Aug 092018
 
 August 9, 2018  Posted by at 9:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Eugène-Louis Boudin Laundresses on the Beach at Étretat 1892

 

Behold The ‘Scariest Chart’ For The Stock Market (MW)
US Senate Calls On Julian Assange To Testify (ZH)
Senate Democrats Circulate Plans for Government Takeover of Internet (Reason)
US To Impose Fresh Sanctions On Russia Over Salisbury Attack (Ind.)
Russia Calls New US Sanctions Draconian, Rejects Poisoning Allegations (R.)
Trump’s Sanctions Admit the End of US Military Dominance (Luongo)
Saudi Arabia Is Selling Off Its Canadian Assets As Row Intensifies (CNBC)
‘Dark Cloud’ Of Trade War Hovers Over Chinese Yuan’s Globalization (CNBC)
Trump Is Giving Protectionism a Bad Name (Moseley)
SEC Questions Tesla Over Elon Musk’s Tweets (WSJ)
Brexit And Housing Crisis Combining To Cause Exodus From London (Ind.)

 

 

Cycles, but distorted.

Behold The ‘Scariest Chart’ For The Stock Market (MW)

A lot has changed since the stock market crash of 2000. Apple Inc. has gone from being just another computer brand to becoming the most valuable company in the world, Amazon.com Inc. went from being an e-book retailer to a byword for online shopping and Tesla’s Elon Musk has risen from obscurity to Twitter stardom. Yet some things never change and Doug Ramsey, chief investment officer at Leuthold Group, has been on a mini-campaign highlighting the parallels between 2000 and 2018. Among the numerous similarities is the elevated valuation of the S&P 500 then and now, which Ramsey illustrates in a chart that he has dubbed as the “scariest chart in our database.”

“Recall that the initial visit to present levels was followed by the S&P 500’s first-ever negative total return decade,” he said in a recent blog post. Price-to-sales ratio is one measure of a stocks value. It isn’t as popular as the price-to-earnings ratio, or P/E, but is viewed as less susceptible to manipulation since it is based on revenue. He also shared a chart which he claims is “unfit for a family-friendly publication” that shows how in terms of median price to sales ratio, the S&P 500 is twice as expensive as it was in 2000.

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Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) pops up all over the place. Involved in killing off talks with Assange in spring 2017, a year later calls for Assange’s asylum to be revoked, then weeks later wants him to testify.

US Senate Calls On Julian Assange To Testify (ZH)

Julian Assange has been asked to testify before the US Senate Intelligence Committee as part of their Russia investigation, according to a letter signed by Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Mark Warner (D-VA) posted by the official WikiLeaks Twitter account. The letter, delivered to Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, reads in part “As part of the inquiry, the Committee requests that you make yourself available for a closed interview with bipartisan Committee staff at a mutually agreeable time and location.” Wikileaks’ says their legal team is “considering the offer but testimony must conform to a high ethical standard,” after which the whistleblower organization added a tweet linking to a list of 10 Democratic Senators who demanded in late June that Assange’s asylum be revoked in violation of international law:

[..] Last August, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher travelled to London with journalist Charles Johnson for a meeting with Assange, after which Rohrabacher said the WikiLeaks founder offered “firsthand” information proving that the Trump campaign did not collude with Russia, and which would refute the Russian hacking theory. After Trump denied knowledge of the potential deal, Rohrabacher raged at Trump’s Chief of Staff, John Kelly, for constructing a “wall” around President Trump by “people who do not want to expose this fraud.” And in January of 2017, Julian Assange’s legal team approached Clinton-linked D.C. lobbyist Adam Waldman to reach out and see if anyone in the Trump administration would negotiate with the WikiLeaks founder – only to have James Comey kill the deal.

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More from Sen. Mark Warner. h/t Tyler

Senate Democrats Circulate Plans for Government Takeover of Internet (Reason)

A leaked memo circulating among Senate Democrats contains a host of bonkers authoritarian proposals for regulating digital platforms, purportedly as a way to get tough on Russian bots and fake news. To save American trust in “our institutions, democracy, free press, and markets,” it suggests, we need unprecedented and undemocratic government intervention into online press and markets, including “comprehensive (GDPR-like) data protection legislation” of the sort enacted in the E.U.

Titled “Potential Policy Proposals for Regulation of Social Media and Technology Firms,” the draft policy paper—penned by Sen. Mark Warner and leaked by an unknown source to Axios—the paper starts out by noting that Russians have long spread disinformation, including when “the Soviets tried to spread ‘fake news’ denigrating Martin Luther King” (here he fails to mention that the Americans in charge at the time did the same). But NOW IT’S DIFFERENT, because technology. “Today’s tools seem almost built for Russian disinformation techniques,” Warner opines. And the ones to come, he assures us, will be even worse.

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Evidence is so last century.

US To Impose Fresh Sanctions On Russia Over Salisbury Attack (Ind.)

The US government has said it will impose fresh sanctions on Russia after determining it used a nerve agent in the attack against a former Russian spy in Salisbury. The State Department said the sanctions will be imposed on Moscow because it used a chemical weapon in violation of international law in the attack on former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, 67, and his daughter Yulia, 33. The pair were poisoned by a military-grade nerve agent called novichok in Salisbury, UK, in March. Following a 15-day Congressional notification period, the new US sanctions will take effect on or around 22 August, according to a statement.

[..] State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said it had been determined Russia had “used chemical or biological weapons in violation of international law, or has used lethal chemical or biological weapons against its own nationals.” “Following the use of a Novichok nerve agent in an attempt to assassinate UK citizen Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal, the United States, on 6 August, 2018, determined under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 (CBW Act) that the government of the Russian Federation has used chemical or biological weapons in violation of international law or has used lethal chemical or biological weapons against its own nationals,” a statement said.

The sanctions will cover sensitive national security goods, a senior State Department official said. There would, however, be exemptions for space flight activities and areas covering commercial passenger aviation safety, which would be allowed on a case by case basis, the official added. A second batch of “more draconian” sanctions would be imposed after 90 days unless Russia gives “reliable assurances” that it will no longer use chemical weapons and allow on-site inspections by the United Nations.

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Russia should stop trying to deny anything, it makes no difference anyway.

Russia Calls New US Sanctions Draconian, Rejects Poisoning Allegations (R.)

Russia’s embassy in the United States on Thursday called new U.S. sanctions draconian and said the reason for the new restrictions — allegations it poisoned a former spy and his daughter in Britain — were far-fetched. The United States on Wednesday announced it would impose fresh sanctions on Russia after Washington determined Moscow had used a nerve agent against a former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, in Britain. Russia has repeatedly denied responsibility for the attack, and Russia’s embassy in Washington said in a statement that Washington’s findings against it in the case were not backed by evidence.

“On August 8, 2018 our Deputy Chief of Mission was informed in the State Department of new ‘draconian’ sanctions against Russia for far-fetched accusations of using the ‘Novichok’ nerve agent against a UK citizen,” the embassy said in a statement. “We grew accustomed to not hearing any facts or evidence.” The U.S. announcement fueled already worsening investor sentiment about the possible effect of more U.S. sanctions on Russian assets and the rouble slid by over 1 percent on Thursday against the dollar, a day after falling toward its lowest level in nearly two years. The Russian embassy said Moscow continued to advocate for an open and transparent investigation into the poisoning.

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Talked about this a while ago. Unwinnable wars.

Trump’s Sanctions Admit the End of US Military Dominance (Luongo)

On March 1st Russian President Vladimir Putin changed the geopolitical game. During his speech he unveiled new weapons which instantly made obsolete much of the U.S military’s physical arsenal. And the panic in Washington was palpable. Since that speech everything geopolitical has accelerated. The US government under Trump has shifted its strategies in response to this. No longer were we threatening North Korea with military invasion. No, Trump sat down with Kim Jong-un to negotiate peace. On Russia, Iran, China, Turkey, Venezuela and even Europe Trump’s war rhetoric has intensified. Trump is only talking about economic sanctions and tariffs, however, leveraging the dollar as his primary weapon to bring countries to heel.

There’s no hint of US invasion, no matter how much John Bolton whispers in his ear or Bibi Netanyahu bangs his shoe on the table. Why? Because US military dominance has always been enforced not by technology but by logistics. Those bases, while expensive, are also the real strength of the US military. They are a financial albatross which the ‘Axis of Resistance’ is using to win a war of attrition against US hegemony. And now, Putin’s new weapons rendered them obsolete in a moment’s time. Once fully deployed there will be no going back to the old world order. So, that’s why Trump talked to North Korea yesterday and why he will talk with Iran tomorrow.

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Friends no more. There are large Jewish communities in Canada. Wonder what they think.

Saudi Arabia Is Selling Off Its Canadian Assets As Row Intensifies (CNBC)

Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic spat with Canada looks set to escalate following a report that the Middle Eastern country has instructed its brokers to sell Canadian assets. Anger between the two countries erupted last week when Canadian officials urged Riyadh to “immediately release” women’s rights activists Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah. Now the Financial Times has reported that the Saudi central bank and state pension funds have instructed third party asset managers to sell Canadian bonds, stocks and cash. The selling is said to have begun on Tuesday. In a sign of its rage, Saudi Arabia has already expelled the Canadian ambassador, frozen trade and investment between Riyadh and Ottawa and halted flights to and from Canada.

Saudi rulers have also stopped all medical treatment programs in Canada and are coordinating for the transfer of all Saudi patients currently receiving care in Canadian hospitals to be moved outside of the country. Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said Monday that “Canada will always stand up for human rights in Canada and around the world, and women’s rights are human rights.” But on Wednesday, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said there was nothing to mediate between the two countries and that Canada knew what it needed to do to “fix its big mistake.”

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Long as it doesn’t trade freely, forget it.

‘Dark Cloud’ Of Trade War Hovers Over Chinese Yuan’s Globalization (CNBC)

The Chinese yuan’s slide is creating challenging headwinds for Beijing’s push to promote its currency globally — a key element in the broader liberalization of the world’s second-largest economy. China wants its currency, also known as the renminbi, to play a leading role in global trade and finance in line with its economic clout. While Beijing has scored some significant milestones, the yuan has been declining, assailed by a weakening economy and a trade war with the United States. One major achievement was in 2016 when it joined the ranks of the dollar, euro, yen and British pound as part of the IMF’s Special Drawing Right (SDR), an international reserve asset.

But there have been bumps as well, most notably in 2015 when authorities suddenly devalued the currency after steadily nudging it higher for years, triggering a sell-off in global markets. The renminbi, or literally “people’s currency,” is now being buffeted by a new challenge as China’s economy is under pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump’s tariff assault. Analysts say its push to become a global currency is likely to suffer a setback. “Renminbi internationalization could be slowing down temporarily in the second half of this year,” Ken Cheung, senior Asia foreign exchange strategist at Mizuho Bank in Hong Kong, told CNBC, citing the disruption caused by the trade war.

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This is much more about Africa, and the US pre-Trump, than it is about Trump himself.

Trump Is Giving Protectionism a Bad Name (Moseley)

While it might not seem like it now, President Donald Trump is a gift to free market-oriented economists and policymakers. His clumsy approach to protectionism has ignited a trade war that inevitably will harm the U.S. economy. When the pendulum inexorably swings the other way after the Trump fiasco, free trade ideology will return with a vengeance. This is a potential tragedy for left-leaning policy analysts who have long been concerned about the excesses of neoliberalism and argued for a more measured use of tariffs to foster local economic development. As such, it critical that we distinguish between Trump’s right-wing nationalist embrace of tariffs and the more nuanced use of this tool to support infant industries.

As a development geographer and an Africanist scholar, I have long been critical of unfettered free trade because of its deleterious economic impacts on African countries. At the behest of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the majority of African countries were essentially forced, because of conditional loan and debt-refinancing requirements, to undergo free market–oriented economic reforms from the early 1980s through the mid-2000s. One by one, these countries reduced tariff barriers, eliminated subsidies, cut back on government expenditures, and emphasized commodity exports. With the possible exception of Ghana, the economy of nearly every African country undertaking these reforms was devastated.

This is not to say that there was no economic growth for African countries during this period, as there certainly was during cyclical commodity booms. The problem is that the economies of these countries were essentially underdeveloped as they returned to a colonial model focused on producing a limited number of commodities such as oil, minerals, cotton, cacao, palm oil, and timber. Economic reforms destroyed the value-added activities that helped diversify these economies and provided higher wage employment, such as the textile, milling, and food processing industries. Worse yet, millions of African farmers and workers are now increasingly ensnared in a global commodity boom-and-bust cycle. Beyond that cycle, they are experiencing an even more worrying long-term trend of declining prices for commodities.

One of the consequences of the hollowing out of African economies has been the European migration crisis. While some of this migration is clearly connected to politics, war, and insecurity in the Middle East and Africa, a nontrivial portion is related to grim economic prospects in many African countries.

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Predicted and predictable. It’s like if Trump can do stuff via twitter, can Musk do the same?

SEC Questions Tesla Over Elon Musk’s Tweets (WSJ)

Securities regulators have inquired with Tesla Inc. about Chief Executive Elon Musk’s surprise announcement that he may take the company private and whether his claim was factual, people familiar with the matter said. The Securities and Exchange Commission has asked whether Musk’s unusual announcement on Tuesday was factual, the people said. The regulator also asked Tesla TSLA, -2.43% about why the disclosure was made on Twitter rather than in a regulatory filing, and whether the company believes the announcement complies with investor-protection rules, the people said. Musk on Tuesday proposed taking Tesla private at $420 a share, about 11% higher than the day’s closing stock price.

He called the funding “secured” for what would be the biggest-ever corporate buyout, but he hasn’t disclosed details. A group of Tesla board members on Wednesday said Musk spoke to them last week about taking the company private. The SEC’s inquiries, which originated from its San Francisco office, suggest Tesla could come under an enforcement investigation if regulators develop evidence that Musk’s statement was misleading or false. It wasn’t immediately clear on Wednesday whether the regulator had opened a formal enforcement investigation based on the answers it received from the company.

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This is going to get so much worse. It’s only 7 months away, but no-one has actually woken up yet.

Brexit And Housing Crisis Combining To Cause Exodus From London (Ind.)

A combination of unaffordable housing and Brexit has led to an “exodus” from London, with an increasing number of young people moving elsewhere to live and work, according to new research. Analysis by think tank Centre for London showed that job numbers in the capital reached 5.9 million at the end of June this year, up 1.9 per cent compared with the same month in 2017 – and the highest level since records began in 1996. However, the group warned that this was driven by a “significant growth” in the number of people moving away from London to rest of the UK, and a slowdown in international migration, suggesting that the city is become a less desirable place to live and work.

London recorded the slowest rate of population growth in over a decade, at almost half the rate of the previous year, the research revealed. A spokesperson for Centre for London said: “The continuing affordability crisis and the prospect of Brexit are dampening the city’s appeal, with the former seen as driving the rise in the number of people in their mid-twenties to thirties leaving the capital.” In July the average rent for London rose above £1,600 for the first time on record, according to the latest Homelet Rental Index, and while house price growth in London has slowed in recent months, the average price in the second quarter of this year was £468,845 – more than double the national average of £214,578.

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Aug 082018
 
 August 8, 2018  Posted by at 8:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh The red tree house 1890

 

Tesla Shares Soar After Elon Musk Floats Plan To Take Company Private (G.)
Securities Lawyers Shocked By Elon Musk’s Tweet (CNBC)
Alex Jones Pleads With Donald Trump To Fight ‘Censorship’ (Ind.)
US Think Tank’s Tiny Lab Helps Facebook Battle Fake Social Media (R.)
Trump’s Sanctions Causing Turmoil In Turkey (CNBC)
Turkish Banks Scramble to Stave Off Debt Crisis (DQ)
Europe ‘Needs To Get A Backbone’ On Trump’s Iran Sanctions – Ron Paul (RT)
EU Foreign Policy Chief Calls On Firms To Defy Trump Over Iran (G.)
The Blowup With Canada Is the Latest Saudi Overreach (IC)
London Is The World’s Airbnb Capital (ZH)
My Amsterdam Is Being Un-Created By Mass Tourism (G.)
First Trial Alleging Monsanto’s Roundup Causes Cancer Goes To Jury (R.)
The American Sea of Deception (TD)

 

 

$82 billion in funding arranged? Perhaps the SEC should have a word with Musk about that.

Tesla Shares Soar After Elon Musk Floats Plan To Take Company Private (G.)

Elon Musk has launched a campaign to take Tesla private on a day that included several provocative tweets, a suspension (and resumption) of trading in the company’s shares, reports of a significant Saudi investment, a surge in stock price, and an evocative, Musk-tinged appeal to the Tesla faithful: “The future is very bright and we’ll keep fighting to achieve our mission.” The ride started with Tesla’s stock rising more than 7% after Musk tweeted he was “considering taking Tesla private” and had funding in place to do so at a price of $420 (£325) per share. Shortly afterwards, Tesla published a blogpost written by Musk entitled ‘Taking Tesla private’ that had been sent to all employees.

The tweet appeared to be triggered by a report in the Financial Times that Saudi Arabia has built up a stake in Tesla worth up to $2.9bn. At $420 a share, Tesla would have an enterprise value of about $82bn including debt, well above its stock market value, which reached $63.8bn on Tuesday. Shares closed up 11% at $378. To take Tesla private, Musk would have to pull off the largest leveraged buyout in history, surpassing Texas electric utility TXU’s in 2007. Analysts say Tesla doesn’t fit the typical profile of a company that can raise tens of billions of dollars of debt to fund such a deal. In a follow up tweet, Musk wrote: “I don’t have a controlling vote now and wouldn’t expect any shareholder to have one if we go private. I won’t be selling in either scenario.”

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Social media and its consequences.

Securities Lawyers Shocked By Elon Musk’s Tweet (CNBC)

“If his comments were issued for the purpose of moving the price of the stock, that could be manipulation, it could also be securities fraud,” former SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt told CNBC on Tuesday. “The use of a specific price for a potential going private transaction is highly unprecedented and therefore raises significant questions about what his intent was. So, that would have to be investigated.” [..] Five years ago the Securities and Exchange Commission had to clarify its social media policy after Netflix founder and CEO Reed Hastings set off a firestorm of his own.

Companies can use social media like Facebook and Twitter to announce key information and be OK under Fair Disclosure regulations as long as investors know that they can find that information on the social media accounts. Reg FD was designed to make sure investors could get information at the same time, rather than having select disclosures to some before others. The SEC’s enforcement division had investigated Hasting’s use of a personal Facebook page back in 2012 to say the streaming service’s monthly online viewing had exceeded 1 billion hours for the first time.

The SEC didn’t take any action against Netflix or Hastings but clarified its social media policy. “Personal social media sites of individuals employed by a public company would not ordinarily be assumed to be channels through which the company would disclose material corporate information,” the SEC said in a statement at the time. There might not be any SEC action this time, either, but it’s only a matter of time before an executive gets accused of making a false or misleading statement on social media, said Kevin LaCroix, an attorney focused on management liability issues. “There will be a case someday.”

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A hard one for Trump. Alex Jones is his biggest media asset. But how can Washington stop Silicon Valley?

Alex Jones Pleads With Donald Trump To Fight ‘Censorship’ (Ind.)

Far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has appealed to Donald Trump to pursue an end to “censorship” after the InfoWars host was banned from all but one of the West’s major content platforms. On Monday, Apple deleted most of Mr Jones’s podcasts saying they contained hate speech; Facebook removed four of his pages down for “repeated violations of community standards”; YouTube terminated Mr Jones’s account after he violated a 90-day ban; and Spotify removed one of Jones’s podcasts for “hate content”. In a free-wheeling monologue posted online, the prominent far-right personality praised the president, condemned the mainstream press, and accused China of meddling in US elections.

“Mr President, America knows you’re real. They know the Democrats are the anti-American globalists allied with the ChiComms, radical Islam, the unelected EU, and others,” he said. “If you come out before the midterms and make the censorship the big issue of them trying to steal the election. “And if you make the fact we need an Internet Bill of Rights, and anti-trust busting on these companies, if they don’t back off right now. “And if you don’t come out and point out that the communist Chinese have penetrated and infiltrated and are way, way worse than the Russians …. then they will be able to steal the midterms and start the impeachment.” He said cracking down on China and speaking out against censorship was “the right thing to do”.

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The Atlantic Council doesn’t find the truth, it makes its own. Main Russiagate proponents.

US Think Tank’s Tiny Lab Helps Facebook Battle Fake Social Media (R.)

A day before Facebook announced that it had discovered and disabled a propaganda campaign designed to sow dissension among U.S. voters, it exclusively shared some of the suspicious pages with an online forensics team so busy it hasn’t put a nameplate on the door. The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab is based in a 12-foot-by-12-foot office in the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the nearly 60-year-old Council www.atlanticcouncil.org, a think tank devoted to studying serious and at times obscure international issues. Facebook is using the group to enhance its investigations of foreign interference. Last week, the company said it took down 32 suspicious pages and accounts that purported to be run by leftists and minority activists.

While some U.S. officials said they were likely the work of Russian agents, Facebook said it did not know for sure. It fell to the lab to point out similarities to fake Russian pages from 2016 during Facebook’s news conference last week. Facebook began looking for outside help amid criticism for failing to rein in Russian propaganda ahead of the 2016 presidential elections. The U.S. Justice Department won indictments against 13 Russians and three companies for using social media in that election to influence voters. U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security team warned last week of persistent attempts by Russia to use social media against the 2018 congressional elections as well.

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All they need to do is release a pastor.

Trump’s Sanctions Causing Turmoil In Turkey (CNBC)

The Turkish lira and benchmark sovereign bond hit a record low as the threat of U.S. sanctions added pressure to already ailing markets. The U.S. dollar rose to 5.4 against the lira on Monday before trading around 5.29 on Tuesday. Turkey’s 10-year bond fell to a record low on Tuesday, pushing its yield up to around 20 percent before hovering around 18.8 percent. Bond prices move inversely to yields. Turkish capital markets have struggled this year as the country deals with a weakening economy. The sharp moves down come after President Donald Trump threatened last month to slap “large sanctions” on the Middle Eastern nation if it refuses to free Andrew Brunson, an evangelical pastor.

The U.S. then announced on Aug. 1 sanctions on Turkey’s justice and interior ministers, prohibiting U.S. citizens from doing business with them. “This is a shot across the bow,” said Marcus Chenevix, an analyst at TS Lombard. “Now, I think the U.S. will give them time to respond. It’s not like the U.S. sees this as a pressing political matter, it just can’t seem to be backing down to these hostage tactics.” Turkey detained Brunson in October 2016, accusing him of spying and trying to overthrow the government after a failed coup earlier that year. Trump demanded in a July 26 tweet the Turkish government release Brunson.

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20% yields on bonds… As the lira has lost 25% or so of its value..

Turkish Banks Scramble to Stave Off Debt Crisis (DQ)

Highly leveraged companies currently face a potent cocktail of soaring borrowing costs and a plunging Lira. As the local currency weakens against the dollar and the euro, it gets harder and harder for local companies to service foreign currency bonds. That’s how a currency crisis becomes a debt crisis. Turkish companies are sitting on $337 billion in debt. With as much as $100 billion in debt scheduled to come due over the course of the next year, Turkish banks are under growing pressure to restructure foreign-currency denominated corporate loans as those companies struggle to service them.

The banks have proposed rules to accelerate the restructuring of company debt and allow lenders to avoid booking these loans as “non-performing loans,” a move that may help prevent defaults from piling up. As has happened in Italy since Europe’s sovereign debt crisis, the banks will try to extend loans indefinitely in order to avoid gaping holes developing on their balance sheets. But it may already be too late. The downgrades, both sovereign and corporate, are coming thick and fast. On July 20, Fitch Ratings downgraded the Long-Term Foreign Currency Issuer Default Ratings (LTFC IDRs) of 24 Turkish banks and their subsidiaries, in many cases by two notches.

