Feb 132019
 


Edouard Manet Osny, The road-menders, Rue de Berne 1878

 

America’s 1% Hasn’t Had This Much Wealth In 100 Years (MW)
Senate Has Found No Direct Evidence of Trump-Russia Conspiracy (NBC)
NBC Has A Hard Time Accepting There’s No Collusion (ZH)
Mitch McConnell To Force Senate Vote On Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal (CNBC)
For The Stock Market, A Trade-War Win May Be A Hollow Victory (MW)
Labour To Set Out Plans To Decarbonise UK, Fulfil Green Jobs Pledge (G.)
Mark Carney: Brexit Is The First Test Of A New Global Order (G.)
EU’s Verhofstadt Suggests Brexiteers Could ‘End Up On The Guillotine’ (Ind.)
Theresa May’s Brexit Tactic: My Way Or A Long Delay (G.)
Dark Money Is Pushing For A No-Deal Brexit. Who Is Behind It? (Monbiot)
Spanish PM May Call Snap Election If Budget Rejected (G.)
Australia Rate Cut Calls As Home Loans Fall At Fastest Rate Since GFC (SMH)
Chinese Banks Resist Maxing Out Credit Cards (R.)
China’s Private Firms Hit By Default Contagion (R.)
Russia Takes Steps To Survive Global Internet Shutdown With Its Own Web (RT)

 

 

My friend Jesse Colombo is right to point out the impact of imploding asset bubbles is the main takeaway. But I think even more than that, it’s who will be the main victims of that: those who have no assets. The losses will land on their shoulders.

America’s 1% Hasn’t Had This Much Wealth In 100 Years (MW)

It’s not fashionable to wear flapper dresses and do the Charleston, but 1920s-style wealth inequality is definitely back in style. New research says America’s ultra-rich haven’t held as much of the country’s wealth since the Jazz Age, those freewheeling times before the country’s finances shattered. “U.S. wealth concentration seems to have returned to levels last seen during the Roaring Twenties,” wrote Gabriel Zucman, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Zucman said all the research on the issue also points to large wealth concentrations in China and Russia in recent decades. The same thing is happening in France and the U.K., but at a “more moderate rise,” the paper said.

In 1929 — before Wall Street’s crash unleashed the Great Depression — the top 0.1% richest adults’ share of total household wealth was close to 25%, according to Zucman’s paper, which was distributed by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Those rates plunged in the early 1930s and continued dropping to below 10% in the late 1970s, findings show. Rates have been on the rebound since the early 1980s, and are currently close to 20%. It’s become especially hard to measure the full extent of riches these days. “Since the 1980s, a large offshore wealth management industry has developed which makes some forms wealth (namely, financial portfolios) harder to capture,” the paper added.


MarketWatch photo illustration/iStockphoto, Everett Collection

[..] Millions of Americans live paycheck to paycheck; the recent federal government’s partial government shutdown forced some federal workers to food pantries, and cast a harsh light on Americans’ lack of savings. Jesse Colombo says people should be more worried about issues other than the current gap between the rich and poor. “America’s wealth inequality is not a permanent situation, but a temporary one because the asset bubbles behind the wealth bubble are going to burst and cause a severe economic crisis,” he added. “My argument is that our society should be worrying more about these asset bubbles than the temporary inequality.” “What is the common denominator between U.S. wealth inequality during the Roaring Twenties and now?” he said. “A massive stock market bubble.”

Read more …

The inevitable fall-out of a press that no longer reports the news, but manufactures it.

Senate Has Found No Direct Evidence of Trump-Russia Conspiracy (NBC)

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the 2016 election has uncovered no direct evidence of the Trump campaign conspiring with Russia, Democrats and Republicans on the committee told NBC News. But different parties’ investigators in the probe, which is winding down, disagree over the implications of a pattern of contacts between Trump associates and Russians. Last week, Sen. Richard Burr, the panel’s Republican chairman, told CBS News that, while more facts may be uncovered, “If we write a report based upon the facts that we have, then we don’t have anything that would suggest there was collusion by the Trump campaign and Russia.” Democratic Senate investigators told NBC News on condition of anonymity that Burr’s characterizations, while accurate, lacked context. One aide said, “We were never going find a contract signed in blood saying, ‘Hey Vlad, we’re going to collude.'”

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For MS(NBC), Russigate has been a major investment. And they’re still trying to squeak past it by saying an official report will take many more months etc., but it’s done as far as the Senate is concerned. And Mueller has given zero indication of having anything collusion-related.

NBC Has A Hard Time Accepting There’s No Collusion (ZH)

We knew this day was coming, but watching an MSNBC anchor and guest pundits squirm during a live Tuesday morning update in which NBC News intelligence and national security correspondent, Ken Dilanian, read aloud that the Senate Intelligence Committee admits it has found “no direct evidence” of collusion between President Trump and Russia, is a segment that itself perhaps belongs to the history books. Mediaite described of the “stunned” MSNBC host’s demeanor: “The report met surprise first, then skepticism, with Jackson and her guests.” They awkwardly and visibly try to make sense of hard and unambiguous reporting that runs contrary to everything being parroted in the MSNBC echo chamber over the past 2 years.

To drive home the explosive significance of the findings, Dilanian noted just how long the ‘collusion’ incessant drumbeat has lasted: “After two years and interviewing more than 200 witnesses, the Senate intelligence Committee has not uncovered any direct evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia,” said Dilanian. “That’s according to sources on both the Republican and the Democratic side of the aisle.” And in a prior NBC News article Tuesday morning, Dilanian spelled out: “After two years and 200 interviews, the Senate Intelligence Committee is approaching the end of its investigation into the 2016 election, having uncovered no direct evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to both Democrats and Republicans on the committee.”

MSNBC anchor Hallie Jackson and her guest panelists’ faces looked visibly confused and uncomfortable as they learned the Senate report is going in the opposite direction of everything MSNBC and other mainstream outlets have been breathlessly reporting on a near 24/7 basis. More importantly, if this is a precursor of what the Mueller report concludes in a few weeks/months, the TV station that built its current reputation on the premise of Russian collusion, may have no option but to go on indefinite hiatus. Watch the segment above, with host Hallie Jackson appearing to grow exasperated by the 2:20 mark:“If and when the president, as he may inevitably do, points to these conclusions and says look, the Senate intelligence committee found I am not guilty of conspiracy… he would be correct in saying that?”

Dilanian noted that while the Republican chair of the committee made what he characterized as “partisan” comments the week prior, it turned out be unanimous fact. “What I found,” he said, “is that Democrats don’t dispute that characterization.” [..] Dilanian also noted the Senate intel committee has access to classified material, which means “if there was an intercept between officers suggesting they were conspiring with the Trump campaign, [the committee] would see that. And that has not emerged.” “So that evidence does not exist, and Trump will claim vindication,” he repeated.

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McConnell thinks it’s best to be fast in voting it down, before there’s more detailed discussion, for instance about which parts could work and which don’t. He’s probably right.

Mitch McConnell To Force Senate Vote On Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal (CNBC)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that the Senate would vote on the Green New Deal introduced last week by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. “I’ve noted with great interest the Green New Deal, and we’re going to be voting on that in the Senate to give everybody an opportunity to go on record,” McConnell told reporters. The bill, which is not expected to pass the Republican-dominated upper chamber, could force some Democrats to make a politically awkward calculation. Democratic liberals, including all of the senators currently running for president, have come out in support of the legislation, which calls for generating 100% of the nation’s power from renewable sources within 10 years. Scientists have said that dramatic, immediate action is necessary to stem the catastrophic effects of climate change.

Democratic moderates have been less than enthusiastic about the proposal. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi derisively referred to the House version of the bill as a “green dream,” while only 11 of the 47 senators who caucus with the Democrats have signed on to sponsor the bill. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who is widely expected to enter into the 2020 race, has declined to say whether he supports the proposal. “I’m not going to take position on every bill that’s coming out,” he said Tuesday, according to Politico. “I support a Green New Deal. I think we need to aggressively support climate change [legislation]. That’s my answer.” Republicans control the Senate, with 53 members of the 100-seat chamber. Democrats control the House of Representatives, but it is not clear if the House will vote on the measure under Pelosi’s leadership.

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Stocks are up when the deficit is up.

For The Stock Market, A Trade-War Win May Be A Hollow Victory (MW)

Sometimes losing can pay dividends in unexpected ways, and that seems particularly true in the case of stocks and trade. For the past five decades, the U.S. stock market has comparatively outperformed when the trade deficit widened and vice versa, suggesting that even if the U.S. emerges victorious from its trade war with China, investors may have few reasons to rejoice. At face value, it may seem counterintuitive, but for the U.S., which relies on trade to fuel its economic juggernaut, a deficit can actually be a sign that all is well. “Since at least 1970, U.S. stocks have done best when its trade deficit worsens,” said Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Leuthold Group, who explained that if imports rise, it indicates that domestic consumption is healthy.

“And if exports go up, it means foreign demand is strong. So when we have a trade deficit, it means the U.S. is doing better,” he said. A trade balance is the difference between how much a country sells and buys from abroad, and a deficit is often viewed as a negative, chiefly as it means a country is spending more than it is making. But as the chart below demonstrates, U.S. stocks vis-a-vis foreign equities have done quite well notwithstanding all the depressing headlines over the years about how the rest of the world is taking advantage of the U.S.

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And Labour wants part of the Green New Deal fame too. But what do any of these people really know about physics, about energy? It all still looks like a typical dumb politics approach: we’ll get rich while going green, promise!

Labour To Set Out Plans To Decarbonise UK, Fulfil Green Jobs Pledge (G.)

Labour is to set out how the UK can move swiftly to a decarbonised future to tackle the unfolding climate crisis and put “meat on the bones” of its promise to create hundreds of thousands of high-skilled, unionised green jobs. Trade unionists and industry leaders will come together with academics, engineers and public institutions to build detailed regional plans setting out the challenges and opportunities ahead. The proposal, due to be outlined on Wednesday by Rebecca Long-Bailey, the shadow business secretary, will involve a national call for evidence and a series of regional events to build “a detailed action plan” to maximise the benefits of moving to a zero-carbon future.

“A decade of austerity and decades of neoliberalism have left many in our country asking: what is Britain for?” Long-Bailey told the Guardian. “This has been brought into focus by the government’s handling of Brexit, which is at its core deeply pessimistic, with nothing to say about the future.” She said a future Labour government would oversee an economic revolution to tackle the climate crisis, using the full power of the state to decarbonise the economy and create hundreds of thousands of green jobs in struggling towns and cities across the UK. “We believe that together, we can transform the UK through a green jobs revolution, tackling the environmental crisis in a way that brings hope and prosperity back to parts of the UK that have been held back for too long.”

[..] Long-Bailey said Labour was determined to move beyond rhetoric about a green revolution and work out exactly how that could be achieved, and how it could translate to new well-paid, unionised jobs across the UK. “We’re launching an unprecedented call for evidence about what this means for your town, your city, your region,” she said. “We want to bring unions, industry, universities, the public sector and others together to build this vision out into a practical reality.” Labour says a key plank of its plan will be to ensure a “just transition” to high quality green jobs for those currently working in carbon-emitting industries. To do that it will have to persuade its trade union backers, who represent people in high-carbon industries, that there is a viable economic alternative.

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More liberalism! No matter that it played a big role in Britons voting for Brexit. These people are one-dimensional.

Mark Carney: Brexit Is The First Test Of A New Global Order (G.)

Brexit is an acid test of whether it is possible to reshape globalisation in a way that offers the benefits of trade while allaying public fears about the erosion of democracy, the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has said. Speaking in London, Carney said the ramifications of the UK’s departure from the EU would be felt around the world and would determine whether it was possible to shrug off rising protectionism in favour of a new era of international cooperation. The governor cited trade tensions and the result of the 2016 referendum as examples of fundamental pressures to reorder globalisation. “It is possible that new rules of the road will be developed for a more inclusive and resilient global economy. At the same time, there is a risk that countries turn inwards, undercutting growth and prosperity for all.”

Carney’s recent comments about Brexit have highlighted the short-term risks to the economy of leaving the EU next month without an agreement in place, but he used his speech on the state of the global economy to provide a more upbeat assessment. “In many respects, Brexit is the first test of a new global order and could prove the acid test of whether a way can be found to broaden the benefits of openness while enhancing democratic accountability,” he said, speaking at a Financial Times event in London. “Brexit can lead to a new form of international cooperation and cross-border commerce built on a better balance of local and supranational authorities. In these respects, Brexit could affect both the short and long-term global outlooks.”

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Just trying to make friends, I guess. Best of all, he has no idea it could just as well be him on that guillotine.

EU’s Verhofstadt Suggests Brexiteers Could ‘End Up On The Guillotine’ (Ind.)

The politicians pushing Brexit should be careful not follow in the footsteps of revolutionary leaders who “ended up on the guillotine”, the European Parliament’s Brexit chief has said. At a press conference in Strasbourg Guy Verhofstadt compared Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg to Georges Danton and Maximilien Robespierre – leading figures in the French revolution who were ultimately executed by their former comrades. He said it was “important to remind” the senior Conservatives that their historical counterparts had ended up losing their heads.

“I know that within the Tory party the hard Brexiteers are compared to the leaders of the French revolution. I think Gove is Brissot, and Boris Johnson is Danton, and Rees-Mogg is compared to Robespierre,” Mr Verhofstadt said. “We should not forget that the efforts of these men were not appreciated by the common man they claimed to represent – because they all ended up on the guillotine. So that’s important to remind [them].” His comments come a week after European Council president Donald Tusk caused a story in the UK by saying there was a “special place in hell” for Brexiteers who had advocated leaving the EU without a serious plan of how to do it.

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44 days.

Theresa May’s Brexit Tactic: My Way Or A Long Delay (G.)

Theresa May’s high-stakes Brexit strategy may have been accidentally revealed after her chief negotiator Olly Robbins was overheard in a Brussels bar saying MPs will be given a last-minute choice between her deal and a lengthy delay. The prime minister has repeatedly insisted that the government intends to leave the EU as planned on 29 March, and urged MPs to “hold our nerve”, while she tries to renegotiate changes to the Irish backstop. “So our work continues,” she told MPs on Tuesday. “Having secured an agreement with the European Union for further talks, we now need some time to complete that process. The talks are at a crucial stage. We now all need to hold our nerve to get the changes this house requires and deliver Brexit on time.”

But Robbins, the most senior civil servant involved in the Brexit process, was overheard by a reporter from ITV, holding a late-night conversation in which he appeared to suggest she would wait until March – and then give MPs the choice between backing her, or accepting a long extension to article 50. According to the broadcaster, Robbins said the government had “got to make them believe that the week beginning end of March … extension is possible, but if they don’t vote for the deal then the extension is a long one.” The tactic appears to be aimed squarely at members of the backbench Tory European Research Group (ERG), who may fear Brexit could ultimately be cancelled altogether, if MPs accept a delay.

“The issue is whether Brussels is clear on the terms of extension,” Robbins was overheard saying. “In the end they will probably just give us an extension.” On the backstop, Robbins appeared to confirm that the government’s initial plan was for the backstop, which effectively keeps the UK in a customs union, to form a temporary “bridge” to the long-term trading relationship. “The big clash all along is the ‘safety net’,” Robbins said. “We agreed a bridge but it came out as a ‘safety net’.”

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I don’t think Monbiot should be writing about this, not his field. But nobody else does, either, and the issue will re-appear very very bigly if Brexit becomes reality.

Dark Money Is Pushing For A No-Deal Brexit. Who Is Behind It? (Monbiot)

In Britain, for example, we now know that the EU referendum was won with the help of widespread cheating. We still don’t know the origins of much of the money spent by the leave campaigns. For example, we have no idea who provided the £435,000 channelled through Scotland, into Northern Ireland, through the coffers of the Democratic Unionist party and back into Scotland and England, to pay for pro-Brexit ads. Nor do we know the original source of the £8m that Arron Banks delivered to the Leave.EU campaign. We do know that both of the main leave campaigns have been fined for illegal activities, and that the conduct of the referendum has damaged many people’s faith in the political system.

But, astonishingly, the government has so far failed to introduce a single new law in response to these events. And now it’s happening again. Since mid-January an organisation called Britain’s Future has spent £125,000 on Facebook ads demanding a hard or no-deal Brexit. Most of them target particular constituencies. Where an MP is deemed sympathetic to the organisation’s aims, the voters who receive these ads are urged to tell him or her to “remove the backstop, rule out a customs union, deliver Brexit without delay”. Where the MP is deemed unsympathetic, the message is: “Don’t let them steal Brexit; Don’t let them ignore your vote.”

So who or what is Britain’s Future? Sorry, I have no idea. As openDemocracy points out, it has no published address and releases no information about who founded it, who controls it and who has been paying for these advertisements. The only person publicly associated with it is a journalist called Tim Dawson, who edits its website. Dawson has not yet replied to the questions I have sent him. It is, in other words, highly opaque. The anti-Brexit campaigns are not much better. People’s Vote and Best for Britain have also been spending heavily on Facebook ads, though not as much in recent weeks as Britain’s Future.

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He has 84 of the 350 seats in congress… And is propped up by the Catalans.

Spanish PM May Call Snap Election If Budget Rejected (G.)

Spain’s socialist government could be forced to call a snap general election if rightwing parties and Catalan secessionists make good on their threats to reject the national budget in a key vote on Wednesday. The prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, faces an uphill battle to secure approval for the budget in the face of opposition from critics of his minority government. Sánchez’s PSOE, which holds 84 of the 350 seats in congress, relied on the support of Basque and Catalan nationalist parties to seize power from the conservative People’s party in a confidence vote last year. If, as seems likely, the budget is rejected by rightwing parties as well as the Catalan Republican Left and the Catalan European Democratic party, Sánchez is expected to call a snap general election in April or May.

The next general election is due to be held next year. The prime minister had been banking on the fact that the prospect of an early election – and a possible win for rightwing parties that fiercely oppose Catalan secession – would make the two big Catalan pro-independence parties swing behind the budget. But, speaking to the Guardian and other European media, the Catalan leader, Quim Torra, said the secessionist groupings would not be forced into supporting Sánchez’s budget plans. “Are we meant to approve the budget because we’re afraid of the Spanish right?” said Torra. “Mr Sánchez can obviously decide to call elections whenever he wants – he’s the prime minister. But why would he make dialogue conditional on approving the budget?

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I wouldn’t be surprised if Australia were the first to fall into crisis. It hasn’t had a recession in I think 27 years, and that is like saying a homeowner hasn’t done a proper spring cleaning in decades.

Australia Rate Cut Calls As Home Loans Fall At Fastest Rate Since GFC (SMH)

The sharpest fall in home loans since the depths of the global financial crisis has prompted calls for the Reserve Bank to slice interest rates and cast doubt over the state of the budget leading into the federal election. As the NAB said the Reserve may have to cut rates within months, figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed first time buyers and investors deserting the property market in a sign house prices may fall even further. Home loans in December fell by 5.9%. It was the second largest monthly fall since 2008-09 while the annual fall of 19.8% was the worst since the global financial crisis.

Investor loans have tumbled 28% over the past year while those for owner-occupiers have slumped by 16%. Since their peak in mid-2015, investor lending has dropped by almost 48%. First home buyers have been a key part of the market over the past year as they have taken advantage of falling prices but even they are now resisting the chance to enter the market. The number of loans to first time buyers fell 8% in the month to be 12% lower over the past year. NSW and Victoria are leading down the national market with sharp falls in total loan numbers through 2018. It’s not just housing. Business loans dropped by 9.7% in December to be 6.2% lower over the year.

