Mar 012019
 


Salvador Dali Eggs on the plate (without the plate) 1932

 

Tax Cuts A Year Later – Did They Deliver? (Roberts)
The Death Of Cash Has Been Greatly Exaggerated – Look At The $100 Bill (MW)
China Trade Talks Made ‘Fantastic’ Progress Last Week -Kudlow (CNBC)
China’s Shadow Debt Burden Much Larger Than Believed (ZH)
Growing China Downdraft Chills Asia Factory Activity (R.)
CPAC On Socialism, Bernie Sanders And 2020: ‘Trump Will Win, 100%’ (G.)
Claim Trump Had Prior Knowledge Of WikiLeaks Fails Hilariously (Dore)
Trump Says Cohen Lied ‘95% Instead Of 100%’ In Testimony To Congress (G.)
The Case That Could Bring Down Canada’s Justin Trudeau (G.)
Anti-Maduro Allies Regroup After The Fight For Humanitarian Aid (CNBC)
Disclosing Subpoena for Testimony, Chelsea Manning Vows to Fight (NYT)
The Grey Wall Of China: Inside The World’s Concrete Superpower (G.)

 

 

Well, they delivered something. But that’s a much bigger topic than just tax cuts, that’s Fed policy.

Lance is trying to utterly confuse us with an absolute overkill of graphs all in one place. But the gist is clear.

Tax Cuts A Year Later – Did They Deliver? (Roberts)

I received a lot of push back on my views when the “mainstream” analysis was the tax cuts would jump start economic growth. Of course, with 2017’s Q1 economic growth coming in at a meager 0.7% annualized, it would certainly seem to be needed. But as I questioned then: “Do tax reductions lead to higher economic growth, employment and incomes over the long-term as promised?” Speaking to NBC’s Meet the Press, VP Mike Pence argued at the time he was confident that eventually, the deficit would decline as it would be overcome by surging economic “growth” thanks to the tax cuts it will fund. [..] As shown in the chart below, changes to tax rates have a very limited impact on economic growth over the longer term.

Reagan’s tax cuts were effective because they were “timely” due to the economic, fiscal, and valuation backdrop which is diametrically opposed to the situation today. “Importantly, as has been stated, the proposed tax cut by President-elect Trump will be the largest since Ronald Reagan. However, in order to make valid assumptions on the potential impact of the tax cut on the economy, earnings and the markets, we need to review the differences between the Reagan and Trump eras. My colleague, Michael Lebowitz, recently penned the following on this exact issue.

‘Many investors are suddenly comparing Trump’s economic policy proposals to those of Ronald Reagan. For those that deem that bullish, we remind you that the economic environment and potential growth of 1982 was vastly different than it is today.” [..] The differences with today’s economic and market environment could not be starker. The tailwinds provided by initial deregulation, consumer leveraging, declining interest rates, and inflation provided huge tailwinds for corporate profitability growth. The chart below shows the ramp up in government debt since Reagan versus subsequent economic growth and tax rates.

While wages did rise marginally over the last, due more to tightness in the labor market rather than tax cuts, corporations failed to share the wealth. In fact, the ratio of profits to workers wages have materially worsened since the enactment of tax cuts.

Read more …

Going to the mattresses. To be honest, it’s always been clear that trying turn the US into a cashless society is the stuff for revolution.

The Death Of Cash Has Been Greatly Exaggerated – Look At The $100 Bill (MW)

The stock market is coming off its best January in years, the economy appears to be holding up well, interest rates are still low, cryptos and mobile payments continue to gain traction — it’s not exactly a cash-friendly climate at the moment. Then what’s going on with the $100 bill? A decade ago, $20 and $1 bills were both far more prevalent than the Benjamins. As you can see by this chart from Deutsche Bank’s Torsten Slok, the currency hierarchy has shifted dramatically since then.

In 2017, the $100 bill took the crown as the most popular U.S. bill, doubling since 2007, which has helped drive the sharp rise in currency and other liquid assets as a share of GDP:

But why? Deutsche Bank’s Slok mulled a few possibilities. “It could be driven by a global fear of negative interest rates in Europe and Japan,” he said. “Or it could be a savings vehicle for U.S. households worried about another financial crisis, or it could be driven by more demand from the global underground economy.” Of course, we know it’s not because more people are using the $100 bill as pocket money. Smaller bills are still far more popular in that regard. Just look at the average lifespan of each bill:

So what’s that telling us? Mattresses everywhere are getting increasingly stuffed with $100 bills instead of being put to work in the stock market or elsewhere. That speaks to the frame of mind of the Average Joe as much as anything else.

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“Lighthizer said after the testimony [..] that formal steps would be taken to abandon plans of raising tariffs on Chinese goods.”

China Trade Talks Made ‘Fantastic’ Progress Last Week -Kudlow (CNBC)

National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said Thursday that trade talks between the U.S. and China are going great, noting the two countries are making “fantastic” progress in meetings last week. “Last week was fantastic,” Kudlow told CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.” “We’re making great headway on nontariff barriers and tariffs regarding various commodities such as soybeans and energy and beef. We have mechanisms with regard to enforcement, which is -I think- unparalleled.” “The progress has been terrific,” Kudlow added. But “we have to hear from the Chinese side. We have to hear from President Xi Jinping, of course. I think we’re headed for a remarkable, historic deal.” U.S. equities briefly pared some of their losses following Kudlow’s remarks.

Kudlow also said China has expressed willingness to make key structural changes to prevent intellectual property theft, a highly contested issue in these negotiations. Kudlow’s comments follow testimony from Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative. Lighthizer told members of the House Ways and Means Committee that China needed to do more than just buy more U.S. goods for the two countries to strike a permanent trade deal. But Lighthizer said after the testimony, according to The Wall Street Journal, that formal steps would be taken to abandon plans of raising tariffs on Chinese goods. This is a clear signal that a trade deal could come in the near future. “Lighthizer has worked miracles on this Chinese deal,” Kudlow said. “We’ve never come this far on China trade.”

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News item by news item my long held ideas of the importance of the shadow banks for China’s official growth numbers are being confirmed.

China’s Shadow Debt Burden Much Larger Than Believed (ZH)

[..] a team of S&P credit analysts warned in an October report that China’s debt burden might be much larger than previously believed. Against a backdrop of soaring corporate defaults, the team from S&P warned that investors could safely tack on another ~40% of debt/GDP to China’s total (with even more likely hidden from view) after a careful analysis of a new source of shadow debt being tapped by local governments to further their development plans. These Local Government Financing Vehicles, or LGFVs, represented “an iceberg with titanic credit risks” as local officials had increasingly turned to these sources of shadow financing to finance development projects while bureaucrats in Beijing struggled to turn off the credit taps.

Now that Beijing has reckoned with the idea that now is not the time to try and contain the country’s massive debt load, even as the percentage of bad debt balloons, it increasingly appears that these measures might be too little, too late for investors who financed these LGFVs, as the Wall Street Journal revealed in a report about how a local government in China’s impoverished South had caused a stir by stiffing its creditors after racking up a debt pile – largely through these LGFVs – equivalent to roughly three times the government’s annual revenue.

While putting a number on the amount of shadow debt in the system is difficult due to the opacity of the Chinese financial system, one economist at a domestic think tank estimated that off-balance-sheet borrowings by local governments could be as much as 23.6 trillion yuan, as of the end of 2017, meaning that total is likely higher today, as governments have been forced to tap these vehicles during Beijing’s deleveraging campaign. The proliferation of private funds and other money-raising channels for local governments makes it difficult for economists and for Beijing to track the total amount of borrowings. Official figures pegged the sum of local and central government debt at 29.95 trillion yuan ($4.457 trillion) in 2017, roughly 36% of the economy.

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South Korea “exports contracted 11.1 percent in February from a year earlier, their biggest drop in nearly three years, with shipments to major buyer China slumping 17.4 percent.”

Growing China Downdraft Chills Asia Factory Activity (R.)

Weak demand in China and growing global fallout from the Sino-U.S. trade war took a heavier toll on factories across much of Asia in February, business surveys showed on Friday. Activity in China’s vast manufacturing sector contracted for the third straight month, pointing to more strains on its major trading partners and raising questions over whether Beijing needs to do more to stabilize the slowing economy. In many cases, business conditions were the worst Asian companies have faced since 2016, with demand weakening not only in China but globally. Japan’s factory gauge fell at the sharpest pace in 2-1/2 years as slumping orders prompted plants to cut production, while separate data from South Korea showed its exports plummeted.

“The weakening trend in Chinese import demand weighed heavily on exports across the rest of the region,” said Sian Fenner, lead Asia economist at Oxford Economics. [..] China watchers are looking to Premier Li Keqiang’s work report to the annual meeting of parliament next week for clues on further stimulus plans. Li will set out the government’s economic targets for the year on Tuesday. Sources have told Reuters Beijing will set a 2019 growth target of 6.0-6.5 percent, down from around 6.5 percent in 2018. China reported economic growth cooled to 6.6 percent last year, its weakest pace since 1990, but some analysts believe actual activity is much weaker.

[..] In Japan, the Markit/Nikkei Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) fell into contraction territory as both domestic and foreign orders slumped. “We need to be mindful that uncertainty over the global economic outlook is heightening,” Bank of Japan board member Hitoshi Suzuki said on Thursday, after data showed the biggest drop in industrial output in a year in January. Readings from South Korea — the first economy in Asia to report trade data each month – were equally grim. Its exports contracted 11.1 percent in February from a year earlier, their biggest drop in nearly three years, with shipments to major buyer China slumping 17.4 percent.

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“Once deeply resistant to Trump, CPAC is now like a religious gathering full of Trump idolatry. “Make America Great Again” (Maga) hats and sweaters are much in evidence..”

CPAC On Socialism, Bernie Sanders And 2020: ‘Trump Will Win, 100%’ (G.)

“The favourite in the Democratic race is Bernie Sanders because the way he makes socialism sound,” said Brandon Morris, 32, wearing a Maga cap. “Most citizens don’t know how the system works; once I tell them, they see it will fall apart.” Morris, a nurse from Gainesville, Florida, who is African American, added: “I’m against socialism because I see it as a form of slavery. The rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris talk about Medicare for All and that will kill doctors’ incentives to work hard. Look at Cuba.” Like Trump, Sanders ran in 2016 warning of a rigged system and the downsides of global trade and, like Trump, he thrived in midwestern states against Hillary Clinton. Less than a week after declaring his 2020 candidacy, Sanders had already raised $10m, well ahead of any of his rivals.

Wearing a Maga cap and stars and stripes jacket, Sam Lee, the communications director of conservative group Grand Opportunity USA, said: “I think Sanders has the ability to generate a base. He’s genuine. It’s the same thing as Trump: they’re very upfront about who they are. But Trump will win, 100%.” Lee rejected candidates such as Harris and Elizabeth Warren as “background noise”, adding: “Every election has people who aren’t going to make it and I don’t think they could.” Fran Wendelboe, the treasurer of the conservative organisation the 603 Alliance in New Hampshire, the first state to hold a primary, said: “Among the young voters, Bernie Sanders still seems popular. I think he still has great traction. Elizabeth Warren doesn’t seem to be getting much – she should get out of the race. But they’re all trampling themselves to get as far to the left as they can. Nobody’s going to beat Trump.”

Mike Wertz, a self-employed property appraiser, said: “It’s hard to run against Santa Claus: Bernie Sanders is Santa Claus because he says he would give everything away free. But Trump is still popular.” Wertz, 52, from Stevensville, Maryland, dismissed the prospects of Joe Biden, the former vice-president who is yet to declare whether he will mount a third bid for the White House. “Biden would get exposed. He stumbles around and says silly things. Trump would bring that out of him; he wouldn’t let Biden get away with it. If Biden said something stupid, Trump would tweet it in about 30 seconds.”

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Just to show you my views are not alone. Jimmy Dore and Aaron Maté.

Someone mailed me yesterday talking about the conservatism of my columns. Never saw that before. And I don’t agree. Raging against the empty narratives of the anti-Trump machine does not make me a Trump supporter. People should read more carefully. The world is not divided into two camps.

Claim Trump Had Prior Knowledge Of WikiLeaks Fails Hilariously (Dore)

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Cohen and the Democrats lost it all when he said at the start he never wanted a White House job.

Trump Says Cohen Lied ‘95% Instead Of 100%’ In Testimony To Congress (G.)

Donald Trump claimed on Thursday that Michael Cohen lied about almost everything during his explosive congressional testimony the day before – but told the truth by saying he had no evidence that Trump colluded with Russia. Speaking in Vietnam after meeting the North Korean leader, Kim Jong un, Trump said Cohen, his former legal fixer, lied “95% instead of 100%” of the time during a hearing of the House oversight committee on Wednesday. “I was impressed,” said Trump. Trump falsely claimed several times that Cohen had testified that there had been “no collusion”. In fact, Cohen said he did not know any “direct evidence” of collusion. “But I have my suspicions,” he told members of Congress.

Trump said of Cohen: “He lied a lot, but it was very interesting, because he didn’t lie about one thing. He said no collusion with the Russian hoax. And I said, ‘I wonder why he didn’t just lie about that too, like he lied about everything else.’” Cohen delivered a scathing account of his 10 years as Trump’s enforcer, calling the president a racist conman, implicating him in a series of felonies and estimating that Cohen had threatened 500 people on Trump’s behalf. He said Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr, had been involved in a criminal conspiracy to pay hush money to a pornographic actor, Stormy Daniels, who alleged she had an affair with the elder Trump. Federal prosecutors in New York continue to investigate.

Cohen confirmed that Trump was under federal investigation for undisclosed crimes and warned that Trump may try to cling to power even if his re-election campaign fails next year. He also alleged that Trump knew in advance of plans by WikiLeaks to publish Democratic party emails, which US authorities say were stolen by Russian intelligence operatives, and that Donald Jr was to meet with Russians at Trump Tower. But, Cohen said, he knew of no direct evidence that Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia’s interference in the 2016 election campaign. US intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian operation was aimed at boosting Trump’s chances.

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Trudeau’s riding has lots of SNC-Lavalin jobs. But he may have gone too far.

The Case That Could Bring Down Canada’s Justin Trudeau (G.)

What is going on in Canada? Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, is facing the biggest political scandal of his administration. The affair centres around allegations that his former attorney general, Jody-Wilson Raybould, was improperly pressured by some of his closest advisers to prevent the prosecution of a large Canadian engineering firm over accusations of fraud and bribery. Thus far, the scandal has been politically costly; Gerald Butts, a longtime friend of Trudeau’s, and his closest adviser, resigned two weeks ago. Wilson-Raybould has resigned, too. A handful of polls are showing the scandal is politically unpopular for the governing Liberals – which is worrying for them, given there is a federal election in October.

What is the company accused of? SNC-Lavalin, based in Montreal, is accused of paying C$48m worth of bribes in Libya to Muammar Gaddafi’s family, in order to secure lucrative contracts. The bribery is alleged to have occurred between 2001 and 2011. If found guilty, the company would be barred from bidding on federal projects for a decade. SNC-Lavalin employs nearly 50,000 people worldwide, with 3,400 in Quebec. Company executives have been lobbying fora “deferred prosecution agreement”, which in effect allows them to pay a fine in lieu of a criminal prosecution, with no ban on bidding for contracts. But federal prosectors have decided to pursue a trial.

This is where the scandal is centred: the prime minister and his aides, along with the finance minister, have been accused of pressing Wilson-Raybould to intervene and asking prosecutors to accept a deferred prosecution agreement. Wilson-Raybould declined to override the judgment of her top legal team.

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Nobody is willing to say yes to intervention.

Anti-Maduro Allies Regroup After The Fight For Humanitarian Aid (CNBC)

Venezuela’s opposition has formally urged the international community to keep all options on the table, after deadly clashes broke out in border towns over the weekend. On Saturday, at least three people were killed and hundreds more were left injured, Reuters reported, as opposition activists tried to defy a government ban to bring food supplies, hygiene kits and nutritional supplements into the country. It comes at a time when the South American nation is in the midst of the Western Hemisphere’s worst humanitarian crisis in recent memory. President Donald Trump has consistently refused to rule out the prospect of military intervention in Venezuela and the country’s opposition leader, Juan Guaido, has called on the international community to “keep all options open.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted over the weekend that Washington would “take action against those who oppose the peaceful restoration of democracy in Venezuela.” To be sure, the prospect of U.S.-led military intervention is clearly being signaled as a form of “action.” “I think large-scale U.S. military intervention remains unlikely, though the chances are increasing — that’s worrying,” Tom Long, assistant professor in the department of politics and international studies at the University of Warwick, told CNBC via email. “More than the deadly clashes, what I worry could push towards military action is the lack of options remaining for the opposition and its international allies to increase pressure,” he added.

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We can only guess as to why Chelsea picks the NYT to divulge details about this. We don’t have to guess as to why the NYT picks it up; it wants to repeat this one again:

” In recent years, Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks have become notorious for their role in disseminating Democratic emails stolen by Russian hackers as part of the Russian government’s covert efforts to damage the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help Donald J. Trump win.”

And Chelsea now helps them do it.

Disclosing Subpoena for Testimony, Chelsea Manning Vows to Fight (NYT)

Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst convicted in 2013 of leaking archives of secret military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks, revealed in an interview on Thursday that she had been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury — and vowed to fight it. The subpoena does not say what prosecutors intend to ask her about. But it was issued in the Eastern District of Virginia and comes after prosecutors inadvertently disclosed in November that Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has been charged under seal in that district. Ms. Manning, who provided a copy of the subpoena to The New York Times, said that her legal team would file a motion on Friday morning to quash it, arguing that it would violate her constitutional rights to force her to appear.

She declined to say whether she would cooperate if that failed. “Given what is going on, I am opposing this,” she said. “I want to be very forthright I have been subpoenaed. I don’t know the parameters of the subpoena apart from that I am expected to appear. I don’t know what I’m going to be asked.” [..] Ms. Manning said that her lawyers have been talking about the subpoena with an assistant United States attorney in the Eastern District, Gordon D. Kromberg. After an inadvertent court filing revealed that Mr. Assange has been charged under seal, it was Mr. Kromberg who successfully argued before a judge that any such charges remain a secret and should not be unsealed. Moreover, she said, Mr. Kromberg told her lawyers in vague terms that prosecutors wanted to talk to her about her past statements.

During her court-martial, Ms. Manning delivered a lengthy statement about how she came to copy archives of secret documents and send them to WikiLeaks, including her online interactions with someone who was likely Mr. Assange. “It’s disappointing but not surprising that the government is continuing to pursue criminal charges against Julian Assange, apparently for his role in uncovering and providing the public truthful information about matters of great public interest,” said Barry Pollack, a lawyer for Mr. Assange. [..] In recent years, Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks have become notorious for their role in disseminating Democratic emails stolen by Russian hackers as part of the Russian government’s covert efforts to damage the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help Donald J. Trump win.

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“Since 2003, China has poured more cement every two years than the US managed in the entire 20th century.”

The Grey Wall Of China: Inside The World’s Concrete Superpower (G.)

In the suburbs south of Beijing, what could one day be the world’s busiest airport is rapidly taking shape. Nicknamed “the starfish” due to the striking design by Zaha Hadid Architects, the Beijing Daxing international airport is set to open in October, and could eventually handle more than 100 million passengers a year. While the 52,000-tonne steel exoskeleton covering the airport’s six concourses immediately catches the eye, what lies beneath is familiar to many Chinese mega-projects: concrete – 1.6m cubic metres of it. Located 67km south of the capital, the airport sprawls across 780,000 sq metres – about a third of the size of Edinburgh. It aims to process 72 million passengers a year, and will have four runways by 2025, but there is a longer-term vision for additional runways and talk of 200 million passengers. Beijing’s existing international airport in the north-east, which will stay open, already handles around 96 million passengers a year.


Photograph: Sipa Asia/Rex/Shutterstock

The new airport is just the latest chapter in the story of how China became the concrete superpower of the 21st century. Since 2003, China has poured more cement every two years than the US managed in the entire 20th century. Even after a dip in recent years, China uses almost half the world’s concrete. The construction sector – roads, bridges, railways, urban development and other concrete-and-steel projects – accounted for one-third of the expansion of the Chinese economy in 2017. China is already home to the largest concrete structure in the world – the Three Gorges Dam across the Yangtze River. Sometimes touted as China’s “new Great Wall”, the dam includes 27.2m cubic metres of concrete and its hydroelectric power station is the world’s largest power station in terms of capacity.

Like all of China’s concrete achievements, the Three Gorges Dam has been mired in controversy. Around 1.4 million people were displaced by the project, and there were complaints that the rehousing settlements were inadequate or that compensation money disappeared into local government coffers. More than 100 workers died in the construction process, and archaeological and cultural sites were flooded. None of this prevented Li Yongan, general manager of the Three Gorges Corporation, from declaring in 2006 that the dam was “the grandest project the Chinese people have undertaken in thousands of years”.

Li only had to wait seven more years to be outdone by yet another Chinese feat of concrete. In 2013, the eastern route of the South-to-North Water Diversion Project opened, connecting the Grand Canal in China’s east with the capital in the north. The project is a multi-decade plan to divert the water from China’s lush south to its arid north, where water scarcity is an acute problem. The waterway has already cost around $80bn (£61bn), making it the most expensive infrastructure project in the world. In the first phase alone, it has used more than double the amount of concrete in the Three Gorges Dam: 65m cubic metres. The project ultimately aims to transport fresh water a distance of more than 4,300km.

Read more …

Feb 242019
 



René Magritte The victory 1939

 

‘Irresponsible’ Agents Blamed As Top End Australia Property Plunges 40% (AFR)
China’s Premier Slams Central Bank For Gargantuan Credit Injection (ZH)
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Call For A ‘Living Wage’ Starts In Her Office (Akin)
Our Long Strange Boom (CHS)
Theresa May Insists Brexit ‘Must Not, Will Not’ Be Blocked (PA)
“New Economic or Financial Crisis” in Eurozone Could Start in Italy (DQ)
France Calls On Germany To Ease Arms Export Rules (R.)
Tens Of Thousands March As France’s ‘Yellow Vest’ Protests Rumble On (R.)
The American War on Terror – Now in 80 Countries (Savell)
Kurdish Forces Evacuate Remaining Civilians From Last ISIS Pocket (AFP)
‘Amphibian Plague’ Could Lead To Dangerous New Hybrid Disease (Ind.)
UK Badgers, Stoats And Otters Bounce Back To Long-Term Historical Lows (G.)

 

 

The Venezuela coverage is too obvious and predictable, I’ll leave it alone today.

Who can we blame? Certainly not ourselves.

‘Irresponsible’ Agents Blamed As Top End Australia Property Plunges 40% (AFR)

Prices for some prestigious properties have fallen by more than 40 per cent as vendors rein in their expectations in response to falling demand, tighter credit and lower prices. Buyers’ agents, who represent property buyers, are blaming the reductions on the “irresponsible” and unrealistically high prices set by realtors desperate to win business from sellers. “These price cuts are a result of bad agency practice,” said David Morrell, director of buyers’ agency Morrell Koren. “Professionals should set realistic values that reflect where the market sits.” Mr Morrell said such over-valuations were widespread and were partly driven by real estate agents trying to generate more revenue through advertising campaigns paid for by the vendor, which then generate commissions and other incentives from advertising companies.

The higher the forecast price of a property the more is likely to be spent on advertising. He said elite-end sales in the $10 million to $20 million range remain robust with the biggest issue being lack of new stock. “A lot of agents are losing money. The kickbacks help keep their businesses running,” he said. Properties in top-end suburbs in Sydney and Melbourne have been heavily discounted during sale negotiations or had their advertised prices cut as clearance rates and market pessimism grows. A property in East Melbourne, about 3 kilometres from the central business district, is selling for more than 40 per cent less that what it was listed in the middle of last year. The price for the single-storey Victorian house with two bedrooms and four living spaces is around $3.65 million to about $3.9 million, compared with between $5.75 and $6 million six months ago.

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I must have said it 1000 times: China has relied on shadow banks so much for its ‘growth’, that now it has no more control over them.

China’s Premier Slams Central Bank For Gargantuan Credit Injection (ZH)

Last week many traders were dumbfounded when, just as speculation was building that China was preparing to unleash a massive credit expansion a la Shanghai Accord, Beijing confirmed that it had indeed decided to massively reflate its (and the global) economy, in what may soon be dubbed the Shanghai Accord 2.0, when the PBOC announced it had flooded the economy with a gargantuan 4.64 trillion yuan in various new forms of debt which comprise China’s Total Social Financing in January, including notably, the “shadow” credit which Beijing had been aggressively cracking down on: an aggressive credit expansion which many took as a tacit confirmation that China was losing the fight with deleveraging.

As the following chart from BofA’s Michael Hartnett shows, which puts China’s latest credit expansion in historical context, January’s debt tsunami was vastly greater than China’s credit expansion during both the global financial crisis and the Shanghai Accord.

And while analysts, economists and markets cheered this unprecedented credit generosity by Beijing, [..] it appears that January’s gargantuan credit boost may end up being a one off event, because while China’s credit injection amounting to over 5% of GDP was welcome by global market, it also resulted in a rare public spat between Chinese premier Li Keqiang and the central bank, after he expressed concern about record credit expansion in January, a result of monetary stimulus intended to support flagging economic growth.

[..] the Prime Minister warned of risks from January’s credit deluge: “The increase in total social financing appears rather large on the surface, but if one analyses in detail, a large part of this rise was bill financing and short-term lending. Not only does this potentially create ‘arbitrage’ and ‘empty cycling’ of funds, but it may also bring new potential risks.” He is referring to what we said last Friday, when we noted that a big part of the TSF surge was the result of a fresh shadow banking expansion. The chart below indicates that Beijing may have thrown in the towel on its crackdown in Shadow Banking, which after contracting for almost all of 2018, not only rose for the first time in 11 months, but soared the most in nearly two years as Chinese regulators now appear focused on providing credit using the very same channels they spent the past two years desperately trying to block.

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As all the smart money will condemn AOC, she makes a smart move.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Call For A ‘Living Wage’ Starts In Her Office (Akin)

Ocasio-Cortez, who has called on fellow lawmakers to pay their staffs a “living wage,” is making an example out of her own office. The New York Democrat has introduced an unusual policy that no one on her staff will make less than $52,000 a year — an almost unheard of amount for many of the 20-somethings whose long hours make House and Senate offices run. For Pagon Marchena, 22, the pay bump meant an end to a grueling, seven-day-a-week work schedule that was wearing down her resolve to stay in Washington, where rents average more than $2,000 a month. “It was unsustainable,” she said. “I needed an office that was going to pay me a fair wage.”

[..] House lawmakers agreed to minor increases for fiscal years 2017 and 2019 in the amount of money appropriated to members’ offices for staffer pay and other expenses, called Members’ Representational Allowances, or MRAs. The total budget of $574 million in fiscal 2019 is still below a high of $660 million in fiscal 2010, according to the Congressional Research Service. [..] Ocasio-Cortez is trying to force the conversation. She made national headlines in December by announcing that all interns in her office would make $15 an hour plus benefits — a rarity for Capitol Hill offices in which interns are often unpaid. She has also highlighted the high number of Hill staff members who work side jobs to make up for median salaries as low as $35,000 for staff assistants, the lowest paid positions in congressional offices… “We think that if a person is working, they should make enough to live,” said Corbin Trent, Ocasio-Cortez’s communications director.

[..] because all congressional offices get the same budgets to use for staff pay and other expenses, there is only so much that individual lawmakers can do. Ocasio-Cortez’s solution requires sacrifices for staffers at the top of the pay scale, potentially opening her to criticism from the right that her office policies, like her political identity as a Democratic socialist, call for a form of class warfare. It could also pose challenges to attracting and retaining older employees who have obligations such as mortgages and child care — which in D.C. can cost $23,000 a year for a single child. Salaries in Ocasio-Cortez’s office top out at $80,000, Trent said. That’s well below the median pay for Hill chiefs of staff at $154,634, according to the Legistorm analysis. And it’s a fraction of what experienced staffers could make in other jobs in Washington.

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So, think Charles is an AOC fan?

Our Long Strange Boom (CHS)

It’s been a long, strange economic boom since the nadir of the Global Financial Meltdown in 2009. A 10-year long boom that saw the S&P 500 rise from 666 in early 2009 to 2,780 and GDP rise by 43% has been slightly more uneven for most participants. First and most importantly, household income hasn’t risen by the same percentages as assets, GDP or costs of big-ticket expenses such as rent, healthcare and college tuition. The broadest measure of income, median household income, has registered a 23% increase in the past decade, roughly half of GDP gains and a mere fraction of stock market and housing gains.

[..] The bottom quintile (20%) registered income gains of 20% from 2009 to 2017, while the middle quintile (roughly speaking, the middle class) gained 25.5% and the top 5% enjoyed a 31.6% gain. The raw numbers tell the story in a slightly more visceral fashion: Upper limit of bottom quintile: $24,638 up 20% since 2009 Upper limit of middle quintile: $77,552 up 25.5% since 2009 Lower limit of top 5%: $237,034 up 31.6% since 2009 (the median household income is much higher–around $350,000 according to Household Income Quintiles the Tax Policy Center.)

So the top 5% earn at a minimum 10 times the lowest quintile income and around 4 or 5 times the middle quintile income. Here in Northern California, this has manifested in rapidly expanding homeless encampments a stone’s throw away from new luxury rental apartments charging $3,000 and up for one-bedroom flats and $4,000 and up for two-bedroom flats. Meanwhile, the streets are filled with potholes and cracks. Maintaining streets–presumably one of the core missions of local government–is simply not being done in a timely manner. Major streets are in such disrepair that local businesses have taken to raising banners demanding “pave our street now.”

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Cut it out already! How are we going to survive the next 5 weeks?

Theresa May Insists Brexit ‘Must Not, Will Not’ Be Blocked (PA)

Theresa May has vowed to Tory grassroots activists that she will not allow the referendum vote for Britain to leave the EU to be frustrated. The prime minister is flying to Egypt for an EU-League of Arab States summit where she is expected to hold talks with key EU figures as she battles to break the deadlock in the Brexit talks. Downing Street has played down hopes of a breakthrough during the course of the two-day gathering in the Red Sea resort, despite the presence of major players including the European Council president, Donald Tusk. The prime minister is pressing for changes to the Northern Ireland backstop which she hopes will finally convince MPs to back her Withdrawal Agreement following last month’s crushing Commons defeat.

Ahead of her departure, No 10 released details of her speech to a closed meeting of the National Conservative Convention (NCC) in Oxford on Saturday, when she told supporters the government’s focus on delivering Brexit must be “absolute”. Her comments came after three pro-EU cabinet ministers signalled they could back moves in parliament to delay Britain’s withdrawal to prevent a “disastrous” no-deal break. The intervention by Amber Rudd, Greg Clark and David Gauke led to calls for their resignations by furious Tory Brexiters – comments said to have been echoed in private by some cabinet ministers. Northern minister John Penrose warned taking no-deal off the table could undermine May’s efforts to secure concessions on the backstop.

“It could torpedo Brexit completely, leaving us in a ‘Hotel California’ Brexit, where we’d checked out but could never leave,” he said in an article for the Sunday Telegraph. “We’d have built an enormous elephant trap for ourselves, and there’d be no way to climb out.”

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“Italy’s government is perfectly cognizant that French, German and Spanish banks are now far too exposed to Italian debt for their respective governments to even entertain the idea of pushing Italy to the edge.”