The agency also slashed Turkey’s sovereign rating deeper into junk territory, downgrading its Long-Term Foreign-Currency Issuer Default Rating (IDR) to ‘BB’ from ‘BB+’ with a negative outlook. Moody’s also downgraded the ratings of 17 banks in July. These downgrades will make it even more costly for Turkish banks and the Turkish government to raise funds, with the yield on Turkey’s benchmark 10-year bond soaring to an eye-watering 19% on Tuesday.

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“In time people are going to realize we might have to adjust because countries are not going to tolerate what we have done..”

Europe ‘Needs To Get A Backbone’ On Trump’s Iran Sanctions – Ron Paul (RT)

Washington is powerful, but Europe needs to “stick to its guns” against President Donald Trump’s threats that any countries doing business with Iran will not to do business with the US, according to former Congressman Ron Paul. In an interview with RT, Paul said that while the US can “throw its weight around” the EU needs to “get some backbone” to resist Trump’s threats. “If they stick to their guns I think the United States would have to adjust our policies a bit, because how are they going to enforce that? You know, if China and Russia and other countries and India, they do business with Iran — how are we going to punish them?” he said. Paul acknowledged that standing up to Washington might be difficult if major companies are faced with the threat of losing business in the US. “In time people are going to realize we might have to adjust because countries are not going to tolerate what we have done,” he said.

Asked about the anti-Russia sentiment currently gripping the US, Paul said that the people who are in favor of taking a very negative view of Russia — and who are pushing the narrative that Trump colluded with Russia to win the presidency — are in control in both the media and in Congress. “I think it’s tragic what’s happening, because they have no proof of anything and for some reason these senators have come up with this new [Russia sanctions] bill — Graham and McCain and Menendez — just out of the clear blue, they have no evidence whatsoever of their charges that they have made,” he said. Paul, who has long advocated a non-interventionist foreign policy and taken a negative view of sanctions, said that the US tendency to blame other countries for everything, slapping them with sanctions and then complaining when they retaliate is “very, very bad foreign policy.”

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Catch 22.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Calls On Firms To Defy Trump Over Iran (G.)

The EU is set on a collision course with Donald Trump after its foreign policy chief called for Europeans to increase their business dealings with Iran in defiance of bellicose statements from the US president. As Trump vowed to block those trading with Iran from the US market, the EU stepped up efforts to save the Iran nuclear deal by encouraging its companies to ignore the White House. Federica Mogherini, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, said Brussels would not let the 2015 agreement with Tehran die, and she urged Europeans to make their own investment decisions. The EU, China and Russia remain signatories to the joint comprehensive plan of action under which economic sanctions on Iran have been lifted in return for the regime curtailing its nuclear aspirations.

Trump reneged on the deal in May, describing it as “a horrible one-sided deal that should never, ever have been made”. The clash risks destabilising the wider transatlantic relationship weeks after the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, and Trump vowed in the White House rose garden to increase tariff-free trade between the EU and the US and to move on from recent disagreements. During a trip to Wellington, New Zealand, on Tuesday, Mogherini said: “We are doing our best to keep Iran in the deal, to keep Iran benefiting from the economic benefits that the agreement brings to the people of Iran, because we believe this is in the security interests of not only our region but also of the world.

“If there is one piece of international agreements on nuclear non-proliferation that is delivering, it has to be maintained. We are encouraging small and medium enterprises in particular to increase business with and in Iran as part of something [that] for us is a security priority.” Hours earlier, Trump had tweeted: “The Iran sanctions have officially been cast. These are the most biting sanctions ever imposed, and in November they ratchet up to yet another level. Anyone doing business with Iran will NOT be doing business with the United States. I am asking for WORLD PEACE, nothing less!”

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“Have the Saudis gone stark-raving bonkers?”

The Blowup With Canada Is the Latest Saudi Overreach (IC)

Have the Saudis gone stark-raving bonkers? First, they pick a fight with Canada — yeah, that Canada! Maple syrup-loving, hockey-playing, poutine-eating, liberal, multicultural Canada; the land with free health care and a prime minister who wears “Eid Mubarak” socks. On Sunday, Saudi Arabia (over)reacted to a single tweet from the Canadian foreign ministry. The tweet called on the Saudis to “immediately release” imprisoned activist Samar Badawi, sister of Raif, as well as “all other peaceful #humanrights activists.” The Saudi foreign ministry lambasted the Canadians for an “unfortunate, reprehensible, and unacceptable” statement, announced the “freezing of all new trade and investment transactions” with Canada, demanding the Canadian ambassador leave the country “within the next 24 hours.”

At the same time, Saudi trolls took to Twitter to declare their loud support for … Quebec’s independence. Who knew that an absolute Persian Gulf monarchy was so passionate about a French-speaking secessionist movement 6,000 miles away? (Hey, Canadian trolls — if you even exist — my advice would be to retaliate by offering Ottawa’s backing for independence in the restless, Shia-dominated Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. It’ll drive them totally nuts.) And Saudi Arabia was just getting started. On Monday, the kingdom escalated the row by suspending scholarships “for about 16,000 Saudi students” studying in Canada, the Toronto Star reported, “and ordered them to attend schools elsewhere.” (Can you think of a better example of biting your bigoted nose to spite your intolerant face?)

Then — and this is my favorite part of this whole bizarre episode — a Saudi group put out an image on Twitter of a Canadian airliner flying directly toward Toronto’s tallest building over a warning against interfering in others’ affairs. (The Saudi group later deleted it and apologized) Are. You. Kidding. Me?

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Destruction in its wake.

London Is The World’s Airbnb Capital (ZH)

10 years ago, in early August 2008, the website Airbedandbreakfast.com went online, marking the birth of Airbnb. Back then the three founders, Brian Cheky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk wanted to help short-term travelers find affordable accommodation and provide renters with an opportunity to make an extra buck by renting out spare rooms or even just the namesake airbed on the floor. However, as Statista’s Felix Richter notes, little did they know that 10 years later their little venture would be one of the hottest private companies in the world, valued at nearly $30 billion.

Over the years, Airbnb has developed into much more than what it was originally meant to be. These days you can rent millions of houses, apartments and rooms on the platform. For many young travelers is has become the favorite if not the only way to find accommodation when travelling. Luckily for Airbnb, its rise coincided with a steep increase in city tourism. In cities such as London, Paris or New York, where hotel rooms are often hard to find and/or expensive, Airbnb has become an affordable and popular way to experience cities in a less touristy way.

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Politicians can’t keep up with tech developments. They’re always late. They sit on their hands until someone else does something.

“..the red light district is no longer under government control at weekends. Criminals operate with impunity; the police can no longer protect citizens; ambulances struggle to reach victims on time.”

My Amsterdam Is Being Un-Created By Mass Tourism (G.)

The word on everyone’s lips is “Venice”. It starts as a whisper, some time in early spring, when the lines in front of the Rijksmuseum get a little longer, and the weekend shopping crowds in the Negen Straatjes begin to test your bike-navigation skills. By the time it’s July those streets are flooded. You don’t even try steering through the crowds. You’d be like Moses, except that God is not on your side, the Red Sea will not part in your favour, and the crowds will wash you away: the middle-aged couples from the US and Germany, here for the museums; and the stag parties from Spain, Italy and the UK, here in their epic attempt to drink all the beer and smoke all the pot.

So you learn to take the long way round to your destination and skip entire areas of Amsterdam – which nevertheless means that, perhaps once every summer, you’ll be down on the pavement after crashing into a distracted tourist who walked in front of your bike, and the whisper becomes a curse: “Fucking Venice!” (The Dutch like to swear in English.) “Venice”is shorthand for a city so flooded by tourists that it no longer feels like a city at all. In the famed 2013 Dutch documentary I Love Venice a tourist asks: “At what time does Venice close?” It’s very funny, except, of course, that it is not funny at all.

This year Amsterdam’s 850,000 inhabitants will see an estimated 18.5 million tourists flock to the city – up 11% on last year. By 2025, 23 million are expected. Last week the city’s ombudsman condemned the red light district as no longer under government control at weekends. Criminals operate with impunity; the police can no longer protect citizens; ambulances struggle to reach victims on time. [..] There are several ways to react. One is to leave town. A study shows that in the past five years 40% of couples relocated to smaller towns after their first child. Many feel this is no longer a city to raise kids.

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Hard to prove, I said it before. But a jury might decide anyway. Huge case, 5,000 more plaintiffs to come.

First Trial Alleging Monsanto’s Roundup Causes Cancer Goes To Jury (R.)

Groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson is one of more than 5,000 plaintiffs across the United States who claim Monsanto’s glyphosate-containing herbicides, including the widely-used Roundup, cause cancer. His case, the first to go to trial, began in San Francisco’s Superior Court of California four weeks ago. Johnson’s lawyer Brent Wisner on Tuesday urged jurors to hold Monsanto liable and punish them with a verdict he said would “actually change the world.” Wisner claimed Monsanto knew about glyphosate’s cancer risk, but decided to bury the information. Monsanto, a unit of Bayer following a $62.5 billion acquisition by the German conglomerate, denies the allegations and says expert testimony on which Johnson and others rely does not satisfy any scientific or legal requirements.

“The message of 40 years of scientific studies is clear: this cancer is not caused by glyphosate,” Monsanto’s lawyer George Lombardi said, according to an online broadcast of the trial by Courtroom View Network. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in September 2017 concluded a decades-long assessment of glyphosate risks and found the chemical not likely carcinogenic to humans. The World Health Organization’s cancer arm in 2015 classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” If it finds Monsanto liable, the jury can decide to award punitive damages on top of the more than $39 million in compensatory damages Johnson demanded. The jury is expected to start deliberating on Wednesday.

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All the Presidents’ lies.

The American Sea of Deception (TD)

U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt lied to Congress and the American people when he claimed that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was “unprovoked” by the U.S. and a complete “surprise” to the U.S. military. President Dwight Eisenhower flatly lied to the American people and the world when he denied the existence of American U-2 spy plane flights over Russia. President John F. Kennedy lied about the supposed missile gap between the United States and the Soviet Union. And Kennedy lied when he claimed that the United States sought democracy in Latin America, Southeast Asia and around the world. President Lyndon Johnson lied on Aug. 4, 1965, when he claimed that North Vietnam attacked U.S. Navy destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. This provided a false pretext for a massive escalation of the U.S. war on Vietnam, resulting in the deaths of more than 50,000 U.S. military personnel and millions of Southeast Asians.

Regarding Vietnam, Daniel Ellsberg recalled 17 years ago that his 1971 release of the Pentagon Papers exposed U.S. military and intelligence documents “proving that the government had long lied to the country. Indeed, the papers revealed a policy of concealment and quite deliberate deception from the Truman administration onward. … A generation of presidents,” Ellsberg noted, “chose to conceal from Congress and the public what the real policy was. …” President Richard Nixon lied about wanting peace in Vietnam (his agent, Henry Kissinger, actively undermined a peace accord with Hanoi before the 1968 election) and about respecting the neutrality of Cambodia. He lied through secrecy and omission about the criminal and fateful U.S. bombing of Cambodia—a far bigger crime than the burglarizing of the Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate complex, about which he of course famously lied.

The serial fabricator Ronald Reagan made a special address to the nation in which he lied by saying, “We did not—repeat—we did not trade weapons or anything else [to Iran] for hostages, nor will we.” President George H.W. Bush falsely claimed on at least five occasions in the run-up to the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War that Iraqi forces, after invading Kuwait, had pulled babies from incubators and left them to die.

President Bill Clinton shamelessly lied about his White House sexual shenanigans with Monica Lewinsky. He falsely claimed to be upholding international law and to be opposing genocide when he bombed Serbia for more than two months in early 1999. The serial liar George W. Bush and his administration infamously, openly and elaborately lied about Saddam Hussein’s alleged Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” and about Iraq’s purported links to al Qaida and the 9/11 jetliner attacks. After the WMD fabrication was exposed, Bush falsely claimed to have invaded Iraq to spread liberty and democracy.

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Aug 062018
 
 August 6, 2018  Posted by at 9:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vasily Polenov Étretat 1874

 

Stock Market Manias of the Past vs the Echo Bubble (Tenebrarum)
US Bond Market Takes Looming Treasuries Deluge In Stride (R.)
America 10 Years After The Financial Crisis (NYMag)
Nassim Taleb: ‘No One Who Caused The Crisis Paid Any Price’ (ST)
Fears Of A ‘Car-Crash Brexit’ Make Life Difficult For Mark Carney (G.)
Rich, Reckless Brexit Zealots Are Fighting A New Class War (G.)
Saudi Expels Canadian Envoy, Recalls Its Own Over ‘Interference’ (AFP)
Chinese State Media Slams Trump For ‘Extortion’ In Trade Dispute (R.)
Wells Fargo Blames Computer Glitch For Customers Losing Homes (Hill)
Russian Gas Is A Problem For Germany (R.)

 

 

Buybacks prop up ever weaker stocks.

Stock Market Manias of the Past vs the Echo Bubble (Tenebrarum)

The diverging performance of major US stock market indexes which has been in place since the late January peak in DJIA and SPX has become even more extreme in recent months. In terms of duration and extent it is one of the most pronounced such divergences in history. It also happens to be accompanied by weakening market internals, some of the most extreme sentiment and positioning readings ever seen and an ever more hostile monetary backdrop. The above combination is consistent with a market close to a major peak – although one must always keep in mind that divergences can become even more pronounced – as was for instance demonstrated on occasion of the technology sector blow-off in late 1999 – 2000.

Along similar lines, extremes in valuations can persist for a very long time as well and reach previously unimaginable levels. The Nikkei of the late 1980s is a pertinent example for this. Incidentally, the current stock buyback craze is highly reminiscent of the 1980s Japanese financial engineering method known as keiretsu or zaibatsu, as it invites the very same rationalizations. We recall vividly that it was argued in the 1980s that despite their obscene overvaluation, Japanese stocks could “never decline” because Japanese companies would prop up each other’s stocks. Today we often read or hear that overvalued US stocks cannot possibly decline because companies will keep propping up their own stocks with buybacks.

Of course this propping up of stock prices occurs amid a rather concerning deterioration in median corporate balance sheet strength, as corporate debt has exploded into the blue yonder (just as it did in Japan in the late 1980s). The fact that an unprecedented number of companies is a single notch downgrade away from a junk rating should give sleepless nights to fixed income and stock market investors alike – as should the oncoming “wall of maturities”. A giant wall of junk bond maturities is looming in the not to distant future. Unless investors remain in a mood to refinance all comers, this threatens to provide us with a spot of “interesting times”. Something tells us that “QT” could turn into a bit of a party pooper as the “Great Wall” approaches.

It should also be mentioned that past stock market peaks as a rule coincided with record highs in buybacks. This indicates that record highs in buybacks are mainly a contrarian indicator rather than a datum providing comfort at extreme points. Of course, what actually represents an “extreme point” can only ever be known with certainty in hindsight, as extremes tend to shift over time – particularly in a fiat money system in which the supply of money and credit can be expanded willy-nilly. What can be stated with certainty is only whether the markets are entering what we would call dangerous territory.

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But the Fed is retreating.

US Bond Market Takes Looming Treasuries Deluge In Stride (R.)

U.S. government debt supply will likely continue to boom, but bond market investors seem to be taking it in stride. The Treasury Department is having to sell more debt to finance the government’s ballooning deficit, stemming from the massive federal tax overhaul in December and the spending deal passed in February. Still, bond yields have remained in a narrow range, suggesting investors may not be fretting about the swelling debt supply. “There will be no relief from supply especially from bills going into October,” said Tom Simons, money market strategist at Jefferies & Co in New York. Supply is expected to run high at least until the Treasury provides updated forecasts on its borrowing needs, next due in November – and might even accelerate further.

This week, the Treasury will sell $34 billion in three-year notes, with $26 billion in 10-year debt on Wednesday and $18 billion in 30-year bonds on Thursday. It will also auction $51 billion in three-month bills and $45 billion in six-month bills, together with an expected $65 billion in one-month bills. The supply will fall short of a record week of $294 billion set in March but continues a trend higher since February. Analysts, who said the market would have no trouble digesting this week’s offerings, see the government as becoming increasingly dependent on private investors for cash as the Fed further reduces its bond holdings. The goal is to shrink a balance sheet that had grown to more than $4 trillion from three massive rounds of asset purchases to combat the previous recession.

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“That loose civic concept known as the American Dream [..] has been shattered.”

America 10 Years After The Financial Crisis (NYMag)

If you were standing in the smoldering ashes of 9/11 trying to peer into the future, you might have been overjoyed to discover this happy snapshot of 2018: There has been no subsequent major terrorist attack on America from Al Qaeda or its heirs. American troops are not committed en masse to any ground war. American workers are enjoying a blissful 4 percent unemployment rate. The investment class and humble 401(k) holders alike are beneficiaries of a rising GDP and booming stock market that, as measured by the Dow, is up some 250 percent since its September 10, 2001, close. The most admired person in America, according to Gallup, is the nation’s first African-American president, a man no one had heard of and a phenomenon no one could have imagined at the century’s dawn. Comedy, the one art whose currency is laughter, is the culture’s greatest growth industry. What’s not to like?

Plenty, as it turns out. The mood in America is arguably as dark as it has ever been in the modern era. The birthrate is at a record low, and the suicide rate is at a 30-year high; mass shootings and opioid overdoses are ubiquitous. In the aftermath of 9/11, the initial shock and horror soon gave way to a semblance of national unity in support of a president whose electoral legitimacy had been bitterly contested only a year earlier. Today’s America is instead marked by fear and despair more akin to what followed the crash of 1929, when unprecedented millions of Americans lost their jobs and homes after the implosion of businesses ranging in scale from big banks to family farms.

It’s not hard to pinpoint the dawn of this deep gloom: It arrived in September 2008, when the collapse of Lehman Brothers kicked off the Great Recession that proved to be a more lasting existential threat to America than the terrorist attack of seven Septembers earlier. The shadow it would cast is so dark that a decade later, even our current run of ostensible prosperity and peace does not mitigate the one conviction that still unites all Americans: Everything in the country is broken. Not just Washington, which failed to prevent the financial catastrophe and has done little to protect us from the next, but also race relations, health care, education, institutional religion, law enforcement, the physical infrastructure, the news media, the bedrock virtues of civility and community. Nearly everything has turned to crap, it seems, except Peak TV (for those who can afford it).

That loose civic concept known as the American Dream — initially popularized during the Great Depression by the historian James Truslow Adams in his Epic of America — has been shattered. No longer is lip service paid to the credo, however sentimental, that a vast country, for all its racial and sectarian divides, might somewhere in its DNA have a shared core of values that could pull it out of any mess. Dead and buried as well is the companion assumption that over the long term a rising economic tide would lift all Americans in equal measure. When that tide pulled back in 2008 to reveal the ruins underneath, the country got an indelible picture of just how much inequality had been banked by the top one percent over decades, how many false promises to the other 99 percent had been broken, and how many central American institutions, whether governmental, financial, or corporate, had betrayed the trust the public had placed in them. And when we went down, we took much of the West with us. The American Kool-Aid we’d exported since the Marshall Plan, that limitless faith in progress and profits, had been exposed as a cruel illusion.

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“If anything, banks today are even more on government support.”

Nassim Taleb: ‘No One Who Caused The Crisis Paid Any Price’ (ST)

A year or so after the 2008 crisis, Nassim Taleb, a financial trader turned bestselling author, was called to Washington to talk to a commission that was compiling a report on what went wrong. Taleb, after all, had predicted the crisis with eerie prescience in his 2007 book The Black Swan, which talked about the underappreciated “tail risks” faced by the global economy. “They heckled me for about two or three hours on technicalities,” he recalls. “But not a single one of my points was in the report. Bunch of f****** bureaucrats. No wonder people voted for Donald Trump.” Taleb believes we have learnt nothing from the crisis. “Not only did people not get why it happened,” he says, “but the moral hazard in the system actually increased.”

The problem, in Taleb’s view, is what he calls a “Bob Rubin trade”. In the build-up to the crash, Robert Rubin, a former Treasury secretary under Bill Clinton, spent years advising the investment bank Citigroup, eventually becoming its chairman. After the crash happened, he resigned and walked away having made tens of millions. “What’s most depressing is that nobody who was involved in causing the crisis paid any price for it,” Taleb says. “America’s debt is now trillions higher because people transferred risk to the state, owing to mistakes made by individuals.” The crisis highlighted the licence to take risk that banks had, knowing the government would step in if things went wrong.

“People realised that, hey, you can do that with impunity,” Taleb says. “If anything, banks today are even more on government support.” He does identify one bright spot. “Some people have realised there was a problem,” he says. “There is an immense amount of disgruntlement by people who see this point, on the left in Europe and on the right in America. “So you have what is mislabelled ‘populism’ as a first-order reaction, which may be correct or incorrect. But at least some people are starting to see these methods are bullshit.”

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Yet another variation of Brexit.

Fears Of A ‘Car-Crash Brexit’ Make Life Difficult For Mark Carney (G.)

There may be times when Mark Carney regrets extending his stint at the Bank of England by an extra year. Had things gone as originally planned, Carney would have handed over the keys to Threadneedle Street a month ago and someone else would have had the task of steering the economy through what is certain to be a fiendishly tricky period. That would be the case even without Brexit. The UK economy has recovered more slowly and more unevenly than Carney envisaged when he took over at the Bank from Mervyn King in 2013. It was only last week that the Bank’s monetary policy committee felt confident enough to raise interest rates above the 0.5% emergency level that they reached in March 2009.

But Brexit is taking up half the governor’s time and it is clear that he is starting to get concerned. Certainly, his remarks when questioned on the BBC Today programme on Friday were blunt. With just eight months to go before Britain leaves the European Union, the risk of a no-deal Brexit is “uncomfortably high”. There was a time when such plain speaking from the governor of the Bank of England would have raised a few eyebrows in Downing Street. Not now. The line since the cabinet signed up to Theresa May’s soft Brexit plan is that the government has made all the concessions it can, and that means unless Brussels gives something in return there is a danger of chaos next March.

So the prime minister would not have been troubled when Carney said that a no-deal Brexit would be “highly undesirable” and something all parties should seek to avoid, because that’s the official Whitehall line. There will be no complaints if the governor continues to stress the importance of London as a source of low-cost capital for European governments and companies.

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Britain reveals what it really is.

Rich, Reckless Brexit Zealots Are Fighting A New Class War (G.)

We now know it beyond doubt: however we leave the European Union, the result is likely to be damage that Britain is in no position to absorb. Job losses are certain. A stack of Brexit impact reports from local authorities obtained last week by Sky News identified a catalogue of dire consequences, from farms in Shetland that could be plunged into impossible losses, through social care services in East Sussex already being hit by labour shortages, to the M26 being turned into a giant lorry park. With his characteristic emollience, the trade secretary, Liam Fox, says a no-deal Brexit is now more likely than a negotiated deal; Jeremy Hunt reckons we could fall off the came cliff-edge “by accident”, and reports about stockpiled food and medicines attest to the awfulness of any such prospect.

March 2019, then, could well mark a watershed point in a drawn-out disaster. But so, in a different way, could somehow nullifying the result of the referendum and staying put. It would be comforting to think that what George Orwell called “the gentleness of the English civilisation” would mean that an overturning of 2016’s outcome would be grudgingly swallowed by the vast majority of leave voters, but I would not be so sure. Ukip is back in the polls, and has newly strengthened links to the far right. A couple of weeks ago, I was in Boston in Lincolnshire, the town whose 75.6% vote for Brexit made it the most leave-supporting place in the UK. Many of the people I spoke to were already convinced that Brexit was doomed, and full of talk of betrayal.

Some of what I heard was undeniably ugly, though much of it was based on an undeniable set of facts. People were asked to make a decision, and they did. The referendum was the one meaningful political event in millions of voters’ lifetimes, and we were all assured that its result would be respected. Whatever the noise about a second referendum, this is the fundamental reason why the likelihood of Brexit interrupted remains dim.

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Our best friends.

