Mar 192018
 
 March 19, 2018  Posted by at 9:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Ernest R. Ashton Evening near the Pyramids 1898

 

Facebook And Cambridge Analytica Face Mounting Pressure Over Data Scandal (G.)
Boris Johnson Ramps Up Anti-Russia Rhetoric (G.)
Why Default Rates Are Subdued Even As Corporate Debt Levels Hit Records (MW)
How Seriously is the Treasury Market Taking the Fed? (WS)
65% of Americans Save Little or Nothing (CNBC)
Developing Countries At Risk From US Rate Rise, Debt Charity Warns (G.)
Rising US Interest Rates May Damage Gulf Economies (MEE)
Kim Jong-Un Has Committed To Denuclearisation, Says South Korea (G.)
Kim Jong-Un Caught Off Guard by Trump’s Quick Agreement to Meet (BBG)
Japan: Embattled Shinzo Abe Blames Staff Over Land Sale Scandal (AFP)
Apple Is Secretly Developing Its Own Screens for the First Time (BBG)
Canadian Household Debt Hits Record $1.8 Trillion (CP)
German Interior Minister Wants More Internal EU Border Controls (DW)
Water Shortages Could Affect 5 Billion People By 2050 – UN (G.)

 

 

Facebook knows more about you than your friends and family do. No, really. But it can’t figure out -for years- that its data are being downloaded and used?! Yeah, I’ll buy that.

The real issue here should be what Facebook itself uses its -or should that be ‘your’- data for, and what intelligence services do with it.

Facebook And Cambridge Analytica Face Mounting Pressure Over Data Scandal (G.)

Facebook and that worked with Donald Trump’s election team have come under mounting pressure, with calls for investigations and hearings to explain a vast data breach that affected tens of millions of people. In Britain, the head of the parliamentary committee investigating fake news accused Cambridge Analytica and Facebook of misleading MPs after revelations in the Observer that more than 50m Facebook profiles were harvested and used to build a system that may have influenced voters in the 2016 presidential campaign. The Conservative MP Damian Collins said he would call the heads of both companies, Alexander Nix and Mark Zuckerberg, to give further testimony.

His intervention came after a whistleblower spoke to the Observer and described how the profiles, mostly of US voters, were harvested for Cambridge Analytica, in one of Facebook’s biggest ever data breaches. The disclosures caused outrage on both sides of the Atlantic; in the US, a state attorney general has called for investigations and greater accountability and regulation. There have been reports that Cambridge Analytica is trying to stop the broadcast of a Channel 4 News exposé in which Nix is said to talk unguardedly about the company’s practices. According to the Financial Times, reporters posed as prospective clients and secretly filmed a series of meetings, including one with the chief executive. The report is due to air this week.

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Very little credibility so far. From descriptions of the nerve agent, it would seem impossible that “..at least 38 people in Salisbury had been identified as having been affected by it..” and all lived to tell it. Is the whole Novichok story a fabrication? Know what, Boris? Why not show the proof you claim to have?!

Boris Johnson Ramps Up Anti-Russia Rhetoric (G.)

Boris Johnson will today seek to convince the EU foreign affairs council to join him in fresh condemnation of Russia after his explosive claims that Moscow has been creating and stockpiling nerve agent novichok and working out how to use it for assassinations. Scientists from the UN-backed Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons arrive today to analyse samples of the agent used to poison the former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. The foreign secretary made his claims after Russian EU ambassador Vladimir Chizhov issued blanket denials and said British agents might have used their stockpiles at Porton Down.

As the row enters its third week, Johnson dismissed Chizhov’s comments, saying they were “not the response of a country that really believes it’s innocent”. On Sunday, Vladimir Putin, fresh from a profoundly unsurprising electoral victory, denied any such nerve agents existed and said the idea of carrying out such a killing during an election campaign would be “rubbish, drivel, nonsense”. The latest theory to gain prominence is that the Skripals were poisoned via his car’s ventilation system. The report, from ABC news in the US, came as counter-terrorism police renewed their appeal for sightings of Skripal’s burgundy BMW 320D saloon car on 4 March. ABC also reported that at least 38 people in Salisbury had been identified as having been affected by the nerve agent.

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Zero interest rates?!

Why Default Rates Are Subdued Even As Corporate Debt Levels Hit Records (MW)

U.S. corporate debt levels stand above crisis highs even as default rates among the most leveraged firms remain subdued. With an economy hitting its stride, it’s perhaps no surprise that the high-yield bond market is placid. The extent of the divergence between debt levels and defaults, however, is worrying to some analysts who feel rising corporate indebtedness will eventually catch out unwary investors and deflate the junk-bond market. But beyond complacency John Lonski at Moody’s Capital Market Research, argued that globalization and the tendency of U.S. businesses to hoard cash as reasons why corporate debt levels may no longer move in sync with default rates and credit spreads.

The high-yield default rate in the fourth-quarter of 2017 fell to 3.3%, even as U.S. nonfinancial-corporate debt ended in 2017 at 45.4% of GDP. This compares with a much higher default rate of 11.1% in the second quarter of 2009, with corporate debt levels at 45% of GDP. Granted, the current levels come with the economy in the eighth year of an expansion, while the second quarter of 2009 marked the final quarter of the longest and deepest U.S. recession since the Great Depression. The yield spread between high-yield bonds and safe government paper, as represented by the 10-year Treasury note narrowed to an average 3.63 percentage points in the fourth quarter of 2017, from an average 12.02 percentage points in the second quarter of 2009.

The tight credit spreads reflects that borrowing costs are still close to historic lows, and that investors are demanding minimum compensation for holding arguably the riskiest debt in the bond market. One answer “might be supplied by the ever increasing globalization of U.S. businesses where the more relevant denominator is not U.S. GDP, but world GDP” said Lonski. The fortunes of U.S. companies are now wove into the broader global economy. When commodity prices took a hit in 2015 and early 2016, crimping growth in China and other emerging markets, high-yield bonds were also slammed.

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If they keep up the forward guidance, everyone will sleep on. But will the yield spread sleep too?

How Seriously is the Treasury Market Taking the Fed? (WS)

Back in October 2015, the three-month Treasury yield was 0%. Many on Wall Street said that the Fed could never raise interest rates, that the zero-interest-rate policy had become a permanent fixture, like in Japan, and that the Fed could never unload the securities it had acquired during QE. How things have changed! On Friday, the three-month Treasury yield closed at 1.78%, the highest since August 19, 2008. When yields rise, by definition bond prices fall:

Back in October 2015, the three-month Treasury yield was 0%. Many on Wall Street said that the Fed could never raise interest rates, that the zero-interest-rate policy had become a permanent fixture, like in Japan, and that The Fed’s target range for the federal funds rate has been 1.25% to 1.50% since its last rate hike at the December FOMC meeting. In other words, the three-month yield is already above the upper limit of the Fed’s target range after the next rate hike. So the market has fully priced in a rate hike at the FOMC meeting ending March 21. And it’s also starting to price in another rate hike in June. In this rate-hike cycle, the Fed has engaged in policy action only at meetings that are followed by a press conference.

There are four of these press-conference meetings per year. The next two are this week and June. If, in this cycle, the Fed hike rates at an FOMC meeting that is not followed by a press conference – there are also four of them this year – it would be considered a “monetary shock” that the Fed decided to administer to the markets. It would be like a rate hike of 50 basis points instead of the expected 25 basis points. There would be a hue and cry in the markets around the world. But I think the Fed isn’t ready to spring that on the markets just yet. Maybe later. The two-year yield rose to 2.31% on Friday, the highest since August 29, 2008:

Back in October 2015, the three-month Treasury yield was 0%. Many on Wall Street said that the Fed could never raise interest rates, that the zero-interest-rate policy had become a permanent fixture, like in Japan, and that In past rate hike cycles, the two-year yield reacted faster to rate-hike expectations than the 10-year yield. This is happening now as well. The 10-year yield has its own dynamics that are not in lockstep with the Fed’s rate-hike scenario. On Friday, the 10-year yield closed at 2.85%, within the same range where it had been since late February, tantalizingly close to 3%:

Back in October 2015, the three-month Treasury yield was 0%. Many on Wall Street said that the Fed could never raise interest rates, that the zero-interest-rate policy had become a permanent fixture, like in Japan, and that [..] After the surge of the two-year yield, the difference between the two-year and the 10-year yield – the “two-10 spread” – has narrowed again. On Friday, it was at 54 basis points. In the chart below, note the narrowing at the end of last year to 50 basis points, then the mini-spike, as the 10-year yield surged faster than the two-year yield, and the recent fallback:

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Always the same braindead question: “What’s keeping Americans from saving?” We still don’t know?!

65% of Americans Save Little or Nothing (CNBC)

Despite a low unemployment rate and increasing wage growth, Americans still aren’t saving much. That’s according to a new survey from Bankrate.com, which found that 20% of Americans don’t save any of their annual income at all and even those who do save aren’t putting away a lot. Only 16% of survey respondents say that they save more than 15% of what they make, which is what experts generally recommend. A quarter of respondents report saving between 6 and 10% of their income and 21% say they sock away 5% or less.

At this rate, many people could be setting themselves up to fall short in retirement, Bankrate warns. “With a steady, significant share of the working population saving nothing or relatively little, it’s virtually guaranteed that they’ll be unable to afford a modest emergency expense or finance retirement,” says Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate. “That amounts to a financial fail.” The economy might be prospering now, but that won’t last forever: “The party has to stop sometime, and when it does, employers will lay off workers,” the study says. In fact, Bankrate estimates that half of the American population won’t be able to maintain their standard of living once they stop working.

A report from GoBankingRates found similar results: Over 40% of Americans have less than $10,000 saved for when they retire. What’s keeping Americans from saving? “Expenses” was the No. 1 answer of 39% of respondents. Another 16% say they don’t have a “good enough job” to be able to save, which presumably means they aren’t earning enough. “The average American has less than $5,000 in a financial account, a quarter to a fifth of what you should have, and those aged 55 to 64 who have retirement savings only carry $120,000 — which won’t last long in the absence of paychecks,” the survey reports.

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How strong will this make the dollar?

Developing Countries At Risk From US Rate Rise, Debt Charity Warns (G.)

The expected rise in US interest rates will increase financial pressures on developing countries already struggling with a 60% jump in their debt repayments since 2014, a leading charity has warned. The Jubilee Debt Campaign said a study of 126 developing nations showed that they were devoting more than 10% of their revenues on average to paying the interest on money borrowed – the highest level since before the G7 agreement to write off the debts of the world’s poorest nations at Gleneagles, Scotland, in 2005. Five of the countries on the charity’s list – Angola, Lebanon, Ghana, Chad and Bhutan – were spending more than a third of government revenues on servicing debts.

Developing country debt moved down the international agenda following the Gleneagles agreement in which the G7 industrial countries agreed to spend £30bn writing off the debts owed to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank by the 18 poor countries. But developing country debt is now once again being closely monitored by the IMF, which says 30 of the 67 poor countries it assesses are in debt distress or at risk of being so. Lending to developing countries almost doubled between 2008 and 2014 as low interest rates in the west led to a search for higher-yielding investments. A boom in commodity prices meant many poor countries borrowed in anticipation of tax receipts that have not materialised.

But the Jubilee Debt Campaign said the boom–bust in commodity prices was only one factor behind rising debt, pointing out that some countries were paying back money owed by former dictators, while others had been struggling with high debts for many years but had not been eligible for help. The campaign said developing countries were also vulnerable to a rise in global interest rates as central banks withdrew the support they have been providing since 2008. [..] The US Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates this week – with the financial markets expecting two or three further upward moves during 2018.

Tim Jones, an economist at the Jubilee Debt Campaign, said: “Debt payments for many countries have risen rapidly as a result of a lending boom and fall in commodity prices. The situation may worsen further as US dollar interest rates rise, and as other central banks reduce monetary stimulus. Debt payments are reducing government budgets when more spending is needed to meet the sustainable development goals.”

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A few economies that have not done well.

Rising US Interest Rates May Damage Gulf Economies (MEE)

[..]The latest available data shows that Oman, for instance, has a debt equivalent to 31.4% of their GDP for 2016, which is up from 4.9% in 2014, according to TradingEconomics.com. That jump in debt coincided with a fall in oil prices from more than $100 a barrel in mid-2014 to a low of $26 in early 2016. Rising rates also tend to increase costs for businesses, says Rosso. And the higher costs of borrowing ultimately means that fewer businesses that request loans from banks will receive the money they need. In short, growth in the available credit in the economy will slow. If we learned nothing else from the financial crisis of 2008-2009, it is that the world of business runs on credit. Slower credit growth usually means slower economic growth.

The base case is that among the countries with the dollar peg such as Saudi Arabia, UAE and Oman, the increased interest rates will likely drag on growth for their economies. The timing is really pretty bad for some of the countries involved. For instance, the Saudi economy shrank by 0.43% in the quarter ending September 2017, according to TradingEconomics.com. The prior quarter was worse; the economy sank 1.03%. Two quarters of negative growth is generally seen as a recession. Will the impact of rising rates push Saudi’s economy back into another recession? It’s hard to tell so far, but there is a risk. Similar problems seem likely for some other countries in the dollar-peg group.

The latest data from Oman is awful as well, although not as recent as that on Saudi Arabia. That economy contracted 14.1% in 2015, followed by another 5.1% decline in 2016. Likewise, the UAE has seen its growth steadily decline in each of the five years through 2016 from 6.9% to 3% most recently. That would not be bad for economic growth, but it is going in the wrong direction.

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That’s quite the statement.

Kim Jong-Un Has Committed To Denuclearisation, Says South Korea (G.)

South Korea’s foreign minister has said that North Korea’s leader has “given his word” that he is committed to denuclearization, a prime condition for a potential summit with President Donald Trump in May. Trump has agreed to what would be historic talks after South Korean officials relayed that Kim Jong-un was committed to ridding the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons and was willing to halt nuclear and missile tests. North Korea hasn’t publicly confirmed the summit plans, and a meeting place isn’t known. South Korea’s Kang Kyung-wha said Seoul has asked the North “to indicate in clear terms the commitment to denuclearization” and she says Kim’s “conveyed that commitment.” She told the CBS programme Face the Nation that “he’s given his word” and it’s “the first time that the words came directly” from the North’s leader.

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Only include this because it’s exactly what I said last week. Kim still hasn’t publicly agreed to meet.

Kim Jong-Un Caught Off Guard by Trump’s Quick Agreement to Meet (BBG)

U.S. President Donald Trump’s immediate willingness to meet Kim Jong Un for nuclear talks likely caught the North Korean leader by surprise, forcing him to consider his position before responding publicly, the South Korean foreign minister said. “We were all quite surprised by the readiness of that decision,” South Korea’s Kang Kyung-wha said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday. “It was an extremely courageous decision on the part of President Trump. We believe the North Korean leader is now taking stock.” Trump agreed to meet with Kim on March 8 after a briefing from South Korean officials.

The summit, expected to take place in a few months, would represent the first time a U.S. president has met a North Korean leader – either Kim or his father or grandfather – and is part of an overall strategy to dismantle that nation’s rapidly advancing nuclear weapons program. Pyongyang has already detonated what it described as a hydrogen bomb capable of riding an intercontinental ballistic missile to cities across the U.S., and Kim has threatened to use nuclear arms against Americans. The summit, if it occurs, will likely follow an already-scheduled meeting between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in to take place in South Korea, at which denuclearization will also be discussed, Kang said.

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Yeah, Shinzo, the Russians did it.

Tyler earlier: “82% of Asahi poll respondents said Abe bears responsibility for the doctored documents relating to the Moritomo scandal”

Japan: Embattled Shinzo Abe Blames Staff Over Land Sale Scandal (AFP)

Japan’s embattled prime minister has hit back at critics over a favouritism and cover-up scandal that has seen his popularity plunge and loosened his grip on power. In a statement in parliament, Shinzo Abe stressed he had not ordered bureaucrats to alter documents relating to a controversial land sale. “I have never ordered changes,” he said. The scandal surrounds the 2016 sale of state-owned land to a nationalist operator of schools who claims ties to Abe and his wife Akie. The sale was clinched at a price well below market value amid allegations that the high-level connections helped grease the deal. The affair first emerged early last year, but resurfaced after the revelation that official documents related to the sale had been changed.

Versions of the original and doctored documents made public by opposition lawmakers appeared to show passing references to Abe were scrubbed, along with several references to his wife Akie and Finance Minister Taro Aso. Aso has blamed the alterations on “some staff members” at the ministry. But Jiro Yamaguchi, a politics professor at Hosei University in Tokyo, said the public was “not at all convinced” by this explanation. “Why was the land sold at a discount price? Without any political pressure, this could never happen, and voters are angry about it,” said Yamaguchi. The prime minister repeated an apology, saying he “keenly felt” his responsibility over the scandal that has “shaken people’s confidence in government administration.”

The affair is hitting Abe’s ratings hard, with a new poll in the Asahi Shimbun showing public support nosediving by 13 percentage points from the previous month to 31%. The figure is the lowest approval rating for Abe in the poll since his return to power at the end of 2012.

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A different kind of protectionism.

Apple Is Secretly Developing Its Own Screens for the First Time (BBG)

Apple is designing and producing its own device displays for the first time, using a secret manufacturing facility near its California headquarters to make small numbers of the screens for testing purposes, according to people familiar with the situation. The technology giant is making a significant investment in the development of next-generation MicroLED screens, say the people, who requested anonymity to discuss internal planning. MicroLED screens use different light-emitting compounds than the current OLED displays and promise to make future gadgets slimmer, brighter and less power-hungry. The screens are far more difficult to produce than OLED displays, and the company almost killed the project a year or so ago, the people say.

Engineers have since been making progress and the technology is now at an advanced stage, they say, though consumers will probably have to wait a few years before seeing the results. The ambitious undertaking is the latest example of Apple bringing the design of key components in-house. The company has designed chips powering its mobile devices for several years. Its move into displays has the long-term potential to hurt a range of suppliers, from screen makers like Samsung, Japan Display, Sharp and LG to companies like Synaptics that produce chip-screen interfaces. It may also hurt Universal Display, a leading developer of OLED technology. Display makers in Asia fell after Bloomberg News reported the plans. Japan Display dropped as much as 4.4%, Sharp tumbled as much as 3.3% and Samsung slid 1.4%.

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“$22,837 per person, not including mortgages…”

Canadian Household Debt Hits Record $1.8 Trillion (CP)

Canadians’ collective household debt has climbed to $1.8 trillion as an international financial group sounds an early warning that the country’s banking system is at risk from rising debt levels. Equifax Canada says consumers now owe $1.821 trillion including mortgages as of the fourth-quarter of 2017, marking a 6% increase from a year earlier. Although nearly half of Canadians reduced their personal liabilities, roughly 37% added to their debt to push the average amount up 3.3% to $22,837 per person, not including mortgages.

The fresh numbers come as an international financial group owned by the world’s central banks says Canada’s credit-to-GDP and debt-service ratios show early warning signs of potential risk to the banking system in the coming years. The latest report by the Bank for International Settlements says Canada’s credit-to-GDP gap and debt-service ratios have surpassed critical thresholds and are signalling red, pointing to vulnerabilities. The group, however, cautions that these indicators should not be treated as a formal stress test, but as a first step in a broader analysis.

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From Merkel’s own camp.

German Interior Minister Wants More Internal EU Border Controls (DW)

Germany should consider stepping up its border controls, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said on Sunday. “Not that many border points in Germany are permanently occupied,” Seehofer told German weekly newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag, adding: “We will now discuss whether that needs to change.” Seehofer also appealed for the suspension of the Schengen Agreement, which allows free movement within the EU bloc. “Internal border checks [between EU member states] must be in place so long as the EU fails to effectively control the external border,” he said, adding: “I don’t see it being able to do this in the near future.” The reintroduction of border controls is a prerogative of EU member states. Under EU rules they must remain an exception and respect the principle of proportionality.

Germany’s temporarily reintroduced border controls continue until May 12 and have been imposed on the land border with Austria and on flight connections from Greece because of the “security situation in Europe and threats resulting from the continuous secondary movements,” according to the European Commission. Seehofer’s comments follow EU demands in February that Germany and four other Schengen members – Austria, Denmark, Sweden and Norway – lift their border controls when the current agreed terms run out in May. [..] Seehofer is a member of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU).

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Waterwars in waterworld.

Water Shortages Could Affect 5 Billion People By 2050 – UN (G.)

More than 5 billion people could suffer water shortages by 2050 due to climate change, increased demand and polluted supplies, according to a UN report on the state of the world’s water. The comprehensive annual study warns of conflict and civilisational threats unless actions are taken to reduce the stress on rivers, lakes, aquifers, wetlands and reservoirs. The World Water Development Report – released in drought-hit Brasília – says positive change is possible, particularly in the key agricultural sector, but only if there is a move towards nature-based solutions that rely more on soil and trees than steel and concrete.

“For too long, the world has turned first to human-built, or ‘grey’, infrastructure to improve water management. In doing so, it has often brushed aside traditional and indigenous knowledge that embraces greener approaches,” says Gilbert Houngbo, the chair of UN Water, in the preface of the 100-page assessment. “In the face of accelerated consumption, increasing environmental degradation and the multi-faceted impacts of climate change, we clearly need new ways of manage competing demands on our freshwater resources.” Humans use about 4,600 cubic km of water every year, of which 70% goes to agriculture, 20% to industry and 10% to households, says the report, which was launched at the start of the triennial World Water Forum.

Global demand has increased sixfold over the past 100 years and continues to grow at the rate of 1% each year. This is already creating strains that will grow by 2050, when the world population is forecast to reach between 9.4 billion and 10.2 billion (up from 7.7 billion today), with two in every three people living in cities. [..] By 2050, the report predicts, between 4.8 billion and 5.7 billion people will live in areas that are water-scarce for at least one month each year, up from 3.6 billion today, while the number of people at risk of floods will increase to 1.6 billion, from 1.2 billion.

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Mar 032016
 
 March 3, 2016  Posted by at 9:52 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Fenno Jacobs Schoolchildren staging a patriotic demonstration, Southington, CT 1942

Fresh Recession Will Cause Eurozone Collapse, Warns Credit Suisse (Telegraph)
“If Schengen Disappears, It Will Never Come Back” (BBG)
Earnings Downgrades Turning Into Deluge as First Quarter Craters (BBG)
Negotiating Debt Relief for Greece in the Shadow of the Brexirendum (Howse)
German Demand To Cap Banks’ Sovereign Debt Throws Italy Under The Bus (BBG)
Germany Is The New PiiG (BI)
Europe Without the Union (Startfor)
Death and Despair in China’s Rustbelt (BBG)
China’s Other Growth Figure Is Flashing a Warning (BBG)
George Osborne Has ‘Foot In Mouth’ Disease: Varoufakis (CNBC)
Donald Trump Embodies How Great Republics Meet Their End (Wolf)
Global Trade: Structural Shifts (FT)
In ‘Half Earth,’ E.O. Wilson Calls for a Grand Retreat (NY Times)
Syria Drought ‘Likely Worst In 900 Years’ (Guardian)
Albania’s Crucial Role In The Refugee Crisis (Venetis)
Greece Risks Being ‘Concentration Camp’ For Refugees: Varoufakis (CNBC)
Austerity-Hit Greeks Help Refugees With Food, Toys, Time (Reuters)
Greece Prepares To Help Up To 150,000 Stranded Refugees (AP)

What recovery? “The viability of the euro is contingent on the current recovery..”

Fresh Recession Will Cause Eurozone Collapse, Warns Credit Suisse (Telegraph)

A recession in Europe could lead to the collapse of the eurozone, as the single currency would buckle under the political turmoil unleashed by a fresh downturn, a leading investment bank has warned. In a research note titled “Close to the edge”, economists at Swiss bank Credit Suisse warned the fate of monetary union hangs in the balance if Europe’s policymakers are unable to ward off another global slump and quell anti-euro populism. “The viability of the euro is contingent on the current recovery,” said Peter Foley at Credit Suisse. “If the euro area were to relapse back into recession, it is not clear it would endure.” Although the bloc’s nascent recovery was likely to persist in the coming months, Credit Suisse said there were worrying signs of deterioration emanating from Europe’s economies. These include heightened credit stress in the banking sector and market volatility.

“The near-term outlook for economic activity, as well as the risks around it, has shifted materially downwards,” said the seven-page report. The eurozone’s 19 member states only managed to grow by 0.3pc in the last three months of 2015, despite asset purchases from the European Central Bank and the collapsing price of oil. Unlike the US and UK, the eurozone’s GDP still lags below its pre-financial crisis peak. Italy, the euro’s third largest economy, was stagnant at the end of last year, while Greece has slipped back into recession. Growth in Europe’s dominant economic power Germany has steadied to just 0.3pc. Insipid growth has been coupled with a fresh fall into deflation in February, raising fears the continent is stuck in a low growth trap where it is unable to tackle mounting debts.

This has put pressure on the ECB to devise more stimulatory measures to revive economic fortunes and escalated calls for governments to deploy their fiscal policy tools to support growth. But a failure to fight off recessionary forces would cause “irrevocable damage” to the eurozone six years after the onset of the financial crisis, said Mr Foley. Rising unemployment, falling asset prices, and mounting costs of debt would embolden anti-euro populist forces across the continent, “radicalising” electorates, said the report. Europe’s fragile banks – which have been in the eye of a market storm since the start of the year – could also find themselves at the heart of a new financial crisis as their profitability is squeezed and lending to the economy grounds to a halt. “The capacity for a renewed downturn to push the euro area into a destructive negative economic, political and financial feedback loop is considerable,” added Mr Foley.

The Swiss bank’s warning comes ahead of a crucial meeting of ECB policymakers next week, when they are widely expected to unleash a new round of quantitative easing and interest rate cuts. Benoit Cœuré , executive board member at the ECB, said the central bank’s policy stance could not “become a source of uncertainty” for expectant markets. “In the still fragile environment we face today, what is essential is that policy works to reduce uncertainty,” Mr Cœuré said on Wednesday. He admitted that the ECB’s move into negative interest rates could have adverse effects on the continent’s lenders, hinting policymakers would mitigate the impact of its -0.3pc deposit rate on bank profitability. “We are well aware of this issue. We are monitoring it on a regular basis and we are studying carefully the schemes used in other jurisdictions to mitigate possible adverse consequences for the bank lending channel,” said Mr Cœuré .

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Schengen exists in name only anymore.

“If Schengen Disappears, It Will Never Come Back” (BBG)

The EU has no plan to even temporarily cut Greece out of its passport-free Schengen zone and any suspension of open travel means “it will never come back,” Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said. With Europe likely to face increased migration from Syria and other conflict zones throughout the next decade, the 28-member bloc must immediately start giving more money, equipment and authority to its Frontex border forces, Asselborn said Wednesday during a visit to Prague. Sealing Greece’s northern borders with Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and unilaterally reinstating border checks within the Schengen area is “not a solution,” he said. Tensions over the handling of the refugee crisis have escalated, with Austria and some eastern EU members pushing for sealing the Greek-FYROM border.

Austria began admitting only a limited number of migrants, triggering a chain reaction of closures in countries to the south that’s stoking fears that Schengen may cease functioning. Political divisions are widening ahead of an extraordinary summit of the EU leaders on March 7 called to take stock of efforts to secure the bloc’s external frontiers. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is defending her open-border policy in three regional elections in March, is pushing for EU states to share the burden of redistributing migrants in the face of opposition from countries who have rejected the plan. Some EU members including Slovakia, Hungary and Poland have called for a “Plan B” that would cut Greece out of the Schengen area, pointing to Greece’s inability to secure its Mediterranean shores. “There is no plan B,” Asselborn said. “If Schengen disappears, it will never come back.”

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Without earnings, it ain’t much.

Earnings Downgrades Turning Into Deluge as First Quarter Craters (BBG)

The pace at which earnings estimates are being cut is getting worse, not better. While bulls cling to predictions that profit growth will resume for S&P’s 500 Index companies in 2016, analysts just reduced income estimates for the first quarter at a rate that more than doubled the average pace of deterioration in the last five years. Forecasts plunged by 9.6 percentage points in the last three months, with profits now seen dropping the most since the global financial crisis, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Growing skepticism among analysts is another example of an economic truth, that once corporate income starts to fall across industries, it’s rarely temporary. Most of the downward revisions in projections came in January and February – a clue as to why equities staged their worst selloff to start a year since 2009 and almost $3 trillion was wiped from share prices at the worst point.

“S&P 500 is not immune from the malaise of the global economy and we’re seeing that translated into earnings figures,” said Ethan Anderson, a senior portfolio manager who helps oversee $1.5 billion at Rehmann Financial in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “With the strong dollar, it obviously makes that made-in-U.S.A. look less attractive. Couple that with the weakness that we’re seeing in the global economy, most notably China, some of these estimates had looked fairly rosy.” Once a key support that helped stocks navigate through financial and geopolitical turmoil, earnings have increasingly become a contributor to market volatility along with concerns ranging from the price of oil to the path of interest rates. The decline in corporate profits has worsened every quarter since mid 2015, coinciding with a period where the S&P 500 suffered two corrections after reaching an all-time high in May.

Forecasters see the stretch of profit contractions now lasting 15 months. In the seven times earnings have fallen at least that long since 1970, stocks slipped into a bear market in all but one instance, data compiled by Bloomberg and S&P Dow Jones Indices show. Skepticism is rising over the durability of a bull market approaching its seventh anniversary with valuations based on legendary investor Peter Lynch’s favored measure that now surpass levels seen in the previous two runs. Investors hoping for a quick bounce in earnings to ease the multiple pressure may find little comfort in analysts’ estimates.

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“..Greece is quite capable of throwing the EU into crisis, conflict and even chaos, precisely at a time when the utmost solidarity is needed to help out the campaign against Brexit.”

Negotiating Debt Relief for Greece in the Shadow of the Brexirendum (Howse)

I’ve been saying for some time now that Greek PM Alexis Tsipras is, contrary to conventional wisdom, a shrewd negotiator and tactician. These traits were clearly on display this last week, when Europe’s leaders met to broker a deal on which British Prime Minister David Cameron could base his case for staying in the EU when Brexit gets put to a vote in the UK this June. Tsipras threatened to veto the deal if Greece were not given assurance that it could remain in Schengen for the time being, despite concerns about the control of its border with Turkey during the ongoing refugee crisis. Not surprisingly, given the stakes,Tsipras won. Now let’s turn to Greece’s other crisis. The European institutions are stalling on approving further disbursements to Greece, stretching out the current review of Greece’s implementation of last summer’s bailout memorandum.

Debt relief, a key element in the deal, has also been postponed. In particular, with the complicity of the IMF, Greece has been pushed to make deep across the board cuts in public pensions. Some pensions in Greece are anomalously high, and the responsible minister, George Katrougalos, freely admits that restructuring the pension system and creating a modern, effective social welfare state in Greece is a necessity for economic recovery and good governance. But with sky-high unemployment and falling wages, for many, pensions have become a de facto safety net; whole families are living from the income of a single pensioner. In these circumstances, the kind of indiscriminate slashing that the institutions want would inflict extreme and unjustifiable human hardship. It is difficult to know what is behind the unreasonableness in dealing with Greece on this issue.

Is it just the usual Germanic pious cruelty, or is it a strategy to try to bring down the Tsipras government in the hope of being able to deal with a more pliable, conservative new regime? Recently, the IMF’s point man on Greece, Poul Thomsen, publicly defended the hard line on pensions, on the basis that this is the only way that Greece can meet its budgetary targets that are necessary for restoring debt sustainability. But Thomsen made a key admission, perhaps unwittingly: debt relief, he suggested, could have the same effect on sustainability as would slashing pensions. He thus essentially told the Greeks to their face that further hardship was being forced on them, not because of any deep economic logic, but just because the needed amount of debt relief was not forthcoming.

The current line in the mainstream financial press is that Tsipras has no real cards he can play to resist the demands of the institutions on pensions. I think that’s wrong. If the institutions won’t be reasonable and moderate their demands, he can always blow up the third programme and default on Greece’s official debt to Europe; one way to do that would be to draw up a final offer on pensions and related reforms, and put it to the people in a new referendum that if Europe doesn’t accept that offer, Greece should default. Now, you say, isn’t that exactly the “nuclear” option that Tsipras backed off from last summer, for fear of utter economic and social catastrophe in Greece, despite then winning a mandate for it by referendum? True enough, but certain things have changed since. Back then, it became painfully clear very quickly that Greece’s banking system would have collapsed had it been cut off from further support from Europe in the wake of default.

Now the banks have been recapitalized; and the problem of marginal,failing banks addressed by restructuring and consolidation. Secondly, Greece has, shrewdly, built a new friendship with Israel; Netanyahu, ever the savvy politician, sees the value of having a country in the Mediterranean amenable to Israel’s interests and point of view (and there are the mutual gains of cooperation on offshore gas as well). Israel may well have made some kind of promise to Greece to function as a lender of last resort if things get bad. But, most importantly, there is the looming referendum on Brexit (I call it Brexirendum for convenience). By defaulting but keeping the Euro, and perhaps also threatening non-cooperation on refugees, Greece is quite capable of throwing the EU into crisis, conflict and even chaos, precisely at a time when the utmost solidarity is needed to help out the campaign against Brexit.

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“The German proposals are “pure folly,” and would amount to Italy “hitting itself over the head with a hammer..”

German Demand To Cap Banks’ Sovereign Debt Throws Italy Under The Bus (BBG)

A drive to tighten rules over how much sovereign debt banks are allowed to own has raised the alarm in the home of the euro region’s largest bond market. Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi, vowed last month to veto any attempt to cap holdings, putting him at odds with Germany. Italian government securities account for 10.4% of the country’s bank assets, the most among major European economies and compared with 3.2% in Germany, the latest ECB figures show. A limit would mean “altering the balance of the Italian banking system,” said Francesco Boccia, a lawmaker from Renzi’s Democratic Party who heads the budget committee in Italy’s lower house of parliament. “Banks are already struggling to lend money to small- and medium-sized companies,” he said. “This would be the final blow.”

In essence, the euro region’s biggest debtor is on a collision course with its biggest paymaster over how to fix the failures of the past. Having financial institutions willing to finance the government is vital to most countries, but especially in Italy. The country has outstanding debt of €2.17 trillion ($2.36 trillion), more than anywhere else in Europe. It amounts to 133% of its economic output, the largest ratio except for Greece. The problem in Berlin is that it highlights Europe’s “doom loop,” the too-tight connection between sovereigns and their lenders that fueled the debt crisis and landed Germany with the biggest bill. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has been leading the campaign to tackle the practice of banks treating the debt as risk-free.

Germany has resisted moving toward closer financial ties, including initiatives such as a common euro-area deposit insurance system, until progress is made on reducing risk. Among Germany’s proposals was an an automatic maturity extension for bonds of nations that apply for aid from the European Stability Mechanism crisis fund. Another possibility is a 25% limit on the sovereign bonds some banks can hold risk-free as a share of eligible capital, according to two people with knowledge of the deliberations. The German proposals are “pure folly,” and would amount to Italy “hitting itself over the head with a hammer,” said Mario Baldassarri, chairman of the Economia Reale think-tank and a former head of the Italian Senate’s finance committee.

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“And when Germany falls, and it will, that’s when the panic begins to set in.”

Germany Is The New PiiG (BI)

This is as good as it gets for Germany and Europe. Previously, it was the debt of the eurozone’s peripheral countries that was of concern to the markets. But in an interview with Business Insider, Geopolitical Futures founder George Friedman proclaimed that Europe now has a much bigger problem: Germany. And at the heart of the looming issue for Germany and Europe is the Italian banking system. “[Problems in Italian banks are] going to spill over into the Netherlands, it’s going to spill over into Germany,” Friedman said. “Germany is the new PIIG. Germany depends on exports and its markets are drying up.” The PIIGS economies — Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain — were the main concerns during the European debt crisis of 2011 and 2012.

And with those crises seemingly having passed and Europe moving back towards a path to economic stability, Germany has been a big winner with its economy as strong as its been since re-unification and an unemployment rate down to 4.5%. Germany has, however, been running a structural trade surplus underpinned by a weak euro with its trade surplus hitting a record $23.9 billion in June. And Friedman thinks Germany’s export well is about to run dry. Friedman believes that the problems in the Italian banking system are going to take Germany — the strongest economy in the eurozone — down with it. Data released in late-2015 showed non-performing loans at Italian banks totaled €300 billion, 17.3% of outstanding loans.

That is a massive number considering the average for the euro zone is 6.8%, and Germany’s NPL’s are at just 2.3%. According to Friedman, this is a big deal because Italy is the 4th largest economy in Europe and the 8th largest economy in the world. Italy’s home to the largest banking system in Eastern Europe and there’s a lot of inter-connectivity in play. For example, Germany’s largest bank, Deutsche Bank, has an enormous amount of exposure to Italy, and so does the rest of Europe. Ultimately Friedman thinks it will be Germany that has to save Italy. And that will cost a lot of money. “It’s not the PIIGS one should worry about,” Friedman said. “Germany hasn’t even begun falling yet. And when Germany falls, and it will, that’s when the panic begins to set in.”

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Not a big fan of Stratfor, but some things to think about here: “Perhaps the most likely scenario at this point would be for the EU to survive as a ghost of its former self, with its laws ignored..”

Europe Without the Union (Startfor)

The European project was always bound to fail. Europe is a continent riven by geographic barriers. It has spent two millennia not only indulging in massive and constant internal wars, but also keeping written records of them, informing each generation of all the times their forebears were wronged. Over the centuries, great empires have risen and fallen, leaving behind distinct groups of people with different histories, languages and cultures. Any project attempting to fuse these disparate cultures into one monolithic state over the course of just 70 years was by its very nature doomed. It would inevitably encounter insurmountable levels of nationalistic resistance, and eventually the project would stall. That is the point at which we now find ourselves.

Crises abound, and though they all have different facades, each stems from the same underlying issue: Citizens ultimately prize their national and regional identities over the supranational dream. The sovereign debt crisis and repeating Grexit scares, born of the introduction of the euro in 1999, have exposed Northern Europe’s unwillingness to subsidize the south. The Brexit referendum, scheduled for June, can trace its roots to the 2004 enlargement of the EU, and the ensuing wave of Polish migration to the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, amid the ongoing immigration crisis, national leaders are appeasing their populations by bypassing European rules and re-erecting border controls to stem the flow of refugees across their territory. In all of these situations, the same factors are at work: The driving forces within Europe are national in nature, and countries will ultimately put their own interests first.

Today’s problems were both predictable and predicted. The next step, however, is harder to foresee. Having identified a system’s inherent flaw, one can very well state that it is unsustainable, but unfortunately the flaw provides no guide as to the exact circumstances of the system’s end. There are still many different ways that the demise of the European Union’s current form could come about. For example, the project could unravel via market forces, as it nearly did in 2012 when investors tested the commitment of the core to save the periphery and found it to be (barely) willing to do so. Or a disaffected populace could elect a nationalist party such as France’s National Front, which could either lead the country out of the EU or make the bloc so unmanageable that it ceases to function. Perhaps the most likely scenario at this point would be for the EU to survive as a ghost of its former self, with its laws ignored and stripped back to the extent that it holds only a loose grip on its members.

