80 percent of the daily moves in U.S. stocks are machine-led, a fund manager told CNBC on Wednesday. The phenomenon, also called algorithm or algo trading, refers to market transactions that use advanced mathematical models to make high-speed trading decisions. Many believe that the different sell-off episodes seen throughout 2018 were caused by these machines, as they act on immediate data releases, without taking the time to digest them as humans would. “80 percent of daily volume in the U.S. is done by machines, so what you get is a lack of focus on earnings, a lack of focus on outlooks and you just get short-term movements based on very specific data that is released every day and that creates noise,” Guy De Blonay, fund manager at Jupiter Asset Management, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe.”
The daily volume of algo trading can change according to volatility. But over the last few years its impact has become more visible. In 2017, J.P. Morgan said that “fundamental discretionary traders” accounted for only 10 percent of trading volume in stocks. This is when traders look at companies’ performance and outlook before deciding whether to buy or sell the shares. [..] Salman Ahmed, chief investment strategist at Lombard Odier, said: “The rise of algorithm-based trading means that there are in these algorithms some levels which trigger sell-off, i.e. sell orders. “Yes, I can argue that we needed some kind of correction, given what has happened over the last few months. But the ferociousness of the intra-day sell-off is driven by these pre-set sell orders, which come programed in these algorithms automatically.”
The arrest of Huawei’s global chief financial officer in Canada, reportedly related to a violation of U.S. sanctions, will corrode trade negotiations between Washington and Beijing, risk consultancy Eurasia Group said Thursday. “Beijing is likely to react angrily to this latest arrest of a Chinese citizen in a third country for violating U.S. law,” Eurasia analysts wrote. In fact, Global Times — a hyper-nationalistic tabloid tied to the Chinese Communist Party — responded to the arrest by posting on Twitter a statement about trade war escalation it attributed to an expert “close to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce.”
“China should be fully prepared for an escalation in the #tradewar with the US, as the US will not ease its stance on China, and the recent arrest of the senior executive of #Huawei is a vivid example,” said the statement, paired with a photo of opposing fists with Chinese and American flags superimposed upon them. Canada’s Department of Justice said on Wednesday the country arrested Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver, where she is facing extradition to the U.S. The arrest is related to violations of U.S. sanctions, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters. U.S. authorities have been probing Huawei, one of the world’s largest makers of telecommunications network equipment, since at least 2016 for allegedly shipping U.S.-origin products to Iran and other countries in violation of U.S. export and sanctions laws, sources told Reuters in April.
“If I was an American tech executive, I wouldn’t travel to China this week.” That’s what James Lewis, a former Commerce Department official and current director of technology policy at the think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Axios on Wednesday after Canada arrested a top executive for China’s Huawai on behalf of the U.S. government. Lewis told Axios that “Huawei is one of the Chinese government’s pet companies,” and warned “They will retaliate and China will take hostages.” Earlier Thursday, Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou — the daughter of the telecom giant’s founder — was arrested in Vancouver and was being prepared for extradition to the U.S. to face charges of violating sanctions against Iran.
China immediately protested the arrest, and demanded Canada and the U.S. “rectify wrongdoings” and release her from custody. The incident may raise tensions between the U.S. and China, just days after it appeared progress had been made to ease the ongoing trade war. U.S. stock futures and Asian stock markets fell after reports of the arrest. The U.S. government has long worried about cybersecurity risks from Huawei equipment, and has pressed allies to stop using the company’s products. The U.S. has restricted Huawei’s business in the U.S., and earlier this year, Australia barred Huawei from its 5G mobile network, citing a security risk. In October, a Silicon Valley semiconductor startup accused Huawei of conspiring to steal its technology. Huawei is the world’s biggest maker of telecom equipment, and the No. 2 smartphone maker in the world, surpassing Apple during the second quarter of 2018.
BT has confirmed it is removing Huawei equipment from key areas of its 4G network as concerns are raised about the Chinese firm’s presence in critical telecoms infrastructure. Governments in the US, New Zealand and Australia have already moved to block the use of Huawei’s equipment as part of the future rollout of 5G networks. Earlier this week the head of MI6 also suggested the UK needed to decide if it was “comfortable” with Chinese ownership of the technology being used. [..] In a statement, the UK telecoms group has confirmed it is in the process of removing Huawei equipment from the key parts of its 3G and 4G networks to meet an existing internal policy not to have the Chinese firm at the centre of its infrastructure.
“In 2016, following the acquisition of EE, we began a process to remove Huawei equipment from the core of our 3G and 4G mobile networks, as part of network architecture principles in place since 2006,” BT said. “We’re applying these same principles to our current RFP (request for proposal) for 5G core infrastructure. As a result, Huawei have not been included in vendor selection for our 5G core. Huawei remains an important equipment provider outside the core network and a valued innovation partner.” The news comes in the wake of the head of MI6, Alex Younger, questioning whether Chinese firms such as Huawei should be involved in UK communications infrastructure.
He said that the UK would have to make “some decisions” about such firms after other governments had taken steps to block the firm. “We need to decide the extent to which we are going to be comfortable with Chinese ownership of these technologies and these platforms in an environment where some of our allies have taken a very definite position,” he said.
Emmanuel Macron has scrapped a fuel tax rise following weeks of nationwide protests in France and the worst rioting in Paris in decades. Protesters celebrated the victory on Wednesday, but critics said Mr Macron’s surrender came too late and is unlikely to quell mounting anger at the president, whom demonstrators consider out of touch with ordinary people. Amid fears of new violence, Mr Macron decided to “get rid” of the tax planned for next year, an official in the president’s office said. Prime minister Edouard Philippe told lawmakers the tax is no longer included in the 2019 budget. But the decision has ramifications beyond France, since the fuel tax rise was part of Mr Macron’s efforts to wean France off fossil fuels in order to reduce greenhouse gases and help slow climate change.
[..] Mr Macron’s popularity has slumped to a new low since the demonstrations began. The former investment banker, who has pushed pro-business economic reforms to make France more competitive globally, is accused of being the “president of the rich” and of being estranged from the working classes. On Wednesday, France’s largest farmers union said it will launch anti-government protests next week, after trucking unions called for a rolling strike. Trade unions so far have not played a role in the yellow vest protest movement but are now trying to capitalise on growing public anger. A joint statement from the CGT and the FO trucking unions called for action on Sunday night to protest a cut in overtime rates. The FNSEA farmers union said it would fight to help French farmers earn a better income but would not officially be joining forces with the “yellow vests”..
Straddling the world stage like a colossus in his own mind, but a low rent Napoleon in everyone else’s, with his talk of a European army, Macron is the epitome of the confected politician to which neoliberalism has given birth over the years. Even before the current crisis his approval rating was so low it was drilling its way through the floor; yet as with other leaders who are cut from the same expensive cloth, being impervious to the real world is deemed compatible with strong leadership. It really does beg the question of when, if ever, those who inhabit this cloistered Western neoliberal establishment will finally wake up to the consequences of their ruinous economic dictatorship?
In the UK we have the unedifying sight of Tony Blair being wheeled out as the de facto leader of the ‘reverse Brexit’ movement. That there is anyone who actually believes that the man who took petrol and matches to the Middle East, and who carries about as much weight in the country’s Brexit heartlands as a fly’s wing, is capable of directing anything except his chauffeur from one of his gilded mansions to a TV studio and back again, is remarkable. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, the lid of Hillary Clinton’s political coffin has been prised open by an out of touch Washington liberal establishment – one that left planet earth after Trump’s election in 2016 and has been floating around somewhere in outer space since.
It is “very likely” that the UK voted for Brexit because of illegal overspending by the Vote Leave campaign, according to an Oxford professor’s evidence to the High Court. An exhaustive analysis of the campaign’s digital strategy concludes it reached “tens of millions of people” in its last crucial days, after its spending limit had been breached – enough to change the outcome. The evidence will be put to the High Court on Friday, in a landmark case that is poised to rule within weeks whether the referendum result should be declared void because the law was broken. Professor Philip Howard, director of the Oxford Internet Institute, at the university, said: “My professional opinion is that it is very likely that the excessive spending by Vote Leave altered the result of the referendum.
“A swing of just 634,751 people would have been enough to secure victory for Remain. “Given the scale of the online advertising achieved with the excess spending, combined with conservative estimates on voter modelling, I estimate that Vote Leave converted the voting intentions of over 800,000 voters in the final days of the campaign as a result of the overspend.” [..] Professor Howard’s report is based on separate research which found that 20-30 per cent of people decided how to vote within a week of polling day, with half of these doing so on election day itself. If, as he has concluded, Vote Leave’s Facebook adverts reached tens of millions of people after they had should have stopped, they influenced huge numbers of voting decisions.
Facebook offered companies, including Netflix and Airbnb, access to data about users’ friends that it did not make available to other apps, according to documents released by parliament. The 223 pages released yesterday were internal communications from 2012 to 2015 between company leaders, including chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, shedding light on allegations that Facebook has engaged in anti-competitive behaviour. The documents show that Facebook tracked growth of competitors and denied them access to key data. Zuckerberg agreed to senior executive Justin Osofsky’s request in 2013 to stop giving friends’ list access to Vine on the day that social media rival Twitter launched the video-sharing service. “We’ve prepared reactive PR,” Mr Osofsky wrote, to which Mr Zuckerberg replied: “Yup, go for it.”
The documents also raised questions about Facebook’s transparency. An exchange from 2015 shows Facebook leaders discussing how to begin collecting call logs from Android users’ smartphones without subjecting them to “scary” permissions screens. [..] In a summary of the 250-page cache, which includes internal emails involving Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and other members of staff, Damian Collins MP, chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, highlighted a number of “key issues”. He claimed the documents show Facebook chose to “whitelist” selected companies, allowing them to maintain “full access” to the data of a user’s Facebook friends even after the company announced changes in 2015 to end such access.
Mr Collins suggested the cache also showed Facebook regularly discussed the value of data on the platform, and said: “The idea of linking access to friends’ data to the financial value of the developers’ relationship with Facebook is a recurring feature of the documents.”
Global carbon pollution is on track to reach unprecedented levels in 2018, smashing hopes that the world had reached peak emissions. Growing energy demands combined with an unwillingness by many nations to let go of coal and oil are expected to result in a 2 per cent boost for emissions. Released at the major COP24 summit in Poland, the news marks the end of a year in which climate change has made itself felt, driving heatwaves, droughts and wildfires across the planet. It comes after a UN report warned that as emissions continue to creep upwards, nations must increase their commitments to tackling global warming by five times to avoid its worst effects.
CO2 pollution shot up in 2017 after a three-year decline that led many to speculate the world had hit peak carbon. With the data suggesting this trend has continued into 2018, experts have redoubled their desperate warnings to phase out fossil fuels as quickly as possible to avoid climate disaster. “With this year’s growth in emissions, it looks like the peak is not yet in sight,” said Professor Corinne Le Quere, from the University of East Anglia, who led the analysis. “To limit global warming to the Paris agreement goal of 1.5C, CO2 emissions would need to decline by 50 per cent by 2030 and reach net zero by around 2050. “We are a long way from this and much more needs to be done because if countries stick to the commitments they have already made, we are on track to see 3C of global warming.”
Russiagate’s core allegations—US-Russian collusion, treason—all remain unproven. Yet they have become a central part of the new Cold War. If nothing else, they severely constrain President Donald Trump’s capacity to conduct crisis negotiations with Moscow while they further vilify Russian President Vladimir Putin for having, it is widely asserted, personally ordered “an attack on America” during the 2016 presidential campaign. Some Hollywood liberals had earlier omitted the question mark, declaring, “We are at war.” In October 2018, the would-be titular head of the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton, added her voice to this reckless allegation, flatly stating that the United States was “attacked by a foreign power” and equating it with “the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.”
Clinton may have been prompted by another outburst of malpractice by The New York Times and The Washington Post. On September 20 and 23, respectively, those exceptionally influential papers devoted thousands of words, illustrated with sinister prosecutorial graphics, to special retellings of the Russiagate narrative they had assiduously promoted for nearly two years, along with the narrative’s serial fallacies, selective and questionable history, and factual errors. Again, for example, the now-infamous Paul Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign chairman for several months in 2016, was said to have been “pro-Kremlin” during his time as a lobbyist for Ukraine under then-President Viktor Yanukovych, when in fact he was pro–European Union.
Again, Trump’s disgraced national-security adviser, Gen. Michael Flynn, was accused of “troubling” contacts when he did nothing wrong or unprecedented in having conversations with a Kremlin representative on behalf of President-elect Trump. Again, the two papers criminalized the idea, as the Times put it, that “the United States and Russia should look for areas of mutual interest,” once the premise of détente. And again, the Times, while assuring readers that its “Special Report” is “what we now know with certainty,” buried a related acknowledgment deep in its some 10,000 words: “No public evidence has emerged showing that [Trump’s] campaign conspired with Russia.”
For many Robert Mueller watchers, the air these days is electric. People sense the big shoes are about to drop. Donald Trump has submitted his written answers to Mueller’s questions. Paul Manafort has entered a plea agreement, but then continued to lie—at least according to Mueller. Jerome Corsi, fringe-right author and personality, is vowing to go to jail for life rather than sign on to Mueller’s version of events. Roger Stone is expecting to be indicted for something. So is Donald Trump Jr. And, most significant of all to those looking for a big payoff, Michael Cohen has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the timeline of a deal he was trying to make to construct a 100-story Trump-branded tower in Moscow.
It turns out that the deal exploration continued past the time Trump had secured the Republican nomination, and Cohen and his associate Felix Sater, a real-estate promoter and one-time racketeer, had even discussed giving Vladimir Putin a $50 million penthouse in the building. “This is it,” people are saying. “This is the big one!” But, with all due reverence to the deity Ganesha, why? We see the familiar cycle of hype, and there’s no use fighting it, but, once heart rates have slowed, the same old question remains: so what? Some of the news, such as a Guardian story that Manafort met three times with Julian Assange, seems to be based on nothing at all. But even the solid news turns out to be generally non-earth-shattering.
As the journalist Aaron Maté has been pointing out, we already knew the timeline of Cohen’s Moscow efforts, because BuzzFeed had already detailed them in May, painting a picture of a bumbling duo getting high on their own supply. (As for the latest revelations, did Sater and Cohen really think a president of Russia would move into a free $50 million penthouse provided by a U.S. presidential candidate? You have to wonder if they were hitting each other on the head with bricks.) Those who hope that Mueller reveals a shambolic operation with a lot of rascals engaged in sleazy and embarrassing behavior will be happy with the fruits of his labors. But those who hope for an unveiling of indictments linking Putin and Trump in a grand conspiracy have no more reason to celebrate than they did a week or a month ago.
Elon Musk’s cringe-inducing Twitter meltdown, the rise and fall of bitcoin, and the record-breaking oil plunge — for some 2018 can’t end soon enough. But be careful for what you wish for as the bear that has rampaged through the stock market is expected to return in the new year, according to one Wall Street strategist. “The Rolling Bear market is now better understood by the consensus; and more importantly, it is better priced, with forward price/earnings falling 18% from peak to trough. In short, while 90% of the price damage has been done by this bear, we’ve likely only served 50% of the time,” said Mike Wilson, an equity strategist at Morgan Stanley, in a note to clients.
Wilson was among the handful of market watchers to predict the recent market wipeout even as stocks were trading at record levels. “The Rolling Bear is tired from all the mauling he has done this year. However, he is likely just resting rather than hibernating,” he said. ”The final leg of this bear likely won’t come until numbers are reduced for 2019, although that should feel a lot less painful than the multiple compression stage we experienced in 2018.” The S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average are poised to close out November in the red as worries about tighter liquidity resulting from the Federal Reserve’s interest-rate hikes and a trade war with China triggered an exodus from stocks.
A federal regulator has raised the dollar amount of home loans that qualify for backing by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two giant government-sponsored enterprises. In 2019, the maximum conforming loan limit will be $484,350, the Federal Housing Finance Agency said Tuesday. That’s up 6.9% from the 2018 maximum of $453,100. The change is based on the rate of change in home prices between the third quarter of 2017 and third quarter of 2018, as measured by FHFA’s House Price Index. But in higher-priced areas, loan limits are capped at 150% of the baseline $484,350. That means Fannie and Freddie will guarantee loans up to $726,525 in roughly 100 higher-cost counties.
Raising the dollar limit on Fannie- and Freddie-backed loans is one way of lubricating the mortgage market. If banks or other lenders can sell bigger mortgages to the enterprises, that makes it easier for them to keep lending. In turn, that makes it easier for would-be buyers to find financing that is generally more advantageous than other types of mortgages, like those backed by the Federal Housing Administration. But it also increases the risk to taxpayers. Fannie and Freddie operate with only a slim capital reserve, as the result of a 2012 directive from Congress that was patched over late in 2017. The update was owed to an agreement between FHFA Director Mel Watt and the U.S. Treasury even as they continue to guarantee between 40%-50% of new mortgages. That means that in any given quarter, either company is at risk of having to take taxpayer money.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday kept up his criticism of Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, saying rising interest rates and other Fed policies were damaging the U.S. economy, the Washington Post said. “So far, I’m not even a little bit happy with my selection of Jay,” the Post quoted Trump as saying in an interview, referring to the man he picked last year to lead the Fed. “Not even a little bit. And I’m not blaming anybody, but I’m just telling you I think that the Fed is way off-base with what they’re doing.”
In recent months, the Republican president has repeatedly criticized Powell and the Fed’s interest rate increases that he said was making it more expensive for his administration to finance its escalating deficits. Trump has called the Fed “crazy” and “ridiculous.” “I’m doing deals, and I’m not being accommodated by the Fed,” Trump told the Post on Tuesday. “They’re making a mistake because I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me.”
Joint defense agreements are common and fully legal, but the NY Times labels this one “highly unusual”. Summarized: Mueller was outflanked, though he could/should have known, and Manafort may be relying on a pardon.
One day after Special Counsel Robert Mueller said that Paul Manafort had lied and violated his plea agreement with Federal prosecutors, and as a result should be sentenced immediately, the NYT has reported that in a “highly unusual” arrangement, a lawyer for Paul Manafort had repeatedly briefed president Trump’s lawyer on what he told Mueller and other federal investigators after he agreed to cooperate with the special counsel. While the arrangement is not illegal, it reportedly inflamed tensions with the special counsel’s office when prosecutors discovered it after Mr. Manafort began “cooperating” two months ago, with some legal experts speculating that Manafort’s backdoor cooperation with Trump’s legal team was a bid by Trump’s former campaign chair for a presidential pardon even as he worked with Mueller in hopes of a lighter sentence.
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani acknowledged the arrangement to the NYT, and “defended it as a source of valuable insights into the special counsel’s inquiry and where it was headed.” Such information could help shape a legal defense strategy, and it also appeared to give Mr. Trump and his legal advisers ammunition in their public relations campaign against Mr. Mueller’s office. As an example of what Manafort told the Trump legal team, Giuliani said, Manafort’s lawyer Kevin Downing told him that prosecutors hammered away at whether the president knew about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting where Russians promised to deliver damaging information on Hillary Clinton to his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr, although this line of investigation is hardly a surprise. Trump has long denied knowing about the meeting in advance, with Giuliani saying that Mueller “wants Manafort to incriminate Trump.”
What is notable is that this kind of joint defense agreement is legal, and while Downing’s discussions with the president’s team violated no laws, they helped contribute to a deteriorating relationship between lawyers for Manafort and Mueller’s prosecutors, who on Monday accused Manafort of holding out on them and even lying, despite his pledge to assist them in any matter they deemed relevant. As a result of the collapse of the plea deal, Manafort will now face sentencing on two conspiracy charges and eight counts of financial fraud — crimes that could put him behind bars for at least 10 years. Just as importantly, Manafort’s frequent updates helped reassure Trump’s legal team that Manafort had not implicated the president in any possible wrongdoing, which begs the question just how was Manafort “cooperating” with Mueller for two whole months.
Greenwald: “The Guardian itself “obtained the Embassy’s visitors logs in May,” and made no mention of Manafort’s visits at the time..”
Excuse me, but Greenwald and others do Luke Harding and the Guardian far too much honor by going into the details. The guy wrote a book called ‘Collusion’ for Pete’s sake. he does smear and hit pieces on Assange for a living. WikiLeaks is dead on when it says “Remember this day when the Guardian permitted a serial fabricator to totally destroy the paper’s reputation..”
Only, Harding and Guardian have published at least a dozen other stories of the same ‘level’. That reputation should be long gone. It’s not. Matrix.
The Guardian today published a blockbuster, instantly viral story claiming that anonymous sources told the newspaper that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort visited Julian Assange at least three times in the Ecuadorian Embassy, “in 2013, 2015 and in spring 2016.” The article – from lead reporter Luke Harding, who has a long-standing and vicious personal feud with WikiLeaks and is still promoting his book titled “Collusion: How Russia Helped Trump Win the White House” – presents no evidence, documents or other tangible proof to substantiate its claim, and it is deliberately vague on a key point: whether any of these alleged visits happened once Manafort was managing Trump’s campaign.
For its part, WikiLeaks vehemently and unambiguously denies the claim. “Remember this day when the Guardian permitted a serial fabricator to totally destroy the paper’s reputation,” the organization tweeted, adding: “WikiLeaks is willing to bet the Guardian a million dollars and its editor’s head that Manafort never met Assange.” The group also predicted: “This is going to be one of the most infamous news disasters since Stern published the ‘Hitler Diaries.’ [..] Of course it is possible that Manafort visited Assange – either on the dates the Guardian claims or at other times – but since the Guardian presents literally no evidence for the reader to evaluate, relying instead on a combination of an anonymous source and a secret and bizarrely vague intelligence document it claims it reviewed (but does not publish), no rational person would assume this story to be true.
But the main point is this one: London itself is one of the world’s most surveilled, if not the most surveilled, cities. And the Ecuadorian Embassy in that city – for obvious reasons – is one of the most scrutinized, surveilled, monitored and filmed locations on the planet.
Entirely in the vein of my article yesterday about people living in the Matrix, we need to ponder that outlets like the Guardian no longer care about their credibility, but instead rely on people swallowing whole anything they say, today about Manafort, Assange and Russian aggression, tomorrow about other topics. That is plenty scary.
Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort has responded to a “totally false and deliberately libelous” report in The Guardian that he had several meetings with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. In a Tuesday afternoon statement through a spokesman, Manafort said: “This story is totally false and deliberately libelous. I have never met Julian Assange or anyone connected to him. I have never been contacted by anyone connected to Wikileaks, either directly or indirectly. I have never reached out to Assange or Wikileaks on any matter. We are considering all legal options against the Guardian who proceeded with this story even after being notified by my representatives that it was false.”
The Guardian reported on Tuesday – based on unnamed sources – that Manafort held secret talks with Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, right around the time he joined Trump’s campaign. “Sources have said Manafort went to see Assange in 2013, 2015 and in spring 2016 – during the period when he was made a key figure in Trump’s push for the White House. It is unclear why Manafort wanted to see Assange and what was discussed. But the last meeting is likely to come under scrutiny and could interest Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor who is investigating alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. A well-placed source has told the Guardian that Manafort went to see Assange around March 2016. Months later WikiLeaks released a stash of Democratic emails stolen by Russian intelligence officers.” -The Guardian
Ukraine has been offered “military assistance” by the US amid rising tension with Russia, the country’s president Petro Poroshenko has claimed. America’s secretary of state Mike Pompeo, had assured him in a phone call that his country, had the “full support, full assistance, including military assistance, full coordination, what we [need] to do to protect Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity”, Mr Poroshenko said. Addressing a suggestion that Donald Trump had been slow to back Ukraine over the stand-off, the Ukrainian leader told CNN host Christiane Amanpour, that the president “in his speech, also supported Ukrainian territorial integrity and [has] been on our side” The US president had earlier said: “We do not like what’s happening either way. We don’t like what’s happening, and hopefully it will get straightened out.”