“New Economic or Financial Crisis” in Eurozone Could Start in Italy (DQ)

“Don’t underestimate the impact of the Italian recession.” This was the stark warning from French Economy Minister Bruno Le Marie in an interview with Bloomberg News. “We talk a lot about Brexit, but we don’t talk much about an Italian recession that will have a significant impact on growth in Europe and can impact France because it’s one of our most important trading partners.” Italy’s economy as measured in real GDP shrank for two quarters in a row, which puts it into a “technical recession”. It’s the second time in four months that France’s Economy Minister has expressed deep concern about the Italian economy in public.

At the end of October he urged the commission to “reach out to Italy” after the EU’s executive had rejected the country’s draft 2019 budget for breaking EU rules on public spending. Le Maire also conceded at the time that while contagion in the Eurozone was definitely contained, the Eurozone “is not sufficiently armed to face a new economic or financial crisis.” The French government is now openly worried that such a crisis could begin in Italy. The economies of both Italy and France are tightly interwoven, with annual trade flows of around €90 billion. More important still, French banks are, by a long shot, the biggest owners of Italian public and private debt, with total holdings of €311 billion as of the 3rd quarter of 2018, according to the BIS — up €34 billion from the 1st quarter of 2018.

Italy’s government is perfectly cognizant that French, German and Spanish banks are now far too exposed to Italian debt for their respective governments to even entertain the idea of pushing Italy to the edge. That knowledge is fueling the coalition government’s bravado, with some lawmakers now even talking about nationalizing Italy’s central bank, the Bank of Italy, for a total sum of €155,000 and taking control of its assets, including Italy’s large pile of gold.

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In France the arms industry has much more power than in Germany. WWII is a factor in that.

France Calls On Germany To Ease Arms Export Rules (R.)

French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Sunday that Germany should ease its strict arms export rules for countries outside the European Union to strengthen the defense industry. France has complained that joint arms manufacturing projects are being stalled by Berlin’s refusal to authorize future arms export licenses to Saudi Arabia, a major buyer. Germany said in November it would reject future arms export licenses to Riyadh over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It has not formally banned previously approved deals but has urged industry to refrain from such shipments for now.

“It is useless to produce weapons through improved cooperation between France and Germany if we are unable to export them,” Le Maire told Welt am Sonntag newspaper. “If you want to be competitive and efficient, we need to be able to export to countries outside Europe,” Le Maire said. The minister said France also had relatively strict rules for arms exports. “Our hope is that we will come to an agreement with Germany in this crucial point,” Le Maire said. Germany and France are working on a joint proposal for arms export guidelines to non-European countries. Angela Merkel said in January the EU must deepen cooperation in defense and in particular weapons systems development, warning Germans that they may need to make compromises on strict export controls.

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As usual, hard to get decent coverage of Acte XV.

But Reuters does feel compelled to report increasing numbers of protesters.

While Macron is taking selfies with farm animals.

Tens Of Thousands March As France’s ‘Yellow Vest’ Protests Rumble On (R.)

Tens of thousands of people marched on Saturday in Paris and other cities and dozens were arrested as France’s “yellow vest” movement staged its 15th consecutive weekend of demonstrations against the government. Some 46,600 people joined the protests nationwide, including 5,800 in the capital, the Interior Ministry said. That was up from 41,500 last week, with 5,000 in Paris. Demonstrations have generally gotten smaller since a peak in December when the French capital saw some of the worst rioting, vandalism and looting in decades. Police said 28 people were arrested in Paris, but protesters marched mostly peacefully through the capital’s wealthier neighborhoods surrounded by a heavy police presence.

As the march wound down, scuffles broke out and police used tear gas to disperse crowds at the Place du Trocadero overlooking the Seine river and across from the Eiffel Tower. Some 18 people were also arrested in the central city of Clermont-Ferrand and potentially dangerous objects were seized ahead of a march in which police said 2,500 participated. Another 18 people were arrested in the western city of Rennes where six police officers were slightly injured and six protesters were hurt by large riot control pellets fired by police. The movement has posed the biggest challenge to Macron’s authority since he came to office in May 2017, although it faces increased infighting as some members have sought to run in upcoming European Parliament elections.

Macron’s popularity has recovered from lows reached in the wake of violent clashes during protests in December, after he launched a series of debates across the country aimed at reconnecting with voters particularly in rural areas. He received a mostly warm welcome on Saturday at an annual farm show in Paris, taking selfies with the public and chatting with farmers as he strolled for hours among the crowd and animals.

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Impossible not to think of the last days of Rome.

The American War on Terror – Now in 80 Countries (Savell)

When I first set out to map all the places in the world where the United States is still fighting terrorism so many years later, I didn’t think it would be that hard to do. This was before the 2017 incident in Niger in which four American soldiers were killed on a counterterror mission and Americans were given an inkling of how far-reaching the war on terrorism might really be. I imagined a map that would highlight Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Syria – the places many Americans automatically think of in association with the war on terror – as well as perhaps a dozen less-noticed countries like the Philippines and Somalia. I had no idea that I was embarking on a research odyssey that would, in its second annual update, map U.S. counterterror missions in 80 countries in 2017 and 2018, or 40% of the nations on this planet (a map first featured in Smithsonian magazine).

As co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, I’m all too aware of the costs that accompany such a sprawling overseas presence. Our project’s research shows that, since 2001, the U.S. war on terror has resulted in the loss — conservatively estimated — of almost half a million lives in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan alone. By the end of 2019, we also estimate that Washington’s global war will cost American taxpayers no less than $5.9 trillion already spent and in commitments to caring for veterans of the war throughout their lifetimes.

In general, the American public has largely ignored these post-9/11 wars and their costs. But the vastness of Washington’s counterterror activities suggests, now more than ever, that it’s time to pay attention. [..] That our counterterror missions are so extensive and their costs so staggeringly high should prompt Americans to demand answers to a few obvious and urgent questions: Is this global war truly making Americans safer? Is it reducing violence against civilians in the U.S. and other places?

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Origianl AFP title: “Syria force to pluck more civilians from last IS pocket”. But are the Kuds a ‘Syria force’?

Kurdish Forces Evacuate Remaining Civilians From Last ISIS Pocket (AFP)

US-backed fighters said Saturday they are keeping a corridor open to rescue remaining civilians from the Islamic State group’s last speck of territory in Syria, as the UN appealed for urgent assistance. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have evacuated nearly 5,000 men, women and children from the jihadist holdout since Wednesday, bringing the SDF closer to retaking the less than half a square kilometre still under IS control. “On our side, the corridor is open and we hope a larger number of civilians will arrive but that depends on IS fighters and whether they will give civilians a chance to exit,” SDF spokesman Adnan Afrin told AFP at their Al-Omar base. He said the SDF had evacuated “more than 2,000 people, including women, children and men” on Friday, mostly wives and children of IS fighters.

Nearly 2,500 people arrived the same day at a Kurdish-run camp for the displaced further north, compounding dire conditions inside the already crammed settlement, the UN’s humanitarian coordination office OCHA said. It warned of the “huge challenges” posed by the influx. More than four years after IS overran large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq and declared a “caliphate”, they have lost all but a tiny patch in the village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border. Some 2,000 people are believed to remain inside Baghouz, according to the SDF. The force says it is trying to evacuate remaining civilians through a corridor before pressing on with a battle to crush the jihadists unless holdout fighters surrender.

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Life just continues on its way toward extinction. But we live in cities, so how would we know?

‘Amphibian Plague’ Could Lead To Dangerous New Hybrid Disease (Ind.)

The team that cracked the case of the “amphibian plague” devastating frog and toad populations around the world are worried that worse is still to come. A killer fungus known as Bd has triggered a mass amphibian extinction that has spread across every continent and been described as among the worst infectious diseases ever recorded. Scientists have described rainforests struck silent as the plague wiped out entire populations of local frogs in mere months, stifling their night-time chorus of croaks. At least 200 frog species are thought to have been driven to extinction since the 1970s, with particularly heavy losses in Bd-infested parts of Latin America.

Intense research efforts have identified the disease and traced it to its source in east Asia, and local conservation groups have worked tirelessly to quarantine the fragmented populations that remain. However, with the international trade in amphibians continuing unabated, the team credited with discovering the disease are concerned about what the future may bring. In particular, the melding of different Bd strains from around the world has the potential to create hybrids that are even deadlier than current incarnations. [..] “If we keep hauling amphibians back and forth, you don’t know what the outcome is going to be, you might get something that’s more pathogenic [capable of causing disease],” said Dr Joyce Longcore, the scientist who first identified the unusual aquatic fungus known as Bd.


Photograph: Jamie Voyles

Unless you stop international travel and international trade, things like this are going to continue, and you can make your rules stronger for trade but if you have any volume at all something is going to get through.” For decades amphibians have been traded for food, as pets, or even – in the case of the African clawed frog – for use in crude pregnancy tests. This transport of living amphibians has already been identified as the trigger for the original Bd outbreak, and recent lab tests revealed hybrid forms emerging in Brazil and South Africa that appear to be deadlier than the original.

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Presented as ‘incredible revival’, but that’s just nonsense.

Just stop polluting your land to grow food. That’s all it is.

UK Badgers, Stoats And Otters Bounce Back To Long-Term Historical Lows (G.)

They must survive government culls, gamekeepers, poisoning, persecution and increasingly busy roads but, in modern times at least, Britain’s carnivores have never had it so good: badger, otter, pine marten, polecat, stoat and weasel populations have “markedly improved” since the 1960s, according to a new study. The otter, polecat and pine marten have bounced back from the brink of extinction, and the country’s only carnivorous mammal now in danger of being wiped out is the wildcat, with the dwindling Scottish populations hit by hybridisation with domestic and feral cats.

Britain’s carnivores have largely “done it for themselves” and recovered often unexpectedly quickly after a reduction in harmful human activities – hunting, trapping and the use of toxic chemicals – according to scientists from Exeter University, Vincent Wildlife Trust and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. But the scientists warn that, while carnivore populations have recovered over the course of a human lifetime, most are still at long-term historical lows, with much more scope for recovery in distribution and density. “Carnivores have recovered in a way that would have seemed incredibly unlikely in the 1970s, when extinction of some species looked like a real possibility,” said lead author Katie Sainsbury from the Environment and Sustainability Institute at Exeter University.

“Most of these species have essentially recovered by themselves, once pressures from predator controls and pollutants were reduced, and it’s taken them a while. Yes, there are more of them now than in most people’s lifetimes, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t potential for populations to grow and spread further.” The reasons for each carnivore’s recovery are different. Otters were harmed by organochlorine pesticides washed into rivers but have returned to every English county since the pesticides were banned and hunting was outlawed in 1978. There are now an estimated 11,000.

Polecat numbers have risen to 83,000 in the decades since a 1958 ban on gin traps, which were once used to control rabbits and also widely caught polecats. Polecat populations moved eastwards at about three miles a year between 1975 and 2015, finally returning to the south-east, Midlands and East Anglia. Badger populations are estimated to have doubled since the 1980s, assisted by a decline in persecution since their legal protection in 1973 and protection of setts in 1992. Researchers also believe that milder winters caused by climate change are helping badgers survive the season in better shape and raise more cubs.


Pine marten. Photograph: Nature Picture Library/Alamy

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Jul 282016
 
 July 28, 2016  Posted by at 8:11 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Marion Post Wolcott Main Street. Sheridan, Wyoming 1941

Beijing’s Property Sales Surge 65% In 2015 (R.)
How a Chinese Highway Became a Boulevard of Broken Dreams (WSJ)
China Shadow Banking Assets Grew 30% In 2015 (R.)
An Auction House Learns the Art of Shadow Banking (BBG)
Japan’s Real Problem Is Too Much Debt (720G)
Can the World Deal With a New Bank Crisis? (Satyajit Das)
Wolfgang Schäuble Bails Out Spain, Portugal (Pol.)
Households on the Hook for Italy’s Next Bailout (BBG)
Buying Longer Bonds Holds Danger (WSJ)
Trump Draws Ire After Urging Russia To Find ‘Missing’ Clinton Emails (R.)
In Clash Of Billionaires, Bloomberg Calls Trump White House Race ‘A Con’ (R.)
IRS Launches Investigation Of Clinton Foundation (DC)
Turkey Shuts Down 45 Newspapers, 16 TV Stations (AP)
Taxes On Apple’s Offshore Assets Would Cover Most Of US Education Budget (MW)
The Slot Machine in Your Pocket (Spiegel)

 

 

Government blows bubble. Rinse and repeat.

Beijing’s Property Sales Surge 65% In 2015 (R.)

Property sales in Beijing rose 64.8% in 2015, boosted by more favorable housing policies, according to a real estate white paper released by the city’s government. Increased government stimulus sparked a sharp reversal in the market after sales volumes fell 30% in 2014, the white paper said. The benchmark interest rate for housing loans also dropped to its lower level in almost a decade, after several interest rate cuts, the paper noted. “The country’s housing credit and tax policies have been at their most favorable levels in recent years,” the paper said.

The number of newly-built commercial homes and existing stock sold in Beijing increased 26% and 90.7% respectively year-on-year in 2015, according to the paper published by Beijing Municipal Commission of Housing and Urban-Rural Development. China reported slightly stronger-than-expected economic growth in the second quarter as the housing boom and a government infrastructure building spree boosted demand for materials from cement to steel. But recent data has also indicated that property investment growth is cooling. Some of the country’s biggest cities have had to impose curbs on property purchases as sharp price rises raise fears of possible asset bubbles.

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This bubble is popping, though.

How a Chinese Highway Became a Boulevard of Broken Dreams (WSJ)

A highway project here that is four years behind schedule and hundreds of millions of dollars over budget helps explain why Beijing s effort to raise infrastructure spending is an increasingly ineffective way to boost the economy. When construction on the Chang An Expressway began in 2008 it seemed a sure bet. Its private partners stood to collect decades of lucrative toll revenue. The economy and the environment would benefit by slashing three hours off a four-hour trip. But the project, in central Hunan province, has been beset by financial problems, resident protests and a corruption probe, issues that also have hindered hundreds of other projects in China.

Such setbacks are hurting Beijing s efforts to halt a decline in economic growth that is rippling across the globe and threatening political stability at home. China also is drawing less benefit from the infrastructure projects it completes. After a 15-year period in which the country built thousands of roads, airports, bridges and buildings, the economic benefit of adding even more is decidedly less valuable. Local governments’ heavy debt loads from prior stimulus efforts are further obstructing China’s efforts to stimulate the economy with infrastructure spending. More of their borrowed money is going to pay back previous loans. Many of these projects lose money, adding still more debt.

The upshot: China needed twice as much investment per unit of growth in 2015 as it did in 2010, official data show. This hasn’t stopped Beijing from doubling down on infrastructure spending as exports, manufacturing and other growth engines sputter. The government plans to spend $749 billion on transport projects over the next three years, compared with $171 billion worth built last year.

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Crackdown? Only in name. China is addicted to the shadows.

China Shadow Banking Assets Grew 30% In 2015 (R.)

Shadow banking activity in China has expanded further and now accounts for nearly a third of the total banking sector assets, raising financial risks in the world’s second-largest economy, rating agency Moody’s Investor Service said on Wednesday. Shadow banking assets in China increased by 30% last year, reaching almost 54 trillion yuan (6.17 trillion pounds), according to Moody’s estimates. That is equivalent to about 78% of China’s total economic output and 27.6% of its banking assets. In 2011, shadow banking products accounted for 17.2% of total banking assets, and the share grew to 24.3% in 2014. China’s crackdown on risky practices in the thinly regulated shadow banking system has taken on fresh urgency amid a growing number of corporate defaults, and as policymakers appear worried about the risks of relying on too much debt-fuelled stimulus.

Despite this, shadow banking’s share in bank loans and total bank assets has expanded rapidly, as sectors and firms reeling from overcapacity and poor credit profiles turn to other sources of funding, and investors hunt for higher yields. “The rise in overall leverage and further expansion of shadow banking activity are pushing up financial risks,” said the Moody’s report, adding the growth highlights “spillover risks” to the financial system due to its interconnectedness. Years of breakneck growth for China’s top insurers have been partly fuelled by a splurge on shadow banking-linked products that could punch multi-billion-dollar holes in their balance sheets, a Reuters analysis showed.

Mid-tier Chinese banks are also increasingly using complex instruments to make new loans and restructure existing loans that are then shown as low-risk investments on balance sheets, masking the scale and risks of the slowing economy. The takeover tussle embroiling top Chinese developer China Vanke has also showed how local banks are increasingly exposed to highly volatile domestic stock markets through shadow lending products. “The increasing size of the shadow banking system means that during a disorderly contraction, banks could have difficulty replacing shadow banking credit, leaving borrowers who rely on such financing at risk of a credit crunch,” Moody’s said.

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Shadow banking comes in many different guises.

An Auction House Learns the Art of Shadow Banking (BBG)

A year before he got caught up in a U.S. money-laundering investigation, Malaysian financier Jho Low was looking to borrow more than $100 million without having to answer all the nosy know-your-customer questions required by U.S. banks such as JPMorgan Chase. “Prefer the boutique banks that can move fast vs the large ones like JPM,” Low wrote on March 13, 2014, to an employee of a private art dealership that had sold him a painting by Claude Monet for $35 million a few months earlier. The lender “can take all the art no problems,” he wrote the next day. “All in Geneva free port. Speed is the most important and one with a fairly quick and relaxed kyc process.”

Low got his money a month later, not from a bank but from Sotheby’s, an auction house that isn’t subject to the same money-laundering scrutiny by regulators. He pledged 17 works of art, valued between $191.6 million and $258.3 million, to secure a $107 million loan, according to a U.S. Justice Department complaint filed July 20 in an effort to seize more than $1 billion of assets allegedly siphoned from a Malaysian state fund. As prices for art skyrocketed, Sotheby’s and other firms have become shadow banks, making millions of dollars of legal loans outside the regulated financial system and raising concerns that such financing could facilitate money laundering. Sotheby’s tripled lending to $682 million over the four years ended in 2015.

Last year it almost doubled, to $1 billion, a revolving credit facility provided by banks including JPMorgan and HSBC that it can use to make loans. “One way to launder is to use art as a security for a loan,” said David Hall, who spent 10 years as a special prosecutor for the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Art Crime Team and is now a partner at law firm Wiggin & Dana. Hall, who wouldn’t comment about Sotheby’s or the Low case, said the aim is to use ill-gotten funds to purchase assets that can be used as collateral for a loan. “The level of scrutiny you’ll receive from a bank is much higher than you will receive from an auction house.”

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It’s everybody’s real problem, but even more so for Japan.

Japan’s Real Problem Is Too Much Debt (720G)

The Japanese economy has been the poster child for economic malaise and bad fortune for so long that even the most radical policy responses no longer garner much attention. In fact, recent policy actions intended to weaken the Yen have resulted in significant appreciation of the yen against the currencies of Japan’s major trade partners, further crippling economic activity. The frustration of an appreciating currency coupled with deflation and zero economic growth has produced signs that what Japan has in store for the world falls squarely in to the category of “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” Assuming new fiscal and monetary policies will be similar to those enacted in the past is a big risk that should be contemplated by investors.

The Japanese economy has been fighting weak growth and deflationary forces for over 25 years. Japan’s equity market and real estate bubbles burst in the first week of 1990, presaging deflation and stagnant economic growth ever since. Despite countless monetary and fiscal efforts to combat these economic ailments, nothing seems to work. Any economist worth his salt has multiple reasons for the depth and breadth of these issues but very few get to the heart of the problem. The typical analysis suggests that weak growth in Japan is primarily being caused by weak demand. Over the last 25 years, insufficient demand, or a lack of consumption, has been addressed by increasingly incentivizing the population and the government to consume more by taking on additional debt.

That incentive is produced via lower interest rates. If demand really is the problem, however, then some version of these policies should have worked, but to date they have not. If the real problem, however, is too much debt, which at 255% of Japan’s GDP seems a reasonable assumption to us, then the misdiagnoses and resulting ill-designed policy response leads to even slower growth, more persistent deflationary pressures and exacerbates the original problem.

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Not much choice.

Can the World Deal With a New Bank Crisis? (Satyajit Das)

As Europe braces for the release of its bank stress tests on Friday, the world could be on the verge of another banking crisis. The signs are obvious to all. The World Bank estimates the ratio of non-performing loans to total gross loans in 2015 reached 4.3%. Before the 2009 global financial crisis, they stood at 4.2%. If anything, the problem is starker now than then: There are more than $3 trillion in stressed loan assets worldwide, compared to the roughly $1 trillion of U.S. subprime loans that triggered the 2009 crisis. European banks are saddled with $1.3 trillion in non-performing loans, nearly $400 billion of them in Italy. The IMF estimates that risky loans in China also total $1.3 trillion, although private forecasts are higher. India’s stressed loans top $150 billion.

Once again, banks in the US, Canada, UK, several European countries, Asia, Australia and New Zealand are heavily exposed to property markets, which are overvalued by historical measures. In addition, banks have significant exposure to the troubled resource sector: Lending to the energy sector alone totals around $3 trillion globally. Borrowers are struggling to service that debt in an environment of falling commodity prices, weak growth, overcapacity, rising borrowing costs and (in some cases) a weaker currency. To make matters worse, the world’s limp recovery since 2009 is intensifying loan stresses. In advanced economies, low growth and disinflation or deflation is making it harder for companies to pay off what they owe. Many European firms are suffering from a lack of global competitiveness, exacerbated by the effects of the single currency.

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Greece should sue him over this.

Wolfgang Schäuble Bails Out Spain, Portugal (Pol.)

Ahead of Wednesday’s meeting of the EU’s 27 commissioners, Spain and Portugal looked to be headed for the eurozone’s version of politically embarrassing fiscal purgatory. There was no question that the Iberian duo’s budget deficits were in blatant breach of the single currency zone’s rules. Momentum was growing for the Commission to impose, for the first time ever, a fine totaling in the millions of euros. Even Jean-Claude Juncker, the Commission chief, had seemingly changed his previously skeptical views on sanctions, pushing his colleagues in recent weeks to enforce the rules and shore up Brussels’ credibility on eurozone governance. Then salvation arrived from an unlikely source: Wolfgang Schäuble.

The German finance minister, curmudgeonly fiscal hawk and scourge of spendthrift southern Europeans, broke with public type in a concerted, last-minute campaign to stop the sanctions, according to people familiar with his actions. Over the past weeks and days, Schäuble worked the phones and used personal encounters, pressing commissioners on the fence, mostly from his own center-right political block, to cancel the threatened fine. The behind-the-scenes intervention was driven by political considerations particular to this moment that trumped Schäuble’s long-standing demands for the eurozone nations to keep their budgets in order and abide by commonly agreed rules.

[..] As the consensus grew against a fine, Juncker urged the participants to make clear to the outside world why Brussels ducked, once again, imposing sanctions on rule breakers. “We must not be more Catholic than the Pope, but please make it known that the Pope wanted a fine of zero,” Juncker said, speaking in French at the closed-door meeting, according to a source in the room.

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And now Schäuble can save Italy too.

Households on the Hook for Italy’s Next Bailout (BBG)

While the stability of Italy’s banks has been a front-burner issue for policy makers since the first tremors of the global financial crisis, the result of stress tests on Friday could usher in the final stage of solving their predicament. Retail investors own almost half of the most vulnerable securities, a legacy of banks using their customers as a piggy bank for cheap funding. UniCredit declined to comment on Imperatore’s recollection. The bank’s subordinated bonds available to retail investors trade close to par, indicating investors don’t expect to suffer losses. The bank is considering raising as much as €5 billion from shareholders and selling its entire stake in Poland’s Bank Pekao to raise capital, people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

At the zenith of the financial crisis, between July 2007 and June 2009, 80% of Italian banks’ bonds were sold to retail investors, according to regulator Consob. Through savers, banks funded themselves at a similar cost to the Italian government, whereas they gave professional money managers an extra%age point in debt interest, the 2010 report found. The channel of selling junior bonds to savers has virtually shut this year. So far in 2016, only one Italian bank, Mediobanca, has sold subordinated debt with an initial investment designed to attract small-scale investors – selling €200 million of junior bonds with a minimum denomination of €1,000. In the same period last year 10 banks sold €1.4 billion of notes with the same minimum subscription size.

Still, Italian savers held €31 billion of subordinated bank bonds as of October, more than double the €13 billion in the hands of foreign investors, according to the Bank of Italy. That translates to about €1,260 of the junior bank debt for every household in Italy. Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, which has more than €27 billion of toxic loans on its books and needs to be recapitalized, has about €5 billion of junior debt.

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“..if yields merely rise back to where they started the year, it would be catastrophic for those who have chased longer duration. The 30-year Treasury would lose 14% of its value, while Japan’s 40-year would lose a quarter of its value..”

Buying Longer Bonds Holds Danger (WSJ)

Investors in Japan’s 40-year bond have lost 24 years of coupon income in just three weeks as the rush into long-dated safe government paper went into sharp reverse. At one level, the 10% fall in the price of the longest-dated Japanese government bond is just a correction after this year’s extraordinary rally, which delivered returns of more than 50% before the pullback. At another, it highlights something dangerous at work in today’s markets: the scale of the risks investors are willing to take as they try to avoid anything that depends on economic growth. Japan’s bond selloff was worse than other markets’, as investors prepared for next week’s ¥28 trillion ($268 billion) spending and tax-cut package and a possible further Bank of Japan stimulus this Friday.

U.S., U.K. and German bond prices have also dropped since early July, though by less, as global demand weakened for long-duration assets. The demand for safe assets with a long duration—a proxy for how long it takes an investor to get his money back—was mirrored in stocks and corporate bonds. Rather than search out the highest-yielding assets, investors looked for those with secure yield, even if it was lower. So this year, triple-A-rated corporate bonds have outperformed double-A or single-A bonds, according to Barclays data. The same applied for junk bonds, with the higher ratings outperforming lower ones. (An exception was bonds close to or already in default, which were mainly energy companies and so were boosted by the rising oil price.)

[..] if yields merely rise back to where they started the year, it would be catastrophic for those who have chased longer duration. The 30-year Treasury would lose 14% of its value, while Japan’s 40-year would lose a quarter of its value, equal to 63 years of coupons. Has the long-run economic outlook really changed so much since January?

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Excuse me? That post is already taken: “..The Clinton campaign shot back that Trump was posing a possible national security threat..”

Trump Draws Ire After Urging Russia To Find ‘Missing’ Clinton Emails (R.)

Republican Donald Trump on Wednesday invited Russia to dig up tens of thousands of “missing” emails from Hillary Clinton’s time at the U.S. State Department, vexing intelligence experts and prompting Democrats to accuse him of urging foreigners to spy on Americans. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, told reporters. Trump made the remark at a testy news conference at his Doral golf resort in Florida that allowed him to steal some of the limelight from the Philadelphia convention where Clinton on Thursday will accept the Democratic presidential nomination for the Nov. 8 election.

The Clinton campaign shot back that Trump was posing a possible national security threat by encouraging a foreign power to conduct espionage in the United States. Some intelligence experts said the comments raised questions about Trump’s judgment. A spokesman for Trump, Jason Miller, tried to tamp down the storm of protest, saying Trump did not urge Russia to hack Clinton’s emails. Trump said on Twitter that if anyone had Clinton’s emails, “perhaps they should share them with the FBI!” The criticism of Trump’s comments reverberated at the Democratic National Convention where speakers brought up the episode to try to intensify Democratic support for Clinton, who is running neck and neck with Trump in the polls.

“Donald Trump today once again took Russia’s side. He asked the Russians to interfere in American politics,” longtime Clinton supporter and former CIA Director Leon Panetta said. “Donald Trump … is asking one of our adversaries to engage in hacking or intelligence efforts against the United States of America to affect the election.” Another speaker, retired U.S. Rear Admiral John Hutson, said of Trump: “This morning, he personally invited Russia to hack us. That’s not law and order, that’s criminal intent.”

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You ain’t helping, Mikey…

In Clash Of Billionaires, Bloomberg Calls Trump White House Race ‘A Con’ (R.)

New York media mogul Michael Bloomberg assailed fellow billionaire Donald Trump on Wednesday, calling his U.S. presidential race a “con” and ripping into his history of bankruptcies and lawsuits. “Trump says he wants to run the nation like he’s running his business? God help us,” Bloomberg told the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia to roaring applause. “I’m a New Yorker and I know a con when I see one.” Formerly a Republican and now an independent, Bloomberg was for the most part greeted warmly by the audience in the Wells Fargo Center arena where he threw his support behind the Democrats’ presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.

The owner of the Bloomberg media empire and a former New York City mayor, Bloomberg was an odd choice for a speaker at the Democratic conclave, where many party progressives have railed against the influence of billionaires in politics. “Let me thank all of you for welcoming an outsider here, to deliver what will be an unconventional convention speech,” he said when he took the stage, eliciting cheers. “I am not here as a member of any party. I am here for one reason: to explain why I believe it is imperative that we elect Hillary Clinton as the next president of the United States.” Bloomberg had considered running for the White House as an independent this year but dropped the idea in March, saying it could increase the chances Trump would win.

Bloomberg has known Trump casually for years and twice appeared on Trump’s reality TV show “The Apprentice.” But since Trump entered the race for president in June 2015, Bloomberg has taken issue with him, lashing out at his policies and fiery rhetoric, especially his call to ban Muslims from entering the country and his promise to wall off the Mexican border and deport millions of undocumented foreigners.

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If they can get the FBI to stop, what good would the IRS be?

IRS Launches Investigation Of Clinton Foundation (DC)

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen referred congressional charges of corrupt Clinton Foundation “pay-to-play” activities to his tax agency’s exempt operations office for investigation, The Daily Caller News Foundation has learned. The request to investigate the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation on charges of “public corruption” was made in a July 15 letter by 64 House Republicans to the IRS, FBI and Federal Trade Commission (FTC). They charged the foundation is “lawless.” The initiative is being led by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican who serves as the vice chairwoman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which oversees FTC. The FTC regulates public charities alongside the IRS.

The lawmakers charged the Clinton Foundation is a “lawless ‘pay-to-play’ enterprise that has been operating under a cloak of philanthropy for years and should be investigated.” Koskinen’s July 22 reply came only a week after the House Republicans contacted the tax agency. It arrived to their offices Monday, the first opening day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. “We have forwarded the information you have submitted to our Exempt Organizations Program in Dallas,” Koskinen told the Republicans. The Exempt Organization Program is the division of the IRS that regulates the operations of public foundations and charities.

It’s the same division that was led by former IRS official Lois Lerner when hundreds of conservative, evangelical and tea party non-profit applicants were illegally targeted and harassed by tax officials. Blackburn told TheDCNF she believes the IRS has a double standard because, “they would go after conservative groups and religious groups and organizations, but they wouldn’t be looking at the Clinton Foundation for years. It was as if they choose who they are going to audit and question. It’s not right.” Blackburn said she and her colleagues will “continue to push” for answers on the Clinton Foundation’s governing policies, including its insular board of directors. She said they also will examine conflicts of interest and “follow the money trail.”

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No schools, no papers, no TV. How does that country run?