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China and borrowing, not a happy marriage: “recovery rates, sometimes estimated at below 16% ..”

Chinese Banks Resist Maxing Out Credit Cards (R.)

Chinese banks are wise to resist maxing out their credit cards. Lenders have issued hundreds of millions of them to local consumers, facilitating debt-fuelled shopping sprees. It’s a lucrative but risky supplement to other types of loans, and some now appear to be pulling back. Banks in the People’s Republic issued more than 650 million credit cards as of the third quarter of 2018, up from less than 450 million three years earlier, official data show. Balances payable on cards reached 6.6 trillion yuan ($980 billion), an increase of more than 120% over the same period. Lenders are keen on the business. There’s a big opportunity for growth given relatively low penetration: the average Chinese individual has only half of a credit card, whereas the average American has three.

Plastic can be profitable, too, yielding higher interest rates and fees than typical corporate loans. That boosts net interest margins. Yet a reassessment may be underway, according to analysts at Citi Research. At Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, for instance, credit card lending made up 35% of total new loans in 2017. In the first half of 2018, that figure collapsed to negative 5%. It’s a similar story at China Merchants Bank and other lenders covered by the analysts – although some are still aiming at rapid growth, including Ping An Bank and Postal Savings Bank of China. Household credit stood at around half of GDP by the middle of last year, up from 18% a decade earlier, according to the Bank for International Settlements. Fitch Ratings projects household debt might reach 100% of disposable income by 2020, just below the 105% ratio in the US.

The current economic slowdown could make bankers’ affection for plastic look rash. Individuals tend to default on card debt first, and chasing after them in court is time-consuming, while recovery rates, sometimes estimated at below 16%, compare poorly with between 50% to 60% for corporate borrowers.

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Firms guaranteeing each other’s debt. Never seen a bigger Ponzi. Click the pic for a much larger version. It’s brilliant insanity very strongly bordering on fraud.

China’s Private Firms Hit By Default Contagion (R.)

The collapse in China of a complex web of debt guarantees involving several private firms highlights risks in its financial system and opens up a potentially hazardous front for an economy in the grip of its slowest growth in nearly three decades. It is the last thing Beijing needs as it tries to fight off intensifying pressure on growth from a months-long trade dispute with the United States. Yet, as the government steps up economic support measures and moves to loosen gummed-up funding, it might be inadvertently inflaming financial risks with its call on state banks to sharply boost lending to the private sector.

The warning bells are already sounding in the once-prosperous eastern city of Dongying, a hub for oil refining and heavy industry in Shandong province. Here, at least 28 private companies are seeking to restructure their debts and avoid bankruptcy, mainly due to souring loans that they guaranteed for other firms, court rulings seen by Reuters show. Among the 28 firms are Shandong Dahai Group and Shandong Jinmao Textile Chemical Group, which were on the 2018 top 500 best-run private enterprises in China. For a private firm to get bank loans in China, especially those in traditional, capital-intensive industries, it often needs substantial collateral or the guarantee of another company. The guarantor itself is very likely to have taken on loans guaranteed by other firms.

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Wonder how many other countries are protecting themselves this way.

Russia Takes Steps To Survive Global Internet Shutdown With Its Own Web (RT)

Russia is preparing itself to be disconnected from the World Wide Web. The Lower House of Parliament passed in the first reading a law ensuring the security of the Russian part of the internet. The bill envisions the ‘Runet’ – the Russian segment of the internet – being able to operate independently from the rest of the world in case of global malfunctions or deliberate internet disconnection. The measures to ensure internet stability include the creation of a national DNS system that stores all of the domain names and corresponding IP numbers. The new legislation was drafted in response to the new US cyber strategy that accuses Russia, along with China, Iran, and North Korea, of using cyber tools to “undermine” its economy and democracy.

It also threatens dire consequences for anyone conducting cyber activity against the US. The autonomous system would ensure that Russia doesn’t face a total internet shutdown if relations with the West completely collapse and the US goes as far as cutting off Russian IP addresses from the World Wide Web. Back in 2012, then-US President Barack Obama signed an executive order allowing him to take control of all communications on American soil, including those crucial for the normal operation of the internet. The US National Security Agency actually caused a three-day internet blackout in Syria in November 2012, whistleblower Edward Snowden told Wired magazine. NSA hackers accidently ‘bricked’ one of the core routers while trying to install spyware on it.

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Dec 142018
 
 December 14, 2018  Posted by at 10:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Signac Boulevard de Clichy under snow 1886

 

ECB To Halt €2.6 Trillion Stimulus Despite Eurozone Slowdown Concerns (G.)
Shipping Costs From China To The US More Than Doubled In 2018 (CNBC)
China Reports ‘Ugly’ Industrial Output And Retail Sales Growth (CNBC)
Average UK Worker Earns A Third Less Than In 2008 (PA)
EU Leaders Scrap Plans To Help Theresa May Pass Brexit Deal (Ind.)
Labour Plans To ‘Throw Kitchen Sink’ To Force May’s Hand On Brexit (G.)
There Should Be No Exit from Brexit (Spiegel)
My Plan To Revive Europe Can Succeed Where Macron, Piketty Failed (Varoufakis)
A World That Is the Property of the 1% (Nomi Prins)
Trump Inauguration Spending Under Criminal Investigation (CNBC)
US ‘Miscarriage Of Justice’ In Butina Case Denounced (RT)
US Senate Passes Resolution Saying MbS Responsible For Khashoggi Murder (Ind.)

 

 

No. 1 victim will be Italy. ECB was the only buyer of their bonds. And bit by bit Europe will realize Draghi has been spending them into a blind alley. 2019 promises to be a crazy year in Europe.

ECB To Halt €2.6 Trillion Stimulus Despite Eurozone Slowdown Concerns (G.)

The European Central Bank will halt its €2.6tn stimulus programme in January despite concerns that the eurozone is poised to slow down over the next couple of years. Mario Draghi, the ECB boss, warned that rising uncertainty had forced the bank to downgrade its outlook for the currency bloc next year and the effects would continue to be felt in 2020. Draghi, without mentioning the US-China trade war, Brexit or the Italian government’s dispute with Brussels, said: “The balance of risk is moving to the downside.” He said growth would be limited to 1.7% in 2019, “owing to the persistence of uncertainties related to geopolitical factors, the threat of protectionism, vulnerabilities in emerging markets and financial market volatility”.

The worse-than-expected outlook sent the euro tumbling on international exchanges as investors cut back their expectations for growth across the continent. Figures showing that the German economy contracted in the last quarter were a clear signal that the eurozone had come under pressure from weakening global trade, while the slowing of the bloc’s other two major economies – France and Italy – only added to the worsening outlook. However, the ECB said the recovery was strong enough that it could stop expanding its QE programme that has seen it pump €2.6tn into the eurozone economy to stoke growth and inflation from January.

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Fear of tariffs and trade wars cause US importers to front-load their orders, causing shipping to get much busier. The US imported much more, not less after Trump’s tariffs rhetoric.

Shipping Costs From China To The US More Than Doubled In 2018 (CNBC)

The price of shipping a container from China to the United States has risen dramatically in the last year due to uncertainty surrounding trade tensions between Washington and Beijing. That’s because Chinese exporters have been rushing to get goods to U.S. ports before new tariffs kick in, but data are suggesting that trend may soon run out of steam. China and the U.S., the world’s two largest economies, have been locked in a tit-for-tat tariff fight over the last year, levying duties on each other’s imports worth hundreds of billions of dollars in the last few months. Increasingly strong fears of an all-out trade war have inspired exporters to push forward shipment dates — a phenomenon called front-loading.

In fact, freight prices for containers going from China to the U.S. have surged more than 100 percent from a year ago as of the beginning of December, according to data from Freightos, an online freight marketplace, “Transpacific ocean freight peak season has been a bonanza, with prices still more than double last year,” said a report on the most recent Freightos data published on the Baltic Exchange’s news website. That was as freight rates for China to the U.S. West Coast jumped 128 percent while those from China to the U.S. East Coast surged 123 percent compared to the same period a year ago. In contrast, China to North Europe freight rates were up just 11 percent in the same period due to pre-Christmas cargoes.

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And that is after exports to the US were frontloaded because of tariffs. What’s going to happen after January 1?

China Reports ‘Ugly’ Industrial Output And Retail Sales Growth (CNBC)

China on Friday reported industrial output and retail sales growth for the month of November that missed expectations, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics, as the world’s second-largest economy started to show signs of slowing amid a bitter trade dispute with the U.S. Industrial output in November grew 5.4 percent from a year ago — the slowest pace in almost three years as it matched the rate of growth seen in January to February 2016, according to Reuters records. The growth in industrial production was lower than the 5.9 percent analysts in a Reuters poll had predicted.

Retail sales rose 8.1 percent in November — the weakest pace since 2003, according to Reuters’ records — lower than the 8.8 percent the analysts expected. November retail sales growth was down from 8.6 percent in October. Fixed asset investment rose 5.9 percent from January to November, marginally higher than the 5.8 percent the economists had forecast. FAI rose 5.7 percent from January to October. [..] The weaker Chinese data in November shows that the positive impact of front-loading had begun to taper off and that downward pressure on the Chinese economy was increasing, wrote Sue Trinh, head of Asia foreign exchange strategy at RBC Capital Markets in Hong Kong. The industrial output and retail sales data released on Friday were “ugly,” she added in a Friday note.

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Why Brexit, you asked?

Average UK Worker Earns A Third Less Than In 2008 (PA)

Wages are still worth a third less in some parts of the country than a decade ago, according to a report. Research by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) found that the average worker has lost £11,800 in real earnings since 2008. The UK has suffered the worst real wage slump among leading economies, said the union organisation. The biggest losses have been in areas including the London borough of Redbridge, Epsom and Waverley in Surrey, Selby in North Yorkshire and Anglesey in north Wales, the studyfound.

Workers have suffered real wage losses ranging from just under £5,000 in the north-east to more than £20,000 in London, said the report. The TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “The government has failed to tackle Britain’s cost-of-living crisis. As a result, millions of families will be worse off this Christmas than a decade ago. “While pay packets have recovered in most leading economies, wage growth in the UK is stuck in the slow lane. “Ministers need to wake up and get wages rising faster. This means cranking up the pressure on businesses to pay staff more, especially at a time when many companies are sitting on large profits.”

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“..European leaders were left amazed when she turned up without any developed requests or ideas…”

EU Leaders Scrap Plans To Help Theresa May Pass Brexit Deal (Ind.)

Theresa May‘s Brexit plan was dealt another major blow at a meeting with EU leaders on Thursday night in a disastrous turn of events that resulted in them scrapping written commitments to help her pass her deal through parliament. After arriving in Brussels with promises to help the prime minister, European leaders were left amazed when she turned up without any developed requests or ideas. The 27 heads of state and government subsequently decided to delete lines from their council conclusions saying the EU “stands ready to examine whether any further assurance can be provided” and that “the backstop does not represent a desirable outcome for the union”.

The key paragraphs appeared in leaked earlier drafts on the conclusions and their absence leaves a barebones statement that does the bare minimum to help the prime minister. The limited assurances provided in the statement are extremely unlikely to placate Ms May’s MPs, who have said they want major changes to the agreement. Accounts of the meeting suggest the prime minister’s speech, in which she called for help to get the agreement “over the line”, was repeatedly interrupted by Angela Merkel asking her what she actually wanted from them. Senior UK government officials admitted that the prime minister did not bring any documented proposals with her to the meeting. The approach puzzled EU diplomats, who for days before the conference had said they needed to see what proposals Ms May had come up with before they could respond to her request for aid.

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Labour lacks all strength. What have they been doing in the past 2 years?

Labour Plans To ‘Throw Kitchen Sink’ To Force May’s Hand On Brexit (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn will seek to increase pressure on Theresa May in parliament next week in a bid to prevent the Tories running down the clock on Brexit. As the prime minister urged EU leaders to offer fresh concessions in Brussels on Thursday, senior Labour sources stressed the party was determined to “turn up the heat” at home. May’s spokeswoman confirmed on Thursday that “there will be no meaningful vote before Christmas”, while the prime minister negotiates with her EU counterparts. But Labour fears May will only be able to win cosmetic changes to the backstop – and that she will use the ongoing talks as an excuse to avoid testing the will of parliament.

“There must be no more dither and delay, or attempts to run down the clock in an attempt to deny parliament alternative options,” Corbyn said on Thursday. “People and businesses need certainty. The prime minister should put her deal before parliament next week in our country’s interest,” he said, adding that there was “no time to waste”. The Labour leader has held meetings with the shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, who has been pressing for the party to table a motion of no confidence in the government before parliament rises for a Christmas break next Thursday. That option has not been ruled out – depending on the reaction of Conservative backbenchers and the DUP when May reports back to MPs from the European council meeting on Monday.

But the party is also studying alternative, less drastic options, including tabling an urgent question on the government’s no-deal preparations; and demanding a three-hour emergency debate to allow parliament to set out its expectations for the latest negotiations over the backstop. It could also demand a full parliamentary debate of regulations readying the financial services sector for a no-deal Brexit, which are currently due to be considered in a committee. “Essentially we can throw the parliamentary kitchen sink at them,” said another senior Labour source, “with all the trimmings”. Some shadow ministers are more sceptical about calling a no-confidence vote early, fearing it would only unite the Conservatives behind May. One told the Guardian: “We’ve got to wait until January now.”

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Germans that don’t want a way back for Britain. But that’s not their decision.

There Should Be No Exit from Brexit (Spiegel)

For two years, the British government has been negotiating the terms of its withdrawal with the European Commission, and now Prime Minister Theresa May is unable to secure a majority for that deal in parliament. The more chaotic things get in London, the more tempting it will become for the country to exit from Brexit through the emergency door the European Court of Justice unlocked on Monday when it declared that the British government could unilaterally move to revoke Article 50. A second referendum that would provide democratic legitimacy to that step seems increasingly likely. But such a move could potentially have graver consequences than an orderly Brexit — both for Britain and the EU.

There’s a good and perhaps even compelling argument for a second referendum: Now that a deal with the EU is on the table, voters would at least finally know what it is they were voting on. In the first referendum in June 2016, that wasn’t even remotely the case. But the campaign ahead of a second referendum would in all likelihood be even more xenophobic and hate-filled than the first. That could in turn produce a British society that is even more divided than it already is today, particularly given that recent polls show the pro-EU camp winning a second referendum by a narrow margin. This time, however, it is likely that the losers would be even angrier and more disappointed than the losers of the first vote.

Many would feel that their long-desired Brexit had been stolen from them and would turn away from democracy in frustration. It would provide a significant boost to anti-European right-wing populists. And this would lead to problem No. 2: Such an outcome would also be uncomfortable for the rest of the EU. The European bloc is currently desperately seeking to find common ground on important policy areas including economic and monetary union, defense and immigration. A Britain that is hopelessly divided on domestic policy could cause significant damage were it still an EU member state.

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I’m wondering how much of any Green New Deal -there are quite a few- depends on investing billions in allowing energy consumption to stay at equal levels, just with a shift from fossil to something else. How many people propose a 10-20-50% cut in overall energy consumption?

My Plan To Revive Europe Can Succeed Where Macron, Piketty Failed (Varoufakis)

[..] the latest Piketty manifesto retains a hybrid parliamentary chamber, but forfeits any Europeanist ambition – all proposals for debt pooling, risk sharing and fiscal transfers have been dropped. Instead, it suggests that national governments agree to raise €800bn (or 4% of eurozone GDP) through a harmonised corporate tax rate of 37%, an increased income tax rate for the top 1%, a new wealth tax for those with more than €1m in assets, and a C02 emissions tax of €30 per tonne. This money would then be spent within each nation-state that collected it – with next to no transfers across countries. But, if national money is to be raised and spent domestically, what is the point of another supranational parliamentary chamber?

Europe is weighed down by overgrown, quasi-insolvent banks, fiscally stressed states, irate German savers crushed by negative interest rates, and whole populations immersed in permanent depression: these are all symptoms of a decade-long financial crisis that has produced a mountain of savings sitting alongside a mountain of debts. The intention of taxing the rich and the polluters to fund innovation, migrants and the green transition is admirable. But it is insufficient to tackle Europe’s particular crisis. What Europe needs is a Green New Deal – this is what Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 – which I co-founded – and our European Spring alliance will be taking to voters in the European parliament elections next summer.

The great advantage of our Green New Deal is that we are taking a leaf out of US President Franklin Roosevelt’s original New Deal in the 1930s: our idea is to create €500bn every year in the green transition across Europe, without a euro in new taxes. Here’s how it would work: the European Investment Bank (EIB) issues bonds of that value with the ECB standing by, ready to purchase as many of them as necessary in the secondary markets. The EIB bonds will undoubtedly sell like hot cakes in a market desperate for a safe asset. Thus, the excess liquidity that keeps interest rates negative, crushing German pension funds, is soaked up and the Green New Deal is fully funded. Once hope in a Europe of shared, green prosperity is restored, it will be possible to have the necessary debate on new pan-European taxes on C02, the rich, big tech and so on – as well as settling the democratic constitution Europe deserves.

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From 2009 to 2017, the number of billionaires that own as much as the poorest 50% of world population went from 380 to 8. At that rate, pretty soon the world’s richest individual will own that much.

A World That Is the Property of the 1% (Nomi Prins)

Thanks to the massive accumulation of wealth by a 1% skilled at gaming the system, the roots of a crisis that didn’t end with the end of the Great Recession have spread across the planet, while the dividing line between the “have-nots” and the “have-a-lots” only sharpened and widened. Though the media hasn’t been paying much attention to the resulting inequality, the statistics (when you see them) on that ever-widening wealth gap are mind-boggling. According to Inequality.org, for instance, those with at least $30 million in wealth globally had the fastest growth rate of any group between 2016 and 2017. The size of that club rose by 25.5% during those years, to 174,800 members.

Or if you really want to grasp what’s been happening, consider that, between 2009 and 2017, the number of billionaires whose combined wealth was greater than that of the world’s poorest 50% fell from 380 to just eight. And by the way, despite claims by the president that every other country is screwing America, the U.S. leads the pack when it comes to the growth of inequality. As Inequality.org notes, it has “much greater shares of national wealth and income going to the richest 1% than any other country.” That, in part, is due to an institution many in the U.S. normally pay little attention to: the U.S. central bank, the Federal Reserve. It helped spark that increase in wealth disparity domestically and globally by adopting a post-crisis monetary policy in which electronically fabricated money (via a program called quantitative easing, or QE) was offered to banks and corporations at significantly cheaper rates than to ordinary Americans.

[..] In our post-2008 era, people have witnessed trillions of dollars flowing into bank bailouts and other financial subsidies, not just from governments but from the world’s major central banks. Theoretically, private banks, as a result, would have more money and pay less interest to get it. They would then lend that money to Main Street. Businesses, big and small, would tap into those funds and, in turn, produce real economic growth through expansion, hiring sprees, and wage increases. People would then have more dollars in their pockets and, feeling more financially secure, would spend that money driving the economy to new heights — and all, of course, would then be well.

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It should not be possible to have this kind of investigation into one side and not the other, simultaneously.

