Jan 072018
 
 January 7, 2018  Posted by at 10:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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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: , , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »
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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.

Read more …

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.

Read more …

Dec 072017
 
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MC Escher Convex and concave 1955

 

Note: no Debt Rattle tomorrow due to travel

 

The Great Credit Party Is Almost Over, Societe Generale Says (BBG)
Mother of All Bubbles Too Big to Pop – Peter Schiff (USAW)
One Day Soon, The Sun Will Not Rise (Econimica)
China’s Financial System Has Three Important ‘Tensions’ – IMF (CNBC)
Bitcoin Mining Service NiceHash Says Hackers Emptied Its Wallet (BBG)
Trump: Government Shutdown ‘Could Happen’ Saturday (CNBC)
Trump Calls On Saudi Arabia To End Yemen Blockade Immediately (Ind.)
Why the Deep State Is at War With Trump (Stockman)
How Corporate Power Killed Democracy (CP)
EU Regulators Threaten Court Challenge To EU-US Data Transfer Pact (R.)
Greek Stability Attracts US Investors Amid Turkey, Middle East Tumult (CNBC)
Greek Islands Boiling Over As Winter Arrives (K.)
Scientists Warn Of 93% Chance Global Warming Will Exceed 4°C (Ind.)

 

 

“Emerging market and high-yield markets are the most alarming.”

The Great Credit Party Is Almost Over, Societe Generale Says (BBG)

The great credit party that’s taken yield premiums in major markets down around lowest in a decade is probably months away from an end, as central banks normalize monetary policy and the economic outlook softens, Societe Generale predicts. “We expect next year to be a transition year, when the ultra-low yield environment finally starts to lose its grip,” Societe Generale credit strategists Juan Esteban Valencia and Guy Stear wrote in a note. “The U.S. and the eurozone are heading for an economic slowdown in 2019, and given the rising levels of corporate leverage, this should have an impact on credit.” U.S. investment-grade bond premiums will widen by mid-2018, with European counterparts following suit, as credit markets price in the economic slowdown, they wrote.

“The sword falls in 2H,” they predicted in a report that recognized last year’s annual outlook proved too bearish. Societe Generale had anticipated political risk to hurt credit in 2017, but changed tack by March as that didn’t pan out. Now, with global premiums having fallen further, “credit looks very pricey indeed,” they wrote. “Emerging market and high-yield markets are the most alarming.”

Read more …

Schiff is right, except he keeps being focused on the dollar alone. It’s an American thing.

Mother of All Bubbles Too Big to Pop – Peter Schiff (USAW)

Money manager Peter Schiff correctly predicted the financial meltdown in 2008. Now, 10 years later, what does Schiff see today? Schiff says, “I predicted a lot more than just the stock market going down back then. I predicted the financial crisis, but more importantly, I predicted what the government would do as a result of the financial crisis and what the consequences of that would be because that’s where we’re headed. The real crash I wrote about in my most recent book is still coming. . . . This is the third gigantic bubble that the Fed has inflated, and when this one pops, it’s not going to be ‘the third time is a charm.’ It’s going to be ‘three strikes and you’re out.’ I think this bubble is too big to pop. I think it’s the mother of all bubbles, and when it bursts, there is not a bigger one that the Fed is going to be able to inflate to mask these problems, meaning we can’t kick the can down the road anymore.”

This time, the crisis is going to hit everyone in the wallet. Schiff goes on to say, “I think the problem we are going to be confronted with is going to be much worse than a financial crisis. It is going to be a dollar crisis, and it is going to be a sovereign debt crisis where the bonds people are worried about are not some sub-prime mortgages. . . . It’s going to be the U.S. government that people are worried about and the solvency of the U.S. government and the Treasury bonds. If it’s a dollar crisis and people are worried about the dollar, the only thing worse than owning a dollar today is owning the promise of being paid in dollars in the future. I don’t think we have the courage to default and admit to our creditors that we don’t have the money and we can’t repay. I think we will create all the money that we need so we can pretend to repay, but what we end up doing is wiping out the debt with inflation.”

Read more …

Many more graphs in this from Chris Hamilton. US population growth? It was all immigration: “.. the US fertility rate has been negative for 45 years..”

One Day Soon, The Sun Will Not Rise (Econimica)

When the Q4 US resident population data is released, something that has not happened in the post WWII era will take place. The population of adults aged 15-64 years old will decline. This was not supposed to happen and will put an end to seven plus decades of continuous population growth which has meant a growing workforce, a growing consumer base, and growing tax base. A growing core US population, something considered as sacrosanct as the sun rising, will not happen. On a year over year basis, where there once were up to 3 million more homebuyers than the previous year, 3 million more car buyers than the year before, 3 million more potential customers…there will be likely be thousands fewer.

Many will assume this is a demographic issue of boomers exiting the working age population… but actually demographics is simply the early onset of a disease that will only progressively worsen. This is truly a population growth issue, not simply a demographic distribution problem. The economic system the US and world have adopted are dependent on perpetual growth on a quarter over quarter and year over year basis. Two negative quarters (or even zero growth) and a recession is called and all the Federal Reserve’s and federal governments tools are employed. Given the importance of growth, the most important factor in growing the economy is the rising demand represented by a growing population. But the US fertility rate has been negative for 45 years (chart below) meaning the native population (plus immigrants) have continually failed to replace themselves.

This means US population growth has simply been a story of immigration. And until 2000, N. America was the primary destination for the majority of the world’s immigrants. However, since ’00 and particularly since ’05, the migration patterns have significantly changed.

Read more …

The soft approach.

China’s Financial System Has Three Important ‘Tensions’ – IMF (CNBC)

An almost two-year long study of the Chinese financial system by the International Monetary Fund found three major tensions that could derail the world’s second-largest economy. Those tensions emerged as China moves away from its role as the world’s factory to a more modern, consumer-driven economy, the IMF said. The financial sector is critical in facilitating that transition, but in the process it evolved into a more complicated and debt-laden system. “The system’s increasing complexity has sown financial stability risks,” the fund said in the 2017 China Financial Sector Stability Assessment report released on Thursday morning Asia hours. The report was a culmination of the fund’s several visits to China between October 2015 and September 2017.

The assessment is intended to identify key sources of systemic risk in the financial sector so that policies can be implemented to enhance resilience to shocks and problems that could spread across the globe. The first tension in China’s financial system, according to the IMF, is the rapid build-up in risky credit that was partly due to the strong political pressures banks face to keep non-viable companies open, rather than letting them fail. Such struggling firms have, in recent years, taken on more debt to achieve growth targets set by the authorities. The overall debt-to-GDP ratio in the Asian economic giant grew from around 180% in 2011 to 255.9% by the second quarter of 2017, data by the Bank for International Settlements showed. The rise coincided with a slowdown in productivity growth and pressures on asset quality in the banking system – increasing the risks faced by the Chinese economy.

The second tension identified by the IMF is that risky lending has moved away from banks to the less-regulated parts of the financial system, commonly known as the “shadow banking” sector. That adds to the complexity of the financial sector and makes it more difficult for authorities to supervise activities in the system, the IMF said. And the third issue identified by the international organization is that there’s been a rash of “moral hazard and excessive risk-taking” because of the mindset that the government will bail out troubled state-owned enterprises and local government financing vehicles. An example is the “implicit guarantees” that financial institutions offer when selling products to retail investors. That is a situation where the financial product sold are not guaranteed, but banks almost always compensate investors for principal losses by dipping into their own capital.

The People’s Bank of China, in response to the IMF assessment, said in a statement on its website that it disagrees with some points in the report but the fund’s recommendations are “highly relevant in the context of deepening financial reforms” in the country. One of the points the Chinese central bank said it disagrees with is the conclusion that many banks lack the ability to withstand shocks. The IMF’s stress tests found that 27 out of 33 banks studied were under-capitalized. But the PBOC said the Chinese financial system is resilient.

Read more …

NiceHash is the largest bitcoin-mining exchange. Well, its coins have been found. But what now?

“a highly professional attack with sophisticated social engineering”

Bitcoin Mining Service NiceHash Says Hackers Emptied Its Wallet (BBG)

NiceHash, the marketplace for cloud-based mining of cryptocurrencies, said hackers breached its systems and stole an unknown amount of bitcoin from its virtual wallet. “We are working to verify the precise number of BTC taken,” the company said Wednesday in a statement on its Facebook page. It’s halting operations for 24 hours, it said. The venture’s main webpage showed a “maintenance” error message, linking to its social media accounts. NiceHash helps match people who can spare computing capacity with miners looking to solve complex math problems to obtain a variety of new coins. It later facilitates periodic payments to the service providers with bitcoin. A wallet address circulated by NiceHash users shows that more than $60 million of bitcoins might be affected, according to CoinDesk, the cryptocurrency research and news website.

Read more …

Seems a bit early, but echo chambers are deafening.

Trump: Government Shutdown ‘Could Happen’ Saturday (CNBC)

President Donald Trump on Wednesday said that a government shutdown “could happen” as soon as Saturday. “It could happen,” Trump said during a Cabinet meeting at the White House, in response to a reporter’s question about the Friday deadline for a spending bill to fund the government. “The Democrats are really looking at something that could be very dangerous for our country,” Trump said. “They are looking at shutting down. They want to have illegal immigrants, in many cases people that we don’t want in our country, they want to have illegal immigrants pouring into our country, bringing with them crime, tremendous amounts of crime.” Congress has until midnight on Friday to approve a short-term spending package to keep the government open. Despite majorities in both chambers, Republicans will need Democratic votes to pass the bill.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., responded on Twitter to Trump’s comments saying: “President Trump is the only person talking about a government shutdown. Democrats are hopeful the President will be open to an agreement to address the urgent needs of the American people and keep government open.” What congressional Democrats want in exchange for supporting the spending bill are permanent protections for the nearly 800,000 young, undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States who were brought here as children, the so-called Dreamers. Earlier this year, Trump canceled an Obama-era protection policy for Dreamers, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. The president’s order gave Congress until March 2018 to pass a bill with DACA-like protections.

Read more …

To balance out the Jerusalem decision? Jerusalem should be a religious city, not a political one.

Trump Calls On Saudi Arabia To End Yemen Blockade Immediately (Ind.)

US President Donald Trump has called on Saudi Arabia to end its Yemen blockade immediately, citing humanitarian concerns. Mr Trump said in a statement that he has directed US officials to call Saudi Arabian leaders and request they “completely allow food, fuel, water and medicine to reach the Yemeni people.” He said Yemenis “desperately need it.” A Saudi-led coalition has been fighting to defeat the Iran-backed Houthis and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s forces in Yemen since March 2015 with the aim of reinstating the internationally recognized government of Mr Saleh’s successor, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The US has been supporting the coalition through weapons sales, some intelligence sharing, and refuelling capabilities for air operations.

Since the conflict began, at least 10,000 people have died as a result and 40,000 have been wounded, Al Jazeera reported. Mr Saleh was killed earlier this week after moving to switch allegiances in the bloody conflict, making the situation in the country unpredictable according to experts. [..] The Saudi-led coalition had imposed a blockade on the country last month after Houthi rebels fired a missile on the Saudi capital of Riyadh. It responded by sending a slew of missiles into Yemen’s capital Sanaa. The blockade was partially lifted at the Hudaya port of the international airport in Sanaa and the first aid shipments were allowed to enter the country just last week. In the meantime, aid groups were forced to buy their own fuel in order to assist with relief work.

Read more …

Stockma’s not the lonly one pointing out that the NSA already knows everything. They don’t have to interview Flynn for that.

Why the Deep State Is at War With Trump (Stockman)

If you were a Martian visitor just disembarked from of one of Elon Musk’s rocket ships and were therefore uninfected by earth-based fake news, the culprits in Washington’s witch-hunt de jure would be damn obvious. They include John Brennan, Jim Comey, Sally Yates, Peter Strzok and a passel of deep state operatives – all of whom baldly abused their offices. After Brennan had concocted the whole Russian election meddling meme to sully the Donald’s shocking election win, the latter three holdovers – functioning as a political fifth column in the new Administration – set a perjury trap designed to snare Mike Flynn as a first step in relitigating and reversing the voters’ verdict. The smoking gun on their guilt is so flamingly obvious that the ability of the Trump-hating media to ignore it is itself a wonder to behold.

After all, anyone fresh off Elon’s rocket ship would learn upon even cursory investigation of the matter that the National Security Agency (NSA) intercepts electronically every single communication of the Russian Ambassador with any person on US soil – whether by email, text or phone call. So the clear-minded visitor’s simple question would be: What do the transcripts say? In fact, a Martian visitor would also quickly understand that the entire world – friend, rival, foe and enemy, alike – already knows of NSA’s giant digital spying operation owing to Snowden’s leaks, and that therefore there are no “sources and methods” on the SIGINT (signals intelligence) front to protect. Accordingly, the disinterested Martian would undoubtedly insist: Declassify the NSA intercepts and publish them on Facebook (and, for old timers, on the front page of the New York Times) so that the truth would be known to all.

Of course, that would punch a deep hole in the entire RussiaGate witchhunt because NSA, in fact, did record Flynn’s late December conversations with Russian Ambassador Kislyak. And there was not a single word in them that related to alleged campaign collusion or otherwise inappropriate communications by the in-coming national security adviser to a newly-elected President who was three-weeks from inauguration. Indeed, as explained below, Mueller has effectively told us that Flynn’s communications with Kislyak were clean as a whistle.

Read more …

Corporatism. Another name for Mussolini’s version of fascism.

How Corporate Power Killed Democracy (CP)

The rise of Corporate Power was the fall of democracy. Over the long haul, US politics has revolved around a deep tension between democracy and an unrelenting drive for plunder, power and empire. Granted that our democracy has been seriously flawed and only rarely revolutionary, yet the democratic movements are the source of every good thing America has ever stood for. Since the mid-1970s, when the corporations fused with the state, a new imperial order emerged that killed what remained of representative democracy. Not only would corporations exercise public authority as only government once had, but government would coordinate and serve corporate activity. Power and profits became one and the same. Corporate power has replaced democracy with oligarchy and justice with a vast militarized penal system.

Instead of innovative production, they plunder people and planet. To achieve this new order, elections and the economy had to be drained of any remaining democratic content. Both Democrats and Republicans were eager to have at it. By the 1990s “Third Way” Democrats like Bill Clinton abandoned what was left of the New Deal to try to outdo the Republicans as the party of Wall Street. The Republicans pioneered election fraud on a national scale in 2000, 2004, and 2016; a lesson the Democrats learned all too well by the 2016 Primary. Neither major party wants election reform since free and fair elections would threaten the system itself. So-called private corporations like Facebook, Google and Twitter control information and manage the 1st Amendment.

The corporate media now broadcast propaganda and play the role of censor once monopolized by the FBI and CIA. The migration of propaganda work to civilian organizations began under Ronald Reagan. While both major parties offer the people nothing beyond austerity and the worst kind of identity politics, the big banks like Goldman Sachs gained positions of real influence with both Republican and Democratic administrations and always with the Department of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve. Without pubic money and political protection the banking system — the headquarters of the mythical free market — could not function.

Read more …

Yes, this has everything to do with Google, Facebook et al (not just government spies). It involves some $260 billion in digital trade.

EU Regulators Threaten Court Challenge To EU-US Data Transfer Pact (R.)

European Union privacy regulators have threatened to bring a legal challenge to a year-old EU-U.S. pact on the cross-border transfer of personal data if their concerns about its functioning and U.S. surveillance practices are not resolved by the autumn of 2018, they said in a report. The EU-U.S. Privacy Shield pact was agreed last year after the European Union’s highest court had struck down the previous Safe Harbour Principles agreement which allowed companies to transfer European citizens’ personal data to the United States, due to concerns about intrusive U.S. surveillance of online data. The Privacy Shield pact enables companies to easily conduct everyday cross-border data transfers in compliance with EU data protection rules.

“The WP29 (Article 29 Working Party) has identified a number of significant concerns that need to be addressed by both the (European) Commission and the U.S. authorities,” the regulators – known as the Article 29 Working Party – said in their report. The European Commission, which negotiated the Privacy Shield deal, conducted its first annual review in September and said it was satisfied with the way it was working. It did however ask Washington to improve it, including by strengthening the privacy protections contained in a controversial portion of the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), known as Section 702. Section 702 allows the U.S. National Security Agency to collect digital communications from foreign suspects living outside the United States. It is due to expire on Dec. 31 in the absence of congressional action.

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It won’t remain stable. Or rather, it never was: poevry is making more victims every day.

Greek Stability Attracts US Investors Amid Turkey, Middle East Tumult (CNBC)

A series of positive factors for the Greek economy are attracting U.S. investors back to the embattled euro zone nation, a government minister told CNBC. “There are many American investors who are interested in participating in projects in Greece, because every clever investor would be interested in an economy that now starts to have positive growth rates,” Dimitris Tzanakopoulo, Greek minister of state and the government spokesperson, told CNBC Monday. Following a meeting between President Donald Trump and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in October, there’s a renewed interest from the U.S. in shoring up its investments in Greece, especially in the energy sector.

Aside from a bounce back in economic growth, Tzanakopoulo said that Greece was “a pillar of stability in a region” and is winning back investors. “(The region) has many, many problems, wherever you look there’s destabilization, there is turbulence,” Tzanakopoulo said in his office in Athens. “We think we are one of the factors which will secure and guarantee stability in the region and this is something everybody knows, from the U.S. to our European partners,” he said. At the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa, Greece is a key ally for many Western countries in the face of escalating tumult in Turkey and the rest of the Middle East.

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Apparently Berlin has not given permission to move refugees to the mainland. Shame on you, mutti Merkel.

Greek Islands Boiling Over As Winter Arrives (K.)

The decision by the Migration Policy Ministry to expand and upgrade hot spots on Chios and Lesvos have cultivated a tense atmosphere, as critics say it will do nothing to ease pressure on the eastern Aegean islands and or to alleviate the situation of thousands of stranded refugees and migrants crammed in camps designed to hold far less people. Moreover, the onset of winter has made a bad situation even worse and the calls for authorities to accelerate asylum applications so as to transfer people to the mainland have become even louder. In the bid to deal with the deteriorating conditions, a team from Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) has, since last week, set up operations outside the Moria camp in Lesvos, offering assistance to those in need in cooperation with the Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KEELPNO).

In a Facebook post, MSF said the harsh conditions and the cold are posing a serious threat to the health of the some 7,000 people that remain at the Moria hot spot. The group, which has called for the immediate transfer of those living at Moria to the mainland, has set up a mobile unit outside the camp to help children under the age of 16 and pregnant women. MSF is also distributing blankets, mattresses and other basic necessities as the situation, it said, is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis. At the same time, the Migration Policy Ministry is planning to transfer another 65 prefabricated huts to Moria in a bid to increase the camp’s capacity and to improve the living conditions of those that are still staying in summer tents. But the move is set to trigger more acrimony, as islanders and local authorities have said they do not agree with the expansion of the hot spot’s capacity.

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That would mean much higher sea levels.

Scientists Warn Of 93% Chance Global Warming Will Exceed 4°C (Ind.)

Current predictions of climate change may significantly underestimate the speed and severity of global warming, according to a new study. Reappraisal of the models climate scientists use to determine future warming has revealed that less optimistic estimates are more realistic. The results suggest that the Paris Climate Agreement, which aims to keep global average temperatures from rising by 2C, may be overly ambitious. “Our study indicates that if emissions follow a commonly used business-as-usual scenario, there is a 93% chance that global warming will exceed 4C by the end of this century,” said Dr Ken Caldeira, an atmospheric scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, who co-authored the new study. This likelihood is an increase on past estimates, which placed it at 62%.

Climate models are vital tools for scientists attempting to understand the impacts of greenhouse-gas emissions. They are constructed using fundamental knowledge of physics and the world’s climate. But the climate system is incredibly complex, and as a result there is disagreement about how best to model key aspects of it. This means scientists have produced dozens of climate models predicting a range of different global warming outcomes resulting from greenhouse-gas emissions. Based on a “business-as-usual” scenario in which emissions continue at the same rate, climate models range in their predictions from a 3.2C increase in global temperatures to a 5.9C increase The new study, published in the journal Nature, sought to resolve this situation and establish whether the upper or lower estimates are more accurate.

To do this, Dr Caldeira and his collaborator Dr Patrick Brown reasoned that the most accurate models would be the ones that were best at simulating climate patterns in the recent past. “It makes sense that the models that do the best job at simulating today’s observations might be the models with the most reliable predictions,” said Dr Caldeira. Their conclusion was that models with higher estimates were more likely to be accurate, with the most likely degree of warming 0.5C higher than previous best estimates.

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If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life.
—Thoreau

 

Nov 292017
 
 November 29, 2017  Posted by at 10:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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Claude Monet The Manneporte (Étretat) 1883

 

VIX – From Fear Index To Greed Index (Tchir)
When VIX Trade Finally Blows Up, It Could Get Ugly All Over (MW)
DB’s “2018 Credit Outlook” – Bearish Not Benign Conclusion (ZH)
The GOP Tax Bill: Fuggedaboutit! (Stockman)
Number Of US Store Closings Triples From Last Year (Snyder)
Trump Deserves Some Credit for the Rally in Stocks (A. Gary Shilling)
Fed Chair Nominee Jerome Powell Says Too Big To Fail Is Over (BI)
Britain Close To Deal On Brexit Bill With EU (R.)
Former New Zealand PM John Key Lied About Mass Surveillance Program (NZH)
Senior Saudi Prince Freed In $1 Billion Settlement Agreement (R.)
Europe Needs a Way to Prevent the Next Greek-Style Debt Crisis (BBG)
Controversial Glyphosate Weedkiller Wins New 5-Year Lease In Europe (G.)
New Zealand Fault Line Wakes Up: “We Must Think Japan 2011 Ruptures” (SHTF)
Libya “Chose” Freedom, Now It Has Slavery (CP)
The EU Created Libya’s Migrant Abuses, Now It Must Address Them (CP)

 

 

The crazy idea of ultra low risk will be found out.

VIX – From Fear Index To Greed Index (Tchir)

We have all heard the VIX or volatility index referred to as the Fear Index or Fear Gauge. Rising VIX was meant to signal fear in the markets. That is how most investors have historically thought about VIX and traded it (directly or through Exchange Traded Products). I have gone back in time and combined the total assets under management of XIV and SVXY (two short VIX products) and UVXY and VXX (the two largest long VIX products). There are others and it doesn’t account for the fact that UVXY incorporates leverage, but the point is the same. The funds that in theory helped investors ‘hedge’ their portfolios went from being the dominant species to those that enable investors to sell volatility.


Short VIX Funds are Larger than Long VIX Funds (source Bloomberg)

This has rarely been the case. Typically investors had more interest in hedging their portfolios despite the evidence that the long VIX ETFs and ETNs had to continually perform reverse splits as their share prices drifted lower (some would argue “raced” lower is a more accurate description). While the products looking to benefit on a volatility spike still attract inflows (otherwise their assets under management would be even lower), they have lost the competition to the VIX sellers. The only other gap of similar size and duration was in late August 2015 – AFTER the market sold off and volatility spiked. This time, it is occurring as stock markets are near all-time highs and VIX is still close to the all-time low it set just a few weeks ago (VIX is only calculated since 1990). [..] A spike in volatility could be far more problematic than the market is prepared for as even a small spike could turn into a larger problem with so many people positioned the other way.

