Jul 022017
 
 July 2, 2017  Posted by at 9:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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JMW Turner Lake Llanberis and Snowdon Color Study c.1800

 

Can The Bank of England Get Britain To Kick Its Cheap Credit Habit? (G.)
Britain ‘Is On The Brink Of The Worst House Price Collapse Since 1990s’ (DM)
China Tears Up Promises To UK And Shows The World Who Is In Charge (O.)
Court Ruling Sends Illinois Into Financial Abyss (ZH)
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie Orders Government Shutdown (CBS)
Only 2% of US Politicians Actually Want to Stop Arming Terrorists (Salles)
After Hersh Investigation, Media Connive in Propaganda War on Syria (CP)
How Do We Know that What Hersh Was Told Was True? (PCR)
‘Clean Coal’ Will Always Be a Fantasy (BBG)
Qatar Rejects Deadline Demands, Saying It Does Not Fear Military Action (G.)
Debt-Stricken Greece Gets Record Number Of Visitors (G.)
ECB To Inspect Greek Banks’ Progress On Cutting Bad Loans (R.)
Schaeuble Says Greek Governments To Blame For Pension Cuts (K.)

 

 

The BoE promoted, incited, cheap credit and the housing bubble by lowering rates. And now it has to kill off what it promoted? Who believes that? The role of central banks is truly poorly understood.

Can The Bank of England Get Britain To Kick Its Cheap Credit Habit? (G.)

One thing sure to upset Bank of England officials is any suggestion that the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street has gone soft on the banking industry and turns a blind eye to reckless lending. It brings back disturbing memories of the 2008 credit crunch, the chaos it brought to the economy and the damage it caused the institution’s reputation. Last week, the Bank of England, which has become the overarching regulator of the banking system, made a point of being tough on the banks following the publication of its latest financial stability report. It slapped a demand for more than £11bn of extra reserves on the major lenders – just in case the current economic slowdown should trigger a rise in defaults.

Governor Mark Carney also warned the lending industry that it should expect tougher rules on how it sells mortgages, car loans and credit cards should the current rise in borrowing rocket any further. But one question remains: can Carney and his troops tame the British consumer’s dependence on debt? The most recent figures would say the answer is no. Last week the Bank’s own figures showed that consumer credit grew by £1.7bn in May, the biggest increase since last November, and higher than the six-month average of £1.5bn. The annual rate at which UK consumers are loading up on their already heaving debt pile remained at 10.3% in the year to May. A look at the total stock of UK consumer credit shows that it reached £198bn in April.

That might seem small compared with the total amount of outstanding mortgage debt, which is around seven times larger, at £1.3trillion, but for banks, consumer credit accounts for a much higher proportion of losses. “Since 2007, UK banks’ total write-offs on UK consumer credit have been 10 times higher than on mortgages,” the BoE says. And all this rising debt comes at a time of extraordinary falls in the savings rate. The most recent GDP figures showed that households were putting aside rainy day money at the lowest rate on record. It is a situation that worries experts of all stripes – from Jane Tully, a senior director at the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline, to former Bank of England official Kate Barker, who was a member of the Bank’s interest rate-setting committee during the last crash.

Tully said: “We have already seen an 8% rise in the number of people helped by National Debtline by telephone this year, and all the signs are that demand for debt advice will continue to increase. The higher borrowing levels rise, the more households will be exposed to the risk of financial difficulty in the event of a downturn.” Barker is concerned that eight years of ultra-low interest rates are fuelling a dependence on cheap borrowing, without any end in sight. She says that the growth of car finance plans appears to be a side-effect of the clampdown in other areas of credit, in particular the tighter regulation of mortgages. “There is obviously an incentive to borrow, so as one area is clamped down on, the problem pops up in another,” she says.

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A 40% fall in prices sounds reasonable.

Britain ‘Is On The Brink Of The Worst House Price Collapse Since 1990s’ (DM)

House prices are teetering on the brink of a crash that could be as bad as the bust of the early 1990s, a leading expert has warned. There are already warning signs that prices are heading towards a near 40% plunge, warns Paul Cheshire, Professor of Economic Geography at the London School of Economics. It raises the alarming spectre of the return of ‘negative equity’ – when a house falls so far in value it is worth less than the mortgage – which hit one million people at the worst point in the 1990s. Speaking exclusively to The Mail on Sunday, Prof Cheshire, a former Government housing adviser, said: ‘We are due a significant correction in house prices. I think we are beginning to see signs that correction may be starting. ‘Historically, trends seem always to start in London and then move out across the rest of the country. In the capital, you are already seeing house prices rising less rapidly than in other parts of Britain.’

Such a shift could push many thousands of recent buyers into trouble. From 1989, the price boom fell apart over the next six years, with prices plunging by 37%. In its most recent figures, The National Association of Estate Agents reported the number of homes sold in May for less than the asking price rose to 77%. According to Prof Cheshire, the fall in real incomes – when wages fail to keep up with inflation – is likely to be the spark for a fall in house prices. Inflation hit 2.9% last month, while incomes only grew by 2.1%. Property experts and estate agents say the housing market in wealthier pockets of the country has been further hit by stamp duty hikes. Prof Christian Hilber of the LSE also warned: ‘If Brexit leads to a recession and/or sluggish growth for extended periods, then an extended and severe downturn is more likely than a short-lived and mild one.’ The Council of Mortgage Lenders said earlier this month that the housing market had ‘stalled’

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From bad to worse. The hubris boomerang.

China Tears Up Promises To UK And Shows The World Who Is In Charge (O.)

Xi Jinping’s tough talk in Hong Kong reflects growing self-confidence in China’s ability to shape world events and browbeat or ignore less powerful countries such as Britain. The Chinese president could have thrown a bone to the pro-democracy movement. He could have offered a sop on civil liberties and political rights to western opinion. Instead, he told Hong Kong who’s boss. Xi the hard man laid down the law according to Beijing. His message: fall into line, or else. His message to Britain was blunt, too, bordering on disdainful. China would not brook outside “interference” in the former colony. Forget about those guarantees of a free, open society painstakingly negotiated before the 1997 handover. “Any attempt to endanger China’s sovereignty and challenge the power of the central government is absolutely impermissible,” Xi said.

Under Xi’s bastardised version of the Basic Law, any criticism is henceforth forbidden, on pain of serious consequences. Boris Johnson received a stinging lesson in the new balance of power earlier in the week. “As we look to the future, Britain hopes that Hong Kong will make more progress toward a fully democratic and accountable system of government,” the foreign secretary intoned with uncharacteristic meekness. Johnson’s statement was shamefully deferential. He could, and should, have been more forceful about Beijing’s responsibilities and its own egregious, sometimes illegal meddling. But China took umbrage all the same. Liu Xiaoming, China’s ambassador in London, set Johnson straight: Hong Kong issues must henceforth be “handled properly” or overall ties would suffer.

Worse was to follow. On Friday, China’s foreign ministry formally renounced the 1984 Sino-British joint declaration, the basis on which Britain agreed to relinquish control of the colony. The two sides had agreed the treaty would remain in force for 50 years. “The Sino-British joint declaration, as a historical document, no longer has any practical significance, and it is not at all binding for the central government’s management over Hong Kong,” the spokesman Lu Kang declared. The Foreign Office swiftly rejected the demarche. But in his present bullish mood, Xi is not listening.

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Keeping up appearances is getting harder.

Court Ruling Sends Illinois Into Financial Abyss (ZH)

[..] the state remains without a spending plan, its tax receipts and outlays mostly on “autopilot”, leaving it with a record $15 billion of unpaid bills as it spent over $6 billion more than it brought in over the past year, and with $800 million in interest on the unpaid bills alone. The impasse has devastated social-service providers, shuttering services for the homeless, disabled and poor. The lack of state aid has wrecked havoc on universities, putting their accreditation at risk. However, in a “shocking” development, just hours remaining before the midnight deadline to pass the Illinois budget, and Illinois’ imminent loss of its investment grade rating, federal judge Joan Lefkow in Chicago ordered Illinois to come up with hundreds of millions of dollars it owes in Medicaid payments that state officials say the government doesn’t have, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Judge Lefkow ordered the state to make $586 million in monthly payments (from the current $160 million) as well as another $2 billion toward a $3 billion backlog of payments – a $167 million increase in monthly outlays – the state owes to managed care organizations that process payments to providers. While it is no secret that as part of its collapse into the financial abyss, Illinois has accumulated $15 billion in unpaid bills, the state’s Medicaid recipients had had enough, and went to court asking a judge to order the state to speed up its payments. On Friday, the court ruled in their favor. The problem, of course, is that Illinois can no more afford to pay the outstanding Medicaid bills, than it can to pay any of its $14,711,351,943.90 in overdue bills as of June 30. The backlog of unpaid claims the state owes to managed-care companies directly, as well as to the doctors, hospitals, clinics and other organizations “is crippling these providers and thereby dramatically reducing the Medicaid recipients’ access to health care,” Lefkow said in her ruling.

Friday’s court ruling, which meant that the near-insolvent state must pay an additional $593 million per month, may have been the straw that finally broke the Illinois camel’s back. “Friday’s ruling by the U.S. District Court takes the state’s finances from horrific to catastrophic,” Comptroller Susana Mendoza, a Democrat, said in an emailed statement after the ruling. [..] “A comprehensive budget plan must be passed immediately.” Realizing where all this is headed, she said that payments to bond holders won’t be interrupted. [..] As a result of the court decision, “payments to the state’s pension funds; state payroll including legislator pay; General State Aid to schools and payments to local governments – in some combination – will likely have to be cut.”

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ME, CT, IL and NJ. Who’s next, please?

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie Orders Government Shutdown (CBS)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the Democrat-led Legislature are returning to work to try to resolve the state’s first government shutdown since 2006 and the first under Christie. The Republican governor and the Democrat-led Legislature failed to reach an agreement on a new budget by the deadline at midnight Friday, CBS New York reports. In a news conference Saturday morning, Christie blamed Democratic State Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto for causing the shutdown. “If there’s not a resolution to this today, everyone will be back tomorrow,” Christie said, calling the shutdown “embarrassing and pointless.” He also repeatedly referred to the government closure as “the speaker’s shutdown.” Christie later announced that he would address the full legislature later at the statehouse on Saturday.

Prieto remained steadfast in his opposition, reiterating that he won’t consider the plan as part of the budget process but would consider it once a budget is signed. Referring to the shutdown as “Gov. Christie’s Hostage Crisis Day One,” Prieto said he has made compromises that led to the budget now before the Legislature. “I am also ready to consider reasonable alternatives that protect ratepayers, but others must come to the table ready to be equally reasonable,” Prieto said. “Gov. Christie and the legislators who won’t vote ‘yes’ on the budget are responsible for this unacceptable shutdown. I compromised. I put up a budget bill for a vote. Others now must now do their part and fulfill their responsibilities.” Christie ordered nonessential services to close beginning Saturday. New Jerseyans were feeling the impact as the shutdown took effect, shuttering state parks and disrupting ferry service to Liberty and Ellis islands.

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Where the real power resides.

Only 2% of US Politicians Actually Want to Stop Arming Terrorists (Salles)

One of the few elected Democratic lawmakers with an extensive anti-war record, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), has combined forces with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) to push legislation through both the House and the Senate that would bar federal agencies from using taxpayer-backed funds to provide weapons, training, intelligence, or any other type of support to terrorist cells such as al-Qaeda, ISIS, or any other group that is associated with them in any way. The Stop Arming Terrorists Act is so unique that it’s also the only bill of its kind that would also bar the government from funneling money and weapons through other countries that support (directly or indirectly) terrorists such as Saudi Arabia. To our surprise – or should we say shame? – only 13 other lawmakers out of hundreds have co-sponsored Gabbard’s House bill. Paul’s Senate version of the bill, on the other hand, has zero co-sponsors.

While both pieces of legislation were introduced in early 2017, no real action has been taken as of yet. This proves that Washington refuses to support bills that would actually provoke positive chain reactions not only abroad but also at home. Why? Well, let’s look at the groups that would lose a great deal in case this bill is signed into law. With trillions of tax dollars flowing to companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and even IBM, among others, companies that invest heavily in weapons, cyber security systems, and other technologies that are widely used in times of war would stand to lose a lot – if not everything – if all of a sudden, the United States chose to become a nation that stands for peace and free market principles. For one, these companies have a heavy lobbying presence, ensuring that lawmakers sympathetic to their plight are elected every two years.

When the possibility of a new conflict appears on the horizon, these companies are the first to lobby heavily for action. But this dynamic isn’t a secret. We all know that the crony capitalist system that thrives in Washington, D.C., is the very bread and butter of politics in America. After all, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned the nation in his farewell address in 1961 that “an immense military establishment and a large arms industry” were becoming the great powers behind U.S. politics, and that if we weren’t weary of this influence, we would risk living in a perpetual state of war. Still, we allowed it to take over. And there isn’t one industry powerful enough to counter this destructive authority. With the support of an army of well-established and connected millionaire lobbyists, the war machine operating in Washington is so powerful that anything can be turned into an existential threat.

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Obviously, if only 2% of US politicians are willing to stop the machine, it will march on. Ike may as well have said nothing.

After Hersh Investigation, Media Connive in Propaganda War on Syria (CP)

So what did Hersh’s investigation reveal? His sources in the US intelligence establishment – people who have helped him break some of the most important stories of the past few decades, from the Mai Lai massacre by American soldiers during the Vietnam war to US abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib in 2004 – told him the official narrative that Syria’s Bashar Assad had dropped deadly sarin gas on the town of Khan Sheikhoun on April 4 was incorrect. Instead, they said, a Syrian plane dropped a bomb on a meeting of jihadi fighters that triggered secondary explosions in a storage depot, releasing a toxic cloud of chemicals that killed civilians nearby. It is an alternative narrative of these events that one might have assumed would be of intense interest to the media, given that Donald Trump approved a military strike on Syria based on the official narrative.

Hersh’s version suggests that Trump acted against the intelligence advice he received from his own officials, in a highly dangerous move that not only grossly violated international law but might have dragged Assad’s main ally, Russia, into the fray. The Syrian arena has the potential to trigger a serious confrontation between the world’s two major nuclear powers. But, in fact, the western media were supremely uninterested in the story. Hersh, once considered the journalist’s journalist, went hawking his investigation around the US and UK media to no avail. In the end, he could find a home for his revelations only in Germany, in the publication Welt am Sonntag. There are a couple of possible, even if highly improbable, reasons all English-language publications ignored Hersh’s story. Maybe they had evidence that his inside intelligence was wrong.

If so, they have yet to provide it. A rebuttal would require acknowledging Hersh’s story, and none seem willing to do that. Or maybe the media thought it was old news and would no longer interest their readers. It would be difficult to sustain such an interpretation, but at least it has an air of plausibility – except for everything that has happened since Hersh published last Sunday. His story has spawned two clear “spoiler” responses from those desperate to uphold the official narrative. Hersh’s revelations may have been entirely uninteresting to the western media, but strangely they have sent Washington into crisis mode. Of course, no US official has addressed Hersh’s investigation directly, which might have drawn attention to it and forced western media to reference it. Instead Washington has sought to deflect attention from Hersh’s alternative narrative and shore up the official one through misdirection.

That alone should raise the alarm that we are being manipulated, not informed. The first spoiler, made in the immediate wake of Hersh’s story, were statements from the Pentagon and White House warning that the US had evidence Assad was planning yet another chemical attack on his people and that Washington would respond extremely harshly if he did so. Here is how the Guardian reported the US threats: “The US said on Tuesday that it had observed preparations for a possible chemical weapons attack at a Syrian air base allegedly involved in a sarin attack in April following a warning from the White House that the Syrian regime would ‘pay a heavy price’ for further use of the weapons.”

And then on Friday, the second spoiler emerged. Two unnamed diplomats “confirmed” that a report by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had found that some of the victims from Khan Sheikhoun showed signs of poisoning by sarin or sarin-like substances.

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“How clear does an orchestration have to be before people are capable of recognizing the orchestration?”

How Do We Know that What Hersh Was Told Was True? (PCR)

If national security advisers gave Trump such excellent information about the alleged sarin gas attack, completely disproving any such attack, why was he given such bad advice about shooting down a Syrian war plane, or was it done outside of channels? The effect of the shootdown is to raise the chance of a confrontation with Russia, because Russia’s response apparently has been to declare a no-fly zone over the area of Russian and Syrian operations. How do we know that what Hersh was told was true? What if Trump was encouraged to order the Tomahawk strike as a way of interjecting the US directly into the conflict? Both the US and Israel have powerful reasons for wanting to overthrow Assad. However, ISIS, sent to do the job, has been defeated by Russia and Syria. Unless Washington can somehow get directly involved, the war is over.

The story Hersh was given also serves to damn Trump while absolving the intelligence services. Trump takes the hit for injecting the US directly into the conflict. Hersh’s story reads well, but it easily could be a false story planted on him. I am not saying that the story is false, but unless we learn more, it could be. What we do know is that the story given to Hersh by national security officials is inconsistent with the June 26 White House announcement that the US has “identified potential preparations for another chemical attack by the Assad regime.” The White House does not have the capability to conduct its own foreign intelligence gathering. The White House is informed by the national security and intelligence agencies. In the story given to Hersh, these officials are emphatic that not only were chemical weapons removed from Syria, but also that Assad would not use them or be permitted by the Russians to use them even if he had them.

Moreover, Hersh reports that he was told that Russia fully informed the US of the Syrian attack on ISIS in advance. The weapon was a guided bomb that Russia had supplied to Syria. Therefore, it could not have been a chemical weapon. As US national security officials made it clear to Hersh that they do not believe Syria did or would use any chemical weapons, what is the source for the White House’s announcement that preparations for another chemical attack by the Assad regime have been identified? Who lined up UN ambassador Nikki Haley and the UK Defence Minister Michael Fallon to be ready with statements in support of the White House announcement? Haley says: “Any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia & Iran who support him killing his own people.” Fallon says: “we will support” future US action in response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

How clear does an orchestration have to be before people are capable of recognizing the orchestration?

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Yeah, we really need Bloomberg editors’ opinions on matters they know nothing about. Mind you, carbon capture is an empty slogan.

‘Clean Coal’ Will Always Be a Fantasy (BBG)

“Clean coal,” always dubious as a concept and never proved as a reality, has now failed as business proposition. Southern Co. has decided to stop work on a process that would have captured carbon dioxide emissions from a coal plant in Mississippi. Giving up on the project, which was nearly $5 billion over budget and three years behind schedule, makes sense for Southern’s customers and shareholders. And giving up on carbon capture makes sense for the energy industry. The technology is too expensive and complicated to be deployed quickly or widely enough to appreciably protect the climate. The better way to cut back on carbon-dioxide emissions is far simpler: Use less coal. Luckily, that change is already under way. (Michael R. Bloomberg supports the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, an effort to replace coal power with cleaner forms of energy.)

Carbon capture once seemed promising – even as recently as a decade ago, when coal fueled almost half of U.S. electricity generation. Back then, continued dependence on the dirty fuel looked inevitable, and a strategy to deal with its prodigious greenhouse-gas emissions seemed essential. Hence, utilities embarked on model coal plants that would capture the carbon dioxide before it could enter the atmosphere. Only a couple have been built, in addition to Southern’s in Kemper County, Mississippi, and none has established an economic case for carbon capture. The Petra Nova facility, in Texas, was reportedly finished on time and on budget, but its construction required a $190 million federal grant, and the carbon-capture unit requires a separate gas-fired power plant.