The exact circumstances of the European project’s end are not yet clear, but there are certain fixed, underlying truths that are sure to outlast the EU’s current form. With them, a forecast can still be made of the shape of things to come. These fundamental realities stem from deeper, unchanging forces that will bring countries together according to their most basic goals; they are the same forces that limited the European project’s lifespan in the first place. By looking at these underlying factors, one can predict which countries will emerge from a weakened or collapsed EU with close ties, and which are likely to drift apart in pursuit of their own interests once they are freed from the binding force of the EU and its integrationist ideals.

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“..leaving a valley of brutal murder, protests, anger, suicide and regret.”

Death and Despair in China’s Rustbelt (BBG)

In a snow-covered valley in northeast China, an hour from the North Korean border, a street with brightly-painted apartment blocks hides a story of fear and anger as dangerous to the country as its rollercoaster stock market or sliding currency. The frozen alluvial river plain that was once at the forefront of the Communist Party’s first attempt to build a modern economy, has now fallen behind, leaving a valley of brutal murder, protests, anger, suicide and regret. This is the city of Tonghua in China’s rustbelt, where a desperate handful of steelworkers has gathered each week outside the management office of their mill in freezing temperatures to demand months of wages they say they’re owed. The answer, according to interviews with workers and residents, is always the same: there is no money.

This is the last vestige of protests that once drew thousands, and which, one fateful day nearly seven years ago, ended with a manager being beaten to death. Since then, the city’s once-vaunted state-run steel mills have slipped inexorably into decline, weighed down by slumping global markets, a changing economy, and the burden of costs and responsibilities to the people of the town they fostered. Tonghua’s story is repeated across the country, where state-owned enterprises that were the bedrock of China’s industrial development have become its biggest burdens. Typically overstaffed, inefficient and heavily indebted, they offer President Xi Jinping a stark warning of what the country could face if the millions of workers who depend on these lumbering corporations should get thrown out of work with nothing to fall back on. Uprisings have started from less in China.

The country’s leaders have vowed to reduce excess industrial capacity and labor in state enterprises even as they battle the slowest economic growth in a quarter of a century. China will eliminate up to 150 million metric tons of steel-making capacity in the next five years, the State Council said after a Jan. 22 meeting. The council, China’s cabinet, said it will achieve the target through mergers and acquisitions, relocation or converting some plants to other industries. It pledged to set up special funds to subsidize companies and laid-off workers during the change, and to help lenders write down bad debts. “The market has forced our hands,” said the official Xinhua News Agency in a Jan. 24 commentary. “Local governments and companies will bear the main responsibility, while the central government will help.”

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The real numbers: “..GDP in dollars, unadjusted for price changes, rose just 4.25% in the fourth quarter of 2015..”

China’s Other Growth Figure Is Flashing a Warning (BBG)

Obscured by the focus on the accuracy of China’s growth figures is a tumble in estimates for the economy without adjusting for inflation – a slide that gives a clearer picture of why the country’s slowdown has stoked rising concern about its debt burden. GDP in dollars, unadjusted for price changes, rose just 4.25% in the fourth quarter of 2015 compared with the same period of 2014 – a gain of $439 billion. Just two years before, China added $1.1 trillion to the global economy, expanding 13% from a year earlier. “Looked at in this way, financial markets reaction to deteriorating Chinese data is more understandable,” said Arthur Kroeber at research firm Gavekal Dragonomics in Hong Kong. Weakening nominal growth makes debt servicing harder, forming the backdrop for moves this week by Moody’s Investors Service to lower its outlook on China’s credit rating and HSBC to cut its recommendations on the country’s big banks.

With Premier Li Keqiang’s cabinet having eased a deleveraging drive last year, investors will get fresh insights into the Communist leadership’s priorities at a gathering of the national legislature starting Saturday. Along with economic targets for 2016, officials will discuss the party’s new five-year plan. While in yuan terms the slowdown is more gradual, the decline in nominal GDP gains is still dramatic – to a 6.4% pace at the end of 2015 compared with 10.1% back in 2013 and in excess of 18% in 2010 and 2011. The slide highlights the need to follow through on slashing excess industrial capacity, eliminating unprofitable enterprises and revving up new drivers of expansion.

“The biggest problem with plunging nominal GDP growth is that the cash-flow growth to the corporate sector has declined at a time when growth in its debt servicing has accelerated,” said Victor Shih, a professor at the University of California at San Diego who studies China’s politics and finance. “Because debt is so much larger than the economy, debt servicing each year will still be two to three times the incremental growth of nominal GDP.” China’s debt-to-GDP ratio surged to 247% last year from 166% in 2007, propelled by a lending binge in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. Days before the National People’s Congress, the central bank this week lowered the ratio of deposits major banks must hold in reserve, letting them deploy more in lending.

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To be honest, Osborne was funny too: “Varoufakis was recruited because Chairman Mao was dead and Mickey Mouse was busy.”

George Osborne Has ‘Foot In Mouth’ Disease: Varoufakis (CNBC)

Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister, has said that the U.K. finance minister has got a bad case of “foot in mouth disease” and is doing himself no favors by mocking him in parliament. On Wednesday, the U.K.’s Chancellor George Osborne ridiculed a report saying that Varoufakis was advising the opposition Labour party, telling the House of Commons that “Varoufakis was recruited because Chairman Mao was dead and Mickey Mouse was busy.” Responding to the slur, Yanis Varoufakis told CNBC that he was intrigued that George Osborne had “this foot in mouth disease.” “So when George Osborne comes out and pokes fun at me, obviously trying to luxuriate in the fact that I’m a defeated finance minister, yes, I am a defeated finance minister but in the hands of whom? Of an iron-clad European Union that decided to asphyxiate us using bank closures in order to impose upon us another extend and pretend bailout. The British people know that.”

“Does George Osborne really seriously believe that by mocking me he is doing himself any favors in his intellectual class?…I don’t think he is doing himself any intellectual favors.” “He seems unable to prevent own goals being scored all the time,” he added. Varoufakis said he was supporting the campaign for Britain to stay in the European Union (EU) but that he had been impressed with the “leave” arguments put forward by conservative politicians Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. They had, he said, “sounder intellectual ideas” than Osborne.

Earlier in the week it emerged that the Greek Marxist economist was going to advise the U.K.’s Labour party “in some capacity,” according to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Varoufakis told CNBC that there was no formal contract and that he was “talking to everybody” including Caroline Lucas from the Green party and former Conservative Chancellor Normal Lamont. Talking to each other, he said, would help find common ground and a “common program to stop this slide into the abyss” in Europe. Asked whether he was receiving any money from the Labour party, he said: “Of course not. I have no such contract with anyone, let alone Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party.”

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“..pluto-populism”: the marriage of plutocracy with rightwing populism..”

Donald Trump Embodies How Great Republics Meet Their End (Wolf)

What is one to make of the rise of Donald Trump? It is natural to think of comparisons with populist demagogues past and present. It is natural, too, to ask why the Republican party might choose a narcissistic bully as its candidate for president. But this is not just about a party, but about a great country. The US is the greatest republic since Rome, the bastion of democracy, the guarantor of the liberal global order. It would be a global disaster if Mr Trump were to become president. Even if he fails, he has rendered the unthinkable sayable. Mr Trump is a promoter of paranoid fantasies, a xenophobe and an ignoramus. His business consists of the erection of ugly monuments to his own vanity. He has no experience of political office. Some compare him to Latin American populists.

He might also be considered an American Silvio Berlusconi, albeit without the charm or business acumen. But Mr Berlusconi, unlike Mr Trump, never threatened to round up and expel millions of people. Mr Trump is grossly unqualified for the world’s most important political office. Yet, as Robert Kagan, a neoconservative intellectual, argues in The Washington Post, Mr Trump is also “the GOP’s Frankenstein monster”. He is, says Mr Kagan, the monstrous result of the party’s “wild obstructionism”, its demonisation of political institutions, its flirtation with bigotry and its “racially tinged derangement syndrome” over President Barack Obama. He continues: “We are supposed to believe that Trump’s legion of ‘angry’ people are angry about wage stagnation. No, they are angry about all the things Republicans have told them to be angry about these past seven-and-a-half years”.

Mr Kagan is right, but does not go far enough. This is not about the last seven-and-a-half years. These attitudes were to be seen in the 1990s, with the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Indeed, they go back all the way to the party’s opportunistic response to the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Alas, they have become worse, not better, with time. Why has this happened? The answer is that this is how a wealthy donor class, dedicated to the aims of slashing taxes and shrinking the state, obtained the footsoldiers and voters it required. This, then, is “pluto-populism”: the marriage of plutocracy with rightwing populism. Mr Trump embodies this union. But he has done so by partially dumping the free-market, low tax, shrunken government aims of the party establishment, to which his financially dependent rivals remain wedded. That gives him an apparently insuperable advantage. Mr Trump is no conservative, elite conservatives complain. Precisely. That is also true of the party’s base.

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A curious attempt to deny there’s a crisis in the first place. No, we’re ‘transitioning to a digital economy’, or something..

Global Trade: Structural Shifts (FT)

The Port of Charleston spent most of the early 2000s enjoying double-digit growth as an accelerating wave of globalisation — fuelled by a rising China and a US consumer boom — brought robust volumes of cargo into the seaport. But those days are long gone. Jim Newsome, chief executive of the South Carolina Ports Authority, says he would be happy with 3% growth in Charleston this year, a goal he concedes may be too ambitious. In January, container traffic at the port fell 5.1% versus the same month of 2015, and the strong dollar is causing problems for US exporters. “Most of the exporters that I talk to are just not doing the same business that they were a year ago,” he says. The story is repeated and amplified far beyond Charleston.

Last year saw the biggest collapse in the value of goods traded around the world since 2009 – when the impact of the global financial crisis was at its worst. Major ports such as Hamburg and Singapore have also reported slowing growth and even declining volumes. Barring a spectacular turnround in the global economy, the subpar performance is likely to be repeated in 2016, making it the fifth straight year of lacklustre growth in global trade, a pattern not seen since the doldrums of the 1970s. “It has been a very long time since trade .. has grown this weakly”, says Robert Koopman, chief economist at the WTO. Much of this recent feeble performance is down to the economic slowdown in China and the knock-on effect that its declining appetite for commodities has had on other emerging markets.

An anaemic recovery in Europe adds to the headwinds hitting global commerce. While these factors explain part of the weakness in global trade, some say there are even bigger factors at work. A growing number of economists argue that the slowdown is not merely cyclical, but a sign that the forces that have driven globalisation for decades are beginning to shift. The first big transition is China’s attempt to rebalance from a manufacturing and export-led economy towards one focused on domestic consumption. And some economists note that the plateau in worldwide trade in goods and capital has coincided with a surge in data flows — an indicator, they say, that the digital economy of the 21st century is starting to overturn the old order.

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One of my favorite people on the planet.

In ‘Half Earth,’ E.O. Wilson Calls for a Grand Retreat (NY Times)

Why publish this book now? Because a lifetime of research has magnified my perception that we are in a crisis with reference to the living part of the environment.We now have enough measurements of extinction rates and the likely rate in the future to know that it is approaching a thousand times the baseline of what existed before humanity came along.

Reading your book, one senses you felt a great urgency to write it? The urgency was twofold. First, it’s only been within the last decade that a full picture of the crisis in biodiversity has emerged. The second factor was my age. I’m 86. I had a mild stroke a couple of years ago. I thought, “Say this now or never.” And what I say is that to save biodiversity, we need to set aside about half the earth’s surface as a natural reserve. I’m not suggesting we have one hemisphere for humans and the other for the rest of life. I’m talking about allocating up to one half of the surface of the land and the sea as a preserve for remaining flora and fauna.

In a rapidly developing world, where would such a reserve be? Large parts of nature are still intact — the Amazon region, the Congo Basin, New Guinea. There are also patches of the industrialized world where nature could be restored and strung together to create corridors for wildlife. In the oceans, we need to stop fishing in the open sea and let life there recover. The open sea is fished down to 2% of what it once was. If we halted those fisheries, marine life would increase rapidly. The oceans are part of that 50%. Now, this proposal does not mean moving anybody out. It means creating something equivalent to the U.N.’s World Heritage sites that could be regarded as the priceless assets of humanity. That’s why I’ve made so bold a step as to offer this maxim: Do no further harm to the rest of life. If we can agree on that, everything else will follow. It’s actually going to be a lot easier than people think.

Why? Because many problems of human occupancy that we once thought of as insoluble are taking care of themselves. Demographers tell us that the human population could stabilize at about 10 or 11 billion by the end of the century. High tech is producing new products and ways of living that are congenial to setting side more space for the rest of life. Instrumentation is getting smaller, using less material and energy. Moreover, the international discourse is changing. I’m very encouraged by the Paris Climate Accords. I was excited to see at the time of the Paris meeting that a consortium of influential business leaders concluded that the world should go for net zero carbon emissions. Towards that end, they recommended we protect the forests we have and restore the damaged ones. That’s consistent with the “Half Earth” idea.

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It’s not just the war.

Syria Drought ‘Likely Worst In 900 Years’ (Guardian)

The relentless flow of refugees from the Middle East into Europe continues to raise tensions across the region. This weekend, fires ignited at a refugee camp in Calais, France, and countries are beginning to tighten their borders as more than 1 million people have streamed into Europe in the past year. The 1 million refugees represent just a portion of the 4.2 million that have fled Syria in all directions. And that’s on top of the 7.6 million people internally displaced in Syria who are trapped in limbo in their home country. War has been the direct driver of the refugee flux and behind that is a complex mix of social and political factors both inside and outside the region. One fiercely studied and debated driver has been a recent dip into a series of severe droughts starting in the late 1990s.

Previous work has prescribed some of the drought — and its impact on the socioeconomic fabric in the Middle East — to climate change. New findings published in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres put it in even starker context, showing that the drought is likely the worst to affect the region in 900 years. The Mediterranean as a whole has been subject to widespread drought at various points in the past 20 years. Climate models project that the region is likely to get drier in the future, which Ben Cook, a climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said drove the new line of inquiry. “These recent drought events have motivated a lot of concern that this could be an indication of climate change, with the eastern Mediterranean and Syrian droughts being the most obvious,” Cook said.

Using tree ring data that covered 900 years of drought history, Cook led a team of researchers to look at drought across different regions in the Mediterranean. Dry spells in parts of the western Mediterranean have been severe but still within the range of natural variability over that 900-year span. What stands out is the drought in the eastern Mediterranean, which includes war-torn Syria. Drought has had a firm grip on the region since 1998 and Cook’s findings show that the recent bone-dry spell is likely the driest period on record in 900 years and almost certainly the worst drought in 500 years. In either case, it’s well outside the norm of natural variability indicating that a climate change signal is likely emerging in the region.

“This is a really important study that increases our understanding of low frequency (decadal to multidecadal) natural variability over the past 900 years and provides strong evidence that the severity of the recent drying in the eastern Mediterranean/Levant is human induced,” Colin Kelley, a drought expert who authored previous research on the region, said.

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Interesting angle. Officially, Albania’s borders are shut. But they’re not.

Albania’s Crucial Role In The Refugee Crisis (Venetis)

With the border between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) closed, Greece appears to be isolated from the neighborhood and the European mainland. While the problems are growing, the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras trying to improvise a solution and Brussels still looking, Greece seems again favored by geography. Among Greece’s long Greek borders with its Balkan neighbors, only the Greek-Albanian one cannot be controlled because it is mountainous and with a large number of accessible paths. Therefore, the government of Edi Rama may verbally express its opposition to the possibility of migration flows going through Albania but it is impossible to implement such a decision. The reasons are obvious. Nobody can stop the peaceful determination of populations to move.

Given Skopje’s policy of closed borders and the willingness of immigrants to move northwards, as well the failure of each transit country to provide them with the basics for a temporary stay, it should be viewed as certain that in the coming days and weeks, with the arrival of spring, the migrants now trapped in Greece will head towards the border with Albania. What will happen then? Albania will try to stop this flow through the Greek border stations of Krystalopigi, Mertziani and Kakavia – but in vain. No wall can be erected on uneven terrain. Parallel paths are not patrolled because they are numerous, anomalous and extensive. Therefore, the Albanian authorities will not be able to stop the flows peacefully. Albanians know this and although the prime minister has expressed his opposition, he has already ordered the construction of two reception centers for a total of 10,000 immigrants in Korce and Gjirokaster.

Such a development would essentially mean the cancellation of the Austrian refugee policy in the Balkans because immigrants will be able to access the FYROM territories and Kosovo from Albania and therefore to move northwards to Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia. Additionally, the problem will be internationalized once more and put more pressure on Brussels to find an effective solution. Austria is expected to attempt to erect a new wall to the north, but to no avail, because the problem will be shared not only by Greece but the whole of the Balkans. The Albanian corridor can give Greece a chance to gain some time in dealing with the influx from Turkey, to relieve the Greek-FYROM border and to provide the EU with a final opportunity to prove that it is a union of friends and not enemies.

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That’s been my point all along, and it’s too late already: “..you cannot buy back the lost dignity of the European Union..”

Greece Risks Being ‘Concentration Camp’ For Refugees: Varoufakis (CNBC)

The refugee crisis is a “manifestation of the disintegration of the European Union,” Greece’s controversial former finance minister told CNBC on Thursday, as he warned against Turkey and Greece becoming a “large concentration camp for hapless refugees.” Yanis Varoufakis, who served as finance minister in 2015 under the ruling left-wing Syriza party, said Europe was “rich enough” to cope with the influx of refugees who have flooded to Europe in the wake of the turmoil in Syria. “The EU should be a proper union with borders, which we control in a humane way. When somebody knocks on your door and they’ve been shot at, they have kids that are dying or thirsty or hungry, you just open your door to them,” he told CNBC at the Global Financial Markets Forum in Abu Dhabi.

According to the UN, 131,724 refugees and migrants made the risky journey across the Mediterranean Sea during January and February. The large majority of these people, 122,637, landed in Greece. The EU, of which Greece is a member, has struggled to agree to a strategy to deal with the waves of people, particularly in the wake of terrorist attacks from the group that calls itself the “Islamic State.” However, on Wednesday, the EU launched a €700 million fund to help Greece cope with the crisis. “The fact that we are now spending some money on refugees is a good thing, but you cannot buy back the lost dignity of the European Union,” Varoufakis told CNBC.

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“I don’t have an income but I have a child,” she said before handing out another balloon, while her sister distributed milk.”

Austerity-Hit Greeks Help Refugees With Food, Toys, Time (Reuters)

Three Syrian children holding balloons follow Constantina Tsouklidou who is handing out toys and food to refugees sheltering by the hundreds in a ferry passenger terminal at the Greek port of Piraeus. “I don’t have an income but I have a child,” she said before handing out another balloon, while her sister distributed milk. Tsouklidou, 50, is one of thousands of Greeks volunteering their time to assist refugees and migrants stranded in Greece. She is also one of the legions of Greece’s unemployed. Greece, whose economy was struggling even before Europe’s migrant crisis and which has received more than 240 billion euros since its first international bailout in 2010, is in its eighth year of recession. More than a million people are unemployed, according to statistics agency ELSTAT, which put the latest jobless rate at 24.6%.

“Half of the Greek population has to a smaller or bigger extent assisted refugees. We are not like central Europe,” Tsouklidou told Reuters, referring to border closures through the Balkans. At least 25,000 people were stranded in Greece on Tuesday, their journey to wealthier central and northern European nations blocked by the failure of European nations to agree a common policy to deal with one of the worst humanitarian crises in decades. Austria and countries along the Balkans migration route have imposed restrictions on their borders, limiting the numbers able to cross. Many of the migrants hope to reach Germany. Macedonian police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of migrants who stormed the border from Greece on Monday. “I am worried about what will happen if people keep coming in and the borders remain closed,” said Kyriakos Sarantidis, 65, who donates time cooking for refugees from a minivan parked at Pireaus port.

Greece’s migration minister said on Sunday the number of migrants trapped in Greece could reach up to 70,000 in coming weeks if the borders remain sealed, as refugees fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and North Africa continue to arrive in Greece, mainly on small boats from Turkey. At Victoria Square, a downtrodden area of central Athens where many homeless refugees have converged, Greeks turned up in droves with bags of food, fruit and medicine after seeing images on television of families sleeping in the open, on cardboard boxes, on chilly winter nights. Eleftheria Baltatzi, a 73-year-old pensioner, was one of the many people who saw images of sick children on television and turned up at the square with medicine and food. “I made toasted cheese sandwiches,” she said. “We also have people who are hungry and need help, but these people have a bigger need.”

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No longer a transit nation.

Greece Prepares To Help Up To 150,000 Stranded Refugees (AP)

Greece conceded Wednesday it is making long-term preparations to help as many as 150,000 stranded migrants as international pressure on Balkan countries saw Macedonia open its border briefly for just a few hundred refugees. “In my opinion, we have to consider the border closed,” Greek Migration Minister Ioannis Mouzalas said. “And for as long as the border crossing is closed, and until the European relocation and resettlement system is up and running, these people will stay in our country for some time.” At the moment, some 30,000 refugees and other migrants are stranded in Greece, with 10,000 at the Idomeni border crossing to Macedonia. On Wednesday, hundreds of more people, including many families with small children, continued to arrive at two official camps by the border that are so full that thousands have set up tents in surrounding fields.

Greek police helped one man who fainted after being turned back by Macedonian authorities. Others waited stoically for rain covers, or food and other essentials in chilling temperatures [..] Mouzalas, the migration minister, met for several hours with mayors from across Greece, examining ways to ramp up shelter capacity. The ministers of health and education also held emergency talks to provide health care and basic schooling for children, who make up about a third of arrivals in Greece. Nikos Kotzias, the foreign minister, said the country could handle a capacity of up to 150,000. “No one in Europe predicted this problem would reach such a giant scale,” Kotzias told private Skai television. “But this is not a cause for panic. The problems must be addressed soberly.”

Macedonia intermittently opened the border Wednesday, letting hundreds of people in, as European Council President Donald Tusk arrived in the country as part of a tour of the region for talks on the migration crisis. Tusk, who is due to travel onto Greece and Turkey Thursday, is hoping to ease tension among European Union leaders — notably neighbors Austria and Germany — before they hold a summit on migration on Monday with Turkey. “We must urgently mobilize the EU and all member states to help address the humanitarian situation of migrants in Greece and along the western Balkan route,” he said. Greece has asked for €480 million in emergency aid from the EUto deal with the crisis. EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides said he wants to swiftly push through a proposal to earmark €700 million in aid for the refugee crisis, with €300 million paid out this year.

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Mar 022016
 
 March 2, 2016  Posted by at 10:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Christopher Helin Flint auto, Ghirardelli Square, San Francisco 1924

China To Lay Off 5 To 6 Million Workers (Reuters)
Deflation Defeats Impotent Central Banks (A. Gary Shilling)
Smells Like Subprime (BBG)
China Credit Outlook Cut to Negative by Moody’s (BBG)
China’s Secret Weapon: Used Car Salesmen (FT)
China Reserve Ratio Cut ‘No Signal Of Impending Large-Scale Stimulus’ (Reuters)
Debts Rise At China’s Big Steel Mills, Consumption Falls (Reuters)
Natural Gas Prices Plunge To 17-Year Lows (CNBC)
Europe’s Biggest Oil Hub Fills as Ship Queue at Seven-Year High (BBG)
UAE Says Oil Collapse Will Force All Producers to Cap Volumes (BBG)
Negative Rates … Negative Outcomes (Corrigan)
Trumpocalypse Now (Guardian)
Euro Depression Is ‘Deliberate’ EU Choice, Says Mervyn King (Telegraph)
Why Austria’s Asylum Cap Is So Controversial (Economist)
EU Nations Urged To Lift Border Checks To Save Passport-Free Zone (Guardian)
Rights Groups Accuse France Of Brutality In Calais Eviction (AP)
Greece Seeks EU Aid For 100,000 Refugees (AFP)

Big risk for Xi. He must be desperate.

China To Lay Off 5 To 6 Million Workers (Reuters)

China aims to lay off 5-6 million state workers over the next two to three years as part of efforts to curb industrial overcapacity and pollution, two reliable sources said, Beijing’s boldest retrenchment program in almost two decades. China’s leadership, obsessed with maintaining stability and making sure redundancies do not lead to unrest, will spend nearly 150 billion yuan ($23 billion) to cover layoffs in just the coal and steel sectors in the next 2-3 years. The overall figure is likely to rise as closures spread to other industries and even more funding will be required to handle the debt left behind by “zombie” state firms. The term refers to companies that have shut down some of their operations but keep staff on their rolls since local governments are worried about the social and economic impact of bankruptcies and unemployment.

Shutting down “zombie firms” has been identified as one of the government’s priorities this year, with China’s Premier Li Keqiang promising in December that they would soon “go under the knife”.. The government plans to lay off five million workers in industries suffering from a supply glut, one source with ties to the leadership said. A second source with leadership ties put the number of layoffs at six million. Both sources requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media about the politically sensitive subject for fear of sparking social unrest. The ministry of industry did not immediately respond when asked for comment on the reports. The hugely inefficient state sector employed around 37 million people in 2013 and accounts for about 40% of the country’s industrial output and nearly half of its bank lending.

It is China’s most significant nationwide retrenchment since the restructuring of state-owned enterprises from 1998 to 2003 led to around 28 million redundancies and cost the central government about 73.1 billion yuan ($11.2 billion) in resettlement funds. [..] China aims to cut capacity gluts in as many as seven sectors, including cement, glassmaking and shipbuilding, but the oversupplied solar power industry is likely to be spared any large-scale restructuring because it still has growth potential, the first source said. The government has already drawn up plans to cut as much as 150 million tonnes of crude steel capacity and 500 million tonnes of surplus coal production in the next three to five years. It has earmarked 100 billion yuan in central government funds to deal directly with the layoffs from steel and coal over the next two years, vice-industry minister Feng Fei said last week.

The Ministry of Finance said in January it would also collect 46 billion yuan from surcharges on coal-fired power over the coming three years in order to resettle workers. In addition, an assortment of local government matching funds will also be made available. However, the funds currently being offered will do little to resolve the problems of debts held by zombie firms, which could overwhelm local banks if they are not handled correctly. “They have proposed this dedicated fund only to pay the workers, but there is no money for the bad debts, and if the bad debts are too big the banks will have problems and there will be panic,” said Xu Zhongbo, head of Beijing Metal Consulting, who advises Chinese steel mills.

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Nothing they could ever do. Deflation must and will have its day.

Deflation Defeats Impotent Central Banks (A. Gary Shilling)

Central banks are deadly fearful of deflation. That’s why the Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, the Bank of Canada, the Bank of Japan and Sweden’s Riksbank, among others, have 2% inflation targets. They don’t love rising prices, but they worry about the consequences of a general decline in consumer prices, so they want a firebreak. Unfortunately, they seem powerless to meet their targets in the current economic environment. The guardians of monetary policy are riveted by Japan, where consumer prices have declined in 48 of the last 83 quarters. This pattern of deflation long ago convinced Japanese buyers to hold off purchases in anticipation of lower prices. But the result is excess inventories and too much productive capacity, which force prices even lower.

That confirms expectations, resulting in yet more buyer restraint. The result of this deflationary spiral has been a miserable economy with an average growth in real GDP of just 0.8% at annual rates since the beginning of 1994. Central banks also fret that in a deflationary environment, debt burdens remain fixed in nominal terms, but the ability to service them drops along with falling nominal incomes and waning corporate cash flows. So bankruptcies leap, while borrowing, consumer spending and capital investment all weaken.

As I argued on Monday, deflation remains a clear and present danger. Worryingly, the remedies central bankers are using aren’t working. First, in reaction to the financial crisis, they knocked their short-term reference rates down to essentially zero, and bailed out their stricken banks and other financial institutions. That may have forestalled financial collapse but it did little to stimulate borrowing, spending, capital investment and economic activity. Creditworthy borrowers already had ample liquidity and few attractive spending and investment outlets; slashing borrowing costs to record lows stimulated asset prices such as equities, with little economic benefit.

Furthermore, banks were too scared to lend. And as they resisted attempts to break them up and eliminate the too-big-to-fail problem, regulators bereaved them of profitable activities such as proprietary trading and building and selling complex derivatives. That forced them back toward less lucrative traditional spread lending – borrowing short-term money cheaply and lending it for longer at a profit – just as the shrinking gap between short- and long-term funds made that business even less attractive. With the amount of capital banks are obliged to set aside against their trading activities also leaping, they’re now regulated to such an extent that many of them probably wish they had been broken up.

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And Beijing claims Kyle Bass is wrong?

Smells Like Subprime (BBG)

Chinese bankers often pride themselves on having studied in the U.S. or the U.K and true to form, they’re bringing home a lot of the intricate financing that helped people overseas get loans for homes, cars and education. But these financiers are taking creative structures one step further.On Monday, Bloomberg News reported that China will allow domestic banks to issue as much as 50 billion yuan ($7.6 billion) of asset-backed securities that would be paid back using the proceeds from nonperforming loans. (Yes, you read that correctly.) The structure they’re employing is similar to the method that was used to repackage subprime mortgages in the U.S. ahead of the global financial crisis. But when bankers in America were bundling those low-doc mortgages into AAA-rated bonds, they still expected most of the loans would be repaid.

In this case, the debt has already gone bad. Considering hardly any Chinese asset-backed securities have ever received a less than AA score from a local rating company to date, chances are these ones will be awarded the same grade. Of course, investors buying these bonds should be aware they’re backed with debt that’s already soured, regardless of its credit score. Yet, the move is worrying because it’s the latest in a string of revivals in China of dangerous structures that were common in the West before being all but abandoned after 2008. Many of the instruments are helping banks disguise or unload their exposure to troubled companies in the same way issuance of asset-backed securities helped U.S. and British lenders mask their exposure to souring home payments as loans became delinquent.

Ironically, China had pretty much banned asset-backed securities until 2013 because of what happened during the credit crisis. Since authorities began allowing them again, they’ve spread like wildfire. Official data indicate that 593 billion yuan of ABS were sold last year, 79% more than in 2014. Less comprehensive Chinabond data show some 678 billion yuan being issued over the past two years. The first quota of 50 billion yuan is just a test. If there’s enough demand you can bet there will be plenty more of these repackaged bad-loan bonds floating around China in coming years. The amount of debt classed as nonperforming at Chinese commercial banks jumped 51% from a year earlier to 1.27 trillion yuan as of Dec. 31, the highest since June 2006, data from the China Banking Regulatory Commission showed last month.

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CDS look very ugly.

China Credit Outlook Cut to Negative by Moody’s (BBG)

China’s credit-rating outlook was lowered to negative from stable at Moody’s Investors Service, which highlighted the country’s surging debt burden and questioned the government’s ability to enact reforms just days before leaders gather to approve a five-year road map for the economy. The government’s financial strength may come under pressure if it takes on liabilities from troubled state-owned companies, while capital outflows have limited policy makers’ scope to stimulate the weakest economy in a quarter century, the ratings company said in a statement on Wednesday. State intervention in equity and foreign-exchange markets has heightened uncertainty about the leadership’s commitment to reform, Moody’s said.

While markets shrugged off the outlook cut on Wednesday, it highlights concern among global investors that the ruling Communist Party will struggle to overhaul Asia’s largest economy at a time when capital is flowing out of the country and debt levels have climbed to an unprecedented 247% of GDP. Chinese leaders will begin nearly two weeks of policy meetings on Saturday to map out how to tackle the nation’s economic challenges and meet the government’s goal of doubling per-capita income by 2020. “The government’s ability to absorb shocks has diminished and we want to signal this in the negative outlook,” Marie Diron, a senior vice president at Moody’s, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. Authorities “have stepped backward in their reform steps and so that is creating some uncertainty.”

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Growth market. Next up: scrapyards.

China’s Secret Weapon: Used Car Salesmen (FT)

You have probably read, in the Financial Times and elsewhere, that China is the world’s largest car market. It is not. It is the world’s largest new car market, with sales of 21.1m units last year compared with 17.4m in the US. When used cars are included, the US auto market swells to more than 40m units, against less than 30m total passenger car sales in China. In value terms, the gap between the two markets is even larger. In 2014, the overall value of US car sales was almost $1.2tn, more than twice as large as China’s $470bn. This is not surprising, considering that two-thirds of cars on Chinese roads are less than five years old and 80% of all buyers are first-time drivers. The latter fact explains why crossing an intersection in China can be a harrowing experience for pedestrians.

Put another way, an industry that most Americans, Europeans and Japanese have grown up with and now take for granted does not yet even exist in China. Dismiss a shady character as a “used car salesman” and most Chinese people will not understand the reference. As Chinese leaders gather at their annual parliamentary session later this week, it is worth bearing in mind that they are doing so in a country where one cannot very easily buy a used car. That fact should reassure Chinese politicians and multinational executives worried about the pace of growth in the world’s second-largest economy, which will be a topic of much discussion at the National People’s Congress.

Government officials insist that the rising “new economy” will balance out the declining “old economy”, allowing the country to grow at an average rate of 6.5% through 2020. The creation of entirely new industries will further support growth. The inevitable rise of what will soon be the world’s largest used car market is one such example. While its emergence will initially cannibalise some new car sales — primarily those of cheap domestic brands — the potential for growth is huge. In most developed auto markets, there are at least two used car sales for every one new car sale. In China the ratio is inverted, with roughly three new car transactions for every used car sold.

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Just a signal of panic.

China Reserve Ratio Cut ‘No Signal Of Impending Large-Scale Stimulus’ (Reuters)

China’s move to cut banks’ reserve requirement ratio (RRR) indicates a slight easing bias in China’s “prudent” monetary policy, but that is by no means a signal of any coming large-scale stimulus, the official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary late on Tuesday. The Xinhua commentary follows rising market expectations that China could implement a version of the massive stimulus it adopted during the global financial crisis, launching in late 2008 a 4 trillion yuan ($610 billion)stimulus package to boost the economy. The news agency said strong stimulus was not needed because China still had monetary policy tools available and China’s economy was growing at a reasonable rate, with no signs of chaos or crisis in the global economy. Xinhua stated that because China would stick to its prudent monetary policy, there would be no changes in the way the government adjusted liquidity, which would be kept at a reasonable and flexible level, it said.

That meant China’s lending and total social financing would grow at a steady and reasonable rate, Xinhua noted. Xinhua’s view was echoed by state-owned People’s Daily, which reported on Wednesday, citing economists, that the RRR cut was not stimulus, but only reflected increasing policy flexibility aimed at supporting economic development. Late on Monday, the People’s Bank of China announced a cut in the amount of cash that banks must hold as reserves – the reserve ratio requirement (RRR) – by 50 basis points. It frees up an estimated $100 billion in cash for new lending. Hong Hao at BOCOM International said the RRR cut was largely liquidity neutral, because the move was intended to offset the decline in China’s foreign currency reserves and to accommodate more than 1 trillion yuan of open market operations facilities due this week.

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So they can’t go broke, right?!

Debts Rise At China’s Big Steel Mills, Consumption Falls (Reuters)

China’s major steel mills added to their debt pile in 2015 while consumption of steel products fell for the first time in two decades, a senior official said on Wednesday, adding to the industry’s difficulties as it tries to tackle a crippling glut. The debt ratio of major steel mills rose 1.6 %age points to 70.1% from a year ago, taking the big mills’ debt to 3.27 trillion yuan ($499 billion), Li Xinchuang, the vice secretary general of the China Iron & Steel Association (CISA), told a conference. At the same time, steel product consumption in China fell 5.4% to 664 million tonnes in 2015 from a year ago, the first drop since 1996, said Li, who is also head of the China Metallurgical Industry Planning and Research Institute.

China is trying to rein in its bloated steel sector, and aims to cut crude steel capacity by 100 million to 150 million tonnes within the next five years, as well as ban new steel projects and eliminate so-called “zombie” mills. However, slower demand and rising debt will put further pressure on the industry, with prices already at multi-year lows. China’s major steel mills produced a combined 601 million tonnes of steel last year, accounting for nearly three-quarters of the country’s total output, Li said. CISA earlier said the country’s total annual crude steel capacity now stands at 1.2 billion tonnes. Total production reached 803.8 million tonnes last year, down 2.3%, the first drop since 1981. The drive to cut industrial capacity will force China to lay off probably 1.8 million workers from coal and steel sectors, and the central government will allocate 100 billion yuan to deal with job losses and tackle debt.

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“..Australian LNG production is expected to grow 50% in the five years through to 2020..”

Natural Gas Prices Plunge To 17-Year Lows (CNBC)

Natural gas prices have crashed to 17-year-lows in the past week, underscoring burgeoning supply in the global market just as U.S. exports its first ever shale gas cargo. On Monday, natural gas prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange settled 4.5% lower to their lowest level since 1999 after U.S. weather forecasts signaled warmer weather in the weeks ahead, curbing demand for natural gas used for heating. The decline brought February losses in natural gas to 26%. Prices recovered on Tuesday but the outlook remains depressed. Japan, the world’s largest importer of natural gas, is restarting its nuclear reactors six years after the 2011 Fukushima disaster, with three out of 43 nuclear reactors brought back online since August and more expected to come.

Japan is likely to bring back more reactors online, which will make the country less dependent on LNG for electricity generation. In January, shipments of LNG into Japan fell the most in more than six years, according to Bloomberg calculations. This does not bode well for Australia, which has pumped more than $160 billion in LNG investments just before the commodities rout that has taken oil prices down 70% since the summer of 2014. Australian LNG production is expected to grow 50% in the five years through to 2020 even as certain producers cut capital expenditures and reduce spending on upstream activities, said Fitch Group unit BMI Research in a note last week.

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“..people will be filling up their “swimming pools” with it this year.”

Europe’s Biggest Oil Hub Fills as Ship Queue at Seven-Year High (BBG)

The queue of ships waiting outside Europe’s biggest port and oil-trading hub of Rotterdam has grown to the longest in seven years as a global supply glut fills storage capacity. As many as 50 oil tankers, twice as many as normal, are waiting outside Rotterdam because storage sites are almost full, the port’s spokesman Tie Schellekens said by phone on Tuesday. “This is a clear sign of the oversupply filling up storage to the brim,” Gerrit Zambo, an oil trader at Bayerische Landesbank in Munich, said by phone. “People are preferring to store oil rather than cut production. These are bearish signs.” The world is so awash with oil that BP CEO Bob Dudley said last month people will be filling up their “swimming pools” with it this year.

Traders are taking advantage of a market contango, where forward prices are higher than current prices, by buying oil cheap, storing it and selling the commodity later. As onshore storage fills up, companies could start stockpiling at sea in a repeat of a strategy last seen in 2008 and 2009. Crude oil in storage tanks in Rotterdam stood at 51.3 million barrels on Feb. 19, the highest for the time of year in data starting in 2013, according to Genscape, which monitors inventories. Royal Vopak NV, the world’s largest oil-storage company, last week reported a fourth-quarter occupancy rate of 96% at its 11 terminals in the Netherlands compared with 85% a year earlier. The situation in Rotterdam mirrors that in the biggest U.S. storage hub of Cushing in Oklahoma, where stockpiles are at a record high.

