Feb 132018
 
 February 13, 2018  Posted by at 10:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Camille Corot Study for “The Destruction of Sodom” 1843

 

We Are Sitting On A “Full Tank Of Gas” (Roberts)
‘Whistleblower’ Alleges VIX Manipulation, Urges Regulatory Probe (R.)
How A 5% Mortgage Rate Would Roil The US Housing Market (CNBC)
Interest-Only Loan Cash Flow Crunch Sparks Fears Of Fire Sales (AFR)
These Bonds Should Make ECB Hawks Apoplectic With Rage (BBG)
China Real Estate Under Pressure (BBG)
Greece Rocked By Claims Drug Giant Novartis Bribed Former Leaders (G.)
Greece Is a Turkey, and the Market’s Going to the Dogs (BBG)
An Englishman’s Home Is an Unreliable Pension Plan (BW)
Charities Face Crackdown On ‘Horrific’ Culture Of Sexual Exploitation (Ind.)
Unicef Admits Failings With Child Victims Of Sex Abuse By Peacekeepers (G.)

 

 

“Individuals just simply refuse to act “rationally” by holding their investments as they watch losses mount.”

We Are Sitting On A “Full Tank Of Gas” (Roberts)

Yea….it’s that psychology thing. Individuals just simply refuse to act “rationally” by holding their investments as they watch losses mount. This behavioral bias of investors is one of the most serious risks arising from ETFs as the concentration of too much capital in too few places.

But this concentration risk in ETF’s is not the first time this has occurred: In the early 70’s it was the “Nifty Fifty” stocks, Then Mexican and Argentine bonds a few years after that; “Portfolio Insurance” was the “thing” in the mid -80’s; Dot.com anything was a great investment in 1999; Real estate has been a boom/bust cycle roughly every other decade, but 2006 was a doozy; Today, it’s ETF’s and Bitcoin.

Risk concentration always seems rational at the beginning, and the initial successes of the trends it creates can be self-reinforcing. Until it goes in the other direction. While the sell-off last week was not particularly unusual, it was the uniformity of the price moves which revealed the fallacy “passive investing” as investors headed for the door all at the same time. Such a uniform sell-off is indicative of what we have been warning about for the last several months. For price chasing investors, last week’s plunge should serve as a warning. “With everyone crowded into the ‘ETF Theater,’ the ‘exit’ problem should be of serious concern. Unfortunately, for most investors, they are likely stuck at the very back of the theater.

I warned of this previously: “At some point, that reversion process will take hold. It is then investor ‘psychology’ will collide with ‘margin debt’ and ETF liquidity. It will be the equivalent of striking a match, lighting a stick of dynamite and throwing it into a tanker full of gasoline. When the ‘herding’ into ETF’s begins to reverse, it will not be a slow and methodical process but rather a stampede with little regard to price, valuation or fundamental measures. Importantly, as prices decline it will trigger margin calls which will induce more indiscriminate selling. The forced redemption cycle will cause catastrophic spreads between the current bid and ask pricing for ETF’s.

As investors are forced to dump positions to meet margin calls, the lack of buyers will form a vacuum causing rapid price declines which leave investors helpless on the sidelines watching years of capital appreciation vanish in moments. Don’t believe me? It happened in 2008 as the ‘Lehman Moment’ left investors helpless watching the crash.” “Over a 3-week span, investors lost 29% of their capital and 44% over the entire 3-month period. This is what happens during a margin liquidation event. It is fast, furious and without remorse.” Make no mistake we are sitting on a “full tank of gas.”

Read more …

No! “The flaw allows trading firms with advanced algorithms to move the VIX up or down by simply posting quotes on S&P options..”

‘Whistleblower’ Alleges VIX Manipulation, Urges Regulatory Probe (R.)

A scheme to manipulate Wall Street’s fear gauge, VIX, poses risk to the entire equity market and costs investors hundreds of millions of dollars a month, a law firm on behalf of an “anonymous whistleblower” told U.S. financial regulators and urged them to investigate before additional losses are suffered. The Washington-based law firm which represents an anonymous person who claims to have held senior roles in the investment business, told the Securities and Exchange Commission and Commodity Futures Trading Commission on Monday that he discovered a market manipulation scheme that takes advantage of a widespread flaw in the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) Volatility Index (VIX).

The CBOE Volatility Index measures the cost of buying options and is the most widely followed barometer of expected near-term stock market volatility. “The flaw allows trading firms with advanced algorithms to move the VIX up or down by simply posting quotes on S&P options and without needing to physically engage in any trading or deploying any capital,” it said in a letter. Those bets against volatility unraveled last week as the benchmark S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average suffered their biggest respective percentage drops since August 2011. Investors using exchange-traded products linked to the VIX were pummeled and two banks, Credit Suisse and Nomura, said they would terminate two exchange traded notes that bet on low volatility in stock prices.

Read more …

Try 6%, 7%.