Turkey Shuts Down 45 Newspapers, 16 TV Stations (AP)

Turkey’s state run news agency says close to 1,700 officers have been formally discharged from the military following the country’s failed coup. Anadolu Agency also says the government has decided to close down dozens of media organizations, including 45 newspapers and 16 television stations. The government says a U.S.-based Muslim cleric is behind the failed uprising by a faction within the military that led to some 290 deaths on July 15. Thousands have been detained for suspected links to the coup, including Calgary’s Davud Hanci, an imam for the Correctional Service Canada and the Alberta correctional services who went to Turkey with his family on July 7 to visit his ailing father.

Hanci was detained and accused of working for U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey alleges orchestrated the failed July 15 military coup. Gulen has repeatedly denied the claims. Hanci’s friends and family say he is innocent and they fear for his safety. Tens of thousands in Turkey have also been purged from state institutions. Earlier, authorities issued warrants for the detention of 47 former executives or senior journalists of Turkey’s Zaman newspaper for alleged links to Gulen. Such detentions have raised concerns that people could be targeted simply for criticizing the government. The media watchdog Reporters Without Borders condemned Turkey’s purges of journalists, saying they have assumed “increasingly alarming proportions.”

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“Apple and its massive $181.1 billion overseas stash, a $70 billion increase from the prior year.”

Taxes On Apple’s Offshore Assets Would Cover Most Of US Education Budget (MW)

The amount of money stashed overseas by U.S. multinationals has exploded in recent years, doubling between 2008 and 2014 to more than $2 trillion. For some perspective on the numbers, cost-estimating website HowMuch.net crunched the most recent data and created a telling interactive chart. Topping the list: Apple and its massive $181.1 billion overseas stash, a $70 billion increase from the prior year.

That total corresponds to $59.2 billion in deferred taxes, which is enough to cover more than two-thirds of the federal budget for education, training and employment, according to the 2014 numbers compiled by Citizens for Tax Justice last October. Elsewhere, General Electric’s taxes could take care of almost 5% of our Social Security costs, while taxes from Microsoft had it kept its money in the U.S., could have covered a fifth of all federal spending on veteran’s benefits. According to estimates, the prevalence of offshore tax havens causes the U.S. to lose out on $90 billion in federal income taxes each year. That’s no small chunk.

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“The average person checks their phone 150 times a day. Why do we do this? Are we making 150 conscious choices?”

The Slot Machine in Your Pocket (Spiegel)

When we get sucked into our smartphones or distracted, we think it’s just an accident and our responsibility. But it’s not. It’s also because smartphones and apps hijack our innate psychological biases and vulnerabilities. I learned about our minds’ vulnerabilities when I was a magician. Magicians start by looking for blind spots, vulnerabilities and biases of people’s minds, so they can influence what people do without them even realizing it. Once you know how to push people’s buttons, you can play them like a piano. And this is exactly what technology does to your mind. App designers play your psychological vulnerabilities in the race to grab your attention. I want to show you how they do it, and offer hope that we have an opportunity to demand a different future from technology companies.

If you’re an app, how do you keep people hooked? Turn yourself into a slot machine. The average person checks their phone 150 times a day. Why do we do this? Are we making 150 conscious choices? One major reason why is the number one psychological ingredient in slot machines: intermittent variable rewards. If you want to maximize addictiveness, all tech designers need to do is link a user’s action (like pulling a lever) with a variable reward. You pull a lever and immediately receive either an enticing reward (a match, a prize!) or nothing. Addictiveness is maximized when the rate of reward is most variable.

Does this effect really work on people? Yes. Slot machines make more money in the United States than baseball, movies, and theme parks combined. Relative to other kinds of gambling, people get “problematically involved” with slot machines three to four times faster according to New York University professor Natasha Dow Schüll, author of “Addiction by Design.”

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Jul 272016
 
 July 27, 2016  Posted by at 9:12 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


John Vachon Five o’clock crowds, Chicago 1941

Japan PM Unveils More Than $266 Billion Stimulus (AFP)
Deutsche Bank’s Q2 Net Income Plunges Nearly 100% Year-On-Year (CNBC)
China’s Debt Problem May Be Worse Than Expected, Moody’s Warns (CNBC)
China Stocks Tumble on Report of Wealth Management Product Curbs (BBG)
Hong Kong Imports/Exports Plunge in Line with Japan and China (R.)
A Refinery-Driven Correction Is Upon Us’ (BBG)
Cameron Was Right, Britain Is Broken (G.)
Kremlin Says Idea It Hacked Democratic Party Emails Absurd (R.)
Assange: “A Lot More Material” Will Be Released (ZH)
The Neocons Are Backing Hillary Clinton (Intercept)
The Odious Versus the Tedious (Kunstler)
Auckland House Prices Must Deliberately Be Reduced By 50% – NZ Greens (RNZ)
Catalonia Tells Spain It Will Push For Secession With Or Without Assent (G.)
We Love To Talk Of Terror (Robert Fisk)
The Power of “Nyet” (Dmitry Orlov)
Leading Insecticide Cuts Bee Sperm By 40%, Lifespan By A Third (G.)
LUCA: The Ancestor Of All Living Things On Earth (IBT)

 

 

Abenomics must end in full-blown madness.

Japan PM Unveils More Than $266 Billion Stimulus (AFP)

Japan on Wednesday announced a whopping economic stimulus package worth more than 28 trillion yen ($266 billion), media reported, to boost the stumbling economy. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced the package in a speech in southwestern Japan, giving few details except to say it would include about 13 trillion yen in government spending, according to Jiji Press news agency.

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“..scrapping dividend payments to shareholders, thousands of job cuts and asset sales…”

Deutsche Bank’s Q2 Net Income Plunges Nearly 100% Year-On-Year (CNBC)

Deutsche Bank, the German bank which is an important part of the global financial system, announced revenue and income falls Wednesday which could add further concerns for investors made jittery by a combination of Brexit and previous issues at the bank. Its second-quarter net income was down 98% from the same period in the previous year, to 20 million euros ($22 million), as it exited parts of its business while revenues were down 20% to 7.4 billion euro. Further cuts may be needed, John Cryan, chief executive of Deutsche Bank, warned. “If the current weak economic environment persists, we will need to be yet more ambitious in the timing and intensity of our restructuring,” he said in a statement.

Deutsche’s CET1 ratio – a key measure of financial strength – improved slightly to 10.8%. The bank, one of Germany’s largest lenders, has lost around 40% of its market value this year as concerns mount about its capital position and $14 billion in fines over past misconduct. John Cryan, the bank’s co-chief executive who was appointed in July last year, has embarked on a drastic plan to meet its capital targets, including scrapping dividend payments to shareholders, thousands of job cuts and asset sales. Raising new capital is likely to be difficult because of the bank’s holdings of debt for some of the worse off euro zone countries.

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As I’ve said 100 times: “China’s “shadow banking” system is masking the rise in indebtedness..

China’s Debt Problem May Be Worse Than Expected, Moody’s Warns (CNBC)

China’s “shadow banking” system is masking the rise in indebtedness in China, Moody’s Investors Service said in a report Wednesday. The rating agency said overall leverage in China’s economy continued to rise with credit growth outpacing the rise in nominal GDP. “The growth in overall leverage may be understated, because some of the fastest growing components of shadow banking are not included in TSF (total social financing),” said Michael Taylor, Moody’s chief credit officer for Asia Pacific. The credit growth was measured using TSF, an economic barometer of total fundraising by Chinese non-state entities, including individuals. It didn’t, however, include all shadow banking activities, which have grown in recent years.

“We estimate the potential understatement to be significant, amounting to at least RMB16 trillion ($2.4 trillion) or 23% of GDP at end-2015, equivalent to around one-third of shadow banking,” Taylor added. Moody’s said TSF flows were being sustained by formal bank credit flows supported by accommodative monetary policy. The increasing leverage was worrying. “The rise in overall leverage and further expansion of shadow banking activity are pushing up financial risks,” said Stephen Schwartz, a Moody’s senior vice president.

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Shadow banks and their ‘wealth’ products.

China Stocks Tumble on Report of Wealth Management Product Curbs (BBG)

Chinese stocks slumped the most in six weeks amid concern regulators are moving to limit equity investments by some wealth-management products. The Shanghai Composite Index fell 1.6% at the mid-day break, reversing a gain of as much as 0.2%. The Shenzhen Composite Index lost 3%, while the ChiNext Index of small-company shares sank 4%, the most since June 13. China’s banking regulator is considering tightening curbs on the nation’s $3.6 trillion market for WMPs, the 21st Century Business Herald reported, citing people it didn’t identify. Authorities may set a limit on how much WMPs can invest in equities and “non-standard assets” such as loans, the report said.

“There’s an obvious trend that the regulators want to strengthen market monitoring and lower the use of leverage in financial markets to control risks,” said Dai Ming at Hengsheng Asset Management. “Under such circumstances, Chinext is especially vulnerable, given its high valuations and the recent gains.” The China Banking Regulatory Commission met with some banks this month on the rule revision and a final version hasn’t been drafted, the 21st Century Business Herald report said. China’s watchdogs have signaled they’re paying closer attention to the fund managers and brokerages who funnel the nation’s household savings into investments from stocks to bonds and derivatives.

The China Securities Regulatory Commission this month issued guidelines curbing the use of leverage by structured asset management plans. Li Chao, vice chairman of the regulator, told a gathering of firms in the northeastern city of Harbin last week to do better due diligence on prospective clients when arranging initial public offerings, secondary share sales and bond issues, people familiar with the matter said.

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Hong Kong=Japan=China. Exact same pattern. World trade collapsing. If Hong Kong weren’t so dependent on imports, those would fall much more than 5.6%. “Domestic exports to the United Kingdom [..] plunged 48.2% in June.”

Hong Kong Imports/Exports Plunge in Line with Japan and China (R.)

Hong Kong’s total exports in June fell for the 14th straight month, dampened by a slowdown in China, with the city’s factories bracing for more pain in coming months from the impact of Brexit. Open and trade-dependent economies in Asia such as Hong Kong are expected to be among the most vulnerable to a slowdown in global trade from Britain’s shock vote to leave the European Union as the effects filter through factory supply chains, analysts say. Hong Kong’s total exports in June fell 1% from a year earlier to HK$296.5 billion ($38.2 billion), government data showed on Tuesday. Total imports fell 0.9%, in its 17th straight month of decline, to HK$342.1 billion. In May, annual exports slipped 0.1% while imports dropped 4.3%.

For the first half of 2016, total exports value dropped 3.9%, while imports fell 5.6%. The city recorded a visible trade deficit of HK$199.6 billion for the first half period, equivalent to 10.8% of the value of imports. “Looking ahead, the external trading environment remains challenging given the uncertainties associated with the outcome of the UK referendum in favor of leaving the EU, slow recovery in the advanced markets, monetary policy divergence among major central banks and heightened geopolitical tensions in various regions,” the government said, adding it will monitor the situation closely. Domestic exports to the United Kingdom, which accounted for 2.2% of the total, plunged 48.2% in June.

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Well, not really, it’s all just about demand.

A Refinery-Driven Correction Is Upon Us’ (BBG)

Gear up for a fall in oil prices. The global oil market is “severely oversupplied” with gasoline — with stocks at a five-year high — serving as a blow to crude prices from next month, reckon Morgan Stanley analysts led by Adam Longson. In a report published on Sunday, the analysts foresee “worrisome trends” for oil supply and demand, led by refineries generating too much gasoline in recent months. Faced with the need to cut back on capacity utilization to protect profit margins, these refineries are set to crimp crude oil purchases and drag prices lower, the analysts say. “Crude oil demand is trending below refined product demand for the first time in three years,” they write.

“Refineries are the true consumer of crude oil, and crude oil demand is ultimately more important than aggregate refined product demand for oil balances. Given the oversupply in the refined product markets, fading refinery margins, and economic run cuts, we expect crude oil demand to deteriorate further over the coming months.” A glut of gasoline could weigh significantly on oil prices, which have been lifted in recent weeks by supply disruptions and healthy petrol demand in emerging markets. Excess gasoline also means that refiners may close their doors sooner and for longer than usual during their traditional summer production shutdown, taking further demand out of the market.

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Reading through a piece like this, it becomes even more surprising that Brexit was a surprise to so many Brits.

Cameron Was Right, Britain Is Broken (G.)

In opposition, David Cameron battered Gordon Brown with two words: Broken Britain. It was his Murdoch-inspired catchphrase for hoodies scrapping in gangs, Neets necking alcopops, teenagers ending up pregnant. It set the framework for Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms. Broken Britain summed up the dark side of the New Labour era: a busted social contract and a class wantonly sponging off the rest of society. It always struck me as the right phrase for the wrong target. The real Broken Britain is the one revealed over the past four days in two reports from MPs. It is workers urinating into bottles at the “Victorian workhouse” of Sports Direct, because their toilet breaks are restricted. It is women being offered permanent jobs in return for sexual favours.

It is BHS, a high-street chain nearly as old as the Queen, effectively killed by two “plundering” owners. It is 10,000 shop workers who will shortly be out on the streets, and 20,000 pension-scheme members who must now worry over how much they’ll have to live on in their old age. The riots of 2011 were taken by Cameron as proof he’d been right all along: “Irresponsibility. Selfishness. Behaving as if your choices have no consequences … Reward without effort. Crime without punishment. Rights without responsibilities.” This is Philip Green and Mike Ashley summed up – along with all the well-heeled consultants, directors and credulous politicians (including Cameron) who applauded and subsidised them on their way, bought off with fat fees and cheap photo-ops.

The rioting kids who stole bottles of water and robbed tellies from their local Argos were given prison sentences worth a total of 1,200 years. By contrast, Green and Ashley weren’t even going to bother facing MPs. Only after five months of back and forth did Sports Direct’s Ashley get in the chauffeured car down to Westminster. Green went one better, demanding that Frank Field resign from the BHS inquiry – then rocking up to parliament and telling MPs to stop looking at him. Such prickliness from a multibillionaire would have been funny had it not been for the thousands of families whose lives he’d just ruined.

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Wow. I found a few sentences at Reuters that sound somewhat sensible on the topic. “If the Russians hadn’t hacked us (for which we have no proof), Americans would have never found out about what we did.” Dumb f**ks!

Kremlin Says Idea It Hacked Democratic Party Emails Absurd (R.)

“We are again seeing these maniacal attempts to exploit the Russian theme in the U.S. election campaign,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters when asked about the leaked emails. “This is not breaking new ground, this is an old trick which is being played again. This is not good for our bilateral relations, but we understand that we simply have to get through this unpleasant period.” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said earlier on Tuesday he had raised the hacking issue at a meeting in Laos with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “I don’t want to use four-letter words,” was Lavrov’s only response to reporters when asked whether Russia was responsible for the email hack.

Earlier this month, Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to Trump, visited Moscow, where he gave a lecture complaining that Western governments had often had a hypocritical focus on democratization in the post-Soviet world. Analysts say the Kremlin would welcome a Trump win because the billionaire U.S. businessman has repeatedly praised Putin, spoken of wanting to get along with Russia, and has said he would consider an alliance with Moscow against Islamic State. Trump’s suggestion he might abandon NATO’s pledge to automatically defend all alliance members is also likely to have gone down well in Moscow, where the military alliance is cast as an outdated Cold War relic.

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“Assange told CNN that Democratic Party officials were using the specter of Russian involvement to distract from the content of the emails..”

Assange: “A Lot More Material” Will Be Released (ZH)

One month ago, when Wikileaks’ Julian Assange told ITV’s Richard Peston that he would publish “enough evidence” to indict Hillary Clinton, few took him seriously. And while Hillary has not been indicted – yet – last Friday’s leak has already managed to wreak havoc and has led to revelations of cronyism and collusion within the Democratic party and the media, the resignation of the DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, as well as chaos on the first day of the Democratic convention. Hence, why we believe Assange will be taken more seriously this time. Earlier today, Assange told CNN that Wikileaks might release “a lot more material” relevant to the US electoral campaign. Assange spoke to CNN following the release of nearly 20,000 hacked Democratic National Committee emails.

The topic then turned to the topic du jour: “did Putin do it”? Assange refused to confirm or deny a Russian origin for the mass email leak, saying Wikileaks tries to create ambiguity to protect all its sources. “Perhaps one day the source or sources will step forward and that might be an interesting moment some people may have egg on their faces. But to exclude certain actors is to make it easier to find out who our sources are,” Assange told CNN. The Kremlin has rejected allegations its behind the hacking, calling suggestions it ordered the release of the emails to influence US politics the “usual fun and games” of the US election campaigns, while the Russian foreign minister had an even simpler reaction to the same question: “I don’t want to use four-letter words.”

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, added, “This is not really good for bilateral relations.” All of this now appears to be irrelevant, and as we speculated earlier, the “anti-Russia” narrative is now in motion and moments ago Obama said that it’s ‘possible’ Putin is trying to sway vote for Trump. Which brings us to the next point: speaking from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he faces extradition over sexual assault allegations, Assange told CNN that Democratic Party officials were using the specter of Russian involvement to distract from the content of the emails, which have had tumultuous affect on the party at the start of its national convention [..]

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And you think Trump is the danger? These are the people who shed blood around the globe. These are the people responsible for the terrorist attacks against the west.

The Neocons Are Backing Hillary Clinton (Intercept)

As Hillary Clinton puts together what she hopes will be a winning coalition in November, many progressives remain wary — but she has the war-hawks firmly behind her. “I would say all Republican foreign policy professionals are anti-Trump,” leading neoconservative Robert Kagan told a group gathered around him, groupie-style, at a “foreign policy professionals for Hillary” fundraiser I attended last week. “I would say that a majority of people in my circle will vote for Hillary.” As the co-founder of the neoconservative think tank Project for the New American Century, Kagan played a leading role in pushing for America’s unilateral invasion of Iraq, and insisted for years afterwards that it had turned out great.

Despite the catastrophic effects of that war, Kagan insisted at last week’s fundraiser that U.S. foreign policy over the last 25 years has been “an extraordinary success.” Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s know-nothing isolationism has led many neocons to flee the Republican ticket. And some, like Kagan, are actively helping Clinton, whose hawkishness in many ways resembles their own. The event raised $25,000 for Clinton. Two rising stars in the Democratic foreign policy establishment, Amanda Sloat and Julianne Smith, also spoke.

The way they described Clinton’s foreign policy vision suggested that if elected president in November, she will escalate tensions with Russia, double down on military belligerence in the Middle East and generally ignore the American public’s growing hostility to intervention. Sloat, the former deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, boasted that Clinton will be “more interventionist and forward-leaning than Obama’s been” in Syria. She also applauded Clinton for doing intervention the right way, through coalitions instead of the unilateral aggression that defined the Bush years.

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“What higher service to democracy than to expose the anti-democratic workings of the party that affects to call itself Democratic? ”

The Odious Versus the Tedious (Kunstler)

You thought the Republican convention was a ghastly spectacle of royal Trumpery (and Iago-style backstabbing featuring the arch-asshole Ted Cruz)? Now comes the Democratic Annunciation of I’m-With-Her-It’s-My-Turn, the incarnation of crony corruption in our late-state Republic of Racketeering. Remember that old movie, The Exorcist, with its demonic spewage of projectile vomit. Expect something like that on the grand scale in Philadelphia this week as the Exalted-Breaker-of-Glass-Ceilings steps forth to accept her victory tiara.

The New York Times is blaming the Ruskies for releasing those thousands of new emails disclosing the perfidy of the Democratic National Committee staff in pimping for Hillary against Bernie and trafficking with the major network news operations to manage and spin things Her way — and especially to rig the electoral machinery against Sanders. How much will his supporters Feel the Bern this week in Philly as the party attempts to put on an appearance of unity (Ha!) behind HRC? How can it conceivably be possible now for Bernie to stand by her side for the crucial unity photo op? I suspect he’d rather chew his right arm off.

For my money, the Ruskies should get the Nobel Peace Prize if they were behind the email release. What higher service to democracy than to expose the anti-democratic workings of the party that affects to call itself Democratic? The sudden appearance of 20,000 smoking guns made party chairperson Debbie Wasserman-Schultz vamoose faster than you can say Debbie Wasserman Schultz, though her replacement, Donna Brazile is every inch just another blatant HRC foot-soldier. Perhaps she’ll have to orchestrate the proceedings with smoke signals or invisible ink instead of emails.

As the conventions rolled out, the aggregate miasma we call the news industry resorted to that tired trope of Optimism Versus Pessimism. Translation: you can’t handle the truth so somebody please bring out the rainbow-leaping unicorns. The American zeitgeist is a tattered garment worn by a three hundred pound tranny in a diabetic coma. It’s probably beyond salvation at this point. Somebody please put it out of its misery. Hence: Trump Versus Hillary, the odious versus the tedious, the election to end all elections.

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This makes too much sense.

Auckland House Prices Must Deliberately Be Reduced By 50% – NZ Greens (RNZ)

Auckland house prices should be deliberately reduced by up to 50% over a period of time to make the market affordable again, Greens co-leader Metiria Turei says. The average house price in Auckland has risen to nearly $1 million, or 10 times the median household income. Ms Turei said the only way to reverse that was to slowly bring prices back down to three or four times the median household income. She told Morning Report the Green Party was considering what timeframe would work without crashing the market and hurting people who already owned homes. “The only way to prevent a bust, and to protect families in the short and long term is to lay out a comprehensive plan, which means using every comprehensive tool that we’ve got so that we can slowly bring down house prices so that they’re reasonable.”

The Auckland Council’s chief economist had suggested bringing prices down to five times the median household income by 2030, she said. Labour leader Andrew Little said Ms Turei’s declaration that Auckland house prices should be deliberately reduced was irresponsible. There was no way a Labour-led government would consider the idea, he said. “We have a very clear plan. It’s not about crashing house prices. It’s about stabilising prices. “We don’t want to cause undue economic harm to those who – in good faith – have bought homes, entered into mortgages. That’s not a responsible approach.”

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“Last month, Spain’s interior minister, Jorge Fernández Díaz, and the head of Catalonia’s anti-fraud office, Daniel de Alfonso, were apparently recorded discussing possible investigations that could be launched against pro-independence politicians in the region.”

Catalonia Tells Spain It Will Push For Secession With Or Without Assent (G.)

The Catalan government has intensified its war of words with Spain by vowing to use its democratic mandate to forge a separate Catalan state with or without the approval of Madrid. Catalonia is preparing to defy Spain’s constitutional court this week by debating the conclusions of a working group on sovereignty, nine months after the Catalan parliament put forward a resolution calling for the “beginning of a process of the creation of an independent Catalan state”. Carme Forcadell, the president of the parliament, and Raül Romeva, the minister of foreign affairs, told the Guardian enduring hostility from Madrid had left Catalonia with no choice but to press ahead with the independence agenda.

“The [Spanish state] has left us feeling that we just don’t have an alternative,” Romeva said. “We have always said that we would have preferred a Scottish-type scenario, where we could negotiate with the state and hold a coordinated and democratic referendum. We keep talking to Madrid, but all we get back from them is an echo.” Forcadell pointed to a recent scandal as evidence of the Spanish government’s attitude towards Catalonia. Last month, Spain’s interior minister, Jorge Fernández Díaz, and the head of Catalonia’s anti-fraud office, Daniel de Alfonso, were apparently recorded discussing possible investigations that could be launched against pro-independence politicians in the region.

Forcadell said she was incredulous at the idea that the acting Spanish government, led by Mariano Rajoy, could simply brush aside the alleged incident and say nothing was going on. “How can they say that when the interior minister, who’s meant to defend the interests of all citizens, is caught conspiring to find evidence against citizens solely because they think differently? How can absolutely nothing come of that? We don’t understand it,” she said.

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The power of words.

We Love To Talk Of Terror (Robert Fisk)

The frightful and bloody hours of Friday night and Saturday morning in Munich and Kabul – despite the 3,000 miles that separate the two cities – provided a highly instructive lesson in the semantics of horror and hypocrisy. I despair of that generic old hate-word, “terror”. It long ago became the punctuation mark and signature tune of every facile politician, policeman, journalist and think tank crank in the world. Terror, terror, terror, terror, terror. Or terrorist, terrorist, terrorist, terrorist, terrorist. But from time to time, we trip up on this killer cliché, just as we did at the weekend. Here’s how it went. When first we heard that three armed men had gone on a “shooting spree” in Munich, the German cops and the lads and lassies of the BBC, CNN and Fox News fingered the “terror” lever.

The Munich constabulary, we were informed, feared this was a “terrorist act”. The local police, the BBC told us, were engaged in an “anti-terror manhunt”. And we knew what that meant: the three men were believed to be Muslims and therefore “terrorists”, and thus suspected of being members of (or at least inspired by) Isis. Then it turned out that the three men were in fact only one man – a man who was obsessed with mass killing. He was born in Germany (albeit partly Iranian in origin). And all of a sudden, in every British media and on CNN, the “anti-terror manhunt” became a hunt for a lone “shooter”. One UK newspaper used the word “shooter” 14 times in a few paragraphs.

Somehow, “shooter” doesn’t sound as dangerous as “terrorist”, though the effect of his actions was most assuredly the same. “Shooter” is a code word. It meant: this particular mass killer is not a Muslim. [..] It all comes down to the same thing in the end. If Muslims attack us, they are terrorists. If non-Muslims attack us, they are shooters. If Muslims attack other Muslims, they are attackers. Scissor out this paragraph and keep it beside you when the killers next let loose – and you’ll be able to work out who the bad guys are before the cops tell you.

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More power of words.

The Power of “Nyet” (Dmitry Orlov)

The way things are supposed to work on this planet is like this: in the United States, the power structures (public and private) decide what they want the rest of the world to do. They communicate their wishes through official and unofficial channels, expecting automatic cooperation. If cooperation is not immediately forthcoming, they apply political, financial and economic pressure. If that still doesn’t produce the intended effect, they attempt regime change through a color revolution or a military coup, or organize and finance an insurgency leading to terrorist attacks and civil war in the recalcitrant nation. If that still doesn’t work, they bomb the country back to the stone age. This is the way it worked in the 1990s and the 2000s, but as of late a new dynamic has emerged.

In the beginning it was centered on Russia, but the phenomenon has since spread around the world and is about to engulf the United States itself. It works like this: the United States decides what it wants Russia to do and communicates its wishes, expecting automatic cooperation. Russia says “Nyet.” The United States then runs through all of the above steps up to but not including the bombing campaign, from which it is deterred by Russia’s nuclear deterrent. The answer remains “Nyet.” One could perhaps imagine that some smart person within the US power structure would pipe up and say: “Based on the evidence before us, dictating our terms to Russia doesn’t work; let’s try negotiating with Russia in good faith as equals.”

And then everybody else would slap their heads and say, “Wow! That’s brilliant! Why didn’t we think of that?” But instead that person would be fired that very same day because, you see, American global hegemony is nonnegotiable. And so what happens instead is that the Americans act baffled, regroup and try again, making for quite an amusing spectacle.

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But it’s a billion-dollar industry!

Leading Insecticide Cuts Bee Sperm By 40%, Lifespan By A Third (G.)

The world’s most widely used insecticide is an inadvertent contraceptive for bees, cutting live sperm in males by almost 40%, according to research. The study also showed the neonicotinoid pesticides cut the lifespan of the drones by a third. The scientists say the discovery provides one possible explanation for the increasing deaths of honeybees in recent years, as well as for the general decline of wild insect pollinators throughout the northern hemisphere. Bees and other insects are vital for pollinating three-quarters of the world’s food crops but have been in significant decline, due to the loss of flower-rich habitats, disease and pests and the use of pesticides.

Neonicotinoids were banned from use on flowering crops in the EU in 2013. The UK opposed the ban and allowed a limited “emergency” lifting of the ban in 2015, but has refused further suspensions this year. There is clear scientific evidence that neonicotinoids harm bees, but there is only a little research showing the pesticides harm the overall performance of colonies. Previous work has shown that neonicotinoids reduce the number of bumblebee queens produced and severely cuts the survival and reproduction of honeybee queens. But the new research, led by Lars Straub at the University of Bern, Switzerland and published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is the first to test how neonicotinoids affect male bee fertility.

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We’re really killing off our own family.

LUCA: The Ancestor Of All Living Things On Earth (IBT)

The planet we live on is home to an estimated 10 million species of living organisms. Hard as it may be to fathom, the immense diversity of life we see around us today – from the bacteria living in the garden soil to the majestic blue whale inhabiting the deep blue seas – all evolved from one single-celled ancestor that lived, and died, billions of years ago. In a paper published Monday in the journal Nature Microbiology, researchers have described, in unprecedented detail, this Last Universal Common Ancestor, or LUCA, which was only “half alive.” This ancestor – a single-cell, bacterium-like organism – is believed to have existed roughly four billion years ago, when Earth was just over 500 million years old. LUCA, the researchers say, was the common point of origin for three great domains of life — bacteria, archaea, which are bacteria-like single-cell prokaryotes, and the eukaryotes, a domain that includes all plants and animals.


Phylogeny for LUCA’s genes: In the two-domain tree of life, eukaryotes stem from prokaryotes, so the last universal common ancestor, LUCA, is the ancestor of archaea and bacteria.

“We are seeing something for which there was previously no evidence,” co-author William Martin from the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, Germany, told the Washington Post. “Just by asking the right questions of genome data, we were able to obtain some very interesting answers that also mesh well with what we know from geochemistry.” In order to get a clear picture of what LUCA was like, the researchers examined over six million protein-coding genes found in the present-day bacteria and archaea. After analyzing the DNA sequence of each gene and determining whether these genes were present in both bacteria and archaea, the researchers identified 355 gene “clusters” that were probably present in LUCA. “It was flabbergasting to us that we found as many as we did,” Martin told New Scientist.

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Jun 062016
 
 June 6, 2016  Posted by at 8:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  12 Responses »

Goldman Finds That China’s Debt Is Far Greater Than Anyone Thought (ZH)
World’s Most Battered Market Is the Worst Place to Find Bargains (BBG)
China’s Hidden Unemployment Rate (BBG)
China’s Factory to the World Is in a Race to Survive (BBG)
BOJ Board Member Warns Of “2003 Shock” Historic Bond Market Collapse (ZH)
As Iran’s Oil Exports Surge, International Tankers Help Ship Its Fuel (R.)
Saudi Arabia Races Through Financial Toolkit to Raise Funds (BBG)
If Wind/Solar Is So Cheap, Why Require Government Subsidy? (SL)
Pound Tumbles, Volatility Jumps After Polls Show Brexit Momentum (BBG)
Constitutional Crisis: Pro-Remain MPs Consider Pre-Empting Brexit Vote (BBC)
Brexit May Seem Like The West’s Biggest Problem. But Look At The US Economy (G.)
‘Brexit Voters Succumbing To Impulse Irritation And Anger’ (AEP)
Erdogan: Childless Women Deficient, Incomplete: Have At Least 3 (AFP)
Turkey Shelves Refugee ‘Readmission’ Deal With EU (DS)

Well, I’ve pointed a zillion times to the size and power of China’s shadow banks. And here you go…

Goldman Finds That China’s Debt Is Far Greater Than Anyone Thought (ZH)

In an analysis conducted by Goldman’s MK Tang, the strategist notes that a frequent inquiry from investors in recent months is how much credit has actually been extended to Chinese households and corporates. He explains that this arises from debates about the accuracy of the commonly used credit data (i.e., total social financing (TSF)) in light of an apparent rise in financial institutions’ (FI) shadow lending activity (as well as due to the ongoing municipal bond swap program). Tang adds that while it is clear that banks’ investment assets and claims on other FIs have surged, it is unclear how much of that reflects opaque loans, and also how much such loans and off-balance sheet credit are not included in TSF. By the very nature of shadow lending, it is almost impossible to reach a conclusion on these issues based on FIs’ asset information.