Canada’s Boundary Dam carbon-capture unit, meanwhile, has operated much less efficiently than expected, suffering multiple breakdowns and requiring expensive repairs. Unfortunately, such costs and complexities are unlikely to diminish very much, and few such facilities are likely to be built worldwide in the next 20 years. A new report issued by the Global Warming Policy Foundation concludes that carbon capture for coal-fired power has “no plausible economic future.”

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Is it time to cut the House of Saud down to size?

Qatar Rejects Deadline Demands, Saying It Does Not Fear Military Action (G.)

Qatar said on Saturday it does not fear any military retaliation for refusing to meet a Monday deadline to comply with a list of demands from four Arab states that have imposed a de-facto blockade on the Gulf nation. During a visit to Rome, foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani again rejected the demands as an infringement on Qatar’s sovereignty. He said any country is free to raise grievances with Qatar, provided they have proof, but said any such conflicts should be worked out through negotiation, not by imposing ultimatums. “We believe that the world is governed by international laws, that don’t allow big countries to bully small countries,” he told a press conference in Italy. “No one has the right to issue to a sovereign country an ultimatum.” Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates cut diplomatic ties with Qatar last month and shut down land, sea and air links.

They issued a 13-point list of demands, including curbing diplomatic ties to Iran, severing ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and shuttering the Al-Jazeera news network. They accuse Qatar of supporting regional terror groups, a charge Qatar denies. Al Thani rejected the demands and said they were never meant to be accepted. “There is no fear from whatever action would be taken; Qatar is prepared to face whatever consequences,” he said. “But as I have mentioned … there is an international law that should not be violated and there is a border that should not be crossed.” While in Rome, Al Thani met with Italian foreign minister Angelino Alfano, who backed the Kuwait-led mediation effort and urged the countries involved in the standoff to “abstain from further actions that could aggravate the situation”. He added that he hoped Italian companies could further consolidate their presence in Qatar.

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I read these things and think I must be missing something: “..Greece is braced for a record-breaking 30m holidaymakers this year..” and “For every extra 30 holidaymakers a job is created”.

That sounds like a lot of jobs. But seriously, a country that depends too much on tourism is not a healthy country. Not enough stability or resilience. The longer the US and EU wait, the more unstable Greece will become.

Debt-Stricken Greece Gets Record Number Of Visitors (G.)

Up high, above the hills of Arcadia, historic Dimitsana is on a roll. Its hotels are brimming, its cafes are full, and its footpaths and monasteries lure busloads of tourists decanted daily from other parts of the Peloponnese. Either side of the main road that splits the mountain village – in a world far removed from talk of emergency bailout funds, international stewardship and gruelling austerity – Greeks are hard at work, running boutique guesthouses, eateries and bars in the stone mansions that line Dimitsana’s cobbled streets. “Business is very good,” says Labis Baxevanos, the village’s deputy mayor, who owns a patisserie along the strip. “So good that a lot of younger couples have come to work here since the country’s economic crisis began.”

Debt-stricken Greece is braced for a record-breaking 30m holidaymakers this year, almost three times its population. Addressing the Panhellenic Exporters Association last week, the tourism minister Elena Kountoura said that between January and May there had been a noticeable increase in arrivals, revenues and occupancy rates with summer bookings in some areas rising by as much as 70%. Travel receipts grew by 2.4% or €23m (£20m). After eight years of grinding austerity, the influx is a tangible gift, on a par with the €8.5bn financial lifeline thrown Greece earlier this month to once again avert default. Dimitsana – once famous for the gunpowder mills that produced the firepower in the nation’s 1821 war of independence against Ottoman rule – is emblematic of the entrepreneurial spirit taking root as a result of the boom.

“Tourism is our lifejacket,” says Theonimfi Koraki, who opened a boutique hotel in the village last summer. “The aim now is diversity and drawing out the season all year round. Here in Arcadia the creation of the 75km-long Menalon [walking] trail has been hugely successful for example with foreign tourists. It has greatly helped the development of the region.” With the exception of shipping, tourism is Greece’s biggest foreign earner, the mainstay of an economy that has otherwise contracted by 27% since late 2009 when the country’s debt crisis began. The industry accounted for eight out of 10 new jobs in 2016, vital for a nation hit by crippling levels of unemployment. Bank of Greece figures show around 23.5 million tourists visited in 2015, generating €14.2bn of revenues, or 24% of gross domestic product. Last year, the country’s tourism confederation, SETE, announced arrivals of 27.5 million, an all-time high.

Increasingly, the sector has helped boost much-needed job creation, according to data released by the labour ministry. Recently, the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, said April and May had been record months for tackling the problem with 92,000 and 89,500 jobs created respectively. For every extra 30 holidaymakers a job is created, say officials. They have been at pains to make the point as striking municipal waste workers not only unnerved tour operators this week but highlighted how important tourism is for the economy.

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Translation: the Troika is not done with Greece yet. The bad loans issue will be used to throw more Greeks out of their homes etc.

ECB To Inspect Greek Banks’ Progress On Cutting Bad Loans (R.)

The European Central Bank plans to inspect Greek banks this year to monitor their progress in working off their huge pile of unpaid loans, ECB director Sabine Lautenschlaeger said on Friday. Greek banks have been cutting their share of non-performing loans (NPL) to companies and households, which account for slightly more than half of their books as a result of a severe economic crisis, to meet targets set by the ECB. The ECB supervises Greece’s four largest banks, or significant institutions (SIs), and is one of the three bodies responsible for the country’s bailout, along with the European Commission and the IMF.

“The ECB will perform on-site missions at the Greek SIs during the second half of 2017, a period in which the main operational measures to address NPLs … have to be already implemented,” Lautenschlaeger said in a letter to IMF chief Christine Lagarde. She was responding to an IMF request for information on the ECB’s supervisory work in Greece in the context of a possible IMF program for the country. Greece secured a credit lifeline from euro zone governments earlier this month. The IMF offered Athens a standby arrangement but said it won’t disburse any money until it obtains greater detail on debt relief for the country.

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The best for last today. Schaeuble suggests that Greece could have cut elsewhere and still meet Troika demands. Like kill all health care and education, presumably.

Schaeuble Says Greek Governments To Blame For Pension Cuts (K.)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has insisted in an interview that successive Greek governments were to blame for the pension cuts that have been enforced in Greece. The German minister stressed in an interview with Ta Nea newspaper on Saturday that the Greek governments are the ones that decided the mix of policies needed to achieve the country’s targets. He also said that the IMF will never be involved again in a program to rescue a European country. Referring to his Greek counterpart Euclid Tsakalotos, he said they communicate frequently, while he dismissed his flamboyant predecessor Yianis Varoufakis as someone he no longer can “take seriously.”

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Jun 142017
 
 June 14, 2017  Posted by at 9:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  17 Responses »
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Fred Lyon San Francisco cable car turnaround 1946

 

A Record 60% Of Americans Disapprove Of President Trump (ZH)
Age Is The New Dividing Line In British Politics (YouGov)
UK Low Income Families Forced To Walk ‘Relentless Financial Tightrope’ (G.)
Gundlach Says DC Establishment Wants to ‘Wait Trump Out’ (BBG)
Trump Administration Welshes on “Repeal Dodd Frank” Promise (NC)
Tillerson Says Allies Pleading With US To ‘Improve Russia Relations’ (RT)
Are Public Pensions A Thing Of The Past? (CNN)
Death Of The Human Investor: Just 10% Of Trading Is Regular Stock Picking (C.)
OPEC Oil Production Jumps In May Despite Output Cuts Deal (CNBC)
China Defaults Feared as Firms Confront Short Debt Addiction (BBG)
Greeks Promised Economic Boost Despair of Ever Seeing Debt Deal (BBG)
Schaeuble Promises Greece Deal With Lenders On Thursday (R.)
Foreign Buyers Snap Up Greek Property (K.)
State Of Emergency Declared On Lesvos As 800 Left Homeless (AP)
‘Impossible And Risky To Take In More Migrants’ – Rome’s Mayor (RT)

 

 

A nation divided.

A Record 60% Of Americans Disapprove Of President Trump (ZH)

Despite record high stock prices, 43-year lows in jobless claims, and near record-high optimism among small business owners, Gallup reports the percentage of Americans who disapprove of the job President Trump has risen to a record 60% this week. As Gallup details, despite the president’s claim on Monday at a Cabinet meeting that “Never has there been a president, with few exceptions – in the case of F.D.R. he had a major Depression to handle – who’s passed more legislation, who’s done more things than what we’ve done,” his administration has been roiled by controversies. Most recently, Trump ran into a buzz saw of criticism with his decision, announced June 1, to withdraw the U.S. from participation in the Paris climate accord.

He has also been under significant political scrutiny over the June 8 testimony of former FBI Director James Comey before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Those events coincided with the lower averages seen in the past two weeks. But, given that his averages were almost as low in the weeks leading up to them, it is difficult to establish direct causality between specific events and the president’s ratings.

The highly polarized nature of Americans’ views of Trump (and Obama before him) have been well-documented, and that pattern continues: Trump’s 8% average approval rating among Democrats last week is right at his 9% average to date; His 83% approval among Republicans is three points lower than his average among that group; Among independents, his approval is 31%, five points lower than his average among that group; Notably the spread between Republican ‘confidence’ and Democrat ‘confidence’ (via Bloomberg) has not been this wide since before Barack Obama was elected…

Trump’s job approval ratings are the worst of his administration so far, and Trump continues to have the lowest ratings for a newly elected president in Gallup’s history of approval ratings. The previous low first-year approval rating in June for an elected president was Bill Clinton, with a 37% approval June 5-6, 1993. The approval ratings of all other presidents since 1953 in June (May in the case of Eisenhower) of their first year after being elected were above 50%.

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Another nation divided, but not along the same lines. Older people, especially pensioners, vote Conservative, and a much higher percentage of them actually vote.

Age Is The New Dividing Line In British Politics (YouGov)

Since last week’s election result YouGov has interview over 50,000 British adults to gather more information on how Britain voted. This is part of one of the biggest surveys ever undertaken into British voting behaviour, and is the largest yet that asks people how they actually cast their ballots in the 2017 election. The bigger sample size allows us to break the results down to a much more granular level and see how different groups and demographics voted on Thursday. In electoral terms, age seems to be the new dividing line in British politics. The starkest way to show this is to note that, amongst first time voters (those aged 18 and 19), Labour was forty seven percentage points ahead. Amongst those aged over 70, the Conservatives had a lead of fifty percentage points.

In fact, for every 10 years older a voter is, their chance of voting Tory increases by around nine points and the chance of them voting Labour decreases by nine points. The tipping point, that is the age at which a voter is more likely to have voted Conservative than Labour, is now 47 – up from 34 at the start of the campaign.

Despite an increase in in youth turnout, young people are still noticeably less likely to vote than older people. While 57% of 18 and 19 year-olds voted last week, for those aged 70+ the figure was 84%.

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Corbyn growth territory.

UK Low Income Families Forced To Walk ‘Relentless Financial Tightrope’ (G.)

Low-income families are going without beds, cookers, meals, new clothes and other essential items as they struggle to cope with huge debts run up to pay domestic bills, according to a survey highlighting the cost-of-living crisis experienced by the UK’s poorest households. Clients of the debt charity Christians Against Poverty (CAP) had run up an average of £4,500 in debts on rent or utility bills, forcing them on to what the charity described as a “relentless financial tightrope” juggling repayments and basic living costs, leaving many acutely stressed and in deteriorating health. The pressure of coping with low income and debt frequently triggered mental illness or exacerbated existing conditions, with more than a third of clients reporting that they had considered suicide and three-quarters visiting a GP for debt-related problems.

More than half were subsequently prescribed medication or therapy. “The crippling reality of living in poverty and debt is still unashamedly evident in every home we visit, and year on year we see financial difficulty taking a tighter grip,” said Matt Barlow, the UK chief executive of CAP. Experts said the survey highlighted the extreme hardship faced by the “new destitute” – people on low incomes who might in the past have been able to rely on a welfare safety net to help them through financial shocks but who now were forced to go into debt to survive, leaving them struggling to afford even the basics. Debt had a crushing effect on living standards, the CAP survey found, with one in 10 clients unable to afford to buy or repair a bed, washing machine, TV, sofa or fridge. Roughly the same proportion could afford to acquire furniture only on punitive rent-to-buy terms, for example paying £6 a week to acquire a bed and mattress over a set three-year period.

The impact on family life was severe, with a quarter of clients saying debt caused relationship breakdowns, and more than two-thirds saying they felt unable to cater for their children’s needs. A sixth said they could not afford to feed their children three meals a day. A third feared eviction. A tiny handful of clients – predominantly single mothers – reported that they had turned to prostitution to make ends meet. Prof Suzanne Fitzpatrick, of Heriot Watt University, the co-author of groundbreaking research into destitution, told the Guardian: “The new destitute are citizens who would previously have managed to avoid absolute destitution with the help of the welfare safety net. But the level of working age benefits is now so low that people barely managing to get by can easily find themselves in a position where they can’t afford even the basic essentials to eat, stay warm and dry, and keep clean.”

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“If you’re a trader or a speculator, I think you should be raising cash today, literally today..”

Gundlach Says DC Establishment Wants to ‘Wait Trump Out’ (BBG)

DoubleLine Capital’s Jeffrey Gundlach said the establishment in Washington is trying to undermine President Donald Trump by running out the clock on his administration. “They’re really just trying to wait Trump out, trying to obstruct his agenda as much as possible,” Gundlach, one of the few money managers to predict Trump’s election, said during a webcast Tuesday. “Small change is what they’re looking for.” Gundlach, manager of the $53.9 billion DoubleLine Total Return Bond Fund, spoke during televised Senate testimony by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which the money manager called “a sideshow or entertainment.” He called the U.S. political conflict “rope-a-dope,” a strategy used by boxer Muhammad Ali to wear out opponents.

Among Gundlach’s other observations:
• There’s a low probability of a recession.
• The days of low volatility markets are probably numbered.
• Expect higher bond yields and lower stock prices this summer.
• Yields on 10-year Treasuries are likely to end 2017 roughly in the 2.7% to 2.8% range, from about 2.2% currently.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 Index closed at record highs Tuesday prior to Gundlach’s talk. Futures trading implies a 98% probability the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates by 0.25% when it meets Wednesday. “If you’re a trader or a speculator, I think you should be raising cash today, literally today,” Gundlach said. “If you’re an investor, I think you can sit through a seasonally weak period.” The Total Return fund was up 2.7% this year through June 12, beating 84% of its peers, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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Yves Smith’s piece is too long and comprehensive to do justice here. Click the link.

Trump Administration Welshes on “Repeal Dodd Frank” Promise (NC)

After having promised banks to get rid of Dodd Frank, which was never a strong enough bill to have a significant impact on profits or industry structure, Trump didn’t even back the House version of the bill to crimp Dodd Frank. But you’d never know that from the cheerleading from bank lobbyists upon the release of a 147 page document by the Treasury yesterday, the first of a series describing the gimmies that the Administration seeks to lavish on banks. As we’ll touch on below, the document repeatedly asserts that limited bank lending post crisis to noble causes like small businesses was due to oppressive regulations. We wrote extensively at the time that small business surveys showed that small businesses then overwhelmingly weren’t interested in borrowing and hiring. Businessmen don’t expand operations because money is cheap, they expand because they see a commercial opportunity.

But the even bigger lie at the heart of this effort is the idea that the US will benefit from giving more breaks to its financial sector. As we’ve written, over the last few years, more and more economists have engaged in studies with different methodologies that come to the same conclusion: an oversized financial sector is bad for growth, and pretty much all advanced economies suffer from this condition. The IMF found that the optimal level of financial development was roughly that of Poland. The IMF said countries might get away with having a bigger banking sector and pay no growth cost if it was regulated well. Needless to say, with the banking sector already so heavily subsidized that it cannot properly be considered to be a private business, deregulating with an eye to increasing its profits is driving hard in the wrong direction.

[..] So if it wasn’t Dodd Frank, what was led the banks to focus so much on high FICO score borrowers? It was mortgage servicing reforms, which made it hard to foreclose due to stopping abuses, like dual tracking (continuing to foreclose even when supposedly considering a mortgage modification). To look at the bigger picture, it’s hard to take bank complaints about oppressive regulation seriously in light of this:

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But the domestic echo chamber makes that hard to do.

Tillerson Says Allies Pleading With US To ‘Improve Russia Relations’ (RT)

All of America’s allies and partners have been calling on Washington to improve its relations with Russia, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged after the US Senate reached a bipartisan deal to boost sanctions against Moscow. “I have yet to have a bilateral, one-on-one, a poolside conversation with a single counterpart in any country: in Europe, Middle East, even South-East Asia, that has not said to me: please, address your relationship with Russia, it has to be improved,” Tillerson said on Tuesday during testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Foreign Operations. Tillerson added that the countries urging the US to review its Russian policy “believe worsening this relationship will ultimately worsen theirsituation.” He added: “People have been imploring me to engage and try to improve the situation, so, that was our approach anyway.”

Earlier, Tillerson warned that the US Senate’s bipartisan deal on new set of restrictive measures against Moscow might further worsen relations with Russia and hinder existing efforts on joint US-Russia progress to fight terrorism in Syria. “There are efforts under way in Syria specifically, those are, I would say, progressing in a positive way,” America’s top diplomat said on Tuesday during testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Despite the relationship between US and Russia being “at an all-time low,” according to Tillerson, the “objective is to stabilize that” rather than deteriorate it further. Washington is “engaged” and working with Moscow “in a couple of areas,” including on such issues of international importance as the Ukrainian and Syrian crises. “We have some channels that are open, where we are starting to talk, and I think what I wouldn’t want to do is close the channels off,” Tillerson told the Senate committee, warning that to establish “something new… will take time.”

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Yes, they are.

Are Public Pensions A Thing Of The Past? (CNN)

New teachers and state workers will no longer get a traditional pension in Pennsylvania. Governor Tom Wolf signed a bill Monday, making it the ninth state to replace the pension with a “hybrid” retirement plan. It goes into effect in 2019. The new plan combines elements of a traditional pension and a 401(k)-style account. Overall, new workers will contribute more of their salary, work longer, and likely receive a smaller payout in retirement than under the current system, according to a report from the state’s Independent Fiscal Office. But Pennsylvania’s pension system is currently one of the most underfunded in the country and is in need of reform. The bill had bipartisan support. “It’s a win for Pennsylvania taxpayers and fair to Pennsylvania’s workforce,” Wolf said at a press conference Monday.

The reform will build upon previous legislation to help fully fund the pension system and preserve a path to retirement for public workers, said Greg Mennis, a director at Pew Charitable Trusts. “Our research indicates that this would be one of the most – if not the most – comprehensive and impactful reforms any state has implemented,” he wrote in a letter urging state lawmakers to pass the bill. Over the past 10 years, Rhode Island, Virginia, Tennessee and Georgia have created plans similar to Pennsylvania’s. They require workers to contribute some of their salary to a pension-like plan that guarantees a certain payout based on their salary. Workers also contribute to a 401(k)-style plan that they can take with them if they leave public service. The state will make contributions to both plans on their behalf.