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“.. it has the potential to destabilize the entire financial system on its own.”

When VIX Trade Finally Blows Up, It Could Get Ugly All Over (MW)

Bitcoin’s face-melting rally toward $10,000 is the talk of financial circles these days. But if the digital currency is, indeed, the dangerous bubble many believe it to be, its inevitable implosion will pale in comparison to the potential damage caused by the demise of one of the best trades the Wall Street has ever seen: Shorting the VIX. You’d have to be living under a rock — or maybe just a normal person who doesn’t fixate on the stock market — to not notice the incredible lack of volatility in this bull run. This persistent trend has lined the pocket of any investor who’s been savvy/lucky enough to bet against the VIX. Count Seth Golden, a former Target manager, among those fortunate to be on the right side of it. He told the Times this summer his net worth exploded from $500,000 to $12 million in about five years thanks to his VIX shorts. This chart shows insane it’s been:

But all good things come to an end, and when this historic trend finally reverses, the fallout could be devastating. In our call of the day, Kevin Muir of the Macro Tourist blog warns that these people face getting completely “wiped out” when volatility returns to this market. And it won’t end there. “A VIX spike is dangerous not only for everyone that is playing in the VIX square, but for all market participants,” he explained in a recent blog post. “Given the size of the VIX complex, it has the potential to destabilize the entire financial system on its own. If the move is abrupt and large enough, it will not only bankrupt many different parties, but will cause a ripple effect in other markets.”

Muir went on to warn the real worry here is not just that those who have made enormous sums on shorting the VIX are about to give it all back. No, he believes they, as well as many others, stand to lose a whole lot more. “Shorting VIX, at these low levels, in the size they are doing, is not only dumb, but crazily dangerous, not only to the parties trading it, but also to the stability of the entire financial system,” he said.

Read more …

How can the VIX remain low in the face of this?

DB’s “2018 Credit Outlook” – Bearish Not Benign Conclusion (ZH)

Heading into 2018, Reid characterises risk assets as a tightrope walker who’s successfully negotiated a hire wire since the 2008 crisis. However, the confidence of our risk asset funambulist was always fortified by the knowledge that there was a huge safety net direct beneath him in the shape of the central bank put. In Reid’s own words. “The best analogy for our view on 2018 is that risk assets are like a highly skilled but still relatively inexperienced tightrope walker. Our tightrope walker started his career immediately after the GFC and earned his apprenticeship in very difficult conditions with lots of crosswinds but with the knowledge that a huge safety net existed beneath him. This allowed him to walk across the narrow line with slow but ever-increasing confidence, skill and aplomb. In our analogy the safety net is the central bank put that has continued to help financial markets’ confidence over the last several years in spite of very challenging conditions.”

As the tightrope walker steps from December 2017 into January 2018, he’s going to notice a disconcerting change in his safety net. “However in 2018 our tightrope walker will have to move onto the next phase of his career where the structural support of the safety net will likely be slowly weakened. Every time he looks down he’ll figuratively see a central banker loosen or take away a supporting rope. As such his skills and confidence are likely to be tested more than in recent years.” Reid is specifically referring to the growth in the size of the big four DM central bank balance sheets, i.e. the Federal Reserve, ECB, Bank of Japan and the Bank of England. At the end of 2017, the combined size of the big four’s balance sheets is estimated to reach about $14.9 trillion, an increase of about $1.8 trillion on the end of 2016. That’s about to change radically, as he notes. “Assuming fairly neutral and consensus assumptions, central bank balance sheet growth will fall sharply over the next 12-24 months from the near peak levels currently seen.”

The chart below shows that on a rolling twelve-month basis, growth will fall sharply, beginning in 2Q 2018. By the end of 2018, DM estimates that the rolling twelve-month growth will have declined about 75% from its 2017 level to about $450 billion. By August 2019, growth will have declined to zero according to DB’s estimate.

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Hope the GOP reads these missives.

The GOP Tax Bill: Fuggedaboutit! (Stockman)

The GOP has become so politically desperate that they might as well enact a two-word statute and be done with it. It would simply read: Tax Bill! Actually, that’s not far from where they are in the great scheme of things. The Senate Finance Committee’s bill is a dog’s breakfast of K-Street/Wall Street pleasing tax cuts, narrowly focused revenue raisers that will be subject to withering attack on the Senate floor, nonsensical vote-driven compromises and outrageous fiscal gimmicks – the most blatant of which is the sun-setting of every single individual tax provision after 2025. This latter trick is designed to shoe-horn the revenue loss into the $1.5 trillion 10-year allowance in the budget reconciliation instruction and also comply with the Senate’s “Byrd Rule” which allows a point of order to strike down a reconciliation bill that increases the deficit after year 10.

Save for these gimmicks, the actual 10-year cost of the Senate bill would be $2.2 trillion including interest on the added deficits. Nevertheless, this and other sunset gimmicks also underscore how threadbare the whole undertaking has become. To wit, the bill provides interim, deficit-financed tax relief of $1.38 trillion during 2018-2025 before these budget gimmicks kick-in, which is not a big number in the scheme of things: it amounts to just 4.2% of current law revenue collections during the eight year period, and only 0.8% of GDP. Since the bill doesn’t even really cut marginal rates during this interim period (the top bracket drops from 39.6% to 38.5%), its hard to see how a mere 0.8% “stimulus” to GDP is going to incite a tsunami of growth and jobs.

As we have frequently pointed out, the Reagan tax cut of 1981 – which had no measureable effect on the trend rate of economic growth – slashed marginal rates from 70% to 50% and as a total package paled the current Senate Plan into insignificance: It reduced the Federal revenue base by 26%, not 4.2%; and it amounted to 6.2% of GDP, not 0.8%, when fully effective in the later 1980s. Moreover, the “fully effective” part is especially salient because the Senate bill’s impact does not widen with time, as do most permanent tax cuts which require phase-in periods, but, instead, shrinks into virtual insignificance. Thus, the bill’s net tax cut amounts to $225 billion or 1.1% of GDP in 2019, but by 2022 the net cut shrinks to $199 billion and 0.9% of GDP – and then to just $145 billion or 0.6% of GDP in 2025 when the sunset gimmick kicks in.

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Changing the landscape.

Number Of US Store Closings Triples From Last Year (Snyder)

Did you know that the number of retail store closings in 2017 has already tripled the number from all of 2016? Last year, a total of 2,056 store locations were closed down, but this year more than 6,700 stores have been shut down so far. That absolutely shatters the all-time record for store closings in a single year, and yet nobody seems that concerned about it. In 2008, an all-time record 6,163 retail stores were shuttered, and we have already surpassed that mark by a very wide margin. We are facing an unprecedented retail apocalypse, and as you will see below, the number of retail store closings is actually supposed to be much higher next year. Whenever the mainstream media reports on the retail apocalypse, they always try to put a positive spin on the story by blaming the growth of Amazon and other online retailers.

And without a doubt that has had an impact, but at this point online shopping still accounts for less than 10% of total U.S. retail sales. Look, Amazon didn’t just show up to the party. They have been around for many, many years and while it is true that they are growing, they still only account for a very small sliver of the overall retail pie. So those that would like to explain away this retail apocalypse need to come up with a better explanation. [..] Of course the truth is that the economy is not doing well. The U.S. economy has not grown by at least 3% in a single year since the middle of the Bush administration, and it isn’t going to happen this year either. Overall, the U.S. economy has grown by an average of just 1.33% over the last 10 years, and meanwhile U.S. stock prices are up about 250% since the end of the last recession.

The stock market has become completely and utterly disconnected from economic reality, and yet many Americans still believe that it is an accurate barometer for the health of the economy. [..] So far this year, more than 300 retailers have filed for bankruptcy, and we are currently on pace to lose over 147 million square feet of retail space by the end of 2017. Those are absolutely catastrophic numbers. And some analysts are already predicting that as many as 9,000 stores could be shut down in the United States in 2018.

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Deregulation.

Trump Deserves Some Credit for the Rally in Stocks (A. Gary Shilling)

Reducing government regulation is tough. It’s resisted by all those who benefit, including government employees who administer the many programs. Every president since Jimmy Carter has attempted to lower the cost of regulation. At best, any cuts have been tiny and mostly centered on trimming paperwork. But less regulation is one campaign promise made by Donald Trump that is coming true. With tax and health-care reform problematic and given the president’s protectionist leanings, deregulation is probably a major driver of the stock market rally. The size and scope of the federal government give the president immense powers. In relation to gross domestic product, federal spending rose from 16% in 1946 to 22% in the 2017 fiscal year. Executive orders give the chief executive, in effect, legislative powers.

President Barack Obama issued many in his waning days, especially affecting power plants and oil pipelines. The Competitive Enterprise Institute last year found regulation cost American businesses $1.9 trillion, dwarfing the $344 billion in corporate taxes. About 56% of CEOs see overregulation as a major threat to their organization, more than cybersecurity (50%), rising taxes (41%) or even protectionism (27%). Whenever a new regulation is made or changed, it must be chronicled in the Federal Register. In the last years of the Obama administration, regulatory activity went parabolic, hitting almost 97,000 pages in a year. The annualized pace under Trump through July 31 was 61,330 pages, the fewest since the 1970s.

This year through June, the federal government had made 1,731 preliminary, proposed or final rules, the least since 2000 and down 40% from the 2011 peak under Obama. Many actions taken under Trump are reversals of earlier rules made under Obama. Of 66 completed actions at the Environmental Protection Agency, a third were rule withdrawals. Shares of banks have benefited, as those with more than $50 billion in assets are now able to merge without increased scrutiny. Scaling back the Volcker Rule would allow big banks to resume proprietary lending. The delay and likely alterations of the fiduciary requirement would aid brokers and insurers. The House has already approved a widespread rewrite of Dodd-Frank.

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I think he meant it.

Fed Chair Nominee Jerome Powell Says Too Big To Fail Is Over (BI)

Jerome Powell, Donald Trump’s nominee to replace Janet Yellen as Federal Reserve Chair, just made a frightening statement that suggests he is far too sanguine about risks in the US and global financial systems. During his confirmation hearing at the Senate on Tuesday, when pressed on the issue of whether any US banks are still considered too big to fail, Powell said simply: “No.” It’s the kind of blind optimism that could come back to haunt him during his tenure, which begins in February. Too big to fail, of course, is the financial crisis-era term for banks that the US government would be forced to bail out in a crisis because they might take the entire system down with them. Think of Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Goldman Sachs. They underpin too much of our financial network to be allowed to falter.

“Dodd-Frank did a lot of things, but ending Too Big To Fail can’t be listed among its accomplishments,” Isaac Boltansky, director of policy research at Compass Point, told Business Insider. “The system is far safer given the capital and liquidity rules, and new mandates such as living wills and orderly liquidation authority should blunt panic in a crisis, but I doubt anyone in Washington or on Wall Street truly believes the federal government would stand idly by in the event of another systemic banking crisis,” he said. Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren also took issue with Powell’s opening statement, which talked about “easing the burden” of regulation for banks.

“I’m troubled that you believe the biggest problem with bank regulations is that they are too tough,” Warren said during the hearing, arguing that it was that kind of mindset that led to the financial crisis of 2007-2008. At that time, many large investment banks were rescued by the Treasury and the Federal Reserve after their investments in housing soured quickly as a historic boom turned to bust. Treating the banks as victims of burdensome rules — rather than perpetrators of a historic crisis in need of deeper and more constant supervision — could lay the groundwork for a repeat. When it comes, Powell is going to regret that he didn’t have more to say about this.

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The pound surged on this news, but without solving the Irish border issue, none of it is worth a thing.

Britain Close To Deal On Brexit Bill With EU (R.)

Britain has offered to pay much of what the European Union was demanding to settle a Brexit “divorce bill”, bringing the two sides close to agreement on a key obstacle to opening talks on a future free trade pact, EU sources said on Tuesday. The offer, which British newspapers valued at around 50 billion euros, reflected the bulk of outstanding EU demands that include London paying a share of post-Brexit EU spending on commitments made before Britain leaves in March 2019 as well as funding of EU staff pensions for decades to come. A British government official said they “do not recognize” this account of the talks going on ahead of a visit by Prime Minister Theresa May to Brussels this coming Monday.

EU officials close to the negotiations stressed that work was still continuing ahead of May’s talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and his chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. But EU diplomats briefed on progress said the British offer was promising and that, on the financial settlement, the two sides were, as one said, “close to a deal”. Nonetheless, others cautioned that Britain had yet to make a fully committed offer and that essential agreement from the other 27 member states could not yet be taken for granted. The EU set the condition of “significant progress” on three key elements of a withdrawal treaty before it would accede to London’s request for negotiations on a free trade pact that could keep business flowing after Brexit in 16 months.

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See you in court.

Former New Zealand PM John Key Lied About Mass Surveillance Program (NZH)

Sir John Key’s story of how and why he canned a “mass surveillance” programme are at odds with official papers detailing development of the “Speargun” project. The issue blew up in the final days of the 2014 election with Key claiming the programme was long-dead and had been replaced by a benign cyber-security system called Cortex. Key always claimed the Speargun project to tap New Zealand’s internet cable was stopped in March 2013. But new documents show development of Speargun continued after the time he had said he ordered a halt – apparently because the scheme was “too broad”. Instead, they show Speargun wasn’t actually stopped until after Key was told in a secret briefing that details were likely to become public because they could be in the trove of secrets taken by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

With days to go until voting in 2014, Key found himself accused by some of the world’s most high-profile and outspoken surveillance critics of secretly developing a mass surveillance system with the United States’ National Security Agency. It was high stakes for Key, also Minister of the GCSB, as he had previously promised the public he would resign as Prime Minister if there was ever mass surveillance of New Zealanders At the Kim Dotcom-organised “Moment of Truth” event, journalist Glenn Greenwald and Snowden claimed our Government Communications Security Bureau spy agency had developed the “Speargun” project to tap New Zealand’s internet cable and suck out masses of data.

Key denied it, saying Speargun had been canned in March 2013 because it was too intrusive. He said: “We made the call as government and I made the call as the Minister and as Prime Minister, that actually it was set too broadly. “What we ultimately did, when it comes to Speargun, in my opinion, I said it’s set too far. I don’t even want to see the business case.” The NZ Herald has found – after three years of refusals and information going missing – that the former Prime Minister’s version of events doesn’t match that of documents created at the time.

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As if MbS is any different.

Senior Saudi Prince Freed In $1 Billion Settlement Agreement (R.)

Senior Saudi Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, once seen as a leading contender to the throne, was freed after reaching an “acceptable settlement agreement” with authorities paying more than $1 billion, a Saudi official said on Wednesday. Miteb, 65, son of the late King Abdullah and former head of the elite National Guard, was among dozens of royal family members, ministers and senior officials who were rounded up in a graft inquiry partly aimed at strengthening the power of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The official, who is involved in the anti-corruption campaign, said Miteb was released on Tuesday after reaching “an acceptable settlement agreement”. The amount of the settlement was not disclosed but the official said it is believed to be the equivalent of more than $1 billion.

“It is understood that the settlement included admitting corruption involving known cases,” the official said. According to a Saudi official, Prince Miteb was accused of embezzlement, hiring ghost employees and awarding contracts to his own firms including a $10 billion deal for walkie talkies and bulletproof military gear worth billions of Saudi riyals. The allegations against the others included kickbacks, inflating government contracts, extortion and bribery.

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Easy: let the banks take the losses, not the people.

Europe Needs a Way to Prevent the Next Greek-Style Debt Crisis (BBG)

If there was ever a textbook example of how not to handle a sovereign debt crisis, it was Greece. Nearly a decade since Athens first asked for help from its euro zone partners and the IMF, the Greek economy is still struggling to recover. Even after a steep restructuring, sovereign debt remains unsustainable. If Greece is not to be crippled by its debt load, European governments will have to accept further debt-reducing measures, on top of the maturity extensions and the cut in interest rates they have already agreed to. So it’s no surprise that one of the key debates on the future of the euro zone relates to how sovereign debt restructuring should be made easier. There is little doubt that forcing losses on creditors at an earlier stage, as some propose, would increase the chance that a program of financial assistance is successful.

However, the euro zone should be wary of automatic triggers; they risk bringing on the very crisis they are designed to avert. The debate on the future of debt restructuring in the euro zone largely involves two positions. The first, which is widely shared in Germany, sees an orderly debt restructuring mechanism as an essential next step for the currency union. When a country applies for financial help from the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), creditors should face some form of debt restructuring immediately. This would ensure a better distribution of risks between debt-holders and the ESM. The threat of a haircut will make investors more discerning in their lending, contributing to fiscal discipline within the euro zone.

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Because Bayer is a German chemical company with very deep roots in Berlin, and it’s buying Monsanto. Ironically, the only party that can stop that purchase is the EU… German media say Merkel was angry at the German representative for going it alone on Germany’s decision to support this stance. So let’s see her reverse it.

Controversial Glyphosate Weedkiller Wins New 5-Year Lease In Europe (G.)

Glyphosate, the key ingredient in the world’s bestselling weedkiller, has won a new five-year lease in Europe, closing the most bitterly fought pesticide relicensing battle of recent times. The herbicide’s licence had been due to run out in less than three weeks, raising the prospect of Monsanto’s Roundup disappearing from store shelves and, potentially, a farmers’ revolt. Instead, an EU appeal committee voted on Monday to reauthorise the substance despite a petition by 1.3 million EU citizens last week calling for a ban. In 2015, the World Health Organisation’s cancer agency, the IARC, famously declared glyphosate “probably carcinogenic to humans,” although several international agencies, including Efsa, subsequently came to opposite conclusions. Monsanto insists glyphosate is safe.

The EU health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis said: “Today’s vote shows that when we all want to, we are able to share and accept our collective responsibility in decision making.” However, the approval falls far short of the 15-year licence the commission had originally sought and Conservative MEPs lashed out at what they called “an emotional, irrational but politically convenient fudge”. Ashley Fox, the Conservative party’s delegation leader in the European parliament, said that the vote “simply prolongs the uncertainty for our farmers, who are being badly let down. They cannot plan for the future without long term assurances about the availability of substances they rely on.”

A re-run of the struggle to reauthorise glyphosate will now begin again in two years’ time, with a new safety assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa). Greenpeace EU food policy director, Franziska Achterberg, commented: “The people who are supposed to protect us from dangerous pesticides have failed to do their jobs and betrayed the trust Europeans place in them.” The Green party called it “a dark day for consumers, farmers and the environment”.

[..] Traces of glyphosate are routinely found in tests of foodstuffs, water, topsoil, and human urine in amounts way above safe limits set by regulators. Ben & Jerry’s recently introduced a new line of organic ice cream, in a bid to sate public concern. Campaigners say Monsanto ghostwrote research papers for regulators, enlisted EPA officials to block a US government review of glyphosate and formed front groups to discredit critical scientists and journalists, citing documents revealed in a US lawsuit by non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma sufferers. More than 280 similar lawsuits are now pending against Monsanto, according to the US right to know campaign.

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A tad scary?!

New Zealand Fault Line Wakes Up: “We Must Think Japan 2011 Ruptures” (SHTF)

The devastating Kaikura earthquake in 2016 has resurrected the Hikurangi subduction zone where two tectonic plates clash and one is pushed down. Geologists are now warning that this trench could cause a massive earthquake on the ocean floor, and could trigger other 9.0 magnitude earthquakes and tsunamis that will reach the western coast of the islands in just seven minutes. The Australian plate is heading north while the Pacific plate is heading west, and the combination of these motions means that the Pacific plate, which includes much of the South Island, is moving relative to the Australian plate at a rate of about 40millimeters each year in a southwesterly direction. Ursula Cochran, from the science firm GNS, told The Marlborough Express: “We need to think Japan 2011 basically, because if our whole plate boundary ruptured it would be a magnitude-9 earthquake.”

The Great East Japan Earthquake and resulting tsunami smashed through the country’s north-eastern coast killing almost 16,000 people and destroying the lives of thousands more. It also triggered a major ongoing crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant. “One of the biggest hazards of that kind of earthquake is the tsunami that is triggered by a fault rupture offshore.,” Cochran added. “We know from tsunami modeling from a hypothetical earthquake from the Hikurangi subduction zone that the travel times could be very short to the coast, so seven minutes for some of the south Wairarapa coast.” One year after it struck, scientists are also warning that the Kaikoura quake was not the “big one” for the Hikurangi subduction zone. The quake on the Hikurangi subduction zone was devastating. The magnitude 7.8 that destroyed houses, lifted the Kaikoura seabed by 2m, tore apart farmland, and wrecked kilometers of State Highway 1, may be minor compared to what could come, Cochran said.

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Has the west ever ended slavery?

Libya “Chose” Freedom, Now It Has Slavery (CP)

NATO’s military intervention in Libya in 2011 has justifiably earned its place in history as an indictment of Western foreign policy and a military alliance which since the collapse of the Soviet Union has been deployed as the sword of this foreign policy. The destruction of Libya will forever be an indelible stain on the reputations of those countries and leaders responsible. But now, with the revelation that people are being sold as slaves in Libya (yes, you read that right. In 2017 the slave trade is alive and kicking Libya), the cataclysmic disaster to befall the country has been compounded to the point where it is hard to conceive of it ever being able to recover – and certainly not anywhere near its former status as a high development country, as the UN labelled Libya 2010 a year prior to the ‘revolution’.

Back in 2011 it was simply inconceivable that the UK, the US and France would ignore the lessons of Iraq, just nine years previously in 2003. Yet ignore them they did, highlighting their rapacious obsession with maintaining hegemony over a region that sits atop an ocean of oil, despite the human cost and legacy of disaster and chaos which this particular obsession has wrought. When former UK Prime Minister David Cameron descended on Benghazi in eastern Libya in the summer of 2011, basking in the glory of the country’s victorious ‘revolution’ in the company of his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy, he did so imbued with the belief he had succeeded in establishing his legacy as a leader on the global stage. Like Blair before him, he’d won his war and now was intent on partaking of its political and geopolitical spoils.

Cameron told the crowd, “Your city was an inspiration to the world, as you threw off a dictator and chose freedom.” The destruction of Libya by NATO at the behest of the UK, the US and France was a crime, one dripping in the cant and hypocrisy of Western ideologues for whom the world with all its complexities is reduced to a giant chessboard upon which countries such as Libya have long been mere pieces to be moved around and changed at their pleasure and in their interests – interests which are inimical to the people of the countries they deem ripe for regime change.

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Europe’s politicians care only about their careers.