How A 5% Mortgage Rate Would Roil The US Housing Market (CNBC)

Mortgage rates are now at their highest level in four years and poised to move even higher. The timing couldn’t be worse, as the usually busy spring housing market kicked into gear early this year amid higher home prices and strong competition for a record low supply of homes for sale. Add it all up, and affordability is starting to hurt. The average rate on the popular 30-year fixed is now right around 4.50%, still low when looking historically, but buyers over the past six years have gotten more used to rates in the 3% range. Mortgage rates have not been at 5% since 2011. A 5% rate would cause more than a quarter of today’s homebuyers to slow their plans, according to a Redfin survey of 4,000 consumers at the end of last year. Just 6% said they would drop their plans to buy altogether.

About one-fifth of consumers said 5% rates would cause them to move with more urgency to purchase a home, fearing rates would rise even further. Another fifth said they would consider more affordable areas or just buy a smaller home. Despite rate concerns, the bigger issue for buyers is changes to tax laws that had lowered the cost of homeownership. Specifically, the deduction on property taxes is now limited to $10,000. While that does not affect homeowners in the majority of the country, it does hit those in high-cost states like New York, New Jersey and Illinois, and those in higher-priced housing markets like California. Some have claimed that higher rates and the new tax law will put downward pressure on home prices, alleviating some of the current sticker shock, but other factors are fighting that assertion.

“Tight credit, lack of inventory and high demand are the major factors that tell us there’s no housing bubble, despite rapid price increases,” said Redfin’s chief economist, Nela Richardson. “There are still many more buyers than the current housing supply can support, with no major relief in sight.”

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From Australia. Check interest-only where you live. Big Threat.

Interest-Only Loan Cash Flow Crunch Sparks Fears Of Fire Sales (AFR)

Interest-only property investors seeking to switch their loan to principal and interest may be forced to sell because of lenders’ tough new serviceability requirements. A typical borrower paying 4.5% on a $400,000 loan will have to prove to their lender they can meet repayments for a 7.25% loan, or an increase in annual repayments from $18,000 to more than $32,700. The higher serviceability rates have been introduced after many investors took out their loans and are forcing borrowers to try and sell their properties, despite markets beginning to soften. It’s worse for many self-managed super fund investors who bought investment properties and are boxed in from making bigger payments because of annual caps on the size of their contributions. Real estate agents are warning the cash flow crunch is causing mortgage stress to rapidly spread from one-time mining boom towns and the outer suburbs into prestigious inner suburbs.

“Clients are ringing to say they need to refinance and their next call is that they need to sell,” said Andrew Fawell, director of Beller Property Group. Mr Fawell, whose business covers inner Melbourne within 10 kilometres of the central business district, has been asked to value four potential mortgagee property sales in the past month after having none in the past two years. “Many investors who bought two or three apartments with, in many cases, only 10% deposit with cheap interest-only loans are beginning to feel the heat,” Mr Fawell said. “These numbers will get a lot worse as investors find it harder to service their debt.”

The potential problem arises for many three- to five-year fixed rate loans that have reached the end of their terms and the much stricter regime introduced by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority. Many borrowers deposited only 10%. In recent years most major lenders have introduced a 7.25% “floor for serviceability” for investor and owner-occupier loans, which is the minimum rate at which the bank will assess a home loan. Serviceability is the lenders’ assessment of the borrowers’ capacity to afford the loan and takes into account possibly higher future interest rates. It is usually assessed by a review of income and fixed commitments over the life of the loan and potential rental income.

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The ECB supports those parties that don’t need it.

These Bonds Should Make ECB Hawks Apoplectic With Rage (BBG)

This is tapering? With the economic recovery well under way in Europe the European Central Bank has cut its government bond purchases by two-thirds. Fair enough. However, it is not reining in its involvement in company debt. The securities now comprise about 20% of monthly purchases, up from 7% at the start of the program in mid-2016. The total amount could top €200 billion ($244 billion) before quantitative easing ends. If it had any self-knowledge the ECB should be aware of the problems it’s creating. The fact that, by its purchases, it has soaked up all the liquidity in the secondary market and has had to turn to the primary market should be a warning sign. The central bank’s growing involvement in company borrowing should be causing ructions among the hawks on the Governing Council, who seem alive to the dangers of being late in withdrawing stimulus.

Yet their silence is deafening. Through QE the ECB has invested in over 230 individual companies, and with an average maturity of 5.6 years it’s impossible to see them as being exposed only in the short term. Performance has been decent – spreads have tightened on about three-quarters of its holdings. The odd misstep, such as having to liquidate Steinhoff or German fertilizer maker K+S bonds when they fell below investment grade, can be overlooked. The knock-on effect of such largess is that corporate bond spreads have had a seemingly unending streak of achieving record lows. Support for credit markets in times of strife is one thing. But driving outsized performance isn’t just storing up trouble for an individual company or investor for the future, it’s a reckless refusal to allow financial discipline to inform the decision making of actors in the financial system.