Saudi Expels Canadian Envoy, Recalls Its Own Over ‘Interference’ (AFP)

Saudi Arabia said Monday it was expelling the Canadian ambassador and had recalled its envoy while freezing all new trade, in protest at Ottawa’s vigorous calls for the release of jailed activists. The kingdom gave the Canadian ambassador 24 hours to leave the country, in an abrupt rupture of relations over what it slammed as “interference” in its internal affairs. The move, which underscores a newly aggressive foreign policy led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, comes after Canada demanded the immediate release of human rights campaigners swept up in a new crackdown. “The Canadian position is an overt and blatant interference in the internal affairs of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the Saudi foreign ministry tweeted.

“The kingdom announces that it is recalling its ambassador to Canada for consultation. We consider the Canadian ambassador to the kingdom persona non grata and order him to leave within the next 24 hours.” The ministry also announced “the freezing of all new trade and investment transactions with Canada while retaining its right to take further action”. Canada last week said it was “gravely concerned” over a new wave of arrests of women and human rights campaigners in the kingdom, including award-winning gender rights activist Samar Badawi. Samar was arrested along with fellow campaigner Nassima al-Sadah last week, the latest victims of what Human Rights Watch called an “unprecedented government crackdown on the women’s rights movement”.

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“street fighter-style deceitful drama of extortion and intimidation”.

Chinese State Media Slams Trump For ‘Extortion’ In Trade Dispute (R.)

Chinese state media on Monday lashed out at U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade policies in an unusually personal attack, even as they sought to reassure investors about the health of China’s economy as growth concerns roiled its financial markets. China’s strictly controlled news outlets have frequently rebuked the United States and the Trump administration as the trade conflict has escalated, but they have largely refrained from specifically targeting Trump.

The latest criticism from the overseas edition of the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper singled out Trump, saying he was starring in his own “street fighter-style deceitful drama of extortion and intimidation”. Trump’s desire for others to play along with his drama is “wishful thinking”, a commentary on the paper’s front page said, arguing that the United States had escalated trade friction with China and turned international trade into a “zero-sum game”. “Governing a country is not like doing business,” the paper said, adding that Trump’s actions imperiled the national credibility of the United States.

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So buy them new ones. But seriously, can anyone explain how Wells Fargo is still in business?

Wells Fargo Blames Computer Glitch For Customers Losing Homes (Hill)

Wells Fargo is blaming a computer glitch for more than 400 customers losing their homes between 2010 and 2015. The bank revealed in regulatory filings last week that the technological error resulted in 625 customers being denied loan modifications, and about 400 costumers having their houses foreclosed on, CNN Money reported on Friday. The filing says the bank has set aside $8 million to compensate the affected customers, it added. Wells Fargo apologized for the error and said in a statement that it is “providing remediation” to customers whose mortgages were affected, according to CNN.

The Treasury Department set up a program in 2009 to help Americans struggling to pay their mortgages, offering them the opportunity to apply for loan modifications, the network noted, adding that the computer error rejected applications from 625 Wells Fargo customers. A bank spokesperson told CNN that there is “not a clear, direct cause and effect relationship” between the error and foreclosures, but said some customers who were denied loan modifications lost their homes. Multiple government agencies are also probing Wells Fargo for its financing of low-income housing developments, Reuters reported. The embattled bank last week agreed to pay more than $2 billion to settle allegations related to offering subprime mortgages in the years before the 2008 financial crisis.

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Russia hysteria all over.

Russian Gas Is A Problem For Germany (R.)

For decades, the Friendship pipeline has delivered oil from Russia to Europe, heating German homes even in the darkest days of the Cold War. But a new pipeline that will carry gas direct from Russia under the Baltic Sea to Germany is doing rather less for friendship, driving a wedge between Germany and its allies and giving Chancellor Angela Merkel a headache. For U.S. President Donald Trump, Nord Stream 2 is a “horrific” pipeline that will increase Germany’s dependence on Russian energy. Ukraine, fighting Russian-backed separatists, fears the new pipeline will allow Moscow to cut it out of the lucrative and strategically crucial gas transit business.

It comes at an awkward time for Merkel. With the fraying of the transatlantic alliance and an assertive Russia and China, she has acknowledged that Germany must take more of a political leadership role in Europe. “The global order is under pressure,” Merkel said last month. “That’s a challenge for us … Germany’s responsibility is growing; Germany has more work to do.” In April she accepted for the first time that there were “political considerations” to Nord Stream 2, a project she had until then described as a commercial venture. Most European countries want Germany to do more to project European influence and protect eastern neighbors that are nervous of Russian encroachment.

But letting Russia sell gas to Germany while avoiding Ukraine does the opposite, depriving Kiev of transit revenues and making it, Poland and the Baltic states more vulnerable to cuts in gas supplies. “The price would be an even greater loss of trust from the Baltics, Poland and Ukraine,” said Roderich Kiesewetter, a Merkel ally on the parliamentary foreign affairs committee. “We Germans always say that holding the West together is our ‘center of gravity’, but the Russian approach has succeeded in dragging Germany, at least in terms of energy policy, out of this western solidarity.”

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Aug 032018
 
 August 3, 2018  Posted by at 7:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Ivan Aivazovsky The Galata tower by moonlight 1845

 

The Trump Administration Is Headed For A Gigantic Debt Headache (CNBC)
The First Company To Reach $1 Trillion In Market Value Was In China (CNBC)
Apple Becomes World’s First Trillion-Dollar Company (G.)
Ban Share Buybacks (Week)
Where Are the 17,000 Model 3 Cars Tesla “Produced” But Didn’t “Deliver”? (WS)
Middle-Class Americans Still Haven’t Recovered From Housing Bust (MW)
China Loses Spot As World’s No. 2 Stock Market to Japan (AFP)
Judge Rejects Suit Against Fox News Brought By Parents Of Seth Rich (NBC)
Saudi Arabia Planned To Invade Qatar Last Summer. Tillerson Intervened (IC)
Food Banks Appeal For Donations To Feed Children During School Holidays (G.)
Britain Heading Back To Pre-Victorian Days (G.)

 

 

Nobody seems to care much.

The Trump Administration Is Headed For A Gigantic Debt Headache (CNBC)

Swelling government debt levels are shaping up to be the biggest economic challenge for President Donald Trump, a problem that could spill into the stock market. This week’s Treasury Department announcement that it would have to increase the amount of bond auctions over the next three months was a low-key reminder that the government IOU is only getting bigger and will start influencing interest rates sooner rather than later. As more product comes to market, investors could be expected to demand higher yields to snap up all the supply. And those higher yields mean higher costs at a time when taxpayers already have shelled out nearly half a trillion dollars this year in debt service.

Put it all together and it raises questions about how long the spurt in economic growth will continue, what will happen the next time the economy falls into recession and what impact it all will have on financial markets. “We’re applauding strong growth — yet have no choice but to borrow the largest amount of money since the financial crisis a decade ago,” Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at The Economic Outlook Group, said in a note. “And that’s just the start, the US will [be] running trillion dollar deficits as far as the eye can see.” The total U.S. debt just passed the $21.3 trillion mark, of which $15.6 trillion is owed by the public.

The Treasury announced Wednesday that it will be adding $1 billion each to auctions of 2-, 3- and 5-year debt over the next three months, and $1 billion each for 7- and 10-year note and 30-year bond auctions in August. In addition, the department is issuing a new two-month note to help assure liquidity in the fixed income market. The changes will add $30 billion to the debt issuance for the quarter. On the overall, the Treasury said it expects to borrow $769 billion in the second half of the year, a projected 63% increase from 2017.

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So much for Apple then.

The First Company To Reach $1 Trillion In Market Value Was In China (CNBC)

Before Apple hit $1 trillion in market value Thursday, there was Chinese oil giant PetroChina, which reached the milestone more than a decade ago. It did not fare too well after that. PetroChina’s market cap hit $1 trillion in 2007 following a successful debut on the Shanghai Stock Exchange on Nov. 5 of that year. The company’s Shanghai-listed shares nearly tripled at the open that day, with its Hong Kong-listed shares following them higher. (It had debuted on the Hong Kong exchange years earlier.) The rise gave the company a market cap of $1.1 trillion on both the Shanghai and Hong Kong exchanges.

According to Reuters, PetroChina’s opening price in Shanghai valued the company at 60 times analysts’ forecasts for its 2007 earnings per share, above the global average of 18 times for oil companys at the time. It was all downhill from there, however. PetroChina’s market value plummeted to less than $260 billion by the end of 2008, representing the largest destruction of shareholder wealth in world history, according to Bloomberg. Blame the financial crisis and a collapse in oil prices. When PetroChina made its debut in 2007 brent crude prices were at one point, above $140 a barrel. Today they are about half that.

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This piece cites PetroChina, but says not enough shares were outstanding. But Apple’s outstanding shares shrank a lot as well, because of buybacks.

Apple Becomes World’s First Trillion-Dollar Company (G.)

Apple became the world’s first trillion-dollar public company on Thursday, as a rise in its share price pushed it past the landmark valuation. The iMac to iPhone company, co-founded to sell personal computers by the late Steve Jobs in 1976, reached the historic milestone as its shares hit $207.05, the day after it posted strong financial results. Apple’s share price has grown 2,000% since Tim Cook replaced Jobs as chief executive in 2011. The company hit a $1tn market capitalisation 42 years after Apple was founded and 117 years after US Steel became the first company to be valued at $1bn in 1901. It means Apple’s stock market value is more than a third the size of the UK economy and larger than the economies of Turkey and Switzerland.

While energy company PetroChina was cited as the world’s first trillion-dollar company after its 2007 flotation, the valuation is considered unreliable because only 2% of the company was released for public trading. Saudi Arabia’s national oil company Saudi Aramco could be worth up to $2tn upon its planned stock market float but the value is yet to be tested. This week’s rise in Apple’s share price was powered by quarterly financial results released on Tuesday that were better than Wall Street had expected. The tech giant racked up profits of $11.5bn in three months on the back of record sales that hit $53.3bn, pushing shares of the iPhone giant higher and easing the value of the company up from $935bn towards $1tn (£770bn).

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Ryan Cooper focuses on lower wages as a result of buybacks. I would go for the death of price discovery. Apple may be ‘worth’ one trillion, but it has a $100 billion buybacks war chest. That’s 10%. So what is it really worth.

Ban Share Buybacks (Week)

American corporations are simply raking in profits. Some are so bloated and cash-rich they literally can’t figure out what to do with it all. Apple, for instance, is sitting on nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars — and that’s down a bit from earlier this year. Microsoft and Google, meanwhile, were sitting on “only” $132 billion and $63 billion respectively (as of March this year). However, American corporations in general are taking those profits and kicking them out to shareholders, mainly in the form of share buybacks. These are when a corporation uses profits, cash, or borrowed money to buy its own stock, thus increasing its price and the wealth of its shareholders. (Big Tech is doing this as well, just not fast enough to draw down their dragon hoards.)

As a new joint report from the Roosevelt Institute and the National Employment Law Project by Katy Milani and Irene Tung shows, from 2015 to 2017 corporations spent nearly 60% of their net profits on buybacks. This practice should be banned immediately, as it was before the Reagan administration. The most immediately objectionable consequence of share buybacks is they come at the expense of wages. Milani and Tung calculate that if buybacks spending had been funneled into wage increases, McDonald’s employees could get a raise of $4,000; those at Starbucks could get $8,000; and those at Lowes, Home Depot, and CVS could get an eye-popping $18,000.

Some economists are skeptical of this reasoning, arguing that wages are set according to labor market conditions. But if you set aside free market dogmatism, it is beyond obvious that this sort of behavior is coming at workers’ expense. Wall Street bloodsuckers are not at all subtle about it, screaming bloody murder and tanking stocks every time a public company proposes paying workers instead of shareholders. Indeed, it provides a highly convincing explanation for something that has been puzzling analysts for months: the situation of wages continuing to stagnate or decline while unemployment is at 4%. The answer is that wages are low in large part because the American corporate structure has been rigged in favor of shareholders and executives.

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And Tesla was up 16% yesterday?!

Where Are the 17,000 Model 3 Cars Tesla “Produced” But Didn’t “Deliver”? (WS)

Tesla never ceases to astound with its hype and promises and with its results that are just mindboggling, including today when it reported its Q2 “earnings” – meaning a net loss of $718 million, its largest net loss ever in its loss-drenched history spanning over a decade. It was more than double its record loss a year ago: The small solitary green bump in Q3 2016 wasn’t actually some kind of operational genius that suddenly set in for a brief period. No, Tesla sold $139 million in taxpayer-funded pollution credits to other companies, which allowed it to show a profit of $22 million. Tesla adheres strictly to a business model that is much appreciated by the stock market: The more it sells, the more money it loses.

Total revenues – automotive and energy combined – rose 43% year-over-year to $4.0 billion in Q2. This increase in revenues was bought with a 113% surge in net losses. When losses surge over twice as fast as revenues, it’s not the light at the end of the tunnel you’re seeing. In between the lines of its earnings report, Tesla also confirmed the veracity of the many videos and pictures circulating on the internet that show huge parking lots filled with thousands of brand-new, Model 3 vehicles, unsold, undelivered, perhaps unfinished, waiting for some sort of miracle, perhaps needing more work, more parts, or additional testing before they can be sold, if they can be sold.

But these thousands of vehicles were nevertheless “factory gated,” as Tesla said, to hit the 5,000 a week production goal. And so they’re unfinished and cannot be delivered but are outside the factory gate, and Tesla didn’t totally lie about its “production” numbers. Now it put a number on these “produced” but undelivered vehicles: 12,571 in Q2 on top of the 4,497 in Q1, for a total of 17,000 vehicles sitting in parking lots.

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Wealth transfer.

Middle-Class Americans Still Haven’t Recovered From Housing Bust (MW)

A new study by the Opportunity and Growth Institute at the Minneapolis Fed found that the housing boom and bust made middle-class Americans poorer but boosted wealth for the richest 10%, widening the income and wealth gap substantially. Authors of the paper examined the relationship between incomes and asset prices over the past 70 years, concluding that rising and falling housing and stock markets have been the main drivers of wealth inequality. In the simplest model, the authors wrote, how fast wealth accumulates should be a function of how fast incomes rise. But incomes played only a minor role in wealth distributions in postwar America. Instead, wealth accumulation for most Americans was driven by booming home prices over the past several decade until 2007.

[..] ..real incomes of middle-class Americans rose by a third between 1970 and 2007, or less than 1% a year, while incomes of the bottom half have been largely stagnant since about 1970. Incomes for the top 10%, meanwhile, have doubled over the same period. Incomes for the bottom 90% have stagnant over the past 10 years. On the wealth distribution side, however, the poor became poorer, while the rich became richer after the financial crisis. Up until 2007, middle class Americans saw their wealth increase at the same rate as their wealthy counterparts, rising 140% over 40 years. Incomes for households in the bottom half doubled from 1971 until 2007—all thanks to booming house prices.

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Perspective: “Chinese stocks were worth $6.09 trillion, compared with $6.17 trillion in Japan. The US market is worth $31 trillion.”

China Loses Spot As World’s No. 2 Stock Market to Japan (AFP)

China’s stock market has been overtaken as the world’s second-biggest by Japan’s, having been swiped this year by the threat of a trade war with the United States and slowing economic growth. Data from Bloomberg News in intra-day trade on Friday showed the value of equities on the mainland had slipped behind those in their neighbouring country for the first time since taking the number-two spot in 2014. The figures showed Chinese stocks were worth $6.09 trillion, compared with $6.17 trillion in Japan. The US market is worth $31 trillion. While global markets have been broadly hit by fears of a trade war between the world’s top two economies, Chinese equities are among the worst performers this year, with the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index slumping more than 16% since the start of January.

The pressure was ratcheted up this week when the White House said it was considering more than doubling threatened tariffs on a range of Chinese imports worth $200 billion. Washington has already imposed tariffs on $34 billion worth of goods and is considering hitting another $16 billion in the coming weeks. “Losing the ranking to Japan is the damage caused by the trade war,” Banny Lam, head of research at CEB International Investment in Hong Kong, told Bloomberg News. “The Japan equity gauge is relatively more stable around the current level but China’s market cap has slumped from its peak this year.”

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But what really happened? Julian Assange knows. Kim Dotcom knows.

Judge Rejects Suit Against Fox News Brought By Parents Of Seth Rich (NBC)

A New York judge has rejected a lawsuit brought against Fox News by the parents of a Democratic National Committee employee killed in 2016. In a ruling Thursday, U.S. District Judge George Daniels said he understood Joel and Mary Rich might feel that the tragic death of their son was exploited for political purposes, but that the lawsuit lacked specific instances of wrongdoing necessary to proceed to trial. In the March lawsuit, the parents said that Fox News turned the death of their son, Seth Rich, into a “political football” by claiming he had leaked DNC emails to Wikileaks during the presidential campaign. The 27-year-old Rich was killed in what Washington police believe was a random robbery attempt. The judge also dismissed a related suit by a private investigator.

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Nice twist.

Saudi Arabia Planned To Invade Qatar Last Summer. Tillerson Intervened (IC)

Thirteen hours before Secretary of State Rex Tillerson learned from the presidential Twitter feed that he was being fired, he did something that President Donald Trump had been unwilling to do. Following a phone call with his British counterpart, Tillerson condemned a deadly nerve agent attack in the U.K., saying that he had “full confidence in the U.K.’s investigation and its assessment that Russia was likely responsible.” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders had called the attack “reckless, indiscriminate, and irresponsible,” but stopped short of blaming Russia, leading numerous media outlets to speculate that Tillerson was fired for criticizing Russia.

But in the months that followed his departure, press reports strongly suggested that the countries lobbying hardest for Tillerson’s removal were Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both of which were frustrated by Tillerson’s attempts to mediate and end their blockade of Qatar. One report in the New York Times even suggested that the UAE ambassador to Washington knew that Tillerson would be forced out three months before he was fired in March. The Intercept has learned of a previously unreported episode that stoked the UAE and Saudi Arabia’s anger at Tillerson and that may have played a key role in his removal. In the summer of 2017, several months before the Gulf allies started pushing for his ouster, Tillerson intervened to stop a secret Saudi-led, UAE-backed plan to invade and essentially conquer Qatar, according to one current member of the U.S. intelligence community and two former State Department officials, all of whom declined to be named, citing the sensitivity of the matter.

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A nation that refuses to feed its children.

Food Banks Appeal For Donations To Feed Children During School Holidays (G.)

Calls have been made for the public to donate to their local food bank during the summer holidays owing to increasing demand from families who rely on free school meals during term time. The Trussell Trust, an anti-poverty charity, said an increase in food bank use over the summer was driven by a rise in demand by children, as it released figures from its network of more than 420 food banks across the country. While the number of adults seeking supplies from food banks during the summer months decreased in 2017, the number of children needing support shot up. During July and August 2017, food banks provided more than 204,525 three-day emergency supplies, 74,011 of which went to children. In the preceding two months, 70,510 supplies went to children. The number of adults seeking help from food banks fell from 131,521 in May and June to 130,514 in July and August.

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“..a billionaire’s flat in Knightsbridge costs just £1,421 a year, while a shop on the floor below can pay £244,000 in business rates.”

Britain Heading Back To Pre-Victorian Days (G.)

Is Northamptonshire Britain’s first banana republic? This once lovely county, much of it now a waste of wind turbines and warehouses, is close to bankruptcy. It must sack staff, freeze pay, close two-thirds of its libraries and stop all bus subsidies. It faces default on its statutory duty to public health, children in care and the elderly. While much of this is due to mismanagement, the National Audit Office says that 15 other counties, believed to include Somerset and Surrey, are in similar straits. Years of austerity are coming home to roost – and where least expected, among the rich shires. What is going on? Local councils cannot do what central government can do, which is tax and borrow to meet need.

Each year Whitehall spends more. It can tip money into the NHS and triple-lock pensions – good causes both – as well as vanity projects such as aircraft carriers, high-speed trains and nuclear power stations. Councils have no such discretion. Since 2010 their spending has shrunk by over a third, with central government grants slashed by as much as NHS spending has risen. 95% of British taxation is controlled by the centre, against 60% in France and 50% in the US. Yet local spending must pick up the casualties of the welfare state – vulnerable children, elderly and infirm people. It must fund the day centres, youth clubs, care homes and visits to problem families. To do so, services that most modern communities expect from government must now be butchered, such as parks, libraries and museums.

Local, not national, austerity is sending Britain back to pre-Victorian days. The solution is swift and easy. The government should uncap local taxes, free local spending, and allow local people to pay for what they want. It was how local government ran, perfectly well, up to the early 1980s. In most other countries it is still regarded as a normal feature of democracy. At present Britain’s meagre local revenue derives from a regressive household tax fixed on 1991 property valuations, which no government (except in Wales) has had the guts to revalue. Thus a billionaire’s flat in Knightsbridge costs just £1,421 a year, while a shop on the floor below can pay £244,000 in business rates. It is no surprise that the former goes to the council, and much of the latter is paid to central government.

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 July 1, 2018  Posted by at 8:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Giuseppe Leone Ragusa Sicily 1953

 

US Dollar Hegemony Tripped Up by Chinese Renminbi? Um, No (WS)
Even Eva Peron Would Be Crying… (ZH)
No Chance Of Brexit Deal By October Says EU (Ind.)
VW CEO Says Arrest Of Audi’s Stadler Hard To Comprehend (R.)
Trump Claims Saudi Arabia Has Agreed To Boost Oil Production Amid Turmoil (G.)
Trump Ally Giuliani Says End Is Near For Iran’s Rulers (R.)
The EU Is Killing Our Democratic Spaces Using Copyright As A Trojan Horse (OD)
Angela Merkel Secures Asylum Seeker Return Deals With 14 EU Countries (Ind.)
Hungary, Poland & Czech Republic Deny Sealing Migrant Deal With Merkel (RT)
EU’s New Refugee Policy Under Fire As Children Stuck In Limbo In Niger (G.)
End Of The Bailouts And Onto A Path To A New Bankruptcy (Economides)
Deluge Of Electronic Waste Turning Thailand Into ‘World’s Rubbish Dump’ (G.)
Bayer-Monsanto Partnership Signals Death Knell for Humanity (Bridge)

 

 

Rumors about the demise of the dollar are greatly…

US Dollar Hegemony Tripped Up by Chinese Renminbi? Um, No (WS)

Global central banks are not dumping US-dollar-denominated assets from their foreign exchange reserves. They’re not dumping euro-denominated assets either. And they remain leery of the Chinese renminbi – despite China’s place as the second largest economy in the world and despite all the hoopla of turning the renminbi into a major global reserve currency. This is clear from the IMF’s just released “Currency Composition of Official Foreign Exchange Reserves” (COFER) data for the first quarter 2018. The IMF is very stingy with what it discloses. The COFER data for each individual country – each country’s specific holdings of reserve currencies – is “strictly confidential.” But it does disclose the global allocation of each major currency.

In Q1 2018, total global foreign exchange reserves, including all currencies, rose 6.3% year-over-year, or by $878 billion, to $11.59 trillion, within the upper range of the past three years (from $10.7 trillion in Q4 2016 to $11.8 trillion in Q3, 2014). For reporting purposes, the IMF converts all currency balances into US dollars. This data was for Q1. The dollar bottomed out in the middle of the quarter and has since been rising. US-dollar-denominated assets among foreign exchange reserves continued to dominate in Q1 at $6.5 trillion, or 62.5% of “allocated” reserves (more on this “allocated” in a moment).

[..] The RMB is the thin red sliver in the pie chart below with a share of just 1.39% of allocated foreign exchange reserves. Minuscule as it is, it is the highest share ever, up from 1.2% in Q4 2017. In other words, its inclusion in the SDR basket hasn’t exactly performed miracles as central banks seem to remain leery of it and have not yet displayed any kind of eagerness to hold RMB-denominated assets.

[..] Note the term “allocated” reserves. Not all central banks disclose to the IMF how their overall foreign exchange reserves are allocated by specific currency. But over the years, more and more central banks have disclosed their holdings to the IMF, and the mystery portion has been shrinking. Back in Q4 2014, unallocated reserves – the undisclosed mystery portion – accounted for 41% of total reserves. In Q1, only 10.3% of the reserves remained undisclosed. [..] folks who’ve been eagerly anticipating “the death of the dollar” or similar scenarios will have to be very patient.

