Mar 232017
 
 March 23, 2017  Posted by at 9:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Unknown GMC truck Associated Oil fuel tanker, San Francisco 1935

 


I Don’t Think The US Should Remain As One Political Entity – Casey (IM)
Trump Tantrum Looms On Wall Street If Healthcare Effort Stalls (R.)
The US Student Debt Bubble Is Even Bigger Than The Subprime Fiasco (Black)
US Auto-Loan Quality To Deteriorate Further, Forcing Tighter Underwriting (MW)
Oil Price Drops Below $50 For First Time Since OPEC Deal (Tel.)
China Shadow Banks Hit by Record Premium for One-Week Cash (ZH)
Zombie Companies are China’s Real Problem (BBG)
China Debt Risks Go Global Amid Record Junk Sales Abroad (BBG)
A Fake $3.6 Trillion Deal Is Easy to Sneak Past the SEC
Elite Economists: Often Wrong, Never In Doubt (720G)
Trump the Destroyer (Matt Taibbi)
Erdogan Warns Europeans ‘Will Not Walk Safely’ If Attitude Persists (R.)
Lavish EU Rome Treaty Summit Will Skirt Issues in Stumbling Italy (BBG)
Greek Consumption Slumps Further In 2017 (K.)
Nine Years Later, Greece Is Still In A Debt Crisis.. (Black)
In Greece, Europe’s New Rules Strip Refugees Of Right To Seek Protection (K.)

 

 

So there.

I Don’t Think The US Should Remain As One Political Entity – Casey (IM)

What’s going on in the US now is a culture clash. The people that live in the so-called “red counties” that voted for Trump—which is the vast majority of the geographical area of the US, flyover country—are aligned against the people that live in the blue counties, the coasts and big cities. They don’t just dislike each other and disagree on politics; they can no longer even have a conversation. They hate each other on a visceral gut level. They have totally different world views. It’s a culture clash. I’ve never seen anything like this in my lifetime.

There hasn’t been anything like this since the War Between the States, which shouldn’t be called “The Civil War,” because it wasn’t a civil war. A civil war is where two groups try to take over the same government. It was a war of secession, where one group simply tries to leave. We might have something like that again, hopefully nonviolent this time. I don’t think the US should any longer remain as one political entity. It should break up so that people with one cultural view can join that group and the others join other groups. National unity is an anachronism.

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Credibility.

Trump Tantrum Looms On Wall Street If Healthcare Effort Stalls (R.)

The Trump Trade could start looking more like a Trump Tantrum if the new U.S. administration’s healthcare bill stalls in Congress, prompting worries on Wall Street about tax cuts and other measures aimed at promoting economic growth. Investors are dialing back hopes that U.S. President Donald Trump will swiftly enact his agenda, with a Thursday vote on a healthcare bill a litmus test which could give stock investors another reason to sell. “If the vote doesn’t pass, or is postponed, it will cast a lot of doubt on the Trump trades,” said the influential bond investor Jeffrey Gundlach, chief executive at DoubleLine Capital. U.S. stocks rallied after the November presidential election, with the S&P 500 posting a string of record highs up to earlier this month, on bets that the pro-growth Trump agenda would be quickly pushed by a Republican Party with majorities in both chambers of Congress.

The S&P 500 ended slightly higher on Wednesday, the day before a floor vote on Trump’s healthcare proposal scheduled in the House of Representatives. On Tuesday, stocks had the biggest one-day drop since before Trump won the election, on concerns about opposition to the bill. Investors extrapolated that a stalling bill could mean uphill battles for other Trump proposals. Trump and Republican congressional leaders appeared to be losing the battle to get enough support to pass it. Any hint of further trouble for Trump’s agenda, especially his proposed tax cut, could precipitate a stock market correction, said Byron Wien, veteran investor and vice chairman of Blackstone Advisory Partners. “The fact that they are having trouble with (healthcare repeal) casts a shadow over the tax cut and the tax cut was supposed to be the principal fiscal stimulus for the improvement in real GDP,” Wien said. “Without that improvement in GDP, earnings aren’t going to be there and the market is vulnerable.”

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“This is particularly interesting because student loans essentially have no collateral.”

The US Student Debt Bubble Is Even Bigger Than The Subprime Fiasco (Black)

In 1988, a bank called Guardian Savings and Loan made financial history by issuing the first ever “subprime” mortgage bond. The idea was revolutionary. The bank essentially took all the mortgages they had loaned to borrowers with bad credit, and pooled everything together into a giant bond that they could then sell to other banks and investors. The idea caught on, and pretty soon, everyone was doing it. As Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera describe in their excellent history of the financial crisis (All the Devils are Here), the first subprime bubble hit in the 1990s. Early subprime lenders like First Alliance Mortgage Company (FAMCO) had spent years making aggressive loans to people with bad credit, and eventually the consequences caught up with them. FAMCO declared bankruptcy in 2000, and many of its competitors went bust as well.

Wall Street claimed that it had learned its lesson, and the government gave them all a slap on the wrist. But it didn’t take very long for the madness to start again. By 2002, banks were already loaning money to high-risk borrowers. And by 2005, all conservative lending standards had been abandoned. Borrowers with pitiful credit and no job could borrow vast sums of money to buy a house without putting down a single penny. It was madness. By 2007, the total value of these subprime loans hit a whopping $1.3 trillion. Remember that number. And of course, we know what happened the next year: the entire financial system came crashing down. Duh. It turned out that making $1.3 trillion worth of idiotic loans wasn’t such a good idea. By 2009, 50% of those subprime mortgages were “underwater”, meaning that borrowers owed more money on the mortgage than the home was worth.

In fact, delinquency rates for ALL mortgages across the country peaked at 11.5% in 2010, which only extended the crisis. But hey, at least that’s never going to happen again. Except… I was looking at some data the other day in a slightly different market: student loans. Over the last decade or so, there’s been an absolute explosion in student loans, growing from $260 billion in 2004 to $1.31 trillion last year. So, the total value of student loans in America today is LARGER than the total value of subprime loans at the peak of the financial bubble. And just like the subprime mortgages, many student loans are in default. According to the Fed’s most recent Household Debt and Credit Report, the student loan default rate is 11.2%, almost the same as the peak mortgage default rate in 2010. This is particularly interesting because student loans essentially have no collateral. Lenders make loans to students… but it’s not like the students have to pony up their iPhones as security.

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You have to wonder what exactly is keeping the US economy afloat.

US Auto-Loan Quality To Deteriorate Further, Forcing Tighter Underwriting (MW)

Auto loan and lease credit performance will continue to deteriorate in 2017, led by the vulnerable subprime sector, Fitch Ratings said in a report released Wednesday. “Subprime credit losses are accelerating faster than the prime segment, and this trend is likely to continue as a result of looser underwriting standards by lenders in recent years,” said Michael Taiano, a director at the credit-ratings agency. Banks are starting to lose market share to captive auto finance companies and credit unions as they begin to tighten underwriting standards in response to deteriorating asset quality, Fitch said. According to the Federal Reserve’s January 2017 senior loan officer survey, 11.6% of respondents (net of those who eased) reported tightening standards, compared with the five-year average of 6.1%.

“This trend is consistent with comments made by several banks on earnings conference calls over the past couple of quarters,” Fitch said in the report. Fitch considers continued tightening by auto lenders as a credit-positive but it’s also paying attention to market nuances. The tightening, to date, primarily relates to pricing and loan-to-value (how much is still owed on the car compared to its resale value), but average loan terms continue to extend into the 72- to 84-month category. “The tightening of underwriting standards is likely a response to expected deterioration in used vehicle prices and the weaker credit performance experienced in the subprime segment,” added Taiano. Used-car price declines have accelerated more recently, which will likely pressure recovery values on defaulted loans and lease residuals, the analysts said.

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Might as well call off the theater.

Oil Price Drops Below $50 For First Time Since OPEC Deal (Tel.)

The oil price has fallen back below the key $50 a barrel mark for the first time since November after surging US oil supplies dealt a blow to OPEC’s plan to erode the global oversupply of crude. The flagging oil price bounded above $50 a barrel late last year after a historic co-operation deal between OPEC and the world’s largest oil producers outside of the cartel to limit output for the first half of this year. The November deal was the first action taken by the group to limit supply for over eight years but since then the quicker than expected return of fracking rigs across the US has punctured the buoyant market sentiment of recent months. Brent crude prices peaked at $56 a barrel earlier this year and were still above $52 this week.

But by Wednesday the price fell to just above $50 a barrel and briefly broke below the important psychological level to $49.86 on Wednesday afternoon. Market analysts fear that a more sustained period below $50 could trigger a sell-off from hedge funds which would drive even greater losses in the market. The price plunge was sparked by the latest weekly US stockpile data which revealed a bigger than expected increase of 5 million barrels a day compared to a forecast rise of 1.8 million barrels. The flood of US shale emerged a day after Libya announced that would increase its output to take advantage of higher revenues from its oil exports. “The market is increasingly worried that the continued overhang of supply is not being brought down fast enough,” said Ole Hansen, a commodities analyst with SaxoBank.

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Beijing forced to save the shadows.

China Shadow Banks Hit by Record Premium for One-Week Cash (ZH)

During the so-called Chinese Banking Liquidity Crisis of 2013, the relative cost of funds for non-bank institutions spiked to 100bps. So, the fact that the ‘shadow banking’ liquidity premium has exploded to almost 250 points – by far a record – in the last few days should indicate just how stressed Chinese money markets are. While interbank borrowing rates have climbed across the board, the surge has been unusually steep for non-bank institutions, including securities companies and investment firms. They’re now paying what amounts to a record premium for short-term funds relative to large Chinese banks, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The premium is reflected in the gap between China’s seven-day repurchase rate fixing and the weighted average rate, which, by Bloomberg notes, widened to as much as 2.47 percentage points on Wednesday after some small lenders were said to miss payments in the interbank market. Non-bank borrowers tend to have a greater influence on the fixing, while large banks have more sway over the weighted average. “It’s more expensive and difficult for non-bank financial institutions to get funding in the market,” said Becky Liu at Standard Chartered. “Bigger lenders who have access to regulatory funding are not lending much of the money out.” Without access to deposits or central bank liquidity facilities, many of China’s non-bank institutions must rely on volatile money markets. As Bloomberg points out, The People’s Bank of China has been guiding those rates higher in recent months to encourage a reduction of leverage, while also stepping in at times to prevent a liquidity crunch.