The EU Created Libya’s Migrant Abuses, Now It Must Address Them (CP)

Revelations into Libya’s awful migrant detention centres showed the humanitarian emergency that occurs within them. The international community – particularly the European Union, has not only failed to address this problem, but is responsible for causing it. After Libya descended into chaos following long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi’s fall in 2011, the nation became a major hub of slavery and migrant-trafficking. For the hundreds of thousands of those fleeing war-torn areas in Sub-Saharan Africa, Libya serves as a strategic point to reach the safe havens of Europe. However, those who fail to reach Europe face equally dire circumstances to their homeland after being detained by Libyan authorities, as part of an EU-deal with the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) penned in February.

This deal entails the Libyan coastguard stopping migrant vessels leaving Libya. It was quite rightly slammed as ‘inhumane’ by the UN recently. Due to lack of protections for migrants from in this deal, migrants are either brutally tortured, abused and even sexually assaulted by Libyan authorities in camps, or are sold into slavery by unscrupulous smugglers. A CNN investigation showed the true horrors of human-trafficking. Migrants are treated like cattle, sold for as little as four hundred dollars, and sometimes moved from one slave master to another. Others on the scene report migrants in camps showing signs of torture, burns, lashings, and other abuses. An Italian doctor Pietro Bartolo slammed them as ‘concentration camps’. “You must realise that in Libya, black people are not considered human beings, they’re seen as inferior, you can do whatever you want to them,” Bartolo told Euro News.

Observers foresaw the humanitarian consequences soon after the deal with Libya was agreed. German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel warned in April that thousands of men, women and children would face “catastrophic conditions”. It turns out Gabriel and other’s predictions were correct. The EU must therefore accept the blame for creating this crisis, for backing these unregulated, barbaric camps with the Libyan authorities. However, Europe has a clear geopolitical aim: to contain migrants, rather than help them – even if their suffering is enhanced. In doing so it uses Libya – a frail nation itself, as a dumping ground, to rid itself of the migrant issue. It has no regard for the human rights of those in detention centres.

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Nov 252017
 
 November 25, 2017  Posted by at 1:48 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Zao Wu-Ki The red sun 1950

 

Once again, to my delight, we’re back with former British diplomat and MI6 ‘ranking figure’ Alastair Crooke and his Conflicts Forum organization. We posted a few of his articles this year and last. This time, Alastair writes a reaction to one of his own articles posted at Consortium News, which I included in the November 18 Debt Rattle at the Automatic Earth. My short comment then: “Former (and current?!) TAE contributor Alastair Crooke draws his conclusions.” This morning, the Conflicts Forum reached out again:

Dear Raul, We took the hint on a recent posting your site that referred to one of Alastair’s articles! …. and below is a comment piece he has done. It is an attempt to be strategic at where we’re going.

Anytime, guys! My first reaction to that piece was that Alastair makes Donald Trump and Jared Kushner’s role in the Saudi crackdown seem very large, which makes the role played by deep state America look small in comparison. And I’m not so sure about that. The riddle of ‘who’s playing who?’ is not a straightforward one. But that’s by no means a criticism (I ain’t criticizing no MI6!). It’s a question.

First, here are two paragraphs of that article to ‘get in the mood’:

 

Trump’s Saudi Scheme Unravels

Aaron Miller and Richard Sokolsky, writing in Foreign Policy, suggest “that Mohammed bin Salman’s most notable success abroad may well be the wooing and capture of President Donald Trump, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.” Indeed, it is possible that this “success” may prove to be MbS’ only success. “It didn’t take much convincing”, Miller and Sokolski wrote: “Above all, the new bromance reflected a timely coincidence of strategic imperatives.” Trump, as ever, was eager to distance himself from President Obama and all his works; the Saudis, meanwhile, were determined to exploit Trump’s visceral antipathy for Iran – in order to reverse the string of recent defeats suffered by the kingdom.

So compelling seemed the prize (that MbS seemed to promise) of killing three birds with one stone (striking at Iran; “normalizing” Israel in the Arab world, and a Palestinian accord), that the U.S. President restricted the details to family channels alone. He thus was delivering a deliberate slight to the U.S. foreign policy and defense establishments by leaving official channels in the dark, and guessing. Trump bet heavily on MbS, and on Jared Kushner as his intermediary. But MbS’ grand plan fell apart at its first hurdle: the attempt to instigate a provocation against Hezbollah in Lebanon, to which the latter would overreact and give Israel and the “Sunni Alliance” the expected pretext to act forcefully against Hezbollah and Iran.

Since the crackdown seems to have had limited success so far on an international level, this is certainly an interesting issue to delve deeper into. MbS has reportedly, assisted by US mercenaries, hung members of his own family upside down from ceilings in posh hotels and palaces to break them into submission and steal their fortunes, but if the international part of his plan falls short, this becomes a very unpredictable story.

But this new article has a much broader scope. I’ve often said that the falling apart of the American, European and global political systems is caused one-on-one by deteriorating economies (even if 90% of media and politicians stick the recovery narrative). Alastair agrees, and even quotes me again.

 

 

Alastair Crooke: Robert Kagan first called attention to the fact that America would need to awake from its ‘dream’ a decade ago in End of Dreams: The Return of History, and would have to manage the rise of ‘other’ powers, (some greater than others), with adroitness, if it were to avoid a bad road-crash as emerging competitors clashed with the waning dominant power.  

This meant that the US no longer would be able to assert its will everywhere, and on everything – and would have to give ground – especially to China and Russia.  “There’s going to have to be some very painful horse trading”, historian Sir Max Hastings suggests, adding that its pain will be none the less traumatic, since – like Germany after WW1 – America, does not feel itself defeated: Quite the converse, it sees itself having emerged from the Cold War wholly vindicated: in terms of its societal, governmental and capitalist models.

The American-shaped globalist order, in which three American generations have been steeped, had seemed so naturally to flow out from the Cold War, that the onset of world ‘order’ dissolution seems – shockingly, for many – to have struck out of the blue – as it were – with Brexit, and the election of Mr Trump. 

Commentators speak of America needing to be wary of the Thucydides’ Trap (when the then aspiring power, Athens, threatened the primacy of the established hegemon, Sparta, leading to war). But ‘the trap’ today is not simply just about who’s rising ‘up’, and who’s heading ‘down’, in the great-power stakes – for, as Josh Feinman, chief economist for Deutsche Bank, last year  warned, the problem is not just great power competition. But rather: “We’ve seen this movie before. The first great globalization wave, in the half-century or so before World War I, sparked a populist backlash too, and ultimately came crashing down in the cataclysms of 1914 to 1945.”  In short, the two world wars were not just about Germany challenging British hegemony, but were also about globalization ‘backlash’ too – something that is often overlooked. 

In other words, in the wake of WW2, America has been backing itself into the corner of an ‘American-shaped’ (imposed), second wave ‘globalisation’, and that is the major risk posed today (as much as rising China), with ‘populism’ again markedly on the up. And ‘second wave globalisation’ is again yielding predictable political volatility (i.e. in ‘unexpected’ election results).  However, as Max Hastings  suggests, (quoting former UK politician Michael Howard), “we must recognize that the élites, of which he [Howard] himself freely admits to having been a part, have failed to sustain the consent of electorates for this [Euro-centralisation and for globalisation]. This ignoring the need to sustain the consent of the electorate, bears a considerable responsibility for getting us into this mess”.

Further, as Andrew Bracevich underlines globalism has its distinct social ‘flipside’: “[A] war [has been waged] on (genuine) culture: Under whatever guise, liberal-market globalism is hostile to tradition, community, established norms, and the very idea of a common culture – all of which impinge [adversely] upon the operation of the market, or claims of radical individual autonomy”.

 

 
The Thucydides’ Trap for America, rather, as Professor Lears of Rutgers writes, then, is not just the rising of Russia and China, but that of Americans being backed into the corner of not recognizing “that ‘they’ [the liberal globalists] are no longer defending either liberalism or democracy; [these] forms of élite rule – that provoke [such] popular anger – are merely the husk of liberal democracy: The once-vital discourse of liberal democracy has been hollowed out, and transformed into a language of managerial technique … Within this discourse, freedom has been reduced to market behaviour; citizenship to voting; and, efficiency for the public good to efficiency for profit. The rich civic culture that gave rise to popular American politics in the past—unions, churches, local party organizations—has been largely replaced, in both parties, by élites who have benefited from the ‘technocratic turn’”.

“As long as prosperity continued to increase as it has since 1945, western electorates were willing to give élites a very considerable measure of discretion about what they did, [whether in creating the EU], or whatever it might be. They were willing to acquiesce. Now, prosperity is being squeezed, wages are stagnant, and for many people unlikely to rise much in real terms.   It is going to be much more difficult to sustain the consent of Western electorates for purposes which the élites might consider as [somehow] ‘enlightened and unselfish’”. (Hastings again – with emphasis added).

And here lies the real ‘trap’: it is not that “prosperity is being squeezed” as per Hastings, but that the economy has rather, been divaricated into the ‘squeezed 60%’ and the asset-holding, and enriched 40% (as Ray Dalio describes it). Last month Dalio, the billionaire founder of top hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, posted a new article, “The Two Economies: The Top 40% and the Bottom 60%”.  He believes it is a serious mistake to think you can analyze or understand “the” economy because we now have two of them. The wealth and income levels are so skewed between top and bottom that “average” indicators no longer reflect the average person’s experience or living conditions. Dalio explains with this chart:

 

 

The red line is the share of US wealth owned by the bottom 90% of the population, and the green line is the share held by the top 0.1%. Right now they are about the same, but notice the trend. The wealthiest 0.1% has been increasing its share of wealth since the 1980s, while the bottom 90% has been losing ground. But it would be a mistake to understand this phenomenon – ‘populism’ as it is labelled in Dalio’s chart – or, the push to recover national culture and sovereignty – as simply a gripe about inequity. It has become since 2009 much more than that: it has become a matter of survival for a major segment of the American and European population (especially, as it coincides with a pensions crisis, which will leave many impoverished in their old age): 

“Prior to 2009, debt was able to support a rising standard of living…”, Raúl Ilargi Meijer says, “but less than a decade later, [personal debt], can’t even maintain the status quo. That’s what you call a breaking point.” (Alastair: Or, even, a precursor to civil violence?)

“To put that in numbers, there’s a current shortfall of $18,176 between the standard of living and real disposable incomes. In other words, no matter how much people are borrowing, their standard of living is in decline. 

“Something else we can glean from the graphs is that after the Great Financial Crisis of 2008-9, the economy never recovered. The S&P may have, and the banks are back to profitable ways and big bonuses, but that has nothing to do with real Americans in their own real economy. 2009 was a turning point, and the crisis never looked back”.

 

 

And Max Hastings’ point is that with austerity gone, early popular acquiescence has turned to anger against the élites – for having so taken them for granted in their utopian globalist projects.

Now the wider point: what we have here is the intersection of geo-politics with geo-finance. Both are now wholly contingent on the ‘saving of appearances’.  One co-constitutes the other.  One is the saving of appearance that America is not losing ‘respect’, or being disdained in the international arena, as it attenuates its global commitments (that is the Thucydides ‘syndrome’), and two, saving the appearance that ‘recovery’ and ‘prosperity for all’, are continuing to unfold nicely in the economy (the world converging globally to western values ‘syndrome’). 

Both these aspects to the dissolution of today’s western ‘modernity’ are intertwined, and co-constituting, and therefore likely to march in tandem – at least for now:  western ‘prosperity’ underwrites the global order, and the global order underwrites American ‘prosperity’.  The American and European élites therefore find themselves painted into a globalised ‘rules-based order’ corner, geo-politically, just as the Central Bankers have been backed into their QE, low or negative interest rate corner – from which there is no easy escape, either. 

The term ‘globalisation’ has been used to paint a landscape that is both inevitable, and beneficent: “free trade floats all boats; everywhere” is the meme. Devotees of globalisation however, never examine rigorously whether David Ricardo’s comparative advantage theory still holds good in the contemporary world (Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, however, being a notable exception). There just has been no point in asking the fundamentally political (as opposed to technical) question: Has the resulting off-shoring of supply lines, truly been in our interest – politically, as well as financially?  And has the concomitant – globalist disembedding of humans from national culture, community and sovereignty, and the rise of the apolitical, neo-liberal, chameleon-identity ‘Self’, been in the general political and societal interest, too?

It may be objected that Trump is not a globalist.  Whilst it is true that he does not favour America shouldering the claims of a world order; he – himself – protests loudly that he is a globalist – but it is just that he is a hard-nosed, New York businessman, type of globalist: that’s all.  Globalisation (in the neo-liberal mode), remains as a western totem, rightly, or not, according to political taste.

 

Where now? In the domestic field, the Central Banks’ easy ‘group think’ on QE, low or negative interest-rates, and ballooning public and private debt, has been pursued now for so long and so extensively, that it has both given us Dalio’s Two Economies, and no way back.   It has become a vicious circle: as high debt, to GDP ratios, low-interest zombification of entities and shrinking personal disposable income in the 60%, have depressed growth. Yet, paradoxically, never has the need for more of the same – QE, low or negative interest rates, or even ‘helicopter’ income – been so widely extolled — and, at the very moment when their drawbacks have become so widely identified, even by central bankers, themselves.

So here we are: there is a messy, and bitter, divorce taking place in our societies between the 60% and the 40% ‘tribes’. Asset valuations indeed have never been higher. Yet growth by contrast, has, on average, been ratcheting down, decade by decade – and for some, the situation has become truly existential (those for whom even additional debt cannot sustain their non-discretionary outgoings).

Where do we go from here?  A continuation of the existing financial paradigm is what everyone believes; what everyone expects (wants) – and is what we likely will get.  It might even be deepened a little, in the wake of a market hiccough (S&P down by more than 2%).  And in the case of a financial black swan, we may witness the system literally ‘hosed down’ with newly created ‘money’.  But essentially, the business and trade cycle will continue to be heavily repressed – volatility slammed down – and the S&P be the metric of national well-being.

Not only do the markets ‘believe it’, President Trump needs it: geo-politically he likes to do his style of negotiating from a position of strength (and not from one of economic crisis); and internally, he is at ‘war’ with the Establishment.  With the S&P touching records daily, he is immune from taunts of incompetence (regardless of whether not the highs have anything to do with the President).  His base likes it too: their meagre retirement portfolios at least are rising in value. And in any event, it is not surprising if Trump is a low interest, plentiful liquidity, expanding balance sheet, man globally:  It is how he made his billions, personally.

 

Of course, the flip side to continuing the ‘easing’ paradigm is the ongoing hidden transfer of wealth from general taxpayers (the 60%) to the 40%: more populism; more unexpected election outcomes in Europe; more fake-ness; quicker dissolution of the glue holding society together; more political process, less outcome; less ability to address the needs of collective purpose, etcetera — rising rancour and push-back, in a word. This is the implication.

In parallel, the saving of appearance in geo-politics seems to require its slamming down of volatility too (and in the EU, not least – i.e. Catalonia).  People want to believe it (in American power); important sectors of the economy want it, (need it): the appearance of America’s global standing must be preserved.  Repressing North Korea, ‘slamming down’ Iran can save appearances (America is strong), but the flip-side is the increased danger of war – whether inadvertently triggered, or by the US cornering itself into it.  Actually, ebbing power is something that you smell: false bravura only heightens the odour of weakness.

So, continuance of the paradigms (financial and geopolitical), and the continuance of ‘populist push-back’ (i.e. volatility) seem set. Is Josh Feinman of Deutsche Bank then right when he says: “We’ve seen this movie before. The first great globalization wave, in the half-century or so before World War I, [it] sparked a populist backlash too, and ultimately came crashing down in the cataclysms of 1914 to 1945.” Is a financial crisis inevitable – ultimately?  Is war – a confrontation with either Russia, China or N. Korea – unavoidable?

Who can say, for sure?  But the repeating of history is not inevitable.  Financial re-set at some point, has become inevitable, it would appear. It has taken time for the old meme to fade, and weaken its hold sufficiently. Hemingway famously said about bankruptcy (his), that it starts only very slowly, but ends lightningly fast.  The political impulse for a change in the social and cultural paradigm however does seem to be unfolding at an accelerating pace. ‘Populism’ and ‘unexpected’ election results are acting as its accelerant. And the intellectual context for a seismic economic policy shift, is in place too:  monetary policy is seen to be bust, and the economic ‘models’ have been seen to be plain wrong. TINA (there is no alternative) is wobbling on her pedestal, and seems poised to topple over.

Of course there are alternatives.  But will they arrive in time?  Perhaps the existing paradigms are destined to endure a while yet … ’til Hemingway’s observation about bankruptcy sliding unstoppably fast towards the end is further proven as a truism?  In the meantime: we wait; shackled by inertia, and backed into a corner.
 

 

 

Nov 182017
 
 November 18, 2017  Posted by at 9:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Henri Cartier Bresson Juvisny, France 1938

 

Consumers Are Both Confident And Broke (John Rubino)
You Have Been Warned (Lance Roberts)
Norway Plan to Sell Off $35 Billion in Oil, Gas Stocks Rattles Markets (BBG)
The World’s Biggest Wealth Manager Won’t Touch Bitcoin (BBG)
Trump’s Saudi Scheme Unravels (Alastair Crooke)
Saudi ‘Corruption’ Probe Widens: Dozens Of Military Officials Arrested (ZH)
Hariri Arrives in Paris With Family Amid Saudi-Iran Tensions (BBG)
Qatar Says It Has US Backing in Lingering Gulf Crisis (BBG)
House Prices Aren’t The Issue – Land Prices Are (G.)
ECB Denies EU Auditors Access To Information On Greek Bailouts (EuA)
Greek Pensioners Forced To Return ‘Social Dividend’ (K.)
UK Considers Tax On Single-Use Plastics To Tackle Ocean Pollution (G.)
Irish Catholic Priest Urges Christians To Abandon The Word Christmas (G.)

 

 

Powerful graph from Bob Prechter.

Consumers Are Both Confident And Broke (John Rubino)

Elliott Wave International recently put together a chart (click here or on the chart to watch the accompanying video) that illustrates a recurring theme of financial bubbles: When good times have gone on for a sufficiently long time, people forget that it can be any other way and start behaving as if they’re bulletproof. They stop saving, for instance, because they’ll always have their job and their stocks will always go up. Then comes the inevitable bust. On the following chart, this delusion and its aftermath are represented by the gap between consumer confidence (our sense of how good the next year is likely to be) and the saving rate (the portion of each paycheck we keep for a rainy day). The bigger the gap the less realistic we are and the more likely to pay dearly for our hubris.

Read more …

“Prior to 2000, debt was able to support a rising standard of living..” Two decades later, it can’t even maintain the status quo. That’s what you call a breaking point.

You Have Been Warned (Lance Roberts)

There is an important picture that is currently developing which, if it continues, will impact earnings and ultimately the stock market. Let’s take a look at some interesting economic numbers out this past week. On Tuesday, we saw the release of the Producer Price Index (PPI) which ROSE 0.4% for the month following a similar rise of 0.4% last month. This surge in prices was NOT surprising given the recent devastation from 3-hurricanes and massive wildfires in California which led to a temporary surge in demand for products and services.

Then on Wednesday, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) was released which showed only a small 0.1% increase falling sharply from the 0.5% increase last month.

This deflationary pressure further showed up on Thursday with a -0.3 decline in Export prices. (Exports make up about 40% of corporate profits) For all of you that continue to insist this is an “earnings-driven market,” you should pay very close attention to those three data points above. When companies have higher input costs in their production they have two choices: 1) “pass along” those price increase to their customers; or 2) absorb those costs internally. If a company opts to “pass along” those costs then we should have seen CPI rise more strongly. Since that didn’t happen, it suggests companies are unable to “pass along” those costs which means a reduction in earnings. The other BIG report released on Wednesday tells you WHY companies have been unable to “pass along” those increased costs.

The “retail sales” report came in at just a 0.1% increase for the month. After a large jump in retail sales last month, as was expected following the hurricanes, there should have been some subsequent follow through last month. There simply wasn’t. More importantly, despite annual hopes by the National Retail Federation of surging holiday spending which is consistently over-estimated, the recent surge in consumer debt without a subsequent increase in consumer spending shows the financial distress faced by a vast majority of consumers. The first chart below shows a record gap between the standard cost of living and the debt required to finance that cost of living. Prior to 2000, debt was able to support a rising standard of living, which is no longer the case currently.

With a current shortfall of $18,176 between the standard of living and real disposable incomes, debt is only able to cover about 2/3rds of the difference with a net shortfall of $6,605. This explains the reason why “control purchases” by individuals (those items individuals buy most often) is running at levels more normally consistent with recessions rather than economic expansions.

If companies are unable to pass along rising production costs to consumers, export prices are falling and consumer demand remains weak, be warned of continued weakness in earnings reports in the months ahead. As I stated earlier this year, the recovery in earnings this year was solely a function of the recovering energy sector due to higher oil prices. With that tailwind now firmly behind us, the risk to earnings in the year ahead is dangerous to a market basing its current “overvaluation” on the “strong earnings” story.

Read more …

Another way to push up prices?

Norway Plan to Sell Off $35 Billion in Oil, Gas Stocks Rattles Markets (BBG)

Norway’s proposal to sell off $35 billion in oil and natural gas stocks brings sudden and unparalleled heft to a once-grassroots movement to enlist investors in the fight against climate change. The Nordic nation’s $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund said Thursday that it’s considering unloading its shares of Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell and other oil giants to diversify its holdings and guard against drops in crude prices. European oil stocks fell. Norges Bank Investment Management would not be the first institutional investor to back away from fossil fuels. But until now, most have been state pension funds, universities and other smaller players that have limited their divestments to coal, tar sands or some of the other dirtiest fossil fuels. Norway’s fund is the world’s largest equity investor, controlling about 1.5% of global stocks. If it follows through on its proposal, it would be the first to abandon the sector altogether.

“This is an enormous change,” said Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, a non-profit that advocates for sustainable investing. “It’s a shot heard around the world.” The proposal rattled equity markets. While Norwegian officials say the plan isn’t based on any particular view about future oil prices, it’s apt to ratchet up pressure on fossil fuel companies already struggling with the growth of renewable energy. Norway’s Finance Ministry, which oversees the fund, said it will study the proposal and will take at least a year to decide what to do. The fund has already sold off most of its coal stocks. “People are starting to recognize the risks of oil and gas,” said Jason Disterhoft of the Rainforest Action Network, which pushes banks to divest from fossil fuels.

Read more …

From the biggest wealth fund to the biggest wealth manager.

The World’s Biggest Wealth Manager Won’t Touch Bitcoin (BBG)

UBS, the world’s largest wealth manager, isn’t prepared to make portfolio allocations to bitcoin because of a lack of government oversight, the bank’s chief investment officer said. Bitcoin has also not reached the critical mass to be considered a viable currency to invest in, UBS’s Mark Haefele said in an interview. The total sum of all cryptocurrencies is “not even the size of some of the smaller currencies” that UBS would allocate to, he said. Bitcoin has split investors over the viability of the volatile cryptocurrency and UBS is among its critics. Bitcoin capped a resurgent week by climbing within a few dollars of a record $8,000 on Friday. Still, events such as a bitcoin-funded terrorist attack are potential risks which are hard to evaluate, he said.