In Pennsylvania, workers will be defaulted into a hybrid plan, but there will be two other versions they could opt into. Under the default, workers will have to contribute a total of 8.25% of their salary. (Teachers currently contribute 7.5% and other public workers pay 6.25%.) Most will have to work until 67, instead of 65, in order to get their full payout in retirement. A state employee who works for 35 years and earns a final salary of $60,000, currently receives an estimated $40,000 a year in retirement. Under the reformed system, that same worker would receive $34,1048, according to the Independent Fiscal Office report. [..] Like pension plans in other states, Pennsylvania’s was badly hurt by the Great Recession. It also took a hit because of retroactive benefit increases made before the market took a dive. The pension fund went from a nearly $20 billion surplus in 2000 to a $70 billion deficit in 2015.

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ZIRP machines have taken over.

Death Of The Human Investor: Just 10% Of Trading Is Regular Stock Picking (C.)

Quantitative investing based on computer formulas and trading by machines directly are leaving the traditional stock picker in the dust and now dominating the equity markets, according to a new report from JPMorgan. “While fundamental narratives explaining the price action abound, the majority of equity investors today don’t buy or sell stocks based on stock specific fundamentals,” Marko Kolanovic, global head of quantitative and derivatives research at JPMorgan, said in a Tuesday note to clients. Kolanovic estimates “fundamental discretionary traders” account for only about 10% of trading volume in stocks. Passive and quantitative investing accounts for about 60%, more than double the share a decade ago, he said.

In fact, Kolanovic’s analysis attributes the sudden drop in big technology stocks between Friday and Monday to changing strategies by the quants, or the traders using computer algorithms. In the weeks heading into May 17, Kolanovic said funds bought bonds and bond proxies, sending low volatility stocks and large growth stocks higher. Value, high beta and smaller stocks began falling in a rotation labeled “an unwind of the ‘Trump reflation’ trade,” Kolanovic said. “Upward pressure on Low Vol and Growth, and downward pressure on Value and High Vol peaked in the first days of June (monthly rebalances), and then quickly snapped back, pulling down FANG stocks” — Facebook, Amazon.com, Netflix and Google parent Alphabet, the report said.

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Told you those output cuts wouldn’t go anywhere.

OPEC Oil Production Jumps In May Despite Output Cuts Deal (CNBC)

OPEC’s oil production jumped in May, despite the exporter group agreeing last month to extend its six-month deal to cap output into 2018. Production across OPEC rose by about 336,100 barrels per day to 32.1 million bpd, according to secondary sources, led by increases from Libya and Nigeria, which are exempt from the deal, and Iraq. Output from Libya surged by more than 178,000 bpd to 730,000 bpd as the country’s rival factions moved toward reconciliation, and supplies disrupted throughout years of conflict remained on line. In Nigeria, production was up more than 174,000 bpd to 1.68 million bpd as supplies sidelined by militant attacks on energy infrastructure last year came back into operation. With the gain, Nigeria reclaimed the title of largest African producer in OPEC from Angola, where output fell by 54,000 bpd, the biggest drop among the 13 members in May.

Iraq, OPEC’s second-largest producer, contributed the third-biggest increase with a more than 44,000 bpd jump. Baghdad has yet to cut deeply enough to hit its quota of 4.35 million bpd under the output cut deal. In May, it produced 4.42 million bpd. Only four countries were producing at or below the levels they agreed to in November: Saudi Arabia, Angola, Kuwait, and Qatar. Last month, OPEC and other exporters extended an agreement to remove 1.8 million barrels a day from the market in order to shrink brimming global stockpiles of crude oil. In May, inventories in the OECD, a group of mostly wealthy countries, remained 251 million barrels above the five-year average.

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More ground for shadow banks to take over.

China Defaults Feared as Firms Confront Short Debt Addiction (BBG)

China’s leverage crackdown is forcing local companies to confront their addiction to short-term bond sales that they use to roll over debt. The shock therapy is worsening the outlook for corporate defaults in the second half of this year after borrowing costs jumped to a two-year high. With yields surging, Chinese non-banking firms sold 131 billion yuan ($19.3 billion) of bonds with a maturity of one year or less in May, the least since January 2014 and less than half of the same month last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. About 87% of the short note sales last month will be used for refinancing, according to Bloomberg data.

The habit of relying on borrowing short-term money to repay maturing debt has pushed up such liabilities to a total of 5.2 trillion yuan on China’s listed non-financial companies’ balance sheets as of March 31, the highest on record, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. With no sign of an end to the government’s campaign against leverage, the average coupon rate for bonds maturing in one year or less rose to 5.5% in June, deterring issuers from raising money to roll over debt. “Small issuance of short-term bonds will be a normal phenomenon in the coming six months because cash supply will probably remain tight,” said Ma Quansheng at Fullgoal Fund Management. “Both default risks and the number of corporate bond defaults may increase.”

The loose funding environment last year helped Chinese companies raise enough money to withstand repayment pressure so far in 2017. There have been 13 onshore defaults in the public bond market in 2017, compared with 16 in the same period of 2016. The yield on one-year AAA rated company bonds averaged 4.19% this year, up from 2.97% in 2016. HFT Investment Management said more note defaults may come as the economy doesn’t look good. In the second half of this year, Chinese non-banking firms must repay 2.36 trillion yuan of bonds. “The current rising borrowing costs may have a big impact on companies’ operations and finance,” said Lu Congfan at HFT Investment Management. “What can you do when you must refinance to repay maturing debt while facing such high borrowing costs? That would be a question challenging many local companies in the second half or next year.”

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Well, well… Let’s see it.

Schaeuble Promises Greece Deal With Lenders On Thursday (R.)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said on Tuesday he was confident that Greece and its international lenders will reach a compromise deal this week, a step that would unleash more loans for Athens. “We’ll manage it on Thursday. You’ll see,” Schaeuble said during a panel discussion in Berlin. Officials have said eurozone finance ministers and the IMF are likely to strike a compromise on Greece on Thursday, paving the way for new loans for Athens while leaving the contentious debt relief issue for later. IMF head Christine Lagarde suggested a plan last week under which the Fund would join the Greek bailout now, because Athens is delivering on agreed reforms, but would not disburse any IMF money until the euro zone clarifies what debt relief it can offer Greece.

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Greeks don’t believe you, Wolfie…

Greeks Promised Economic Boost Despair of Ever Seeing Debt Deal (BBG)

Alexis Tsipras has spent nearly two years telling Greeks that a debt deal and inclusion in the ECB’s quantitative-easing program will unleash an investment boom that salves the pain of austerity. The prime minister’s message hasn’t convinced Panagiotis Kouinis, a 60-year-old civil engineer in Corinth who says business has steadily dwindled through all of Greece’s eight-year crisis and has now ground almost to a halt. “What I know is they tell you pensions will be cut another 20%, wages down, and what is quantitative easing?” Kouinis said in an interview in his office near the city center. “Do we have to be economists so we can understand what they’re saying?” Across the country in places like Corinth, an industrial hub 80 kilometers west of Athens, Greeks have spent years treading water as news bulletins bombard them daily with reports of meetings and decisions in Brussels and Frankfurt that will determine their economic future.

In the meantime, as the ECB’s stimulus measures – including its asset-purchase program – buoy the rest of the euro-area economy, Greece’s output has been stagnant, leaving its people the most pessimistic in the region. Yet the ECB remains unlikely to include Greek bonds in its QE program in the foreseeable future, according to a person familiar with the matter. That’s because a meeting on Thursday of euro-area finance ministers, whose electorates are leery of debt relief, looks like delivering another fudge. There may be agreement to disburse more bailout loans but without easing repayment terms enough to satisfy the ECB and IMF. That would leave Tsipras high and dry.

[..] Despite some signs of an improvement in industrial output, Greece has been heavily reliant on consumers and a booming tourist sector to keep GDP – which shrank by a quarter in the early years of the crisis – from continuing its slide. While the economy hasn’t been in a recession since 2015, and grew 0.4% at the start of the year, it hasn’t strung together more than two quarters of consecutive expansion in more than a decade. Accountancy firm PWC said in March that infrastructure investment plunged during the crisis, leaving a backlog of planned and in-progress projects amounting to more than 21 billion euros. Near Corinth, that includes rail, waste management, road and marina developments. “With taxation what it is, not only will no-one come to invest here, but they’d need to be mad to,” said Kouinis, the civil engineer. “Growth needs to start from public works, because the private sector has been killed.”

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Foreigners buy apartments in Athens to rent out to other foreigners on Airbnb. So wrong in so many ways.

Foreign Buyers Snap Up Greek Property (K.)

Property buyers from abroad are this year growing at the fastest pace in a decade, as booming Greek tourism has had a positive impact on the property market too. According to the latest data from the Bank of Greece, in the first quarter of the year the inflow of capital from abroad for real estate acquisitions increased by 61.7% on an annual basis. The March figures have signaled a further improvement, since in the first couple of months the yearly rise had come to 56.7%. If the existing growth rate is sustained throughout 2017, it is likely that by the end of the year more than 430 million euros will have been invested the Greek property market from other countries. The equivalent figure for the whole of 2016 had amounted to 270 million euros, up 45.3% on the 2015 inflow of 186 million euros.

The only time a similar growth rate had been recorded before was in the first quarter of 2007, when foreign investors spent 66.5% more money on property acquisitions than a year earlier. Real estate professionals say this uptick in foreign funds entering the local property market is particularly positive because it came during a period when transactions are usually sparse: Expressions of buying interest this year started in the winter months, not in the summer when demand typically peaks. This has bolstered optimism about an even better summer in terms of transactions, which may reach their high for the entire period since the outbreak of the financial crisis.

The major rise in inflows this year is due to the increase in demand for apartments in Athens, primarily in the city center and the southern suburbs. This mainly concerns flats eligible for short-term leasing through Internet platforms such as HomeAway, Airbnb and FlipKey. It also concerns luxury mansions that would fit the bill for the same type of online platforms as well as for the purpose of getting a Golden Visas (for buys of properties worth 250,000 euros or more by investors from outside the European Union). Besides those buyers aiming for the five-year residence permits, considerable buying interest is also coming from Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany and the Scandinavian countries.

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It’s a miracle there are not many more victims.

State Of Emergency Declared On Lesbos As 800 Left Homeless (AP)

Authorities in Greece have declared a state of emergency on the island of Lesvos after an earthquake left one woman dead and more than 800 people displaced. The 6.1 magnitude undersea quake on Monday occurred south of Lesvos but was felt as far as Istanbul, Turkey. Officials from the island’s regional government on Tuesday said homes in 12 villages in southern Lesvos had been seriously damaged or destroyed. The mostly elderly residents affected were being housed with relatives, in hotels or at an army-run shelter. The earthquake marked the second crisis to hit the island in the last two years, after hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees, including many fleeing war in Syria and Iraq, crossed to Lesvos on boats from Turkey as they headed to Europe.

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Brussels should be forced to take in 100,000. In their new swanky buildings.

‘Impossible And Risky To Take In More Migrants’ – Rome’s Mayor (RT)

Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi has asked the Italian Interior Ministry for stricter measures to be taken toward the influx of foreigners into the capital. A letter outlining the need for a “moratorium” on “the continued influx of foreign citizens” was sent by Raggi to Roman prefect Paola Basilone. “I find it impossible, as well as risky, to think up further accommodation structures,” she wrote in the letter, as quoted by La Repubblica on Tuesday. “This administration, given the high flows of unregistered migrants, hopes the assessments of new facilities take into account the evident migrant pressure on Roma Capitale [the City of Rome] and the possible devastating consequences in terms of social costs as well as for the protection of the beneficiaries themselves.”

In May, Raggi told RT that she was working to help accommodate refugees and asylum seekers in Rome, but also that she also has a responsibility to her constituents and other countries in the EU must do their part. “Let’s put it this way – Rome would be better off if European states didn’t build walls along their borders, but rather followed through on their obligations and respected the migrant quotas agreed upon by the EU,” she told RT’s Sophie Shevardnadze. “According to the law, the city of Rome must accept migrants, as Mayor – I have to follow the law and do everything in my power to make sure that people are granted a safe place to stay here. But if other European countries decide to finally follow through on their obligations, we will welcome that decision.” “As mayor of Rome, I have to accommodate migrants, but I am also responsible for the security of my city and its residents. We cannot ignore either issue.”

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Feb 112017
 
 February 11, 2017  Posted by at 4:28 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Outrageous Malevolence
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Henri Cartier Bresson Salamanca 1963

 

Earlier this week I was talking in Athens to a guy from Holland, who incidentally with a group of friends runs a great project on Lesbos taking care of some 1000 refugees in one of the camps there. But that’s another topic for another day. I was wondering in our conversation how it is possible that, as we both painfully acknowledged, people in Holland and Germany don’t know what has really happened in the Greek debt crisis. Or, rather, don’t know how it started.

That certainly is a big ugly stain on their media. And it threatens to lead to things even uglier than what we’ve seen so far. People there in Northern Europe really think the Greeks are taking them for a ride, that the hard-working and saving Dutch and Germans pay through the teeth for Greek extravaganza. It’s all one big lie, but one that suits the local politicians just fine.

By accident(?!), I saw two different references to what really happened, both yesterday in the UK press. So let’s reiterate this one more time, and hope that perhaps this time someone in Berlin or Amsterdam picks it up and does something with it. There must be a few actual journalists left?! Or just ‘ordinary’ people curious enough, and with some intact active neurons, to go check if their politicians are not perhaps lying to them as much as their peers are all over the planet.

What I’m talking about in this instance is the first Greek bailout in 2010. While there are still discussions about the question whether the Greek deficit was artificially inflated by the country’s own statisticians, in order to force the bailout down the throats of the then government led by George Papandreou, there are far fewer doubts that the EU set up Greece for a major league fall just because it could, and because Dutch, French, German politicians could use that fall for their own benefit.

The reason to do all this would have been -should we say ostensibly or allegedly?-, to get Greece in a situation where the Germans and the French could abuse the emergency they themselves thus created, to transfer the Greece-related bad debts of their banks to the EU public at large, and subsequently to the Greek public, instead of forcing the banks to write these debts down. That is still the core of the Greek problem to this day. It’s also the core problem with the IMF’s involvement: the fund’s statutes prescribe it should have insisted on writedowns long ago, from the very first moment it got involved.

The bailout, as Yanis Varoufakis repeats below, was not -and never- meant to help Greece. Instead, it was meant to do the exact opposite, to enable Europe’s richer countries -and their banks- to escape the only just punishment for reckless lending practices, by unloading their debt onto the Greek people.

Varoufakis Accuses Creditors Of Going After Greece’s ‘Little People’

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis [..] said that the country has been put on a fiscal path which makes everyday life “unsustainable” in Greece. “The German finance minister agrees that no Greek government, however reformist it might be, can sustain the current debt obligations of Greece,” he said. Earlier in the day, Wolfgang Schäuble told German broadcaster ARD that Greece must reform or quit the euro. “A country in desperate need of reform has been made unreformable by unsustainable macroeconomic policies,” Mr Varoufakis said.

He said that “instead of attacking the worst cases of corruption, for six years now the creditors have been after the little people, the small pharmacists, the very poor pensioners instead of going for the oligarchies”. Greece in 2010 was given a huge loan that Mr Varoufakis said was not designed to save the bankrupt country but to “cynically transfer huge banking losses from the books of the Franco German banks onto the shoulders of the weakest taxpayers in Europe”.

The Financial Times, in a rare moment of lucidity, and with an unintentionally hilarious headline, puts its fingers on that same issue, as well as a few additional sore spots, and with admirable vengeance and clarity:

Conflict Over Athens’ Surplus Needles The IMF

This week the enduring problem of Greece took a new and disturbing turn. It was revealed that the executive board of the IMF is split on the question of what fiscal surplus Greece should be required to hit — which in itself will affect whether it needs official debt relief to reach sustainable growth.

[..] the fact that the fund admitted a division between its member countries is significant. European nations are over-represented on the board relative to their size in the global economy. Wielding that power to dissuade the fund from demanding debt relief from eurozone governments is a clear conflict of interest and poses a threat to the fund’s credibility and independence.

[..] The fund, which over the years has come to take a more realistic view of Greece’s debt sustainability, has dug its heels in and said it will not continue to participate without further reductions in the burden. This leaves eurozone countries, particularly Germany, in a quandary. Berlin insists it will not continue with the rescue without the involvement of the IMF but it fiercely opposes the debt writedown that the fund is demanding.

The point at issue is the fiscal surplus Greece is required to hit. The IMF says that reaching and maintaining a primary surplus of 1.5% of gross domestic product is sufficient; the eurozone wants an improbable 3.5%. [..] The European directors on the board, who want the IMF to agree to the higher fiscal surplus number, are undoubtedly conflicted by having an eye on the effect on their own governments having to write down debt.

Forthcoming elections in the eurozone, including Germany and France, mean that the political as well as economic cost of being seen to give in to Greece is considerable.

Greece’s own government has also been shaken by the conflict, and through its intransigence, the eurozone may force yet another change of administration, with the Syriza government being replaced by the centre-right opposition. At the margin, that may result in Greece being offered a slightly better deal than under the current administration. But short-term political manoeuvring is a terrible way to try to set Greece on a path to long-term debt sustainability and economic stability.

Right from the beginning of the Greek crisis in 2010, the political need to shield first their banks and investors, and then their taxpayers, has warped the response of eurozone governments. They have consistently signed up to hugely over-optimistic growth and surplus targets rather than accepting the need for more external finance and, if required, debt writedowns.

The rest of the IMF’s membership should be prepared to overrule the recalcitrant Europeans. The complaints of a self-interested cabal cannot be allowed to get in the way of Greece’s best interests. Eurozone governments have behaved poorly on this issue. They deserve to be defeated.

First of all, to put Greece and ‘sustainable growth’ together in one sentence is as preposterous as it is to do the same with Greece and ‘surplus’. But more importantly, the FT is right in just about every word here. Europe de facto decides what the IMF does. So despite all the recent conflicts between the Troika members (though they reportedly just announced they agreed on what to dictate to Greece over the weekend), it’s really all EU (i.e. Germany, France) all the time. Greece never stood a chance, and neither did justice.

The point about upcoming elections in Holland, France and Germany gets more important by the day. Since former EU parliament chief Martin Schulz left that post to head the ‘socialist’ SPD in Germany’s elections, he’s seen his poll numbers soar so much that Merkel and Schaeuble are getting seriously nervous about their chances of re-election. Like in all countries these days, certainly also in Europe, their knee-jerk reaction is to pull further to the right. Which is the opposite of setting the record straight with regards to.

As for Dijsselbloem, Schaeuble’s counterpart as finance minister for Holland, his Labor Party (PVDA) -yes, that twit claims to be a leftie- is down so much in the polls that you have to wonder where he gets the guts -let alone the authority- to even open his mouth. PVDA has 38 seats in the Dutch parliament right now and are predicted to lose 27 of them and have just 11 left after the March 15 vote, taking them from 2nd largest party to 7th largest. And out of power.

And he still heads the eurogroup, including in the negotiations with Greece and the IMF?! It’s a strange world. Dijsselbloem proudly proclaimed this week that without the IMF being involved in the next bailout, Holland wouldn’t ‘give’ Greece another penny anymore. Think Dijsselbloem and Schaeuble don’t know what happened in 2010? Of course they do. They know better than anyone.