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State owned zombies.

Zombie Companies are China’s Real Problem (BBG)

China needs to take on its state-owned “zombie companies,” which keep borrowing even though they aren’t earning enough to repay loans or interest, says Nicholas Lardy of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “That’s where the real problem is,” Lardy said Thursday in a Bloomberg Television interview from the Boao Forum for Asia, an annual conference on the southern Chinese island of Hainan. “It’s a component of the run-up in debt that they really have to focus on.” While flagging this concern, Lardy, a senior fellow at Peterson in Washington and author of “Markets Over Mao: The Rise of Private Business in China,” said anxiety over China’s debt growth is overstated. Household deposits will continue to underpin the banking and financial system, which means the situation with zombie firms is unlikely to reach a critical point.

Household savings are “very sticky, they’re not going anywhere, and the central bank can come in to the rescue if there are problems,” he said. Chinese corporate profits will probably continue to recover this year and after-tax earnings needed to service the debt load is improving, Lardy said. Another positive sign is a slowdown in the buildup of debt outstanding to non-financial companies. The combination of that slackening and companies’ increasing earning power “is improving the overall situation,” he said. When it comes to U.S. President Donald Trump’s negative rhetoric on China, the country’s leaders deserve “very high marks so far” for their cool reaction. “They’ve been waiting to see what Mr. Trump is actually going to do as opposed to what he’s talked about, so they haven’t overreacted,” he said. “They’ve made very careful preparations for the worst case if Trump does move in a very strong protectionist direction.”

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Zombies and junk.

China Debt Risks Go Global Amid Record Junk Sales Abroad (BBG)

China’s riskiest corporate borrowers are raising an unprecedented amount of debt overseas, leaving global investors to shoulder more credit risks after onshore defaults quadrupled in 2016. Junk-rated firms, most of which are property developers, have sold $6.1 billion of dollar bonds since Dec. 31, a record quarter, data compiled by Bloomberg show. In contrast, such borrowers have slashed fundraising at home as the central bank pushes up borrowing costs and regulators curb real estate financing. Onshore yuan note offerings by companies with local ratings of AA, considered junk in China, fell this quarter to the least since 2011 at 31.3 billion yuan ($4.54 billion). Global investors desperate for yield have lapped up offerings from China. Rates on dollar junk notes from the nation have dropped 81 basis points this year to 6.11%, near a record low, according to a Bank of America Merrill Lynch index.

Some investors have warned of froth. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said last month that it sees little value in the country’s high-yield property bonds. Hedge fund Double Haven Capital (Hong Kong) has said it is betting against Chinese junk securities. “Today’s market valuations are tight and investors are focusing on yields without taking into account credit risks,” said Raja Mukherji at PIMCO. “That’s where I see a lot of risk, where investors are not differentiating on credit quality on a risk-adjusted basis.” Lower-rated issuers turning to dollar debt after scrapping financing at home include Shandong Yuhuang Chemical on China’s east coast. The chemical firm canceled a 500 million yuan local bond sale in January citing “insufficient demand.” It then issued $300 million of three-year bonds at 6.625% this week. Some developers have grown desperate for cash as regulators tighten housing curbs and restrict their domestic fundraising. That’s raising concern among international investors in China’s real estate sector who have been burned before.

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Priceless humor: “Congress has already raised the alarm.” After three decades, that is.

A Fake $3.6 Trillion Deal Is Easy to Sneak Past the SEC

A few hours after the New York market close on Feb. 1, an obscure Chicago artist by the name of Antonio Lee told the world he had become the world’s richest man. The 32-year-old painter said Google’s parent, Alphabet Inc., had bought his art company in exchange for a chunk of stock that made him wealthier than Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos – combined. Of course, none of it was true. Yet, on that day, Lee managed to issue his fabricated report in the most authoritative of places: The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Edgar database – the foundation of hundreds of billions of dollars in financial transactions each day. For more than three decades, the SEC has accepted online submissions of regulatory filings – basically, no questions asked.

As many as 800,000 forms are filed each year, or about 3,000 per weekday. But, in a little known vulnerability at the heart of American capitalism, the government doesn’t vet them, and rarely even takes down those known to be shams. “The SEC can’t stop them,” said Lawrence West, a former SEC associate enforcement director. “They can only punish the filer afterward and remove the filing from the system. So, caveat lector – let the reader beware.” Congress has already raised the alarm. For its part, the SEC, which declined to comment, has said those who make filings are responsible for their truthfulness and that only a handful have been reported as bogus. Submitting false information exposes the culprit to SEC civil-fraud charges, or even federal criminal prosecution.

On May 14, 2015, Nedko Nedev, a dual citizen of the United States and Bulgaria, filed an SEC form indicating he was making a tender offer – an outright purchase – for Avon, the cosmetics company. Avon’s shares jumped 20% before trading was halted, and the company denied the news. (A federal grand jury later indicted Nedev on market manipulation and other charges.) After the fraudulent Avon filing, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican and former chairman of the Finance Committee, told the SEC it must review its posting standards. “This pattern of fraudulent conduct is troubling, especially in light of the relative ease in which a fake posting can be made,” Grassley wrote in a letter to the agency. In response, Mary Jo White, who then chaired the SEC, said it wouldn’t be feasible to check information. She noted that there were on average 125 first-time filers daily in 2014, and the agency was studying whether its authentication process could be strengthened without delaying disclosure of key information to investors.

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Only a major reset will do.

Elite Economists: Often Wrong, Never In Doubt (720G)

Since the U.S. economic recovery from the 2008 financial crisis, institutional economists began each subsequent year outlining their well-paid view of how things will transpire over the course of the coming 12-months. Like a broken record, they have continually over-estimated expectations for growth, inflation, consumer spending and capital expenditures. Their optimistic biases were based on the eventual success of the Federal Reserve’s (Fed) plan to restart the economy by encouraging the assumption of more debt by consumers and corporations alike. But in 2017, something important changed. For the first time since the financial crisis, there will be a new administration in power directing public policy, and the new regime could not be more different from the one that just departed. This is important because of the ubiquitous influence of politics.

The anxiety and uncertainties of those first few years following the worst recession since the Great Depression gradually gave way to an uncomfortable stability. The anxieties of losing jobs and homes subsided but yielded to the frustration of always remaining a step or two behind prosperity. While job prospects slowly improved, wages did not. Business did not boom as is normally the case within a few quarters of a recovery, and the cost of education and health care stole what little ground most Americans thought they were making. Politics was at work in ways with which many were pleased, but many more were not. If that were not the case, then Donald Trump probably would not be the 45th President of the United States. Within hours of Donald Trump’s victory, U.S. markets began to anticipate, for the first time since the financial crisis, an escape hatch out of financial repression and regulatory oppression.

As shown below, an element of economic and financial optimism that had been missing since at least 2008 began to re-emerge. What the Fed struggled to manufacture in eight years of extraordinary monetary policy actions, the election of Donald Trump accomplished quite literally overnight. Expectations for a dramatic change in public policy under a new administration radically improved sentiment. Whether or not these changes are durable will depend upon the economy’s ability to match expectations.

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I find the Trump bashing parade very tiresome, but Matt’s funny.

Trump the Destroyer (Matt Taibbi)

There is no other story in the world, no other show to watch. The first and most notable consequence of Trump’s administration is that his ability to generate celebrity has massively increased, his persona now turbocharged by the vast powers of the presidency. Trump has always been a reality star without peer, but now the most powerful man on Earth is prisoner to his talents as an attention-generation machine. Worse, he is leader of a society incapable of discouraging him. The numbers bear out that we are living through a severely amplified déjà vu of last year’s media-Trump codependent lunacies. TV-news viewership traditionally plummets after a presidential election, but under Trump, it’s soaring. Ratings since November for the major cable news networks are up an astonishing 50% in some cases, with CNN expecting to improve on its record 2016 to make a billion dollars – that’s billion with a “b” – in profits this year.

Even the long-suffering newspaper business is crawling off its deathbed, with The New York Times adding 132,000 subscribers in the first 18 days after the election. If Trump really hates the press, being the first person in decades to reverse the industry’s seemingly inexorable financial decline sure is a funny way of showing it. On the campaign trail, ballooning celebrity equaled victory. But as the country is finding out, fame and governance have nothing to do with one another. Trump! is bigger than ever. But the Trump presidency is fast withering on the vine in a bizarre, Dorian Gray-style inverse correlation. Which would be a problem for Trump, if he cared. But does he? During the election, Trump exploded every idea we ever had about how politics is supposed to work. The easiest marks in his con-artist conquest of the system were the people who kept trying to measure him according to conventional standards of candidate behavior.

You remember the Beltway priests who said no one could ever win the White House by insulting women, the disabled, veterans, Hispanics, “the blacks,” by using a Charlie Chan voice to talk about Asians, etc. Now he’s in office and we’re again facing the trap of conventional assumptions. Surely Trump wants to rule? It couldn’t be that the presidency is just a puppy Trump never intended to care for, could it? Toward the end of his CPAC speech, following a fusillade of anti-media tirades that will dominate the headlines for days, Trump, in an offhand voice, casually mentions what a chore the presidency can be. “I still don’t have my Cabinet approved,” he sighs. In truth, Trump does have much of his team approved. In the early days of his administration, while his Democratic opposition was still reeling from November’s defeat, Trump managed to stuff the top of his Cabinet with a jaw-dropping collection of perverts, tyrants and imbeciles, the likes of which Washington has never seen.

En route to taking this crucial first beachhead in his invasion of the capital, Trump did what he always does: stoked chaos, created hurricanes of misdirection, ignored rules and dared the system of checks and balances to stop him. By conventional standards, the system held up fairly well. But this is not a conventional president. He was a new kind of candidate and now is a new kind of leader: one who stumbles like a drunk up Capitol Hill, but manages even in defeat to continually pull the country in his direction, transforming not our laws but our consciousness, one shriveling brain cell at a time.

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Tourism is a very big source of income for Turkey. Erdogan’s killing it off with a vengeance.

Erdogan Warns Europeans ‘Will Not Walk Safely’ If Attitude Persists (R.)

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that Europeans would not be able to walk safely on the streets if they kept up their current attitude toward Turkey, his latest salvo in a row over campaigning by Turkish politicians in Europe. Turkey has been embroiled in a dispute with Germany and the Netherlands over campaign appearances by Turkish officials seeking to drum up support for an April 16 referendum that could boost Erdogan’s powers. Ankara has accused its European allies of using “Nazi methods” by banning Turkish ministers from addressing rallies in Europe over security concerns. The comments have led to a sharp deterioration in ties with the European Union, which Turkey still aspires to join.