Since 1965, the dollar’s share has fluctuated sharply, and the current share of 62.5% remains in the middle of the range. The chart below shows the dollar’s share at year-end for each of the past 52 years, plus for Q1 2018. Note its low point in 1991 with a share of 46%. And note that the Financial Crisis made no visible dent:

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Don’t cry 4-3 Argentina.

Even Eva Peron Would Be Crying… (ZH)

The last 24 hours have not been great for Argentina. First – despite endless jawboning about The IMF bailout and how it will secure the nation’s future and enable reforms, the currency collapsed to a new record low on Friday…

Second – the central bank decided to step in with their newly minted IMF funds and blew over a billion dollars to buy pesos, managing a very modest bounce (but ARS still closed down 3% on the day)

Third – IMF officials spoke with Argentina’s union leaders, warning of the social impact of the ongoing disruptions. IMF spokesman Raphael Anspach confirmed Werner and Cardarelli’s participation in the call, which “reiterated the main elements of the IMF support to the government’s economic plans, including the measures aimed at supporting the most vulnerable in Argentine society.” And union officials told the media that The IMF was not worried about the ongoing collapse: “They are betting on a virtuous behavior by private investors, with the economy falling in the third and fourth quarters of 2018, but rebounding 1.5% in the first quarter of 2019” “They were not worried about the flight of capital”

Fourth, and finally, and perhaps worst of all – Argentina is now out of The World Cup. A nation mourns.

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The British people don’t seem to have a clue what this means.

No Chance Of Brexit Deal By October Says EU (Ind.)

EU negotiators have abandoned all hope that a Brexit deal will be signed with the UK at October’s European Council summit, The Independent has learned. Brussels officials said a complete standstill in talks with Britain means securing settlements on major outstanding issues in the remaining three-and-a-half months is fanciful. They point to the political logjam in Theresa May’s government as the obstacle blocking negotiations, piling pressure on the prime minister to break the deadlock this week. She is set to meet her full cabinet on Friday at Chequers for a meeting that may go late into the night, in a bid to finally thrash out the government’s approach to post-Brexit relations with the EU.

The EU officials were speaking after last week’s European Council summit which saw the bloc focus on tackling immigration from north Africa, while warning Ms May that time to secure a deal is now running out. One Brussels insider said: “There is no hope really for October now. We don’t know exactly what she is asking for yet, so how can there be? “First the UK needs to decide what it wants, then there needs to be a discussion here and even if it is acceptable, there are processes that have to take place first before everyone agrees to move forward.” Another source close to the European Commission told The Independent: “Now we are looking at December as a more likely option, but there are questions about how much time that leaves for the deal to be ratified in time before March.”

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VW owns Audi.

VW CEO Says Arrest Of Audi’s Stadler Hard To Comprehend (R.)

The CEO of Volkswagen, Herbert Diess, told a German newspaper the arrest of Audi head Rupert Stadler was a shock and hard to comprehend. VW has suspended Stadler, head of VW’s most profitable brand, after German authorities arrested him as part of an emissions probe. “It was a massive shock for me. The arrest of a CEO of a major car brand: that’s never happened before,” Diess told Germany newspaper Bild am Sonntag. “The arrest is hard to comprehend. I knew Rupert Stadler as a problem solver,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.

Diess said that for him, Stadler was innocent until proven guilty. Stadler, who has not made any public comment, has not been charged and prosecutors are set to continue questioning him next week. Asked whether he could imagine Stadler returning, Diess said it depended on what facts emerge: “Should the accusations of the state prosecutors prove to be true, then it’s a clear decision.”

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2 millions barrels a day in spare capacity? Don’t think so. He may have to ask Putin to join in.

Trump Claims Saudi Arabia Has Agreed To Boost Oil Production Amid Turmoil (G.)

Donald Trump said on Saturday he had received assurances from King Salman of Saudi Arabia that the kingdom would increase oil production “maybe up to 2,000,000 barrels”, in response to turmoil in Iran and Venezuela. Saudi Arabia acknowledged the call took place, but mentioned no production targets. Trump wrote on Twitter that he had asked the king in a phone call to increase oil production “to make up the difference … Prices to [sic] high! He has agreed!” A little over an hour later, the state-run Saudi Press Agency acknowledged the call, but offered few details. “During the call, the two leaders stressed the need to make efforts to maintain the stability of oil markets and the growth of the global economy,” the statement said.

It added that there also was an understanding that oil-producing countries would need “to compensate for any potential shortage of supplies”. It did not elaborate. Oil prices have edged higher as the Trump administration has pushed US allies to end all purchases of oil from Iran. Prices have also risen given ongoing unrest in Venezuela, as well as with fighting in Libya over control of that country’s oil infrastructure. Last week, members of the OPEC cartel led by Saudi Arabia agreed to pump 1m barrels more crude oil per day, a move that should help contain the recent rise in global energy prices. However, summer months in the US usually lead to increased demand for oil, which would push up the price of gasoline in a midterm election year. A gallon of regular gasoline sold on average in the US for $2.85, up from $2.23 a gallon last year.

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But Putin.

Trump Ally Giuliani Says End Is Near For Iran’s Rulers (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump will suffocate Iran’s “dictatorial ayatollahs”, his close ally Rudy Giuliani said on Saturday, suggesting his move to re-impose sanctions was aimed squarely at regime change. The former New York mayor who is now Trump’s personal lawyer, was addressing a conference of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an umbrella bloc of opposition groups in exile that seek an end to Shi’ite Muslim clerical rule in Iran. “I can’t speak for the president, but it sure sounds like he doesn’t think there is much of a chance of a change in behavior unless there is a change in people and philosophy,” Giuliani told Reuters in an interview.

“We are the strongest economy in the world … and if we cut you off then you collapse,” he said, pointing to protests in Iran. In May, Trump withdrew the United States from a 2015 international deal to curb Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting some sanctions. Trump supporters have spoken at NCRI events in the past, including national security adviser John Bolton, who, before taking his post at the same conference last July, told the group’s members they would be ruling Iran before 2019 and their goal should be regime change. Bolton said in May that the administration’s policy was to make sure Iran never got nuclear weapons and not regime change.

In Tehran, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Trump would fail in any attempt to turn the Iranian people against the ruling system. “They bring to bear economic pressure to separate the nation from the system … but six U.S. presidents before him (Trump) tried this and had to give up,” Khamenei said on his website.

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From DiEM 25 members: “..a tool to control speech, expression, criticism and increase the surveillance levels imposed on all EU citizens.

The EU Is Killing Our Democratic Spaces Using Copyright As A Trojan Horse (OD)

Europe was one of the regions that connected massively to the Internet. Not only that, it was one of the few adopting literacy and inclusion programs early enough on to unleash the power of connected citizens, showing them how to create new business models and improve education but also how to express themselves, create, organize and protest. But alarmingly, the European Parliament is on the verge of a dramatic change of direction. The EU has recently embarked on a new mission: controlling the Internet through the monopoly of copyright. This attempt to reform and control the Internet has not received half the attention it deserves.

As Julia Reda, MEP for the Pirate Party, has explained, the current project of EU legislation would impose automatic filters that control ANY content that anyone wants to upload. The reason would be the protection of copyright, a monopoly right that primarily benefits large media behemoths, without any possibility of advance verification. You read that right: the EU wants to put in place a global censorship machine, on the basis of unverifiable monopoly rights, mostly held by large media corporations. In DiEM25, we do not see this as just an outdated law, isolated from current politics. Indeed, that is precisely what is most worrying about it.

We cannot see it as unconnected to the big push in Europe by authoritarian leaders wanting to restrict, to truly shrink the spaces of civil society. Increasing censorship online will reduce the ability of citizens to say what they think, filtering content before it is published. This will not only harm speech but increase surveillance and the meting out of punishments for things we say online. This is combined with all the existing online state surveillance already endured by EU citizens, which remains as powerful as ever. With dismay, we are witnessing now an open boycott of the democratic achievement of a connected Europe. The European Parliament Legal Committee has just given the green light to a law that will be a tool to control speech, expression, criticism and increase the surveillance levels imposed on all EU citizens.

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It’s all and only about Save Angela now. Not about the refugees.

Angela Merkel Secures Asylum Seeker Return Deals With 14 EU Countries (Ind.)

Angela Merkel has reportedly secured agreements with 14 European Union countries to rapidly return some asylum seekers arriving in Germany. The chancellor is seeking to end a divide in her coalition government over a migration policy that has attracted ire from immigration hardliners. Ms Merkel has said she also wants to establish “anchor centres” to process migrants at Germany’s borders, the DPA news agency reported on Saturday. The announcements came in a letter Ms Merkel wrote to leaders of her Christian Democratic Union’s Bavaria-only sister party, the Christian Social Union, as well as to her junior coalition government partner, the Social Democrats, after she attended a two-day EU summit in Brussels.

Ms Merkel on Friday came away from an EU summit with agreements from Greece and Spain to take back migrants previously registered in those countries, and an overall agreement by the 28-nation bloc to ease the pressures of migration into Europe. In the eight-page letter obtained Saturday by DPA, the chancellor said that she had also secured agreement with half of the EU nations to return migrants to them if they had first registered in those countries. The countries included Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, which have all been harsh critics of Ms Merkel’s welcoming stance to migrants, as well as Belgium, France, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden.

In addition, the chancellor threw her support behind establishing large collection centres in Germany for migrants as their cases are processed. DPA reported the centres would be used for migrants who attempt to bypass border controls and for those whose cases don’t fall under bilateral return agreements.

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And so she stretches the truth a little here and there. Save Angela.

Hungary, Poland & Czech Republic Deny Sealing Migrant Deal With Merkel (RT)

Three EU countries have denied reaching any final agreement with Germany on the return of migrants to the country of entry, despite Angela Merkel’s claim she’d received “political consent” from 14 EU nations to strike such a deal. “No such deal has been reached,” spokesman for Hungary’s government Zoltan Kovacs said, adding that Budapest has repeatedly rejected German attempts to “return” migrants to their first country of entry into the EU. Similar statements have been produced by Poland and the Czech Republic, which also denied reaching any agreements on the matter. “There are no any new agreements regarding the reception of asylum seekers from EU countries, we confirm (that), like the Czech Republic and Hungary,” Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Artur Lompart said.

Earlier on Saturday, media reported that, during the EU summit, 14 European countries, including some outspoken opponents of German Chancellor’s ‘open door’ policy, had allegedly “consented on a political level” to make a deal on taking migrants back. The document on the deal has been sent by Merkel to her coalition partners, according to Reuters. “At the moment, Dublin repatriations from Germany succeed in only 15% of cases,” the document says, as quoted by Reuters. “We will sign administrative agreements with various member states… to speed the repatriation process and remove obstacles.”

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But Save Angela.

EU’s New Refugee Policy Under Fire As Children Stuck In Limbo In Niger (G.)

Stop people in Africa, before they get anywhere near the Mediterranean, and sort them into refugees and migrants there, only allowing the refugees to continue to Europe. This was the big idea that came out of last week’s EU migration summit. But campaigners say the predicament of 260 children stuck in limbo in Niger demonstrates that there is no guarantee EU countries would eventually take the refugees, even if African countries agreed to this arrangement. In November, amid horrific tales of Africans being enslaved, imprisoned and tortured in Libya, Niger agreed to act as a halfway house for refugees that UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, had identified and could get out.

Evacuated from detention camps in Libya, the unaccompanied minors are among 1,200 people waiting in Niger for resettlement. Mainly aged 14 to 17, they were all in detention, and most are deeply traumatised by the violence they experienced and witnessed there. But so far no country has agreed to take them. “In Europe we have been talking a lot about legal pathways,” said UNHCR’s representative in Niger, Alessandra Morelli. “If we want to combat trafficking, if people in need of international protection, who fit the profile of asylum seekers, get out of that flow, I have to offer an alternative. Otherwise, what are we talking about here? But when I take them out I have no alternative. You see? This is our fight.” About 54,000 refugees and asylum seekers have been identified in Libya, but no more can leave until the 1,200 in Niger have been processed.

[..] One aspect of the migration deal reached on Friday looked to fall apart before it had even begun: four European countries – Austria, France, Germany and Italy – said they would not open “controlled centres” to assess asylum claims of people who had been rescued from the Mediterranean. At the same time they are asking some of the world’s poorest and least secure countries to do what Europe will not.

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“Is there a solution for Greece? Yes, but it is in quite the opposite direction of the EU and IMF plans this far.”

End Of The Bailouts And Onto A Path To A New Bankruptcy (Economides)

Last week’s Eurogroup set up the final conditions for the end of the third Greek bailout program in August. Since 2010, Greece has borrowed 275 billion euros from European Union countries and the IMF. Greece also shed 100 billion euros of private debt in an agreement with the borrowers in 2012. However, present debt is still over 300 billion euros for an economy of officially 185 billion GDP (plus 30% unaccounted illegal income). Thus, debt to gross domestic product remains extremely high. Even though the borrowing is over, the EU and the IMF have imposed new long-term austerity conditions on the Greek economy, including additional sharp pension decreases and the requirement that Greece produces a 3.5% of GDP budget surplus.

To achieve this, the government has imposed skyrocketing taxes including a 24% value-added tax (and plans to increase taxes to those making as little as 6,000 euros a year). Taxes suck out all the extra cash businesses and people have. Investment has plummeted, and consumption is 25% lower than a few years ago. Unemployment is at 23% but this number is misleadingly low because those working only two days a week are considered employed. With huge taxes and a business-unfriendly bureaucracy, Greece is unlikely to attract investment and will not achieve fast growth. Without growth, the country will be unable to pay back its debt in full despite a 10-year postponement of maturities on one-third of its debt granted by the EU last Thursday.

[..] Is there a solution for Greece? Yes, but it is in quite the opposite direction of the EU and IMF plans this far. Greece needs to achieve fast growth, 4-5% per year, for five years, and start paying its debt after that. To achieve high growth, the country needs to abandon the multi-year 3.5% surplus target for the much more reasonable 1.5-2% target. With lower surpluses, lower taxes and less bureaucracy, Greece will be able to attract investment and realize high growth. Once it has achieved high growth and its economy has expanded, only then will Greece start paying its debt, and it will be able to pay its debt in full over time.

Instead, the EU/IMF plan forces the country to create huge surpluses when its economy is hurting, thereby driving it in a downward spiral. Imposing the requirement of large surpluses now is catastrophic and forces Greece to take a path of low or zero growth and misery. Greece will never be able to pay back its debt in full on this path.

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They seem to be waking up. But then it’ll all just go to a poorer place.

Deluge Of Electronic Waste Turning Thailand Into ‘World’s Rubbish Dump’ (G.)

At a deserted factory outside Bangkok, skyscrapers made from vast blocks of crushed printers, Xbox components and TVs tower over black rivers of smashed-up computer screens. This is a tiny fraction of the estimated 50m tonnes of electronic waste created just in the EU every year, a tide of toxic rubbish that is flooding into south-east Asia from the EU, US and Japan. Thailand, with its lax environmental laws, has become a dumping ground for this e-waste over the past six months, but authorities are clamping down, fearful that the country will become the “rubbish dump of the world”. The global implications could be enormous.

A factory visited by the Guardian in Samut Prakan province, south of Bangkok, which was recently shut down in a raid for operating illegally, illustrated the mammoth scale of the problem. Printers made by Dell and HP, Daewoo TVs and Apple computer drives were stacked sky-high next to precarious piles of compressed keyboards, routers and copy machines. Labels showed the waste had mainly come from abroad. For locals, it is unclear why Thailand should be taking this waste. The Samut Prakan factory sits in the middle of hundreds of shrimp farms and there were concerns it was poisoning the landscape, with no environmental protections or oversight in place.

Until the beginning of this year, China was a willing recipient of the world’s electronic waste, which it recycled in vast factories. According to the UN, 70% of all electronic waste was ending up in China. But in January, having calculated that the environmental impact far outweighed the short-term profit, China closed its gates to virtually all foreign rubbish. It has prompted something of a global crisis, not just for e-waste but plastic waste as well. Asian nations such as Thailand, Laos and Cambodia stepped in. Chinese businessmen have set about attempting to open about 100 plastic and e-waste recycling plants across Thailand since January.

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“Like a Hollywood villain falling into a crucible of molten steel only to turn up later in some altered state, Monsanto has been subsumed under the Orwellian-sounding ‘Bayer Crop Science’ division..”

Bayer-Monsanto Partnership Signals Death Knell for Humanity (Bridge)

On what plane of reality is it possible that two of the world’s most morally bankrupt corporations, Bayer and Monsanto, can be permitted to join forces in what promises to be the next stage in the takeover of the world’s agricultural and medicinal supplies? Warning, plot spoiler: There is no Mr. Hyde side in this horror story of epic proportions; it’s all Dr. Jekyll. Like a script from a David Lynch creeper, Bayer AG of poison gas fame has finalized its $66 billion purchase of Monsanto, the agrochemical corporation that should be pleading the Fifth in the dock on Guantanamo Bay instead of enjoying what amounts to corporate asylum and immunity from crimes against humanity. Such are the special privileges that come from being an above-the-law transnational corporation.

Unsurprisingly, the first thing Bayer did after taking on Monsanto, saddled as it is with the extra baggage of ethic improprieties, was to initiate a rebrand campaign. Like a Hollywood villain falling into a crucible of molten steel only to turn up later in some altered state, Monsanto has been subsumed under the Orwellian-sounding ‘Bayer Crop Science’ division, whose motto is: “Science for a better life.” Yet Bayer itself provides little protective cover for Monsanto considering its own patchy history of corporate malfeasance. Far beyond its widely known business of peddling pain relief for headaches, the German-based company played a significant role in the introduction of poison gas on the battlefields of World War I.

Despite a Hague Convention ban on the use of chemical weapons since 1907, Bayer CEO Carl Duisberg, who sat on a special commission set up by the German Ministry of War, knew a business opportunity when he saw one. Duisberg witnessed early tests of poison gas and had nothing but glowing reports on the horrific new weapon: “The enemy won’t even know when an area has been sprayed with it and will remain quietly in place until the consequences occur.” Bayer, which built a department specifically for the research and development of gas agents, went on to develop increasingly lethal chemical weapons, such as phosgene and mustard gas. “This phosgene is the meanest weapon I know,” Duisberg remarked with a stunning disregard for life, as if he were speaking about the latest bug spray. “I strongly recommend that we not let the opportunity of this war pass without also testing gas grenades.”

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Jun 112018
 


Pierre-Auguste Renoir Les parapluies 1880-86

 

Debt Clock Ticking (Mauldin)
Southern Mayors Defy Italian Coalition To Offer Safe Port To Migrants (G.)
Italy’s New Finance Minister Rules Out Leaving Euro (Pol.eu)
In The Western World Truth Is An Endangered Species (PCR)
Will Bilderberg Still Be Relevant As The Future Of War Is Transformed? (G.)
Saudi Arabia Suffers Shock Collapse In Inward Investment (F.)
French Farmers Start Refinery Blockade Over Palm Oil Imports (R.)
Our Generation Is Presiding Over An Ecological Apocalypse (G.)
Erdogan Ally Says ‘Cyprus Is Turkish And Will Remain So’ (K.)
Austria Closing Mosques May Mean ‘War Between Cross & Crescent’ – Erdogan (RT)
Greece Puts Men Accused Over Turkey Coup Attempt Under Armed Guard (G.)
New Austerity Bill Hits Greeks With €5.1 Billion More Cuts Until 2022 (KTG)
Last Exit to the Road Less Traveled (JD Alt)

 

 

As the G7 leaders have a few days to lick their wounds, and all attention will continue to be on Trump, I’ll leave all that alone for now. One last thing: hope they understand now that ganging up on Trump is not a good idea. It would be good if the Democrats and media understand that too. They must all reinvent themselves.

Let’s turn to debt: “There is no set of math that works to pay this off.”

Debt Clock Ticking (Mauldin)

“Modern slaves are not in chains, they are in debt.” – Anonymous. You can find hundreds of quotes on the Internet discussing the problems of debt. Debt traps borrowers, lenders, and innocent bystanders, too. If debt were a drug, we would demand it be outlawed. The advantage of debt is it lets you bring the future into the present, buying things you couldn’t afford if you had to pay full price now. This can be good or bad, depending on what you buy. Going into debt for education that will raise your income, or for factory equipment that will increase your output, can be positive. Debt for a tropical vacation, probably not.

And that’s our core economic problem. The entire world went into debt for the equivalent of tropical vacations and, having now enjoyed them, realizes it must pay the bill. The resources to do so do not yet exist. So, in the time-honored tradition of lenders everywhere, we extend and pretend. But with our ability to pretend almost gone, we’re heading to the Great Reset. I’ve been analogizing our fate to a train wreck you know is coming but are powerless to stop. You look away because watching the disaster hurts, but it happens anyway. That’s where we are, like it or not.

And we don’t even really like to talk about it in polite circles. In a private email conversation this week, which must remain anonymous, this pithy line jumped out at me: “The total of Federal (remember they do not use GAAP) debt, state debt, and city debt [unfunded liabilities included] exceeds $200 trillion dollars. There is no set of math that works to pay this off. Let me be sure it’s heard by repeating it: There is no set of math that works to pay this off. Therefore, there has to be some form of remediation. This conversation is uncomfortable, so it is avoided.”

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Hopeful but for now not practical. The solution is in Africa itself. Let Salvini work on that, instead of this sort of stunts.

Southern Mayors Defy Italian Coalition To Offer Safe Port To Migrants (G.)

Mayors across the south of Italy have pledged to defy a move by the new Italian government – an alliance of the far right and populists – to prevent a rescue boat with 629 people on board from docking in the Sicilian capital. But the mayors’ defiance appears unlikely to serve any practical purpose without the direct support of the Italian coastguard. In the first evidence of the new government’s hardline approach, the interior minister, Matteo Salvini, said on Sunday that all Italian ports were closed to the rescue boat, Aquarius. The Maltese government rejected a request to take the boat, saying international law required that the migrants should be taken to Italian ports.

Salvini, the leader of the League, a far-right party, wrote on Facebook: “Malta takes in nobody. France pushes people back at the border, Spain defends its frontier with weapons. From today, Italy will also start to say no to human trafficking, no to the business of illegal immigration.” Leoluca Orlando, the mayor of Palermo, said he was ready to open the city’s seaport to allow the rescued migrants to safely disembark. “Palermo in ancient Greek meant ‘complete port’. We have always welcomed rescue boats and vessels who saved lives at sea. We will not stop now,” Orlando said. “Salvini is violating the international law. He has once again shown that we are under an extreme far-right government.’’

Other mayors in Italy’s south, including those in Naples, Messina and Reggio Calabria, also said they were ready to disobey Salvini’s order and allow Aquarius to dock and disembark in their seaports. A representative of Doctors Without Borders said the mayors’ remarks were “nice but not practical” because it was standard practice to wait for the Italian coastguard, which is under the control of the Italian government, to allow a ship to dock.

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Why the confusion between Finance Minister and Economy Minister?

Italy’s New Finance Minister Rules Out Leaving Euro (Pol.eu)

Italy’s new economy minister Giovanni Tria ruled out leaving the euro and said he would focus on structural reforms over deficit spending. “The position of the executive is clear and unanimous,” Tria told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera in his first major interview since the country’s populist government was sworn in at the start of this month. “There isn’t any discussion on a plan to leave the euro,” he said, adding that “the government is determined, in any event, to prevent market conditions which push towards the exit to be materialized.”

Tria’s comments appeared designed to reassure financial markets — and to calm fears in the European Commission and among other EU governments that the new administration would implement anti-euro policies and clash with Brussels. Tria told Corriere that the government’s strategy would be “growth and employment” with a program “based on structural reforms,” and that his country would also “make progress on many aspects of the European governance program and banking union.” Though the new government has not adopted a policy of leaving the euro, some members of the coalition including Matteo Salvini, the new interior minister, have criticized the currency in the past and others have floated the idea of a referendum on Italy quitting the monetary union.