[..] The surge of demand for additional tier one bank capital is another particularly worrying phenomenon. Investors face a total loss if the issuing bank’s capital ratios fall below regulatory requirements. Raiffeisen Bank was able in January to issue an AT1 perpetual bond at 4.5%, having issued a similar 6.125% AT1 security in June. Though there was a one-notch credit-rating upgrade, that can hardly justify such an enormous improvement. And 4.5% can never be enough compensation for the risk of getting completely wiped out.

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Now Beijing wants to push rental housing. Easier to control?

China Real Estate Under Pressure (BBG)

While all eyes are on China’s stocks rout after the U.S. swoon, there’s a troubled sector that’s garnering fewer headlines but will have broader reverberations – real estate. Chinese property stocks slumped last week, dragged down not just by the global sell-off but by worries this may be the year when housing finally takes a hit. To date, Beijing’s crackdown on risk amid soaring household debt has had little effect on prices. December data showed values in small cities continued to rise, while they were mostly flat in top-tier conurbations like Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Beijing. There are several reasons, though, why the 13-year rally in house prices must end at some point. First, banks are making borrowing tough, not only raising costs for home loans but also restricting supply, especially in major centers such as Beijing and Shenzhen, under a semi-official mortgage quota.

Even last year’s stars, the second- and third-tier cities that led price gains, may fade as China curtails easy home loans that were intended to help soak up a glut of property. Downpayments there ranged between 20 and 30%, compared with 40 to 80% in top-tier locations, according to Credit Suisse. As the curbs bite, mortgage lending has started to decline. (The other plank of household debt, consumer lending, has been an even bigger problem, surging 180% last year, according to Credit Suisse.) Second, perhaps further down the line, a property tax is looming. Finance Minister Xiao Jie indicated this might happen as early as 2020. When President Xi Jinping exhorted people to remember that houses are for living, not speculation, real estate investors must have grown nervous; a tax will make them quake.

With few investment options available to individuals beyond the volatile stock market and wealth-management products (more and more of which are being banned), it’s no surprise that as much as 25% of the demand for real estate is speculative, according to Bloomberg Economics. Third, there’s the more immediate threat to real estate prices of a supply-side push by Beijing. The government is starting to shift from tamping down demand to promoting new housing. Among measures the government is promoting, according to BNP Paribas economist Chen Xingdong, is encouraging homes where the government and buyers share property rights, and even allowing state-owned firms to sell apartments to their employees. The government is also encouraging the growth of a rental market. While much of the current stock of rental housing is of poor quality, that’s likely to change.

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And only now does this reach European media. The upshot: Novartis pulled the same stunt in South Korea.

Greece Rocked By Claims Drug Giant Novartis Bribed Former Leaders (G.)

The Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, has called for parliament to investigate whether two of his predecessors and eight former ministers accepted bribes from the Swiss drugmaker Novartis, after allegations of industrial-scale bribery involving senior politicians. The former PMs Antonis Samaras and Panagiotis Pikrammenos, the governor of the Bank of Greece and the EU’s migration commissioner were all identified as alleged beneficiaries of bribes in a report compiled by anti-corruption prosecutors with the help of US authorities. Novartis is alleged to have bribed politicians to approve overpriced contracts and to have made payments to thousands of doctors as part of concerted efforts to boost sales between 2006 to 2015.

The claims have rocked Greek society since coming to light last week. One serving government minister claimed the kickbacks surpassed €50m and resulted in costs of more than €4bn to the Greek public health system. The deputy justice minister, Dimitris Papangelopoulos, said it was “the biggest scandal since the establishment of the Greek state” almost 200 years ago. Widening the net on Monday, Tsipras said it was imperative there could be no cover-up. “We will make use of every power afforded by national and international law to recover the money stolen from the Greek people down to the last euro,” the leftist leader told MPs in his Syriza party. “We will do everything we can to reveal the truth.”

MPs will vote on establishing a committee of inquiry later this month. Only parliament has the power to investigate politicians for alleged infractions during their term in office. The allegations have been rebutted vehemently by the accused. The report’s reliance on three unnamed witnesses – who are currently under government protection – has been especially criticised, and legal experts contend that the claims would not stand up in court. The EU commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos demanded that the identity of the witnesses be revealed and expressed his “disgust” at what he said were fabrications created by “sick minds”. He stands accused of purchasing 16m anti-flu vaccines from Novartis while health minister between 2006 and 2009. [..] Novartis has faced similar investigations in recent years. Last year South Korea fined the company $48m for offering kickbacks to doctors.

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Just as Greece starts selling bonds again, it faces increasing competition,

Greece Is a Turkey, and the Market’s Going to the Dogs (BBG)

Greece almost makes it look easy. It issued a new €3 billion ($3.7 billion) seven-year bond on Thursday, at a very healthy 3.5% yield, stepping into a briefly open window for raising money during the most torrid week for markets in years. The security is now trading very close to 4%. Ouch. The benefits of going ahead with the sale went to Greece rather than to investors. With a €6 billion order book there was no lack of demand – but there is buyer’s remorse now. It’s the first sovereign syndicated new issue to perform badly in Europe so far this year. This could make it troublesome for the region’s other governments to bring deals on top of an already-heavy regular auction schedule. Greece may just be one turkey, but investor demand is going to become a lot pickier.