It’s simply better for their careers -or so they think- to further impoverish the entire Greek nation and the poorest of its citizens than it is to come clean, to tell their people the whole story has been based on dirty tricks from the start. And since their media refuse to tell the truth, too, the story will last until at least after their respective elections. Thing is, Dijsselbloem will be out of a political job by March 16, so what’s he doing, setting himself up for a juicy job at one of the banks whose debts were transferred to Greek pensioners in 2010? No conscience?

 

Perhaps Greece’s best hope is, of all people, Donald Trump. Yeah, a long shot if ever you saw one. But Trump can overrule the IMF board simply because the US is the biggest party involved in the fund. He can tell that divided board to get its act together and stop harassing a valuable NATO member. At least he has the business sense to understand that a country with 23% unemployment -and that’s just the official number- and 50-60% youth unemployment cannot recover no matter what happens, and that sustainable growth, any kind of growth, is an impossibility once you take people’s spending power away.

Meanwhile, elite and incumbent Europe seems to think that publicly agitating against Trump is the way to go (they may come to regret that stance, and a stance it all it is). Trump’s apparent choice for EU ambassador, economist Ted Malloch, was accused by European Parliament hotshots Weber and Verhofstadt -in a letter, no less- of “outrageous malevolence” towards “the values that define this European Union”, for saying the Union needs ‘a little taming’. For some reason, they don’t seem to like that kind of thing. “Outrageous malevolence”, we’re talking Nobel literature material here.

Malloch also said EU president Juncker was a “very adequate mayor, I think, of some city in Luxembourg.” And that he “should go back and do that again.” And Malloch said on Greek TV this week that Greece should have left the eurozone four years ago. “Why is Greece again on the brink? It seems like a deja vu. Will it ever end? I think this time I would have to say that the odds are higher that Greece itself will break out of the euro.”

Why would he say that? How about because of the numbers in this by now infamous graph, straight out of the IMF itself, which shows EU countries have conspired to plunge one of their fellow “Union” member states into a situation far worse than the US was in during the Great Depression? Would that do it?

 

 

And we haven’t even touched on the role that Goldman Sachs plays in the entire kerfuffle, with its fake loans and derivatives, yet another sordid tale in this Cruella De Vil web of power plays spun by incompetent petty men. And Americans think they got it bad… Guess that Goldman role makes it less likely for Trump to interfere in Greece’s favor. Which would seem a bad idea, for everyone involved, not least of all because of rising tensions with Turkey over islands and islets and rocks (I kid you not) in the Aegean Sea.

It would be much better and safer for Trump, and for all of Europe, to make sure Greece is a strong nation, not a depressed and demoralized penal colony for homeless and refugees. That is asking for even more trouble. But nary a soul seems to be tuned in to that, it’s all narrow windows, short term concerns and upcoming elections. No vision.

Or perhaps Merkel will do something unexpected. Word has it that Greek finance minister Tsakalotos is meeting with Angela this weekend, a move that would seem to bypass Schaeuble, who once again said yesterday that Greece can only get a debt writedown if it leaves the eurozone. And that’s something Merkel is not exactly keen on. If only because it means unpredictability, volatility, not a great thing if your popularity as leader is already on shaky ground.

But to summarize, the Greek people didn’t do this. Of course plenty of Greek citizens borrowed more money than they should have in the first decade of the millenium, stories about credit cards in people’s mailboxes with a ‘free’ €5000 credit on them are well known in Athens. But they were by no means the ones who profited most. And the country has a long history of corruption and tax evasion. Which is what the French and German banks ‘cleverly’ played into as their politicians acted like they had no idea. Still, none of that comes even close to a reason or an excuse for completely eviscerating a fellow member of both the EU and NATO.

And it makes little sense. Do these people really want to risk peace in the eastern Mediterranean, or inside Greece itself (which will inevitably explode if this continues), just in order to keep Commerzbank or BNP Paribas out of the trouble they rightfully deserve to be in?

No, it’s not Tim Malloch’s ‘statements that reveal’ “outrageous malevolence” towards “the values that define this European Union”. It’s the actions of the European Union itself that do.

Dec 172016
 
 December 17, 2016  Posted by at 10:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Dorothea Lange Country filling station, Granville County, NC 1939

Debt Nation: The Problem, the Solutions (Valentin Schmid)
American Credit Card Debt Nears All Time Highs (BI)
It’s Been A Nightmare Year For Australian Retail (News.com.au)
Italy Prepares To Pump €15 Billion Into Ailing Banks (R.)
Euro Parity With Dollar ‘Only A Matter Of Time’ – ING (CNBC)
The Fed Is Pushing China Into A Messy Catch-22 (CNBC)
China Vows To Contain Asset Bubbles, Avert Financial Risk In 2017 (R.)
Cold War Hysteria vs. US National Security (Stephen F. Cohen)
Obama Says Russia Is A Smaller, Weaker Country Than The US (CNBC)
Obama Goes Off the Clinton Script (WSJ)
Schaeuble Could Destroy Eurozone, Not Just Greece (EUO)
Greek PM Tells Merkel ‘Wounds Of Crisis’ Must Be Healed (R.)

 

 

Excellent overview of debt-related issues. Steve’s Debt Jubilee warrants serious discussion at high levels. But it’s not happening.

Debt Nation: The Problem, the Solutions (Valentin Schmid)

There are only two ways to wipe out debt if it cannot be repaid by increases in output. The worst for the economy, even though it may be the fairest, is bankruptcy and debt deflation or destruction. A company or an individual—and sometimes a government—just says it can’t repay its debt. The lender takes control of the assets, if there are any, and tries to recover as much of the loan as possible, making up for the shortfall with its capital provision. This is exactly what happened during the Great Depression, when companies and individuals defaulted in droves, driving thousands of banks into bankruptcy as well. “If you borrowed money to buy a house or a machine, you couldn’t repay the debt, no matter how productive you were. Deflation penalized producers who misjudged the value of their assets at the time,” said Oliver.

Private debt declined 20% from 1930 to 1933 but GDP declined 38%, so the debt-to-GDP ratio actually increased from 175 to 225%, according to data from Debt Economics. “Deflation can increase the level of private debt to GDP, because GDP falls faster than private debt. Paying down the debt, withdrawing money from circulation and reducing its velocity, reduces GDP more than the decline in the debt,” said Keen. So this exercise is best avoided, which is precisely what central banks did during the 2008 crisis with their QE programs and bank bailouts. They managed to avoid a second Great Depression, but they didn’t get rid of the private debt. Despite the evident flaws in a system that has provided incentives for borrowers and lenders to indulge in too much debt for their own good, there are creative ways to reset the system and at least get the economy growing again.

“Every debt collapse in history has had a combination of debt forgiveness and inflation. That is how debt problems are dealt with historically,” said Oliver. Western central banks have tried to create inflation through their QE programs but weren’t successful because of deflationary pressures: overcapacity in China, technological innovation, and the fact that their money printing ended up in the hands of financial actors, who bought a lot of stocks, rather than real people, who would repay debt and buy goods and services. Many economists, including Keen, therefore call for QE for the private sector, rather than the banks, a concept dubbed “helicopter money.” “The creative way to get around it, is use the government’s capacity to create money. You use the same power the central banks did with QE but pay it into private sector accounts rather than commercial bank accounts. Households and companies can use it to pay down debt and those who don’t have debt, can get a cash injection,” he said.

Read more …

“..America’s putative economic strength might be a mirage [..] the economy may in fact be a lot weaker than all the happy indicators are leading people to believe.”

American Credit Card Debt Nears All Time Highs (BI)

By most accounts, the American economy seems to be humming along very nicely. Unemployment just hit a nine-year low, the stock market this month climbed to all-time highs, and consumer confidence is as chipper as its been in two years. But at least one indicator suggests that much of the US is actually struggling financially: Americans are piling on credit card debt at record levels that we haven’t seen since the financial crisis. Households added $21.9 billion in credit card debt in the third quarter — the largest increase for that period since 2007 — bringing the amount of outstanding credit card debt to $927.1 billion, according to the latest study from WalletHub. That matches the mark in 2007 before the recession began, and it’s the highest tally since the end of 2008, when the global economy was experiencing a full-on implosion.

Racking up credit card debt isn’t inherently bad, so long as it’s being paid back. And so far, Americans are defaulting on their credit card debt at near historically low levels. Charge-off rates – the percentage of credit card debt that the companies are unable to collect on — are only at 2.86%, compared with 3.95% in 2007 the quarter before the Great Recession began and in excess of 10% in the years following the crisis, according to WalletHub. But holding a balance is a lousy move from a personal finance perspective — a sign of financial fragility. The fact that the average household with debt now owes $7,941 to credit card companies, according to WalletHub, suggests that America’s putative economic strength might be a mirage – that the economy may in fact be a lot weaker than all the happy indicators are leading people to believe.

Read more …

Something’s off.

It’s Been A Nightmare Year For Australian Retail (News.com.au)

It’s been a nightmare year for Australian retail, with a parade of the nation’s best-known brands decimated one after another. And experts say things will only get worse if business leaders and governments do not pick up their game. First it was Dick Smith Electronics, then the Woolworths-owned Masters home improvement chain that went under. Now, thousands more workers will be jobless at Christmas after a fresh slew of corporate collapses rounded out 2016. Payless Shoes this week announced plans to close its doors by the end of February, hot on the heels of Howards Storage World’s demise, and that of children’s fashion label Pumpkin Patch.

While Treasurer Scott Morrison seized on the latest bad news to bolster the Coalition’s tax reform agenda, market watchers say there is far more that needs to be done. Retail analyst Barry Urquhart of Marketing Focus said neither corporate leaders nor government had acknowledged what he called “an attitudinal recession” that was restraining businesses. While the nation was yet to tip into an official recession – despite having just marked its worst quarterly performance since the global financial crisis – Australians remained apprehensive about their futures, he said. And any business that failed to respond to this by recapturing the public imagination with a compelling, value-driven offering would simply fall by the wayside.

Read more …

JPMorgan’s role is interesting. So is Beppe Grillo’s view of that role: “Italy’s opposition 5-Star Movement has called for JPMorgan’s fees to be voided if taxpayers have to come to the rescue..”

Italy Prepares To Pump €15 Billion Into Ailing Banks (R.)

Italy’s government is ready to pump €15 billion into Monte dei Paschi di Siena and other ailing banks, sources said, as the country’s third-largest lender pushes ahead with a private rescue plan that is widely expected to fail. The world’s oldest bank has until Dec. 31 to raise €5 billion in equity or face being wound down by the European Central Bank, potentially triggering a wider banking and political crisis in Italy. If needed, the government will pump €15 billion into the Siena-based lender and several other smaller banks to prevent that, two sources close to the matter said on Thursday. One source said unlisted regional banks Banca Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca, which were rescued this year by a state-backed fund, would also get support from the state.

The government would make the €15 billion available in a decree on Dec. 22, La Repubblica newspaper said on Thursday, adding that Banca Carige could also benefit. Italy’s banking sector is saddled with €356 billion of bad loans, around a third of the euro zone’s total and a legacy of the 2008-2009 global financial crisis when, unlike Spain or Ireland, Italy did not act to help its banks. Monte dei Paschi di Siena, advised by investment banks JPMorgan and Mediobanca, plans to raise equity to remove €28 billion in bad loans from its books. Italy’s opposition 5-Star Movement has called for JPMorgan’s fees to be voided if taxpayers have to come to the rescue. “We would have never done a deal like that with JPMorgan. In any case we would not pay the commissions (if the bank had to be nationalized,” Alessio Villarosa, a 5-Star lawmaker, said.

Read more …

It’s not going to stop at parity.

Euro Parity With Dollar ‘Only A Matter Of Time’ – ING (CNBC)

Divergence in monetary policy between the United States and Europe will bring parity between the value of the euro and dollar, according to ING. On Thursday the euro hit a low of 1.0364 against the dollar, the lowest level since August 2003 when it traded as low as 1.0357. Dollar strength is the key driver as investors believe the Federal Reserve will adopt a higher rate rise path in 2017 as the U.S. economy gathers momentum. Conversely, the ECB has just announced it will inject a further €540 billion of QE stimulus into the stuttering EU economy.

Analysts at ING wrote Friday that with European inflation struggling to edge higher and yesterday’s dip in to the 1.03 handle, euro/dollar parity is now firmly in view. “With the U.S. economy close to reaching escape velocity (and sustainable 2% inflation), it will only reinforce the downside risks to EUR/USD.” “Expect some consolidation around the 1.0450-1.0500 area, but this week’s fresh EUR/USD low means that the move down to parity is now only a matter of time,” the note reads.

Read more …

“..either hike the interest rate (as) the U.S. does, or they give up the exchange rate..”

The Fed Is Pushing China Into A Messy Catch-22 (CNBC)

An interest rate decision in the United States is causing a dilemma for Beijing. The U.S. dollar index surged to a near 14-year high after the Fed’s rate hike on Wednesday and its surprise forecast for three more increases — instead of the two that were expected previously — to come in 2017. Higher interest rates in the United States make it tempting for China to raise its own rates, because Beijing doesn’t want more money to flee the country into higher-yielding U.S. bonds. That flight also hurts China’s currency, the yuan. But Beijing could get its economy into trouble by hiking rates, since its continued economic growth is very heavily driven by borrowing. “You had this pressure that was already building, and the Fed has basically complicated and added to that with a more hawkish message,” said Logan Wright at Rhodium Group.

China’s yuan subsequently fell to its lowest level since 2008, and the country’s 10-year bond yield jumped to its highest level in more than a year. Declines in five-year and 10-year Chinese bond futures were reportedly so drastic Thursday that trade was halted due to a market trading limit. “The bond market itself, it’s raising a lot of attention, and it’s likely reflecting [that] policymakers in China are facing a difficult choice right now,” said Kai Yan, an economist at the IMF. He noted that “the speculation in the market is high because the central bank wants to stand in front of currency pressure to prevent capital outflow.” Chinese policymakers must “either hike the interest rate (as) the U.S. does, or they give up the exchange rate,” Yan said. “It is likely they will do a combination of the two.”

[..] China’s financial and economic challenges have been on the back burner for U.S. markets for much of the past year. The yuan’s depreciation versus the dollar has been largely ignored by global markets, as economic updates out of China have held up thanks largely to a flood of debt that’s propping up the country’s economy. Earlier this year, the Fed was seen as giving China some breathing room to stabilize its currency and economic growth. The U.S. central bank cited international concerns in avoiding a rate hike in the fall of 2015 and reducing its expectations for 2016 rate increases. Those decisions from the Fed helped keep the dollar steady, allowing China to avoid a significant depreciation of its currency. Now, however, some say the Fed may be less concerned about China since the U.S. economy is on firmer footing and can expect big domestic government spending from President-elect Donald Trump’s proposals.

Read more …

“Houses are for people to live in, not for people to speculate..” Sounds nice, but real estate has been a major contributor to China’s economy and GDP.

China Vows To Contain Asset Bubbles, Avert Financial Risk In 2017 (R.)

China will stem the growth of asset bubbles in 2017 and place greater importance on the prevention of financial risk, while keeping the economy on a path of stable and healthy growth, media said, citing leaders at an economic planning meeting. China has seen growth stabilize this year, but corporate leverage and credit continue to expand, increasing risks to the world’s second-largest economy as it looks to push forward structural reforms. The annual meeting is attended by China’s top leaders and is closely watched by investors for clues on policy priorities and main economic targets for the year ahead. Monetary policy will be kept “prudent and neutral” in 2017, leaders attending the Central Economic Work Conference said in a statement, as reported by the official Xinhua news agency on Friday.

“Monetary policy will be kept prudent and neutral, adapt to new changes in money supply … and strive to smooth monetary policy transmission channels and improve mechanism to help maintain liquidity basically stable,” they said. The People’s Bank of China has maintained a prudent monetary policy since 2011, raising or cutting interest rates in line with shifts in the economy. The pro-active fiscal policy has been in place since the depths of the global crisis. The property market will be a focus of risk control, as authorities will restrain property bubbles and prevent price volatility, they said. The leaders called for a strict limit on credit flowing into speculative buying in the property market and for a boost in the supply of land for cities where housing prices face stiff upward pressure. “Houses are for people to live in, not for people to speculate,” Xinhua said, citing the statement.

Read more …

Cohen of course is America’s no. 1 expert on Russia.

Cold War Hysteria vs. US National Security (Stephen F. Cohen)

Thus far, no actual facts or other evidence have been made publicly to support allegations that the hacking was carried out on the orders of the Russian leadership, that Russian hackers then gave the damaging materials to WikiLeaks, or that the revelations affected the electoral outcome. Nor are Russian President Putin’s alleged motives credible. Why would a leader whose mission has been to rebuild Russia with economic and other partnerships with the West seek to undermine the political systems of those countries, not only in America but also in Europe, as is charged? Judging by the public debate among Russian policy intellectuals close to the Kremlin, nor is it clear that the Kremlin so favored the largely unknown and unpredictable Trump.

But even if Putin was presented with such a possibility, he certainly would have understood that such Russian interference in the US election would become known and thus work in favor of Clinton, not Trump. (Indeed, a major tactic of the Clinton campaign was to allege that Trump was a “Putin puppet,” which seems not to have helped her campaign with voters.) Still worse, since the election these allegations have inspired a growing Cold War hysteria in the American bipartisan political-media establishment, still without any actual evidence to support them. One result is more neo-McCarthyite slurring of people who dissent from this narrative. Thus a New York Times editorial (December 12) alleges that Trump had “surrounded himself with Kremlin lackeys.” And Senator John McCain ominously warned that anyone who disagreed with his political jihadist vendetta against Putin “is lying.”

A kind of witch hunt may be unfolding, not only of the kind The Washington Post tried to instigate with its bogus “report” of scores of American websites said to be “fronts for Russian propaganda,” but at the highest level. Thus, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state is said to be “a friend of Putin” as a result of striking a deal for Exxon-Mobil for Russian oil reserves, something he was obliged to do as the company’s CEO. Several motives seem to be behind this bipartisan American campaign against the President-elect, who is being equated with Russian misdeeds. One is to reverse the Electoral College vote. Another is to exonerate the Clinton campaign from its electoral defeat by blaming that instead on Putin and thereby maintaining the Clinton wing’s grip on the Democratic Party. Yet another is to delegitimate Trump even before he is inaugurated. And certainly no less important, to prevent the détente with Russia that Trump seems to seek.

Read more …

Obama sounds smaller and weaker here.

Obama Says Russia Is A Smaller, Weaker Country Than The US (CNBC)

In his final news conference of the year, President Barack Obama emphasized that Russia cannot change or significantly weaken the U.S., adding that Russia is a smaller and weaker country. He said Russia’s economy “doesn’t produce anything that anybody wants to buy,” except oil, gas and arms. The only way Russia can affect the U.S., he said, is “if we lose track of who we are” and “abandon our values.” “Mr. Putin can weaken us just like he’s trying to weaken Europe if we start buying into notions that it’s OK to intimidate the press, or lock up dissidents or discriminate against people,” he said. When asked if he would specifically name Russian President Vladimir Putin as directly responsible for the election hacking, Obama said he wanted to give the intelligence community a chance to gather the information necessary.