Ukraine’s top diplomat in Germany urged Berlin and other Western states to punish Russia by extending sanctions, banning energy imports and putting the NordStream 2 gas pipeline on hold after Moscow seized three Ukrainian ships near Crimea. The ambassador even raised the possibility of sending German marines to the region. Several senior European politicians have raised the possibility of new sanctions against Russia after the incident on Sunday, which the West fears could ignite a wider conflict near Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. “Germany must take a clear line … and put (Russian President Vladimir) Putin in his place,” ambassador Andrij Melnyk told German radio on Wednesday. “Everything is at stake.”
“The club of sanctions should be wielded quickly …. There should be a complete ban on gas and oil imports from Russia, NordStream 2 must be put on ice,” he said, adding only such measures could stop Putin’s “brutal, hoooligan-like” behavior. Ukraine is already nervous about the prospect of the NordStream 2 pipeline which increases Europe’s reliance on Russian gas, fearing it will lose out on transit revenues. “In military terms, what can you do? Sending German marines to the coast of Crimea … could help stop an escalation. If you are there, Russians have fewer possibilities to act so brutally,” he said.
A day after the Ukrainian parliament voted to introduce martial law across 10 border regions, there was little clarity about what it would actually mean in practice. With parts of the government on different pages, and the introduction of measures that could cover most aspects of life, even family, some areas of the country bordered on panic mode. In the southern city of Odessa, there were rumours of forced mobilisation, though these turned out to be false. In other cities across the region, shortages of foreign currency were reported. The text of the law eventually voted on was considerably watered down from the edict originally presented by President Petro Poroshenko on Monday afternoon.
That contained provisions for a state of martial law lasting 60 days across the whole country. By logical extension, that would have meant delaying next March’s presidential elections, a point that caused uproar among the opposition. The eventual compromise saw a commitment to fix the date of the elections, the duration reduced to 30 days, and the zone of coverage reduced to 10 border regions. The Independent understands that these concessions were made only at the last moment, and the vote would not have passed without them. In the text agreed by the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, the state of martial law was due to start on Wednesday morning at 9am local time.
But on Tuesday morning, the secretary of the national security council, Oleksandr Turchynov, said that a state of martial law was already in effect. To make matters even more complicated, the Government Courier, the state newspaper where all laws are published, printed a version of the original law, including provisions for 60 days of restrictions across all of Ukraine. [..] in the 10 border regions at least, the law potentially has a very wide scope. The presidential amendments introduce few restrictions on the overarching 2015 legislation covering martial law. In other words, it allows for extrajudicial searches of property, travel bans, closing media deemed against national interests, bans on rallies and demonstrations, limitations on private correspondence and communications, and even introducing limitations on education, private and family life.
Philip Hammond has admitted that the UK will be worse off “in pure economic terms” under all possible Brexit outcomes – including the prime minister’s own deal. Speaking on Wednesday morning, the chancellor gave strong hints the government had begun its contingency planning should it lose the vote in parliament on Theresa May’s Brexit deal negotiated with the EU. The latest Guardian analysis suggests 94 Tory MPs have confirmed they will vote against the deal, with numbers likely to tip into three figures in the coming days. Hammond suggested the economic hit would be mitigated if the deal was clinched, rather than the UK leaving with no deal.
Asked if all scenarios would have a cost, Hammond said: “If you look at this purely from an economic point of view, yes there will be a cost to leaving the European Union because there will be impediments to our trade.” Hammond said the deal would “absolutely minimise those costs” and would offer political benefits of being able to sign new trade deals and having new controls over fishing waters. “The economy will be slightly smaller in the prime minister’s preferred version,” he said. He said if the government loses the vote in parliament on 11 December, it would be in “uncharted political territory”. More than half of backbench Tory MPs who are not on the government payroll have committed to voting down the deal.
Ukraine verges on martial law after a naval incident with Russian ships in the waters off Crimea. Say what? Martial Law? They might as well declare a Chinese Fire Drill. Details of the actual incident around the Kerch Strait between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov remain murky besides the fact that two Ukrainian gunships and a tug disobeyed orders from Russian ships to stand down in Russian maritime waters and shots were fired. Who knew that Ukraine even had a navy, and how can they possibly pay for it? But now NATO is trying to get into the act, meaning the USA will get dragged into just the sort unnecessary and idiotic dispute that kicks off world wars.
Note to the Golden Golem of Greatness (aka Mr. Trump): this dog-fight is none of our goddam business. Russia, meanwhile, asked the UN Security Council to convene over this, which is the correct response. What could go wrong? Late Monday update: I’ve heard reports this afternoon that Russia had intel Ukrainian ships were transporting an explosive device supplied by NATO which they suspected was intended to be deployed to blow up the strategic bridge across the Kerch Strait. Still unconfirmed chatter. Developing story….
Yesterday, about five hundred Central American migrants rushed the border at Tijuana. The US Border Patrol tear-gassed them and they backed off. Bad optics for those trying to make the case for open borders. Naturally, The New York Times portrayed this as an assault on families, defaulting to their stock sob story, though the mob assembling down there is overwhelmingly composed of young men. Complicating matters, a new Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, takes over next Saturday, a Left-wing populist and enemy of Trumpismo. Tijuana is now choking on the thousands of wanderers who were induced to march north to test America’s broken immigration policies. What could go wrong?
The engine pulling that choo-choo train of grievance is Robert Mueller’s Russian Collusion investigation. I expect him to produce mighty rafts of charges against Mr. Trump, his family and associates, and anyone who ever received so much as a souvenir mug from his 2016 campaign. But I doubt that any of it will have a bearing on Russian election “meddling.” And in that case, the charges will be met by counter-charges of an illegitimate investigation, meaning welcome to that constitutional crisis we’ve been hearing about for two years. That’s a mild way of describing anything from a disorderly impeachment to troops in the American streets. What could go wrong there?
The recent stampede by investors has erased about $5 trillion in value from global stock and bond markets in October alone. But that shouldn’t be severe enough to affect the economy, for now, according to economists at Deutsche Bank. Still, unless the markets regain their footing soon, the pressure for the Federal Reserve to reassess their monetary policy will continue to mount, they said. “Academic studies of the wealth effect find that households and companies don’t react to short-term fluctuations in their wealth but instead react to a moving average of where their wealth levels are,” said Torsten Slok, chief international economist at Deutsche Bank Securities, said in a note to clients.
As the chart below illustrates, global markets shed roughly $5 trillion in market cap just this month, but the total value of equity and debt markets has increased $15 trillion from 2017. “The bottom line is that we need a more significant correction before it will begin to have a meaningful impact on the economic outlook,” he said. The Fed said wages and prices are rising in its 12 districts and overall economic activity expanded at a “modest to moderate” pace, according to the Beige Book released on Wednesday. The report, which compiles anecdotal observations about the economy, by and large suggests that the Fed is likely to stay on course to execute its fourth rate rise of 2018 in December and deliver additional increases next year unless there is a more dramatic unwind in the financial markets.
[..] The sharp selloff this month has prompted at least one market expert to suggest that stocks are in the midst of a sustained downward spiral. “With the S&P 500 only five weeks removed from its all-time high, we’ve not been definitive about labeling this move a new cyclical bear market. But it’s very likely we are experiencing one,” said Doug Ramsey, chief investment officer at Leuthold Group, in a report.
Stocks fell sharply on Friday as investors slogged through another volatile session on Wall Street. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed 296.24 points lower at 24,688.31 after dropping 539 points at its lows of the day. The Nasdaq Composite dropped 2.1 percent to 7,167.21. At its lows, the tech-heavy Nasdaq had fallen more than 3 percent. The S&P 500 fell 1.7 percent to 2,658.69 and briefly entered into correction territory, trading more than 10 percent below its record high reached in September. The average stock market correction, since WWII, results in a 13 percent drop and lasts for four months if it does not turn into a full-fledged bear market. Larry Benedict, CEO of The Opportunistic Trader, said traders “don’t want to be long heading into the weekend.”
He added, “S&P now down on the year and people are more afraid to be long today than they were when market was 10 percent higher.” Seven of the 11 S&P 500 sectors are down at least 10 percent from their 52-week highs, including energy, materials and financials. Around three quarters of the index’s stocks are also in a correction. “The 19.7 percent correction in 2011 is as close to a bear market as we’ve had in recent years. I don’t think we’ll get close to that, but I think we’re heading for a deeper correction than the one we had in January and early February,” said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA Research. He noted investors are realizing that earnings growth will slow down moving forward, thus they are pricing this in.
Easy come, easy go: Jeff Bezos’ fortune dropped by $11 billion on Friday, a day after Amazon came out with quarterly results that fell short of the mark. Shares of the e-commerce behemoth fell almost 8% on Friday, swiftly knocking some $70 billion off the company’s market capitalization. The selloff also dragged down the broader market, which has been flirting with correction territory this week. Bezos’ net worth fell in lockstep, dropping by $11 billion to $135.8 billion. That is down from the $160 billion he was worth as of mid-September. Bezos, who owns 16% of Amazon, is still by far the richest man on the planet. He is trailed by Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates, whose fortune clocks in at $94.8 billion.
Amazon, which briefly became the second U.S. company to fetch a $1 trillion valuation in September, shared third quarter results on Thursday that failed to live up to the high expectations that investors and Wall Street have come to adopt. Sales rose by 29% to $56.6 billion in the third quarter. However, that was a far cry from the $73.9 billion that analysts had projected. Amazon also told investors to brace for a slower holiday season. It expects revenue to grow just 10% to 20% in the fourth quarter, reaching $72.5 billion at most. That would make for Amazon’s worst holiday season since 2014. For the last three straight years it has boasted sales increases of more than 20% during the fourth quarter.
President Donald Trump’s new pledge to crack down on “the global freeloading” in prescription drugs had a sense of déjà vu. Five months ago, Trump unveiled a blueprin to address prohibitive drug prices, and his administration has been feverishly rolling out ideas ranging from posting drug prices on television ads to changing the rebates that flow between drugmakers and industry middlemen. Thursday, Trump proposed having Medicare base what it pays for some expensive drugs on the average prices in other industrialized countries, such as France and Germany, where prices are much lower. The proposal is in the early stages of rule-making and awaiting public comments. The U.S., Trump said, will “confront one of the most unfair practices, almost unimaginable that it hasn’t been taken care of long before this.”
The proposal was met with hope and skepticism, with several experts saying they were happy the administration was taking on Medicare Part B’s rising drug prices but questioning its approach. Walid Gellad, director of the Center for Pharmaceutical Policy and Prescribing at the University of Pittsburgh, said in an online post that the administration’s proposed solutions were unclear. And, he said, they would “face insurmountable challenges.” While some industry watchers pointed to the announcement as a political move, Wells Fargo pharmaceutical analyst David Maris said that this is a broader effort by the president and his administration to attack the root causes of high drug prices. “The reality is he could very easily not take this on and do what other administrations have done and let the prices keep rising.”
Sweden’s Riksbank has become the first central bank in the 21st century to take concrete measures to ensure that cash does not disappear as a means of payment from the financial system. To that end, the Riksbank proposes, in a document published on its website, to make it mandatory for all banks and financial institutions to offer cash services. The pronouncement comes in response to a recent policy suggestion by the Riksbank Committee that only the country’s six major banks should be obligated to continue offering cash services. That prompted a backlash from Sweden’s competition watchdog, which argued that the plan would distort competition as it would affect only a few of the nation’s banks. In response, the Riksbank has opted to apply the rule to “all banks and other credit institutions that offer payment accounts.”
[..] For years, the government and the Riksbank have been pushing for a “cashless society.” The Riksbank has over 1,000 articles posted on its website on the “cashless society“. The emphasis worked: between 2013 and 2017, the amount of cash in circulation dropped by 35%, earning Sweden a reputation as the world’s “most cashless nation”:
Many of Sweden’s bank branches had stopped handling cash altogether. Now, they will have to begin doing so all over again. Many of them are not happy about it. Nor indeed are Sweden’s competition and financial watchdogs, which both oppose the proposal, arguing that access to cash should be the sole responsibility of the state and not private banks. “To secure access to cash is a collective good that the state should reasonably be responsible for,” the Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority said. It’s an opinion that’s shared by ATM provider Bankomat, which argued that it should be the state’s responsibility to ensure that citizens have access to cash since the handing of notes and coins is such an important — and expensive — part of a country’s infrastructure. Bankomat is jointly owned by the five largest banks in Sweden.
The FBI is reviewing Tesla’s Model 3 production numbers as part of an ongoing criminal probe into whether the company misled investors, according to a Wall Street Journal report published Friday. Federal agents are reviewing Tesla’s stated Model 3 numbers dating back to early 2017, the Journal reports, citing unnamed sources. Tesla had previously said it provided documents to the Department of Justice regarding CEO Elon Musk’s controversial take-private tweet — a blunder that ultimately cost Tesla and Musk a combined $40 million in fraud settlement fees. Now Tesla says it also provided information to the Department of Justice regarding Musk’s public statements regarding production numbers of its Model 3 sedan.
Tesla says the company has not received “a subpoena, a request for testimony, or any other formal process,” but the Journal reported Friday that former Tesla employees have received subpoenas and requests for testimony. Tesla struggled to ramp up Model 3 production as promised, plagued by factory issues and reports of unfit working conditions. Musk set lofty goals and insisted on sticking to them, according to countless media reports. Federal agents are probing whether the company knowingly made public statements of impossible production goals, the Journal reported.
Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said he and US Senator Bernie Sanders will in a month formally launch a left-wing counterpart to the nationalist movement being forged by Steve Bannon. A Sanders-Varoufakis team-up was suggested in an recent op-ed by the Greek economist published by the Guardian. The formal creation of Progressives International is to happen in Sanders’ home state of Vemont on November 30, Varoufakis announced during a press conference in Rome on Friday. Varoufakis, who led tough negotiation with European lenders in 2015 before resigning after Athens agreed to EU’s austerity terms, says the world today is facing a crisis of leadership similar to what Europe saw in the 1930s.
With the establishment failing the common people, populist nationalist forces are rising to power, offering quick and simple solutions to problems like social inequality, loss of jobs to countries with cheaper labor and mass migration. Steven Bannon, the former strategist for the Donald Trump 2016 campaign, is currently trying to unite such right-wing forces in various nations into a global movement. For Varoufakis figures like Bannon, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, Hungarian President Viktor Orban and others pose a threat similar to the fascist movements of the 1930s, according to his Guardian op-ed. He and potential allies like Sanders or UK’s Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn can offer an alternative way out of the crisis, he believes.
But if they are to succeed in a struggle for power against both the globalist establishment and the nationalists, they need to unite across borders. “The financiers are internationalists. The fascists, the nationalists, the racists – like Trump, Bannon, [German Interior Minister Horst] Seehofer, Salvini — they are internationalists,” Varoufakis told BuzzFeed News. “They bind together. The only people who are failing are progressives.”
Mexico has offered temporary work permits to migrants who register for asylum, as a big caravan of Central American migrants makes its way through the country toward the US. The plan also envisages temporary ID cards, medical care and schooling. But to qualify, migrants must remain in Mexico’s southern Chiapas and Oaxaca states. The US has warned that about 800 troops may be sent to the US-Mexico border to stop the migrant caravan. “I am bringing out the military for this National Emergency,” US President Donald Trump said earlier this week. “They [migrants] will be stopped!” The president also threatened cutting aid to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The caravan set off from Honduras several weeks ago.
The scheme, announced by President Peña Nieto, covers Central Americans who have officially asked for a refugee status in Mexico or are planning to do so in the nearest future. It is called Estas en Tu Casa (“This is Your Home” in Spanish). “Today, Mexico extends you its hand,” President Nieto said. But he added: “This plan is only for those who comply with Mexican laws, and it’s a first step towards a permanent solution for those who are granted refugee status in Mexico.” The plan envisages: • Temporary ID cards and work permits • Medical care • Schooling for migrants’ children • Housing in local hostels. But President Nieto failed to explain what would happen to the migrants if they chose to carry on regardless.
A new group of “concerned citizens” is planning a campaign of mass civil disobedience starting next month and promises it has hundreds of people – from teenagers to pensioners – ready to get arrested in an effort to draw attention to the unfolding climate emergency. The group, called Extinction Rebellion, is today backed by almost 100 senior academics from across the UK, including the former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. In a letter published in the Guardian they say the failure of politicians to tackle climate breakdown and the growing extinction crisis means “the ‘social contract’ has been broken … [and] it is therefore not only our right, but our moral duty to bypass the government’s inaction and flagrant dereliction of duty, and to rebel to defend life itself.”
Those behind Extinction Rebellion say almost 500 people have signed up to be arrested and that they plan to bring large sections of London to a standstill next month in a campaign of peaceful mass civil disobedience – culminating with a sit-in protest in Parliament Square on 17 November. Roger Hallam, one of the founders of the campaign, said it was calling on the government to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025 and establish a “citizens assembly” to devise an emergency plan of action similar to that seen during the second world war. On top of the specific demands, Hallam said he hoped the campaign of “respectful disruption” would change the debate around climate breakdown and signal to those in power that the present course of action will lead to disaster.
“The planet is in ecological crisis – we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction event this planet has experienced,” he said. “Children alive today in the UK will face the terrible consequences of inaction, from floods to wildfires, extreme weather to crop failures and the inevitable breakdown of society. We have a duty to act.”
The Trump administration unlawfully withdrew a plan to limit the number of whales, turtles and other marine creatures permitted to be inadvertently killed or harmed by drift gillnets used to catch swordfish off California, a federal judge has ruled. The decision requires U.S. fisheries managers to take steps to implement the plan, which calls for placing numerical limits on the “bycatch” of bottlenose dolphins, four whale species and four sea turtle species snared in swordfish gillnets. As currently written, the regulation in question also would mandate suspension of swordfish gillnet operations altogether off Southern California if any one of the bycatch limits were exceeded.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council endorsed the plan in 2015, and it was formally proposed for implementation by the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service the following year. The rule was expected to gain final approval but was abruptly withdrawn instead in June 2017 under President Donald Trump, whose Commerce Department determined the cost to the commercial fishing industry outweighed conservation benefits. The environmental group Oceana sued, accusing the Commerce Department of violating U.S. fisheries laws and the federal Administrative Procedures Act. Oceana also asked the courts to order the agency to put the bycatch limits into effect.
U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner declined to force the National Marine Fisheries Service to immediately implement the restrictions in a decision handed down Wednesday in Los Angeles. But he sided with environmentalists in finding the agency’s reversal exceeded its authority and was “arbitrary, capricious or an abuse of its discretion.”
John Hussman, president of Hussman Investment Trust, describes himself as an economist, a philanthropist, and a “realist optimist often viewed as a prophet of doom” on his Twitter profile. That last bit may be the one investors care about on Monday as the stock market shows signs of unraveling on the back of the tech sector’s stumble. Hussman’s claim to fame includes forecasting the market collapses of 2000 and 2007-2008. Since then, however, he’s also become known as a permabear for his repeated calls for sharp stock market declines and his oft-repeated mantra of “overbought, overvalued, overbullish” as the bull market continues into its ninth year by some measures. Hussman says he’s learned from and addressed past errors.
In his most recent call, he argued that measured “from their highs of early-2018, we presently estimate that the completion of the current cycle will result in market losses on the order of -64% for the S&P 500 index, -57% for the Nasdaq-100 Index, -68% for the Russell 2000 index, and nearly -69% for the Dow Jones Industrial Average.” He admits the numbers seem extreme but says they are backed up what he refers to as the “Iron Law of Valuation.” “The higher the price investors pay for a given set of expected future cash flows, the lower the long-term investment returns they should expect. As a result, it’s precisely when past investment returns look most glorious that future investment returns are likely to be most dismal, and vice versa,” he writes.
The U.S. stock market has been partying all throughout July, and a hangover is coming. That is according to analysts at Morgan Stanley, who said that Wall Street’s rally is showing signs of “exhaustion,” and that with major positive catalysts for trading now in the rearview mirror, there’s little that could continue to propel equities higher. “With Amazon’s strong quarter out of the way, and a very strong 2Q GDP number on the tape, investors were finally faced with the proverbial question of ’what do I have to look forward to now?’ The selling started slowly, built steadily, and left the biggest winners of the year down the most. The bottom line for us is that we think the selling has just begun and this correction will be biggest since the one we experienced in February,” the investment bank wrote to clients.
The decline “could very well have a greater negative impact on the average portfolio if it’s centered on tech, consumer discretionary and small-caps, as we expect.” A correction is technically defined as a decline of at least 10% from a recent peak. Both the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA and the S&P 500 corrected in early February, on concerns that inflation was returning to markets. While the Dow remains in correction territory—meaning it hasn’t yet risen 10% from its low of the pullback—the S&P exited just last week, following its longest stint in correction territory since 1984. The Nasdaq Composite Index never fell into correction.
America’s funding needs are starting to grow at a dangerous pace. Even before the NYT reported of Trump’s startling suggestion of a further $100 billion tax cut in the form of an inflation-adjusted capital gains tax cost basis which mostly benefits the wealthy, earlier today the U.S. Treasury said it expects to borrow $56 billion more during the third quarter than previously estimated, while market participants expect shorter-dated Treasuries to absorb the brunt of the new supply as the Trump administration grapples with a mushrooming budget deficit.
In the Treasury’s latest quarterly Sources and Uses table, it revealed that it expects to issue $329 billion in net marketable debt from July through September, and $56 billion more than the $273 billion estimated three months ago, in April. assuming an end-of-September cash balance of $350 billion, matching its previous estimate. It also forecast $440 billion of borrowing in the final three months of the year, with a $390 billion cash balance on December 31. The borrowing estimate for the third quarter is the highest since the same period in 2010 and the fourth largest on record for the July-September quarter, according to Reuters. In the second quarter, net borrowing totaled $72 billion, slightly below the earlier prediction of $75 billion.
The US fiscal picture continues to darken as a result of rising social security costs, military spending and debt service expenses while corporate tax income is declining after last year’s tax reforms. As a result, the federal budget deficit is expected to reach $833 billion this year, up from $666 billion in the budget year ended last September, a number that is well below the net funding demands for the US Treasury. The new projections put total net borrowing at $769 billion for the second half of 2018 and a whopping $1.33 trillion for the whole year.
November 2018 will mark the tenth anniversary of quantitative easing (QE) — undoubtedly the boldest policy experiment in the modern history of central banking. The only thing comparable to QE was the US Federal Reserve’s anti-inflation campaign of 1979-1980, orchestrated by the Fed’s then-chair, Paul Volcker. But that earlier effort entailed a major adjustment in interest rates via conventional monetary policy. By contrast, the Fed’s QE balance-sheet adjustments were unconventional and, therefore, untested from the start.
[..] The most important lesson pertains to traction — the link between Fed policy and its congressionally mandated objectives of maximum employment and price stability. On this count, the verdict on QE is mixed: The first tranche (QE1) was very successful in arresting a wrenching financial crisis in 2009. But the subsequent rounds (QE2 and QE3) were far less effective. The Fed mistakenly believed that what worked during the crisis would work equally well afterwards. An unprecedentedly weak economic recovery – roughly 2% annual growth over the past nine-plus years, versus a 4% norm in earlier cycles – says otherwise. Whatever the reason for the anemic recovery – a Japanese-like post-crisis balance-sheet recession or a 1930s style liquidity trap – the QE payback was disappointing.
From September 2008 to November 2014, successive QE programs added $3.6 trillion to the Fed’s balance sheet, nearly 25% more than the $2.9 trillion expansion of nominal GDP over the same period. A comparable assessment of disappointing interest-rate effects is reflected in recent “event studies” research that calls into question the link between QE and ten-year Treasury yields. A second lesson speaks to addiction – namely, a real economy that became overly reliant on QE’s support of asset markets. The excess liquidity spawned by the Fed’s balance-sheet expansion not only spilled over into equity markets, but also provided support for the bond market. As such, monetary policy, rather than market-based fundamentals, increasingly shaped asset prices.
David Stockman estimates the great GOP tax cut heist will increase the federal debt to around $35 trillion by 2028. Most discretionary US spending goes for militarism, war-making, corporate welfare, and police state harshness. According to Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF), the fruits of last year’s great GOP tax cut heist were as follows: 4.3% of workers got wage hikes or bonuses – 6.7 million out of 155 million. Only a handful of employers provided them so far – 407 out of 5.9 million. Corporate predators are getting 11-fold as much in tax breaks as they’re giving workers in extra pay and bonuses – $77 billion v. $7 billion.
