to $700 billion since the crisis, but the BIS reckons that the figure is closer to $1.2 trillion when counting offshore transactions designed to evade regulations. Now the tide is turning.

China’s economy is undergoing a structural transformation that necessitates slower growth and less reliance on primary commodities. Oil prices and the prices of other major commodities are stabilizing or on the decline. It should be no surprise then that many emerging-market growth forecasts are continually being revised downward. Meanwhile, growth and interest rates are picking up in the United States. The dollar gains strength; the value of emerging market currencies fall. [..] Floating exchange rates and resulting depreciation can cause the debt burden of firms and fiscal budgets to bloat overnight. Given that most of the capital inflows were in dollars, depreciating currencies mean that nations and firms will need to come up with ever-more local currency to pay debt—but in a lower growth environment.

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“..imports slumped by 19.9%..”

China’s Exports Slump, Imports Crash In January, Record Trade Surplus (Reuters)

China’s exports fell 3.3% in January from a year earlier, while imports slumped by 19.9%, both missing expectations by a wide margin, and resulting in a record monthly trade surplus of $60 billion. Thinking that easing measures in Europe would boost demand for Chinese goods, analysts polled by Reuters had expected to exports to rise by 6.3%, and imports to fall by only 3%, to give a trade deficit of $48.9 billion. Instead, exports slid 12% on a monthly basis, while imports dove 21.1%, according to the data released by the Customs Administration said on Sunday. The decline was led by a sharp slide in commodities imports, in particular imports of coal which dropped nearly 40% to 16.78 million tonnes, down from December’s 27.22 million tonnes, as well as a scale back in crude oil imports, which slid 7.9%.

While the trade data augured badly for an economy that suffered its slowest economic growth in 24 years in 2014, analysts say strong seasonal distortions due to the Lunar New Year holiday make it difficult to interpret the data. Last year the holiday fell in January, and this year it falls in February. China’s export numbers tend to be erratic, sharp moves in opposite directions are common and the combined January and February figures are often a more accurate gauge of the overall trend, analysts say. [..] During 2014, China’s total trade value increased by 3.4% from a year earlier, short of the official target of 7.5%, and some analysts have raised questions about whether export data was inflated by fake invoicing as firms speculated in the currency and commodities markets.

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“Value of crude oil imports fell 41.8% from a year earlier, iron ore imports dropped 50.3% and coal plummeted 61.8%.” [..] “We are going to see more of these alarming data in the next few months.”

China’s Record Trade Surplus Highlights Weak Domestic Demand (Bloomberg)

China registered a record trade surplus last month as imports plunged on falling commodity prices and weak domestic demand. Imports fell by the most in more than five years, declining 19.9% from a year earlier. That compared with estimates for a 3.2% drop in a Bloomberg survey of analysts. Exports slid 3.3%, leaving a trade surplus of $60 billion, the customs administration in Beijing said. A property downturn and a stall in manufacturing are signals the government may need to step up measures to stimulate the economy, as domestic demand for commodities including crude oil and iron ore declines. The record trade surplus, combined with declines in exports and imports, complicates the government’s management of exchange rates after January’s depreciation.

“It seems that sharp decline in commodity prices, weak domestic demand and weak external demand, reflected in processing imports, all played a role in the decline in imports,” said Wang Tao at UBS in Hong Kong. “Trade data again creates a dilemma for the exchange rate. A record trade surplus is supposed to add appreciation pressure, but declining exports would say otherwise.” It’s not in China’s interest to let the yuan depreciate sharply, Liu Ligang and Zhou Hao at ANZ wrote in a note. “China’s central bank will continue to use a slew of instruments, including fixing rates, open market operations, and direct interventions, to prevent the RMB from weakening sharply,” they wrote.

Value of crude oil imports fell 41.8% from a year earlier, iron ore imports dropped 50.3% and coal plummeted 61.8%. Quantities of the commodities declined as well. Imports declined from all major trade partners, including the EU and US. Falling prices have cut the dollar value of imports and contributed to a prolonged decline in factory gate prices, which may extend to a record 35 months, according to economist estimates. “The slump in imports means a slump in the overall situation of the economy,” said Hu Yifan at Haitong in Hong Kong. “We are going to see more of these alarming data in the next few months.”

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Extensive NYT reasearch project. This reflects very poorly on New York, the US, the UK and London.

Stream of ‘Dark’ Foreign Wealth Flows to Elite New York Real Estate (NY Times)

On the 74th floor of the Time Warner Center, Condominium 74B was purchased in 2010 for $15.65 million by a secretive entity called 25CC ST74B L.L.C. It traces to the family of Vitaly Malkin, a former Russian senator and banker who was barred from entering Canada because of suspected connections to organized crime. Last fall, another shell company bought a condo down the hall for $21.4 million from a Greek businessman named Dimitrios Contominas, who was arrested a year ago as part of a corruption sweep in Greece. A few floors down are three condos owned by another shell company, Columbus Skyline, which belongs to the family of a Chinese businessman and contractor named Wang Wenliang. His construction company was found housing workers in New Jersey in hazardous, unsanitary conditions.