Trump Inauguration Spending Under Criminal Investigation (CNBC)

Manhattan-based federal prosecutors are investigating whether some of the $107 million in donations to then President-elect Donald Trump’s inaugural committee were misspent, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. The Journal, citing people familiar with the matter, said the investigation arose in part from the slew of materials seized in April raids on Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, by federal prosecutors. Cohen on Wednesday was sentenced to three years in prison on charges that came in part from those April raids on his office and residence. The criminal probe is also looking into whether some of the committee’s top spenders traded money for access to the incoming Trump administration, as well as “policy concessions or to influence official administration positions,” sources told the Journal.

“Giving money in exchange for political favors could run afoul of federal corruption laws,” the newspaper explained. “Diverting funds from the organization, which was registered as a nonprofit, could also violate federal law.” Federal prosecutors have reportedly also questioned Richard Gates — the ex-partner of onetime Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort — who pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy and lying charges lodged by special counsel Robert Mueller. Gates, who has cooperated with investigators in Mueller’s probe of Russian interference during the 2016 U.S. election, served as deputy chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee.

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Exactly what I said about the case a few days ago. It’s become accepted in the US to coerce guilty pleas with vile threats and ugly treatment.

US ‘Miscarriage Of Justice’ In Butina Case Denounced (RT)

Maria Butina’s only crime is that she is Russian, legal analysts told RT, attacking the US justice system for keeping her in solitary confinement until she admitted guilt to at least one of the many charges brought against her. “This is an utter and total miscarriage of justice,” retired CIA agent and whistleblower John Kiriakou told RT after Butina pleaded guilty to the charge of failing to register with the Justice Department as an agent of the Russian government. “You can see clearly, this is not about justice, this is not about criminal activity. This is about making a political point. This is about identifying Russia and Russians as the enemy of the United States, and punishing them.”

“We arrested this young woman because we need dirt on Trump and Russia. And she is Russian, political and pro-Trump,” US legal analyst Jennifer Breedon explained. “We are seeing [the Foreign Agents Registration Act – FARA] being used specifically as it relates to undermining the Donald Trump administration or conservatives really with anybody involved in Russia, friends with Russia or contacts.” The Russian gun activist was subjected to “unbearable pressure” from US authorities, by being kept in solitary confinement in the Alexandria detention center outside Washington, and only allowed to take an hour-long break from her “cage” per day. John Kiriakou believes this borderline “torture” could have forced her to admit to a crime she might never even have committed.

“This woman is not an enemy combatant. So, unless news surfaces that there was some kind of skirmish or issue within the jail… it seems to go against US policy and laws as to who is forced into solitary confinement, just based solely on the charges that were lodged against her,” Breedon said. “You are kept in a steel cage 23 hours a day. And for what? Because she failed to fill out a form to send to the Justice Department?” Kiriakou pondered. “It is no wonder people in solitary confinement in the United States commit suicide every day.”

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Nothing to do with defying Trump, he wants this. Imagine he would say this, and then be held responsible for $400 oil. It’s much easier to speak as senator than as president. And many of these senators have politically supported Saudi for decades. They’re merely cleaning up their own mess.

US Senate Passes Resolution Saying MbS Responsible For Khashoggi Murder (Ind.)

The Senate has passed a resolution saying Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Defying Donald Trump’s desire to maintain close relations with Saudi Arabia including lucrative weapons deals, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker proposed the legislation, which has been backed by at least 10 of his fellow Republicans. The CIA is reported to have assessed with “high confidence” that Crown Prince Mohammed was involved in the order to kill Mr Khashoggi, partly based on the judgement that as the country’s de facto ruler he would have had to have known. Saudi authorities have blamed a “rogue” team of operatives for the killing and have repeatedly denied any involvement by the crown prince.

Mr Trump and a number of administration officials have sought to play down the CIA assessment, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying this week that it has been reported “inaccurately”. The joint resolution calls for the Saudi government to ensure “appropriate accountability” for all those responsible for Mr Khashoggi’s death, calls on Riyadh to release Saudi women’s rights activists and encourages the kingdom to increase efforts to enact economic and social reforms. However, it is unclear if the House of Representatives will consider voting on the measure.

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Oct 222018
 
 October 22, 2018  Posted by at 8:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Autumn landscape with four trees 1885

 

5 Companies That Spent Big On Stock Buybacks As Pension Funding Lagged (MW)
How Everything Has Changed Since Trump Became President (CNBC)
Trump Right To Blame Fed for Next Market Crash – Dave Janda (USAW)
Democrats Slide In Battle For Senate (Hill)
Erdogan Says Will Reveal Details Of Khashoggi Case Tuesday (DS)
No Arms For Riyadh While Khashoggi Questions Remain – Merkel (R.)
Germany Urges Other EU States To Also Stop Arms Exports To Saudi Arabia
Merkel to Resign: ‘Wants To Replace Juncker As European Commission Chief’ (VoE)
Italian Bank Fears Expected To Grow After Debt Downgrade (G.)
Brexit Deal Is 95% Settled, Theresa May To Tell Commons (G.)
Sydney Property Slowdown Bites As Auction Clearance Rates Tumble (G.)

 

 

Madness. Should never be allowed. Why do you have a pension fund when you are free not to contribute to it?

5 Companies That Spent Big On Stock Buybacks As Pension Funding Lagged (MW)

Even as corporate executives engage in a spree of share buybacks to spur stock prices higher, many have eschewed adding to their employee’s pension pots. That’s according to Danielle DiMartino Booth of Quill Intelligence who picked out a few of the more standout firms whose “enthusiasm for funding pensions was subpar compared to buybacks.” She lined up five of the worst offenders to illustrate that in the pursuit of higher stock prices and shareholder value corporations often left other pressing needs to languish. They include the likes of Boeing, General Electric and Lockheed Martin. In the chart below, the amount of buybacks and pension contributions between 2009 and 2017 for the five companies is compared alongside their respective pension funding ratio, which represents how much the company can deliver on its future pension obligations as a percentage of the plan’s total assets.

One case Booth highlights in the chart is American Airlines. Though, the airline carried around $18.3 billion of pension obligations, its pension system was only 62% funded even after a nine-year bull market. Market participants have cited the prevalence of share repurchases to the stock market’s searing rise in the past few years, even as equities retreated from their record highs in October. A report by Goldman Sachs said share buybacks could hit a record $1 trillion this year, nearly doubling last year’s haul.

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For now.

How Everything Has Changed Since Trump Became President (CNBC)

Since Donald Trump won the presidency, he has presided over both one the most tumultuous political times in recent memory, as well as the best economy the country has seen since well before the financial crisis. Consumer and small business confidence is up — but so are both the national debt and budget deficit. The chart below, using mostly data compiled by Goldman Sachs, quantifies just how much things changed from the days just before the election in November 2016 through September 2018. Of course, the stock market has weakened in October, which has been its historically most volatile month. The chart doesn’t include GDP, which has averaged 2.72 percent since Trump took over, compared to the 1.6 percent gain in 2016. But the numbers provide a solid overview of how conditions have evolved during the 45th president’s time in office.

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No, it’s the low interest rates that will cause a market crash. It’s the manipulation.

Trump Right To Blame Fed for Next Market Crash – Dave Janda (USAW)

Radio host Dr. Dave Janda says everybody in Washington knows the next big crash is right around the corner. It’s been 10 years since the Fed reflated the last meltdown, and Dr. Janda says President Trump is already blaming the Federal Reserve for killing the economy that his policies revived. Dr. Janda explains, “President Trump has been pointing the finger at the Fed. He’s been pointing the finger at the Fed, and that is exactly where he should be pointing. The globalist syndicate’s tentacle is the central banking system, and, in particular, in the United States, the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve is one of the entities that is directly responsible for this financial mess our country is currently in.

You would never see Obama or the Bushes, or Bill Clinton, point at the Fed and say what Trump has said. Trump said, ‘I think the Fed has gone crazy. I think the Fed is making a mistake. They’re so tight with interest rates. I think the Fed has gone crazy.’ Just the other day, Trump said, ‘My biggest threat is the Fed. . . . The Fed is raising rates too fast, and it’s too independent.’ Now, wait a minute, listen to that. It’s too independent. When was the last time a president of the United States said the Fed was too independent? . . . . Banking groups, that is their priority. So, when the President says the Fed is raising rates too fast, and it’s my biggest enemy, and too independent, what he is saying is they are looking out for their own interests.

They are not looking out for the interests of our country or for you or for me or for any American, and he’s right. I don’t know of any other president that has had the guts to say this.” So, what happens next? Dr. Janda says, “Trump knew this thing was rigged to blow, the economy, the financial system, and when the right time came, he would start pointing the finger at the globalists, the Fed. I believe that’s where we are right now.”

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As predicted.

Democrats Slide In Battle For Senate (Hill)

The battle for control of the Senate is looking worse and worse for Democrats, who just a month ago saw a path to the majority but now increasingly look like they could lose more seats and have a smaller minority next year. Republicans have seen a bump in the polls in several key races since Labor Day. They believe momentum has flipped to their party since the fight over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh polarized the electorate, hurting Democrats running for reelection in states where President Trump is popular. Two states where Democrats had hopes of pulling major upsets — Texas and Tennessee — have moved in favor of Republicans.

Races in Nevada and Arizona, two other states where Democrats had hoped to make gains, remain tight, but Republicans feel more confident about their candidates. Meanwhile, the tide has moved against Democratic candidates in a couple of states that Trump won by double digits in 2016. In North Dakota, Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp has fallen behind by double digits. And in Montana, Sen. Jon Tester (D), who seemed poised for victory a month ago, has seen his race tighten amid attacks by the president. There is some good news for Democrats in the polls. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the only Democrat to back Kavanaugh’s confirmation, has maintained a healthy average lead of 9 points in the polls, despite running in a state that Trump won by a whopping 42 points in 2016.

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Do the US and Riyadh know what he knows?

Erdogan Says Will Reveal Details Of Khashoggi Case Tuesday (DS)

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday that he will make important statements on Tuesday at the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) parliamentary group meeting regarding the investigation on journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s fate, who was admittedly killed by Saudi authorities. “We seek justice and this will be revealed in all its naked truth, not through some ordinary steps but in all its naked truth. This is not an ordinary case. I will make statements on Tuesday at the AK Party parliamentary group meeting. The incident will be revealed entirely,” said Erdogan at a ceremony in Istanbul.

His comments are likely to heighten speculation that Turkey may be about to reveal some of the results of its investigations into the killing of the dissident journalist [..] Turkish newspapers have released information detailing a 15-member team that purportedly arrived in Istanbul to confront Khashoggi at the consulate. “Why did these 15 people come here (to Istanbul), why were 18 people arrested (in Saudi Arabia)? These need to be explained in detail,” Erdogan said. Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor on Saturday said 18 people were arrested in connection with the incident. Turkish sources say the authorities have an audio recording purportedly documenting Khashoggi’s murder inside the consulate.

“If the incident transpired as it has been told across the world, there is no way Saudi officials can cover this up by saying a team from Saudi Arabia came and two or three men among them murdered him,” Numan Kurtulmus, deputy chairman of the AK Party, told broadcaster CNN Türk in an interview. “A crime committed in a consulate cannot be carried out without the knowledge of the senior state officials of that country. If this crime was really carried out as has been said, if the evidence really leads to that conclusion, the situation will be dire and this must have very serious legal consequences.”

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Not that Germany sells all that much.

No Arms For Riyadh While Khashoggi Questions Remain – Merkel (R.)

Germany will not export arms to Saudi Arabia while the current uncertainty over the fate of journalist Jamal Khashoggi persists, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday. Campaigning for her party in a regional election, Merkel repeated to a news conference her earlier condemnation of Khashoggi’s killing, which Saudi Arabia admitted had taken place inside its consulate in Istanbul. “First, we condemn this act in the strongest terms,” she said. “Second, there is an urgent need to clarify what happened – we are far from this having been cleared up and those responsible held to account … As far as arms exports are concerned, those can’t take place in the current circumstances.”

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But look at the UK. Will they stop arms exports?

Germany Urges Other EU States To Also Stop Arms Exports To Saudi Arabia

Germany wants other European Union member states to follow its example in stopping arms exports to Saudi Arabia as long as uncertainty remains over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said on Monday. Riyadh has given multiple and conflicting accounts on what led to Khashoggi’s death on Oct. 2 at its consulate in Istanbul. On Sunday, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir called the killing a “huge and grave mistake” but sought to shield Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince. Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday that Germany would stop arms exports to Saudi Arabia as long as the uncertainty around Khashoggi’s death persisted.

Altmaier, a close ally of Merkel, said Riyadh’s explanations on the case so far had not been satisfactory. “The government is in agreement that we will not approve further arms exports for the moment because we want to know what happened,” Altmaier told ZDF broadcaster. So far this year the German government had approved weapons exports worth more than 400 million euros ($462 million) to Saudi Arabia, making it the second-biggest recipient of German arms after Algeria. [..] Altmaier said other EU states should stop arms exports to Saudi Arabia in order to increase pressure on Riyadh over the Khashoggi case. “For me it would be important that we come to a joint European stance,” Altmaier said.

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A popular job.

Merkel to Resign: ‘Wants To Replace Juncker As European Commission Chief’ (VoE)

Bavaria’s state election last weekend proved painful for German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In yet another election next week, Ms. Merkel is expected to see further discomfiture. The German leader could resign from her post at the December CDU party conference in December in order to take another senior European position. “Rumours are swirling in Brussels that Merkel could run for the European Commission next year”, Die Welt’s Stefanie Bolzen tells the BBC. As Jean-Claude Juncker gets ready to retire as European Commission President next year, there have been suggestions that French President Emanuel Macron is considering a run, Italy’s fierce and most popular politician in Italy’s history Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has also been asked to run, and now Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel could potentially be throwing her hat into the ring.

May the best Italian win!

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What happens when the vigilantes decide it’s time?

Italian Bank Fears Expected To Grow After Debt Downgrade (G.)

Fears that Italy’s banks face a black hole in their finances are expected to grow this week following a debt downgrade that could send the value of bank reserves plummeting. Despite efforts to shore up Italian banks’ reserves, a downgrade by the ratings agency Moody’s on Friday following a row between Rome and Brussels over the government’s budget could send them into freefall again. A senior government official added to the tension on Sunday by issuing a warning that Italy should not ignore the deteriorating financial situation and its effect on the country’s banks, including possible capital needs. Giancarlo Giorgetti said in a newspaper interview that a fire sale of Italian government bonds over the last five months had put huge pressure on bank reserves and could trigger a second crisis in two years.

The budget plans of Italy‘s populist government, which breach EU borrowing rules, have prompted investors to shed €67bn ($77bn) of Italian government bonds since May. The effect has been to push values down and the interest rate on government bonds, referred to as the yield, to more than three percentage points higher than safer German bonds. “The increase in the [bond yield] spread, the amount of public debt banks hold and new European Union banking rules put the industry under pressure and may generate the need to recapitalise the most fragile lenders,” said Giorgetti, who is an influential member of the far-right League, one of the two parties in Italy’s ruling coalition.

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But the remaining 5% were always the hardest, so nothing really changed.

Brexit Deal Is 95% Settled, Theresa May To Tell Commons (G.)

Theresa May will tell the Commons on Monday that 95% of the Brexit withdrawal agreement and its protocols are settled as she seeks to demonstrate to anxious MPs in her own party that she is making headway in the increasingly fraught divorce talks. The prime minister is expected to confirm she has resolved with the EU the future status of Gibraltar, developed a protocol around the UK’s military base in Cyprus and agreed a mechanism for resolving any future disputes with the EU.

Taking the unusual step of briefing planned remarks to the Commons in advance, May will conclude that “taking all of this together, 95% of the withdrawal agreement and its protocols are now settled” in talks that she has until now largely insisted on keeping secret. The prime minister is scheduled to make a statement on Monday afternoon, after intense criticism from the Tory right for appearing to have made no progress other than indicating at last week’s European summit that she was open to extending the post-Brexit transition period, prompting renewed speculation about a leadership challenge.

A clearly rattled Downing Street held two conference calls with cabinet ministers over the weekend to update them on the European summit before a cabinet discussion on Brexit on Tuesday. Concerns were raised about the transition period and time-limiting the Irish backstop. “No one is in the mood to be bounced,” said one cabinet source. May intends to show the progress made by highlighting all the specific areas of agreement already reached, including settling the divorce bill at £39bn, having an implementation period until at least the end of 2020 and recognising the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and vice versa.

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Down under goes further down.

Sydney Property Slowdown Bites As Auction Clearance Rates Tumble (G.)

Sydney’s housing market is facing the toughest conditions since the global financial crisis after auction rates slumped again at the weekend, with analysts predicting that the slowdown could get much worse in the months ahead. Australia’s biggest city saw only 44% of 567 listed properties sold at the weekend, according to Domain, the lowest preliminary clearance rate for a decade. The figure is likely to be revised down below 40%, a level of downturn not seen for a decade. The last time rates were in the 30% range was November 2008, at the peak of the global financial crisis. The two instances before that were May 2004, when New South Wales introduced vendor stamp duty, and July 1989, when interest rates were 17%.

Equally striking is the collapse in the total amount changing hands at auctions across the city, which sank to $160m at the weekend compared with $484m on the same weekend a year ago – a drop of about two-thirds. The decline in the property market, which AMP’s chief economist, Shane Oliver, thinks could fall 20% before bottoming out in 2020, has been most marked in Sydney where prices are down around 6.3% from the peak in 2017 as buyers drop out owing to tougher credit standards and falling confidence. The clearance rate in Melbourne at the weekend was below 50% on a much greater number of properties (nearly 1,000). But the dollar volume of auction sales shows a similar decline across the country, where buyers spent $453m at the weekend compared with $1.3bn the same weekend last year.

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Oct 112018
 
 October 11, 2018  Posted by at 1:22 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pieter Bruegel the Elder The Triumph of Death 1562

 

Finally financial ‘markets’ go through a substantial dip, which Steve Mnuchin claims is just temporary and Donald Trump says is caused by the fact that the Fed is ‘loco’. Mnuchin may well be right, but it won’t be because he knows something you don’t.

And Trump is certainly right, but in reality the Fed has been loco for many years, so why be surprised if it acts crazy now? The reason Mnuchin and a million other ‘experts’ may be right without realizing it is that the Fed has been crazy enough to kill the financial markets.

Or at least killed what made the markets functional, and beneficial to society. And that may well be exactly what Jay Powell is trying to repair, but he may well not be aware of that either. Looked at from a ‘benign’ angle, Powell is perhaps raising rates so people can regain insight into what they’re buying.

The pre-Powell Fed pushed up asset prices (don’t let’s say ‘values’) to such heights nobody has any insight anymore into what anything is truly worth. And in what was formerly known as the financial markets that was not important, because what were formerly known as investors were making heaps of money regardless.

Surely they must all have known that this wouldn’t continue?! That it’s just a matter of timing, of knowing when it would end? Oh, but that’s not really possible, is it, without the very price discovery process the Fed successfully strangulated?

Still, there must also be tons of people left thinking the Fed can kick that can six times to the moon and back, or sixty. If only because they’ve never bothered to think about price discovery, and what role it plays in the very ‘markets’ they volunteer to spend their money in.

And along those same lines, many acknowledge housing bubbles in Sydney and Vancouver but think the US has learned its lesson a decade ago. And the loco Fed plays its role there too: mortgage rates have been ultra-low, enticing the last left batch of greater fools not mortally wounded by the last fire to jump in this time. Wolf Richter’s Case-Shiller graph says plenty in that regard:

 

 

But of course things tend back to normalcy, and it doesn’t take all the overleveraged stock- and home buyers longing for price discovery; it takes just a few to get the engine started. And then everyone will be along for the ride. So from that angle Jay Powell looks anything but crazy raising rates, we just can’t be sure if he knows what the consequences will be.