“Turkey is not a country you can pull and push around, not a country whose citizens you can drag on the ground,” Erdogan said at an event for Turkish journalists in Ankara, in comments broadcast live on national television. “If Europe continues this way, no European in any part of the world can walk safely on the streets. Europe will be damaged by this. We, as Turkey, call on Europe to respect human rights and democracy,” he said. Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier used his first speech as president on Wednesday to warn Erdogan that he risked destroying everything his country had achieved in recent years, and that he risked damaging diplomatic ties. “The way we look (at Turkey) is characterized by worry, that everything that has been built up over years and decades is collapsing,” Steinmeier said in his inaugural speech in the largely ceremonial role. He called for an end to the “unspeakable Nazi comparisons.”

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Can’t let a little crisis get in the way of your champagne and caviar.

Lavish EU Rome Treaty Summit Will Skirt Issues in Stumbling Italy (BBG)

As leaders celebrate the European Union’s 60th birthday in Rome this weekend, the host nation may be hoping that a pomp-filled ceremony distracts from any probing questions. Overshadowed by the sting of Brexit and elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany, Italy’s lingering problems have left it as the weak link among Europe’s powerhouse economies. It’s stumbling through a stop-start slow recovery from a record-long recession, unemployment is twice that of Germany’s, and voters, weary of EU institutions, are flirting with the same kind of populism grabbing attention elsewhere. The gathering on Saturday on the city’s Capitol hill is to celebrate the Treaty of Rome, the bedrock agreement signed on March 25, 1957 for what is now the EU.

From its beginnings as the European Economic Community – with Italy among the six founding members – it has since grown to a union of 28 nations stretching 4,000 kilometers from Ireland in the northwest to Cyprus in the southeast. The U.K. is heading toward a lengthy exit from the EU known as Brexit, raising questions among the remaining 27 about the bloc’s long-term future. “Italy was until very recently at the forefront of the European integration process,” Luigi Zingales, professor of finance at University of Chicago Booth School of Business, said in an interview. “Today it’s undoubtedly Europe’s weakest link.” The economy grew just 0.9% last year, below the euro area’s 1.7%, and unemployment is at 11.9%. A recent EU poll put Italy as the monetary union’s second-most euro-skeptic state after Cyprus with only 41% saying the single currency is “a good thing.” The average in the 19-member euro area is 56%.

That widespread disenchantment may be felt at elections due in about one year. A poll published on Tuesday by Corriere della Sera put support for the Five Star Movement, which calls for a referendum to ditch the euro, at a record 32.3%, well ahead of the ruling Democratic Party. Summit host Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni has only been in power since December, when Matteo Renzi resigned after losing a constitutional reform referendum. For Zingales, Italy has problems that European policy makers “would rather not talk about now as they don’t want to scare people.” That’s because across the bloc, politicians are still fighting voter resentment over the loss of wealth since the financial crisis, bitterness about bailouts and anger over a perceived increase in inequality. “Sixty years after the signing of the Treaties of Rome, the risk of political paralysis in Europe has never been greater,” Bank of Italy Governor Ignazio Visco told a conference in Rome this month.

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The EU can celebrate only because it’s murdering one of its members. Greece needs stimulus but gets the opposite.

Greek Consumption Slumps Further In 2017 (K.)

The year has started with some alarm bells regarding the course of consumer spending, generating concern not only about the impact on the supermarket sector and industry, but also on the economy in general. In the first week of March the year-on-year drop in supermarket turnover amounted to 15%, while in January the decline had come to 10%. Shrinking consumption is a sure sign that the economic contraction will be extended into another year, given its important role in the economy. The new indirect taxes on a number of commodities, the increased social security contributions, the persistently high unemployment and the ongoing uncertainty over the bailout review talks have hurt consumer confidence and eroded disposable incomes.

In this context, it will be exceptionally difficult to achieve the fiscal targets, especially if the uncertainty goes on or is ended with the imposition of additional austerity measures that would only see incomes shrink further. According to projections by IRI market researchers, supermarket sales in 2017 are expected to decline 3.6% from last year, with the worst-case scenario pointing to a 4.4% drop. Supermarket sales turnover dropped at the steepest rate seen in the crisis years in 2016, down 6.5%, after falling 2.1% in 2015, 1.4% in 2014, 3.5% in 2013 and 3.4% in 2012.

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“For a continent that has been at war with itself for 10 centuries and only managed to play nice for the last 30 or so years, it’s foolish to expect these bailouts to last forever.”

Nine Years Later, Greece Is Still In A Debt Crisis.. (Black)

Greece has had nine different governments since 2009. At least thirteen austerity measures. Multiple bailouts. Severe capital controls. And a full-out debt restructuring in which creditors accepted a 50% loss. Yet despite all these measures GREECE IS STILL IN A DEBT CRISIS. Right now, in fact, Greece is careening towards another major chapter in its never-ending debt drama. Just like the United States, the Greek government is set to run out of money (yet again) in a few months and is in need of a fresh bailout from the IMF and EU. (The EU is code for “Germany”…) Without another bailout, Greece will go bust in July– this is basic arithmetic, not some wild theory. And this matters. If Greece defaults, everyone dumb enough to have loaned them money will take a BIG hit. This includes a multitude of banks across Germany, Austria, France, and the rest of Europe.

Many of those banks already have extremely low levels of capital and simply cannot afford a major loss. (Last year, for example, the IMF specifically singled out Germany’s Deutsche Bank as being the top contributor to systemic risk in the global financial system.) So a Greek default poses as major risk to a number of those banks. More importantly, due to the interconnectedness of the financial system, a Greek default poses a major risk to anyone with exposure to those banks. Think about it like this: if Greece defaults and Bank A goes down, then Bank A will no longer be able to meet its obligations to Bank B. Bank B will suffer a loss as well. A single event can set off a chain reaction, what’s called ‘contagion’ in finance. And it’s possible that Greece could be that event. This is what European officials have been so desperate to prevent for the last nine years, and why they’ve always come to the rescue with a bailout.

It has nothing to do with community or generosity. They’re hopelessly trying to prevent another 2008-style meltdown of the financial system. But their measures have limits. How much longer do Greek citizens accept being vassals of Germany, suffering through debilitating capital controls and austerity measures? How much longer do German taxpayers continue forking over their hard-earned wages to bail out Greek retirees? After all, they’ve spent nine years trying to ‘fix’ Greece, and the situation has only become worse. For a continent that has been at war with itself for 10 centuries and only managed to play nice for the last 30 or so years, it’s foolish to expect these bailouts to last forever. And whether it’s this July or some date in the future, Greece could end up being the catalyst which sets off a chain reaction on both sides of the Atlantic.

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It’s time for lawyers to step in.

In Greece, Europe’s New Rules Strip Refugees Of Right To Seek Protection (K.)

EU leaders are celebrating a year since they carved out the agreement with Turkey that stemmed the flood of refugees seeking to escape war and strife on Europe’s doorstep. But the importance of the agreement goes far beyond the fact that it has contributed to deterring refugees from coming to Greece. At the Norwegian Refugee Council, we fear that the system Europe is putting in place in Greece is slowly stripping people of their right to seek international protection. Greece took the positive step to enshrine in law some key checks and balances to protect the vulnerable – a victim of torture, a disabled person, an unaccompanied child – so they could have their asylum case heard on the Greek mainland rather than remaining on the islands.

But a European Commission action plan is putting Greece under pressure to change safeguards enshrined in Greek law. NRC, along with other human rights and humanitarian organizations, wrote an open letter to the Greek Parliament this month urging lawmakers to keep that protection for those most in need. Importantly, this is just another quiet example of how what is happening in Greece is setting precedents that may irrevocably change the 1951 Refugee Convention. Europe is testing things out in Greece. [..] It was Europe and its postwar crisis that led to the 1951 convention that protects those displaced by war. Now that convention risks expiring on the doorstep of the same continent that gave birth to it – Europe is in danger of becoming, as NRC’s Secretary-General Jan Egeland has said, the convention’s “burial agent.”

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Feb 172017
 
 February 17, 2017  Posted by at 11:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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John Collier Workmen at emergency office construction job, Washington, DC Dec 1941

 


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The Swamp Strikes Back (Escobar)
Who’s Sucking Up All the World’s Safest Bonds? (WSJ)
Mary Jo White Seriously Misled the US Senate to Become SEC Chair (Martens)
European Financial Centres After Brexit (E.)
Putin Orders Russian Media To “Cut Back” On Positive Trump Coverage (ZH)
‘Bank Run’ under Capital Controls: Greeks withdraw €2.5bn in 45 days (KTG)

 

 

Let this sink in. Then realize how reliable Chinese numbers are. And that’s where all the ‘growth’ is in the world.

Global Growth is All About China…Nothing but China (Econimica)

Since 2000, China has been the nearly singular force for growth in global energy consumption and economic activity. However, this article will make it plain and simple why China is exiting the spotlight and unfortunately, for global economic growth, there is no one else to take center stage. To put things into perspective I’ll show this using four very inter-related variables…(1) total energy consumption, (2) core population (25-54yr/olds) size and growth, (3) GDP (flawed as it is), and (4) debt. First off, the chart below shows total global energy consumption (all fossil fuels, nuclear, hydro, renewable, etc…data from US EIA) from 1980 through 2014, and the change per period. The growth in global energy consumption from ’00-’08 was astounding and an absolute aberration, nearly 50% greater than any previous period.

Of that growth in energy consumption, the chart below breaks down the sources of that growth among China (red), India/Africa (gold) and the rest of the world (blue). It’s plain to see the growth of Chinese energy consumption, the decelerating growth among the rest of the world, and the stagnant growth among India / Africa.

But here is the money chart, pointing out that the growth in energy consumption (by period) has shifted away from “the world” squarely to China. From 2008 through 2014 (most recent data available), 2/3rds or 66% of global energy consumption growth was China. Also very noteworthy is that India nor Africa have taken any more relevance, from a growth perspective, over time. The fate of global economic growth rests solely upon China’s shoulders.

The chart below shows China’s core population (annual change) again against total debt, GDP, and energy consumption. The reliance on debt creation as the core population growth decelerated is really hard not to see. This shrinking base of consumption will destroy the meme that a surging Chinese middle class will drive domestic and global consumption…but I expect this misconception will continue to be peddled for some time.