He added, however, that “not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin,” reaffirming that the hacking happened at the highest levels of the Russian government. “This is a pretty hierarchical operation,” he said. “Last I checked, there’s not a lot of debate and democratic deliberation, particularly when it comes to policies directed at the United States.” Obama reaffirmed his message of political unity and bipartisanship, urging the country to reunite across party lines to defend itself against Russia and others. “Our vulnerability to Russia or any other foreign power is directly related to how divided, partisan, dysfunctional our political process is,” he said. “That’s the thing that makes us vulnerable.”

Read more …

“His main complaint is that “I don’t think she was treated fairly” by the press corps and the Russian hacks became “an obsession that dominated the news coverage.”

Obama Goes Off the Clinton Script (WSJ)

Hillary Clinton told her donor base at Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel on Thursday that Russian cyber attacks were both “a personal beef against me” and meant to undermine “the integrity of our democracy,” and Democrats fanned out this week to spread this Kremlin-hacked-the-election narrative. President Obama was asked about all this in his year-end Friday press conference, but even he couldn’t square the contradictions. As liberals assailed the legitimacy of Donald Trump’s victory, Mr. Obama defended “the integrity of our election system,” noting that there is no evidence that ballots weren’t counted fairly. So much for those Jill Stein, Clinton-endorsed recounts, or the conspiracies about compromised voting machines. The President also explained that the emails stolen from John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee were “not some elaborate, complicated espionage scheme.”

He said intelligence and law enforcement were “playing this thing straight” and disclosed sufficient information about the hacks for “the American public to make an assessment as to how to weigh that going into the election.” Mr. Obama conceded that some of the leaked content was “embarrassing or uncomfortable” but all in all “pretty routine stuff.” His main complaint is that “I don’t think she was treated fairly” by the press corps and the Russian hacks became “an obsession that dominated the news coverage.” Really? The Podesta and DNC emails mostly revealed that the Clinton apparat don’t much like conservative Catholics or Bernie Sanders. Mr. Trump’s offenses against beauty queen Alicia Machado in the 1990s and his Billy Bush video were far bigger stories. The emails that really harmed Mrs. Clinton were those she stored on a personal server as Secretary of State, because the arrangement was potentially criminal and underscored doubts about her political character and judgment.

Read more …

Not could, will. Curious that Dijsselbloem’s solo act in deciding to halt Greek debt relief doesn’t get more attention.

Schaeuble Could Destroy Eurozone, Not Just Greece (EUO)

The sudden suspension of Greece’s short-term debt relief measures on Wednesday evening (14 December) has sparked fierce criticism by a number of EU officials. EU commissioner Pierre Moscovici, European Parliament president Martin Schultz, French president Hollande and finance minister Michel Sapin, along with many MEPs from the GUE/NGL, S&D and the Greens groups, have echoed support for Greece and prime minister Alexis Tsipras’s decision to give a one-time relief package to low-income pensioners. In essence, there has been no official decision taken by the Eurogroup, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), or the European Council. Instead, there’s been unilateral action from the head of the Eurogroup without prior coordination with his colleagues.

Creditors should respect their own part of the deal and conclude the second review of the bailout programme, and acknowledge that there are open issues that need be addressed. The Greek government is fully implementing the bailout deal, moving on to needed reforms, providing safety nets for the vulnerable social groups. It’s possible Tsipras’s announcement was brought about by German finance minister Schaeuble and other circles pushing Greece to the limit. But in truth, we need not investigate who has taken the decision but instead focus on substantial issues. These issues include lowering primary surplus targets after 2018 and loosening tax rates so that the economy can become stable and growth can reach sustainable levels.

Even with such strict deadlines, the Greek government has achieved all fiscal targets for 2016, increasing public income and reaching a higher primary surplus than expected. This positive development prompted Tsipras, a few days ago, to announce a one-time relief package for low-income pensioners; a substantive decision after 12 consecutive pension cuts between 2010 and 2014, a loss of more than 30% of national GDP, during the same period, with a considerable part of the population facing poverty and social exclusion. The Greek government’s urgent measures are the least this government can do to temporarily do something for the worse off.

Dimitrios Papadimoulis is vice president of the European Parliament and head of the Syriza party delegation.

Read more …

Merkel sides with Schaeuble.

Greek PM Tells Merkel ‘Wounds Of Crisis’ Must Be Healed (R.)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday his country was set for strong economic growth and this would help to “heal the wounds of crisis” after years of austerity imposed under international bailouts. On a visit to Berlin, Tsipras was keen to emphasise Greek progress on reforms demanded by Germany as the EU’s most powerful economy and paymaster – a situation that has made Merkel a hate figure for some Greeks. The trip’s timing was also significant, as Greece wrangles with its creditors over terms for its current bailout, the latest of three. On Thursday it snubbed its lenders by passing legislation to give pensioners a one-off Christmas bonus.

Tsipras told reporters before meeting Merkel that he would inform the chancellor of the positive momentum of the Greek economy and his government’s “spectacular overachievement” of revenue targets. “The projections for the Greek economy are extremely positive for next year,” Tsipras said, adding authorities expected 2.7% growth in 2017 and 3.1% in 2018. But Greece’s economic development should not simply be confined to statistics and numbers, he added. “We want it to heal the wounds of crisis and to alleviate all those who have over these difficult years made huge sacrifices in the name of Europe,” Tsipras said.

Merkel showed little willingness to take a position on the disputed question of whether the pre-Christmas payout to pensioners was compatible with bailout obligations. Standing next to Tsipras, she said decisions lay in the hands of the Troika institutions handling negotiations with Greece but “the Greek prime minister’s assessment of the situation will certainly play a role in our discussions.” A German Finance Ministry spokesman said the institutions involved in Greece’s aid programme were critical of Athens in a preliminary report assessing the unilaterally announced measure. “To make the aid programme a success, it’s essential that measures are not decided unilaterally or are not taken back without advance notice,” said spokesman Dennis Kolberg.

Read more …

Dec 092015
 
 December 9, 2015  Posted by at 9:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Dorothea Lange Refugees: Drought hit OK farm family on way to CA Aug 1936

When It Rains It Pours as China Unleashes Commodity Torrent (BBG)
Oil Producers Prepare For Prices To Halve To $20 A Barrel (Guardian)
Anglo American To Slash Workforce By 85,000 Amid Commodity Slump (Guardian)
OPEC Provides Economic Stimulus Central Bankers Can’t or Won’t (BBG)
Copper Meltdown Burning Miners Is Boon to Builders as Costs Sink (BBG)
Iron Ore in $30s Seen Near Tipping Point for Largest Miners (BBG)
Emerging Markets Warned of Capital Drought as Fed Nears Liftoff (BBG)
China’s Illicit Outflows Estimated at $1.4 Trillion Over Decade (BBG)
The IMF Forgives Ukraine’s Loan To Russia (Michael Hudson)
Tension Grows Between Tsipras, Schaeuble Over IMF Role In Greek Program (Kath.)
Schaeuble Fights EU Deposit Insurance Plan in Clash With ECB (BBG)
Australian Police Raid Sydney Home Of Reported Bitcoin Creator (Reuters)
Australian Housing Boom Leaves Swath of Empty Properties (BBG)
Germany Takes In More Refugees In 2015 Than US Has In Past 10 Years (Quartz)
How Germany’s Right-Wing Tabloid Bild Learned to Love Refugees (BBG)
6 Afghan Migrant Children Drown Off Turkish Coast On Way To Greece (AP)
11 Refugees, Including 5 Children, Drown Near Greek Island, 13 Missing (GR)

Note: total Chinese exports have fallen for 5 months now. While commodity exports are rising fast. So outside of commodities, the fall in exports is that much bigger.

When It Rains It Pours as China Unleashes Commodity Torrent (BBG)

There’s no let-up in the onslaught of commodities from China. While the country’s total exports are slowing in dollar terms, shipments of steel, oil products and aluminum are reaching for new highs, according to trade data from the General Administration of Customs. That’s because mills, smelters and refiners are producing more than they need amid slowing domestic demand, and shipping the excess overseas. The flood is compounding a worldwide surplus of commodities that’s driven returns from raw materials to the lowest since 1999, threatening producers from India to Pennsylvania and aggravating trade disputes. While companies such as India’s JSW Steel decry cheap exports as unfair, China says the overcapacity is a global problem.

“It puts global commodities producers in a bad situation as China struggles with excess supplies of base metals, steel and oil products,” Kang Yoo Jin at NH Investment & Securities said. “The surplus of commodities is becoming a real pain for China and to ease the glut, it’s increasing its shipments overseas.” Net fuel exports surged to an all-time high of 2.22 million metric tons in November, 77% above the previous month, customs data showed. Aluminum shipments jumped 37% to the second-highest level on record while sales of steel products climbed 6.5%, taking annual exports above 100 million tons for the first time. Chinese oil refiners are tapping export markets to reduce swelling fuel stockpiles, particularly diesel. The nation is also encouraging overseas shipments by allowing independent plants to apply for export quotas to sustain refining operation rates and ease an economic slowdown, according to Yuan Jun at oil trader China Zhenhua Oil.

Read more …

A boon for the economy, you said?

Oil Producers Prepare For Prices To Halve To $20 A Barrel (Guardian)

The world’s leading oil producers are preparing for the possibility of oil prices halving to $20 a barrel after a second day of financial market turmoil saw a fresh slide in crude, the lowest iron ore prices in a decade, and losses on global stock markets. Benchmark Brent crude briefly dipped below $40 a barrel for the first time since February 2009 before speculators took profits on the 8% drop in the cost of crude since last week’s abortive attempt by the oil cartel Opec to steady the market. But warnings by commodity analysts that the respite could be shortlived were underlined when Russia said it would need to make additional budget cuts if the oil price halved over the coming months.

Alexei Moiseev, Russia’s deputy finance minister, told Reuters: “If oil goes to $20, we will need to do additional [spending] cuts. Clearly we have shown that we are very willing to cut fiscal spending in line with an oil price at $60, for example. In order for us to be long-term sustainable [with the] oil price at $40, we need to do additional cuts, but if the oil price goes to $20 we need to do even more cuts.” Russia and Saudi Arabia – the world’s two biggest oil producers – both increased spending when oil prices rose to well above $100 a barrel. The fall from a recent peak of $115 a barrel in August 2014 has left all Opec members in financial difficulty, but Saudi Arabia has refused to relent on a strategy of using a low crude price to knock out US shale producers.

Hopes that Opec would announce production curbs to push prices up were dashed when the cartel met in Vienna last Friday, triggering the latest downward lurch in the cost of oil. Lord Browne, the former chief executive of BP, refused to rule out the possibility that oil could halve again in price when he was interviewed by Bloomberg TV. Asked if oil could hit $20 a barrel, Browne – who ran BP from 1995 to 2007 during a period when the cost of crude rose from $10 to $100 a barrel, said in the short term nothing was impossible. He added: “In the long run, $20 is probably wrong, but that’s as far as I’d go.”

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Some jobs to be transferred to new owners of assets Anglo sells off.

Anglo American To Slash Workforce By 85,000 Amid Commodity Slump (Guardian)

Anglo American has suspended its dividend and announced plans to cut its workforce by 85,000 and dispose of more than half its mines in response to the plunging price of iron ore and other metals. The UK mining company said it would not pay a dividend for the second half of this year and all of next year. The last time Anglo American cut its dividend was during the worst of the financial crisis in 2009. In a presentation to investors, Anglo American said it would sell or close up to 35 mines, leaving it with about 20 sites and cutting employee and contractor numbers from 135,000 to fewer than 50,000 after 2017. It will halve the number of business units from six to three: the De Beers diamond operation, industrial metals and bulk commodities.

The company, which mines materials such as iron ore, manganese, coal, copper and nickel, said it would cut capital spending by a further $1bn (£670m) to the end of 2016, taking the reduction in capital spending to $2.9bn by the end of 2017. It increased the amount it plans to raise from asset sales to $4bn from $3bn. The plan is the biggest restructuring by a mining company in reaction to the commodities rout. Prices have plunged because of slowing world economic growth and falling demand from China, the world’s biggest consumer of iron ore, copper, nickel and most other commodities. Anglo American’s shares, which have lost almost three-quarters of their value this year, fell more than 12% to a new all-time low of 323p.

Its announcement sent all other mining shares down in London with the sector at a 10-year low. The biggest mining companies are slashing spending and cutting costs to protect their financial strength as metal prices plunge. Glencore, the British miner and commodities trader, has suspended its dividend and is selling assets to cut its debt in an effort to rebuild investor confidence. Anglo American has been affected more severely by the commodities crash than some of its rivals because of its reliance on iron ore, whose value has fallen by almost 40% this year as demand from China has fallen.

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The commodities dump puts the entire global economy in jeopardy and Bloomberg says it’s all great. “..the world has enjoyed a windfall equivalent to 2% of GDP it would otherwise have spent on crude..” The crude does come from the world, though, right?

OPEC Provides Economic Stimulus Central Bankers Can’t or Won’t (BBG)

The world’s central bankers just got a helping hand from the world’s oil ministers. As the ECB delivers less monetary stimulus than investors sought and with the Federal Reserve set to tighten next week, the world economy may find support instead from the weakest oil price in more than six years. West Texas Intermediate is trading at about $40 a barrel four days after OPEC chose not to limit output, extending the commodity’s decline from its June 2014 peak of $107.73 and this year’s high of $62.58 in May. While its earlier slide failed to provide the economic pickup some anticipated, economists at UniCredit, Commerzbank and Societe Generale are still banking on cheaper fuel to spur spending by consumers and companies in 2016.

“On net, central bankers should take this as a positive,” said Peter Dixon, an economist at Commerzbank in London. “This does help to stimulate demand by leaving a little bit of money in the pocket and providing a feel-good factor.” At Societe Generale, Michala Marcussen, global head of economics, reckons every $10 drop in the price of oil lifts global growth by 0.1 percentage point. She estimates that since 2014, the world has enjoyed a windfall equivalent to 2% of GDP it would otherwise have spent on crude. “Our biggest relief last week was that OPEC decided no output cut, promising consumers inexpensive oil for longer,” said Marcussen. Even though falling oil may weaken the inflation rates central bankers are struggling to lift, Erik Nielsen at UniCredit said it was important to recognize that it’s “‘good’ disinflation, because it stems from supply rather than demand and so should raise real income, thereby propelling consumption and the recovery.”

“A drop in energy prices is the equivalent of a tax cut, with no implications for debt,” he said, adding that faster expansions as a result should end up bolstering prices too and so investors should be wary of wagering on a deterioration in inflation.

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That sounds very similar to what they said about cheaper oil, and we said from the get-go it wouldn’t work out well. Besides, copper producers? There’s no production, it’s mining. There’s some ‘purification’ involved, but no ‘production’. Like a refinery doesn’t ‘produce’ oil. BTW, that’s one mighty ugly graph.

Copper Meltdown Burning Miners Is Boon to Builders as Costs Sink (BBG)

Copper producers from Glencore to Freeport-McMoRan spent most of this year getting slammed by the metal’s worst slump since the recession. But there are some folks who are cheering. With prices heading for a third straight annual decline, the rout is a welcome reprieve for metal buyers like electricians and builders who put about 400 pounds (181 kilograms) of copper into the average U.S. home. As recently as 2011, copper traded in New York was at all-time-highs, after more than five-fold gains in the previous decade. Now, with demand growth cooling in China, the biggest user, global surpluses have emerged. “Business has been so much better – the best in about 10 years,” said David Chapin, the president Willmar Electric Service, a Minnesota-based company that spends about $1 million a year on copper wire it installs for clients in several Midwest states.

While that’s only 5% of Willmar’s total costs, cheaper metal is boosting profit on projects that a few years ago were close to being money losers, Chapin said. On the Comex, copper futures fell 28% this year to $2.048 a pound and are heading for the biggest annual retreat since 2008. The metal touched $2.002 on Nov. 23, a six-year low. Prices haven’t traded below $2 since 2009. Copper’s role in construction and architecture dates as far back as ancient Egypt, where temple doors were clad with the metal, according to the Copper Development Association. In modern times, the commodity’s conductive properties and it’s resistance to corrosion have made it sought after for pipes and wires. Globally, construction accounts for about 30% of demand, Bloomberg Intelligence data show. The transportation industry makes up about 13%, including for use in cars and trucks.

Richardson, Texas-based Lennox International Inc., which makes and markets heating and cooling equipment, said on an Oct. 19 earnings call that cheaper metals and commodities provided a benefit of $15 million to earnings in 2015. There’s about 50 pounds of copper in the average air-conditioning unit. “The winner here will be anyone who purchases and uses copper,” Dane Davis, a metals analyst at Barclays Plc in New York, said in a telephone interview. “The construction industry stands to benefit from cheaper copper pipes. On a national scale, automobile producers are also going to be winners because it’s an important part of car production.”

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As commodities prices sink, so does the market cap of these huge corporations.

Iron Ore in $30s Seen Near Tipping Point for Largest Miners (BBG)

Iron ore’s tumble into the $30s threatens the world’s biggest miners as prices approach break-even costs, according to Capital Economics. BHP Billiton shares slumped to the lowest in 10 years and Rio Tinto dropped to the lowest since 2009. The most expensive operations at the four largest suppliers are on the verge of making losses at rates below $40 a metric ton, said John Kovacs at Capital Economics in London, who estimates their break-even levels at $28 to $39, taking into account freight and other costs. While these producers will keep output strong, they’ll be constrained by low prices, he said. Iron ore’s plunge below $40 comes as producers including Vale in Brazil and Rio and BHP in Australia press on with expansions to cut costs and defend market share just as demand from the largest consumer China slows.

They’re the world’s biggest suppliers along with Fortescue. Prices of the raw material have lost 45% this year and have plunged 80% from their peak in 2011. “The big four will find it hard to maintain output at below $40,” Kovacs said in response to questions. “If prices remain weak, output from the highest-cost mines of the big four will be under pressure.” Ore with 62% content delivered to Qingdao sank 1.1% to $38.65 a dry ton on Monday, a record low in daily prices compiled by Metal Bulletin Ltd. dating back to May 2009. The raw material peaked at $191.70 in 2011. Kovacs said that while rates will stay low over the next year, he doesn’t believe they’ll remain below $40 for a significant length of time. He expects prices to recover slowly because demand won’t fall much further and the biggest miners will find it difficult to keep up output at these levels.

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Oh, you think they couldn’t figure out that one by themselves?

Emerging Markets Warned of Capital Drought as Fed Nears Liftoff (BBG)

A sudden capital drought in emerging markets could undermine the fragile global expansion, World Bank economists said in a report Tuesday that questions whether the international lender’s main poverty-reduction target is achievable given the bleaker outlook. Now in its sixth year, the slowdown in developing economies is the broadest since the 1980s, World Bank economists said in a research paper released on Tuesday. While emerging nations are better prepared for shocks than they were in the 1980s and 1990s, the recent “rough patch” could signal a new era of slow growth, according to the Washington-based development bank. Even worse, a surge in financial turbulence could cause capital flows into emerging markets to dry up, the World Bank said.