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Support for Assange is mounting. But not nearly enough yet. This must grow the same way Free Nelson Mandela did

In The Western World Truth Is An Endangered Species (PCR)

Nowhere in the Western world is truth respected. Even universities are imposing censorship and speech control. Governments are shutting down, and will eventually criminalize, all explanations that differ from official ones. The Western world no longer has a print and TV media. In its place there is a propaganda ministry for the ruling elite. Whistleblowers are prosecuted and imprisoned despite their protection by federal statue. The US Department of Justice is a Department of Injustice. It has been a long time since any justice flowed from the DOJ. The total corruption of the print and TV media led to the rise of Intermet media such as Wikileaks, led by Julian Assange, a prisoner since 2012.

Assange is an Australian and Ecuadorian citizen. He is not an American citizen. Yet US politicians and media claim that he is guilty of treason because he published official documents leaked to Wikileaks that prove the duplicity and criminality of the US government. It is strickly impossible for a non-citizen to be guilty of treason. It is strickly impossible under the US Constitution for the reporting of facts to be spying. The function of the media is to expose and to hold accountable the government. This function is no longer performed by the Western print and TV media. Washington wants revenge and is determined to get it.

If Assange were as corrupt at the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, National Public Radio, MSNBC, etc., he would have reported the leaker to Washington, not published the information, and retired as a multi-millionaire with Washington’s thanks. However, unfortunately for Assange, he had integrity. Integrity today in the Western world has no value. You cannot find integrity in the government, in the global corporations, in the universities and schools, and most certainly not in the media.

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“What the politicians at Bilderberg ought to realise, when they take a break from brainstorming war to enjoy the buffet, is that they are the buffet.”

Will Bilderberg Still Be Relevant As The Future Of War Is Transformed? (G.)

This year’s Bilderberg summit is a council of war. On the agenda: Russia and Iran. In the conference room: the secretary general of Nato, the German defence minister, and the director of the French foreign intelligence service, DGSE. They are joined in Turin, Italy, by a slew of academic strategists and military theorists, but for those countries in geopolitical hotspots there is nothing theoretical about these talks. Not when the prime ministers of Estonia and Serbia are discussing Russia, or Turkey’s deputy PM is talking about Iran. The clearest indication that some sort of US-led conflict is on the cards is the presence of the Pentagon’s top war-gamer, James H Baker.

He is an expert in military trends, and no trend is more trendy in the world of battle strategy than artificial intelligence. Bilderberg is devoting a whole session to AI this year – and has invited military theorist Michael C Horowitz, who has written extensively on its likely impact on the future of war. Horowitz sees AI as “the ultimate enabler”. In an article published just a few weeks ago in the Texas National Security Review, he quotes Putin’s remark from 2017: “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”

Horowitz says “China, Russia, and others are investing significantly in AI to increase their relative military capabilities”, because it offers “the ability to disrupt US military superiority”. Global military domination is suddenly up for grabs – which brings us to the most intriguing item on this year’s Bilderberg agenda: “US world leadership”. [..] What the politicians at Bilderberg ought to realise, when they take a break from brainstorming war to enjoy the buffet, is that they are the buffet. There’s not much dignity in undermining democracy. But there is a huge pile of money, and for many people that’s enough.

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Just as MSB is trying to invest a lot in his ‘new’ Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia Suffers Shock Collapse In Inward Investment (F.)

Inward investment into Saudi Arabia collapsed last year, according to newly published data from the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), raising serious questions about the prospects for the economic reform agenda being pursued by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). According to the latest UNCTAD World Investment Report, published on June 7, foreign direct investment (FDI) into Saudi Arabia last year amounted to just $1.4 billion, down from $7.5bn the year before and as much as $12.2bn in 2012. The precipitous fall means the country was outranked by far smaller economies in terms of its ability to attract international investment last year, with the likes of Oman and Jordan overtaking it in 2017, with inward FDI of $1.9bn and $1.7bn respectively.

The situation is equally stark when one looks at the amount of investment coming to Saudi Arabia compared to the rest of the surrounding West Asia region. While the kingdom accounted for around a quarter of total regional FDI between 2012 and 2016, last year it attracted just 5.6% of the regional total. While the Saudi economy has been losing out, others have been gaining a bigger piece of the pie. The UAE has seen its share of regional FDI more than double over the past six years, from 19% in 2012 to 41% in 2017. And even Qatar – which has been the subject of an economic boycott by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE since June last year – managed to increase its FDI take in 2017, attracting $986m compared to $774m a year earlier.

UNCTAD attributed the fall in investment into Saudi Arabia to significant divestments and negative intra-company loans by foreign multinationals. As an example, it pointed to the UK/Dutch Shell Group which sold its 50% stake in the Sadaf petrochemicals venture to its partner Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (Sabic) for $820m in August. However, the report also notes that FDI to Saudi Arabia has been contracting since the global financial crisis in 2008/09. And although there has been a similar pattern across the region – inflows to West Asia have fallen in most years since hitting a peak of $85bn in 2008 – the performance of Saudi Arabia last year is still appreciably worse than any other economy in the immediate neighbourhood. It is also far worse than the global picture – worldwide FDI inflows were down 23% last year to $1.43 trillion.

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Palm oil destroys rainforests and orangutans. And you want to burn it?

French Farmers Start Refinery Blockade Over Palm Oil Imports (R.)

French farmers began a blockade of oil refineries and fuel depots on Sunday evening over plans by Total to use imported palm oil at a biofuel plant, which have fanned farmer discontent over unfair competition. The Vatry fuel depot in the Marne region of northeastern France was the first to be blocked on Sunday evening as about 100 farmers set up barricades with tractors and mounds of rubble, a spokesman from the FNSEA farmers union told Reuters. At least five sites will be blocked on Sunday evening, with a total of 13 sites blocked from 9 a.m. Monday, Christiane Lambert, president of the FNSEA said in an interview with France Info television.

French oil and gas major Total, which operates five refineries and nine petrol depots in France, said late on Sunday that farmers have gathered at two depots and it had taken measures together with authorities, to limit disruptions. It urged clients not to rush to petrol stations to fill their tanks, which could spark panic buying and shortages. The French authorities last month gave Total permission to use palm oil as one of the feedstocks at its La Mede biofuel refinery in southern France, infuriating farmers who grow local oilseed crops such as rapeseed and environmentalists who blame palm oil cultivation for deforestation in southeast Asia.

[..] Palm oil has been widely criticized in Europe for environmental destruction and some lawmakers are pushing for a ban on its use in biofuel as part of new EU energy targets. The issue has caused friction with Indonesia and Malaysia, the world’s two largest palm oil producers, with Malaysian officials warning of trade repercussions that could affect a potential deal to buy French fighter jets. The refinery protests in France also illustrate a souring relationship between farmers in the EU’s biggest agricultural producer and the government of President Emmanuel Macron. Many farmers welcome the president’s call for fairer farmgate prices as part of a food chain review last year, but they have been angered by Macron’s attempt to phase out common weedkiller glyphosate before other EU countries.

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“..among the most nature-depleted countries in the world..”

Our Generation Is Presiding Over An Ecological Apocalypse (G.)

He’s currently enjoying a great bounty of nature, from tree-climbing slugs to blackbird-gobbling little owls on this year’s Springwatch, but Chris Packham warns that we are presiding over “an ecological apocalypse” and Britain is increasingly “a green and unpleasant land”. The naturalist and broadcaster is urging people to join him next month on a 10-day “bioblitz”, visiting road verges, farmland, parks, allotments and community nature reserves across the country to record what wildlife remains – from butterflies to bryophytes, linnets to lichens. According to Packham, British people have normalised a “national catastrophe” and only see a wealth of wildlife in nature reserves, with the wider countryside bereft of life.

“Nature reserves are becoming natural art installations,” he said. “It’s just like looking at your favourite Constable or Rothko. We go there, muse over it, and feel good because we’ve seen a bittern or some avocets or orchids. But on the journey home there’s nothing – only wood pigeons and non-native pheasants and dead badgers on the side of the road. “It’s catastrophic and that’s what we’ve forgotten – our generation is presiding over an ecological apocalypse and we’ve somehow or other normalised it.” Packham said he looked at the rolling hills beyond this year’s setting for Springwatch on the National Trust’s Sherborne estate in the Cotswolds and despaired. “How many wildflowers can we see? None. Where’s the pink of ragged robin? Where’s the yellow of flag iris? The other colours are not there. It’s not green and pleasant – it’s green and unpleasant.”

Packham’s recent tweets have gone viral after he commented on the absence of insects during a weekend at his home in the middle of the New Forest national park. He did not see a single butterfly in his garden and said he sleeps with his windows open but rarely finds craneflies or moths in his room in the morning whereas they were commonplace when he was a boy. Since Packham first became passionate about birds, in 1970, Britain has lost 90 million wild birds, with turtle doves (down 95% since 1990) hurtling towards extinction. The State of Nature 2016 report described Britain as being “among the most nature-depleted countries in the world”, with scientific data from more than 50 conservation and research organisations revealing that 40% of all species are in moderate or steep decline.

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Opposition leader is a government ally.

Erdogan Ally Says ‘Cyprus Is Turkish And Will Remain So’ (K.)

The leader of Turkey’s nationalist MHP opposition party Devlet Bahceli, an ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, attacked Greece and Cyprus during an election rally in Izmir on Sunday, claiming “Cyprus is Turkish.” Bahceli was commenting on Greek criticism over an MHP campaign video that depicts the island of Cyprus as Turkish territory. “What else are we to do? Cyprus is Turkish and will remain so,” he was quoted as saying by Turkish conservative newspaper Yeni Safak. He went on to “warn” Greeks not to forget “the days when their grandfathers drowned in the bottom of the sea,” and accused the Greek government of “playing games” in the Aegean.

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Ehh.. racist it is not.

Austria Closing Mosques May Mean ‘War Between Cross & Crescent’ – Erdogan (RT)

Austria’s move to close mosques and expel “foreign-funded” imams has infuriated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, warning of a war “between cross and crescent” and threatening that Ankara will not sit idle. “These measures taken by the Austrian prime minister are, I fear, leading the world towards a war between the cross and the crescent,” Erdogan said in a speech in Istanbul on Sunday. Crescent, which can be seen on mosques and other Muslim entities, symbolizes Islamic religion since time immemorial. “They say they’re going to kick our religious men out of Austria. Do you think we will not react if you do such a thing?” he asked, quoted by AFP. “That means we’re going to have to do something,” Erdogan added without elaborating.

Earlier this week, Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl from the right-wing FPO party announced that the country vows to close seven mosques and potentially expel dozens of Turkish-funded imams and their families in Austria’s crackdown on “political Islam.” Austrian officials, including Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, claimed the move was to battle radicalization and growing ‘parallel societies’. However, this explanation did not sit well with Ankara. “Austria’s decision to close seven mosques and expel imams is a reflection of the Islamophobic, racist and discriminatory wave in this country,” Ibrahim Kalin, the spokesman of Tayyip Erdogan, commented on Twitter.

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A crazy situation. Turkey can not be allowed to enter Greek territory to abduct or murder anyone.

Greece Puts Men Accused Over Turkey Coup Attempt Under Armed Guard (G.)

Greece has put in place the “greatest possible” measures to protect eight Turkish commandos accused of being coup plotters after Ankara said it would do everything possible to bring them back. A week after the men were freed from detention, Athens said they were under 24/7 guard at an undisclosed location, for fear of retaliation. The admission came despite mounting tensions with Ankara, which has scrapped a refugee readmission deal with Athens, arguing the soldiers participated in the abortive coup against Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July 2016. Greece’s deputy defence minister, Fotis Kouvelis, told the Guardian: “We are enforcing the greatest possible measures to secure their safety in a place which for obvious reasons will remain unknown.

“We haven’t forgotten what happened in our region a few months ago.” Kouvelis was referring to the enforced removal from Kosovo of six Turkish citizens also denounced as followers of the US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, who Ankara has blamed for orchestrating the putsch. Tensions over the eight men, who flew into Greece on a Black Hawk helicopter a day after the failed coup, have added to an increasingly fiery campaign ahead of in Turkey on 24 June. Friction with the west has escalated as the race appears to have tightened. At the weekend, Erdogan accused Austria of fomenting a religious war between “cross” and “crescent” after it raised the prospect of expelling Turkish Muslim clerics.

But Greece has been the focus of growing animus in Ankara. Turkey has consistently argued the eight men were involved in the putsch against Erdogan. The Greek supreme court has rejected any notion of sending the men back, saying they would not get a fair trial in Turkey, where a purge of the military and civil establishment continues. In April, the council of state, Greece’s highest administrative court, granted one of the eight commandos permanent asylum, despite objections by Alexis Tsipras’s leftist-led government. Similar judgments are expected to follow when verdicts are issued in the remaining cases.

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Pile it on!

New Austerity Bill Hits Greeks With €5.1 Billion More Cuts Until 2022 (KTG)

Greece submitted a draft bill to parliament late on Friday, a bill fully packed with austerity measures worth 5.1 billion euros and counter-measures worth 1.5 billion, in an effort to sweeten the bitter pill to thousands of pensioners and employees. The bill outlines reforms in the energy, pension and labor sectors as the government races to secure the last loans from its international bailout program, conclude the last program review and head to a so-called “clean exit” in August. The bill includes the country’s medium-term fiscal strategy framework through 2022, which foresees an average 2 percent annual growth and pledges to increase minimum wages and restore collective labor bargaining.

At the same time, the bill includes measures to expedite privatizations in the energy sector, the reduction of state spending on pensions and labor market reforms including arbitration when there is a dispute between employers and staff. • Pension cuts up to 18% to be implemented as of 2019. • Tax-free basis will be broadening to annual income of 5.686 euros, when EU’s poverty line is at 6,000. The measure to go into effect as of 2020. • Privatizations worth 3.9 billion euros
Lawmakers are expected to vote on the bill on upcoming Thursday, before the Eurogroup of June 21.

Athens is keen to pass a final review by its creditors ahead of a Eurogroup meeting on June 21, where it is also hoping for progress on a deal on further debt relief to be implemented after the current bailout program expires in August. If it gets the green light from the review and Eurogroup, it will receive about 12 billion euros ($14 billion) of new loans. [..] revenues will increase through the pension cuts, the changes in real estate objective value that will increase the property taxes, scrapping the decreased of Value Added Tax on all islands, scrapping the 15% discount on social security contributions as of 2019. • Pension cuts worth €2.9 billion annually. €1.2 billion will be cut from public sector pensions and €1.4 billion on private sector pensions. • Broadening the tax-free basis will bring revenues worth €1.9 billion.

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h/t Lambert Strether

Last Exit to the Road Less Traveled (JD Alt)

We now stand where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road—the one less traveled by—offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth. –Rachael Carson, Silent Spring What’s important to keep in mind in this quote from Rachael Carson’s 56-year-old warning shot over the bow of corporate civilization is that there are two roads being traveled now. We are no longer at a fork. The fork is half-a-century behind us. The goal is not to get the superhighway to somehow re-route itself and follow the path less traveled. It can’t.

The superhighway will, and must, continue accelerating in its inevitable direction, simply because the greed and power of the people driving that highway will not allow them to alter course. But if there is any truth to Rachael Carson’s warning (and there seems to be growing evidence of it) the other path—the Road Less Traveled—will become the surviving branch of our evolutionary diagram. The present goal, therefore, should be to create as many exits from the superhighway as possible—and to encourage and enable as many people as possible to take those exits to explore and follow the other path. Visualizing how we all got on this superhighway in the first place will be helpful to seeing the exit ramps. To make this visualization, it isn’t necessary to speculate about an ancient, human pre-history.

The process can be clearly seen and understood in a modern anecdote describing how one particular community of people joined the highway. I quote now from the book Fishing Lessons by Kevin M. Bailey*, where he retells author Robert Johannes’ story of fishermen in Palau, an island country in Micronesia. “Seafood was once abundant there. The Palauan fisherman never had trouble finding enough fish to satisfy their own and their village’s needs. The fisherman gave away the fish they didn’t eat to other villagers…. They lived in a state of ‘subsistence affluence.’ “…. After Japan colonized Palau in the 1920s the fishermen began to sell their fish to obtain attractive and exotic goods offered by the Japanese. The fishermen bought nets and motorized boats with the money, allowing them to catch more fish to sell in order to obtain more goods.

They fished harder to harvest more fish and visited more distant areas of the reef to find them. Over the years, the fish abundance dropped. “The fishermen bought even bigger boats to catch the vanishing fish, but to do that they had to borrow money. They had to sell all their fish to pay off their loans. They stopped giving them away in the villages; instead they sold them to the outsiders and to other villagers. Now the people in the village had to work for the money to buy their food…. “Pretty soon, there were not enough fish over the reefs for the fishermen to make payments on their loans, so the village sold their customary access rights to the fishing grounds. The people in the village began to eat imported fish in cans.”

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Mar 132018
 
 March 13, 2018  Posted by at 10:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Mayfair Building, Times Square NYC 1954

 

Sea Change Is Underway in Money Markets for Banks, Investors (BBG)
The Real Reasons Trump Blocked Broadcom’s Qualcomm Takeover (CNBC)
Donald Trump’s Attack on German Prosperity (Spiegel)
Trump Pushes EU to Cut Tariffs as Bloc Vows to Resist ‘Bullies’ (BBG)
Trump’s Metal Tariffs ‘Like An Atomic Bomb’ For European Firms (CNBC)
Is The Dot.Com Bubble Back? (Roberts)
China Plans New Ministries, Merger Of Regulators In Massive Revamp (R.)
Central Banks Are Looking for New Ways to Meet Inflation Targets (BBG)
Labour’s Nationalisation Plans As Damaging As ‘No Deal’ Brexit – CBI (G.)
Another Quandary (Jim Kunstler)
Russian Foreign Ministry Slams UK’s Comments On Skripal Poisoning Case (Tass)
Saudis Reportedly Wielding Veto Power Over Prince Alwaleed (CNBC)
The Rich Aren’t Happy About New Zealand Foreign Bolthole Ban (BBG)
The Pentagon & Hollywood’s Successful And Deadly Propaganda Alliance (RT)
Krill Fishing Poses Serious Threat To Antarctic Ecosystem (G.)

 

 

Is this where central banks fail in their quest for control?

Sea Change Is Underway in Money Markets for Banks, Investors (BBG)

While many fixed-income investors may be focused on the specter of higher long-term Treasury yields, there’s a sea change afoot at the shorter end – in U.S. money markets. The London interbank offered rate, or Libor, and rates on Treasury bills are at levels not seen since 2008. The Fed’s move to tighten policy forms the backdrop for the increase, but an added force behind the surge this year has come from a deluge of supply as U.S. deficits widen. Higher short-term borrowing costs have implications for investors and also for banks, which find themselves paying up to borrow through the commercial-paper market as they compete to lure cash. “We are in a new paradigm,” said Jerome Schneider at Pimco. “The clear focus for the market is where will incremental demand come from to meet this supply.”

The Treasury has been jacking up debt sales this quarter: Net issuance is slated to exceed $400 billion, with the bulk coming in bills. The Treasury increased the 4-week bill sale to $65 billion, from as low as $15 billion earlier in the year. The march higher in Libor has widespread consequences despite regulatory efforts to replace it following a price-fixing scandal. About $350 trillion of financial products and loans are linked to Libor, with a large chunk hinged to the dollar-based version of the benchmark. Libor is among the main indexes, along with one-year T-bill rates, used to set U.S. adjustable-rate mortgages.

Assets in U.S. government-only money funds, which include bills among key holdings, have risen to $2.26 trillion, from $2.07 trillion last year. As the Fed keeps hiking, with the next move likely this month, the influx may continue. But for banks, the increasing appeal of T-bill rates is making them pay up to compete, through offering better returns on the commercial paper they use for short-term borrowing. “Banks still need funding and they need to entice investors,” Schneider said.

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Protectionism, national security. Where’s the anti-Trump lobby on this?

The Real Reasons Trump Blocked Broadcom’s Qualcomm Takeover (CNBC)

The threat of China factored heavily into the U.S. government’s decision to block Broadcom’s proposed buyout of Qualcomm. President Donald Trump, for his part, officially declared on Monday that the proposed $117 billion deal was prohibited on national security grounds. The president said in his order that “there is credible evidence” leading him to believe that Broadcom through control of San Diego-based Qualcomm “might take action that threatens to impair the national security of the United States.” That conclusion may seem extreme given that Broadcom is based in Singapore — and looking to redomicile to the U.S., where it conducts most of its operations — but it’s not a fear of the Southeast Asian city state that is raising national security concerns.

“The case that has been constructed is that, given Broadcom’s business practices, the worry is that they will cut investment significantly, particularly in the 5G roadmap, weaken Qualcomm, as well as the U.S. position and allow Huawei, a Chinese company to take the lead,” explained Stacy Rasgon, chip analyst at Bernstein. The Treasury Department said last week in a letter to lawyers involved in the deal that Qualcomm was trusted by the U.S. government and cited Huawei as a competitive threat in the development of 5G, which is a telecommunications standard that will allow for faster transfer of data. Beyond those 5G concerns, there’s even more to Trump’s decision to block the deal, experts said.

“It is not just China, it is not just chips. It is broad technology. It is U.S. military power and economic power going forward and he’s got a very consistent point of view,” said Ron Napier, head of Napier Investment Advisors. “Trump has been saying all year long since he was inaugurated that security is very important to him, technology is very important to him, trade is very important to him and getting jobs back to the United States is very important to him. He’s making this all into one fabric,” he added. “He sees this as the U.S.’ last big stand if it’s going to remain the leader of the free world,” Napier told CNBC.

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Far too much steep is produced every year. THAT is the problem.

Donald Trump’s Attack on German Prosperity (Spiegel)

The looming conflict is a sign of the turning point at which the global economy finds itself. Recently, the economy in most corners of the globe has been healthy, with the world experiencing a rare phase of synchronous growth. But it looks as though that phase is now coming to an end. Interest rates are rising and sovereign debt is growing, the result of which is that governments are beginning to lose their flexibility and it is likely that some countries will soon face difficulties borrowing money on the open market. Increasing financial market instability shows that insecurity is on the rise. And in this situation, protectionist policies pursued by populists and nationalists harm economic growth and endanger international prosperity.

It is something on which a majority of economists actually agree: tariff barriers slow growth, put jobs at risk and drive up inflation. Once a trade war is triggered, there is no winner, although Munich-based economist Gabriel Felbermayr says that Germany has the most to lose. “There is no other country in the world that would be hit as hard.” Felbermayr, 41, heads up the Center for International Economics at the Center for Economic Studies (CES). The shaved-headed economics professor, originally from Austria, has examined just how devastating Trump’s economic policies could be for the German economy. Every fourth job in the country, he says, is dependent on exports. And in five key sectors – automobiles, machinery, electrical engineering, pharmaceuticals and precision instruments – fully three-quarters of all exports go to the United States.

“If the U.S. were to cut itself off, it would threaten the German business model,” Felbermayr says. “Everything would start teetering.” [..] The global steel market has been imbalanced for years, with producers manufacturing 1.6 billion tons of crude steel each year against an annual demand of just 900 million tons. China is primarily to blame for this lopsidedness. Inexpensive energy and low wages enable the country’s steel producers to sell their products cheaply around the world. If the U.S. were to make moves to protect its domestic steel producers, even more cheap steel would flow into the EU than is already the case. Were that to happen, says Wolfgang Eder, head of the Austrian steel concern Voestalpine, “Europe would threaten to become the world’s garbage pail.”

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The EU vows to stand up to bullies. Ask the Greeks about that one. What kind of person has the guts to say that?