“All it would take would be one terrorist incident in the U.S. funded by bitcoin for the U.S. regulator to much more seriously step in and take action, he said. “That’s a risk, an unquantifiable risk, bitcoin has that another currency doesn’t.” While skeptics have called bitcoin’s rapid advance a bubble, it has become too big an asset for many financial firms to ignore. Bitcoin has gained 17% this week, touching a high of $7,997.17 during Asia hours before moving lower in late trading. The rally through Friday came after bitcoin wiped out as much as $38 billion in market capitalization following the cancellation of a technology upgrade known as SegWit2x on Nov. 8.

Read more …

Former (and current?!) TAE contributor Alastair Crooke draws his conclusions.

Trump’s Saudi Scheme Unravels (Alastair Crooke)

Aaron Miller and Richard Sokolsky, writing in Foreign Policy, suggest “that Mohammed bin Salman’s most notable success abroad may well be the wooing and capture of President Donald Trump, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.” Indeed, it is possible that this “success” may prove to be MbS’ only success. “It didn’t take much convincing”, Miller and Sokolski wrote: “Above all, the new bromance reflected a timely coincidence of strategic imperatives.” Trump, as ever, was eager to distance himself from President Obama and all his works; the Saudis, meanwhile, were determined to exploit Trump’s visceral antipathy for Iran – in order to reverse the string of recent defeats suffered by the kingdom.

So compelling seemed the prize (that MbS seemed to promise) of killing three birds with one stone (striking at Iran; “normalizing” Israel in the Arab world, and a Palestinian accord), that the U.S. President restricted the details to family channels alone. He thus was delivering a deliberate slight to the U.S. foreign policy and defense establishments by leaving official channels in the dark, and guessing. Trump bet heavily on MbS, and on Jared Kushner as his intermediary. But MbS’ grand plan fell apart at its first hurdle: the attempt to instigate a provocation against Hezbollah in Lebanon, to which the latter would overreact and give Israel and the “Sunni Alliance” the expected pretext to act forcefully against Hezbollah and Iran.

Stage One simply sank into soap opera with the bizarre hijacking of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri by MbS, which served only to unite the Lebanese, rather than dividing them into warring factions, as was hoped. But the debacle in Lebanon carries a much greater import than just a mishandled soap opera. The really important fact uncovered by the recent MbS mishap is that not only did the “dog not bark in the night” – but that the Israelis have no intention “to bark” at all: which is to say, to take on the role (as veteran Israeli correspondent Ben Caspit put it), of being “the stick, with which Sunni leaders threaten their mortal enemies, the Shiites … right now, no one in Israel, least of all Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is in any hurry to ignite the northern front. Doing so, would mean getting sucked into the gates of hell”.

Read more …

Targeting the military means MbS does not feel safe. How desperate is he?

Saudi ‘Corruption’ Probe Widens: Dozens Of Military Officials Arrested (ZH)

After jailing dozens of members of the royal family, and extorting numerous prominent businessmen, 32-year-old Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman has widened his so-called ‘corruption’ probe further still. The Wall Street Journal reports that at least two dozen military officers, including multiple commanders, recently have been rounded up in connection to the Saudi government’s sweeping corruption investigation, according to two senior advisers to the Saudi government. Additionally, several prominent businessmen also were taken in by Saudi authorities in recent days. “A number of businessmen including Loai Nasser, Mansour al-Balawi, Zuhair Fayez and Abdulrahman Fakieh also were rounded up in recent days, the people said. Attempts to reach the businessmen or their associates were unsuccessful.”

It isn’t clear if those people are all accused of wrongdoing, or whether some of them have been called in as witnesses. But their detainment signals an intensifying high-stakes campaign spearheaded by Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. There appear to be three scenarios behind MbS’ decision to go after the military: 1) They are corrupt and the entire process is all above board and he is doing the right thing by cleaning house; 2) They are wealthy and thus capable of being extorted (a cost of being free) to add to the nation’s coffers; or 3) There is a looming military coup and by cutting off the head, he hopes to quell the uprising. If we had to guess we would weight the scenarios as ALL true with the (3) becoming more likely, not less.

So far over 200 people have been held without charges since the arrests began on November 4th and almost 2000 bank accounts are now frozen, which could be why, as The Daily Mail reports, Saudi prince and billionaire Al-Waleed bin Talal has reportedly put two luxury hotels in Lebanon up for sale after being detained in his country during a corruption sweep. The Saudi information ministry previously stated the government would seize any asset or property related to the alleged corruption, meaning the Savoy hotel could well become the state property of the kingdom. ‘The accounts and balances of those detained will be revealed and frozen,’ a spokesman for Saudi Arabia’s information ministry said. ‘Any asset or property related to these cases of corruption will be registered as state property.’

Read more …

France and Germany play completely different roles. Hariri has said he will return to Lebanon by Wednesday.

Hariri Arrives in Paris With Family Amid Saudi-Iran Tensions (BBG)

Saad Hariri arrived in France with his family amid mounting concern that his country, Lebanon, may once again turn into a battleground for a showdown between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Lebanese prime minister and his family were invited to France by President Emmanuel Macron. French officials say they can’t say how long Hariri will stay. On Saturday, Macron and Hariri will meet at noon for talks, following which the Lebanese leader and his family will have lunch at the Elysee Palace. Hariri, 47, hasn’t returned to Lebanon since his shock resignation announcement from Saudi Arabia on Nov. 4, which sparked fears of an escalating regional conflict between the kingdom and Iran. The Saudi government has denied accusations it was holding Hariri against his will. The kingdom recalled its ambassador to Germany in response to comments made by Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel.

Hariri weighed in on the spat, suggesting that Gabriel has accused the kingdom of holding him hostage. “To say that I am held up in Saudi Arabia and not allowed to leave the country is a lie. I am on the way to the airport, Mr. Sigmar Gabriel,” he said on Twitter. In limited public comments and on Twitter, Hariri has sought to dispel speculation that Saudi Arabia asked him to resign because he wouldn’t confront Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim group that plays a key role in Lebanon’s fragile government. The group is considered a terrorist organization by countries including Israel and the U.S., and it has provided crucial military support to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria’s war.

Macron, who met with Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, said last week that the two agreed that Hariri “be invited for several days to France.” He also reiterated France’s pledge to help protect Lebanon’s “independence and autonomy.” Hariri will be welcomed in France “as a friend,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said a press conference in Riyadh on Thursday after meeting with Saudi authorities. French officials have said they still regard Hariri as Lebanon’s prime minister since the country’s president, Michel Aoun, rejected his resignation on the grounds that it must be handed over on Lebanese soil.

Read more …

And if you weren’t confused enough yet, there’s this:

Qatar Says It Has US Backing in Lingering Gulf Crisis (BBG)

Qatar’s foreign minister said the tiny emirate has U.S. backing to resolve the ongoing crisis with a Saudi-led alliance, but the country is also prepared should its Gulf Arab neighbors make military moves. The Trump administration is encouraging all sides to end the dispute and has offered to host talks at the Camp David presidential retreat, but only Qatar has agreed to the dialogue, Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Al-Thani said Friday. Four countries in the Saudi-led bloc severed diplomatic and transport links with Qatar in June, accusing it of backing extremist groups, a charge Doha has repeatedly denied. Saudi Arabia closed Qatar’s only land border. Sheikh Mohammed said he will meet Secretary of State Rex Tillerson next week after having talks this week with Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker and ranking member Ben Cardin as well as other congressional leaders.

“The Middle East needs to be addressed as the top priority of the foreign policy agenda of the United States,” he told reporters in Washington on Friday. “We see a pattern of irresponsibility and a reckless leadership in the region, which is just trying to bully countries into submission.” The Middle East has been a key foreign policy issue for the Trump administration, with much of it centered around support for the Saudis. The White House has backed the kingdom’s “anti-corruption” campaign that has ensnared top princes and billionaires once seen as U.S. allies, it has provided support for the Saudis in their war in Yemen and it has been muted in criticism of the crisis sparked when Lebanon’s prime minister unexpectedly resigned this month while in Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, mediation attempts by Kuwait and the U.S. have failed to settle the spat with the Saudi-led bloc and Qatar.

Sheikh Mohammed accused Saudi Arabia of interfering in other countries’ affairs, citing the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri as an example of the oil-rich kingdom’s overreach and warning that other countries could be next. Asked about the prospect of the Saudi-led bloc taking military action, Sheikh Mohammed said though Qatar hopes that won’t happen, his country is “well-prepared” and can count on its defense partners, including France, Turkey, the U.K. and the U.S., which has a base in Qatar. “We have enough friends in order to stop them from taking these steps,” but “there is a pattern of unpredictability in their behavior so we have to keep all the options on the table for us,” he said. On the U.S. military presence, “if there is any aggression when it comes to Qatar, those forces will be affected,” he added.

Read more …

There is nothing secret about land tax. Nor is it anything new. It can be implemented tomorrow morning.

House Prices Aren’t The Issue – Land Prices Are (G.)

While reporting on the recent court case where controversial landlord Fergus Wilson defended (but lost) his right to refuse to let to Indians and Pakistanis, I learned something about how he’s now making money. He is now far from being Britain’s biggest buy-to-let landlord. He’s down to 350 homes, from a peak of 1,000. And what’s he doing with the cash made from sales? Buying agricultural land close to Kent’s biggest towns. One plot he bought for £45,000 is now worth, he boasted, £3m with development permission. And therein lies the reason why we have a housing crisis.

As long ago as 1909, Winston Churchill, then promoting Lloyd George’s “people’s budget” and its controversial measures to tax land, told an audience in Edinburgh that the landowner “sits still and does nothing” while reaping vast gains from land improvements by the municipality, such as roads, railways, power from generators and water from reservoirs far away. “Every one of those improvements is effected by the labour and the cost of other people … To not one of those improvements does the land monopolist contribute, and yet by every one of them the value of his land is sensibly enhanced … he contributes nothing even to the process from which his own enrichment is derived.”

When Britain’s post-war housebuilding boom began, it was based on cheap land. As a timely new book, The Land Question by Daniel Bentley of thinktank Civitas, sets out, the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act under Clement Attlee’s government allowed local authorities to acquire land for development at “existing use value”. There was no premium because it was earmarked for development. The New Towns Act 1946 was similar, giving public corporation powers to compulsorily purchase land at current-use value. The unserviced land cost component for homes in Harlow and Milton Keynes was just 1% of housing costs at the time. Today, the price of land can easily be half the cost of buying a home..

Read more …

Democracy in 2017.

ECB Denies EU Auditors Access To Information On Greek Bailouts (EuA)

The European Central Bank (ECB) challenged an attempt by the European Court of Auditors (ECA), the watchdog of EU finances, to examine the Bank’s role in the Greek bailout and reform programmes and refused to provide access to some requested information, citing banking confidentiality. The European Court of Auditors published a report assessing the effectiveness and results of the Greek bailouts on Thursday (16 November). “In line with the ECA’s mandate to audit the operational efficiency of the management of the ECB, we have attempted to examine the Bank’s involvement in the Greek Economic Adjustment Programmes. However, the ECB questioned the Court’s mandate in this respect,” the report reads. The auditors examined the role of the European Commission and found some shortcomings in its approach, which they said overall lacked transparency.

They made a series of recommendations to improve the design and implementation of the Economic Adjustment Programmes. “These recommendations have been accepted in full,” the report said. However, the ECB had invoked the banking confidentiality and denied access to specific information. “It [ECB] did not provide sufficient amount of evidence and thus we were unable to report on the role of the ECB in the Greek programmes,” the auditors said. The report pointed out that the European Parliament had specifically asked the Court to analyse the role of the ECB in financial assistance programmes. It noted that EU auditors had faced similar problems with obtaining evidence from the ECB when reviewing the Single Supervisory Mechanism.

The report highlighted the ECB’s decision on 4 February 2015 to suspend the waiver for accepting Greek government bonds as loan collateral, thereby automatically increasing short-term borrowing costs for the banks. That happened during the tough negotiations between Greece’s leftist government and its international lenders before the third bailout. Many believed it was meant to put additional pressure on Alexis Tsipras’ government to back down and respect the obligations undertaken by the country’s previous governments.

Read more …

It just gets crazier all the time. If your intention was to make sure an economy slowly dies, this is the way to go.

“Retirees on low pensions will effectively have to return the handout they get in late December at the end of January..”

Greek Pensioners Forced To Return ‘Social Dividend’ (K.)

Salary workers, retirees on low pensions, property owners and families with three or more children will bear the brunt of the new austerity measures accompanying the 2018 budget, which come to 1.9 billion euros. Next year the primary budget surplus will have to rise to 3.5% of GDP, therefore more cuts will be required, with low-income pensioners – the recipients of next month’s so-called “social dividend” – set to contribute most, according to the new measures. Retirees on low pensions will effectively have to return the handout they get in late December at the end of January, as the cost of pension interventions according to the midterm fiscal strategy plan amounts to 660 million euros. This is just 60 million euros shy of the social dividend’s 720 million euros that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras promised this week.

The new measures for 2018 are set to be reflected in the final draft of the budget that is to be tabled in Parliament on Tuesday. They are likely to further increase the amount of expired debts to the state, after the addition of 34 billion euros from unpaid taxes and fines in the last three years, owing to the inability of most taxpayers to meet their obligations to the tax authorities. Plans for next year provide for the further reduction of salaries in the public sector in the context of the single salary system, additional cuts to pensions and family benefits, as well as the abolition of the handout to most low-income pensioners (EKAS). Freelance professionals are also in for an extra burden in 2018, due to the increase in their social security contributions that will be calculated on the sum of their taxable incomes and the contributions they paid in 2017.

Read more …

The UN should be all over this.

UK Considers Tax On Single-Use Plastics To Tackle Ocean Pollution (G.)

The chancellor, Philip Hammond, will announce in next week’s budget a “call for evidence” on how taxes or other charges on single-use plastics such as takeaway cartons and packaging could reduce the impact of discarded waste on marine and bird life, the Treasury has said. The commitment was welcomed by environmental and wildlife groups, though they stressed that any eventual measures would need to be ambitious and coordinated. An estimated 12m tonnes of plastic enters the oceans each year, and residues are routinely found in fish, sea birds and marine mammals. This week it emerged that plastics had been discovered even in creatures living seven miles beneath the sea. The introduction just over two years ago of a 5p charge on single-use plastic bags led to an 85% reduction in their use inside six months.

Separately, the environment department is seeking evidence on how to reduce the dumping of takeaway drinks containers such as coffee cups through measures such as a deposit return scheme. Announcing the move on plastics, the Treasury cited statistics saying more than a million birds and 100,000 sea mammals and turtles die each year from eating or getting tangled in plastic waste. The BBC series Blue Planet II has highlighted the scale of plastic debris in the oceans. In the episode to be broadcast this Sunday, albatrosses try to feed plastic to their young, and a pilot whale carries her dead calf with her for days in mourning. Scientists working with the programme believed the mother’s milk was made poisonous by pollution. The call for evidence will begin in the new year and will take into account the findings of the consultation on drinks containers.

Tisha Brown, an oceans campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said the decades-long use of almost indestructible materials to make single-use products “was bound to lead to problems, and we’re starting to discover how big those problems are”. She said: “Ocean plastic pollution is a global emergency, it is everywhere from the Arctic Ocean at top of the world to the Marianas trench at the bottom of the Pacific. It’s in whales, turtles and 90% of sea birds, and it’s been found in our salt, our tap water and even our beer.

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It’s either Christ or Santa Claus. Makes sense.

Irish Catholic Priest Urges Christians To Abandon The Word Christmas (G.)

An Irish Catholic priest has called for Christians to stop using the word Christmas because it has been hijacked by “Santa and reindeer”. Father Desmond O’Donnell said Christians of any denomination need to accept Christmas now has no sacred meaning. O’Donnell’s comments follow calls from a rightwing pressure group for a boycott of Greggs bakery in the UK after the company replaced baby Jesus with a sausage roll in a nativity scene. “We’ve lost Christmas, just like we lost Easter, and should abandon the word completely,” O’Donnell told the Belfast Telegraph. “We need to let it go, it’s already been hijacked and we just need to recognise and accept that.”

O’Donnell said he is not seeking to disparage non-believers. “I am simply asking that space be preserved for believers for whom Christmas has nothing to do with Santa and reindeer. “My religious experience of true Christmas, like so many others, is very deep and real – like the air I breathe. But non-believers deserve and need their celebration too, it’s an essential human dynamic and we all need that in the toughness of life.”

Read more …

Nov 172017
 
 November 17, 2017  Posted by at 9:50 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Arthur Rothstein Night view, downtown section. Dallas, Texas 1942

 

America’s Racial Wealth Gap Is Staggering – And Government-Created (BI)
Australia’s Private Debt Juggernaut Rolls On (LFE)
John Malone says Amazon is a ‘Death Star’ (CNBC)
Einhorn Says Issues That Caused the Crisis Are Not Solved (BBG)
Corporate Zombies Are Threatening The Eurozone Economy (ZH)
Wall St. Bankers Secretly Used Chat Rooms To Rig Treasury Bond Trades (NYP)
Electricity Consumed To Mine Bitcoin Rose 43% Since October (BBG)
Saudi Arabia Offers Arrested Royals A Deal: Your Freedom For Lots Of Cash (ZH)
Fed Insiders Seek Radical Policy Review as Powell Era Dawns (BBG)
200,000 Gallons of Oil Spill From Keystone Pipeline (Atl.)
Greek Taxpayers Have Paid Dearly For €720 Million ‘Social Dividend’ (K.)
EU Handling Of Greek Bailouts “Generally Weak”, Say Its Own Auditors (R.)
James Hansen Calls For Wave Of Climate Lawsuits (G.)

 

 

Don’t think a lot of people were aware of this.

America’s Racial Wealth Gap Is Staggering – And Government-Created (BI)

The term “public housing” is generally associated with poor, disaffected US minorities — but it turns out its origins were very much white and middle-class. Explicitly racist housing policies at the federal, state and local levels, first during the Great Depression and then after World War II, helped deepen and exacerbate a wealth gap between the races that has accelerated over the decades. Those policies also led to a sharp rise in racial segregation across many US cities, according to Richard Rothstein, a research associate of the Economic Policy Institute and author of “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How our Government Segregated America.”

“There was a systematic pattern that we’ve forgotten by which every metropolitan area in this country has been segregated not by the accident of personal choices or economic differences but by very explicit federal, state and local policy designed to create a segregated landscape everywhere we look,” Rothstein said during his keynote speech at a recent conference sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. The Fed is putting increasing efforts into community development as the unemployment rate falls to historically low levels, forcing policymakers to face more intractable social issues that are not always directly amenable to monetary or even fiscal policy. America’s racial wealth gap today is almost hard to fathom:

Black families on average hold a paltry 10% of the wealth owned by the average white family, a level of inequality that eclipses anything seen in other rich nations. Rothstein argues that a big part of that gap comes from discriminatory housing policies that allowed whites to build gains from homeownership while blacks were forced to rent. Here’s what the data look like, according to the Urban Institute:

Rothstein argued that the roots of inequality in housing wealth were very much racial and completely intentional, not the result of self-segregation by choice. “Housing was built on a segregated basis, very often creating segregation in communities that hadn’t known it before or at least where it wasn’t nearly as intense as it later became,” he said. President Harry Truman proposed a massive expansion of the public housing program in 1949 in order to house returning veterans, Rothstein said. The 1949 Housing Act was passed “as a segregated program, and the government used that act to continue to segregate all its housing programs for the next ten years.”

Read more …

This is about Australia, but take a look at debt service ratio’s in countries like Denmark and the Netherlands. And then just for fun compare them to the US, Italy.

Australia’s Private Debt Juggernaut Rolls On (LFE)

In the post-GFC era, more attention has been given to private credit (debt) whereas previously, almost all commentary focused upon public debt. The ruptures caused by the global financial crisis (GFC) is strongly responsible for this shift in perspective, including the research by heterodox economists. Fortunately, the mass media in Australia have done a fairly good job at bringing attention to private debt even though they are, ironically, staunch cheerleaders of inflated land prices. As is now commonly recognised, Australia’s household sector is heavily indebted. The household debt to GDP ratio is the second-highest globally at 122%, has the second-equal highest household sector debt service ratio (DSR), and the fifth-highest debt to income ratio. In absolute terms, household debt amounts to $2.1 trillion dollars; the vast majority consists of mortgage debt with a small remainder of personal debt.

The household debt to income ratio is 172%, which is below the commonly-cited RBA ratio which registers at 190%. This is due to the different measure of debt used (the numerator). The Bank of International Settlements (BIS) only considers debt instruments in line with the UN SNA (System of National Accounts), whereas the RBA uses all household liabilities from the ABS Financial National Accounts. This is neither correct nor incorrect, just different. In compiling its debt database, the BIS must adhere to international standards.

The debt service ratio is an estimate of both aggregate principal and interest payments, using household income, debt and the average interest rate (FISIM-adjusted) variables as inputs. The BIS notes the DSR demonstrates a strongly negative correlation between household consumption and debt, for obvious reasons.

Read more …

“Amazon is a ‘Death Star’ moving in ‘striking range of every industry on the planet'”.

John Malone says Amazon is a ‘Death Star’ (CNBC)

Liberty Media Chairman John Malone believes Amazon will dominate the future and is the only company that has a chance to beat Netflix. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings “has been successful in throwing hail Mary passes and then growing into them. And I think he is going to continue doing that. He’s got a great service. He’s disintermediating the studio industry by going directly to the talent,” Malone said in an exclusive interview with CNBC’s David Faber Thursday at the Liberty Media annual investor meeting. “The only outfit right now that has a chance of overtaking them would be Amazon.” The investor noted the cable industry missed its opportunity to compete with Netflix in the past and said “it’s way too late” now. He added that in today’s media world Netflix has the lead position due to its size and subscriber base.

The internet “makes scale even more important in the media business, where scale always was important. It’s all about scale,” he said. Netflix was “the first wave. And I think Jeff [Bezos] is gonna be the most disruptive. As [his] Death Star moves into striking range of every industry on the planet.” He explained that Amazon’s business dominance is growing stronger. Malone said any company that sells products to consumers is at risk of being crushed by the e-commerce giant. “If you’re in the B2C business, if you’re selling anything to any consumer anywhere on the planet, you gotta believe that Amazon is gonna have a look at that opportunity to commoditize you to use scale to serve the public,” he said. Bezos is “reducing cost to the consumer and providing great convenience … You just got to take your hat off and envy what he has built.”

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And that should raise a lot more fear than it does at present.

Einhorn Says Issues That Caused the Crisis Are Not Solved (BBG)

Hedge-fund manager David Einhorn said the problems that caused the global financial crisis a decade ago still haven’t been resolved. “Have we learned our lesson? It depends what the lesson was,” Einhorn, the co-founder of New York-based Greenlight Capital, said at the Oxford Union in England on Wednesday. Einhorn said he identified several issues at the time of the crisis, including the fact that institutions that could have gone under were deemed too big to fail. The scarcity of major credit-rating agencies was and remains a factor, Einhorn said, while problems in the derivatives market “could have been dealt with differently.” And in the “so-called structured-credit market, risk was transferred, but not really being transferred, and not properly valued.”