Goldman circumvents these data complications by instead focusing on the “money” concept, a mirror image to credit on FIs’ funding side. The idea is that money is created largely only when credit is extended—hence an effective gauge of “money” can give a good sense of the size of credit. We construct our own money flow measure, specifically following and quantifying the money flow from households/corporates. Goldman finds something stunning: true credit creation in China was vastly greater than even the comprehensive Total Social Financing series. To wit: “a substantial amount of money was created last year, evidencing a very large supply of credit, to the tune of RMB 25tn (36% of 2015 GDP). This is about RMB 6tn (or 9pp of GDP) higher than implied by TSF data (even after adjusting for municipal bond swaps). Divergence from TSF has been particularly notable since Q2 last year after a major dovish shift in policy stance.”

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China stocks are already down 40% in 12 months, but look down below.

World’s Most Battered Market Is the Worst Place to Find Bargains (BBG)

It’s going to take more than the world’s deepest stock-market selloff to turn China into a destination for international bargain hunters. Even after a 40% tumble in the Shanghai Composite Index over the past 12 months, valuations for China’s domestic A shares are three times as expensive as every other major market worldwide. The median price-to-earnings ratio on the nation’s exchanges is 59, higher than that of U.S. technology shares at the height of the dot-com boom in 2000. One year after China’s equity bubble peaked, valuations have yet to fall back to earth as government intervention keeps stock prices elevated at a time of shrinking corporate profits.

For money managers at Silvercrest Asset Management and Blackfriars Asset Management who predicted last year’s selloff, China’s weak economic growth and fragile investor sentiment mean it’s too early to jump back into the $6 trillion market. “We do not own any A shares,” said Tony Hann, the London-based head of equities at Blackfriars, which oversees about $270 million. The firm’s Oriental Focus Fund has outperformed 83% of peers this year. “The bull case seems to be that I can buy at this P/E because someone else will buy it from me at a higher P/E. The biggest risk is that investor psychology on the mainland changes.”

There’s plenty for investors to be worried about. After expanding at the weakest pace since 1990 last year, China’s economy shows few signs of recovery. Earnings at Shanghai Composite companies have declined by 13% since last June, while corporate defaults are spreading and the yuan is trading near a five-year low.

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Debt is hidden, losses are hidden, unemployment is hidden.

China’s Hidden Unemployment Rate (BBG)

China’s authorities may face a bigger worry than slowing economic growth. The jobless rate may be three times the official estimate, according to a new report by Fathom Consulting, whose China’s Underemployment Indicator has tripled to 12.9% since 2012 even while the official jobless rate has hovered near 4% for five years. The weakening labor market may explain China’s decision to uncork the credit spigots and revive old growth drivers in an effort to stabilize the world’s no. 2 economy. Leaders have stressed that keeping employment stable is a top priority. Fathom’s data shows that while mass layoffs haven’t materialized, the number of people not working at full capacity or hours has increased. “The degree of slack has surged in recent years,” analysts at the London-based firm wrote.

“China has a substantial hidden unemployment problem, in our view, and that explains why the authorities have come under so much pressure to re-start the old growth engines.” Leaders of the world’s most populous nation have promised to slash excess capacity in coal mines and steel mills while at the same time ensuring that the economy grows by at least 6.5% this year. Across the nation, state-backed ‘zombie’ factories are being kept alive by local governments to keep a lid on any social unrest. To keep the plants ticking over, employees in some cases have been asked to work half the time for half the pay. The official registered unemployment gauge is notorious for not changing during economic cycles. It’s compiled from the number of people who register at local governments for unemployment benefits, which excludes most of the nation’s more than 270 million migrant workers.

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China as a robotics guinea pig. What could go wrong?

China’s Factory to the World Is in a Race to Survive (BBG)

China’s shift to consumption and services lies at the heart of Xi’s quest for new growth drivers to escape the middle-income trap, when productivity and profit margins fail to keep up with wage growth. That’s spurred provincial leaders to encourage cities to attract new businesses and upgrade factories, headlined by the aphorisms that China’s administrators are fond of. “Empty the cages to welcome better birds,” demanded former Guangdong Communist Party Chief Wang Yang, meaning let the old industries leave and replace them with new, higher-value ones.

“Replace humans with robots,” added his successor, Hu Chunhua, 53, one of the youngest members of the Politburo, in a 950 billion yuan ($144 billion) plan to upgrade 2,000 companies in three years, the official Guangzhou Daily reported in March 2015, adding that the move is not expected to cause heavy layoffs. Dongguan replaced 43,684 workers with robots in 2015, cutting costs at those factories by nearly 10%, according to the local government. Lu Miao, a vice general manager of Lyric Robot in Guangdong’s Huizhou city, said the government pays as much as 50,000 yuan to Lyric’s customers for each robot they use to replace workers. “The government at all levels in Guangdong has been encouraging companies to replace human workers as rapidly as possible,” said Lu. “I can see our business increasing more than 50% this year.”

The ultimate result is so-called “dark factories” that don’t need lighting because only robots work on the production line. TCL has such a plant making LCD displays, Li said in an interview at the company’s headquarters in Huizhou, about an hour’s drive from Dongguan. “For society at large, some workers will be laid off,” said Huizhou Mayor Mai Jiaomeng. “But it’s good for companies to improve their competitiveness.” Local officials say the layoffs are under control, but are reluctant to provide details on how many plants have shut or moved away. A municipal report from Shenzhen in January said that the city has “washed out” or “transformed” more than 17,000 low-end factories over the past five years.

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Looks inevitable, just a question of where on the globe it will begin.

BOJ Board Member Warns Of “2003 Shock” Historic Bond Market Collapse (ZH)

In a somewhat shocking break from the age-old tradition of lying and obfuscation, Bank of Japan policy board member Takehiro Sato raised significant concerns about global financial stability in a speech last week. In addition to raising concerns about Japanese economic fragility, Sato warned that due to the impact of negative interest rates, he “detected a vulnerability similar to that seen before the so-called VaR (Value at Risk) shock in 2003.”

Financial institutions are facing the risk of a negative spread for marginal assets due to the extreme flattening of the yield curve and the drop in the yield on government bonds in short- to long-term zones into negative territory. When there is a negative spread, shrinking the balance sheet, rather than expanding it, would be a reasonable business decision. In the future, this may prompt an increasing number of financial institutions to take such actions as restraining loans to borrowers with potentially high credit costs and raising interest rates on loans to firms with poor access to finance.

…a weakening of the financial intermediary functioning could affect the financial system’s resilience against shocks in times of stress. In addition, an excessive drop in bond yields in the super-long-term zone could also make the financial system vulnerable by increasing the risk of a buildup of financial imbalances in the system.

There is also the risk that financial institutions that have problems in terms of profitability or fiscal soundness will make loans and investment without adequate risk valuation. From financial institutions’ recent move to purchase super-long-term bonds in pursuit of tiny positive yield, I detect a vulnerability similar to that seen before the so-called VaR (Value at Risk) shock in 2003.

Simply put, as Bloomberg notes, Sato is concerned the government bond market is heading for an historic collapse after 10-year yields plunged below zero, forcing banks to pile into super-long-term bonds in pursuit of tiny positive yields. This is creating huge concentrated positions with increasing duration risk (as we detailed previously), causing a vulnerability “similar to that seen before the so-called VaR (Value at Risk) shock in 2003,” when an initial jump in yields triggered a spectacular sell-off by breaching banks’ models for estimating potential losses.

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Reuniting OPEC.

As Iran’s Oil Exports Surge, International Tankers Help Ship Its Fuel (R.)

More than 25 European and Asian-owned supertankers are shipping Iranian oil, data seen by Reuters shows, allowing Tehran to ramp up exports much faster than analysts had expected following the lifting of sanctions in January. Iran was struggling as recently as April to find partners to ship its oil, but after an agreement on a temporary insurance fix more than a third of Iran’s crude shipments are now being handled by foreign vessels. “Charterers are buying cargo from Iran and the rest of the world is OK with that,” said Odysseus Valatsas, chartering manager at Dynacom Tankers Management. Greek owner Dynacom has fixed three of its supertankers to carry Iranian crude.

Some international shipowners remain reluctant to handle Iranian oil, however, due mainly to some U.S. restrictions on Tehran that remain and prohibit any trade in dollars or the involvement of U.S. firms, including banks and reinsurers. Iran is seeking to make up for lost trade following the lifting of sanctions imposed in 2011 and 2012 over its nuclear program. Port loading data seen by Reuters, as well as live shipping data, shows at least 26 foreign tankers with capacity to carry more than 25 million barrels of light and heavy crude oil, as well as fuel oil, have either loaded crude or fuel oil in the last two weeks or are about load at Iran’s Kharg Island and Bandar Mahshahr terminals.

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One more major price drop and we have panic.

Saudi Arabia Races Through Financial Toolkit to Raise Funds (BBG)

Saudi Arabia’s plans to bolster its finances are taking on a new sense of urgency as lower oil prices put the economy under more strain than at any other time in the past decade. In recent weeks, the kingdom raised a $10 billion loan, clamped down on currency speculators and informed banks of plans to raise as much as $15 billion in its first international bond sale, people with knowledge of the matter said. It’s also said to be contemplating IOUs to pay contractor bills and hired HSBC Holdings Plc banker Fahad Al Saif to set up a new debt office. The speed of the measures underscores Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s urgency to shore up the country’s finances as an era of oil-fueled abundance falters.

Though currency reserves remain strong – among the world’s largest – net foreign assets are at a four-year low after declining for 15 months in a row and the kingdom may post a budget deficit of about 13.5% of economic output this year. “The pace of the decline in Saudi Arabia’s foreign assets is faster than in previous oil downturns and the period over which they’ve been falling is longer,” Raza Agha, VTB Capital’s chief economist for the Middle East and Africa, said by e-mail. “This generates a real sense of urgency to get the ball rolling in raising external funding.”

Five years ago, oil surged to more than $100 a barrel, adding billions of dollars to the country’s reserves. The windfall allowed the kingdom to slash its debt and post an average budget surplus of 8.2% between 2000 and 2012, according to International Monetary Fund data. Now, with crude having tumbled about 50%, the country is moving to sell assets and find other ways to raise funds.

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Just a cute graph.

If Wind/Solar Is So Cheap, Why Require Government Subsidy? (SL)

I don’t have an inherent dislike of solar and wind energy, but I am suspicious of the way they are being pushed. Here’s an example: Renewable energy advocates such as Tony Seba are talking about how solar and battery technology will enable exponential uptake in renewable technology, and that people won’t want to invest in a thermal power plant anymore. But on the other hand: Renewable advocates want government legislation to support their chosen renewable energy targets. e.g. “50% renewable energy would put Australia in line with leading nations” at the Conversation. Or another example might be where energy companies are talking about how the government has to ‘support the transition’ in this AFR article: AGL says government must support power industry exit from coal.

But wait a minute, if wind and solar are truly so amazing and so cheap – why does the government need to get involved? Why wouldn’t these renewable energy companies and advocates find a way to profitably do it and not make any fuss about wanting governmental regulation/subsidies? Borrowing from Mark Perry’s excellent Venn diagram idea over at AEI Carpe Diem blog: (Could it be that renewable advocates are using the government to push renewable energy cost and risk onto taxpayers?)

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17 days still to go. Brace for increased madness. it’s going to be so much fun.

Pound Tumbles, Volatility Jumps After Polls Show Brexit Momentum (BBG)

The pound slumped to a three-week low after polls showed more Britons favor exiting the European Union, reviving concern a June 23 referendum will throw global markets into turmoil and undermine confidence in the 28-nation trading bloc. Sterling weakened against all 10 developed-market peers after two surveys showed more voters were willing to vote to leave the EU than those wishing to stay. A gauge of the currency’s expected swings against the dollar during the next month surged to a seven-year high. The Bank of England has said uncertainty surrounding the referendum vote is damping U.K. growth, while global institutions including the IMF and OECD are warning of dire fallout if Britain votes to quit the EU.

Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago President Charles Evans said the referendum is undermining confidence in the outlook at a time when the international economy is already losing momentum. “A ‘Leave’ vote would expose a host of uncertainties,” said Sue Trinh at Royal Bank of Canada in Hong Kong. “It would be more negative for the euro and the EU since the issue will drag on for other members.” A YouGov poll for television network ITV found 45% would choose ‘Leave,’ compared with 41% picking ‘Remain.’ A separate survey by global market research company TNS showed 43% for ‘Leave’ and 41% for ‘Remain.’

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Well, that seems modeled after the EU’s attitude towards democracy alright. They fit right in.

Constitutional Crisis: Pro-Remain MPs Consider Pre-Empting Brexit Vote (BBC)

Pro-Remain MPs are considering using their Commons majority to keep Britain inside the EU single market if there is a vote for Brexit, the BBC has learned. The MPs fear a post-Brexit government might negotiate a limited free trade deal with the EU, which they say would damage the UK’s economy. There is a pro-Remain majority in the House of Commons of 454 MPs to 147. A Vote Leave campaign spokesman said MPs will not be able to “defy the will of the electorate” on key issues. The single market guarantees the free movement of goods, people, services and capital. The BBC has learned pro-Remain MPs would use their voting power in the House of Commons to protect what they see as the economic benefits of a single market, which gives the UK access to 500 million consumers.

Staying inside the single market would mean Britain would have to keep its borders open to EU workers and continue paying into EU coffers. Ministers have told the BBC they expect pro-EU MPs to conduct what one called a “reverse Maastricht” process – a reference to the long parliamentary campaign fought by Tory eurosceptic MPs in the 1990s against legislation deepening EU integration. Like then as now, the Conservative government has a small working majority of just 17. They say it would be legitimate for MPs to push for the UK to stay in the single market because the Leave campaign has refused to spell out what trading relationship it wants the UK to have with the EU in the future. As such, a post-Brexit government could not claim it had a popular mandate for a particular model.

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Equal partners.

Brexit May Seem Like The West’s Biggest Problem. But Look At The US Economy (G.)

Britain is trapped in its own little Brexit bubble. For the next two and a half weeks, the country will be obsessed with the result of the referendum on 23 June. Nothing that is going on in the rest of the world will get much of a look-in. But beyond these shores, things are happening. The authorities in China are desperately trying to shore up growth. Eurozone finance ministers have all but guaranteed that, sooner or later, the Greek crisis will flare up again. Most pressingly, the US economy looks to be heading for serious trouble. Make no mistake, the jobs report issued in Washington on Friday was a shocker. Wall Street had been expecting the non-farm payroll – the benchmark for the strength of the US labour market – to increase by 164,000. The actual figure was 38,000, the smallest monthly increase since September 2010.

True, the total was slightly distorted because 35,000 striking workers at Verizon were counted as jobless because they were not being paid. But that still would have meant an NFP increase of just 73,000. The weak jobs report comes at a particularly sensitive time because America’s central bank, the Federal Reserve, has been softening the markets up for an increase in interest rates, either this month or next. Any such move is now out of the question. US borrowing costs will not be going up again until the autumn at the earliest. This is all rather chastening for the Fed. When it raised interest rates in December for the first time since the Great Recession, the central bank signalled that there would be four more increases during the course of 2016.

Financial markets subsequently went into freefall during the early weeks of the year, forcing the Fed into a crash rethink. In March, it indicated that the number of 2016 rate increases had been halved from four to two – but the guidance was promptly ignored by traders, who based their decisions on the assumption that there would be no further tightening of policy by the Fed until 2017. With its reputation at stake, the Fed has gone out of its way since March to convince the markets that it was serious about two rate rises in 2016. Really, really it was. Janet Yellen, the Fed’s chair, told Wall Street that it might be “confused” about the way the central bank was going about its business.

Yet if anyone is confused it is Yellen, not the markets, which have rightly calculated that the Fed is all talk and should be judged by what it does and not by what it says. Here’s the position. The US economy grew at an annualised rate of 0.8% in the first quarter of 2016, which was not just weaker than the UK but substantially worse than the eurozone. Friday’s May payrolls were not a one-off, since the totals for March and April were revised downwards by a combined 59,000.

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Not quite sure what Ambrose intends here, but yeah, Britons’ dislike of Cameron, Major and any and all EU mouthpieces may well decide the issue.

‘Brexit Voters Succumbing To Impulse Irritation And Anger’ (AEP)

British voters are succumbing to impulsive gut feelings and irrational reflexes in the Brexit campaign with little regard for the enormous consequences down the road, the world’s most influential psychologist has warned. Daniel Kahneman, the Israeli Nobel laureate and father of behavioural economics, said the referendum debate is being driven by a destructive psychological process, one that could lead to a grave misjudgment and a downward spiral for British society. “The major impression one gets observing the debate is that the reasons for exit are clearly emotional,” he said. “The arguments look odd: they look short-term and based on irritation and anger. These seem to be powerful enough that they may lead to Brexit,” he said, speaking to The Telegraph at the Amundi world investment forum in Paris.

The counter-critique is that the Remain campaign is equally degrading the debate, playing on visceral reactions and ephemeral issues of the day. In a sense the two sides are egging each other on. That is the sociological fascination of it. Professor Kahneman, who survived the Nazi occupation of France as a Jewish child in the Second World War, said the risk is that the British people will be swept along by emotion and lash out later at scapegoats if EU withdrawal proves to be a disastrous strategic error. “They won’t regret it because regret is rare. They’ll find a way to explain what happened and blame somebody. That is the general pattern when things go wrong and people are afraid,” he said. The refusal to face up to the implications of what is really at stake in the referendum comes as no surprise to a man imbued with deep sense of anthropological pessimism.

His life’s work is anchored in studies showing that people are irrational. They are prone to cognitive biases and “systematic errors in thinking”, made worse by chronic over-confidence in their own judgment – and the less intelligent they are, the more militantly certain they tend to be. People do not always act in their own economic self-interest. Nor do they strive to maximize “utility’ and minimize risk, contrary to the assumptions of efficient market theory and the core premises of the economics profession. “People are myopic. Our brain circuits respond to immediate consequences,” he said.

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Added for entertainment value. BTW, what century is this?

Erdogan: Childless Women Deficient, Incomplete: Have At Least 3 (AFP)

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday urged Turkish women to have at least three children, saying a woman’s life was “incomplete” if she failed to have offspring. Erdogan’s comments were the latest in a series of controversial remarks aimed at encouraging women to help boost Turkey’s population, which had already risen exponentially in the last years. The president emphasised he was a strong supporter of women having careers but emphasised that this should not be an “obstacle” to having children. “Rejecting motherhood means giving up on humanity,” Erdogan said in a speech marking the opening of the new building of Turkey’s Women’s and Democracy Association (KADEM). “I would recommend having at least three children,” added the president.

“The fact that a woman is attatched to her professional life should not prevent her from being a mother,” he added, saying that Turkey had taken “important steps” to support working mothers. Erdogan had on Monday said that family planning and contraception were not for Muslim families, prompting fury among women’s activists. In his speech Sunday he went on to add: “A woman who says ‘because I am working I will not be a mother’ is actually denying her feminity.” “A women who rejects motherhood, who refrains from being around the house, however successful her working life is, is deficient, is incomplete,” he added.

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And there we go.

Turkey Shelves Refugee ‘Readmission’ Deal With EU (DS)

The agreement between Turkey and the EU that will facilitate visa liberalization for Turkish nationals and allow readmission of Syrian refugees who enter Europe illegally is practically shelved due to ongoing disagreements, according to sources from the Foreign Ministry. The Turkey-EU agreement that will pave the way for visa liberalization was initially signed on Dec. 16, 2013 and was later included in the comprehensive refugee deal by both parties. Although Brussels says the deal will succeed, it also requires Turkey to meet the EU’s 72 benchmarks, which include narrowing its counterterrorism laws.

Turkey’s Aksam daily reported over the weekend that a senior official from the Foreign Ministry said Turkey has used its administrative measures correctly to temporarily suspend the Readmission Agreement, which will return undocumented, illegal refugees who enter Europe via Turkey in exchange for registered migrants. Sources from the Foreign Ministry who spoke to Daily Sabah yesterday said: “In order for the Readmission Agreement to be successfully fulfilled, a Cabinet decision approving the bill published in the Official Gazette must be announced.” Such an approval is not expected anytime soon. Although the European Commission had announced early last week that the Readmission Agreement would come into full force as of June 1, Ankara asserted that “the EU has failed to fulfill its duties resulting from the agreement,” stressing that it suspended the Readmission Agreement as part of administrative measures.

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May 282016
 


Jack Delano Row houses, Baltimore 1940

Yellen Leans Toward Near-Term Rate Rise Without Detailing Timing (BBG)
Trump: Only ‘Dummies’ Believe Fed’s Unemployment Figure (Crudele)
Japan’s Abe Plans Up to $90.7 Billion Stimulus (BBG)
US Farm Belt Banks Tighten the Buckle (WSJ)
Companies Go on Worldwide Bond Bender With $236 Billion of Sales (BBG)
Clinton Lurks in Shadows When Sparring With Sanders on Banks (BBG)
Toronto’s Red-Hot Market Sends Property Values Soaring (Star)
UK House Prices Compared With Earnings ‘Close To Pre-Crisis Levels’ (G.)
Paris and Berlin Ready ‘Plan B’ For Life After Brexit (FT)
Neoliberalism Increases Inequality and Stunts Economic Growth: IMF (Ind.)
How the Deadly Sin of Avarice Was Rehabilitated as Self Interest (Evon.)
Silencing the United States as It Prepares for War (Pilger)
ISIS Advance Traps 165,000 Syrians at Closed Turkish Border (HRW)

“The economy is continuing to improve..” Nuff said.

Yellen Leans Toward Near-Term Rate Rise Without Detailing Timing (BBG)

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen threw her support behind a growing consensus at the central bank in favor of another interest rate increase soon, while steering clear of specifying the timing of such a move. “It’s appropriate – and I’ve said this in the past – for the Fed to gradually and cautiously increase our overnight interest rate over time,” Yellen said Friday during remarks at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “Probably in the coming months such a move would be appropriate.” Yellen will host her colleagues on the Federal Open Market Committee in Washington June 14-15, when they will contemplate a second interest-rate increase following seven years of near-zero borrowing costs that ended when they hiked in December.

A series of speeches by Fed officials and the release of the minutes to their April policy meeting have heightened investor expectations for another tightening move either next month or in July. “The economy is continuing to improve,” she said in a discussion with Harvard economics professor Gregory Mankiw. She added that she expects “inflation will move up over the next couple of years to our 2% objective,” provided headwinds holding down price pressures, including energy prices and a stronger dollar, stabilize alongside an improving labor market.

Several regional Fed presidents, ranging from Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren to San Francisco’s John Williams, have in recent weeks urged financial market participants to take more seriously the chances of a rate hike in the next two months, pointing to continued signs of steady if unspectacular growth in the U.S. economy and the waning of risks posed by global economic and financial conditions. Yellen suggested that a rate rise would be appropriate if economic growth picks up and the labor market continues to improve – two developments that she said she expects to happen.

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Trump sees a whole other world than Yellen does. Take your pick.

Trump: Only ‘Dummies’ Believe Fed’s Unemployment Figure (Crudele)

Donald Trump, if elected president, will investigate the veracity of US economic statistics produced by Washington — including “the way they are reported.” I caught up with Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, by phone Tuesday morning, and we had a frank talk about the economy and what is making his campaign tick. “When you look at some of these [economic] numbers they give out and then you go out and see people dying to get a job all over the country, I mean, it’s not jibing with what’s really going on,” Trump said. “The economy is not doing well,” Trump said. “You know, John, I’m getting 20,000 to 25,000 people every time I make a speech, and they are not there just because of the border,” he added, referring to his vow to build a wall between the US and Mexico.

“They are there because — and you know — if you put out a job notice, you’ll get thousands of people showing up to pick up a job,” Trump said. As I’ve mentioned before, I first met Trump decades ago and we used to talk once in a while, but haven’t for many years. Trump says he thinks the US unemployment rate is close to 20% and not the 5% reported by the Labor Department. Anyone who believes the 5% is a “dummy,” he said. The Federal Reserve, of course, always quotes the 5% figure and may raise interest rates based on that belief in the coming months. But even the Fed must not be too certain since it produces its own version of the jobless number, something I’ve already written about. Trump has said in the past that the Fed is also in his cross hairs for an audit. (I would recommend he look into how the Fed interferes with the markets.)

As I’ve been reporting for years, the official unemployment rate is conveniently reduced by a number of factors — each in place during both Democratic and Republican administrations. One of these factors, for example, is out-of-work people who have stopped looking for work for more than a year because they may have grown frustrated by the lack of jobs. They are not counted in the unemployment rate. A less popular unemployment stat, called the U-6, which measures some of these idled souls plus others who are forced to work part-time because they can’t find a 40-hour-a-week gig, stands at 9.7%. The truly frustrated aren’t counted at all.

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It’s stunning, really, that this man still gets to dig his country ever deeper in. He hasn’t delivered on f**k all.

Japan’s Abe Plans Up to $90.7 Billion Stimulus (BBG)

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to propose a fiscal stimulus package of as much as 10 trillion yen ($90.7 billion) after warning Group of Seven leaders that the global economy faces significant risk of another crisis, according to the Nikkei newspaper. Abe will seek a second supplementary budget worth 5 trillion yen to 10 trillion yen after July’s upper-house election, the Nikkei reported Saturday without attribution. Proposals will include accelerating the construction of a magnetic-levitation train line from Nagoya to Osaka, issuing vouchers to boost consumer spending, increasing pay for child-care workers and setting up a scholarship fund, the Nikkei said. “When you want to get the economy going, as long as demand in Asia is weak, you need additional public spending,” Martin Schulz at Fujitsu Research Institute in Tokyo, said by phone.

“Since private spending is still not picking up, the government is simply taking up the slack.” Abe is getting closer to delaying an increase in Japan’s sales tax, saying Friday he’ll make a decision before an upper-house election this summer on whether to go ahead with a planned hike in the levy next April to 10%, from 8%. A formal announcement of a two-year delay is expected Wednesday at the close of the parliamentary session, the Nikkei reported. This would be the second postponement by Abe, as the tax was initially scheduled to be raised in October 2015. An increase in the levy in 2014 pushed Japan into a recession. Abe had previously said the tax hike would be delayed only if there was a shock on the scale of a major earthquake or a corporate collapse like that of Lehman Brothers.

Since the previous tax hike, the economy has swung between contraction and growth, with consumer spending remaining weak. Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has struggled to spur inflation despite record asset purchases and negative interest rates. Consumer prices excluding fresh food fell 0.3% in April from a year earlier, after dropping by the same amount in March, data released Friday showed. Meanwhile, the yen has surged about 9% versus the dollar this year, threatening profits for exporters including Toyota and weighing on the nation’s stock market. The benchmark Topix index has fallen 13% in 2016.

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Compliments of the globalized and chemicalized food industry.

US Farm Belt Banks Tighten the Buckle (WSJ)

Banks are tightening credit for U.S. farmers amid a rise in delinquencies, forcing some growers to turn to alternative sources of loans. When U.S. agriculture was booming this decade, banks doled out ample credit to strong performers and weaker growers alike, said Michael Swanson, an agricultural economist at Wells Fargo. But with the farm slump moving into its third year, banks have become pickier, requiring some growers to cough up more collateral and denying financing outright to some customers who need it to pay for seeds, crop chemicals and rent. Farmers this year have been grappling with low commodity prices, mounting debt and weaker incomes.


Claude Sem, chief executive of Farm Credit Services of North Dakota, said he asked some farmers to put up more land or machinery to back loans this spring. Collateral requirements could increase for more farmers if crop prices remain low, he said, noting that the cash price for wheat in northern North Dakota recently was about $4.50 a bushel, roughly a dollar below what it costs many farmers to raise the crop. “Below break-even, everything tightens up,” Mr. Sem said, adding that falling land values also have spurred lenders to boost collateral requirements, with cropland prices down as much as 20% in some parts of North Dakota.

With traditional bank loans harder to come by, farmers are turning to sources like CHS Inc., a large farmer-owned cooperative in the U.S., which operates grain elevators and retail stores across the Midwest. CHS said its loans to farmers increased 48% in both number and volume in the 12 months to March and have more than doubled since 2014. It “suggests there are many farmers struggling to obtain financing,” said Randy Nelson, president of the co-op’s financing subsidiary, CHS Capital.

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Lemmings ‘R’ Us.

Companies Go on Worldwide Bond Bender With $236 Billion of Sales (BBG)

A borrowing binge by companies globally is poised to make May one of the the busiest months ever, thanks to investors who continue to devour the relatively juicy yields on corporate debt in a negative-rate world.\ Global issuance of non-financial company debt will be in excess of $236 billion by month-end, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, led by computer maker Dell, which sold $20 billion of bonds to back its takeover of EMC in the year’s second-biggest corporate offering. In Europe, companies sold €48.5 billion ($54.2 billion) making it the busiest May on record. U.S. borrowers including Johnson & Johnson and Kraft Heinz did deals of more than €1 billion.

The surge in issuance is unlikely to satisfy investors who hoped to boost their income by buying company debt when easy-money monetary policies push yields on more than $9 trillion of bonds worldwide below zero. The extra yield investors demand to hold company debt globally relative to safer government bonds remains near year-to-date lows, while concessions on newly issued notes have fallen over the course of the month. “Deals continue to be very much oversubscribed,” said Travis King, head of investment-grade credit at Voya Investment Management, which oversees $203 billion. “It is very difficult to get bonds, especially in the hotter deals.” For investors who placed more than $80 billion of orders for Dell’s bond sale, the problem may get worse next month.

Seasonal declines in issuance, combined with decisions by some companies to accelerate debt sales to May, indicate June volumes in the U.S. will be in the $75 billion to $85 billion range, about half of this month’s supply, according to Bank of America. Vincent Murray, who heads U.S. fixed-income syndicate at Mizuho in New York, said the flow of new deals kept his team kept busy all month. While bond issuance will be less than $100 billion in June, some opportunistic companies may take advantage of low rates in the weeks ahead to issue debt, he said. “The market has remarkably weathered the storm of all this supply,” Murray said. “The fact that supply hasn’t affected the spreads in the marketplace may attract some more issuers that were thinking of passing.”

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“..until the mid-1990s, the sum of runnable liabilities was steady at about 40% of U.S. GDP. That number peaked in early 2008 at 80%, but remains above historical levels, at about 60% of GDP.” And that does not include derivatives.

Clinton Lurks in Shadows When Sparring With Sanders on Banks (BBG)

There is no universal definition for “shadow bank.” At its broadest, it’s any institution that borrows money and invests in financial assets, but is neither a bank, nor regulated like one. This can include insurance companies, hedge funds, private equity firms, and government-sponsored entities such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In debates, Clinton brings up hedge funds and insurance companies. But her published plan hints at a more precise definition: if it’s runnable, it’s a shadow bank. A research note last year from economists at the Federal Reserve Board in Washington describes “runnables” – short-term funds at financial institutions that can evaporate in a panic. Bank deposits over $250,000 are uninsured, and therefore runnable.