Trump Pushes EU to Cut Tariffs as Bloc Vows to Resist ‘Bullies’ (BBG)

The EU told U.S. President Donald Trump it won’t be cowed by his escalating protectionist rhetoric and talk of punitive tariffs. “Europe is prepared,” Dutch Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra said Monday as he headed into a meeting with his counterparts from the rest of the euro area. “We are not afraid, we will stand up to the bullies,” Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said earlier in the day. Trump returned to the offensive over the weekend, raising the prospect of higher levies on European cars and telling supporters at a rally that the countries of the EU have banded together “to screw the U.S. on trade.” The latest brinkmanship follows new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports that are straining a transatlantic relationship already tested by disputes from climate change to Middle East policy.

“Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross will be speaking with representatives of the European Union about eliminating the large Tariffs and Barriers they use against the U.S.A.,” Trump tweeted on Monday. “Not fair to our farmers and manufacturers.” Trump’s rhetoric drew unanimous condemnation from European finance ministers gathering in Brussels. France’s Bruno Le Maire said that he’s concerned about “a trade war between the EU and the U.S.” while his Spanish counterpart Roman Escolano, making his debut as minister, said protectionism is always a mistake. Malmstrom accused the Trump administration of using trade “to threaten and intimidate” Europeans and using the issue as a “scapegoat.”

A meeting in Brussels between Malmstrom and her U.S. counterpart Robert Lighthizer on Saturday ended without a breakthrough, as the EU didn’t receive assurances that it will be exempted from the metal tariffs. “If anyone starts throwing stones, it’s better first to make sure he’s not living in a glass house,” European Commission spokesman Enrico Brivio said.

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If even more Chinese steel floods into Europe, that is now Trump’s fault.

Trump’s Metal Tariffs ‘Like An Atomic Bomb’ For European Firms (CNBC)

Donald Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum could cause major disruption for companies in Europe, a business lobbyist told CNBC Monday, who argued that the U.S. president should have taken less severe measures to protect his domestic market. U.S.’s allies, including the European Union and Japan, are hoping to be excluded from new tariffs that Trump announced last week. The decision to raise steel import taxes by 25% and aluminum by 10% could hurt not only those industries directly, but also carmakers and construction firms which use the raw materials. Trump decided that the tariffs would be the best way to deal with overcapacity in these sectors and based his argument on national security.

“This is a very exceptional mechanism that is rarely used. It’s a bit considered like an atomic bomb, because really to use this is like saying ‘look we are really at a level where we cannot use anti-dumping or anti-subsidies’,” Luisa Santos, the international relations director at BusinessEurope, told CNBC Monday. [..] European steel and aluminum businesses are reportedly preparing for a collapse in local prices if the tariffs are indeed applied to their region. Charles de Lusignan, from the Steel Association for Europe, said ultimately the tariffs could mean a scaling back in Europe, with firms letting people go, cutting investment and also innovation. “We need to act immediately because the damage will be done within the first weeks,” he said. “In fact it might already be happening, because obviously an exporter knows that the steel might be blocked in the future so they already start sending it ahead.”

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Not a relevant question.

Is The Dot.Com Bubble Back? (Roberts)

Whether you believe there is a “bubble” in the Technology stocks, or the markets, is really not important. There are plenty of arguments for both sides. At the peak of every bull market in history, there was no one claiming that a crash was imminent. It was always the contrary with market pundits waging war against those nagging naysayers of the bullish mantra that “stocks have reached a permanently high plateau” or “this is a new secular bull market.” (Here is why it isn’t.) Yet, in the end, it was something unexpected, unknown or simply dismissed that devastated investors. This is why the discussion of “this time is not like the last time” is largely irrelevant.

Individuals no longer “invest” to become a “shareholder” in a publicly traded business. The “quaint concept” of “valuations” died with the mainstreaming of investing during the 1990’s as the “Wall Street Casino” opened for business. Today, investors only think in terms of speculating on “electronically traded bits of paper” in the hopes the value will rise over time. The problem, of course, is they are never told when to “sell” to capture that valuation increase which is the most critical aspect of the investment process. Instead, individuals continue to “bet” the “greater fool” will always appear. For now, the “bullish case” remains alive and well. The media will go on berating those heretics who dare to point out the risks that prevail, but the one simple truth is “this time is indeed different.”

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There goes the last shred of transparency.

China Plans New Ministries, Merger Of Regulators In Massive Revamp (R.)

China said it will merge its banking and insurance regulators, according to a parliament document released on Tuesday, in a series of proposed changes in the biggest ministry shake-up in years. In a long-awaited move to streamline and tighten oversight of the financial system in the world’s second-biggest economy, China will also transfer some of the banking and insurance regulators’ roles to the central bank, documents showed. In much-anticipated plans to create seven new ministries and a raft of government agencies announced on Tuesday, one of the most significant changes was creation of the national markets supervision management bureau.

The new body will decide on antimonopoly and pricing issues, replacing the roles played by the three national antitrust regulators: the National Development & Reform Commission (NDRC), the Ministry of Commerce and the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC). Unifying the structure under one agency, rather than handing the responsibility to one of the three existing watchdogs, reflects the growing importance of the issue for the government. China will also form a powerful new competition regulator in a bid to ramp up oversight of mergers and acquisitions and price-fixing as the world’s second-largest economy seeks to make policymaking more efficient and coordinated. Since the beginning of last year, Beijing has cracked down on leverage and risky market practices, with China’s various regulators releasing a flurry of new rules in an attempt to rein in risks.

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Only, they don’t know what it is.

Central Banks Are Looking for New Ways to Meet Inflation Targets (BBG)

With so many central banks failing to hit their inflation targets, some are considering changes to the tool kits they use to steer their economies. Norway’s decision to lower its price target is just the latest example, and follows more or less official adjustments in Sweden, Argentina and the euro area. Even in New Zealand, the birthplace of inflation targeting, the central bank is shifting to a broader goal that includes a focus on employment. But there’s no one-fits-all solution for monetary authorities and debate is splintered. Raising inflation targets has been discussed equally intensively in recent years as reducing or amending them.

And while some central banks acknowledge a need to reconsider their mandates, others are doubling down on existing policies. Claudio Borio, a top official at the Bank for International Settlements, poured fuel on the debate in September with a provocative speech calling for a broad rethink that accounts for how globalization and technological advances have influenced inflation. “Shall we throw away the books?” ECB President Mario Draghi asked on Thursday. “There are serious costs about changing course on credibility and the anchoring of expectations. We can go on on this for a while about changing objective.”

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Think tanks are your friend.

Labour’s Nationalisation Plans As Damaging As ‘No Deal’ Brexit – CBI (G.)

The head of Britain’s biggest business lobby group has attacked Labour’s nationalisation plans as potentially just as damaging to the economy as Britain leaving the European Union without a deal. In a speech on Monday, Paul Drechsler, the CBI president, said renationalising large parts of the economy would cause serious harm to the UK’s reputation as a place for international investors, which he argued would be as bad as a hard Brexit and would damage job prospects and living standards. “So you want to nationalise energy, rail and water, and bring public services contracts back in house? Let’s see the evidence that it will deliver a better service to consumers at a lower cost,” he said.

The intervention by the lobby group – which represents about 190,000 companies, including transport and utility firms – constitutes a warning from the boardrooms of corporate Britain that they harbour concerns over Labour’s plans for the economy despite supporting the party over its stance on Brexit. The CBI was among leading business voices supporting Jeremy Corbyn’s move to keep Britain in a customs union with the EU. The lobby group warned before the referendum that Brexit could lead to almost a million job losses and cost the economy £100bn – the equivalent of 5% of GDP – by 2020. Drechsler challenged Labour to provide evidence that its plans would lead to a better service for consumers at a lower cost.

He said private investment had helped create jobs and improve the efficiency of utility companies since they were sold off under the Thatcher government of the 1980s, and argued that progress could be undone if they were taken back into state control. However, utility companies and railway operators have faced intense pressure over their service standards and prices at a time when households are under increasing financial strain. Public support has swung behind Labour’s plans for greater state control of several key industries – shown in recent polls that suggest widespread backing for nationalisation of the railways, water, gas and electricity.

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Mentally ill, cannabis.

Another Quandary (Jim Kunstler)

That crusty ole rascal, Gov. Jerry Brown of California, seems to be enjoying his sunset journey into Civil War Two or maybe the destination is more like Blade Runner (since we know that history only rhymes but does not repeat). Anyway, it’s not a good place. The once-golden state begins to look something like what one federal official recently called — dare I say it? — a shithole. “A mix of used hypodermic needles, human feces, and other trash litters the streets and sidewalks in a large section of downtown San Francisco, a local news outlet reported Sunday night. It’s a problem that has grown by epic proportions in recent years and has many concerned for the health and safety of some the city’s youngest residents…” — The Blaze

Yes, quite literally. This particular failure of the political Left started in the 1970s when states began aggressively shuttering their large mental hospitals. Many of these institutions dated from the late 19th century – ghastly old gothic revival warehouses for the mentally ill, fraught with overtones of abuse and neglect, scenes out of Vincent Price movies… lightning flashes through the barred windows… a scream in the night… hysterical laughter echoing down the dark, tiled hallways…. They were an embarrassment, for sure, and certainly an affront to liberal sensibilities. But, of course, they fucked up the remedy for that. Instead of replacing the giant old state insane asylums with smaller, better-managed institutions, they just released the inmates under the rationale that they were a politically oppressed minority group. And there it ended.

And so here we are, going on a half-century later, with an economy that manufactures failure and immiseration at a greater volume than its other finished products, and many more lost souls out on the city streets, and now we are an even more ideologically inflamed society than we were in 1973, with the ranks of intersectional oppressed minorities and aggrieved victim groups grown into virtual armies-of-the-night — and the mentally ill just lost in the crowd. It never seems to occur to anyone that a mental hospital can be run humanely, at an appropriate scale, and that these poor, sad creatures might, at least, be better off there with a bed, a bathroom, and somebody to check in on them daily than they are wallowing in the gutters of San Francisco and other cities. Surely there are up-to-date models in other lands for this kind of caretaking — if maybe we sent a few bureaucrats overseas to have a look.

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Who needs proof in an echo chamber? Whether it’s Theresa May or the House Intelligence case, the lines have been drawn long ago.

Russian Foreign Ministry Slams UK’s Comments On Skripal Poisoning Case (Tass)

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has dubbed as a ‘circus show’ comments of UK Prime Minister Theresa May on the poisoning of Sergey Skripal, a former colonel in Russia’s GRU military intelligence, and his daughter. “This is a circus show in Britain’s parliament,” she stressed. “The conclusion is obvious – a next political media campaign based on provocation,” Zakharova added. Earlier, Theresa May said it is “highly likely” that Russia is responsible for the poisoning of Sergey Skripal and his daughter. Moscow urges London to make public the results of the investigation into the deaths of Alexander Litvinenko and Boris Berezovsky, Zakharova said.

“Before making up new stories, let somebody in the Kingdom tell us what the previous fairy-tales ended in – those about Litvinenko, Berezovsky, Perepilichny and many others who died under mysterious circumstances on British soil,” the diplomat said. Former GRU Colonel Sergey Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter Julia on March 4 suffered from the effects of an unidentified nerve agent. They were found in an unconscious condition on a bench near The Maltings shopping center in Salisbury. Both are now in hospital in critical condition.

In 2004, Skripal was arrested by the federal security service FSB, charged, tried and convicted of high treason and stripped of all ranks and awards. In 2010 he was handed over to the United States under an arrangement to exchange persons arrested on spying charges. Later in the same year Skripal settled in Britain.

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The price of freedom.

Saudis Reportedly Wielding Veto Power Over Prince Alwaleed (CNBC)

Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal remains chairman of Kingdom Holding Company following his release from detention, but the Saudi government reportedly has final say over decisions at the investment firm. Investment decisions at Kingdom Holding are now subject to approval by the government, The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday, citing senior Saudi advisers. Kingdom Holding has $12.5 billion invested across more than a dozen sectors around the world, according to its website. Alwaleed’s personal investment portfolio is also under government control, according to the Journal. Alwaleed holds substantial stakes in companies like Citigroup, Twitter, Lyft and Time Warner.

The Journal report does not indicate whether the government has exercised its newfound influence over these investments. However, sources tell the Journal the government has already intervened in a major real estate project, ordering senior managers at Kingdom Holding to abandon the Jeddah Tower, which would be the world’s tallest skyscraper when — and if — it is completed. Officials have directed Kingdom Holding to instead focus its energy on a new city called Neom, which is expected to cost $500 billion to build. The project was announced in October by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the influential king in waiting who is overseeing the kingdom’s economic transformation and spearheaded the campaign that led to Alwaleed’s detention.

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What happens when there’s only rich people left? Or: who cares about New Zealanders?

The Rich Aren’t Happy About New Zealand Foreign Bolthole Ban (BBG)

Rich-listers like Californian billionaire Ric Kayne have issued a warning to New Zealand – banning house sales to foreigners could hurt the country’s reputation and turn wealthy investors away. Kayne, who has built an exclusive golf course in New Zealand and wants to expand his investments, is one of several rich businessmen who claim the proposed new law will have unintended consequences. They’re seeking amendments to the draft legislation or its withdrawal in its current form. “The vision we have for what we would like to contribute to New Zealand is now being threatened,” Kayne wrote in submissions to a parliamentary committee examining the proposed law change.

“The new rules will “impact on us personally, and others like us who, having discovered this country, want to devote considerable resources to preserving, protecting and enhancing it.” The new Labour-led government came to power in October on a pledge to fix a housing crisis with a raft of measures, including a ban on foreign speculators buying residential property. While data suggest non-residents have only a minor impact on the wider housing market, support for the move was boosted by headlines about rich foreigners buying mansions and farms in New Zealand as boltholes away from the world’s ills.

House prices have surged more than 60% in the past decade amid record immigration and a construction shortfall. In biggest city Auckland, prices have almost doubled since 2007 to an average of more than NZ$1 million ($730,000). That’s made it more difficult for first-time buyers to enter the market and driven up rents, leaving increasing numbers of poor people homeless. “It’s really important for us that we sort our housing market out, that we give New Zealanders a fair go at buying their first home,” Finance Minister Grant Robertson said in a television interview Sunday. While the country welcomes foreign investment, “what we want is good-quality investment that supports the productivity of the New Zealand economy,” he said.

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Ethics and Hollywood.

The Pentagon & Hollywood’s Successful And Deadly Propaganda Alliance (RT)

The Pentagon helps Hollywood to make money and, in turn, Hollywood churns out effective propaganda for the brutal American war machine. The US has the largest military budget in the world, spending over $611 billion – far larger than any other nation on Earth. The US military also has at their disposal the most successful propaganda apparatus the world has ever known… Hollywood. Since their collaboration on the first Best Picture winner ‘Wings’ in 1927, the US military has used Hollywood to manufacture and shape its public image in over 1,800 films and TV shows. Hollywood has, in turn, used military hardware in their films and TV shows to make gobs and gobs of money.

A plethora of movies like ‘Lone Survivor,’ ‘Captain Philips,’ and even blockbuster franchises like ‘Transformers’ and Marvel, DC and X-Men superhero movies have agreed to cede creative control in exchange for use of US military hardware over the years. In order to obtain cooperation from the Department of Defense (DoD), producers must sign contracts that guarantee a military approved version of the script makes it to the big screen. In return for signing away creative control, Hollywood producers save tens of millions of dollars from their budgets on military equipment, service members to operate the equipment, and expensive location fees.

Capt. Russell Coons, director of the Navy Office of Information West, told Al Jazeera what the military expects for their cooperation: “We’re not going to support a program that disgraces a uniform or presents us in a compromising way.” Phil Strub, the DOD chief Hollywood liaison, says the guidelines are clear. “If the filmmakers are willing to negotiate with us to resolve our script concerns, usually we’ll reach an agreement. If not, filmmakers are free to press on without military assistance.”

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We’ve screwed up even the bottom of the food chain. Winning!

Krill Fishing Poses Serious Threat To Antarctic Ecosystem (G.)

Industrial fishing for krill in the pristine waters around Antarctica is threatening the future of one of the world’s last great wildernesses, according to a new report. The study by Greenpeace analysed the movements of krill fishing vessels in the region and found they were increasingly operating “in the immediate vicinity of penguin colonies and whale feeding grounds”. It also highlights incidents of fishing boats being involved in groundings, oil spills and accidents, which it said posed a serious threat to the Antarctic ecosystem. The report, published on Tuesday, comes amid growing concern about the impact of fishing and climate change on the Antarctic.

A global campaign has been launched to create a network of ocean sanctuaries to protect the seas in the region and Greenpeace is calling for an immediate halt to fishing in areas being considered for sanctuary status. Frida Bengtsson, from Greenpeace’s Protect the Antarctic campaign, said: “If the krill industry wants to show it’s a responsible player, then it should be voluntarily getting out of any area which is being proposed as an ocean sanctuary, and should instead be backing the protection of these huge swaths of the Antarctic.” Last month a study found a combination of climate change and industrial-scale fishing is hitting the krill population, with a potentially disastrous impact on larger predators.


Photograph: Justin Hofman/Alamy Stock Photo

The study warned that the penguin population could drop by almost one-third by the end of the century due to changes in krill biomass. Krill are a key part of the delicate Antarctic food chain. They feed on marine algae and are a key source of food for whales, penguins and seals. They are also important in removing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by eating carbon-rich food near the surface and excreting it when they sink to lower, colder water. There is a growing global demand for krill-based health products which are claimed to help with a range of ailments from heart disease to high blood pressure, strokes and depression. A recent analysis of the global krill industry predicted it was on course to grow 12% a year over the next three years. Krill populations have declined by 80% since the 1970s.

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Jan 282018
 
 January 28, 2018  Posted by at 11:05 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Cezanne Sugar Bowl, Pears and Blue Cup c.1866

 

Trump Moving On to Infrastructure Push (BBG)
Stock Market Setting Records In Levitation (Lyons)
Happy Landings (Jim Kunstler)
The Founding Fathers Worst Nightmare Come True (CH)
Illinois Ponders Pension-Fund Moonshot: a $107 Billion Bond Sale
The Dark Side of America’s Rise to Oil Superpower (BV)
Saudi Frees Billionaires Including Alwaleed as Ritz Jail Empties (BBG)
German Minister Urges Fast Passage Of EU Law On Chinese Takeovers (R.)
Spanish Court Suspends Puigdemont’s Return To Power In Catalonia (AFP)
British Lords Get Ready to Disrupt Brexit (BBG)
Corbyn Under Pressure To Change Direction On Brexit (G.)
Facebook Doesn’t Care (Atlantic)
In 2017, The Oceans Were By Far The Hottest Ever Recorded (G.)

 

 

State of the Union on Tuesday. Look for grand plans. $1.5 trillion?!

Trump Moving On to Infrastructure Push (BBG)

President Donald Trump plans to use Tuesday’s State of the Union address to build momentum for sweeping legislation on infrastructure and immigration that could buoy the White House and fellow Republicans ahead of crucial midterm elections. Emboldened by a booming economy and victory in his stare-down with Senate Democrats over government funding, Trump will make the case that the Republican tax cuts passed in December and his administration’s efforts to curb regulations are drawing investment to the U.S. and creating jobs, said a White House official who discussed the speech on condition of anonymity. There are few obvious areas for compromise, and little incentive to do so among increasingly polarized lawmakers whose chief concern remains an upcoming election season primed for a wave of votes protesting Trump.

Yet the president also aims to strike a bipartisan tone, the official said – a stark departure from his address to Congress a year ago. That speech delighted supporters, who saw his on-script performance as evidence that Trump, a mercurial political novice, could seize the power of the bully pulpit. This year, aides say, he’ll offer a future-focused vision. His agenda, the official said, includes a long-anticipated plan to rebuild and improve the nation’s infrastructure, continuing efforts to cut regulations, and an overhaul of the immigration system – campaign promises that got set aside last year as the administration focused on efforts to repeal Obamacare and pass the tax overhaul.

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Hell no, no bubble.

Stock Market Setting Records In Levitation (Lyons)

In our habitation within the investment-based social media realm, we have noticed a ongoing discussion between market observers related to the present stock rally. On the one hand, there is a loud chorus from folks (likely many of whom are frustrated non-participants in the rally) pointing out the unusual, and perhaps inorganic, nature of the incessant rally. On the other hand, you have the assured (condescending?) reminders from the other side (i.e., folks “killing it” at the moment) that an upward trajectory is the “normal” course of action for stocks, historically speaking. So which contingent is correct? They both are, to an extent. Yes, it has been far more typical for stocks to rise than fall over the past 100-plus years.

Thus, we should not be surprised by a rally, even in the face of elevated valuations, sentiment, etc. However, an unwillingness to acknowledge the noteworthy, even historic, nature of the current rally, would be an indication of either willful denial or potentially harmful ignorance. This week, we take a look at some of the ways in which our current rally is truly unique from a broad historical basis. Today, we note the torrid pace at which the stock market is racking up new 52-week highs. Specifically, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) is in the midst of a historic run of new highs. Over the past 100 days, the index has scored no fewer than 46 new 52-week highs. That is the most new highs the DJIA has ever accumulated over a 100-day stretch.

This new record surpasses the former mark of 45 set in 1954. And looking back over the last 100-plus years, there have now been just 14 unique occasions with even 35 new highs over a 100-year span. So will the new highs continue from here – or is there nowhere to go but down at this point? Well, we’re not going to pretend that a new high is a bad thing. In fact, it’s about the most bullish thing a security or index can do – no resistance at all-time highs, you know. Furthermore, the momentum often generated by moves to new highs can be a powerful and (at least, temporarily) persisting phenomenon. That is, until the final high of the run. Obviously one high will eventually mark the top and the upward momentum will cease. Are we at that point now? Are stocks going to come crashing back to earth – or can the market continue its levitation act a little longer?

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“How long do you think the equity indexes will levitate once the bond market implodes?”

Happy Landings (Jim Kunstler)

A financial smash-up is really the only thing that will break the awful spell this country is in: the belief that everyday life can go on when nothing really adds up. It seems to me that the moment is close at hand. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin told the Davos crowd that the US has “a weak dollar” policy. Is that so? Just as his department is getting ready to borrow another $1.2 trillion to cover government operations in the year to come. I’m sure the world wants nothing more than to buy bucket-loads of sovereign bonds backed by a falling currency — at the same time that the Treasury’s partner-in-crime, the Federal Reserve, is getting ready to dump an additional $600 billion bonds on the market out of its over-stuffed balance sheet. I’d sooner try to sell snow-cones in a polar bomb-cyclone.

When folks don’t want to buy bonds, the interest rates naturally have to go higher. The problem with that is your country’s treasury has to pay the bond-holders more money, but the only thing that has allowed the Treasury to keep borrowing lo these recent decades is the long-term drop of interest rates to the near-zero range. And the Fed’s timid 25-basis-point hikes in the overnight Fed Fund rate have not moved the needle quite far enough so far. But with benchmark ten-year bond rate nosing upward like a mole under the garden toward the 3.00% mark, something is going to give.

How long do you think the equity indexes will levitate once the bond market implodes? What vaporizes with it is a lot of the collateral backing up the unprecedented margin (extra borrowed money) that this rickety tower of financial Babel is tottering on. A black hole is opening up in some sub-basement of a tower on Wall Street, and it will suck the remaining value from this asset-stripped nation into the vacuum of history like so much silage. Thus will begin the harsh era of America screwing its head back on and commencing the salvage operation. We’ll stop ricocheting from hashtag to hashtag and entertain a few coherent thoughts, such as, “…Gee, it turns out you really can’t get something for nothing….” That’s an important thought to have when you turn around and suddenly discover you’ve got nothing left.

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Founding fathers and inequality.

The Founding Fathers Worst Nightmare Come True (CH)

As the total debt grows (total debt now essentially equals GDP), the denominator is larger and the resultant debt spending must be that much larger to have the same impact. For example, to have the same impact as the ’09 debt binge, a $4+ trillion increase (annually) would be necessary to have the same impact as the $0.2 trillion spent in ’83 or the $2.1 trillion spent in ’09. However, in the next “crisis”, we should expect a $4 trillion jolt (annual) and perhaps as much as $20 trillion in the next episode of this ongoing “crisis” to achieve an ’83 or ’09 like stimuli. But this may not have nearly the impact as previous.