“In Cushing and probably Rotterdam storage is filling up very quickly,” said Giovanni Staunovo at UBS in Zurich, Switzerland. “In China, given high oil imports, there are too many ships and the infrastructure seems not be able to handle that.” Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, said last month it won’t cut production to ease global oversupply, while Iran has pledged to increase output after sanctions were lifted in January. Still, oil climbed on Tuesday from the highest close in more than seven weeks on speculation that monetary stimulus in China could help revive flagging economic growth in the world’s second-biggest fuel consumer.

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It will bankrupt them first.

UAE Says Oil Collapse Will Force All Producers to Cap Volumes (BBG)

The oil-price collapse will compel all producers to freeze output and no early OPEC meeting can take place without such a move, the United Arab Emirates’ energy minister said. “This is the reality,” Suhail Al Mazrouei said Tuesday in Abu Dhabi. “Current prices will force everyone to freeze production; stubbornness doesn’t make sense.” Saudi Arabia – the world’s largest crude exporter – Russia, Venezuela and Qatar have proposed that producers cap production at January levels to bolster prices that have tumbled almost 70% in two years. OPEC member Iran, which is ramping up output following the removal of sanctions in January, has said the plan is “ridiculous” and saddles it with “unrealistic demands.”

Venezuela is among members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to call for a meeting of oil producers this month, while Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi has said he hopes for such a gathering. The group’s next scheduled meeting is in June. Mazrouei said he hasn’t received an invitation for an early meeting and a summit won’t be necessary if producers don’t agree in advance to freeze output. That runs counter to Iran’s plans to increase volumes by 1 million barrels a day this year. “The idea of bringing a lot of production in a short period is not practical,” Mazrouei said.

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Laws of nature.

Negative Rates … Negative Outcomes (Corrigan)

There has been much head-scratching of late as to why, with interest rates lower than they have been since the Universe first exploded out of the Void, businesses are not undertaking any where near as much investment as that hoped for beforehand by the academic cabal whose ‘effective demand’ and ‘transmission channel’ fixations have helped drive rates to today’s mind-boggling levels. This is obviously a complex topic in which there are many different factors at work – not the least of which is that the prevalence of overly-low interest rates for much of the recent past has meant that all too much of such investment as is now desired has not only already been done, but done in what has turned out to be so misguided a fashion, that there is less appetite – as well as fewer means, in many cases – to undertake much more of it today.

If the cure for higher prices – as the saying in commodity markets goes – is higher prices, then the cause of lower rates is almost certainly lower rates! Be that as it may, on a more fundamental level, it might also be possible to tease out at least one aspect of the answer to the conundrum with the aid of a little straightforward logic, as we shall now attempt to do here. In theory, positive interest rates reflect the primal truth that goods fit for our enjoyment today are worth more to their potential consumer than those same goods which are only available tomorrow. Moreover, since producer goods are otherwise inedible, unwearable, uninhabitable, etc., in their present form, they only derive their value in respect of their quality of being innate consumer goods-to-be.

Hence, the means of producing the day’s goods for some future date are always to be discounted back using that same ratio (which is none other than the natural rate) as the one which prevails between consumables-now and consumables-then. Doing so gives us a positive IRR (or, if you prefer, assuring that NPV>0) for the process. Here it goes without saying that since the natural rate is inherently unobservable, the market interest rate will be used in its place – an unavoidable substitution which demands that this latter quantity be subject to as few falsifications as possible (a vexed topic suitable for a forthcoming, much deeper treatment).

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Oh, wait, Drumpfocalypse.

Trumpocalypse Now (Guardian)

There will be those in the Republican and conservative establishment who will try to spin the Super Tuesday results. Some among the GOP chattering classes will tell you that Trump didn’t get the knock-out punch he wanted – that there is still a chance to restore order. Don’t believe it. The numbers make it clear that, for the Republican party, it’s Trumpocalypse Now. While Ted Cruz won his home state of Texas as well as Oklahoma, and Rubio ran him close in Virginia and actually managed to win Minnesota, Trump dominated elsewhere. His success extended from Massachusetts to Georgia to Alabama to Tennessee to Oklahoma. He won in Ted Cruz’s south, and he won in the north-east, where a more establishment-friendly candidate like Marco Rubio was supposed to prevail.

Trump is winning with men and women, moderates and conservatives, with the young and the old. Trump is winning despite a weekend of unforced errors – after failing to repudiate former Klu Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke. Trump is winning even after taking political napalm from Marco Rubio since last week’s debate – with Rubio ridiculing his rival on the trail for days. Trump is winning despite the fact that the Republican speaker of the House and majority whip in the Senate both criticized him this week. He is winning in spite of the fact that almost every big name Republican officer-holder and mega-donor is lined up behind his opponents. The race is not technically over. While Trump will win the lion’s share of delegates tonight, both Cruz and Rubio will pick up delegates and spend the next couple of weeks trying to convince voters and donors that they can stop the frontrunner – that they have a path to the nomination.

Whether or not either of these men can really achieve that at this point – and I remain highly skeptical, despite Cruz’s two-state win – the day of reckoning for the Republican party has arrived. Whatever happens, what neither Cruz nor Rubio nor anyone else can do is to stop the forces that Trump’s candidacy has unleashed. It’s no longer possible to say the Republican party is a conservative party. You can’t even say the Republican party’s base is conservative. It appears that a new, populist-nationalist wing has wrested control of the of the GOP away from its familiar constituency. This is no longer the party of William F Buckley and Jack Kemp. It’s now the party of Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot.

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“I never imagined that we would ever again in an industrialised country have a depression deeper than the United States experienced in the 1930s and that’s what’s happened in Greece.”

Euro Depression Is ‘Deliberate’ EU Choice, Says Mervyn King (Telegraph)

Europe’s deep economic malaise is the result of “deliberate” policy choices made by EU elites, according to the former governor of the Bank of England. Lord Mervyn King continued his scathing assault on Europe’s economic and monetary union, having predicted the beleaguered currency zone will need to be dismantled to free its weakest members from unremitting austerity and record levels of unemployment. Speaking at the launch of his new book, Lord King said he could never have envisaged an economic collapse of the depths of the 1930s returning to Europe’s shores in the modern age. But the fate of Greece since 2009 – which has suffered a contraction eclipsing the US depression in the inter-war years – was an “appalling” example of economic policy failure, he told an audience at the London School of Economics.

“In the euro area, the countries in the periphery have nothing at all to offset austerity. They are simply being asked to cut total spending without any form of demand to compensate. I think that is a serious problem. “I never imagined that we would ever again in an industrialised country have a depression deeper than the United States experienced in the 1930s and that’s what’s happened in Greece. “It is appalling and it has happened almost as a deliberate act of policy which makes it even worse”. Lord King – who spent a decade fighting the worst financial crisis in history at the Bank of England – has said the weakest eurozone members face little choice but to return to their national currencies as “the only way to plot a route back to economic growth and full employment”.

“The long-term benefits outweigh the short-term costs,” he writes in The End of Alchemy. The former Bank governor has said popular disillusion with EU economic policies are likely to lead to disintegration of the single currency rather than a move towards “completing” monetary union. Two of the eurozone’s debtor nations – Ireland and Spain – are currently locked in electoral stalemate after their pro-bail-out governments failed to win the backing of voters. But the European Commission has defended itself against claims that punishing austerity measures have made incumbent European regimes unelectable, arguing that Brussels’ economic policy represents a “virtuous triangle” of austerity, structural reforms and investment.

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Nobody cares about the laws they signed up for.

Why Austria’s Asylum Cap Is So Controversial (Economist)

Europe is divided on how to handle the largest number of refugees since the second world war. Still, Austria’s move to cap asylum claims at 80 per day at its southern border and limit the daily number of people travelling through Austria to seek asylum in Germany to 3,200 has sparked outrage. After Austria, which lies on the migrant route from the Balkans into Germany, announced its plan, Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship, wrote to Austria’s interior minister to protest. The move, he said, was “plainly incompatible” with EU law. The minister replied, on television: “they have their legal adviser and I have legal advisers.” The Geneva Convention and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights clearly state that asylum is a right.

Human-rights activists argue that a cap runs counter to the spirit of these texts; lawyers know that, as fundamental as they are, rights are never absolute. But Austria would seem to be flouting some EU directives. One (which was voted for by Austria) says that asylum applications must be officially registered (that is, given a number) no more than ten days after they have been lodged; a daily limit would seem to make following that difficult. Last year, around 700,000 migrants entered Austria and around 90,000 applied for asylum. According to another rule, refugees are supposed to apply for asylum in the first “safe country” they are in, rather than moving on to another. EU rules have been woefully stretched by Europe’s immigration crisis already of course. In 2011, European judges criticised Greece for failing to register asylum applications at the border.

All applications, they said, were being made on one day a week at one police station in Athens. More recently, the European Commission criticised Greece for not being able to control its border and letting people hike up north. In 2011, Italy issued thousands of temporary residency permits, which allow immigrants to travel around Europe, to Tunisians who had arrived on its shores. In response, France closed its border with Italy. No action was taken. Mr Avramopoulos is adamant that Austria’s measures are unlawful, but it is not clear what he intends to do about it. The European Commission’s legal services are building up their case but judges might never hear it. Further angry exchanges seem more likely than legal action. Meanwhile, Austria’s move has led to border slowdowns for migrants across the Balkans. EU leaders have announced they will hold a summit in early March with Turkey to attempt to seek fresh solutions to the crisis.

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Never mind. Schengen’s long dead.

EU Nations Urged To Lift Border Checks To Save Passport-Free Zone (Guardian)

European Union countries are being urged to lift internal border controls before the end of the year, to save the “crowning achievement” of the passport-free travel zone from total collapse, according to a draft report by the European commission. Walls, fences and border checks have returned across Europe as the EU struggles to cope with the biggest inflow of refugees since the end of the second world war. Since September 2015, eight countries in the 26-nation passport-free Schengen zone have re-instated border checks. These controls “place into question the proper functioning of the Schengen area of free movement”, according to the draft report seen by the Guardian, which will be published on Friday. “It is now time for member states to pull together in the common interest to safeguard one of the union’s crowning achievements.”

Separately, the European commissioner for humanitarian aid is expected to announce on Wednesday that €700m (£544m) will be spent over three years in helping refugees in the western Balkans. Much of the money is destined for Greece, as EU leaders scramble to help Athens deal with its own crisis. 24,000 refugees are in need of permanent shelter and 2,000 people are arriving on Greek shores each day. EC president Donald Tusk has described helping Greece as “a test of our Europeanness”. The passport-free travel zone, which stretches from Iceland to Greece but does not include the UK or Ireland, has been under unprecedented pressure; its collapse could unravel decades of European integration. The commission wants member states to lift border controls “as quickly as possible” and with “a clear target date of November 2016”. But Brussels also wants tighter control of the EU’s external border and will repeat warnings that Greece could be kicked out of Schengen if it fails to improve border management by May.

[..] Greece is under growing pressure to hand over management of its borders to the EU, as it struggles to cope with the numbers. According to this latest plan, EU authorities will carry out an inspection of Greece’s borders in mid April to determine whether controls are adequate, with a final decision on Greece’s place in Schengen to be taken in May. The EU executive also reaffirms its intention to overhaul rules governing asylum claims. Under the current rules, known as the Dublin system, asylum seekers have to lodge their claim in the first country they enter. The Dublin regime was effectively finished last year when the chancellor, Angela Merkel, opened Germany’s borders to any Syrian who wanted to claim asylum there, regardless of where they arrived in the EU. In mid-March the commission will set out a list of options for reforming EU asylum policy. The favoured idea is a permanent system of relocation, where refugees are shared out around the union, depending on the wealth and size of a country.

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Second hand citizens.

Rights Groups Accuse France Of Brutality In Calais Eviction (AP)

More than a dozen humanitarian organizations on Tuesday accused authorities of brutally evicting migrants from their makeshift dwellings in a sprawling camp in northern France, as fiery protests of the demolition continued. Thousands of migrants fleeing war and misery in their homelands use the port city of Calais as a springboard to try to get to Britain on the other side of the English Channel. However, authorities are moving to cut short that dream by closing a large swath of the slum camp in the port city of Calais. In the stinging accusation at the close of the second day of a state-ordered mass eviction and demolition operation, the organizations charged that authorities have failed to respect their promise of a humane and progressive operation based on persuading migrants to vacate their tents and tarp-covered homes.

“Refugees, under threats and disinformation, were given one hour to 10 minutes to leave their homes,” a statement said. Police pulled out some who refused, making arrests in certain cases, while others were not allowed to gather their belongings or identity papers, the statement charged. Migrants and pro-migrant activists protested against the eviction Tuesday, some climbing onto shanty rooftops to briefly stall the tear-down, and others by starting a night fire. Tents and tarp-covered lean-tos were also set afire on Monday and earlier Tuesday. The protesting organizations alleged that police aimed flash-balls at the roof protesters, then clubbed them and made some arrests. Tear gas, water cannons and other tactics have been used excessively, the statement charged.

Organizations respected for their humanitarian work with migrants, such as Auberge des Migrants (Migrants’ Shelter), GISTI and Secours Catholique were among the 14 who signed the list of charges. The mass evictions from the southern sector of the camp were announced Feb. 12 with promises by Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve that there would be no brutality. However, the Monday start of operations came as a surprise. The regional prefecture in charge of the demolition says the hundreds of police present are needed to protect workers in the tear-down and state employees advising migrants of their options. France’s government has offered to relocate uprooted migrants into heated containers nearby or to centers around France where they can decide whether to apply for asylum. Officials have blamed activists from the group No Borders for the ongoing unrest. But many migrants resist French offers of help, afraid of hurting their chances of reaching Britain.

Officials say the evictions concern 800-1,000 migrants, but organizations working in the camp say the real number is more than 3,000.

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Crazy they even have to ask.

Greece Seeks EU Aid For 100,000 Refugees (AFP)

Greece has asked the EU for €480 million ($534 million) in emergency funds to help shelter 100,000 refugees, the government said Tuesday, warning that the migrant influx threatened to overwhelm its crisis-hit resources. “Greece has submitted an emergency plan to the European Commission .. corresponding to around 100,000 refugees,” government spokeswoman Olga Gerovassili told reporters. “We cannot bear the strain of all the refugees coming here… these are temporary measures, there needs to be a permanent solution on where the refugees will be relocated,” she added. “Greece has made it clear that it will use every diplomatic means available to find the best possible solution,” Gerovassili said.

With Austria and Balkan states capping the numbers of migrants entering their soil, there has been a swift build-up along the Greek border with Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). Athens had previously warned that it could be stuck with up to 70,000 people trapped on its territory. Gerovassili said there were 25,000 migrants and refugees currently in the country and that FYROM was only allowing “a few dozen” through every day. Over 7,000 people – many of them stranded in near the Idomeni border crossing for days – spent a freezing night and awoke under wet canvas among sodden wheat fields.

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Feb 262016
 
 February 26, 2016  Posted by at 9:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Russell Lee Washington DC, “Cafe on L Street.” 1938

A System That Is Stable Only When Under The Influence (BBG)
OECD’s William White: In Terms of Debt, This Is Way Worse than 2007 (FS)
The Red Swan And Other Reasons To Be Very Afraid (David Stockman)
RBS Falls -11% After £1.98 Billion Annual Loss (BBG)
China Unveils Its Deliverables for G-20 (BBG)
China Tweaks Monetary Stance as Zhou Flags Scope to Act (BBG)
“This Is Not A Moment Of Crisis”: US Treasury Sec. Jack Lew (NA)
Germany Opposes Any G-20 Fiscal Stimulus (BBG)
Market Turmoil Eases, but Investors Remain Wary (WSJ)
The Big New Threat to Oil Prices: A Glut of Gasoline (WSJ)
Halliburton Cuts Another 5,000 Workers to Cope with Oil Downturn (BBG)
Brexit: Fraying Union (FT)
Greek Health Minister Instructs Hospitals To Treat Uninsured Patients (Kath.)
Over 130,000 Migrants Missing In Germany (EUO)
Ministers Demand Drop In Migrant Flows From Turkey Before March 7 (Reuters)
Europe’s Free Travel Will End Unless Turkey Halts Migrant Flow (Reuters)
EU: Greece Wouldn’t Be The Worst Place To Have A Humanitarian Crisis (WSJ)
“We Are Heading Into Anarchy”, “EU Will “Completely Break Down In 10 Days” (ZH)

Great metaphor.

A System That Is Stable Only When Under The Influence (BBG)

From BBG’s Richard Breslow: “When investors used to say they didn’t like uncertainty, it meant they expected consistency in how policy makers would interpret incoming data. Situations evolve and exogenous shocks happen, but at least let’s all be on a similar wave length. Then you do your analysis, I’ll do mine and that’s what makes markets. That ship has sailed. Current levels of volatility aren’t good or fun and certainly not “normal.” It’s a problem of our own making. From top to bottom we have redesigned a system that is stable only when under the influence. I read this morning that money managers are pining away for a return to the happy and calm days of 2011-2015. The world was in existential crisis, but stocks were being manipulated higher. Happy days, I’m getting my (market) fix.

A casualty of this current volatility is that at any given time there are no rational explanations for what’s going on. Back and forth swings of meaningful proportion are characterized, by necessity, with a random reason generator. If we don’t do so we’d have to admit to a much deeper systemic defect. Better to just put it down to simple things like China’s economy or the European banking system is collapsing. They’ll be forgotten at the next rally. What would be hard news is G-20 participants giving more than lip service to their host’s pre-summit statement: “We cannot just rely on monetary policy. Fiscal policy must play a role,” and “We understand that, as the second-largest economy, our policies spill over to others. We also understand that U.S. policies spill over, we must stress policy coordination.”

Yes, Mr. Lew, there is a crisis. German 10-year bund yields 15 basis points. Analysts are touting technical hammer patterns formed yesterday in the S&P 500 and Treasury 10-year yields. Everything should rally now. Somehow, I doubt they’ve hit the nail on the head. The only thing that has changed is the price. El Condor Pasa. A condor by any other name is still a vulture.”

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A few words of wisdom.

OECD’s William White: In Terms of Debt, This Is Way Worse than 2007 (FS)

William White, chairman of the Economic and Development Review Committee at the OECD and former chief economist at the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), says the risks posed by global debt levels are greater today than they were in 2007 and that central banking monetary policy has lost its effectiveness. He also explains the crucial differences between modern macroeconomic modeling and complexity theory (or viewing the economy as a complex adaptive system) and the key lessons this has for policymakers, both fiscal and monetary. Here’s a portion of his recent interview with Financial Sense airing Friday on the Newshour page:

“If you think about a crisis period as a period of deleveraging, in fact this has not happened and we’ve gone in the very opposite direction. Now, on the household side, clearly there have been some improvements made but on the corporate side in the US, things have gotten significantly worse—the debt ratios for corporations have gone up very substantially as has government debt… More importantly—again, when I say the situation is worse today than it was in 2007—in 2007 this debt problem was essentially confined to the advanced market economies. Since then, the debt ratios—the private debt ratios in particular—have exploded in the emerging market countries and so we now have in a sense a global problem whereas in 2007 you might say we had a regional problem with the advanced market economies.

But now it’s basically everywhere so, yes, I do think that the situation is worse than it was then… When I first came to the BIS in 1994, we started warning about the credit flows into Southeast Asia well before the Asian crisis happened and…it was in the early 2000s that we really started to focus on what was going on in the advanced market economies… The story that we were telling then was really one of the Greenspan put starting in 1987 and every time there was a problem, the answer was to print the money or ease monetary conditions and the debt ratios ratcheted up and up and up…

So we had this problem in ’87 and the answer was easy money; then we had this problem in 1990-1991 and, again, the answer was easy money. The response to the Southeast Asian crisis was don’t raise rates even though all sorts of other indicators said you should. Then it was easy money again in 2001 and, of course, in 2007…every time the headwinds of debt have been getting higher and higher and the monetary easing required to overcome that has had to get greater and greater and the logic of that takes you to the point where you say, well, in the end monetary easing is not going to work at all and…that’s where I am today… Unfortunately, we are still, as far as I can tell, both the BIS and myself are still talking to a brick wall…

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David in fine form: “China is a monumental doomsday machine that bears no more resemblance to anything that could be called stable..”

The Red Swan And Other Reasons To Be Very Afraid (David Stockman)

The Red Chip casino took another one of its patented 6.5% belly flops last night. In fact, more than 1,300 stocks in Shanghai and Shenzhen fell by 10% – the maximum drop permitted by regulators in one day – implying that the real decline was far deeper. This renewed carnage was the worst since, well, the last 6% drop way back on January 29, and It means that the cumulative meltdown from last June’s high is pushing 45%. And all this red chip mayhem did not come at an especially propitious moment for the regime, as the Wall Street Journal explained: It comes at an awkward moment for the Chinese government, which is hosting the world’s leading central bankers and finance ministers starting Friday. China has been expected to use the G-20 meeting to address global anxiety about its economy and financial markets.

Worries about China’s economic slowdown and the volatility of its markets have weighed on investment decisions around the world. But if we are remarking on “awkward”, here’s awkward. The G-20 central bankers, finance ministers and IMF apparatchiks descending on Shanghai should take an unfiltered, eyes-wide-open view of the Red Ponzi fracturing all about them, and then make a petrified mad dash back to their own respective capitals. There is nothing more for G-20 to talk about with respect to China except how to get out of harms’ way, fast. China is a monumental doomsday machine that bears no more resemblance to anything that could be called stable, sustainable capitalism than did Lenin’s New Economic Policy of the early 1920s. The latter was followed by Stalin’s Gulag and it would be wise to learn the Chinese word for the same, and soon.

The regime is in a horrendous bind because it has played out the greatest credit spree in world history. This cycle of undisciplined, debt-fueled digging, building, spending and speculating took its collective balance sheet from $500 billion of debt in the mid-1990s to the $30 trillion tower of the same that now gyrates heavily over the land. That’s a 60X gain in debt over just two decades in an “economy” that has no honest financial markets; no legal system and tradition of bankruptcy and financial discipline; and a banking system that functions as an arm of the state, cascading credit down from the top in order to “print” an exact amount of GDP each month on the theory that anything that can be built, should be built in order to hit Beijing’s targets.

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One by one, the big banks have double digit losses when reporting their numbers. The RBS CEO tries a “I meant to do that”. Yeah.

RBS Falls -11% After £1.98 Billion Annual Loss (BBG)

Royal Bank of Scotland said it would take longer than originally planned to resume shareholder payouts after reporting its eighth consecutive annual loss, driven by costs for past misconduct. The shares dropped the most since 2012. The net loss narrowed to 1.98 billion pounds ($2.77 billion) in 2015 from 3.47 billion pounds a year earlier, the Edinburgh-based lender said in a statement on Friday. Pretax profit excluding conduct and litigation charges and restructuring costs fell about 28% to 4.41 billion pounds, missing the 4.45 billion-pound average estimate in a company-compiled survey of seven analysts. RBS last posted net income in 2007.

Chief Executive Officer Ross McEwan, 58, is facing a pivotal year in his efforts to resume dividends for the first time since the bank’s 45.5 billion-pound taxpayer-funded bailout in 2008. The bank said Friday outstanding issues, including a potential settlement with U.S. authorities over sales of mortgage-backed securities, mean it’s now “more likely that capital distributions will resume later” than his original target of the first quarter of 2017. “Clearly there are big conduct charges we still face, not least in relation to U.S. mortgage-backed securities,” McEwan said on a conference call with journalists. “I look forward to the day when we can put these issues behind us.”

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Curious choice of words. China is a big looming crisis. Straight-faced pretending is not going to change that.

China Unveils Its Deliverables for G-20 (BBG)

China began signaling what its officials plan to present to counterparts at the two-day Group of 20 meeting in Shanghai, laying out a platform for more government spending and renewed pledges of currency stability. Notably rejected in comments from Finance Minister Lou Jiwei published Thursday was a proposal that emanated from some private-sector analysts for a grand, 1985 Plaza Accord-style deal among G-20 members to guide exchange rates. Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao said fiscal stimulus should be deployed to boost global growth, while Yi Gang, the deputy central bank governor, said China will maintain a relatively stable currency as it embraces market forces. Clouding what should have been China’s chance to showcase its agenda, the nation’s stocks plunged anew on the eve of the Feb. 26-27 meetings of central bank chiefs and finance ministers, as surging money-market rates signaled tighter liquidity.

“The stock slump has been triggered by the disappointment of investors in the government’s ability to deliver economic reforms,” said Hong Kong-based Lu Ting, chief economist at Huatai Securities Co. “Any recovery in the stock market will rely on concrete outcomes of reforms, not empty talk.” How policy makers should respond to weakening global demand is set to dominate the agenda at the Shanghai meeting. Chinese officials including Yi’s boss, Zhou Xiaochuan, have stepped up communication leading into the summit, trying to relieve global concerns over China’s economic and currency outlook. Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda Thursday called for a dialog on China’s economy at the G-20 meeting. “The nation is going through various structural changes,” Kuroda told lawmakers in Tokyo. Given China’s size, it “can have a large impact on Asia and the global economy. So, I would like to have honest exchange of opinions.”

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What’s the correct word? Obfuscation sounds about right.

China Tweaks Monetary Stance as Zhou Flags Scope to Act (BBG)

China’s central bank tweaked the description of its monetary policy stance to reflect a recent ramp-up in liquidity injections and moves to guide money market rates lower, with Governor Zhou Xiaochuan highlighting scope for further actions if needed. “China still has some monetary policy space and multiple policy instruments to address possible downside risks,” Zhou said at a conference in Shanghai, speaking hours before meeting his counterparts from the Group of 20 developed and emerging markets. Asian stocks, industrial metals and higher-yielding currencies rose. The People’s Bank of China separately published a statement defining current policy as “prudent with a slight easing bias.” The PBOC had previously used language pledging to maintain a prudent policy while maintaining “reasonable, ample” liquidity.

The latest comments confirm “the underlying reality that the central bank is doing its bit to cushion growth and keep the wheels churning,” said Frederic Neumann at HSBC. “Today’s statement is thus a deliberate signal to FX traders the world over not to fret too much over the PBOC’s firepower.” Economists surveyed by Bloomberg News this month forecast additional reserve requirement ratio and benchmark interest-rate reductions in 2016. The shift “brings the language on the central bank’s policy stance into line with the reality,” Bloomberg Intelligence chief Asia economist Tom Orlik wrote in a note. Still, “the need to avoid selling pressure on the yuan will make it more difficult to cut benchmark rates in the short term.”

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No time to panic.

“This Is Not A Moment Of Crisis”: US Treasury Sec. Jack Lew (NA)

“This is not a moment of crisis,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob “Jack” Lew said, in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “This is a moment where you’ve got real economies doing better than markets think, in some cases.” The interview, which ran on Wednesday, just before Lew headed to Shanghai, China, for the latest G20 summit of finance ministers and central bankers, will probably do little to allay investor fears that the global economy is indeed “in the middle of a full blown crisis.” “I don’t think this is a moment in time when you’re going to see individual countries make the kinds of specific commitments that have been made in some other contexts that have been marked by real crisis,” Lew said of the G20 meeting (of the world’s 20 largest national economies), which will take place in Shanghai Friday and Saturday, February 26-27.

“The idea is how do you avoid having things go to a place that you don’t want them to go,” Lew said. “That’s a different conversation than what do you do when you’re in the middle of a full blown crisis.” “Weakness in demand globally is a problem that can’t be solved just by everyone looking at the United States,” said Lew, leading into his central interventionist message that governments must work together to “stimulate” the global economy with more government spending and more government debt. Other countries and regions, including China, have to look at what they can do “to stimulate consumer demand,” he stressed. “There are structural issues that need to be addressed,” said Lew, with some countries needing regulatory and/or financial reform. “But fiscal and monetary policies are important tools. When used together they’re powerful. That’s the message we bring.”

Lew’s “non-crisis” message echoed that of International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde a few days earlier. On February 19, Lagarde, who had just been confirmed for a second five-year term as IMF chief, urged the G20 nations to coordinate economic policy. “Are we in a 2009 moment, I don’t think so. Are we in a moment where coordination is needed? Yes,” Lagarde said, a reference to the 2008-2009 financial crisis.

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And then there’s Schäuble.

Germany Opposes Any G-20 Fiscal Stimulus (BBG)

Germany’s finance minister opposed any fiscal stimulus plan from the Group of 20, whose top economic officials gather Friday, and instead sought to focus on structural reforms to strengthen national growth rates. Wolfgang Schaeuble, speaking hours before meeting with his counterparts from the G-20 developed and emerging markets, also said that the space for monetary policy has been exhausted. He warned that using debt to fund growth just leads to “zombifying” economies. “Talking about further stimulus just distracts from the real tasks at hand,” Schaeuble said at a conference in Shanghai. German policy makers “do not agree on a G-20 fiscal stimulus package, as some argue in case outlook risks materialize.”

Schaeuble’s stance potentially puts him in conflict with other G-20 members. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said in an interview before heading to Shanghai that the U.S. wants a more serious commitment from other G-20 nations to use monetary policy, fiscal measures and structural reforms to stoke demand. China’s finance chief said that his nation for its part will be expanding its fiscal deficit. The German finance minister said that the slide in oil prices has already offered a “huge” stimulus for demand. He also said that expansive fiscal policies could lay the groundwork for a future crisis.

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Lamest headline of the year award. Trying to lull you to sleep.

Market Turmoil Eases, but Investors Remain Wary (WSJ)

The crushing start to the year for markets has taken a respite. But poor earnings, heightened volatility and turbulence in the market for low-rated corporate bonds remain, stoking concerns that the breather for stocks may be just a blip. Thursday marked the sixth trading day out of nine that U.S. stocks ended on an up note, putting February in the green for major indexes. The Dow industrials are up 1.4% this month after slumping more than 9% in the first three weeks of the year. In a sign of newfound resilience, stock markets in both Europe and the U.S. on Thursday shrugged off a 6.4% selloff in Chinese stocks. Two months ago, declines like that dragged down global indexes. And U.S.-traded oil, which lately has moved in the same direction with stocks, has posted a strong week, up 4.2% in what bulls call a positive sign for global growth.

The buoyancy suggests investors are weathering negative news or aren’t as worried the global economy is in decline or that the aging bull market has peaked. Yet, the recent rally faces obstacles. Even as stocks rose Thursday, investors bought U.S. Treasurys, sending prices up and yields down. And new cracks emerged in the corporate bond market. Bankers for Solera Holdings this week had trouble generating interest in bonds for a takeover of the software firm, suggesting it is getting harder for heavily indebted companies to borrow. The slowdown in the market for high-yield, or riskier, corporate bonds comes amid a poor fourth-quarter earnings season. Earnings at S&P 500 companies are on track to have dropped from a year ago for three straight quarters, which would be the first time that has happened since 2009.

Overall, earnings for S&P 500 companies fell 3.6% from a year ago in the fourth quarter, with about 95% of companies having reported, according to FactSet data. “You still have a profits recession,” said Russ Koesterich at BlackRock. “There are limits to how far [the rally is] going to go.”

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Export it?!

The Big New Threat to Oil Prices: A Glut of Gasoline (WSJ)

Refineries in the U.S. Midwest are losing their thirst for oil, posing a new risk for the battered crude market. The Midwest accounts for nearly a quarter of the crude processed in the U.S. and is home to shale producers that have few other outlets for their oil. But refiners there are already swimming in gasoline and other fuel, forcing them to cut back production until the excess can be worked off. The result has been more crude oil available in the market, worsening a glut that has been undermining oil prices for the past year and a half. With U.S. crude inventories at the highest level in more than 80 years, some storage hubs have little room left to store oil. CVR Refining is among the companies that have scaled back. The company said recently that it reduced runs at its 70,000-barrels-a-day refinery in Wynnewood, OK, by as much as 10,000 barrels a day.

“It doesn’t make sense to process something when you’re not making anything on it,” Chief Executive Jack Lipinski said during a Feb. 18 earnings call. Refiners in the Department of Energy’s Midwest region, which stretches from North Dakota to Ohio and south to Oklahoma and Tennessee, ran at 92.9% of capacity last week, down from 98.2% a month ago. That drop is significant because it marks the first time several refineries in the region have opted to reduce activity for economic reasons—a marked change after more than a year of refiners processing as much crude as possible. Refining margins are lower throughout the country this year, including in the Gulf Coast region, where more than 50% the country’s refining capacity is concentrated.

But refiners there have more choices when it comes to buying crude oil and can substitute cheaper options if they become available. And they can put fuel on tankers to sell overseas if supplies build up too much. Refiners profit on the difference between oil prices and fuel prices. Oil prices have dropped 70% since mid-2014 to around $32 a barrel currently, but robust demand for gasoline kept prices at the pump from falling as quickly last year, boosting refiner margins. However, analysts question whether demand will increase strongly this year, especially given broader concerns about sluggish economic growth. On a four-week average basis, U.S. gasoline demand fell in January compared with the year before, according to Energy Information Administration estimates. “Crude is well-supplied, products are well-supplied,” said David Leben at BNP Paribas. “We have to find the demand.”

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29,000 in total now.

Halliburton Cuts Another 5,000 Workers to Cope with Oil Downturn (BBG)

Halliburton said it’s cutting another 5,000 workers, or 8% of its global workforce, to cope with the worst crude market downturn in 30 years. The world’s second-largest oilfield services provider said last month it cut nearly 4,000 jobs in the final three months of 2015. With the latest layoffs, the company will have let go of nearly 29,000 workers, or more than a quarter of its headcount since staffing reached its peak in late 2014. “We regret having to make this decision but unfortunately we are faced with the difficult reality that reductions are necessary to work through this challenging market environment,” Emily Mir, a spokeswoman, said Thursday in an e-mailed statement. “We thank all impacted employees for their many contributions to Halliburton.” The oil industry slashed more than $100 billion in spending and more than 250,000 jobs globally last year to cope with tumbling oil prices, which are down about 70% over the past year and a half due to an oversupply of crude.

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Too many threats to defuse them all.

Brexit: Fraying Union (FT)

“We are not withdrawalists as a party, but we want to have a new deal with the EU,” says Morten Messerschmidt, who won a seat in the European parliament after [his] party topped all others in Denmark’s 2014 EU elections, with 26.6 per cent of the vote. “We are happy that a big country such as Britain is talking about taking back sovereignty and is willing to make the final sacrifice.” Denmark is seen as one of the countries most vulnerable to contagion if Britain were to vote to leave the EU. In many ways, the Danish are the most British of continental Europeans when it comes to Brussels, delaying its EU membership until the UK became a member in 1973 and remaining the only other country with an “opt-out” of the EU requirement to join the euro.

Denmark is hardly alone in harbouring political movements that wish to leave the EU. The failure of most of Europe to pull out of its post-eurocrisis economic funk, coupled by the largest influx of refugees in more than a generation, has left mainstream parties across the continent under siege. Some fear a British exit would push many of these countries over the edge, sparking louder calls for copycat referendums that could begin to unravel the great postwar European project. Although EU leaders believe Scandinavia and the “Visegrad Four” countries in central and eastern Europe — Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic — would feel the most immediate pressure from a British exit because of longstanding anti-EU sentiment in those blocs, leading voices from “core Europe” are now lending support for similar ventures.

In the Netherlands, a founding member of both the EU and the euro, Geert Wilders, whose far-right Freedom party has held a commanding lead in national polls for months, recently said a British exit would make it easier for his country to leave the EU — something he promised to deliver should he become prime minister. “The beginning of the end of the EU has already started,” he said last month. “And it can be an enormous incentive for other countries if the UK would leave.” In France, another member of the EU’s founding six, the far-right National Front, which like the Freedom party is also leading in polls ahead of a presidential election next year, has promised a British-style referendum over EU membership within six months of coming to power. “Until now, the EU has only enlarged itself. Brexit would prove the EU is not an inevitable plan,” says Florian Philippot, the National Front vice-president. “Soon people would also realise that the UK lives well without being part of the EU. That there would be no economic collapse, no chaos.”

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That’s how to do it.

Greek Health Minister Instructs Hospitals To Treat Uninsured Patients (Kath.)

The process of providing free healthcare to patients who have not recently earned social security credits got under way on Thursday. Health Minister Andreas Xanthos issued instructions to state hospitals to provide medicines, tests and treatment to uninsured patients without charge. The minister’s note came in the wake of the so-called “parallel program” being voted through Parliament on Saturday. The package of measures is aimed at easing the impact of the crisis on the most vulnerable social groups, with the provision of free healthcare for all being its centerpiece.

The law also allows migrants living in Greece legally, as well as specific categories that do not have residence papers, such as pregnant women, refugees and minors, to receive free care. According to ministerial decisions in 2014, uninsured Greeks could claim free healthcare if they could prove they could not afford it, while they could also obtain medicines under the same terms as those insured with EOPYY, meaning they would have to pay 1 euro for each prescription as well as part of the cost of the drugs.

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And we thought they were so well organized…

Over 130,000 Migrants Missing In Germany (EUO)

More than 13 percent of asylum seekers arriving to Germany last year have disappeared from view of the authorities, the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported Friday (26 February) based on a response from the federal interior ministry to a question by the left-wing Die Linke party. More than 130,000 asylum seekers who were registered last year in Germany have not arrived at their designated reception facility, according to the report. The interior ministry said the reasons could be traveling on to a different country or “submersion into illegality”. Some asylum seekers who have family or friends already living in Germany might decide to stay with them, rather than in big reception facilities with little information or few things to do.

The head of Germany’s federal office for migration Frank-Juergen Weise said on Thursday that there are currently up to 400,000 people in the country whose identities are unknown to authorities. Germany is also struggling to send back asylum seekers to other EU countries under the Dublin regulation, which says people have to register their request in the country where they first enter the EU. German authorities made a request to a European partner to take back refugees for only one in every 10 applicants. In 2014, this was the case for one in every five refugees. The report comes on a day when the German upper house, the Bundesrat is to hold a final vote on new asylum rules.

The legislation, already passed by the Bundestag, the lower house on Thursday, aims to speed up asylum procedures, making it easier to deport migrants whose claim has been rejected. It also sets up special reception centers in which asylum applications by certain groups of asylum-seekers would be processed within three weeks. Asylum seekers from so-called “safe countries of origin”, where they can be sent back or people who have refused to help authorities process their applications would be housed there.

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if Turkey doesn’t do what they want, they will close the Greek border? That’s exactly what Turkey ia aiming for, put pressure on Greece.