Net capital flows in emerging markets have been declining since last year and stalled to zero in the first half of 2015. The warning comes a little over a week before what investors expect will be the U.S. Federal Reserve’s first increase in its benchmark borrowing rate since 2006. Tightening financial conditions and a slump in commodity prices have hurt resource-rich emerging markets such as Russia and Brazil, a nation which Goldman Sachs has warned may be on the verge of a depression. “Deteriorating external conditions, perhaps resulting from U.S monetary policy tightening or elevated uncertainty about growth prospects in a major emerging market, could potentially combine with domestic factors into a ‘perfect storm’ by sparking a sudden stop in capital inflows to multiple emerging markets,” the World Bank said in the paper.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim has made it part of the institution’s mission to reduce extreme poverty – living on less than $1.90 a day – to 3% of the world’s population. That milestone will be a challenge to reach “under most plausible scenarios,” the report stated. “In light of the significant global risks going forward, emerging markets urgently need to put in place an appropriate set of policies to address their cyclical and structural challenges and promote growth,” the authors wrote. The report’s authors cite a number of reasons for the slowdown, including weak global trade, the commodities slump as demand from China has weakened, and slowing productivity growth in emerging economies..

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Lowballing.

China’s Illicit Outflows Estimated at $1.4 Trillion Over Decade (BBG)

China’s illicit financial outflows were estimated at almost $1.4 trillion over a decade, the largest amount for any developing nation, as money exited the country through channels including fake documentation on trade deals. The estimate for the 10 years through 2013 was published Wednesday by Global Financial Integrity, a Washington-based group researching cross-border money transfers. The study is based on data reported to the IMF and covers money which GFI believes to be illegally earned, transferred or utilized. Money flowing out of China this year has helped to pump up property markets from Sydney to Vancouver, while prospects for a weaker yuan may drive more cash abroad.

On Wednesday, China cut the currency’s reference rate to the weakest since 2011. The bulk of $7.8 trillion of illicit money that exited developing nations over the 10-year period was disguised as trade through fake invoicing, the report said. That’s a method that was highlighted in China in 2013 when the government cracked down on false documentation that was hiding money flows and distorting the nation’s trade data. While citizens are officially limited to converting $50,000 per person a year, a range of tools exist for getting around that restriction, from pooling quotas to transactions through so-called underground banks.

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“..on Tuesday, the IMF joined the New Cold War..”

The IMF Forgives Ukraine’s Loan To Russia (Michael Hudson)

On December 8, the IMF’s Chief Spokesman Gerry Rice sent a note saying: “The IMF’s Executive Board met today and agreed to change the current policy on non-toleration of arrears to official creditors. We will provide details on the scope and rationale for this policy change in the next day or so.” Since 1947 when it really started operations, the World Bank has acted as a branch of the U.S. Defense Department, from its first major chairman John J. McCloy through Robert McNamara to Robert Zoellick and neocon Paul Wolfowitz. From the outset, it has promoted U.S. exports – especially farm exports – by steering Third World countries to produce plantation crops rather than feeding their own populations. (They are to import U.S. grain.) But it has felt obliged to wrap its U.S. export promotion and support for the dollar area in an ostensibly internationalist rhetoric, as if what’s good for the United States is good for the world.

The IMF has now been drawn into the U.S. Cold War orbit. On Tuesday it made a radical decision to dismantle the condition that had integrated the global financial system for the past half century. In the past, it has been able to take the lead in organizing bailout packages for governments by getting other creditor nations – headed by the United States, Germany and Japan – to participate. The creditor leverage that the IMF has used is that if a nation is in financial arrears to any government, it cannot qualify for an IMF loan – and hence, for packages involving other governments. This has been the system by which the dollarized global financial system has worked for half a century. The beneficiaries have been creditors in US dollars.

But on Tuesday, the IMF joined the New Cold War. It has been lending money to Ukraine despite the Fund’s rules blocking it from lending to countries with no visible chance of paying (the “No More Argentinas” rule from 2001). With IMF head Christine Lagarde made the last IMF loan to Ukraine in the spring, she expressed the hope that there would be peace. But President Porochenko immediately announced that he would use the proceeds to step up his nation’s civil war with the Russian-speaking population in the East – the Donbass. That is the region where most IMF exports have been made – mainly to Russia. This market is now lost for the foreseeable future. It may be a long break, because the country is run by the U.S.-backed junta put in place after the right-wing coup of winter 2014. Ukraine has refused to pay not only private-sector bondholders, but the Russian Government as well.

This should have blocked Ukraine from receiving further IMF aid. Refusal to pay for Ukrainian military belligerence in its New Cold War against Russia would have been a major step forcing peace, and also forcing a clean-up of the country’s endemic corruption. Instead, the IMF is backing Ukrainian policy, its kleptocracy and its Right Sector leading the attacks that recently cut off Crimea’s electricity. The only condition on which the IMF insists is continued austerity. Ukraine’s currency, the hryvnia, has fallen by a third this years, pensions have been slashed (largely as a result of being inflated away), while corruption continues unabated.

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Wolfie’s back…

Tension Grows Between Tsipras, Schaeuble Over IMF Role In Greek Program (Kath.)

Tension between Greece and its lenders grew on Tuesday when German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble seized on comments by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras regarding the involvement of the International Monetary Fund in the Greek bailout program. During a TV interview on Monday night, Tsipras indicated that he is not keen on the IMF joining the program because of the demands it is likely to make. “The Fund must decide if it wants a compromise, if it will remain a part of the program,” said Tsipras. “If it does not want to, it should come out publicly and say so.” Speaking on the sidelines of yesterday’s Ecofin meeting, Schaeuble slammed Tsipras’s stance. “It is not in Greece’s interests for it to question the IMF’s involvement in the bailout program,” he said.

“I believe we negotiated at length with Mr Tsipras in July and August,” added Schaeuble. “I also believe that he signed the agreement and then held elections to get a mandate from the Greek people so he could implement what he signed.” The German finance minister also indicated that he has the impression Tsipras is having second thoughts about adopting some of the measures demanded by Greece’s lenders. “They should focus their attention on doing what they have to do,” he said. “As always, they are behind schedule. Maybe questioning the agreement is necessary for domestic reasons; he has a slim majority I have noticed. This may be the easy route but it is not in Greece’s interests.”

Schaeuble’s comments prompted an immediate response from Athens. “We remind that the Greek government is responsible for deciding what is in the country’s interests,” said government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili. “We expect the German Finance Ministry to separate its stance from the unacceptably tough stance of the IMF,” she added. “Europe should and is able to solve its problems on its own.” Greek government sources believe that Schaeuble’s comments indicate there is a split within the German government over Greece.

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…and he’s picking fights wherever he can see them…

Schaeuble Fights EU Deposit Insurance Plan in Clash With ECB (BBG)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble lashed out at plans for joint European deposit insurance, saying the proposal threatens central-bank independence and may be illegal under European Union treaties. Schaeuble’s comments on Tuesday pitted him against officials from the ECB, Italy and Ireland during a public discussion that underscored disputes holding up shared deposit backing, including how to address the risks of government bonds on banks’ balance sheets. The ECB “strongly” supports the European Commission’s plan to introduce common deposit insurance over eight years, ECB Vice President Vitor Constancio said. Schaeuble countered that sovereign risk weighs down banks in too many nations, which shouldn’t benefit from more joint insurance until that’s been addressed.

In addition, the ECB is breaching the barrier between monetary policy and its new bank-oversight goals, he said. “There must be a clear Chinese wall or at least a division by primary law between banking supervision and monetary policy,” said Schaeuble, who called for a treaty change on the ECB’s role and questioned whether current treaties allow deposit insurance as envisaged. As European banks are generally allowed to treat sovereign debt on their balance sheets as free of default risk, any move to add risk weighting or limit such holdings could cause shocks.

In Tuesday’s debate, Constancio called for working globally to address the sovereign-risk question to avoid market disruptions. The European Commission’s proposal would apply to euro-area countries and any others that want to join. Schaeuble’s calls for risk reduction won more allies than his legal questions about the EU proposal. Finnish Finance Minister Alexander Stubb said his view of the legal issues was “a little bit softer” than Schaeuble’s, though risks needed to be addressed before deposit insurance moves ahead. Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem called for concrete plans on how to limit banking risks.

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Hours after his identity is suggested in the press, his home is raided. But that has nothing to do with each other?

Australian Police Raid Sydney Home Of Reported Bitcoin Creator (Reuters)

Australian Federal Police raided the Sydney home on Wednesday of a man named by Wired magazine as the probable creator of cryptocurrency bitcoin, a Reuters witness said. The property is registered under the Australian electoral role to Craig Steven Wright, whom Wired outed as the likely real identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous figure that first released bitcoin’s code in 2009. More than a dozen federal police officers entered the house, on Sydney’s north shore, on Wednesday after locksmiths broke open the door. When asked what they were doing, one officer told a Reuters reporter that they were “clearing the house”.

The Australian Federal Police said in a statement that the officers’ “presence at Mr. Wright’s property is not associated with the media reporting overnight about bitcoins”. The AFP referred all inquiries about the raid to the Australian Tax Office, which did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The police raid in Australia came hours after Wired magazine and technology website Gizmodo published articles saying that their investigations showed Wright, who they said was an Australian academic, was probably the secretive bitcoin creator. Their investigations were based on leaked emails, documents and web archives, including what was said to be a transcript of a meeting between Wright and Australian tax officials.

The identity of Satoshi Nakamoto has long been a mystery journalists and bitcoin enthusiasts have tried to unravel. He, she or a group of people is the author of the paper, protocol and software that gave rise to the cryptocurrency. The New York Times, Newsweek and other publications have guessed at Nakamoto’s real identity, but none has proved conclusive. Uncovering the identity would be significant, not just to solving a long-standing riddle, but for the future of the currency. And as an early miner of bitcoins, Nakamoto is also sitting on about 1 million bitcoins, worth more than $400 million at present exchange rates, according to bitcoin expert Sergio Demian Lerner.

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Governments should not be allowed to blow these bubbles for short-term popularity. They’re far too disruptive for societies.

Australian Housing Boom Leaves Swath of Empty Properties (BBG)

Australia’s three-year property boom is leaving Melbourne awash with empty homes. In the country’s second-biggest city, growing numbers of local landlords and absent overseas owners have locked up their properties — forgoing rental income as they focus instead on price gains, a report by Prosper Australia said Wednesday. Some 82,724 properties, or 4.8% of the city’s total housing stock, appear to be unused, said the report, which estimated occupancy rates by gauging water usage. In the worst-hit areas, a quarter of all homes are empty, said Prosper. The research group is lobbying for more affordable housing through tax reform. Driven by a wave of Chinese buyers and record-low interest rates, average home prices have soared to about A$700,000 ($505,000) in Melbourne and around A$1 million in Sydney.

But with prices now cooling, the empty accommodation also masks a hidden glut of supply that could worsen any housing slump. “Those properties need to be utilized,” said Catherine Cashmore, author of the Prosper report, Speculative Vacancies. “Having property sitting vacant has a very high cost on the economy. It’s very destructive to our national prosperity.” The study, now in its eighth year, assessed 1.7 million residential properties in and around Melbourne during 2014. Those using less than 50 liters of water a day – the rough equivalent of one shower and a flush of a toilet – were deemed vacant. Sydney, where high-rise blocks have sprouted in the inner suburbs, is also likely to have a vacancy problem, said Cashmore. Data on water usage at individual apartments isn’t as comprehensive in Sydney as in Melbourne, she said.

Surging home prices triggered a boom in high-rise construction in Melbourne’s inner-city suburbs, squashing rental yields and leaving landlords with little incentive to find a tenant, said Cashmore. Analysts at Credit Suisse estimated this year that Chinese buyers were on course to take out 20% of new homes across Australia in 2020, up from the current 15%. While the Prosper report doesn’t identify overseas-owned properties, it said a “significant proportion” of foreign-owned real estate is empty, inflating prices. “There is a wall of money that is trying to get into Australia,” Cashmore said. “To fight those forces is going to be very difficult.”

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But what if next year millions more arrive?

Germany Takes In More Refugees In 2015 Than US Has In Past 10 Years (Quartz)

Germany is on pace to take in one million asylum-seekers this year. In the last 11 months, the country has taken in 964,574 new migrants, including more than 200,000 just in November. According to Die Welt, more than half of the potential refugees—about 484,000 migrants—came from Syria. Germany has accepted the largest number of asylum-seekers of all European countries, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “Germany is doing what is morally and legally obliged,” chancellor Angela Merkel said in September. “Not more, and not less.” It’s extraordinary also because it’s larger than the total number of refugees that the US—with a population of 320 million to Germany’s 80 million—has accepted in the last 10 years.

Since 2005, the US has accepted a total of 675,982 refugees from regions all over the world, according to data from the Refugee Processing Center, an arm of the US Department of Justice’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. President Barack Obama in September announced a plan for the US to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year, and has recently called on Americans to welcome Syrian families as modern-day pilgrims. But his campaign to show the US can shoulder more of the weight of Europe’s migrant crisis has faced its own challenges: Obama’s refugees plan has drawn criticism from several, mostly Republican state governors who cite security concerns for US citizens after the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris. Just last week, Texas filed a lawsuit against the federal government for moving forward with plans to resettle two Syrian families in the state—although in recent years, the state has taken in more refugees than any other in the US.

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Think this is what you call opportunism.

How Germany’s Right-Wing Tabloid Bild Learned to Love Refugees (BBG)

Bild’s 2015 embrace of refugees was as though Fox News had suddenly endorsed President Obama on climate change. Throughout September, Bild stayed upbeat, dramatizing the journeys of Syrians across the continent, rallying behind Merkel, and shaming European leaders such as David Cameron and Viktor Orbán, who closed their borders. If there were a common thread in Bild’s anti-Greece coverage and its pro-refugee coverage, it was a chest-beating confidence in Germany’s superiority to its European neighbors. Bild was one of the first German newspapers to print a photo of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian boy who drowned on Sept. 2; when some readers criticized the choice, Bild stood its ground, running a subsequent issue without any photos whatsoever.

At the same time, Bild developed “Wir Helfen” into a national campaign. It publicized the volunteer efforts of its readers; teamed with German soccer clubs to promote aid for refugees; and published in Arabic a free welcome guide for refugees in Berlin. “In the past, it was not so often that Germany gave a great example to the world,” Diekmann said. “This is a historic situation, and if we don’t take up this challenge, who else will be able to do so?” Few media critics have accepted Bild’s change of heart at face value. “They are really eager to be positive,” said Mats Schönauer, editor of BildBlog, Germany’s main media criticism outlet, which started in 2004 as a site devoted solely to pointing out Bild’s errors. “The question is first, how long does it last? And second, how honest is it?”

To Schönauer, Bild’s refugee coverage reeks of hypocrisy. “For years, they created this fire, and now they’re playing the role of fireman,” he said. Others attribute the coverage to opportunism. “Bild will never put itself against the mood on the ground of the population,” said Wolfgang Storz, former editor of the Frankfurter Rundschau. “If the mood in Germany swings against refugees, then Bild will undoubtedly campaign against refugees.” Diekmann does not dispute that Bild has largely tracked public opinion rather than shaped it. “No medium is strong enough to create a culture that is not actually there,” he said. “From the beginning, it was clear that this atmosphere would not be there all the time.” In early October, as public support for Merkel dipped, Bild’s tone began to waver.

On Oct. 8, Bild published a poll asking readers whether they supported Merkel or Horst Seehofer, the Bavarian politician who has emerged as the biggest critic of her refugee policy. Ninety% of Bild readers supported Seehofer. A few days later, the tabloid ran a story about a meeting in Sumte, a town of 100 people that was due to house 1,000 refugees in an empty office complex. It quoted one citizen who worried that refugees would rape women on Sumte’s poorly lit streets. “The question that lurks behind every question that is asked this evening: Is one allowed to say that one has fears about the large number of refugees? Or does that make one a Nazi?” the paper asked.

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Just another day at the office…

6 Afghan Migrant Children Drown Off Turkish Coast On Way To Greece (AP)

Turkey’s state-run news agency says six children have drowned after a rubber dinghy carrying Afghan migrants to Greece sank off Turkey’s Aegean coast. The Anadolu Agency said the coast guard rescued five migrants from the sea on Tuesday and were still looking for two others reported missing. The bodies of the children were recovered. Anadolu didn’t report their ages, but said one of them was a baby. The migrants were apparently hoping to make it to the island of Chios from the resort of Cesme despite bad weather. Turkey has stepped up efforts to stop migrants from leaving to Greece by sea. Last week, authorities rounded up around 3,000 migrants in the town of Ayvacik, north of Cesme, who were believed to be waiting to make the journey to the Greek island of Lesbos.

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For letting this happen, Brussels should be dismantled as soon as possible. This is a scar on all Europeans, for the rest of their lives.

11 Refugees, Including 5 Children, Drown Near Greek Island, 13 Missing (GR)

Eleven dead, including five children, is the latest toll in the ongoing inflow of refugees on Greek islands near the Turkish coasts. A Frontex boat received a call on Tuesday night about dozens of people in the water northeast of Farmakonisi island. A coast guard rescue boat and a Greek Navy gunboat rushed on the spot and rescued 26 people (17 men, 5 women and 4 children). The rescue team pulled out of the water five children, four men and two women dead, while the survivors said that there are 13 people missing. They said there were 50 passengers on the wooden boat that capsized, despite the fact that the weather conditions were good. A rescue mission is taking place in the area to locate the missing persons.

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Apr 162015
 
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NPC Sidney Lust Leader Theater, Washington, DC 1920

Greece In ‘Slow-Death Scenario’ Amid Defaults Fears (CNBC)
IMF Knocks Greek Debt Rescheduling Hopes (FT)
The Endgame For Greece Has Arrived (Zero Hedge)
Why The Grexit Is Inevitable – How About May 9th? (Raas Consulting)
UBS Says Europe Risks Bank Runs On Grexit (Zero Hedge)
Fed’s Bullard Says Rate Hikes Are Needed For Coming ‘Boom’ (MarketWatch)
Warren Says Auto Lending Reminds Her Of Pre-Crisis Housing Days (MarketWatch)
27% Of US Students Are Over A Month Behind On Their Loan Payments (Zero Hedge)
China’s True Economic Growth Rate: 1.6% (Zero Hedge)
The South (China) Sea Bubble (Corrigan)
Don’t Invest In ‘Unsustainable’ China: Professor (CNBC)
The Major Paradox at the Heart of the Chinese Economy (Bloomberg)
China Seen Expanding Mortgage Bonds to Revive Housing (Bloomberg)
Bonds Beware As Money Catches Fire In The US And Europe (AEP)
ECB’s Mario Draghi Says Stimulus Is Working (WSJ)
Schaeuble Says Greece Must Ditch False Hopes, Commit to Reform (Bloomberg)
Schaeuble Criticizes Greece for Backsliding as Time Runs Out (Bloomberg)
Australia’s Economy: Is The Lucky Country Running Out Of Luck? (Guardian)
US Military Lands in Ukraine (Ron Paul Inst.)
Greece In Talks With Russia To Buy Missiles For S-300 Systems (Reuters)
Putin to Netanyahu: Iran S-300 Air Defense System is .. Defensive (Juan Cole)
Vatican Announces Major Summit On Climate Change (ThinkProgress)

“It would be a slow-death scenario and in a way we are in this scenario. Something needs to change in order to avoid an accident..”