So are shares in money-market mutual funds; they should be considered investments, but in practice are not expected to lose principal. Repurchase agreements, also on the list, allow a borrower to sell a stock or bond, along with a promise to buy it back, often in a day or two. Short-term corporate debt, called “paper,” is similarly runnable. According to the Fed economists’ research, until the mid-1990s, the sum of runnable liabilities was steady at about 40% of U.S. GDP. That number peaked in early 2008 at 80%, but remains above historical levels, at about 60% of GDP. The definitions differ slightly, but this is consistent with patterns measured by Morgan Ricks at the Vanderbilt University Law School in Nashville, and by the the Financial Stability Oversight Council, a group of representatives from several regulators.

Runnables, said Ricks, are the “central unsolved problem of financial reform.” Ricks, who was a senior policy adviser at the Treasury Department in 2009 and 2010, takes a historical view of financial runs. Before the U.S. began insuring bank deposits in 1933, bank runs happened about once a decade. Since then, even during the financial crisis, they’ve been rare. But the risk moved outside the banks. Paul McCulley coined the term “shadow bank” during the Kansas City Fed’s 2007 Jackson Hole conference on economic policy. Then the chief economist of Pimco, McCulley laid out the systemic danger hidden in bank-like firms that relied on uninsured short-term funding. By the end of the next year, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, and Merrill Lynch all collapsed. None of these were banks, but all had seen runs on short-term funding. “These are all species of the same genus,” said Ricks.

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The wholesale destruction of cities and communities is not done.

Toronto’s Red-Hot Market Sends Property Values Soaring (Star)

Toronto’s blistering housing market has prompted a 30% jump in residential property values over the last four years, according to the company that assesses real estate in the province. City homeowners will receive assessment notices — their first since 2012 — from the Municipal Property Assessment Corp. (MPAC) beginning next week showing a 7.5% annual increase in their property values. That’s well above the 4.5% provincial average, but lower than the double-digit increases in some 905-area communities such as Richmond Hill and Markham. The average assessed value for a single-family detached home in Toronto is $770,000, up about $200,000 on average from the last assessment in 2012. Toronto condo values increased 2.9% on average to $363,000, about $35,000 higher than four years ago.

Although assessments are linked to property taxes, homeowners should not panic about a steep rise in taxes, says MPAC. “Just because the assessment does increase doesn’t necessarily mean that this is going to have an impact on their taxes,” said Greg Martino, director of valuation and customer relations MPAC. Municipalities, not MPAC, determine property tax rates. How much an individual owner pays depends on where their assessment ranks compared to the city average. Owners whose properties are assessed above the 7.5% average will pay more. Those with below-average assessments pay less. In Toronto, virtually every property will be assessed at a higher rate than it was in 2012. If two properties were assessed at $500,000 in 2012, each would share an equal portion of the city’s tax burden. But if they are reassessed and one home remains at $500,000 but the other is now valued at $600,000, the higher valued property now carries a bigger tax responsibility.

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Force interest rates up by just 1% and you have mayhem.

UK House Prices Compared With Earnings ‘Close To Pre-Crisis Levels’ (G.)

House prices as a multiple of average earnings are “within a whisker” of record levels set before the financial crisis, a City consultancy has warned. The average UK house price is now 6.1 times average earnings, close to the peak of 6.4 it hit before the downturn, Fathom Consulting said. A rise in interest rates from their current low of 0.5% would lead to a correction, it said, although a return to “normal” rates was some way off. Prices have been pushed up by the availability of cheap home loans, and would need to fall by 40% to bring the ratio back to the pre-2000 average of 3.5 times earnings, it added. During the financial crisis, banks and building societies withdrew from lending, particularly to borrowers with small deposits.

But since then, the government’s funding for lending scheme made loans cheaper for borrowers with substantial equity, and then help to buy brought back 95% mortgages. Lenders are now cutting ratesand easing lending criteria. Fathom said this cheap borrowing had been the biggest driver for demand for homes. “Since 2013, the demand for housing has been turbocharged by chancellor [George] Osborne’s help-to-buy policy and the search for yield – which has resulted in the accumulation of housing wealth as an investment alternative for low-yielding financial assets,” it said. “As a consequence, house prices are now close to an all-time high of more than six times disposable income.”

The firm said couples buying together were increasingly taking on large loans relative to their income. Before the crisis fewer than 30% of joint mortgages were taken at more than 2.75 times income , but now that proportion has risen to more than a third. Fear of destabilising the “fragile arithmetic” that underpinned the housing market meant the Bank of England was unlikely to increase the base rate from its current record low of 0.5% until at least 2018, it said, regardless of the EU referendum result. “If it were to tighten Bank rate, it could trigger a rapid correction in the UK housing market and compound the slowdown in economic growth,” it said.

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“Making Brexit a success will be the end of the EU. It cannot happen.” Brexit, period, will be the end.

Paris and Berlin Ready ‘Plan B’ For Life After Brexit (FT)

European leaders have stepped-up secret discussions about a future union without Britain, drawing-up a “plan-B” focused on closer security and defence co-operation in the event of a UK vote to leave the EU. At several overlapping meetings in recent weeks — in Hanover, Rome and Brussels — EU leaders and their most trusted aides have discussed how to mount a common response to Brexit, which would be the bloc’s biggest setback in its 60-year history. More than a dozen politicians and officials involved at various levels have sketched out to the Financial Times the ideas for concerted action to “double down on the irreversibility of our union” — as well as the many internal divisions that stand in their way.

Rather than attempt a sudden lurch to integrate the eurozone, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President François Hollande are instead eyeing a push to deepen security and defence co-operation, a less contentious initiative that has appeal beyond the 19-member euro area. Foremost is the challenge of managing expected financial and political turmoil in the aftermath of a Brexit vote. Beyond the first statements to reassure markets, officials expect a special gathering of EU leaders — without Britain — to discuss the bloc’s response. A summit of all 28 leaders is already scheduled for June 28-29. “Everybody will say: ‘We’re sorry, this is a historical disaster but now we have to move on.’ And then they will say ‘OK, David [Cameron], goodbye, because now we have to meet as 27 leaders,’” said one senior diplomat intimately involved in the planning.

“That will be rather a decisive moment: will the 27 find the energy, the convergence of views to define a common agenda or whether it will be only the 19?” French officials are wary of Brexit contagion spreading to other member states and the lift it would provide to anti-EU insurgents like the National Front’s Marine Le Pen. They are determined to send a tough and punitive message to show divorce will be costly for Britain. “Playing down or minimising the consequences would put Europe at risk,” said one senior French official. “The principle of consequences is very important — to protect Europe.” Another leading European politician central to the Plan B process said: “Making Brexit a success will be the end of the EU. It cannot happen.”

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There are a few smart people working at the IMF. But they don’t make policy. Neoliberals do.

Neoliberalism Increases Inequality and Stunts Economic Growth: IMF (Ind.)

Key parts of neoliberal economic policy have increased inequality and risk stunting economic growth across the globe, economists at the IMF have warned. Neoliberalism – the dominant economic ideology since the 1980s – tends to advocate a free market approach to policymaking: promoting measures such as privatisation, public spending cuts, and deregulation. It is generally antipathetic to the public sector and believes the private sector should play a greater role in the economy. The ideology was initially championed by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in Britain and America, but was ultimately also adopted by centre-left parties worldwide, under “third way” figures like Tony Blair.

The approach has long been the target of criticism from the radical left and parts of the reactionary right – but has been endorsed as common sense by centrist parties across the world for decades. Now a paper published in June 2016’s issue of the IMF’s Finance and Development journal warns that, after nearly forty years of neoliberalism, the approach is jeopardising the future of the world economy. “Instead of delivering growth, some neoliberal policies have increased inequality, in turn jeopardising durable expansion,” the senior IMF economists who drew up the paper said. The authors say that while the liberalisation of trade has helped lift people out of poverty in the developed world and some privatisations have raised efficiency, other aspects of the policy platform had seriously misfired.

“There are aspects of the neoliberal agenda that have not delivered as expected,” they said, focusing specifically on austerity and the freedom of capital to move across borders. “The benefits in terms of increased growth seem fairly difficult to establish when looking at a broad group of countries. “The costs in terms of increased inequality are prominent. Such costs epitomize the trade-off between the growth and equity effects of some aspects of the neoliberal agenda. “Increased inequality in turn hurts the level and sustainability of growth. Even if growth is the sole or main purpose of the neoliberal agenda, advocates of that agenda still need to pay attention to the distributional effects.”

They go on to say that throwing open national borders to multinational corporations has had “uncertain” growth benefits but quite clear costs – due to “increased economic volatility and crisis frequency” which they say is more evident under neoliberalism. On the issue of austerity, the authors say there is strong evidence that there is no reason for countries like Britain to inflict austerity on themselves. “Austerity policies not only generate substantial welfare costs due to supply-side channels, they also hurt demand – and thus worsen employment and unemployment,” they say. “In sum, the benefits of some policies that are an important part of the neoliberal agenda appear to have been somewhat overplayed.”

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“During the Middle Ages, avarice had been considered to be among the most mortal of the seven deadly sins..”

How the Deadly Sin of Avarice Was Rehabilitated as Self Interest (Evon.)

In the aftermath of the stock market crash of 1987, the New York Times headlined an editorial “Ban Greed? No: Harness It,” It continued: “Perhaps the most important idea here is the need to distinguish between motive and consequence. Derivative securities attract the greedy the way raw meat attracts piranhas. But so what? Private greed can lead to public good. The sensible goal for securities regulation is to channel selfish behavior, not thwart it.” The Times, surely unwittingly, was channeling the 18th century philosopher David Hume: “Political writers have established it as a maxim, that in contriving any system of government . . . every man ought to be supposed to be a knave and to have no other end, in all his actions, than his private interest. By this interest we must govern him, and, by means of it, make him, notwithstanding his insatiable avarice and ambition, cooperate to public good.”

The idea that base motives could be harnessed for the public good is what I term economic alchemy. And in Hume’s time it was definitely a new way of thinking about how society could be governed. During the Middle Ages, avarice had been considered to be among the most mortal of the seven deadly sins, a view that became more widespread with the expansion of commercial activity after the twelfth century. So it is surprising that self-interest would eventually be accepted a respectable motive, and even more surprising that this change owed little to the rise of economics, at least at first. How this came about, you will see, is a remarkable story, one that is finally running its course in light of mounting evidence not only that people are not really all that knavish, but also that treating citizens as if they were knaves may lead them to act is if they really were knaves! But I am getting ahead of the story.

It all began in the sixteenth century with Niccolò Machiavelli. “Anyone who would found a republic and order its laws” he wrote in his Discourses, “must assume that all men are wicked [and] . . . never act well except through necessity . . . It is said that hunger and poverty make them industrious, laws make them good.” Hume, it seems was channeling Machiavelli! It was the shadow of war and disorder that made self-interest an acceptable basis of good government. During the seventeenth century, wars accounted for a larger share of European mortality than in any century for which we have records, including what Raymond Aron called “the century of total war,” which happily is now finished.

Writing after a decade of warfare between English parliamentarians and royalists, Hobbes (in 1651) sought to determine “the Passions that encline men to Peace” and found them in “Feare of Death; Desire of such things as are necessary to commodious living; and a Hope by their Industry to obtain them.” Knaves might be preferable to saints or at least likely to be more harmless. The year before Adam Smith wrote in his Wealth of Nations (1776) about how the self-interest of the butcher, the brewer, and the baker would put our dinner on the table, James Boswell’s Dr. Johnson gave Homo economicus a different endorsement: “There are few ways in which a man can be more innocently employed than in getting money.”

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“[One] great myth we’re seeing play out is that of Obama as some kind of peaceful guy who’s trying to get rid of nuclear weapons. He’s the biggest nuclear warrior there is. He’s committed us to a ruinous course of spending a trillion dollars on more nuclear weapons. Somehow, people live in this fantasy that because he gives vague news conferences and speeches and feel-good photo-ops that somehow that’s attached to actual policy. It isn’t.”

Silencing the United States as It Prepares for War (Pilger)

Returning to the United States in an election year, I am struck by the silence. I have covered four presidential campaigns, starting with 1968; I was with Robert Kennedy when he was shot and I saw his assassin, preparing to kill him. It was a baptism in the American way, along with the salivating violence of the Chicago police at the Democratic Party’s rigged convention. The great counter revolution had begun. The first to be assassinated that year, Martin Luther King, had dared link the suffering of African-Americans and the people of Vietnam. When Janis Joplin sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”, she spoke perhaps unconsciously for millions of America’s victims in faraway places.

“We lost 58,000 young soldiers in Vietnam, and they died defending your freedom. Now don’t you forget it.” So said a National Parks Service guide as I filmed last week at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. He was addressing a school party of young teenagers in bright orange T-shirts. As if by rote, he inverted the truth about Vietnam into an unchallenged lie. The millions of Vietnamese who died and were maimed and poisoned and dispossessed by the American invasion have no historical place in young minds, not to mention the estimated 60,000 veterans who took their own lives. A friend of mine, a marine who became a paraplegic in Vietnam, was often asked, “Which side did you fight on?” A few years ago, I attended a popular exhibition called “The Price of Freedom” at the venerable Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

The lines of ordinary people, mostly children shuffling through a Santa’s grotto of revisionism, were dispensed a variety of lies: the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved “a million lives”; Iraq was “liberated [by] air strikes of unprecedented precision”. The theme was unerringly heroic: only Americans pay the price of freedom. The 2016 election campaign is remarkable not only for the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders but also for the resilience of an enduring silence about a murderous self-bestowed divinity. A third of the members of the United Nations have felt Washington’s boot, overturning governments, subverting democracy, imposing blockades and boycotts. Most of the presidents responsible have been liberal – Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Clinton, Obama.

The breathtaking record of perfidy is so mutated in the public mind, wrote the late Harold Pinter, that it “never happened …Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. It didn’t matter … “. Pinter expressed a mock admiration for what he called “a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”

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Is Russia the only party to turn to?

ISIS Advance Traps 165,000 Syrians at Closed Turkish Border (HRW)

There are two walls on the Turkey-Syria border. One is manned by Turkish border guards enforcing Turkey’s 15 month-old border closure who, according to witnesses, have at times shot at and assaulted Syrian asylum seekers as they try to reach safety in Turkey – abuses strongly denied by the Turkish government. The other is a wall of silence by the rest of the world, including the United Nations, which has chosen to turn a blind eye to Turkey’s breach of international law which prohibits forcing people back to places, including by rejecting them at the border, where their lives or freedom would be threatened. Both walls are trapping 165,000 displaced Syrians now scattered in overcrowded informal settlements and fields just south of Turkey’s Öncupınar/Bab al-Salameh border crossing and in and around the nearby Syrian town of Azaz.

In April, 30,000 of them fled ISIS advances on about 10 informal displacement camps to the east of Azaz, which came under ISIS attack, and one of which has since been hit by an airstrike that killed at least 20 people and injured at least 37 more. Turkish border guards shot at civilians fleeing ISIS and approaching the border. Now aid agencies operating in the area say that between May 24 and 27, another 45,000 fled a new ISIS assault on the area east of Azaz and are now stuck in and around Azaz too. Aid agencies say there is no question all 165,000 would seek asylum in Turkey if the border were open to them.

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May 182016
 
 May 18, 2016  Posted by at 8:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


Russell Lee South Side market, Chicago 1941

US Debt Dump Deepens In 2016 (CNN)
The Humungous Depression (Gore)
Negative Rates Are A Form Of Tax (MW)
The Negative Interest Rate Gap (Dmitry Orlov)
The EU Has “Run Its Historical Course” (ZH)
Italy Wins Brussels’ ‘Flexibility’ On Debt Reduction Targets (FT)
US Raises China Steel Taxes By 522% (BBC)
Chinas Debt Bubble Is Getting Only More Dangerous (WSJ)
China To Curb Shadow Banking Via Checks On Fund House Subsidiaries (R.)
Abenomics: The Reboot, Rebooted (R.)
Trump and Sanders Shift Mood in Congress Against Trade Deals (BBG)
Smugglers Made $5-6 Billion Off Refugees To Europe In 2015 (R.)
Refugees Will Repay EU Spending Almost Twice Over In Five Years (G.)

“There’s still this fear of ‘everything is going to fall apart.'”

US Debt Dump Deepens In 2016 (CNN)

China, Russia and Brazil sold off U.S. Treasury bonds as they tried to soften the blow of the global economic slowdown. They each sold off at least $1 billion in U.S. Treasury bonds in March. In all, central banks sold a net $17 billion. Sales had hit a record $57 billion in January. So far this year, the global bank debt dump has reached $123 billion. It’s the fastest pace for a U.S. debt selloff by global central banks since at least 1978, according to Treasury Department data published Monday afternoon. Treasuries are considered one of the safest assets in the world, but some experts say a sense of panic about the global economy drove the selloff.

“It’s more of global fear than anything,” says Ihab Salib, head of international fixed income at Federated Investors. “There’s still this fear of ‘everything is going to fall apart.'” Judging by the selloff, policymakers across the globe were hitting the panic button often and early in the year as oil prices fell, concerns about China’s economy rose and stock markets were very volatile. In response, countries may be selling Treasuries to prop up their currencies, some of which lost lots of value against the dollar last year. By selling U.S. debt, central banks can get hard cash to buy up their local currency and prevent it from losing too much value.

Also, as investors have pulled money out of developing countries, central bankers seek to replenish those lost funds by selling their foreign reserves. The leader in the selloff: China. “We’ve seen Chinese central bank foreign reserves fall dramatically,” says Gus Faucher, senior economist at PNC Financial. “Their currency is under pressure.” Between December and February, China’s central bank sold off an alarming $236 billion to help support its currency, which China is slowly letting become more controlled by markets and less by the government. In March, China sold $3.5 billion in U.S. Treasury bonds, Treasury data shows. Experts say the sell off may be slowing down now that global concerns have eased. If anything, demand is still high for U.S. Treasury bonds – it’s just coming from private investors.

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ZIRP and NIRP feed the casino.

The Humungous Depression (Gore)

Economic depressions unfold slowly, which obscures their analysis, although they are simple to understand. Governments and central banks turn recessions into depressions, which are preceded by unsustainable expansions of debt untethered from the real economy. The reduction and resolution of excess debt takes time, and governments and central banks usually act counterproductively, retarding necessary adjustments and lengthening the adjustment, and consequently, the depression. If one dates the beginning of a depression from the beginning of the unsustainable expansion of debt that preceded it, then the current depression began in 1987. Newly installed chairman of the Fed Alan Greenspan quelled a stock market crash, flooding the financial system with fiat liquidity. It was a well from which he and his successors would draw repeatedly.

Throughout the 1990s he would pump whenever it appeared the market and the US economy were about to dump. In 1999, he pumped because the Y2K computer transition might adversely affect the economy and financial system (it didn’t). If one dates the beginning of a depression from the time when the benefits of debt are, in the aggregate, outweighed by its burdens, the depression began in 2000, with the implosion of the fiat-credit fueled, high-tech and Internet stock market bubble. Unsustainable debt and artificially low interest rates lower the rate of return on productive investment and saving, increasing the relative attractiveness of speculation. Central bankers and their minions refer to this as “forcing investors out on the risk curve,” crawling way out on a limb for fruitful returns. They have no term for when markets saw off the branch, as they did in 2000 and again in 2008.

Most people don’t see 2000 as the beginning of a depression, but Washington and Wall Street cloud their vision. Stock markets were once essential avenues for raising capital and valuing corporations. Since central bankers’ remit was broadened to their care and feeding, stock markets have become engines of obfuscation. The “wealth effect” supposedly justified solicitude for markets: a rising stock market would increase wealth, spending, and economic growth. For seven years a rising market has coexisted with an anemic rebound and one hears little about the wealth effect anymore. The stock market is the preeminent symbol of economic health, so keeping it afloat has become a political exercise. Sure, central bankers and governments know what they’re doing, just look at those stock indices.

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“They impose a levy on the banking system that has to be paid by someone..”

Negative Rates Are A Form Of Tax (MW)

Central banks have slashed interest rates to nothing. They have printed money on a vast scale. Where that has not quite worked, and if we are being honest that is most places, they now have a new tool. Negative interest rates. Across a third of the global economy, money you put in the bank does not only generate nothing in the way of a return. You actually get charged for keeping it there. That is already producing strange, Alice-in-Wonderland economics, where nothing is quite what it seems. Governments want you to delay paying taxes as long as possible, the mortgage company pays you to stay in the house, and cash becomes so sought after there is even talk of abolishing it. But the real problem with negative rates may be something quite different.

As a fascinating new paper from the St. Louis Fed argues, they are in fact a form of tax. They impose a levy on the banking system that has to be paid by someone — and that someone is probably us. That may explain why central banks and governments are so keen on them. Hugely indebted governments are always in the market for a new tax, especially one that their voters probably won’t notice. But it also explains why they don’t really work — because most of the economics in trouble, especially in Europe, are already suffocating under an impossible high tax burden. Negative interest rates have, like a fast-mutating virus, started to spread across the world. The Swiss first tried them out all the way back in the 1970s.

In June 1972 it imposed a penalty rate of 2% a quarter on foreigners parking money in Swiss francs amid the turmoil of the early part of that decade, but the experiment only lasted a couple of years. In the modern era, the ECB kicked off the trend in June 2014 with a negative rate on selected deposits. Since then, they have spread to Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland (again), and more recently Japan, while the ECB has cut even deeper into negative territory. They already cover about a third of the global economy, and there is no reason why they should not reach further. The Fed might be raising rates this year, but it is the only major central bank to do so, and if, or rather when, there is another major downturn, it may have no choice but to impose negative rates as well.

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“..how can an interest rate be negative? Does it become a “disinterest rate”?

The Negative Interest Rate Gap (Dmitry Orlov)

Back in the early 1980s the US economy was experiencing stagflation: a stagnant economy and an inflating currency. Paul Volcker, who at the time was Chairman of the Federal Reserve, took a decisive step and raised the Federal Funds Rate, which determines the rate at which most other economic players get to borrow, to 18%, freezing out inflation. This was a bold step, not without negative consequences, but it did get inflation under control and, after a while, the US economy stopped stagnating. Well, not quite. Wages didn’t stop stagnating; they’ve been stagnant ever since. But the fortunes of the 1% of the richest Americans have certainly improved nicely! Moreover, the US economy grew quite a bit since that time.

Of course, most of this growth came at the expense of staggering structural deficits and an explosion of indebtedness at every level, but so what? Sure, the national debt went exponential and the government’s unfunded liabilities are now over $200 trillion, but that’s OK. You just have to like debt. Keep saying to yourself: “Debt is good!” Because if everyone started thinking that debt is bad, then the entire financial house of cards would implode and we would be left with nothing. But once interest rates peaked in the early 1980s, they’ve been on a downward trend ever since, with little ups and downs now and again but an unmistakable overall downward trend.

The Federal Reserve had to do this in order to, in Fed-speak, “support economic activity and job creation by making financial conditions more accommodative.” Once it started doing this, it found that it couldn’t stop. The US had entered a downward spiral—of sloth, obesity, ignorance, substance abuse, expensive and disastrous foreign military adventures, bureaucratic insanity, massive corruption at every level—and under these circumstances it needed ever-cheaper money in order to keep the financial house of cards from imploding. And then, in late 2008, the Fed finally reached the ultimate target: the Fed Funds Rate went all the way to zero. This is known as ZIRP, for Zero Interest Rate Policy. And, unfortunately, it stayed there.

It stayed there, instead of continuing to gently drift down as before, because of a conceptual difficulty: how can an interest rate be negative? Does it become a “disinterest rate”? How can that work? After all, lenders are “interested” in lending because they get back more than they lend out (accepting some amount of risk); and depositors are “interested” in keeping money in banks because they get back more than they put in. And if these activities become “of zero interest,” why would lenders lend and depositors deposit? They wouldn’t, now, would they? They’d buy gold, or Bitcoin, or bid up real estate.

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As long as we can see things only in terms of money nothing we do has any real value.

The EU Has “Run Its Historical Course” (ZH)

None other than the former head of MI6 (the British Secret Intelligence Service) Richard Dearlove expressed his quite candid thoughts on the immigration crisis, as well as the possibility of a British exit from the EU during a speech recently at the BBC. The speech is well worth the listen. Here are some notable quotes from the speech as it relates to the immigration crisis. The former head of intelligence is quick to point out that despite what the public perception may be, the reality is that there are terrorists already among us.

“When massive social forces are at work, and mass migration is such a force, a whole government response is required, and a high degree of international cooperation.” “In the real world, there are no miraculous James Bond style solutions. Simply shutting the door on migration is not an option. History tells us that human tides are irresistible, unless the gravitational pull that causes them is removed. Edward Gibbon elegantly charted how Rome, with all it’s civic and administrative sophistication and military prowess, could not stop its empire from being overrun by the mass movement of Europe’s tribes.”

“We should not conflate the problem of migration with the threat of terrorism. High levels of immigration, particularly from the Middle East, coupled with freedom of movement inside the EU, make effective border conrol more difficult. Terrorists can, and do exploit these circumstances as we saw recently in their movement between Brussels and Paris, and to and from Syria. With large numbers of people on the move, a few of them will inevitably carry the terrorist virus.” A number of the most lethal terrorists are from inside Europe, including the UK. They are already among us.” “The EU, as opposed to its member states, has no operational counter-terrorist capability to speak of. Many of the European states look to the UK for training.”

“The argument that we would be less secure if we left the EU, is in reality rather difficult to make. There would in fact be some gains if we left, because the UK would be fully master of its own house. Counter-terrorist coordination across Europe would certainly continue, and the UK would remain a leader in the field. The idea that the quality of that cooperation depends in any significant way on our EU membership is misleading.” “Is the EU, faced with the problem of mass migration, able to coordinate an effective response from its member countries. Should the UK stay in and continue struggle for fundamental change, or do we conclude that the effort would be wasted, and that the EU in its extended form has run its historical course. For each of us, this is possibly the most important choice we may ever have to make.”

“Whether we will each be worse off, whether our national security might be damaged, even whether the economy might falter, and sterling be devalued, are subsidiary to the key question, which is whether we have confidence in the EU to manage Europe’s future. If Europe cannot act together to persuade a majority of its citizens that it can gain control of its migrant crisis, then the EU will find itself at the mercy of a populist uprising which is already stirring. The stakes are very high, and the UK referendum is the first roll of the dice in a bigger geopolitical game.”

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Unlike Greece, Italy is so big it can make or break the EU. So goalposts are moved as they go along.

Italy Wins Brussels’ ‘Flexibility’ On Debt Reduction Targets (FT)

Brussels has granted Italy “unprecedented” flexibility in meeting EU debt reduction targets, using its political leeway to the full as it cautiously polices the eurozone’s fiscal rule book. Italy has emerged as a big winner from the European Commission’s latest review of national budget policies, which is set to pull back from — or postpone — painful corrective measures it had the power to impose. The decisions have sparked an intense debate within the commission over what critics see as its record of tolerating fiscal lapses by countries such as France, Italy and Spain. Some officials were on Tuesday pushing to delay parts of the package to avoid punishing Spain and Portugal before Spain’s election on June 26.

The need for the debate on timing shows the commission under Jean-Claude Juncker has acted as a self-described political body, even at the risk of undermining the credibility of the eurozone’s strengthened fiscal regime. After months of heavy lobbying from Matteo Renzi, the Italian premier, Rome secured most of the “budgetary flexibility” it sought, helping it avoid so-called excessive deficit procedures for failing to bring down its debt levels fast enough. Italy would be allowed extra fiscal room equivalent to 0.85%of GDP — or about €14bn — this year compared with the target mandated under EU budget rules. Such “flexibility” approaches the 0.9% of GDP Italy demanded in drawn-out negotiations with Brussels.

Valdis Dombrovskis and Pierre Moscovici, the two European commissioners responsible for eurozone budget issues, said in a letter to Rome that “no other member state has requested nor received anything close to this unprecedented amount of flexibility”. Zsolt Darvas of the Bruegel think-tank said that “if the rules were taken literally” Italy would be placed under the excessive deficit procedure. Overall the EU fiscal rules “have very low credibility”, he added. “Many countries are violating the rules almost constantly from one year to the next.” Mr Renzi’s government is not completely in the clear, however. In exchange for the flexibility, the commission demanded a “clear and credible commitment” that Italy would respect its budget targets in 2017 to reduce the country’s high debt-to-GDP ratio, which stood at 132.7%of GDP last year.

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Brilliant! What’s not to like? Can’t wait for the response.

US Raises China Steel Taxes By 522% (BBC)

The US has raised its import duties on Chinese steelmakers by more than five-fold after accusing them of selling their products below market prices. The taxes specifically apply to Chinese-made cold-rolled flat steel, which is used in car manufacturing, shipping containers and construction. The US Commerce Department ruling comes amid heightened trade tensions between the two sides over several products, including chicken parts. Steel is an especially sensitive issue. US and European steel producers claim China is distorting the global market and undercutting them by dumping its excess supply abroad. The ruling itself is only directed at what is small amount of steel from China and Japan and won’t have much of an impact – but it is the politics of the ruling that’s worth noting.

It is an election year, and US presidential candidates have been ramping up the rhetoric on what they say are unfair trade practices by China. US steel makers say that the Chinese government unfairly subsidises its steel exports. Meanwhile China has been under pressure to save its steel sector, which is suffering from over-capacity issues because of slowing demand at home. China’s Ministry of Finance has not directly responded to the US ruling but on its website this morning it has said that China will maintain its tax rebate policy for steel exports as part of its efforts to help the bloated steel sector recover. These tax rebates are seen as favourable policies to shore up ailing steel companies in China, and to avoid massive job losses. Expect more fiery rhetoric from the US on China’s unfair trading practices soon.

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“..China’s richest man — at least on paper — lost half of his wealth in less than half an hour.”

Chinas Debt Bubble Is Getting Only More Dangerous (WSJ)

It would be like finding out Warren Buffett’s financial empire may have been, quite possibly, a sham. That’s what happened last year when China’s richest man — at least on paper — lost half of his wealth in less than half an hour. It turned out that his company Hanergy may well just be Enron with Chinese characteristics: Its stock could only go up as long as it was borrowing money, and it could only borrow money as long as its stock was going up. Those kind of things work until they don’t. The question now, though, is how much the rest of China’s economy has come down with Hanergy syndrome, papering over problems with debt until they can’t be anymore. And the answer might be a lot more than anyone wants to admit. Although we should be careful not to get too carried away here.

Hanergy is now a nothing that used debt to look like a very big something, while China’s economy actually is a very big something that is using debt to look even bigger. In other words, one looks like a boondoggle and the other a bubble. But in both cases, excessive borrowing — especially from unregulated “shadow banks,” such as trading firms — has made things look better today at the expense of a worse tomorrow. In Hanergy’s case, there will, of course, be no tomorrow. To step back, the first thing to know about Hanergy is that it’s really two companies. There’s the privately owned parent corporation Hanergy Group, and the publicly traded subsidiary Hanergy Thin Film Power (HTF). The latter, believe it or not, started out as a toymaker, somehow switched over to manufacturing solar panel parts, and was then bought by Hanergy Chairman Li Hejun.

And that’s when things really got strange. The majority of HTF’s sales, you see, were to its now-parent company Hanergy — and supposedly at a 50% net profit margin! — but it wasn’t actually getting paid, you know, money for them. It was just racking up receivables. Why? Well, the question answers itself. Hanergy must not have had the cash to pay HTF. Its factories were supposed to be putting solar panels together out of the parts it was getting from HTF, but they were barely running — if at all. Hedge-fund manager John Hempton didn’t see anything going on at the one he paid a surprise visit to last year. It’s hard to make money if you’re not making things to sell. But it’s a lot easier to borrow money and pretend that you’re making it. At least as long as you have the collateral to do so — which Hanergy did when HTF’s stock was shooting up.