Ministers Demand Drop In Migrant Flows From Turkey Before March 7 (Reuters)

EU ministers on Thursday raised the prospect of further tightening unilateral border controls unless there was a sharp drop in the number of migrants arriving from Turkey by the time of an EU-Turkey summit on March 7. Seven European states have already reinstated border controls within the cherished but creaking Schengen free-travel zone, putting huge strain on Greece, which can no longer wave the tide of arrivals from Turkey onward through the Balkans. More states said they would follow suit unless a deal promising Turkey €3 billion in help to house refugees from the Syrian war in return for preventing them travelling on to Europe yielded fruit before the summit. “By March 7, we want a significant reduction in the number of refugees at the border between Turkey and Greece,” German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said as he arrived at an EU justice and home affairs ministers’ meeting in Brussels.

Germany has been pushing the Turkey plan hard but many other EU states are increasingly frustrated and sceptical. [..] “The 6th of March, the 7th of March is when you can expect the spring influx to rise … we have until that time to find solutions that mostly involve the Greek-Turkish influx, the border there,” said Klaas Dijkhoff, migration minister for the Netherlands, which now holds the EU’s rotating presidency. ”If that doesn’t lead to lower numbers, we’ll have to find other measures and we’ll have to do more contingency planning … That’s a very crucial date to see to what extent we succeed in lowering the influx towards Europe as a whole, or we have to take other measures.” [..] “The outlook is gloomy … We have no policy any more. We are heading into anarchy,” said Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s foreign minister. “Our credibility is in doubt, and that is very bad for Schengen and the EU.”

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This is exactly what I talked about in my article “The Balkanization of Europe” yesterday. Now Erdogan holds the power over the survival of Schengen, and the EU. What an insane alliance that is. Stick a fork in all of it.

Europe’s Free Travel Will End Unless Turkey Halts Migrant Flow (Reuters)

Europe’s cherished free-travel zone will shut down unless Turkey acts to cut the number of migrants heading north through Greece by March 7, EU officials said on Thursday. Their declaration came as confrontations grow increasingly rancorous among European countries trying to cope with the influx of refugees. Those recriminations culminated in Greece’s recalling its ambassador to Austria on Thursday. “In the next ten days, we need tangible and clear results on the ground,” the top EU migration official, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said after EU justice and home affairs ministers met in Brussels on Thursday. “Otherwise there is a danger, there is a risk that the whole system will completely break down.” EU leaders are now pinning their hopes on talks with Turkey on March 7 and their own migration summit on March 18-19. The two meetings look like their final chance to revive a flailing joint response to the crisis before warmer weather encourages more arrivals across the Mediterranean.

Seven European states have already restored border controls within the creaking Schengen passport-free zone. More said they would unilaterally tighten border controls unless a deal with Turkey shows results before the two March summits. That deal promises Turkey 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) in aid to help it shelter refugees from the Syrian war, in return for preventing their traveling on to Europe. “By March 7, we want a significant reduction in the number of refugees at the border between Turkey and Greece,” German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said. “Otherwise ,there will have to be other joint, coordinated European measures.” Germany has been pushing the Turkey plan hard. Many other EU states are increasingly frustrated and skeptical, though.

[..] “Many discuss how to handle a humanitarian crisis in Greece, which they themselves are trying to create,” said the country’s migration minister, Yannis Mouzalas. “Greece will not accept unilateral moves. Unilateral moves can also be made by Greece.”

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A set-up.

EU: Greece Wouldn’t Be The Worst Place To Have A Humanitarian Crisis (WSJ)

Senior European officials are embracing the so-far taboo idea of cutting off the migrant trail in Greece, a step that they acknowledge could create a humanitarian crisis in the country. This so-called Plan B, floated until now only by Europe’s populist leaders, is a sign of rapidly waning confidence in other European Union policies to deal with the migration crisis—in particular in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s game plan of relying mainly on Turkey to stem the human tide. Greece in recent days has tried to fight back at the prospect of having tens of thousands of migrants trapped on its territory. “We will not accept turning the country into a permanent warehouse of souls,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Wednesday night.

During fractious talks among interior ministers in Brussels on Thursday, several people present said the Greek migration minister made an impassioned plea to EU counterparts not to ringfence Greece as nationalist leaders in Central and Eastern Europe, notably Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Slovakia’s Robert Fico, have long demanded. But the ringfencing is already happening, as Austria and the Balkan countries over the past week have coordinated a tightening of their borders and started to send back Afghan migrants, resulting in more than 10,000 people being stuck in Greece. On Thursday, the Greek government recalled its ambassador to Austria—a rare move within the EU—in outrage over the border controls and for being left out of a meeting of Balkan countries called by Vienna on the crisis.

Some European officials are now looking to a March 7 summit of EU and Turkish leaders as a deadline for the bloc’s existing migration strategy, particularly the cooperation with Turkey and a NATO sea-monitoring mission, to yield fruit. If it doesn’t, it will become more imperative, they warn, to stop migrants from traveling farther north and to speed up preparations for assisting Greece with a possible humanitarian emergency. “Greece wouldn’t be the worst place to have a humanitarian crisis for a few months,” one EU official said, adding that the population there was much more refugee-friendly than those in the Balkans or Eastern Europe.

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What I wrote yesterday in The Balkanization of Europe.

“We Are Heading Into Anarchy”, “EU Will “Completely Break Down In 10 Days” (ZH)

[..[] on Thursday, EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos warned that the bloc has just 10 days to implement a plan that will bring about “tangible and clear results on the ground” or else “the whole system will completely break down.” Avramopoulos also cautioned that a humanitarian crisis in Greece and in the Balkans is “very near.” Moves by countries to adopt ad hoc, state-specific measures to stem the flow are exacerbating the problem, the commissioner contends. “We cannot continue to deal through unilateral, bilateral or trilateral actions; the first negative effects and impacts are already visible,” he said. “We have a shared responsibility – all of us – towards our neighbouring states, both EU and non-EU, but also towards those desperate people.”

By “the negative effects,” of unilateral actions, Avramopoulos is likely referring to the bottlenecks that are leaving thousands stranded in the Balkans. The chokepoints are being pressured by a series of border fences that have been erected over the past six months and the problem is exacerbated by stepped up border checks. In short: we’re witnessing the death of the bloc’s beloved Schengen. “Seven European states have already reinstated border controls within the cherished but creaking Schengen free-travel zone, putting huge strain on Greece, which can no longer wave the tide of arrivals from Turkey onward through the Balkans,” Reuters writes. Earlier today, Athens recalled its Austrian ambassador.

“Greece will not accept unilateral actions. Greece can also carry out unilateral actions,” migration minister, Yannis Mouzalas told reporters on Thursday. “Greece will not accept becoming Europe’s Lebanon, a warehouse of souls, even if this were to be done with major [EU] funding.” On March 7, officials will attend a summit with Turkey where buy in from Ankara is critical if there’s to be meaningful reduction in the flow of asylum seekers to Western Europe. Leaked documents recently showed President Erdogan is essentially attempting to blackmail Europe. “We can open the doors to Greece and Bulgaria at any time. We can put them on busses,” he was quoted as saying, during a conversation with European Commissioner Jean Claude Juncker and President of the European Council Donald Tusk on 16th November 2015 during the G20 Summit in Antalya.

In addition to the seven states that have already reinstated border checks, more countries have promised to follow suit unless Erdogan and Tsipras can figure out a way to make progress in defending the bloc’s external border. Officials fear the onset of spring will embolden still more migrants to make the journey as warmer weather will thaw the Balkan route. On Wednesday, Hungarian PM Viktor Orban called for a referendum on the propsed quota system that Brusells hoped would help distribute and place refugees. It’s only a matter of time before other countries conduct similar plebiscites. Perhaps Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s foreign minister put it best: “The outlook is gloomy … We have no policy any more. We are heading into anarchy.”

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Feb 132016
 
 February 13, 2016  Posted by at 10:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC New Orleans milk cart1903

Abenomics Is In Poor Health After Nikkei Slide, And It May Be Terminal (G.)
Yen’s Best Two-Week Run Since 1998 Just the Start (BBG)
The World’s Hottest Trade Has Suddenly Turned Ice-Cold (CNBC)
Credit Default Swaps Are Back As Investors Look For Panic Button (BBG)
‘Austrians Need Constitutional Right to Pay in Cash’ (BBG)
The Shipping Industry Is Suffering From China’s Trade Slowdown (BBG)
China Central Bank: Speculators Should Not Dominate Sentiment (Reuters)
America’s Big Banks Are Fleeing The Mortgage Market (MW)
Large Increase in Debts Held by Americans Over Age 50 (WSJ)
The Eurozone Crisis Is Back On The Boil (Guardian)
Schäuble Says Portugal Debt Woes Trump ‘Strong’ Deutsche Bank (BBG)
European Banks Are In The Eye Of A New Financial Storm (Economist)
150,000 Penguins Die After Giant Iceberg Renders Colony Landlocked (Guardian)
Four Billion People Face Severe Water Scarcity (Guardian)
Merkel Turns to ‘Coalition of Willing’ to Tackle Refugee Crisis (BBG)
EU Is Poised To Restrict Passport-Free Travel (AP)
80,000 Refugees Arrive In Europe In First Six Weeks Of 2016 (UNHCR)

It was terminal when it began.

Abenomics Is In Poor Health After Nikkei Slide, And It May Be Terminal (G.)

Not long ago, Shinzo Abe was being heralded for the early success of his grand design to bring Japan out of a deflationary spiral that had haunted the world’s third-biggest economy for two decades. Soon after Abe became prime minister in December 2012, the first two of the three tenets of his ‘Abenomics’ programme – monetary easing and fiscal stimulus – were having the desired effect. In the first year of the programme, the Nikkei index jumped nearly 60%, and the strong yen, the scourge of the country’s exporters, finally ceded ground to the US dollar. And in April 2013 came the appointment of Haruhiko Kuroda, a Bank of Japan governor who shared Abe’s zeal for deflation busting through ever looser monetary policy.

But by Friday, at the end of a dismal week for the Nikkei share index, market volatility caused by renewed fears over the health of the global economy has left Abe’s prescription for economic recovery in jeopardy. While, as some suggest, it is too early to read the last rites for Abenomics, few would disagree that its symptoms are in danger of becoming terminal. There is damning evidence for that claim; enough, in fact, for Abe to reportedly summon key economic advisers on Friday to discuss a way out of the impasse. Japanese shares registered their biggest weekly drop for more than seven years after shedding 4.8% for the Nikkei s lowest close since October 2014. That took the index below the 15,000 level investors regard as a psychological watershed, and erased all the gains made since the Bank of Japan made the shock decision in October 2014 to inject 80tn yen into the economy.

To compound the problem, another pillar of Abenomics – a weak yen – is also crumbling, with the Japanese currency rising to its strongest level for more than a year on Friday. The intention was for a weak yen to push up corporate earnings and help generate inflation by raising import prices; instead, companies are now cutting earnings forecasts as speculation mounts that Japan will again intervene to rein in the yen’s surge. In recent weeks, slumping oil costs and soft consumer spending – the driving force behind 60% of Japan’s economic activity – have brought inflation to a halt. Official data released last month showed that Japan’s inflation rate came in at 0.5% in 2015, way below the Bank of Japan’s 2% target, as the government struggled to convince cautious firms to usher in big wage rises to stir spending and drive up prices.

In response, the Bank of Japan extended the deadline for achieving its 2% inflation target to the first half of the fiscal year 2017, from its previous estimate of the second half of fiscal 2016. In fairness, Abe is partly the victim of factors beyond his control, namely China’s slowdown, weak overseas demand and plunging oil prices. The problem for Abe and Kuroda is that they are quickly running out of options: witness how the market boost from last week’s surprise decision to adopt negative interest rates ended after a couple of days with barely a whimper. By the time Japan hosts G7 leaders this summer, Abe could be forced to concede defeat in his principal aim of dragging Japan out of deflation and boosting growth.

But higher share prices and a weaker yen were only part of the scheme. He has barely started to address the structural reforms comprising the “third arrow” of Abenomics: a shrinking and ageing workforce and the urgent need to boost the role of women in the economy. Next year, he is expected to introduce a highly controversial increase in the consumption tax – a move that will help Japan tackle its public debt and pay for rising health and social security costs, but which could also dampen consumer spending, the driving force behind 60% of the economy. He may be inclined to disagree after a month of upheaval that also saw the resignation of his economics minister, but Abe’s troubles may be only just beginning.

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When you lose the currency war.

Yen’s Best Two-Week Run Since 1998 Just the Start (BBG)

When the going gets tough, foreign-exchange traders turn to the yen. Japan’s currency may extend its biggest two-week rally since 1998 as investors continue to seek out refuge assets amid market turmoil, according Citigroup Inc. State Street Global Advisors Inc., which oversees about $2.4 trillion, says it’s buying yen and selling dollars as the tumult gripping financial markets bolsters the Japanese currency’s appeal. “We’re not counting on the market mood shifting any time soon,” said Steven Englander at Citigroup. Citigroup, world’s biggest foreign-exchange trader according to Euromoney magazine, expects haven currencies including the yen, euro and Swiss franc to appreciate in the near term, even though it said investors are being overly pessimistic about the prospects for economic growth in the U.S. and monetary stimulus elsewhere.

The yen has defied predictions to weaken this year while its biggest counterpart, the dollar, has upended forecasts for gains. Currency traders are questioning the idea that the U.S. economy is strong enough for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates while central bankers in Tokyo and Frankfurt consider adding to stimulus. Japan’s currency rose 3.2% this week to 113.25 per dollar, adding to last week’s 3.7% gain. Its strength contrasts with a median forecast for the currency to drop to 123 against the dollar by the end of the year. Global equities fell into a bear market this week, and commodities declined, amid growing signs that central-bank policy tools were losing their stimulative effects. Fed Chair Janet Yellen signaled financial-market volatility may delay rate increases as the central bank assesses the impact of recent turmoil on domestic growth.

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“In 2009, the ETF enjoyed average daily volume of just 10,000 to 20,000 shares. By 2012, about 200,000 shares were being traded each day. The DXJ rallied tremendously in the next half a year, and by mid-2013 was seeing about 7 million to 8 million shares trade daily..”

The World’s Hottest Trade Has Suddenly Turned Ice-Cold (CNBC)

An international trade that once looked like a no-brainer has turned into a major headache. The WisdomTree Japan Hedged Equity Fund (DXJ), which combines a long position on Japanese stocks with a short position on the Japanese yen, sounds like a niche product. But as that trade played out beautifully over the past few years, with Japanese stocks soaring as the yen tanked, the ETF has become downright mainstream. In 2009, the ETF enjoyed average daily volume of just 10,000 to 20,000 shares. By 2012, about 200,000 shares were being traded each day. The DXJ rallied tremendously in the next half a year, and by mid-2013 was seeing about 7 million to 8 million shares trade daily, a pace it has maintained up to the present.

The product plays into a popular macro thesis: Expansive policies from the Bank of Japan should help Japanese stocks and hurt the yen. This trend indeed played out powerfully for a time, leading the DXJ to nearly double from November 2012 to June 2015. But the good times didn’t last. In the eight months after hitting that June peak, the ETF lost nearly all of its gain, falling back to its lowest level in more than three years. This as both legs of the trade failed, with Japanese stocks sliding and the yen strengthening amid a global sell-off in risk assets. What may make this especially frustrating is that Japanese monetary authorities haven’t exactly given up on their plan to send the yen lower in order to foster long-dormant inflation and to boost exports.

To the contrary, the BOJ has introduced a negative interest rate policy — which utterly failed in halting the yen’s rise. In fact, the currency is enjoying its best week in years.

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Omen.

Credit Default Swaps Are Back As Investors Look For Panic Button (BBG)

As markets plunge globally, investors are seeking refuge in an all-but-forgotten place. Trading volumes in the credit-default swaps market — where banks and fund managers go to hedge against losses on corporate and government debt — have surged. Transactions tied to individual entities doubled in the four weeks ended Feb. 5 to a daily average of $12 billion, according to a JPMorgan analysis of trade repository data. The volume of contracts on benchmark indexes in the market increased two-fold during that period to an average of $87 billion a day. The growth could represent a shift. The credit derivatives market has contracted for almost a decade, after loose monetary policies triggered a big rally in assets including corporate bonds, which made investors less eager to protect against the worst.

Regulators have also urged banks to curb their risk taking, reducing the appetite for at least some dealers to trade the instruments. Now, stock markets are selling off and junk bond prices are plunging, increasing investor demand for protection. “The surge we’ve seen in trading is likely to stay with us for the foreseeable future,” said Geraud Charpin at BlueBay Asset Management, which has traded more credit-default swaps on individual credits in the past three months. “The credit cycle has turned, so there’s more appetite to go short and buy protection.” Risk measures fell on Friday after soaring this week to the highest levels since at least 2012 in the U.S., and 2013 in Europe. The cost of insuring Deutsche Bank’s subordinated debt dropped from a record after the German lender said it planned to buy back about $5.4 billion of bonds to allay investor concerns about its finances. The bank’s shares have lost about a third of their value this year.

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The EU just gets crazier by the day. But currency in circulation is way up.

‘Austrians Need Constitutional Right to Pay in Cash’ (BBG)

Austrians should have the constitutional right to use cash to protect their privacy, Deputy Economy Minister Harald Mahrer said, as the EU considers curbing the use of banknotes and coins. “We don’t want someone to be able to track digitally what we buy, eat and drink, what books we read and what movies we watch,” Mahrer said on Austrian public radio station Oe1. “We will fight everywhere against rules” including caps on cash purchases, he said. EU finance ministers vowed at a meeting in Brussels on Friday to crack down on “illicit cash movements.” They urged the European Commission to “explore the need for appropriate restrictions on cash payments exceeding certain thresholds and to engage with the ECB to consider appropriate measures regarding high denomination notes, in particular the €500 note.” Ministers told the commission to report on its findings by May 1.

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“..orders for new vessels dropped 40% in 2015 [..] The demolition rate for unwanted vessels jumped 15%.”

The Shipping Industry Is Suffering From China’s Trade Slowdown (BBG)

When business slows and owners of ships and offshore oil rigs need a place to store their unneeded vessels, Saravanan Krishna suddenly becomes one of the industry’s most popular executives. Krishna is the operation director of International Shipcare, a Malaysian company that mothballs ships and rigs, and these days he’s busy taking calls from beleaguered operators with excess capacity. There are 102 vessels laid up at the company’s berths off the Malaysian island of Labuan, more than double the number a year ago. More are on the way. “There’s a huge demand,” he says. “People are calling us not to lay up one ship but 15 or 20.” Shipbuilders, container lines, and port operators feasted on China’s rise and the global resources boom.

Now they’re among the biggest victims of the country’s slowdown and the worldwide decline in demand for oil rigs and other gear amid the oil price plunge. China’s exports fell 1.8% in 2015, while its imports tumbled 13.2%. The Baltic Dry Index, which measures the cost of shipping coal, iron ore, grain, and other non-oil commodities, has fallen 76% since August and is now at a record low. Shipping rates for Asia-originated routes have dropped, too, and traffic at some of the region’s major ports is falling. In Singapore, the world’s second-largest port, container traffic fell 8.7% in 2015, the first decline in six years. Volumes at the port of Hong Kong, the fourth-busiest, slid 9.5% last year. Beyond Asia, the giant port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands recorded a dip in containerized traffic for the year. Globally, orders for new vessels dropped 40% in 2015, to $69 billion, according to Clarksons Research. The demolition rate for unwanted vessels jumped 15%.

Just a few years ago, as the global economy improved and oil prices rose, many companies ordered more fuel-efficient ships. There were more than 1,200 orders for bulk carriers that transport iron ore, coal, and grain in 2013, compared with just 250 last year, according to Clarksons. Many of the ships ordered are now in operation, says Tim Huxley, chief executive officer of Wah Kwong Maritime Transport Holdings, a Hong Kong-based owner of bulk carriers and tankers. “You have a massive oversupply,” he says. The damage is especially severe in China, the world’s leading producer of ships. New orders for Chinese shipbuilders fell by nearly half last year, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. In December, Zhoushan Wuzhou Ship Repairing & Building became the first state-owned shipbuilder to go bankrupt in a decade.

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Beijing wants monopoly on sentiment.

China Central Bank: Speculators Should Not Dominate Sentiment (Reuters)

Speculators should not be allowed to dominate market sentiment regarding China’s foreign exchange reserves and it was quite normal for reserves to fall as well as rise, central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan was quoted as saying on Saturday. China’s foreign reserves fell for a third straight month in January, as the central bank dumped dollars to defend the yuan and prevent an increase in capital outflows. In an interview carried in the Chinese financial magazine Caixin, Zhou said yuan exchange reform would help the market be more flexible in dealing with speculative forces. There was a need to distinguish capital outflows from capital flight, and tight capital controls would not be effective for China, he said. China has not fully liberalized its capital account.

Zhou added that there was no basis for the yuan to keep depreciating, and China would keep the yuan basically stable versus a basket of currencies while allowing greater volatility against the U.S. dollar. The government also needed to prevent systemic risks in the economy, and prevent “cross infection” between the stock, debt and currency markets, he said. The comments come after China reported economic growth of 6.9% for 2015, its weakest in 25 years, while depreciation pressure on the yuan adds to the case for the central bank to take more economic stimulus measures over the near-term. A slew of economic indicators has sent mixed signals to markets at the start of 2016 over the health of China’s economy. Activity in the services sector expanded at its fastest pace in six months in January, a private survey showed on Feb. 3, while manufacturing activity fell to the lowest since August 2012.

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“..the four largest commercial banks will “downsize or exit entirely from the business of originating and servicing residential mortgages.”

America’s Big Banks Are Fleeing The Mortgage Market (MW)

When it comes to residential mortgages, big banks are waving the white flag. Banks originated 74% of all mortgages in 2007, but their share fell to 52% in 2014, the most recent data available from the Mortgage Bankers Association. And it could go even lower. But even at these levels, the big bank backtrack is reshaping a lending landscape that’s already undergone seismic shifts since the housing bubble burst. While there’s widespread agreement that banks should have been reined in — and perhaps punished — after playing a major role in the housing bubble that helped tank the economy, the past few years have been tough for banks’ mortgage businesses. They now face a regulatory environment so strict that many are afraid to lend, even to customers with the most pristine credit.

They’re still paying up for misdeeds done during the bubble. There’s essentially no private bond market to whom to sell mortgages. And fighting those battles on behalf of their least-profitable divisions means residential lending just isn’t worth it for many banks. “We can’t make money in the business,” BankUnited CEO John Kanas said when he announced a mortgage retreat on a January earnings call. “We realized that this was the lowest-margin, most volatile business we had and we decided that we should exit.” Of the top 10 originators in 2015, banks lent 28.6% of all mortgages, according to data from Inside Mortgage Finance. That’s about half their share in 2012, when banks among the top 10 originators accounted for 54.4% of all mortgages.

For many analysts, that step is only natural. “The fact is that the cost of capital and compliance has convinced many bankers that making home loans to American families is not worth the risk,” said Chris Whalen, a long-time bank analyst now with Kroll Bond Rating Agency, in a speech early in February. Whalen expects the four largest commercial banks will “downsize or exit entirely from the business of originating and servicing residential mortgages.”

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Boomers. They’re supposed to be the richest Americans. “..the aggregate debt of the average Baby Boomer has soared 169% since 2003..”

Large Increase in Debts Held by Americans Over Age 50 (WSJ)

Americans in their 50s, 60s and 70s are carrying unprecedented amounts of debt, a shift that reflects both the aging of the baby boomer generation and their greater likelihood of retaining mortgage, auto and student debt at much later ages than previous generations. The average 65-year-old borrower has 47% more mortgage debt and 29% more auto debt than 65-year-olds had in 2003, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York released Friday. The result: U.S. household debt is vastly different than it was before the financial crisis, when many younger households had taken on large debts they could no longer afford when the bottom fell out of the economy.

The shift represents a “reallocation of debt from young [people], with historically weak repayment, to retirement- aged consumers, with historically strong repayment,” according to New York Fed economist Meta Brown in a presentation of the findings. Older borrowers have historically been less likely to default on loans and have typically been successful at shrinking their debt balances. But greater borrowing among this age group could become alarming if evidence mounted that large numbers of people were entering retirement with debts they couldn’t manage. So far, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Most of the households with debt also have higher credit scores and more assets than in the past.

“Retirement-aged consumers’ repayment has shown little sign of developing weakness as their balances have grown,” according to Ms. Brown. The data were released in conjunction with the New York Fed’s quarterly report on household debt, that aggregates millions of credit reports from the credit-rating agency Equifax. The report was launched in 2010 to track the changing debt behaviors of U.S. households after the financial crisis. For the last two years, household debts have been slowly rising, although they remain well below where they were in 2008. That trend continued in the final quarter of 2015, with overall household indebtedness rising by $51 billion to $ 12.1 trillion.

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Timber!

The Eurozone Crisis Is Back On The Boil (Guardian)

Greece is back in recession. Italy is barely growing. Portugal expanded but only at half the expected rate. The message could hardly be clearer: the next phase of the eurozone crisis is about to begin. On the face of it, the performance of the eurozone economy in the final three months of 2015 looks solid if unspectacular, with growth as measured by GDP up by 0.3%. But scratch beneath the surface and the picture looks far less rosy. The beneficial impacts of the European Central Bank’s quantitative easing programme have started to wear off, as has the effect of the big drop in oil prices in the second half of 2014. The eurozone peaked in the second quarter of 2015 and the trend was starting to weaken even before the recent turbulence on the financial markets.

Three individual countries bear closer examination. The first is Germany, for which growth of 0.3% in the fourth quarter of 2015 and 1.4% for the year as a whole is as good as it gets. Exports – the mainstay of the German economy – are going to face a much more challenging international climate in 2016, particularly with the euro strengthening on the foreign exchanges. Finland is noteworthy, not just because it is officially back in recession after two successive quarters of negative growth and still has a smaller economy than it did when the financial crisis erupted in 2008, but because its performance is worse than that of Denmark and Sweden, two Scandinavian EU members not in the single currency.

But by far the most worrying country is Greece, where a crumbling economy and the attempts to impose even more draconian austerity is leading, unsurprisingly, to violent protests on the streets. A contraction in growth makes it even harder for Greece to achieve the already ridiculously ambitious deficit and debt reduction targets set for it by its creditors, and on past form that will lead sooner or later (sooner in this case) to a fresh financial crisis and the imposition of further austerity measures. After six months out of the headlines, Greece is coming back to the boil. The danger is that other weak countries on the eurozone’s periphery – most notably Italy and Portugal – suffer from contagion effects.

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He’s trying so hard to boost Deutsche confidence it’ll backfire. People are going to say: ‘let’s see what you got’.

Schäuble Says Portugal Debt Woes Trump ‘Strong’ Deutsche Bank (BBG)

The volatile Portuguese bond market is more alarming than plunging confidence in Deutsche Bank AG, Europe’s largest lender, according to German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble. Even as a global rout in stocks has driven down European bank shares by 27% this year, Schaeuble warned on Friday after a meeting of EU finance ministers in Brussels that Portugal doesn’t have enough “resilience.” “Portugal must do everything to counter uncertainty in financial markets,” he said. The German finance minister’s comments come after the yield on Portugal’s 10-year bond fluctuated in a range of 143 basis points this week, the largest five-day swing since July 2013. Prime Minister Antonio Costa, who was sworn in at the end of November, has rolled back reform measures introduced during the nation’s bailout program that ended in 2014.

Deutsche Bank, which issued a statement Friday reassuring investors it has enough reserves to service debt obligations, “has sufficient capital and is well positioned,” Schaeuble said. In an effort to allay anxieties, the Frankfurt-based lender announced plans to buy back about $5.4 billion of bonds in euros and dollars Friday. The move comes after the cost of insuring its senior debt via credit-default swaps rose to the highest since 2011. Deutsche Bank isn’t alone as confidence in banks’ abilities to return profits in a low interest rate environment is waning. Global banks including Citigroup, Bank of America, Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank have all plunged more than 32%. European finance ministers, when asked about the negative sentiment around European banks, remained upbeat, citing confidence in the safeguards put in place after Lehman Brothers went under in 2008. “We have taken precautions to make banks more resilient after the lessons from the financial and banking crisis,” Schaeuble said.

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The chain is as strong as…

European Banks Are In The Eye Of A New Financial Storm (Economist)

If the start of the year has been desperate for the world’s stockmarkets, it has been downright disastrous for shares in banks. Financial stocks are down by 19% in America. The declines have been even steeper elsewhere. Japanese banks’ shares have plunged by 36% since January 1st; Italian banks’ by 31% and Greek banks’ by a horrifying 60%. The fall in the overall European banking index of 24% has brought it close to the lows it plumbed in the summer of 2012, when the euro zone seemed on the verge of disintegration until Mario Draghi, the president of the ECB, promised to do “whatever it takes” to save it. The distress in Europe encompasses big banks as well as smaller ones. It has affected behemoths within the euro area such as Société Générale and Deutsche Bank – both of which saw their shares fall by 10% in hours this week – as well as giants outside it such as Barclays (based in Britain) and Credit Suisse (Switzerland).

The apparent frailty of European banks is especially disappointing given the efforts made in recent years to make them more robust, both through capital-raising and tougher regulation. Euro-zone banks issued over €250 billion ($280 billion) of new equity between 2007, when the global financial crisis began, and 2014, when the ECB took charge of supervising them. Before taking on the job, it combed through the books of 130 of the euro zone’s most important banks and found only modest shortfalls in capital. Some of the recent weakness in European banking shares arises from wider worries about the world economy that have also driven down financial stocks elsewhere. A slowdown in global growth is one threat. Another is that the negative interest rates being pursued by central banks to try to prod more life into economies will further sap banks’ profits.

A retreat in Japanese bank shares turned into a rout following such a decision in late January. Investors in European banks fret not just about lacklustre growth but also a possible move deeper into negative territory by the ECB in March. On February 11th Sweden’s central bank cut its benchmark rate from -0.35% to -0.5%, prompting shares in Swedish banks to tumble. But the malaise of European banking stocks has deeper roots. The fundamental problem is both that there are too many banks in Europe and that many are not profitable enough because they have clung to flawed business models. European investment banks lack the deep domestic capital markets that give their American competitors an edge. Deutsche, for instance, has only just resolved to hack back its investment bank in the face of a less hospitable regulatory environment following the financial crisis.

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What to say?

150,000 Penguins Die After Giant Iceberg Renders Colony Landlocked (Guardian)

An estimated 150,000 Adelie penguins living in Antarctica have died after an iceberg the size of Rome became grounded near their colony, forcing them to trek 60km to the sea for food. The penguins of Cape Denison in Commonwealth Bay used to live close to a large body of open water. However, in 2010 a colossal iceberg measuring 2900sq km became trapped in the bay, rendering the colony effectively landlocked.Penguins seeking food must now waddle 60km to the coast to fish. Over the years, the arduous journey has had a devastating effect on the size of the colony. Since 2011 the colony of 160,000 penguins has shrunk to just 10,000, according to research carried out by the Climate Change Research Centre at Australia’s University of New South Wales. Scientists predict the colony will be gone in 20 years unless the sea ice breaks up or the giant iceberg, dubbed B09B, is dislodged.

Penguins have been recorded in the area for more than 100 years. But the outlook for the penguins remaining at Cape Denison is dire. “The arrival of iceberg B09B in Commonwealth Bay, East Antarctica, and subsequent fast ice expansion has dramatically increased the distance Adélie penguins breeding at Cape Denison must travel in search of food,” said the researchers in an article in Antarctic Science. “The Cape Denison population could be extirpated within 20 years unless B09B relocates or the now perennial fast ice within the bay breaks out” “This has provided a natural experiment to investigate the impact of iceberg stranding events and sea ice expansion along the East Antarctic coast.” In contrast, a colony located just 8km from the coast of Commonwealth Bay is thriving, the researchers said. The iceberg had apparently been floating close to the coast for 20 years before crashing into a glacier and becoming stuck.

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The next trigger for mass migrations.

Four Billion People Face Severe Water Scarcity (Guardian)

At least two-thirds of the global population, over 4 billion people, live with severe water scarcity for at least one month every year, according to a major new analysis. The revelation shows water shortages, one of the most dangerous challenges the world faces, is far worse previously than thought. The new research also reveals that 500m people live in places where water consumption is double the amount replenished by rain for the entire year, leaving them extremely vulnerable as underground aquifers run down. Many of those living with fragile water resources are in India and China, but other regions highlighted are the central and western US, Australia and even the city of London. These water problems are set to worsen, according to the researchers, as population growth and increasing water use – particularly through eating meat – continues to rise.

In January, water crises were rated as one of three greatest risks of harm to people and economies in the next decade by the World Economic Forum, alongside climate change and mass migration. In places, such as Syria, the three risks come together: a recent study found that climate change made the severe 2007-2010 drought much more likely and the drought led to mass migration of farming families into cities. “If you look at environmental problems, [water scarcity] is certainly the top problem,” said Prof Arjen Hoekstra, at the University of Twente in the Netherlands and who led the new research. “One place where it is very, very acute is in Yemen.” Yemen could run out of water within a few years, but many other places are living on borrowed time as aquifers are continuously depleted, including Pakistan, Iran, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia. Hoekstra also highlights the Murray-Darling basin in Australia and the midwest of the US. “There you have the huge Ogallala acquifer, which is being depleted.”

He said even rich cities like London in the UK were living unsustainably: “You don’t have the water in the surrounding area to sustain the water flows” to London in the long term. The new study, published in the journal Science Advances on Friday, is the first to examine global water scarcity on a monthly basis and at a resolution of 31 miles or less. It analysed data from 1996-2005 and found severe water scarcity – defined as water use being more than twice the amount being replenished – affected 4 billion people for at least one month a year. “The results imply the global water situation is much worse than suggested by previous studies, which estimated such scarcity impacts between 1.7 billion and 3.1 billion people,” the researchers concluded. The new work also showed 1.8 billion people suffer severe water scarcity for at least half of every year.

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Making deals with Turkey while blaming Greece is just plain wrong on many different levels.

Merkel Turns to ‘Coalition of Willing’ to Tackle Refugee Crisis (BBG)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is turning to a subgroup of European Union members to tackle the region’s refugee crisis as the bloc as a whole bickers over how to handle the biggest influx of migrants into Europe since World War II. Merkel plans to meet again with a “coalition of the willing” in Brussels ahead of an EU summit in the city next week. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will attend the talks, which have taken place at previous EU gatherings. Turkey is the main country from which migrants enter the EU. “This doesn’t have to do with a permanent distribution mechanism but rather a group of countries that are willing to consider” taking refugees once the illegal trafficking has been stopped, Merkel said Friday at a Berlin press conference with her Polish counterpart Beata Szydlo.

“We will then report quite transparently to all 28 member states where things stand.” Merkel traveled earlier this week to Turkey to discuss the crisis with Davutoglu. Merkel said on Monday the only way to end the flood of illegal migration across the Aegean Sea from Turkey into Greece was to replace it with a legal avenue. That would involve the EU resettling allotments of mostly Syrian refugees directly from Turkey in return for Turkey halting the flow of migrants, she said. The chancellor has thus far failed to secure a wider EU deal to share in housing and caring for those who have already reached the bloc.

Germany, which took in more than 1 million refugees last year, has pushed to implement a quota system to distribute migrants among EU members – something that a number of the bloc’s states, in particular in the east, argue should only be done on a voluntary basis. “For Poland, a permanent mechanism of relocating migrants is currently not acceptable,” Szydlo said at the press conference with Merkel. “I think we will continue talking about this. But I want to stress that Poland wants to actively participate in solving the migrant crisis because it’s very important for the EU as a whole.”

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They’re too thick to see that this means the end of the union.

EU Is Poised To Restrict Passport-Free Travel (AP)

EU countries are poised to restrict passport-free travel by invoking an emergency rule to keep some border controls for two more years because of the migration crisis and Greece’s troubles in controlling its border, according to EU documents seen by AP. The switch would reverse a decades-old trend of expanding passport-free travel in Europe. Since 1995, people have been able to cross borders among Schengen Area member countries without document checks. Each of the current 26 countries in the Schengen Area is allowed to unilaterally put up border controls for a maximum of six months, but that time limit can be extended for up to two years if a member is found to be failing to protect its borders.

The documents show that EU policy makers are preparing to make unprecedented use of an emergency provision by declaring that Greece is failing to sufficiently protect it border. Some 2,000 people are still arriving daily on Greek islands in smugglers’ boats from Turkey, most of them keen to move deeper into Europe to wealthier countries like Germany and Sweden. A European official showed the documents to the AP on condition of anonymity because the documents are confidential. Greek government officials declined to comment on the content of documents not made public. In Brussels on Friday, EU nations acknowledged that the overall functioning of Schengen “is at serious risk” and said Greece must make further efforts to address “serious deficiencies” within the next three months.

European inspectors visited Greek border sites in November and gave Athens until early May to upgrade the border management on its islands. Two draft assessments forwarded to the Greek government in early January indicated Athens was making progress, although they noted “important shortcomings” in handling migrant flows. But with asylum-seekers still coming at a pace ten times that of January 2015, European countries are reluctant to dismantle their emergency border controls. And if they keep them in place without authorization, EU officials fear the entire concept of the open-travel zone could be brought down. A summary written by an official in the EU’s Dutch presidency for a meeting of EU justice and home affairs ministers last month showed they decided that declaring Greece to have failed in its upgrade was “the only way” for Europe to extend the time for border checks.

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“..more than in the first four months of 2015..”

80,000 Refugees Arrive In Europe In First Six Weeks Of 2016 (UNHCR)

Despite rough seas and harsh winter weather, more than 80,000 refugees and migrants arrived in Europe by boat during the first six weeks of 2016, more than in the first four months of 2015, the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, announced today. In addition it said more than 400 people had lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean. However, despite the dangers over 2,000 people a day continue to risk their lives and the lives of their children attempting to reach Europe. Comparable figures for 2015 show such numbers only began arriving in July. “The majority of those arriving in January 2016, nearly 58%, were women and children; one in three people arriving to Greece were children as compared to just 1 in 10 in September 2015,” UNHCR’s Chief spokesperson Melissa Fleming told a press briefing in Geneva.

Fleming added that over 91% of those arriving in Greece come from the world’s top ten refugee producing countries, including Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. “Winter weather and rough seas have not deterred those desperate enough to make the journey, resulting in near daily shipwrecks,” she added. When surveyed upon arrival, most of them cite they had to leave their homeland due to conflict. More than 56% of January arrivals to Greece were from Syria. However, UNHCR stressed that solutions to Europe’s situation were not only eminently possible, but had already been agreed by States and now urgently needed to be implemented. Stabilization is essential and something for which there is also strong public demand.

“Within the context of the necessary reduction of dangerous sea arrivals, safe access to seek asylum, including through resettlement and humanitarian admission, is a fundamental human right that must be protected and respected,” Fleming added. She said that regular pathways to Europe and elsewhere were important for allowing refugees to reach safety without putting their lives in the hands of smugglers and making dangerous sea crossings. “Avenues, such as enhanced resettlement and humanitarian admission, family reunification, private sponsorship, and humanitarian and refugee student/work visas, should be established to ensure that movements are manageable, controlled and coordinated for countries receiving these refugees,” Fleming added.

Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR’s Director Bureau for Europe, added that faced with this situation, UNHCR hoped that EU Member States would implement at a faster pace all EU-wide measures agreed upon in 2015, including the implementation of hotspots and the relocation process for 160,000 people already in Greece and Italy and the EU-Turkey Joint-Action Plan. “If Europe wants to avoid the mess of 2015, it must take action. There is no plan B,” he also told the briefing.

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Jan 282016
 
 January 28, 2016  Posted by at 8:45 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


DPC The Arcade, Cleveland 1901

US Crude Inventories Are The Highest Since the 1930s (ZH)
Chart Going Back To 1861 Shows Oil Isn’t Insanely Cheap Right Now (MW)
Why the Fed Has the Stock Market Spooked (WSJ)
China Shares Flounder Again, But ‘Real Economy’ Sound Says State Media (Reuters)
China’s Central Bank Makes Most Massive Cash Infusion In 3 Years (WSJ)
China Sharpens Efforts to Halt Money Outflow (WSJ)
Hysteria Over China Has Become Ridiculous (AEP)
Yuan Bears Denounced as Delusional, Doomed by China State Media (BBG)
China’s 2016 Stock Losses Rise To $1.8 Trillion (Reuters)
China’s Smartphone Slump Bites Apple (WSJ)
Xi Urges Sound Planning For Supply-Side Structural Reform (Xinhua)
Pay Attention To Long-Term Debt Cycle (Ray Dalio)
The EU’s Banking Union: A Recipe For Disaster (Thomas Fazi)
EU’s Too-Big-to-Fail Bank Bill Won’t Be Withdrawn (BBG)
Five of Six Brokers in Libor Trial Are Acquitted by London Jury (BBG)
EU Says Greece ‘Seriously Neglected’ Schengen Border Duties (Kath.)
Sweden To Expel Up To 80,000 Rejected Asylum Seekers (Guardian)
European Commission in 2013: Refugee Push-Backs Are Illegal (EURActiv)
Europe Faces Another Million Refugees This Year: UN (BBG)
Refugee Boat Sinks Off Greek Island; 7 Bodies Recovered (AP)

Chinese are highest ever, one would think.

US Crude Inventories Are The Highest Since the 1930s (ZH)

In case you were under the impression that oil was stabilizing, we thought this chart might help clarify just how “different” it is this time in the energy complex… U.S. crude inventories are at levels last seen when President Herbert Hoover was battling the Great Depression.

After this week’s build – Crude stockpiles climbed 8.38 million barrels to 494.9 million in the week ended Jan. 22, the highest since November 1930, according to weekly and monthly data from the Energy Information Administration. It did not end well last time…

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It’ll get cheaper though.

Chart Going Back To 1861 Shows Oil Isn’t Insanely Cheap Right Now (MW)

Oil futures are hovering around $30 a barrel—not far off 12-year lows—and bears are penciling in a test of $20 or lower. It is a pretty downbeat picture, but is black gold really that cheap on a historical basis? Not really, according to the chart from Deutsche Bank, which tracks inflation-adjusted oil prices—and the average price—all the way back to 1861, just two years after Edwin Drake drilled the first productive U.S. oil well near Titusville, Pa. Over the last 150-plus years, the average oil price is $47 a barrel, according to the data. West Texas Intermediate oil futures for March delivery were down 22 cents, or 0.7%, at $31.23 a barrel in late morning trade. “So current levels are low but not exceptionally low relative to long-term history,” said Jim Reid, macro strategist at Deutsche Bank, in a Wednesday note.

The charts were published as part of an annual study by the investment bank. Interestingly, Reid did note that this was the first year that the firm’s long-term mean reversion exercise shows positive return expectations for oil since the study began more than a decade ago. But don’t get too excited over prospects for an immediate mean-reversion rally. Reid puts the findings in the context of the commodity cycle, which is on the downswing after a sharp run-up that began in the mid-1990s. He notes the “long-held belief” that commodities, such as oil, that are a factor of production can’t outstrip inflation over the long term because “if they do there will be alternatives found.”

That helps to explain oil’s pullback. This process, however, “can take years to resolve, so even if we’re correct, commodity cycles can still last a long time before they eventually mean revert,” he wrote. Meanwhile, the graph “doesn’t suggest that current levels are as extreme as many would suggest even if long term value has returned,” Reid said. “The $140 prices a few years back look especially bubble-like” from a long-term perspective.

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Fed’s done.

Why the Fed Has the Stock Market Spooked (WSJ)

Investors have grown accustomed to getting help from the Federal Reserve. But in a world where American companies are tethered less tightly to the U.S. economy, that help may not be so forthcoming. The Fed on Wednesday said economic data had softened since it decided to raise rates in December, and that policy makers were “closely monitoring global economic and financial developments.” But they didn’t send a clear signal that many investors were hoping for: that they would forgo raising rates at their March meeting. Stocks, which had been higher ahead of the Fed’s postmeeting statement, fell. One reason the prospect of further rate rises is jarring to investors is that they would come at an unusual and unfortunate time. While rate increases usually arrive when profits are growing solidly, they are now shrinking.

That this hasn’t chastened the Fed may reflect the growing role in U.S. companies’ results of operations outside the U.S. So falling profits simply aren’t the clear indication of U.S. economic vulnerability that they once were. As companies continue to report fourth-quarter earnings, the decline in profits is something investors are acutely aware of. With about one-quarter of results from the index’s constituent companies now in, S&P 500 earnings look to have fallen by 4.9% in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, according to Thomson Reuters. This follows a 0.8% decline in the third quarter. That marked the first drop since the deep profits recession that ended in 2009. To be sure, the collapse in energy-sector earnings plays a big role. But excluding them, profits would be up just 1.3%.

Moreover, ignoring a sector because it is doing poorly—energy now, financials during the crisis, technology after the dot-com bust—risks sugarcoating the situation. Even if it weren’t for all the other things unsettling investors now—dollar debt and commodity market woes, emerging market outflows, concerns over the U.S. economy’s ability to grow in a troubled world—the combination of Fed tightening and falling profits would be worrisome. After all, points out Richard Bernstein Advisors portfolio strategist Joe Zidle, the two variables investors care most about when valuing stocks are profits and interest rates. When, as now, they both are headed the wrong way, it is a recipe for trouble. It also is a recipe that is exceedingly rare. The only other time that Mr. Zidle and his colleagues have identified where the Fed raised rates during a profits recession was in the early 1980s. That was when the central bank was moving to snuff exceedingly high inflation.

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“Margin calls and deleveraging is being talked about more and more..”

China Shares Flounder Again, But ‘Real Economy’ Sound Says State Media (Reuters)

China’s volatile shares tumbled again on Thursday, taking losses this month to about 25% or 13 trillion yuan ($2 trillion), while state media insisted that the market ructions did not reflect the real economy. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index ended down 2.9%, and the CSI300 index of the largest listed companies in Shanghai and Shenzhen shed 2.6%, both indexes having tumbled this week to levels not seen since 2014. Trading was very light, as many investors have given up on Chinese stocks, burnt by last summer’s 40% crash and a hair-raising January that has taken indexes back to late 2014 levels.

“The majority of equity investors we met over a four-day marketing trip in ASEAN last week had trimmed exposure to China equities by varying degrees and were waiting for signs of stabilisation for potential re-entry,” said Japanese broker Nomura. January began with sharp falls in Chinese stocks and a depreciation in the yuan currency, and the sell-off hasn’t abated as economic data confirmed slowing growth and deteriorating business conditions. As the markets keep falling, the prospect of investors being forced to sell stocks bought with borrowed money to cover margin calls has hurt sentiment further. “Margin calls and delveraging is being talked about more and more in a market extremely bearish about China’s economy and the yuan’s value,” said Wang Yu, analyst at Pacific Securities.

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Control P.

China’s Central Bank Makes Most Massive Cash Infusion In 3 Years (WSJ)

China’s central bank is putting the largest amount of cash into the financial system in nearly three years, using a weekly market operation to pre-empt a holiday-induced funding squeeze and offset rapid capital outflows. The People’s Bank of China offered 340 billion yuan ($51.89 billion) of short-term loans, known as reverse repurchase agreements, to commercial banks in a routine money market operation Thursday. The central bank provided 440 billion yuan via similar tools Tuesday, the first leg of its twice-a-week liquidity-management exercises.

Given the maturity of 190 billion yuan of previously issued loans, the PBOC’s net cash injection this week totals 590 billion yuan, the biggest of its kind since early February 2013, when it reached 662 billion yuan. The move follows an aggressive pump-priming exercise by the PBOC last week, when the central bank offered more than 1.5 trillion yuan in gross short- and medium-term lending to banks. The eye-popping liquidity injection is partly intended to satisfy typically surging demand for cash ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday that starts Feb. 7. It also constitutes an effort to stem accelerating capital flight as investors become more nervous about the health of China’s economy, and as the country’s main stock market has lost nearly 23% since the start of this year.

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“The last time central bank Gov. Zhou Xiaochuan spoke publicly was in early September..”

China Sharpens Efforts to Halt Money Outflow (WSJ)

China is ramping up efforts to halt a flood of money leaving the country in response to an economic slowdown, moves that risk undermining Beijing’s ambition to elevate the yuan’s profile on the world stage. Its latest steps involve curbing the ability of foreign companies in China to repatriate earnings, shrinking the pool of Chinese yuan available for banks in Hong Kong to make loans, and banning yuan-based funds for overseas investments, people with direct knowledge of the matter said. The measures, most of which haven’t been publicly disclosed, follow efforts by China’s central bank to discourage investors from betting against the yuan and to crack down on overseas money transfers. “They’re sparing no effort to prevent capital outflows,” said a senior Chinese banking executive close to the central bank.

“All the measures are the most aggressive I’ve seen in recent history.” The people with direct knowledge said the People’s Bank of China, the central bank, also is considering ways to lure money back to the country, including letting foreign residents and companies buy certificates of deposit for fixed periods. Currently they are restricted to ordinary deposit accounts. The unusual moves come as China burns through foreign-exchange reserves to prop up its currency and stem an increasingly vicious cycle of easing credit, a weakening currency and fleeing capital. Too much outflow, Chinese officials say, could threaten the stability of the country’s financial system. Just two months ago, the IMF’s designated the yuan as one of the world’s reserve currencies, a nod to China as a global economic power.

Still, Beijing is now retreating from its pledges to give markets more influence in setting the yuan’s value. Many investors say they are also concerned over what they consider to be inadequate communication by the central bank. The last time central bank Gov. Zhou Xiaochuan spoke publicly was in early September, when he sought to reassure central bankers and finance ministers from the Group of 20 large economies that the rout in China’s stock markets was nearing an end. Investors and analysts have questioned the government’s commitment to market liberalization following Beijing’s attempts to prop up the stock market this past summer and, more recently, sending mixed signals over yuan policy. “China is aggressively reinserting capital controls,” said Scott Kennedy at Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington. “It appears China has for the foreseeable future given up on the goal of substantial exchange-rate liberalization.”

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“I’m not expecting it, I’m observing it..” See, Ambrose wants the cake and eat it. All’s fine, but at the same time “It is stimulus as usual. The Politburo is back to its bad old ways.” It’s all fake, that’s the problem: “credit growth continues to expand far more rapidly than GDP growth..”

Hysteria Over China Has Become Ridiculous (AEP)

Hysteria over China has reached the point of collective madness. Forecaster Nouriel Roubini said in Davos that markets have swung from fawning adulation of the Chinese policy elites to near revulsion within a space of 12 months, and they have done so based on scant knowledge and a string of misunderstandings. The Chinese themselves are being swept up by the swirling emotions. State media has accused hedge fund veteran George Soros in front page editorials of attempting to smash China’s currency regime by “reckless speculation and vicious shorting”. “Soros’s war on the renminbi cannot possibly succeed – about this there can be no doubt,” warned the People’s Daily. Articles are appearing across the world debating whether Mr Soros and his putative wolf pack will succeed in doing to the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) what he did to the Bank of England in 1992 – in the latter case with entirely positive consequences.

In fact, Mr Soros issued no such “declaration of war”, and nor is he so foolish as to take on a foreign exchange superpower and net global creditor with $3.3 trillion in foreign reserves. As it happens, I was at the dinner at the Hotel Seehof in Davos – drinking white Rioja – where Mr Soros supposedly revealed his plot. What he did let slip is that he had been shorting some Asian currencies – the Malaysian Ringitt or the Thai Baht, perhaps, out of nostalgia for the 1998 crisis. Mr Soros made general comments, claiming that credit in China has reached 350pc of GDP and that the hard landing is already happening. “I’m not expecting it, I’m observing it,” he said. The observations were boilerplate, what are called “tourist” insights in hedge fund parlance. He is not a player in China. So let us return to reality. The economic facts are in plain view. China is not slowing. It is picking itself up slowly after a “recession” in early 2015.

Car sales give us a steer. They collapsed early last year and touched bottom at 1.27m in July. Sales have been rising every month since, surging to a record 2.44m in December thanks to lower taxes. New registrations were up by 37pc for GM and 36pc for Ford and Mercedes. House prices have been climbing for three months. The nationwide index was up 1.6pc in December. Shanghai rose 15.5pc and Shenzhen 47pc. Even the “Tier 3 and 4” cities are coming back from an epic glut. The economy did indeed hit a brick wall early last year due to a fiscal shock and ferocious monetary tightening (passive) in late 2014. That was the time to lambast the Chinese authorities for errors of judgment, and some of us did so. Capital Economics estimates that growth slowed to 4pc based on its proxy indicator, and others broadly concur.

These indicators are not derived from the now useless “Li Keqiang index” of rail freight, electricity use and credit growth, which overstate the slowdown. Growth of total freight traffic has risen to 5.4pc from 3.5pc in June. That is a plausible gauge of what is really happening. A short-term economic rebound is already baked into the pie. Fiscal spending jumped 30pc in October and November. New bank loans and local government bond issuance – together, the proper measure of credit – reached a 12-month high of 14.4pc in December. It is stimulus as usual. The Politburo is back to its bad old ways. “Despite talk of deleveraging, credit growth continues to expand far more rapidly than GDP growth because, quite simply, they are not willing to tolerate any slowdown,” said Prof Christopher Balding from Peking University.

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“They have to reassure local savers and show them a willingness that the government is looking after them and their savings.”

Yuan Bears Denounced as Delusional, Doomed by China State Media (BBG)

China’s leading state media are becoming more vociferous in their support for the yuan, having been fired up in the past week by George Soros’s observation that the economy is headed for a hard landing. Yuan short sellers “haven’t done their homework,” the state-run Xinhua News Agency said in an English-language article on Wednesday, while a People’s Daily commentary in Chinese declared that such trades will undoubtedly fail. The two editorials, in addition to at least three other articles published by Xinhua since the weekend, all argue the economy is growing at a decent pace. China is resorting to stepped-up rhetoric to help offset depreciation expectations after the yuan started the new year with the biggest weekly plunge since a devaluation in August.

The cost of steadying the exchange rate has shot up as a slowing economy, equity market turmoil, declining foreign-exchange reserves and surging capital outflows add to the pessimism. “They can write as many op-eds as they want, but two plus two doesn’t make five,” said Michael Every at Rabobank Group in Hong Kong, whose year-end 7.53 forecast for the yuan against the dollar is the most bearish in a Bloomberg survey of 41 analysts. “What they’re saying won’t put off speculators. The fundamentals are screaming and sending a clear picture that if economic growth doesn’t start picking up, the exchange rate will weaken.”

Soros said in Davos that he’s been betting against Asian currencies because a hard landing in China is “practically unavoidable.” Xinhua retorted by saying that his observations are the result of “partial blindness.” The billionaire investor rose to fame as the money manager who broke the Bank of England in 1992, netting a profit of $1 billion with a wager that the U.K. would be forced to devalue the pound. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad called him a “moron” during the 1997 Asian financial crisis, saying he was out to wreck the region’s economies. “Given how people know Soros and what he did in 1992 and during the 1997-1998 Asian crisis, he’s too important to ignore, so China felt that they had to counter any negative comments,” said Tommy Xie at Oversea-Chinese Banking, who was cited by Xinhua as saying that the People’s Bank of China has become more predictable. “They have to reassure local savers and show them a willingness that the government is looking after them and their savings.”

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“..the prospect of investors having to sell stocks they bought with borrowed money in order to cover margin calls has also hurt sentiment.”

China’s 2016 Stock Losses Rise To $1.8 Trillion (Reuters)

Chinese highly volatile shares ended lower again on Wednesday after plunging on Tuesday, taking losses in 2016 to about 22% or 12 trillion yuan ($1.8 trillion). The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index ended down 0.5%, having been up in the morning and as much as 4% lower during the day. It tumbled 6.4% on Tuesday to its lowest close since Dec. 1, 2014. The CSI300 index of the largest listed companies in Shanghai and Shenzhen ended down 0.3% after a similar rollercoaster ride. China markets began the year with a series of precipitous falls and a sharp depreciation in the yuan currency, and selling pressure has persisted as economic data confirmed slowing growth and deteriorating business conditions, hammering investors’ confidence in stocks.

Gu Yongtai, analyst at Cinda Securities, said the prospect of investors having to sell stocks they bought with borrowed money in order to cover margin calls has also hurt sentiment. “There’s fear that stock price falls would trigger margin calls, which then adds further pressure on prices, although the actual amount of forced liquidation is not as big as people would imagine,” Gu said. Four listed companies suspended trading in their shares on Wednesday, saying their major shareholders, who have pledged shares as collateral, face margin calls and would seek ways to avoid forced liquidation. “If the market continues to fall, equity pledging-related selling pressure could increase significantly, putting further pressure on the stock market,” said Gao Ting at UBS Securities.

Trading volumes have thinned, making price moves even more volatile, as many investors have given up on Chinese stocks since last summer, when shares crashed 40%. Beijing intervened to stem that rout and orchestrate a recovery of sorts, but anyone who mistook that for a bottom and bought back in will be nursing losses again. China’s woes have damaged risk appetite in global markets, too, along with tumbling oil prices. Investors across the world will hang on whether the market chaos of the last few weeks and concerns over China’s slowing economy might blow the U.S. Federal Reserve off its proposed course of gradual interest rate hikes. The Fed is expected to leave rates unchanged later on Wednesday and acknowledge that turmoil in financial markets threatens its upbeat view of the U.S. economy, leaving the chances of a March hike diminished but alive.

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Understating: “Most players will have a quiet quarter in China, including Apple..”

China’s Smartphone Slump Bites Apple (WSJ)

A slump in China’s smartphone market is weighing on Apple Inc.’s growth, even as the country remains a relatively bright spot for the iPhone maker. Chief Executive Tim Cook said on an earnings call Tuesday that Apple has begun to see “signs of economic softness” in the Greater China region, which includes China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Apple’s sales in the region grew 14% in its fiscal first quarter ended Dec. 26 to $18.4 billion, better than any other region during the period, but far from the 70% growth it saw in the year-earlier period. In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 26, Greater China sales had surged 84%, with profits growing even faster. Keeping up this momentum will be a challenge for Apple this year, with China’s smartphone market slowing and the country’s economy cooling. China’s economic growth in 2015 was the slowest in a quarter century.

Apple’s suppliers in Asia have already warned of lower iPhone demand in the current quarter and have been told to scale back production, according to people familiar with the matter. China’s smartphone market growth will continue to slow this year, as most people in the country who want a smartphone already have one, analysts say. First quarter smartphone purchases will be hit by this market saturation, as well as secondary factors like freezing weather that is keeping shoppers in the north part of the country indoors, said Canalys analyst Nicole Peng. “Most players will have a quiet quarter in China, including Apple,” she said. Apple currently ranks No. 3 in China’s smartphone market after Huawei and Xiaomi. China’s smartphone market has grown crowded in the past year, after the success of smartphone startup Xiaomi encouraged imitators.

After several years of triple-digit percentage growth, Xiaomi missed its sales target for 2015. Samsung, the world’s biggest smartphone maker, has also struggled in China, where it has been hit by stiff competition. Mr. Cook said on the investor call that Apple was still optimistic on China and was “crafting products and services” with the country in mind. “We remain bullish on China and don’t subscribe to the doom and gloom,” he said. Still, Apple forecast Tuesday that its overall revenue will fall for the first time in 13 years in the current quarter and its stock fell in after-hours trade on concerns about growth.

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Where official news meets Bizarro world.

Xi Urges Sound Planning For Supply-Side Structural Reform (Xinhua)

President Xi Jinping on Tuesday urged authorities to formulate targeted and specific plans to deliver structural reform on the supply side. Sound planning is the foundation for supply-side structural reform, which aims to improve productivity and realize people-first development, Xi told a meeting of the Central Leading Group for Financial and Economic Affairs. He stressed the importance of extensive research of the current economic conditions and to this end, he said, clear objectives were needed. Reform tasks should be specified and a system to designate and track responsibility should be put in place, he added. To address problems such as overcapacity, the government has pinned its hopes on supply-side structural reform, which focuses on better provision for high-quality goods and services and lower costs for businesses.

China’s economy grew by 6.9% year on year in 2015, its lowest annual expansion in a quarter of a century. During the meeting, Xi stressed the importance of environmental protection while developing the Yangtze River economic belt. “The Yangtze is the nation’s River of Life. No economic activities related to Yangtze should damage its environment. Its ecological system should only get better, not worse,” he said. Xi also emphasized the need to preserve forests. The tradition of voluntary tree planting should continue and a new round of “returning the farmland to forests” will begin, he said. He also urged cities to do more to achieve urban greening and called for more attention to be given to national parks to better protect endangered animals. Premier Li Keqiang, who is also deputy head of the Central Leading Group for Financial and Economic Affairs, also attended the meeting.

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Dalio argues something similar to what I often say when ‘experts’ talk about economic cycles: Kondratieff is a cycle, too. Don’t agree with him on everything, though.

Pay Attention To Long-Term Debt Cycle (Ray Dalio)

I have a controversial view that is based on my alternative economic template, and I feel a responsibility to share at this precarious time. In brief, the Federal Reserve’s template, and that of most economists and market participants, reflects the business cycle. Based on it, tightening should occur when a) the rate of growth in demand is greater than the rate of growth in capacity and b) the usage of capacity (as measured by indicators such as the GDP gap and the unemployment rate) is becoming high. As a result, tightening now makes sense. However, as I see it, there are two important cycles to pay attention to — the business cycle, or short-term debt cycle, and the debt supercycle, or long-term debt cycle.

We are seven years into the expansion phase of the business/short-term debt cycle — which typically lasts about eight to 10 years — and near the end of the expansion phase of a long-term debt cycle, which typically lasts about 50 to 75 years. It is because of the long-term debt cycle dynamics that we are seeing global weakness and deflationary pressures that warrant global easing rather than tightening. Since the dollar is the world’s most important currency, the Fed is the most important central bank for the world as well as the central bank for Americans, and as the risks are asymmetric on the downside, it is best for the world and for the US for the Fed not to tighten.

Since the long-term debt cycle issue is the biggest issue that separates my view from others, I’d like to briefly focus on its mechanics. What I am contending is that there are limits to spending growth financed by a combination of debt and money. When these limits are reached, it marks the end of the upward phase of the long-term debt cycle. In 1935, this scenario was dubbed “pushing on a string”. This scenario reflects the reduced ability of the world’s reserve currency central banks to be effective at easing when both interest can’t be lowered and risk premia are too low to have quantitative easing be effective.

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Solid piece on yet another EU disaster.

The EU’s Banking Union: A Recipe For Disaster (Thomas Fazi)

[..] the average balance sheets of the European Union’s 30 and 15 largest banks (€800 billion and €1.3 trillion respectively) are 13 and 21 times larger than the proposed recapitalisation limit. Not only are these banks too big to fail – they are too big to bail. The failure of any of them – even assuming that it would take place in isolation, rather than as part of a wider systemic crisis – would require the mobilisation of huge financial resources. This is also proven by the recent crisis, with certain large banks receiving public assistance in excess of €100 billion. With all this in mind, one could still argue that the bail-in mechanism represents a step forwards vis-à-vis the bailouts of recent years, by limiting the burden placed on sovereigns and thus the ‘socialisation’ of banking crises.

The crucial point to understand here is that the bail-in is indeed a great tool to have at one’s disposal, as there are undoubtedly numerous cases where a bail-in might be preferable to a bailout. But this has to be decided on a case-by-case basis. The problems arise when member states are forced to resort to the bail-in as the primary method of bank resolution, regardless of the potential consequences of such a move, of the nature of the bank’s problems, of the wider macroeconomic context, etc. – which is precisely what the banking union prescribes. This is especially true in light of the extreme disequilibrium between banking systems in the EU, itself a reflections of the wider social and macroeconomic imbalances between core and periphery countries.

As the ECB’s recent stress tests have revealed, the banks with the largest capital shortfalls are all located in the countries of the periphery, which have been hit the hardest by the crisis: Italy, Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Cyprus. This is not surprising: various studies have shown that there is a clear pro-cyclical link between a country’s negative macroeconomic performance and the capital adequacy of its banks. This is evident from the dizzying and rapidly-growing volume of non-performing loans (NPLs) in these countries – a direct result of the austerity policies pursued in recent years and, of course, the main reason why periphery banks failed the ECB’s stress tests. Which leads us to the paradoxical situation in which Italy finds itself in today.

The country’s banks fared relatively well during the financial crisis and therefore didn’t require almost any government aid at the time; since then, as a result of the country’s unprecedented socioeconomic collapse, itself a result of EU-sanctioned austerity, the balance sheets of Italian banks have severely deteriorated, and today – after a seven-year-long build-up of non-performing loans – are facing a system-wide crisis. For this reason, the Italian government has been in talks with the Commission for months over its plan to create a ‘bad bank’ to help offload some of the banks’ bad debt; at the time of writing, though, the Commission – the same Commission that by mid-2009 had approved €3 trillion in guarantee umbrellas, risk shields and recapitalisation measures to bail out Europe’s banks – continues to block the government’s plan, on grounds that it would amount to a violation of state aid and banking union rules.

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Just delayed ad infinitum?!

EU’s Too-Big-to-Fail Bank Bill Won’t Be Withdrawn (BBG)

Jonathan Hill, the European Union’s financial-services chief said he won’t pull the plug on a bill intended to tackle too-big-to-fail banks that’s bogged down in a divided legislature. Asked in an interview in his Brussels office if he planned to heed calls from some bankers and European Parliament lawmakers to withdraw the legislation, Hill said firmly, “I don’t.” The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, presented a draft bank-structure plan in early 2014 – before Hill’s tenure as commissioner began – as a way to boost financial stability by separating banks’ retail operations from riskier investment banking. The Council of the EU, which represents national governments and forms one half of the bloc’s legislature, reached a negotiating position on the bill in June 2015. But parliament, the other half, has made no progress on the proposal.

A proposal by Gunnar Hoekmark, the parliament’s lead lawmaker on the bill, was rejected by the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee last May. A tentative compromise subsequently brokered by Hoekmark collapsed later in the year in the face of strong French-led opposition, leaving the committee fresh out of ideas and momentum on how to bridge the gap between the two main political groups, the center-right European People’s Party and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats. Hoekmark has consistently rejected proposals for the mandatory separation of investment and consumer operations, while the Socialists have pushed for a strong separation trigger in the bill “We have told the Socialist group that there shall be no automaticity,” said Hoekmark, a member of the EPP group.

“The only option on the table is reasonable legislation based upon risk criteria, or we will reach a point where there is no common solution.” In fact, Hoekmark said he had rejected a fresh proposal from the Socialists this week. “I prefer no legislation instead of bad legislation,” he said. And Hoekmark appears to be in no hurry to cobble together a new compromise. “There is a broader understanding that we must take stock and look at what we have achieved before proceeding with new legislation,” he said. “Let’s analyse the consequences, let’s see if we are lacking, or if we have some over-regulation. 2016 is a good year for such assessments.”

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Only bank shareholders get punished.

Five of Six Brokers in Libor Trial Are Acquitted by London Jury (BBG)

Five ex-brokers accused of helping convicted trader Tom Hayes rig Libor were acquitted Wednesday by a London jury, in a setback to U.K. fraud prosecutors. Noel Cryan, 50, who worked at Tullett Prebon Plc in London, Colin Goodman, 54, and Danny Wilkinson, 49, formerly of ICAP, and RP Martin’s Terry Farr, 44, and James Gilmour, 50, were found not guilty and released. The jury couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict on a sixth man, ICAP’s Darrell Read, 50, and was sent home to come back Thursday to discuss the remaining charge. After a four-month trial, the jury took about a day to find the others not guilty. The verdicts will be seen as a blow to the Serious Fraud Office, which appeared to have turned its fortunes around in the last 12 months.

A dozen banks have been fined about $9 billion by global authorities over the last four years in relation to the manipulation of Libor, the benchmark interest rate used in trillions of dollars of derivatives and loans. More than 30 individuals have been charged, and Hayes was convicted last year. “It’s always been a surprise and disappointment that these people were seen as front and center when they weren’t even bankers,” Matthew Frankland, a lawyer for Wilkinson, said by phone. “If what the SFO says is true, it’s rather shocking that more senior people aren’t being prosecuted.” Hayes, the former UBS and Citigroup trader prosecutors alleged was at the center of a conspiracy, was jailed in August. His sentence was reduced to 11 years from 14 years upon appeal in December.

“The key issue in this trial was whether these defendants were party to a dishonest agreement with Tom Hayes,” SFO Director David Green said in a statement. “By their verdicts the jury have said that they could not be sure that this was the case. Nobody could sensibly suggest that these charges should not have been brought and considered by a jury.” The result comes at the end of a sprawling and complex case that was postponed for several days when one of the defendants, Wilkinson, fell ill. Several of the men cried as the verdicts were read out. Farr burst from the dock and climbed the stairs to embrace his wife and son.

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Because that’s more important than human lives.

EU Says Greece ‘Seriously Neglected’ Schengen Border Duties (Kath.)

The EU executive said on Wednesday that Greece has “seriously neglected” its frontier duties to Europe’s free-travel Schengen zone and could be subject to new border controls by other members if it fails to remedy the problems within three months. “The draft report concludes that Greece seriously neglected its obligations and that there are serious deficiencies in the carrying out of external border control that must be overcome … by the Greek authorities,” European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis told a news briefing. The draft Schengen evaluation report on Greece was based on unannounced site visits to the Greek-Turkish land border as well as to the islands of Chios and Samos carried out from 10 to 13 November 2015. Experts looked at the presence of police and coast guard personnel on the inspected sites, the efficiency of the identification and registration process, sea border surveillance and cooperation with neighbouring countries.

According to the report “there is no effective identification and registration of irregular migrants and… fingerprints are not being systematically entered into the system and travel documents are not being systematically checked for the authenticity or against crucial security databases, such as SIS, Interpol and national databases.” “The report shows that there are serious deficiencies in the management of the external border in Greece,” Migration and Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said. “We know that in the meantime Greece has started undertaking efforts towards rectifying and complying with the Schengen rules. Substantial improvements are needed to ensure the proper reception, registration, relocation or return of migrants in order to bring Schengen functioning back to normal, without internal border controls. This is our ultimate common goal,” Avramopoulos said.

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Sweden is busy organizing the ‘expulsion’ of 80,000 refugees, while the Dutch government (they chair the EU until July 1) has announced plans to launch a ‘ferry’ line to force refugees back to Turkey from Greece. One day after the parliament in The Hague approved a motion for Dutch jets to start bombing Syria.

And I’m thinking: it’s alright to not be all that smart or competent, but please at least try to maintain a degree of decency, hold on to a shade of moral values. But perhaps those two things are two sides of the same coin. We should seriously wonder what Europe will look like a year from now. There’ll be at least another 1 million refugees trying to make it to Europe in 2016, that’s a given. The heart shudders.

Sweden To Expel Up To 80,000 Rejected Asylum Seekers (Guardian)

Sweden intends to expel up to 80,000 asylum seekers who arrived in 2015 and whose applications had been rejected, interior minister Anders Ygeman said on Wednesday. “We are talking about 60,000 people but the number could climb to 80,000,” the minister was quoted as saying by Swedish media, adding that the government had asked the police and authorities in charge of migrants to organise their expulsion. Ygeman said the expulsions, normally carried out using commercial flights, would have to be done using specially chartered aircraft, given the large numbers, staggered over several years.

The proposed measure was announced as Europe struggles to deal with a crisis that has seen tens of thousands of refugees arrive on Greek beaches, with the passengers – mostly fleeing conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan – undeterred by cold, wintry conditions. The United Nations says more than 46,000 people have arrived in Greece so far this year, with more than 170 people killed making the dangerous crossing. Sweden, which is home to 9.8 million people, is one of the European Union countries that has taken in the largest number of refugees in relation to its population. Sweden accepted more than 160,000 asylum seekers in 2015.

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The difference two years make. From 19 Nov 2013. Paraphrasing Groucho: “These are my principles, and if you don’t like them, I have others.” Zero moral compass.

European Commission in 2013: Refugee Push-Backs Are Illegal (EURActiv)

The European Commission indirectly warned Greece and Bulgaria today (19 November) to stop turning down Syrian refugees at their borders with Turkey, after the UN issued a similar call just a few days before. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres called last Friday on Greece and Bulgaria to stop turning back Syrians fleeing their war-ravaged homeland. Bulgarian authorities have reportedly bragged of turning down refugees at the border. According to the government website, Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev, who is also deputy prime minister, has said that in just one day more than 100 persons, and previously more than 150, were from entering the country. Hundreds of policemen have been sent to the Bulgarian border with Turkey to push back prospective immigrants.

The impoverished country is struggling to deal with the some 7,000 refugees from Syria already on its soil, with more and more still managing to arrive. Both Greece and Bulgaria have begun the construction of fences on their borders with Turkey. Greece has erected a 12.5km wall at a critical section of the Greece-Turkish border near the town of Orestiada, while Bulgaria has announced plan to build a similar, 30-km fence near the town of Elhovo. Michele Cercone, spokesperson for home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmström, told EurActiv that pushing back asylum seekers was against EU and international law. “Push-backs are simply not allowed. They are not in line with EU and international obligations. Member states cannot, shall not and should not carry out any push-back,” he said.

Asked how laws against push-backs were consistent with the fact that several member states had erected walls or fences at their borders, Cercone conceded that EU countries were free to decide their own border protection measures. “This is of course their choice. But we have always said that walls do not solve problems. What solves problems is a consistent structural management of migratory and asylum seekers’ flows,” Cercone said. He explained that this was implying that member states should be able to manage these flows in full respect of fundamental rights and international and European obligations. “Nobody coming or arriving to the EU territory and asking for asylum can be pushed back or can be denied this possibility,” he said, adding that this stemmed from the core values on which the EU was built. Asked if the Commission had any particular message for Bulgaria and Greece, Cercone said this was a message to all member states.

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What happened to the 3 million prediction?

Europe Faces Another Million Refugees This Year: UN (BBG)

As many as 1 million people from Africa, the Middle East and Asia will seek refuge in Europe this year, according to a report by global migration agencies, a number that nears levels seen last year in the continent’s worst migration crisis since World War II. The war in Syria will continue to be the main source of migrants after triggering a spike in 2015, according to the report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration. An increasing number of people will also come from southwest Asia and northern and western Africa, and the continued flow will exacerbate tension among European Union governments already deemed incapable of dealing with new entries smoothly, they said.

“The conflict in Syria will continue unabated and will generate high levels of internal and external displacement,” the agencies said in the report published on their websites. Refugees fleeing “Afghanistan may increase amid “deteriorating security situation in the majority of the provinces and the continuing downward spiral of the economy.” The EU is struggling to create a comprehensive plan to deal with its worst refugee crisis since World War II. The crunch has riled politics across the bloc by bolstering support for anti-immigrant parties and has prompted some governments to impose border controls with other European countries. This week, Germany and its neighbors laid the groundwork to extend a reintroduction of checks at internal borders for as long as two years, a move that departs from the EU’s principle of passport-free travel among most of its members.

The situation won’t measurably improve this year, according to the report, which estimated that about 6.5 million Syrians have been driven from their homes inside their country and another 4 million have sought shelter in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. The agencies, which have drawn up a $550 million plan to help refugees, also said Afghanistan’s deteriorating security and the “downward spiral of the economy” will add to migrant numbers.

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No tears left.

Refugee Boat Sinks Off Greek Island; 7 Bodies Recovered (AP)

Greek authorities say a total of seven bodies, including those of two children, have been recovered from the sea off the eastern Aegean island of Kos after a boat carrying migrants or refugees sank early Wednesday. Rescue crews recovered the bodies of three men, two women, a boy and a girl. There were two survivors — a man and a woman. A search and rescue operation in the area by vessels from the Greek coast guard and the European border patrol agency Frontex, a helicopter and Greek rescue volunteers was called off after all on board the boat were accounted for.

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Jan 262016
 
 January 26, 2016  Posted by at 8:12 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Unknown Crack salesmen ‘Going East’ on streamliner City of San Francisco 1936

China Stocks Plunge to 13-Month Low Amid Capital Outflow Concern (BBG)
China Shares Drop Sharply, as Region Suffers Rout (WSJ)
Offshore Yuan Resumes Drop as Oil Reignites Global Risk Aversion (BBG)
US Stocks Slump as Oil Resumes Rout (BBG)
Oil And Stocks Dance The Bear Market Tango (WSJ)
So Yes, the Oil Crash Looks a Lot Like Subprime (Alloway)
Capital Controls May Be China’s Only Real Option (FT)
Yuan’s Fall Is Just ‘Noise’ Amid Deeper China Woes (WSJ)
China Capital Outflows Rise to Estimated $1 Trillion in 2015 (BBG)
China Business Confidence, Recruitment Hit Record Lows In January (Reuters)
Americans Are Trapped In A ‘Cycle Of Financial Insecurity’ (MW)
US National Debt Set To Top $27 Trillion (Tanner)
Global Real Estate Value Hits $217 Trillion In 2015 (VW)
First-Time Homebuyers Are Finally Jumping Into The US Property Market (BBG)
Wal-Mart: It Came, It Conquered, Now It’s Packing Up and Leaving (BBG)
How the Oil Bust Wiped Out One North Dakota Oil Refiner (BBG)
Congress is Writing the President a Blank Check for War (Ron Paul)
Childhood Obesity ‘An Exploding Nightmare’ (Guardian)
15 Of The 16 Hottest Years On Record Have Been This Century (UNFCCC)
‘Running Out Of Time’, EU Puts Greece, Schengen On Notice (Reuters)
Athens Hits Back At EU Plan To Ringfence Greece (FT)

47% off 2015 highs.

China Stocks Plunge to 13-Month Low Amid Capital Outflow Concern (BBG)

China’s stocks tumbled to the lowest levels in 13 months amid concern capital outflows may accelerate as the economy slows and after some of the nation’s most-accurate forecasters predicted further declines for equities. The Shanghai Composite Index plunged 5.2% to 2,784.88 at 2:24 p.m., heading for the lowest close since December 2014, as turnover shrank. Industrial and technology companies led declines. China Shipbuilding Industry and Hundsun Technologies slumped more than 8%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng China Enterprises Index decreased 3.2%.