Behind the dark glass towers of the Time Warner Center looming over Central Park, a majority of owners have taken steps to keep their identities hidden, registering condos in trusts, limited liability companies or other entities that shield their names. By piercing the secrecy of more than 200 shell companies, The New York Times documented a decade of ownership in this iconic Manhattan way station for global money transforming the city s real estate market. Many of the owners represent a cross-section of American wealth: chief executives and celebrities, doctors and lawyers, technology entrepreneurs and Wall Street traders. But The Times also found a growing proportion of wealthy foreigners, at least 16 of whom have been the subject of government inquiries around the world, either personally or as heads of companies. The cases range from housing and environmental violations to financial fraud.

Four owners have been arrested, and another four have been the subject of fines or penalties for illegal activities. The foreign owners have included government officials and close associates of officials from Russia, Colombia, Malaysia, China, Kazakhstan and Mexico. They have been able to make these multimillion-dollar purchases with few questions asked because of United States laws that foster the movement of largely untraceable money through shell companies. Vast sums are flowing unchecked around the world as never before whether motivated by corruption, tax avoidance or investment strategy, and enabled by an ever-more-borderless economy and a proliferation of ways to move and hide assets. Alighting in places like London, Singapore and other financial centers, this flood of capital has created colonies of the foreign super-rich, with the attendant resentments and controversies about class inequality made tangible in the glass and steel towers reordering urban landscapes.

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Lovely.

Twitter Execs Enrich Themselves At Shareholders’ Expense (MarketWatch)

In October, we pointed out that the $170 million in stock-based compensation dished out to Twitter employees during the third quarter represented 47% of the company’s third-quarter revenue. That was an outsized amount — much higher than the most recently reported payouts for any company included in the S&P 1500 Composite Index. Twitter suffered a third-quarter net loss of $175 million, owing almost entirely from the stock awards. (Twitter is not yet included in the S&P 1500, presumably because it has been publicly traded for only a little over a year.)

Following a memo to employees in which Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said the company was doing a poor job preventing abuse over its messaging platform, the company said on Thursday that for the fourth quarter, its stock-based compensation totaled $177 million, or 37% of revenue. The company reported a net loss of $125.4 million, or 20 cents a share, but would have shown a profit of $79.3 million, or 12 cents a share, if the non-cash stock awards were excluded. The good news for Twitter was that its fourth-quarter revenue totaled $479.1 million, rising from $361.3 million the previous quarter and $242.7 million a year earlier. The company beat consensus estimates for earnings and revenue, though it reported a slowdown in subscriber growth. Twitter said it expects growth to pick up, and investors believed it, sending the shares up 13% on Friday.

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“We’re slowly poisoning America’s food supply, poisoning the whole world’s food supply.”

Peak Food Is The World’s No. 1 Ticking Time Bomb (Paul B. Farrell)

Global food poisoning? Yes, We’re maxing out. Forget Peak Oil. We’re maxing-out on Peak Food. Billions go hungry. We’re poisoning our future, That’s why Cargill, America’s largest private food company, is warning us: about water, seeds, fertilizers, diseases, pesticides, droughts. You name it. Everything impacts the food supply. Wake up America, it’s worse than you think. We’re slowly poisoning America’s food supply, poisoning the whole world’s food supply. Fortunately Cargill’s thinking ahead. But politicians are dragging their feet. They’re trapped in denial, protecting Big Oil donors, afraid of losing their job security; their inaction is killing, starving, poisoning people, while hiding behind junk-science.

The truth is, America, Big Ag worldwide farm production can’t feed the 10 billion humans forecast on Planet Earth by 2050. Can we wait till 2050 for the fallout? No. The clock’s ticking on the Peak Food disaster dead ahead. We’re at the critical tipping point, the planet is boiling over. Conservative Greg Page, executive chairman of the Cargill food empire, has that great can-do spirit of capitalism: At $43 billion, Cargill is America’s largest privately held company, launched during the Civil War with one grain warehouse. An unabashed optimist, Page was sounding a loud battle cry in Burt Helm’s New York Times op ed, “The Climate Bottom Line:”

Page is a powerful leader, optimistic, realistic, experienced … admits he “doesn’t know … or particularly care … whether human activity causes climate change … doesn’t give much serious thought to apocalyptic predictions of unbearably hot summers and endless storms.” Page wants action, results. Yes, he’s no left-wing environmentalist. Far from it. This is business, jobs, profits, because it’s a fact, climate’s already damaging huge sectors of America’s agricultural business … dust bowls in the heartland, in California’s bone dry central valley, all over … Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, all farm economics are affected. Meanwhile, our politicians dilly-dally, drifting, dragging their feet, in denial, playing petty ideological games.

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