Indeed, it increased 20-fold from the start of 2013 to the middle of 2015. But it was how more than how much it went up that raised eyebrows. It all happened in the last 10 minutes of trading every day. Suppose you’d bought $1,o00 of HTF stock every morning at 9 a.m. and sold it every afternoon at 3:30 p.m. from the beginning of 2013 to 2015. How much would you have made? Well, according to the Financial Times, the answer is nothing. You would have lost $365. If you’d waited until 3:50 p.m. to sell, though, that would have turned into a $285 gain. And if you’d been a little more patient and held on to the stock till the 4 p.m. close, you would have come out $7,430 ahead. (Those numbers don’t include the stock’s overnight changes).

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Problem is: curb shadow banks and you curb local governments. Not at all what Xi is looking for.

China To Curb Shadow Banking Via Checks On Fund House Subsidiaries (R.)

China plans to tighten supervision over fund houses’ subsidiaries and rein in the expansion of a sector worth nearly 10 trillion yuan ($1.53 trillion) as regulators target a key channel for so-called shadow banking to contain financial risks, according to a copy of the draft rules seen by Reuters. The Asset Management Association of China (AMAC) will set thresholds for fund houses to establish subsidiaries and use capital ratios to limit the subsidiaries’ ability to expand businesses, the draft rules said. Loosely-regulated subsidiaries set up by mutual fund firms have grown rapidly over the past year, managing 9.8 trillion yuan worth of assets by the end of March, according to the AMAC, and becoming a key channel for shadow banking activities.

Under the proposed rules, fund houses applying to set up subsidiaries must manage at least 20 billion yuan in assets excluding money-market funds, and have a minimum 600 million yuan in net assets. Current thresholds are much lower. The new rules would also require that a subsidiary’s net capital not be lower than the company’s total risk assets, while net assets must not be lower than 20% of its liability, in effect slashing the leverage ratio of the business. China’s prolonged crackdown on riskier practices in the lesser-regulated shadow banking system has taken on fresh urgency amid a growing number of corporate defaults as the economy struggles, and as top policymakers appear increasingly worried about the risks of relying on too much debt-fuelled stimulus.

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You don’t have to watch it to know it’s a failure. That was clear from the start.

Abenomics: The Reboot, Rebooted (R.)

Abenomics has over-promised and under-delivered. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s bid to revive anaemic growth, reverse falling prices and rein in government debt has relied too heavily on the central bank and been sideswiped by a global slowdown. Keeping the project alive now requires fresh boldness. When he took office in December 2012, Abe set out to lift real economic growth to 2% a year, with consumer prices rising at the same rate. His main weapons were the famous “three arrows” of aggressive monetary policy, a flexible fiscal stance, and widespread structural reform. Abe has achieved some success. Unemployment is just 3.2%, a low last seen in 1997. In his first three calendar years in office, the economy expanded about 5% in nominal terms.

A weaker yen has helped deliver record corporate earnings; as of May 13 the Topix stock index had returned 70% including dividends. Prices have inched upwards. But the core targets remain out of reach. The IMF expects Japan’s GDP to grow just 0.5% this year. Even after cutting out volatile prices for fresh food and energy, the Bank of Japan’s preferred measure of inflation is running at just 1.1%. And the central bank keeps delaying its deadline for hitting the 2% target, which it now expects to reach in the year ending March 2018. Analysts still think that optimistic. Meanwhile, the yen has rallied unhelpfully and the BOJ faces accusations it is ineffective, after unexpectedly making no change to policy at its last meeting.

One snag is psychological: the deflationary mindset is hard to shake. Firms can borrow very cheaply yet hoard lots of cash and resist big pay rises. Workers are not pushy about wage hikes, and reluctant to spend. There were errors, too. Abe faced concerns that Japan’s government debt, at 2.4 times GDP, could become unsustainable. So he kept fiscal policy relatively orthodox, promising that taxes would cover public spending, excluding interest payments, by 2020. He hiked the country’s sales tax in 2014, denting growth and confidence. And he relied heavily on BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, whose institution now buys an extraordinary 80 trillion yen a year ($740 billion) of bonds. Meanwhile, structural reforms remain far from complete – in everything from encouraging more women into the workforce to reconsidering a deep aversion to immigration.

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We can hope…

Trump and Sanders Shift Mood in Congress Against Trade Deals (BBG)

Congress has embraced free trade for two generations, but the protectionist bent of the 2016 election campaign may mark the end of that era. The first casualty may be the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was already facing a skeptical Congress. A European trade pact in the works may also be in trouble. Lawmakers from both parties are taking lessons from the insurgent campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, which have harnessed a wave of discontent on job losses by linking them to free-trade deals. Even Hillary Clinton has stepped up criticism of the pacts. While past presidential candidates have softened their stance on trade after winning election, the resonance of the anti-free-trade attacks among voters in the primaries may create a more decisive shift. Opponents of these deals are already sensing new openings.

“The gravity has shifted,” said Representative Marcy Kaptur, an Ohio Democrat. She said it could give new traction to proposals like one she’s put forth that would reopen trade deals with nations that have a trade deficit of $10 billion with the U.S. for three years in a row. The success of Trump and Sanders in Rust Belt states and elsewhere will make it even harder, if not impossible, for Congress to back TPP, even in a lame-duck session after the election. Lawmakers say it could also hamper a looming agreement between the U.S. and the EU if it looks like the next president would change course. “It’s a very heavy lift at this point,” said Representative Charlie Dent, a Pennsylvania Republican and longtime free-trade advocate, noting that all three remaining presidential contenders have expressed reservations about the TPP.

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We never stood a chance. They’re oh so cunning and devious: “..smugglers ran their proceeds through [..] grocery stores..”. My question would be: how much of this went to the Erdogan family?

Smugglers Made $5-6 Billion Off Refugees To Europe In 2015 (R.)

People smugglers made over $5 billion from the wave of migration into southern Europe last year, a report by international crime-fighting agencies Interpol and Europol said on Tuesday. Nine out of 10 migrants and refugees entering the European Union in 2015 relied on “facilitation services”, mainly loose networks of criminals along the routes, and the proportion was likely to be even higher this year, the report said. About 1 million migrants entered the EU in 2015. Most paid 3,000-6,000 euros ($3,400-$6,800), so the average turnover was likely between $5 billion and $6 billion, the report said. To launder the money and integrate it into the legitimate economy, couriers carried large amounts of cash over borders, and smugglers ran their proceeds through car dealerships, grocery stores, restaurants or transport companies.

The main organisers came from the same countries as the migrants, but often had EU residence permits or passports. “The basic structure of migrant smuggling networks includes leaders who coordinate activities along a given route, organisers who manage activities locally through personal contacts, and opportunistic low-level facilitators who mostly assist organisers and may assist in recruitment activities,” the report said. Corrupt officials may let vehicles through border checks or release ships for bribes, as there was so much money in the trafficking trade. About 250 smuggling “hotspots”, often at railway stations, airports or coach stations, had been identified along the routes – 170 inside the EU and 80 outside.

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People understand things only when expressed in monetary terms. Maybe we need a real deep collapse to change that. Meanwhile, it looks like refugees make everyone rich except for themselves.

Refugees Will Repay EU Spending Almost Twice Over In Five Years (G.)

Refugees who arrived in Europe last year could repay spending on them almost twice over within just five years, according to one of the first in-depth investigations into the impact incomers have on host communities. Refugees will create more jobs, increase demand for services and products, and fill gaps in European workforces – while their wages will help fund dwindling pensions pots and public finances, says Philippe Legrain, a former economic adviser to the president of the European commission. Simultaneously refugees are unlikely to decrease wages or raise unemployment for native workers, Legrain says, citing past studies by labour economists.

Most significantly, Legrain calculates that while the absorption of so many refugees will increase public debt by almost €69bn (£54bn) between 2015 and 2020, during the same period refugees will help GDP grow by €126.6bn – a ratio of almost two to one. “Investing one euro in welcoming refugees can yield nearly two euros in economic benefits within five years,” concludes Refugees Work: A Humanitarian Investment That Yields Economic Dividends, a report released on Wednesday by the Tent Foundation, a non-government organisation that aims to help displaced people.

A fellow at the London School of Economics, Legrain says he hopes the report will dispel the myth that refugees will cause economic problems for western society. “The main misconception is that refugees are a burden – and that’s a misconception shared even by people who are in favour of letting them in, who think they’re costly but it’s still the right thing to do,” said Legrain in an interview. “But that’s incorrect. While of course the primary motivation to let in refugees is that they’re fleeing death, once they arrive they can contribute to the economy.” While their absorption puts a short-term strain on public finances, Legrain says, it also increases short-term economic demand, which acts as a welcome fiscal stimulus in countries where demand would otherwise be low.

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May 062016
 
 May 6, 2016  Posted by at 9:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »


NPC Sidney Lust Leader Theater, Washington, DC 1920

Asian Stocks Sink to Four-Week Low as Yen, Dollar Gain (BBG)
Broker CLSA Sees China Bad-Loan Epidemic With $1 Trillion of Losses (BBG)
China Regulator Tries Again To Rein In Banks’ Shadow Assets (WSJ)
China Produces Most Steel Ever After Price Surge (BBG)
Wages’ Share of US GDP Has Fallen for 46 Years (CH Smith)
Deutsche Chief Economist: ECB Should Change Course Before It Is Too Late (FT)
UK Economic Recovery Is ‘On Its Knees’ (Ind.)
The Book That Will Save Banking From Itself (Michael Lewis)
Shift In Saudi Oil Thinking Deepens OPEC Split (R.)
US Crude Stockpiles Seen Rising Further to Record (BBG)
Fort McMurray Fires Knock One Million Barrels Offline (FP)
Canada’s Wildfires Grow Tenfold In Size (G.)
Turkish Power Struggle Threatens EU Migrant Deal (FT)
Merkel Warns Of Return To Nationalism Unless EU Protects Borders (AFP)
Quarter Of Child Refugees Arriving In EU Travelled Without Parents (G.)

The last steps up for the yen?

Asian Stocks Sink to Four-Week Low as Yen, Dollar Gain (BBG)

Global stocks dropped, set for the biggest weekly loss since February, and the yen rose before key American jobs data that will help shape the U.S. interest-rate outlook. Australia’s currency slumped and its bonds surged after the nation’s central bank lowered its inflation forecast. The Stoxx Europe 600 Index and the MSCI Asia Pacific Index both lost ground, as did S&P 500 futures. Shanghai shares tumbled the most since February as raw-materials prices sank in China. The yen rose against all 16 major peers. The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index gained for a fourth day, buoyed by comments from Federal Reserve officials that a June rate hike is possible. U.S. crude oil sank below $44 a barrel and industrial metals were poised for their biggest weekly loss since 2013. Australia’s three-year bond yield fell to a record.

A retreat in global equities gathered pace in the first week of May as data highlighted the fragile state of the world economy. The Reserve Bank of Australia joined the European Union in trimming inflation projections this week, after the Bank of Japan on April 28 pushed back the target date for meeting its 2% goal for consumer-price gains. Economists predict U.S. non-farm payrolls rose by 200,000 last month, a Bloomberg survey showed before Friday’s report. “With the U.S. jobs report coming up, investors are holding back,” said Masahiro Ichikawa at Sumitomo Mitsui in Tokyo. “They’re watching the yen very closely.” Four regional Fed presidents said Thursday they were open to considering an interest-rate increase in June, something that’s been almost ruled out by derivatives traders. Fed Funds futures put the odds of a hike next month at around 10%, down from 20% a month ago.

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Losses in shadow banks are consistently underestimated.

Broker CLSA Sees China Bad-Loan Epidemic With $1 Trillion of Losses (BBG)

Chinese banks’ bad loans are at least nine times bigger than official numbers indicate, an “epidemic” that points to potential losses of more than $1 trillion, according to an assessment by brokerage CLSA Ltd. Nonperforming loans stood at 15% to 19% of outstanding credit last year, Francis Cheung, the firm’s head of China and Hong Kong strategy, said in Hong Kong on Friday. That compares with the official 1.67%. Potential losses could range from 6.9 trillion yuan ($1.1 trillion) to 9.1 trillion yuan, according to a report by the brokerage. The estimates are based on public data on listed companies’ debt-servicing abilities and make assumptions about potential recovery rates for bad loans. Cheung’s assessment adds to warnings from hedge-fund manager Kyle Bass, Autonomous Research analyst Charlene Chu and the IMF on China’s likely levels of troubled credit.

The IMF said last month that the nation may have $1.3 trillion of risky loans, with potential losses equivalent to 7% of GDP. CLSA estimates bad credit in shadow banking – a category including banks’ off-balance-sheet lending such as entrusted loans and trust loans – could amount to 4.6 trillion yuan and yield a loss of 2.8 trillion yuan. CLSA cites a diminishing economic return on stimulus pumped into the economy as among the reasons for a worsening outlook, with Cheung saying at a briefing that bad loans had the potential to rise to 20% to 25%. “China’s banking system has reached a point where it needs a comprehensive solution for the bad-debt problem, but there is no plan yet,” he said in the report.

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Beijing can’t regulate shadow banking, since it let it grow far too big, but it can try to pick favorites. It’s relevant to ask who has the power in China these days. Local governments are neck deep in shadow loans, and Xi can’t afford, politically, to let them go bust. But can he afford to support them, financially?

China Regulator Tries Again To Rein In Banks’ Shadow Assets (WSJ)

In the pursuit of order in its financial markets, China’s banking regulator has tended to be one step behind in keeping up with a decade-long dalliance between commercial banks and the country’s non-bank lenders, called the shadow banking sector. Its latest directive suggests the government might finally be trying to get ahead. Bankers and analysts say the China Banking Regulatory Commission issued a notice to commercial lenders last week, taking aim at a shadow-banking product that has allowed banks to hide loans, including bad ones, from their books. The watchdog has tried cracking down on similar arrangements in the past. But this time, it appears to have taken a more nuanced approach in order to more effectively get at banks that originate the loans underlying these products.

In its crosshairs is a relatively obscure instrument called credit beneficiary rights, a product that is derived from shadow-banking deals and can then be sold between banks. The CBRC’s new directive in part takes aim at this practice by calling for banks to stop investing in credit beneficiary rights using funds raised from their own wealth management products. In China, shadow banks’ dexterity and relentlessness at product innovation have regularly pushed them right to the edge of what their regulators can tolerate. The CBRC directive, known as Notice No. 82, is the latest in a cat-and-mouse game that banks have played with regulators for years. Beneficiary rights are themselves an innovation to circumvent a CBRC clampdown in 2013 and 2014 on banks directly buying trust products in a similar arrangement to disguise loans, and then developing a lively interbank market for these rights transfers.

There have been regulatory interventions on variations of the practice every year since 2009. The commission hasn’t publicly released the directive. Analysts say the regulator is likely now huddled with banks to gauge how hard they will push back and how thoroughly the regulator can implement the requirements. Beneficiary rights confer on the buyer the right to a stream of income without ceding actual ownership of the underlying asset. That asset is often a corporate loan, which may or may not have already soured, though it could also be anything that generates an income stream, such as a trust, a wealth management product or a margin financing deal.

When one bank sells credit beneficiary rights to another, the transaction allows the first bank to use the accounting change to turn the underlying loan on its books into an “investment receivable.” The rules require banks to set aside about 25% of the receivable’s value in capital provisions, compared with 100% had it been a loan. The deals get more complex as layers are added to further disguise the loan. Banks will have third-party shadow financiers extend the actual loan to the company, in exchange for the bank’s purchase of beneficiary rights to the loan’s income stream.

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And where would you think steel prices are going?

China Produces Most Steel Ever After Price Surge (BBG)

China, maker of half the world’s steel, probably boosted production to a record in April as mills fired up furnaces and domestic prices surged to 19-month highs, according to Sanford C. Bernstein. Average daily output may have eclipsed the previous high of about 2.31 million metric tons in June 2014, said Paul Gait, a senior analyst in London. Producers ramped up supply as demand rebounded and prices jumped as much as 69% from their November low, generating the best margins since 2009.

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1970 is a reasonable guess for peak of prosperity. It’s not the only one, but it’s right up there.

Wages’ Share of US GDP Has Fallen for 46 Years (CH Smith)

The majority of American households feel poorer because they are poorer. Real (i.e. adjusted for inflation) median household income has declined for decades, and income gains are concentrated in the top 5%:

Even more devastating, wages’ share of GDP has been declining (with brief interruptions during asset bubbles) for 46 years. That means that as GDP has expanded, the gains have flowed to corporate and owners’ profits and to the state, which is delighted to collect higher taxes at every level of government, from property taxes to income taxes.

Here’s a look at GDP per capita (per person) and median household income. Typically, if GDP per capita is rising, some of that flows to household incomes. In the 1990s boom, both GDP per capita and household income rose together. Since then, GDP per capita has marched higher while household income has declined. Household income saw a slight rise in the housing bubble, but has since collapsed in the “recovery” since 2009.

These are non-trivial trends. What these charts show is the share of the GDP going to wages/salaries is in a long-term decline: gains in GDP are flowing not to wage-earners but to shareholders and owners, and through their higher taxes, to the government. The top 5% of wage earners has garnered virtually all the gains in income. The sums are non-trivial as well. America’s GDP in 2015 was about $18 trillion. Wages’ share -about 42.5%- is $7.65 trillion. If wage’s share was 50%, as it was in the early 1970s, its share would be $9 trillion. That’s $1.35 trillion more that would be flowing to wage earners. That works out to $13,500 per household for 100 million households.

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When you start with statements like this, what’s left to talk about? “The Bundesbank and Federal Reserve, for example, are respected for achieving monetary stability..”

Deutsche Chief Economist: ECB Should Change Course Before It Is Too Late (FT)

Over the past century central banks have become the guardians of our economic and financial security. The Bundesbank and Federal Reserve, for example, are respected for achieving monetary stability, often in the face of political opposition. But central bankers can also lose the plot, usually by following the economic dogma of the day. When they do, their mistakes can be catastrophic. In the 1920s the German Reichsbank thought it a clever idea to have 2,000 printing presses running day and night to finance government spending. Hyperinflation was the result. Around the same time, the Federal Reserve stood by as more than a third of US bank deposits were destroyed, in the belief that banking crises were self-correcting. The Great Depression followed. Today the behaviour of the ECB suggests that it too has gone awry.

When reducing interest rates to historically low levels did not stimulate growth and inflation, the ECB embarked on a massive programme of purchasing eurozone sovereign debt. But the sellers did not spend or invest the proceeds. Instead, they placed the money on deposit. So the ECB went to the logical extreme: it imposed negative interest rates. Currently almost half of eurozone sovereign debt is trading with a negative yield. If this fails to stimulate growth and inflation, “helicopter money” will be next on the agenda. Future students of monetary policy will shake their heads in disbelief. What is more, as purchaser-of-last-resort of sovereign debt, the ECB is underwriting the solvency of its over-indebted members. Countries no longer fear that failure to reform their economies or reduce debt will raise the cost of borrowing.

Six years after the onset of the European debt crisis, total indebtedness in the eurozone keeps on rising. Badly needed reforms have been abandoned. As a result the eurozone is as fragile as ever. Safe keepers of our wealth, such as insurance companies, pension funds and savings banks barely earn a positive spread. Inflation is just above zero, well below the ECB’s defined target. And with growth anaemic, debt levels in some countries, such as Italy, are not sustainable. Worse still, the ECB is failing in its other mandated duty – to promote stability. Popular opposition to low and negative interest rates, when combined with continuing high unemployment, is fomenting anger with the European project. Even if current policy eventually results in an overdue recovery, political pressure is unlikely to abate.

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It’s like one of those oracle-type questions: ‘how can something be on its knees that doesn’t exist’?

UK Economic Recovery Is ‘On Its Knees’ (Ind.)

The latest survey of the UK’s dominant services sector has today rounded off a dismal hat-trick of disappointment for the British economy. The Markit/CIPs PMI Index for April came in at 52.3. That’s above the 50 point that separates contraction from growth. But it’s also the weakest reading since February 2013, when the economy’s recovery was just starting. And it follows two pretty desperate readings this week from the equivalent PMIs for the manufacturing and construction sectors, which both showed the feeblest levels of activity in around three years. Put all these three readings together and one gets the “composite” PMI which can be used to roughly approximate to GDP growth in the overall economy. And combine these two metrics in the chart below (from Pantheon Macroeconomics) and you get this grim picture:

The blue line (left hand scale) shows the level of the composite PMI. The black line (right hand scale) shows the % quarterly rate of GDP growth. They track reasonably well over time. And the decline in the composite reading suggests GDP growth, which weakened to 0.4% in the first quarter of 2016, could be heading down to zero in the second quarter. What’s going on? Samuel Tombs of Pantheon says business and consumer jitters emanating from uncertainty about the outcome of the Brexit referendum has “brought the recovery to its knees”. More economists are now seriously talking of the possibile need for macroeconomic stimulus to get the recovery back on track. “The deterioration in April pushes the surveys into territory which has in the past seen the Bank of England start to worry about the need to revive growth either by cutting interest rates or through non-standard measures such as QE” said Chris Williamson of Markit.

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Lewis paints King a tad too much like a cross between Einstein and Mother Theresa, if you ask me. He presided over a period when debt was already rising like there’s no tomorrow.

The Book That Will Save Banking From Itself (Michael Lewis)

One of my favorite memories of my brief life on Wall Street in the late 1980s is of Mervyn King’s visit. A year after Professor King – as I still think of him – had been my tutor at the London School of Economics, he was tapped to advise some new British financial regulator. As he had no direct experience of financial markets, either he or they thought he’d benefit from exposure to real, live American financiers. I’d been working at the London office of Salomon Brothers for maybe six months when one of my bosses came to me with a big eye roll and said, “We have this academic who wants to sit in with a salesman for a day: Can we stick him with you?” And in walked Professor King. I should say here that King’s students, including me, often came away from encounters with him feeling humored.

He was gentle with people less clever than himself (basically everyone) and found interest in what others had to say when there was no apparent reason to. He really wanted you to feel as if the two of you were engaged in a genuine exchange of ideas, even though the only ideas with any exchange value were his. Still, he had his limits. The man who a year before had handed me a gentleman’s B and probably assumed I would vanish into the bowels of the American economy never to be heard from again saw me smiling and dialing at my Salomon Brothers desk and did a double take. He took the seat next to me and the spare phone that allowed him to listen in on my sales calls. After an hour or so, he put down the phone. “So, Michael, how much are they paying you to do this?” he asked, or something like it.

When I told him, he said something like, “This really should be against the law.” Roughly 15 years later, King was named governor of the Bank of England. In his decade-long tenure, which ended in 2013, the Bank of England became, and remains, the most trustworthy institutional narrator of events in global finance. It’s the one place on the inside of global finance where employees don’t appear to be spending half their time wondering when Goldman Sachs is going to call with a job offer. For various reasons, they don’t play scared. One of those reasons, I’ll bet, is King.

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They’re all very nervous. What happens when oil prices start falling again?

Shift In Saudi Oil Thinking Deepens OPEC Split (R.)

As OPEC officials gathered this week to formulate a long-term strategy, few in the room expected the discussions would end without a clash. But even the most jaded delegates got more than they had bargained with. “OPEC is dead,” declared one frustrated official, according to two sources who were present or briefed about the Vienna meeting. This was far from the first time that OPEC’s demise has been proclaimed in its 56-year history, and the oil exporters’ group itself may yet enjoy a long life in the era of cheap crude. Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s most powerful member, still maintains that collective action by all producers is the best solution for an oil market that has dived since mid-2014.

But events at Monday’s meeting of OPEC governors suggest that if Saudi Arabia gets its way, then one of the group’s central strategies – of managing global oil prices by regulating supply – will indeed go to the grave. In a major shift in thinking, Riyadh now believes that targeting prices has become pointless as the weak global market reflects structural changes rather than any temporary trend, according to sources familiar with its views. OPEC is already split over how to respond to cheap oil. Last month tensions between Saudi Arabia and its arch-rival Iran ruined the first deal in 15 years to freeze crude output and help to lift global prices. These resurfaced at the long-term strategy meeting of the OPEC governors, officials who report to their countries’ oil ministers.

According to the sources, it was a delegate from a non-Gulf Arab country who pronounced OPEC dead in remarks directed at the Saudi representative as they argued over whether the group should keep targeting prices. Iran, represented by its governor Hossein Kazempour Ardebili, has been arguing that this is precisely what OPEC was created for and hence “effective production management” should be one of its top long-term goals. But Saudi governor Mohammed al-Madi said he believed the world has changed so much in the past few years that it has become a futile exercise to try to do so, sources say. “OPEC should recognize the fact that the market has gone through a structural change, as is evident by the market becoming more competitive rather than monopolistic,” al-Madi told his counterparts inside the meeting, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

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And how could prices rise in the face of record reserves?

US Crude Stockpiles Seen Rising Further to Record (BBG)

U.S. crude inventories will expand to a record 550 million barrels this month before starting their seasonal slide, according to a forecast by Citigroup. Stockpiles rose 2.8 million barrels to 543.4 million last week, the most in more than 86 years, according to data from the Energy Information Administration. Inventories reached the highest ever at 545.2 million barrels in October 1929, according to monthly EIA data.

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Record stockpiles with a million barrels missing. Prices are already dropping again.

Fort McMurray Fires Knock One Million Barrels Offline (FP)

The shut down of energy facilities accelerated Thursday, taking off line about one million barrels – close to 40% – of Alberta’s daily oilsands production, as a wildfire that started near Fort McMurray spread south to new producing areas. Meanwhile, oil companies poured their resources into the firefighting effort — from sheltering evacuees to helping with medical emergencies. Overnight Wednesday, the raging fire forced the evacuation of smaller communities south of Fort McMurray, where many evacuees fleeing the flames this week had taken shelter. They joined residents of Fort McMurray, who were ordered to leave their homes earlier in the week.

“Based on press releases and our discussions with producers, the fires have impacted oilsands production by an estimated 0.9 to 1 million b/d – disproportionately weighted towards synthetic crude oil,” Greg Pardy, co-head of global energy research at RBC Dominion Securities, said in a report. “This would constitute about 35% to 38% of our 2016 oilsands outlook of 2.6 million b/d.” Steve Laut, president of Canadian Natural Resources, said it was difficult to gauge the long-term impacts of the crisis because it was still evolving. “It’s devastating to the city of Fort McMurray,” he said Thursday after addressing the company’s annual meeting. Many production facilities are located away from the fire, but “it’s really the workers at the mines and the plants who live in Fort McMurray who are impacted,” Laut said. Canadian Natural said its operations at the Horizon mining project were stable.

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How is it possible that no-one died yet? They must be doing something very right.

Canada’s Wildfires Grow Tenfold In Size (G.)

A catastrophic wildfire that has forced all 88,000 residents to flee Fort McMurray in western Canada grew tenfold on Thursday, cutting off evacuees in camps north of the city and putting communities to the south in extreme danger. Authorities scrambled to organise an airlift of 8,000 people from the camps on Thursday night and hoped to move thousands more to safer areas as the fast-moving fire threatened to engulf huge areas of the arid western province of Alberta. Officials said 25,000 people had taken shelter in the oilsands work camps when the fires engulfed the city. The remaining 17,000 would have to wait until fuel reserves were refilled and the opening of a main highway to drive themselves south. The out-of-control blaze has burned down whole neighborhoods of Fort McMurray in Canada’s energy heartland and forced a precautionary shutdown of some oil production, driving up global oil prices.

The Alberta government, which declared a state of emergency, said more than 1,100 firefighters, 145 helicopters, 138 pieces of heavy equipment and 22 air tankers were fighting a total of 49 wildfires, with seven considered out of control. Three days after the residents were ordered to leave Fort McMurray, firefighters were still battling to protect homes, businesses and other structures from the flames. More than 1,600 structures, including hundreds of homes, have been destroyed. “The damage to the community of Fort McMurray is extensive and the city is not safe for residents,” said Alberta premier Rachel Notley in a press briefing on Thursday night, as those left stranded to the north of the city clamoured for answers. “It is simply not possible, nor is it responsible to speculate on a time when citizens will be able to return. We do know that it will not be a matter of days,” she added.

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Merkel bet on the wrong horse again. And this one, too, will put people’s well-being in danger. “..It’s time the EU starts to connect the dots and see it for what it is.” Oh, they see it alright.

Turkish Power Struggle Threatens EU Migrant Deal (FT)

A pivotal deal to staunch the flow of migrants from Turkey into the EU, masterminded by Angela Merkel, German chancellor, is in doubt after Turkey’s pro-European prime minister resigned. Ahmet Davutoglu, who personally negotiated the deal with Ms Merkel, quit on Thursday following a power struggle with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The premier’s departure imperils an agreement credited with sharply reducing the influx of asylum-seekers into the EU – and rescuing Ms Merkel from a potentially fatal political backlash. The deal enables the EU to send migrants arriving illegally on the Greek islands back to Turkey in exchange for visa requirements on Turkish visitors being eased and financial aid. However, President Erdogan has responded coolly towards the agreement struck by his premier and has shown increasing hostility towards the EU.

Without reforms to Turkey’s antiterrorism and anti-corruption laws, which Mr Erdogan has angrily resisted, Brussels may be unable to grant some of the most important concessions in the deal — a move that Ankara has already warned would cancel its obligation to curtail refugee crossings into Greece. “We’ve made good progress on the agreement with Turkey,” Ms Merkel said in Rome on Thursday. “The European Union, or at least Germany and Italy, are prepared and stand by the commitments that we’ve agreed to. We hope that’s mutual.” To keep the pact on track, Ankara must still meet several benchmarks, including major revisions to its antiterrorism legislation to ensure civil liberties, that Mr Erdogan has been loath to support.

EU officials are now concerned that Ankara will backtrack on reform commitments. “It’s certainly not good news for us,” said the EU official. “Erdogan would be very ill-advised to throw this out of the window and think this is now a matter of horse-trading. He thinks it’s 50% wriggle room, and the rest is all arm-wrestling.” Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat at the Carnegie Europe think-tank, said that Mr Erdogan had been “much more categorical” in resisting changes to the antiterrorism law, adding that, with his AK party and parliament in disarray, the chances of reforms being passed in time for a June deadline was becoming increasingly unlikely. When Ms Merkel set out to persuade sceptical EU countries to back the migrant deal, one of her central arguments, according to diplomats, was that it would shore up the pro-European faction in Ankara, led by Mr Davutoglu.

Instead, the deal hastened the demise of her main Turkish ally and left the pro-Europeans seriously weakened. President Erdogan saw Mr Davutoglu’s increasingly close relationship with the EU as a threat. A rift between the two men turned into a power struggle which the prime minister lost. [..] European lawmakers who must now approve the deal say they are becoming increasingly wary. “If this was an isolated incident, you could say it’s just an internal affair,” said Marietje Schaake, a Dutch liberal who has become a leading voice on Turkey in the European parliament. “But we’ve seen a series of incidents that are clearly a pattern towards authoritarianism. It’s time the EU starts to connect the dots and see it for what it is.”

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Merkel has lost it: the EU, in order to survive, needs to start protecting people, especially children, before protecting borders. It’s the only thing that could still save the Union.