Not that it matters all that much what he does or does not know. What was formerly the market is like a pendulum swung so far out of balance that it costs ever more effort and money to keep it from moving towards equilibrium, and that process has only one possible outcome.

For mortgage rates, it looks something like this, and to make anyone able to buy any home at all higher rates will of necessity mean lower prices. You can’t, nobody can, not the Fed or the government can, keep that pendulum away from its tendency towards equilibrium forever.

 

 

For stocks it looks much the same. So why try, you’d think?! To prevent incumbents and ruling classes from being exposed as swimming naked, that’s why. They invented a way to make the entire nation swim naked, thinking they’d never be found out because the water levels were so high.

Whether yesterday’s 831-point Dow dip is temporary or not is of little interest. Much more important is that the entire asset prices situation is temporary. It doesn’t matter if the Fed pumps $1, $10, or $100 trillion into what once were markets, in the end it all comes down to how many people can pay how much money for the assets.

And since there is never an unending supply of greater fools, we know where this is going. The easy money and low rates and asset purchases at central banks and stock buybacks by companies can and will result only in more profits and more wealth for a few, and sheer endlessly less for the many.

Inequality in the US has now reached such extremities that the country’s AAA rating threatens to be taken away –as Moody’s indicated-; the government has so many people it must support financially (or let perish) that its financial position comes under pressure. Which is, again, negative for the many, for the few; they don’t care about that rating.

Yes, too many people are on some form of welfare in America. And Washington would love to throw many of them off of it. The many have no representation on Capitol Hill anymore. Just about any senator and congress(wo)man is a millionaire or certainly well-off.

 

How can the country get its rating back, or at least not lose it due to its increasing inequality? There seem to be two ways: let the 80 million now on welfare die by the side of the road, or provide them with jobs that allow them a fruitful life. That may sound like socialism or something, but it’s really the exact opposite.

It’s not the government’s role to give people jobs, but it is its role to make sure conditions are in place for the private sector to provide them. Trump’s ‘trade wars’ look crazy to many, but the intent is to get jobs back to the US. But there is much more.

America was once prosperous. What changed?

Here’s one thing: In what was -arguably?- America’s wealthiest time as a nation, the post-World War II period, income taxes for the richest were as high as 90% (1952: 92%); they were slowly brought down towards 70%. Only when Ronald Reagan took over in 1980 did they really fall (1982: 50%). This was ‘justified’ by lowering the highest income bracket (1982: $85,600, it had been between $200,000 and $400,000 for years).

In 1988, the top rate plunged to 28%, and the highest bracket to $29,750. Today, the top rate is 39.6% and the high bracket $400,000. In a graph, the consequences look like this:

 

 

The corporate tax rate, meanwhile, pulled this one, and don’t get started on tax havens etc.:

 

 

And that situation has led to a huge financial crisis, to the Fed going crazy and handing out trillions to the exact wrong part of society, those who already have a lot of money, and the result has been an absolute disaster, at least for the country; not so much for its elites.

But as even Moody’s now recognizes, you can’t run an AAA-rated country on elites alone. Despite the crazy Fed trillions, the US has achieved negative growth (imagine where it would be without):

 

 

Something must be done. Problem is, with only those millionaires in charge in the House and Senate, the likelihood of boosting income tax levels up to where they were when America was most prosperous is extremely low. And Trump’s tariffs are not on their own going to bring back the jobs; they can’t rebuild the lost infrastructure, for one thing.

Something must be done, and it’s entirely unclear what, or rather, who’s going to do it. The Democrats have nothing, or nothing but frustrated millionaires and Bernie Sanders. The GOP has only Trump. None of these people are going to vote to double their income taxes.

Much of what needs to be done will be classified as socialism, ridiculed and thrown out the window, even if the country was anything but socialist under Eisenhower and Kennedy, during its -at least economic- Golden Age.

It’s a nice puzzle, isn’t it? Well, maybe not so nice after all.

 

 

Oct 042018
 
 October 4, 2018  Posted by at 9:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Man with arms crossed 1909

 

World Economy At Risk Of Another Financial Crash – IMF (G.)
Soaring US dollar Threatens Trouble For Emerging Markets (G.)
Stocks To Plunge More Than 40% During Next Bear Market – Stovall (CNBC)
Powell Has Cost Stock-Market Investors $1.5 Trillion In 2018 – JPMorgan (MW)
Senate Sets Key Kavanaugh Nomination Vote For Friday (ZH)
White House Finds No Support in FBI Report for Claims Against Kavanaugh (WSJ)
Theresa May Pledges End To Austerity In Tory Conference Speech (G.)
India’s Rupee Sinks To Record Lows., Central Bank Won’t Save It (CNBC)
Amazon Cuts Bonuses And Stock Awards As Minimum Wage Increases (CNBC)
Estonia Says Over $1 Trillion Flowed Through The Country In 2008-2017 (R.)
Grizzly: The Canary in Our Coal Mine (CP)
Attenborough: ‘Population Growth Must Come To An End’ (BBC)
Humanity Is Waging A War Of Terror On Wildlife (G.)

 

 

Why? Lack of reforms. Yeah.

World Economy At Risk Of Another Financial Crash – IMF (G.)

The world economy is at risk of another financial meltdown, following the failure of governments and regulators to push through all the reforms needed to protect the system from reckless behaviour, the International Monetary Fund has warned. With global debt levels well above those at the time of the last crash in 2008, the risk remains that unregulated parts of the financial system could trigger a global panic, the Washington-based lender of last resort said. Much has been done to shore up the reserves of banks in the last 10 years and to put in place more rigorous oversight of the financial sector, but “risks tend to rise during good times, such as the current period of low interest rates and subdued volatility, and those risks can always migrate to new areas”, the IMF said, adding, “supervisors must remain vigilant to these unfolding events”.

A dramatic rise in lending by the so-called shadow banks in China and the failure to impose tough restrictions on insurance companies and asset managers, which handle trillions of dollars of funds, are highlighted by the IMF as causes for concern. The growth of global banks such as JP Morgan and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China to a scale beyond that seen in 2008, leading to fears that they remain “too big fail”, also registers on the IMF’s radar. The warning from the IMF Global Financial Stability report echoes similar concerns that complacency among regulators and a backlash against international agreements, especially from Donald Trump’s US administration, has undermined efforts to prepare for another downturn.

Read more …

There’s the US, which is booming, and then there’s everyone else, who are not.

Soaring US dollar Threatens Trouble For Emerging Markets (G.)

The US dollar continued to soar in value over Wednesday night, signalling the likelihood of more interest rate rises and spelling trouble for developing countries that have borrowed heavily in the greenback. With impressive service sector data published on Wednesday and strong jobs figures in the non-farm payrolls expected on Friday, the dollar hit an 11-month high against the yen and drove US treasury yields to their highest since mid-2011. The pound slipped below $1.30. Rising US bond yields indicate that the Federal Reserve, under its hawkish chairman Jerome Powell, is likely to keep raising interest rates from their current 2.25% well into 2019. They are also unfavourable for emerging markets as they tend to draw away much-needed foreign funds while pressuring local currencies.

The Australian dollar, which is seen as a proxy for emerging Asian markets, slipped below US$0.71 and seems set to dip further. The Indian rupee fell to an all-time low against the dollar on Thursday morning of 73.77 while the Indonesian rupiah has plunged to a 20-year low. China’s currency, which has suffered as the trade war with the US has intensified, was not immune. The offshore yuan rate reached above 6.9 to the dollar. “This is a perfect storm for the rising dollar,” said Chris Weston of the online trading firm Pepperstone in Melbourne. “Strong economic performance and the Fed seen [as] happy to take rates higher. “Lots of countries have issued dollar-denominated debt and as the dollar goes higher, debt levels are exaggerated.”

Read more …

What happens after bubbles.

Stocks To Plunge More Than 40% During Next Bear Market – Stovall (CNBC)

Wall Street veteran Sam Stovall is warning stock investors the longest bull market on record will end with an epic meltdown. According to the CFRA chief investment strategist, it’s a side effect of an unprecedented business cycle. “Three conditions: Very long, very high, very expensive,” Stovall said Tuesday on CNBC’s “Futures Now.” “History would imply that be careful because now we’re likely to fall into a very deep bear market when it does finally hit with the average decline being close to 40 percent plus.” His latest thoughts came as the Dow was hitting record highs. The blue chip index is now up more than 8 percent this year. The S&P 500 is performing a tad better — up more than 9 percent for 2018.

Since the bull market began on March 9, 2009, the Dow and S&P 500 have soared more than 300 percent each. For now, Stovall doesn’t see any near-term signs that the win streak is about to end. He remains confident stocks will see a fresh string of new highs in the final months of the year. Referring to history as a guide, Stovall noted that the fourth quarter is pretty strong during midterm election years, and seasonality points to more gains. He believes it will be easy for the S&P to grab another 80 points and break above 3,000 by year-end. However, 2019 may be where the troubles begin. “A lot of the euphoria, a lot of the optimism, is already built into share prices,” he said. “How much more [in earnings] can companies deliver? Expectations are for a 22 percent gain for the entire calendar year 2018. Then it slips to a 10 percent gain in 2019. Those optimistic numbers are already built into the market.”

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What nonsense. His policies blow a huge bubble, and his speeched deflate that bubble just a little bit.

Powell Has Cost Stock-Market Investors $1.5 Trillion In 2018 – JPMorgan (MW)

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has exacted a mighty toll from stock market investors this year, according to analysts from JPMorgan Chase. According to researchers led by quantitative analyst Marko Kolanovic, stocks have suffered around $1.5 trillion in losses following speeches from the Fed’s top dog. Powell has hosted three news conferences this year following meetings of the rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee. Kolanovic & Co. said they were followed by an average decline of 0.44 percentage point in the S&P 500. Other talks and speeches have resulted in an average fall of 0.40 percentage point, with losses coming in five of the past nine prominent speeches or Congressional testimonies he has delivered. The JPMorgan Chase chart below illustrates the moves, with testimonies represented in red and FOMC news conferences in blue, before and after the start of Powell’s comments:

To be sure, the research team acknowledges that directly attributing a market reaction to Powell’s comments is folly—in other worlds, correlation doesn’t mean causality, as former Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen was known for saying—but the researchers note that there is an uncanny relationship between Fed chief’s remarks and market action. “While we acknowledge that it is not possible to attribute the market impact of each speech with certainty, simple math indicates that ~$1.5 trillion of U.S. equity market value was lost this year following these speeches,” they wrote in the Wednesday research note.

Read more …

Confirmation or not, there will be mayhem.

Senate Sets Key Kavanaugh Nomination Vote For Friday (ZH)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed a cloture on the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh late Wednesday, paving the way for a Friday procedural vote and – if Kavanaugh clears the procedural hurdle – a final vote as early as Saturday. McConnell touched off the process late Wednesday and announced that sometime during the evening, the FBI would deliver to an anxious Senate the potentially fateful document on claims that Kavanaugh sexually abused women, according to the AP. With Republicans clinging to a razor-thin 51-49 majority and five senators — including three Republicans — still vacillating, the conservative jurist’s prospects of Senate confirmation remained in doubt and potentially dependent on the file’s contents, which are supposed to be kept secret.

“There will be plenty of time for Members to review and be briefed on this supplemental material before a Friday cloture vote. So I am filing cloture on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination this evening so the process can move forward, as I indicated earlier this week,” McConnell said. So far, no Democrat has said they will support Kavanaugh though Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) remain undecided. Meanwhile, GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) have yet to say how they will vote on Kavanaugh. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) previously said he would support Kavanaugh and absent new information from the FBI’s background investigation into several sexual misconduct allegations is expected to be a yes vote, although Flake may revised his initial contract and claim that the FBI probe was not exhaustive enough.

Republicans would need two of out of the three swing votes to support Kavanaugh if every Democrat opposes him in order to get the 50 votes needed to let Vice President Pence break a tie and confirm him.

Read more …

It’s not about the White House.

White House Finds No Support in FBI Report for Claims Against Kavanaugh (WSJ)

The White House has found no corroboration of the allegations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh after examining interview reports from the FBI’s latest probe into the judge’s background, according to people familiar with the matter. It was unclear whether the White House, which for weeks has raised doubts about the allegations, had completed its review of the FBI interview reports. Officials were expected to be sending the FBI report to the Senate Judiciary Committee late Wednesday. Still, the White House’s conclusions from the report are not definitive at this point in the confirmation process. Senators who will decide Mr. Kavanaugh’s fate are set to review the findings on Thursday, and some of them may draw different conclusions.

The result could leave senators in much the same position as last week—faced with two witnesses providing mutually exclusive accounts and forced to decide between them. The investigation, which concluded two days before its Friday deadline, has faced mounting criticism in recent days from Democrats who have said the probe wasn’t appropriately comprehensive. Investigators spoke to one of the three women who made accusations of sexual misconduct against Judge Kavanaugh. Raj Shah, spokesman for the White House, said in a statement early Thursday morning: “The White House has received the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s supplemental background investigation into Judge Kavanaugh, and it is being transmitted to the Senate.”

Read more …

A country in mortal moral decline. The level of cynical lying is astounding. The press doesn’t call her on it. The picture(s) say it all.

Theresa May Pledges End To Austerity In Tory Conference Speech (G.)

Theresa May has made a bold pledge to bring a decade of austerity to a close, as she appealed to the public over the heads of her squabbling party to back her to deliver a Brexit deal. Speaking in Birmingham on Wednesday at the end of the Conservatives’ annual conference, which was marred by repeated clashes over Europe, May cast aside the chancellor’s concerns about the health of the country’s finances and signalled Brexit would mark an end to public spending cuts. Despite widespread speculation about her future, May also made several domestic policy announcements in an attempt to show she has not been blown off course by Brexit or noisy critics led by Boris Johnson.

They include: • Lifting the cap on local authorities borrowing to build new council homes. • Setting new targets for early cancer detection as part of a new “cancer strategy”. • Freezing fuel duty for the ninth consecutive year. But her most eye-catching pledge was the promise to bring to an end the decade-long programme of spending cuts imposed after the banking bailouts. “When we’ve secured a good Brexit deal for Britain, at the spending review next year we will set out our approach for the future,” she said. “A decade after the financial crash, people need to know that the austerity it led to is over and that their hard work has paid off.

“There must be no return to the uncontrolled borrowing of the past. No undoing all the progress of the last eight years. No taking Britain back to square one. But the British people need to know that the end is in sight. And our message to them must be this: we get it.”

Read more …

India is a huge oil importer. Rupee sinks, oil prices rise.

India’s Rupee Sinks To Record Lows., Central Bank Won’t Save It (CNBC)

The rupee’s plunge into record-low territory this year is unlikely to slow — even if India’s central bank hikes its rate this week, according to experts carefully watching the Reserve Bank of India. Analysts largely expect India, Asia’s third-largest economy, to raise its benchmark rate by 25 basis points at its meeting this week, with more increases to come this and next year. But while an interest rate hike would normally be expected to support a currency, the rupee “is in for continued losses ahead,” according to Prakash Sakpal, VP of research at Dutch bank ING. “Even if it hikes by 25 (basis points) as expected that’s unlikely to help the currency … The RBI will have to do more, though that looks unlikely on the grounds of on-target inflation and stress in the financial sector,” he said. Sakpal predicted the central bank will merely match the three U.S. Federal Reserve rate hikes this year without giving the rupee any leeway to gain against the dollar.

Read more …

Many people end up worse off.

Amazon Cuts Bonuses And Stock Awards As Minimum Wage Increases (CNBC)

Amazon’s minimum-wage increase for its hourly workers comes with a trade-off: no more monthly bonuses and stock awards. Amazon confirmed in an email to CNBC that the company is getting rid of incentive pay and stock option awards as it increases the minimum wage to $15 per hour. The company, however, stressed that the wage increase “more than compensates” for the loss in other benefits. “The significant increase in hourly cash wages more than compensates for the phase out of incentive pay and [restrictive stock units],” Amazon’s spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

“We can confirm that all hourly Operations and Customer Service employees will see an increase in their total compensation as a result of this announcement. In addition, because it’s no longer incentive-based, the compensation will be more immediate and predictable.” Additionally, workers affected by the change will get a chance to review the new pay structures and share any concerns they might have with the company, according to a person familiar with the matter. The confirmation follows multiple reports on Wednesday that some of Amazon’s warehouse employees say they will make less as a result of this change.

The Guardian said warehouse workers currently receive one Amazon share (worth $1,959) at the end of every year, on top of another single share reward every five years. Yahoo News noted that warehouse workers can earn up to 8 percent of their monthly income every month, which could be as much as $3,000 a year for some workers. Workers were notified of the change on Wednesday, according to Bloomberg. Amazon disclosed in its announcement on Tuesday that it is replacing the stock awards program with the minimum-wage increase because employees prefer the “predictability and immediacy of cash” compared with stock awards. The company didn’t say anything about the monthly bonuses.

Read more …

Laundromat.

Estonia Says Over $1 Trillion Flowed Through The Country In 2008-2017 (R.)

Banks doing business in Estonia, which has been at the center of a money-laundering scandal involving Danske Bank, handled more than $1 trillion in cross-border flows between 2008 and 2017, according to the country’s central bank. The European Union member country of just 1.3 million people has been rocked by revelations that banks there laundered money from Russia, Moldova and Azerbaijan via non-resident bank accounts. The scandal has forced lenders in Estonia and neighboring Latvia to shut down. The data on cross-border flows, first reported by Bloomberg, suggests that the scale of the money laundering through the small Baltic country may have been larger then previously thought. The news sent Nordic banking shares sharply lower.

The central bank said that between 2008 and 2017, cross-border transactions totaled 1.1 trillion euros ($1.27 trillion). The number includes all flows, including resident and non-resident transactions, a spokesman said. Estonia’s entire economic output came to about $25 billion last year – roughly the same as that of Uganda or Nepal – suggesting that much of the money flow was not directly linked to economic activity in the country. The central bank did not say whether it considered any of the flows suspicious. Bloomberg on Wednesday reported figures from the central bank saying that Estonia handled about 900 billion euros in non-resident cross-border transactions between 2008 and 2015.

Read more …

“Far greater than the threat of human depredation on grizzlies, grim as it is, is the largely ignored imminent elimination of the habitat they must have to survive.”

Grizzly: The Canary in Our Coal Mine (CP)

The decision was of tremendous import and was not made quickly but it was made decisively. Judge Dana Christensen ruled against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delisting of the Yellowstone Grizzly, and stopped the trophy hunt proposed by Wyoming and Idaho, those retro redneck havens of braindead racism, industrial serfdom, and furious, moron machismo. In shutting down this corrupt, deeply cynical piece of ecological crime on the part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service targeting the Yellowstone grizzly population of 700 bears, the judge kept unerringly to existing law, and ruled narrowly to render his decision unassailable. The key point is that, by law, no delisting action may be taken on a subpopulation of a threatened or endangered species that does not consider the effects on the species as a whole.