Huang Weimin, whose Chinese stock-index futures wagers returned more than 6,200% last year, says the Shanghai gauge could drop another 15% in the first half as slowing economic growth and a weaker yuan fuel capital outflows. Outflows jumped in December, with the estimated 2015 total reaching a record $1 trillion, more than seven times higher than the whole of 2014 based on Bloomberg Intelligence data dating back to 2006. “The pressure for capital outflow and yuan’s devaluation is still quite big,” said Dai Ming, a fund manager at Hengsheng Asset Management in Shanghai, adding that he’s cutting equity holdings. “We haven’t seen signs of a pick-up in the economy and the first and second quarters could be challenging.”

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Oh darn, and we thought we’d grow happily ever after…

China Shares Drop Sharply, as Region Suffers Rout (WSJ)

China shares fell sharply Tuesday afternoon, as oil prices sunk lower, pulling down energy shares across the region. The Shanghai Composite Index was last down more than 4%, at 2815.65, on track for a fresh low since Dec. 2014. The benchmark is now off roughly 45% since its June peak. While most of the region started in the red, China shares notably deepened their losses around one hour before the 3 p.m. local market close. Investors have been wary that the government may be stepping back from heavy intervention in the stock market, after state-owned funds had been tasked last summer with buying shares. Late last year, coordinated buying had often come in the afternoon hours, sending shares surging.

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, the energy sector plunged 5.2%, dragging down the Hang Seng Index by 1.9%. The Hang Seng China Enterprises Index of Chinese firms trading in Hong Kong dropped 2.8% at 7948.28. That benchmark hit a closing low of 7835 last Thursday, and currently trades at its lowest levels since 2009. The Nikkei Stock Average fell 2.4%, with Tokyo-listed oil developer Inpex Corp. down 4.3%, South Korea’s Kospi was down 1.2%. Markets in Australia and India are closed for holidays. The same concerns that have haunted stocks this year remain: Oil prices are trading near multiyear lows, and investors are worried about a slowing China and plans by the U.S.Federal Reserve to raise interest rates. But increasingly, the oil market is driving the action.

“The volatility [in oil] is not helping restore confidence back in the market,” said Robert Levine, head of Asian sales and trading at brokerage CLSA. “It’s not easy to put on new bets.” Brent crude oil gave up gains earlier in Asia to trade down 3.2% at $29.53 a barrel. In the U.S., prices had fallen 5.7% on Monday to $30.34 a barrel. Brent oil has now fallen more than 20% this year.

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Hong Kong on the verge of a currency peg collapse.

Offshore Yuan Resumes Drop as Oil Reignites Global Risk Aversion (BBG)

The yuan traded in Hong Kong resumed declines as risk aversion crept back into global markets, spurred by a drop in oil and lingering concern about the health of China’s economy. Brent crude headed lower for a second day, causing Asian currencies and stocks to give up gains that were triggered by optimism central banks in Japan and Europe will add to monetary stimulus. Sentiment on the yuan is still fragile and any major shocks to confidence, along with policy uncertainties could significantly compound outflows, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. economists led by MK Tang wrote in a note Tuesday. “The yuan is pressured as oil slumped, while the outlook for the global and Chinese economy isn’t strong,” said Banny Lam at Agricultural Bank of China International in Hong Kong.

“The yuan will remain relatively stable due to the possible lack of news or major support from policy makers as the Lunar New Year is approaching.” The offshore yuan fell 0.09% to 6.6152 a dollar as of 11:09 a.m. local time, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The onshore exchange rate was steady at 6.5796, according to China Foreign Exchange Trade System prices. The People’s Bank of China set its daily fixing in Shanghai little changed from Monday at 6.5548. Outflows from China increased to $158.7 billion in December, the most since September and were $1 trillion last year, according to estimates from Bloomberg Intelligence. That’s more than seven times the amount of cash that left in 2014.

China is willing and able to withstand temporary fluctuations in the exchange rate to gain independence of its monetary policy, Mei Xinyu, a researcher at China’s Ministry of Commerce, wrote in a commentary on the front page of the overseas edition of the People’s Daily Tuesday. The official Xinhua News Agency published a commentary on Saturday saying speculators entering short positions are expected to “suffer huge losses” as Chinese policy makers will take measures to stabilize the yuan. The PBOC has intervened repeatedly in the currency markets at home and abroad to damp depreciation pressure since it devalued the yuan in August. Meddling in the offshore yuan soaked up liquidity in Hong Kong this month and sent interbank lending rates to record highs, making selling short the currency costlier.

The authorities have also tightened capital controls to stem outflows, with measures including suspending foreign banks from conducting some cross-border business until March and imposing reserve-requirement ratios on yuan deposited onshore by overseas financial institutions since Monday. “Capital outflows will continue” as bets for further yuan depreciation still persist and investor confidence has been hit by policy risks, said Ken Cheung, a Hong Kong-based strategist at Mizuho Bank Ltd. “China won’t tolerate sharper yuan declines because its collapse would reinforce outflows, jeopardize China’s real economy, trigger a currency war and drag on the pace of internationalization.”

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All together now.

US Stocks Slump as Oil Resumes Rout (BBG)

U.S. stocks halted a two-day rebound, with losses piling up in the last hour of trading as crude oil resumed a selloff that has rocked financial markets this year. Commodity-linked currencies slid as investors sought refuge in haven assets from gold to Treasuries. Energy and mining shares pushed the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index’s retreat to 1.6% as U.S. crude tumbled back below $31 a barrel, winding back a sizable chunk of Friday’s gains. Sentiment was better in emerging markets, where stocks headed for their steepest two-day advance since September on bets central banks will bolster stimulus to soothe the market turbulence. While the ruble weakened against all but one of its 31 major peers and Canada’s dollar sank, gold jumped. 10-year Treasury yields dropped five basis points.

Even after it staged a recovery late last week, crude is still nearing a 20% decline this year as brimming U.S. stockpiles and the prospect of additional Iranian exports fuel anxiety over a global glut. The slump in energy prices has also amplified concern over world growth and disinflation, as it also points to weaker industrial demand. With energy and commodity companies sliding, a measure of the correlation between global stocks and oil prices over the past 120 days has climbed to 0.5, the highest level since 2013. “Obviously investors are working through some potentially difficult issues in their minds about the state of the world economy,” said John Carey at Pioneer Investment Management. “It might might be a while before we emerge from this period of uncertainty. I’ve noticed that pattern of end-of-day volatility and wonder if there are programs that kick in at the end of the day that contribute to that.”

The S&P 500 fell to 1,877.07 as of 4 p.m. in New York, following a 2% rebound on Friday. Equities are on track for their worst January since 2009 amid concern China’s slowdown will weigh on global growth, with plunging oil prices exacerbating that angst. The U.S. benchmark sank to a 21-month low last week before rallying.

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Guess stocks can fall as much as oil then?

Oil And Stocks Dance The Bear Market Tango (WSJ)

Oil and stock markets have moved in lockstep this year, a rare coupling that highlights fears about global economic growth. As oil prices tumbled early in 2016, global equities recorded one of their worst-ever starts for a new year. On Monday, oil and stocks were lower again. The S&P 500 index was down 0.7% in midday New York trading, and Brent crude futures, the global benchmark, were down $1.37 a barrel, or 4.3%, to $30.81. That followed a joint rebound on Friday. The correlation between daily moves in the price of Brent and the S&P 500 stock index is at levels not seen in the past 26 years. January isn’t over yet, but over the past 20 trading days—an average month—the correlation is 0.97, higher than any calendar month since 1990, according to data from both benchmarks examined by The Wall Street Journal.

A correlation of 1 would mean oil and stock prices move by the same proportion in the same direction, while a correlation of minus 1 would mean they move proportionally in opposite directions. The unusually strong link between the two markets partly reflects a common theme driving both: fears that a slowing Chinese economy could tip the global economy into recession. But as traders and investors in each market look at the other for clues as to how bad things are, they have exacerbated the overall bearish mood. The recent pattern marks a shift in the dynamics of oil’s 19-month collapse. Traders who long worried that the oil market was suffering from oversupply are now growing concerned that demand may be weakening as well.

“There is a vicious-cycle mentality among investors,” said François Savary, chief investment officer at Prime Partners, a Swiss investment firm managing $2.6 billion of assets. “It has become self-sustaining.” Even in the oil-rich Middle East, the mood has changed. In Dubai, businessman Ramesh Manglani never used to look at the oil price when investing in equity, despite the influence of energy in the region and its companies. “Everything’s changed since last year,” Mr. Manglani said, after investing in stocks for nearly a decade. “First thing in the morning we now check oil prices and Asian markets.”

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More tangoing. In reality, it’s all one big thing of course.

So Yes, the Oil Crash Looks a Lot Like Subprime (Alloway)

One year ago, analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch drew a parallel between the subprime mortgage crash and the disorderly fall in the price of oil. Led by Chris Flanagan, a veteran of the securitization space, the team drew attention to Markit’s ABX Index, better known as the mother of all synthetic subprime credit indexes. Created in January 2006 and consisting of a basket of credit default swaps (CDS) tied to the welfare of subprime mortgages, it allowed a bevy of investors to bet on the future direction of riskier home loans and helped inflate the massive amounts of leverage tied to the U.S. housing bubble.

More recently it played a starring role in the film version of Michael Lewis’s The Big Short—when protagonists Christian Bale, Steve Carell, et al. are tracking their bets against the U.S. housing market, they are tracking the ABX. Fast-forward to today and the BofAML analysts provide an update to their previous thesis, which was that the downward spiral in the price of oil was shaping up to look a lot like the negative trend that engulfed the subprime space circa the year 2007. Here’s what they say:

“The pattern of the decline in the price of oil that began in mid-2014 is remarkably similar to the 2007-2009 pattern of the price decline of ABX, the credit derivative index that referenced subprime mortgages and, ultimately, the U.S. housing market (Chart 1). The ABX history suggests that oil will see more declines in the next couple of months and find a floor somewhere in the low 20s in the March-April time frame. Both the duration of the decline (1.5+ years) and the scale of the decline (100 neighborhood starting price down to the sub-30 neighborhood) are similar. Given that both housing and oil prices were fueled to spectacular heights in the two periods by massive credit expansion, it’s probably more than just coincidence that the respective “bubble” bursting patterns are so similar.

Consider how things tend to work. Denial on what constitutes fair value is a big component of bubbles, on the part of both market participants and policymakers. When perceived “bubbles” burst, markets take their time in steadily shredding views of the perception of fundamental value, as prices move lower and lower. Along the way, many will cite “technical factors” as the cause of the decline, which in some way suggests the price decline may not be real when in fact it is all too real. In the end, the technicals drive the fundamentals, as credit flees and borrowers go bust, and a feedback loop lower kicks in. Lower prices beget accelerated selling, as asset owners need to raise cash. It could be margin calls or it could be producer selling needs, it doesn’t really matter: the selling becomes inevitable and turns into forced selling.”

The point here is not that oil is necessarily the new subprime crisis per se but that the recent action in the price of crude resembles nothing if not the bursting of a bubble and the sudden realization that the asset has been overvalued for too long. More worrying for oil investors will be BofAML’s idea of forced selling. As Flanagan notes: “The systemic margin call of 2008 seems to be back for now, albeit to a far lesser degree.”

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Doesn’t seem feasible inside the IMF basket.

Capital Controls May Be China’s Only Real Option (FT)

Chinese officials readily admit that communication has not been their strong point when it comes to dealing with international investors. The question of how China manages the renminbi is critical for global trade and commodity prices; the market turmoil following recent changes in the currency regime was exacerbated by Beijing’s failure to explain its intentions. Policymakers have now made it explicit that they have no wish to engineer a big devaluation. However, they are much less forthcoming about how they plan to reconcile a desire for currency stability with the realities of capital flight and a slowing economy. Greater clarity would be a help to investors, who struggle at present to interpret cryptic press releases and gauge the extent of central bank intervention in markets. However, improving communication by the People’s Bank of China is not an easy matter.

In a system where even the central bank governor cannot speak with complete authority — given political constraints and resistance to its reformist policies in other parts of the Chinese state — it would constitute a revolution. Moreover, central bank guidance is most effective when the policy is clear and it is relatively straightforward to work out how it will evolve in response to changes in economic data. At present, the reality in China is that the PBoC has no clear course of action and wants to leave itself flexibility. No amount of clarification wouldhelp to varnish the underlying problem: capital flight. The corruption clampdown and a lack of investment opportunities at home are driving Chinese people to take their money out of the country, just as the prospect of higher US interest rates is prompting companies to pay off dollar debt.

Fear of a devaluation has fuelled the outflows. Far from seeking a weaker renminbi, the central bank has been forced to spend a big chunk of its reserves to prop it up. Given this continuing pressure, Chinese policymakers have few attractive options. Even with a $3.3tn stockpile, they cannot continue to run down foreign exchange reserves indefinitely, nor would the government countenance it. Raising interest rates to make domestic investments more attractive would be unlikely to slow outflows while worsening the already painful slowdown in the real economy. Letting the renminbi find its own level — while intellectually coherent — risks enormous market dislocation in the short term and would be a huge shock to the global economy. Few policymakers either within China or outside are likely to contemplate such a course.

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“The world will have to learn to live without demand from China,” he says. “It’ll come as a shock.”

Yuan’s Fall Is Just ‘Noise’ Amid Deeper China Woes (WSJ)

When the financier George Soros attacked the British pound in 1992 and famously “broke the Bank of England” he was trading on a conviction that the currency was misaligned. Britain devalued after squandering its reserves in a vain defense. Mr. Soros walked off with $1 billion or more. To the surprise of many, though, the U.K. economy soon picked up once the pound found its proper level. China’s raging battles with currency speculators are unlikely to end as happily for the country. That’s because turmoil in the currency markets reflects a much more perilous imbalance than an overvalued yuan: China is now lopsidedly dependent on ever larger inputs of local bank credit to keep sputtering growth from declining further.

The country is already littered with “zombie” factories, empty apartment blocks that form ghostly suburbs, mothballed power stations and other infrastructure that nobody needs. But yet more wasteful projects are in the pipeline, even as the government talks about cutting industrial overcapacity. “That’s the misalignment—everything else is noise,” says Rodney Jones, the Beijing-based principal of Wigram Capital Advisors, who was a partner at Soros Fund Management during the 1990s. If debt keeps piling up at the current rate, China faces an eventual financial crisis, perhaps leading to years of subpar growth, mirroring the fate of Japan after its bubble burst in the early 1990s.

Mr. Jones argues that global equity markets haven’t property adjusted to this risk, even after a 16% decline in U.S. dollar terms from their May peak. “The world will have to learn to live without demand from China,” he says. “It’ll come as a shock.” A sharp devaluation won’t fix these distortions, and might even make matters worse if, as likely, it were to trigger financial mayhem in China’s trading partners. An alternative—further clamping cross-border currency controls—would be a humiliating retreat from Beijing’s policy of making the yuan more international.

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Going to be picking up speed if Beijing lets it.

China Capital Outflows Rise to Estimated $1 Trillion in 2015 (BBG)

China’s capital outflows jumped in December, with the estimated 2015 total reaching $1 trillion, underscoring the scale of the battle facing policy makers trying to hold up the yuan amid slower economic growth and slumping stocks. Outflows increased to $158.7 billion in December, the second-highest monthly outflow of the year after September’s $194.3 billion, according to estimates compiled by Bloomberg Intelligence. The total for the year soared more than seven times from $134.3 billion in the whole of 2014 to a record for Bloomberg Intelligence data dating back to 2006. December’s outflows increased by almost $50 billion from a month earlier after the central bank unnerved markets by saying it would refocus the yuan’s moves against a wider basket of currencies rather than the dollar.

In addition to capital exiting the economy, exporters are holding funds in dollars instead of converting them to yuan, said Tom Orlik, Bloomberg’s chief Asia economist in Beijing. “The immediate trigger for a pickup in capital outflows toward the end of the year was the People’s Bank of China’s poor communication over its shift in currency policy,” said Mark Williams, chief Asia economist for Capital Economics Ltd. in London, who previously worked on China issues at the U.K. Treasury. “Outflows are likely to remain strong because the People’s Bank still has not been able to generate confidence among investors that it knows what it’s doing or that it’s able to achieve its policy objectives.” China’s cross-border capital flow risks are controllable and the nations’ foreign exchange reserves are ample to help it defend against external shocks, the State Administration of Foreign Exchange said on its website Jan. 21.

China’s foreign exchange reserves are seen tumbling $300 billion this year to the $3 trillion level some analysts say risks undermining confidence in the central bank’s ability to defend the currency, according to a Bloomberg News survey. Policy makers have been burning through reserves to reduce yuan volatility as the currency lost its status as a one-way bet on appreciation amid the slowest economic growth in a quarter century and an unexpected devaluation in August. The stockpile of reserves plunged $513 billion last year to $3.33 trillion, the first annual drop since 1992. Outflows spiked in September and December after currency policy changes caught markets by surprise, said Williams.

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Ha ha ha: “..China’s economic activity is still growing steadily..”

China Business Confidence, Recruitment Hit Record Lows In January (Reuters)

China’s business confidence and recruitment activity slipped to record lows in January, a survey showed, adding to signs of weakness in the world’s second-largest economy that could prod policymakers to roll out more support measures. The Sales Managers’ Index, compiled by London-based World Economics, fell to 51.0 in January from 51.7 in December. “The Headline SMI index fell slightly in January, but continues to suggest ongoing, albeit modest growth in economic activity,” World Economics Chief Executive Ed Jones said.

The index has averaged 51.4 since the second half of last year, indicating China’s economic activity is still growing steadily, albeit at a much slower rate than a year ago. The Sales Managers’ Index covers all private sectors of the economy. It is designed to reflect overall economic growth, bringing together the average movement of Confidence, Market Expansion, Product Sales, Prices Charged and Staffing Indices. The staffing index fell to 50.3 in January, near the 50 no-change mark, from 50.8 in December, hitting its lowest since the survey began, as businesses have become more hesitant to recruit as economic activity weakens, the survey showed.

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And will remain so for the rest of their lives.

Americans Are Trapped In A ‘Cycle Of Financial Insecurity’ (MW)

Nearly seven years after the Great Recession, millions of Americans are stuck in a financial rut. Home ownership rates are at an historic low, renters are burdened by rising rents and — even though unemployment has fallen considerably in recent years — the percentage of underemployed Americans is twice those who are unemployed, according to the “2016 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard” released Monday by the Corporation for Enterprise Development, a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C. focused on expanding opportunity for low-income households. It assessed the 50 states and the District of Columbia on 61 measurements spanning financial assets and income, businesses and jobs, housing, health care and education. It also ranked these states on 69 policies that promote financial security.

Building up even a small amount of savings is a challenge. In fact, 44% of households are “liquid asset poor,” meaning they have less than three months of savings to live above the poverty level if they suffer a loss of income, the report notes, echoing the findings in several recent surveys on American savings. “Housing expense reduces income to pay for food, doctors and child care, leaving bills that can’t be paid on time and forcing consumers to take on high-cost, short-term loans,” it adds. (Over half of renters spend more than 30% of their gross income on rent, the traditional measure of affordability, according to data released last year by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.) Among the other key highlights, home ownership rates are hovering at just under 64% in the final quarter of 2015, still near the lowest level in three decades.

And while the national unemployment rate has fallen to 5% in December 2015, down from a recent high of 10% in October 2009, the underemployment rate was nearly 9.9% in December 2015, showing that people are still struggling to find full-time employment. “What’s more, one-in-four jobs are in a low-wage occupation,” the report adds. (On a more positive note, the government recently said more than 11 million people had signed up for the Affordable Care Act, including 4 million under the age of 35.)

Americans are still struggling to regain their pre-recession wealth and the scorecard estimates that this is far worse for people of color. Households of color are 2.1 times more likely to live below the federal poverty level and 1.7 times more likely to lack liquid savings, it says. “Those who once enjoyed a modicum of financial stability have settled into a new normal of ongoing financial vulnerability, while the struggles of those who were financially insecure before the recession have only deepened,” the authors write. “The number of households below the poverty line has barely budged and millions of low- and moderate-income people live paycheck to paycheck.”

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“And none of this includes the more than $69 trillion in unfunded liabilities being run up by Medicare and Social Security.”

US National Debt Set To Top $27 Trillion (Tanner)

Does anyone remember the national debt? Judging from the presidential campaign so far, perhaps we should put the debt’s image on a milk carton somewhere. In the last Republican debate, there was precisely one question on the debt — and the candidates answered it by talking about their tax plans. That was far too typical. According to the FiveThirtyEight website, “the deficit” was mentioned an average of two times in the first five televised Republican debates (including the “undercard” debates) by all the candidates — and the moderators — combined. And “the national debt” was brought up an average of 6.5 times. This compares to an average of 3.2 “deficit” mentions and 10.9 “debt” mentions in the 20 GOP debates during the 2012 campaign.

But while the candidates have been wrangling over such vital issues as fantasy sports betting or Ted Cruz’s citizenship status, our growing sea of red ink has quietly risen toward $19 trillion. One might think our impending national bankruptcy might be worth a bit more attention. In his State of the Union address, President Obama took a bow for reducing our annual budget deficit by two-thirds during his time in office. He’s correct. Since its high of $1.4 trillion in 2009, the deficit had dropped to just $439 billion last year, although the president failed to mention that his policies, including the 2009 stimulus bill, helped drive the deficit to those record levels, and policies that he opposed, such as sequestration, helped bring it down.

But the respite is just temporary. According to the Congressional Budget Office’s newest estimates, released yesterday, the deficit is already rising again, and will exceed $544 billion this year. By 2022, just six years from now, we will once again be experiencing trillion-dollar deficits every year. And even with lower deficits, the national debt is still rising. By 2025, our debt will top $27 trillion. Yet, Congress is not only kicking the can down the road, it is making the problem worse. Just last year, Congress put in place spending that will raise the debt by $1.2 trillion over the next ten years. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget called 2015 “a banner year for fiscal irresponsibility.” And none of this includes the more than $69 trillion in unfunded liabilities being run up by Medicare and Social Security. But out on the campaign trail? Crickets.

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That’s a mighty long way down ahead.

Global Real Estate Value Hits $217 Trillion In 2015 (VW)

The total value of all developed real estate on the globe reached US$217 trillion in 2015, according to calculations by international real estate adviser, Savills. The analysis, published today for the first time, measures the entire developed property universe including commercial and residential property as well as forestry and agricultural land. The value of global property in 2015 amounted to 2.7 times the world’s GDP, making up roughly 60% of mainstream global assets and representing an important store of national, corporate and individual wealth. Residential property accounted for 75% of the total value of global property.

Yolande Barnes, head of Savills world research, comments: “To give this figure context, the total value of all the gold ever mined is approximately US$6 trillion, which pales in comparison to the total value of developed property by a factor of 36 to 1. “The value of global real estate exceeds – by almost a third – the total value of all globally traded equities and securitised debt instruments put together and this highlights the important role that real estate plays in economies worldwide. Real estate is the pre-eminent asset class which will be most impacted by global monetary conditions and investment activity and which, in turn, has the power to most impact national and international economies.” In recent years, quantitative easing and resulting low interest rates have suppressed real estate yields and fuelled high levels of asset appreciation globally.

Investment activity and capital growth has swept around the major real estate markets of the world and led to asset price inflation in many instances. Overall, the biggest and most important component of global real estate value is the homes that people live in, totalling US$162 trillion. The sector has the largest spread of ownership with approximately 2.5 billion households and is most closely tied with the fortunes of ordinary people. Residential real estate value is broadly distributed in line with the size of affluent populations: China accounts for nearly a quarter of the total value, containing nearly a fifth of the world’s population. Yet the weight of value lies with the West, over a fifth (21%) of the world’s total residential asset value is in North America despite the fact that only 5% of the population lives there.

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This is just too crazy. The American Dream is voluntary force-fed peonage. This country deserves a Trump.

First-Time Homebuyers Are Finally Jumping Into The US Property Market (BBG)

First-time homebuyers are finally jumping into the U.S. property market. Need proof? Look at the mortgage market’s fastest-growing segment: loans with low down payments insured by the Federal Housing Administration. Originations of FHA-backed mortgages, used predominately by first-time buyers, were up 54% in September from a year earlier, according to the most recent data from CoreLogic. By December, the FHA insured 22% of all loan originations, up from 17% a year earlier, according to data compiled by Ellie Mae. “The FHA will be a contributing factor to homeownership rising again in America,” said David Lykken, president and founder of Transformational Mortgage Solutions in Austin, Texas. “We’re seeing the return of first-time buyers.”

President Barack Obama’s administration, in January 2015, reduced mortgage-insurance premiums for FHA loans. That lowered the cost of getting a home loan and brought in at least 75,000 new borrowers with credit scores of less than 680, according to a November report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The rate of FHA lending, which had been in decline through most of 2014, tripled the month after the insurance premium was cut, according to CoreLogic. The FHA estimates that borrowers save $900 a year on average as a result of the lower premium. The move made FHA-backed mortgages more competitive with other loans that have low-down-payment options, said Guy Cecala, publisher of the newsletter Inside Mortgage Finance.

While mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have an option for borrowers to put down as little as 3%, they require private insurance with risk-adjusted premiums based on credit scores, debt-to-income ratios and other factors. “It still costs more to get a 3%-down loan with Fannie and Freddie if you have a lower FICO score,” Cecala said. The homeownership rate in the third quarter was 63.7%, up from 63.4% in the previous three months and the first quarterly rise in two years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which is scheduled to release fourth-quarter data next week. “Last year’s decision to lower premiums was designed to open the door to those previously priced out of homeownership,” HUD Secretary Julian Castro said in an email. “We’ve seen positive results with new buyers entering the market and making the American dream of homeownership a reality.”

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How Wal-Mart destroys American communities.

Wal-Mart: It Came, It Conquered, Now It’s Packing Up and Leaving (BBG)

The Town’n Country grocery in Oriental, North Carolina, a local fixture for 44 years, closed its doors in October after a Wal-Mart store opened for business. Now, three months later — and less than two years after Wal-Mart arrived — the retail giant is pulling up stakes, leaving the community with no grocery store and no pharmacy. Though mom-and-pop stores have steadily disappeared across the American landscape over the past three decades as the mega chain methodically expanded, there was at least always a Wal-Mart left behind to replace them. Now the Wal-Marts are disappearing, too. “I was devastated when I found out. We had a pharmacy and a perfectly satisfactory grocery store. Maybe Wal-Mart sold apples for a nickel less,” said Barb Venturi, mayor pro tem for Oriental, with a population of about 900.

“If you take into account what no longer having a grocery store does to property values here, it is a significant impact for us.” Oriental is hardly alone. Wal-Mart said on Jan. 15 it would be closing all 102 of its smaller Express stores, many in isolated towns, to focus on its supercenters and mid-sized Neighborhood Markets. The move, which will begin by the end of the month, was a relatively quick about-face. As recently as 2014, Wal-Mart was touting the solid performance of its smaller stores and announced plans to open an additional 90. That’s a big problem for small towns, often with proportionately large elderly populations. For the older folks of Oriental – a retirement and summer vacation town along the inter-coastal waterway – the next-nearest grocery and pharmacy is a 50-minute round-trip drive.

Wal-Mart says it is sensitive to the dislocations its business decisions are causing. “In towns impacted by store closures, we have had hundreds of conversations with elected officials and community leaders to discuss relevant issues and we are working with communities on how we can be helpful,” said Wal-Mart spokesman Brian Nick. Wal-Mart has been under increasing pressure lately as sales in the U.S. have failed to keep up with rising labor costs. It’s also been spending more on its Web operations. In October, the company announced that profit this year would be down as much as 12%. The outlook contributed to a share decline of 29% during the past 12 months. “It is more important now than ever to review our portfolio and close the stores and clubs that should be closed,” Wal-Mart’s Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon said in a statement on the company’s website.

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Timing is everything?!

How the Oil Bust Wiped Out One North Dakota Oil Refiner (BBG)

For the first new refinery in the U.S. in seven years, the idea was simple: Buy cheap oil from shale producers, then score a quick profit by selling it right back to them as more expensive diesel needed to power their trucks and drilling rigs. Now the shale bust is threatening to ruin a renaissance in small refineries, known as teapots, before it even begins. When Dakota Prairie Refining was building its plant in 2014, it could buy some of the cheapest oil in America and sell among the most expensive diesel in America. But the oil bust obliterated its local diesel market, along with the fat premium the fuel used to fetch, as its potential customers shut down operations.

In the fall of 2014, when tiny Dakota Prairie was getting ready to open its processing plant in Dickinson, North Dakota, diesel fuel near the state’s Bakken oil fields sold for $100 a barrel more than the oil produced there. Now it’s selling for just $16 a barrel more. “The last thing you want to be doing right now is running a refinery that makes a lot of diesel and very little gasoline,” said Robert Campbell at Energy Aspects. It’s a “double whammy,” he said, as the diesel market weakens worldwide and demand in their specific local market plunges. Dakota Prairie lacks the pipelines and storage units a larger refiner uses to sell to customers farther away, and it’s not equipped to make vehicle-ready gasoline instead of diesel. “These guys don’t have alternative markets, and they don’t have a lot of competitiveness to export, so they’re pretty stuck,” Campbell said.

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“President Obama has already far surpassed even his predecessor, George W. Bush, in taking the country to war without even the fig leaf of an authorization.”

Congress is Writing the President a Blank Check for War (Ron Paul)

While the Washington snowstorm dominated news coverage this week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was operating behind the scenes to rush through the Senate what may be the most massive transfer of power from the Legislative to the Executive branch in our history. The senior Senator from Kentucky is scheming, along with Sen. Lindsey Graham, to bypass normal Senate procedure to fast-track legislation to grant the president the authority to wage unlimited war for as long as he or his successors may wish. The legislation makes the unconstitutional Iraq War authorization of 2002 look like a walk in the park. It will allow this president and future presidents to wage war against ISIS without restrictions on time, geographic scope, or the use of ground troops. It is a completely open-ended authorization for the president to use the military as he wishes for as long as he (or she) wishes.

Even President Obama has expressed concern over how willing Congress is to hand him unlimited power to wage war. President Obama has already far surpassed even his predecessor, George W. Bush, in taking the country to war without even the fig leaf of an authorization. In 2011 the president invaded Libya, overthrew its government, and oversaw the assassination of its leader, without even bothering to ask for Congressional approval. Instead of impeachment, which he deserved for the disastrous Libya invasion, Congress said nothing. House Republicans only managed to bring the subject up when they thought they might gain political points exploiting the killing of US Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi.

It is becoming more clear that Washington plans to expand its war in the Middle East. Last week the media reported that the US military had taken over an air base in eastern Syria, and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said that the US would send in the 101st Airborne Division to retake Mosul in Iraq and to attack ISIS headquarters in Raqqa, Syria. Then on Saturday, Vice President Joe Biden said that if the upcoming peace talks in Geneva are not successful, the US is prepared for a massive military intervention in Syria. Such an action would likely place the US military face to face with the Russian military, whose assistance was requested by the Syrian government. In contrast, we must remember that the US military is operating in Syria in violation of international law.

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A quote from years ago: “We’re raising a generation of blind amputees”. PS: What on earth are “lower middle-income countries”?

Childhood Obesity ‘An Exploding Nightmare’ (Guardian)

The number of children under five who are overweight or obese has risen to 41 million, from 31 million in 1990, according to figures released by a World Health Organisation commission. The statistics, published by the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity, mean that 6.1% of under-fives were overweight or obese in 2014, compared with 4.8% in 1990. The number of overweight children in lower middle-income countries more than doubled over the same period, from 7.5 million to 15.5 million. In 2014, 48% of all overweight and obese children aged under five lived in Asia, and 25% in Africa. The expert panel, commissioned by the WHO, said progress in tackling the problem had been “slow and inconsistent” and called for increased political commitment, saying there was a “moral responsibility” to act on behalf of children.

Peter Gluckman, a co-chair of the commission, said childhood obesity had become “an exploding nightmare” in the developing world. He added: “It’s not the kids’ fault. You can’t blame a two-year-old child for being fat and lazy and eating too much.” The report’s authors said that addressing the problem must start before the child is conceived and continue into pregnancy, through to infancy, childhood and adolescence. They pointed out that where a mother entering pregnancy is obese or has diabetes, the child is predisposed “to increased fat deposits associated with metabolic disease and obesity”. Many children are growing up in environments encouraging weight gain and obesity, they observed. “The behavioural and biological responses of a child to the obesogenic environment can be shaped by processes even before birth, placing an even greater number of children on the pathway to becoming obese when faced with an unhealthy diet and low physical activity,” they said.

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Very nice video.

15 Of The 16 Hottest Years On Record Have Been This Century (UNFCCC)

The trend for increasingly extreme and frequent weather matching climate change forecasts has been put into stark perspective by the latest data while the economic impact of one of the strongest El Nino’s on record is acting as a red warning light of worse to come, if the world does not act fast enough to cut the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Drawing on consolidated analysis of the world’s major meteorological agencies, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has confirmed that the global average surface temperature in 2015 broke all previous records by a wide margin. For the first time on record, temperatures in 2015 were about 1°C above the pre-industrial era.

The WMO says that the fifteen of the 16 hottest years on record have all been this century, with 2015 being significantly warmer than the record-level temperatures seen in 2014. Underlining the long-term trend, 2011-15 is the warmest five-year period on record. The news comes as Asia is experiencing unusually cold weather and the United States a major blizzard, a sobering reminder that climate change is about extreme impacts from all kinds of weather as the weather systems we have taken for granted for so long shift into more chaotic patterns under the influence of the greenhouse effect.

No single weather event can be attributed to climate change but the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events is increasing as predicted as global average temperatures rise, and this will have severe economic implications. For example, a warmer world means fewer days of snowfall, but heavier snowfall on those days when it does snow. This is because snow requires moist air, and a warmer atmosphere holds more moisture.

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The EU puts itself on notice but is too blind to see it. No Schengen, no EU.

‘Running Out Of Time’, EU Puts Greece, Schengen On Notice (Reuters)

The European Union edged closer on Monday to accepting that its Schengen open-borders area may be suspended for up to two years if it fails in the next few weeks to curb the influx of migrants from the Middle East and Africa. Shorter-term dispensations for border controls end in May. EU migration ministers meeting in Amsterdam decided they may be extended for two years – an unprecedented extension – because the migrant crisis probably will not be brought under control by then, according to the Dutch migration minister, who chaired the meeting. Some ministers made clear such a – theoretically temporary – move would cut off Greece, where more than 40,000 people have arrived by sea from Turkey this year, despite a deal with Ankara two months ago to hold back an exodus of Syrian refugees.

More than 60 have drowned on the crossing since Jan. 1. Greek officials noted that closing routes northward, even if physically possible, would not solve the problem. But electoral pressure on governments, including in the EU’s leading power Germany, to stem the flow and resist efforts to spread asylum seekers across the bloc are making free-travel rules untenable. “We are running out of time,” said EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos. He urged states to implement agreed measures for managing movements of migrants across the continent — or else face the collapse of the 30-year-old Schengen zone.

But the Dutch minister, Klaas Dijkhoff, said time has effectively already run out to preserve the passport-free regime. The system has allowed hundreds of thousands of people to make chaotic treks from Greece and Italy to Germany and Sweden over the past year. “The ‘or else’ is already happening,” he said. “A year ago, we all warned that if we don’t come up with a solution, then Schengen will be under pressure. It already is.” Under pressure from domestic opinion, several governments have already reintroduced controls at their borders with fellow EU states. Those controls should be better coordinated, said Dijkhoff, whose government last year floated the idea of a “mini-Schengen”, which critics saw as a way for Germany and its northern neighbours to bar the influx from the Mediterranean.

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“..we do not intend to become a cemetery of souls here..”

Athens Hits Back At EU Plan To Ringfence Greece (FT)

Greece has hit back at European proposals for tightened security on its northern border with Macedonia, describing the latest plans to staunch the flow of refugees into Europe as a dangerous experiment that would traumatise the country. The proposals to dispatch joint police forces along Macedonia s border with Greece first outlined in a letter sent by Miro Cerar, prime minister of Slovenia, to fellow EU leaders last week have gained political momentum ahead of a meeting of EU interior ministers in Amsterdam on Monday. The plan seeks to shift the frontline of Europe’s refugee control efforts to the northern part of Greece, where the government is already straining to manage the influx with limited resources.

A Slovenian government statement on Friday claimed the proposal would allow an end to internal Schengen border controls and said it had received strong backing from central European countries, including Hungary and Poland, while positive signals had been received from Brussels. EU officials were in Macedonia on Friday to assess conditions on the ground ahead of Monday s talks. A letter from Jean Claude Juncker to Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar, seen by the Financial Times, shows that the European Commission has outlined its backing for the plan.

“I welcome your suggestion that all EU member states should provide assistance to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia authorities to support controls on the border with Greece through the secondment of police/law enforcement officers, and the provision of equipment”, the commission president wrote. Mr Juncker reiterated that EU countries have the right to block entry to people who do not want to apply for asylum in that country in order to apply elsewhere in Europe. “Member states should indeed refuse entry at the external border to third-country nationals who do not satisfy the entry conditions, including third-country nationals who have not made an asylum application despite having had the opportunity to do so”.

But Ioannis Mouzalas, Greece’s minister for migration, said ringfencing Greece from the Schengen zone would not stop asylum seekers making their way to northern Europe, adding that Athens had not been consulted on the plan in advance. Instead, Mr Mouzalas called for greater assistance for Turkey to help it reduce the numbers crossing the Aegean Sea to Greece. More than 2,000 asylum seekers arrive from Turkey each day before making the journey overland to the EU through the western Balkans. “It’s not easy to trap [asylum seekers] and we do not intend to become a cemetery of souls here. We cannot understand what kind of policy it is that a country would close its borders with Greece,” he said on Sunday evening. “We do not have time to experiment with things that will only worsen the trauma.”

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Jan 242016
 
 January 24, 2016  Posted by at 7:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing “Street scene with snow, F STreet Washington, DC” 1918

Iraq Sells Oil For $22 A Barrel, Calls For IMF Help (BBG)
American Oil Companies Are Starting To Scream “Mayday” (CNN)
US Shale’s Big Squeeze (FT)
Squeezed Primary Dealers Quit European Government Bond Markets (Reuters)
US Banks Cut Off Mexican Clients as Regulatory Pressure Increases (WSJ)
Ideological Divisions Undermine Economics (Economist)
A Greek Conspiracy: How The ECB Crushed Varoufakis’ Plans (Häring)
Britain ‘Poised To Open Door To Thousands Of Migrant Children’ (Guardian)
Germany Scolds Austria For Greek Schengen Threats (AFP)
EU Leaders Consider Two-Year Suspension Of Schengen Rules (Telegraph)

The battle gets ugly.