Corporate predators are spending 88 times the amount on stock buybacks as on worker wage hikes and bonuses – $7 billion v. $617 billion. Trump’s highly touted “middle class miracle” was a colossal Big Lie. It’s been a bonanza for corporate predators, high net-worth households, and real estate tycoons like himself – a scam for ordinary Americans. It’s ballooning the deficit, social benefits being slashed to help pay for it, a clearly transparent wealth transfer scheme. Economists know tax cuts don’t create jobs and stimulate growth unless benefits help workers substantially. When money is in the pockets of ordinary people, they spend it, best accomplished through higher wages, at least keeping pace with inflation.
Post-9/11, America has been thirdworldized to benefit corporate predators and high net-worth individuals at the expense of working households. Ordinary Americans have been scammed to make privileged ones richer. Separately, according to Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF), healthcare insurers intend instituting huge premium increases in 2019. They’ll range from around 12% to a whopping 91% requested by a Maryland insurer.
Britain’s credit card fuelled spending binge continues apace, according to the latest figures from the Bank of England. Lending via plastic rose by an annualised 9.5 in June, outpacing other forms of unsecured credit (8.5 per cent). Mortgage lending, by contrast, ticked up by a more modest 3.2 per cent. The release of the figures followed a report by the Office for National Statistics that last week found UK consumers collectively spent more than they earned in 2017, the first time that has happened in almost 30 years. It looks like we’re due a repeat this year. How much of a worry is this? Regulators say most people can afford to repay what they have borrowed.
However, the Prudential Regulatory Authority, that oversees institutions’ financial soundness, last year undertook a review of consumer lending that resulted in what could be read as a shot across the industry’s bows. The Financial Conduct Authority, meanwhile, tweaked its rules in July, making it clear that it wanted lenders to asses not just whether consumers can repay what they have borrowed but whether they can do so “affordably and without this significantly affecting their wider financial situation”. It follows a speech in March by Jonathan Davidson, the watchdog’s director of supervision, in which he said that “a firm whose business model is predicated on selling products to customers who can’t afford to repay them is not acceptable, nor is it a sustainable long-term strategy”.
UK negotiators have told their counterparts in Brussels that about 7,000 European-based investment funds that rely on British clients for their cash and profits will be hit by regulators unless the EU changes its position on the City of London after Brexit. As frustration grows within Whitehall at what is seen as a dogmatic position taken by the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, the British side has upped the ante by making an implicit threat to EU interests. A section of a UK presentation made to the European commission’s negotiators last week, and seen by the Guardian, says that unless Brussels allows all UK sectors of the City of London to continue to operate after Brexit as they do today, at least initially, obstacles to European financial interests operating in the UK could also be put in place.
The British government says the EU’s “equivalence regime”, under which UK providers would have the right to offer financial services in the European economic area after Brexit, does not cover enough sectors or provide adequate assurances to UK-based banks and fund managers. The UK also wants equivalence decisions to be made collaboratively between Brussels and Whitehall on whether parts of the financial sector will be able to continue to operate across the Channel as regulations diverge after Brexit. As it stands, a declaration of equivalencecan be easily revoked with only 30 days’ notice under existing EU legislation. The EU is resisting, and insists it will not offer a bespoke deal on financial services. It says that what works for US financial services providers will have to work for the UK.
Donald Trump has said he would “certainly meet” Iranian president Hassan Rouhani without preconditions, a move that was later rejected by Trump’s own administration and one of Rouhani’s advisers. Speaking during a joint news conference with Italy’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, Trump said he would meet Iran “anytime they want to”. “I’ll meet with anybody,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with meeting.” Asked whether he would set any preconditions, Trump was clear. “No preconditions, no. If they want to meet, I’ll meet any time they want,” he said. “Good for the country, good for them, good for us and good for the world. No preconditions. If they want to meet, I’ll meet.”
Trump’s apparently spontaneous overture marked a significant shift in tone and follows escalating rhetoric in the wake of his dumping in May of the landmark Iran nuclear accord. The administration is set next month to begin reimposing sanctions that had been lifted under the 2015 deal and has been ratcheting up a pressure campaign on the Islamic republic that many suspect is aimed at regime change. After the comment, secretary of state Mike Pompeo appeared to contradict Trump, listing preconditions that had to be met first. He told CNBC on Monday: “If the Iranians demonstrate a commitment to make fundamental changes in how they treat their own people, reduce their malign behaviour, can agree that it’s worthwhile to enter in a nuclear agreement that actually prevents proliferation, then the president said he’s prepared to sit down and have a conversation with him,” he said.
I had served as First Secretary in the British Embassy in Poland, and bumped up startlingly against the history of the Holocaust in that time, including through involvement with organising the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. What had struck me most forcibly was the sheer scale of the Holocaust operation, the tens of thousands of people who had been complicit in administering it. I could never understand how that could happen – until I saw ordinary, decent people in the FCO facilitate extraordinary rendition and torture. Then I understood, for the first time, the banality of evil or, perhaps more precisely, the ubiquity of evil. Of course, I am not comparing the scale of what happened to the Holocaust – but evil can operate on different scales.
I believe I see it again today. I do not believe that the majority of journalists in the BBC, who pump out a continual stream of “Corbyn is an anti-semite” propaganda, believe in their hearts that Corbyn is a racist at all. They are just doing their job, which is to help the BBC avert the prospect of a radical government in the UK threatening the massive wealth share of the global elite. They would argue that they are just reporting what others say; but it is of course the selection of what they report and how they report it which reflect their agenda.
The truth, of which I am certain, is this. If there genuinely was the claimed existential threat to Jews in Britain, of the type which engulfed Europe’s Jews in the 1930’s, Jeremy Corbyn, Billy Bragg, Roger Waters and I may humbly add myself would be among the few who would die alongside them on the barricades, resisting. Yet these are today loudly called “anti-semites” for supporting the right to oppose the oppression of the Palestinians. The journalists currently promoting those accusations, if it came to the crunch, would be polishing state propaganda and the civil servants writing railway dockets. That is how it works. I have seen it. Close up.
The planet’s largest colony of king penguins has declined by nearly 90% in three decades, researchers have warned. The last time scientists set foot on France’s remote Île aux Cochons – roughly half way between the tip of Africa and Antarctica – the island was blanketed by 2m of the penguins, which stand about a metre tall. But recent satellite images and photos taken from helicopters show the population has collapsed, with barely 200,000 remaining, according to a study published in Antarctic Science. Why the colony on Île aux Cochons has been so decimated remains a mystery.
“It is completely unexpected, and particularly significant since this colony represented nearly one third of the king penguins in the world,” said lead author Henri Weimerskirch, an ecologist at the Centre for Biological Studies in Chize, France, who first set eyes on the colony in 1982. Climate change may play a role. In 1997, a particularly strong El Niño weather event warmed the southern Indian Ocean, temporarily pushing the fish and squid on which king penguins depend south, beyond their foraging range. “This resulted in population decline and poor breeding success for all the king penguin colonies in the region,” Weimerskirch said.
Charities have shown “complacency verging on complicity” in responding to sexual abuse that is endemic across the sector, according to a damning report by MPs. In the report, the international development committee (IDC) said the aid sector had a record of “abject failure” in dealing with longstanding concerns about exploitation by its own personnel and appeared more concerned for their reputations than for victims. The response to abuse claims has been reactionary and superficial, it added. MPs called for the establishment of an independent aid ombudsman to support survivors and for a global register of aid workers to prevent abusers moving through the system.
Stephen Twigg, the committee chairman, said the sector’s failure to deal with the issue had left victims at the mercy of those who sought to use power to abuse others. The report, published on Tuesday, also criticised the UN, which it said had failed to display sustained leadership in tackling abuse, and said the historical response of the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) was disappointing. The committee launched its inquiry into sexual exploitation and abuse after revelations that Oxfam covered up claims that its staff had used sex workers while working in the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. The sector has faced intense scrutiny, with further allegations of sexual misconduct emerging at Save the Children.
Twigg said the aid sector was first made aware of concerns in 2002, when a report by the UN agency for refugees (UNHCR) and Save the Children documented cases of abuse. Despite this, and a series of other warnings, little action was taken. “There are so many reports that go back over this period of 16 years and the system has failed to respond anything close to adequately over the period,” the Labour MP said. “This is 16 years of failure by the entire international system of governments, the UN and the aid sector.”
Newfound market volatility has shattered what had been a long period of stability and mounting value. The Dow’s dive erased gains for the year so far and extended a multi-day slump that saw the Dow drop by some 600 points on Friday. In addition setting a new record for number of points dropped in a day, the Dow’s 4.6% decline in value was the most substantial since 2011. It was still less severe than declines during market-rocking events like the 2008 financial crisis, when the Dow shed 7% of its value in its worst single-day hit. Earlier in the day the Dow had plummeted by nearly 1,600 points before recovering much of that value. It has swung some 2,100 points in the last week of trading, a slide approaching 8%.
In addition to the Dow shedding value, the S&P 500 index and the Nasdaq both saw declines of around 4%. The S&P 500 declined to about 7.8% below its all-time high. With thriving markets toppling records in recent months, some analysts said the pullback was all but inevitable. After cresting to a record high in January, the Dow has retreated by 8.5% from that apex. “It’s like a kid at a child’s party who, after an afternoon of cake and ice cream, eats one more cookie and that puts them over the edge,” David Kelly, the chief global strategist for JPMorgan Asset Management, told the Associated Press.
A rout in global equities deepened in Asia on Tuesday as inflation worries gripped financial markets, sending U.S. stock futures sinking further into the red after Wall Street suffered its biggest decline since 2011 in a vicious sell-off. S&P mini futures fell as much as 3.0% to four-month lows in Asia, extending their losses from the record peak hit just over a week ago to 12%. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan slid 4.3%, which would be its biggest fall since the yuan devaluation shock in August 2015, turning red on the year for the first time in 2018. Japan’s Nikkei dived 6.8% to near four-month lows while Taiwan shares lost 5.5% and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index dropped 4.9%.
Monday’s stock market rout left two of the most popular exchange-traded products that investors use to benefit from calm rather than volatile conditions facing potential liquidation, market participants said. The ructions in markets come after investors have ridden a nearly nine-year bull run, with low global rates sparking a revival in economic growth and bright corporate earnings. That good times may be nearing at end if Wall Street is anything to go by. U.S. stocks plunged in highly volatile trading on Monday, with the Dow industrials falling nearly 1,600 points during the session, its biggest intraday decline in history, as investors grappled with rising bond yields and potentially higher inflation.
European stocks headed for their worst drop since the aftermath of the Brexit referendum as traders in the region caught up with an overnight selloff in the U.S. and Asia. The Stoxx Europe 600 Index fell 2.6% as of 8:16 a.m. in London, with all industry groups firmly in the red. After a strong start to 2018, most European stock benchmarks have wiped out gains for the year in a rout that is extending into a seventh day for the broader regional benchmark. Sentiment has been hurt by worries over rising government bond yields and the outlook for the trajectory of interest rates. “There is a sense out there that this is, in a way, a release of some of the pent-up low volatility we’ve seen over the past year,” said Ben Kumar, an investment manager at Seven Investment Management in London, which oversees about 12 billion pounds.
“We have been sitting on quite a large cash pile for some time and at some point, we will look to invest that. There may be a bit more pain to come before we start seeing a real dip to buy.” Cyclicals including automakers, technology and basic resources were among the worst sector performers. Still, data on Monday showed economic momentum in the euro-area climbed to the fastest pace in almost 12 years, and German factory orders surged in the last month of 2017. That’s leading some fund managers and traders to bet that equities are experiencing an overdue pullback rather than a deeper correction. “Market tops have probably been set for a pretty long time now on many equity indexes,” Stephane Barbier de la Serre, a strategist at Makor Capital Markets, said by phone.
One of the most popular trades in the market, betting a period of unnatural calm would continue, may have amplified selling pressure in the stock market on Monday market participants said. At least two products tied to volatility bets were severely whacked with the hemorrhaging that could pose challenges to the exchange-traded notes. One popular product, the VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX Short Term ETN, was down 90% in after-hours trade on Monday, following a session in which the Dow Jones Industrial plunged by 1,175 points, or 4.6%, while the S&P 500 index tumbled 4.1%—both benchmarks coughed up all of their gains for 2018.
The Cboe Volatility Index, meanwhile, skyrocketed by about 118%, marking its sharpest daily rise on record. The VIX uses bullish and bearish option bets on the S&P 500 to reflect expected volatility over the coming 30 days, and it typically rises as stocks fall. The XIV, meanwhile, was designed to allow investors to bet against a rise in volatility and such bets had been a winning proposition until recently, when equities accelerated a multisession unraveling fueled by fears that the Federal Reserve will be forced to raise borrowing costs faster than anticipated due to a potential resurgence in inflation, which had pushed Treasury yields higher. Monday’s stock-market drop may have been amplified because those making bets that volatility, as measured by the VIX, would remain relatively subdued, were caught wrong-footed.
Wall Street’s “fear gauge” notched its biggest one-day jump on Monday in over two years, as U.S. stocks slumped and investors took to the options market in search of protection against a further slide in equities prices. Stocks slid in highly volatile trading on Monday, with the benchmark S&P 500 index and the Dow Jones Industrials suffering their biggest respective%age drops since August 2011 as a long-awaited pullback from record highs deepened. For the Dow, the fall at one point of nearly 1,600 points was the biggest intraday point loss in Wall Street history. The CBOE Volatility Index, better known as the VIX, is the most widely followed barometer of expected near-term volatility for the S&P 500 Index. On Monday, the index ended up 20.01 points at 37.32, its highest close since August 2015.
“The day started out fairly orderly, but somehow it took a turn for a worse, and then panic set in,” Randy Frederick, vice president of trading and derivatives for Charles Schwab. “There may have been some pretty sizeable program trades that were clicked in. It just looks like some institutional program selling,” he said. The intensity of the selloff drove traders to the options market and trading volume surged to 35.5 million contracts – the third busiest day ever and the busiest day since Aug. 21, 2015, according to options analytics firm Trade Alert. VIX call options, primarily used to protect against a spike in volatility, accounted for nine of Monday’s 10 most heavily-traded contracts. Overall VIX options volume hit 3.6 million contracts, or about three times its average daily volume.
Today’s market turmoil has left more questions than answers. “What was frightening was the speed at which the market tanked,” said Walter “Bucky” Hellwig, Birmingham, Alabama-based senior vice president at BB&T Wealth Management, who helps oversee about $17 billion. “The drop in the morning was caused by humans, but the free-fall in the afternoon was caused by the machines. It brought back the same reaction that we had in 2010, which was ‘What the heck is going on here?” Some tried to blame it on a fat-finger or ‘machines’, but in this case it was not the normal cuprits per se… “There was not a single self-help; there were no outs; there were no fat fingers that we saw,” Doug Cifu, CEO of high-speed trading firm Virtu, told CNBC. “There were no busted trades, no repricing. It was just an avalanche of orders around 3 o’clock-ish.”
But while we noted earlier that US equity futures were extending losses after the close, but the real panic action is in the volatility complex. Putting today’s VIX move in context, this is among the biggest ever… And it appears Morgan Stanley was right to bet on VIX hitting 30…
But the real action is in the super-crowded short-vol space. XIV – The Short VIX ETF – after its relentless diagonal move higher as one after another Target manager sold vol for a living… just disintegrated after-hours, down a stunning 90% to $10.00.
Which is a problem because as we explained last summer, the threshold for an XIV termination event is a -80% drop. What does this mean? Well, in previewing today’s events last July, Fasanara Capital explained precisely what is going on last July:
“Additional risks arise as ‘liquidity gates’ may be imposed, even in the absence of a spike in volatility. In 2012, for example, the price of TVIX ETN fell 60% in two days, despite relatively benign trading conditions elsewhere in the market. The reason was that the promoter of the volatility-linked note announced that it temporarily suspended further issuances of the ETN due to “internal limits” reached on the size of the ETNs. Furthermore, for some of the volatility-linked notes, the prospectus foresee the possibility of ‘termination events’: for example, for XIV ETF a termination event is triggered if the daily percentage drop exceeds 80%. Then a full wipe-out is avoided insofar as it is preceded by a game-over event.” The reaction of the investor base at play – often retail – holds the potential to create cascading effects and to send shockwaves to the market at large. This likely is a blind spot for markets.
Risk parity funds. Volatility-targeting programs. Statistical arbitrage. Sometimes the U.S. stock market seems like a giant science project, one that can quickly turn hazardous for its human inhabitants. You didn’t need an engineering degree to tell something was amiss Monday. While it’s impossible to say for sure what was at work when the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell as much as 1,597 points, the worst part of the downdraft felt to many like the machines run amok. For 15 harrowing minutes just after 3 p.m. in New York a deluge of sell orders came so fast that it seemed like nothing breathing could’ve been responsible. The result was a gut check of epic proportion for investors, who before last week had been riding one of the most peaceful market advances ever seen. The S&P 500, which last week capped a record streak of never falling more than 3% from any past point, ended the day down 4.1%, bringing its loss since last Monday to 7.8%.
“We are proactively calling up our clients and discussing that a 1,600-point intraday drop is due more to algorithms and high-frequency quant trading than macro events or humans running swiftly to the nearest fire exit,” said Jon Ulin, of Ulin & Co. in an email. To be sure, not all of the rout requires inhuman agency to explain. Markets are jittery. Bond yields had been surging and stock valuations are approaching levels last seen in the internet bubble. Much of today’s selloff was perfectly rational, if harrowing – particularly coming after last week’s plunge in which the Dow fell 666 points on Friday. Observers looking for an electronic villain trained most of their attention on the roughest part of the tumble, a 15-minute stretch starting about an hour before the close. That’s when an orderly selloff snowballed, taking the Dow from down about 700 points to down a whopping 1,600. It quickly recovered.
Commodities from crude oil to metals and iron ore dropped as the global equity rout and surge in market volatility spurred investors to pare risk, cutting positions in raw materials even as banks and analysts stood by the asset class given the backdrop of solid global growth. Brent crude slid as much as 1.2% to $66.82 a barrel, heading for a third daily drop and the longest losing run since November. On the London Metal Exchange, copper sank as much as 2% to $7,025 a metric ton as zinc, lead and nickel declined. Iron ore futures fell 1.2% in Singapore. Global equity markets are in retreat after Wall Street losses that began in the final session of last week worsened on Monday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average posting its biggest intraday point drop in history.
The selloff – triggered in part by an initial rise in bond yields and concerns about the pace at which the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates – is spilling into commodities, which rallied in late January to the highest level since 2015. Still, Citigroup said now’s the time for investors to add positions in metals. “Clearly there is a risk off tone in the markets that will weigh on the sector,” said Daniel Hynes at Australia & New Zealand Banking. “But there is no fundamental reason for this selloff to change our view of commodity markets.” Miners and energy companies fell as share benchmarks spiraled downward. In the U.S. on Monday, Exxon Mobil and Chevron were among the worst performers in the Dow. In Sydney, BHP Billiton, the world’s largest mining company, dropped 2.7% as Rio Tinto traded lower. Oil producer PetroChina lost as much as 7.3% in Hong Kong.
Bitcoin tumbled for a fifth day, dropping below $7,000 for the first time since November and leading other digital tokens lower, as a backlash by banks and government regulators against the speculative frenzy that drove cryptocurrencies to dizzying heights last year picks up steam. The biggest digital currency sank as much as 22% to $6,579, before trading at $7,054 as of 4:08 p.m. in New York. It has erased about 65% of its value from a record high $19,511 in December. Rival coins also retreated on Monday, with Ripple losing as much as 21% and Ethereum and Litecoin also weaker. “Although no fundamental change triggered this crash, the parabolic growth this market has experienced had to slow down at some point,” Lucas Nuzzi, a senior analyst at Digital Asset Research, wrote in an email. “All that it took this time was a large lot of sell orders.”
Weeks of negative news and commercial setbacks have buffeted digital tokens. Lloyds joined a growing number of big credit-card issuers have said they’re halting purchases of cryptocurrencies on their cards, including JPMorgan and Bank of America. Several cited risk aversion and a desire to protect their customers. SEC Chairman Jay Clayton said he supports efforts to bring clarity to cryptocurrency issues and that existing rules weren’t designed with such trading in mind, according to prepared remarks for a Senate Banking Committee hearing Tuesday on virtual currencies. Bitcoin’s longest run of losses since Christmas day has coincided with investors exiting risky assets across the board, with stocks retreating globally. Bitcoin so far seems to be struggling to live up to any comparison with gold as a store of value, which is an argument made by some of its supporters. Bullion edged higher as other safe havens – the yen, Swiss franc and bonds – also gained.
Last week, I discussed how the Federal Reserve will likely be the culprits of whatever sparks the next major financial crisis. To wit: “In the U.S., the Federal Reserve has been the catalyst behind every preceding financial event since they became ‘active,’ monetarily policy-wise, in the late 70’s. As shown in the chart below, when the Fed has lifted the short-term lending rates to a level higher than the 10-year rate, bad ‘stuff’ has historically followed.” This past week, as Ms. Yellen relinquished her control over the Federal Reserve to Jerome Powell, the Fed stood by its position they intend to hike rates 3-more times in 2018.
With the entirety of the financial ecosystem now more heavily levered than ever, due to the Fed’s profligate measures of suppressing interest rates and flooding the system with excessive levels of liquidity, the “instability of stability” is now the biggest risk. The “stability/instability paradox” assumes that all players are rational and such rationality implies avoidance of complete destruction. In other words, all players will act rationally and no one will push “the big red button.” The Fed is highly dependent on this assumption. After more than 9-years of the most unprecedented monetary policy program in human history, they are now trying to extricate themselves from it. The Fed is dependent on “everyone acting rationally,” particularly as they try to reduce their balance sheet. The first attempt was seen in January. Well…sort of…but not really.
While the Fed did “reduce” their holding by $28 billion in January, it followed an increase of $21 billion in December. Which brings up several questions? Was the ramp up/run down just a test of the market’s stability? (Seems likely.) With the market throwing a “conniption fit” last week, will the Fed rethink their balance sheet reduction program? (Probably) More importantly, with the government on the verge of another “shut down” this coming week due to the expiration of the “continuing resolution” from three weeks ago, will the Fed continue its current path in the face of an event that could lead to fiscal instability? (Probably not) We will soon find out.
The Resistance pulled out all the stops last week in its shrieking denunciation of the Nunes Memo, and the various complaints had one thing in common: a complete lack of interest in the facts of the matter, in particular the shenanigans in the upper ranks of the FBI. Give a listen, for instance, to last Thursday’s Slate’s Political Gabfest with David Plotz, John Dickerson, and Emily Bazelon, the three honey-badgers of Resistance Radio (like the fabled honey-badgers of the veldt, they don’t give a shit about any obstacles in pursuit of their quarry: Trump). They’ve even been able to one-up Nassim Taleb’s defined category of “intellectuals-yet-idiots” to intellectuals-yet-useful-idiots.
The New York Times, with its termite-mound of casuistry artists, managed to concoct a completely inside-out “story” alleging that the disclosure in the Nunes memo of official impropriety at the FBI was in itself an “obstruction of justice,” since making the FBI look bad might impede their ability to give Trump the much wished-for bum’s rush from the White House. There was already enough dishonesty in our national life before the Left side of the political transect decided to ally itself with the worst instincts of the permanent Washington bureaucracy: the faction devoted to ass-covering. The misconduct at the FBI and DOJ around the 2016 election is really quite startling.
How is it not disturbing that Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr brokered the Steele Dossier between the Fusion GPS psy-ops company and the FBI, when Fusion GPS was employed by the Clinton campaign, and Ohr’s wife worked for Fusion GPS? How is it okay that this janky dossier was put over on a FISA court judge to get warrants to surveil US citizens in an election campaign? How was it okay for Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe’s wife to accept $700,000 from the Clinton family’s long-time bag-man, Terry McAuliffe, when she ran for a Virginia State Senate seat, a few months before McCabe assumed command of the Hillary email investigation? How was it not fishy that FBI Deputy Assistant Director of the Counterintelligence Division, Peter Strock, and his workplace girlfriend, FBI lawyer (for Andrew McCabe), Lisa Page appeared to plot against Trump in their many cell-phone text exchanges?