And there’s plenty to choose from. Governments have been crowding out the syndicated new issue market even more this year, comprising 26.5% of deals versus an already-strong 23% at this stage in 2017. If supra-nationals and agencies are included then half of all new syndicated deals are from an official institution. It’s a curious result, given that the European new-issue market is supposed to be much more about companies. For example, the European Financial Stability Facility – created to fund Greece’s bailout – has already issued half of its €28 billion annual plan. The EFSF has come three times in 2018 with €13.5 billion in maturities ranging from 6 to 23 years. That is an almost indecent rush to complete its annual funding schedule as early as possible. It’s smart for the issuer – less so for the investor.

Borrowers can try to front-load sales in a low-rate environment, but with more central banks getting comfortable with tightening, investors are not going to play that game unless the yield is generous. It’s an increasing struggle, given that the German benchmark 10-year yield has risen sharply since the mid-December lows of 30 basis points. The yield famine is easing up.

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What a shame: too late!

An Englishman’s Home Is an Unreliable Pension Plan (BW)

“A man’s house is his castle,” Sir Edward Coke wrote back in the 17th century. These days, Britons are relying on their properties not just for refuge but also to fund their retirements. It’s a strategy that could backfire badly. Along with the rest of the world, the U.K. has an aging population: a growing number of retirees are being supported by a shrinking pool of workers. The U.K.’s dependency ratio – calculated by adding together the over 65s and under 15s, then dividing by the working-age population and multiplying by 100 – will rise to 60% by 2027. That’s up from 55% in 2017 and from 54% in 1997. As the pyramid grows more inverted, how does the top-heavy non-working cohort propose to finance a life of leisure and superannuation? By releasing the equity they expect to have accumulated in their homes once they’re ready to hit the golf course.

One in five Brits agreed with the statement “when I retire, I plan to sell my house, downsize and live off the profit,” according to a survey commissioned by pension consultants LCP from polling firm YouGov. That gamble seems unwise. In recent years home values, like global stock markets, only ever seemed to increase. But, again as with global stock markets, the notion of ever-rising prices has taken something of a beating recently. According to a report published on Monday, U.K. house prices posted their first annual decline in six years in January. Moreover, with wage growth in recent years failing to keep pace with either rising property prices or inflation, it’s become harder for those of working age to get on the housing ladder in the first place. And the percentage of under 34s who own their own homes has slumped in the past decade.

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This is so sick it makes one silent.

Charities Face Crackdown On ‘Horrific’ Culture Of Sexual Exploitation (Ind.)

British charities are facing a government crackdown to combat the “horrific” sexual exploitation exposed at Oxfam, amid concerns about a wider culture of abuse. All British charities working overseas have been ordered to provide “absolute assurances” that they are protecting vulnerable people and referring complaints to authorities. Oxfam’s deputy chief executive resigned during crisis talks with the Government, saying she took “full responsibility” for the alleged use of prostitutes by senior staff in Haiti. But aid workers told The Independent sexual misconduct against both locals and staff remains “widespread” in humanitarian agencies and called for wholesale reforms.

Penny Mordaunt, the International Development Secretary, has written a letter to all UK charities working overseas demanding “absolute assurance that the moral leadership, the systems, the culture and the transparency needed to fully protect vulnerable people are in place”. “It is not only Oxfam that must improve,” she said. “My absolute priority is to keep the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people safe from harm. In the 21st century, it is utterly despicable that sexual exploitation and abuse continues to exist in the aid sector.” The Department for International Development (Dfid) has created a new unit dedicated to reviewing safeguarding in the aid sector and stopping “criminal and predatory individuals” being employed by other charities.

[..] “Oxfam made a full and unqualified apology – to me, and to the people of Britain and Haiti – for the appalling behaviour of some of their staff in Haiti in 2011, and for the wider failings of their organisation’s response to it,” said Ms Mordaunt. “They spoke of the deep sense of disgrace and shame that they and their organisation feel about what has happened, and set out the actions they will now take to put things right and prevent such horrific abuses happening in future.“

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It’s not just Oxfam, it’s an industry-wide culture.

Unicef Admits Failings With Child Victims Of Sex Abuse By Peacekeepers (G.)

The UN’s children’s agency has admitted shortcomings in its humanitarian support to children who allege that they were raped and sexually abused by French peacekeepers in Central African Republic. A statement by Unicef Netherlands is the first public acknowledgement of the agency’s recent failure to provide support to some of the victims of alleged abuse by peacekeepers in the African nation. It comes as the aid sector and the UN face increasing scrutiny for their failings in managing internal sexual misconduct by their own staff. Unicef was given the task of overseeing the support for children who said they had been abused by peacekeepers.