Iraq Sells Oil For $22 A Barrel, Calls For IMF Help (BBG)

Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said the plunge in oil prices means Iraq needs IMF support to continue its fight against Islamic State, a battle he says his country is winning despite little support from its neighbors. “We’ve been anticipating there would be some drop of prices but this has taken us by surprise,” Abadi said of the oil collapse in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “We can defeat Daesh but with this fiscal problem, we need the support” of the IMF, he said. “We have to sustain the economy, we have to sustain our fight.” The conflict with Islamic State, which swept through swaths of northern Iraq in the summer of 2014, has destroyed economic infrastructure, disrupted trade and discouraged investment.

Iraq is now facing the “double shock” of war as well as the crude-oil price drop, and has “urgent” balance-of-payment and budget needs, the IMF said in January as it approved a staff-monitored program to pave the way for a possible loan. Under the program, Iraq will seek to reduce its non-oil primary deficit. “We have cut a lot of our expenditures, government expenditures,” Abadi said in the interview. But the war brings its own costs. “We are paying salaries for the uniformed armies, for our fighters” and their weapons, Abadi said in Davos. Speaking later in a panel session in the Swiss resort, Abadi said Iraqi oil sold on Thursday for $22 a barrel, and after paying costs the country is left with $13 per barrel.

He called for neighbors to do more to help. The only country to have provided financial assistance is Kuwait, he said, which gave Iraq $200 million. “Daesh is on the retreat and it is collapsing but somebody is sending a life line to them,” Abadi said, citing victories for his forces in the key western city of Ramadi and using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State. “Neighbors are fighting for supremacy, using sectarianism.” Shiite Iran supports several of the biggest militias aiding Iraqi forces in the fight against Islamic State. Its rivalry with the Middle East’s biggest Sunni power, Saudi Arabia, has flared in recent weeks, complicating efforts to end conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Iraq has managed to stop the advance of Islamic State in Iraq but if neighbors continue to inflame sectarianism, successes can be reversed, he said. “We are supposed to be in the same boat,” Abadi said. “In reality, we aren’t.”

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“..42nd driller to file for bankruptcy in this commodity crunch..”

American Oil Companies Are Starting To Scream “Mayday” (CNN)

Last year, 42 North American drillers filed for bankruptcy, according to law firm Haynes and Boone. It’s only likely to get worse this year. Experts say there are a lot of parallels between today’s crisis and the last oil crash in 1986. Back then, 27% of exploration and production companies went bust. Defaults are skyrocketing again. In December, exploration and production company defaults topped 11%, up from just 0.5% the previous year, according to Fitch Ratings. That’s a 2,000%-plus jump. It’s just the beginning, says John La Forge, head of real assets strategy at Wells Fargo. If history repeats, people should prepare for the default rate to double in the next year or so. No wonder America’s biggest banks are setting aside a lot of money in anticipation that more energy companies will go belly up.

Energy companies borrowed a lot of money when oil was worth over $100 a barrel. The returns seemed almost guaranteed if they could get the oil out of the ground. But now oil is barely trading just above $30 a barrel and a growing number of companies can’t pay back their debts. “The fact that a price below $100 seemed inconceivable to so many is kind of astonishing,” says Mike Lynch, president of Strategic Energy and Economic Research. “A lot of people just threw money away thinking the price would never go down.” On the last day of 2015, Swift Energy, an “independent oil and gas company” headquartered in Houston, became the 42nd driller to file for bankruptcy in this commodity crunch. The company is trying to sort out over $1 billion in debt at a time when the firm’s earnings have declined over 70% in the past year.

Trimming costs and laying off workers can’t close that kind of gap. “In the 1980s, there was a bumper sticker that people in Texas had that said, ‘God give me one more boom and I promise not to screw it up,'” says Lynch. “People should have those bumper stickers ready again.” The last really big oil bust was in the late 1980s. The Saudis really controlled the price then, says La Forge. Now the Saudis (and other members of OPEC) are in a battle with the United States, which has become a major player again in energy production. No one wants to cut back on production and risk losing market share. “It will be the U.S. companies that go out of business,” predicts La Forge. OPEC countries don’t have a lot of smaller players like the United States does. It’s usually the government that controls oil drilling and production in OPEC nations.

La Forge predicts the governments can hold their position longer. As the smaller players run out of cash, they will get swallowed up by bigger ones. “The big boys and girls will snap up a lot of cheap assets,” predicts Lynch. There’s a lot of debate about whether oil prices have bottomed out. Crude oil hit its lowest price since 2003 this week. But even if prices have stabilized, the worst isn’t over for oil companies. “Some companies went under in 1986-’87 even when prices rebounded,” says La Forge. This week, Blackstone (BGB) CEO Stephen Schwarzman said his firm is finally taking a close look at bargains in the energy sector. One of the largest bankruptcies so far is Samson Resources of Oklahoma. In 2011, private equity firm KKR (KKR) bought it for over $7 billion. Now it’s struggling to deal with over $1 billion in debt that’s due this year alone.

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Can’t read on shale without mention of default anymore.

US Shale’s Big Squeeze (FT)

The boom years left the US oil industry deep in debt. The 60 leading US independent oil and gas companies have total net debt of $206bn, from about $100bn at the end of 2006. As of September, about a dozen had debts that were more than 20 times their earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation. Worries about the health of these companies have been rising. A Bank of America Merrill Lynch index of high-yield energy bonds, which includes many indebted oil companies, has an average yield of more than 19%. Almost a third of the 155 US oil and gas companies covered by Standard & Poor’s are rated B-minus or below, meaning they are at high risk of default.

The agency this month revised down its expectations of future oil prices, meaning that many of those companies’ ratings are likely to be cut even further. Credit ratings for the more financially secure investment grade companies are also likely to be lowered this time. Some companies under financial strain will be able to survive by selling assets. Private capital funds raised $57bn last year to invest in energy, according to Preqin, an alternative assets research service, and most of that money is still looking for a home. Companies with low-quality assets or excessive debts will not make it. Tom Watters of S&P expects “a lot more defaults this year”. Bankruptcies, a cash squeeze and poor returns on investment mean companies will continue to cut their capital spending.

The number of rigs drilling oil wells in the US has dropped 68% from the peak in October 2014 to 510 this week, and it is likely to fall further. So far, the impact on US oil production has been minimal. Output in October was down 4% from April, as hard-pressed companies squeeze as much revenue as possible out of their assets. Saudi Arabia’s strategy of allowing oil prices to fall to curb competing sources of production appears to be succeeding But Harold Hamm, chief executive of Continental Resources, one of the pioneers of the shale boom, says the downturn in activity is likely to intensify. “We’re seeing capex being slashed to almost nothing,” he says. “At low prices, people aren’t going to keep producing.” He expects US oil production to fall sharply this year, and says people may be surprised by how fast it goes.

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Poor banks.

Squeezed Primary Dealers Quit European Government Bond Markets (Reuters)

A rise in the number of banks giving up primary dealer roles in European government bond markets threatens to further reduce liquidity and eventually make it more expensive for some countries to borrow money. Increased regulation and lower margins have seen five banks exit various countries in the last three months. Others look set to follow, further eroding the infrastructure through which governments raise debt. While these problems are for now masked by the European Central Bank buying €60 billion of debt every month to try to stimulate the euro zone economy, countries may feel the effects more sharply when the ECB scheme ends in March 2017. Since 2012, most euro zone governments have lost one or two banks as primary dealers, while Belgium – one of the bloc’s most indebted states – is down five.

Primary dealers are integral to government bond markets, buying new issues at auctions to service demand from investors and to maintain secondary trading activity. Without their support, countries would find it harder to sell debt, forcing them to offer investors higher interest rates. Over the last quarter alone, Credit Suisse pulled out of most European countries, ING quit Ireland, Commerzbank left Italy, and Belgium did not re-appoint Deutsche Bank as a primary dealer and dropped Nordea as a recognised dealer. In that time, only Danske Bank has added to its primary dealer roles in the bloc’s main markets. But even Danske is worried. “I’ve never seen it so bad,” said Soeren Moerch, head of fixed income trading at Danske Markets.

“When further banks reduce their willingness to be a primary dealer then liquidity will go even lower…we could have more failed auctions and we could see a big washout in the market.” Acting as a dealer has become increasingly expensive for banks under new regulations because of the amount of capital it requires, while trading profits that once made up for the initial spend have diminished in an era of ultra-low rates. “Shareholders would be shocked if they knew the scale of the costs that some businesses are taking,” said one banker who has worked at several major investment houses with primary dealer functions. The decline in dealers comes as many of the world’s largest financial firms, such as Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank, launch strategic reviews that are likely to impact their fixed income operations.

The risk that the euro zone could slide back into recession, having barely recovered from its long-running debt crisis, could exacerbate the withdrawal by prompting banks to retreat into their home markets. “It is a negative trend. The opposite that we saw in the first 10 years of the euro,” said Sergio Capaldi at Intesa SanPaolo. “For smaller countries…the fact that there are less players is something that could have a negative affect on market liquidity and borrowing costs.”

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Squeezed them for all they’re worth.

US Banks Cut Off Mexican Clients as Regulatory Pressure Increases (WSJ)

U.S. banks are cutting off a growing number of customers in Mexico, deciding that business south of the border might not be worth the risks in the wake of mounting regulatory warnings. At issue are correspondent-banking relationships that allow Mexican banks to facilitate cross-border transactions and meet their clients’ needs for dealing in dollars—in effect, giving them access to the U.S. financial system. The global firms that provide those services are increasingly wary of dealing with Mexican banks as well as their customers, according to U.S. bankers and people familiar with the matter.

The moves are consistent with a broader shift across the industry, in which banks around the world are retreating from emerging markets as regulators ramp up their scrutiny and punishment of possible money laundering. For many banks, the money they can earn in such countries isn’t worth the cost of compliance or the penalties if they step across the line. U.S. financial regulators have long warned about the risks in Mexico of money laundering tied to the drug trade. The urgency spiked more than a year ago, when the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, a unit of the Treasury Department, sent notices warning banks of the risk that drug cartels were laundering money through correspondent accounts, people familiar with the advisories said. Earlier, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency sent a cautionary note to some big U.S. banks about their Mexico banking activities.

But the pain Mexican firms are experiencing is relatively new. The fallout is affecting Mexican banks of various sizes such as Grupo Elektra’s Banco Azteca, Grupo Financiero Banorte and Monex Grupo Financiero, and their customers, the people said. Regulators have consistently said they don’t direct banks to cut ties with specific countries or a large swath of customers. But the advisories, which had nonpublic components that haven’t been previously reported, were interpreted by several big banks as a fresh signal that they do business in Mexico at their own peril, according to people familiar with the matter. “All they know is that sanctions are big and revenues are small,” said Luis Niño de Rivera, vice chairman of Banco Azteca, based in Mexico City. “It’s simple arithmetic: ‘I make a million dollars and they’re going to fine me a billion? I won’t do that.’”

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A field of pretense.

Ideological Divisions Undermine Economics (Economist)

Dismal may not be the most desirable of modifiers, but economists love it when people call their discipline a science. They consider themselves the most rigorous of social scientists. Yet whereas their peers in the natural sciences can edit genes and spot new planets, economists cannot reliably predict, let alone prevent, recessions or other economic events. Indeed, some claim that economics is based not so much on empirical observation and rational analysis as on ideology. In October Russell Roberts, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, tweeted that if told an economist’s view on one issue, he could confidently predict his or her position on any number of other questions. Prominent bloggers on economics have since furiously defended the profession, citing cases when economists changed their minds in response to new facts, rather than hewing stubbornly to dogma.

Adam Ozimek, an economist at Moody’s Analytics, pointed to Narayana Kocherlakota, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis from 2009 to 2015, who flipped from hawkishness to dovishness when reality failed to affirm his warnings of a looming surge in inflation. Tyler Cowen, an economist at George Mason, published a list of issues on which his opinion has shifted (he is no longer sure that income from capital is best left untaxed). Paul Krugman chimed in. He changed his view on the minimum wage after research found that increases up to a certain point reduced employment only marginally (this newspaper had a similar change of heart). Economists, to be fair, are constrained in ways that many scientists are not. They cannot brew up endless recessions in test tubes to work out what causes what, for instance.

Yet the same restriction applies to many hard sciences, too: geologists did not need to recreate the Earth in the lab to get a handle on plate tectonics. The essence of science is agreeing on a shared approach for generating widely accepted knowledge. Science, wrote Paul Romer, an economist, in a paper* published last year, leads to broad consensus. Politics does not. Nor, it seems, does economics. In a paper on macroeconomics published in 2006, Gregory Mankiw of Harvard University declared: “A new consensus has emerged about the best way to understand economic fluctuations.” But after the financial crisis prompted a wrenching recession, disagreement about the causes and cures raged. “Schlock economics” was how Robert Lucas, a Nobel-prize-winning economist, described Barack Obama’s plan for a big stimulus to revive the American economy. Mr Krugman, another Nobel-winner, reckoned Mr Lucas and his sort were responsible for a “dark age of macroeconomics”.

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Nice details.

A Greek Conspiracy: How The ECB Crushed Varoufakis’ Plans (Häring)

A central bank governor in Athens conspires with the President of the Republic to sabotage the negotiation strategy of his government to weaken it in its negotiations with the European Central Bank. After the government has capitulated, this governor, who is a close friend of the new finance minister and boss of the finance ministers wife, and the President of the Republic travel together to the ECB to collect their praise and rewards. This is not an invention, this is now documented. On 19 January the German Central Bank in Frankfurt informed the media that the Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos visited the ECB and met with ECB-President Mario Draghi, and that he was accompanied by the President of the Greek central Bank, Yanis Stournaras.

Remember. When the Syriza-led government in Athens was in tense negotiations with the European institutions, the ECB excerted pressure by cutting Greek banks off the regular financing operations with the ECB. They could get euros only via Emergency Liquidty Assistance from the Greek central bank and the ECB placed a strict limit on these. Finance minister Yanis Varoufakis worked on emergency plans to keep the payment system going in case the ECB would cut off the euro supply completely. It has already been reported and discussed that a close aide of Stournaras sabotaged the government during this time by sending a memo to a financial journalist, which was very critical with the governments negotiation tactics and blamed it for the troubles of the banks, which the ECB had intensified, if not provoked.

A few days ago, Stournaras himself exposed a conspiracy. He bragged that he had convened former prime ministers and talked to the President of the Republic to raise a wall blocking Varoufakis emergency plan. In retrospect it looks as if Alexis Tsipras might have signed his capitulation to Stournaras and the ECB already in April 2015, when he replaced Varoufakis as chief negotiator by Euklid Tsakalotos, who would later become finance minister after Varoufakis resigned. In this case the nightly negotiating marathon in July, after which Tsipras publicly signed his capitulation, might just have been a show to demonstrate that he fought bravely to the end. Why would I suspect that? Because I learned in a Handelsblatt-Interview with Tsakalotos published on 15 January 2016 that he is a close friend of Stournaras. Looking around a bit more, I learned that Tsakalotos wife is ‘Director Advisor’ to the Bank of Greece.

This is the Wikipedia entry: “Heather Denise Gibson is a Scottish economist currently serving as Director-Advisor to the Bank of Greece (since 2011). She is the spouse of Euclid Tsakalotos, current Greek Minister of Finance.” At the time she entered, Stournaras was serving as Director General of a think tank of the Bank of Greece. The friendship of the trio goes back decades to their time together at a British university. They even wrote a book together in 1992. Thus: The former chief negotiator of the Greek government is and was a close friend of the central bank governor and the central bank governor was the boss of his wife. The governor of the Bank of Greece, which is part of the Eurosystem of central banks, gets his orders from the ECB, i.e. the opposing side in the negotiations. He actively sabotaged the negotiation strategy of his government. If this does not look like an inappropriate association for a chief negotiator, I don’t know what would.

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Someone grabbed Cameron by the nuts?

Britain ‘Poised To Open Door To Thousands Of Migrant Children’ (Guardian)

David Cameron is considering plans to admit thousands of unaccompanied migrant children into the UK within weeks, as pressure grows on ministers to provide a haven for large numbers of young people who have fled their war-torn homelands without their parents. Amid growing expectation that an announcement is imminent, Downing Street said ministers were looking seriously at calls from charities, led by Save the Children, for the UK to admit at least 3,000 unaccompanied young people who have arrived in Europe from countries including Syria and Afghanistan, and who are judged to be at serious risk of falling prey to people traffickers. Government sources said such a humanitarian gesture would be in addition to the 20,000 refugees the UK has already agreed to accept, mainly from camps on the borders of Syria, by 2020.

Following a visit to refugee camps in Calais and Dunkirk on Saturday, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called on Cameron to offer children not just a refuge in the UK but proper homes and education, equivalent to the welcome received by those rescued from the Nazis and brought to the UK in 1939. “We must reach out the hand of humanity to the victims of war and brutal repression,” he said. “Along with other EU states, Britain needs to accept its share of refugees from the conflicts on Europe’s borders, including the horrific civil war in Syria. “We have to do more. As a matter of urgency, David Cameron should act to give refuge to unaccompanied refugee children now in Europe – as we did with Jewish Kindertransport children escaping from Nazi tyranny in the 1930s.

And the government must provide the resources needed for those areas accepting refugees – including in housing and education – rather than dumping them in some of Britain’s poorest communities.” Signs that the prime minister may act came after a week in which concern has risen in European capitals, and among aid agencies and charities, about the high number of migrants still pouring into the EU just as cold weather bites along the routes many are taking through the Balkans and central and eastern Europe. With one week of January to go, about 37,000 migrants and refugees have already arrived in the EU by land or sea, roughly 10 times the equivalent total for the month last year. The number of Mediterranean deaths stands at 158 this year.

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It’s a free for all now.

Germany Scolds Austria For Greek Schengen Threats (AFP)

This week Greece slammed a Financial Times report saying several European ministers and senior EU officials believed threatening suspension from Schengen could persuade Greece to protect its borders more effectively. Junior interior minister for migration Yiannis Mouzalas said the report contained ”falsehoods and distortions” but Mikl-Leitner said temporary exclusion was a real possibility. “If the Athens government does not finally do more to secure the (EU’s) external borders then one must openly discuss Greece’s temporary exclusion from the Schengen zone,” Mikl-Leitner said in an interview with German daily Die Welt. “It is a myth that the Greco-Turkish border cannot be controlled,” Mikl-Leitner said.

“When a Schengen signatory does not permanently fulfil its obligations and only hesitatingly accepts aid then we should not rule out that possibility,” she added. “The patience of many Europeans has reached its limit ... We have talked a lot, now we must act. It is about protecting stability, order and security in Europe.” Germany’s Steinmeier criticised Vienna’s warning however. “There won’t be any solution to the refugee crisis if solidarity disappears,” he said. “On the contrary, we must work together and concentrate all our efforts to fight against the causes that are pushing the refugees into flight, to reinforce the EU’s outer borders and to achieve a fair redistribution (of asylum seekers) within Europe.”

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Chance of Schengen survival below zero.

EU Leaders Consider Two-Year Suspension Of Schengen Rules (Telegraph)

The Schengen system of free movement could be suspended for two years under emergency measures to be discussed by European ministers on Monday, as the French Prime Minister warned the crisis could bring down the entire European Union. Manuel Valls said that the “very idea of Europe” will be torn apart until the flows of migrants expected to surge in spring are turned away. On Monday, interior ministers from the EU will meet in Amsterdam to discuss emergency measures to allow states to reintroduce national border controls for two years. The powers are allowed under the Schengen rules, but would amount to an unprecedented abandonment of the 30-year old agreement that allows passport-free travel across 26 states. The measure could be brought in from May, when a six-month period of passport checks introduced by Germany expires.

The European Commission would have to agree that there are “persistent serious deficiencies” in the Schengen zone’s external border to activate it. “This possibility exists, it is there and the Commission is prepared to use it if need be,” said Natasha Bertaud, a spokesman for Jean-Claude Juncker. Greece has been blamed by states for failing to identify and register hundreds of thousands of people flowing over its borders. Other states that have introduced emergency controls are Sweden, Austria, France, Denmark and Norway, which is not in the EU but is in Schengen. “We’re not currently in that situation,” Ms Bertaud added. “But interior ministers will on Monday in Amsterdam have the opportunity to discuss and it’s on the agenda what steps should be taken or will need to be taken once we near the end of the maximum period in May.”

In a further blow, Mr Valls said that France would keep its state of emergency, which has included border checks, until the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant network is destroyed. “It is a total and global war that we are facing with terrorism,” he said. He warned that without proper border controls to turn away refugees, the 60-year old European project could disintegrate. “It’s Europe that could die, not the Schengen area. If Europe can’t protect its own borders, it’s the very idea of Europe that could be thrown into doubt. It could disappear, of course – the European project, not Europe itself, not our values, but the concept we have of Europe, that the founding fathers had of Europe.

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Jan 082016
 
 January 8, 2016  Posted by at 9:50 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Unknown Charleston, SC, after bombardment. Ruins of Cathedral of St John and St Finbar 1865

Slowing Productivity Fast Becoming A Global Problem (Lebowitz)
Dow, S&P Off To Worst Four-Day Jan Start Ever As China Fears Grow (Reuters)
US Stock Markets Continue Plunge (Guardian)
China Has Not One Insolvable Problem, But Many Of Them (Mish)
Capital Flight Pushes China To The Brink Of Devaluation (AEP)
China Stocks Rebound as State Funds Said to Buy Equities (BBG)
China’s Yuan Fixing Calms Markets as Asian Stocks Rally With Oil (BBG)
The Decline Of The Yuan Destroys Belief In Central Banking (Napier)
One Big Market Casualty: China Regulators’ Reputation (CNBC)
China Orders Banks To Limit Dollar Buying This Month To Stem Outflows (CNBC)
Yuan Depreciation Risks Competitive Devaluation Cycle (Reuters)
China’s Forex Reserves Post Biggest Monthly Drop On Record (Xinhua)
China’s Stock Market Is Hardly Free With Circuit Breakers Gone (BBG)
Iran Severs All Commercial Ties With Saudi Arabia (Reuters)
Saudi Arabia Considers IPO For World’s Biggest Energy Company Aramco (Guardian)
VW Weighs Buyback of Tens of Thousands of Cars in Talks With US (BBG)
Human Impact Has Pushed Earth Into The Anthropocene (Guardian)
Europe’s Economy Faces Confidence Test as Borderless Ideal Fades (BBG)
Turkey Does Nothing To Halt Refugee Flows, Says Greece (Kath.)

We’ve reached the end of a line. Not even the narrative works from here.

Slowing Productivity Fast Becoming A Global Problem (Lebowitz)

In “The Fed And Its Self-Defeating Monetary Policy” we focused our discussion on U.S. productivity, but weak and slowing productivity growth is not just an American problem. All of the world’s leading economies are, to varying degrees, exhibiting the same worrisome pattern. And slowing productivity is something investors across asset classes should pay attention to in 2016. The graph below compares annualized productivity trends from three time periods – the 7 years immediately preceding the financial crisis, the 5 years immediately following the crisis, and the 2 most recently reported years (2013 and 2014). The black dots display the change in trend from pre to post crisis.

In all cases the black dots are below zero representing slowing productivity growth. More troublesome, the world’s largest economies are most recently reporting either negligible productivity growth or a decline in productivity. Assuming that demographics are already “baked” and debt has been over-used to produce non-productive growth since well before the crisis, good old-fashioned productivity gains are what the global economy requires to produce durable organic growth in the developed world. Central bankers, politicians and investors are well advised to understand this dynamic.

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Jobs numbers today will be big.

Dow, S&P Off To Worst Four-Day Jan Start Ever As China Fears Grow (Reuters)

U.S. stocks sold off further on Thursday, giving the Dow and S&P 500 their worst four-day starts to a year ever, dragged down by another drop in Chinese equities and oil prices at 12-year lows. China allowed the biggest fall in its yuan currency in five months, adding to investor fears about the health of its economy, while Shanghai stocks were halted for the second time this week after another steep selloff. Oil prices fell to 12-year lows and copper prices touched their lowest since 2009, weighing on energy and materials shares. Shares of Freeport McMoran dropped 9.1% to $5.61. All 10 S&P 500 sectors ended in the red, though, and the Nasdaq Biotech index fell 4.1%. “People see the weakness in China and in the overall equity market and think there’s going to be an impact on corporations here in the United States,” said Robert Pavlik at Boston Private Wealth in New York.

“When you have a market that begins a year with weakness, people are sort of suspect anyway. The economy isn’t moving all that well, the outlook is modest at best, and they don’t want to wait for the long term. China creates more uncertainty.” The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 392.41 points, or 2.32%, to 16,514.1, the S&P 500 had lost 47.17 points, or 2.37%, to 1,943.09 and the Nasdaq Composite had dropped 146.34 points, or 3.03%, to 4,689.43. The Dow has lost 5.2% since the end of 2015 in the worst first four trading days since the 30-stock index was created in 1928. The S&P 500 is down 4.9% since Dec. 31, its worst four-day opening in its history, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices, while the Nasdaq is down 6.4%.

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Serious losses and serious jitters.

US Stock Markets Continue Plunge (Guardian)

US stocks continued to fall on Thursday as fears of an economic slowdown in China spooked investors around the world. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 392.41 points, or 2.32%, capping its worst four-day start to a year in more than a century. The S&P 500 posted its largest daily drop since September, losing 47.17 points, or 2.37%, to 1,943.09 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 146.34 points, or 3%, to 4,689.43. The falls followed another day of turmoil on the world’s stock markets amid more signs that the Chinese economy is slowing. China moved early to try to head off more panic, scrapping a new mechanism that Beijing had initially hoped would prevent sharp selloffs.

Beijing suspended the use of “circuit breakers” introduced to halt trading after dramatic selloffs. The circuit breakers appear to have exacerbated the selloffs, as would-be sellers waited for the markets to open again in order to sell. The decision came after the breaker was tripped for the second time in a week as the market fell 7% within half an hour of opening. Signs of problems in the world’s second largest economy triggered selling in Europe. The German DAX was the worst performer, falling 2.29%, as manufacturing firms were hit by fears about China’s impact on the global economy. In London the FTSE 100 staged a late rally but still ended the day down 119 points, or 1.96%, at 5,954. That’s a three-week low, which wipes around £30bn ($43.86bn) off the index.

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Well put.

China Has Not One Insolvable Problem, But Many Of Them (Mish)

Yuan and Capital Flight
• China needs to prop up the yuan to slow capital flight.
• China needs to let the yuan drop to support exports.
• China needs to float the yuan and remove capital controls to prove it really deserves to be taken seriously as a reserve currency.
• If the yuan sinks, capital flight will increase and China risks the ire of US congress and those play into protectionist sentiment, notably Donald Trump.
• Artificial stabilization of the yuan will do nothing but create an oversized move down the road as we saw in Switzerland.

SOEs and Malinvestments
• China needs to write off malinvestments in state owned enterprises (SOEs).
• If China does write off malinvestments in SOEs it will harm those investing in them, generally individual investors who believed in ridiculous return guarantees.
• If China doesn’t write off malinvestments it will have to prop up the owners of those enterprises, mainly the ruling class, at the expense of everyone else, delaying much needed rebalancing.

Property Bubble
• China needs to fill tens of millions of vacant properties, but no one can afford them.
• If China makes the properties affordable it will have to cover the losses, or builders will suffer massive losses.
• If China subsidizes losses for the builders, there are still no real jobs in in the vacant cities.
• If China does not subsidize the losses, the builders and current investors will both suffer massive damage.

Jobs
• China is losing exports to places like Vietnam that have lower wage points.
• Property bubbles, the overvalued yuan, SOEs, and capital flight all pose conflicting problems for a government desperate for job growth.

Stock Market
• China’s stock market is insanely overvalued (as are global equity markets in general). Many investors are trapped. A sinking stock market and loss of paper profits will make overvalued properties even more unaffordable.
• Propping up the market, as China has attempted (not very effectively at that), encourages more speculation.

Pollution
• Curtailing pollution will cost tens of millions of jobs.
• Not curtailing pollution will cost tens of millions of lives.

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“Our new base case is that the Chinese government will simply let the debt party go on until it eventually collapses under its own weight..”

Capital Flight Pushes China To The Brink Of Devaluation (AEP)

China is perilously close to a devaluation crisis as the yuan threatens to break through the floor of its currency basket, despite massive intervention by the central bank to defend the exchange rate. The country burned through at least $120bn of foreign reserves in December, twice the previous record, the clearest evidence to date that capital outflows have reached systemic proportions. “There is certainly a sense that the situation is spiraling out of control,” said Mark Williams, from Capital Economics. Mr Williams said the authorities botched a switch in early December from a dollar currency peg to a trade-weighted exchange basket, accidentally setting off an exodus of money. Skittish markets suspected – probably wrongly – that it was camouflage for devaluation. The central bank is now struggling to pick up the pieces.

Global markets are acutely sensitive to any sign that China might be forced to abandon its defence of the yuan, with conspiracy theories rampant that it is gearing up for currency war in a beggar-thy-neighbour push for export share. Any such move would send a powerful deflationary impulse though a world economy already on its knees, and risk setting off a chain-reaction through Asia, replicating the 1998 crisis on a larger and more dangerous scale. The confused signals coming from Beijing sent Brent crude crashing to an 11-year low of $32.20. They have also set off a parallel drama on China’s equity markets. The authorities shut the main exchange after the Shanghai Composite index plunged 7.3pc in less than half an hour, triggering automatic circuit-breakers. The crash wiped out $635bn of market capitalisation in minutes.

It was triggered by a witches’ brew of worries: a fall in China’s PMI composite index for manufacturing and services below the boom-bust line of 50, combined with angst over an avalanche of selling by company insiders as the deadline neared for an end to the share-sales ban imposed last year. Faced with mayhem, regulators have retreated yet again. They have extended the ban, this time prohibiting shareholders from selling more than 1pc of the total float over a three-month period. The China Securities Regulatory Commission said the move was to “defuse panic emotions”. The freeze on sales is an admission that the government is now trapped, forced to keep equities on life-support to stop the market crumbling. The commission said its “national team” would keep buying stocks if necessary, doubling down on its frantic buying spree to rescue the market last year.

[..] Jonathan Anderson, from Emerging Advisors Group in Shanghai, said the latest burst of stimulus – led by an 18pc rise in credit – is clear evidence that Beijing is unwilling to take its medicine and deflate the country’s $27 trillion loan bubble. “The debt ratio is rocketing upwards. China is still adding new leverage at a massive, frenetic pace,” he said. “The authorities have clearly shown that they have no intention of addressing leverage problems. Our new base case is that the Chinese government will simply let the debt party go on until it eventually collapses under its own weight,” he said.

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Light. Tunnel. Oncoming freight train.

China Stocks Rebound as State Funds Said to Buy Equities (BBG)

Chinese stocks gained in volatile trading after the government suspended a controversial circuit breaker system, the central bank set a higher yuan fix and state-controlled funds were said to buy equities. The Shanghai Composite Index rose 3% at 1:34 p.m. local time, after falling as much as 2.2% earlier. Regulators removed the circuit breakers after plunges this week closed trading early on Monday and Thursday. The central bank set the currency’s reference rate little changed Friday after an eight-day stretch of weaker fixings that roiled global markets. State-controlled funds purchased Chinese stocks on Friday, focusing on financial shares and others with large weightings in benchmark indexes, according to people familiar with the matter.

“The scrapping of the circuit breaker system will help to stabilize the market, but a sense of panic will remain, particularly among retail investors,” said Li Jingyuan, general manager at Shanghai Bingsheng Asset Management. “The ‘national team’ will probably continue to buy stocks significantly to stabilize the market.” While China’s high concentration of individual investors makes its stock-market notoriously volatile, the extreme swings this year have revived concern over the Communist Party’s ability to manage an economy set to grow at the weakest pace since 1990. The selloff has spread around the world this week, sending U.S. equities to their worst-ever start to a year and pushing copper to the lowest levels since 2009.

[..] The flip-flop in the circuit breaker rule adds to the sentiment among global investors that authorities are improvising – and improvising poorly – as they try to stabilize markets and shore up the economy. “They are changing the rules all the time now,” said Maarten-Jan Bakkum, a senior emerging-markets strategist at NN Investment Partners in The Hague with about $206 billion under management. “The risks seem to have increased.” Investors should expect more volatility in Chinese markets as the government attempts to shift away from a planned economy to one driven by market forces, Mark Mobius, chairman of the emerging markets group at Franklin Templeton Investments, wrote in a blog post on Thursday. Policy makers face a “conundrum” as they seek to maintain financial stability while at the same time loosening their grip on markets, he said.

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“Global shares have lost more than $4 trillion this year..”

China’s Yuan Fixing Calms Markets as Asian Stocks Rally With Oil (BBG)

China’s efforts to stabilize its markets showed early signs of success as the yuan strengthened and regional equities rallied for the first time in five days. Treasuries and the yen fell as demand for havens eased. The Shanghai Composite Index gained 2.4% at the midday break after the securities regulator suspended a controversial circuit-breaker system. Asia’s benchmark share index pared its biggest weekly drop since 2011. The yuan rose 0.1% in onshore trading after the People’s Bank of China ended an eight-day stretch of setting weaker reference rates. Crude oil rallied, while Treasuries and the yen headed for their first declines this week. Global shares have lost more than $4 trillion this year as renewed volatility in Chinese markets revived doubts over the ruling Communist Party’s ability to manage the world’s second-largest economy.

The tumult has heightened worries over competitive devaluations and disinflation as emerging-market currencies tumbled with commodities. Investors will shift their attention to America’s economy on Friday as the government reports monthly payroll figures, a key variable for U.S. interest rates. “The PBOC may have been surprised at how badly China and global stock markets reacted to yuan depreciation,” said Dennis Tan at Barclays in Singapore. “They may want to keep the yuan stable for a while to help calm the stock market.” The PBOC set the yuan’s daily fixing, which restricts onshore moves to a maximum 2% on either side, at 6.5636 per dollar. That’s 0.5% higher than Thursday’s onshore effective closing price in the spot market and ends an eight-day reduction of 1.42%.

China’s markets regulator abandoned the circuit breaker just days after it was introduced, as analysts blamed the new mechanism for exacerbating this week’s selloff. Mainland exchanges shut early on Thursday and Monday after plunges of 7% in the CSI 300 triggered automatic halts. Chinese shares rallied after a volatile start to the day that sent the Shanghai Composite down as much as 2.2%. Producers of energy and raw-materials led the advance as investors gravitated to some of last year’s most beaten-down stocks and state funds were said to intervene to by purchasing shares with large index weightings.

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China will be exporting a crushing deflation.

The Decline Of The Yuan Destroys Belief In Central Banking (Napier)

The key failure of control is in China because that failure will overwhelm other seeming successes. In 2012 this analyst labelled one chart “the most important chart in the world”. It was a chart of China’s foreign exchange reserves. It showed how they were declining and The Solid Ground postulated that this would produce a decline in real economic activity in China and higher real interest rates in the developed world. The result of these two forces would be deflation, despite the amount of wind puffed below the wings of the global economy in the form of QE. Of course, no sooner had this report been issued than China’s grand falconer got to work by borrowing hundreds of billions of USD through its so-called commercial banking system!

The alchemical process through which this mandated capital inflow supported the exchange rate while permitting money creation in China stabilized the global economy- for a while. However, by 2014 it was ever more difficult to borrow more money than the people of China were desperate to export and the market began to win. Since then foreign reserves have been falling and the grand falconer has tried to support the exchange rate while simultaneously easing monetary policy to boost economic growth. I’m no falconer but isn’t this akin to trying to get a bird to fly while tying back its wings? Some investors, well paid to believe six impossible things before breakfast, did not question the ability of the grand Chinese falconer to fly a falcon with tethered wings.

They changed their minds briefly as the bird plummeted earthwards in August 2015 but still the belief in the ability to reflate the economy and simultaneously support an overvalued exchange rate continued. In January 2016 this particular falcon, let’s call it the people’s falcon, was more ‘falling with attitude’ than flying. This bird does not fly and if this bird does not fly the centre does not hold. A major devaluation of the RMB is just beginning and the faith in all the falconers will wane as deflation comes to the world almost seven years after the falconers first fanned the winds of QE supposed to levitate everything.

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Whack-a-mole.

One Big Market Casualty: China Regulators’ Reputation (CNBC)

The wobbles in China that rocked financial markets this week have not only cast doubts over the economy, they’ve also shaken confidence in policymakers’ ability to stem the volatility. For two decades, China’s frenetic growth has been the source of the world’s envy, with investors placing faith in the ability of policymakers to help transform China from a manufacturing-led powerhouse to a consumer-driven economy . As the economy stutters and regulators scramble to contain wild moves in the yuan and stocks, analysts are calling out what appears to be a ham-fisted approach to managing market volatility.

“Market volatility this week suggests that nobody really knows what the policy is right now. Or if the government itself knows or is capable of implementing the policy even if there is one,” DBS said in a currency note Friday. “The market’s message was loud and clear that more clarity and less flip-flopping is needed going forward.” China-listed stocks plunged this week, with trade suspended completely in two sessions after the CSI 300 index dropped more than 7 percent, triggering a circuit breaker meant to limit market volatility. The China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) suspended the circuit-breaker system, implemented for the first time on Monday, before the start of trade Friday. The quick regulatory flip-flops spurred a lot of derision among social media commentators.

“The CSRC all treated us as experiments to make history. When it failed, it concluded with ‘lacking experience,’ and that’s it,” Weibo user Li Hua posted. “I strongly call for resignation of related personnel who designed this policy! There’s no cost of failure so that decision makers can do whatever they want.” Another factor weighing on faith in China’s regulators: Policy makers at the central bank, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), have tinkered again with its currency without providing much indication to the market about its endgame. On Thursday the PBOC allowed the yuan to fall by the most in five months, to the lowest level since the fixing mechanism was established in 2011.

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Money will continue to flow out no matter what they do.

China Orders Banks To Limit Dollar Buying This Month To Stem Outflows (CNBC)

China’s foreign exchange regulator has ordered banks in some trading hubs to limit dollar purchases this month, three people with direct knowledge said on Friday, in the latest attempt to stem capital outflows. The spread between the onshore and offshore markets for the yuan, or renminbi, has been growing since the devaluation last year, spurring Beijing to adopt a range of measures to curb outflows of capital. All banks in certain trading hubs, including Shenzhen, have been affected, the people added. China suspended forex business for some foreign banks, including Deutsche, DBS and Standard Chartered at the end of last year.

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Beggar all of thy neighbors.

Yuan Depreciation Risks Competitive Devaluation Cycle (Reuters)

The depreciation of the Chinese yuan risks triggering a cycle of competitive devaluation and is causing enormous worry in the world’s financial markets, Mexican Finance Minister Luis Videgaray said on Thursday. China allowed the biggest fall in the yuan in five months on Thursday, sending global markets down on concerns that China might be aiming for a devaluation to help its struggling exporters and that other countries could follow suit. “This is one of the worst starts of the year for all the world’s markets,” Videgaray said at an event in Mexico City. “There is a real worry that in the face of the slowing Chinese economy that the public policy response is to start a round of competitive devaluation,” he said.