The Black Death was a medieval pandemic which swept through the ‘old world’ in the 14th Century. It arrived in Europe from Asia in the 1340s and killed an estimated 25 million people, about 50% of the population. The social and economic consequences of this were ‘permanent’: it created a labour shortage which ended the medieval institution of serfdom. In short: Increased demand for labour + reduced supply of labour + chaos = collapse of status quo. What emerged from the chaos was a rudimentary ‘free market’ in labour and goods. The age of capitalism had begun…the unforeseen consequence of a plague, borne on a creature that looked like this:
The pandemic we face in the 21st Century is a psychological phenomenon rather than a biological one, but in my view, it is equally parasitic. Its name is ‘deceit’, and our political & economic institutions are riddled with it. The majority of people I speak to know that something is badly wrong with our societies and our economies – they feel it when they pick up a newspaper, turn on the TV or engage with the internet. Some of us try to disconnect from the drama and the constant stream of claim and counterclaim, in order to try to ‘get on with normal lives’ – but we feel something is badly wrong nevertheless. Some of us gather ourselves into political parties, protest movements, and/or intellectual cliques in order to discuss how to ‘fix’ what ails us.
And every 4 or 5 years, the majority of us go out and vote for an individual or a group of people that we hope will bring change…and then…we get more of the same. We just got, for example, the 3rd president in a row who ran on a promise of peace, and then immediately went looking for war. What the majority of people have not yet realised is that the politician’s ‘promise’ is part of the deceit – it’s what keeps you coming back for more, hoping this time will be different. It never is – it’s just a new coat of paint on a crumbling wall. What the majority of people have not yet realised is that the politician’s ‘promise’ is part of the deceit – it’s what keeps you coming back for more
It matters little whether you believe an individual candidate is a ‘good’ person, or a ‘bad’ person. Once in office he or she becomes a tool for the maintenance of the status quo – evidently. Why is this? Because the system is not run for your benefit. Its primary function is the concentration of power and wealth within the system itself, to serve the vested interests of a relatively tiny group of people. These are the manifestations of the 21st-century plague – the institutions of deceit: 1) A monetary system rigged for the banks and globalised corporations. 2) A military-industrial complex that requires endless war. 3) Politicians that are controlled by 1 & 2. 4) A mainstream media that is complicit with 1 to 3.
A British court is to decide Tuesday whether to lift a UK arrest warrant for Julian Assange, potentially paving the way for the WikiLeaks founder to leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he has spent the last five years. If the court rules in Assange’s favour, allowing him to leave the embassy in the British capital without fear of arrest, it would be the first time that he has stepped outside embassy grounds since seeking asylum there in June 2012. Assange entered the Ecuadoran embassy to dodge a European arrest warrant and extradition to Sweden over a 2010 probe in the Scandinavian country into rape and sexual assault allegations.
Sweden dropped its investigation last year, but British police are still seeking to arrest Assange for failing to surrender to a court after violating bail terms during his unsuccessful battle against extradition. Assange’s lawyer Mark Summers told a London court last week that the warrant had “lost its purpose and its function”. He said Assange had been living in conditions “akin to imprisonment” and his “psychological health” has deteriorated and was “in serious peril”. The court heard that the 46-year-old was suffering from a bad tooth, a frozen shoulder and depression. But prosecutor Aaron Watkins called Assange’s court bid “absurd”. “The proper approach is that when a discrete, standalone offence of failing to surrender occurs, it always remains open to this court to secure the arrest,” Watkins said.
Japan’s elderly are being told to get used to being looked after by robots. With Japan’s ageing society facing a predicted shortfall of 370,000 caregivers by 2025, the government wants to increase community acceptance of technology that could help fill the gap in the nursing workforce. Developers have focused their efforts on producing simple robotic devices that help frail residents get out of their bed and into a wheelchair, or that can ease senior citizens into bathtubs. But the government sees a wider range of potential applications and recently revised its list of priorities to include robots that can predict when patients might need to use the toilet. Dr Hirohisa Hirukawa, director of robot innovation research at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, said the aims included easing the burden on nursing staff and boosting the autonomy of people still living at home.
“Robotics cannot solve all of these issues; however, robotics will be able to make a contribution to some of these difficulties,” he said. Hirukawa said lifting robotics had so far been deployed in only about 8% of nursing homes in Japan, partly because of the cost and partly because of the “the mindset by the people on the frontline of caregiving that after all it must be human beings who provide this kind of care”. He added: “On the side of those who receive care, of course initially there will be psychological resistance.” Hirukawa’s research centre has worked on a government-backed project to help 98 manufacturers test nursing-care robotic devices over the past five years, 15 of which have been developed into commercial products.
Silvio Berlusconi has pledged to deport 600,000 illegal immigrants from Italy should his centre-right coalition enter government after elections on 4 March, as tensions simmer over the shooting of six Africans by a far-right extremist on Saturday. The 81-year-old rightwing former prime minister said in a TV interview that immigration was a “social bomb ready to explode in Italy” and that the shooting in Macerata posed a security problem. “Immigration has become an urgent question, because after years with a leftwing government, there are 600,000 migrants who don’t have the right to stay,” said Berlusconi. “We consider it to be an absolute priority to regain control over the situation.” Berlusconi’s Forza Italia has forged an alliance with two far-right parties, the Northern League and the smaller Brothers of Italy, for the elections.
The three-time former prime minister is banned from running for office after being convicted of tax fraud, but could still end up pulling the strings of power should the coalition gain enough of a majority to govern. “When we’re in government we will invest many resources in security,” he said. “We will boost police presence and reintroduce the ‘Safe Streets’ initiative … Our soldiers will patrol the streets alongside police officers.” Berlusconi took a swipe at the EU for failing to share the burden of Italy’s migrant arrivals, saying: “Today, Italy counts for nothing in Brussels and the world. We will make it count again.” Italy is a favoured landing point on Europe’s southern coastline for people making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean, often on board unseaworthy boats, to enter the continent. However, 2017 was a turning point for Italy: the country went from large-scale arrivals in the first six months to a sharp drop-off, thanks to a controversial agreement between the EU and Libya.
The Republicans are giving Obamacare repeal another try, and this time they may succeed. Just a few hours after we reported that “Obamacare repeal suddenly looks possible” when two key Republicans – Fred Upton and Billy Long – flipped and decided to support the GOP healthcare bill, leading to immediate speculation the bill has enough support, the WSJ reported that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters Wednesday evening the House will vote on Thursday on the Republican bill to replace most of Obamacare: “we will be voting on the health-care bill tomorrow because we have enough votes.” When asked by a reporter about whether the bill would have to be pulled from the floor again for lack of support, McCarthy replied: “Would you have confidence? We’re going to pass it. We’re going to pass it. Let’s be optimistic about life.”
McCarthy also cited an insurer pulling out of the ObamaCare exchanges in Iowa Wednesday as a reason the law needs to be quickly repealed. “That’s why we have to make sure this passes. To save these people from ObamaCare, which continues to collapse.” And so just like at the end of March, when the GOP was confident it had whipped enough names, only to pull the vote in the last moment, the announcement once again sets up a high-stakes vote that is expected to come down to the wire. The House GOP bill, if passed, would roll back much of the 2010 health-care law, replacing its subsidies with a system of tax credits largely tied to age. Until Wednesday, Republican leaders had struggled to secure the 216 votes they need to pass the bill, which is expected to receive no Democratic support.
They pulled the bill from the floor in late March, when conservatives and centrists defected and it became clear the legislation didn’t have the support to pass. Last week, GOP leaders also opted not to vote on the bill ahead of Trump’s first 100 days in office. [..] in pulling yet another page from the Democrats’ playbook, the House will pass the vote first before finding out what’s in it: the vote will take place without waiting for a new Congressional Budget Office analysis of Upton’s changes or the amendment from Rep. Tom MacArthur that won over the House Freedom Caucus. That analysis will eventually provide the details of the bill’s effects on coverage and its cost. For now however, Republicans are just scrambling to take advantage of this rare moment of agreement and get something finally done.
Enough about Donald Trump’s first 100 days. On the 101st day, Congress came to a rare bipartisan agreement funding the federal government through September. This showed who really holds power in the Trump era: Democrats. After last November’s election, when Republicans had consolidated power and held both chambers of Congress as well as the White House, the question was who would be driving policy. Would it be the Trump administration, perhaps led by populist mastermind Steve Bannon? Would it be House Speaker Paul Ryan, a man with a reputation as a policy wonk with a vision for government? Would it be the ideological House Freedom Caucus, demanding that the new Republican-led government live up to the promises the party made to its base during the Obama years? All have tried to lead at some point this year, but the recently agreed-upon budget deal shows that instead, it’s Democrats who appear to be in charge.
Democrats have the leverage in Washington now because Republicans haven’t figured out how to govern on their own. The first Republican attempt at legislation was Paul Ryan’s American Health Care Act. That failed in part because it didn’t repeal Obamacare as the House Freedom Caucus insisted. The Trump administration tried to influence the legislative agenda by putting forth its budget blueprint in mid-March, which included draconian cuts to various departments. Yet the only parts of that budget that made it into the final agreement were modest spending increases for defense spending and border security, without any of the corresponding cuts. This happened because Republicans couldn’t come to an agreement on the budget on their own, meaning Democratic votes were needed for passage, and Democrats wouldn’t sign on to anything with big spending cuts.
[..]The emerging view may be that Trump just wants to sign legislation that he can take credit for, regardless of the substance of the bills. After all, he’s on the verge of signing a government funding bill that’s more in line with Democratic priorities than his own. Since he hasn’t been willing to stand up for any of his or his party’s policy priorities so far, should Democrats retake the House in 2018, there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t sign legislation passed by Democrats in the House if it makes it to his desk. On policy, the author of “The Art of the Deal” doesn’t seem to have any policy deal-breakers. A president without any fixed policy vision or breaking points is no authoritarian. He makes the legislature more powerful than it’s been in decades. If Republicans can’t come to internal agreement on major legislation, and Democrats are the ones with leverage, then complete inaction might become a best-case scenario for the GOP.
There aren’t any surefire ways to tell if the stock market, and perhaps the rest of the economy, is about to take a nosedive. That’s because millions of people with millions of ideas are involved, so it’s an inherently unpredictable system. However, there are certain players in our economy that have a lot more influence and insider knowledge than the rest of us. So when they make a move in unison, you know there’s a good chance that something is about to go down. And that’s exactly what’s going on with the stock market right now. The people who would stand to lose the most if the markets crashed; the corporate executives and insiders, are all jumping ship and selling their stocks.
“As the investing public has continued to devour stocks, sending all three major indexes to record highs in the last few months, corporate insiders have been offloading shares to an extent not seen in seven years.”Selling totaled $10 billion in March, according to data compiled by Trim Tabs. It’s a troubling trend facing an equity market that’s already grappling with its loftiest valuations since the 2000 tech bubble. If the people with the deepest knowledge of a company are cashing out, why should investors keep buying at current prices? The groundswell of insider selling has the attention of Brad Lamensdorf, portfolio manager at Ranger Alternative Management, and he doesn’t like what he sees. “This is definitely a negative sign,” Lamensdorf wrote in his April newsletter. “They do not see value in their own companies!”
And this isn’t a recent trend. While ordinary investors were optimistically diving into the stock market after Trump was elected, these people were dumping their stocks as far back as February. “Chief executives and other corporate insiders are selling stock hand over fist now that the quarterly earnings season is over, a report from Vickers Weekly Insider shows. Transactions by insiders are restricted around a company’s report. “Insider selling has jumped again, and this time to levels rarely seen,” analyst David Coleman wrote in Monday’s note.”
Automobiles are not moving off the parking lot. That’s according to an industry report that showed a sharp decline in auto sales across all auto makers—see table. Meanwhile industry inventories have been climbing up from an average of 55 days back in April of 2015 to 70 days last month. Coming after months of sluggish sales and generous incentives, the big drop in April sales could be a sign of an impending collapse which could parallel that of 2008-9. There’s a compelling reason for that: pent down demand, which for years has been “stealing” sales from the future. Now the future has arrived and pent down demand is bad for auto makers, their investors and the economy as a whole.
To get an idea how “pent down demand” (my own term) works, a good place to begin with is the more familiar concept of pent up demand, the lack of current demand for discretionary items like automobiles, home appliances, etc., which depresses sales of these items in the short run. Pent up demand usually appears before a period of consumer euphoria, when consumers choose to push spending on discretionary items to a future date, due to lower price expectations, depressed consumer confidence, or a credit crunch. And it disappears together with these conditions when that future day comes, and consumers rush to buy the items they put off in the past.
In contrast, pent down demand appears after a period of consumer euphoria when consumers choose to move spending on discretionary items from a future date into the present day, due to low cost of financing — which blurs the distinction between present and future. Why wait to buy a new car or a new home appliance next year when you can have it this year, paying a small penalty for this privilege? Simply put, ultra-low interest rates help “steal” sales from the future, creating market saturation, and eventually depress spending on “high ticket” items when the future becomes present. That’s what happened in the six years that preceded the 2008-9 collapse in US auto sales. Consumers rushed to take advantage of “zero percent” financing to purchase cars they would normally buy years later.
That’s how automobile sales grew from an average of 15 million in the 1980s and the 1990s to 17 million in the first six years of 2000s, before they tumbled during the Great Recession. Nonetheless, the Federal Reserve and other central bankers around the world didn’t take notice of the impact of pent down demand on future growth. They upped their ultra-low interest rate policies, refueling pent down demand again (automobile sales are above the pre-Great Recession levels). Compounding the problem, pent down demand is exacerbated by debt – a lot of debt – amassed on top of the old debt, which fueled the bubble that preceded the Great Recession. This was documented by a McKinsey report—US auto loans have crossed $1 trillion lately.
As expected, the Fed gave a nod to a temporary weakness in the economy and signaled it is still moving ahead with policy tightening. “They’re looking past the first-quarter weakness. They are laying the groundwork for a June rate hike, in my opinion,” said Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at Lindsey Group. Fed funds futures indicated just about a 75% chance of a June interest-rate hike, up about 5 percentage points after the announcement, according to Michael Schumacher, head of rates strategy at Wells Fargo Securities. “It seems pretty optimistic. … There’s no big difference between this statement and the last one. The comment that they are ignoring weak first-quarter growth is the big thing. There’s nothing really changed in their path,” Schumacher said.
First-quarter growth grew at a weak 0.7%, but economists expect a bounce back and some see growth over 3%. The Fed acknowledged the softness in its statement. “The Committee views the slowing in growth during the first quarter as likely to be transitory and continues to expect that, with gradual adjustments in the stance of monetary policy, economic activity will expand at a moderate pace, labor market conditions will strengthen somewhat further, and inflation will stabilize around 2% over the medium term,” they wrote. [..] The statement did not mention changes to the Fed’s balance sheet, which officials were expected to have discussed at length during the two-day meeting. That discussion should be revealed in the minutes of the meeting, expected to be released May 24.
Instead, the Fed noted in its statement that it was maintaining its strategy of balance sheet reinvestment, meaning it replaces securities as they roll down. The Fed has forecast two more rate hikes this year, and many strategists expect it to tackle its balance sheet after those moves. The Fed has said it would like to begin shrinking its balance sheet as early as this year. Many market pros expect some action on the balance sheet around the December meeting or in early 2018, after it raises interest rates in June and September.
The burden of housing costs is biting even in Australia’s wealthiest suburbs as an unprecedented one in four households nationally face mortgage stress, according to the latest in a 15-year series of analyses. Households in Toorak and Bondi, prestigious pockets of affluence in Australia’s biggest cities, have made the list of those struggling to meet repayments amid rising costs and stagnating wages, research firm Digital Finance Analytics has found. The firm’s principal, Martin North, said it was surprising new evidence showed that financial distress from property price surges reached beyond “the battlers and the mortgage belt” and was a “much broader and much more significant problem”. The survey, which analyses real cash flows against mortgage repayments, finds more than 767,000 households or 23.4% are now in mortgage stress, which means they have little or no spare cash after covering costs.
This includes 32,000 that are in severe stress, meaning they cannot cover repayments from current income. The firm predicts that almost 52,000 households will probably default on mortgages over the next year. Risk hotspots include Meadow Springs and Canning Vale in Western Australia, Derrimut and Cranbourne in Victoria, and Mackay and Pacific Pines in Queensland. Overall, New South Wales and Victoria, whose capital cities have seen a recent surge in home prices, accounted for more than half the probable defaults (270,000) and households in mortgage distress (420,000). North said the numbers were “an early indicator of risk in the system”. The underlying drivers were “flat or falling wage growth”, much faster rising living costs and the likelihood mortgage interest payments would only go up.
Widespread mortgage burdens were limiting spending elsewhere and “sucking the life out of the economy”, and the problem should be addressed to head off a housing crash and its repercussions, North said. North is not alone in highlighting household vulnerability. The Reserve Bank of Australia’s financial stability review last month observed one-third of Australian borrowers had little or no mortgage “buffer”, which North said was “the first time they’ve ever admitted it”. Finder.com last week found 57% of mortgagees could not handle a rise of $100 or more in monthly repayments. “The surprising thing is that people in Bondi in NSW, for example, or even young affluents who have bought down in Toorak in Victoria are actually on the list [of mortgage stressed],” North said.
China's credit system expanded "too recklessly and too quickly," and "it's beginning to unravel," warns Hayman Capital's Kyle Bass. Crucially, Bass notes that ballooning assets in Chinese wealth management products are another sign of a looming credit crisis in the nation.
"Some of the longer-term assets aren't doing very well," Bass said on Bloomberg TV from the annual Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California. "As soon as liabilities have problems – meaning the depositors decide to not roll their holdings – all hell breaks loose."
The wealth management products, or WMPs, have swelled to $4 trillion in assets in the last few years, he said., on a $34 trillion banking system…
"think about this – in the US, our asset-liability mismatch at the peak of our subprime greatness was around 2%! … China's mismatch is more than 10% of the system."
Must Watch simplification of the next stage of the credit cycle in China…
Timing the drop is hard, Bass notes, reminding Bloomberg's Erik Schatzker that "in the US, the first bumps in the road hit in early 2007, and we didn't start to really accelerate until mid 2008… even a large unraveling takes a while."Bass has been sounding the alarm for some time that debt-burdened Chinese banks need to be restructured…
"What you see when the liquidity dries up is people start going down… and this is the beginning of the Chinese credit crisis."
And judging by the collapse in both Chinese stocks and bonds, the deleveraging is accelerating…
In the company’s blog, PIMCO’s Gene Fried echoes everything we have said and write that following the defeat of the new U.S. healthcare bill, investors have begun to rethink the likely time frame and extent of the Trump administration’s other top priorities, such as fiscal stimulus. Equity markets stalled and bonds rallied as investors toned down their expectations for global reflation recently. None of this is horribly surprising, but by focusing so intensely on U.S. political developments, investors risk missing a silent shift in what has arguably been the strongest driver of global reflation in the last five years: Chinese credit. This driver is now moving sharply in reverse. China’s “credit impulse,” the change in the growth rate of aggregate credit to GDP, bears close watching: It has tended to lead the Chinese manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) by a year (see Figure 1) and the U.S. Institute for Supply Management’s (ISM) manufacturing index by 14 months.
The relevance of the Chinese credit impulse to global reflation cannot be overstated (see Figure 2). China’s massive credit stimulus starting in 2014 initially put a floor under commodity prices and emerging market (EM) growth. Then, the unexpected acceleration in Chinese real estate investment drove both commodity prices and volume demand higher. EM growth subsequently bounced, and with it, global trade volumes. The key driver of realized global reflation, then, has been China – not the promise of fiscal stimulus and deregulation that has helped boost confidence and other soft data in the U.S.
When will China’s credit drop affect growth? The sharp downturn in the Chinese credit impulse starting in 2016 portends a material drag on Chinese growth in the year ahead. Looking back on the past three years, the Chinese credit impulse turned positive sometime between late 2014 and mid-2015. Given China’s exchange rate volatility in August 2015, it took longer than normal for credit to gain traction. The Chinese credit impulse peaked in March 2016 and slowed sharply after the second quarter. It is only now that the impact of that reduced stimulus should be felt. PIMCO has already factored credit-related drag into its Chinese growth outlook, but the decline in the credit impulse has been sharper and more extreme than many expected.
Forty-three years after economist Arthur Laffer sketched a pictorial representation of individuals’ response to changes in income tax rates, economists still can’t agree if tax cuts pay for themselves: entirely, in part, or not at all. In a capitalist system, a tax rate of 0% or a tax rate of 100% will yield no revenue for the government: in the first instance, because there is no tax levied on labor income; in the second, because there is no labor income to tax because most of us would refuse to work without compensation. The Laffer Curve is an attempt to describe the optimal tax rate, or the rate that maximizes revenue. As with most economic theories nowadays, the idea that tax cuts pay for themselves has been politicized. Many conservatives take an oath of fealty to supply-side economics, an offshoot of the Laffer Curve: the idea that lower tax rates act as an incentive to work and produce, lifting economic growth and tax revenue.
Supply-siders don’t differentiate between the potential effect of large reductions in the top marginal tax rate — from 91% (1950s) to 70% (1960s) to 28% (1980s) — and that of President Donald Trump’s proposed modest cut from 39.6% to 35% for top earners. Liberals, on the other hand, love to quote George H.W. Bush’s assessment of supply-side theory — at least until he became Ronald Reagan’s running mate — as “voodoo economics.” “Tax cuts for the rich” is another favorite derogatory moniker, which is an accurate description but one that is taboo for believers. The basic premise underlying supply-side economics is sound: Tax something less, and you will get more of it. Tax something more, and you will get less of it. Think hefty cigarette taxes, designed to deter cancer-causing tobacco use. It’s the application that goes astray.
The income tax is a tax on labor. According to supply-siders, if you raise marginal tax rates, individuals will work less. And if you cut rates, they will work more. Who except the rich is in a position to forgo take-home pay, even if it is taxed at a higher rate? Households with both parents working, struggling to make ends meet, can’t sacrifice one salary. That’s the dirty little secret of supply-side economics that its advocates never mention. It’s the rich who are able respond to changes in marginal tax rates. And yes, they are the ones likely to start a new business and create jobs. Theory aside, why don’t we know what the effect of tax cuts is on economic output and federal revenue? Economists of both political persuasions are eager to tout their findings, both in support of and as a challenge to supply-side economics.
At first glance Steve Keen’s new book Can We Avoid Another Financial Crisis? seems too small-sized at 147 pages. But like a well-made atom-bomb, it is compactly designed for maximum reverberation to blow up its intended target. Explaining why today’s debt residue has turned the United States, Britain and southern Europe into zombie economies, Steve Keen shows how ignoring debt is the blind spot of neoliberal economics – basically the old neoclassical just-pretend view of the world. Its glib mathiness is a gloss for its unscientific “don’t worry about debt” message. Blame for today’s U.S., British and southern European inability to achieve economic recovery thus rests on the economic mainstream and its refusal to recognize that debt matters.
Mainstream models are unable to forecast or explain a depression. That is because depressions are essentially financial in character. The business cycle itself is a financial cycle – that is, a cycle of the buildup and collapse of debt. Keen’s “Minsky” model traces this to what he has called “endogenous money creation,” that is, bank credit mainly to buyers of real estate, companies and other assets. He recently suggested a more catchy moniker: “Bank Originated Money and Debt” (BOMD). That seems easier to remember. The concept is more accessible than the dry academic terminology usually coined. It is simple enough to show that the mathematics of compound interest lead the volume of debt to exceed the rate of GDP growth, thereby diverting more and more income to the financial sector as debt service.