Greece In ‘Slow-Death Scenario’ Amid Defaults Fears (CNBC)

Greece faces a “slow-death scenario”—including a default and messy exit from the euro zone—one analyst warned Thursday, as the country’s economic crisis took another turn for the worse following a credit rating downgrade. BofA’s Thanos Vamvakidis warned Thursday that if Greece fails to reach a deal with its European partners, a Grexit—or Greek exit from the euro zone becomes inevitable. His comments come after Greece’s unresolved negotiations with its international creditors prompted ratings agency Standard & Poor’s to cut its credit rating to “CCC+” from “B-” with a negative outlook.

“Without an agreement (with creditors over reforms), without official funding, there is a very high probability that Greece will default sometime in May and this could lead to a very negative scenario,” Vamvakidis told CNBC Thursday. He said that although nobody wants that, “the more they delay the higher the risks.” “(A Grexit) is not going to be overnight. It would be a slow-death scenario and in a way we are in this scenario. Something needs to change in order to avoid an accident,” he added. Reform discussions between Greece and the bodies overseeing its bailout program—the EC, ECB and IMF—have been unsuccessful over recent weeks. The country’s creditors agreed to extend its bailout program by four months in February in order to give Greece’s new leftwing government more time to enact reforms.

Lack of progress on reforms means Greece’s last tranche of aid—needed in order to make loan repayments to the IMF and ECB in the coming weeks and months—has not been released. [..] Despite growing fears of a euro zone exit, some euro zone officials have refused to countenance such a scenario, which could bring with it significant upheaval and potentially disastrous consequences for the euro zone. Not only could a default and Grexit prompt capital controls to prevent bank runs, international financial isolation and the introduction of a new currency in Greece, it could threaten the future of the 19-country single currency bloc.

Knowing that any such talk could spark international panic over Greece and the intergrity of the euro zone and its currency, the European Central Bank’s President Mario Draghi dismissed fears of a Greek default Wednesday, saying he was not ready to even “contemplate” such a scenario. Officials in the U.S. have openly warned over the risks posed by Greece, however. Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, is due to meet U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew on Friday (along with the ECB’s Draghi and IMF officials).

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Time for some US pressure?

IMF Knocks Greek Debt Rescheduling Hopes (FT)

Greek officials have made an informal approach to the IMF to delay repayments of loans to the international lender, highlighting the parlous state of Greek finances, but were told that no rescheduling was possible. According to officials briefed on the talks by both sides, Athens was persuaded not to make a specific request for a delay to the Fund, which is owed almost a €1bn in two separate payments due in May. Although Athens was rebuffed, the discussions, which occurred in private earlier this month, are a sign that the Greek government is finding it increasingly difficult to scrape together enough money to continue to pay wages and pensions while meeting its debt payments to external lenders.

Officials representing Greece’s creditors are unsure whether Athens will be able to make the payments in May. Even if they do, they are certain that the matter will come to a head by June, before much larger payments on bonds held by the ECB start coming due.
IMF officials have repeatedly said that a rescheduling of repayments can only come as part of a completely renegotiated new bailout programme. Were it to miss a payment, Greece would become the first developed economy to go into arrears at the Fund, something only counties like Zaire and Zimbabwe have done in the past.

Greece informally raised the precedent of delaying IMF payments by at least one other developing country a generation ago in the 1980s. But IMF officials stuck to their guns saying that none of the underlying problems had been solved by payment delays. One source briefed on the approach said the proposal was to “reshuffle the repayment schedule for the IMF loan over the coming months,” allowing the new Greek government led by Alexis Tsipras to have the money to pay bills for pensions and public sector salaries while negotiating with European creditors over payment of the next tranche of bailout loans.

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“..the Greek Finance Minister “will on Friday meet with infamous sovereign debt lawyer Lee Buchheit, who has helped numerous countries restructure their debt.”

The Endgame For Greece Has Arrived (Zero Hedge)

To think it was just recently in September of last year when the S&P, seemingly unaware of the tragic reality facing Greece in just a few months (by reality we meen democratic elections which overthrew the previous regime which was merely a group of Troika picked technocrats), upgraded Greece to B and said “The upgrade reflects our view that risks to fiscal consolidation in Greece have abated.” Well, the risks have unabated, and two months after S&P flip-flopped and downgraded Greece back to B- on February 6, moments ago it downgraded it again, this time to triple hooks, aka the dreaded CCC+. S&P said that without deep economic reform or further relief, S&P expects Greece’s debt, other financial commitments to be unsustainable. S&P views that Greece increasingly depends on favorable business, financial, and economic conditions to meet its financial commitments.

The rater adds that “conditions have worsened due to the uncertainty stemming from the prolonged negotiations between the Greek govt and its official creditors” and that economic prospects could deteriorate further unless talks between Greece and its creditors conclude soon.” In short: Greece is about to default and/or exit the Eurozone so this time at least S&P is prepared. Ironically this comes a day before Varoufakis is set to meet with Obama. It will be followed by meetings with European Central Bank head Mario Draghi on Friday, Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew, Italy’s finance minister Pier Carlo Padoan and IMF officials. But, as City AM reports, the biggest news is that the Greek Finance Minister “will on Friday meet with infamous sovereign debt lawyer Lee Buchheit, who has helped numerous countries restructure their debt. Buchheit is a partner at top US law firm Cleary Gottlieb.”

It comes just a week before a vital meeting of Eurozone finance ministers on 24 April which could be the last chance Greece has of gaining extra funds before hefty repayments are due to its creditors in May.

As a reminder, “Lee Buchheit, a leading sovereign-debt attorney and the man who managed the eventual Greek debt restructuring in 2012, was harshly critical of the authorities’ failure to face up to reality. As he put it, “I find it hard to imagine they will now man up to the proposition that they delayed – at appalling cost to Greece, its creditors, and its official-sector sponsors – an essential debt restructuring.” The endgame for Greece has arrived.

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One kind of logic.

Why The Grexit Is Inevitable – How About May 9th? (Raas Consulting)

One thing in common for almost all of my Pinewood International Schools (TiHi to some) class of ’78 is that we left. Many still live in Greece and in Thessaloniki or have returned, and they are closest to the pain. The real pain of the past decade, that has destroyed wealth and hope. Unemployment is running at levels not see in Europe since after the war, and at levels that encouraged the socialist – fascist civil wars of the 1930s. Those did not end well.

But that does not explain why the Grexit is inevitable, and why it will happen very soon.
1) This is what the Greek people voted for. No, they did not vote to stay in the Euro, they voted for the party that said it would reduce the debt and meet pension obligations. The Greek people and voters are not stupid. They knew this could only happen by either the rest of Europe bailing out Greece again, or by leaving the Euro.
2) The Greek people know perfectly well that Europe is not going to bail them out, because to do so will only set everyone up for the next bailout.
3) The Greek people, and the rest of Europe, know full well that the debt will never be repaid, and that the Troika are now acting as nothing better than the enforcers of loan sharks.
4) Syriza knows that it had six months before the voters would throw them out, and once out, Syriza would never come back.
5) The Greeks needed to show “good faith” in actually attempting to negotiate a resolution with the Troika. This has now been done, and is failing.
6) The demand for reparations from Germany is designed not to actually extract the reparations, but to anger the Germans to the point that they will block any compromise that Syriza would have been required to accept.

The Greek government, elected by a battered and exploited Greek people, has been establishing the conditions that will give them the moral high ground (in the eyes of their voters) needed to actually leave the Euro. Having set the conditions, when will it happen? I’m still guessing May 9th. Why? Greece will leave the Euro, and they will do it sooner than later. They’ve made the April payment, but simply do not have the money for the May or June payments, and they cannot pass the legislation required by Europe and the Germans and stay in power. That gives us a late May or June date. So why earlier?

Capital flight. Imposing currency controls will be a fundamental element of any Grexit. Accounts will be frozen, and any money in accounts will be re-denominated in New Drachmas. Once the bank accounts are unfrozen, the residual, former Euros will now be worth whatever the New Drachma has dropped to, and the drop will be significant, over–correcting to the downside. Once it is accepted that the Grexit is coming and there will be no last minute deal, and with memories of Cyprus too fresh in every Greek’s mind, the money will flow out of the country. Not just corporate money (most of which is probably off-share already) but any remaining personal money in bank accounts. So Greece has to move before the coming Grexit is perceived as inevitable, and the money starts to flow out.

Weekend event. When the Grexit happens, it will be on a weekend. The banks will be closed, parliament will be called into emergency session, and a packet of laws will be passed. As this needs to be on a Saturday to avoid wholesale capital flight the moment that parliament is called into session, were it a weekday. This leaves only a few possible dates. And where there are few possible dates, I’m punting on the earlier date, so earlier in May. And looking at the calendar, that leaves us with May 2nd, 9th or 16th. My own guess is that the 2nd is too soon, and the 16th is too late. That leaves me guessing May 9th.

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It is pretty silly that anyone would doubt this. Or believe reassurances to the contrary.

UBS Says Europe Risks Bank Runs On Grexit (Zero Hedge)

UBS: When examining the risk of contagion from any possible Greek exit from the Euro we come back again and again to the fact that in every monetary union collapse of the last century, the trigger for breakup was not the bond markets, current account positions, or political will, but banks. If ordinary bank depositors lose faith in the integrity of a monetary union they will hasten its demise by shifting their money out of their banks – either into physical cash, or into banks domiciled in areas of the monetary union that are perceived as “stronger”. Both of these traits were evident in the US monetary union breakup, and have been in evidence in more recent events this century.

The contagion risk after a possible Greek exit arises if bank depositors elsewhere in the Euro area believe that a physical euro note held “under the mattress” at home today is worth more than a euro in a bank – because a euro in a bank might be forcibly converted into a national currency tomorrow. In a breakup scenario it is more likely that retail bank deposits withdrawn will end up as physical cash, owing to the difficulties of opening and using a bank account in a different country. This is not a question of banking system solvency. Highly solvent banks will be subject to deposit flight if it is the value of the currency in that country that is uncertain…

The contagion story is serious. Even if a depositor thinks that there is only a 1% chance their country will exit the Euro, why take a 1% chance that your life savings are forcibly converted into a perceived worthless currency if by acting quickly (and withdrawing deposits) one can have 100% certainty that your life savings remain in Euros? If Greece were to walk away from the Euro, then the policy makers of the Euro area would have to convince bank depositors across the Euro area that a Euro in their local banking system was worth the same as a Euro in another country’s banking system, and that the possibility of any other country exiting the Euro was nil. If that double guarantee was not utterly credible, then the risk of other countries joining Greece in exiting the Euro would be high.

This suggests that financial markets are treating the risks around Greek exit with too little regard for the probable dangers.

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Like before the recovery gets out of hand.

Fed’s Bullard Says Rate Hikes Are Needed For Coming ‘Boom’ (MarketWatch)

A leading hawk on the Federal Reserve on Wednesday made a case for raising interest rates soon, arguing the level needs to be appropriate for the coming “boom” for the U.S. economy. St. Louis Fed President James Bullard, speaking at the annual Hyman Minsky conference here, acknowledged a boom by current standards might not be the same as the growth in the late 1990s. He pointed out that even if gross domestic product expanded just 1.5% in the first quarter, the four-quarter growth rate would be about 3.3%.With the current potential growth around 2%, growth in the low 3% range “represents growth well above trend,” he said. The first reading on first-quarter GDP is due April 29. Unlike his colleagues, Bullard expects the unemployment rate to fall below 5% from a current level of 5.5%. Bullard said jobless rates in the 4% range are consistent with a boom.

In his remarks, he notably did not specify a month to lift interest rates, and asked by reporters afterwards, he said, “I’m being deliberately vague.” The June meeting is considered the first in which the Federal Open Market Committee will give serious consideration to lifting interest rates. His biggest fear from keeping low rates — they have been near zero for 6.5 years — is that they could lead to financial-stability problems later. He said asset valuations currently look fairly valued, with the notable exception of bonds which Fed policy influences. “So it’s hard to know what that really means.” But he pointed out that Fed policy typically impacts the economy with a lag. “Boom times ahead, plus us already charting out low interest rates, sounds like risky from a bubble perspective,” he said.

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She’s not the only one. But perhaps she should have said this a year ago.

Warren Says Auto Lending Reminds Her Of Pre-Crisis Housing Days (MarketWatch)

Senator Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday used a major address on financial regulation to chide automobile lending practices as she continued her criticism of the country’s largest banks. Warren was speaking on the topic of the unfinished business of financial reform, and looking at the financial sector five years after the passage of the Dodd-Frank reform law. Warren, the leading contender to block a Hillary Clinton presidential nomination on the Democratic side if she were to step into the race, took particular aim at the fast-growing automobile lending category. “Right now, the auto loan market looks increasingly like the pre-crisis housing market, with good actors and bad actors mixed together,” the Massachusetts Democrat said.

“The market is now thick with loose underwriting standards, predatory and discriminatory lending practices, and increasing repossessions.” Warren pointed out that car dealers got a specific exemption from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the agency which Warren all but singlehandedly brought to life. “It is no coincidence that auto loans are now the most troubled consumer financial product. Congress should give the CFPB the authority it needs to supervise car loans – and keep that $26 billion a year in the pockets of consumers where it belongs,” she said, referring to an estimate of dealer markups.

The CFPB has taken some steps in the area of automobile loans and has proposed a rule that would bring larger auto lenders that are not already banks under its jurisdiction. Warren was on more familiar ground with her call to break up the nation’s banks. She pointed out that last summer the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said 11 banks were risky enough to bring down the U.S. economy if they were to fail. She also blasted the Justice Department, the Federal Reserve and the Securities and Exchange Commission for timidity in going after major banks. “The DOJ and SEC sit by while the same giant financial institutions keep breaking the law — and, time after time, the government just says, ‘Please don’t do it again.’ ”

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How much further must this go before something is done?

27% Of US Students Are Over A Month Behind On Their Loan Payments (Zero Hedge)

As we’ve documented exhaustively in the past, the country is laboring under around $1.3 trillion in non-dischargeable loans to students which isn’t a good thing, especially in a country where the jobs driving the economic “recovery” have, until last month, been created in the food service industry and where wage growth is a concept reserved for only 20% of the workforce. It would seem that this could make it increasingly difficult for students to repay their debt, especially considering how quickly tuition costs have risen. In other words, tuition is going up, wages aren’t, and the latter point there is only relevant in the event you find a job that pays you a wage in the first place (i.e. where your compensation isn’t determined by the generosity of the “supervisory” Americans who can still afford to eat out).

The severity of the problem has been partially masked at times by the tendency to inflate the denominator when one goes to calculate delinquency rates. That is, if you include all student debt outstanding, even that in deferment or forbearance in the denominator, then clearly the delinquency rate will be biased to the downside because the numerator will by necessity only include those students who are currently in repayment. That’s really convenient if you want to make things look less bleak than they actually are.

Of course you can’t be delinquent when you aren’t yet required to make payments, so the more accurate way to calculate the figure would be to include only those students in repayment in the denominator. This apples-to-apples comparison is likely to paint much more accurate picture and sure enough, a new St. Louis Fed (who recently documented the shrinking American Middle Class) study finds that the delinquency rate for students in repayment is 27.3%, well above the 17% figure for all student borrowers. Here’s more:

[..] if we adjust the delinquency rate to consider that only a fraction of the borrowers have payments due, this level of delinquency is very concerning: A delinquency rate of 15% for all student loan borrowers implies a delinquency rate of 27.3% for borrowers with loans in repayment. This level of delinquency is much higher than for any other type of debt (credit cards, auto loans, mortgages, and so on).

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That feels more like it. Over 70% of capital invested in housing, which fell 6%…

China’s True Economic Growth Rate: 1.6% (Zero Hedge)

Cornerstone Macro reports, “Our China Real Economic Activity Index Slowed To Just 1.6% YY In 1Q.” The indicator in question looks at many of the components shown above, such as retail sales, car sales, rail freight, industrial production, and several others, to determine an accurate indicator of the true state of China’s economy. It finds that not only is China’s economic growth rate not rising at a 7.0% Y/Y rate, but is in fact the lowest it has been in modern history! And a 1.6% growth rate by what was formerly the world’s most rapidly growing (and largest according to the IMF) economy explains perfectly what happened with the US economy over the past 6 months. Hint: it has nothing to do with the winter, and everything to do with China hard landing into a brick wall.

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“China is currently enjoying the somewhat dubious fruits of one of the all-time great stock manias.”

The South (China) Sea Bubble (Corrigan)

The first hard data release of the month for China was hardly guaranteed to reassure. Two-way trade in USD terms dropped 6.3% in the first quarter from its level of a year ago, the second most severe setback since the Crash and only the third such instance in the whole era of ‘Opening Up’. From a strictly local perspective, the bad news was mitigated by the fact that exports managed to eke out a modest YOY gain of 4.7% (though that still means they were effectively unchanged from 2013 levels) and so the trade surplus was left at a record seasonal high. For the rest of us, however, anxious as we are to sell more of our wares to China, there was no such comfort. Imports plunged by more than a sixth to a four-year low, registering a drop which, if nowhere near as large in percentage terms, was, when measured in numbers of dollars, equal to that suffered in the global freeze which ensued in the aftermath of the Lehman collapse.

Though it always does to await the full data release for the first quarter – given the inordinate impact on comparisons of that highly moveable feast, the Lunar New Year – these numbers are fully consonant with the evidence presented during the first two months which showed flat non-residential electricity use and rail freight volumes down to seven year seasonal lows. It is undoubtedly the case that the bulk of the pain being felt is concentrated where it should be – up in the dirty, surplus capacity-plagued end of heavy industry and extraction – but, nevertheless, Chinese data show that 12-month running profits have dwindled to zero (if we strip out companies’ non-core – qua speculative – activities) and that for the last three months for which we have numbers they had actually declined in a manner not seen since the world stood still in late 2008/early 2009.

Revenue growth was also sickly, while balance sheets continue to swell with debt and receivables. Granted, private joint-stock companies continue to outperform their state-owned peers – or so the NBS would have us believe – but, even here, core profit growth over the whole of 2014 was a mere 4.2% with turnover up 9.2% (suggesting that margins simultaneously contracted). In such an environment, you might think that investor spirits would be dampened but, as anyone who has opened a paper in recent days will be aware, that is very much far from being the case.

Indeed, China is currently enjoying the somewhat dubious fruits of one of the all-time great stock manias. The CSI300 composite of Shanghai and Shenzhen equities has double since last July, with the seven-eighths of those gains coming in the last six months and almost a third of them in the past six weeks. With first Y1 trillion then Y1.5 trillion trading days being recorded and with 1.6 million [sic] new trading accounts being opened in the latest week for which we have the numbers, it is easy to see that this has rapidly degenerated into an indiscriminate free-for-all.

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“..a Keynesian-on-steroids stimulus that occurs at the municipal level by building all sorts of public infrastructure that requires stealing land from farmers..”

Don’t Invest In ‘Unsustainable’ China: Professor (CNBC)

China bear Peter Navarro is telling investors not to put their money in the country because its economic model is unsustainable. “What you got is a mercantilist export-driven model for China coupled with a Keynesian-on-steroids stimulus that occurs at the municipal level by building all sorts of public infrastructure that requires stealing land from farmers,” the University of California, Irvine economics professor told CNBC’s “Power Lunch” on Wednesday. Navarro, who co-wrote “Death By China,” attributes China’s slowing growth to less demand coming from the U.S. and Europe for Chinese exports.