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Fewer delinquencies, says the Fed. But then look at the next article: “Seriously Delinquent” US Auto Loans Surge

US Household Debt Is Dangerously Close To 2008 Levels (CNN)

Total household debt climbed to $12.58 trillion at the end of 2016, an increase of $266 billion from the third quarter, according to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. For the year, household debt ballooned by $460 billion — the largest increase in almost a decade. That means the debt loads of Americans are flirting with 2008 levels, when total consumer debt reached a record high of $12.68 trillion. Rising debt hints that banks are extending more credit. Mortgage originations increased to the highest level since the Great Recession. Mortgage balances make up the bulk of household debt and ended the year at $8.48 trillion. However, growth in non-housing debt – which includes credit card debt and student and auto loans – are key factors fueling the rebound in debt.

Student loan debt balances rose by $31 billion in the fourth quarter to a total of $1.31 trillion, according to the report. Auto loans jumped by $22 billion as new auto loan originations for the year climbed to a record high. Credit card debts rose by $32 billion to hit $779 billion. At these rates, the New York Fed expects household debt to reach its previous 2008 peak sometime this year. But while that may sound alarming, there is one big difference between now and 2008, according to the Fed: Fewer delinquencies. At the end of 2016, 4.8% of debts were delinquent, compared to 8.5% of total household debt in the third quarter of 2008. There were also less bankruptcy filings – a little more than 200,000 consumers had a bankruptcy added to their credit report in the final quarter of last year, a 4% drop from the same quarter in 2015.

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“There’s nothing like loading up consumers with debt to make central bankers outright giddy.”

“Seriously Delinquent” US Auto Loans Surge (WS)

Bank regulators have been warning, now it’s happening. The New York Fed, in its Household Debt and Credit Report for the fourth quarter 2016, put it this way today: “Household debt increases substantially, approaching previous peak.” It jumped by $226 billion in the quarter, or 1.8%, to the glorious level of $12.58 trillion, “only $99 billion shy of its 2008 third quarter peak.” Yes! Almost there! Keep at it! There’s nothing like loading up consumers with debt to make central bankers outright giddy. Auto loan balances in 2016 surged at the fastest pace in the 18-year history of the data series, the report said, driven by the highest originations of loans ever. Alas, what the auto industry has been dreading is now happening: Delinquencies have begun to surge.

This chart – based on data from the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, which varies slightly from the New York Fed’s data – shows how rapidly auto loan balances have ballooned since the Great Recession. At $1.112 trillion (or $1.16 trillion according to the New York Fed), they’re now 35% higher than they’d been during the crazy peak of the prior bubble. Note that during the $93 billion increase in auto loan balances in 2016, new vehicle sales were essentially flat. No way that this is an auto loan bubble. Not this time. It’s sustainable. Or at least containable when it’s not sustainable, or whatever. These ballooning loans have made the auto sales boom possible.

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Not a new topic, but some useful numbers.

3 Reasons The US Could Be Headed For A Fresh Debt Crisis (MW)

Subprime car loansThe amount of total open car loans just topped $1 trillion, according to credit ratings firm Experian. But is that a sign of consumer confidence … or a cause for alarm? According to the latest data, from the third quarter of 2016, about 1 in 5 car loans are made to subprime borrowers, at an average interest rate of almost 11%. And broadly speaking, the average car loan in the U.S. is for a balance of almost $30,000 and a monthly payment of about $500. With stats like that, it’s no wonder the default rate on car loans is rising. A study by lending analysis firm Lending Times recently found that auto loan delinquencies are up over 21% compared with 2012 levels. A senior vice president at TransUnion, one of the three major credit rating bureaus, recently said he expects “a modest increase in delinquency” for auto loans going forward, too.

Just image what would happen if rates tick a bit higher. After all, if homeowners who were “underwater” on their homes in 2007 could shrug off the impact of a foreclosure on their credit report and simply walk away from a big mortgage, then why in the world would they stick with a double-digit interest rate on a car loan — especially as that car ages or breaks down? The real weight of these loans continues to hit the balance sheets of lenders, with net subprime losses continuing to march upward in December to 8.52%. Standard & Poor’s U.S. Auto Loan Tracker noted that while some of the acceleration was seasonal, “the year-over-year increases indicate that 2017’s losses could surpass last year’s levels.” No wonder the New York Fed called subprime auto debt a “significant concern” at the end of last year.

Student loans Hedge-fund guru Bill Ackman has said “I think that the government’s going to lose hundreds of millions of dollars” on student loans. And while that may sound like hysterics, when you consider that there is roughly $1.4 trillion in outstanding student debt, according to the Federal Reserve, that number doesn’t seem so far-fetched. Most of that is owned by the federal government via subsidized loans, too, with a recent Bloomberg report estimating the government owned some $850 billion in student loan debt as of 2014. Even a modest default rate would quite literally eat up hundreds of millions of dollars in a hurry. The losses for the government are disturbing, but at least can be made up with higher taxes or cuts elsewhere in the budget. There’s no relief for the millions of young Americans who are stuck paying for their college degree instead of spending on consumer goods.

Government-insured mortgagesAfter the collapse of subprime mortgages during the financial crisis, banks learned a hard lesson about these risky home loans. But if you think that means they avoided all loans to less-than-stellar borrowers, think again. The New York Fed recently juxtaposed the rise of government-insured mortgages vis-à-vis the decline in subprime lending to find that “government insurance programs rapidly expanded and more than filled the void.” That mirrors a report from ProPublica back in 2012 that estimated 9 in 10 mortgages issued at the time were being guaranteed by taxpayers via government-sponsored enterprises such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And while standards are moderately higher for loans with this government backstop than precrisis loans to subprime borrowers, “they are not low-risk loans,” write the New York Fed economists. “The combination of high leverage and low credit scores documented above translates into extremely high default rates.”

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It’s all about political power.

Fed President Says US Banks Have “Half The Equity They Need” (Black)

In a scathing editorial published in the Wall Street Journal today, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Neel Kashkari, blasted US banks, saying that they still lacked sufficient capital to withstand a major crisis. Kashkari makes a great analogy. When you’re applying for a mortgage or business loan, sensible banks are supposed to demand a 20% down payment from their borrowers. If you want to buy a $500,000 home, a conservative bank will loan creditworthy borrowers $400,000. The borrower must be able to scratch together a $100,000 down payment. But when banks make investments and buy assets, they aren’t required to do the same thing. Remember that when you deposit money at a bank, you’re essentially loaning them your savings.

As a bank depositor, you’re the lender. The bank is the borrower. Banks pool together their deposits and make various loans and investments. They buy government bonds, financial commercial trade, and fund real estate purchases. Some of their investment decisions make sense. Others are completely idiotic, as we saw in the 2008 financial meltdown. But the larger point is that banks don’t use their own money to make these investments. They use other people’s money. Your money. A bank’s investment portfolio is almost entirely funded with its customers’ savings. Very little of the bank’s own money is at risk. You can see the stark contrast here. If you as an individual want to borrow money to invest in something, you’re obliged to put down 20%, perhaps even much more depending on the asset.

Your down payment provides a substantial cushion for the bank; if you stop paying the loan, the value of the property could decline 20% before the bank loses any money. But if a bank wants to make an investment, they typically don’t have to put down a single penny. The bank’s lenders, i.e. its depositors, put up all the money for the investment. If the investment does well, the bank keeps all the profits. But if the investment does poorly, the bank hasn’t risked any of its own money. The bank’s lenders (i.e. the depositors) are taking on all the risk. This seems pretty one-sided, especially considering that in exchange for assuming all the risk of a bank’s investment decisions, you are rewarded with a miniscule interest rate that fails to keep up with inflation. (After which the government taxes you on the interest that you receive.) It hardly seems worth it.

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Murky.

Harward Turns Down National Security Adviser Job Over Staffing Dispute (CBS)

Vice Admiral Robert Harward has rejected President Trump’s offer to be the new national security adviser, CBS News’ Major Garrett reports. Sources close to the situation told Garrett Harward and the administration had a dispute over staffing the security council. Two sources close to the situation confirm Harward demanded his own team, and the White House resisted. Specifically, Mr. Trump told Deputy National Security Adviser K. T. McFarland that she could retain her post, even after the ouster of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Harward refused to keep McFarland as his deputy, and after a day of negotiations over this and other staffing matters, Harward declined to serve as Flynn’s replacement.

Harward, a 60-year-old former Navy SEAL, served as deputy commander of U.S. Central Command under now-Defense Secretary James Mattis. He previously served as deputy commanding general for operations of Joint Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Harward has also commanded troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan for six years after the 9/11 attacks. Under President George W. Bush, he served on the National Security Council as director of strategy and policy for the office of combating terrorism.

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As I said: the New Cold War is being fought INSIDE the US.

The Swamp Strikes Back (Escobar)

The tawdry Michael Flynn soap opera boils down to the CIA hemorrhaging leaks to the company town newspaper, leading to the desired endgame: a resounding victory for hardcore neocon/neoliberalcon US Deep State factions in one particular battle. But the war is not over; in fact it’s just beginning. Even before Flynn’s fall, Russian analysts had been avidly discussing whether President Trump is the new Victor Yanukovich – who failed to stop a color revolution at his doorstep. The Made in USA color revolution by the axis of Deep State neocons, Democratic neoliberalcons and corporate media will be pursued, relentlessly, 24/7. But more than Yanukovich, Trump might actually be remixing Little Helmsman Deng Xiaoping: “crossing the river while feeling the stones”. Rather, crossing the swamp while feeling the crocs.

Flynn out may be interpreted as a Trump tactical retreat. After all Flynn may be back – in the shade, much as Roger Stone. If current deputy national security advisor K T McFarland gets the top job – which is what powerful Trump backers are aiming at – the shadowplay Kissinger balance of power, in its 21st century remix, is even strengthened; after all McFarland is a Kissinger asset. Flynn worked with Special Forces; was head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA); handled highly classified top secret information 24/7. He obviously knew all his conversations on an open, unsecure line were monitored. So he had to have morphed into a compound incarnation of the Three Stooges had he positioned himself to be blackmailed by Moscow.

What Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak certainly discussed was cooperation in the fight against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, and what Moscow might expect in return: the lifting of sanctions. US corporate media didn’t even flinch when US intel admitted they have a transcript of the multiple phone calls between Flynn and Kislyak. So why not release them? Imagine the inter-galactic scandal if these calls were about Russian intel monitoring the US ambassador in Moscow. No one paid attention to the two key passages conveniently buried in the middle of this US corporate media story. 1) “The intelligence official said there had been no finding inside the government that Flynn did anything illegal.” 2) “…the situation became unsustainable – not because of any issue of being compromised by Russia – but because he [Flynn] has lied to the president and the vice president.” Recap: nothing illegal; and Flynn not compromised by Russia. The “crime” – according to Deep State factions: talking to a Russian diplomat.

Vice-President Mike Pence is a key piece in the puzzle; after all his major role is as insider guarantor – at the heart of the Trump administration – of neocon Deep State interests. The CIA did leak. The CIA most certainly has been spying on all Trump operatives. Flynn though fell on his own sword. Classic hubris; his fatal mistake was to strategize by himself – even before he became national security advisor. “Mad Dog” Mattis, T. Rex Tillerson – both, by the way, very close to Kissinger – and most of all Pence did not like it one bit once they were informed.

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A big way in which central banks distort markets.

Who’s Sucking Up All the World’s Safest Bonds? (WSJ)

The world is running out of safe financial assets. One reason may be regulators’ push to make trading safer. A scarcity of safe collateral can create bouts of volatility in the markets where investors fund their purchases. Economists also worry that a lack of quality public-sector assets leads the private sector to create less reliable and riskier substitutes. Global rules increasingly require that investors deposit cash as security, called margin, when they trade with each other. This money is often left at clearinghouses, which are intermediaries that stand between buyers and sellers and step in if one of the parties won’t make good on a transaction. Regulators are trying to give these clearinghouses more heft to make the financial system safer.

The clearinghouses, in turn, have to do something with the cash, and they frequently take it to repurchase, or “repo,” markets, where they lend it out in exchange for high-quality assets such as German bunds or U.S. Treasurys. That has the effect of vacuuming up safe assets. Paradoxically, cash—at least its electronic form—isn’t ultrasafe: It needs to be left in bank deposits, and even the strongest banks have some risk. Treasurys and bunds don’t. Europe’s dearth of safe assets is especially acute. According to a semiannual survey released Tuesday by the International Capital Market Association, demand for collateral in the eurozone increased significantly in the second half of 2016. The ECB and other central banks across the developed world have been blamed for this safe-asset scarcity because they have bought trillions of dollars worth of government bonds in a bid to boost economic growth.

However, during a speech last month, ECB official Yves Mersch pointed to clearinghouses as a key culprit, and warned that “the requirements for trades to be centrally cleared are still being introduced, so the demand from market infrastructure to exchange cash for collateral will rise.” Data are scarce, but the latest figures from the Bank for International Settlements show that more than half of the notional amount outstanding of derivatives transactions was centrally cleared by the end of 2014, after new regulation was enacted—twice as much as in 2009.

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“Americans will continue to be relegated to the status of dumb tourist in their own country.”

Mary Jo White Seriously Misled the US Senate to Become SEC Chair (Martens)

Less than two weeks after Mary Jo White was nominated to become Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission by President Barack Obama on January 24, 2013, White filed an ethics disclosure letter advising that she would “retire” from her position representing Wall Street banks at the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton. White wrote on this subject in great detail, stating:

“Upon confirmation, I will retire from the partnership of Debevoise & Plimpton, LLP. Following my retirement, the law firm will not owe me an outstanding partnership share for either 2012 or any part of 2013. As a retired partner, I will be entitled to the use of secretarial services, office space and a blackberry at the firm’s expense. For the duration of my appointment, I will forgo these three benefits, though I may pay for some secretarial services at my own expense. Pursuant to the Debevoise & Plimpton, LLP Partners Retirement Program, I will receive monthly lifetime retirement payments from the firm commencing the month after my retirement. However, within 60 days of my appointment, the firm will make a lump sum payment, in lieu of making monthly retirement payments for the next four years. Within 60 days of my appointment, I also will receive payouts of my interest in the Debevoise & Plimpton LLP Cash Balance Retirement plan and my capital account.”

Yesterday it was widely reported in the business press that Mary Jo White is returning to her former law firm as a partner representing clients who face government investigations. She will also fill the newly created position of Senior Chair of the law firm. This news is highly significant because it would appear that the U.S. Senate was seriously misled by White’s ethics letter in its deliberations to confirm her as the top cop of Wall Street. The news is also highly significant because it will mark the fourth time in four decades that Mary Jo White has spun through the revolving doors of Debevoise & Plimpton (where she represented serial law violators) to government service (prosecuting serial law violators).

[..] Until there is meaningful legislative reform of political campaign financing and revolving door appointments, Americans will continue to be relegated to the status of dumb tourist in their own country.

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Bankers have too much money and too much power.

European Financial Centres After Brexit (E.)

“WHEN the vote took place,” says Valérie Pécresse, “it was an opportunity for us to promote Île de France”, the region around Paris of which she is the elected head. Two advertising campaigns were prepared, depending on the result of Britain’s referendum last June on leaving the European Union. The unused copy ran: “You made one good decision. Make another. Choose Paris region.” Brexit has made Paris bolder. Once Britain leaves Europe’s single market, the many international banks and other firms that have made London their EU home will lose the “passports” that allow them to serve clients in the other 27 states. Possibly, mutual recognition by Britain and the EU of each other’s regulatory regimes will persist. But no one can rely on the transition to Brexit being smooth, rather than a feared “cliff edge”. Best to assume the worst.

Britain is expected to start the two-year process of withdrawal next month. Given the time needed to get approval from regulators, find offices and move (or hire) staff, financial firms have long been weighing their options. London will remain Europe’s leading centre, but other cities are keen to take what they can. The Parisians are pushing hardest, pitching their city as London’s partner and peer. “I don’t see the relationship with London as a rivalry,” says Ms Pécresse. “The rivalry is not with London but with Dublin, Amsterdam, Luxembourg and Frankfurt.” Especially, it seems, Frankfurt. Paris has more big local banks, more big companies and more international schools than its German rival. London apart, say the French team, it is Europe’s only “global city”. When, they smirk, did you last take your partner to Frankfurt for the weekend?

This month the Parisians were in London, briefing 80 executives from banks, asset managers, private-equity firms and fintech companies. They are keen to dispel France’s image as an interventionist, high-tax, work-shy place. The headline corporate-tax rate is 33.3% but due to fall to 28% by 2020. A scheme giving income-tax breaks to high earners who have lived outside France for at least five years will now apply for eight years after arrival or return, not five. The Socialists, who run the city itself, and Ms Pécresse’s Republicans are joined in a business-friendly “sacred union”, says Gérard Mestrallet, president of Paris Europlace, which promotes the financial centre. Ms Pécresse and others play down the risk that Marine Le Pen, of the far-right, Eurosceptic National Front will win the presidential election this spring.

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“Crimea was TAKEN by Russia during the Obama Administration. Was Obama too soft on Russia?” the U.S. president tweeted.

Putin Orders Russian Media To “Cut Back” On Positive Trump Coverage (ZH)

Trump’s honeymoon with capital markets is on the rocks, kept alive only by the occasional soundbite about “massive” or “phenomenal” tax cuts; it now appears that the US president’s – until recently – amicable relationship with Russia is also quickly souring. According to Bloomberg, the Kremlin has ordered Russian state media to cut “way back” on their fawning coverage of President Donald Trump, in what three sources told BBG is a “reflection of growing concern among senior Russian officials that the new U.S. administration will be less friendly than first thought.” The Russian president has defended his decision saying it is the result of declining interest among the Russian viewers in Trump’s rise to power, but Bloomberg adds that some of the most popular TV segments on Trump touched on ideas the Kremlin would rather not promote, such as his pledge to “drain the swamp.”

The suggestion is that since Trump is looking to end governmental corruption, the “authoritarian” Putin should be worried; and yet instead of “draining the swamp” Trump has filled it by surrounded himself with precisely those bankers he used as populist examples of all that is wrong with the government. As such, Putin should greet Trump’s failed “swamp draining” although that part did not make it into the Bloomberg report. Putin’s decree comes at a time of rising anti-Russian sentiment in Washington, where U.S. spy and law-enforcement agencies are conducting multiple investigations to determine the full extent of contacts Trump’s advisers had with Russia during and after the 2016 election campaign.

According to Bloomberg, the order marks a stark turnaround from just a few weeks ago when Russia hailed Trump’s presidential victory as the beginning of a new era of cooperation between the former Cold War foes. “Trump’s campaign was watched with rapture as news anchors gushed over the novelty of hearing an American presidential candidate praise Putin. But the wall-to-wall coverage went too far for the Kremlin’s liking.” In January, Trump reportedly received more mentions in the media than Putin, relegating the Russian leader to the No. 2 spot for the first time since he returned to the Kremlin in 2012 after four years as premier, according to Interfax data.”

That said, there has certainly been a chilling in relations between Trump and Putin. In recent weeks, numerous White House officials, including Trump, have criticized Russia for its annexation of Crimea and the subsequent violence in Ukraine. Trump on Wednesday accused Putin of seizing Crimea from Ukraine in a series of Twitter posts that were delivered amid a flurry of allegations that his team has ties to Russia. “Crimea was TAKEN by Russia during the Obama Administration. Was Obama too soft on Russia?” the U.S. president tweeted. As Bloomberg concludes, Russian officials, who had readily commented to local media on earlier news from Washington, suddenly became less talkative after the Crimea comment. And so, with Trump-Putin relations suddenly in purgatory, and Trump’s domestic “Russia-facing” exposure in chaos, it is now unclear how Trump will pivot away to restore what many had hoped would lead to a restoration in normal relations between the two countries.

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And there we go again.

‘Bank Run’ under Capital Controls: Greeks withdraw €2.5bn in 45 days (KTG)

Delays in the talks between Greece and its lenders have brought back the ghost of Grexit. The grave disagreement between the IMF and the European lenders, Grexit bombshell flying around and Greece’s reluctance to accept additional austerity measures have increase uncertainty among citizens – for one more time. And what do citizens do when they feel political and economical insecurity? The run to banks and withdraw deposits. 2.5 billion euros left Greek banks in the last 45 days. And this despite the capital controls that allow Greeks to withdraw a maximum of just €1,800 per month. However, in better situation are those who brought back cash to the banks. Cash that was largely withdrawn before the capital controls were imposed in July 2015 as a result of a major bank run from November 2014 until end of June 2015.