Keen traces this view back to Irving Fisher’s famous 1933 article on debt deflation – the residue from unpaid debt. Such payments to creditors leave less available to spend on goods and services. In explaining the mathematical dynamics underlying his “Minsky” model, Keen links financial dynamics to employment. If private debt grows faster than GDP, the debt/GDP ratio will rise. This stifles markets, and hence employment. Wages fall as a share of GDP. This is precisely what is happening. But mainstream models ignore the overgrowth of debt, as if the economy operates on a barter basis. Keen calls this “the barter illusion,” and reviews his wonderful exchange with Paul Krugman (who plays the role of an intellectual Bambi to Keen’s Godzilla), who insists that banks do not create credit but merely recycle savings – as if they are savings banks, not commercial banks. It is the old logic that debt doesn’t matter because “we” owe the debt to “ourselves.”
[..] By being so compact, this book is able to concentrate attention on the easy-to-understand mathematical principles that underlie the “junk economics” mainstream. Keen explains why, mathematically, the Great Moderation leading up to the 2008 crash was not an anomaly, but is inherent in a basic principle: Economies can prolong the debt-financed boom and delay a crash simply by providing more and more credit, Australia-style. The effect is to make the ensuing crash worse, more long-lasting and more difficult to extricate. For this, he blames mainly Margaret Thatcher and Alan Greenspan as, in effect, bank lobbyists. But behind them is the whole edifice of neoliberal economic brainwashing.
Keen attacks this “neoclassical” methodology by pointing at the logical fallacy of trying to explain society by looking only at “the individual.” That approach and its related “series of plausible but false propositions” blinds economics graduates from seeing the obvious. Their discipline is the product of ideological desire not to blame banks or creditors, wrapped in a libertarian antagonism toward government’s role as economic regulator, money creator, and financer of basic infrastructure.
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has accused the EU of not wanting Brexit negotiations to be a success, as tensions between both sides escalate ahead of official talks. “The events of the last few days have shown that – whatever our wishes, and however reasonable the positions of Europe’s other leaders – there are some in Brussels who do not want these talks to succeed,” May said Wednesday afternoon outside Downing Street. Her comments follow media reports that the EU’s Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker left London “10 times more skeptical” than he was before after a dinner with Prime Minister May last week. Their meeting has been described in the press as a disaster with both leaders clashing over key negotiating issues.
Earlier on Wednesday, Juncker described May as a “tough woman”. May has said that she will be a “bloody difficult woman” during Brexit talks. Speaking outside Downing Street, the head of the Conservative party went further and accused the European Union of wanting to interfere in the upcoming general election. “Britain’s negotiating position in Europe has been misrepresented in the continental press. The European Commission’s negotiating stance has hardened.Threats against Britain have been issued by European politicians and officials. All of these acts have been deliberately timed to affect the result of the general election that will take place on 8 June,” the prime minister said.
I watched parts of the debate, nothing brutal about it, just politics. Le Pen’s logic seems pretty solid: “France will be run by a woman whatever happens,” Le Pen said. “Either by me or by Mrs. Merkel.”
Marine Le Pen unleashed a barrage of attacks on her presidential rival Emmanuel Macron as she tried to close a gap of some 20 percentage points in the only head-to-head debate of the French election campaign. Le Pen, 48, said her centrist opponent was the candidate of the capitalist elite, and a friend to terrorists, who planned to shut down factories, schools and hospitals. Macron said Le Pen’s broadsides against state bodies meant she was unfit to lead the country as she struggled to defend her plans to leave the euro. “You have threatened public employees,” Macron, 39, said as his opponent chuckled on the other side of the table during the almost three-hour debate Wednesday night. “Your words show that you are not worthy to be the defender of our institutions.”
A snap survey of 1,314 likely voters by polling firm Elabe showed that 63 percent of respondents rated Macron as the winner and 34 percent picked Le Pen. With just three days to go before French voters settle the most turbulent election in the country’s modern history, Le Pen argued for new border restrictions to protect the French people from foreign competition and terrorism, and an exit from euro, reversing 60 years of European integration. The clash was brutal from the get-go, and the general consensus from commentators was that it wasn’t a particularly dignified debate. “It was like a schoolyard brawl,” said Emmanuel Riviere, managing director of pollster Kantar Public France. “The candidates went straight for the jugular. Le Pen started it. But Macron also played his part.”
Both candidates justified the nasty tone on Thursday. “It was severe, but that’s because for the first time ever the French have a real choice,” Le Pen said on RMC Radio. “Before, the candidates agreed on everything. I want to wake up the French people.” [..] She told him he’d traveled to Berlin to get the blessing of German Chancellor Angela Merkel for his policy plans, playing on French concerns that their country plays second fiddle within the European Union. “France will be run by a woman whatever happens,” Le Pen said. “Either by me or by Mrs. Merkel.”
Let’s say the cost to produce a widget is $1. What’s the cost to produce 1 million widgets? This may sound like an extremely simple word problem that even some preschoolers could solve. However, if you think the answer is $1 million, you would be entirely wrong. The cost to produce 1 million widgets is far below $1 million thanks to the savings inherent in mass production. It’s a lot cheaper per something to make a lot of something, than it is to create one of it, or even a few. A couple secondary understandings extend themselves as a result of this primary understanding. First, it’s wrong to assume that providing people with more money will necessitate rising prices. Increased demand can lead to greatly increased production, which then leads to lower prices. Just how much production can be ramped up in response to increased demand is a key factor in price determination.
Where supply cannot be increased, and therefore more money is chasing the same amount of goods, price increases can be expected. Where supply can be greatly or even infinitely increased, lower prices can be expected, especially where true competition exists. Second, and I find this point extremely compelling and the real point of this post, is a recognition of our interdependence, and the collective debt we owe each other. Take whatever device you’re reading these words on as a prime example. Whatever its cost to you, it only cost that because millions of others like you expressed their demand for the same device. Without everyone else, that device would have cost you ten times, a hundred times, or even a thousand times more than it would have to create just one, just for you. In other words, we all subsidize each other.
[..] In Alaska, Alaskans are paid on average about $1000 per year for being an Alaskan. Why? Because the oil companies didn’t make the oil in Alaska. They’re merely bringing it up out of the ground and processing it. The oil is considered owned by all Alaskans, and so they should as owners see some of the revenue generated by its sale. Now apply this logic to the rest of what was not created by humankind. Apply it to what is not created by any one human individually, but everyone together, like for example land value. Take a million dollar mansion and swap it with an empty lot in the middle of the desert. The mansion becomes worth only the sum total of what its parts can sell for. The empty lot shoots up in value. Why? Because the unimproved value of land is socially created. That value exists because YOU exist.
Do you see now that basic income is not “free money” or “money for nothing?” You are owed it. It is your just and due compensation as part of this interdependent system we call society. We are all stakeholders in it. We are all owed a dividend as investors. No investor in Apple would ever be okay with being told that in return for their investment in Apple, they merely get the privilege of purchasing Apple products. Their reward is a return on their investment in the form of cash dividends. That’s fair and just. What is true for corporate stockholders should also be true for you. Don’t accept anything less than a cash dividend for your investments in this grand organization called human civilization. Claim what you are owed and demand unconditional basic income.
Key: “There is an effort by a coalition of interests: banks, financial funds, pro-bailout governments, and the international creditors. They want to grab people’s property by using the public debt as a lever..”
Leonidas Papadopoulos is a doctor, his brother Ilias an economist, and once a week they take a break from ordinary life to fight the government. They go to court every Wednesday, the day homeowners in default on mortgages lose their properties at auctions – the final step of foreclosure in a country where the government and its citizens are overwhelmed by debt. Auctions are supervised by a notary public, who faces a weekly hour of crowd harassment. At a lower court in Athens one Wednesday, the Papadopoulos brothers and about 30 protesters gather menacingly around the notary’s desk, shouting insults and chanting “Vultures out!” When the atmosphere gets heated, protesters clamber onto the empty judges’ benches. In the court halls outside the chamber, demonstrators unfurl large banners and set up loudspeakers to blast music normally associated with protest movements from the 1970s.
Police look on without intervening, and another auction is cancelled. The crowd celebrates with chants of “No Homes in Bankers’ Hands!” – and goes home. “We create a list of all the auctions that are due to take place and decide which cases require our intervention. When the notary enters the chamber, we eject them with our presence, and by shouting,” the 35-year-old Leonidas Papadopoulos says. Each postponement typically delays an auction by about two months. The bearded brothers have created a nationwide protest network of several hundred volunteers to disrupt the auctions across Greece and to help illegally reconnect homes of unemployed people who have had their electricity cut off. In its fourth year, the campaign is intensifying as the country faces pressure from its international bailout creditors to deal with a mountain of bad bank loans.
Greece owes a staggering 325 billion euros ($354 billion), most of it to bailout lenders, while annual economic output – hammered by austerity, political upheaval and years of recession – has withered to below 180 billion euros ($196 billion). The country’s key assets are locked up for 99 years under the control of a fund created by the creditors. The picture for the country’s 10 million citizens is equally grim: Some 4 million are in arrears on tax payments, while 2 million households and businesses are behind on their electricity bills. Nearly half of loans given by banks for businesses and property purchases are now officially listed as soured. Ilias Papadopoulos, 33, sees the problem differently, arguing that people’s property are being seized at fire-sale prices after tax collection has been exhausted, in a desperate effort to maintain bailout debt commitments.
“There is an effort by a coalition of interests: banks, financial funds, pro-bailout governments, and the international creditors. They want to grab people’s property by using the public debt as a lever,” he said. “That includes homes, small businesses, farm land, and industry. It’s wealth that was acquired with such great effort by the Greek people. It cannot be surrendered without a fight.” Ilias says he’s never been arrested or detained by police due to his activism, and predicts the fight against foreclosures will intensify after Greece and it’s bailout creditors reached a new austerity deal this week. “This will only make things worse for poor people. So we’ll have to step things up.”
The U.S. Federal Reserve’s long-stalled ‘liftoff’ of interest rates may finally get airborne this year as policymakers from Chair Janet Yellen on Friday to regional leaders across the United States signaled that the era of easy money is drawing to a close. Yellen capped off a seemingly coordinated push from the central bank on Friday when she cemented the view that the Fed will raise interest rates at its next meeting on March 14-15, and likely be able to move faster after that than it has in years. It’s a welcome turn for the Fed chair, who has hoped to get rates off the ground throughout her three-year tenure, and now sees the economy on track and investors aligned around the idea.
“At our meeting later this month, the committee will evaluate whether employment and inflation are continuing to evolve in line with our expectations, in which case a further adjustment of the federal funds rate would likely be appropriate,” Yellen said at a business luncheon in Chicago. “The process of scaling back accommodation likely will not be as slow as it was in 2015 and 2016,” she added. Stocks were up slightly, and futures tied to rate-hike expectations moved little on Yellen’s remarks. The comments from Fed speakers this week had already pushed market pricing of a March hike to 80%. The Fed has struggled for the past three years to raise interest rates off the zero lower bound as the U.S. economy slowly healed after the Great Recession. Issues from sluggish inflation globally to the dampening effect of a strong dollar and low energy prices blew them off course. By contrast, 2017 may be the year the Fed is able to follow through on its forecast of three rate hikes.
Stocks are at record highs. And while the Trump administration’s early days have been filled with internal political chaos, the market’s reaction has continued to remain positive. On Wednesday, when U.S. stocks had their best day of the year, the popular SPY ETF, which tracks the S&P 500, saw $8.2 billion in new inflows, its single-best day since December 2014. But something else happened on Wednesday that should have equity bulls quite a bit more concerned: markets got behind the idea the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates in March and, perhaps, be more aggressive about raising rates in than previously expected.On Friday, Fed Chair Janet Yellen signaled that a March rate hike is on the table and said the pace of the Fed raising rates in 2017 would likely exceed that seen in 2015 and 2016.
And while an accomodative Fed has been seen as a backstop for markets during the post-crisis bull run higher, a tighter Fed is bad news for stocks because when rates begin to rise, the end of the bull market has already been signaled. As we highlighted in our daily market outlook post, David Rosenberg at Gluskin Sheff wrote Thursday that, “Monetary policy is profoundly more important to the markets and the economy than is the case with fiscal policy, though all the Fed is doing now is removing accommodation.” Rosenberg added that, “there have been 13 Fed rate hike cycles in the post-WWII era, and 10 landed the economy in recession. Soft landing are rare and when they have occurred, they have come in the third year of the expansion, not the eighth.”
The gray bars mark recessions. Ahead of recessions, rates usually rise. Right now, rates are set to rise.
Wall Street’s so-called fear index has started to move in lockstep with stock prices and that has one money manager warning of an impending selloff even as market sentiment remains fairly stable. Jesse Felder, founder of the Felder Report and an alumni of Bear Stearns, on Friday shared a chart that showed an increasingly positive correlation between the S&P 500 and the CBOE Market Volatility Index. “Normally stocks and the VIX move in opposite directions…and it makes sense that rising stock prices mean less fear and vice versa,” said Felder. However, that reverse relationship has started to change in recent days as expectations of a market correction mount.
The VIX is a measure of the market’s expectation for volatility over the next 30 days and is calculated from the implied volatilities of S&P 500 index options. A low reading indicates a placid market while a higher number suggests elevated uncertainty. “The options market is pricing in greater volatility ahead even though stocks don’t yet reflect this same dynamic,” Felder told MarketWatch. “Over the past few years this signal has preceded anywhere from a 2% to a 10% correction.”
That this trend comes on top of the 10-year Treasury yield’s nearly 40% surge over the past year as the Federal Reserve prepares to tighten monetary policy suggest risky assets such as equities will face significant selling pressure. Analysts are projecting the Fed to raise interest rates three times this year, a view reinforced by comments from Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen on Friday that a rate hike at the next Federal Open Market Committee in mid-March is likely. “The Fed looks like it will take its third step toward tightening here soon so it might pay to remember the old Wall Street adage ‘three steps and a stumble.’ For these reasons, I think the chance of a major reversal is higher than it has been in the past,” he said.
The ObamaCare quandary. A fiasco for sure. Under it, not uncommonly, a family pays $12,000-a-year for a policy that carries a $5,000 deductible. That’s an interesting number in a land were most people don’t even have enough ready cash for routine car repairs. The cruel and idiotic injustice of such a set-up could only happen in a society that has normalized pervasive lying, universal accounting fraud, and corporate racketeering. I personally doubt the existing health care system can be reformed. Anyway, we’re starting in the wrong place with it. The part that nobody talks about is the psychopathic pricing system that drives medicine. The average cost for a normal (non-surgical) hospital childbirth in America these days is $10,000. WTF? An appendectomy: between $9,000 and $20,000 depending on where. WTF?
These days, a hip replacement runs about $38,000. Of course, you will never find out what a treatment or procedure costs before-the-fact. They simply won’t tell you. They’ll say something utterly ridiculous like, “we just don’t know.” You’ll find out when the bills roll in. Last time I had a hip replacement, I received a single line-item hospital charge report from the insurance company that said: “Room and board, 36 hours… $23,000.” Say what? This was apart from the surgeon’s bill and the cost of the metal implant, just for occupying a bed for a day and a half pending discharge. They didn’t do a damn thing besides take my blood pressure and temperature a dozen times, and give me a few hydrocodone pills.
The ugly truth, readers, is that medicine in the USA is a hostage racket. They have you in a tight spot at a weak moment and they extract maximum payment to allow you to get on with your life, with no meaningful correlation to services rendered — just whatever they could get. Until these racketeers are compelled under law to post their prices openly and transparently, no amount of tweaking the role of insurers or government policy will make any difference. Note, too, that there is a direct connection between the outrageous salaries of hospital executives and their non-transparent, dishonest, and extortionist pricing machinations. The pharma industry is, of course, a subsidiary racket and needs to be subject to the kind of treatment the Department of Justice used to dispense to the likes of the Teamsters Union.
The healthcare system probably will not be reformed, but rather will collapse, and when it does, it will reorganize itself in a way that barely resembles current practice. For one thing, citizens will have to gain control over their own disastrous behavior, especially their eating, or else suffer the consequences, namely an early death. Second, the hospital system must be decentralized so that localities are once again served by small hospitals and clinics. The current system represents a mergers-and-acquisitions orgy that went berserk the past quarter century. The resulting administrative over-burden at every medical practice in the land is a perfectly designed fraud machine for enabling rackets. Preliminary verdict: congress will get nowhere in 2017 trying to fix this mess. Some things are too big to fail; some are too broken to fix. The coming debacle in finance, markets, and currencies will speed its demise.
In an industry first, one of the world’s biggest oil companies has warned it could face legal action over climate change. Chevron, the California-based multinational, admitted it could be the subject of “governmental investigations and, potentially, private litigation” because of its role in causing global warming. And the firm added that regulations designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions might also render the “extraction of the company’s oil and gas resources economically infeasible”. Environmentalists suggested the decision to admit the threat to the company could be a reaction to legal case brought last year against Exxon Mobil by the Boston-based Conservation Law Foundation, which alleges the fossil fuel company tried to discredit climate science despite knowing the risks in order to make money.
Chevron was one of a number of oil firms targeted in a campaign by the Union of Concerned Scientists in the US to “stop funding climate disinformation”. And, in an official filing about the state of its financial health to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the company lays out possible reasons why it might have been in its interest to cast doubt on scientific evidence that its products are causing a problem. Laws requiring the reduction of emissions – like legislation that could be in the UK Government’s long-delayed Emissions Reduction Plan – “may result in increased and substantial … costs and could, among other things, reduce demand for hydrocarbons”, Chevron said in a section called “risk factors”.
“In the years ahead, companies in the energy industry, like Chevron, may be challenged by an increase in international and domestic regulation relating to greenhouse gas emissions,” it said. “Such regulation could have the impact of curtailing profitability in the oil and gas sector or rendering the extraction of the company’s oil and gas resources economically infeasible.”
A row between Ankara and Berlin over a series of cancelled Turkish political rallies in Germany is continuing to escalate. On Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Berlin of “aiding and harbouring” terror. He said a German-Turkish journalist detained by Turkey was a “German agent” and a member of the outlawed Kurdish militant group, the PKK. A source in Germany’s foreign ministry told Reuters the claims were “absurd”. Earlier German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she respected local authorities’ decisions to cancel rallies that Turkey’s justice and economy ministers had been scheduled to address. Turkey is trying to woo ethnic Turkish voters ahead of a key referendum. About 1.4 million Turks living in Germany are eligible to vote in the April referendum, in which President Erdogan aims to win backing for sweeping new powers.
The constitutional changes would boost Mr Erdogan’s presidency and significantly weaken parliament’s role. Turkish officials have been angered after local German officials withdrew permission for rallies in Gaggenau, Cologne and Frechen. Gaggenau authorities had said there was insufficient space for the rally, while Cologne officials said they had been misled about the purpose of the event. Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, who had been due to speak in Gaggenau, said he saw “old illnesses flaring up” between the two Nato allies. Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused the German government of backing opposition to Mr Erdogan’s planned constitutional changes. He said: “You are not Turkey’s boss. You are not a first class [country] and Turkey is not second class. We are not treating you like that, and you have to treat Turkey properly. “If you want to maintain your relations with us, you have to learn how to behave.”
Germany’s foreign ministry said the central government had nothing to do with the cancellations, and Ankara should refrain from “pouring oil on the fire”. The growing row is troubling for Chancellor Merkel because she persuaded Turkey to help block the surge of migrants – many of them Syrian refugees – into the EU. Separately, the Dutch government on Friday described plans for a Turkish referendum campaign rally in Rotterdam as “undesirable”. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was reportedly meant to attend the rally scheduled for 11 March. Ties between Berlin and Istanbul are also strained over Turkey’s arrest of Deniz Yucel, a journalist who works for Die Welt. Mr Yucel “hid in the German embassy as a member of the PKK and a German agent for one month”, Mr Erdogan said. “When we told them to hand him over to be tried, they refused.” German’s foreign ministry called the spy claims “absurd”. Ms Merkel, referring to the case earlier, told reporters in Tunis: “We support freedom of expression and we can criticise Turkey.”
The UK could walk away from the European Union in 2019 without paying a penny, the House of Lords has said, in a report bound to raise tensions with Brussels in the run-up to Brexit talks. The British government would have no legal obligation to either pay a €60bn Brexit bill mooted by the European commission or honour payments into the EU budget promised by the former prime minister David Cameron, according to analysis by the House of Lords EU financial affairs sub-committee. In a report published on Saturday, the committee argues that the British government would be on strong legal ground if it chose to leave the EU without paying anything, adding that Brussels would have no realistic chance of getting any money.
The peers stress, however, that if the government wants goodwill from EU countries and a deal on access to European markets, agreement on the budget will be important. “The UK appears to have a strong legal position in respect of the EU budget post-Brexit and this provides important context to the article 50 negotiations,” said Lady Falkner of Margravine, the Liberal Democrat peer who chairs the sub-committee. “Even though we consider that the UK will not be legally obliged to pay into the EU budget after Brexit, the issue will be a prominent factor in withdrawal negotiations. The government will have to set the financial and political costs of making such payments against potential gains from other elements of the negotiations.”
[..] The peers’ argument will be toxic to the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, whose staff drew up the mooted bill ranging from €55bn-€60bn. This covers the UK’s share of EU civil staff pensions, unpaid bills and decommissioning nuclear power plants. Barnier is expecting the UK to pay into the EU budget in 2019 and 2020, putting the UK on the hook for payments worth £12.4bn, agreed by Cameron in 2013. The EU’s €1tn, seven-year budget was negotiated in late 2013 by EU leaders including the British prime minister. It is due to expire at the end of 2020, although bills may be trickling in until 2023. This reflects that payments for EU-funded infrastructure projects, such as roads or airports, are not settled until two to three years after being promised.
Greece and its creditors look poised to strike a deal that will allow the nation to draw down aid and avoid defaulting on its debts in July. That sounds good, but it is, in fact, just a fudge. What’s needed instead is for the country to regain access to capital markets in its own right. To help make that happen, the European Central Bank should add Greek bonds to the list of securities eligible for purchase under its quantitative easing program.
The deal Greece is about to agree with its European partners and the IMF is the latest in a long line of compromises that have failed to address the core issue – that Greece’s debts, now 170% of economic output, are so burdensome they are preventing a recovery. The IMF is right to argue that Greece needs additional debt relief on the €174 billion it owes to the European Financial Stability Facility and the European Stability Mechanism. With elections looming this year in the Netherlands, France and Germany, however, details about that relief will probably have to wait until next year; voters don’t want to hear about Greek bailouts right now. But the ECB can act swiftly to include Greek bonds in its asset purchase program.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has told ECB President Mario Draghi that she’s willing to let inclusion in his QE program be used as an incentive to persuade Greece to agree to the new deal, the Greek news service Kathimerini reported on Wednesday, without identifying the source of its information. Draghi has made a new agreement between Greece and its lenders a condition of adding Greek debt to the 60 billion euros of bonds the central bank will buy from April, as it scales back the monthly program from 80 billion euros. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told lawmakers last week that he’s hopeful the latest bailout review can be completed by March 20, when euro-region finance ministers are scheduled to meet in Brussels.
While Greek yields have declined in recent weeks, they remain too high for the country to attempt to tap the markets. Greece’s two-year borrowing cost of about 7%, for example, compares with just 2% for Italy and 1.7% for Spain, both of which have benefited from the support of ECB purchases:
Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, the politician who previously accused the U.S. of arming ISIS, is still calling on the U.S. government to stop its disastrous regime change policies in the Middle East. According to a press release made public on Tuesday, Gabbard has again called for the U.S. to stop aiding terrorists like al-Qaeda and ISIS. Gabbard’s guest at the presidential address to Congress, a Kurdish refugee activist, also called for an end to the U.S. policy of “regime change in Syria.” Gabbard said:
“In the face of unimaginable heartbreak, Tima has been a voice for the voiceless, a champion for refugees worldwide, and a strong advocate for ending the regime change war in Syria. I am honored to welcome her to Washington tonight as we raise our voices to call on our nation’s leaders to end the counterproductive regime change war in Syria that has caused great human suffering, refugees, loss of life, and devastation. We urge leaders in Congress to pass the Stop Arming Terrorists Act and end our destructive policy of using American taxpayer dollars to provide direct and indirect support to armed militants allied with terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS in Syria, who are fighting to overthrow the Syrian government.”