But in March last year, an award-winning investigation by Swedish Television’s Uppdrag Granskning (Mission Investigate) revealed that some of the children supposedly in the UN’s care were homeless, out of school and forced to make a living on the streets, despite UN assurances that they would be protected. Unicef’s representative in CAR told the programme that the children were in the agency’s assistance programme for minors and were being supported. He said he was not aware that some were on the streets. But earlier this month – ahead of a Dutch screening of the programme – Unicef Netherlands admitted to the Dutch television programme Zembla that Unicef had failed in its duty to help some of the alleged victims. But it said that since the programme had first aired, it had taken steps to locate the children featured in the programme and provide them with support.

Marieke van Santen, of Zembla, said she found the Swedish film “astonishing” because the children who were interviewed were known to Unicef, yet they were not being cared for. Van Santen said: “It is quite shocking to realise that not only once but twice UN agencies have failed to help these victims.” The statement from Unicef Netherlands was welcomed by Karin Mattisson, a reporter for Mission Investigate. “I hope it makes a difference to the children and gives them strength. They have said they were failed,” said Mattisson.Several boys who testified to having been sexually assaulted by French soldiers were living rough, Mattisson found, while a girl, who became pregnant at the age of 14 by a Congolese peacekeeper and had later found out she was HIV-positive, was out of school looking after her baby. Another boy, aged eight, who was too traumatised to be interviewed, was in an orphanage. “I hope they live up to this statement,” she said. “When we investigated the UN and Unicef it was a long journey into their culture of silence.”

Read more …

Feb 282017
 
 February 28, 2017  Posted by at 10:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle February 28 2017


Ben Shahn L.F. Kitts general store in Maynardville, Tennessee 1935

 

A Hole in the Head (Jim Kunstler)
Trump’s Fed Can Start a Central Bank Revolution (BBG)
Trump Puts Final Touches on Speech Focusing on Economy, Defense (BBG)
Number Of Distressed US Retailers At Highest Level Since Great Recession (MW)
The Housing Crisis (Renegade)
China’s Continuing Credit Boom (NYFed)
ADB Says Emerging Asia Infrastructure Needs $26 Trillion by 2030 (BBG)
Greece Said to Expect Revised Bailout Proposal for Tuesday Talks
French Court Probes Leave Le Pen Unscathed as Fillon Bid Falters (BBG)
Shell 1991 Film Warned Of Climate Change Danger (G.)
Britain’s Child Migrant Program: Why 130,000 Children Were Shipped Abroad (G.)
Slavery Claims As UK Child Sex Abuse Inquiry Opens (AFP)

 

 

Theory vs practice is a worthy discussion….

A Hole in the Head (Jim Kunstler)

We need a new civil war like we need a hole in the head. But that’s just it: America has a hole in its head. It’s the place formerly known as The Center. It didn’t hold. It was the place where people of differing views could rely on each other to behave reasonably around a touchstone called the National Interest. That abandoned place is now cordoned off, a Chernobyl of the mind, where figures on each side of the political margin fear to even sojourn, let alone occupy, lest they go radioactive. Anyway, the old parties at each side of the political transect, are melting down in equivalent fugues of delusion, rage, and impotence — as predicted here through the election year of 2016. They can’t make anything good happen in the National Interest.

They can’t control the runaway rackets that they engineered in legislation, policy, and practice under the dominion of each party, by turns, going back to Lyndon B. Johnson, and so they have driven themselves and each other insane. Trump and Hillary perfectly embodied the climactic stage of each party before their final mutual sprint to collapse. Both had more than a tinge of the psychopath. Trump is the bluff that the Republicans called on themselves, having jettisoned anything identifiable as coherent principles translatable to useful action. Hillary was an American Lady Macbeth attempting to pull off the ultimate inside job by any means necessary, her wickedness so plain to see that even the voters picked up on it. These two are the old parties’ revenge on each other, and on themselves, for decades of bad choices and bad faith.

[..] Something like this has happened before in US history and it may be cyclical. The former Princeton University professor and President, Woodrow Wilson, dragged America into the First World War, which killed over 53,000 Americans (as many as Vietnam) in only eighteen months. He promulgated the Red Scare, a bit of hysteria not unlike the Race and Gender Phobia Accusation Fest on the Left today. Professor Wilson was also responsible for creating the Federal Reserve and all the mischief it has entailed, especially the loss of over 90% of the dollar’s value since 1913. Wilson, the perfect IYI of that day.

The reaction to Wilson was Warren Gamaliel Harding, the hard-drinking, card-playing Ohio Main Street boob picked in the notorious “smoke-filled room” of the 1920 GOP convention. He invoked a return to “normalcy,” which was not even a word (try normality), and was laughed at as we now laugh at Trump for his idiotic utterances such as “win bigly” (or is that big league?). Harding is also known for confessing in a letter: “I am not fit for this office and should never have been here.” Yet, in his brief term (died in office, 1923), Harding navigated the country successfully through a fierce post-World War One depression simply by not resorting to government intervention.