Typically, deficit spending and interest rate cuts have gone hand in hand but with rates having been at zero for nearly a decade before the recent, minor rise…a move to cut rates from anywhere near current levels back to zero will likely have little impact and not be capable of amplifying the deficit spending. Perhaps significantly greater debt creation will be necessary to have a like impact as that of ’83 or ’09. But, of course, the impact on the debt to GDP ratio will be an irrevocable moon shot into Japan style debt to GDP levels. Perhaps the sanity of an economy built on building new homes for a core population that is now shrinking is highly questionable (chart below)?

And to round it out, the annual growth of the 15-64yr/old US core population versus the Wilshire 5000 (representing the value of all publicly traded US stocks).

What should already be clear will be obvious for everyone…the federal “debt” being created isn’t actually “debt” at all. It is being created and spent with no intention of ever repaying it and the move back to zero % interest rates (or more likely NIRP) on that “debt” will make clear that it is simply centrally created and centrally directed monetization. And the resultant wealth is being centrally directed to a shrinking minority of asset holders at the expense of the vast majority. The founding fathers worst nightmare come true.

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Where greed meets despair.

Illinois Ponders Pension-Fund Moonshot: a $107 Billion Bond Sale

Lawmakers in Illinois are so desperate to shore up the state’s massively underfunded retirement system that they’re willing to entertain an eye-popping wager: Borrowing $107 billion and letting it ride in the financial markets. The legislature’s personnel and pensions committee plans to meet on Jan. 30 to hear more about a proposal advanced by the State Universities Annuitants Association, according to Representative Robert Martwick. The group wants Illinois to issue the bonds this year to get its retirement system nearly fully funded, assuming that the state can make more on its investments than it will pay in interest. It would be by far the biggest debt sale in the history of the municipal market, and in one fell swoop would be more than Puerto Rico amassed in the run up to its record-setting bankruptcy.

“We’re in a situation in Illinois where our pension debt is just crushing,” Martwick, a Democrat who chairs the committee, said in a telephone interview. “When you have the largest pension debt in the world, you probably ought to be thinking big.” Illinois owes $129 billion to its five retirement systems after years of failing to make adequate annual contributions. Because the state’s constitution bans any reduction in worker retirement benefits, the government’s pension costs will continue to rise as it faces pressure to pay down that debt, a squeeze that has pushed Illinois’s bond rating to the precipice of junk. Many American governments have sold bonds for their pensions, albeit on a much smaller scale. Illinois did so in 2003, when it issued a record $10 billion of them.

New Jersey also tried it, only to see its pension shortfall soar again after the state failed to make adequate payments into the system for years. Detroit’s pension-fund borrowing in 2005 and 2006 helped push it into bankruptcy. On the whole, the track record has been mixed, according to a study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. Much hinges on timing the stock market: While most pension bonds have been profitable because of equity gains since the recession, those sold after the late 1990s rally or before the 2008 crash lost money, the study found. The S&P 500 Index climbed 19 percent last year and has continued to hit new highs.

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Oil is power.

The Dark Side of America’s Rise to Oil Superpower (BV)

The last time U.S. drillers pumped 10 million barrels of crude a day, Richard Nixon was in the White House. The first oil crisis hadn’t yet scared Americans into buying Toyotas, and fracking was an experimental technique a handful of engineers were trying, with meager success, to popularize. It was 1970, and oil sold for $1.80 a barrel. Almost five decades later, with oil hovering near $65 a barrel, daily U.S. crude output is about to hit the eight-digit mark again. It’s a significant milestone on the way to fulfilling a dream that a generation ago seemed far-fetched: By the end of the year, the U.S. may well be the world’s biggest oil producer. With that, America takes a big step toward energy independence. The U.S. crowing from the top of a hill long occupied by Saudi Arabia or Russia would scramble geopolitics. A new world energy order could emerge.

That shuffling will be good for America but not so much for the planet. For one, the influence of one of the most powerful forces of the past half-century, the modern petrostate, would be diminished. No longer would “America First” diplomats need to tiptoe around oil-supplying nations such as Saudi Arabia. OPEC would find it tougher to agree on production guidelines, and lower prices could result, reopening old wounds in the cartel. That would take some muscle out of Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy, while Russia’s oligarchs would find it more difficult to maintain the lifestyles to which they’ve become accustomed. President Donald Trump, sensing an opportunity, is looking past independence to what he calls energy dominance. His administration plans to open vast ocean acreage to offshore exploration and for the first time in 40 years allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

It may take years to tap, but the Alaska payoff alone is eye-popping—an estimated 11.8 billion barrels of technically recoverable crude. It sounds good, but be careful what you wish for. The last three years have been the hottest since recordkeeping began in the 19th century, and there’s little room in Trump’s plan for energy sources that treat the planet kindly. Governors of coastal states have already pointed out that an offshore spill could devastate tourism—another trillion-dollar industry—not to mention wreck fragile littoral environments. Florida has already applied for a waiver from such drilling. More supply could lower prices, in turn discouraging investments in renewables such as solar and wind. Those tend to spike when oil prices rise, so enthusiasm for nonpolluting, nonwarming energies of the future could wane. For now, though, the petroleum train is chugging. And you can thank the resilience of the U.S. shale industry for it.

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Oil is power. Twitter shares are not. They’re just money.

Saudi Frees Billionaires Including Alwaleed as Ritz Jail Empties (BBG)

Saudi Arabia freed Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and several of the kingdom’s most prominent businessmen from detention, clearing out the Ritz-Carlton hotel that served as a jail for the country’s elite during a controversial crackdown on corruption. Prince Alwaleed, the billionaire chairman of Riyadh’s Kingdom Holding Co. who owns stakes in Citigroup and Twitter, returned home on Saturday after reaching a settlement with authorities, a senior government official said on condition of anonymity. He will remain at the helm of his company, the official said, declining to provide the other terms of the deal. Waleed al-Ibrahim, head of a major media firm, and retail billionaire Fawaz Al Hokair were also freed after agreeing to deals, another government official said.

The prince’s release came just hours after Alwaleed told Reuters in an interview that he expected to go home soon and retain control of his company, calling his detention a “misunderstanding” and expressing support for the kingdom’s rulers. With the suspects’ names and evidence against them never officially announced, the detentions had raised concerns about transparency among foreign investors – vital to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plan to diversify the economy away from oil. The departures from the hotel mark the end of the first phase of Prince Mohammed’s anti-corruption campaign, which shook the kingdom when it was launched in November. Hundreds of suspects were arrested, including some of the country’s richest men and its top economic policymaker.

Officials say the government expects to reap more than $100 billion from settlements with detainees in exchange for their freedom. Others have been transferred to prison to face trial, the Wall Street Journal reported. Also released after agreeing to settlements were Khalid al-Tuwaijri, head of the royal court under the late King Abdullah, and Prince Turki bin Nasser, who was involved in a massive arms sale that led to corruption probes in the U.K. and the U.S., one of the government officials said. Several of those released from detention earlier appear to be returning to their lives as usual. Among them is former finance minister and minister of state, Ibrahim al-Assaf, who recently led Saudi Arabia’s delegation to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

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While taking over and buying up southern Europe, Germans protect their own economy from the very same.

German Minister Urges Fast Passage Of EU Law On Chinese Takeovers (R.)

Germany wants to acquire the legal means to take a closer look at bids from Chinese companies to acquire German and European companies in order better to protect technologies, a German minister told newspaper Welt am Sonntag. Matthias Machnig, state secretary in Germany’s economics ministry, said it was urgent that proposed Europe-wide measures to police surging Chinese investment be adopted by the end of this year. “It is essential that we get a tougher law in the European Union this year to resist takeover fantasies or outflows of technology or know-how,” he said in an interview, excerpts of which were made available on Saturday.

The paper cited a study by the Cologne Institute for Economic Research that showed the volume of known Chinese investments in Germany had risen to €12.1 billion ($15.03 billion) in 2017 from around €11 billion the year before and just €100 million seven years ago. Concern has been growing across Europe at China’s buying spree on the continent, with investors snapping up often iconic businesses in a way many fear could threaten Europe’s position as a high-value economy. “With its innovative companies, the EU is attractive for many around the world,” Machnig said. “Takeovers are becoming more frequent, often under market-distorting conditions.”

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Rajoy lost two elections, one of which he himself called. This is very much how democracy is viewed in Europe.

Spanish Court Suspends Puigdemont’s Return To Power In Catalonia (AFP)

Spain’s constitutional court on Saturday announced it was blocking Catalonia’s ousted separatist leader Carles Puigdemont from returning to power in the region while he remains the subject of legal action. The court said in a statement that its 12 magistrates had decided unanimously “to preventively suspend the investiture of Puigdemont unless he appears in the (regional) parliament in person with prior judicial authorisation”. Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium after the Catalan parliament declared independence in October, was earlier this week chosen as candidate to lead Catalonia again, with the regional parliament set to vote on the issue in Barcelona on Tuesday . This despite the fact that he faces arrest for rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds over his attempt to break Catalonia from Spain as soon as he returns to the country.

He has said he could be sworn in to office remotely, via videoconference from Brussels, a plan Spain’s central government opposes. The constitutional court warned all members of the Catalan parliament of “their responsibilities” and warned against disobeying the order to suspend any investiture. The magistrates said they needed six more days to consider a government bid to annul the nomination of Puigdemont as a candidate for the regional presidency. Puigdemont has said he would rather return to Spain, but without any risk of arrest. “The government must use every tool made available by the laws and the constitution to make sure that a fugitive, someone who is on the run from the law and the courts, cannot be illegitimately be sworn in,” Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said Friday after the government lodged the legal bid to keep Puigdemont from returning to power.

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It’s getting hard to predict where Brexit will be by the end of 2018. Not where it is now, that’s for sure.

British Lords Get Ready to Disrupt Brexit (BBG)

The bumpy journey toward Brexit reaches another fork in the road this week as the upper chamber of the British parliament plans to rewrite a key piece of Prime Minister Theresa May’s legislation. What happens to the European Union Withdrawal Bill in the predominantly pro-EU House of Lords could lead to a smoother divorce, a showdown with the government or even a constitutional crisis. It makes planned changes by the peers more than just a perfunctory stage in the sometimes complex democratic machinery of Westminster. The law aims to replicate thousands of existing EU regulations so there’s no legal black hole on the day Britain’s membership ceases, currently set for March 29 next year. That process could go awry if the lords halt or, more likely, demand changes that might include delaying the exit date or increasing the chance of second public vote on the issue.

“Drama is not a word usually associated with the House of Lords,” said Tom Strathclyde, a Conservative peer who used to guide legislation through the upper house. “On this occasion, there really could be high drama.” Already the passage of the law has been far from smooth as opponents of May’s vision for Brexit – taking Britain out of the EU single market and customs union – try to tear it up. She suffered a serious defeat in the House of Commons last month at the hands of mutineers from her own Conservative party who are opposed to Brexit in its current form. She slapped down Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond last week after he said Brexit would only herald modest changes to Britain’s relationship with the EU. Now more rebels are set to vent their frustration in the Lords.

The role of the unelected lords is supposed to be to revise rather than block legislation that the elected members of parliament have passed. In the case of Brexit, a majority of lawmakers in the House of Commons also opposed it, although most cite the need to uphold the result of the referendum in 2016 that kicked off the whole Brexit process dominating U.K. politics. The key Commons amendment last month was that parliament will now get a final vote on the Brexit deal after an agreement with the EU on the cost of the divorce and future trading relationship. The lords can start proposing more changes on Jan. 31. A list of them will be published two days later and the government will decide how to proceed. “There is a large majority of people in the Lords who feel that Brexit is a national disaster, and we will be trying to mobilize that majority as we go through,” said Dick Newby, who leads the Liberal Democrat peers.

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But Corbyn was never a fan of the EU.

Corbyn Under Pressure To Change Direction On Brexit (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn has called key members of his shadow cabinet to an “away day” to re-examine the party’s policy and strategy on Brexit amid growing frustration in Labour ranks that it is failing to exploit mounting Tory turmoil over Europe. Party sources confirmed to the Observer that the meeting, scheduled for early February, would look at adapting and developing Labour’s approach during “phase two” of the Brexit process. The gathering – which will be seen as a response to unrest and the threat of rebellions by dozens of Labour MPs – will be held at a location “away from Westminster”, and will involve senior shadow cabinet members in policy areas most affected by the UK’s departure from the EU.

The news suggests Labour may soon announce a major shift in policy that would see it back permanent membership of some form of customs union with the EU after Brexit – opening a potentially decisive dividing line with Theresa’s May’s increasingly fractured government. A senior figure aware of the meeting said: “There are several among those who will attend who want the party to move on the single market and customs union. But Jeremy is a lifelong eurosceptic and there is still opposition to doing so. “The greatest pressure for change is from those who insist we must back permanent membership of a customs union with the EU after Brexit, not just a fudge position of backing it during a transition and leaving open what happens after, which we have at present.”

Those who have been asked to attend are understood to include members of the shadow cabinet Brexit subcommittee. They include the shadow chancellor John McDonnell, shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer, the shadow home secretary Emily Thornberry, and shadow home secretary Diane Abbott. Shadow ministers responsible for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales will also attend. With Theresa May’s government increasingly split over Brexit, and the EU withdrawal bill heading into the House of Lords on Tuesday, where it is expected to be savaged by pro-Remain peers of all parties as well as crossbenchers, a growing number of Labour MPs and peers are pressing the leadership to open up clearer dividing lines with the Tories.

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“People say they’re interested in a broad range of news from different political preferences, but Facebook knows they really want angry, outraged articles that confirm political prejudices.”

Facebook Doesn’t Care (Atlantic)

Facebook’s crushing blow to independent media arrived last fall in Slovakia, Cambodia, Guatemala, and three other nations. The social giant removed stories by these publishers from users’ news feeds, hiding them in a new, hard-to-find stream. These independent publishers reported that they lost as much as 80% of their audience during this experiment. Facebook doesn’t care. At least, it usually seems that way. Despite angry pushback in the six countries affected by Facebook’s algorithmic tinkering, the company is now going ahead with similar changes to its news feed globally. These changes will likely de-prioritize stories from professional publishers, and instead favor dispatches published by a user’s friends and family. Many American news organizations will see the sharp traffic declines their brethren in other nations experienced last year—unless they pay Facebook to include their stories in readers’ feeds.

At the heart of this change is Facebook’s attempt to be seen not as a news publisher, but as a neutral platform for interactions between friends. Facing sharp criticism for its role in spreading misinformation, and possibly in tipping elections in the United States and in the United Kingdom, Facebook is anxious to limit its exposure by limiting its role. It has long been this way. This rebalancing means different things for the company’s many stakeholders—for publishers, it means they’re almost certainly going to be punished for their reliance on a platform that’s never been a wholly reliable partner. Facebook didn’t talk to publishers in Slovakia because publishers are less important than other stakeholders in this next incarnation of Facebook. But more broadly, Facebook doesn’t talk to you because Facebook already knows what you want.

Facebook collects information on a person’s every interaction with the site—and many other actions online—so Facebook knows a great deal about what we pay attention to. People say they’re interested in a broad range of news from different political preferences, but Facebook knows they really want angry, outraged articles that confirm political prejudices. Publishers in Slovakia and in the United States may warn of damage to democracy if Facebook readers receive less news, but Facebook knows people will be perfectly happy—perfectly engaged—with more posts from friends and families instead. For Facebook, our revealed preferences—discovered by analyzing our behavior—speak volumes. The words we say, on the other hand, are often best ignored.

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Lots of Joules.

In 2017, The Oceans Were By Far The Hottest Ever Recorded (G.)

Among scientists who work on climate change, perhaps the most anticipated information each year is how much the Earth has warmed. That information can only come from the oceans, because almost all heat is stored there. If you want to understand global warming, you need to first understand ocean warming. This isn’t to say other measurements are not also important. For instance, measurements of the air temperature just above the Earth are really important. We live in this air; it affects us directly. A great commentary on 2017 air temperatures is provided by my colleague Dana Nuccitelli. Another measurement that is important is sea level rise; so too is ocean acidification. We could go on and on identifying the markers of climate change.

But in terms of understanding how fast the Earth is warming, the key is the oceans. This important ocean information was just released today by a world-class team of researchers from China. The researchers (Lijing Cheng and Jiang Zhu) found that the upper 2000 meters (more than 6000 feet) of ocean waters were far warmer in 2017 than the previous hottest year. We measure heat energy in Joules. It turns out that 2017 was a record-breaking year, 151×1022 Joules hotter than any other year. For comparison, the annual electrical generation in China is 600 times smaller than the heat increase in the ocean. The authors provide a long history of ocean heat, going back to the late 1950s.

By then there were enough ocean temperature sensors to get an accurate assessment of the oceans’ warmth. Their results are shown in the figure below. This graph shows ocean heat as an “anomaly,” which means a change from their baseline of 1981–2010. Columns in blue are cooler than the 1981-2010 period, while columns in red are warmer than that period. The best way to interpret this graph is to notice the steady rise in ocean heat over this long time period.

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Jan 072018
 
 January 7, 2018  Posted by at 10:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Edward Hopper Gloucester Beach, Bass Rocks 1924

 

UPDATE: There still seems to be a problem with our Paypal widget/account that makes donating -both for our fund for homless and refugees in Greece, and for the Automatic Earth itself- hard for some people. What happens is that for some a message pops up that says “This recipient does not accept payments denominated in USD”. This is nonsense, we do. We notified Paypal weeks ago.

We have no idea how many people have simply given up on donating, but we can suggest a workaround (works like a charm):

Through Paypal.com, you can simply donate to an email address. In our case that is recedinghorizons *at* gmail *com*. Use that, and your donations will arrive where they belong. Sorry for the inconvenience.

 

 

 

Everyone Knows Pensions Are Screwed (Felder)
Shares Have Gone Through The Roof: Could They Possibly Go Even Higher? (G.)
States Threaten “Economic Civil War” On Washington (ZH)
UK Companies Will Face Huge New VAT Burden After Brexit (G.)
China To Move Millions Of People From Homes In Anti-Poverty Drive (G.)
Trump Takes Credit For Olympics Talks Between North and South Korea (G.)
11 Saudi Princes Sent to Maximum-Security Prison After Protesting Utility Bills
Scientists Lament The Likely Loss Of ‘Most Of The World’s Coral Reefs’ (Grist)

 

 

So Why Are They Investing In The Exact Same Fashion?

Everyone Knows Pensions Are Screwed (Felder)

The average pension fund assumes it can achieve a 7.6% rate of return on its assets in the future. As noted in Monday’s Wall Street Journal, the majority of these assets are invested in the stock market. The rest are invested in bonds, real estate and alternatives. An aggregate bond index fund yields 2.5% today. Real estate investment trusts, as a group, yield nearly 4%. Alternatives are a mixed bag but the point is that, in order for pensions to meet this 7.6% rate of return they require that stocks (and, to a much lesser degree, alternatives) do far better than even that optimistic assumption because the balance of the portfolio is nearly guaranteed to fall short of that mark. The trouble is that for stocks to return anywhere near 8% they would need to fall more than 50% first.

Warren Buffett famously said, “the price you pay determines your rate of return.” John Hussman puts an even finer point on it this week showing that if you want an 8% rate of return over the coming 12 years you should not be willing to pay more than 1,281 for the S&P 500 today. Currently, the index trades at roughly 2,690 thus it would take a major stock market crash for investors to have the opportunity to invest at a level that would enable them to achieve anything close to what pensions now require. But if stocks were to crash again, as they did after the last two times valuations reached current extremes, that would obviously create other problems for pensions that are now fully invested in risk assets and already underfunded to the tune of several trillion dollars.

Even if they don’t crash, however, it is now almost inevitable that pensions will face a massive crisis sometime over the next decade or so. Still, it’s fascinating to note that even though this issue is common knowledge today, investors as a group have decided to ensure they will come to the very same fate. Passive investing, which has exploded in popularity in recent years, is essentially a way for individual investors to model pension investing, typically with an even greater exposure to equities.

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Of course they could. But Jeremy Grantham’s ‘Melt-Up’ is being criticized by quite a few voices. The question is not ‘could they rise’, but ‘how long until they will plunge’?

Shares Have Gone Through The Roof: Could They Possibly Go Even Higher? (G.)

Shares are expensive – keep buying them. That appears to be investors’ consensus view. The storming run for stock markets in 2017 seemed almost too good to be trusted, but 2018 has started in similar style. In the US, the Dow Jones industrial average soared past 25,000 last week, almost exactly 12 months after 20,000 was achieved. In the UK, the FTSE 100 index stands at a record high. Even the Japanese market, for years an international laggard, is back at a 26-year high. Last year the MSCI World index – a proxy for a global stock market – delivered a return of 20.1%. Optimists expect more of the same. The other camp warns that a dangerous bubble is about to burst. Both sides could probably agree that the recent run in stock markets has been astonishing.

Or, rather, the truly remarkable feature has been the steady and unbroken pace of the march upwards. Stock markets, we used to think, offered thrills, spills and rollercoaster rides. Individual shares still provide such excitement, of course, but the overall market seems bizarrely free of stress. Andrew Lapthorne, who crunches the market numbers for French bank Société Générale, called 2017 “the year volatility died” in his end-of-year round-up. He wrote: “Those of us expecting greater market turbulence in 2017 could not have been more wrong. Not only did global equity markets perform well, but they did so with such low volatility and consistency that, if this were a fund, it would perhaps merit a visit from the authorities to check exactly what you were up to.”

What happened? First, investors seem to have decided that rising interest rates in the US, a big worry a year ago, are not the bogeyman they seemed. The US Federal Reserve has been a protective nurse. Rate rises have been gradual, and ultra-cheap money has been followed by very cheap. A US rate of 1.5% ain’t so bad. Second, President Donald Trump’s administration, amid its chaos and crises, has delivered the policy investors in companies cared about most: corporate tax cuts. Maybe a growth-generating splurge on infrastructure, the second part of his economic agenda, will follow.

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More of a partisan thing.

States Threaten “Economic Civil War” On Washington (ZH)

The new year has only just begun, but already Democratic politicians in the country’s largest high-tax states are threatening lawsuits and publicly touting proposed workarounds to help compensate tax payers for the elimination of the state and local tax (SALT) deductions which were dramatically rolled back, along with deductions for mortgage interest, as part of the White House’s tax reform plan. During his state of the state address earlier this week, New York Mayor Andrew Cuomo threatened to sue the federal government over the tax bill, claiming that the plan is unconstitutional and overly burdensome to New Yorkers. Cuomo said that the new law could raise some families’ taxes by as much as 25% and said the plan amounted to “double taxation.”

He later accused President Donald Trump of waging “economic civil war” on states that didn’t back him during the election, and promised to consider workarounds that would help lower residents’ federal tax bills, according to Bloomberg. Then, on Thursday, California Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon introduced a bill that the Washington Post said could become a model for how blue states push back against the Trump tax plan. According to the Trump tax plan, which took effect in January, taxpayers can only deduct up to $10,000 in state and local taxes when they file their federal return.

“De Leon’s bill, if it became law, would essentially allow Americans to deduct much more than the $10,000 limit by redirecting state tax payments into a type of charitable contribution that would be later redirected to the state. The new federal tax law, which was supported only by Republicans, went into effect in January and does not include any caps on charitable deductions. “The Republican tax plan gives corporations and hedge-fund managers a trillion-dollar tax cut and expects California taxpayers to foot the bill,” de León said in a statement. “We won’t allow California residents to be the casualty of this disastrous tax scheme.” Several states have said they are looking for ways to challenge or work around the law, particularly states such as California and New York where residents pay a higher level of local taxes that they have traditionally been able to deduct without any limits. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) has said he is looking at a way of challenging the new law in court.”

Then on Friday, incoming New Jersey Gov. Democrat Phil Murphy said he’s working on a plan similar to California’s that would allow taxpayers to pay a percentage of their state income taxes as if they were a charitable donation. The money will eventually be redirected to the state. And there’s nothing in the Republican tax plan that limits charitable deductions. Predictably, the White House has threatened to push back against these strategies. During a televised interview this week, Gary Cohn said the administration would be looking into ways to stop states from implementing these work-arounds.