Gabbard also reportedly told Russian state-owned news station RT: “For years, our government has been providing both direct and indirect support to these armed militant groups, who are working directly with or under the command of terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS, all in their effort and fight to overthrow the Syrian government.” The activist, Tima Kurdi, is more widely known as the aunt of a three-year-old boy who drowned on the shores of Turkey in September 2015. The image went viral on social media and was easily manipulated by the mainstream media to further the United States’ agenda in the region, never once laying blame to the U.S. military establishment for spending over $1 billion a year arming Syrian rebels.
In a bill aimed at encouraging asylum seekers to leave voluntarily, Austrian lawmakers are considering halting the provision of food and accommodation to migrants who are denied asylum and refuse to leave the country. Austria took in roughly 90,000 asylum seekers in 2015, more than 1 percent of its population, as it was swept up in Europe’s migration crisis when hundreds of thousands of people crossed its borders, most on their way to Germany. As Reuters notes, it has since tightened immigration restrictions and helped shut down the route through the Balkans by which almost all those people – many of them fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere – arrived. Asylum applications fell by more than half last year.
Asylum seekers in Austria get so-called basic services, including free accommodation, food, access to medical treatment and €40 pocket money a month. But now, Austria’s centrist coalition government on Tuesday agreed on a draft law which would allow authorities to stop providing accommodation and food to rejected asylum seekers who refuse to leave the country. “The first thing is basically that they don’t get anything from the Austrian state if they don’t have the right to stay here. Is that so hard to understand?” As Politico reports, Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said the law, which will need approval by parliament, was designed to encourage rejected asylum seekers to leave voluntarily.
Women and children crossing together illegally into the United States could be separated by US authorities under a proposal being considered by the Department of Homeland Security, according to three government officials. Part of the reason for the proposal is to deter mothers from migrating to the United States with their children, said the officials, who have been briefed on the proposal. The policy shift would allow the government to keep parents in custody while they contest deportation or wait for asylum hearings. Children would be put into protective custody with the Department of Health and Human Services, in the “least restrictive setting” until they can be taken into the care of a US relative or state-sponsored guardian.
Currently, families contesting deportation or applying for asylum are generally released from detention quickly and allowed to remain in the United States until their cases are resolved. A federal appeals court ruling bars prolonged child detention. Donald Trump has called for ending so-called “catch and release”, in which people who cross illegally are freed to live in the United States while awaiting legal proceedings. Two of the officials were briefed on the proposal at a 2 February town hall for asylum officers by US Citizenship and Immigration Services asylum chief John Lafferty. A third DHS official said the department was actively considering separating women from their children but has not made a decision. About 54,000 children and their guardians were apprehended between 1 October 2016, and 31 January 2017, more than double the number caught over the same time period a year earlier.
Parents who immigrated illegally to the United States and now fear deportation under the Trump administration are inundating immigration advocates with requests for help in securing care for their children in the event they are expelled from the country. The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) advocacy group has been receiving about 10 requests a day from parents who want to put in place temporary guardianships for their children, said spokesman Jorge-Mario Cabrera. Last year, the group said it received about two requests a month for guardianship letters and notarization services. At the request of a nonprofit organization, the National Lawyers Guild in Washington D.C. put out a call this week for volunteer attorneys to help immigrants fill out forms granting friends or relatives the right to make legal and financial decisions in their absence.
In New Jersey, immigration attorney Helen Ramirez said she is getting about six phone calls a day from parents. Last year, she said, she had no such calls. “Their biggest fear is that their kids will end up in foster care,” Ramirez said. President Donald Trump’s administration has issued directives to agents to more aggressively enforce immigration laws and more immigrants are coming under scrutiny by the authorities. For parents of U.S. citizens who are ordered removed, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency “accommodates, to the extent practicable, the parents’ efforts to make provisions” for their children, said ICE spokeswoman Sarah Rodriguez. She said that might include access to a lawyer, consular officials and relatives for detained parents to execute powers of attorney or apply for passports and buy airline tickets if the parents decide whether or not to take the children with them.
Randy Capps of the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), a Washington-based non-profit that analyzes the movement of people worldwide, said that while putting contingency plans in place is a good idea, he does not think the level of fear is justified. During the previous administration of President Barack Obama, a Democrat, the likelihood of both parents being deported was slim, Capps said. He doubts there will be a huge shift under Republican Trump toward deporting both parents. “The odds are still very low but not as low as they were – and this is just the beginning of the administration,” he said.
If options traders are correct, stocks are in for a wild ride in February. Demand for one-month call options tied to the CBOE Volatility Index, a popular gauge of stock-market volatility, has spiked in the past week, a sign that some are bracing for a sharp downturn following the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump. In that time, investors have purchased 250,000 VIX call options with a strike price at 21, and another 100,000 with the strike at 22, according to Brian Bier, head of sales and trading at Macro Risk Advisors, an options brokerage. The options cost roughly 49 cents per contract, Bier said. By comparison, the CBOE Volatility Index was at 11.16 in midday trading on Friday as the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 were on track to record modest daily gains. It would take a massive selloff to make these options profitable, Bier said.
Call options represent bets that the level or price of a given asset or index will rise during a given time—in this case, the period between Friday and Feb. 15, when these options expire. Investors frequently use VIX futures and options as a hedge against volatility. That way, if stocks tank, they can offset some of those losses with the profits from their options trades. “Even in the current low volatility environment, we’ve seen a lot of people still looking at the VIX as a hedge,” Bier said. Since the beginning of the year, stock-market volatility has been relatively subdued despite increasing uncertainty surrounding the future direction of fiscal and monetary policy in the U.S. The Daily Shot, a popular market newsletter, illustrates this divergence in the chart below.
Donald Trump has suggested he might drop sanctions against Russia and that the communist party rulers in Beijing needed to show good faith on currency and trade practices before he committed to a “One China” policy on Taiwan. In fresh signs that the US president-elect is prepared to reshape longstanding Washington foreign policy, he told the Wall Street Journal that he would keep sanctions against Russia in place “at least for a period of time”. But he added: “If you get along and if Russia is really helping us, why would anybody have sanctions if somebody’s doing some really great things?” Trump’s policy towards Russia is the subject of intense interest in Washington amid a Senate inquiry into allegations that the Kremlin ordered a hacking operation against the Democratic party to help the billionaire politician win the November election.
Trump – who has praised Vladimir Putin for being “very smart” – said he was willing to meet the Russian president in the months after he moves into the White House following his January 20 inauguration. “I understand that they would like to meet, and that’s absolutely fine with me,” he said. Controversy also surrounds the Trump administrations’s attitude towards China, with soon-to-be secretary of state Rex Tillerson warning Beijing this week that China would “not be allowed access” to its artificial islands in the South China Sea. Asked if he supported the “One China” policy on Taiwan that has underpinned US relations with Beijing for decades, Trump said: “Everything is under negotiation including ‘One China’,” the Journal reported.
Journalist Glenn Greenwald, who is not a fan of President-elect Trump, appeared on Tucker Carlson tonight to discuss the dangerous ongoing effort among powerful anti-Trump factions within the US Government’s “Deep State,” who have collaborated with members of the Democratic Party and the traditionally liberal media to inflict maximum damage on the incoming President. Recall Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s ominous “six ways from Sunday” comment from 10 days ago. Greenwald, an accomplished litigator, journalist, and author, does a masterful job illustrating the players, motives, and potential fallout from this dangerous effort within the US Government’s intelligence apparatus. Greenwald goes deep, discussing how Trump’s election ruined the plan for regime change in Syria, specifically mentioning, among other things, that the deep state was waiting for Obama to leave office before executing their plan:
“The number one foreign policy priority of the CIA over the last four to five years has been the proxy war they’re waging in Syria to remove Bashar Al Assad – and Hillary Clinton was quite critical of Obama for constraining them. She wanted to escalate that war to unleash the CIA, to impose a no-fly zone in Syria to confront Russia, whereas Trump took the exact opposite position. He said we have no business in Syria trying to change the government, we ought to let the Russia and Assad go free and killing ISIS and Al Quaeda and whoever else they want to kill. He [Trump] was a threat to the CIA’s primary institutional priority of regime change in Syria.
Beyond that, Clinton wanted a much more confrontational and belligerent posture towards Moscow, which the CIA has been acrimonious with for decades, whereas Trump wanted better relations. They viewed Trump as a threat to their institutional pre-eminence to their ability to get their agenda imposed on Washington. What you’re seeing is actually quite dangerous. There really is at this point obvious open warefare between this un-elected, but very powerful faction that resides in Washington and sees Presidents come and go – on the one hand, and the person that the American democracy elected to be elected on the other. There’s clearly extreme conflict and subversion taking place.”
[Fiat] CEO Sergio Marchionne called the allegations “unadulterated hogwash.”
I said when this broke in late 2015 that it was unpossible that VW’s competitors would not have known. Nobody had succeeded in making ‘clean’ engines’. Then VW claims it has. So the others go out, buy a VW car and take it completely apart, including software. They knew. Simple as that. And some will have used that knowledge.
Pressure weighing on the global auto industry for more than a year finally appeared to ease on Wednesday as Volkswagen agreed to $4.3 billion in fines for cheating on emissions tests, largely putting the scandal to rest. Less than a day later, the outlook darkened again as Renault and Fiat Chrysler were hit with similar allegations of violating clean-air regulations. Paris prosecutors, who raided Renault a year ago in an initial emissions investigation, opened a probe into the automaker on Thursday. About the same time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency accused Fiat Chrysler of installing software in 104,000 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Ram 1500 pickups that allowed them to exceed pollution limits on the road. The Justice Department also is investigating Fiat Chrysler over its diesel emissions, according to people familiar with the matter, Bloomberg reported Friday.
Both companies denied using software like Volkswagen’s, which was designed to lower emissions to legal limits when it senses the car is being tested and then easing pollution controls on the road to improve performance. Nonetheless, the prospect of a fight with authorities sent shares of the two automakers tumbling. Fiat fell 16% on Thursday before clawing back some of those losses today after CEO Sergio Marchionne called the allegations “unadulterated hogwash.” Renault lost as much as 6% in Paris trading Friday morning, its sharpest drop since June, after word of the probe filtered out. The shares finished the day down 3.2%.
[..] “There will be many more probes,” said Matthias Holweg, a management professor at Oxford University’s Said Business School. “The scope for manipulation is very present for every car company.” Renault, whose biggest shareholder is the French government with a 20% stake, says it hasn’t received any official notification about the latest developments in the probe, which French prosecutors announced in a brief statement on Friday. The company insists its vehicles comply with French and European Union legislation and aren’t equipped with software to cheat on emissions.
Senior Volkswagen managers have been warned not to travel to the United States, legal and company sources told Reuters, after six current and former managers were indicted for their role in the German carmaker’s diesel test-cheating scheme. One of the six charged, Oliver Schmidt, was arrested at Miami International Airport on Saturday as he was about to fly home from holiday in Cuba. Schmidt, who is caught up in the “Dieselgate” investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, was ordered to be charged and held without bail on Thursday pending trial. Under the constitution, German citizens can be extradited only to other European Union countries or to an international court.
But leaving Germany at all could pose a risk of being extradited to the United States from a third country. “Several Volkswagen managers have been advised not to travel to the United States,” one legal adviser to Volkswagen said on condition of anonymity because the matter is confidential. A second legal adviser said this also applied to managers who had not yet been charged with any offense in the United States. “One doesn’t need to test the limits,” the adviser said. Schmidt was among those who had been warned by lawyers working for the company not to travel to the United States, one of the legal sources said.
Tulsi Gabbard has had a banner year. She resigned as vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, broke ranks with her colleagues in Hawaii’s congressional delegation by throwing her support to Bernie Sanders rather than Hillary Clinton, drew the largest applause at the Hawaii Democratic Party Convention, and entered the national spotlight by putting Sanders’ name in nomination at the Democratic National Convention in August. But Gabbard wasn’t done. Following Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump in the last half-century’s most vile campaign, she was invited to Trump Tower to meet with the president-elect. Worse in the eyes of some of the bluest of blue Democrats, she accepted the invitation. Gabbard offers no apologies, starting with the Trump meeting.
“He invited me to talk about Syria,” she says. “I’ve been focused on Syria for a long time. It’s a counterproductive regime-change war. “We had an hour-long, very substantive discussion about Syria and the Middle East. On some things we seemed to agree, on others we didn’t. I think the issue provides an opportunity for bipartisanship.” Nor does Gabbard have second thoughts about her support for Sanders. “I don’t make decisions based on political expediency,” she insists. “I supported him because of his positions on the issues, particularly on foreign policy. He opposed destructive regime-change wars, like Iraq and Syria. He called for Wall Street reform, reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act. I thought he was right on trade, opposing the Pacific Partnership that, like NAFTA, undermines our sovereignty.”
Nor to those who feel that, as a woman, she should have been supporting Clinton: “I’m offended that I must think with my gender regarding the candidacy of Hillary Clinton for president. I’m interested in the issues.” For Gabbard, a major in the Hawaii National Guard and veteran of two deployments to the Middle East, “issues of war and peace can’t be dealt with like other issues. I’ve seen firsthand the cost of war, the deaths of fellow soldiers — the billions of dollars spent on regime-change wars that could have been used for our own domestic needs. “That’s why I supported Bernie Sanders. That’s why I took the meeting with Trump. I wanted to share my views on these subjects, to get to him before the neoconservative voices get behind another regime-change war.”
Deutsche Bank’s Turkish unit rejected claims by a pro-government newspaper that it’s plotting to undermine the economy, and said it’s “unacceptable” for the lender’s name to be associated with terrorism. The daily Yeni Safak on Thursday reported that Deutsche Bank and other German institutions were attempting “economic terror” against Turkey by recalling loans to companies before their their due dates. It didn’t identify the debtors or the other German institutions. “Claims in the story about calling loans before their maturity and conducting operations in coordination with other institutions are totally groundless,” the lender’s Istanbul-based business said in an e-mailed statement Friday. Deutsche Bank hadn’t been approached for comment before the publication of the article, it said.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his aides often invoke a conspiracy against Turkey by outside powers when the lira declines, saying other nations are jealous of the country’s economic growth under his leadership. On Thursday, Erdogan accused Turkey’s enemies of speculating in the lira and called on Turks to “thwart these games” by selling their holdings in other currencies. Deutsche Bank, which has been in Turkey since 1987, employs 143 people at its Turkish unit, which posted net income of 72.5 million lira ($19.2 million) at the end of 2015, according to its annual report. It’s not the first time that Deutsche Bank has attracted the fury of the Turkish press. In January 2014, the German lender denied local reports that it deliberately drove down shares of a Turkish state-run lender that had been implicated in a corruption scandal.
Deutsche Bank said most of the shares it processed in that episode were owned by its clients, and it wasn’t trading sufficient volumes to affect the company’s share price. More recently, the Frankfurt-based institution figured in a different way in government rhetoric. At the height of the bank’s share slide and capital concerns last September, Yigit Bulut, a chief adviser to Erdogan, said Turkey should consider buying Deutsche Bank. “Some very good companies in the EU are going to fall into trouble and we need to be ready to buy a controlling stake in them,” Bulut wrote on Twitter. “Wouldn’t you be happy to make Germany’s biggest bank into a Turkish Bank!!”
Supreme Court prosecutor Nikos Pantelis on Friday suggested that the remaining four Turkish army officers who sought asylum in Greece should not be extradited to Turkey. The four Turkish military men are part of a group of eight who fled to Greece after the July 15 failed coup attempt in the neighboring country and request asylum. Earlier in the week, the Supreme Court also ruled against the extradition of the other four. Nikos Pantelis cited the risk of torture and the prospect of an unfair trial in Turkey as the key reasons behind his recommendation that Greek authorities refuse Ankara’s extradition request. Earlier this week, in two separate sessions at the Supreme Court, two other prosecutors also opposed extradition for the other four men, citing the same concerns.
Governments along the Western Balkan route into the European Union must do more to help migrants and refugees who are dying in the cold winter weather rather than just violently push them back from the border, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said on Friday, adding that the “situation in Greece is dire.” “Children are particularly prone to respiratory illnesses at a time like this,” said UNICEF spokesperson Sarah Crowe at a UN briefing in Geneva, while the UNHCR called for the transfer of some 1,000 people, including children, who are living outdoors in tents with no heating on the island of Samos to shelters on the Greek mainland.
Meanwhile, locals on the island of Lesvos are reportedly dismayed by the presence of the Lesvos, a navy vessel which has become a temporary shelter for just 40 asylum seekers. In a letter to Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas, the island’s mayor, Spyros Galinos, called for the transfer of a sizable number of asylum seekers from camps on Lesvos in order to “finally decongest the island.” Galinos accused Mouzalas of transforming the port into a reception center and slammed what he described as the minister’s failed policies which have had “tragic consequences for the island.” Despite the presence of the vessel, migrants at the Moria camp are refusing to move there as they prefer to remain close to the nearby Asylum Service to get information and updates on their applications.
Refugees and migrants are dying in Europe’s cold snap and governments must do more to help them rather than pushing them back from borders and subjecting them to violence, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said on Friday. “Children are particularly prone to respiratory illnesses at a time like this. It’s about saving lives, not about red tape and keeping to bureaucratic arrangements,” Sarah Crowe, a spokeswoman for the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF told a U.N. briefing in Geneva. “The dire situation right now is Greece.” UNHCR spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly cited five deaths so far from cold and said about 1,000 people including children were in unheated tents and dormitories on the Greek island of Samos, calling for them to be transferred to shelter on the mainland.
Hundreds of others had been moved to better accommodation on the islands of Lesbos and Chios in the past few days. In Serbia, about 80% of the 7,300 refugees, asylum seekers and migrants are staying in heated government shelters, but 1,200 men were sleeping rough in informal sites in Belgrade. The bodies of two Iraqi men and a young Somali woman were found close to the Turkish border in Bulgaria and two Somali teenagers were hospitalized with frostbite after five days in a forest, Pouilly said. The body of a young Pakistani man was found along the same border in late December. A 20-year-old Afghan man died after crossing the Evros River on the Greece-Turkey land border at night when temperatures were below -10 degrees Celsius.
The body of a young Pakistani man was found on the Turkish side of the border with Bulgaria. “Given the harsh winter conditions, we are particularly concerned by reports that authorities in all countries along the Western Balkans route continue to push back refugees and migrants from inside their territory to neighboring countries,” Pouilly said. Some refugees and migrants said police subjected them to violence and many said their phones were confiscated or destroyed, preventing them from calling for help, she said. “Some even reported items of clothing being confiscated thus further exposing them to the harsh winter conditions,” she said. “These practices are simply unacceptable and must be stopped.”
A Nevada woman has died from an infection resistant to all available antibiotics in the United States, public health officials report. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the woman’s condition was deemed incurable after being tested against 26 different antibiotics. Though this isn’t the first case of pan-resistant bacteria in the U.S., at this time it is still uncommon. Still, experts note that antibiotic resistance is a growing health concern globally and call the newly reported case “a wake up call.” “This is the latest reminder that yes, antibiotic resistance is real,” Dr. James Johnson, a professor specializing in infectious diseases at the University of Minnesota Medical School, told CBS News. “This is not some future, fantasized armageddon threat that maybe will happen after our lifetime. This is now, it’s real, and it’s here.”
According to the report, the woman from Washoe County was in her 70s and had recently returned to America after an extended trip to India. She had been hospitalized there several times before being admitted to an acute care hospital in Nevada in mid-August. Doctors discovered the woman was infected with carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), which is a family of germs that CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden has called “nightmare bacteria” due to the danger it poses for spreading antibiotic resistance. The woman had a specific type of CRE, called Klebsiella pneumoniae, which can lead to a number of illnesses, including pneumonia, blood stream infections, and meningitis. In early September, she developed septic shock and died. The authors of the report highlight the need for doctors and hospitals to ask incoming patients about recent travel and if they have been hospitalized elsewhere.
Mary Callahan Erdoes, one of JPMorgan Chase’s most senior executives, summed up her industry’s mood like this: “There is no excitement,” she told throngs of bankers gathered in Washington. “There is a lot of handwringing.” Again and again, speakers at the Institute of International Finance’s three-day meeting in Washington, which wrapped up Saturday, bemoaned the inability of central banks to rev up economic growth, as well as the drag of tougher regulations and the looming impact of Brexit. Concerns over Deutsche Bank’s mounting legal costs deepened the gloom. Slow growth is leaving companies little reason to expand, fueling the public’s frustration and giving rise to extreme political views and nationalism, said Erdoes, 49, who runs JPMorgan’s asset-management operations.
Low interest rates – instead of better fiscal stimulus – are taking a toll on the entire system, she said. “We had a very smart economist at JPMorgan ask me the following question: How do you have capitalism without any cost of capital? And therein lies the problem.” [..] Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn called the world’s central banks an “ineffective cartel,” as actions in Europe and Japan lead to negative rates and hamstring other policy makers. The outlook for low growth is long-term, he said. “I don’t see this changing,” Cohn said Friday. “We keep saying we’re getting closer to the end, but I don’t think we’re getting closer to the end.”
The U.S. is often referred to as the land of economic opportunity. Apparently, it’s also the land of consumption and “spend everything you’ve got.” We don’t have to look far for confirmation that Americans are generally poor savers. Every month the St. Louis Federal Reserve releases data on personal household savings rates. In July 2016, the personal savings rate was just 5.7%. Comparatively, personal savings rates in the U.S. 50 years ago were double where they are today, and nearly all developed countries have a higher personal savings rate than the United States. In other words, Americans are saving less of their income than they should be — the recommendation is to save between 10% and 15% of your annual income — and they’re being forced to do more with less in terms of investing.
However, new data emerged this week from personal-finance news website GoBankingRates that shows just how dire Americans’ savings habits really are. Last year, GoBankingRates surveyed more than 5,000 Americans only to uncover that 62% of them had less than $1,000 in savings. Last month GoBankingRates again posed the question to Americans of how much they had in their savings account, only this time it asked 7,052 people. The result? Nearly seven in 10 Americans (69%) had less than $1,000 in their savings account. Breaking the survey data down a bit further, we find that 34% of Americans don’t have a dime in their savings account, while another 35% have less than $1,000. Of the remaining survey-takers, 11% have between $1,000 and $4,999, 4% have between $5,000 and $9,999, and 15% have more than $10,000.
Furthermore, even though lower-income adults struggle with saving money more than middle- and upper-income folks, no income group did particularly well. Some 29% of adults earning more than $150,000 a year, and 44% making between $100,000 and $149,999, had less than $1,000 in savings. Comparatively, 73% of the lowest income adults (those earnings $24,999 or less annually) had less than $1,000 in their savings account. There was even minimal difference between multiple generations of Americans. From seniors aged 65 and up to young millennials aged 18 to 24, between 62% and 72% of Americans had less than $1,000 in a savings account.
Over the past few days, the Diamond Producers Association launched its first new ad campaign in five years after watching retail sales of diamond jewelry slow down, as Millennials built on the habit pioneered by prior generations of delaying or not even thinking about marriage, and thus not being sufficiently enthusiastic about buying diamond engagement rings. The campaign, according to Adweek, is designed to motivate Millennials “to commemorate their ‘real,’ honest relationships with diamonds, even if marriage isn’t part of the equation.” Mother New York, the agency behind the campaign, spent months interviewing millennials, according to Quartz, and learned that they associated diamonds with a “fairytale love story that wasn’t relevant to them.”
So the premium jewelry industry, seeing future profits at risk, needs to do something about that. A year ago, it was Wall Street – specifically Goldman Sachs – that did a lot of hand-wringing about millennials. “They don’t trust the stock market,” Goldman Sachs determined in a survey. Only 18% thought that the stock market was “the best way to save for the future.” It’s a big deal for Wall Street because millennials are now the largest US generation. There are 75 million of them. They’re supposed to be the future source of big bonuses. Wall Street needs to figure out how to get to their money. The older ones have seen the market soar, collapse, re-soar, re-collapse, re-soar…. They’ve seen the Fed’s gyrations to re-inflate stocks. They grew up with scandals and manipulations, high-frequency trading, dark pools, and spoofing.