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… also when it comes to the Fed.

Trump’s Fed Can Start a Central Bank Revolution (BBG)

President Donald Trump will select three members of the Federal Reserve board during his term in office, including a replacement chair for Janet Yellen when her appointment expires early next year. He should seize the chance to refresh the Fed with faces from the business community, adding executives to the roster of PhD economists who currently run monetary policy in most of the world. The Fed appointments come at a key juncture in U.S. economic policy, one that makes business knowhow an even more valuable commodity for a rate-setter than usual. Trump’s fiscal policies will set a new backdrop for the monetary policy environment, given his intention to cut personal and business tax rates and boost investment in the nation’s infrastructure.

So appointing executives to the Fed who’ve had to take fiscal and monetary policy into account when making decisions on where and when to build new factories or make other capital expenditure decisions makes sense. Torsten Slok, the chief international economist for Deutsche Bank, sent around a chart last week showing how the composition of the Fed has become increasingly focused on PhD economists: It’s little wonder that in this populist age central bank independence is under attack. As Bloomberg News reported on Monday, the rise of populism is putting pressure on central banks as “institutions stuffed with unelected technocrats wielding the power to affect the economic fate of millions.” Leavening the boards of policy makers with executives who’ve made hiring and firing decisions and have helped build companies would be a way to address the perception that decisions about borrowing costs are made in ivory towers by economists who’ve all read the same textbooks but don’t inhabit the same world as the people they’re supposed to serve.

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Entertainment 2017-style.

Trump Puts Final Touches on Speech Focusing on Economy, Defense (BBG)

President Donald Trump was still working Monday evening on the final touches of an address to Congress that will focus on economic opportunity and national security, administration officials said. The officials, who briefed reporters on the eve of the address on the condition of anonymity, said the speech will offer a vision of where Trump wants to take the country as well as an early accounting of campaign promises he has already delivered on through executive actions such as the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. They declined to say whether the president would offer more concrete proposals on major goals, such as rebuilding U.S. infrastructure, rewriting the tax code and replacing the Obamacare health plan.

Trump’s speech comes as the new president tries to stabilize his administration after a turbulent start marked by struggles implementing an initial flurry of executive orders and a controversy over contacts between Trump advisers and Russian officials that led to the resignation of his national security adviser. While Trump’s inauguration speech offered a gloomy portrait of an America racked by violence and economic decay, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said earlier Monday that the address to Congress will strive for an optimistic vision focused on “the renewal of the American spirit.”

Surveys show a deep partisan divide over the president’s performance. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Monday showed Trump’s approval rating at 44% – a record low for a new president. But 85% of Republicans see Trump favorably, versus just 9% of Democrats. National security was the key theme of an early glimpse of the budget the White House offered on Monday. Administration officials said the president’s first budget would seek to boost defense spending by $54 billion – offset by an equivalent cut from other discretionary spending.

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How to kill a city part 827.

Number Of Distressed US Retailers At Highest Level Since Great Recession (MW)

The number of U.S. retailers ranked at the most-distressed level of the credit-rating spectrum has more than tripled since the Great Recession of 2008-2009 and is heading toward record levels in the next five years, Moody’s Investors Service said Monday. The rating agency is the latest to weigh in on the state of the sector, and has 19 names in its retail and apparel portfolio, 14% of which are now trading at Caa/Ca. That’s deep into speculative, or “junk,” territory. It’s also a percentage close to the 16% considered distressed during the 2008/2009 period, said a Moody’s report led by retail analyst Charles O’Shea. The rise is part of a wider trend affecting sectors across Moody’s coverage that has retail replacing oil and gas as the most-troubled industry.

Retailers are in the midst of a secular shift to online sales led by juggernaut Amazon.com and that’s forcing many of them to spend heavily on their e-commerce operations. At the same time, mall traffic has slowed dramatically as consumer behavior changes, forcing many to discount heavily, hurting profit margins. The 19 issuers on Moody’s list have more than $3.7 billion of debt maturing in the next five years, with about 30% of that total coming due by the end of 2018. The number is even higher when private credit is included. “While credit markets continue to provide ready access for companies spanning the rating spectrum—allowing many to proactively refinance debt and bolster balance sheets—that could change abruptly if market conditions or investor sentiment shift,” said O’Shea.

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How to kill a city part 828.

The Housing Crisis (Renegade)

Why is UK housing now so out of reach for so many people? Yes, property has been a safe bet, but we ask what are the economic risks and the social side effects of ever-increasing house prices? Host Ross Ashcroft is joined by Dr Rebecca Ross and economist Professor Steve Keen.

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These numbers are beyond fantasy.