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Seems easy to avoid.

UK Companies Will Face Huge New VAT Burden After Brexit (G.)

More than 130,000 UK firms will be forced to pay VAT upfront for the first time on all goods imported from the European Union after Brexit, under controversial legislation to be considered by MPs on Monday. The VAT changes spelled out in the taxation (cross-border trade) bill – one of a string of Brexit laws passing through parliament – are causing uproar among UK business groups, which say that they will create acute cashflow problems and huge additional bureaucracy. Labour and Tory MPs and peers said that the only way to avoid the VAT Brexit penalty would be to stay in the customs union or negotiate to remain in the EU-VAT area. On Sunday night the Tory chair of the all-party Treasury select committee, Nicky Morgan, said the committee would launch an urgent investigation.

She also said she would be writing to the head of HM Revenue and Customs to see what contingency plans were being made to avoid hitting UK firms. The bill, which has its second reading in the Commons on Monday, spells out clearly how VAT would have to be paid upfront by companies. The government’s own explanatory notes on the bill say the existing regime will end “so that import VAT is charged on all imports from outside the UK”. The Labour MP and former minister Chris Leslie said that the VAT hit to firms was “yet another aspect of Brexit that the Leave campaign failed to inform the public about”. He added that he would be tabling urgent amendments to ensure the UK remained in the EU VAT area – a move that would enrage pro-Brexit MPs.

UK companies that import machine parts or goods ready for sale from the EU can currently register with HMRC to bring them into the UK free of VAT. They register the VAT charge and reclaim it later, all as a paper exercise. VAT is added to the price of the product whenever it is sold to the final customer. Without a VAT deal with Brussels, importers will have to pay the VAT upfront in cash and then recover the money later, creating a huge outflow of funds before they can be recouped.

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“Once made, a promise is as weighty as a thousand ounces of gold..”

China To Move Millions Of People From Homes In Anti-Poverty Drive (G.)

Over the next three years Xi Jinping’s anti-poverty crusade – which the Communist party leader has declared one of the key themes of his second five-year term – will see millions of marginalised rural dwellers resettled in new, government-subsidised homes. Some are being moved to distant urban housing estates, others just to slightly less remote or unforgiving rural locations. Other poverty-fighting tactics – including loans, promoting tourism and “pairing” impoverished families with local officials whose careers are tied to their plight – are also being used. By 2020, Beijing hopes to have helped 30 million people rise above its official poverty line of about 70p a day while simultaneously reinforcing the already considerable authority of Xi, now seen as China’s most powerful ruler since Mao Zedong.

China’s breathtaking economic ascent has helped hundreds of millions lift themselves from poverty since the 1980s but in 2016 at least 5.7% of its rural population still lived in poverty, according to a recent UN report, with that number rising to as much as 10% in some western regions and 12% among some ethnic minorities. A recent propaganda report claimed hitting the 2020 target would represent “a step against poverty unprecedented in human history”. In his annual New Year address to the nation last week Xi made a “solemn pledge” to win his war on want. “Once made, a promise is as weighty as a thousand ounces of gold,” he said. The current wave of anti-poverty relocations – a total 9.81 million people are set to be moved between 2016 and 2020 – are taking place across virtually the whole country, in 22 provinces.

[..] Mark Wang, a University of Melbourne scholar who studies Beijing’s use of resettlements to fight poverty, attributed Xi’s focus on the issue partly to the seven years he spent in the countryside during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Xi was born into China’s “red aristocracy” – the son of the revolutionary elder Xi Zhongxun – but was exiled to the parched village of Liangjiahe in the 1960s after his father strayed to the wrong side of Mao. Wang claimed those years of rural hardship continued to shape Xi’s political priorities: “From the bottom of his heart he knows the Chinese farmers … He understands what they want … He even knows the dirty language the people use in the fields when they are farming.”

But hard-nosed political calculations also explained Xi’s bid to paint himself as a champion of the poor – an effort undermined by a recent crackdown on migrants in Beijing which has reportedly seen tens of thousands of poor workers forced from the capital. “How can you make sure a billion people trust you and say: ‘This is our strong leader?’” asked Wang, who argued one answer was waging war on poverty.

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Dunk.

Trump Takes Credit For Olympics Talks Between North and South Korea (G.)

Donald Trump said on Saturday he was open to talking to Kim Jong-un and hoped good could come from negotiations between North and South Korea over this year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. The US president also took credit for those talks, saying: “If I weren’t involved they wouldn’t be talking about Olympics right now. They’d be doing no talking or it would be much more serious.” North and South Korea have agreed to discuss cooperation on the games as well as other issues in rare meetings set to begin on Tuesday in Panmunjom, a village that straddles the demilitarised zone between the two countries. Amid international concern over Pyongyang’s ballistic missile and nuclear programmes, the talks will be the first staged since December 2015. The discussions will be held at the Peace House on the South Korean side of Panmunjom.

[..] Speaking to reporters at Camp David in Maryland on Saturday, at the end of a week marked by the publication of an explosive book about his administration and his mental capacity for his job, the president was asked if he would speak to Kim on the telephone. “Sure, I believe in talking,” he said. “… Absolutely I would do that, no problem with that at all.” Asked if that meant there would be no prerequisites for such talk, the president said: “That’s not what I said at all.” Trump added: “[Kim] knows I’m not messing around, not even a little bit, not even 1%. He understands that. “At the same time, if we can come up with a very peaceful and very good solution, we’re working on it with [secretary of state] Rex [Tillerson], we’re working on it with a lot of people. “If something good can happen and come out of those talks it would be a great thing for all of humanity. That would be a great thing for the world. Very important.”

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Prines have been arrested, tortured, forced to sign away their fortunes. But now they protest over water bills? And think they’ll win that one?

11 Saudi Princes Sent to Maximum-Security Prison After Protesting Utility Bills

Saudi authorities made a fresh round of arrests of royal-family members as a group of princes staged a palace protest in the capital over the non-payment of their electricity and water bills. Security services on Thursday arrested the 11 princes after they refused to leave Qasr Al-Hokm in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s Attorney General, Sheikh Saud Al Mojeb, said in an emailed statement. The princes, who objected to a decree that ordered the state to stop paying their utility bills, will be held at al-Ha’er prison pending their trial, Al Mojeb said. “No one is above the law in Saudi Arabia, everyone is equal and is treated the same as others,” Al Mojeb said. “Any person, regardless of their status or position, will be held accountable should they decide not to follow the rules and regulations of the state.”

In November, authorities swept up dozens of Saudi Arabia’s richest and most influential people, including princes and government ministers, and detained them at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh. The arrests were ordered by a newly established anti-corruption committee, headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The prince’s anti-graft drive appeared designed to tap into a popular vein among young Saudis who are bearing the brunt of low oil prices and complaining, privately and on social media, that the kingdom’s elite were above the rule of law. King Salman on Saturday ordered extra pay for Saudi government workers and soldiers this year after the implementation of value-added taxation and a surge in fuel prices stirred grumbling among citizens, highlighting the kingdom’s struggle to overhaul its economy without risking a public backlash.

The handouts will cost the state more than 50 billion riyals ($13.3 billion), Saud Al-Qahtani, an adviser to the royal court, said on his Twitter account. The princes arrested at the palace were also seeking compensation for a death sentence that was issued against one of their cousins, who had been convicted of killing another man and executed in 2016, according to Al Mojeb’s statement. Earlier Saturday, the Jeddah-based newspaper Okaz reported the princes had been arrested. The Al-Ha’er facility south of Riyadh is one of Saudi Arabia’s maximum-security prisons. Many of Saudi Arabia’s Islamic militants who have fought abroad are held there.

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That’s where the life is.

Scientists Lament The Likely Loss Of ‘Most Of The World’s Coral Reefs’ (Grist)

“Before the 1980s, mass bleaching of corals was unheard of,” Terry Hughes, a coral scientist at Australia’s James Cook University and lead author of the new study, said in a statement. Hughes personally surveyed thousands of miles of the Great Barrier Reef during the 2015 and 2016 bleaching. “It broke my heart,” he told the Guardian last year. The new study finds that 94% of surveyed coral reefs have experienced a severe bleaching event since the 1980s. Only six sites surveyed were unaffected. They are scattered around the world, meaning no ocean basin on Earth has been entirely spared. The implications of these data in a warming world, taken together with other ongoing marine stressors like overfishing and pollution, are damning.

“It is clear already that we’re going to lose most of the world’s coral reefs,” says study coauthor Mark Eakin, coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Watch program. He adds that by 2050, ocean temperatures will be warm enough to cause annual bleaching of 90% of the world’s reefs. For conservation biologists like Josh Drew, whose work focuses on coral reefs near Fiji, that loss of recovery time amounts to a “death warrant for coral reefs as we know them.” “I’m not saying we’re not going to have reefs at all, but those reefs that survive are going to be fundamentally different,” says Drew, who is not affiliated with the new study. “We are selecting for corals that are effectively weedy, for things that can grow back in two to three years, for things that are accustomed to having hot water.”

Reefs are incalculably important not only as a harbor for life — they shelter about one-quarter of all marine species in just a half-percent of the ocean’s surface area — but also for human nutrition and many nation’s economies.

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Dec 232017
 
 December 23, 2017  Posted by at 9:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Ansel Adams Boulder Dam 1941

 

Bitcoin Briefly Plunges As Low As $10,400, Down 47%, In Volatile Trading (CNBC)
2017 Year In Review (David Collum)
2017 Year in Review (Jim Kunstler)
Foreign Cash Driving Top-End House Prices In Vancouver And Toronto (R.)
Canadian Housing Affordability Hits 27 Year Low (Saretsky)
Saudi Government Wants $6 Billion For al-Waleed’s Freedom (ZH)
What’s Going On With Cars? (Gaines)
Greek Pensioners May Face Further Cuts In 2018 (K.)
Make Supermarkets And Drinks Firms Pay For Plastic Recycling, Say UK MPs (G.)

 

 

Keep the faith. It’s Christmas time after all.

Bitcoin Briefly Plunges As Low As $10,400, Down 47%, In Volatile Trading (CNBC)

Bitcoin plunged Friday, taking the digital currency briefly below $11,000 and down 47% from a record high hit at the start of the week. Bitcoin had rallied to a record high above $19,800 on Sunday and was trading near $15,500 for much of Thursday New York time, according to Coinbase. But an afternoon selloff accelerated into the night, and bitcoin dropped 30.2% Friday morning to a low of $10,400 on Coinbase. It had recovered above $14,600 by Friday afternoon, off 27% from the all-time high. There were no immediately apparent explanation for the selloff and extreme volatility.

“I would say the drop in bitcoin is a result of the massive new inflows of retail investors who are relatively ‘weak hands’ and more prone to sell at the sight of falling prices than the capital that has been in the system for a while that has a longer term outlook,” Alex Sunnarborg, founding partner at cryptofund Tetras Capital, said in an email. Adding to the confusion, trading on Coinbase was disabled for more than two hours in the middle of the day. The company had more than 13 million users at the end of November. At its lows, bitcoin had fallen 47% in just five days and lost about $9,400. The digital currency erased more than $1,000 in one hour alone Friday morning.

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You’re on your own with Collum’s as always very very long review:

2017 Year In Review (David Collum)

A poem for Dave’s Year In Review

The bubble in everything grew

This nut from Cornell

Say’s we’re heading for hell

As I look at the data…#MeToo

[email protected]

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We have reviews in all sorts and sizes. But with Christmas still to come, can they be complete?!

2017 Year in Review (Jim Kunstler)

2017 was the kind of year when no amount of showers could wash off the feeling of existential yeccchhhhh that crept over you day after day like jungle rot. You needed to go through the carwash without your car… or maybe an acid bath would get the stink off. Cinematically, if 2016 was like The Eggplant That Ate Chicago, then 2017 was more like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, a gruesome glimpse into the twisted soul of America. And by that I do not mean simply our dear leader, the Golden Golem of Greatness. We’re all in this horror show together. 2017 kicked off with the report by “seventeen intelligence agencies” — did you know there were so many professional snoops and busybodies on the US payroll? — declaring that Russia, and Vladimir Putin personally, tried to influence the 2016 presidential election.

“Meddling” and “collusion” became the watch-words of the year: but what exactly did they mean? Buying $100,000 worth of Google ads in a campaign that the two parties spent billions on? No doubt the “seventeen intelligence agencies” the US pays for were not alert to these shenanigans until the damage was done. Since then it’s been Russia-Russia-Russia 24/7 on the news wires. A few pleas bargains have been made to lever-up the action. When and if the Special Prosecutor, Mr. Mueller, pounces, I expect the GGG to fire him, pardon some of the plea-bargained culprits (if that’s what they were and not just patsies), and incite a constitutional crisis. Won’t that be fun? Anyway, that set the tone for the inauguration of the Golden Golem, a ghastly adversarial spectacle.

Never in my memory, going back to JFK in 1960, was there such a bad vibe at this solemn transfer of power as with the sight of all those Deep State dignitaries gathering gloomily on the Capitol portico to witness the unthinkable. From the sour scowl on her face, I thought Hillary might leap up and attempt to garrote the GGG with a high-C piano wire right there on rostrum. The “greatest crowd ever” at an inauguration, as the new president saw it, looked pathetically sparse to other observers. The deed got done. Five days later, the Dow Jones stock index hit the 20,000 mark and began a year-long run like no other in history: 50 all-time-highs, and a surge of 5000 points by year’s end, with 12 solid “winning” months of uptick.

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That 15% foreign buyers tax didn’t help much.

Foreign Cash Driving Top-End House Prices In Vancouver And Toronto (R.)

Foreign buyers are driving up the prices of homes in Canada’s two largest housing markets, according to research which will intensify the debate around overseas property ownership in the expensive cities of Vancouver and Toronto. While people living outside Canada own less than 5% of residential properties in the two cities, those homes are worth significantly more than those held by residents, according to a Reuters analysis of data released this week by Statistics Canada. Public debate over the role of foreign investment in Canada has reached a fever pitch, with locals saying price increases of 60% in Vancouver and 40% in Toronto over the past three years are keeping them out of the market. In Toronto, the average value of a detached home built in 2016-2017 and owned by a non-resident is C$1.7m (US$1.3m), a whopping 48.7% higher than C$1.1m for residents.

Those values for Vancouver average a lofty C$2.5m for non-residents and C$1.8m for residents for a difference of 40.6%. Among all detached homes, not just new ones, those owned by non-residents were larger than residents’ houses by 13.1% in Vancouver and 2.2% in Toronto. The new data reinforces anecdotal evidence that foreign buyers tend to focus on the most affluent neighborhoods, said Jane Londerville, a real estate professor at the University of Guelph in Southern Ontario. “If the goal is to get a couple million dollars out of their country and put it in a very safe, calm economy, you might as well buy a C$2m house,” she said. “So they’re buying in Forest Hill in Toronto and Kerrisdale in Vancouver.” The Statscan data does not look at sales, or flow, but rather is a static snapshot of ownership of housing stock at the time of collection.

Foreign capital also targets new condos, with new Vancouver units owned by non-residents valued at 19.7% more than those owned by residents. In Toronto, the difference is 11.2%. “There’s been a huge spike in foreign ownership in newer buildings,” said Diana Petramala, senior researcher at Ryerson University’s urban policy centre in Toronto. [..] A 15% foreign buyers tax was imposed in Vancouver in 2016 and Toronto in 2017 amid a backlash against foreign buyers, particularly from China. This has cooled both markets at least temporarily.

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Canada doesn’t want to solve the issue anymore than any other country does.

Canadian Housing Affordability Hits 27 Year Low (Saretsky)

“Nothing says Merry Christmas like a 27 year low for Canadian housing affordability. That’s right, real estate across Canada has not been this un affordable since the year 1990 per RBC. Spoiler alert house prices tumbled shortly thereafter. RBC Bank released their updated Q3 numbers for housing affordability. To no surprise, Vancouver leads the nation in the most unaffordable market to buy a home. Followed by Toronto and then Victoria. “The deterioration in the latest two quarters, in fact, put Vancouver buyers in the worst affordability position ever recorded in Canada.“ The area experienced the sharpest affordability drop among Canada’s major markets between the second and third quarters. RBC’s aggregate measure surged by 5.3 percentage points to 87.5%. This represents a new record high for any market in Canada. We see further downside to Vancouver’s home ownership rate in the period ahead. The rate fell from 65.5% in 2011 to 63.7% in 2016.”

What RBC didn’t mention in their report is the correlation between elevated house prices that cause affordability issues and recessions. When too much household money is spent servicing mortgage payments it eventually becomes a drag on consumer spending and ultimately triggers a recession. This is not to suggest a recession is imminent. But when the percent of income the median family would have to use to service debt pushes above 50% in Toronto and Vancouver, a recession typically follows in Canada. Currently Toronto is at 71.7%, and Vancouver is at 79.87%. With the Bank of Canada expected to follow our US counter parts in 2018, a couple more interest rate increases are sure to erode affordability even further. Across Canada, Household income would need to climb by 8.5% to fully cover the increase in homeownership costs arising from a 75 basis-point hike in mortgage rates. Buckle in.

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Would you bet on MBS?

Saudi Government Wants $6 Billion For al-Waleed’s Freedom (ZH)

In case you were wondering what the going-rate was for one of the world’s richest men’s freedom… it’s $6 billion… in unencumbered cash (not Bitcoin). That is the price that Saudi authorities are demanding from Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal to free him from detention. The 62-year-old prince was one of the dozens of royals, government officials and businesspeople rounded up early last month in a wave of arrests the Saudi government billed as the first volley in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s campaign against widespread graft. According to the Mail, al-Waleed, who is (or was, until recently) one of the richest men in the world, has also been hung upside down and beaten.

The Saudi government has disclosed few details of its allegations against the accused, but as The Wall Street Journal reports, people familiar with the matter said the $6 billion Saudi officials are demanding from Prince al-Waleed, a large stakeholder in Western businesses like Twitter, is among the highest figures they have sought from those arrested. While the prince’s fortune is estimated at $18.7 billion by Forbes – which would make him the Middle East’s wealthiest individual – he has indicated that he believes raising and handing over that much cash as an admission of guilt and would require him to dismantle the financial empire he has built over 25 years. Prince al-Waleed is talking with the government about instead accepting as payment for his release a large piece of his conglomerate, Kingdom Holding Co., people familiar with the matter said.

The Riyadh-listed company’s market value is $8.7 billion, down about 14% since the prince’s arrest. Kingdom Holding said in November that it retained the support of the Saudi government and that its strategy “remains intact.” According to a senior Saudi official, Prince al-Waleed faces accusations that include money laundering, bribery and extortion. The official didn’t elaborate, but said the Saudi government is merely “having an amicable exchange to reach a settlement.” The prince has indicated to people close to him that he is determined to prove his innocence and would fight the corruption allegations in court if he had to. “He wants a proper investigation. It is expected that al-Waleed will give MBS a hard time,” said a person close to Prince al-Waleed, referring to the crown prince by his initials, as many do.

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As I said yesterday, this won’t’ be as big as subprime houseing, but it’ll be much messier: “The problem with high rebate numbers is it absolutely kills the resale value of a car.”

What’s Going On With Cars? (Gaines)

Automotive credit has become easier in the last few years, and manufacturers are still seeking whatever growth they can come up with in our market at any cost. People are buying cars they can’t afford or shouldn’t even have been able to buy. Used car depreciation is at an all time high for many cars and yet everyday more and more people are trading them in. This whole scenario has a bleak end that became evident when I went to my buddy Paris’ repo lot. He called me to check out a 2016 BMW 435i he jacked for BMW Financial Services. It was a beautiful Estoril Blue M-Sport car with just under eight thousand miles on the clock. I could only imagine the circumstances where someone let go of a year old BMW, but as we walked through I noticed all of the cars seemed to be nearly new.

Paris confirmed my fears when he told my about nine-out-of-ten vehicles he’s repossessed in the last few months were model year 2016 or newer. To make matters worse Paris only does work for prime and a few captive lenders, meaning a majority of these cars went out to consumers with good credit. On the other end, every time I look up from my desk there is a customer who is absolutely drowned in their vehicle. Six thousand dollars in negative equity is the norm, but I’ve witnessed numbers as high as twenty thousand in the last year. Customers are always astounded by how their car has lost so much of its value so quickly. What they fail to realise is their car was worthless from the beginning. Rebates and incentives are at an all time high at many manufacturers, J.D. Power quoted an average around four thousand dollars earlier this year, and I’m sure that number has risen since then. The problem with high rebate numbers is it absolutely kills the resale value of a car.

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Keep squeezing, there’s still some blood left there.

Greek Pensioners May Face Further Cuts In 2018 (K.)

Auxiliary pensions appear headed for a fresh cut in 2018, as the single auxiliary social security fund (ETEAEP) will end 2017 with a deficit, against the small surplus originally forecast. Crucially, while the ETEAEP budget for next year provides for a surplus of €176.01 million, expenditure on pensions will be reduced by 150 million euros. Based on the latest social security laws introduced by former minister Giorgos Katrougalos and current minister Effie Achtsioglou, the new auxiliary pensions – when they are finally issued – will be reduced by 22% on average, with a cut of up to 18% expected to existing pensions in 2019. The provisions of the ETEAEP budget that Kathimerini has seen suggest that existing pensions might be cut as early as next year. The single auxiliary social security fund is now projecting a deficit of €166.6 million for this year, compared to an original forecast for a €10.07 million surplus.

For next year’s surplus of 176.007 million euros to be attained, spending on auxiliary pensions will have to be reduced from €4.30 billion in 2016 and €4.17 billion this year to €4.02 billion in 2018. This means the sum of auxiliary pensions will decline by 3.59% next year. Revenues from next year’s social security contributions are estimated at €2.68 billion, against €2.566 billion this year (compared to a forecast for €2.581 billion). The ETEAEP budget also shows that the fund sold bonds worth €200 million this yea – at a considerable loss – while next year it will need to cash in bonds worth €80 million from the special fund at the Bank of Greece. In total, takings from the fund’s cash and bond handling for this year are estimated at €397.14 million, against an original projection of €200.54 million. Revenues from the utilization or sale of assets will amount to an estimated €311.65 million next year.

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How typical is this of mankind on the verge of 2018? The idea is environmental problems can be solved by putting monetary values on everything. The idea is as wrong as it is stupid. Cleaning the planet will not be done for monetary reasons.

Make Supermarkets And Drinks Firms Pay For Plastic Recycling, Say UK MPs (G.)

Supermarkets, retailers and drinks companies should be forced to pay significantly more towards the recycling of the plastic packaging they sell, an influential committee of MPs has said. Members of the environmental audit committee called for a societal change in the UK to reduce the 7.7bn plastic water bottles used each year, and embed a culture of carrying reusable containers which are refilled at public water fountains and restaurants, cafes, sports centres and fast food outlets. British consumers use 13bn plastic bottles a year, but only 7.5bn are recyled. MPs said the introduction of a plastic bottle deposit return scheme (DRS) was key to reducing plastic waste in the UK, as part of a series of measures to reduce littering and increase recycling rates.

Michael Gove, the environment secretary, has called for evidence on a plastic bottle deposit scheme, and it is expected to be part of measures he announces in the new year. Major retailers have yet to support such a scheme, but Iceland and the Co-op recently announced their backing for a DRS. The report published on Friday underlines the need for government intervention to tackle plastic waste in the UK and calls for higher charges on companies to contribute to clearing up the waste they create. Mary Creagh, chair of the environmental audit committee, said: “Urgent action is needed to protect our environment from the devastating effects of marine plastic pollution, which if it continues to rise at current rates, will outweigh fish by 2050.

“Plastic bottles make up a third of all plastic pollution in the sea and are a growing litter problem on UK beaches. We need action at individual, council, regional and national levels to turn back the plastic tide.” In the report MPs called for the “polluter pays” principle to be applied to companies to increase their contribution to recycling plastic waste.

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