In other words, no action can be mandated on one population that does not include all others. This ruling, while it does not prevent a hunt of the entire species should such a despicable act of depravity ever be mandated, does prevent the kind of fatal assault on bear viability that killing them piecemeal–as would have been the case had the Yellowstone hunt gone ahead–represents. Because those who back this sort of blind madness are both stupid and relentless in their twisted perversity, this decision may well be appealed, and when that appeal is lost, the same lunacy may be tested in the NCDE or Cabinet-Yaak, regardless of the dead certainty that it will fail in court. This is the kind of minds one confronts in the fight for ecological sanity.

Beyond the relief and satisfaction and, yes, sheer elation, this decision has evoked in those who care about the viability of the Griz, it is impossible to ignore the dark future that looms for this world iconic creature due directly to human inability to love and live in symbiosis with the natural world. Far greater than the threat of human depredation on grizzlies, grim as it is, is the largely ignored imminent elimination of the habitat they must have to survive. It’s not complicated: without vast, connected areas of truly wild country where all the fatally destructive apparatus of human organization is absent, the bear and all top predators will be swiftly driven to extinction. This is not news. It has been common scientific knowledge for decades. And yet the combination of the utter corruption of our Capitalist politics with obscenely complicit sham enviro outfits known in the trade as Gang Green, has prevented passage of sane, adequate, and sufficient habitat legislation.

Read more …

Not in his hands, not in ours.

Attenborough: ‘Population Growth Must Come To An End’ (BBC)

Read more …

End all trade in wildlife body parts.

Humanity Is Waging A War Of Terror On Wildlife (G.)

Humanity is waging a war of terror on wildlife across the globe, according to the head of a world-leading research institute who was previously a counter-terrorism expert for the UK government. Dominic Jermey, director general of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), also spent years in Afghanistan supporting the fight against terror, until leaving his post of UK ambassador in 2017. “Coming to ZSL, I am in a front row seat on a different kind of war, this time on wildlife,” he said in an article for the Guardian. “[It is] a war with catastrophic impacts on people and animals.” “While war and terror atrocities make daily headlines, the terror being waged on wildlife slides under the radar,” said Jermey, ahead of a global summit on tackling the illegal wildlife trade in London in October.

Other leaders are urging rapid action, with Gabon’s president, Ali Bongo, calling the crisis “a blight on humanity” and UK environment secretary Michael Gove saying the “massive global problem” needs the same scale of international response being taken to fight climate change. Illegal hunting and the destruction of wild habitat has resulted in the start of what many scientists consider the sixth mass extinction of life to occur in the Earth’s four-billion-year history. Over 80% of all mammals and half of plants are thought to have been lost since the rise of human civilisation.

Wildlife crime harms both people and animals, said Jermey: “The annihilation of wildlife by organised criminal gangs is violent, bloody, corrupt and insidious. It robs communities of their resources, their opportunities and their dignity. And we are all losers as the creatures with which we share this planet are pillaged to extinction.” One hundred million sharks are killed every year, mostly for their fins, and 20,000 African elephants for their ivory, he said. Losses have been greatest in recent decades, Jermey said, with a 58% decline in wildlife since 1970: “That’s like losing the entire [human] population of Asia from the world.”

Read more …

Sep 282018
 
 September 28, 2018  Posted by at 9:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Carnival Bistro [Study] 1908

 

Well, I Think We Found Our Supreme Court Justice Today… (F.)
BIS’s Claudio Borio Says the World Economy Is About to Get Very Sick (Auerback)
Italy Agrees High Public Spending Reforms In Potential Clash With EU (G.)
Irish Banks’ Loan Losses Hit €140 Billion In 10 Years After Crash (IT)
Janet Yellen Says It’s Time For “Alarm” As Loan Bubble Runs Amok (ZH)
Why Do Debt Crises Come in Cycles? (Dalio)
Elon Musk Tore Up Last Minute SEC Settlement, Decided To Fight Instead (ZH)
Corbyn Talks With EU Officials Spark Fresh No-Deal Brexit Fears (G.)
Britain, Ecuador Seeking An End To The Assange Standoff (AP)
Seattle Judges Throw Out 15 Years Of Marijuana Convictions (BBC)
Austrian Fruit Grower Sentenced To Prison Over Bee Deaths (AFP)
Orca ‘Apocalypse’: Half Of Killer Whales Doomed To Die From Pollution (G.)

 

 

No, not what I would write. But might as well take an odd approach. One thing that hearing made clear: “..we as a nation are losing our way”.

Well, I Think We Found Our Supreme Court Justice Today… (F.)

Well, I think we found our Supreme Court Justice today. This should be very good news for Republicans, who seem to be in an awful hurry to get this done quickly. It doesn’t look like we have to wait any longer. Let’s all take a deep breath and step back for a moment. All crazy partisan politics aside, let’s consider the qualities a good justice should have. A good justice should be objective and fair-minded, not guided by strong preconceived opinions. A good justice should be empathetic, not focused on oneself. A good justice should be calm, not angry. A good justice should show grace under pressure, not be easily rattled. A good justice should be even-tempered, not short-tempered. A good justice should be thoughtful, not strident. A good justice should in the face of adversity show courage, not petulance.

There are classic lines from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice about mercy and justice: The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. At the end of the day good leadership is about temperament. Having the kind of calm demeanor and even temperament that enables one to make sound thoughtful decisions under pressure. Not decisions that are reflexive, impulsive, angry or politically driven. When one thinks of the sea of strident bitter recriminations that have engulfed this whole Supreme Court nomination process, and the partisan political football the Supreme Court has become, it feels like we’ve completely lost sight of what a Supreme Court ought to be. It feels, sadly, like we as a nation are losing our way.

Well, cheer up, the good news at least is I think we found someone today with the right temperament to make a fine Supreme Court Justice. Her name is Christine Blasey Ford.

Read more …

And it’s the exact same disease.

BIS’s Claudio Borio Says the World Economy Is About to Get Very Sick (Auerback)

When Claudio Borio speaks, the big bankers and investors, the economics profession, and senior policymakers listen quite carefully—even if his sentiments don’t reach the shores of the popular media. Borio, the chief economist for the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the central bankers’ central bank, recently remarked on the fragility of the global economy, and suggested that we were on the verge of a significant relapsesimilar to the global crash experienced 10 years ago. Among the parallels he perceives: the proliferation of “collateralized loan obligations (CLOs), which are ‘close cousins’ of the infamous instruments known as collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs, and securities backed by residential mortgages,” the prevalence of which helped to crater the credit system in 2008.

Mindful as central bankers have been about the ready availability of liquidity, they have (as I have written before) omitted to “proactively… [charging] private market participants variable risk premiums commensurate with the risk of the underlying activity they are undertaking when providing credit.” Furthermore, Borio implies that the monetary and fiscal authorities expended excessive efforts toward restoring the status quo ante, instead of directing policy toward broader job creation and income generation, which would place the economy on sounder footing when the next downturn inevitably comes. Finally, the BIS’s chief economist also publicly mooted whether additional “medicine” of the kind that we used last time will be in sufficient supply to respond adequately when the next crisis emerges.

So is Dr. Borio correct in both his diagnosis and concomitant concern about the lack of readily available cures for the prevailing illness? And are there any key omissions in his analysis that could help to mitigate the inevitable relapse that he forecasts?

Read more …

UBI vs austerity.

Italy Agrees High Public Spending Reforms In Potential Clash With EU (G.)

The Italian government agreed to a 2019 budget deficit target at 2.4% of GDP on Thursday night in a move that was celebrated by leaders but could bring the heavily indebted country into conflict with the European Union. The economy minister Giovanni Tria succumbed to pressure from the government’s two deputy prime ministers – Luigi Di Maio, the leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), and Matteo Salvini, who heads up the far-right League – to increase the target in order to pay for election campaign promises such as a universal basic income, flat tax and pension reforms. Tria, an academic who is not affiliated to either party, had been seeking a more conservative 1.9% in order to avoid adding to Italy’s debt pile, which currently stands at around 131% of GDP, the second highest in the eurozone after Greece.

Speculation that Tria would resign has been denied. “There is an accord within the whole government for 2.4%, we are satisfied, this is a budget for change,” Di Maio and Salvini said in a joint statement. Di Maio wrote on Facebook that the agreement marked a historic day and was a victory for Italian citizens, not the government. The means-tested basic income, which will cost €10bn, was a key feature of his party’s election campaign. “For the first time in the history of this country we will erase poverty thanks to the basic income,” he said. “We will finally give a future to the 6.5 million people, who until now have lived in poverty and been completely ignored.”

Read more …

“..three-quarters of the size of the Irish economy in 2008.”

Irish Banks’ Loan Losses Hit €140 Billion In 10 Years After Crash (IT)

The State’s main 11 banks and building societies racked up a total of €140 billion in loan losses in the decade since western Europe’s worst property crash, according to data compiled by The Irish Times. That equates to about three-quarters of the size of the Irish economy in 2008. The figures include bad-loan charges that lenders took between 2008 and 2017, as well as losses on the sale of batches of loans to overseas investment firms and the National Asset Management Agency (Nama). As Saturday marks the 10th anniversary of the snap guarantee of the Republic’s banking system, property developer Sean Mulryan and former Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan have warned in interviews with The Irish Times of risks facing the recovering housing market and State finances.

The guarantee of six Dublin-based lenders would cost taxpayers €64 billion in bailouts and tip the State into an international bailout. Foreign-owned Bank of Scotland (Ireland), Ulster Bank and KBC Bank Ireland also required multibillion-euro capital injections from their parents during the financial crisis. The 11 banks’ net loan losses over the past decade amount to €134.2 billion – or 25 per cent of their total 2008 loans – according to the data, compiled from banks’ annual reports and regulatory filings. [..] Only five of the original lenders remain as standalone companies, as the State continues to grapple with the legacy of the crash. Housebuilding is running at half of estimated annual demand for 35,000 homes and banks are still dealing with high levels of distressed loans.

Read more …

These people only warn when they’ve left the job. While in the job, they do exactly what they later warn against.

“Powell said that “overall vulnerabilities” were “moderate”. He also stated that banks today “take much less risk than they used to”.”

Janet Yellen Says It’s Time For “Alarm” As Loan Bubble Runs Amok (ZH)

As rates move higher like they are now, the loans – whose interest rates reference such floating instruments as LIBOR or Prime – pay out more. As a result, as the Fed tightens the money supply, defaults tend to increase as the interest expenses rise and as the overall cost of capital increases. And because an increasing amount of the financing for these loans is done outside of the traditional banking sector, regulators and agencies like the Federal Reserve aren’t able to do much to rein it in. The market for leveraged loans and junk bonds is now over $2 trillion. Escalating the risk of the unbridled loan explosion, none other than Janet Yellen – who is directly responsible for the current loan bubble – recently told Bloomberg that “regulators should sound the alarm. They should make it clear to the public and the Congress there are things they are concerned about and they don’t have the tools to fix it.”

As we noted recently, the risks of such loans defaulting are obvious, including loss of jobs and risk to companies on both the borrowing and the lending side. Tobias Adrian, a former senior vice president at the New York Fed who’s now the IMF’s financial markets chief, told Bloomberg: “…supporting growth is important, but future downside risks also need to be considered.” He also stated that regulators had “limited tools to rein in nonbank credit”. But you’d never know this by listening to the Federal Reserve. According to Fed chairman Jerome Powell, during his press conference Wednesday, the Fed doesn’t see any risks right now. Powell said that “overall vulnerabilities” were “moderate”. He also stated that banks today “take much less risk than they used to”.

Read more …

h/t Tyler. Monopoly on steroids.

Why Do Debt Crises Come in Cycles? (Dalio)

If you understand the game of Monopoly®, you can pretty well understand how credit cycles work on the level of a whole economy. Early in the game, people have a lot of cash and only a few properties, so it pays to convert your cash into property. As the game progresses and players acquire more and more houses and hotels, more and more cash is needed to pay the rents that are charged when you land on a property that has a lot of them. Some players are forced to sell their property at discounted prices to raise that cash. So early in the game, “property is king” and later in the game, “cash is king.” Those who play the game best understand how to hold the right mix of property and cash as the game progresses.

Now, let’s imagine how this Monopoly® game would work if we allowed the bank to make loans and take deposits. Players would be able to borrow money to buy property, and, rather than holding their cash idly, they would deposit it at the bank to earn interest, which in turn would provide the bank with more money to lend. Let’s also imagine that players in this game could buy and sell properties from each other on credit (i.e., by promising to pay back the money with interest at a later date). If Monopoly® were played this way, it would provide an almost perfect model for the way our economy operates. The amount of debt-financed spending on hotels would quickly grow to multiples of the amount of money in existence.

Down the road, the debtors who hold those hotels will become short on the cash they need to pay their rents and service their debt. The bank will also get into trouble as their depositors’ rising need for cash will cause them to withdraw it, even as more and more debtors are falling behind on their payments. If nothing is done to intervene, both banks and debtors will go broke and the economy will contract. Over time, as these cycles of expansion and contraction occur repeatedly, the conditions are created for a big, long-term debt crisis.

Read more …

The board is behing Musk. But is that enough? It’s not just the SEC, the DOJ is on the case too.

Elon Musk Tore Up Last Minute SEC Settlement, Decided To Fight Instead (ZH)

To many it was clear from the beginning: “It’s an easy case,” said Charles Elson, director of the John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware. “He said in the tweet he had financing, and apparently he didn’t. … It’s about as straightforward as you can get.” And on Thursday afternoon, the SEC confirmed that indeed just those two words blasted to the entire world and contained in Elon Musk’s infamous “funding secured” tweet – it would emerge just days later that funding was not, in fact, secured- would serve as the basis for a securities fraud litigation against Elon Musk; and while Tesla wasn’t named in the suit as a defendant, the SEC is seeking to bar Musk, Tesla’s largest shareholder and its top executive, from serving as an officer or director of any U.S. public company.

It almost didn’t happen that way: according to the WSJ, the SEC complaint only came after a last-minute decision by Musk and his lawyers to fight the case rather than settle the charges. The SEC had crafted a settlement with Mr. Musk—approved by the agency’s commissioners—that it was preparing to file Thursday morning when Mr. Musk’s lawyers called to tell the SEC lawyers in San Francisco that they were no longer interested in proceeding with the agreement, according to people familiar with the matter. After the phone call, the SEC rushed to pull together the complaint that it subsequently filed, the people said. Considering that this is an open and shut case, one wonders if Musk was once again on drugs when he decided that instead of settling, he would fight the charges. Or he simply saw the “playbook” and decided to roll the dice…

In any case, a fighting Elon is just what the SEC – its reputation in tatters after years of not pursuing “big name” stock manipulators – needs to restore its image. The case ranks as one of the highest-profile civil securities-fraud cases in years. Its filing less than two months after the Aug. 7 tweets by Mr. Musk also marks an unusually rapid turnaround by an agency that has been under fire for its perceived failure to promptly bring significant cases in the financial crisis and other episodes. “It means there was not that much investigation they needed to do to get comfortable that it was a case they should bring, but also a case they can win,” said Michael Liftik, a former SEC enforcement lawyer now at Quinn, Emanuel, Urquhart & Sullivan LLP.

Read more …

“.. he will vote down anything that fails to deliver the same benefits as membership of the single market and customs union.”

Corbyn Talks With EU Officials Spark Fresh No-Deal Brexit Fears (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn has sparked fresh fears in Brussels of a no-deal Brexit after saying during talks with senior EU Brexit officials that he will vote down anything that fails to deliver the same benefits as membership of the single market and customs union. The Labour leader spent two hours with Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, and Martin Selmayr, the most senior official in charge of planning for a cliff-edge Brexit. Emerging from the European commission headquarters, Corbyn said Barnier “was interested to know what our views are in the six tests”, referring to the criteria Labour has said must be met to ensure its MPs back a deal. The EU is increasingly concerned that the UK parliament will vote down any deal put forward by Theresa May.

One of Labour’s tests is that an agreement must offer the “exact same benefits” as membership of the single market and customs union. The Labour leader had initially planned a low-key visit to Brussels to attend the naming of a square in the Belgian capital in honour of the murdered Labour MP Jo Cox. It is understood, however, that the EU’s most senior officials were anxious to hear directly from Corbyn about his party’s plans, and invited him for a session of talks. After meeting Barnier and Selmayr, who is the secretary general of the European commission and in charge of no-deal planning, Corbyn insisted he was “not negotiating” but that there was an informal agreement that both sides would continue to talk.

Read more …

AP makes an ‘error’ and corrects: “The Associated Press reported erroneously that Assange over the past two years had continued to hack the accounts of politicians around the world. It should’ve said Assange had published material from hacked politicians’ accounts.”

Britain, Ecuador Seeking An End To The Assange Standoff (AP)

Ecuador’s president said Wednesday that his country and Britain are working on a legal solution for Julian Assange to allow the Wikileaks founder to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in “the medium term.” President Lenin Moreno told The Associated Press that Assange’s lawyers were aware of the negotiations. He declined to provide more details because of the sensitivity of the case. [..] Moreno said his country will work for Assange’s safety and the preservation of his human rights as it seeks a way for him to leave the embassy. “Being five or six years in an embassy already violates his human rights,” Moreno said on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. “But his presence in the embassy is also a problem.”

Read more …

Now the rest of the nation. How about New York State?

Seattle Judges Throw Out 15 Years Of Marijuana Convictions (BBC)

Judges in Seattle have decided to quash convictions for marijuana possession for anyone prosecuted in the city between 1996 and 2010. City Attorney Pete Homes asked the court to take the step “to right the injustices of a drug war that has primarily targeted people of colour.” Possession of marijuana became legal in the state of Washington in 2012. Officials estimate that more than 542 people could have their convictions dismissed by mid-November. Mr Holmes said the city should “take a moment to recognise the significance” of the court’s ruling. “We’ve come a long way, and I hope this action inspires other jurisdictions to follow suit,” he said. Mayor Jenny Durkan also welcomed the ruling, which she said would offer residents a “clean slate.” “For too many who call Seattle home, a misdemeanour marijuana conviction or charge has created barriers to opportunity – good jobs, housing, loans and education,” she said.

Read more …

Here’s what it will take.

Austrian Fruit Grower Sentenced To Prison Over Bee Deaths (AFP)

An Austrian fruit grower was handed a rare prison sentence Wednesday for having illegally spread an insecticide which led to the deaths of dozens of neighbouring bee colonies. The 47-year-old man had spread a powerful insecticide called chlorpyrifos over his trees in the Lavanttal area of Carinthia province, at a time when their blossoms were still attracting bees. More than 50 colonies belonging to two neighbouring apiarists perished. The court in the city of Klagenfurt found the fruit grower guilty of “deliberately damaging the environment”, pointing to his experience and role in training others in his field as evidence that he knew the consequences of his actions.

He was sentenced to a year in prison, of which four months will be without probation. Ordered to pay more than 20,000 euros ($23,500) in compensation, he said he will appeal. The court said it hoped the sentence would serve as a deterrent and to remind others that the “use of pesticides needs to strike a balance between the environment and economics”. The widespread use of pesticides has been blamed for a steep rise in deaths among bees and other pollinating insects. In April the EU voted to outlaw the use of certain pesticides from the neonicotinoid family blamed for killing off bee populations.

Read more …

And we’re still allowing glyphosate? We must insists on precautionary principle.

Orca ‘Apocalypse’: Half Of Killer Whales Doomed To Die From Pollution (G.)