Those who pulled the cash from under the mattress and brought it to bank are allowed to withdraw money above the €1800 cap. According to newspaper Eidiseis, the cash withdrawal in the last 45 days has set bankers in alert. In addition to cash withdrawals, business loans and mortgage, amounting a total of €500 million, turned red. A sign that the delay in the conclusion of the second review has increased uncertainty among the Greeks, as the daily notes. Speaking to the daily, sources from the Union of Greek Banks said that “time is not working in our favor.” They stressed that the government and the lenders should reach a compromise. Beginning of February, Greek websites for economic news had reported that more than one billion euros was withdrawn in January 2017.

According to a report of November 2015, more than €120 billion left the Greek banks during the years of the crisis. €45 billion left the banks during November 2014 – 2015. 80% of this amount, that is some €36 billion are been kept in homes, company safes or in bank lockers.

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Feb 052016
 
 February 5, 2016  Posted by at 10:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Harris&Ewing “Congressional baseball game. President and Mrs. Wilson.” 1917


Dollar Tumbles As Fed Rescues China In The Nick Of Time (AEP)
SocGen: China Only Months Away From Depleting Its Currency Reserves (MW)
China Foreign Reserves Head for Record Drop on Yuan Defense (BBG)
Citi: ‘We Should All Fear Oilmageddon’ (BBG)
Just 0.1% Of Global Oil Output Has Been Halted By Low Prices (BBG)
US Running Out Of Space To Store Oil (CNN)
Obama Proposes $10-a-Barrel Oil Tax (MW)
IMF Honing Tools To Rescue EMs From China Spillover (Reuters)
BOJ Board Among Those Surprised By Negative Interest Rate Plan (Reuters)
US Banks Targeted By Activist Investors (Reuters)
Two Anonymous Whistleblowers Are Pounding on the SEC’s Door Again (Martens)
Europe’s Ports Vulnerable As Ships Sail Without Oversight (FT)
Portugal’s Anti-Austerity Budget Provokes Brussels Showdown (FT)
Saudis Say Cash Crunch Won’t Derail an Ambitious Foreign Agenda (BBG)
World Food Prices Tumble Near 7-Year Low (CNBC)
Julian Assange Should Be Freed, Entitled To Compensation: UN Panel (AP)

But that won’t last.

Dollar Tumbles As Fed Rescues China In The Nick Of Time (AEP)

The US dollar has suffered one of the sharpest drops in 20 years as the Federal Reserve signals a retreat from monetary tightening, igniting a powerful rally for commodities and easing a ferocious squeeze on dollar debtors in China and emerging markets. The closely-watched dollar index (DXY) has fallen 3pc this week to 96.44 and given up all its gains since late October. This has instant effects on the world’s inter-connected financial system, today more geared to the US exchange rate and Fed policy than at any time in modern history. David Bloom, from HSBC, said the blistering dollar rally of the past three years is largely over and may go into reverse as weak economic figures in the US force the Fed to pare back four rate rises loosely planned for this year.

A more dovish Fed and a weaker dollar is a bitter-sweet turn for the Bank of Japan and the ECB as they try to push down their currencies to stave off deflation. Their task has become even harder. The euro has rocketed by more than 3pc this week to $1.12 against the dollar. In trade-weighted terms the euro is 5pc higher than it was in March, when the ECB began quantitative easing, showing just how difficult it has become for authorities to drive down their exchange rates. Everybody is playing the same game. Yet a halt to the dollar rally is a huge relief for companies and banks around the world that have borrowed a record $9.8 trillion in US currency outside the US, up from $2 trillion barely more than a decade ago. These debtors have faced a double shock from the rising dollar and a jump in global borrowing costs.

RBS calculates that more than 80pc of the debt of Alibaba, CNOOC, Baidu and Tencent is in US dollars, with Gazprom, Vale, Lukoil and China Overseas close behind. China’s central bank (PBOC) can breathe easier as it burns through foreign reserves to defend the yuan against capital flight. Wei Yao, from Societe Generale, said China’s holdings have fallen by $800bn to an estimated $3.2 trillion and are just months away from the danger zone. She warned that markets are likely to become “transfixed” on the rate of decline once reserves near $2.8 trillion, testing the credibility of the PBOC and raising the risk that Beijing will be forced to let the currency slide – with drastic global consequences. If so, only a change of course by the Fed can buy time for China to get a grip and avert a drift into dangerous waters.

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Luckily it’s Lunar New year now.

SocGen: China Only Months Away From Depleting Its Currency Reserves (MW)

China is burning through its foreign-currency reserves at such a blistering pace that the country will run down its cushion in a few months, forcing the government to wave the white flag and float the yuan, says Société Générale global strategist Albert Edwards. “The market remains content that massive firepower remains to support the renminbi. It does not,” Edwards, a perma-bear with a propensity for doom-and gloom-prognoses, said in a report published Thursday. Société Générale, using the IMF’s rule of thumb on reserve adequacy, estimates that China’s foreign-currency reserves are at 118% of the recommended level. But that cushion is likely to evaporate soon on a combination of capital flight and the continuing effort by financial authorities to stem a dramatic drop in the currency.

China’s reserves totaled $3.33 trillion in December, according to official government data. Edwards estimated that China’s foreign-exchange reserves fell by about $120 billion in January, a trend that is likely to continue in the foreseeable future. “When foreign exchange reserves reach $2.8 trillion—which should only take a few more months at this rate—foreign exchange reserves will fall below the IMF’s recommended lower bound,” he said. That is likely to trigger a “tidal wave of speculative selling,” which in turn will force the People’s Bank of China to allow the yuan to freely float within six months. The yuan currently moves within a trading band set by the People’s Bank of China that the central bank can change at will.

“We estimate that if capital outflows maintain their current pace, the PBoC would be unable to defend the yuan for more than two to three quarters,” Wei Yao, Société Générale’s China economist, said in a report published earlier this month. “China’s reserves have already fallen by $663 billion from mid-2014, and a further decline of this scale would start to severely impair the Chinese authorities’ ability to control the currency and mitigate future balance of payments,” she said. Against this backdrop, Société Générale is projecting the yuan to sink to 7.5 against the U.S. dollar this year, significantly weaker than 7 yuan to the buck predicted by most economists. The dollar is currently at 6.56 yuan.

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Lowball du jour: “The economy itself cannot turn this around.”

China Foreign Reserves Head for Record Drop on Yuan Defense (BBG)

China’s foreign-exchange reserves, already at a three-year low, are poised to post a second consecutive record monthly drop as policy makers intervene to support the yuan. The central bank will say Sunday that the currency hoard fell by $118 billion to $3.2 trillion in January, according to economists’ estimates in a Bloomberg survey. That would exceed a record $108 billion decline in December, which brought last year’s total draw-down to more than half a trillion dollars and capped the first annual decrease in the reserves since 1992. Policy makers are burning through billions of dollars to hold up a weakening currency amid flagging growth and $1 trillion in capital outflows last year. The yuan sank to a five-year low last month as the People’s Bank of China set the reference rate at an unexpectedly weak level, a signal that it’s more tolerant of depreciation as growth slows.

“China is facing a significant capital outflow problem,” said Krishna Memani at Oppenheimer in New York. “It’s an astounding reduction in their capital account position. This is an issue they’ve been aware of, and they have to find a way of managing it. The economy itself cannot turn this around.” The draw-down has accelerated since the central bank’s surprise devaluation of the currency in August. Reserves tumbled $94 billion that month, a record at the time. Another cut to the yuan’s reference rate last month spurred a stock sell-off that has helped push the Shanghai Composite Index down 21 percent this year and into a bear market.

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The benefits of low prices…

Citi: ‘We Should All Fear Oilmageddon’ (BBG)

Markets are currently in a well-oiled “death spiral,” according to Citigroup analysts led by Jonathan Stubbs. “It appears that four inter-linked phenomena are driving a negative feedback loop in the global economy and across financial markets,” the analysts write, citing the resilient U.S. dollar, lower commodities prices, weaker trade and capital flows, and declining emerging market growth. “It seems reasonable to assume that another year of extreme moves in U.S. dollar (higher) and oil/commodity prices (lower) would likely continue to drive this negative feedback loop and make it very difficult for policy makers in emerging markets and developing markets to fight disinflationary forces and intercept downside risks,” the analysts add.

“Corporate profits and equity markets would also likely suffer further downside risk in this scenario of Oilmageddon.” Their case is bolstered by a collection of charts showing the linkages between the four factors cited above, including the importance of lofty oil prices to the ready supply of petrodollars circulating in the world economy and flowing to financial assets. Oil exporters have enjoyed more than $6 trillion flowing into their current accounts, according to Citi’s estimates, implying some $4 trillion of capital in sovereign wealth funds (SWFs).

“But, the collapse in oil/commodity prices and sharp fall in the pace of world trade means that these same economies will likely experience an aggregate current account deficit for the first time since 1998,” says Citi. “In turn, this is likely to put pressure on SWF and broader emerging market liquidity as governments and emerging market economies would need to ‘lean’ on reserves in order to maintain economic, political and social stability. This has clear feedback loops across emerging markets.” Accordingly, the impact of the feedback loop is being felt far and wide in financial markets, extending even to U.S. inflation expectations. Where once 10-year inflation breakevens had little relationship with the price of oil they have for the past two years moved in tandem.

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Pump and Jump.

Just 0.1% Of Global Oil Output Has Been Halted By Low Prices (BBG)

After a year of low oil prices, only 0.1% of global production has been curtailed because it’s unprofitable, according to a report from consultants Wood Mackenzie that highlights the industry’s resilience. The analysis, published ahead of an annual oil-industry gathering in London next week, suggests that oil prices will need to drop even more – or stay low for a lot longer – to meaningfully reduce global production. OPEC and major oil companies like BP and Occidental Petroleum are betting that low oil prices will drive production down, eventually lifting prices. That’s taking longer than expected, in part due to the resilience of the U.S. shale industry and slumping currencies in oil-rich countries, which have lowered production costs in nations from Russia to Brazil.