“If you took all of the obvious problems from the financial crisis, we kind of solved none of them,” Einhorn said to a packed room at Oxford University’s 194-year-old debating society. Instead, the world “went the bailout route.” “We sweep as much under the rug as we can and move on as quickly as we can,” he said. [..] Briefly touching the rise of computer-driven strategies in the financial industry, the billionaire said machines were usually good at spotting short-term trading patterns, something Greenlight isn’t focused on. “Our goal here is to find things that are widely misunderstood by a large margin. So we are not really competing with that kind of technology, because I don’t think we would beat them.”

Read more …

Central bankers who create zombies, and then warn about the danger of .. zombies. In other words, nothing out of the ordinary.

Corporate Zombies Are Threatening The Eurozone Economy (ZH)

The recovery in Eurozone growth has become part of the synchronised global growth narrative that most investors are relying on to deliver further gains in equities as we head into 2018. However, the “Zombification” of a chunk of the Eurozone’s corporate sector is not only a major unaddressed structural problem, but it’s getting worse, especially in…you guessed it…Italy and Spain. According to the WSJ.

The Bank for International Settlements, the Basel-based central bank for central banks, defines a zombie as any firm which is at least 10 years old, publicly traded and has interest expenses that exceed the company’s earnings before interest and taxes. Other organizations use different criteria. About 10% of the companies in six eurozone countries, including France, Germany, Italy and Spain are zombies, according to the central bank’s latest data. The percentage is up sharply from 5.5% in 2007. In Italy and Spain, the percentage of zombie companies has tripled since 2007, the OECD estimated in January. Italy’s zombies employed about 10% of all workers and gobbled up nearly 20% of all the capital invested in 2013, the latest year for which figures are available.

The WSJ explains how the ECB’s negative interest rate policy and corporate bond buying are keeping a chunk of the corporate sector, especially in southern Europe on life support. In some cases, even the life support of low rates and debt restructuring is not preventing further deterioration in their metrics. These are the true “Zombie” companies who will probably never come back from being “undead”, i.e. technically dead but still animate. Belatedly, there is some realisation of the risks.

Economists and central bankers say zombies undercut prices charged by healthier competitors, create artificial barriers to entry and prevent the flushing out of weak companies and bad loans that typically happens after downturns. Now that the European economy is in growth mode, those zombies and their related debt problems could become a drag on the entire continent. “The zombification of the corporate sector and banks (is) a risk for future living standards,” Klaas Knot, a European Central Bank governor and the head of the Dutch central bank, said in an interview. In some ways, zombie firms are an unintended side effect of years of easy money from the ECB, which rolled out aggressive stimulus policies, including negative interest rates, to support lending and growth. Those policies have been sharply criticized in some richer eurozone countries for making it easier for banks to keep struggling corporate borrowers alive.

Read more …

Jail time.

Wall St. Bankers Secretly Used Chat Rooms To Rig Treasury Bond Trades (NYP)

Wall Street banks secretly shared client information in online chat rooms in order to rig auctions for the $14 trillion US Treasurys market, according to an explosive lawsuit filed in Manhattan federal court on Wednesday. The move wrongly fattened the banks’ profits and picked profits from clients, the suit claims. The new accusations, leveled by several pension funds and wealthy individual investors, are contained in an expanded class-action suit originally filed in July 2015 — and include an unusual twist: Some of the evidence came from confidential informants and one of the banks sued in the earlier action. That bank is now cooperating with the plaintiffs in the massive civil action, and is providing an in-depth look into how Wall Street allegedly conspired to rig Treasury bond trades.

The revised lawsuit expands on details on how the banks conspired to set Treasury bond prices — like moves to manipulate the price of the bonds higher on days when there was a lot of demand, and vice versa, court papers claim. The banks worked their scam for years until The Post first reported in June 2015 of the existence of a government investigation into the alleged actions, the updated lawsuit claims. The funds, representing retirees and public workers, also claim the banks conspired to rig the secondary Treasury markets beginning in the 1990s through tightly controlled electronic platforms that inhibited more competitive trading — a new allegation that wasn’t in the original suit but mirrors similar complaints filed against banks in other markets, like stock loans.

The amended suit tightens its focus on a select number of banks, naming Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, the Royal Bank of Scotland, BNP Paribas, and UBS, among others, as the firms behind the rigging, which they allege occurred from Jan. 1, 2007 to mid-2015. Last year, the judge presiding over the class-action suit had questioned whether the claims were strong enough to proceed. The funds continue to allege the banks mined their own customers’ bids for Treasury bonds to get a bigger share of the auction, and sell the bonds for more profit. Probes on the auction practices are being conducted by the Justice Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission and other federal, state and overseas regulators, sources said. No regulator has accused any bank of wrongdoing.

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It will keep rising. No hydro project will stop that.

Electricity Consumed To Mine Bitcoin Rose 43% Since October (BBG)

A green-energy startup says it can solve bitcoin’s surging electricity consumption without boosting pollution, an issue threatening to halt the meteoric rise of the virtual currency. Austria’s HydroMiner GmbH raised $2.8 million after closing its first initial coin offering on Wednesday, according to its website. The cash will be used to install high-powered computers at hydropower plants, where the company says it can mine new digital currencies at a cheaper cost and with lower environmental impacts. “A lot of people are worried about the high energy consumption of cryptocurrencies,” said Nadine Damblon, the co-founder and chief executive officer of HydroMiner in Vienna. “It’s a huge factor.”

The electricity needed by the global network of computers running the blockchain technology behind bitcoin has risen more than two-fifths since the beginning of October, to about 28 terawatt-hours a year, according to the Digiconomist website. That’s more power than all of Nigeria’s 186 million people consume each year. Much of the electricity feeding bitcoin projects is coming from generators fed by fossil fuels. Even as bitcoin approaches $8,000, the price required for mining to be marginally profitable may reach a jaw-dropping $300,000 to $1.5 million by 2022, according to Christopher Chapman at Citigroup. He based his estimate on current growth rates for mining and the electricity consumed by computers doing the work. At that pace, the power consumption implied by bitcoin’s growth may eventually match what Japan uses.

Read more …

My piece from November 8: How Broke is the House of Saud? Sounds like an extremely volatile situation. Taking all those billions away from the rich will not be appreciated. MBS is playing with fire.

Saudi Arabia Offers Arrested Royals A Deal: Your Freedom For Lots Of Cash (ZH)

Saudi Arabia just introduced a 70% wealth tax. It did so in a most original way… As we noted shortly after the Crown Prince’s purge of potential rivals within Saudi Arabia’s sprawling ruling family, while the dozens of arrests were made under the pretext of an “anti-corruption crackdown”, Mohammed bin Salman’s ulterior motive was something else entirely: Replenishing the Kingdom’s depleted foreign reserves, which have been hammered for the past three years by low oil prices, with some estimating that the current purge could potentially bring in up to $800 billion in proceeds. Furthermore, the geopolitical turmoil unleashed by the unprecedented crackdown helped push oil prices higher, creating an ancillary benefit for both the kingdom’s rulers and the upcoming IPO of Aramco.

And, in the latest confirmation that the crackdown was all about cash, the Financial Times reports today that the Saudi government has offered the new occupants of the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton a way out…. and it’s going to cost them: In some cases, as much as 70% of their net worth. “Saudi authorities are negotiating settlements with princes and businessmen held over allegations of corruption, offering deals for the detainees to pay for their freedom, people briefed on the discussions say. In some cases the government is seeking to appropriate as much as 70% of suspects’ wealth, two of the people said, in a bid to channel hundreds of billions of dollars into depleted state coffers. The arrangements, which have already seen some assets and funds handed over to the state, provide an insight into the strategy behind Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s dramatic corruption purge.”

[..] Some of the suspects, most of whom have been rounded up at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh since last week, are keen to secure their release by signing over cash and corporate assets, the FT’s sources say. “They are making settlements with most of those in the Ritz,” said one adviser. “Cough up the cash and you will go home.” One multi-billionaire businessman held at the Ritz-Carlton has been told to hand over 70% of his wealth to the state as a punishment for decades of involvement in allegedly corrupt business transactions. He wants to pay, but has yet to work out the details of transferring those assets to the Saudi state.”

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Just look at the nonsense spouted: “The move formalized a policy they’d been following in practice for several years, and it was backed by careful logic: 2% is high enough to ensure that workers continue to get raises and to give the Fed some cushion against deflation.” It did none of that.

Fed Insiders Seek Radical Policy Review as Powell Era Dawns (BBG)

Federal Reserve officials are pushing for a potentially radical revamp of the playbook for guiding U.S. monetary policy, hoping to seize a moment of economic calm and leadership change to prepare for the next storm. While the country is enjoying its third-longest expansion on record, inflation and interest rates are still low, meaning the central bank has little room to ease policy in a downturn before hitting zero again. With Jerome Powell nominated to take over as Fed chairman in February, influential officials including San Francisco Fed chief John Williams and the Chicago Fed’s Charles Evans have taken the lead in calling for reconsidering policy maker’s 2% inflation target. “It’s a good time given the shift in leadership,” Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic told reporters on Tuesday in Montgomery, Alabama.

“The new guy comes in and they are able to really think about, how should this work, how do I think this should work, and is it compatible with where we’ve been and where we are trying to get to?” The Fed in 2012 officially settled on 2% inflation as an explicit target for the price stability half of its dual mandate from Congress. The other goal is maximum sustainable employment. The move formalized a policy they’d been following in practice for several years, and it was backed by careful logic: 2% is high enough to ensure that workers continue to get raises and to give the Fed some cushion against deflation. Other advanced economies aim for a similar level. Yet Fed officials have been urging the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee to revisit that approach.

“I do think that’s a very important thing that we should all be starting to think about, to prepare ourselves and evaluating,” Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester told a monetary policy conference at the Cato Institute Thursday in Washington. “The Bank of Canada rethinks its framework every five years. It seems to me that’s not a bad thing.”

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This is not Keystone XL, but it’s terribly scary.

200,000 Gallons of Oil Spill From Keystone Pipeline (Atl.)

The Keystone pipeline was temporarily shut down on Thursday, after leaking about 210,000 gallons of oil into Marshall County, South Dakota*, during an early-morning spill. TransCanada, the company which operates the pipeline, said it noticed a loss of pressure in Keystone at about 5:45 a.m. According to a company statement, workers had “completely isolated” the section and “activated emergency procedures” within 15 minutes. Brian Walsh, a state environmental scientist, told the local station KSFY that TransCanada informed the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources about the spill by 10:30 a.m. TransCanada estimates that the pipeline leaked about 5,000 barrels of oil at the site, Walsh said. A barrel holds 42 U.S. gallons of crude oil.

The Keystone pipeline is nearly 3,000 miles long and links oil fields in Alberta, Canada, to the large crude-trading hubs in Patoka, Illinois, and Cushing, Oklahoma. It was completed in 2010. The entirety of its northern span—which travels through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Illinois—would stay closed until the leak was fixed, the company said. TransCanada said it was still operating the pipeline’s southern span, which connects Oklahoma to export terminals along the Gulf Coast. The pipeline’s better-known sister project—the Keystone XL pipeline—was proposed in 2008 as a shortcut and enlargement of the Keystone pipeline.

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A country being crushed by creative accounting.

Greek Taxpayers Have Paid Dearly For €720 Million ‘Social Dividend’ (K.)

It took 2.7 billion euros in new taxes and pension cuts for the government to beat the primary surplus target by 1.9 billion euros this year. In total, 6.2 million taxpayers were forced to pay an average of 410 euros each for the government to distribute an average handout of 180 euros branded the “social dividend” to fewer taxpayers (almost 4 million). The relevant bill that was tabled in Parliament on Tuesday does not specify how the handout will be distributed. Cripplingly high taxes and social security contributions, combined with a freeze on investments, gave the prime minister the chance to issue a nominal social dividend of 1.4 billion euros, which actually amounts to 720 million for low-income people – as the rest goes toward covering government obligations.

For this surplus primary surplus to be attained, the government did the following:
– Hiked solidarity levy rates, mainly for annual incomes in excess of 30,000 euros.
– Lowered the tax-free limit for pensioners and salary workers.
– Raised taxation on oil, gasoline, coffee and tobacco. The latest data show that increasing the special consumption taxes on beer and on coffee has fetched 140 million and 40 million euros respectively.
– Hiked value-added tax rates to the effect that 62.4% of goods and services are now in the top VAT bracket (24%), compared to 33.6% up until last year.
– Slashed the heating oil allowance by about 50%.
– Cut pensions and almost abolished the allowance for low-pension retirees (EKAS).
– Raised the retirement age and social security contributions.

Also the erroneous estimate of Single Social Security Entity (EFKA) revenues turned its deficit of 1 billion euros into a 200-million-euro surplus.

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“Creditors initially estimated that Greece would return to growth in 2012”

But so what? They just raise the burden on Greeks a bit more each time they screw up.

EU Handling Of Greek Bailouts “Generally Weak”, Say Its Own Auditors (R.)

The European Union’s handling of three bailout programs for Greece during the eurozone’s financial crisis had several weaknesses and was only partly successful, European auditors said on Thursday. EU and international creditors have channeled over €350 billion ($412.1 billion) of financial aid to Greece since 2010 to prevent the country’s default and reduce contagion to the rest of the eurozone. To get the funds, Athens had to embark on sweeping structural reforms and unpopular belt-tightening measures. The programs “promoted reform and avoided default by Greece, but the country’s ability to finance itself fully on the financial markets remains a challenge,” the European Court of Auditors (ECA) said in a report on the Greek bailouts. The ECA is responsible for assessing EU finances.

Last year, it said the Commission’s management of the bailouts for Ireland, Portugal, Hungary, Latvia and Romania was “generally weak.” The third Greek program is still ongoing as Athens completes agreed reforms. The €86 billion bailout ends in August, and Greece is by then expected to have fully regained access to market funding. The ECA report, which focused on the work of the European Commission, said the programs “only helped Greece to recover to a limited extent.” The ECB, which together with eurozone states and the IMF contributed to the programs, was not assessed because it declined to provide data, questioning the auditors’ mandate to ask for it, ECA said. The auditors found “weaknesses” in the design of the Greek programs. “Some key measures were not sufficiently justified,” the report said. The ECA stressed that a large chunk of the €45 billion pumped into the banking system may never be recovered.

“For other (measures), the Commission did not comprehensively consider Greece’s implementation capacity in the design process and thus did not adapt the scope and timing accordingly,” it said. In a written reply included in the ECA report, the Commission said that “the design and implementation of crucial reforms took place in the wider context of the prevailing difficult economic situation as well as severe instability in the financial markets.” The Greek bailouts were carried out during the worst financial and economic crisis since the World War II. The Commission also stressed that the application of the programs was complicated by the political crisis that struck Greece during the bailouts, causing the collapse of governments. The Commission concluded that, despite the complex circumstances, the key objectives of the programs were achieved by averting Greece’s default and ensuring financial stability in the eurozone.

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“The judiciary is the branch of government in the US and other countries that is relatively free of bribery. And bribery is exactly what is going on..”

James Hansen Calls For Wave Of Climate Lawsuits (G.)

One of the fathers of climate science is calling for a wave of lawsuits against governments and fossil fuel companies that are delaying action on what he describes as the growing, mortal threat of global warming. Former Nasa scientist James Hansen says the litigate-to-mitigate campaign is needed alongside political mobilisation because judges are less likely than politicians to be in the pocket of oil, coal and gas companies. “The judiciary is the branch of government in the US and other countries that is relatively free of bribery. And bribery is exactly what is going on,” he told the Guardian on the sidelines of the UN climate talks in Bonn. Without Hansen and his fellow Nasa researchers who raised the alarm about the effect of carbon emissions on global temperatures in the 1980s, it is possible that none of the thousands of delegates from almost 200 countries would be here.

But after three decades, he has been largely pushed to the fringes. Organisers have declined his request to speak directly to the delegates about what he sees as a threat that is still massively underestimated. Instead he spreads his message through press conferences and interviews, where he cuts a distinctive figure as an old testament-style prophet in an Indiana Jones hat. He does not mince his words. The international process of the Paris accord, he says, is “eyewash” because it fails to put a higher price on carbon. National legislation, he feels, is almost certainly doomed to fail because governments are too beholden to powerful lobbyists. Even supposedly pioneering states like California, which have a carbon cap-and-trade system, are making things worse, he said, because “half-arsed, half-baked plans only delay a solution.”

For Hansen, the key is to make the 100 big “carbon majors” – corporations like ExxonMobil, BP and Shell that are, by one account, responsible for more than 70% of emissions – pay for the transition to cleaner energy and greater forests. Until governments make them do so by introducing carbon fees or taxes, he says, the best way to hold them to account and generate funds is to sue them for the damage they are doing to the climate, those affected and future generations. Hansen is putting his words into action. He is involved in a 2015 lawsuit against the US federal government, brought by his granddaughter and 20 others under the age of 21. They argue the government’s failure to curb CO2 emissions has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property.

[..] Hansen believes Donald Trump’s actions to reverse environmental protections and withdraw from the Paris accord may be a blessing in disguise because the government will now find it harder to persuade judges that it is acting in the public interest. “Trump’s policy may backfire on him,” he said. “In the greater scheme of things, it might just make it easier to win our lawsuit.”

Read more …

Nov 162017
 
 November 16, 2017  Posted by at 9:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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Leonardo da Vinci Salvator Mundi 1513

 

Landmark Study Links Tory Austerity To 120,000 Deaths (Ind.)
Jeremy Corbyn Will Inevitably Become UK Prime Minister – Varoufakis (BI)
Why Care More About Benefit Scroungers Than Billions Lost To The Rich? (G.)
No Evidence Of Russian Interference In Brexit, PM May Admits In Parliament (RT)
China’s Outbound Investment Plunged 41% On Year In January To October (BBG)
Senior China Minister Says Some Officials Practice Sorcery (R.)
Corruption in China Could Lead To Soviet-Style Collapse – Graft Buster (ToI)
The Complete Idiot’s Guide To The Biggest Risks In China (ZH)
Why the Anti-Corruption Drive in Saudi Arabia is Doomed to Fail (CP)
Saudi Walks Back Escalation As Dramatic Moves Backfire (AP)
Friendly Reminder That Jeff Bezos Is Trying To Take Over The Universe (CJ)
Why Japan Knocks Down Its Houses After 30 Years (G.)
Kyle Bass: Investors to Pour Billions into Greece after Political Change (GR)
Lesvos Reaches Breaking Point, Mayor Declares General Strike (G.)
Monsanto, US Farm Groups Sue California Over Glyphosate Cancer Warnings (R.)
Plastics Found In Stomachs Of Deepest Sea Creatures (G.)

 

 

It doesn’t get much more damning than this. Nothing Monty Python about it.

Landmark Study Links Tory Austerity To 120,000 Deaths (Ind.)

The Conservatives have been accused of “economic murder” for austerity policies which a new study suggests have caused 120,000 deaths. The paper found that there were 45,000 more deaths in the first four years of Tory-led efficiencies than would have been expected if funding had stayed at pre-election levels. On this trajectory that could rise to nearly 200,000 excess deaths by the end of 2020, even with the extra funding that has been earmarked for public sector services this year. Real terms funding for health and social care fell under the Conservative-led Coalition Government in 2010, and the researchers conclude this “may have produced” the substantial increase in deaths.

The paper identified that mortality rates in the UK had declined steadily from 2001 to 2010, but this reversed sharply with the death rate growing again after austerity came in. From this reversal the authors identified that 45,368 extra deaths occurred between 2010 and 2014, than would have been expected, although it stops short of calling them “avoidable”. Based on those trends it predicted the next five years – from 2015 to 2020 – would account for 152,141 deaths – 100 a day – findings which one of the authors likened to “economic murder”. The Government began relaxing austerity measures this year announcing the end of its cap on public sector pay rises and announcing an extra £1.3bn for social care in the Spring Budget. Over three years the additional funding for social care is expected to reach £2bn, which Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said was “patching up a small part of the damage” wrought by £4.6bn cuts.

[..] The papers’ senior author and a researcher at UCL, Dr Ben Maruthappu, said that while the paper “can’t prove cause and effect” it shows an association. And he added this trend is seen elsewhere. “When you look at Portugal and other countries that have gone through austerity measures, they have found that health care provision gets worse and health care outcomes get worse,” he told The Independent. One of his co-author’s, Professor Lawrence King of the Applied Health Research Unit at Cambridge University, said it showed the damage caused by austerity “It is now very clear that austerity does not promote growth or reduce deficits – it is bad economics, but good class politics,” he said. “This study shows it is also a public health disaster. It is not an exaggeration to call it economic murder.”

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After a report like that, yes. The Tories have taken things too far.

Jeremy Corbyn Will Inevitably Become UK Prime Minister – Varoufakis (BI)

Yanis Varoufakis, former finance minister of Greece and author of “Adults in the Room: My Battle with the European and American Deep Establishment,” explains that Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister may be a likely scenario and that this would be beneficial for the UK economy. The following is a transcript of the video. Isn’t it astonishing that after Jeremy Corbyn was being described as “the longest suicide note by the Labour Party” about a year ago, today there is an air of inevitability in a Corbyn-led government. I think it’s a delicious irony and I’m very excited by this transition from impossibility to inevitability. In the interests of full disclosure, I’m a friend of Jeremy Corbyn, a supporter, I’ve worked with his team and will continue to do so.

I believe that the re-orientation of British politics under Corbyn and in particular of the Labour Party is highly beneficial, not only to the large strata within British society that have been discarded in the last 20 to 30 years, but interestingly also for British business that produces real stuff as opposed to the City of London and various other service sectors that produce precarious jobs and nothing much of substance. British manufacturing has been left in the margins for far too long and the dearth of investment in fixed capital is something that this Conservative government has absolutely no interest in, or no concept of. A Labour, Corbyn-led government, might be what is necessary in order to create better circumstances both for labour and manufacturing capital in the United Kingdom.

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“Quite simply, people get hurt when the rich don’t pay their taxes.”

Why Care More About Benefit Scroungers Than Billions Lost To The Rich? (G.)

Will the Paradise Papers shift the public’s focus? The leaks alone are seemingly not enough. The 2016 British Social Attitudes survey was conducted just four months after the release of the Panama Papers. Even then, the British public remained more concerned about benefit claimants than tax avoiders. Fundamentally, the Paradise Papers are about numbers – vast sums of money disappearing offshore that could be spent on public services here in the UK. However, as the former chair of the UK Statistics Authority, Andrew Dilnot, has often pointed out, people are bad at dealing with numbers on this scale. Unless you are an economist or a statistician, numbers in the millions and billions are just not particularly meaningful.