Merkel Warns Of Return To Nationalism Unless EU Protects Borders (AFP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday urged European leaders to protect EU borders or risk a “return to nationalism” as the continent battles its worst migration crisis since World War II. As Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi kicked off two days of talks in Rome with Merkel and senior EU officials, the German leader said Europe must defend its borders “from the Mediterranean to the North Pole” or suffer the political consequences. Support for far-right and anti-immigrant parties is on the rise in several countries on the continent which saw more than a million people arrive on its shores last year. In Austria, Norbert Hofer of the far-right Freedom Party is expected to win a presidential run-off on May 22 after romping to victory in the first round on an anti-immigration platform.

Merkel told a press conference with Renzi that Europe’s cherished freedom of movement is at threat, with ramped-up border controls in response to the crisis raising questions over whether the passport-free Schengen zone can survive. With over 28,500 migrants arriving since January 1, Italy has once again become the principal entry point for migrants arriving in Europe, following a controversial EU-Turkey deal and the closure of the Balkan route up from Greece. In previous years, many migrants landing in Italy have headed on to other countries – but with Austria planning to reinstate border controls at the Brenner pass in the Alps, a key transport corridor, Rome fears it could be stuck hosting masses of new arrivals. Renzi lashed out at Austria on Thursday, describing Vienna’s position as “anachronistic”.

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Child refugees have to be the no. 1 priority. A Europe with no morals has no future either.

Quarter Of Child Refugees Arriving In EU Travelled Without Parents (G.)

A quarter of all child refugees who arrived in Europe last year – almost 100,000 under-18s – travelled without parents or guardians and are now “geographically orphaned”, presenting a huge challenge to authorities in their adopted countries. A total of 1.2 million people sought asylum in the EU in 2015, 30% of whom – almost 368,000 – were minors. The number of children arriving in Europe last year was two-and-half times that recorded a year earlier, and almost five times as many as in 2012. But the most staggering statistic is that a quarter of the young arrivals were unaccompanied. In all, 88,695 children completed the dangerous journey without their parents – an average of 10 arriving every hour. The highest proportion of child refugees last year were Syrian, followed by Afghans and Iraqis. Together these three nationalities accounted for 60% of all minors seeking asylum in the EU.

In absolute terms, Germany received the highest number of child refugees, taking in more than 137,000 in 2015. However, as a proportion of population Sweden took in the most. Half of the unaccompanied minors came from Afghanistan, and one in seven were Syrian. More unaccompanied minors hailed from Eritrea (5,140) than from Iraq (4,570). Sweden took the highest number of lone children, 35,000 in total, two-thirds of them from Afghanistan. It also recorded the highest number of unaccompanied minors per head of population, followed by Austria and Hungary. It is not possible to get a full picture of how many children have sought asylum in Europe so far in 2016, as several countries have not yet published figures for the first quarter of the year. But the number of child asylum applicants recorded in Europe in January and February already far exceeds that recorded in the same months of 2015.

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Mar 012016
 
 March 1, 2016  Posted by at 9:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


NPC “.. the hearty cereal beverage with flavor and tang, Altemus-Hibble truck” 1920

China Faces $15 Trillion Bombshell As Shadow Banking Sector Collapses (ZH)
China’s Big Lending Push Comes Up Short (WSJ)
China Factory Activity Shrinks More Than Expected (Reuters)
China Attempts To Boost Economy With Cash Injection (Guardian)
Global Companies Face a $9.5 Trillion Debt Wall (BBG)
The Worst Market of All: One Without a Story (WSJ)
Barclays Shares Fall 7.5% In London After Profit Drops 56% (BBG)
UK Credit Card Bills a Problem Waiting to Bite (BBG)
Alchemy Should Be Squeezed Out Of The World’s Banking System (Mervyn King)
We Are Being Led By Imbeciles (Bill Mitchell)
EU’s Tower of Babel May Fall While Leaders Distracted (Reuters)
Canada Meets Target To Resettle 25,000 Syrian Refugees (AP)
Clashes As Authorities Demolish Homes In Calais ‘Jungle’ Camp (Guardian)
As Europe Bickers, Macedonia Police Fire Tear Gas On Migrants (Kath.)
Europe’s Crisis Worsens: Refugees Face Razor Wire, Tear Gas (AP)
Most Of The Refugees Stuck In Greece Are Now Women And Children (WaPo)

As I said a hundred times: it’s no use talking about China’s economy without including the shadow banks.

China Faces $15 Trillion Bombshell As Shadow Banking Sector Collapses (ZH)

We’ve spent more time than most documenting China’s wealth management product problem. WMPs are part and parcel of Beijing’s sprawling shadow banking complex which, until 2014 that is, helped pump trillions of yuan into China’s economy and shouldered the burden when it came to propping up the most important economy on the planet. But WMPs are dangerous. In fact, we flagged them as an 8 trillion black swan back in August on the way to asking what would happen if China’s shadow banking sector were to collapse altogether. This is space that’s running what amounts to an enormous maturity mismatched fraud. Of course this describes the entire fractional reserve banking system, but in the case of China’s WMPs, it’s all on the verge of implosion.

Don’t believe us? Just ask anyone who bought into products sold by Fanya Metals’ Shan Jiuliang. This is a very real threat to the Chinese banking sector. The multifarious nature of the space’s liabilities makes it virtually impossible for anyone to assess what the embedded risks are. As we first documented last summer, some 40% of credit risk is carried off balance sheet and that figure might well have grown recently, especially considering mid-tier bank’s propensity to extend new credit through new cateogries of channel loans that are classified as “investments” and “receivables” In any event, China is desperate to revive the credit impulse and that means keeping the shadow banking space alive. Here’s BofA with more on China’s ticking WMP time bomb:

• Growth rate accelerated. By the end of 2015, WMP balance reached Rmb23.5tr, up 56.46% YoY. Astonishingly, growth rate accelerated last year compared to the year before despite a high base – in 2014, the balance grew from Rmb10.2tr to Rmb15.0tr, up 47.25% YoY. The key drivers of this accelerated growth are joint stock banks whose WMP balance rose from Rmb5.67tr to Rmb9.91tr, up 74.8% YoY; city commercial banks, Rmb1.7tr to Rmb3.07tr, up 80.6% YoY. On the other hand, the big four state-owned enterprise (SOE) banks’ balance rose by a more moderate 53.2% YoY (from Rmb6.47tr to Rmb8.67tr) while foreign banks’ balance declined by 25.6% (from Rmb0.39tr to Rmb0.29tr).

• Liquidity risk is rising. The outstanding balance of open WMPs, of which buyers can subscribe or redeem largely at will, reached Rmb10.32tr, up 96.95% YoY. They accounted for 44% of bank-run WMPs balance as of Dec 2015, up from 35% a year earlier. The increased share of open WMPs adds to the duration mismatch in the shadow banking sector and makes the system more prone to liquidity shock in our view. In 2015, banks issued Rmb158.41tr worth of WMPs, i.e., Rmb13.2tr a month on average. If WMP buyers decide to ‘go on strike’ for whatever reason, a liquidity crunch in the shadow banking sector could quickly develop in our view.

• Implicit guarantee still largely in place. Only Rmb1.37tr worth of open WMPs, representing 13% of the total, are priced based on NAV. Also, the portion of closed WMPs that are priced similarly is tiny. This means that the vast majority of WMPs are still sold with the so-called “expected return”, which is largely viewed as promised return by WMP buyers by our assessment. In 2015, only 44 WMP products, or 0.03% of matured products during the year, caused investors to lose money. This loss ratio appears unusually low in our view. It is interesting to note that most of the 44 products were sold by foreign banks.

• Individual buyers still dominant. As of Dec 2015, individual investors, including high net-worth individual investors, accounted for Rmb13.34tr WMP balance, or 56.6% of the total (institutional investors, 30.6%; inter-banks, 12.8%). They subscribed to Rmb101.49tr of the newly issued WMPs during the year, representing 64.1% of the total. Mood of individual investors are more volatile than institutions in general.

The bottom line is this: if this implodes, it will not only tank the entire Chinese banking system but the global economy as well, as the amount of liabilities here is quite frankly enormous.

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Paying off old debt with new.

China’s Big Lending Push Comes Up Short (WSJ)

China still has room to cut, but it may not be having much effect other than hiding the economy’s pain. The People’s Bank of China waited until the Group of 20 financial bigwigs were safely out of Shanghai to resume its easing campaign Monday, cutting the reserves banks are required to hold with the central bank by half a percentage point. As moves go, it is pretty standard and expected given China’s sluggish economy. The cut follows up on what has looked like a strong start to lending this year, something that has provided a palpable sense of relief in some markets. In reality, more credit in China isn’t all that stimulative. A concerted lending boom in theory could jump-start growth as it did in 2009 in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. Iron ore prices, for instance, have rallied sharply on expectations of renewed Chinese demand.

The problem is that China has reached an inflection point. A substantial chunk of new debt is increasingly going to pay old debt, creating less activity in the real economy aside from bankers’ fees and commissions. Like a patient with a headache who has already taken aspirin, more medicine won’t dull the pain much, but it may lead to complications. A measurable effect is the so-called evergreening of credit, where lenders essentially roll loan maturities or provide credit simply to pay off old debt. Deutsche Bank measures this by estimating what’s owed each year by companies in terms of principal payments and interest expenses. It then assesses the resources to make those payments, namely operating cash flow, freshly raised equity and excess cash not earmarked for general expenses like salaries.

The result is a massive shortfall in the debt service compared with the sources of cash, to the tune of about 10% of corporate debt last year. That gap is filled with more borrowing. Five years ago, Chinese companies were generating excess cash to pay off debts, so new debt could be used to invest. The most egregious evergreeners are state-owned companies in industries with massive overcapacity issues. Coal mining and metals, for instance, account for 30% of evergreening, according to Deutsche. What could alleviate the evergreening problem? A positive step would be to allow companies in those problem sectors to enter painful restructuring. This would at least remove a source of demand for evergreening loans.

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Expected by economists, that is.

China Factory Activity Shrinks More Than Expected (Reuters)

Activity in China’s manufacturing sector shrank more sharply than expected in February, surveys showed on Tuesday, prompting smaller companies to shed workers at the fastest pace in seven years and suggesting Beijing will have to ramp up stimulus to avoid a deeper economic slowdown. Some investors had been bracing for weak readings after the central bank unexpectedly eased policy late on Monday, injecting an estimated $100 billion worth of cash into the banking system to cushion the pain of upcoming reforms such as restructuring bloated state enterprises. The official Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) fell to 49.0 in February from January’s reading of 49.4 and below the 50-point mark that separates growth from contraction. Economists polled by Reuters had expected only a slight dip to 49.3.

It was the lowest reading since November 2011. “The PMI came in much weaker than markets expected, hinting that recent easing measures have had limited impact in turning around the weakening manufacturing sector,” wrote senior emerging markets economist Zhou Hao at Commerzbank in Singapore. “We think PBoC will cut policy rates by 25 basis points in the first quarter and lower RRR (banks’ reserve requirement ratio) by another 100-150 basis points this year.” The private Caixin/Markit China Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), which focuses more on small to medium- sized, private firms, showed activity contracted for a 12th straight month. It fell to 48.0, below market expectations of 48.3 and January’s reading of 48.4. [..] The official PMI survey, which tends to focus on larger, state firms, has shown persistent declines in employment for the last 3-1/2 years.

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In a system packed with bad loans, you lower the reserve requirement. Sure.

China Attempts To Boost Economy With Cash Injection (Guardian)

China’s central bank has stepped up action to bolster its cooling economy by loosening the rules on banks’ cash reserves in the hope that they will offer cheaper loans. By cutting the reserve requirement ratio (RRR) – the amount of cash that banks must hold as reserves – the People’s Bank of China has in effect injected $100bn (£72bn) of long-term cash into the economy, experts said. The central bank hopes its cut, effective from 1 March, will boost liquidity in the financial sector, following signs that the world’s second-biggest economy is continuing to slow. The move, which came as a surprise to many investors, would stabilise the Chinese financial system, said Duncan Innes-Ker of the Economist Intelligence Unit. But it would not be enough on its own.

“The latest cut in the RRR shows the central bank straining to maintain loose monetary conditions in a difficult economic climate,” he said. “The move will partly offset the effects of capital outflows from China and the provisioning requirements that are forcing banks to lock up more funds as non-performing loans climb. “However, the surge in loans in January highlighted concerns that bank lending may be spiralling out of control. Ultimately, China’s economy cannot grow on credit alone. It needs further reforms to unlock productivity growth.”

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This gets ever harder to roll over.

Global Companies Face a $9.5 Trillion Debt Wall (BBG)

Companies still have a little time before they must pay down the bulk of $9.5 trillion of debt maturing in the next five years. That’s the good news. But it’s not getting any easier for these corporations to borrow, at least not in the U.S. In fact, many of these obligations are becoming harder and more expensive to repay at a time when companies face a historic pile of bonds and loans coming due. This wave of debt coming due through 2020 is bigger than previous five-year schedules of debt maturities in 2013, 2014 and 2015, according to Standard & Poor’s data. It includes about $2.3 trillion of junk-rated debt, with about $418 billion of that rated B- or lower. And it peaks in 2020, with $2.1 trillion of debt coming due, which is greater than the peaks of the most recent previous maturity walls.

U.S. companies account for $4.1 trillion of the debt coming due through 2020, while European issuers are responsible for $3.7 trillion, S&P data show. More than half of all the debt coming due belongs to nonfinancial corporations.

All this is potentially bad news for a global economy that already appears to be losing momentum, especially because central bankers seem to be running out of ways to push investors into riskier securities. The default rate has already started ticking up as the bust in commodity prices forces companies to restructure or file for bankruptcy.And it’s not just oil drillers and miners that are struggling. Solera Holdings, the subject of one of last year’s largest leveraged buyouts, is struggling to raise money in credit markets and has been forced to cut the amount of debt it plans to sell. Corus Entertainment pulled a C$300 million ($221.9 million) junk-bond offering backing a takeover because of difficult market conditions.

While the majority of debt that needs to be repaid is investment grade, it’s unclear whether it’ll remain so by the time it matures. In just eight weeks, credit investors have witnessed more fallen angels, or investment-grade companies getting downgraded to junk, than in any calendar year since 2009, Barclays analysts Jeffrey Meli and Bradley Rogoff wrote in a report on Friday.It’s not terribly surprising that companies have a bigger debt load to pay down. They borrowed trillions of dollars on the heels of unprecedented stimulus efforts started by the Federal Reserve at the end of 2008 during the worst financial crisis since the Depression. They kept piling on the leverage as central banks around the world doubled down on low-rate policies and kept purchasing assets to encourage investors to buy riskier securities.

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We’re all out of feel-good stories.

The Worst Market of All: One Without a Story (WSJ)

Markets don’t just love a good tale, they need a good tale. There are happy stories for bulls, sad endings to cheer bears or sci-fi horrors about algorithms running wild. Investors devour them all. This year has provided too many interlocking story lines, though. Yarns have been spun about China, negative rates, tightening dollar liquidity, tumbling U.S. profits, impending recession, oil, sovereign-wealth funds, geopolitics and the rise of populist politicians. The problem is that all these plots and subplots left investors without a clear narrative to follow. No one can say what’s going on, and investors have responded by reducing the risk they take. One response: The most popular trades went into sharp reverse, with some apparently perverse outcomes.

Perhaps the best measure of the reverse is the impact on stocks popular with hedge funds. A Goldman Sachs index of the 50 U.S. shares most widely held by hedge funds just had its worst six-month underperformance since the financial crisis of 2008-09. It figures: The stocks least liked by hedge funds, as measured by another Goldman index, just recorded their best six-month relative return. Hedge funds borrow to invest, and have been reducing their debts as their managers worry about the uncertainties ahead. That means selling some of their favorite positions and closing short trades by buying back those stocks they had bet against. Selling by mutual funds and oil-fueled sovereign-wealth funds added to the pressures.

The result was a violent shift: The big winners of 2015 became losers, and the most-hated stocks and sectors are now outperformers. Few stocks back up the story of lower leverage as much as the FANGs. The four stocks which led the U.S. market and were loved by hedge funds last year were Facebook, Amazon.com, Netflix and Google. This year only Facebook has beaten the broader market, with Amazon and Netflix both down more than 17% as of Friday. Biotechnology deserves a chapter to itself: After an extraordinary run-up in prices, U.S. biotech has just had its worst six-month performance since 2002 both in absolute and relative terms. The most-hated sector in 2015 was mining. MSCI data show that by mid-January of this year, the sector’s market value had declined to a smaller percentage of global stocks since the dot-com bubble, when old-economy miners were out of fashion.

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Every bank that publishes numbers loses big.

Barclays Shares Fall 7.5% In London After Profit Drops 56% (BBG)

Barclays Plc said it will sell down the stake in its Africa business and reorganize the company into two divisions, as fourth-quarter profit fell by more than half. The bank will sell down its 62% stake in Barclays Africa Group Ltd. over the next two to three years to a level that allows it to deconsolidate the business, according to a statement Tuesday. Adjusted pretax profit, including restructuring costs, fell 56% to £247 million ($344 million) in the quarter from £563 million in the year-earlier period, according to the filing. The moves are meant “to accelerate our strategy and simplify the group, as we prepare for regulatory ring-fencing requirements,” Chief Executive Officer Jes Staley, 59, said in the statement.

Staley is counting on his first results announcement and a revised strategy to reassure investors, who have been demanding bold moves to boost capital and returns as the bank languishes at its lowest valuation in more than three years. In addition to selling down the African stake, the CEO has moved to address the underperforming investment bank. He previously announced 1,200 job cuts, the exit from seven countries in Asia, a hiring freeze and cutting the bonus pool to trim costs. Barclays Africa Group Ltd. “is a well-diversified business and a high quality franchise,” Staley said in the statement. “However the stake in BAGL presents specific challenges to Barclays as owners, such as the level of capital held in respect of BAGL, the international reach of the U.K. bank levy” and other reasons.

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Splurging on debt.

UK Credit Card Bills a Problem Waiting to Bite (BBG)

The pace of consumer borrowing may raise a few eyebrows at the Bank of England if it keeps rising unchecked. Unsecured lending — such as on credit cards — jumped an annual 9.1% in January, the fastest in a decade, according to data on Monday. In total, consumers took out 1.6 billion pounds ($2.2 billion) more than they repaid, the second-highest since mid-2005. Back then, the country was in its 14th year of uninterrupted growth, and we’re nowhere near that now. While Mark Carney has said U.K. spending is being largely fueled by incomes, he and his fellow policy makers are still a little wary of where the borrowing numbers are going. Here’s the BOE governor earlier this month: “ They are still relatively indebted, and we want to make sure that, the collective, we do not repeat the mistakes of the past of getting too indebted and then getting shocked – shocked – by movements on rates.”

With record employment and cheap money encouraging borrowing — the average rate on a new unsecured loan is at a three-year low — that’s good for Britain’s economy at a time of deepening troubles in the world economy and questions over business investment in the run-up to the European Union referendum. But it means the foundations of the expansion are not as solid as they could be. “While the rapid growth in unsecured lending will support growth in the near term by propping up consumer spending, it could pose a risk to financial stability further down the line,” said Niraj Shah, an economist at Bloomberg Intelligence in London.

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Where was Lord King when it mattered?

Alchemy Should Be Squeezed Out Of The World’s Banking System (Mervyn King)

For centuries, alchemy has been the basis of our system of money and banking. Governments pretended that paper money could be turned into gold even when there was more of the former than the latter. Banks pretended that short-term riskless deposits could be used to finance long-term risky investments. In both cases, the alchemy is the apparent transformation of risk into safety. For much of the time the alchemy seemed to work. From time to time, however, people realised that the Emperor had far fewer clothes than the Masters of the Universe wanted us to believe. The pretence that the illiquid real assets of an economy – the factories, capital equipment, houses and offices – can suddenly be converted into money or liquidity is the essence of the alchemy of the present system.

Banks and other financial intermediaries will always try to finance illiquid assets by issuing liquid liabilities because they make profits by paying less on the latter than they earn on the former. The problem is that the liquidity promised to investors or depositors can be supplied only if at each moment a small number of people wish to convert their claim on the bank into cash. Liquidity simply disappears if everyone wishes to convert their claim into money at the same time. What may be possible for a small number of people is self-evidently impossible for the community as a whole. And the problem is made worse by the fact that if a depositor believes that others are likely to try to take their money out, it is rational for him or her to do the same and get to the front of the queue as soon as possible – a bank run.

Liquidity is, however, only one aspect of the alchemy of our present system. Risk, and its impact on the solvency of banks, is the other. And in the recent crisis, concern about solvency was the main driver of the liquidity problems facing banks. When creditors started to worry that bank equity was insufficient to absorb potential losses, they decided that it was better to get out while the going was good. Concerns about solvency, especially in a world of radical uncertainty, generate bank runs. To reduce or eliminate alchemy, we need a joint set of measures to deal with both solvency and liquidity problems.

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“The European Commission is, after all, a branch of corporate power.”

We Are Being Led By Imbeciles (Bill Mitchell)

I was reading John Maynard Keynes recently – circa 1928 – that is, 8 years before the publication of the General Theory with his Treatise on Money intervening. He was railing against the principles and practice of ‘sound finance’, which he noted had deliberately caused billions of pounds in lost income for the British economy. He urged the Treasury and the Bank of England to abandon their conservative (austerity) approach to the economy and, instead, embark on wide-scale fiscal stimulus to create jobs and prosperity. He concluded that with thousands of workers idling away in mass unemployment that it was “utterly imbecile to say that we cannot afford” to stimulate employment via large-scale public works – building infrastructure etc. He considered the policy makers who opposed such options were caught up in “the delirium of mental confusion”. The stark reality is that 88 years later, he could have written exactly the same article and would have been ‘right on the money’. We are being led (euphemism) by imbeciles.

Earlier this month (February 12, 2016), Eurostat told us that – Industrial production down by 1.0% in both euro area and EU28. The report said that: “…In December 2015 compared with November 2015, seasonally adjusted industrial production fell by 1.0% in both the euro area (EA19) and the EU28 … In November 2015 industrial production fell by 0.5% in both zones … Among Member States for which data are available, the largest decreases in industrial production were registered in the Netherlands (-9.4%), Estonia (-8.8%) and Germany (-2.3%) …” Which means that the overall monetary union is back in recession if industrial production is considered.

The other point to note is that the dominant neo-liberal narrative in Europe (and elsewhere) in relation to the ongoing consequences of the GFC focuses on individual nation failings – such as, lack of competitiveness, excessive wage rates, excessive regulation, etc – and the need for so-called ‘internal devaluation’ as a way of restoring ‘competitiveness’ and structural reform aimed at boosting productivity. The problem with this narrative is that it is hard to maintain when industrial production is falling across a number of nations including Germany and the Netherlands, which are meant to be competitive leaders in the Eurozone. The structural ‘reform’ agenda seems very transparent when confronted with this type of reality. Its aim is to redistribute national income in favour of capital and force workers to labour longer and harder for less reward. The European Commission is, after all, a branch of corporate power.

On July 31, 1928, John Maynard Keynes wrote a short article in the Evening Standard entitled – How to Organize a Wave of Prosperity. I have created a PDF version of the article because it is not easily assessable to those without expensive library subscriptions. The context was the slowdown in British industry in that year and the subsequent rise in mass unemployment. Keynes wrote: “…Moreover, the more successful the efforts which are being made to restore the margin of profits by ‘rationalisation’, the greater the likelihood – at first anyhow – of increasing unemployment. And the more successful the efforts of the Treasury, in the pursuit of so-called `Economy’, to damp down the forms of capital expansion which they control – telephones, roads, housing, etc., again the greater the certainty of increasing unemployment….” The resonance with contemporary events some 88 years later is frightening.

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They will never speak the same language. They just pretend to when it seems profitable.

EU’s Tower of Babel May Fall While Leaders Distracted (Reuters)

It’s little wonder the European Union can’t find common solutions to Europe’s urgent problems when its main members are having such different national conversations. Like the biblical Tower of Babel, Europe’s ambitious construction is in danger of toppling because its peoples are not speaking the same political language. Tune in to Germany and the fierce debate is all about how to cope with an influx of a million migrants, whether to limit the numbers and, in some quarters, how to stop them coming. Switch to France and you’re listening to a nation that thinks it is at war, still living under a state of emergency and in shock after last November’s attacks by Islamist militants that killed 130 people in Paris. Flip to Britain and the talk is all of national sovereignty and a possible Brexit in the build-up to a June referendum that might end the country’s schizophrenic membership of the EU.

Look east to Poland and people are arguing over the new government’s moves to curb the media and the constitutional court, over who may have been a Communist informer 40 years ago, and over the perceived Russian threat to eastern Europe today. Around central Europe the discussion is about how to resist German pressure to take in a share of refugees. Turn south and the Italians and Portuguese are engrossed in domestically focused debates about how to revive economic growth despite the EU’s budgetary corset while cleaning up legacy bank problems. Spain meanwhile is preoccupied by Catalan separatism, political paralysis and the risk of a breakup of the country. When those countries’ leaders come to Brussels, they often cannot even agree what they should be discussing.

For the last two EU summits, Britain wanted the focus to be on its demands for a renegotiation of its membership terms to give Prime Minister David Cameron a “new settlement” he can sell in a June 23 referendum on whether to stay in the bloc. He secured a deal on Feb. 19, but many fellow leaders were frustrated at having to spend time on what they see as side issues and rhetorical formulations when their house is on fire. “Everyone in the room and corridors was rather irritated that here we are dealing with some rather obscure issues of child benefits indexation, while we have real problems in Syria, member states closing borders, major issues we should really be on instead of this,” a diplomat involved in the talks said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, fighting for her political life against domestic critics of her open door for refugees, wanted the EU to concentrate on urgent measures to secure Europe’s external borders, register migrants, send home rejected asylum seekers and share out refugees among EU states. Desperate to find a common “European solution” to the migration crisis, she has forced yet another European summit on March 7 with Turkey, days before three German regional elections in which anti-immigration rightists could make big gains.

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Lone voice.

Canada Meets Target To Resettle 25,000 Syrian Refugees (AP)

Canada’s immigration minister said on Monday the country has reached a significant milestone with the arrival of 25,000 Syrian refugees. Immigration minister John McCallum said work continues to integrate the Syrians into the community. McCallum was at Toronto’s Pearson airport as the last two government-arranged refugee flights were arriving as part of the Liberals’ $678m (US$501m) settlement plan. The refugee resettlement program was launched in November, after prime minister Justin Trudeau came to power and promised to bring in 25,000 government-sponsored refugees by the end of 2015 amid an intense debate in the West over what to do with people fleeing violence in the Middle East. Trudeau later pushed back the date by two months.

In the United States, the Obama administration plans to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees. But several Republican governors have tried to stop the arrival of Syrian refugees in their states in the wake of the deadly attacks in Paris and California. Canada’s commitment reflects the change in government after October’s election. The previous Conservative government declined to resettle more Syrian refugees, despite the haunting image of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy, Alan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach. The boy had relatives in Canada, and the refugee crisis became a major campaign issue. McCallum previously said he hopes to bring in between 35,000 and 50,000 Syrian refuges by the end of the year.

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Insane.

Clashes As Authorities Demolish Homes In Calais ‘Jungle’ Camp (Guardian)

Clashes between police and migrants continued into Monday evening after authorities moved in earlier in the day to dismantle parts of the refugee camp known as the Jungle. The homes of up to 200 people of the approximately 3,500 people living in the camp had been demolished by the middle of the day, according to a British refugee aid group, as smoke went up from blazes engulfing makeshift shelters. Some homes appeared to have been set alight by the heat of teargas canisters fired at crowds by riot police, said a spokeswoman for the British volunteer group Help Refugees, while some residents seem to have set others on fire in protest. Video footage from a volunteer inside the camp showed residents running away from clouds of teargas.

Reuters said police fired teargas at about 150 people and activists who threw stones, and at least three shelters were on fire. The clashes continued into the evening near a motorway heading to the port of Calais, where vehicles were blocked by migrants on the stretch of road overlooking a piece of ground which had previously been part of the camp. Strewn with debris, the port road was eventually taken back by police, who arrested one person and three members of the No Borders activist group.The work began in the early morning, with orange-vested work crews dismantling several dozen makeshift wood-and-tarpaulin shacks by hand before two diggers loaded the debris into large trucks.

Police in riot gear shielded the work, and initially there were no reports of unrest beyond a report of one British activist being arrested. Volunteer groups said the work began with officials telling residents they had an hour to leave before their home was demolished. Reacting to the demolitions, Amnesty International said that both the French and UK governments had to live up to responsibilities in relation to those who were evicted, including facilitating access to asylum proceedings in France and visas to the UK for those with family members there. “Although it’s taking place across the Channel, this is not an issue that the UK can wash its hand of,” said Amnesty International’s Europe and central Asia director, John Dalhuisen.

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More insane.

As Europe Bickers, Macedonia Police Fire Tear Gas On Migrants (Kath.)

Police in Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of migrants who stormed the border from Greece on Monday as a deeply divided Europe traded barbs over the biggest humanitarian crisis in decades. As frustrations boiled over at restrictions imposed on people moving through the Balkans, migrants trapped on the Greece-FYROM border tore down a metal gate in the barbed wire fence. A Reuters witness said FYROM police fired several rounds of tear gas into the crowd and onto a railway line where other migrants sat refusing to move, demanding to cross into the country. Greece raced to set up temporary accommodation for a build-up of thousands of migrants stranded in the country after Austria and countries along the Balkans migration route imposed restrictions on their borders, limiting the number of migrants able to cross.

Many of the migrants, fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and North Africa, hope to reach Germany, which last year took in 1.1 million asylum seekers. There were an estimated 22,000 migrants and refugees trapped in Greece on Monday, some sleeping rough in central Athens, some in an abandoned airport and at the 2004 Olympic Games venues. Greece’s migration minister said without any outlet, that figure could rise as high as 70,000 in coming days. More than one million migrants passed through Greece last year, prompting criticism from other European nations that Athens simply waved people through. “These people do not want to stay here,” said Thodoris Dritsas, Greece’s shipping minister. “Even if we had a system in place for them to stay here permanently it wouldn’t work.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, facing the biggest test of her decade in power, on Sunday defended her open-door policy for migrants, rejecting any limit on the number of refugees allowed into her country despite divisions within her government over the issue. “There are many conflicting interests in Europe,” she told state broadcaster ARD. “But it is my damn duty to do everything I can so that Europe finds a collective way.” That was lacking on Monday, a week before European Union leaders were due to meet with Turkey on how it could help quell the flow of migrants from its shores. In an increasingly shrill debate, Austria’s defence minister suggested Merkel take in all those who were stranded in Greece. “The German chancellor … said that formally there is no upper limit in Germany. Then, I would invite her to take the people, who arrive in Greece now and whom she wants to take care of, directly to Germany,” Hans Peter Doskozil told Austrian’s Oe1 radio.

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Spraying tear gas on children.

Europe’s Crisis Worsens: Refugees Face Razor Wire, Tear Gas (AP)

Pressed against coils of razor wire and shouting “Help us!,” refugees and migrants at Greece’s northern border were pushed back by Macedonian police using tear gas and stun grenades, as authorities here raced to build more camps to shield the escalating number of stranded people from winter. A top European Union official prepared to visit the region Tuesday to try and ease the crisis that produced more scenes of chaos: Syrian and Iraqi refugees and others forced their way through part of a Macedonian border fence, some clutching infants or struggling to free duffel bags caught in the razor-wire. They were met by Macedonian riot police.