“The problem is simply that Europe and the U.S., which provided the 10% growth year after year for three decades, are now too weak to sustain that,” he said. In addition, China is facing rising wages, labor issues, water shortages and a stock market and real estate bubble, Navarro said. On Wednesday, China’s statistics bureau announced that GDP grew an annual 7% in the first quarter, slowing from 7.3% in the previous quarter. That was the country’s slowest pace of growth in six years, suggesting the world’s second-largest economy was still losing momentum.

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“..every investment-led growth miracle in the last 100 years has broken down.”

The Major Paradox at the Heart of the Chinese Economy (Bloomberg)

“The latest GDP report underscores offsets coming from China’s services-led transformation — a key underpinning of consumer demand,” said Stephen Roach… “I suspect the economy is close to bottoming and could well begin to pick up over the balance of this year.” Chinese officialdom has little choice but to tap on the brakes of the old-line economy. Years of politically driven investment with diminishing returns led to too much debt and industrial overcapacity, as well as ghost towns with unfinished hotels and unoccupied residential towers. Bad debt piled up at a faster pace at China’s big state banks in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, the country’s total debt — government, corporate and household — rose to about $28 trillion by mid-2014, according to an estimate by McKinsey, or about 282% of GDP.

Xi and Premier Li Keqiang are trying to defuse that debt bomb, rein in banks and local governments and promote the nation’s stock markets as a primary way for innovative and smaller companies to raise capital. Both leaders say they’ve mapped out more than 300 reforms that over time will reduce state intervention in the economy. Among the initiatives is scaling back energy-price controls that favor manufacturers. The changes are also designed to improve the social safety net and encourage market-driven deposit rates to get Chinese families saving less and spending more.

Few countries with the scale of China’s credit boom have escaped unscathed without experiencing some sort of banking crisis. Research by Michael Pettis, a finance professor at Peking University, shows that “every investment-led growth miracle in the last 100 years has broken down.” Avoiding that fate requires a high-wire balancing act for the government. It needs to wind down the torrent of investment – 49% of China’s GDP from 2010 to 2014 – without cratering the economy and worsening the situation for indebted local governments or the bad-debt burden of Chinese banks.

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Anything goes by now?!

China Seen Expanding Mortgage Bonds to Revive Housing (Bloomberg)

China is poised to expand mortgage bonds to lift its slumping real estate market that accounts for a third of the economy. Officials will likely allow banks to sell commercial mortgage-backed notes for the first time by the end of the year after reviving securities tied to home loans in 2014, according to China Merchants Securities Co. and China Chengxin International Credit Rating Co. The offerings, which help banks boost mortgage lending by freeing space on balance sheets, will grow “substantially” this year, China Credit Rating Co. said. The government of Premier Li Keqiang eased home-purchase rules after new housing prices slid in many cities across China in February.

Authorities, who halted securitization in 2009 after subprime mortgage bonds triggered the global financial crisis, are returning to such offerings to spur an economy growing at the slowest pace since 1990. “The launch of commercial mortgage-backed securities may send a strong policy signal because it will give banks more space to lend money directly to property developers,” said Zuo Fei, a Shenzhen-based director of structured finance at China Merchants Securities, underwriter of the first RMBS deal this year. “The regulators are trying to improve property purchases in a gradual and an appropriate way.”

The People’s Bank of China on March 30 cut the required down payment for some second homes to 40% from 60% and has reduced benchmark interest rates twice since November. The central bank and the China Banking Regulatory Commission said on Sept. 30 that they will encourage lenders to issue mortgage-backed securities. The government is trying balance efforts to provide new financing with steps to rein in unprecedented borrowing. Real estate companies sold a record $44.4 billion-equivalent of bonds in 2014, data compiled by Bloomberg show. In the latest sign of industry stress, Kaisa Group Holdings Ltd., based in the southern city of Shenzhen, is seeking a restructuring that would impose noteholder losses, fueling speculation that builder defaults may spread.

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Is Ambrose seeking to offset the bleak views he posted lately?

Bonds Beware As Money Catches Fire In The US And Europe (AEP)

Be thankful for small mercies. The world economy is no longer in a liquidity trap. The slide into deflation has, for now, run its course. The broad M3 money supply in the US has been soaring at an annual rate of 8.2pc over the past six months, harbinger of a reflationary boomlet by year’s end. Europe is catching up fast. A dynamic measure of eurozone M3 known as Divisia – tracked by the Bruegel Institute in Brussels – is back to growth levels last seen in 2007. History may judge that the ECB launched quantitative easing when the cycle was already turning, but Italy’s debt trajectory needs all the help it can get. The full force of monetary expansion – not to be confused with liquidity, which can move in the opposite direction – will kick in just as the one-off effects of cheap oil are washed out of the price data.

“Forecasters ignore broad money at their peril,” says Gabriel Stein, at Oxford Economics. Inflation will soon be flirting with 2pc across the Atlantic world. Within a year, the global economic landscape will look entirely different, with an emphasis on the word “look”. In my view this will prove to be mini-cyclical in a world of “secular stagnation” and deficient demand, but mini-cycles can be powerful. Mr Stein said total loans in the US are now growing at a faster rate (six-month annualised) than during the five-year build-up to the Lehman crisis. “The risk is that the Fed will have to raise rates much more quickly than the markets expect. This is what happened in 1994,” he said. That episode set off a bond rout. Yields on 10-year US Treasuries rose 260 basis points over 15 months, resetting the global price of money. It detonated Mexico’s Tequila crisis.

Bonds are even more vulnerable to a reflation shock today. You need a very strong nerve to buy German 10-year Bunds at the current yield of 0.16pc, or French bonds at 0.43pc, at time when EMU money data no longer look remotely “Japanese”. Granted, there may be tactical reasons for buying Bunds, even at negative yields out to eight years maturity. Supply is drying up. Berlin is pursuing a budget surplus with religious zeal, paying down €18bn of debt over the past year. It has left the Bundesbank little to buy as it launches its share of QE. Yet this is collecting pfennigs on the rails of a high-speed train. The German property market is on the cusp of a boom. David Roberts, of Kames Capital, warns of a “poisonous cocktail” of resurgent inflation and rising wages. “If you look at Bunds in anything other than the shortest possible timescale, the risk becomes very clear.”

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Dick Tator. Mr. Dick Tator.

ECB’s Mario Draghi Says Stimulus Is Working (WSJ)

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said the bank’s stimulus efforts are beginning to take hold in the European economy and batted away concerns in financial markets that the bank may have to end its more than €1 trillion ($1.1 trillion) asset purchase program early. Mr. Draghi’s Wednesday news conference, held after the ECB decided to keep interest rates and other policies unchanged, was briefly interrupted by a confetti-throwing protester who jumped on the table where Mr. Draghi was seated and shouted “end the ECB dictatorship” as he began his opening remarks.

Mr. Draghi, who appeared unfazed by the ruckus after being whisked away by his bodyguards to a side room for a few minutes, said the bank’s stimulus drive is “finally finding its root” in the economy through easier credit conditions and lower inflation-adjusted interest rates. “The euro area economy has gained further momentum since the end of 2014,” said Mr. Draghi. “We expect the economic recovery to broaden and strengthen gradually.” Still, Mr. Draghi said the region’s recovery depends on full implementation of the ECB’s policies. Those include a record-low lending rate that the ECB kept unchanged Wednesday; cheap four-year loans to banks; and a €60 billion-a-month program to buy mostly government bonds that the ECB launched last month and intends to continue through September 2016.

On Tuesday, the IMF raised its forecast for eurozone growth this year to 1.5% from 1.2%. Though well below the levels of growth the U.S. has achieved during its recovery, it was a welcome development for a region that last year narrowly escaped its third recession in six years. Mr. Draghi cited a long list of reasons why this recovery should continue whereas previous ones have faltered. Lower oil prices, which cut costs for businesses and households, are joining the ECB’s stimulus in boosting the economy, Mr. Draghi said, noting that business and consumer confidence is up and that there should be fewer headwinds from fiscal policy.

[..] Mr. Draghi also played down concerns that the superlow interest rates brought on by the ECB’s policies could fuel bubbles in financial markets. “So far we have not seen evidence of any bubble,” he said, adding that regulatory policies, known as macroprudential tools, would be “the first line of defense” if imbalances started to form. He sidestepped questions about how the ECB would react in the event Greece isn’t able to reach agreement with its international creditors to unlock bailout funds, saying developments are “entirely in the hands of the Greek government.”

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Schaeuble needs to stop telling Greece what to do.

Schaeuble Says Greece Must Ditch False Hopes, Commit to Reform (Bloomberg)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble ruled out further concessions to Greece, saying it’s up to the Greek government to commit to the reforms needed to release aid rather than give false hopes to its people. Schaeuble, speaking in a Bloomberg Television interview in New York on Wednesday, said that another debt restructuring wasn’t up for discussion now, and that Greek demands for war reparations from Germany were “completely unrealistic.” “It’s entirely down to Greece,” said Schaeuble, 72. While some kind of restructuring might be on the agenda in 10 years, “today the issue for Greece is reforming its economy in such a way that it becomes competitive at some point.”

Greece’s plight is deepening with no end in sight to the standoff with creditors over releasing the final installment of bailout aid that has been stalled since the January election of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s anti-austerity government. Greek 10-year bond yields surged and bank stocks plunged to their lowest level in at least 20 years on Wednesday after a report in Die Zeit newspaper the German government was working on a plan to keep Greece in the euro area if the country defaulted, triggering a halt to European Central Bank funding. “We don’t have such plans, and if we were working on them – because ministry staff are taking just about everything into consideration – then we would definitely not talk about it,” said Schaeuble. “It makes no sense to speculate about it.”

With a monthly bill of about €1.5 billion for pensions and salaries and repayments to its international creditors looming, Greece is targeting next week’s meeting of euro-area finance ministers in Riga, Latvia, as a deadline for unlocking the funds. While Schaeuble said earlier Wednesday that “no one” in the euro region expects a resolution of the standoff by the Riga meeting on April 24, he softened his tone in the interview, saying that the end of the program on June 30 was the only deadline that mattered. “If Greece wants support, we will give this support as in recent years, but of course within the framework of what we agreed,” he said. While the decisions ultimately lie with Greece, “whatever happens: we know that Greece is part of the European Union and that we also have a responsibility for Greece and we will never disregard this solidarity.”

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“..Tsipras’s government had “destroyed” progress made by previous administrations..” That’s the progress that led to hungry children?!

Schaeuble Criticizes Greece for Backsliding as Time Runs Out (Bloomberg)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble criticized Greece for backsliding on reforms, saying that “no one” expects a resolution next week of the standoff with Alexis Tsipras’s government over untapped bailout funds. Schaeuble, in his first comments on the matter since before the Easter holidays, said Tsipras’s government had “destroyed” progress made by previous administrations in overhauling the Greek economy. “It’s a tragedy,” he said Wednesday at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, adding that the country needed to become competitive to stop being a “bottomless pit.” The comments by the finance chief of the region’s biggest economy underscored the rising concern in European capitals that Greece is running out of time to unfreeze the aid needed to keep the country afloat.

Standard & Poor’s cut Greece’s rating Wednesday, citing the country’s deteriorating outlook. Schaeuble is among European officials who are skeptical that there’s enough time to work out a deal ahead of a meeting of euro-area finance ministers at the end of next week in Riga, Latvia, to assess whether Greece has made enough progress to warrant a disbursement from its €240 billion bailout fund. Leaders are pressuring Greece to submit specific reforms as the country runs out of cash and faces debt payments and monthly salary obligations in the coming weeks.

Germany said Wednesday that an aid payment from the bailout fund won’t happen this month, and that Greece’s negotiations with creditors have failed to move forward. “I said last time that there has been progress, but that really there is still a considerable need for negotiations,” Friederike von Tiesenhausen, a German Finance Ministry spokeswoman, said. “Things have not really changed.” Greece’s credit rating was lowered one level to CCC+, with a negative outlook, by S&P, which estimated that the country’s economy contracted close to 1% in the past six months. The downgrade leaves the nation’s rating seven steps into junk territory.

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“..taxes might have to go up to cover a $25bn budget black hole caused by falling commodity prices..” “..BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto launched a huge expansion which saw mining investment as a percentage of the Australian economy peak at a whopping 7% in 2012. ”

Australia’s Economy: Is The Lucky Country Running Out Of Luck? (Guardian)

After 24 years of uninterrupted economic growth, Australia is entering the kind of difficult waters experienced by every other major developed country in the past decade. Even if Thursday’s unemployment figures show more jobs were added last month, the Coalition is set to go into the next election with an unusually gloomy outlook. Australians are finding it harder to get a job than at any time in more than decade and those who are in work are seeing the weakest wage growth for two decades. There are even fears that taxes might have to go up to cover a $25bn budget black hole caused by falling commodity prices. As one leading economist put it, the lucky country is running out of luck. Growth is still on target for a healthy at 2.8% for this year, according to the IMF, the kind of number that would send European leaders scrambling for the tweet button.

But the question of whether Australia loses its remarkable record of continuous growth depends, as with almost everything else in the economy, on what happens in China. “Australia has gone 24 years without a recession thanks to good management and good luck,” said Saul Eslake at BoA in Sydney. “Up to the early 2000s it was managed well and then it wasn’t. But then the luck improved because of China’s huge stimulus after the global financial crisis. Now the luck is running out.” The slowdown in the world’s second biggest economy is now well and truly underway. Demand for Australia’s iron ore and coal has plummeted from a decade ago as Beijing seeks to scale back its huge building schemes and create a more consumer-led economy. The price of the steel-making commodity, Australia’s biggest export, has fallen from $130 at the start of 2014 to around $50. Coal has halved in price in the past four years.

Buoyed by the good times, resource companies led by BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto launched a huge expansion which saw mining investment as a percentage of the Australian economy peak at a whopping 7% in 2012. The new output from their giant mines in Western Australia is now hitting the market, making export figures look healthy but adding to the pressure on prices and leaving Australia with a potentially wretched hangover.

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How does this not violate the Minsk agreement?

US Military Lands in Ukraine (Ron Paul Inst.)

Paratroopers from the US Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade have arrived in Ukraine to begin training that country’s national guard and provide it with new military equipment. The Ukrainian government took power in a US-backed coup in early 2014 and has waged war on eastern provinces that wish to breakaway from what they see as an illegitimate government. The US military action, dubbed “Operation Fearless Guardian,” will improve the Washington-backed faction’s ability to wage war against the breakaway regions, but at least in spirit will violate the “Minsk II” ceasefire agreement which mandates a “pullout of all foreign armed formations, military equipment.”

The US military involvement on behalf of the US-backed government in Kiev comes at a key time in the shaky ceasefire. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has noted a serious increase in fighting in the breakaway eastern regions of Ukraine and OSCE monitors have pointed the finger at US-backed Kiev as the instigator of these new attacks. The relevant OSCE report finds:

…that the Ukrainian side (assessed to be the Right Sector volunteer battalion) earlier had made an offensive push through the line of contact towards Zhabunki (“DPR”-controlled, 14km west-north-west of Donetsk…

The US military’s “Operation Fearless Guardian” will ultimately involve some 300 US Army personnel “training three battalions of Ukrainian troops in a range of infantry tactics.” With Ukraine’s US-backed president promising to “retake” the breakaway regions in the east despite having signed the ceasefire, it is clear that US training constitutes the beginning of direct US military involvement in the Ukrainian conflict. As such it is undeniably an escalation.

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Well, they sure have no money to buy entirely new systems.

Greece In Talks With Russia To Buy Missiles For S-300 Systems (Reuters)

Greece is negotiating with Russia for the purchase of missiles for its S-300 anti-missile systems and for their maintenance, Russia’s RIA news agency quoted Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos as saying on Wednesday. The report followed a visit by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras last week to Moscow, where he won pledges of Russian moral support and long-term cooperation but no fresh funds to help avert bankruptcy for his heavily indebted nation. NATO member Greece has been in possession of the Russian-made S-300 air defense systems since the late 1990s.

“We are limiting ourselves to replacement of missiles (for the systems),” RIA quoted Kammenos, who is in Moscow for a security conference, as saying. “There are negotiations between Russia and Greece on the maintenance of the systems … as well as for the purchase of new missiles for the S-300 systems,” he said. The Greek defense ministry in Athens later issued a statement quoting Kammenos as saying: “The existing defense cooperation programs will continue. There will be maintenance for the existing programs.”

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Paid for years ago.

Putin to Netanyahu: Iran S-300 Air Defense System is .. Defensive (Juan Cole)

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Tuesday with regard to the Russian Federation’s decision to go ahead with the sale to Iran of S-300 anti-aircraft batteries. Iran bought the batteries several years ago, but delivery was delayed by Moscow because of US and international pressure. The US has led the imposition of severe economic sanctions on Iran, perhaps the most severe ever applied to any country in modern history, including having Iran kicked off the SWIFT bank exchange. In deference to US wishes, Russia did not ship the system.

Two things have now changed. First, Russia and the US are not getting along nearly as well in the wake of the Russian annexation (or reclaiming, from Moscow’s point of view) of Crimea from Ukraine and its support for ethnically Russian fighters in Ukraine’s east. In fact, the US has begun imposing sanctions on Russia. In turn, Russia no longer has great regard for US wishes. Second, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany have concluded a framework agreement permitting Iran’s civilian nuclear enrichment program, which is aimed at imposing inspections and equipment restrictions that would make it very difficult if not impossible for Iran to break out and create a nuclear weapon.

Russia and China have been the least supportive of severe sanctions on Iran, and Russia appears to have decided that since the negotiations have reached a serious phase, it is time to go ahead with this deal, concluded some time ago. The announcement alarmed Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, whose government has often hinted around that it might bomb Iran. The Putin government issued a communique that “gave a detailed explanation of the logic behind Russia’s decision…emphasizing the fact that the tactical and technical specifications of the S-300 system make it a purely defensive weapon; therefore, it would not pose any threat to the security of Israel or other countries in the Middle East.”

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“..safeguard Creation … Because if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us!”

Vatican Announces Major Summit On Climate Change (ThinkProgress)

Catholic officials announced on Tuesday plans for a landmark climate change-themed conference to be hosted at Vatican later this month, the latest in Pope Francis’ faith-rooted campaign to raise awareness about global warming. The summit, which is scheduled for April 28 and entitled “Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity. The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development,” will draw together a combination of scientists, global faith leaders, and influential conservation advocates. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is slotted to offer the opening address, and organizers say the goal of the conference is to “build a consensus that the values of sustainable development cohere with values of the leading religious traditions, with a special focus on the most vulnerable.”

“[The conference hopes to] help build a global movement across all religions for sustainable development and climate change throughout 2015 and beyond,” read a statement posted on several Vatican-run websites. According to a preliminary schedule of events for the convening, attendees hope to offer a joint statement highlighting the “intrinsic connection” between caring for the earth and caring for fellow human beings, “especially the poor, the excluded, victims of human trafficking and modern slavery, children, and future generations.” The gathering will undoubtedly build momentum for the pope’s forthcoming encyclical on the environment, an influential papal document expected to be released in June or July.

The Catholic Church has a long history of championing conservation and green initiatives, but Francis has made the climate change a fixture of his papacy: he directly addressed the issue during his inaugural mass in 2013, and told a crowd in Rome last May that mistreating the environment is a sin, insisting that believers “safeguard Creation … Because if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us! Never forget this!” The Vatican also held a five-day summit on sustainability in 2014, calling together microbiologists, economists, legal scholars, and other experts to discuss ways to address climate change.

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