The Wood Mackenzie analysis provides an estimate for the amount directly impacted by low prices – to the tune of 100,000 barrels a day since the beginning of 2015 – rather than output affected as new projects build up and aging fields decline. Canada, the U.S. and the North Sea have been affected the most by closures related to low prices. The International Energy Agency does estimate year-over-year change, and says global production in the fourth quarter was 96.9 million barrels a day. It forecast that outside OPEC, output will fall this year by 600,000 barrels a day, the largest annual decline since 1992. Last year, non-OPEC output rose 1.4 million barrels a day. “Since the drop in oil prices last year there have been relatively few production shut-ins,” according to the report.

The company, which tracks production and costs at more than 2,000 oilfields worldwide, estimates that another 3.4 million barrels a day of production are losing money at current prices, of about $35 a barrel. It cautioned against expecting further closures, because “many producers will continue to take the loss in the hope of a rebound in prices.” For major oil companies, a few months of losses may make more sense than paying to dismantle an offshore platform in the North Sea, or stopping and restarting a tar-sands project in Canada, which may take months and cost millions of dollars. “There are barriers to exit,” said Robert Plummer at Wood Mackenzie.

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China must have the same issue.

US Running Out Of Space To Store Oil (CNN)

The U.S. now has nearly 503 million barrels of commercial crude oil stockpiled, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday. It’s the highest level of supply for this time of the year in at least 80 years. The sky-high inventories are the latest sign that the U.S. oil boom is still alive and kicking. U.S. oil production is near all-time highs despite the epic crash in oil prices from $107 a barrel in June 2014 to just $30 a barrel now. Sure, domestic oil production has slowed – but just barely. Oil stockpiles are so high that certain key storage locations are now “bumping up against storage and logistical constraints,” according to Goldman Sachs analysts. In other words, these facilities are nearly overflowing. Cushing, Oklahoma is the delivery point for most of the oil produced in the U.S. This key trading hub is currently swelling with 64 million barrels of oil.

That represents a near-record 87% of the facility’s total storage capacity as of November, according to the EIA. “There is a fear of tank topping in Cushing. We’re seeing it get to its brims,” said Matthew Smith at ClipperData. Cushing has had to ramp up its storage capabilities in recent years just to deal with all this oil. If this key hub ran out of room to stockpile oil, that crude would have to be diverted elsewhere – and that would hurt oil prices. “There would be a ripple effect across the U.S. that would impact prices everywhere,” said Smith. Global inventories also remain high, with the International Energy Agency recently saying the world is “drowning” in oil. The agency is bracing for oversupply of 1.5 million barrels per day in the first half of 2016.

Wall Street is nervously watching supply constraints since they can have dramatic repercussions on prices. More so than other commodities, oil is vulnerable to so-called “operational stress” due to the expensive and sophisticated infrastructure that is needed for storage. “Each time the market brushes up against infrastructure constraints, oil prices will likely spike to the downside to make oil supplies back off,” Goldman wrote. By comparison, it’s relatively easy to pile up unwanted metals in an open space like a warehouse. “Aluminum only needs a grassy field,” Goldman wrote. To put these storage issues into context, Goldman estimates $1 billion of gold would fit into a bedroom closet. Crude oil of the same value would require 17 supertanker ships that can hold about 2 million barrels of oil each.

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Timing, sir?

Obama Proposes $10-a-Barrel Oil Tax (MW)

President Barack Obama is proposing a $10-a-barrel tax on oil to pay for clean transportation projects, the White House said Thursday. The tax, which will be part of the budget request Obama unveils next week, would be paid for by oil companies and gradually phased in over five years. It would apply to imported oil, not exported U.S. oil, White House National Economic Council Director Jeff Zients told reporters. Obama’s proposal lands in the midst of the 2016 election campaigns, and is likely to be harshly criticized by both Republican presidential candidates and lawmakers. In past years, Obama has proposed eliminating subsidies for the oil-and-gas industries. But those efforts have never made it through Congress. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana said the proposal could be Obama’s worst idea ever.

The tax would add roughly 25 cents to a gallon of gasoline, at current prices. The White House said Obama’s plan would boost investments in clean transportation by about 50%. Zients said the administration recognized oil companies would “likely pass on some of these costs” to consumers. But he added that the U.S.’s “crumbling infrastructure imposes a huge cost on American families,” by reducing competitiveness and by adding time and fuel costs to workers who are stuck in traffic. Brian Milne, energy editor and product manager at Schneider Electric, said the tax would “definitely” increase gasoline prices. “Maybe the president thinks because oil and gasoline prices are low, he can slip the tax through that will eventually be passed on to consumers without many realizing that they’re paying the government more to fuel their vehicles and warm their houses,” Milne said in an email. “However, I don’t think it will have enough support to move through Congress.”

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IMF sees great opportunities for power grabs. Pennies on the dollar. Or the SDR, rather.

IMF Honing Tools To Rescue EMs From China Spillover (Reuters)

China can avoid a “hard landing” if Beijing pursues reforms to state enterprises and sticks to a more market-driven and well-communicated exchange rate policy, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said on Thursday. But Lagarde said spillovers from China’s transition to a slower, more sustainable growth rate would continue to pressure oil and commodity exporters around the globe, increasing demands for financing help from the IMF and other international institutions. She told an online media briefing that the IMF wanted to be ready to handle any emerging market difficulties with new and improved financing tools.

“China is going through that massive, multi-faceted transition and we do not expect a hard landing of China as has been talked about for many years,” Lagarde said. She noted that China’s transition will still be difficult and create market volatility, however. Oil and metals prices, now two thirds below their most recent peaks in 2014, will likely stay low for some time. As a result, the international financial safety net “needs to be strong and needs to be readily available to face any circumstances,” Lagarde said.

The IMF will be working in coming months to improve existing financing instruments, such as credit and liquidity lines, as well as new instruments to address their situations. Lagarde’s remarks came as several oil and commodity exporters, including Peru, Nigeria, Angola and Azerbaijan, are in talks with the World Bank on financing to cope with widening budget deficits. In a speech earlier on Thursday at the University of Maryland, Lagarde said a larger and more robust financial safety net would reduce the need for many emerging market countries to hold large foreign exchange reserves, freeing up funds for investments in infrastructure and education.

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The smell of Abenomics in the morning. This kind of decision making kills so much trust it can’t possibly be worth the price paid. But Abe gets to kick the can a while longer…

BOJ Board Among Those Surprised By Negative Interest Rate Plan (Reuters)

Just days before the Bank of Japan stunned financial markets with its radical adoption of negative interest rates, members of the central bank’s own policy board had also been taken by surprise by the move. Most of the nine board members were only told of the scheme in the week leading up to last Friday’s rate review, according to interviews with more than a dozen officials familiar with the deliberations. The startling speed and secrecy with which such a major policy shift was executed suggest its intent was more about delivering a shock to markets that would weaken the yen, than about maximising the stimulative impact of further easing. That would be in keeping with the single-minded style of central bank Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, people who know him well or have worked with him say, but could risk entrenching divisions between BOJ policymakers.

“If you’re a board member, you’re told about the plan at the last minute,” said a former board member, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It’s hard to argue against it or draft a counter proposal when there’s so little time left.” Kuroda had been saying for months that taking rates below zero was not a timely option, a position he had repeated as recently as Jan. 21. But the global market turbulence that greeted the start of 2016 had been threatening two planks of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s reflationary agenda – rising asset prices and a cheap yen. Before leaving for the annual World Economic Forum in Davos on Jan. 22, Kuroda instructed his staff to come up with options for further easing of the BOJ’s already ultra-loose policy, and report back to him when he returned to Tokyo three days later.

Expanding the bank’s massive asset purchasing programme, known as “quantitative and qualitative easing” (QQE), by 10-20 trillion yen ($83-$167 billion) was one option, sources said, though it was quickly ruled out as too weak to shock markets. Something more arresting was needed, and few investors were predicting negative rates. “The key was to show people that the BOJ will really do anything to achieve 2% inflation,” said a BOJ official. The complex plan, formulated by four top officials from the monetary affairs department, drew on studies of negative interest rate policies in Denmark, Switzerland and Sweden. By charging interest on just a fraction of banks’ deposits with the BOJ, they hoped to ease the pain on financial institutions and get around one of the big problems of twinning negative interest rates with QQE – that the central bank is force-feeding lenders cash it then penalises them for holding.

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Thinking bailouts?

US Banks Targeted By Activist Investors (Reuters)

Activist investors are putting the U.S. banking sector in their crosshairs, betting that headwinds whipping through the industry will accelerate consolidation among lenders. While these activist hedge funds have already targeted some major financial companies, such as insurer AIG and auto loan lender Ally Financial, banks have historically stayed out of their sights. Activists launched 97 campaigns last year aimed at the U.S. financial sector, around triple the amount from 2009, according to Thomson Reuters Activism data. Of those campaigns, 22 were aimed at banks, up from eight in 2009, the data show. The number has increased every year since the 2008 financial crisis.

Hedge funds such as Ancora Advisors, Clover Partners and Seidman & Associates are buying up stakes in lenders across the U.S., from community banks to large regional lenders. Driving these investments is the view that ultra-low interest rates, lagging returns on equity and tough regulations will push more banks to merge, with buyers willing to pay a hefty multiple to a bank’s tangible book value. Activist investors interviewed by Reuters say another factor is exposure to energy-related loans, which is driving down the valuations of certain banks and making them all the more vulnerable to a takeover. “Bigger banks are back in the market doing deals,” said Ralph MacDonald at law firm Jones Day. U.S. bank mergers and acquisitions volume rose 58% last year to $34.5 billion, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Last week alone saw two mergers. Huntington Bancshares said it would acquire FirstMerit for $3.4 billion in stock and cash, combining two Ohio-based lenders. And Chemical Financial said it was merging with Talmer Bancorp in an all-Michigan transaction that will create a bank with $16 billion in assets. To be sure, activists’ bets on banks are not without risk – especially if they get the timing wrong. The S&P 500 Financials index is down 14% since mid-December on fears that the Federal Reserve will take longer than previously expected to raise interest rates, hurting banks’ profitability. Another worry is that oil prices drop further, making a bank’s energy loan book more of a liability than an opportunity.

A takeout by a larger rival is also never a guarantee, but that is a risk activists are willing to take. On Monday, Hudson Executive Capital, a New York-based hedge fund, announced it had acquired a $56 million stake in Dallas-based Comerica Bank, a lender with $71 billion in assets under management. Among the banks that could buy Comerica is North Carolina-based BB&T Bank, according to activist investors who spoke to Reuters. [..] Zions Bancorporation, a Salt Lake City lender with $60 billion in assets, is another bank that activists said is vulnerable to an approach.