Mexico has been committed to a freely floating currency since a devastating financial crisis in the mid-1990s and authorities refrain from some of the more direct forms of intervention seen in other emerging markets. Mexico’s peso slumped to a record low on Thursday, triggering two auctions of $200 million each by Mexico’s central bank to support the currency. The country’s program of dollar auctions, under which the central bank can sell up to $400 million a day, is set to expire on Jan. 29. Videgaray said policymakers would announce if the plan would be maintained or modified before that deadline. He noted the program’s goal is not to defend a certain peso level but to ensure sufficient order and liquidity in the market. “We have managed to achieve this objective in a satisfactory manner,” he said. “Up until now, there has been no decision to modify the mechanism.”

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Can’t be a good sign no matter what they say.

China’s Forex Reserves Post Biggest Monthly Drop On Record (Xinhua)

China’s foreign exchange reserves posted the sharpest monthly fall on record in December, official data showed Thursday. Foreign exchange reserves fell to $3.33 trillion at the end of last month, the lowest level in more than three years and down by 108billion dollars from November, according to the People’s Bank of China. The fall in December extended a month-on-month decline of $87.2 billion registered in November. The yuan has been heading south since the central bank revamped the foreign exchange mechanism in August to make the rate more market-based. The yuan has been losing ground as the Chinese economy is expected to register its slowest pace of growth in a quarter of a century in 2015.

Meanwhile, the United States raised interest rates in December and more rises are expected in 2016. The onshore yuan (CNY), traded in the Chinese mainland, declined 4.05% against the greenback in 2015. Li Huiyong, analyst with Shenwan Hongyuan Securities, said the faster decline indicated greater pressure for capital outflow as the yuan depreciated. On Thursday, the central parity rate of the yuan weakened by 332 basis points to 6.5646 against the U.S. dollar, its weakest level in nearly five years, according to the China Foreign Exchange Trading System. “An appropriate size for China’s forex reserves should be around 1.5 trillion U.S. dollars. There is still large room for necessary operations to sustain a stable yuan,” Li said.

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They need to let it go. But won’t.

China’s Stock Market Is Hardly Free With Circuit Breakers Gone (BBG)

China’s removal of market-wide circuit breakers after just four days still leaves investors facing plenty of restrictions in how they trade. A 10% daily limit on single stock moves and a rule preventing investors from buying and selling the same shares in a day remain in force. Volume in what was once the world’s most active index futures market is minimal after authorities curtailed trading amid a summer rout, making it more difficult to implement hedging strategies. Officials unveiled curbs Thursday on share sales by major stockholders just a day before an existing ban was due to expire. And the activity of foreign investors is limited by quotas, given either to asset managers or to users of the Hong Kong-Shanghai exchange link.

“Although there’s more ability now for offshore participation, it’s largely a market that’s restricted the domestic users,” said Ric Spooner at CMC Markets Asia Pacific. “That means it doesn’t get the arbitrage benefits that international investors bring. It’s a work in progress.” There’s also the prospect that regulators and executives will dust off last year’s playbook as they seek to stem losses. At the height of the summer rout, about half of China’s listed companies were halted, while officials investigated trading strategies, made it harder for investors to borrow money to buy equities and vowed to “purify” the market. Chinese equities seesawed in volatile trading on Friday, with the CSI Index rising 1.3% as of 10:02 a.m. local time after climbing 3.1% and sinking 1.7%.

The gauge slid 12% in the first four days of the week, two of which were curtailed as the circuit breakers triggered market-wide halts for the rest of the day. The flip-flop on using the mechanism, which was meant to help stabilize the market, is adding to investor concern that authorities are improvising. Policy makers weakened the yuan for eight days straight through Thursday, and authorities were said to intervene on Tuesday to prop up equities. Policy makers used purchases by government-linked funds to bolster shares as the CSI 300 plunged as much as 43% over the summer. State funds probably spent $236 billion on equities in the three months through August, according to Goldman Sachs.

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Saudi rocket attack on embassy in Yemen.

Iran Severs All Commercial Ties With Saudi Arabia (Reuters)

Relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia deteriorated even further on Thursday as Tehran severed all commercial ties with Riyadh and accused Saudi jets of attacking its embassy in Yemen’s capital. A row has been raging for days between Shi’ite Muslim power Iran and the conservative Sunni kingdom since Saudi Arabia executed cleric Nimr al-Nimr, an opponent of the ruling dynasty who demanded greater rights for the Shi’ite minority. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Sudan, Djibouti and Somalia have all broken off diplomatic ties with Iran this week, the United Arab Emirates downgraded its relations and Kuwait, Qatar and Comoros recalled their envoys after the Saudi embassy in Tehran was stormed by protesters following the execution of Nimr and 46 other men.

In a cabinet meeting chaired by Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Thursday, Tehran banned all imports from Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia had announced on Monday that Riyadh was halting trade links and air traffic with the Islamic Republic. Iran also said on Thursday that Saudi warplanes had attacked its embassy in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, an accusation that Riyadh said it would investigate. “Saudi Arabia is responsible for the damage to the embassy building and the injury to some of its staff,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari was quoted as saying by the state news agency, IRNA. Residents and witnesses in Sanaa said there was no damage to the embassy building in Hadda district.

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Aramco is so big, it may be impossible to value.

Saudi Arabia Considers IPO For World’s Biggest Energy Company Aramco (Guardian)

Saudi Arabia is considering a stock market listing for its national oil group – the world’s biggest energy company and probably the most valuable company on the planet. Saudi Aramco is a highly secretive organisation but is likely to be valued at well over $1tn (£685bn). Any public share listing would be viewed as a potent symbol of the financial pain being wreaked by low prices on the world’s biggest crude exporting country. Prince Muhammad bin Salman, the country’s highly influential deputy crown prince, confirmed in an interview on Monday with the Economist magazine that a decision would be taken within months whether to raise cash in this way, even as oil company shares are depressed at this time.

“Personally I am enthusiastic about this step,” he said. “I believe it is in the interest of the Saudi market, and it is in the interest of Aramco, and it is for the interest of more transparency, and to counter corruption, if any, that may be circling around.” The sale via an initial public offering (IPO) of any part of Saudi Aramco would be a major change in direction for a country, which has jealously guarded its enormous – and cheaply produced – oil reserves. Aramco’s reserves are 10 times greater than those of Exxon, which is the largest publicly listed oil company. The prince, considered the power behind the throne of his father King Salman, is keen to modernise the largely oil-based Saudi economy by privatisation or other means but it also needs to find money.

The country is under pressure, with oil prices plunging to their lowest levels in 11 years and more than 70% below where they were in June 2014. This has put huge strain on Saudi public spending plans, which were drawn up when prices were much higher and pushed the public accounts into deficit.

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A long way from salvation.

VW Weighs Buyback of Tens of Thousands of Cars in Talks With US (BBG)

Volkswagen may buy back tens of thousands of cars with diesel engines that can’t be easily fixed to comply with U.S. emissions standards as part of its efforts to satisfy the demands of regulators, according to two people familiar with the matter. Negotiations between the German automaker and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are continuing and no decisions have been reached. Still, a buyback would be an extraordinary step that demonstrates the challenge of modifying vehicles that were rigged to pass emission tests. VW has concluded it would be cheaper to repurchase some of the more than 500,000 vehicles than fix them, said the people, who declined to be cited by name.

One person said the number of cars that might be bought back from their owners totals about 50,000, a figure that could change as talks continue. “We’ve been having a large amount of technical discussion back and forth with Volkswagen,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said Thursday, when asked about the possibility of VW having to buy back some vehicles. “We haven’t made any decisions on that.” McCarthy told reporters after an event in Washington Thursday that VW’s proposals to bring its cars into compliance with emissions standards have so far been inadequate. “We haven’t identified a satisfactory way forward,” McCarthy said. The EPA is “anxious to find a way forward so that the company can get into compliance,” she said.

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“..the presence of isotopes from nuclear weapons testing..”

Human Impact Has Pushed Earth Into The Anthropocene (Guardian)

There is now compelling evidence to show that humanity’s impact on the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans and wildlife has pushed the world into a new geological epoch, according to a group of scientists. The question of whether humans’ combined environmental impact has tipped the planet into an “anthropocene” – ending the current holocene which began around 12,000 years ago – will be put to the geological body that formally approves such time divisions later this year. The new study provides one of the strongest cases yet that from the amount of concrete mankind uses in building to the amount of plastic rubbish dumped in the oceans, Earth has entered a new geological epoch.

“We could be looking here at a stepchange from one world to another that justifies being called an epoch,” said Dr Colin Waters, principal geologist at the British Geological Survey and an author on the study published in Science on Thursday. “What this paper does is to say the changes are as big as those that happened at the end of the last ice age . This is a big deal.” He said that the scale and rate of change on measures such as CO2 and methane concentrations in the atmosphere were much larger and faster than the changes that defined the start of the holocene. Humans have introduced entirely novel changes, geologically speaking, such as the roughly 300m metric tonnes of plastic produced annually. Concrete has become so prevalent in construction that more than half of all the concrete ever used was produced in the past 20 years.

Wildlife, meanwhile, is being pushed into an ever smaller area of the Earth, with just 25% of ice-free land considered wild now compared to 50% three centuries ago. As a result, rates of extinction of species are far above long-term averages. But the study says perhaps the clearest fingerprint humans have left, in geological terms, is the presence of isotopes from nuclear weapons testing that took place in the 1950s and 60s. “Potentially the most widespread and globally synchronous anthropogenic signal is the fallout from nuclear weapons testing,” the paper says. “It’s probably a good candidate [for a single line of evidence to justify a new epoch] … we can recognise it in glacial ice, so if an ice core was taken from Greenland, we could say that’s where it [the start of the anthropocene] was defined,” Waters said.

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It’s all become a joke.

Europe’s Economy Faces Confidence Test as Borderless Ideal Fades (BBG)

Here’s the latest in a long line of threats to Europe’s economy: the border guard. Danish officers checking travel documents on the boundary with Germany this week aren’t out to stymie trade or hinder tourism – they’re under orders from politicians anxious to stem the flow of refugees. Even so, analysts are beginning to worry about what could happen to the already-embattled region when the free movement of people is called into question. Like the euro, the single currency used by 19 of the European Union’s 28 nations, the Schengen Agreement has long been touted by politicians as an irrevocable pillar of a multi-national union, allowing unimpeded travel between states for business or pleasure. So with an already fragile recovery, monetary policy stretched trying to fend off deflation and companies deferring investment, the mere threat that Schengen could unravel may be hard to shrug off.

“If in the migrant crisis Schengen were to disintegrate, this would send a disastrous signal to markets: the European project would be seen as in fact reversible,” said Wolfango Piccoli, managing director of Teneo Intelligence in London. “Nobody could blame investors if against that backdrop, they would suddenly start to re-evaluate the reliability of promises made by European institutions in the euro-zone crisis.” The EU says Europeans make over 1.25 billion journeys within the Schengen zone every year, which comprises 26 countries from the Barents Sea to the eastern Mediterranean. It also includes countries such as Iceland and Norway that aren’t part of the EU. Signed in 1985, Schengen took effect 10 years later. In normal times, it means travelers within the bloc aren’t subjected to border checks, and external citizens holding a visa for one country may usually travel without restriction to all.

These aren’t normal times and now the edifice of carefree travel across the continent is cracking. During 2015, the arrival of people fleeing wars and persecution in Asia, Africa and the Middle East exceeded 1 million, sparking political tension and public debate over how, and where, to settle the newcomers. Denmark’s decision to establish temporary controls seems, according to the EU, to be covered by Schengen rules that allow such curbs in emergencies. But it’s not the first; that move came hours after Sweden started systematic ID checks at its borders, while Germany was forced to take similar action in September along its frontier with Austria. Hungary erected a fence at its borders with Serbia and Croatia last year.

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€3 billion, Angela.

Turkey Does Nothing To Halt Refugee Flows, Says Greece (Kath.)

Turkey has not taken any action to clamp down on human traffickers and between 3,000 and 4,000 migrants and refugees are reaching Greece every day, Immigration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas said Thursday. Mouzalas suggested in an interview on Skai TV that Ankara has not lived up to its pledges to stem the flow of people traveling across the Aegean to Greece. “It has not done anything to stop human trafficking, as is evident from the migratory flows.” The minister said that the high level of arrivals has continued because the news that some migrants are not being allowed through European borders has yet to filter through but, at the same time, refugees waiting to cross from Turkey are concerned that if they do not do so soon they will be prevented from reaching Central and Northern Europe.

“The high rate has to do with refugees’ fear that the borders will close for everyone,” he said, adding that he thought this possibility is “very likely.” “When the message reaches Morocco that Moroccans are not being allowed to cross into Europe but are being held and repatriated, the flows will drop.” Mouzalas said that around half of the people arriving in Greece over the last two months have been undocumented migrants.

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Dec 052015
 
 December 5, 2015  Posted by at 10:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle December 5 2015


DPC “Broad Street and curb market, New York” 1906

US, EU Bond Markets Lose $270 Billion In One Day (BBG)
US Corporate Debt Downgrades Reach $1 Trillion (FT)
UK Call For ‘Multicurrency’ EU Triggers ECB Alarm (FT)
Why the Euro Is A Dead Currency (Martin Armstrong)
‘There Cannot Be A Limit’ To Stimulus, Says ECB president Mario Draghi (AFP)
SEC to Crack Down on Derivatives (WSJ)
Banks Said to Face SEC Probe Into Possible Credit Swap Collusion (BBG)
Enough Of Aid – Let’s Talk Reparations (Hickel)
20 Billionaires Now Have More Wealth Than Half US Population (Collins)
OPEC Fails To Agree Production Ceiling As Iran Pledges Output Boost (Reuters)
Germany Rebukes Own Intelligence Agency for Criticizing Saudi Policy (NY Times)
Germany Sees EU Border Guards Stepping In For Crises (Reuters)
EU Considers Measures To Intervene If States’ Borders Are Not Guarded (I.ie)

” In the old days, this would have been a one-week trade. In the new world, and in the less liquid market we live in today, it takes one day for the repricing.”

US, EU Bond Markets Lose $270 Billion In One Day (BBG)

December has been a bruising month for bond traders and we’re only four days in. The value of the U.S. fixed-income market slid by $162.5 billion on Thursday while the euro area’s shrank by the equivalent of $107.5 billion as a smaller-than-expected stimulus boost by the European Central Bank and hawkish comments from Janet Yellen pushed up yields around the world. A global index of bonds compiled by Bank of America Merrill Lynch slumped the most since June 2013. The ECB led by President Mario Draghi increased its bond-buying program by at least €360 billion and cut the deposit rate by 10 basis points at a policy meeting Thursday but the package fell short of the amount many economists had predicted.

Fed Chair Yellen told Congress U.S. household spending had been “particularly solid in 2015,” and car sales were strong, backing the case for the central bank to raise interest rates this month for the first time in almost a decade.”A lot of people lost money,” said Charles Comiskey at Bank of Nova Scotia, one of the 22 primary dealers obligated to bid at U.S. debt sales. “People were caught in those trades. In the old days, this would have been a one-week trade. In the new world, and in the less liquid market we live in today, it takes one day for the repricing.” The bond rout on Thursday added weight to warnings from Franklin Templeton’s Michael Hasenstab that there is a “a lot of pain” to come as rising U.S. interest rates disrupts complacency in the debt market.

“A lot of investors have gotten very complacent and comfortable with the idea that there’s global deflation and you can go long rates forever,” Hasenstab, whose Templeton Global Bond Fund sits atop Morningstar Inc.’s 10-year performance ranking, said this week. “When that reverses, there will be a lot of pain in many of the bond markets.”

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“The credit cycle is long in the tooth..”

US Corporate Debt Downgrades Reach $1 Trillion (FT)

More than $1tn in US corporate debt has been downgraded this year as defaults climb to post-crisis highs, underlining investor fears that the credit cycle has entered its final innings. The figures, which will be lifted by downgrades on Wednesday evening that stripped four of the largest US banks of coveted A level ratings, have unnerved credit investors already skittish from a pop in volatility and sharp swings in bond prices. Analysts with Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch expect default rates to increase over the next 12 months, an inopportune time for Federal Reserve policymakers, who are expected to begin to tighten monetary policy in the coming weeks. S&P has cut its ratings on US bonds worth $1.04tn in the first 11 months of the year, a 72% jump from the entirety of 2014.

In contrast, upgrades have fallen to less than half a billion dollars, more than a third below last year’s total. The rating agency has more than 300 US companies on review for downgrade, twice the number of groups its analysts have identified for potential upgrade. “The credit cycle is long in the tooth by any standardised measure,” Bonnie Baha at DoubleLine Capital said. “The Fed’s quantitative easing programme helped to defer a default cycle and with the Fed poised to increase rates, that may be about to change.” Much of the decline in fundamentals has been linked to the significant slide in commodity prices, with failures in the energy and metals and mining industries making up a material part of the defaults recorded thus far, Diane Vazza, an analyst with S&P, said. “Those companies have been hit hard and will continue to be hit hard,” Ms Vazza noted. “Oil and gas is a third of distressed credits, that’s going to continue to be weak.”

Some 102 companies have defaulted since the year’s start, including 63 in the US. Only three companies in the country have retained a coveted triple A rating: ExxonMobil, Johnson & Johnson and Microsoft, with the oil major on review for possible downgrade. Portfolio managers and credit desks have already begun to push back at offerings seen as too risky as they continue a flight to quality. Bankers have had to offer steep discounts on several junk bond deals to fill order books, and some were caught off guard when Vodafone, the investment grade UK telecoms group, had to pull a debt sale after investors demanded greater protections. Bond prices, in turn, have slid. The yield on the Merrill Lynch high-yield US bond index, which moves inversely to its price, has shifted back up above 8%. For the lowest rung triple-C and lower rated groups, yields have hit their highest levels in six years.

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Draghi apparently doesn’t think very highly of the euro: “Eurozone countries won’t want to give a competitive advantage to those outside and will use it as an excuse. That is what worries him.”

UK Call For ‘Multicurrency’ EU Triggers ECB Alarm (FT)

David Cameron’s push to rebrand the EU as a “multicurrency union” has triggered high-level concerns at the European Central Bank, which fears it could give countries such as Poland an excuse to stay out of the euro. The UK prime minister wants to rewrite the EU treaty to clarify that some countries will never join the single currency, in an attempt to ensure they do not face discrimination by countries inside the eurozone. Mario Draghi, president of the ECB, is worried the move could weaken the commitment of some countries to join the euro. Beata Szydlo, the new Polish premier, has previously described the euro as a “bad idea” that would make Poland “a second Greece”.

Mr Draghi shares concerns in Brussels that the EU single market could be permanently divided across two regulatory spheres, with eurozone countries facing unfair competition if there were a lighter-touch regime on the outside. The idea of rebranding the EU as a “multicurrency union” was raised during a recent meeting in London between George Osborne, the UK chancellor, and Mr Draghi. Mr Osborne said last month that Britain wanted the treaty to recognise “that the EU has more than one currency”. Under the existing treaty, the euro is the official currency of the EU and every member state is obliged to join — apart from Britain and Denmark, which have opt-outs. The common currency is used by 19 out of 28 member states.

Sluggish growth and a debt crisis have made the euro a less-attractive proposition in recent years, and Mr Draghi’s concern is that a formal recognition that the EU is a “multicurrency union” could make matters worse. “He’s worried that people would resist harmonisation by arguing that the UK and others were gaining an unfair advantage,” said a British official. The ECB said the bank had no formal position on the issue. British ministers are confident that the ECB’s concerns can be addressed, possibly with a treaty clause making clear that every EU member apart from Britain and Denmark is still expected to join the euro.

One official involved in the British EU renegotiations said that any safeguards for Britain must not “permanently divide the ins and outs” or force countries to pick camps. “Whatever we do cannot impair the euro in any way. The single currency must be able to function,” the official said. Since the launch of the single currency in 1999, the ECB has consistently argued that a single market and currency must have common governance and institutions. One European adviser familiar with Mr Draghi’s views said: “Eurozone countries won’t want to give a competitive advantage to those outside and will use it as an excuse. That is what worries him.”

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“The Troika will shake every Greek upside down until they rob every personal asset they have.”

Why the Euro Is A Dead Currency (Martin Armstrong)

I have been warning that government can do whatever it likes and declare anything to be be a criminal act. In the USA, not paying taxes is NOT a crime, failing to file your income tax is the crime. The EU has imposed the first outright total asset reporting requirement for cash, jewelry, and anything else you have of value stored away. As of January 1st, 2016, ALL GREEKS must report their personal cash holdings, whatever jewelry they possess, and the contents of their storage facilities under penalty of criminal prosecution. The dictatorship of the Troika has demanded that Greeks will be the first to have to report all personal assets.

Why the Greek government has NOT exited the Eurozone is just insanity. The Greek government has betrayed its own people to Brussels. The Troika will shake every Greek upside down until they rob every personal asset they have. Greeks are just the first test case. All Greeks must declare cash over € 15,000, jewelry worth more than 30,000 euros and the contents of their storage lockers/facilities. This is a decree of the Department of Justice and the Ministry of Finance meaning if you do not comply, it will become criminal. The Troika is out of its mind. They are destroying Europe and this is the very type of action by governments that has resulted in revolutions.

The Greek government has betrayed its own people and they are placing at risk the viability of Europe to even survive as a economic union. The Troika is UNELECTED and does NOT have to answer to the people. It has converted a democratic Europe into the Soviet Union of Europe. The Greek people are being stripped of their assets for the corruption of politicians. This is the test run. Everyone else will be treated the same. Just how much longer can the EU remain together?

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Thus putting QE on par with stupidity. Sounds about right.

‘There Cannot Be A Limit’ To Stimulus, Says ECB president Mario Draghi (AFP)

Mario Draghi has said the European Central Bank would intensify efforts to support the eurozone economy and boost inflation toward its 2pc goal if necessary. Speaking a day after the ECB’s moves to expand stimulus fell short of market expectations, the central bank president said that he was confident of returning to that level of inflation “without undue delay”. “But there is no doubt that if we had to intensify the use of our instruments to ensure that we achieve our price stability mandate, we would,” he said in a speech to the Economic Club of New York. “There cannot be any limit to how far we are willing to deploy our instruments, within our mandate, and to achieve our mandate,” he said.

On Thursday the ECB sent equity markets tumbling, and reversed the euro’s downward course, after it announced an interest rate cut that was less than investors had expected and held back from expanding the size of its bond-buying stimulus. The bank cut its key deposit rate by a modest 0.10 percentage points to -0.3pc, and only extended the length of its bond purchase program by six months to March 2017. Critics said that was not strong enough action to counter deflationary pressures on the euro area economy. Some analysts believed a desire for stronger moves, like an expansion of bond purchases, was stymied by powerful, more conservative members of the ECB governing council, including Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann.

But Mr Draghi insisted that there was “very broad agreement” within the council for the extent of the bank’s actions. And, he added, it would do more if necessary: “There is no particular limit to how we can deploy any of our tools.” He acknowledged some market doubts that central banks are proving unable to reverse the downward trend in inflation, saying that, even if there is a lag to the impact of policies in place, they are working. “I would dispute entirely the notion that we are powerless to reach our objective,” he said. “The evidence at our disposal shows, on the contrary, that the instruments we are currently deploying are having the effect intended.” Without them, he added, “inflation would likely have been negative this year”.

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Derivatives will continue to be advertized as ‘insurance’, but what they really do is keep the casino going by keeping losses -and risks- off the books.

SEC to Crack Down on Derivatives (WSJ)

U.S. securities regulators, under pressure to demonstrate they have a handle on potential risks in the asset-management industry, are about to crack down on the use of derivatives in certain funds sold to the public, worried that some products are too precarious for retail investors. The restrictions, which the Securities and Exchange Commission is set to propose next Friday, are expected to have an outsize effect on a small but growing sector that uses the complex instruments to try to deliver double or even triple returns of the indexes they track. Some regulators say these products—known as “leveraged exchange-traded funds”—can be highly volatile, and expose investors to sudden, outsize losses.

The proposed restrictions could adversely affect in particular firms like ProShare Advisors, a midsize fund company that has carved out a niche role as a leading leveraged-ETF provider. The Bethesda, Md., firm is mounting a behind-the-scenes campaign to persuade the SEC to scale back the proposal, arguing that regulators’ concerns are overblown, according to people familiar with the firms’ thinking. Exchange-traded funds hold a basket of assets like mutual funds and trade on an exchange like a stock. At issue is the growing use by some ETFs of derivatives, contracts that permit investors to speculate on underlying assets—such as commodity prices—and to amplify the potential gains through leverage, or borrowed money. But those derivatives also raise the riskiness of those investments, and can also magnify the losses.

SEC officials have said the increasing use of derivatives by mutual funds to boost leverage warrants heightened scrutiny, saying that the agency’s existing investor protection rules haven’t kept pace with industry practices. Some of the existing guidance goes back more than 30 years, long before the advent of modern derivatives.

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CDS have developed into de facto instruments to hide one’s losses behind. It’s the only way the world of finance can keep churning along in the face of deflation.

Banks Said to Face SEC Probe Into Possible Credit Swap Collusion (BBG)

U.S. regulators are examining whether banks colluded in setting prices in the derivatives market where investors speculate on credit risk, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is probing whether firms acted in unison to distort prices in the $6 trillion market for credit-default swaps indexes, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the investigation is private. The regulator is trying to determine if dealers have misrepresented index prices, the person said. The credit-default swaps benchmarks allow investors to make bets on the likelihood of default by companies, countries or securities backed by mortgages. The probe comes after successful cases brought against Wall Street’s illegal practices tied to interest rates and foreign currencies.

Those cases showed traders misrepresented prices and coordinated their positions to push valuations in their favor, often through chat rooms – practices that violate antitrust laws. The government has used those prosecutions as a road map to pursue similar conduct in different markets. Credit-default swaps, which gained notoriety during the financial crisis for amplifying losses and spreading risks from the U.S. housing bust across the globe, have since come under more scrutiny by regulators. Trading in swaps index contracts has increased in recent years as investors look for easy ways to speculate on, say, the health of U.S. companies, or the risk that defaults will increase as seven years of easy-money policies come to an end.

Toward the end of each trading day, benchmark prices for indexes are tabulated by third-party providers based on dealer quotes, creating a level at which traders can mark their positions. This process is similar to how other markets that don’t trade on exchanges set benchmark prices. That includes the London interbank offered rate, an interest-rate benchmark. In the Libor scandal, regulators accused banks of making submissions on borrowing rates that benefited their trading positions. A group of Wall Street’s biggest banks have traditionally dominated trading in the credit swaps, acting as market makers to hedge funds, insurance companies and other institutional investors. Those dealers send quotes to clients over e-mails or on electronic screens showing at which price they will buy or sell default insurance. Those values rise and fall as the perception of credit risk changes.

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A very interesting theme. “It was like the holocaust seven times over.”

Enough Of Aid – Let’s Talk Reparations (Hickel)

Colonialism is one of those things you’re not supposed to discuss in polite company – at least not north of the Mediterranean. Most people feel uncomfortable about it, and would rather pretend it didn’t happen. In fact, that appears to be the official position. In the mainstream narrative of international development peddled by institutions from the World Bank to the UK’s Department of International Development, the history of colonialism is routinely erased. According to the official story, developing countries are poor because of their own internal problems, while western countries are rich because they worked hard, and upheld the right values and policies. And because the west happens to be further ahead, its countries generously reach out across the chasm to give “aid” to the rest – just a little something to help them along.

If colonialism is ever acknowledged, it’s to say that it was not a crime, but rather a benefit to the colonised – a leg up the development ladder. But the historical record tells a very different story, and that opens up difficult questions about another topic that Europeans prefer to avoid: reparations. No matter how much they try, however, this topic resurfaces over and over again. Recently, after a debate at the Oxford Union, Indian MP Shashi Tharoor’s powerful case for reparations went viral, attracting more than 3 million views on YouTube. Clearly the issue is hitting a nerve. The reparations debate is threatening because it completely upends the usual narrative of development. It suggests that poverty in the global south is not a natural phenomenon, but has been actively created. And it casts western countries in the role not of benefactors, but of plunderers.

When it comes to the colonial legacy, some of the facts are almost too shocking to comprehend. When Europeans arrived in what is now Latin America in 1492, the region may have been inhabited by between 50 million and 100 million indigenous people. By the mid 1600s, their population was slashed to about 3.5 million. The vast majority succumbed to foreign disease and many were slaughtered, died of slavery or starved to death after being kicked off their land. It was like the holocaust seven times over. What were the Europeans after? Silver was a big part of it. Between 1503 and 1660, 16m kilograms of silver were shipped to Europe, amounting to three times the total European reserves of the metal. By the early 1800s, a total of 100m kg of silver had been drained from the veins of Latin America and pumped into the European economy, providing much of the capital for the industrial revolution.

To get a sense for the scale of this wealth, consider this thought experiment: if 100m kg of silver was invested in 1800 at 5% interest – the historical average – it would amount to £110trn ($165trn) today. An unimaginable sum. Europeans slaked their need for labour in the colonies – in the mines and on the plantations – not only by enslaving indigenous Americans but also by shipping slaves across the Atlantic from Africa. Up to 15 million of them. In the North American colonies alone, Europeans extracted an estimated 222,505,049 hours of forced labour from African slaves between 1619 and 1865. Valued at the US minimum wage, with a modest rate of interest, that’s worth $97trn – more than the entire global GDP.

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Any economy that has such traits must fail, by definition. And it will.

20 Billionaires Now Have More Wealth Than Half US Population (Collins)

When should we be alarmed about so much wealth in so few hands? The Great Recession and its anemic recovery only deepened the economic inequality that’s drawn so much attention in its wake. Nearly all wealth and income gains since then have flowed to the top one-tenth of America’s richest 1%. The very wealthiest 400 Americans command dizzying fortunes. Their combined net worth, as catalogued in the 2015 Forbes 400 list, is $2.34 trillion. You can’t make this list unless you’re worth a cool $1.7 billion. These 400 rich people – including Bill Gates, Donald Trump, Oprah Winfrey, and heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune – have roughly as much wealth as the bottom 61% of the population, or over 190 million people added together, according to a new report I co-authored.

That equals the wealth of the nation’s entire African-American population, plus a third of the Latino population combined. A few of those 400 individuals are generous philanthropists. But extreme inequality of this sort undermines social mobility, democracy, and economic stability. Even if you celebrate successful entrepreneurship, isn’t there a point things go too far? To me, 400 people having more money than 190 million of their compatriots is just that point. Concentrating wealth to this extent gives rich donors far too much political power, including the wherewithal to shape the rules that govern our economy. Half of all political contributions in the 2016 presidential campaign have come from just 158 families, according to research by The New York Times.

The wealth concentration doesn’t stop there. The richest 20 individuals alone own more wealth than the entire bottom half of the U.S. population. This group – which includes Gates, Warren Buffet, the Koch brothers, Mark Zuckerberg, and Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, among others – is small enough to fit on a private jet. But together they’ve hoarded as much wealth as 152 million of their fellow Americans.

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Debt deflation is real. And it’s felt first in the world’s prime commodity. “The world is already producing up to 2 million bpd more than it consumes.”

OPEC Fails To Agree Production Ceiling As Iran Pledges Output Boost (Reuters)

OPEC members failed to agree an oil production ceiling on Friday at a meeting that ended in acrimony, after Iran said it would not consider any production curbs until it restores output scaled back for years under Western sanctions. Friday’s developments set up the fractious cartel for more price wars in an already heavily oversupplied market. Oil prices have more than halved over the past 18 months to a fraction of what most OPEC members need to balance their budgets. Brent oil futures fell by 1 percent on Friday to trade around $43, only a few dollars off a six year low. Banks such as Goldman Sachs predict they could fall further to as low as $20 per barrel as the world produces more oil than it consumes and runs out of capacity to store the excess.

A final OPEC statement was issued with no mention of a new production ceiling. The last time OPEC failed to reach a deal was in 2011 when Saudi Arabia was pushing the group to increase output to avoid a price spike amid a Libyan uprising. “We have no decision, no number,” Iranian oil minister Bijan Zangeneh told reporters after the meeting. OPEC’s secretary general Abdullah al-Badri said OPEC could not agree on any figures because it could not predict how much oil Iran would add to the market next year, as sanctions are withdrawn under a deal reached six months ago with world powers over its nuclear program. Most ministers left the meeting without making comments. Badri tried to lessen the embarrassment by saying OPEC was as strong as ever, only to hear an outburst of laughter from reporters and analysts in the conference room.

[..] Iran has made its position clear ahead of the meeting with Zangeneh saying Tehran would raise supply by at least 1 million barrels per day – or one percent of global supply – after sanctions are lifted. The world is already producing up to 2 million bpd more than it consumes.

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They will soon be forced to change their stand on Saud. Information on support for terrorist groups will become available.

Germany Rebukes Own Intelligence Agency for Criticizing Saudi Policy (NY Times)

The German government issued an unusual public rebuke to its own foreign intelligence service on Thursday over a blunt memo saying that Saudi Arabia was playing an increasingly destabilizing role in the Middle East. The intelligence agency’s memo risked playing havoc with Berlin’s efforts to show solidarity with France in its military campaign against the Islamic State and to push forward the tentative talks on how to end the Syrian civil war. The Bundestag, the lower house of the German Parliament, is due to vote on Friday on whether to send reconnaissance planes, midair fueling capacity and a frigate to the Middle East to support the French. The memo was sent to selected German journalists on Wednesday.

In it, the foreign intelligence agency, known as the BND, offered an unusually frank assessment of recent Saudi policy. “The cautious diplomatic stance of the older leading members of the royal family is being replaced by an impulsive policy of intervention,” said the memo, which was titled “Saudi Arabia — Sunni regional power torn between foreign policy paradigm change and domestic policy consolidation” and was one and a half pages long. The memo said that King Salman and his son Prince Mohammed bin Salman were trying to build reputations as leaders of the Arab world. Since taking the throne early this year, King Salman has invested great power in Prince Mohammed, making him defense minister and deputy crown prince and giving him oversight of oil and economic policy.

The sudden prominence of such a young and untested prince –he is believed to be about 30, and had little public profile before his father became king — has worried some Saudis and foreign diplomats. Prince Mohammed is seen as a driving force behind the Saudi military campaign against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, which human rights groups say has caused thousands of civilian deaths. The intelligence agency’s memo was flatly repudiated by the German Foreign Ministry in Berlin, which said the German Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, had issued a statement making clear that “the BND statement reported by media is not the position of the federal government.”

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This is too crazy.

Germany Sees EU Border Guards Stepping In For Crises (Reuters)

Germany’s interior minister expects the EU executive to propose new rules for protecting the bloc’s frontiers that would mean European border guards stepping in when a national government failed to defend them. Thomas de Maiziere spoke as he arrived on Friday for an EU meeting in Brussels where ministers will discuss how to safeguard their Schengen system of open borders inside the EU and Greece’s difficulties in controlling unprecedented flows of people arriving via Turkey and streaming north into Europe. Calling for the reinforcement of the EU’s Frontex border agency, whose help Greece called for on Thursday after coming under intense pressure from other EU states, de Maiziere said he expected an enhanced role for Frontex in proposals the European Commission is due to make on borders on Dec. 15.

“The Commission should put forward a proposal … which has the goal of when a national state is not effectively fulfilling its duty of defending the external border, then that can be taken over by Frontex,” he told reporters. EU states’ sovereign responsibility for their section of the external border of the Schengen zone is protected in the Union’s treaties. But the failure of Greece’s overburdened authorities to control migrant flows that have then triggered other states to reimpose controls on internal Schengen frontiers has driven calls for a more collective approach on the external frontier. Following diplomatic threats that it risked being shunned from the Schengen zone if it failed to accept EU help in registering and controlling migrants, Greece finally activated EU support mechanisms late on Thursday.

De Maiziere noted a Franco-German push for Frontex, whose role is largely to coordinate national border agencies, to be complemented by a more ambitious European border and coast guard system. He did not say whether new proposals would strengthen the EU’s ability to intervene with a reluctant member state. A Commission spokeswoman said the EU executive would make its proposal on Dec. 15 for a European Border and Coast Guard. German officials noted that the existing Schengen Borders Code provides for recommendations to member states that they request help from the EU “in the case of serious deficiencies relating to external border control.” Other ministers and the Commission welcomed Greece’s decision to accept more help from Frontex.

Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said: “Greece is finally taking responsibility for guarding the external European border. I have for months been demanding that Greece must recognise this responsibility and be ready to accept European help. This is an important step in the right direction.”

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1984.

EU Considers Measures To Intervene If States’ Borders Are Not Guarded (I.ie)

The European Union is considering a measure that would give a new EU border force powers to intervene and guard a member state’s external frontier to protect the Schengen open-borders zone, EU officials and diplomats said yesterday in Brussels. Such a move would be controversial. It might be blocked by states wary of surrendering sovereign control of their territory. But the discussion reflects fears that Greece’s failure to manage a flood of migrants from Turkey has brought Schengen’s open borders to the brink of collapse. Germany’s Thomas de Maiziere, in Brussels for a meeting of EU interior ministers, said he expected proposal from the EU executive due on December 15 to include giving responsibility for controlling a frontier with a non-Schengen country to Frontex, the EU’s border agency, if a member state failed to do so.

“The Commission should put forward a proposal … which has the goal of, when a national state is not effectively fulfilling its duty of defending the external border, then that can be taken over by Frontex,” de Maiziere told reporters. He noted a Franco-German push for Frontex, whose role is largely to coordinate national border agencies, to be complemented by a permanent European Border and Coast Guard – a measure the European Commission has confirmed it will propose. Greece has come under heavy pressure from states concerned about Schengen this week to accept EU offers of help on its borders. Diplomats have warned that Athens might find itself effectively excluded from the Schengen zone if it failed to work with other Europeans to control migration.

Earlier this week, Greece finally agreed to accept help from Frontex, averting a showdown at the ministerial meeting in Brussels. EU diplomats said the proposals to bolster defence of the external Schengen frontiers would look at whether the EU must rely on an invitation from the state concerned. “One option could be not to seek the member state’s approval for deploying Frontex but activating it by a majority vote among all 28 members,” an EU official said. Under the Schengen Borders Code, the Commission can now recommend a state accept help from other EU members to control its frontiers. But it cannot force it to accept help – something that may, in any case, not be practicable. The code also gives states the right to impose controls on internal Schengen borders if external borders are neglected.

As Greece has no land border with the rest of the Schengen zone, that could mean obliging ferries and flights coming from Greece to undergo passport checks. Asked whether an EU force should require an invitation or could be imposed by the bloc, Swedish Interior Minister Anders Ygeman said: “Border control is the competence for the member states, and it’s hard to say that there is a need to impose that on member states forcefully.”On the other hand,” he said, referring to this week’s pressure on Greece, “we must safeguard the borders of Schengen, and what we have seen is that if a country is not able to protect its own border, it can leave Schengen or accept Frontex. It’s not mandatory, but in practice it’s quite mandatory.”

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