The key is to link these numbers to their consequences. The money we lose because people like Lewis Hamilton don’t pay some VAT on their private jet means thousands more visits to food banks. The budget cuts leading to rising homelessness might not have been necessary if Apple had paid more tax. Fewer people might have killed themselves after a work-capability assessment if companies like Alphabet (Google) had not registered their offices in Bermuda, and the downward pressure on benefits payments was not so intense. The causal chains connecting these events are complex and often opaque, but that does not make their consequences any less real, especially for those who have felt the hard edge of austerity.

The Paradise Papers have dragged the murky world of offshore finance into the spotlight. However, calls for change may founder against the British public’s persistent focus on the perceived crimes of the poor. That is, unless we – as academics, politicians, journalists and others – can articulate how the decisions of the very rich contribute to the expulsion of the vulnerable from the protection of state-funded public services. Quite simply, people get hurt when the rich don’t pay their taxes.

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Oh, cut it out.

No Evidence Of Russian Interference In Brexit, PM May Admits In Parliament (RT)

Theresa May has rejected allegations that Russia interfered in the Brexit referendum. Speaking during Prime Minister’s Questions, she stated: “If they care to look at the speech on Monday, they will see that the examples I gave were not in the UK.” During a speech May gave at the Lord Mayor’s banquet, the British leader accused Russia of meddling in European elections, hacking attacks on western government institutions, and spreading fake news. During the customarily confrontational Prime Minister’s Questions, May said that, in her speech, she had indeed cited “Russian interference” occurring “in a number of countries in Europe.” However, she denied that this applied in any way to her own country.

Following the session, a spokesperson for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that “I think we need to see more evidence about what’s being talked about. “In relation to Russia and tensions between NATO and Russia and western powers and Russia more generally, Jeremy has made clear on a number of occasions that we need to see an attempt through dialogue to ratchet down tensions with Russia.” May was responding to a question from Labour MP Mary Creagh, who referred to an assertion by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson that he had seen no evidence of Russia interfering in the Brexit referendum. Johnson made the comment during an appearance before a Commons committee hearing on November 1. Upon prompting by a senior civil servant, Johnson replied “nyet,” and added in English that there was “not a sausage” of evidence.

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Once again: China needs its foreign reserves.

China’s Outbound Investment Plunged 41% On Year In January To October (BBG)

China’s non-financial outbound investment slumped to $86.3 billion in January to October, plunging 41% from a year earlier, as projects in some industries dried up. There were no new real estate, sports or entertainment deals for the period, the Commerce Ministry said in a statement Thursday. Most outbound investment was in leasing and business services, manufacturing, wholesale and retail sales and information technology services. “Irrational” outbound investment has been curbed further, the ministry said, repeating the language it has used this year as authorities push to halt capital outflows.

That’s reversing an unbroken streak of acceleration since at least 2010: Outbound investment soared 44.1% last year to $170.1 billion, about four times the 2009 level, Mofcom data show. “The combination of hardened capital controls and a crackdown on outbound M&A has dented China’s overseas investment,” said Tom Orlik, chief Asia economist at Bloomberg Economics in Beijing. “A short-term downturn was necessitated by the pressing need to stabilize the yuan. Sustained for too long, falling overseas investment would be tough to square with ambitions for greater international influence through the Belt and Road program.”

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In which sorcery is somehow the opposite of socialism.

Senior China Minister Says Some Officials Practice Sorcery (R.)

Some top Chinese officials are guilty of practicing sorcery and would rather believe in gurus and Western concepts of democracy than the Communist Party, a senior minister wrote on Thursday, warning of the danger they presented to its survival. China guarantees freedom of religion for major belief systems such as Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, but party members are meant to be atheists and are barred from what it calls superstitious practices, such as visits to soothsayers. Recent years have seen several cases of officials jailed as part of President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on corruption being accused of superstition, part of the party’s efforts to blacken their names.

Some senior officials in leadership positions had “fallen morally”, their beliefs straying from the correct path, wrote Chen Xi, the recently appointed head of the party’s powerful Organisation Department that oversees personnel decisions. “Some don’t believe in Marx and Lenin but believe in ghosts and gods; they don’t believe in ideals but believe in sorcery; they don’t respect the people but do respect masters,” he wrote in the official People’s Daily, referring to spiritual leaders or gurus. People in China, especially its leaders, have a long tradition of turning to soothsaying and geomancy to find answers to their problems in times of doubt, need and chaos. The practice has grown more risky amid Xi’s war on graft, in which dozens of senior officials have been imprisoned.

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Large scale arrests in the future?

Corruption in China Could Lead To Soviet-Style Collapse – Graft Buster (ToI)

China must step up its battle against corruption in order to safeguard against a Soviet-style collapse, the country’s second most senior graft buster said in an editorial on Wednesday. Yang Xiaodu, the deputy secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, who was promoted to the ruling Communist Party’s 25-strong Politburo last month, said failure would risk the “red country changing colour”. In unusually direct and strongly worded criticism of previous administrations, Yang said “in a previous period”, corruption had been allowed to fester to such an extent that the party’s leadership had weakened, with supervision soft, and ideology apathetic. “It had developed to the point where if not rectified, the country could change colour,” Yang wrote in the official People’s Daily.

“The future fate of the party and the country’s people could follow the same old road to ruin as the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc.” President Xi Jinping, like many officials before him, is steeped in the party’s long-held belief that loosening control too quickly or even at all could lead to chaos and the break up of the country. The party regularly implores cadres to study the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Yang’s editorial is the latest salvo signalling that the intensity of Xi’s signature war on corruption would not wane despite the departure of Xi’s right-hand man, Wang Qishan, who was widely seen as China’s second most powerful politician before being replaced as anti-corruption chief in a leadership reshuffle last month. Wang’s replacement, Zhao Leji, wrote a similarly strongly worded editorial in the People’s Daily on Saturday.

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Not doing well. At all.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide To The Biggest Risks In China (ZH)

With both commodities and Chinese stocks suffering sharp overnight drops, it is hardly surprising that today trading desks have quietly been sending out boxes full of xanax their best under-25 clients (those veterans who have seen one, maybe even two 1% market crashes), along with reports explaining just what China is and why it matters to the new generation of, well, traders. One such analysis, clearly geared to the Ritalin generation complete with 3 second attention spans, comes from Deutsche Bank which in a few hundred words seeks to explain the key risks threatening the world’s most complex centrally-planned economy, and ground zero of the next financial crash. Which, one day after our summary take on why the Chinese commodity, economic and financial crash is only just starting (as those who traded overnight may have noticed), is probably a good place to reiterate some of the more salient points.

As Deutsche Bank’s Zhiwei Zhang writes in “Risks to watch in the next six months”, the key thing to keep in mind about China now that the 19th Party Congress is in the rear-view mirror, is that the government is likely to tolerate slower growth in 2018. Han Wenxiu, the deputy head of the Research Office of the State Council, said that GDP growth at 6.3% in 2018-2020 would be sufficient to achieve the Party’s 2020 growth target. And while this is a positive message for the long term, it indicates growth will likely slow in 2018. And, as DB warns, recent economic data suggest the economic cycle has indeed cooled down. For all those seeking key Chinese inflection points, here are the three big red flags involving China’s economy:

For the first time since Q4 2004, fixed asset investment (FAI) growth turned negative in real terms in Q3 this year.

Growth of property sales for the nation turned negative as well in October, the first time since 2015.

The property market boom in Tier 3 cities is also losing momentum.

We hope not to have lost by now all the Millennial traders who started reading this post. To those who persevered, here – in addition to the risks facing the economy – are the other two main risks facing China’s investors: (rising) inflation and (rising) interest rates.

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The most corrupt are the most powerful. Cue China.

Why the Anti-Corruption Drive in Saudi Arabia is Doomed to Fail (CP)

The problem in resource-rich states is that corruption is not marginal to political power, but central to acquiring it and keeping it. Corruption at the top is a form of patronage manipulated by those in charge, to create and reward a network of self-interested loyalists. It is the ruling family and its friends and allies who cherrypick what is profitable: this is as true of Saudi Arabia as it was true of Libya under Gaddafi, Iraq under Saddam Hussein and his successors, or Iraqi Kurdistan that was supposedly different from the rest of the country. Corruption is a nebulous concept when it comes to states with arbitrary rulers, who can decide – unrestrained by law or democratic process – what is legal and what is illegal. What typifies the politics of oil states is that everybody is trying to plug into the oil revenues in order to get their share of the cake.

This is true at the top, but the same is the case of the rest of the population, or at least a large and favoured section of it. The Iraqi government pays $4bn a month to about seven million state employees and pensioners. These may or may not do productive work, but it would be politically risky to fire them because they are the base support of the regime in power. Anti-corruption drives don’t work, because if they are at all serious, they soon begin to cut into the very roots of political power by touching the “untouchables”. At this point principled anti-corruption campaigners will find themselves in serious trouble and may have to flee the country, while the less-principled ones will become a feared weapon to be used against anybody whom the government wants to target.

A further consequence of the traditional anti-corruption drive is that it can paralyse government activities in general. This is because all officials, corrupt and incorrupt alike, know that they are vulnerable to investigation. “The safest course for them is to take no decision and sign no document which might be used or misused against them,” a frustrated American businessman told me in Baghdad some years ago. He added that it was only those so politically powerful that they did not have to fear legal sanctions who would take decisions – and such people were often the most corrupt of all.

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Wishful thinking?

Saudi Walks Back Escalation As Dramatic Moves Backfire (AP)

Saudi Arabia’s dramatic moves to counter Iran in the region appear to have backfired, significantly ratcheting up regional tensions and setting off a spiral of reactions and anger that seem to have caught the kingdom off guard. Now it’s trying to walk back its escalations in Lebanon and Yemen. On Monday, the kingdom announced that the Saudi-led coalition fighting Shiite rebels in Yemen would begin reopening airports and seaports in the Arab world’s poorest country, days after closing them over a rebel ballistic missile attack on Riyadh. The move came just hours after Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who shocked the nation by announcing his resignation from the Saudi capital on Nov. 4, gave an interview in which he backed off his strident condemnation of the Lebanese militant Hezbollah, saying he would return to the country within days to seek a settlement with the Shiite militants, his rivals in his coalition government.

The two developments suggest that Saudi Arabia’s bullish young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, may be trying to pedal back from the abyss of a severe regional escalation. “This represents de-escalation by the Saudis,” said Yezid Sayigh, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. “The general trend is that the Saudis are going to back off and this is largely because of the unexpected extent of international pressure, and not least of all U.S. pressure.” Mohammed bin Salman, widely known by his initials, MBS, has garnered a reputation for being decisive, as well as impulsive. At just 32 years old and with little experience in government, he has risen to power in just three years to oversee all major aspects of politics, security and the economy in Saudi Arabia. As defense minister, he is in charge of the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

He also appears to have the support of President Donald Trump and his son-in-law, senior adviser Jared Kushner, who visited the Saudi capital earlier this month. Saudi partners in the Gulf and the Trump administration rushed to defend the kingdom publicly after a rebel Houthi missile was fired at the Saudi capital, Riyadh, from Yemen last week. A top U.S. military official also backed Saudi claims that the missile was manufactured by Iran. However, Saudi Arabia’s move to tighten an already devastating blockade on Yemen in response to the missile was roundly criticized by aid groups, humanitarian workers and the United Nations, which warned that the blockade could bring millions of people closer to “starvation and death.” Saudi Arabia’s decision to ease the blockade after just a week suggests it bowed to the international criticism, and did not want the bad publicity of even more images of emaciated Yemeni children and elderly people circulating online and in the media.

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“WaPo ran sixteen smear pieces on Bernie Sanders in the span of sixteen hours at the hottest point in the Democratic presidential primary battle.”

Friendly Reminder That Jeff Bezos Is Trying To Take Over The Universe (CJ)

Jeff Bezos, currently the wealthiest human being on planet Earth, did not purchase the Washington Post in 2013 because he was expecting newspapers to make a lucrative resurgence. This self-evident fact doesn’t receive enough attention. I will say it again for emphasis: Jeff Bezos, who has used his business prowess to become the wealthiest person in the world, did not purchase the Washington Post in 2013 because he was expecting newspapers to make a profitable comeback. That did not happen. What did happen is the world’s richest plutocrat realizing that he needed a mouthpiece to manufacture public support for the neoliberal corporatist establishment that he is building his empire upon. This is why WaPo ran sixteen smear pieces on Bernie Sanders in the span of sixteen hours at the hottest point in the Democratic presidential primary battle.

[..] Last year Silicon Valley venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya said that Amazon is “a multi-trillion-dollar monopoly hiding in plain sight.” In June Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, wrote that Amazon is trying to “control the underlying infrastructure of the economy.”\ Bezos continues to get cozier and cozier with the US power establishment as his empire metastasizes across human civilization. He kicked WikiLeaks off Amazon servers in 2010, he scored a 600 million dollar contract with the CIA in 2013, he joined a Pentagon advisory board in 2016, he hung out with Defense Secretary James Mattis in August, and he’s spent nearly ten million dollars this year lobbying the federal government, which is likely what led to an NDAA amendment gifting Amazon a $54 billion market it’s expected to dominate as a supplier to the Pentagon. Billion. With a ‘b’.

[..] I gave this story a jokey headline, but seriously, watch Jeff Bezos very closely. Your future is increasingly more likely to be imperiled by new money tech plutocrats like him than by old money plutocrats like Soros and the Rothschilds.

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Interesting. Earthquakes are no. 1 incentive.

Why Japan Knocks Down Its Houses After 30 Years (G.)

In the suburban neighbourhood of Midorigaoka, about an hour by train outside Kobe, Japan, all the houses were built by the same company in the same factory. Steel frames fitted out with panel walls and ceilings, these homes were clustered by the hundreds into what was once a brand new commuter town. But they weren’t built to last. Daiwa House, one of the biggest prefabricated housing manufacturers in Japan, built this town in the 60s during a postwar housing boom. It’s not unlike the suburban subdivisions of the western world, with porches, balconies and rooflines that shift and repeat up and down blocks of gently curving roads. Most of those houses built in the 60s are no longer standing, having long since been replaced by newer models, finished with fake brick ceramic siding in beiges, pinks and browns.

In the end, most of these prefabricated houses – and indeed most houses in Japan – have a lifespan of only about 30 years. Unlike in other countries, Japanese homes gradually depreciate over time, becoming completely valueless within 20 or 30 years. When someone moves out of a home or dies, the house, unlike the land it sits on, has no resale value and is typically demolished. This scrap-and-build approach is a quirk of the Japanese housing market that can be explained variously by low-quality construction to quickly meet demand after the second world war, repeated building code revisions to improve earthquake resilience and a cycle of poor maintenance due to the lack of any incentive to make homes marketable for resale. In Midorigaoka, even the newer homes built in the 80s and 90s are nearing the end of their expected lifespan.

Under normal circumstances, their days might be numbered. But down at the end of one block, there’s a sign things are changing. Scaffolding surrounds a vacant house on a corner and workers from Daiwa House are clanging away inside. They’re not demolishing the house but refurbishing it – reorganising the floor plan, knocking down walls, opening up the kitchen and enhancing the insulation. Rather than tear down the house so the next buyer can build something new, they’re rebuilding it from the inside and putting it back on the market. It’s a relatively rare commodity, but something that is increasingly common across Japan: a secondhand home.

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I’ve long predicted that Greece will be much less peaceful once Syriza loses power. But yeah, the whole country’s put up for sale, so foreigners are certain to take over.

Kyle Bass: Investors to Pour Billions into Greece after Political Change (GR)

Hedge fund manager, Kyle Bass, believes that Greece will come out of the crisis and investors will pour billions into its economy once the government changes, according to a CNBC report. The founder and chief investment officer of Hayman Capital Management; which manages an estimated $815 million in assets, is closely following the course of the Greek economy and political situation, and has invested in Greek bank stocks. Bass says that foreign investors are waiting on the sidelines for a political shift to take place in 2018. “My best guess is a snap election for prime minister will be called between April and September of next year and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will lose power. When that happens, there will be a massive move into the Greek stock market. Big money will flow in as investors feel more confident with a more moderate administration,” Bass said.

“It’s going to take Kyriakos Mitsotakis; president of New Democracy, the Greek conservative party, to be voted in as prime minister to reform the culture and rekindle investor confidence,” the investor said. “I have no doubt 15 billion euros in bank deposits will come back to Greek banks if he’s elected. The stock and bond markets will also jump following the election.” Bass says that global investors are waiting for the political change in order to invest in real estate, energy and tourism. So far, the hedge fund manager noted, Greece has proceeded with privatizations of its main port; regional airports; its railway system; the largest insurance company, and there are more important ones to be completed within the next two years. “There is so much potential in Greece,” Bass said, noting that investors are waiting for the right moment to enter, the CNBC report concludes.

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Europe just lets it get worse.

Lesvos Reaches Breaking Point, Mayor Declares General Strike (G.)

With reception centers on Lesvos bursting at the seams and dozens more migrants arriving daily, the island’s mayor, Spyros Galinos, on Tuesday declared a general strike for Monday in protest. Currently, some 1,500 people – including hundreds of small children – are stranded on the island living in tents, and fears are growing that winter may bring a new humanitarian crisis. In total, there are more than 8,000 migrants and refugees on Lesvos, a favored destination of traffickers bringing people over from neighboring Turkey. “Lesvos has a population of 32,000 residents and there are at the moment 8,300 migrants and refugees,” Galinos told Kathimerini. Moreover, local police union members held a protest over deteriorating working conditions.

“The situation on Lesvos has fueled insecurity among citizens. The police force is dealing exclusively with the migrant issue,” the union chief Dimitris Alexiou said. “We are not expendables,” he added. And with flows to the eastern Aegean islands from Turkey showing no signs of letting up, locals and migrants have reached the end of their tether. Since the beginning of November, 1,603 people have arrived on the islands. In September, 6,000 people arrived from Turkey, the same number as in October. On Monday, another 101 migrants landed on eastern Aegean islands, while more than 400 arrived over the weekend. The situation in the Moria camp on Lesvos is a case in point.

“Conditions at Moria have reached breaking point as the facility is three times over capacity,” said Michael Bakas, coordinator of the northern Aegean branch of the Ecologist Greens, who escorted visiting Group of the Greens MEP and vice chairwoman of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights Barbara Lochbihler. Bakas said about 1,000 children are currently stranded at the camp. The issue will be discussed at the EU assembly on Wednesday.

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Monsanto must now have as many lawyers as scientists on its payroll. Time to say enough is enough.

Monsanto, US Farm Groups Sue California Over Glyphosate Cancer Warnings (R.)

Monsanto and U.S. farm groups sued California on Wednesday to stop the state from requiring cancer warnings on products containing the widely used weed killer glyphosate, which the company sells to farmers to apply to its genetically engineered crops. The government of the most populous U.S. state added glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, to its list of cancer-causing chemicals in July and will require that products containing glyphosate carry warnings by July 2018. California acted after the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded in 2015 that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic”. For more than 40 years, farmers have applied glyphosate to crops, most recently as they have cultivated genetically modified corn and soybeans.

Roundup and Monsanto’s glyphosate-resistant seeds would be less attractive to customers if California requires warnings on products containing the chemical. In the lawsuit, filed in federal court in California, Monsanto and groups representing corn, soy and wheat farmers reject that glyphosate causes cancer. They say the state’s requirement for warnings would force sellers of products containing the chemical to spread false information.“Such warnings would equate to compelled false speech, directly violate the First Amendment, and generate unwarranted public concern and confusion,” Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s vice president of global strategy, said in a statement.

The controversy is an additional headache for Monsanto as it faces a crisis around a new version of an herbicide based on another chemical known as dicamba that was linked to widespread U.S. crop damage this summer. The company, which is being acquired by Bayer AG for $63.5 billion, developed the product as a replacement for glyphosate following an increase of weeds resistant to the chemical. Monsanto has already suffered damage to its investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in glyphosate products since California added the chemical to its list of products known to cause cancer, according to the lawsuit.

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Weep.

Plastics Found In Stomachs Of Deepest Sea Creatures (G.)

Animals from the deepest places on Earth have been found with plastic in their stomachs, confirming fears that manmade fibres have contaminated the most remote places on the planet. The study, led by academics at Newcastle University, found animals from trenches across the Pacific Ocean were contaminated with fibres that probably originated from plastic bottles, packaging and synthetic clothes. Dr Alan Jamieson, who led the study, said the findings were startling and proved that nowhere on the planet was free from plastics pollution. “There is now no doubt that plastics pollution is so pervasive that nowhere – no matter how remote – is immune,” he said. Evidence of the scale of plastic pollution has been growing in recent months. Earlier this year scientists found plastic in 83% of global tapwater samples, while other studies have found plastic in rock salt and fish.

Humans have produced an estimated 8.3bn tonnes of plastic since the 1950s and scientists said it risked near permanent contamination of the planet. Jamieson said underlined the need for swift and meaningful action. “These observations are the deepest possible record of microplastic occurrence and ingestion, indicating it is highly likely there are no marine ecosystems left that are not impacted by anthropogenic debris.” He said it was “a very worrying find.” “Isolating plastic fibres from inside animals from nearly 11 kilometres deep (seven miles) just shows the extent of the problem. Also, the number of areas we found this in, and the thousands of kilometre distances involved shows it is not just an isolated case, this is global.”

[..] The team examined 90 individual animals and found ingestion of plastic ranged from 50% in the New Hebrides Trench to 100% at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The fragments identified include semi-synthetic cellulosic fibres, such as Rayon, Lyocell and Ramie, which are all microfibres used in products such as textiles, to plastic fibres that are likely to come from plastic bottles, fishing equipment or everyday packaging. Jamieson said deep-sea organisms are dependent on food “raining down from the surface which in turn brings any adverse components, such as plastic and pollutants with it.” “The deep sea is not only the ultimate sink for any material that descends from the surface, but it is also inhabited by organisms well adapted to a low food environment and these will often eat just about anything.”


This microscopic arrow worm has eaten a blue plastic fibre that is blocking the passage of food along its gut. Photograph: Richard Kirby/Courtesy of Orb Media

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Nov 142017
 
 November 14, 2017  Posted by at 10:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »
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Vincent van Gogh Laboureur dans un champ 1889

 

The Largest Transfer Of Wealth In Living Memory (OD)
How The American Dream Turned Into Greed And Inequality (WEF)
The Fed Destroyed Functioning American Democracy and Bankrupted the Nation (CH)
The Fatal Flaw Of Neoliberalism: It’s Bad Economics (Rodrik)
China Home Sales Fall by Most in Almost Three Years on Curbs (BBG)
Australia’s Whole Economy Is Built On China Buying Our Stuff (News.com.au)
Austerity, Not Brexit, Has Doomed The Tory Party (G.)
Saudi Retreat From U.S. Oil Market Cuts Exports to 30-Year Low (BBG)
Arab States Spent $130 Billion To Destroy Syria, Libya, Yemen (PressTV)
EU Countries Agree To Create A European Mega-Army (R.)
Fisheries Collapse On US West Coast: “It’s The Worst We’ve Seen” (SHTF)

 

 

Or, as yours truly phrased it 2 weeks ago: The Biggest Ponzi in Human History. But the writer makes a big mistake when she says “this will be passed on to the next generation via inheritance or transfer”. It won’t, because prices will plunge. What will be passed on is the debt.