China’s Continuing Credit Boom (NYFed)

Debt in China has increased dramatically in recent years, accounting for roughly one-half of all new credit created globally since 2005. The country’s share of total global credit is nearly 25%, up from 5% ten years ago. By some measures (as documented below), China’s credit boom has reached the point where countries typically encounter financial stress, which could spill over to international markets given the size of the Chinese economy. To better understand the associated risks, it is important to examine the drivers of China’s expansion in credit, the increasing complexity of its financial system, and evidence that its supply of credit may be growing more rapidly than reported. Note, however, that there are several features of China’s financial system that reduce the threat of a financial disruption.

Nonfinancial debt in China has increased from roughly $3 trillion at the end of 2005 to nearly $22 trillion, while banking system assets have increased sixfold over the same period to over 300% of GDP. In 2016 alone, credit outstanding increased by more than $3 trillion, with the pace of growth still roughly twice that of nominal GDP. As a result, the “credit-to-GDP gap”—the difference between the debt-to-GDP ratio and its long-run trend—has reached almost 30 percentage points. The international experience suggests that such a rapid buildup is often followed by stress in domestic banking systems. Roughly one-third of boom cases end up in financial crises and another third precede extended periods of below-trend economic growth.

As seen in the chart below, rising nonfinancial sector debt was driven initially by a surge in corporate borrowing in response to the global financial crisis. This additional debt was comprised mostly of medium- and long-term corporate loans related to infrastructure and property projects.

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Better start printing then.

ADB Says Emerging Asia Infrastructure Needs $26 Trillion by 2030 (BBG)

Asia’s infrastructure race is just getting started. Emerging economies across the region will need to invest as much as $26 trillion on building everything from transport networks to clean water through 2030 to maintain growth, eradicate poverty and offset climate change. That’s according to an Asian Development Bank report released Tuesday that highlights the need for massive construction and upgrading of public works and for much greater private sector investment. Leaving out spending to mitigate climate change, some $22.6 trillion will still be needed over the same period, the ADB said. Big-ticket investment of $14.7 trillion is needed for power, $8.4 trillion for transport, $2.3 trillion for telecommunication costs and $800 billion for water and sanitation, adjusted for climate change.

The bulk of infrastructure work is needed in East Asia, which accounts for 61% of the ADB estimate. As a percentage of GDP, the Pacific leads all other sub regions needing investment valued at 9.1% of GDP, followed by South Asia at 8.8%. The new projection of a $1.7 trillion annual infrastructure need, adjusted for climate change, is more than double the $750 billion that the Manila-based development bank estimated in 2009–though the latest report looks at 45 of the ADB’s developing members compared with 32 last time and uses 2015 prices compared to 2008 ones.

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Hard to see how this sadistic play can survive the various elections.

Greece Said to Expect Revised Bailout Proposal for Tuesday Talks

Greece’s auditors are pulling together a list of policies the country needs to implement to unlock additional bailout funds as they prepare for the resumption of talks with Athens on Tuesday, two people familiar with the matter said. Greece has asked European lenders for a draft Supplemental Memorandum of Understanding and the IMF for a Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies as it braces for details of creditor demands, the people said, declining to be identified as negotiations between the two sides aren’t public. The government expects an accord in March or early April, but the scale of pending issues raises concerns they may be politically hard to sell at home, they said.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government last Monday agreed to legislate structural reforms demanded by the IMF that will lower the threshold of tax-free income and amend the pension system by 2019, effectively crossing what it had once characterized as a red line. The government says the deal won’t increase austerity since the new legislation will include stimulus measures in addition to belt-tightening reforms. Tsipras told lawmakers on Friday that the bailout review can be completed by March 20 when euro–area finance ministers are set to meet in Brussels. It could drag on to the next Eurogroup meeting on April 7th given the number of outstanding issues that need to be resolved, the people said. Greece is looking for a “global deal” by May that would also include potential decisions on medium-term debt-relief measures and the inclusion of Greek bonds in the ECB’s debt-purchase program.

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Because Fillon is the establishment.

French Court Probes Leave Le Pen Unscathed as Fillon Bid Falters (BBG)

Prosecutors’ interventions in the French election have so far done more damage to the establishment’s one-time champion than the nationalist firebrand vowing to overthrow the system. The Republican Francois Fillon and National Front leader Marine Le Pen both say the criminal probes they face are political plots against them, but it’s only Fillon, a church-going 62-year-old former prime minister, who has been set back by the allegations. Le Pen’s suspected misuse of her allowance from the European Parliament hasn’t hurt her at all. “The National Fronts is seen as persecuted by the system so their supporters think that if everyone else has gotten rich of the system, it’s good for them to get some of that money back,” said Jean-Yves Camus, a political scientist linked to the Jean Jaures research institute.

“Fillon tried to use the conspiracy angle but it doesn’t work because he’s from the system.” On Tuesday, a committee of lawmakers in Brussels will consider a request from the French courts to strip Le Pen of her parliamentary immunity over two separate cases of defamation and publishing violent images of Islamic State killings on Twitter. The committee is due to release its recommendations to the EU parliament next week, and the full chamber will vote on the issue later in March. Le Pen is battling a range of mainstream politicians asking for one more chance to address voters’ concerns about lackluster economic growth and the perceived threat of immigration and terrorism. Instead, she’s offering voters a chance to upend the status quo by putting up border controls, stopping mass immigration and pulling out of the euro.