They’ve seen hard-working people get wiped out and wealthy people get bailed out. Maybe they’d rather not mess with that infernal machine. And today, the Los Angeles Times added more fuel. “They’re known for bouncing around jobs, delaying marriage, and holing up in their parents’ basements,” it mused. Everyone wants to know why millennials don’t follow the script. Brick-and-mortar retailers have been complaining about them for years, with increasing intensity, and a slew of specialty chains have gone bankrupt, a true fiasco for the industry, even as online retailers are laughing all the way to the bank. “For starters, millennials are not big spenders, at least not in the traditional sense,” the Times said. Yet most of them spend every dime they earn, those that have decent jobs. But much of that spending goes toward their student-loan burden and housing.
The S&P 500 is moving fast toward an impending breakout that could be bad news for investors. “And it’s gonna be big, by all accounts,” said Carter Braxton Worth, a technical analyst at research firm Cornerstone Macro. The S&P 500 has been trading within a “symmetrical triangle” on a number of time scales, as the index traced out a pattern of rising lows and falling highs. Since the upper and lower boundary lines are narrowing to a point, it’s just a matter of time before the S&P 500 breaks above or below one of them. “It is a circumstance where buyers and sellers are matched off so evenly that purchases being made by those who like a particular security are in the same order of magnitude as the selling being done by those who dislike the security,” Worth wrote in a note to clients.
His research suggests that the resolution of these standoffs is usually “aggressive,” with the index moving past the declining or rising trendlines “in a meaningful way.” Many technicians believe triangles represent continuation patterns, or periods of pause in a bigger trend, which means they should eventually be resolved in the direction of the preceding trend. In the S&P 500’s case, that would mean a big rally is coming. But Worth said that based on his interpretation of the charts, the S&P 500’s triangle looks more like a reversal pattern. “We believe the current formation is a setup for a move lower,” Worth said.
Beset by lending curbs and bubble-esque prices, first-time home buyers in Australia are turning to a rapidly growing source of finance: The Bank of Mom and Dad. More parents are taking advantage of record-low interest rates to refinance their properties and help their grown-up kids onto the housing ladder amid sky-rocketing house values. Digital Finance Analytics estimates the number of Aussies getting help from their parents has soared to more than half of first-home buyers from just 3% six years ago. Australia’s housing rally has favored baby-boomers and locked out youth, compounding an inter-generational shift of wealth.
As the number of bank loans to first-time buyers dwindles, the average slice of cash handed to them by parents has almost quadrupled in the past six years, DFA says. The downside: a market that the Reserve Bank of Australia is already wary of may get further inflated. First-time buyers are “being infected by the notion that property is about wealth building, rather than somewhere to live,” said Martin North, Principal at DFA. That “may be tested if interest rates rise later, or property prices fall from their current illogical stratospheric levels.” [..] The boom is turning some homes into cash dispensers. More than two thirds of owners that refinanced houses worth more than A$750,000 did so to extract capital for reasons including helping their kids. Near the start of 2010, the average helping hand from parents was about A$23,000; today, it’s more than A$80,000.
China’s currency outflows may be bigger than they look, with Goldman Sachs warning that a rising amount of capital is exiting the country in yuan rather than in dollars. While the nation’s foreign-exchange reserves have stabilized and lenders’ net foreign-exchange purchases for clients have fallen close to a one-year low, official data show that $27.7 billion in yuan payments left China in August. That’s compared with a monthly average of $4.4 billion in the five years through 2014. Such large cross-border moves can’t be explained by market-driven factors and need to be taken into account when measuring currency outflows, according to MK Tang, Hong Kong-based senior China economist at Goldman Sachs.
Any sign of increased capital outflows could disturb a recent calm in China’s foreign-exchange market, adding to pressure from a potential Federal Reserve interest-rate increase and denting the yuan’s image as the world’s newest global reserve currency. The yuan fell to a six-year low on Monday, adding to outflow pressures. “There is some window guidance from the central bank that limits companies’ dollar conversion onshore, so they need to move the money overseas in yuan,” said Harrison Hu, chief Greater China economist at RBS in Singapore. “But they don’t have a strong willingness to hold the yuan due to depreciation expectations, so they sell it to offshore banks. This pressures the offshore yuan’s exchange rate.”
[..] Goldman Sachs started including yuan funds in its analysis of outflows in July, after noting that cross-border movement of the currency masked actual pressures. The bank estimates that 56% and 87% of outflows took place through the offshore yuan market in July and August, respectively.
In 2000 when Putin was elected president, he publically promoted security and economic cooperation with Europe and the United States. After 9/11, he offered real assistance to Washington. The United States accepted the Russian help, but continued its anti-Russian policies. Putin extended his hand to the west, but on the basis of five kopeks for five kopeks. This was a Soviet policy of the interwar years. It did not work then and it does not work now. In 2007 Putin spoke frankly at the Munich conference on Security Policy about overbearing US behaviour. The “colour revolutions” in Georgia and the Ukraine, for example, and the Anglo-American war of aggression against Iraq raised Russian concerns. US government officials did not appreciate Putin’s truth-telling which went against their standard narrative about «exceptionalist» America and altruistic foreign policies to promote «democracy».
Then in 2008 came the Georgian attack on South Ossetia and the successful Russian riposte which crushed the Georgian army. It’s been all down-hill since then. Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Yemen are all victims of US aggression or that of its vassals. The United States engineered and bankrolled a fascist coup d’état in Kiev and has attempted to do the same in Syria reverting to their “Afghan policy” of bankrolling, supplying and supporting a Wahhabi proxy war of aggression against Syria. Backing fascists on the one hand and Islamist terrorists on the other, the United States has plumbed the depths of malevolence. President Putin and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov have made important concessions, to persuade the US government to avert catastrophe in the Middle East and Europe.
To no avail, five kopeks for five kopeks is not an offer the United States understands. Assymetrical advantages is what Washington expects. One cannot reproach the Russian government for trying to negotiate with the United States, but this policy has not worked in the Ukraine or Syria. Russian support of the legitimate government in Damascus has exposed the US-led war of aggression and exposed its strategy of supporting Al-Qaeda, Daesh, and their various Wahhabi iterations against the Syrian government. US Russophobia is redoubled by Putin’s exposure of American support for Islamist fundamentalists and by Russia’s successful, up to now, thwarting of US aggression. Who does Putin think he is? From my observations, I would reply that President Putin is a plain-spoken Russian statesman, with the support of the Russian people behind him.
For five kopeks against five kopeks, he will work with the United States and its vassals, no matter how malevolent they have been, if they adopt less destructive policies. Unfortunately, recent events suggest that the United States has no intention of doing so. After one hundred years of almost uninterrupted western hostility, no one should be under any illusions. So then, the question is “Why do they hate us so?” Because President Putin wants to build a strong, prosperous, independent Russian state in a multi-polar world. Because the Russian people cannot be bullied and will defend their country tenaciously. “Go tell all in foreign lands that Russia lives!» Prince Aleksandr Nevskii declared in the 13th century: «Those who come to us in peace will be welcome as a guest. But those who come to us sword in hand will die by the sword! On that Russia stands and forever will we stand!”
Yeah, Daniel Hannan has lots of stuff wrong with him. But Britain must have this conversation regardless of that. I picked this piece up on Twitter, with this accompanying comment: “No aspect of Brexit is Remain voters’ fault in any way, or to any extent at all.” I don’t know if that was meant sarcastically, but I would certainly hope so. Without that conversation things can only get worse. Remainers must try harder to understand why Brexit happened. If nothing else, I would think they’re at least ‘guilty’ of not seeing it coming. And perhaps also of seeing Brexit as the problem, not a mere symptom.
Shortly after the EU referendum, several thousand young people marched through London demanding a rerun. I happened to be sitting next to three of them on a train as I travelled into the capital that morning. They evidently recognised me right away as an Evil Tory Leaver, but we were past Clapham Junction before one of them plucked up the courage to talk to me. “Are you Daniel Hannan? I just wanted to say that what you’ve done is terrible. We’re not a racist country. You’ve taken away our future.” “Is that so? Out of interest, can you tell me who the President of the European Commission is?” “No. What’s that got to do with it?” “Can you name a single European Commissioner, come to that? Do you know what our budget contribution will be this year? Or what the difference is between a Directive and a Regulation?”
She was affronted by the questions. So were her two friends with their “I [heart] EU” placards. They weren’t interested in details. For them, it was about values. Are you a decent, internationalist, compassionate person? Or are you a selfish bigot? Let’s leave aside the fact that no one would ever vote on any ballot paper for a “selfish bigot” option. Their determination to approach the issue in terms of character, rather than cost-benefit, explains why they were so upset – and why, even now, some Remain voters struggle to accept the outcome. In my experience, the 48% who voted Remain fall into two categories. There are those who were making a judgement as to where Britain’s best options lay. They could see that the is EU flawed.
They were well aware of the corruption, the lack of democracy, the slow growth. But they took the view that, on balance, the disruption of leaving would outweigh the gains. These people, by and large, now want to make a success of things, and are keen to maximise our opportunities. Then there were those like my companions on South West Trains, for whom the issue was not financial but somehow moral. For them, the EU wasn’t the grubby and self-interested body that exists in reality; rather, it was a symbol of something better and purer, an embodiment of the dream of peace among nations. They never heard, because they never wanted to hear, the democratic or economic arguments against membership. As far as they were concerned, the only possible reason for voting Leave was chauvinism.
“Euro Area Looks to Help on Debt” sounds like the epitomy of cynicism. The Eurogroup withheld €1.7 billion, to Greece’s surprise, because it wanted to assess A) whether a June payment was fully used to pay off third parties, and B) whether the government had squeezed its people enough (reforms). The delay is convenient for Brussels because it also delays debt restructuring talks once again, for the umpteenth time. And without those talks, the IMF won’t commit. Rinse and repeat.
The euro area authorized a €1.1 billion payment to Greece and signaled a further €1.7 billion would follow this month, saying the region’s most indebted nation has made progress in overhauling its economy. The green light, given by euro-area finance ministers on Monday in Luxembourg, removes a hurdle on Greece’s path to debt relief on which Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has staked part of his political future. The country had to fulfill 15 conditions on matters such as selling state assets and improving bank governance to get the first payout.
It “was unanimously decided that Greece had completed the 15 milestones, so we can proceed to the €1.1 billion disbursement,” Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos told reporters after the meeting, saying the talks produced a “very good” outcome for his country. The delay in getting an endorsement for the remaining sum, which is tied to the clearing of arrears, is merely “technical,” he said. Greece, in its third bailout since 2010, is struggling to right an economy that is poised to undergo its eighth annual contraction in the past nine years. A second review of the country’s rescue program will pave the way for a possible restructuring of Greece’s debt, which the IMF says is a necessary condition for its future involvement.
This feels like a military coup, a chapter straight out of the Shock Doctrine. Stocks go up because people’s lives go down.
Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: “Brazil’s lower House- in the face of negative growth- just voted to amend the Constitution to ban spending increases for 20 years..” “This extreme austerity in Brazil – enabled by impeachment- is being imposed in world’s 7th largest economy, 5th most populous country (200m). ”
Nomi Prins on Twitter: “Brazil’s coup was about advancing western speculative market access & squashing domestic population needs – for decades…bastards.”
The Ibovespa rose to a two-year high and the real gained as commodities advanced and as expectations mounted that lawmakers will approve a bill to cap spending, a key measure in President Michel Temer’s plan to trim a budget deficit and rebuild confidence in Brazil. The benchmark equity index rose 0.9% and the currency climbed 0.5% Monday in Sao Paulo. [..] Brazilian stocks have gained 75% in dollar terms this year and the real has strengthened 24%, the best performances in the world, on bets that a new government would be able to pull the country out of its worst recession in a century.
Temer, who formally replaced impeached former President Dilma Rousseff in August, said the administration should have enough votes to drive through a budget bill Monday that’s seen as a vital first step toward his economic reforms. The proposal to amend the Constitution to set limits on government spending for as long as 20 years must be approved by at least three-fifths of both chambers of Congress. “The market is very optimistic over this legislation,” said Paulo Figueiredo, an economist at FN Capital in Petropolis, Brazil. “New bets on local assets depend a lot on the signals that will come from this vote.”
Global investment in clean energy fell to the lowest in more than three years as demand for new renewable energy sources slumped in China, Japan and Europe. Third-quarter spending was $42.4 billion, down 43% from the same period last year and the lowest since the $41.8 billion reported in the first quarter of 2013, Bloomberg New Energy Finance said in a report Monday. Financing for large solar and wind energy plants sank as governments cut incentives for clean energy and costs declined, said Michael Liebreich at the London-based research company. Total investment for this year is on track to be “well below” last year’s record of $348.5 billion, according to New Energy Finance.
The third-quarter numbers “are worryingly low even compared to the subdued trend we saw” in the first two quarters, Liebreich said in a statement. “Key markets such as China and Japan are pausing for a deep breath.” Part of the reason for the steep decline in the quarter was a slowdown following strong spending in the first half of the year on offshore wind. Investors poured $20.1 billion into European offshore wind farms in the first and second quarters, “a runaway record,” according to Abraham Louw, an analyst for energy economics with New Energy Finance. That was followed by a “summer lull,” with $2.4 billion in spending in the third quarter.
Igor Sechin, Russia’s most influential oil executive and the head of Kremlin energy champion Rosneft, said his company will not cut or freeze oil production as part of a possible agreement with OPEC. His comments underline how difficult it is for Russia to get its oil companies to freeze or cut output as part of a potential deal with OPEC designed to support oil prices. President Vladimir Putin told an energy congress on Monday that Russia was ready to join the proposed OPEC cap, but did not provide any details. “Why should we do it?” Sechin, known for his anti-OPEC position, told Reuters in Istanbul on Monday evening, when asked if Rosneft, which accounts for 40% of Russia’s total crude oil output, might cap its own output.
Sechin said he doubted that some OPEC countries, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela would cut their output either, saying that an increase in oil prices above $50 per barrel would make shale oil projects in the United States profitable. There have been several attempts in the past for Russia and OPEC to join forces to stabilize oil markets. Those efforts have never come to pass however. Oil prices surged on Monday after Putin’s comments amid hopes that a two-year price slide could be halted.
Last month, the British government signed off on what might be the most controversial and least promising plan for a nuclear power station in a generation. Why did it do this? Because the project isn’t just about energy: It’s also a stealth initiative to bolster Britain’s nuclear deterrent. For years, the British government has been promoting a plan to build two so-called European Pressurized Reactors (EPR) at Hinkley Point C, in southwest England. It estimates that the facility will produce about 7% of the nation’s total electricity from 2025, the year it is expected to be completed. The EPR’s designer, Areva, claims that the reactor is reliable, efficient and so safe that it could withstand a collision with an airliner.
But the project is staggeringly expensive: It will cost more than $22 billion to build and bring online. And it isn’t clear that the EPR technology is viable. No working version of the reactor exists. The two EPR projects that are furthest along — one in Finland, the other in France — are many years behind schedule, have hemorrhaged billions of dollars and are beset by major safety issues. The first casting of certain components for the Hinkley Point C reactors left serious metallurgical flaws in the pressure vessel that holds the reactor core. In 2014, the Cambridge University nuclear engineer Tony Roulstone declared the EPR design “unconstructable.”
The lead builder of the EPR, the French utility company Electricité de France, faced a mutiny this year: Its unions fought the Hinkley Point project, fearing it might bring down the company. E.D.F.’s chief financial officer has resigned, arguing that it would put too much strain on the company’s balance sheet. But the British government continues to act as though it wants the Hinkley project to proceed at almost any price. In return for covering about one-third of the costs, the Chinese state-run company China General Nuclear Power Corporation will take about one-third ownership in the project. (A subsidiary of E.D.F. owns the rest.) The British government has also provisionally agreed to let China build a yet-untested Chinese-designed reactor in Bradwell-on-Sea, northeast of London, later.
[..] The British government has [..] guaranteed that investors in the Hinkley project will get $115 per megawatt-hour over 35 years. This is approximately twice the price of electricity today [..]. If the market price of electricity falls below that rate, a government company is contractually bound to cover the difference — with the extra cost passed on to consumers. Price forecasts have dropped since the deal was struck: This summer the government, revising estimates, said differential payments owed under the contract could reach nearly $37 billion. If the Hinkley plan seems outrageous, that’s because it only makes sense if one considers its connection to Britain’s military projects — especially Trident, a roving fleet of armed nuclear submarines, which is outdated and needs upgrading.
Oil prices plunged on Monday after the world’s top producers failed to reach an agreement on capping output aimed at easing a global supply glut during a meeting in Doha. Hopes the world’s main producer cartel, OPEC, and other major exporters like Russia would agree to freeze output has helped scrape oil prices off the 13-year lows they touched in February. But crude tanked after top producer Saudi Arabia walked away from the talks, which many hoped would ease a huge surplus in world supplies, because of a boycott by its rival Iran. Oil tumbled in early Asian trade after the collapse of Sunday’s talks, with prices dropping as much as seven% in opening deals.
At around 0100 GMT, US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for May delivery was down $2.11, or 5.23%, from Friday’s close at $38.25 a barrel. Global benchmark Brent crude for June lost 4.71%, or $2.03, to $41.07. “Despite many of the 18 oil producers believing the meeting in Doha was merely a rubber stamp affair for an oil production freeze, Saudi Arabia managed to throw a spanner in the works,” said Angus Nicholson at IG Markets. “With Saudi Arabia fighting proxy wars with Iran in Yemen and Syria/Iraq, it is understandable that they had little inclination to freeze their own production and make way for newly sanctions-free Iran to increase their market share.”
It was the worst possible outcome for oil producers at their weekend meeting in Doha, with their failure to reach even a weak agreement showing very publicly their divisions and inability to act in their own interests. Expectations for the meeting had been modest at best, with sources in the producer group predicting an agreement to freeze output. But even this meagre hope was dashed by Saudi Arabia’s insistence Iran join any deal, something the newly sanctions-free Islamic republic wouldn’t countenance. From a producer point of view, an agreement including Iran that shifted market perceptions on the amount of oil supply available would have been the best outcome.
The acceptable result would have been an agreement that froze production at already near record levels, with an accord that Iran would join in once it had reached its pre-sanctions level of exports. What was delivered instead was confirmation that the Saudis are prepared to take more pain in order not to deliver their regional rivals Iran any windfall gains from higher prices and exports. The meeting in Qatar on Sunday effectively pushed a reset button on the crude markets, putting the situation back to where the market was before hopes of producer discipline were first raised. What happens now is that the market will have to continue along its previous path of re-balancing, without any assistance from the OPEC or erstwhile ally Russia. Brent crude fell nearly 7% in early trade in Asia on Monday, before partly recovering to be down around 4%.
The potential is for crude to fall further in coming sessions as long positions built up in the expectation of some sort of producer agreement are liquidated in the face of the reality of no deal. It’s likely that recriminations will follow for some time among the oil producers, with the Russians and Venezuelans said to be annoyed at what they see as the Saudi scuppering of a deal that had almost been locked in. This will make it harder for any future agreement, with the OPEC meeting on June 2 the next chance for the grouping to reach some sort of agreement. For the time being, OPEC’s credibility is shot, and won’t be restored by even a future agreement as it will take actual, verifiable action to convince a now sceptical market. However, as the events in Doha showed, the Saudis are unlikely to agree to anything in the absence of Iranian participation, and that is also equally unlikely.
The failure by the world’s biggest oil producers to agree on an output freeze spurred a selloff across emerging markets, with stocks halting a seven-day rally as Brent crude plunged as much as 7%. The ringgit led declines in developing-nation currencies as the disappointment stemming from the weekend meeting in Doha disrupted a recovery in commodity prices, putting pressure on Malaysian finances as a net oil exporter. Hopes an agreement would be reached had pushed Brent above $44 a barrel for the first time since December and spurred gains across asset classes in recent days. It’s now headed back toward $41 as the discussions to address a global oil glut stalled after Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations wouldn’t commit to any deal unless all OPEC members joined, including Iran.
“We have seen a high correlation between oil, commodity prices and emerging assets this year and we have seen a strong run up, so the latest development on the failure to agree on an oil output freeze should spark profit-taking among investors,” said Miles Remington, head of equities at BNP Paribas Securities Indonesia. Energy-related companies fell the most among the 10 industry groups of the MSCI Emerging Markets Index, which dropped 0.7% and retreated from last week’s highest level since November. While that was the biggest decline since April 5, the energy component slid 1.4% and industrial stocks 1%.
The Canadian and Australian dollars dropped as crude tumbled after oil-producing nations failed to reach an accord to freeze output. The yen, used by investors as a haven, rose toward a 17-month high. The currencies of Australia, Canada, Malaysia and Norway all retreated at least 0.7% after negotiations in Doha ended without an agreement from OPEC and other oil producers to freeze supplies. Foreign-exchange traders sought the safety of Japan’s currency as the diplomatic failure threatens to send crude back toward the more than 13-year lows reached in February. World leaders at the end of last week signaled opposition to any efforts from Japan to directly halt the yen’s 11% climb this year.
“Lack of agreement from Doha has hit commodity currencies lower,” said Robert Rennie at Westpac Banking in Sydney. “The prospects of another near-term round of talks appear limited ahead of the June OPEC meeting.” The Aussie dropped 0.8% to 76.65 U.S. cents as of 7:01 a.m. London time, set for the largest decline since April 7. Canada’s loonie tumbled 1.1% to C$1.2962 against the greenback. Crude is the nation’s second-largest export. Malaysia’s ringgit slid 0.8% to 3.9348 per dollar. Oil futures fell as much as 6.8%, the biggest intraday drop since Feb. 1. “The oil price will reset lower and could even retest $30 over the next three months,”said James Purcell at UBS’s wealth-management business in Hong Kong.
“Short term, that will dampen enthusiasm for risk assets. However, markets are being slightly myopic. Economic data have improved in both China and the U.S. of late.” The lack of agreement at Doha highlights the deep divisions between OPEC members, and importantly, within Saudi Arabia, Westpac’s Rennie said. The Aussie should hold support from about 75.75 cents to 76 cents at least through the next day or so, he said. The yen jumped 0.7% to 107.96 per dollar, and touched 107.77. It reached 107.63 on April 11, the strongest since October 2014. Hedge funds and other large speculators pushed wagers on yen strength to a record last week as Japanese authorities appeared reluctant to intervene to reverse the strengthening currency.
All is calm. All is still. Share prices are going up. Oil prices are rising. China has stabilised. The eurozone is over the worst. After a panicky start to 2016, investors have decided that things aren’t so bad after all. Put your ear to the ground though, and it is possible to hear the blades whirring. Far away, preparations are being made for helicopter drops of money onto the global economy. With due honour to one of Humphrey Bogart’s many great lines from Casablanca: “Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow but soon.” But isn’t it true that action by Beijing has boosted activity in China, helping to push oil prices back above $40 a barrel? Has Mario Draghi not announced a fresh stimulus package from the European Central Bank designed to remove the threat of deflation? Are hundreds of thousands of jobs not being created in the US each month?
In each case, the answer is yes. China’s economy appears to have bottomed out. Fears of a $20 oil price have receded. Prices have stopped falling in the eurozone. Employment growth has continued in the US. The International Monetary Fund is forecasting growth in the global economy of just over 3% this year – nothing spectacular, but not a disaster either. Don’t be fooled. China’s growth is the result of a surge in investment and the strongest credit growth in almost two years. There has been a return to a model that burdened the country with excess manufacturing capacity, a property bubble and a rising number of non-performing loans. The economy has been stabilised, but at a cost. The upward trend in oil prices also looks brittle. The fundamentals of the market – supply continues to exceed demand – have not changed.