At least half of the world’s killer whale populations are doomed to extinction due to toxic and persistent pollution of the oceans, according to a major new study. Although the poisonous chemicals, PCBs, have been banned for decades, they are still leaking into the seas. They become concentrated up the food chain; as a result, killer whales, the top predators, are the most contaminated animals on the planet. Worse, their fat-rich milk passes on very high doses to their newborn calves. PCB concentrations found in killer whales can be 100 times safe levels and severely damage reproductive organs, cause cancer and damage the immune system. The new research analysed the prospects for killer whale populations over the next century and found those offshore from industrialised nations could vanish as soon as 30-50 years.

Among those most at risk are the UK’s last pod, where a recent death revealed one of the highest PCB levels ever recorded. Others off Gibraltar, Japan and Brazil and in the north-east Pacific are also in great danger. Killer whales are one of the most widespread mammals on earth but have already been lost in the North Sea, around Spain and many other places. “It is like a killer whale apocalypse,” said Paul Jepson at the Zoological Society of London, part of the international research team behind the new study. “Even in a pristine condition they are very slow to reproduce.” Healthy killer whales take 20 years to reach peak sexual maturity and 18 months to gestate a calf.

PCBs were used around the world since the 1930s in electrical components, plastics and paints but their toxicity has been known for 50 years. They were banned by nations in the 1970s and 1980s but 80% of the 1m tonnes produced have yet to be destroyed and are still leaking into the seas from landfills and other sources.


Photograph: Audun Rikardsen/Science

Read more …

Aug 092018
 


René Magritte The evening gown 1954

 

Julian Assange has received an letter from the US Senate asking him to testify in front of them. What to make of that is not entirely clear. Far as I know, Assange offered such testimony multiple times, under the ‘right standards’. The Senate ostensibly wants this to take place behind closed doors, and it’s hard to see how that would fit Assange’s standards. But who knows?

What struck me was that the letter was signed by Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Mark Warner (D-VA). and especially the latter runs like a red thread through everything that has to do with Assange and the US. It reminded me of what John Solomon said in his June 25 piece ‘How Comey Intervened To Kill Wikileaks’ Immunity Deal’ about Assange lawyer Adam Waldman, who according to Solomon has a ‘Forrest Gump-like penchant for showing up in major cases of intrigue’.

Mark Warner has that, too. What made me return to this is that in his piece yesterday on the Senate request, Tyler Durden, referring to Solomon’s article, wrote: After Assange’s request was run up the flag pole, Senator Warner was issued a “stand-down” order by Comey.. And I thought: I’m not sure that’s entirely correct, and not only because Comey cannot ‘order’ a US Senator to do anything.

The stand down order was not for Warner, he just passed it on to Waldman and his counterpart acting for the DOJ, David Laufman, head of Justice’s counterintelligence and export controls section. NOTE: we don’t even know if the stand down didn’t really come from Warner, or Comey AND Warner, or someone else altogether.

What we do know is that it was a very peculiar order at a very peculiar moment in time, because the intelligence community could have gotten something tangible and valuable out of the negotiations. Solomon: “..officials “understood any visibility into his thinking, any opportunity to negotiate any redactions, was in the national security interest and worth taking,” says a senior official involved at the time.

They were well on their way to -at least potentially- save the lives of CIA operatives and assets. Negotiations had been going on for at least 2 months, and probably more like three. But then Assange offered to provide evidence that he didn’t get the DNC files from Russia. And that seems to have changed the atmosphere. Tyler has some more about this, outside of the Solomon piece:

‘Last August, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher travelled to London with journalist Charles Johnson for a meeting with Assange, after which Rohrabacher said the WikiLeaks founder offered “firsthand” information proving that the Trump campaign did not collude with Russia, and which would refute the Russian hacking theory.’ After Trump denied knowledge of the potential deal, Rohrabacher raged at Trump’s Chief of Staff, John Kelly, for constructing a “wall” around President Trump by “people who do not want to expose this fraud.”

NOTE: that meeting took place 4-5 months AFTER the Comey (et al?) stand down order. So Assange was still reaching out and offering to spare individual CIA assets. He has released a lot of the CIA Vault 7 files, but not all. To my knowledge he has held back on that to this day.

 

I don’t know how much you still follow from the pro-Russiagate press, which is about the entire US MSM, but Rohrabacher is habitually called a traitor, a Putin puppet and worse for talking to Russians, just like he is for going to see Assange. Once you start trying to find a way out of the ever tighter woven Russia Russia web, you’re fair game. Even if that’s simply your job as a Congressman, or at least your interpretation of what the job entails.

Back to Solomon for a bit. What he describes is not some amnesty deal, but a “Queen for a Day” proffer. Which in this case was essentially a safe passage guarantee for Assange to leave the Ecuador embassy only to go talk to US government people. We don’t know all the prospective topics of the talks, and they don’t seem to have agreed on a location (London, Washington?!) before the Comey order. Solomon:

Not included in the written proffer was an additional offer from Assange: He was willing to discuss technical evidence ruling out certain parties in the controversial leak of Democratic Party emails to WikiLeaks during the 2016 election. The U.S. government believes those emails were hacked by Russia; Assange insists they did not come from Moscow.

“Mr. Assange offered to provide technical evidence and discussion regarding who did not engage in the DNC releases,” Waldman told me. “Finally, he offered his technical expertise to the U.S. government to help address what he perceived as clear flaws in security systems that led to the loss of the U.S. cyber weapons program.”

That is just funny: Assange offered to help the CIA on its security systems. That must have pissed them off mightily, because it can only mean they really needed to strengthen security (or he wouldn’t have brought it up). But then Waldman reaches out to Warner, in what may well have been a fatal mistake. The talks with the DOJ were going well, and might have been enough. Getting politics involved in it was one took over the line:

[..] Just a few days after the negotiations opened in mid-February, Waldman reached out to Sen. Warner; the lawyer wanted to see if Senate Intelligence Committee staff wanted any contact with Assange, to ask about Russia or other issues. Warner engaged with Waldman over encrypted text messages, then reached out to Comey. A few days later, Warner contacted Waldman with an unexpected plea.

“He told me he had just talked with Comey and that, while the government was appreciative of my efforts, my instructions were to stand down, to end the discussions with Assange,” Waldman told me. Waldman offered contemporaneous documents to show he memorialized Warner’s exact words.

Waldman couldn’t believe a U.S. senator and the FBI chief were sending a different signal, so he went back to Laufman, who assured him the negotiations were still on. “What Laufman said to me after he heard I was told to ‘stand down’ by Warner and Comey was, ‘That’s bullshit. You are not standing down and neither am I,’” Waldman recalled.

A source familiar with Warner’s interactions says the senator’s contact on the Assange matter was limited and was shared with Senate Intelligence chairman Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). But the source acknowledges that Warner consulted Comey and passed along the “stand down” instructions to Waldman: “That did happen.”

Okay, so we have Warner very much in the thick of the DOJ negotiations with Assange. Fast forward to late June 2018, when his name pops up again in a list of 10 Democratic Senators who asked Vice President Mike Pence to, on a visit to Ecuador, ask new president Lenin Moreno, to revoke Assange’s asylum on the London embassy.

 

 

Warner is there, along with such fine human beings as Dianne Feinstein, and the two Dicks Durbin and Blumenthal. Wikileaks, which posted the list, suggested: “Remember them”. Looks like an idea. Why would the Democratic party want Assange delivered to the lions? Oh, right, Russia Russia, the entirely unproven allegations which they are so desperate to tie Assange into.

They can’t prove any of the many allegations of Russian meddling, let alone their role in Hillary’s election loss, and they can’t prove any allegation against Julian Assange, at least none that he could be charged for/with, but tie Russia and WikiLeaks together and they feel they no longer have to prove anything at all, that mere allegations are strong enough.

If there is no crime Assange can be accused of, you just label him a terrorist, and all your legal problems disappear. Because terrorism can be anything, and because of national security reasons, any evidence, whether it exists or not, must be treated in secret. What reason, what grounds, do these Senators have to ask Ecuador to revoke Assange’s asylum? What legal grounds could possibly exist? We have no way of knowing, and because they label Julian a terrorist, we have no right to, either. Or so they claim.

This is called abomination of justice. In the same way that America and Britain’s treatment of him is called torture. And no, that is not too strong a term. A man who has never been charged with a crime by anyone, in any country, is being tortured. Julian has severe, painful, dental problems, he has developed a condition that makes his legs swell, and his bone density is dropping fast due to extended lack of sunlight.

These people have simply decided to wait it out, so they don’t have to go through elaborate legal procedures that they may well lose, to wait until Assange has no choice but to walk out of the embassy, or be carried out on a stretcher or in a coffin. It’s not even possible to list all the British, American, Ecuadorian and international laws his treatment violates.

Someone should give it a try, though. Just like someone should investigate Mark Warner’s role in all of this. Warner was pivotal in killing off the Assange legal teams’ talks with the DOJ, he asked Ecuador to stop Assange’s asylum (which is so illegal you don’t even want to go there), and now he requests for Assange to appear before the US Senate.

Someone investigate that guy. If I can say one last thing, it would be that Warner exemplifies all that is wrong with the US Democratic Party. He’s the Forrest Gump of all their future election losses. The Democrats should be standing up to protect people like Assange, but instead they follow the example of Hillary, who said about Assange “can’t we drone this guy?”.

Yeah, the very guy who’s never been charged with a single crime. She undoubtedly said it in the same tone of voice as her insane cackle of “We came, we saw, he died” about Gaddafi. Looked at Libya lately?

The essence of this is that we will be better people, and better societies, with Julian Assange around to help us be better. Without him, things look a whole lot darker. We need to be able to hold politicians, corporations and secret services to account. And the more they resist this, often in illegal ways, the more we must insist.

The idea was never that we must answer to them. They must answer to us, and we must be able to throw them out when they cross legal and moral lines. It’s beyond the pale that that has to be explained once again. And trying to explain that, with examples, is all that Julian Assange has ever done.

 

 

May 102018
 
 May 10, 2018  Posted by at 6:38 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


James McNeill Whistler Nocturne in Black and Gold, the Falling Rocket 1875

 

 

Dr. D again. And wait, that deal was never even -legally- signed?

 

 

Dr. D: I know the U.S. hasn’t followed the law in 100 years, but let’s review the Iran Deal. A “Deal” with a foreign nation is supposed to be, for 200 years has been, and legally must be, a “Treaty”. Treaties under U.S. law are unique, as they are NOT to be brokered by the Congress and are a point of contention if Congressmen get involved, as you can imagine special deals and/or information leaks could damage the negotiating position.

This is one of the few things Congress doesn’t do. However, the deal, brokered by the President, is presented to the Senate and only the Senate, which is supposed to be the older, more stable house, and once upon a time when Americans were adults and the Senate was chosen by the State governments, this was true. Even with a Democratic election of Senators representing the people and not the States, (which is what the House is supposed to be) it’s the best we have.

So when Obama arranged the Iran “Deal”, he knew and did so against 220 years of history exclusively BECAUSE he knew the Senate would never approve an honest-to-God, legal “Treaty.” Worse, it was part of the reason the “Deal” was effectively secret, not overseen by anyone, and even John Kerry when asked what was in it said, “I don’t know.” You don’t know??? You’re the Secretary of State presumably brokering the deal. Who’s above you in the food chain that you’re not allowed to know? That was an interesting disclosure that the media – of course – never followed up on.

He also said, as the deal was never signed, it was “not legally binding.” Okay, yes, if the Senate does not approve it, making it therefore a “Treaty”, then it’s just a gentleman’s handshake verbal agreement and not binding. So…Iran therefore did NOT agree to stop weapons development, and certainly as proven did not agree to continue to use the U.S. petrodollar.

On the other hand, Obama DID send pallets of cash on 3 jumbo jets, and the U.S. prisoners were not released until those planes touched down. So Iran can legally reverse their weapons development, while you’re not going to get that cash back. That sounds like a terrible, terrible deal, a no-deal deal no one read and no one signed. And they’re upset this is cancelled? Why? What’s in it? Can we finally know now? Nope.

My personal theory is that since General Wesley Clark’s reveal that they planned 7 MENA wars, and named them in order back in 2001 and were to culminate in attacking Iran by 2013, they were years behind schedule on this world-domination murder-death play. In order to keep Iran in a holding pattern, still lacking viable nuclear weapons, they had to pay them billions and billions. Iran for their part knew they would win Syria anyway, so they were happy to play along and get a few billion dollars. And a lot of those billions Obama “gave” to Iran were Iran’s money anyway.

What? Yes, the U.S. confiscated and “froze” (actually stole and used) Iran’s western assets in 1979, and by law Iran was almost certainly owed this money plus interest. Then if I’m any judge of world politics, the negotiating parties — U.S., France, Germany, Iran, took these pallets of unmarked bills and used them for slush fund payouts among the various power factions, and about $50 ended up with the people.

This proved to be true, as Iran immediately ignored the U.S., moved into Syria, dumped the dollar, traded in Euros, and arguably continued weapons (missile) development. …But like I said, the important part got through: free cash payoffs, untraceable, back to the “right” people: the “Deep States” of the U.S., Iran, France, etc. You can see this in Macron and Merkel’s top priority and panic to force this deal to continue. And why? Isn’t that money gone? A one-time thing? Hmmm.

Back to the present, the nation is all agog about “ending” the Iran deal. You mean the deal we didn’t have? The one that was neither signed nor (generally) followed? How can Trump end it? He can end it because it was never a deal, it was a side-agreement by a specific President, THAT’S WHY WE HAVE TREATIES. So that they are in law, hard to negate, and much more stable. In fact, the Senate told Iran this outright: “if you sign this, you know that as soon as Obama is out of office, we’ll just reverse it.”

That wasn’t exactly a threat, it was simply a fact. If you don’t enlist the Senate and 220 year-old legal processes, you effectively have nothing but a wink and a smile. Then, yes, it is easy to undo as the wind blows. Now why the Senate and Congress didn’t stop this wink, withhold funds, or impeach the President for subverting law and Congressional authority is another matter: the only thing here is that there was no legal agreement, widely reported by all parties in the public media, so what is Trump really cancelling? Something that never existed except in the news?

We have law for a reason and this is what happens when you don’t follow it, but after not following it for 100 or more years, everyone forgets. This ain’t rocket science, folks. You want an Iran deal? Pass one.

 

 

Sep 192017
 
 September 19, 2017  Posted by at 8:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edouard Manet Portrait of Emile Zola 1868

 

When The Market Finally Implodes, Don’t Say These Charts Didn’t Warn You (MW)
S&P 500 Buybacks Have Dropped By 25% Since The First Quarter Of 2016 (MW)
Fed’s Balance-Sheet Unwind Will Be Moment Of Truth For Financial Markets (MW)
$700 Billion Unpaid Mortgage Balances In Harvey And Irma Disaster Areas (ZH)
Rand Paul’s Senate Vote Rolls Back the Warfare State (Ron Paul)
US Senate Backs Massive Increase In Military Spending (R.)
US Government Wiretapped Trump Campaign Manager Manafort Since 2014 (ZH)
Equifax Suffered a Hack Almost Five Months Earlier Than It Disclosed (BBG)
Toys ‘R’ Us Files For Chapter 11 Bankruptcy (MW)
The IMF Needs to Stop Torturing Greece (Kyle Bass)
Flags, Symbols, And Statues Resurgent As Globalism Declines (SCF)
Hurricane Maria Hits Dominica: ‘We Have Lost All That Money Can Buy’ (BBC)
2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season Is Far From Over (Accuweather)

 

 

“..it will end, and like all previously over-valued, over-extended, over-leveraged and overly-complacent bull cycles in history, it ends badly..“

When The Market Finally Implodes, Don’t Say These Charts Didn’t Warn You (MW)

The perennial headline: Stock market shrugs off everything. North Korea (shrug). Terrorist attacks (shrug). Hurricanes (shrug). Investor complacency (shrug). Lofty valuations (shrug). Trump (the best shrug, believe me). Whatever it is — screw it, buy! On the flip side, bears, of course, have spent the better part of the past few years missing out in one of the greatest bull stretches in market history. But that won’t stop them from revelling in their I-told-ya-so moment when it finally comes. Lance Roberts, chief portfolio strategist for Clarity Financial, is not one of those wild-eyed market alarmists, though he did earn our chart(s) of the day honors with this trio, which he says illustrates his “biggest concern” at the moment.

Chart 1) This just shows how this bull cycle is on pace to become the longest ever. “Regardless, it will end, and like all previously over-valued, over-extended, over-leveraged and overly-complacent bull cycles in history, it ends badly,” Roberts writes.

Chart 2) See those little bends in each red dotted line? There may be something to that. “One of the hallmarks of a late-stage bull-market cycle is the acceleration in price as investors capitulate by ‘jumping in’ as prices accelerate,” Roberts explains.

Chart 3) There might be a tell in what we’re seeing in corporate earnings. “The second downturn in earnings, particularly when sales are stagnating as they are now, tends to be the demarcation point of a repricing phase,” Roberts says.

Obviously, he’s unloading stocks, right? Not exactly … “For now, the bullish trend remains intact which keeps portfolios allocated towards equities,” he says. “BUT, and that is a Kardashian-sized one, we do so with a ‘clear and present’ understanding of the risk that we are undertaking.”

Read more …

If the Fed unwinds at the same time buybacks plummet, what would you expect to happen?

S&P 500 Buybacks Have Dropped By 25% Since The First Quarter Of 2016 (MW)

It isn’t just investors who are doing less trading these days: companies seem to be as well, and have been dramatically pulling back on the amount of their own shares that they purchase. Buybacks for companies in the S&P 500 index have been steadily dropping and reached $120.1 billion in the second quarter, according to preliminary data from S&P Dow Jones Indices. That’s down 9.8% from the first quarter of 2017, and off 5.8% from the year-ago period, when companies repurchased $127.5 billion of their own stock. Compared with the first quarter of 2016, the last time the stock market saw a pronounced pullback in prices, buybacks have slowed by more than 25%, per S&P’s data.

The lower buyback activity in the quarter came “as share prices increased, resulting in fewer share repurchases and a weaker tailwind for [earnings per share],” said Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst at S&P Dow Jones Indices. Corporate profits are measured in earnings per share, or the amount of profit they make divided by their shares outstanding. Reducing the number of shares outstanding through buybacks is a way to boost this metric, aside from organic earnings growth.

About 13.8% of S&P 500 issues “substantially” reduced their year-over-year share out in the second quarter, compared with 26.6% in the second quarter of 2016, as well as the 14.8% that did in the first quarter of this year. Sixty-six issues in the S&P reduced their share count by at least 4%, a level that is seen as having an impact on EPS, down from 134 in the year-ago period and 71 in the first quarter of 2017. The reduction in buybacks isn’t necessarily a signal that companies view their own shares to be overvalued. Silverblatt said investors were interpreting the decline as “a positive sign,” because “while there is less support for EPS growth, companies are showing an ability to meet their EPS targets without the buyback tailwind, as their Q2 2017 record earnings show.”

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Most interesting: what will ECB and BOJ do?

Fed’s Balance-Sheet Unwind Will Be Moment Of Truth For Financial Markets (MW)

If investors have guessed correctly, the Federal Reserve will start reducing its $4.5 trillion portfolio of government securities after its two-day meeting finishes on Wednesday. But for a meeting that could herald the reversal of quantitative easing, a policy credited by some with sparing a cataclysmic economic depression but also blamed for frothy asset valuations and low volatility, investors across all markets appear remarkably sanguine. The ICE Dollar Index, a measure of the U.S. currency against a basket of six major rivals, is trading near a three-year low, bond yields have steadily fallen since the end of last year, and U.S. stock indexes continue to notch all-time highs. “Inching us out of this parallel universe of endless liquidity is going to be a fraught process. No one’s done it before so no one can credibly claim to know what will happen,” said James Athey, senior investment manager at Aberdeen Standard Investments.