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This is a surprise to anyone?

Shell 1991 Film Warned Of Climate Change Danger (G.)

The oil giant Shell issued a stark warning of the catastrophic risks of climate change more than a quarter of century ago in a prescient 1991 film that has been rediscovered. However, since then the company has invested heavily in highly polluting oil reserves and helped lobby against climate action, leading to accusations that Shell knew the grave risks of global warming but did not act accordingly. Shell’s 28-minute film, called Climate of Concern, was made for public viewing, particularly in schools and universities. It warned of extreme weather, floods, famines and climate refugees as fossil fuel burning warmed the world. The serious warning was “endorsed by a uniquely broad consensus of scientists in their report to the United Nations at the end of 1990”, the film noted.

“If the weather machine were to be wound up to such new levels of energy, no country would remain unaffected,” it says. “Global warming is not yet certain, but many think that to wait for final proof would be irresponsible. Action now is seen as the only safe insurance.” A separate 1986 report, marked “confidential” and also seen by the Guardian, notes the large uncertainties in climate science at the time but nonetheless states: “The changes may be the greatest in recorded history.” The predictions in the 1991 film for temperature and sea level rises and their impacts were remarkably accurate, according to scientists, and Shell was one of the first major oil companies to accept the reality and dangers of climate change.

But, despite this early and clear-eyed view of the risks of global warming, Shell invested many billions of dollars in highly polluting tar sand operations and on exploration in the Arctic. It also cited fracking as a “future opportunity” in 2016, despite its own 1998 data showing exploitation of unconventional oil and gas was incompatible with climate goals.

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What nation kicks out its own children…

Britain’s Child Migrant Program: Why 130,000 Children Were Shipped Abroad (G.)

More than 130,000 children were sent to a “better life” in former colonies, mainly Australia and Canada, from the 1920s to 1970s under the child migrant programme. The children, aged between three and 14, were almost invariably from deprived backgrounds and already in some form of social or charitable care. It was believed, they would lead happier lives. Charities such as Barnardo’s and the Fairbridge Society, the Anglican and Catholic churches and local authorities helped with the organisation of the emigration. Once there, the children were often told they were orphans to better facilitate their fresh start. The parents – many of them single mothers forced to give up their child for adoption because of poverty or social stigma – believed this was giving them best chance in life, though often did not have details of where their offspring were sent to.

The reality, for some of those children, was a childhood of servitude and hard labour at foster homes: on remote farms, at state-run orphanages and church-run institutions. They were often separated from siblings. Some were subjected to physical and sexual abuse. In 2010, the then prime minister, Gordon Brown, issued an official apology, expressing regret for the “misguided” programme, and telling the Commons: “To all those former child migrants and their families … we are truly sorry. They were let down. “We are sorry they were allowed to be sent away at the time when they were most vulnerable. We are sorry that instead of caring for them, this country turned its back”. He announced a £6m fund to reunite families that had been torn apart. The last children sailed in 1967. But it is only recently, as their stories have been told, that details of the abuse, and the official sanction which made it possible, has become public.

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…only to have them enslaved and abused.

Slavery Claims As UK Child Sex Abuse Inquiry Opens (AFP)

England’s mammoth inquiry into historical child sex abuse was told of the “torture, rape and slavery” suffered by child migrants shipped to Australia, at its first public hearings on Monday. The wide-ranging Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse opened by looking at the schemes that sent thousands of vulnerable children to far-flung parts of the Commonwealth in the decades after World War II. David Hill broke down as he told the inquiry of the “endemic” sexual abuse at the school he was sent to in Australia. “I hope this inquiry can promote an understanding of the long-term consequences and suffering of those who were sexually abused,” he said. “Many never recover and are permanently afflicted with guilt, shame, diminished self-confidence, low self-esteem, fear and trauma.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May set up the inquiry in 2014 when she was interior minister. The British Empire sent some 150,000 children abroad over 350 years, according to a 1998 parliamentary study, although the probe started Monday by looking at use of the practice after World War II. It was justified as a means of slashing the costs of caring for lone children and providing disadvantaged young people with a fresh start, while meeting labour shortages in the Commonwealth and populating colonial-era lands with white British settlers. Between 1945 and 1970, youngsters were sent mainly to Australia, but also Canada, New Zealand and what is now Zimbabwe — often without the consent of their families.

But the promise of a good upbringing and an exciting new life in the sun was often, in reality, a world of forced labour, brutal treatment and sexual assault in remote institutions run by churches and charities. “They sent us to a place that was a living hell,” victim Clifford Walsh told the BBC. Oliver Cosgrove was sent to Australia in 1941, one of an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 children shipped there from 1922 to 1967. “Those who were abused tried in vain to tell others, who they hoped and believed might assist them. But they didn’t,” his representative told the inquiry. “This was a systematic and institutional problem.”

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