Then there’s the US. Here there are two problems – one glaringly apparent, the other lurking in the shadows. The overt weakness is that real incomes continue to be squeezed, despite the fall in unemployment. Americans are finding that wages are barely keeping pace with prices, and that the amount left over for discretionary spending is being eaten into by higher rents and medical bills. For a while, consumer spending was kept going because rock-bottom interest rates allowed auto dealers to offer tempting terms to those of limited means wanting to buy a new car or truck. In an echo of the subprime real estate crisis, vehicle sales are now falling. The hidden problem has been highlighted by Andrew Lapthorne of the French bank Société Générale. Companies have exploited the Federal Reserve’s low interest-rate regime to load up on debt they don’t actually need.
“The proceeds of this debt raising are then largely reinvested back into the equity market via M&A or share buybacks in an attempt to boost share prices in the absence of actual demand,” Lapthorne says. “The effect on US non-financial balance sheets is now starting to look devastating.” He adds that the trigger for a US corporate debt crisis would be falling share prices, something that might easily be caused by the Fed increasing interest rates.
BBG senior editor David Shipley displays the general fallacy: all that’s there are desperate attempts to go back to something that once was, only in a more centralized fashion. But there’s no going back.
The deeper the slump, economists used to say, the stronger the recovery. They don’t say that anymore. The effects of the crash of 2008 still reverberate, with the latest forecasts for global growth even more dismal than the last. The persistently stagnant world economy is more than just a rebuke to economic theory, of course; it exacts a human toll. And while politicians and central bankers – or economists, for that matter – can’t be faulted for their creativity, their remedies might have more impact if they were bolder and better-coordinated. By ordinary standards, to be sure, governments haven’t been timid. Without fiscal stimulus and aggressive monetary easing in the U.S. and other countries, things would look even worse. And yet, worldwide output is predicted to rise only 3.2% this year, falling still further below the pre-crash trend.
Simply doubling down on current strategies is unlikely to work. Large-scale bond-buying, or so-called quantitative easing, has run into diminishing returns. Negative interest rates, where they’ve been tried, haven’t revived lending, and central banks are unable or unwilling to cut further. What about new fiscal stimulus? Where possible, that would be good – but it’s hardest to do in the very countries that need it most, because that’s where public debt is already dangerously high. True, as the IMF’s new fiscal report says, almost all countries could become more growth-friendly by combining measures to curb public spending in the longer term (for instance, raising the retirement age) with steps to increase demand in the short term (cutting payroll taxes, raising employment subsidies and building infrastructure).
Getting fiscal policy right country by country would surely help – yet probably wouldn’t be enough: No single country can adequately deal with a global shortfall of demand. A finance ministry for the world isn’t happening any time soon. Still, it’s a pity that governments aren’t trying harder to coordinate their fiscal policies more intelligently, or indeed at all. The global slump persists partly because of international spillovers. Better coordination would take these into account: Countries that could safely deploy fiscal stimulus would give some weight to global as well as national conditions, and fiscal policy would be formed interactively. Even within the EU, where you’d expect economic coordination to be the norm, and where the single currency makes it essential, there’s no sign of it.
At the global level, in forums such as the IMF, you might expect the U.S. to take the lead in any such effort. So it should – but it will need to mend its shattered policy-making machinery first. If Washington can’t come to a decision on its own on taxes or spending, the question of coordination doesn’t arise. The last resort, if the slump goes on and governments can’t coordinate better, might be to combine monetary and fiscal policy in a hybrid known (unfortunately) as helicopter money. Governments would cut taxes and/or spend more, but meet the cost by printing money rather than by borrowing. In one variant, central banks might simply send out checks to taxpayers. That’s a startling idea, no doubt – but so was quantitative easing not long ago.
China’s growth rates for quarter-on-quarter and year-on-year GDP for the past year don’t match. That, combined with confirmation that 1Q output was underpinned by an unsustainable resurgence in real estate, tarnishes the newly acquired shine on the country’s economic prospects. The initial reaction to the 1Q GDP data, published Friday, was a sigh of relief. Growth at 6.7% year on year was in line with expectations and comfortably inside the government’s 6.5-7% target range. If anyone noticed that the normal quarter-on- quarter data was missing from the National Bureau of Statistics release, few thought anything of it. Then, on Saturday, the quarter-on-quarter data was published, and some of the relief turned to consternation.
Quarter-on-quarter growth in 1Q was just 1.1% – an annualized growth rate of 4.5%, and the lowest print since the data series became available in 2011. Worse, based on the accumulated quarter-on-quarter data over the last year, annual growth in 1Q was just 6.3% – substantially below the NBS’s 6.7% reading for year-on-year growth. Explaining the inconsistency between the two data points is tough to do. Accumulated quarter-on-quarter growth over four quarters should add up to year-on-year growth. In the past, it has. The divergence in the 1Q readings might reflect something as simple as difficulties with seasonal adjustment. Even so, against a backdrop of concerns about data reliability, it can only add to skepticism about China’s true growth rate.
China’s state-owned enterprises are likely to suffer more defaults over the next year as the government shows its readiness to shut companies in industries struggling with overcapacity, according to Standard & Poor’s. “In a major policy shift, the central government appears willing to close and liquidate struggling enterprises in the steel, mining, building materials, and shipbuilding industries,” S&P analyst Christopher Lee wrote in a report Monday. “We believe this stance will exacerbate the problems of companies in these cyclical and capital-intensive sectors, which are facing sluggish demand amid slowing investment growth.”
The warning follows S&P’s decision earlier this month to cut China’s sovereign rating outlook to negative from stable because economic rebalancing is likely to proceed more slowly than it had expected. Moody’s Investors Service also downgraded the outlook to negative in March, highlighting surging debt and the government’s ability to enact reforms. The revisions were biased, Finance Minister Lou Jiwei said in Washington on Friday. Premier Li Keqiang has pledged to withdraw support from so-called zombie firms that have wasted financial resources and dragged on economic growth, which is at the slowest in a quarter century. China’s central bank has lowered benchmark interest rates six times since 2014, underpinning a jump in debt to 247% of GDP.
China Railway Materials, a state-backed commodities trader, is seeking to reorganize debt and halted trading on 16.8 billion yuan ($2.6 billion) of bonds this month. Baoding Tianwei last year became the first government-backed company to renege on onshore bonds. Sinosteel defaulted on onshore debt in October. Leverage among the largest state-owned enterprises has reached a “critical” level, according to Lee. It is likely to worsen in 2016 as a weak top line is not fully offset by cost cuts and capital expenditure reductions, he wrote in the report.
China etched in details of plans to help workers laid off from the bloated coal and steel industries, saying assistance would include career counseling, early retirement and help in starting businesses, among other measures. New guidelines released by seven Chinese ministries over the weekend build on previously announced commitments to restructure the coal and steel industries, whose excess production is dragging on the economy, and to take care of an estimated 1.8 million workers who will be displaced. The new measures place priority on finding jobs and cushioning the transition to reduce the unemployment that the authoritarian government sees as a threat to social stability.
“Proper placement of workers is the key to working to resolve excess capacity,” said the document issued by the labor ministry, the top economic planning agency and others. It urged local governments to “take timely measures to resolve conflicts” and to “avoid ignoring the issue.” Unlike a far-reaching restructuring of state industries two decades ago, Beijing is taking a cautious approach this time around, prompting some economists to caution that the protracted pace may make the situation worse. Government data released Friday showed economic growth slowing slightly in the first quarter, buoyed by new loans, debt and investment in real estate and factories—methods that are likely to lengthen the transition to a more consumer-driven society from one driven by investment and manufacturing.
Western-style “restructuring is not on the horizon here,” said ING economist Tim Condon. “Rebalancing, forget that. That’s for another day.” Government plans call for reducing some 10% to 15% of the excess capacity in the steel and coal sectors over the next several years. That is less than half the portion analysts say is needed to bring supply closer in line with demand. And steel and coal are only two of numerous other industries plagued by overcapacity that haven’t been addressed. The large number of ministries that have signed off on the plan dated April 7 but released more than a week later underscore the sensitivity, importance and breadth of resources China is devoting to the unemployment problem.
[..] Germany, Austria, France and Sweden, among others, have reintroduced border checkpoints in some places. They are pressured by Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II – about 1 million migrants arrived in Greece and Italy in 2015 – terrorist attacks, and the growth of anti-immigration movements. But the economic cost of dumping Schengen, at a time when growth across the continent is still weak, would be massive. A permanent return to border controls could lop €470 billion of GDP growth from the European economy over the next 10 years, based on a relatively conservative assumption of costs, according to research published by Germany’s Bertelsmann Foundation. That’s like losing a company almost the size of BMW AG every year for a decade.
The open borders power an economy of more than 400 million people, with 24 million business trips and 57 million cross-border freight transfers happening every year, the European Parliament says. Firms in Germany’s industrial heartland rely on elaborate, just-in-time supply chains that take advantage of lower costs in Hungary and Poland. French supermarket chains are supplied with fresh produce that speeds north from Spain and Portugal. And trans-national commutes have become commonplace since Europeans can easily choose to, say, live in Belgium and work in France. For many Europeans, passport-free travel is part of being, simply, European. For the company hiring driver Unczorg, the security checks increase costs in terms of delays, storage and inventory.
Permanent controls would destroy the business model of German industry, says Rainer Hundsdoerfer, chairman of EBM-Papst. “You get the products you need for assembly here in Germany just in time,” he said by phone. “That’s why the trucks go nonstop. They come here, they unload, they load, and off they go. The cost isn’t the only prime issue” in reinstating border checks. “It’s that we couldn’t even do it.” Nor could anyone else, he adds: “Nothing in German industry, regardless of whether it’s automotives or appliances or ventilators, could exist without the extended workbenches in eastern Europe.”
Britain would be “permanently poorer” if voters choose to leave the EU, George Osborne has warned, as a Treasury study claimed the economy would shrink by 6% by 2030, costing every household the equivalent of £4,300 a year. In the starkest warning so far by the government in the referendum campaign, the chancellor describes Brexit as the “most extraordinary self-inflicted wound”. Osborne will embark on one of the government’s most significant moves in the referendum campaign on Monday when he publishes a 200-page Treasury report which sets out the costs and benefits of EU membership. In a Times article the chancellor wrote: “The conclusion is clear for Britain’s economy and for families – leaving the EU would be the most extraordinary self-inflicted wound.”
Osborne warned that the option favoured by Boris Johnson – a deal along the lines of the EU-Canada arrangement – would lead to an economic contraction of 6% by 2030. Supporters of Britain’s EU membership say the EU-Canadian deal would be a disaster for the UK because it excludes financial services, a crucial part of the British economy. The chancellor asked whether this was a “price worth paying” as he said there was no other model for the UK that gave it access to the single market without quotas and tariffs while retaining a say over the rules. Osborne continued: “Put simply : over many years, are you better off or worse off if we leave the EU? The answer is: Britain would be worse off, permanently so, and to the tune of £4,300 a year for every household.”
“It is a well-established doctrine of economic thought that greater openness and interconnectedness boosts the productive potential of our economy. That’s because being an open economy increases competition between our companies, making them more efficient in the face of consumer choice, and creates incentives for business to innovate and to adopt new technologies.”
Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff suffered a crushing defeat on Sunday as a hostile and corruption-tainted congress voted to impeach her. In a rowdy session of the lower house presided over by the president’s nemesis, house speaker Eduardo Cunha, voting ended late on Sunday evening with 367 of the 513 deputies backing impeachment – comfortably beyond the two-thirds majority of 342 needed to advance the case to the upper house. As the outcome became clear, Jose Guimarães, the leader of the Workers party in the lower house, conceded defeat with more than 80 votes still to be counted. “The fight is now in the courts, the street and the senate,” he said. As the crucial 342nd vote was cast for impeachment, the chamber erupted into cheers and Eu sou Brasileiro, the football chant that has become the anthem of the anti-government protest.
Opposition cries of “coup, coup,coup” were drowned out. In the midst of the raucous scenes the most impassive figure in the chamber was the architect of the political demolition, Cunha. Watched by tens of millions at home and in the streets, the vote – which was announced deputy by deputy – saw the conservative opposition comfortably secure its motion to remove the elected head of state less than halfway through her mandate. There were seven abstentions and two absences, and 137 deputies voted against the move. Once the senate agrees to consider the motion, which is likely within weeks, Rousseff will have to step aside for 180 days and the Workers party government, which has ruled Brazil since 2002, will be at least temporarily replaced by a centre-right administration led by vice-president Michel Temer.
On a dark night, arguably the lowest point was when Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right deputy from Rio de Janeiro, dedicated his yes vote to Carlos Brilhante Ustra, the colonel who headed the Doi-Codi torture unit during the dictatorship era. Rousseff, a former guerrilla, was among those tortured. Bolsonaro’s move prompted left-wing deputy Jean Wyllys to spit towards him. Eduardo Bolsonaro, his son and also a deputy, used his time at the microphone to honour the general responsible for the military coup in 1964. Deputies were called one by one to the microphone by the instigator of the impeachment process, Cunha – an evangelical conservative who is himself accused of perjury and corruption – and one by one they condemned the president. Yes, voted Paulo Maluf, who is on Interpol’s red list for conspiracy. Yes, voted Nilton Capixiba, who is accused of money laundering. “For the love of God, yes!” declared Silas Camara, who is under investigation for forging documents and misappropriating public funds.
1986 may seem like a long time ago, but for Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison some of the parallels with his current budget balancing act are getting too close for comfort. Back then, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s pulled their AAA ratings as weak commodity prices wrecked government income and external finances. With resources again in a funk and a widening funding gap, National Australia Bank and JPMorgan said last week Morrison needs to undertake repairs in his May 3 budget to safeguard the country’s top rankings. Moody’s warned Thursday that debt will grow without revenue-boosting measures. “Moody’s are understandably getting impatient,” said Shane Oliver at Sydney-based AMP Capital Investors.
“We’ve seen each successive budget update push out the return to surplus. This time around – like back in the middle of the ’80s when we did suffer downgrades – we again have a twin deficit problem.” Thirty years ago, then-Treasurer Paul Keating warned the country risked becoming a “banana republic” because of its reliance on resources and it took nearly 17 years to regain the two top credit scores. While Morrison’s language hasn’t been as strident, he has said Australia must live within its means and indicated a focus on reduced spending. The government expects Australia’s budget position to improve in coming years despite the environment for commodity prices as it controls expenditure growth, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said Thursday in an e-mailed response to questions.
“The Government is committed to responsible budget management which protects our AAA credit rating,” he said. “Our public debt remains low internationally and consistent with our plan, the government is committed to stabilizing and reducing our debt over time.” Australia’s general government net debt is projected to peak at 19.9% in 2017, lower than any Group of Seven economy, according to the IMF’s fiscal monitor. That number has climbed from minus 0.6% in 2009. “One differentiating feature between Australia and other Aaa rated sovereigns is that, while government debt has increased markedly in Australia, it has been more stable for other Aaa sovereigns,” Marie Diron at Moody’s in Singapore wrote. “We expect a further increase in debt and will look at policy measures and the economic environment to review our analysis on this.”
Euro Pacific Capital’s Peter Schiff sat down with Alex Jones last week to discuss the state of the economy, and where he sees everything going from here. Here are some notable moments from the interview. Regarding how bad things are, and what’s really going on in the economy, Schiff lays out all of the horrible economic data that has come out recently, as well as making sure to take away the crutch everyone uses to explain any and all data misses, which is weather.
“It’s no way to know exactly the timetable, but obviously this economy is already back in recession, and if it’s not in a recession it’s certainly on the cusp of one” “We could be in a negative GDP quarter right now, and I think that if the first quarter is bad the second quarter is going to be worse” “The last couple years we had a rebound in the second quarter because we’ve had very cold winters. Well this winter was the warmest in 120 years so there is nothing to rebound from.”
On the Fed, and current policies, he very bluntly points out that nothing is working, nor has it worked, but of course the central planners will try it all anyway. He also takes a moment to agree with Donald Trump regarding the fact that the U.S. is flat out, undeniably broke.
“The problem for the Fed is how do they launch a new round of stimulus and still pretend the economy is in good shape.” “Negative interest rates are a disaster. It’s not working in Japan, it’s not working in Europe, it’s not going to work here. Just because it doesn’t work doesn’t mean we’re not going to do it, because everything we do doesn’t work and we do it anyway. It shows desperation, that you’ve had all these central bankers lowering interest rates and expecting it to revive the economy. And then when they get down to zero, rather than admit that it didn’t work, because clearly if you go to zero and you still haven’t achieved your objective, maybe it doesn’t work. Instead of admitting that they were wrong, they’re now going negative.”
“The United States, no matter how high inflation gets, we’ll do our best to pretend it doesn’t exist or rationalize it away because we have a lot more debt. America is broke, if you look at Europe and Japan even though there is some debt there, overall those are still creditor nations. The world still owes Europe money, the world still owes Japan money, but America owes more money than all of the other debtor nations combined. Trump is right about that, we are broke, we’re flat broke, and we’re living off this credit bubble and we can’t prick it. Other central banks may be able to raise their rates, but the Fed can’t.”
On how he sees everything unfolding from this point, Peter again points out that the economy is weak and it’s only a matter of time before this entire centrally planned manipulation is exposed for what it is, and becomes a disaster for the Federal Reserve. He likens how investors are behaving today to the dot-com bubble, and the beginning of the global financial crisis.
“Let each wage-earning citizen hold the whole of his or her untaxed earnings–actually touch them. Then let the government pluck its taxes.” “..in six months we would have either a tax revolution or a startling contraction of the budget!”
[..] The public debt will fall due someday. It will have to be repaid or refinanced. If repaid, where would the money come from? It would come from you, naturally. The debt is ultimately a deferred tax. You can calculate your pro rata obligation on your smartphone. Just visit the Treasury website, which posts the debt to the penny, then the Census Bureau’s website, which reports the up-to-the-minute size of the population. Divide the latter by the former and you have the scary truth: $42,998.12 for every man, woman and child, as I write this. In the short term, the debt would no doubt be refinanced, but at which interest rate? At 4.8%, the rate prevailing as recently as 2007, the government would pay more in interest expense –$654 billion– than it does for national defense.
At a blended rate of 6.7%, the average prevailing in the 1990s, the net federal-interest bill would reach $913 billion, which very nearly equals this year’s projected outlay on Social Security. We always need protection against cockeyed economic experimentation. Once a national consensus on money and debt furnished this protective armor. Money was gold and debt was bad, Americans assumed. Most credentialed economists today will smile at these ancient prejudices. Allow me to suggest that our forebears knew something. Keynes himself would recoil at 0% bank-deposit rates, chronically low economic growth and the towering trillions that we have so generously pledged to one another. (All we have to do now is earn the money to pay them.) How do we escape from our self-constructed fiscal jail? According to the Government Accountability Office, unpaid taxes add up to more than $450 billion a year.
Even so, according to the Tax Foundation, Americans spend 6.1 billion hours and $233.8 billion each tax season complying with a federal tax code that runs to 10 million words. Are we quite sure we want no part of the flat-tax idea? An identical low rate on most incomes. No deductions, no H&R Block. Impractical? So is the debt. So is the spending (and the promises to spend more down the road). We need to stop the squandermania. How? By resuming the principled fight that Vivien Kellems waged against the IRS during the Truman Administration. It enraged Kellems, a doughty Connecticut entrepreneur, that she was forced to withhold federal taxes from her employees’ wages. She called it involuntary servitude, and she itched to make her constitutional argument in court. She never got that chance, but she published her plan for a peaceful revolution.
She asked her readers –I ask mine– to really examine the stub of their paycheck. Observe how much your employer pays you and how much less you take home. Notice the dollars withheld for Medicare, Social Security and so forth. If you are like most of us, you stopped looking long ago. You don’t miss the income that you never get to touch. Picking up where Kellems left off, I propose a slight alteration in payday policy. Let each wage-earning citizen hold the whole of his or her untaxed earnings–actually touch them. Then let the government pluck its taxes. “Such a payroll policy,” wrote Kellems in her memoir, Taxes, Toil and Trouble, “is entirely legal and if it were universally adopted, in six months we would have either a tax revolution or a startling contraction of the budget!” Black ink, sound money and the spirit of Vivien Kellems are the way forward. “Make America solvent again” is my credo and battle cry. You can fit it on a cap.
The defining feature of each successive stage of global capitalism has been a shift in the boundary between economics and politics. In classical nineteenth-century capitalism, politics and economics were idealized as distinct spheres, with interactions between government and business confined to the (necessary) raising of taxes for military adventures and the (harmful) protection of powerful vested interests. In the second, Keynesian version of capitalism, markets were viewed with suspicion, while government intervention was assumed to be correct. In the third phase, dominated by Thatcher and Reagan, these assumptions were reversed: government was usually wrong and the market always right. The fourth phase may come to be defined by the recognition that governments and markets can both be catastrophically wrong.
Acknowledging such thoroughgoing fallibility may seem paralyzing – and the current political mood certainly seems to reflect this. But recognizing fallibility can actually be empowering, because it implies the possibility of improvement in both economics and politics. If the world is too complex and unpredictable for either markets or governments to achieve social objectives, then new systems of checks and balances must be designed so that political decision-making can constrain economic incentives and vice versa. If the world is characterized by ambiguity and unpredictability, then the economic theories of the pre-crisis period – rational expectations, efficient markets, and the neutrality of money – must be revised. Moreover, politicians must reconsider much of the ideological super-structure erected on market fundamentalist assumptions.
This includes not only financial deregulation, but also central bank independence, the separation of monetary and fiscal policies, and the assumption that competitive markets require no government intervention to produce an acceptable income distribution, drive innovation, provide necessary infrastructure, and deliver public goods. It is obvious that new technology and the integration of billions of additional workers into global markets have created opportunities that should mean greater prosperity in the decades ahead than before the crisis. Yet “responsible” politicians everywhere warn citizens about a “new normal” of stagnant growth. No wonder voters are up in arms. People sense that their leaders have powerful economic tools that could boost living standards.
Money could be printed and distributed directly to citizens. Minimum wages could be raised to reduce inequality. Governments could invest much more in infrastructure and innovation at zero cost. Bank regulation could encourage lending, instead of restricting it. But deploying such radical policies would mean rejecting the theories that have dominated economics since the 1980s, together with the institutional arrangements based upon them, such as Europe’s Maastricht Treaty. Few “responsible” people are yet willing to challenge pre-crisis economic orthodoxy. The message of today’s populist revolts is that politicians must tear up their pre-crisis rulebooks and encourage a revolution in economic thinking. If responsible politicians refuse, “some rough beast, its hour come at last” will do it for them.
Japan has been worst hit by the tremors. The latest quake to hit the country yesterday, measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale, injured more than 1,000 and trapped people in collapsed buildings, only a day after a quake killed nine people in the same region. Rescue crews searched for survivors of a magnitude 7.3 earthquake that struck Japan’s Kyushu Island, the same region rattled by a 6.2 quake two days earlier. Around 20,000 troops have had to be deployed following the latest 7.3 earthquake at 1.25am local time on Saturday. Roads have also been damaged and big landslides have been reported, there are also 200,000 households without power. The death toll in the latest Kyushu earthquake is 16 people and a previous earthquake that struck the area on Thursday had killed nine people.
There have been other large earthquakes recorded in recent days, including a major one in southern Japan which destroyed buildings and left at least 45 people injured, after Myanmar was rocked on Wednesday. Japan’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency said 7,262 people have sought shelter at 375 centers since Friday in Kumamoto Prefecture. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to do everything he could to save lives following the disaster. He said: “Nothing is more important than human life and it’s a race against time.” On Thursday, The Japanese Red Cross Kumamoto Hospital confirmed 45 were injured, including five with serious injuries after a quake of magnitude 6.2 to 6.5 and a series of strong aftershocks ripped through Kumamoto city.
Several buildings were damaged or destroyed and at least six people are believed to be trapped under homes in Mashiki. Local reports said one woman was rescued in a critical condition Scientists say there has been an above average number of significant earthquakes across south Asia and the Pacific since the start of the year. The increased frequency has sparked fears of a repeat of the Nepal quake of 2015, where 8,000 people died, or even worse. Roger Bilham, seismologist of University of Colorado, said: “The current conditions might trigger at least four earthquakes greater than 8.0 in magnitude. “And if they delay, the strain accumulated during the centuries provokes more catastrophic mega earthquakes.”