After slashing official interest rates nearly to zero in December 2008, the Fed was left scrambling for additional ways to provide stimulus to an economy stunned by the fallout from the financial crisis. The central bank, under the leadership of former Chairman Ben Bernanke, began buying up billions of dollars worth of bonds and other assets each month in an effort to drive down long-term interest rates, push investors into riskier assets and, in turn, boost borrowing, spending and the overall economy. The program went through various iterations, but purchases were eventually wound down and then halted in 2014. The assets, however, have remained on the Fed’s balance sheet.

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I wasn’t kidding when I wrote America Can’t Afford to Rebuild recently: “While they will get some federal relief, if rebuilding would cost more than the principal in their homes, they could decide to walk away..”

$700 Billion Unpaid Mortgage Balances In Harvey And Irma Disaster Areas (ZH)

Even as the damage from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma is still being tallied, a preliminary assessment released last week by Black Knight Financial Services estimated that as many as 300,000 borrowers in the vicinity of Houston could become delinquent on their loans and 160,000 could become seriously delinquent, or more than 90 days past due. That number is roughly four times the original prediction because new disaster zones were designated and more homes flooded when officials released water from reservoirs to protect dams, according to CNBC’s Diana Olick. In total, the number of mortgaged properties in Texas disaster zones is 1.18 million, with Black Knight adding that Houston disaster zones contain twice as many mortgaged properties than Katrina zones, with four times the unpaid principal balance.

Putting the Harvey damange in context, after Hurricane Katrina mortgage delinquencies in Louisiana and Mississippi disaster areas spiked by 25%. The same could happen in Houston, as borrowers without flood insurance weigh their options and decide to walk away from the property. While they will get some federal relief, if rebuilding would cost more than the principal in their homes, they could decide to walk away according to Olick. What about Irma? According to a preliminary analysis by Black Knight released today, Florida FEMA-designated disaster areas related to Hurricane Irma include a whopping 3.1 million mortgaged properties. As Black Knight’s EVP Ben Graboske explained, both the number of mortgages and the unpaid principal balances of those mortgages in FEMA-designated Irma disaster areas are significantly larger than in the areas impacted recently by Hurricane Harvey.

Quantifying the damage, Black Knight calculates that Irma-related disaster areas contain nearly three times as many mortgaged properties as those connected to Hurricane Harvey, and nearly seven times as many as those connected to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In dollar terms, this means that there is some $517 billion in unpaid principal balances in Irma-related disaster areas, nearly three times the amount as in those related to Harvey and more than 11 times of those connected to Katrina.

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The Paul team’s enthusiasm is commendable. But…

Rand Paul’s Senate Vote Rolls Back the Warfare State (Ron Paul)

Last week, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) reminded Congress that in matters of war, they have the authority and the responsibility to speak for the American people. Most Senators were not too happy about the reminder, which came in the form of a forced vote on whether to allow a vote on his amendment to repeal the Afghanistan and Iraq war resolutions of 2001 and 2002. It wasn’t easy. Sen. Paul had to jump through hoops just to get a vote on whether to have a vote. That is how bad it is in Congress! Not only does Congress refuse to rein in presidents who treat Constitutional constraints on their war authority as mere suggestions rather than as the law of the land, Congress doesn’t even want to be reminded that they alone have war authority. Congress doesn’t even want to vote on whether to vote on war!

In the end, Sen. Paul did not back down and he got his vote. Frankly, I was more than a little surprised that nearly 40% of the Senate voted with Rand to allow a vote on repealing authority for the two longest wars in US history. I expected less than a dozen “no” votes on tabling the amendment and was very pleasantly surprised at the outcome. Last week, Rand said, “I don’t think that anyone with an ounce of intellectual honesty believes that these authorizations from 16 years ago and 14 years ago … authorized war in seven different countries.” Are more Senators starting to see the wars his way? We can only hope so. As polls continue to demonstrate, the American people have grown tired of our interventionist foreign policy, which burns through trillions of dollars while making the world a more dangerous place rather than a safer place.

Some might argue that losing the vote was a defeat. I would disagree. For the first time in years we saw US Senators on the Senate Floor debating whether the president should have authority to take the US to war anywhere he pleases. Even with just the small number of votes I thought we might have gotten on the matter, that alone would have been a great victory. But getting almost 40% of the Senate to vote our way? I call that a very good start!

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…but this is the reality.

US Senate Backs Massive Increase In Military Spending (R.)

The U.S. Senate passed its version of a $700 billion defense policy bill on Monday, backing President Donald Trump’s call for a bigger, stronger military but setting the stage for a battle over government spending levels later this year. The Republican-controlled chamber voted 89-8 for the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2018, or NDAA, which authorizes the level of defense spending and sets policies controlling how the money is spent. The Senate bill provides about $640 billion for the Pentagon’s main operations, such as buying weapons and paying the troops, and some $60 billion to fund the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.

The 1,215-page bill includes a wide range of provisions, such as a 2.1% military pay raise and $8.5 billion to strengthen missile defense, as North Korea conducts nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests. It also bans Moscow-based Kaspersky Labs products from federal government use. The House of Representatives passed its version of the NDAA at a similar spending level in July. The two versions must be reconciled before Congress can consider a final version. A fight over spending is expected because Senate Democrats have vowed to block big increases in funds for the military if spending caps on non-defense programs are not also eased. The versions of the bill increase military spending well beyond last year’s $619 billion, defying “sequestration” spending caps set in the 2011 Budget Control Act.

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The FBI was listening in to conversations of a sitting president. Hmm..

US Government Wiretapped Trump Campaign Manager Manafort Since 2014 (ZH)

Meanwhile, and perhaps more interestingly, CNN’s anonymous sources have apparently revealed that Manafort has been under an ongoing wiretap, approved by the FISA courts, going back to 2014 and tied to his consulting arrangements with Ukraine’s former ruling party. Ironically, CNN notes the “surveillance was discontinued at some point last year for lack of evidence” but was then restarted with a “new FISA warrant that extended at least into early this year”…all of which sounds an awful lot like the Obama administration using FISA courts to spy on a political opponent. Speaking of “shock and awe”, the NYT piece goes on to cast an even greater shadow over the Trump campaign by comparing it to an “organized crime syndicate.”

Finally, and to our complete shock, the NYT goes on to point out at the bottom of the article (you know about 2,000 words in after most folks have already fallen asleep or just moved on) that Manafort is under investigation for “possible violations of tax laws, money-laundering prohibitions and requirements to disclose foreign lobbying”…all of which seem related to the FBI’s 2014 investigation of Manafort’s consulting practice and not the Trump campaign. Conclusion, Mueller’s team is desperately trying to scare anyone they can into confessing something/anything that might possibly implicate the Trump campaign. Of course, as Katy Harriger, a professor of politics at Wake Forest University, points out, the longer Mueller’s investigation goes on, the more vulnerable he will be to allegations that he is on a fishing expedition…

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Criminal intent?!

Equifax Suffered a Hack Almost Five Months Earlier Than It Disclosed (BBG)

Equifax learned about a major breach of its computer systems in March – almost five months before the date it has publicly disclosed, according to three people familiar with the situation. In a statement, the company said the March breach was not related to the hack that exposed the personal and financial data on 143 million U.S. consumers, but one of the people said the breaches involve the same intruders. Either way, the revelation that the 118-year-old credit-reporting agency suffered two major incidents in the span of a few months adds to a mounting crisis at the company, which is the subject of multiple investigations and announced the retirement of two of its top security executives on Friday.

Equifax hired the security firm Mandiant on both occasions and may have believed it had the initial breach under control, only to have to bring the investigators back when it detected suspicious activity again on July 29, two of the people said. Equifax’s hiring of Mandiant the first time was unrelated to the July 29 incident, the company spokesperson said. The revelation of a March breach will complicate the company’s efforts to explain a series of unusual stock sales by Equifax executives. If it’s shown that those executives did so with the knowledge that either or both breaches could damage the company, they could be vulnerable to charges of insider trading. The U.S. Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into the stock sales.

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A curious move just ahead of the holiday season. Then again, remember this from a few days ago: “The company has been saddled with debt since buyout firms KKR and Bain Capital, together with real estate investment trust Vornado Realty took Toys “R” Us private for $6.6 billion in 2005.”

Toys ‘R’ Us Files For Chapter 11 Bankruptcy (MW)

Toys ‘R’ Us Inc. filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Monday night. In a statement, the retailer said it intends to use bankruptcy proceedings “to restructure its outstanding debt and establish a sustainable capital structure that will enable it to invest in long-term growth.” The retailer has been hurt by shrinking sales and increased online competition, and has still not recovered from a massive debt load from a leveraged buyout more than a decade ago. “Today marks the dawn of a new era at Toys ‘R’ Us where we expect that the financial constraints that have held us back will be addressed in a lasting and effective way,” said Chairman and Echief Executive Dave Brandon, in a statement. “Together with our investors, our objective is to work with our debtholders and other creditors to restructure the $5 billion of long-term debt on our balance sheet. .

. . We are confident that these are the right steps to ensure that the iconic Toys”R”Us and Babies”R”Us brands live on for many generations.” Toys ‘R’ Us said it has already received a commitment for $3 billion in debtor-in-possession financing, part of which is from a bank syndicate led by JP Morgan. While that financing needs court approval, the company was confident it would be granted. The bankruptcy filing had been expected, and the retailer tried to settle fears that it would be cut off from its holiday inventory. “Toys ‘R’ Us is committed to working with its vendors to help ensure that inventory levels are maintained and products continue to be delivered in a timely fashion,” the company said.

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Kyle is too optimistic about the Greek economy.

The IMF Needs to Stop Torturing Greece (Kyle Bass)

[..] the banks have been fully recapitalized twice. They have bolstered their provisions against bad loans, and their capital ratios are now significantly higher than the European average, providing a buffer against any future losses. Greece, however, still carries a heavy burden: the roughly 250 billion euros that the IMF and its European partners lent the country to save its economy and most likely the entire euro area. This stock of official bail-out debt remains due even though private creditors have been amply haircut, restructured and wiped out. In 2012, for example, the government’s private-sector bondholders were forced to accept a loss of nearly 80%. Greek bank shareholders have seen their investments wiped out twice in recapitalizations.

The IMF could write off its debt and lighten Greece’s burden. This would benefit the country’s long-term economic health, and therefore Europe’s, too. Instead, the fund is demanding further austerity measures and insisting on “structural” reforms of dubious value. By sticking to this economic ideology, it is neutering the nascent economic growth and stifling any hope of real prosperity. The IMF came forward as Greece’s savior during Europe’s financial crisis, but now it looks more like a frenemy. Consider the history of the debt. When a country joins the IMF, it is assigned an initial “quota,” based primarily on its GDP. A member country can typically borrow up to 145% of its quota annually and up to 435% cumulatively – or possibly more in “exceptional circumstances.”

These are essentially credit limits, designed to not overburden the borrower with debt. Yet amid the crisis, the IMF agreed to lend an eye-popping 3,212% of Greece’s quota. Together with loans from the fund’s European partners, Greece’s official-sector debt amounts to more than 135% of GDP. The IMF knew perfectly well that its loans could never be repaid. I have heard this directly from officials involved in the process. All the participants at the time – including U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet and IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn – made a conscious and very political (not financial) decision to prevent the crisis from spreading and keep the euro area together.

[..] The IMF’s stance is preposterous. It is motivated by self-interest, rather than by what would be best for Greece. The fund has simultaneously tried to block Greece’s return to the capital markets and attempted to undermine Europe’s new banking union by demanding yet another recapitalization. Considering that the country – like all euro members – can’t achieve macroeconomic adjustment by devaluing its currency, extreme care must be taken. Consumer and investor confidence, not exports, will ultimately drive growth.

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With the economy’s demise, centralization dies.

Flags, Symbols, And Statues Resurgent As Globalism Declines (SCF)

As the forces of globalism retreat after numerous defeats in the United States, the United Kingdom, Turkey, and other nations, there is a resurgent popularity in national, historical, and cultural symbols. These include flags, statues of forbearers, place names, language, and, in fact, anything that distinguishes one national or sub-national group from others. The negative reactions to cultural and religious threats brought about by the manifestations of globalism – mass movement of refugees, dictates from supranational organizations like the European Union and the United Nations, and the loss of financial independence – should have been expected by the globalists. Caught up in their own self-importance and hubris, the globalists are now debasing the forces of national, religious, and cultural identity as threats to the “world order.”

The most egregious examples of globalist pushback against aspirant nationhood and the symbols of national identity are Catalonia and Kurdistan. Two plebiscites on independence, a September 25, 2017 referendum on the Kurdistan Regional Government declaring independence from Iraq and an October 1 referendum on Catalonia beginning the process of breaking away from the Kingdom of Spain, are expected to achieve “yes” votes. Neither plebiscite is binding, a fact that will result in both votes being ignored by the mother countries. Iraq, the United States, Turkey, and Iran have warned Kurdish Iraq against holding the independence referendum. The United States is prepared to double-cross its erstwhile Kurdish allies for a fourth time. President Woodrow Wilson, who has been cited as the “first neoconservative or neocon, reneged on Kurdish independence during the post-World War I Versailles peace conference.

Henry Kissinger double-crossed Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani in 1975 with the Algiers Accord between Iraq and Iran, a perfidious act that forced 100,000 of Barzani’s Kurdish forces into exile in Iran. George H. W. Bush promised the Kurds help after Operation Desert Storm in 1991 if they revolted against Saddam Hussein’s government. US military aid was not forthcoming and the Kurds were forced into a small sliver of northern Iraq, over which a US “no-fly zone” was imposed. Now, Donald Trump’s administration has warned the Kurds not to even think about independence, even though the Kurdish peshmerga forces helped the US and its allies to drive the Islamic State out of Kirkuk and the rest of northern Iraq.

In Spain, the conservative prime minister is trying to emulate the Spanish fascist dictator Generalissimo Francisco Franco in making threats against Catalonia’s independence wishes. In response to the Catalan Parliament’s vote to hold an October 1 referendum on Catalonia’s independence from Spain, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his People’s Party government have promised to round up the pro-independence members of the Catalan government, as well as pro-independence legislators of the parliament and mayors, and criminally charge them with sedition. Rajoy’s stance should be no surprise since his party, the Popular Party, is the political heir of Franco’s Falangist party. Franco’s version of the Nazi Gestapo, the Guardia Civil, brutally suppressed Catalan and Basque identity. Particular targets for suppression, according to Falangist doctrine, were “anti-Spanish activists,” “Reds,” “separatists,” “liberals,” “Jews,” “Freemasons,” and “judeomarxistas.”

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Dominica was hit from south to north, the entire island. 70,000 inhabitants.

Hurricane Maria Hits Dominica: ‘We Have Lost All That Money Can Buy’ (BBC)

Dominica has suffered “widespread damage” from Hurricane Maria, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit says. “We have lost all that money can buy,” he said in a Facebook post. The hurricane suddenly strengthened to a “potentially catastrophic” category five storm, before making landfall on the Caribbean island. Earlier Mr Skerrit had posted live updates as his own roof was torn off, saying he was “at the complete mercy of the hurricane”. “My greatest fear for the morning is that we will wake to news of serious physical injury and possible deaths as a result of likely landslides triggered by persistent rains,” he wrote after being rescued. Maria is moving roughly along the same track as Irma, the hurricane that devastated the region this month.

It currently has maximum sustained winds of 250km/h (155mph) and has been downgraded to a category four hurricane after hitting Dominica, but it could increase again as it moves towards Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, according to forecasters. Dominica’s PM called the damage “devastating” and “mind boggling”. “My focus now is in rescuing the trapped and securing medical assistance for the injured,” he, and called on the international community for help. “We will need help, my friend, we will need help of all kinds.” Curtis Matthew, a journalist based in the capital, Roseau, told the BBC that conditions went “very bad, rapidly”. “We still don’t know what the impact is going to be when this is all over. But what I can say it does not look good for Dominica as we speak,” he said.

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Maria is headed straight for Puerto Rico.

2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season Is Far From Over (Accuweather)

Additional hurricanes, beyond that of Jose and Maria, are likely over the Atlantic and may threaten the United States for the rest of the 2017 season. Hurricane season runs through the end of November, and it is possible the Atlantic may continue to produce tropical storms right up to the wire and perhaps into December. “I think we will have four more named storms this year, after Maria,” according to AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski. “Of these, two may be hurricanes and one may be a major hurricane,” Kottlowski said. The numbers include the risk of one to two additional landfalls in the United States. As of Sept. 18, there have been four named systems that made landfall, including Harvey and Irma that made landfall in the U.S. as Category 4 hurricanes.

The other two tropical storms were Cindy, near the Texas/Louisiana border in June, and Emily, just south of Tampa, Florida, at the end of July. Jose will impact the coast of the northeastern U.S. much of this week; Lee and Maria are in progress over the south-central Atlantic. Lee will likely remain at sea and is not expected be a threat to the U.S. or any land areas. However, major hurricane Maria will have direct impact on some of the islands of the northern Caribbean. Maria will, at the very least, have indirect impact on the U.S. Maria has the potential to reach the middle or upper part of the U.S. coast next week. On average, strong west to northwest winds with cooler and drier air tend to scour tropical systems out of the western Atlantic during October and November. However, this year, AccuWeather meteorologists are concerned that these winds may not occur until later in the autumn or may be too weak to steer tropical threats away from the U.S.

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Jul 282017
 
 July 28, 2017  Posted by at 8:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Gordon Burt Bond Street, Wellington, New Zealand c1957

 

Senate Blocks ‘Skinny’ Obamacare Repeal Bill In Dramatic Late-Night Vote (CNBC)
Russia Promises Retaliation As Senate Passes Sanctions Bill (G.)
US Housing Bubble 2.0 (Mark Hanson)
Is This The Bubble? (Lance Roberts)
Japan Defense Minister Quits Amid Plunging Support For PM Abe (R.)
Libor, The Scandal-Ridden Financial Benchmark, Doesn’t Have Long To Live (Qz)
Shell’s Profits Treble As Cost Cuts Take Effect (PA)
Oil Companies Trim Drilling Budgets in Sign of Rising Caution (BBG)
US Indicts Russian Suspected of $4 Billion Bitcoin Laundering Scheme (R.)
The Syrian Army Were Standing Up To Isis Long Before The Americans (Fisk)
France Plans Asylum ‘Hotspots’ In Libya (BBC)
Italy Loses Patience With France’s Macron Over Migrants, Libya (VoA)
EU Announces New Emergency Support For Greek Refugee Crisis (AP)

 

 

Three things:

1) Boy, was I right to say US politics should be observed through the eyes of Shakespeare.

2) Playing with people’s health care, let alone for petty political reasons, is not forgiveable.

3) What a bunch of has-beens these people are. Limit their terms, close the revolving doors, and let the future be decided by people young enough to actually have a future. Oh, and get money out of politics.