The Largest Transfer Of Wealth In Living Memory (OD)

Last week, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released new data tracking how wealth has evolved over time. On paper, the UK has indeed become much wealthier in recent decades. Net wealth has more than tripled since 1995, increasing by over £7 trillion. This is equivalent to an average increase of nearly £100,000 per person. Impressive stuff. But where has all this wealth come from, and who has it benefitted? Just over £5 trillion, or three quarters of the total increase, is accounted for by increase in the value of dwellings – another name for the UK housing stock. The Office for National Statistics explains that this is “largely due to increases in house prices rather than a change in the volume of dwellings.” This alone is not particularly surprising. We are forever told about the importance of ‘getting a foot on the property ladder’.

The housing market has long been viewed as a perennial source of wealth. But the price of a property is made up of two distinct components: the price of the building itself, and the price of the land that the structure is built upon. This year the ONS has separated out these two components for the first time, and the results are quite astounding. In just two decades the market value of land has quadrupled, increasing recorded wealth by over £4 trillion. The driving force behind rising house prices — and the UK’s growing wealth — has been rapidly escalating land prices. For those who own property, this has provided enormous benefits. According to the Resolution Foundation, homeowners born in the 1940s and 1950s gained an unearned windfall of £80,000 between 1993 and 2014 alone.

In the early 2000s, house price growth was so great that 17% of working-age adults earned more from their house than from their job. Last week The Times reported that during the past three months alone, baby boomers converted £850 million of housing wealth into cash using equity release products – the highest number since records began. A third used the money to buy cars, while more than a quarter used it to fund holidays. Others are choosing to buy more property: the Chartered Institute of Housing has described how the buy-to-let market is being fuelled by older households using their housing wealth to buy more property, renting it out to those who are unable to get a foot on the property ladder. And it is here that we find the dark side of the housing boom.

House prices are now on average nearly eight times that of incomes, more than double the figure of 20 years ago. It’s unlikely that house prices will be able to outpace incomes at the same rate for the next 20 years. The past few decades have spawned a one-off transfer of wealth that is unlikely to be repeated. While the main beneficiaries of this have been the older generations, eventually this will be passed on to the next generation via inheritance or transfer. Already the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ has become the ninth biggest mortgage lender. The ultimate result is not just a growing intergenerational divide, but an entrenched class divide between those who own property (or have a claim to it), and those who do not.

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The dream is dead.

How The American Dream Turned Into Greed And Inequality (WEF)

[..] the idea that every American has an equal opportunity to move up in life is false. Social mobility has declined over the past decades, median wages have stagnated and today’s young generation is the first in modern history expected to be poorer than their parents. The lottery of life – the postcode where you were born – can account for up to two thirds of the wealth an individual generates.The growing gap between the rich and the poor, the old and the young, has been largely ignored by policymakers and investors until the recent rise of anti-establishment votes, including those for Brexit in the UK and for President Trump in the US. This is a mistake. Inequality is much more than a side-effect of free market capitalism.

It is a symptom of policy negligence, where for decades, credit and monetary stimulus shortcuts too easily substituted for structural reform, investment and economic strategy. Capitalism has been incredibly successful at boosting wealth, but it has failed at redistributing it. Today, without a push to redistribute wealth and opportunity, our model of capitalism and democracy may face self-destruction. The widening of inequality has deep historical roots. Keynes’ interventionist policies worked well during the post-war recovery, as fiscal stimulus for the reconstruction boosted demand for US goods from Europe and Japan. But soon the stimulus faded. The U.S. found itself with declining growth and rising inflation at a time when it was mired in the Cold War and Vietnam conflicts. The baby boomer generation demanded higher living standards.

The response was the Nixon shock in 1971: a set of policies which moved away from the gold standard, initiating the era of fiat money and free credit. Credit was the answer to declining growth and rising inequality: if you couldn’t afford university, a new house or a new car, Uncle Sam would lend you the key to the American Dream in the form of that extra loan you needed. Over the following decades, state subsidies to private credit became popular, spreading to the U.K. and Europe. It was the start of debt-based democracies. Private debt outgrew GDP four times in the US and Europe over the following decades up to the 2008 financial crisis, accompanied by the deregulation of financial markets and of banks. The rest is history: nine long years after the crisis, our economies are still healing from excess debt, and regulators are still working on strengthening our financial system. Inequality, however, has deepened even further. Has capitalism failed?

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Very good from Chris Hamilton.

The Fed Destroyed Functioning American Democracy and Bankrupted the Nation (CH)

Against the adamant wishes of the constitutions framers, in 1913 the Federal Reserve System was Congressionally created. According to the Fed’s website, “it was created to provide the nation with a safer, more flexible, and more stable monetary and financial system.” Although parts of the Federal Reserve System share some characteristics with private-sector entities, the Federal Reserve was supposedly established to serve the public interest. A quick overview; monetary policy is the Federal Reserves actions, as a central bank, to achieve three goals specified by Congress: maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates in the United States. The Federal Reserve conducts the nation’s monetary policy by managing the level of short-term interest rates and influencing the availability and cost of credit in the economy.

Monetary policy directly affects interest rates; it indirectly affects stock prices, wealth, and currency exchange rates. Through these channels, monetary policy influences spending, investment, production, employment, and inflation in the United States. I suggest what truly happened in 1913 was that Congress willingly abdicated a portion of its responsibilities, and through the Federal Reserve, began a process that would undermine the functioning American democracy. How, you ask? The Fed, believing the free-market to be “imperfect” (aka; wrong) believed it should control and set interest rates, determine full employment, determine asset prices; not the “free market”. And here’s what happened:

• From 1913 to 1971, an increase of $400 billion in federal debt cost $35 billion in additional annual interest payments.
• From 1971 to 1981, an increase of $600 billion in federal debt cost $108 billion in additional annual interest payments.
• From 1981 to 1997, an increase of $4.4 trillion cost $224 billion in additional annual interest payments.
• From 1997 to 2017, an increase of $15.2 trillion cost “just” $132 billion in additional annual interest payments.

[..] As the chart below highlights, since the creation of the Federal Reserve the growth of debt (relative to growth of economic activity) has gone to levels never dreamed of by the founding fathers. In particular, the systemic surges in debt since 1981 are unlike anything ever seen prior in American history. Although the peak of debt to GDP seen in WWII may have been higher (changes in GDP calculations mean current GDP levels are likely significantly overstating economic activity), the duration and reliance upon debt was entirely tied to the war. Upon the end of the war, the economy did not rely on debt for further growth and total debt fell.

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Perhaps the biggest mystery is why the (formerly) left got so involved with it.

The Fatal Flaw Of Neoliberalism: It’s Bad Economics (Rodrik)

We live in the age of neoliberalism, apparently. But who are neoliberalism’s adherents and disseminators – the neoliberals themselves? Oddly, you have to go back a long time to find anyone explicitly embracing neoliberalism. In 1982, Charles Peters, the longtime editor of the political magazine Washington Monthly, published an essay titled A Neo-Liberal’s Manifesto. It makes for interesting reading 35 years later, since the neoliberalism it describes bears little resemblance to today’s target of derision. The politicians Peters names as exemplifying the movement are not the likes of Thatcher and Reagan, but rather liberals – in the US sense of the word – who have become disillusioned with unions and big government and dropped their prejudices against markets and the military.

The use of the term “neoliberal” exploded in the 1990s, when it became closely associated with two developments, neither of which Peters’s article had mentioned. One of these was financial deregulation, which would culminate in the 2008 financial crash and in the still-lingering euro debacle. The second was economic globalisation, which accelerated thanks to free flows of finance and to a new, more ambitious type of trade agreement. Financialisation and globalisation have become the most overt manifestations of neoliberalism in today’s world.

That neoliberalism is a slippery, shifting concept, with no explicit lobby of defenders, does not mean that it is irrelevant or unreal. Who can deny that the world has experienced a decisive shift toward markets from the 1980s on? Or that centre-left politicians – Democrats in the US, socialists and social democrats in Europe – enthusiastically adopted some of the central creeds of Thatcherism and Reaganism, such as deregulation, privatisation, financial liberalisation and individual enterprise? Much of our contemporary policy discussion remains infused with principles supposedly grounded in the concept of homo economicus, the perfectly rational human being, found in many economic theories, who always pursues his own self-interest.

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Wonder what Xi is thinking.

China Home Sales Fall by Most in Almost Three Years on Curbs (BBG)

China’s new home sales fell by the most in almost three years last month, adding to signs of cooling as local governments keep rolling out curbs to limit price increases. Sales by value dropped 3.4% from a year earlier to 909 billion yuan ($137 billion), according to Bloomberg calculations based on data released Tuesday by the National Bureau of Statistics. That was the biggest year-on-year decline since November 2014. Signs of a property slowdown, including price rises in fewer cities in September, may concern policy makers who want to avoid any sharp economic deceleration. The government is grappling with fueling growth while containing runaway home prices.

President Xi Jinping last month renewed a yearlong call that homes are built “to be inhabited’’ and not for speculation, in his speech at the twice-a-decade Communist Party Congress, inking the language in one of the nation’s top policy frameworks. Investment in real estate development slowed, growing 5.6% last month from a year earlier, down from a 9.2% increase in September, according to Bloomberg calculations. A Bloomberg Intelligence index of Chinese real-estate owners and developers slipped 0.3%. It’s up 89% this year. The data came amid signs of the government easing financing for property developers and as economic releases for October pointed to a moderating economy.

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Excellent takedown of Australia’s dying economic model.

Australia’s Whole Economy Is Built On China Buying Our Stuff

Australia’s Whole Economy Is Built On China Buying Our Stuff (News.com.au)

I recently watched the federal Treasurer Scott Morrison proudly proclaim that Australia was in “surprisingly good shape”. Indeed, Australia has just snatched the world record from the Netherlands, achieving its 104th quarter of growth without a recession, making this achievement the longest streak for any OECD country since 1970. I was pretty shocked at the complacency, because after 26 years of economic expansion, the country has very little to show for it. For over a quarter of a century our economy mostly grew because of dumb luck. Luck because our country is relatively large and abundant in natural resources, resources that have been in huge demand from a close neighbour — China. Out of all OECD nations, Australia is the most dependent on China by a huge margin, according to the IMF.

Over one-third of all merchandise exports from this country go to China including all physical products and things we dig out of the ground. Outside of the OECD, Australia ranks just after the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gambia and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and just before the Central African Republic, Iran and Liberia. Does anything sound a bit funny about that? As a whole, the Australian economy has grown through a property bubble inflating on top of a mining bubble, built on top of a commodities bubble, driven by a China bubble. Unfortunately for Australia, that “lucky” free ride is just about to end. Societe Generale’s China economist Wei Yao recently said: “Chinese banks are looking down the barrel of a staggering $1.7 trillion worth of losses”. Hayman Capital’s Kyle Bass calls China a “$34 trillion experiment” which is “exploding”, where Chinese bank losses “could exceed 400% of the US banking losses incurred during the subprime crisis”.

A hard landing for China is a catastrophic landing for Australia, with horrific consequences to this country’s delusions of economic grandeur. The initial rally in commodities at the beginning of 2016 was caused by a bet that more economic stimulus and industrial reform in China would lead to a spike in demand for commodities used in construction. That bet rapidly turned into full-blown mania as Chinese investors, starved of opportunity and restricted by government clamp downs in equities, piled into commodities markets. This saw, in April of 2016, enough cotton trading in a single day to make a pair of jeans for everyone on the planet, and enough soybeans for 56 billion servings of tofu. Market turnover on the three Chinese exchanges jumped from a daily average of about $78 billion in February to a peak of $261 billion on April 22, 2016 — exceeding the GDP of Ireland.

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It’s the people.

Austerity, Not Brexit, Has Doomed The Tory Party (G.)

What is destroying the Conservatives is not outside forces, nor the cack-handed pricking of a gusher of ministerial ineptitude. No, the fundamental cause is their own economic strategy of austerity. Of cutting taxes for the wealthy, while cutting public services and social security for the rest. Of rewarding the owners of capital, while punishing those who rely on their labour. Of claiming to have fixed the economy, while tanking voters’ living standards. Austerity is now the thudding drumbeat behind every ministerial misstep, from a family holiday with the Netanyahus to a fauxpology over Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. It is what unites these individual Westminster outrages into an outline of a ruling party no longer fit for office. By forcing an arbitrary limit on already severely constrained Whitehall and town hall budgets, it renders meaningful government close to impossible.

This is what makes next week’s autumn budget from Philip Hammond so crucial. If the Tories wish to regain any credibility, they will have to ditch the very strategy that defines them. In the days immediately following this summer’s general election, I asked a number of leading figures in Labour how they managed to pull off one of the biggest surprises in postwar political history and rob May of her majority. Their answers all circled back to one thing: austerity fatigue. After seven straight years of seeing their kids’ school classes get bigger and their parents’ hospital waits grow longer, voters were ready for an anti-austerity party leader such as Jeremy Corbyn. Austerity has done more than tear up the public realm; it has imposed private misery on millions of households.

The age of austerity has been the era of the foodbank, the zero-hours contract, the privately rented slum. Unless there is a miracle, the economists at the Resolution Foundation project that the 2010s will be the worst decade for wage growth since the Napoleonic wars of the early 1800s.

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But but.. the petrodollar!

Saudi Retreat From U.S. Oil Market Cuts Exports to 30-Year Low (BBG)

For a generation, the huge, whitewashed storage tanks at America’s largest oil refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, have stored almost nothing but Saudi crude. The plant is owned the Saudi Arabia’s state-run oil company, Aramco, and since it first bought a stake in 1988, the Motiva refinery guaranteed the kingdom a strategic foothold in the world’s largest energy market. The tankers carrying millions of barrels a month of Arab Light crude from the Saudi export terminals to Port Arthur were testament to the strength of the energy and political ties binding Riyadh and Washington. All of a sudden, there are very few Saudi ships arriving in Texas. Since July, Aramco has constricted supply, attempting to drain the crude storage tanks at Motiva – and many others across America -part of a plan to lift oil prices, even at the cost of sacrificing its once prized U.S.

While Motiva is most affected, the rest of the U.S. oil refining system, from El Segundo in California to Lake Lake Charles in Louisiana, has also taken a hit. The result: Saudi crude exports into America fell to a 30-year low last month. “The drop is huge,” said Amrita Sen, chief oil analyst at consultant Energy Aspects Ltd. in London. “It’s not just that Saudi exports are low, but they have been low for several months.” At a stroke, the freedom from Saudi oil that’s been a rhetorical aspiration for generations of American politicians, from Jimmy Carter to George W. Bush, is within reach – even if it’s largely the choice of supplier rather than the customer. The U.S. imported just 525,000 barrels a day of Saudi crude in October, the lowest since May 1987 and down from 1.5 million barrels a day a decade ago, according to Bloomberg News calculations based on custom data.

The combination of falling Saudi oil exports into the U.S. last year, cheap crude and higher exports of American weapons had already turned upside-down the trade relationship between the two countries. Last year, the U.S. enjoyed its first trade surplus with Saudi Arabia since 1998 — only the third in 30 years, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The sharper cuts in oil exports since the summer will likely amplify that trend.

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“..the United Arab Emirates had planned a military invasion of Qatar with thousands of US-trained mercenaries [..] but it was never carried out as Washington did not give the green light to it..”

Arab States Spent $130 Billion To Destroy Syria, Libya, Yemen (PressTV)

Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia says some regional Arab states have spent $130 billion to obliterate Syria, Libya and Yemen. Ouyahia made the remarks on Saturday at a time when much of the Middle East and North Africa is in turmoil, grappling with different crises, ranging from terrorism and insecurity to political uncertainty and foreign interference. Algeria maintains that regional states should settle their differences through dialog and that foreign meddling is to their detriment. Syria has been gripped by foreign-sponsored militancy since 2011. Takfirism, which is a trademark of many terrorist groups operating in Syria, is largely influenced by Wahhabism, the radical ideology dominating Saudi Arabia.

Libya has further been struggling with violence and political uncertainty since the country’s former ruler Muammar Gaddafi was deposed in 2011 and later killed in the wake of a US-led NATO military intervention. Daesh has been taking advantage of the chaos in Libya to increase its presence there. Yemen has also witnessed a deadly Saudi war since March 2015 which has led to a humanitarian crisis. Last Month, Qatar’s former deputy prime minister Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah said the United Arab Emirates had planned a military invasion of Qatar with thousands of US-trained mercenaries. The UAE plan for the military action was prepared before the ongoing Qatar rift, but it was never carried out as Washington did not give the green light to it, he noted. In late April, reports said the UAE was quietly expanding its military presence into Africa and the Middle East, namely in Eritrea and Yemen.

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As I wrote yesterday, insanity.

EU Countries Agree To Create A European Mega-Army (R.)

France and Germany edged toward achieving a 70-year-old ambition to integrate European defenses on Monday, signing a pact with 21 other EU governments to fund, develop and deploy armed forces after Britain’s decision to quit the bloc. First proposed in the 1950s and long resisted by Britain, European defense planning, operations and weapons development now stands its best chance in years as London steps aside and the United States pushes Europe to pay more for its security. Foreign and defense ministers gathered at a signing ceremony in Brussels to represent 23 EU governments joining the pact, paving the way for EU leaders to sign it in December. Those governments will for the first time legally bind themselves into joint projects as well as pledging to increase defense spending and contribute to rapid deployments.

“Today we are taking a historic step,” Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told reporters. “We are agreeing on the future cooperation on security and defense issues … it’s really a milestone in European development,” he said. The pact includes all EU governments except Britain, which is leaving the bloc, Denmark, which has opted out of defense matters, Ireland, Portugal and Malta. Traditionally neutral Austria was a late addition to the pact. Paris originally wanted a vanguard of EU countries to bring money and assets to French-led military missions and projects, while Berlin has sought to be more inclusive, which could reduce effectiveness. Its backers say that if successful, the formal club of 23 members will give the European Union a more coherent role in tackling international crises and end the kind of shortcomings seen in Libya in 2011, when European allies relied on the United States for air power and munitions.

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There are a few things we need to stop doing, urgently.

Fisheries Collapse On US West Coast: “It’s The Worst We’ve Seen” (SHTF)

The Gulf of Alaska cod populations appears to have taken a nose-dive. Scientists are shocked at the collapse and starving fish, making this the “worst they’ve ever seen.” “They [Alaskan cod] get weak and die or get eaten by something else,” said NOAA’s Steve Barbeaux. The 2017 trawl net survey found the lowest numbers of cod on record forcing scientists to try to unravel what happened. A lot of the cod hatched in 2012 appeared to survive, but by 2017, those fish were largely gone for the surveys, which also found scant evidence of fish born in subsequent years. Many of the cod that have come on board trawlers are “long skinny fish” according to Brent Paine, executive director of United Catcher Boats. “This is a big deal,” Paine said. “We just don’t see these (cod) year classes disappear from one year to the next.”

The decline is expected to substantially reduce the gulf cod harvests that in recent years have been worth — before processing — more than $50 million to Northwest and Alaska fishermen who catch them with nets, pot traps, and baited hooks set along the sea bottom. Barbeaux says the warm water, which has spread to depths of more than 1,000 feet, hit the cod like a kind of a double-whammy. Higher temperatures sped up the rate at which young cod burned calories while reducing the food available for the cod to consume. And many are blaming “climate change” for the effects on the fish, although scientists aren’t directly correlating the two events. “They get weak and die or get eaten by something else,” said Barbeaux, who in October presented preliminary survey findings to scientists and industry officials at an Anchorage meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

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Nov 102017
 
 November 10, 2017  Posted by at 9:52 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »
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Edward S. Curtis A smoky day at the Sugar Bowl—Hupa c. 1923

 

Stock-Market Investors Are Starting To Freak Out About Junk Bonds (MW)
China’s New Way To Hide Debt: Call It Equity (ZH)
China To Remove Foreign Ownership Limit In Chinese Banks, Brokers (BBG)
Why Have We Built A Paradise For Offshore Billionaires? (Thomas Frank)
We Should Tax Them On Transactions – Steve Keen (RT)
Kleptocrat-Owned Media Pick Out ‘Incrimination’ To Target Russia – Keiser (RT)
‘$300 Million In Cryptocurrency’ Accidentally Lost Forever Due To Bug (G.)
Monsanto Sued By Brazilian Soybean Farmers Over GMO Seed (RT)
Monsanto In Court Again: New Herbicide Kills 3.6 Million Acres Of Crops (ZH)
Lebanon PM’s Resignation Is Not All It Seems (Fisk)
Saudi Arabia Is Blocking Aid To The World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis
Antarctica Is Being Rapidly Melted From Below (Ind.)
Next Round Of Greek Pension Cuts To Reach Up To 18% In 2019 (K.)
EU Parliamentarians Warn Refugees May Die on Greek Islands (GR)
Facebook: God Only Knows What It’s Doing To Our Children’s Brains (Axios)

 

 

is this where it’ll all blow up?

Stock-Market Investors Are Starting To Freak Out About Junk Bonds (MW)

Wall Street bears are sounding alarms about a recent drop in non-investment-grade bonds, popularly referred to as junk bonds. The SPDR Bloomberg Barclays High Yield Bond ETF, an exchange-traded fund that tracks junk bonds, is on track to finished at its lowest level since March 24. Another well known junk-bond ETF, the iShares iBoxx $ High Yield Corporate Bond ETF also carved out late-March nadir, according to FactSet data. Both ETFs fell below their 200-day moving averages early this month, signaling that momentum in fixed-income products is bearish. Technical analysts tend to follow short- and long-term averages in an asset to help determine bullish and bearish trends. The moves for JNK and HYG, referencing their widely used tickers, come as the S&P 500 index and the Dow Jones Industrial Average have been testing fresh highs.

Normally, junk bonds and stocks are positively correlated, or move in the same direction, because junk bonds are considered a proxy for risk appetite in the market. Junk bonds had been drawing interest, particularly in an environment of ultralow bonds, with the 10-year Treasury and the 30-year Treasury bond offering yields below their historic averages, even as the Federal Reserve embarks upon efforts to lift interest rates from crisis-era levels. Bonds with the highest yields tend to be the riskiest and therefore offer a commensurate compensation in exchange for that perceived risk. Bond prices and yields move in opposition. However, a recent divergence between junk bonds and stocks, taking hold in late October, has raised eyebrows among Wall Street investors.

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This cannot end well.

China’s New Way To Hide Debt: Call It Equity (ZH)

The legacy of the soon-to-retire PBoC governor, Zhou Xiochuan, will be that in sharp contrast to his western brethren, he warned that China’s credit bubble would burst before the fact. Two weeks ago, Zhou warned during the Party Congress that China’s financial system could be heading for a “Minsky moment” due to high levels of corporate debt and rapidly rising household debt. “If we are too optimistic when things go smoothly, tensions build up, which could lead to a sharp correction, what we call a ‘Minsky moment’. That’s what we should particularly defend against.” Perhaps sensing that nobody in the Middle Kingdom was paying attention, we noted two days ago his lengthy essay published on the PBoC website. It contained another warning that latent risks are accumulating in the Chinese system, including some that are “hidden, complex, contagious and hazardous.”