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And will be ignored again.

Two Anonymous Whistleblowers Are Pounding on the SEC’s Door Again (Martens)

Last night ABC began its two-part series on the Bernie Madoff fraud. Viewers will be reminded about how investment expert, Harry Markopolos, wrote detailed letters to the SEC for years, raising red flags that Bernie Madoff was running a Ponzi scheme – only to be ignored by the SEC as Madoff fleeced more and more victims out of their life savings. Today, there are two equally erudite scribes who have jointly been flooding the SEC with explosive evidence that some Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) that trade on U.S. stock exchanges and are sold to a gullible public, may be little more than toxic waste dumped there by Wall Street firms eager to rid themselves of illiquid securities. The two anonymous authors have one thing going for them that Markopolos did not.

They are represented by a former SEC attorney, Peter Chepucavage, who was also previously a managing director in charge of Nomura Securities’ legal, compliance and audit functions. We spoke to Chepucavage by phone yesterday. He confirmed that two of his clients authored the series of letters. Chepucavage said further that these clients have significant experience in trading ETFs and data collection involving ETFs. Throughout their letters, the whistleblowers use the phrase ETP, for Exchange Traded Product, which includes both ETFs and ETNs, Exchange Traded Notes. In a letter that was logged in at the SEC on January 13, 2016, the whistleblowers compared some of these investments to the subprime mortgage products that fueled the 2008 crash, noting that regulators and economists were mostly blind to that escalating danger as well. The authors wrote:

“The vast majority of ETPs have very low levels of assets under management and illiquid trading volumes. Many of these have illiquid underlying assets and a large group of ETPs are based on derivatives that are not backed by physical assets such as stocks, bonds or commodities, but rather swaps or other types of complex contracts.

Many of these products may have been designed to take what were originally illiquid assets from the books of operators, bundle them into an ETP to make them appear liquid and sell them off to unsuspecting investors. The data suggests this is evidenced by ETPs that are formed, have enough volume in the early stage of their existence to sell shares, but then barely trade again while still remaining listed for sale. This is reminiscent of the mortgage-backed securities bundles sold previous to the last financial crisis in 2008.”

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If you look beyond the obvious play on fearmongering, this is still curious.

Europe’s Ports Vulnerable As Ships Sail Without Oversight (FT)

As Europe’s politicians struggle to control a deepening migrant crisis and staunch the rising threat of Islamist terrorism on their borders, little attention is being paid to the continent’s biggest frontier: the sea. New data highlight the extent to which smuggling, bogus shipping logs, unusual coastal stop-offs and inexplicable voyages are increasing across the Mediterranean and Atlantic for ships passing through Europe’s ports — with little or nothing being done to combat the trend. There is currently no comprehensive system to track shipments and cargos through EU ports and along its approximately 70,000km of coastline — a deficiency that has long been exploited by organised criminals and which could increasingly prove irresistible to terrorists too, say European security officials.

“So far, the thing about maritime security, and particularly terrorists exploiting weaknesses there, is that it’s the dog that’s not barked,” says former Royal Navy captain Gerry Northwood, chief operating officer of Mast, a maritime security company, and commander of the counter-piracy task force in the Indian Ocean. “But the potential is there. The world outside Europe – North Africa for example – is awash with weapons. If you can get a bunch of AK47s into a container, embark that container from Aden then you could get them into Hamburg pretty easily. A whole armoury’s worth.” In January, 540 cargo ships entered European ports after passing through the territorial waters of terrorist hotspots Syria and Libya, as well as Lebanon, for unclear or uneconomic reasons during the course of their voyages.

The number of vessels using flags of convenience — using the ensign of a state different to that in which a ship’s owners reside to mask identity or reduce tax bills — is also rising. Of the 9,000 ships that passed through European waters last month, 5,500 used flags of convenience.

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“We have to be demanding and disciplined [over the budget], but Portugal is not a pupil. There are no professor-states or student-states in the EU.”

Portugal’s Anti-Austerity Budget Provokes Brussels Showdown (FT)

Portugal’s new Socialist government faces an embarrassing rejection of its first “anti-austerity” budget by the European Commission on Friday after eleventh-hour talks failed to break a stalemate over additional cuts needed to bring Lisbon in line with EU deficit rules. Portuguese officials expressed confidence they would overcome objections from the commission, which last week warned Lisbon it risked “serious non-compliance” with the bloc’s fiscal rules. At the same time, they continued to show defiance, insisting they would not return to the spending policies of the previous centre-right administration. “We cannot continue following a path of blind austerity,” Augusto Santos Silva, Portugal’s foreign minister, told RTP television on Wednesday.

“We have to be demanding and disciplined [over the budget], but Portugal is not a pupil. There are no professor-states or student-states in the EU.” The commission announced it would hold a special meeting on Friday afternoon to decide whether Portugal’s 2016 budget — submitted three months late after protracted post-election coalition negotiations — would be rejected. If it is, it would mark the first time a eurozone government has had its spending plan vetoed by Brussels since the new crisis-era rules went into effect in 2011. Lisbon’s tussle with Brussels calls into question the government’s ability to deliver on election pledges to roll back years of austerity by cutting taxes and increasing public sector wages without running foul of the EU’s strict budgetary rules.

After Portugal emerged from its bailout in 2014, it was supposed to bring its deficit under the EU ceiling of 3% of economic output by 2015. But economic forecasts published by Brussels on Thursday, which take into account the government’s initial budget plan, show Lisbon with a 4.2% deficit in 2015 — and deficits above 3% in both 2016 and 2017. The 3.4% deficit projected for 2016 is in sharp contrast to the 2.6% Lisbon has forecast. Lisbon, however, said the commission’s forecasts do not take into account revisions to its budget proposals made over the past week. Under eurozone rules, a country that misses its deficit target must at least demonstrate it is undertaking significant economic reforms. But the Portuguese budget reins back such measures, prompting a warning from Brussels that its efforts were “well below” target.

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Desperate regime.

Saudis Say Cash Crunch Won’t Derail an Ambitious Foreign Agenda (BBG)

Saudi Arabia won’t let the plunge in oil prices derail a regional agenda that includes waging war in Yemen and funding allies in Syria and Egypt, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said in an interview. “Our foreign policy is based on national security interests,” al-Jubeir said on Thursday at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs headquarters in the kingdom’s capital, Riyadh. “We will not let our foreign policy be determined by the price of oil.” The world’s largest oil exporter, traditionally a cautious actor on the Middle Eastern stage, has become more assertive during the 13-month reign of King Salman. Saudi Arabia is fighting in Yemen against Shiite rebels it says are backed by Iran. It’s also sending billions of dollars to Egypt, to fend off instability in the most populous Arab country, and arming the increasingly beleaguered rebels in Syria’s civil war.

That’s a costly agenda to finance with Brent crude at the lowest in more than a decade. The oil shock left Saudi Arabia with a budget deficit of about $98 billion last year, pushing the kingdom to cut spending on energy subsidies and building projects. It’s also considering selling sovereign bonds and shares in its giant state oil company. The return to world markets of Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival, is set to add to global supply. Sanctions on the Islamic Republic “are being lifted and will be removed as long as Iran complies with the terms of the nuclear agreement,” al-Jubeir said. “We believe there is sufficient room in the market for countries who produce oil.” Tensions between the two OPEC members have undermined efforts to end the war in Syria, where Saudi Arabia supports mainly Sunni militant groups trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, who’s backed by Iran.

The countries are also at loggerheads over Yemen, though Western diplomats have played down Saudi claims about Iran’s involvement on the Houthi rebel side there. The Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, which began with airstrikes in March last year and has escalated to include ground troops, “was a war that nobody wanted to wage,” al-Jubeir said. “This was a war to protect Yemen from collapsing and to protect the kingdom from the dangers of a militia that is armed with ballistic missiles and in possession of an air force that is allied with Iran and Hezbollah.” Saudi Arabia said this week that 375 of its civilians have been killed by missile strikes around the border with Yemen. The United Nations says about 6,000 Yemenis have died in the conflict.

While the U.S. has expressed support for the Saudi engagement in Yemen, in other areas the longstanding alliance between the countries has shown signs of fraying. Saudi officials have expressed concerns about last year’s U.S.-backed nuclear agreement with Iran, and were angered when the U.S. called for former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down in 2011.

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Deflation.

World Food Prices Tumble Near 7-Year Low (CNBC)

World food prices fell to almost a seven-year low at the start of the year on the back of sharp declines in commodities, particularly sugar, according to the latest data from the UN. The Food Price Index, published by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), averaged 150.4 points in January, down 16% from a year earlier and registering its lowest level since April 2009. The trade-weighted index tracks international market prices for five key commodity groups – major cereals, vegetable oils, dairy, meat and sugar – on a monthly basis. In January, the Sugar Price Index showed the largest declines having fallen 4.1% from December, its first drop in four months. The FAO said the drop was down to improved crop conditions in Brazil, the world’s leading sugar producer and exporter. The second largest declines were seen in the FAO’s Dairy Price Index which dropped by 3.0% in the same time period “on the back of large supplies, in both the EU and New Zealand, and torpid world import demand,” the FAO noted.

The Cereals and Vegetable Oils indices both saw declines of 1.7% in January from the previous month and the Meat Price Index fell 1.1%. The main factors underlying the lingering decline in basic food commodity prices are “the generally ample agricultural supply conditions, a slowing global economy, and the strengthening of the U.S. dollar,” the FAO noted. Food commodities are not the only ones suffering from demand failing to keep up with a glut in supply with oil prices suffering a similar fate with a steady decline since mid-2014. Signaling no let-up in production, the food agency raised its forecasts for worldwide cereal crops in 2016. “As a result of the upgraded production and downgraded consumption forecasts, world cereal stocks are set to end the 2016 seasons at 642 million tons, higher than they began,” the agency noted.

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Far from over. Pyrrhic.

Julian Assange Should Be Freed, Entitled To Compensation: UN Panel (AP)

A UN human rights panel says WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been “arbitrarily detained” by Britain and Sweden since December 2010. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said his detention should end and he should be entitled to compensation. Swedish prosecutors want to question Assange over allegations of rape stemming from a working visit he made to the country in 2010 when WikiLeaks was attracting international attention for its secret-spilling ways. Assange has consistently denied the allegations but declined to return to Sweden to meet with prosecutors and eventually sought refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he has lived since 2012.

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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
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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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