Senate Blocks ‘Skinny’ Obamacare Repeal Bill In Dramatic Late-Night Vote (CNBC)

The Senate blocked the latest Republican attempt to repeal Obamacare in a dramatic floor vote early Friday morning, yet again stalling — for now — the key campaign goal that eludes the GOP six months into the Trump administration. Three GOP defections — Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and John McCain of Arizona — sank the measure in a 49-51 vote. McCain, who recently returned to the Senate after getting diagnosed with brain cancer, cast his “no” vote to audible gasps on the chamber’s floor, according to reporters there. Senate Republicans released the plan late Thursday just hours before voting on an amendment to take up the bill. The GOP could only afford to lose two votes on the proposal, which many senators suggested they would not even want to see become law.

The measure came after separate pushes to immediately replace the Affordable Care Act or repeal it with a two-year transition period failed amid GOP divisions. Several Republican senators slammed the plan and appeared to not even want it to become law. It marks another blow to the sprawling agenda that Republicans hoped to accomplish when President Donald Trump won the White House and the GOP held both chambers of Congress in November. After the vote, a visibly frustrated Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called it “clearly a disappointing moment.” “So yes, this is a disappointment, a disappointment indeed … I regret that our efforts were simply not enough this time,” McConnell said.

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But this they do agree on. More reasons to get rid of the old order in Washington.

Russia Promises Retaliation As Senate Passes Sanctions Bill (G.)

Vladimir Putin has accused US lawmakers of “insolence”, and promised Russia will retaliate if the latest round of US sanctions against Russia are signed into law. The House of Representatives voted by 419 votes to three on Tuesday to pass the new sanctions bill, which targets Russia as well as North Korea and Iran. The US legislation was passed overwhelmingly by the Senate on Thursday, and will now go to Donald Trump for his signature. Trump, who enjoyed two warm conversations with Putin at the G20 summit earlier this month, is likely to face a major backlash if he attempts to veto the legislation, with his administration already embroiled in a Russia scandal. “We are behaving in a very restrained and patient way, but at some moment we will need to respond,” said Putin at a press conference with his Finnish counterpart, Sauli Niinistö.

“It’s impossible to endlessly tolerate this kind of insolence towards our country,” Putin said, referring to the sanctions. “This practice is unacceptable – it destroys international relations and international law.” Putin was vague on exactly how Russia might respond. The newspaper Kommersant quoted two unnamed sources saying a range of potential responses was under consideration in Moscow, including expelling US diplomats, seizing diplomatic properties, increasing restrictions on US companies working in Russia and halting enriched uranium shipments to US power plants. [..] Putin and other Russian officials have repeatedly denied any meddling in the US election, while US intelligence agencies say they have overwhelming evidence of a coordinated Russian campaign. Putin on Thursday described the allegations as “hysteria”, and said: “It’s a great pity that Russian-US relations are being sacrificed to resolve questions of domestic politics.”

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And you thought the US housing bubble was over?

US Housing Bubble 2.0 (Mark Hanson)

The striking Case-Shiller regional charts shown below, courtesy of MHanson.com, make Mark Hanson angry: “so, 2006/2007 was the largest house price bubble ever, but there is nothing to see here in 2017?” and sarcastically points out that “if this isn’t a house price bubble, I would hate to see one.” His bottom line: “If 2006/07 was the peak of the largest housing bubble in history with affordability never better vis a’ vis exotic loans; easy availability of credit; unemployment in the 4%’s; the total workforce at record highs; and growing wages, then what do you call “now” with house prices at or above 2006 levels; worse affordability; tighter credit; higher unemployment; a weakening total workforce; and shrinking wages? Whatever you call it, it’s a greater thing than the Bubble 1.0 peak.”

[..] Income required to buy the avg priced builder house is at historical highs and has completely diverged from the multi-decade trend line. Historically low growth & rebound relative to resales suggest “lack of supply” meme in the Existing Sales market is over-stated.

“Peak builder is here.”
1) New Home Sales “up to” 1995 levels after $15 TRILLION in debt and Fed liquidity aimed largely at the sector.
2) Builder pricing power largely flat for 2-years.
3) Income required to buy the average priced builder house has completely diverged from the multi-decade trend line. This obviously explains why sales are only at 600k SAAR now vs 1.2 million in Bubble 1.0. Reversion to this mean will occur…either thru a sharp rise in income; new exotic loan programs, which make payment less; or house prices dropping.

4) Last time builders were this euphoric was the peak of the biggest credit bubble in history.

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Rinse, forget and repeat.

Is This The Bubble? (Lance Roberts)

Every major market peak, and subsequent devastating mean reverting correction, has ever been the result of the exact ingredients seen previously. Only the ignorance of its existence has been a common theme. The reason that investors ALWAYS fail to recognize the major turning points in the markets is because they allow emotional “greed” to keep them looking backward rather than forward. Of course, the media foster’s much of this “willful” blindness by dismissing, and chastising, opposing views generally until it is too late for their acknowledgement to be of any real use. The next chart shows every major bubble and bust in the U.S. financial markets since 1871 (Source: Robert Shiller)

At the peak of each one of these markets, there was no one claiming that a crash was imminent. It was always the contrary with market pundits waging war against those nagging naysayers of the bullish mantra that “stocks have reached a permanently high plateau” or “this is a new secular bull market.” Yet, in the end, it was something that was unexpected, unknown or simply dismissed that yanked the proverbial rug from beneath investors. What will spark the next mean reverting event? No one knows for sure, but the catalysts are present from: • Excess leverage (Margin debt at new record levels) •IPO’s of negligible companies (Blue Apron, Snap Chat) • Companies using cheap debt to complete stock buybacks and pay dividends, and; • High levels of investor complacency.

Either individually, or in combination, these issues are all inert. Much like pouring gasoline on a pile of wood, the fire will not start without a proper catalyst. What we do know is that an event WILL occur, it is only a function of “when.” The discussion of why “this time is not like the last time” is largely irrelevant. Whatever gains that investors garner in the between now and the next correction by chasing the “bullish thesis” will be wiped away in a swift and brutal downdraft.

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Abe should just go. But before he does, he’ll throw Kuroda under the bus first, if he has the time.

Japan Defense Minister Quits Amid Plunging Support For PM Abe (R.)

Embattled Japanese Defence Minister Tomomi Inada on Friday said she was resigning, after a series of gaffes, missteps and a cover-up at her ministry that have contributed to a sharp plunge in public support for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Inada, 58, an Abe protege who shares his conservative views and had been suggested as a possible future premier, had already expected to be replaced in a likely cabinet reshuffle next week that Abe hopes will help rebuild his ratings. Support for the prime minister has sunk below 30% in some polls, due to scandals over suspected cronyism and a view among many voters that he and his aides took them for granted.

Abe apologized “to the people from my heart”, in comments to reporters carried live on national television after Inada announced her resignation. He said Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida would add the defense portfolio to his duties, to eliminate any gap at a time when Japan faces tough security challenges, such as from a volatile North Korea. “I want to make every effort to maintain a high degree of vigilance and protect the security of the people,” Abe said. Abe had drawn fire from both ruling and opposition party lawmakers for retaining Inada despite her perceived incompetence. “He should have thrown Inada under the bus long ago … doing so on the eve of a cabinet reshuffle only looks like desperation,” said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University Japan.

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Taking it out before the real big scandals come up?

Libor, The Scandal-Ridden Financial Benchmark, Doesn’t Have Long To Live (Qz)

A global borrowing benchmark that became synonymous with rigged financial markets, and cost banks some $9 billion in fines, is going away. Andrew Bailey, the head of Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority, said in a speech today that the regulator will phase out the indicator, Libor, by the end of 2021. Bailey said the reason the London interbank offered rate is being scrapped is because the market underpinning the benchmark—unsecured bank lending—has dried up. For one particular Libor benchmark—there are many rates for various durations and currencies—there were only 15 transactions last year, he said. Such benchmarks have long been problematic and susceptible to manipulation. Libor, for example, is based on an estimate of what supposed experts at banks think a borrowing rate would be.

Bloomberg describes the process like this: “The benchmark is the average rate a group of 20 banks estimate they’d be able to borrow funds from each other in five different currencies across seven time periods, submitted by a panel of lenders every morning. Its administration was overhauled in the wake of the scandal, with Intercontinental Exchange Inc. taking over from the then-named British Bankers’ Association.” Before the financial crisis, banks submitted daily estimates of borrowing rates to the BBA, which then averaged them to calculate that day’s Libor rate. Via allegedly colluding, the banks submitting rates could nudge the average up or down, depending on what was needed to increase a profit or reduce a loss in their portfolios.

Libor is of global importance because it’s used to help determine borrowing costs for more than $300 trillion in securities, for things like student loans and mortgages. But as a trader once said in a transcript uncovered by regulators, it’s “just amazing how libor fixing can make you that much money.” The Libor scandal was also part of an era in which recorded electronic communications—chat messages—became evidence and got a lot of people in a lot of trouble. Similar market manipulation was discovered in things like foreign-currency exchange rates and commodity prices. And now Libor is being scrapped. Banks didn’t really want to participate in the rate-setting process anymore anyway, Bailey said, given the market had shrank by so much. (Their recent history of being fined billions for their role in daily rate submissions probably didn’t help.) Some new indicator will have to be agreed on.

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When I saw the headline, I thought they must either have been real inefficient before, or they’re selling teh kitchen sink and not investing a penny. And whaddaya know?

Shell’s Profits Treble As Cost Cuts Take Effect (PA)

Royal Dutch Shell has reported a large rise in second quarter profits after the energy giant was boosted by higher oil and gas prices. The firm said adjusted earnings rose from £800m to £2.7bn, an increase of 245 per cent, as chief executive Ben van Beurden said he is making progress on “reshaping the company”. He said: “Cash generation has been resilient over four consecutive quarters, at an average oil price of just under $50 per barrel. “The external price environment and energy sector developments mean we will remain very disciplined, with an absolute focus on the four levers within our control, namely capital efficiency, costs, new project delivery, and divestments.

“I am confident that we are on track to deliver a world-class investment to our shareholders.” The figures were flattered by a disastrous second quarter in 2016, when it was stung by dilapidated crude prices and costs linked to its takeover of BG Group. This time last year Brent Crude was trading at round 45 US dollars a barrel compared to circa 50 US dollars today. Shell is also embarking on an ambitious cost-cutting drive and a £24.6bn divestment initiative. To this end, the oil major has sold off more than £16bn of assets since the BG takeover. Shell this year announced it will sell off a package of North Sea assets for up to £3bn to smaller rival Chrysaor, and recently agreed to sell its stake in Irish gas project Corrib in a deal worth up to £956 million.

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Everybody does it.

Oil Companies Trim Drilling Budgets in Sign of Rising Caution (BBG)

Caution lights are flashing for the oil industry. Facing lower-than-expected commodity prices, drillers from ConocoPhillips to Hess to Statoil have slashed their capital spending plans in recent days, as companies lay out their plans to cope with oil prices stuck below $50 a barrel. The budget cuts won’t necessarily mean less oil or natural gas on the market, with some of the companies saying they can now do more with less and expect to produce just as much oil and gas in 2017. But they speak to an investor community that’s grown anxious as a global rally in crude prices has stalled out this year.

“The expectation was that oil would be at least above $50 by this time,” said Brian Youngberg, an energy analyst with Edward Jones & Co. in St. Louis. “Right now, the market wants you to spend within your cash flow, no exceptions allowed. It’s just a response to that.” The “modest tweaks” in this week’s second-quarter earnings reports will probably continue in the coming days, Youngberg said, as drillers focused on U.S. shale plays take center stage. “Companies are going to be cautious,” he said. “No one wants to be the outlier.”

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The Mt. Gox link is interesting. Will BTC-e also close?

US Indicts Russian Suspected of $4 Billion Bitcoin Laundering Scheme (R.)

A US jury indicted a Russian man on Wednesday as the operator of a digital currency exchange he allegedly used to launder more than $4 billion for people involved in crimes ranging from computer hacking to drug trafficking. Alexander Vinnik was arrested in a small beachside village in northern Greece on Tuesday, according to local authorities, following an investigation led by the US Justice Department along with several other federal agencies and task forces. US officials described Vinnik in a Justice Department statement as the operator of BTC-e, an exchange used to trade the digital currency bitcoin since 2011.

They alleged Vinnik and his firm “received” more than $4 billion in bitcoin and did substantial business in the United States without following appropriate protocols to protect against money laundering and other crimes. US authorities also linked him to the failure of Mt. Gox, a Japan-based bitcoin exchange that collapsed in 2014 after being hacked. Vinnik “obtained” funds from the hack of Mt. Gox and laundered them through BTC-e and Tradehill, another San Francisco-based exchange he owned, they said in the statement.

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Robert Fisk is part of our conscience.

The Syrian Army Were Standing Up To Isis Long Before The Americans (Fisk)

I don’t like armies. They are dangerous institutions. Soldiers are not heroes just because they fight. And I’ve grown tired of saying that those who live by the sword sometimes die by the sword. But in an age when the Americans and the Iraqis and Isis can account for 40,000 civilian deaths in Mosul in the past twelve months, compared to 50,000 civilians slaughtered by the Mongols in 13th-century Aleppo – a human rights improvement of US aircrews, Iraqi brutality and Isis sadism over the Mongol hordes by a mere 10,000 souls – death sometimes seems to have lost its meaning. Unless you know the victims or their families. I have a friend whose mother was murdered in the Damascus suburb of Harasta near the start of the Syrian war, another whose brother-in-law was kidnapped east of the city and never seen again.

I met a little girl whose mother and small brother were shot down by al-Nusrah killers in the town of Jisr al-Shughour, and a Lebanese who believes his nephew was hanged in a Syrian jail. And then, this month, in the eastern Syrian desert, near the dust-swept shack village of al-Arak, a Syrian soldier I’d come to know was killed by Isis. He was, of course, a soldier in the army of the Syrian regime. He was a general in an army constantly accused of war crimes by the same nation – the United States – whose air strikes contributed so generously to the obscene massacre in Mosul. But General Fouad Khadour was a professional soldier and he was defending the oil fields of eastern Syria – the crown jewels of Syria’s economy, which was why Isis tried to occupy them all and why they killed Khadour – and the war in the desert is not a dirty war like so many of the conflicts perpetrated in Syria.

When I met him west of Palmyra, Isis had just conquered the ancient Roman city and publicly chopped or blown off the heads of the civilians and soldiers and civil servants who did not manage to flee. Just a year before, the general’s son, also a soldier, had been shot dead in battle in Homs. Fouad Khadour merely nodded when I mentioned this. He wanted to talk about the war in the hot, brown mountains south of Palmyra, where he was teaching his soldiers to fight back against the Isis suicide attackers, to defend their isolated positions around the oil pumping and electricity transmission station where he was based, and to save the T4 pipelines on the road to Homs. The Americans, who proclaimed Isis to be an “apocalyptic” force, sneered that the Syrian army did not fight Isis. But Khadour and his men were standing up to Isis before the Americans ever fired a missile, and learning the only lesson that soldiers can understand when confronted by a horrific enemy: not to be afraid.

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The idea is not exactly new. But Macron wants to go it alone.

France Plans Asylum ‘Hotspots’ In Libya (BBC)

France says it plans to set up “hotspots” in Libya to process asylum seekers, in a bid to stem the flow of migrants to Europe. President Emmanuel Macron said the move would stop people not eligible for asylum from “taking crazy risks”. The centres would be ready “this summer”. He said that between 800,000 and a million people were currently in camps in Libya hoping to get into Europe. But many of them did not have a right to asylum, Mr Macron said. The French leader said that migrants were destabilising Libya and Europe by fuelling people-smuggling, which in turn funded terrorism. “The idea is to create hotspots to avoid people taking crazy risks when they are not all eligible for asylum. We’ll go to them,” he said on Thursday at a naturalisation ceremony in the central city of Orléans.

On Tuesday, Mr Macron mediated talks in Paris between Libya’s opposing governments. UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and Khalifa Haftar, the rival military commander who controls the east, committed to a conditional ceasefire after the meeting. They are aiming to end the conflict which has engulfed the country since Col Muammar Gaddafi was ousted in 2011. Mr Macron and other EU leaders had been hoping for some sort of agreement, as Libya has become a key route for migrants making their way to Europe. The French leader said he hoped the deal would be a blow to the human traffickers who work in the region.

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This is not over. Macron wants to show he’s a tough guy, but pushing aside Italy is bad theater.

Italy Loses Patience With France’s Macron Over Migrants, Libya (VoA)

Macron’s Libya diplomacy is just one irritant in increasingly tension-filled Franco-Italian relations. In May, after meeting Gentiloni in Paris, Macron announced: “We have not listened enough to Italy’s cry for help on the migration crisis.” But Macron’s position since hasn’t changed much from Francois Hollande, his predecessor in the Elysee Palace, to the Italian government’s rising anger. “Italian pleas for more burden-sharing by other EU countries have, so far, fallen on deaf ears. Italy’s refugee centers and shelters have reached their capacity of 200,000. So far this year nearly 100,000 asylum seekers have crossed the Mediterranean from Libya — a 17% increase over the same period last year — and with months more of good weather, another 100,000 asylum seekers are likely to land at Italian ports.

This month, Italy’s deputy foreign minister, Mario Giro, complained, “it doesn’t seem like France wants to help us concretely.” French police are blocking hundreds of migrants on the Italian side of the border at Ventimiglia from entering France; the French government is refusing to allow asylum seekers rescued in the Mediterranean from landing at French ports and, like nearly every other EU country, France hasn’t come anywhere near meeting its quota of migrants as agreed to under a 2015 EU refugee relocation scheme. Macron this month talked of distinguishing between war refugees and economic migrants, indicating that France won’t admit any asylum-seekers who are just escaping poverty and hunger. But that doesn’t help Italy as it tries to cope with a mounting influx of mainly economic migrants, who, under EU rule, it has little alternative but to admit, at least for processing and to save lives.

Paris has also scorned an Italian proposal for an EU military mission to monitor and interdict migrants along Libya’s southern border. Italians question why a large French military mission in Niger isn’t being used to disrupt migrant trafficking when it is right by the main route being used by smugglers and would-be asylum seekers traveling north. Last month, the European Parliament’s most senior left-wing politician, Italian Gianni Pittella, launched a scathing attack on Macron after French police frogmarched back into Italy more than 100 migrants who’d crossed into France. “The situation is shameful. Italy and the Italians are being abandoned, they’re being expected to deal with all these migrants on their own with no support,” he said.

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I’ve said it before: help for refugees in fine, even though its distribution through NGOs is a colossal mess. But renting homes for refugees, and supplying them with money to live, is a huge blow in the face of the Greeks devastated by EU-induced austerity, who get nothing.

EU Announces New Emergency Support For Greek Refugee Crisis (AP)

The European Commission announced a new emergency support package for Greece Thursday to help it deal with the refugee crisis that has seen tens of thousands of migrants and refugees stuck in the country. The €209 million ($243 million) package includes a €151 million program to help refugee families rent accommodation in Greek cities and provide them with money in an effort to help them move out of refugee camps, EU officials said during a visit to Athens. The Commission said the new funding more than doubles the emergency support extended to Greece for the refugee crisis, bringing it to a total of €401 million.

The rental project is in cooperation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and will provide 22,000 rental places with the aim of increasing the number of refugees living in rented apartments to 30,000 by the end of the year, including 2,000 places on Greek islands. A parallel scheme worth €57.6 million will provide refugees and asylum seekers with monthly cash stipends distributed through cash-cards for expenses such as transport, food and medication. “The projects launched today are one part of our wider support to the country but also to those in need of our protection,” said Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos. “Around €1.3 billion of EU funds are at the disposal of Greece for the management of the migration crisis.”

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