He also highlighted “debt finance disguised as equity” as a concern. Talking of which, there’s a new growth market in the gargantuan Chinese corporate debt market – we are referring to perpetual notes. Are you ready for the clever part about perpetual notes – they are debt but it’s permissible under Chinese accounting regulations to classify them as “equity” – et voila, corporate gearing has fallen. Under pressure to trim borrowings, China’s companies have found a way to reduce their lofty debt burdens – even if some of the risk remains. Sales of perpetual notes – long-dated securities that can be listed as equity rather than debt on balance sheets given that in theory they could never mature – have soared to a record this year as Beijing zeros in on leverage and the threat it poses to the financial system.

The bonds are so popular that issuance by non-bank firms has jumped to the equivalent of 433 billion yuan ($65 billion), more than seven times sales by companies in the U.S. “Chinese issuers love perpetual bonds because they are under great pressure to deleverage,” said Wang Ying, a senior director at Fitch Ratings in Shanghai. “Sophisticated investors should do their homework and shouldn’t be misled by the numbers in accounting books.

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China signals it needs money, badly.

China To Remove Foreign Ownership Limit In Chinese Banks, Brokers (BBG)

China took a major step toward the long-awaited opening of its financial system, removing foreign ownership limits on its banks and asset-management companies, and allowing overseas firms to take majority stakes in local securities ventures and insurers. Regulators are drafting detailed rules, which will be released soon, Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao said at a briefing in Beijing on Friday. Foreign firms will be allowed to own up to 51% in securities ventures and life-insurance companies, caps that will be removed gradually over time, he said. China’s steps look poised to end years of frustration for foreign banks, who have long been marginal players in Asia’s largest economy. The announcement could be seen as a major win for U.S. President Donald Trump, whose first official visit to China was followed by a string of Sino-U.S. deals.

“This is a milestone in China’s progress of opening up its economy,” said Larry Hu at Macquarie in Hong Kong. Announcing this during Trump’s visit shows the world that “China and the U.S. are in a business and trade cooperation rather than confrontation,” Hu said. On Thursday, China’s Foreign Ministry foreshadowed the latest moves, with a statement saying that entry barriers to sectors such as banking, insurance, securities and funds will be “substantially” eased. Those comments came following a meeting between Trump and his counterpart Xi Jinping. The moves would be encouraging to foreign banks, asset managers and insurers, who have long been kept on the margins in China, the world’s second-largest economy, by various barriers. Global banks are currently limited to owning 49% of local securities joint ventures, frustrating their attempts to compete effectively with Chinese rivals.

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“This is their democracy today. We just happen to live in it.”

Why Have We Built A Paradise For Offshore Billionaires? (Thomas Frank)

It’s not enough to say, in response to the Paradise Papers revelations, that we already knew that rich people parked their money in offshore tax havens, where their piles accumulate far from the scrutiny of our government. Nor is it enough to say that we were already aware that we live in a time of “inequality.” What we have learned this week is the clinical definition of the word. What we have learned is how much the rich and the virtuous have been hiding away and where they’re hiding it. Yes, there are sinister-looking Russian capitalists involved. But there’s also our favorite actors and singers. Our beloved alma mater, supposedly a charitable institution. Everyone with money seems to be in on it. We’re also learning that maybe we’ve had it backwards all along.

Tax havens on some tropical island aren’t some sideshow to western capitalism; they are a central reality. Those hidden billions are like an unseen planet whose gravity is pulling our politics and our economy always in a certain direction. And this week we finally began to understand what that uncharted planet looks like; we started to grasp its mass and its power. Think about it like this. For decades Americans have been erupting in anger at what they can see happening to their beloved middle-class world. We think we know what the culprit is; we can see it vaguely through a darkened glass. It’s “elitism.” It’s a “rigged system.” It’s people who think they’re better than us. And for decades we have lashed out. At the immigrant next door. At Jews. At Muslims. At school teachers. At public workers who are still paid a decent wage. Our fury, unrelenting, grows and grows.

We revolt, but it turns out we have chosen the wrong political leader. We revolt again: this time, the leader is even worse. This week we are coming face to face with a big part of the right answer: it’s that the celebrities and business leaders we have raised up above ourselves would like to have nothing to do with us. Yes, they are grateful for the protection of our laws. Yes, they like having the police and the Marine Corps on hand to defend their property. Yes, they eat our food and breathe our air and expect us to keep these pure and healthy; they demand that we get educated before we may come and work for them, and for that purpose they expect us to pay for a vast system of public schools. They also expect us to watch their movies, to buy their products, to use their software. They expect our (slowly declining) middle class to be their loyal customers.

[..] Our leaders raised up a tiny class of otherworldly individuals and built a paradise for them, made their lives supremely delicious. Today they hold unimaginable and unaccountable power. We endure potholes and live in fear of collapsing highway bridges because our leaders wanted these very special people to have an even larger second yacht. Our kids sit in overcrowded classrooms in underfunded schools so that a handful of exalted individuals can relax on their own private beach. Today it is these same golden figures with their offshore billions who host the fundraisers, hire the lobbyists, bankroll the think tanks and subsidize the artists and intellectuals. This is their democracy today. We just happen to live in it.

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“So the only way we can really stop it – is by forgetting about taxing them with income. Income tax works for workers – it doesn’t work for a corporation; it doesn’t work for the wealthy.”

We Should Tax Them On Transactions – Steve Keen (RT)

Steve Keen, Professor of Economics at Kingston University says the findings of the so-called Paradise Papers haven’t been surprising as “Tax evasion by the wealthy has been going on for decades, and we’ll never stop it. “We simply have to find a way to bring tax revenue back into the government that they can’t evade. And it will always manage to evade income tax,” he told RT. Keen adds though that it won’t be easy to stop this thing from happening. Partly that’s “because we don’t understand how taxation actually works.” “We think taxation is necessary to finance government spending. In fact, the government can spend regardless of taxation – the taxation simply takes large amounts of the money out of the system that government has spent into it because if we didn’t tax, we would have a risk of inflation.”

“Once you look at it that way, what the rich are actually doing – are siphoning off money that has been created by the government, accumulating it in offshore accounts and hanging onto the wealth, which should be recycled back into the economy. So the only way we can really stop it – is by forgetting about taxing them with income. Income tax works for workers – it doesn’t work for a corporation; it doesn’t work for the wealthy. We should tax them on transactions, and then they can’t evade unless they stop having transactions. If they stop having transactions, they will stop being wealthy,” he said. RT: What are the chances of that happening? SK: It just takes politicians to understand how money is created. So I think it is almost virtually impossible. They continue spreading this myth that they have got to tax us to be able to spend, running austerity, which is unnecessary. All this fits in to actually loading the pockets of the rich. Maybe there is a connection…

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Part 2 of the article above.

Kleptocrat-Owned Media Pick Out ‘Incrimination’ To Target Russia – Keiser (RT)

Let’s talk about some numbers there. To put this into a broader context, the Tax Justice Network did a study a couple of years ago. They determined that between $21 and $31 trillion is held offshore. This means that hundreds of billions of dollars of taxes go uncollected. It means those who are paying tax are paying for the entire tax burden for various countries infrastructures, military, etc. You end up with what I would call apartheid, where you have got approximately 200,000 people in the world, who pay no tax and are able to invest without paying any tax. So they are compounding money at 20-22% a year without paying tax. So the billionaire class is escalating, we know this.

Meanwhile, the poverty levels are continuing to rise because people are being ripped off by these corrupt countries in cahoots with these billionaires, who are placing the entire cost of running a society on those who can least afford it. And into the mix comes the social uprising – more violence, because naturally, if you have everything stolen from you, you have nothing to lose, so you become violent. Now, to specifically answer your question about Russia being targeted by selectively picking out … here’s an elegant phrase – you’re trying to pick a fly poop from the pepper. So they look at this big scattershot of information, and with little tweezers, they try to pick out what they perceive to be incriminating data points.

Then they build a scenario, and then the corporations that are owned by the same people that are hiding the wealth… There are only approximately six major media companies in America. Those are owned by the same kleptocrats that are hiding all these billions of dollars. They then put that story out there to deflect and confuse the average mainstream media watcher that “oh my Gosh, Russia is involved in this scandal! Russia is involved in Black Lives Matter! Russia is involved with Hillary losing the election because she is completely inept. Russia, Russia, Russia…”

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Confidence.

‘$300 Million In Cryptocurrency’ Accidentally Lost Forever Due To Bug (G.)

More than $300m of cryptocurrency has been lost after a series of bugs in a popular digital wallet service led one curious developer to accidentally take control of and then lock up the funds, according to reports. Unlike most cryptocurrency hacks, however, the money wasn’t deliberately taken: it was effectively destroyed by accident. The lost money was in the form of Ether, the tradable currency that fuels the Ethereum distributed app platform, and was kept in digital multi-signature wallets built by a developer called Parity. These wallets require more than one user to enter their key before funds can be transferred. On Tuesday Parity revealed that, while fixing a bug that let hackers steal $32m out of few multi-signature wallets, it had inadvertently left a second flaw in its systems that allowed one user to become the sole owner of every single multi-signature wallet.

The user, “devops199”, triggered the flaw apparently by accident. When they realised what they had done, they attempted to undo the damage by deleting the code which had transferred ownership of the funds. Rather than returning the money, however, that simply locked all the funds in those multisignature wallets permanently, with no way to access them. “This means that currently no funds can be moved out of the multi-sig wallets,” Parity says in a security advisory. Effectively, a user accidentally stole hundreds of wallets simultaneously, and then set them on fire in a panic while trying to give them back. Some are pushing for a “hard fork” of Ethereum, which would undo the damage by effectively asking 51% of the currency’s users to agree to pretend that it had never happened in the first place.

That would require a change to the code that controls ethereum, and then that change to be adopted by the majority of the user base. The risk is that some of the community refuses to accept the change, resulting in a split into two parallel groups. Such an act isn’t unheard of: another hack, two years ago, of an Ethereum app called the DAO resulted in $150m being stolen. The hard fork was successful then, but the money stolen represented a much larger portion of the entire Ethereum market than the $300m lost to Parity. The lost $300m follows the discovery of bug in July that led to the theft of $32m in ether from just three multisignature wallets. A marathon coding and hacking effort was required to secure another $208m against theft. Patching that bug led to the flaw in Parity’s system that devops199 triggered by accident.

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Lawsuit after lawsuit after lawsuit. At what point will we say it’s enough?

Monsanto Sued By Brazilian Soybean Farmers Over GMO Seed (RT)

Growers in Brazil’s largest soybean producing state Mato Grosso have asked a court to cancel Monsanto’s Intacta GMO seed patent. They claim irregularities, including the company’s alleged failure to prove it brings de facto technological innovation. The Mato Grosso branch of Aprosoja, the association representing the growers, has filed a lawsuit in a federal court in Brasilia. The growers claim Monsanto’s Intacta RR2 PRO patent “does not fully reveal the invention so as to allow, at the end of the exclusivity period, for any person to freely have access to it.” That requirement “avoids that a company controls a technology for an undetermined period of time,” Aprosoja said, adding Intacta’s patent protection extends through October 2022. It cited data from consultancy Agroconsult, saying that about 53% of Brazil’s soy area was planted with Intacta technology in the 2016/17 crop cycle.

Around 40% of the crop is grown with Monsanto’s Roundup Ready seed technology (Intacta’s predecessor), and only seven% is non-GM. Brazilian farmers have been continually urging the replacement of genetically modified soybeans with non-GM seeds. Recently they asked Monsanto and other producers of pest-resistant corn seeds to reimburse them for money spent on additional pesticides when the bugs killed the crops instead of dying. Several years ago five million Brazilian soybean farmers sued Monsanto, claiming the genetic-engineering company was collecting royalties on crops it unfairly claims as its own. In 2012, the Brazilian court ruled in favor of the Brazilian farmers, saying Monsanto owes them at least $2 billion since 2004. After the legal disputes, Monsanto stopped collecting royalties linked to its first-generation Roundup Ready technology, and some farmers agreed to get a discount rate to use Intacta seeds.

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How is Monsanto not a criminal enterprise?

Monsanto In Court Again: New Herbicide Kills 3.6 Million Acres Of Crops (ZH)

[..] as the Wall Street Journal points out today, after allegedly wiping out millions of acres of farm ground across the Midwest, Monsanto once again finds itself in a familiar spot: the courtroom. Monsanto’s new version of the herbicide called dicamba is part of a more than $1 billion investment that pairs it with new genetically engineered seeds that are resistant to the spray. But some farmers say their nonresistant crops suffered after neighbors’ dicamba drifted onto their land. The agricultural giant in October sued the Arkansas State Plant Board following the board’s decision to bar Monsanto’s new herbicide and propose tougher restrictions on similar weed killers ahead of the 2018 growing season. Monsanto claims its herbicide is being held to an unfair standard.

Arkansas has been a flashpoint in the dispute: About 900,000 acres of crops were reported damaged there, more than in any other state. About 300 farmers, crop scientists and other attendees gathered in Little Rock on Wednesday for a hearing on Arkansas’s proposed stiffer dicamba controls, which Monsanto and some farmers are fighting. The proposed restrictions are subject to the approval of a subcommittee of state legislators.

As we pointed out previously, the EPA has reported that farmers in 25 states submitted more than 2,700 claims to state agricultural agencies that neighbors’ dicamba spraying shriveled 3.6 million acres of soybeans. The herbicide is also blamed for damaging other crops, such as cantaloupe and pumpkins. The massive crop damage prompted Arkansas’s Plant Board to propose the idea of prohibiting dicamba use from mid-April through the end of October to safeguard growing plants. The state has also refused to approve Monsanto’s dicamba product for use in Arkansas, saying it needs further analysis by University of Arkansas researchers.

Of course, delays didn’t sit well with Monsanto which stands to make some $350 million a year in dicamba and related seed sales according to Jonas Oxgaard, an analyst with Bernstein who described the products as “their big moneymaker.” Meanwhile, farmers are exploring their own legal options with some joining a class-action lawsuit against Monsanto and BASF, seeking compensation for damaged crops.

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Follow the money: ..the kingdom owes Hariri’s “Oger” company as much as $9bn..

Lebanon PM’s Resignation Is Not All It Seems (Fisk)

When Saad Hariri’s jet touched down at Riyadh on the evening of 3 November, the first thing he saw was a group of Saudi policemen surrounding the plane. When they came aboard, they confiscated his mobile phone and those of his bodyguards. Thus was Lebanon’s prime minister silenced. It was a dramatic moment in tune with the soap-box drama played out across Saudi Arabia this past week: the house arrest of 11 princes – including the immensely wealthy Alwaleed bin Talal – and four ministers and scores of other former government lackeys, not to mention the freezing of up to 1,700 bank accounts. Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman’s “Night of the Long Knives” did indeed begin at night, only hours after Hariri’s arrival in Riyadh. So what on earth is the crown prince up to?

Put bluntly, he is clawing down all his rivals and – so the Lebanese fear – trying to destroy the government in Beirut, force the Shia Hezbollah out of the cabinet and restart a civil war in Lebanon. It won’t work, for the Lebanese – while not as rich – are a lot smarter than the Saudis. Every political group in the country, including Hezbollah, are demanding one thing only: Hariri must come back. As for Saudi Arabia, those who said that the Arab revolution will one day reach Riyadh – not with a minority Shia rising, but with a war inside the Sunni Wahhabi royal family – are watching the events of the past week with both shock and awe. But back to Hariri. On Friday 3 November, he was in a cabinet meeting in Beirut. Then he received a call, asking him to see King Salman of Saudi Arabia.

Hariri, who like his assassinated father Rafiq, holds Saudi as well as Lebanese citizenship, set off at once. You do not turn down a king, even if you saw him a few days’ earlier, as Hariri had. And especially when the kingdom owes Hariri’s “Oger” company as much as $9bn, for such is the commonly rumoured state of affairs in what we now call “cash-strapped Saudi Arabia”. But more extraordinary matters were to come. Out of the blue and to the total shock of Lebanese ministers, Hariri, reading from a written text, announced on Saturday on the Arabia television channel – readers can guess which Gulf kingdom owns it – that he was resigning as prime minister of Lebanon. There were threats against his life, he said – though this was news to the security services in Beirut – and Hezbollah should be disarmed and wherever Iran interfered in the Middle East, there was chaos.

[..] Of course, the real story is just what is going on in Saudi Arabia itself, for the crown prince has broken forever the great compromise that exists in the kingdom: between the royal family and the clergy, and between the tribes. This was always the bedrock upon which the country stood or fell. And Mohamed bin Salman has now broken this apart. He is liquidating his enemies – the arrests, needless to say, are supposedly part of an “anti-corruption drive”, a device which Arab dictators have always used when destroying their political opponents.

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Our friends.

Saudi Arabia Is Blocking Aid To The World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis

Saudi Arabia is stopping food and aid from getting into Yemen, in a move that the United Nations said will be “catastrophic” for a country already facing world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Saudi Arabia shut down all access points to Yemen by air, land, and sea over the weekend, in what they say is an attempt to to curb arms trafficking from Iran to Houthi rebels after an intercepted missile landed on the outskirts Riyadh. “The Coalition Forces Command decided to temporarily close all Yemeni air, sea and land ports,” the coalition said in a statement on the Saudi state news outlet SPA. The Kingdom’s lock down means critical humanitarian aid like medical supplies, food, and water, are not getting into the country. Aid workers decried the decision, warning of “dire” consequences for a country where millions of people rely on humanitarian aid to stay alive.

“Humanitarian supply lines to Yemen must remain open,” urged Robert Mardini, the International Committee of the Red Cross’s regional director for the Near and Middle East. “Food, medicine and other essential supplies are critical for the survival of 27 million Yemenis already weakened by a conflict now in its third year.” Mardini said that shipments of chlorine tablets, used to tackle the spread of cholera, were stopped at the country’s northern border. “That lifeline has to be kept open and it is absolutely essential that the operation of the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) be allowed to continue unhindered,”Jens Laerke, a spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told reporters Tuesday.

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It’s a wonder there’s any ice left.

Antarctica Is Being Rapidly Melted From Below (Ind.)

There is something mysterious and hot lurking beneath the surface of the Antarctic ice. Now Nasa says that it might have found the source of that strange heating – a “mantle plume” – or upwelling of abnormally hot rock, that lies deep beneath the surface. The heat is causing the surface of the ice to melt and crack, resulting in rivers and other disruption to Antarctica. Around 30 years ago, a scientist at the University of Colorado Denver said that there might be a mantle plume under a region of the continent known as Marie Byrd Land. That hypothesis helped explain some strange features seen on the ice, like volcanic activity and a dome. Mantle plumes are narrow streams through which hot rock rises up from the Earth’s mantle, and then spreads out under the crust. Because the material itself is hot and buoyant, it makes the crust bulge upwards.

They explain how some places – like Hawaii and Yellowstone – have huge amounts of geothermal activity despite being far from the edge of a tectonic plate. But it was also an idea that was hard to believe, since the ice above the plume is still there. “I thought it was crazy,” said Helene Seroussi of Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who helped the lead work. “I didn’t see how we could have that amount of heat and still have ice on top of it.” Now scientists have used the latest techniques to support the idea. The team developed a mantle plume numerical model to look at how much geothermal heat would be needed to explain what is seen at Marie Byrd Land, including the dome and the giant subsurface rivers and lakes present on Antarctica’s bedrock.

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Further guaranteeing the further demise of the country.

Next Round Of Greek Pension Cuts To Reach Up To 18% In 2019 (K.)

The recalculation of pensions paid out to people who have already retired will likely lead to major cuts for pensioners of the former Traders’ Fund (TEBE/OAEE) and the civil servants’ fund, as well as those who used to work at banks and state firms. According to data presented to the country’s creditors by the Labor Ministry, three-quarters of the recalculations have been completed, while the process is expected to finish by year-end. The cuts will be implemented from January 1, 2019, but the country’s 2.6 million pensioners should learn by how much their income will suffer by the middle of next year, as Athens has told the creditors it will inform all pensioners by June 2018.

Legally, the cuts cannot exceed 18%, even if the pensioner’s so-called personal difference – i.e. the margin between the pension they secured in the past and the amount a new pensioner would receive – is greater. The law also provides for the abolition of allowances for spouses and children, which a large share of pensioners receive. Kathimerini understands the recalculation results will lead to major cuts mainly for pensioners who had high salaries but few years of service, as well as widows.

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is there anyone is the EU left with a conscience?

EU Parliamentarians Warn Refugees May Die on Greek Islands (GR)

The EU Council and the European Commission must work urgently with Greece to prevent a humanitarian crisis this winter, according to the he Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) Group in the European Parliament. The group called for a debate in the parliament’s plenary session next week in Strasbourg. “Thousands of people seeking asylum on the Greek islands still do not have adequate protection for the coming cold months,” said S&D Group President Gianni Pittella.

“Many are still sleeping in light tents designed for summer weather, without sleeping bags, on thin mats or even on the ground. EU governments need to immediately stop sending back refugees to Greece under the Dublin mechanism; which is creating further strain on the Greek asylum system. If we do not act and refugees die from the cold, as they did last year, then their blood will be on our hands.” Pittella was also quick to stress that all EU member states must fulfill their obligations to relocate refugees from Greece. “A legal decision has been taken by the EU, and this must be fully respected. Relocation is the only way of taking these people out of limbo and allowing them to get on with rebuilding their lives.”

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‘We’ll get you eventually.”

Facebook: God Only Knows What It’s Doing To Our Children’s Brains (Axios)

Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook, gave me a candid insider’s look at how social networks purposely hook and potentially hurt our brains. Be smart: Parker’s I-was-there account provides priceless perspective in the rising debate about the power and effects of the social networks, which now have scale and reach unknown in human history. He’s worried enough that he’s sounding the alarm. Parker, 38, now founder and chair of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, spoke yesterday at an Axios event at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, about accelerating cancer innovation. In the green room, Parker mentioned that he has become “something of a conscientious objector” on social media. By the time he left the stage, he jokingly said Mark Zuckerberg will probably block his account after reading this:

“When Facebook was getting going, I had these people who would come up to me and they would say, ‘I’m not on social media.’ And I would say, ‘OK. You know, you will be.’ And then they would say, ‘No, no, no. I value my real-life interactions. I value the moment. I value presence. I value intimacy.’ And I would say, … ‘We’ll get you eventually.'”

“I don’t know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying, because [of] the unintended consequences of a network when it grows to a billion or 2 billion people and … it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other … It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”

“The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, … was all about: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?'” “And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you … more likes and comments.”

“It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”

“The inventors, creators — it’s me, it’s Mark [Zuckerberg], it’s Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it’s all of these people — understood this consciously. And we did it anyway.”

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