Volunteer doctors said at least 22 migrants, including 12 children, were treated for breathing difficulties and cuts. Authorities in Macedonia said one policeman was injured and that dozens of special forces officers were flown in by helicopter to help quell a refugee protest. “Tragically, there seems to be more willingness among European countries to coordinate blocking borders than to provide refugees and asylum-seekers with protection and basic services,” said Giorgos Kosmopoulos, head of Amnesty International in Greece. Some 7,000 migrants, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, are crammed into a tiny camp at the Greek border village of Idomeni, and hundreds more are arriving daily.

The Greek army completed more temporary shelters in northern Greece over the weekend, and at the government’s request, local authorities in central Greece, opened indoor stadiums, conference centers, and hotels that have gone out of business to house migrants, while the Education Ministry called on school children to join the effort with donation drives. “Of course Greece over the next one or two months will do what it can to help these people. But it must be made clear that the burden of this crisis must be distributed in Europe,” Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said in an interview with private Star television. [..] Wolf Piccoli of advisory firm Teneo Intelligence, said the EU was making a “risky bet” with its strategy on migration. “The EU is betting on incremental steps, hoping that the backlog will deter potential migrants before tensions in Greece raise concerns over the country’s institutions,” he said.

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“..You don’t understand. I don’t have any money left. I have four children. I don’t have any other plan.”

Most Of The Refugees Stuck In Greece Are Now Women And Children (WaPo)

In a cold drizzle, Aziza Hussein, a 30-year-old Syrian widow traveling with her four children, stood amid a surge of migrants trapped at the northern Greek border. Her way forward blocked by armed Macedonian troops, police dogs and a razor-wire fence, she stood in the middle of the chaotic scrum of refugees, clutching her 5-year-old son. “What are we going to do?” she said, shielding her eyes with a trembling hand as she cried. In recent days, European nations have moved more aggressively than ever to shut down the route used by more than a million migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and beyond. Yet even as they do, the region is confronting a new kind of migrant flow — waves of women and children.

Last year, most of the asylum seekers fleeing to Europe were men, many of them young and single. But in the past several weeks, the balance has shifted, with women and their children, as well as unaccompanied minors, now accounting for roughly 57% of asylum seekers. The surge of the vulnerable comes at the worst possible time — just as European nations are barring their doors and 25,000 refugees are suddenly trapped in near-bankrupt Greece, a country that was once merely an entry point. Refugees say the sudden exodus of women and children was sparked by a rising fear that the path to sanctuary will soon close completely. “My cousins, my neighbors, everyone told us, ‘Go now. There isn’t much time, because they will shut the door,’ ” said Hussein, who left the Syrian city of Hasakah three weeks ago in a desperate bid to make it to Germany.

“We crossed the sea,” she said, pausing to wipe away tears. “But they won’t let us through. You don’t understand. I don’t have any money left. I have four children. I don’t have any other plan.” Now, the EU’s most troubled member – Greece – is scrambling to cope with a mounting humanitarian crisis the rest of the continent has left on its doorstep. With 2,000 migrants a day still arriving in rickety boats in the Greek islands via Turkey, Greek officials are warning that the number of stranded migrants could surge to 70,000 within 30 days, turning pockets of this troubled country into sprawling refugee camps.

[..] In recent days, Macedonian authorities have begun sharply limiting the number and type of migrants allowed through — a response to the same action by Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and other Balkan nations. Macedonian authorities on Monday resorted to tear gas, firing canisters at migrants as they tried to force their way through a section of border fence with a battering ram. Hours later, children could still be seen rubbing at irritated eyes. “We treated women and children today because of tear gas,” said Vicky Markolefa, a visibly frustrated official with Doctors Without Borders, which is running an overburdened clinic here. “Yes, that’s right. Women and children. They were choking. They had stinging eyes. They inhaled that smoke. Some of them were infants.”

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Feb 012016
 
 February 1, 2016  Posted by at 9:50 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Matson Aircraft refueling at Semakh, British Mandate Palestine 1931

China Manufacturing Shrinks At Fastest Rate For Over 3 Years (Reuters)
Mid-Tier Chinese Banks Piling Up Trillions Of Dollars In Shadow Loans (Reuters)
US Hedge Funds Mount New Attacks on China’s Yuan (WSJ)
China’s Steel Sector Hit By Growing Losses (FT)
Athens And Rome Expose Europe’s Greatest Faultlines (Münchau)
Euro-Area Factories Cut Prices as Deflation Risks Loom Large (BBG)
Nigeria Asks For $3.5 Billion In Global Emergency Loans (FT)
Why Miners Have it Worse Than Oil Producers (BBG)
Saudis Told To Embrace Austerity As Debt Defaults Loom (Tel.)
1 Million Investors Lose $7.6 Billion In China Online Ponzi Scheme (Reuters)
The West Is Reduced To Looting Itself (Paul Craig Roberts)
US, UK-Backed Saudi War & Blockade Cause Mass Starvation In Yemen (Salon)
Europe Chokes Flow of Refugees to Buy Time for a Solution (WSJ)
German Police ‘Should Shoot At Migrants’, Populist Politician Says (BBC)
UK Labour MP Compares Cologne Attacks To Birmingham Night Out (Tel.)
The EU Must Reassert Humane Control Over Chaos Around The Mediterranean (UN)

No kidding: “It is quite concerning that the significant monetary and fiscal stimulus in 2015 has only managed to slow the rate of decline in China’s industrial activity..”

China Manufacturing Shrinks At Fastest Rate For Over 3 Years (Reuters)

Activity in China’s manufacturing sector contracted at its fastest pace in almost three-and-a-half years in January, missing market expectations, an official survey showed on Monday. The official purchasing managers’ index (PMI) stood at 49.4 in January, compared with the previous month’s reading of 49.7 and below the 50-point mark that separates growth from contraction on a monthly basis. It is the weakest index reading since August 2012. Analysts polled by Reuters predicted a reading of 49.6. The PMI marks the sixth consecutive month of factory activity contraction, underlining a weak start for the year for a manufacturing complex under severe pressure from falling prices and overcapacity in key sectors including steel and energy.

The price of oil fell on the disappointing data, which was compounded by weak export figures from South Korea. Brent crude was trading at $35.54 per barrel at 02.00 GMT, down 45 cents, or 1.25%, from the last close. China’s stock markets also fell in morning trading, although the Nikkei in Japan and the ASX/S&P 200 in Australia both swatted away the gloom to remain in positive territory. Zhou Hao, an economist at Commerzbank, said: “The electricity production remained sluggish and the crude steel output continued the weak trend in January, reflecting an ongoing deleveraging process in the industrial sectors.” “In the meantime, China has started an aggressive capacity reduction in many sectors, which could add downward pressure on the bulk commodity prices over time.”

Meanwhile, the official non-manufacturing PMI fell to 53.5 from December’s 54.4, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). The services index remained in expansionary territory highlighting continuing strength that has helped China weather the sharp slowdown in manufacturing. With manufacturing decelerating quickly, services have been a crucial source of growth and jobs for China over the past year, and analysts have been watching closely to see if the sector can maintain momentum in 2016. Angus Nicholson of IG in Melbourne said: “It is quite concerning that the significant monetary and fiscal stimulus in 2015 has only managed to slow the rate of decline in China’s industrial activity. “The first quarter of activity is always the weakest in China due to the seasonal disruption of Chinese new year, and there is the possibility of global markets reacting very negatively when the quarterly data starts filtering out in March and April.”

The China slowdown was underlined on Monday by figures showing that South Korea’s exports suffered their worst downturn in January since the depths of the global financial crisis in 2009. The trade ministry in Seoul said sluggish demand from China helped exports to fall to a worse-than-expected 18.5% from a year earlier, extending December’s slump of 14.1% and marking the 13th straight month of declines. Shipments to China, South Korea’s largest market, tumbled 21.5% on-year in January in their biggest drop since May 2009, and the trade ministry said export conditions were worsening.

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There’s still not nearly enough scrutiny of the shadow banks. But that is where the real problems will be.

Mid-Tier Chinese Banks Piling Up Trillions Of Dollars In Shadow Loans (Reuters)

Mid-tier Chinese banks are increasingly using complex instruments to make new loans and restructure existing loans that are then shown as low-risk investments on their balance sheets, masking the scale and risks of their lending to China’s slowing economy. The size of this ‘shadow loan’ book rose by a third in the first half of 2015 to an estimated $1.8 trillion, equivalent to 16.5% of all commercial loans in China, a UBS analysis shows. For smaller banks, the rate is much faster. This growing practice, which involves financial structures known as Directional Asset Management Plans (DAMPs) or Trust Beneficiary Rights (TBRs), comes at a time when some mid-tier lenders, under pressure from China’s slowest economic growth in 25 years, are already delaying the recognition of bad loans.

“These are now the fastest growing assets on the balance sheets of most listed banks, excluding the Big Five, not just in percentage terms but absolute terms,” said UBS financial institutions analyst Jason Bedford, a former bank auditor in China who focuses on the issue. “The concern is that the lack of transparency and mis-categorization of credit assets potentially hide considerable non-performing loans.” To provide a buffer against tough times, banks are required to set aside capital against their credit assets – the riskier the asset, the more capital must be set aside, earning them nothing. Loans typically carry a 100% risk weighting, but these investment products often carry a quarter of that, so banks can keep less money in reserve and lend more.

Banks must also make provision of at least 2.5% for their loan books as a prudent estimate of potential defaults, while provisions for these products ranged between just 0.02 and 0.35% of the capital value at the main Chinese banks at the end of June, Moody’s Investors Service said in a note last month. At China’s mid-tier lender Industrial Bank Co, for example, the volume of investment receivables doubled over the first nine months of 2015 to 1.76 trillion yuan ($267 billion). This is equivalent to its entire loan book – and to the total assets in the Philippine banking system, filings showed. Investment receivables may include such benign assets as government bonds, but increasingly they include TBRs and DAMPs at mid-tier lenders.

At Evergrowing Bank, investment receivables reached 397 billion yuan in September, surpassing its loan book of 290 billion yuan. The bank said last year practically all of its investment receivables were DAMPs and TBRs. China Zheshang Bank, another smaller lender, also saw its investment receivables double over the same period, the bank’s prospectus to sell shares in Hong Kong shows. Zhang Changgong, the bank’s deputy governor, said banks were increasingly becoming return-seeking asset managers, not mere lenders. “In the past banks (made loans and) held assets. Now banks manage assets,” he said.

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It’s game on. “When you talk about orders of magnitude, this is much larger than the subprime crisis..”

US Hedge Funds Mount New Attacks on China’s Yuan (WSJ)

Some of the biggest names in the hedge-fund industry are piling up bets against China’s currency, setting up a showdown between Wall Street and the leaders of the world’s second-largest economy. Kyle Bass’s Hayman Capital Management has sold off the bulk of its investments in stocks, commodities and bonds so it can focus on shorting Asian currencies, including the yuan and the Hong Kong dollar. It is the biggest concentrated wager that the Dallas-based firm has made since its profitable bet years ago against the U.S. housing market. About 85% of Hayman Capital’s portfolio is now invested in trades that are expected to pay off if the yuan and Hong Kong dollar depreciate over the next three years—a bet with billions of dollars on the line, including borrowed money.

“When you talk about orders of magnitude, this is much larger than the subprime crisis,” said Mr. Bass, who believes the yuan could fall as much as 40% in that period. Billionaire trader Stanley Druckenmiller and hedge-fund manager David Tepper have staked out positions of their own against the currency, also known as the renminbi, according to people familiar with the matter. David Einhorn’s Greenlight Capital Inc. holds options on the yuan depreciating. The funds’ bets come at a time of enormous sensitivity for China’s leaders. The government is struggling on multiple fronts to manage a soft landing for the economy, deal with a heavily indebted banking system and navigate the transition to consumer-led growth.

Expectations for a weaker yuan have led to an exodus of capital by Chinese residents and foreign investors. Though it still boasts the largest holding of foreign reserves at $3.3 trillion, China has experienced huge outflows in recent months. Hedge funds are gambling that China will let its currency weaken further in a bid to halt a flood of money leaving the country and jump-start economic growth. The effort is a lot riskier, though, than taking on a currency whose value is set by the market. China’s state-run economy gives the government a number of levers to pull and tremendous resources at its disposal. Earlier this year, state institutions bought up so much yuan in the Hong Kong market where foreigners place most of their bets that overnight borrowing costs shot up to 66%, making it difficult to finance short positions and sending the yuan up sharply.

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Just the beginning. They don’t dare close too many mills and make large numbers of people unemployed. But they have, in my guess, at least 50% overcapacity.

China’s Steel Sector Hit By Growing Losses (FT)

A sharp reversal in China’s steel industry has led to more than half of major producers reporting losses last year. Member companies of the China Iron and Steel Association suffered a combined loss of Rmb64.5bn ($9.8bn), compared with profits of Rmb22.6bn in 2014. The country’s steel industry, which accounts for more than half of global production, contracted for the first time last year, with raw steel production dropping 2.3% — the first fall since 1981. Steel demand is wilting as construction and heavy industry stutter, a slowdown highlighted on Monday when China’s official manufacturing purchasing managers’ index for January fell to 49.4, from 49.7 in December. PMI readings below 50 indicate a fall-off in activity.

Li-Gang Liu, China chief economist at ANZ, said the reading suggested “the contraction in the manufacturing sector became more entrenched”. Mr Liu noted that year-on-year steel output fell 12% in both December and early January. The National Bureau of Statistics attributed the steeper than expected fall on the government’s campaign to reduce industrial overcapacity, especially in the steel and coal sectors, as well as a spillover effect from the lunar new year holiday. The holiday begins on February 7 and firms often suspend activity weeks in advance. China’s economic slowdown hit domestic steel demand hard in 2015, with steel-intensive industries, including the once-resilient property sector, unwilling to launch new projects in the face of overhanging inventories.

CISA, blaming industry losses on plummeting domestic prices, said its price index fell more than 30% over the course of 2015. Mill closures remain unlikely despite the losses, however, in part due to fears that the subsequent mass job losses could lead to social instability. The closure of so-called zombie companies alone could mean 400,000 lay-offs, according to a recent speech by Li Xinchuang, head of the China Metallurgical Industry Planning and Research Institute. Faced with these issues, ramping up export volume remains the industry’s chosen palliative for overcapacity. China’s steel exports grew more than 20 per cent in 2015 to 112m tonnes. The flood of Chinese steel is stoking trade protectionism as companies in other parts of the world struggle to compete with Chinese prices. In 2015, 37 cases were filed against Chinese steel producers, most on anti-dumping grounds.

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Sure it’s not really Brussels where the deepest faultlines are?

Athens And Rome Expose Europe’s Greatest Faultlines (Münchau)

How should we think about systemic risk in Europe today? The EU has been moderately successful at crisis management. But the ability to muddle through is reaching its limits when, as now, several crises intersect at once. You can see the problem most clearly in Greece — a country battling both an economic meltdown and a refugee crisis — with not much help from the rest of the EU. Last week when the European Commission issued a report criticising Athens over its failure to control its borders, Macedonia took the unilateral decision to close its southern crossing with Greece — leaving thousands of refugees in transit on the Greek side of the border. In Athens, meanwhile, parliament discussed pension reform, forced upon the country by their creditors as a quid pro quo for continued financial life support.

Greece may be the starkest example, but it is not the only country facing overlapping crises. It is not even the most important one facing this dilemma. That would be Italy. While Rome’s problems are different from those of Greece, the country’s long-term sustainability in the eurozone is just as uncertain, unless you believe that its economic performance will miraculously improve when there is no reason why it should. Italy was overwhelmed by the increase of refugees from north Africa last year. On top of that it faces unresolved economic problems — no productivity growth for 15 years; a large stock of public sector debt that leaves the government with virtually no fiscal room for manoeuvre; and a banking system with €200bn in non-performing loans, plus another €150bn of debt classified as troubled.

Then consider that its three main opposition parties have, at one time or another, all questioned the country’s membership of the eurozone. Even if none of them look like coming to power in the near future, it is clear that Italy only has a limited amount of time to fix its multiple problems. The struggle to repair the banking system is a good example of just how big the task is. Last week, the Italian government and the European Commission agreed a convoluted scheme to relieve the Italian banking system of some of these toxic assets. It uses all the dirty tricks of modern finance, including the infamous credit default swap, a financial product that mimics insurance against default on a bond, which was particularly popular during the pre-2007 credit bubble. These instruments allow investors to hedge against default risk. But more often than not, their true purpose is to conceal information, to fool investors, or to circumvent regulatory restrictions.

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Which of course deepens the deflation. Ergo: more price cuts on the way. Rock and an impossible place.

Euro-Area Factories Cut Prices as Deflation Risks Loom Large (BBG)

Factories in the euro area slashed prices of goods by the most in a year in January, highlighting the deflationary risks that’s keeping alarm bells ringing at the ECB. In its monthly manufacturing report, Markit Economics said price pressures “remained on the downside” and output charges fell for a fifth month. In addition, all countries in its survey reported declines, the first time that’s happened in 11 months. President Mario Draghi said the ECB’s stimulus policies will be reviewed in March as the region’s inflation rate may drop below zero again because of oil’s slump. Price growth has been slower than the central bank’s goal of just under 2% for almost three years. “The euro zone’s manufacturing economy missed a beat at the start of the year,” said Chris Williamson at Markit.

“If the slowdown in business activity wasn’t enough to worry policy makers, prices charged by producers fell at the fastest rate for a year to spur further concern about deflation becoming ingrained.” Inflation in the 19-country region accelerated to 0.4% in January, according to data last week, with the core rate rising to 1%. Still, that may only be a temporary reprieve. Markit’s headline Purchasing Managers’ Index fell to 52.3 from 53.2, matching an initial estimate published last month. Among the region’s largest countries, growth slowed in Germany and Italy, stagnated in France and accelerated in Spain. Markit said its survey signals annual manufacturing output growth of just 1.5% at the start of the year. “The data are likely to add to pressure on the ECB to expand the central bank’s stimulus programme as soon as March,” Williamson said.

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Watch the dominoes go.

Nigeria Asks For $3.5 Billion In Global Emergency Loans (FT)

Nigeria has asked the World Bank and African Development Bank for $3.5 billion in emergency loans to fill a growing gap in its budget in the latest sign of the economic damage being wrought on oil-rich nations by tumbling crude prices. The request from the eight-month-old government of President Muhammadu Buhari is intended to help fund a $15 billion deficit in a budget heavy on public spending as the west African country attempts to stimulate a slowing economy and offset the impact of slumping oil revenues. It comes as concerns grow over the impact of low oil prices on petroleum exporting economies in the developing world. Azerbaijan, which last month imposed capital controls to try and halt a slide in its currency, is in discussions with the World Bank and the IMF about emergency assistance.

Nigeria’s economy is Africa’s largest and has been hit hard by the fall in crude prices — oil revenues are expected to fall from 70% of income to just a third this year. Finance minister Kemi Adeosun told the Financial Times recently that she was planning Nigeria’s first return to bond markets since 2013. But Nigeria’s likely borrowing costs have been rising alongside its budget deficit. A projected deficit of $11bn, or 2.2% of gross domestic product, had already risen to $15bn, or 3%, as a result of the recent turmoil in oil markets. The $2.5bn loan from the World Bank and a parallel $1bn loan from the ADB, which would enjoy below-market rates, must still be approved by both banks’ boards.

Under World Bank rules its loan would be subject to an IMF endorsement of the government’s economic policies and bank officials say they would have to be confident the Nigerian government was undertaking significant structural reforms. But both loans would carry far fewer conditions than one from the IMF, which does not believe Nigeria needs a fully fledged international bailout at this point.

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Can we call it a draw for now? Bit early to call, we’re just getting off the starting line.

Why Miners Have it Worse Than Oil Producers (BBG)

“Things’ll go your way, if you hold on for one more day,” vocal group Wilson Phillips once crooned. Mining companies seem to have taken those lyrics to heart, opting to maintain production as long as their cash reserves allow and in effect delay a long-awaited resolution in the supply and demand balance of dry commodities, according to a new note from Goldman Sachs. The nature of the metals and mining business—legal considerations combined with an ability to store excess supply for the long-haul—means the industry faces a longer shakeout than in the energy sector. “Many of the [mining] structures are no longer assets but rather liabilities due to environmental regulations,” write Goldman analysts led by Head of Commodities Research Jeffrey Currie.

“This suggests that, in order to delay the environmental costs of mine rehabilitation, the penalties associated with employee layoff and non-performance of commercial obligations, owners will operate the facilities until they run out of cash and are obliged to suspend operations.” The trend is particularly true of U.S. coal miners, according to the analysts, and underscored by recent failed auctions of mining assets. “[Last] week we saw Alpha Natural Resources cancel an auction of 35 coal mines at the last minute due to a lack of interest, illustrating the fact that some mining assets burdened with outstanding liabilities and negative margins are left without any residual value,” Goldman notes.

Fundamental differences between metals and energy businesses have resulted in lower volatility for prices of gold, aluminium and similar dry commodities compared to energy-related products such as natural gas, electricity, and crude, the Goldman analysts say. “Theoretically, once an energy market breaches storage capacity, prices need to collapse below cash costs to immediately re-balance supply with demand. In practice, however, operational stress in energy is a local, not global concept as breaching storage capacity happens most likely in landlocked locations, but it does whittle away at the global supply overhang,” the analysts write. “In contrast, metals can be ‘piled high’ in low-cost locations almost anywhere in the world with far greater density, i.e. dollar per square foot, than energy.”

To illustrate the point, Goldman calculates that $1 billion worth of gold would, at current spot prices, fit into a generously-sized bedroom closet, while $1 billion worth of oil would take up 17 very large crude carriers, each with a capacity of more than a quarter of a million deadweight metric tons. With an estimated 12 months of cash reserves left for some U.S. coal miners, financial stress needs to deepen before the supply-demand balance even begins to resolve itself.

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Saudi leaders have the same problem as the Chinese: they’re afraid of their people.

Saudis Told To Embrace Austerity As Debt Defaults Loom (Tel.)

Saudi Arabia faces years of tough austerity as the worst oil price crash in the modern history forces the kingdom to make radical cuts to government largesse, the IMF has warned. The world’s largest producer of crude oil will need to “transform” its economy away from oil revenues, which make up more than 80pc of the government’s wealth, according to Masood Ahmed, head of the Middle East department at the IMF. The Saudi monarchy has already been forced to unveil the largest programme of government austerity in decades as oil prices have collapsed by more than 70pc in 18 months. “This will have to be part of a multi-year adjustment process,” Mr Ahmed told The Telegraph. He urged the kingdom to reform its generous system of oil subsidies and introduce a host of new taxes, including consumption levies such as VAT.

“There will have to be a major transformation of the Saudi economy. It is necessary and it is going to be difficult, but it is a challenge which I think the authorities have clearly laid out”, said Mr Ahmed. The warning comes as the world’s weakest oil producing nations could buckle under the pressure of the price rout. IMF officials have been in Azerbaijan this week amid fears Baku will need a $4bn international rescue package to stave off a debt default. During the world’s last major oil price crash in 1986, 17 out of 25 of the developing world’s major oil producers defaulted on their debts, according to research from Oxford Economics. Debt mountains in producer nations ballooned by 40pc of GDP on average.

“The 1980s precedents are alarming; producers that avoided sovereign defaults were the exception rather than the rule”, said Gabriel Sterne at Oxford Economics. Azerbaijan was forced to abandon its foreign exchange peg with the dollar in December, after speculators caused the currency to crash. The Saudis have been burning through their reserves at a record pace to protect the riyal’s fixed value against a soaring dollar, and should continue to preserve the peg at all costs, said the IMF. Mr Ahmed said it was “neither necessary nor appropriate” for Riyadh to move to a floating exchange rate, forcing it to undertake record levels of expenditure cuts instead.

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$7.6 billion in a year and a half. Eat your heart out, Bernie.

1 Million Investors Lose $7.6 Billion In China Online Ponzi Scheme (Reuters)

Chinese police have arrested 21 people involved in the operation of peer-to-peer lender Ezubao, the official Xinhua news agency said on Monday, over an online scam it said took in some 50 billion yuan ($7.6 bn) from about 900,000 investors. Ezubao was a Ponzi scheme, the Xinhua report said, and more than 95% of the projects on the online financing platform were fake. Among those arrested were Ding Ning, the chairman of Yucheng Group, which launched Ezubao in July 2014. It was not possible to reach Ezubao officials for comment and it was not clear if Ding had legal representation.

Ezubao’s website has been shut down and it appeared Yucheng Group’s Beijing office had been closed when Reuters reporters visited before Monday’s Xinhua report. Chinese police said they had sealed, frozen and seized the assets of Ezubao and its linked companies as part of investigations into China’s largest P2P online platform by lending figures. The Ezubao case has underscored the risks created by China’s fast-growing $2.6 trillion wealth management product industry. Many products are sold through loosely regulated channels, including online financial investment platforms and privately run exchanges.

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“The combination of propaganda, financial power, stupidity and bribes means that there is no hope for European peoples.”

The West Is Reduced To Looting Itself (Paul Craig Roberts)

I, Michael Hudson, John Perkins, and a few others have reported the multi-pronged looting of peoples by Western economic institutions, principally the big New York Banks with the aid of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Third World countries were and are looted by being inticed into development plans for electrification or some such purpose. The gullible and trusting governments are told that they can make their countries rich by taking out foreign loans to implement a Western-presented development plan, with the result being sufficient tax revenues from economic development to service the foreign loan. Seldom, if ever, does this happen. What happens is that the plan results in the country becoming indebted to the limit and beyond of its foreign currency earnings.

When the country is unable to service the development loan, the creditors send the IMF to tell the indebted government that the IMF will protect the government’s credit rating by lending it the money to pay its bank creditors. However, the conditions are that the government take necessary austerity measures so that the government can repay the IMF. These measures are to curtail public services and the government sector, reduce public pensions, and sell national resources to foreigners. The money saved by reduced social benefits and raised by selling off the country’s assets to foreigners serves to repay the IMF. This is the way the West has historically looted Third World countries. If a country’s president is reluctant to enter into such a deal, he is simply paid bribes, as the Greek governments were, to go along with the looting of the country the president pretends to represent.

When this method of looting became exhausted, the West bought up agricultural lands and pushed a policy on Third World countries of abandoning food self-sufficiency and producing one or two crops for export earnings. This policy makes Third World populations dependent on food imports from the West. Typically the export earnings are drained off by corrupt governments or by foreign purchasers who pay little while the foreigners selling food charge much. Thus, self-sufficiency is transformed into indebtedness. With the entire Third World now exploited to the limits possible, the West has turned to looting its own. Ireland has been looted, and the looting of Greece and Portugal is so severe that it has forced large numbers of young women into prostitution. But this doesn’t bother the Western conscience.

Previously, when a sovereign country found itself with more debt than could be serviced, creditors had to write down the debt to an amount that the country could service. In the 21st century, as I relate in my book, The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism, this traditional rule was abandoned. The new rule is that the people of a country, even a country whose top offiials accepted bribes in order to indebt the country to foreigners, must have their pensions, employment, and social services slashed and valuable national resources such as municipal water systems, ports, the national lottery, and protected national lands, such as the protected Greek islands, sold to foreigners, who have the freedom to raise water prices, deny the Greek government the revenues from the national lottery, and sell the protected national heritage of Greece to real estate developers.

What has happened to Greece and Portugal is underway in Spain and Italy. The peoples are powerless because their governments do not represent them. Not only are their governments receiving bribes, the members of the governments are brainwashed that their countries must be in the European Union. Otherwise, they are bypassed by history. The oppressed and suffering peoples themselves are brainwashed in the same way. For example, in Greece the government elected to prevent the looting of Greece was powerless, because the Greek people are brainwashed that no matter the cost to them, they must be in the EU. The combination of propaganda, financial power, stupidity and bribes means that there is no hope for European peoples.

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Humanity? Morals? Not us.

US, UK-Backed Saudi War & Blockade Cause Mass Starvation In Yemen (Salon)

Mass starvation is ongoing in Yemen, the United Nations warns, calling it a “forgotten crisis.” The poorest country in the Middle East may be on the brink of famine, while it faces bombing and a blockade from a Saudi-led coalition, backed by the U.S. and the U.K. Approximately 14.4 million Yemenis — more than half of the population of the country — are food insecure, according to a new report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, also known as the FAO. The U.N. estimates there are 25 million people in Yemen. This means at least 58% of the population is food insecure. Hunger is growing. In the seven months since June 2015, the number of food insecure Yemenis has grown by 12%. Since late 2014, the number has grown by 36%. “The numbers are staggering,” remarked Etienne Peterschmitt, FAO deputy representative and emergency response team leader in Yemen.

Peterschmitt called the mass starvation “a forgotten crisis, with millions of people in urgent need across the country.” The FAO says “ongoing conflict and import restrictions have reduced the availability of essential foods and sent prices soaring.” What the FAO does not mention in its report, however, is that these import restrictions are a result of the Saudi blockade on Yemen. Since the war broke out in March, with the backing of the U.S. and U.K., Saudi Arabia has imposed a naval, land and air blockade on Yemen — which imports more than 90% of its staple foods. Because of the Saudi-led blockade and war, for more than six months, humanitarian organizations have warned that 80% of the Yemeni population, 21 million people, desperately need food, water, medical supplies and fuel.

The U.N. has insisted for over half a year that Yemenis are enduring a “humanitarian catastrophe.” Salon sent the FAO multiple requests for comment, inquiring as to why the agency did not directly acknowledge the Saudi blockade, yet did not receive a response. The U.S. media and government have devoted very little attention to the Saudi blockade, and the U.N. has not mentioned it much in its reports on Yemen. Journalist Sharif Abdel Kouddous has warned that “Yemen is now the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.” [..] The Obama administration has sold more than $100 billion in weapons to the Saudi absolute monarchy in the past five years. The Saudi military has dropped U.S.-made cluster munitions, which are banned in 118 countries, on civilian neighborhoods in Yemen, in what Human Rights Watch called “outrageous” and a “war crime.”

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The unholy union on its last legs.

Europe Chokes Flow of Refugees to Buy Time for a Solution (WSJ)

Europe is bottling up migrants at the foot of the Balkans as its other plans for stemming the migration crisis flounder. EU member states have sent border guards, police vehicles and fingerprinting machines to Macedonia, which isn’t a member of the bloc. The goal: to squeeze the river of people still streaming north from Greece toward Germany into a trickle, turning away all but those from war-torn countries such as Syria and Iraq. The mounting restrictions are buying German Chancellor Angela Merkel time as she asks voters for patience and lobbies fellow EU leaders to implement what she promises will be a comprehensive solution to the migration crisis.

Ms. Merkel wants Turkey to dismantle smuggling networks that bring migrants across the Aegean Sea to Greece, and she wants Greece to set up large registration camps that would allow recognized refugees to be settled across the EU. But with the chancellor’s approach making little headway, many European policy makers say they have only until March to reduce the numbers from the Middle East, South Asia and Africa who are arriving in the Continent’s core, mainly Germany. Soon, spring weather on the Aegean is expected to accelerate the arrivals, just as Ms. Merkel’s conservatives face state elections in which an anti-immigration party is poised for unprecedented gains. Within Ms. Merkel’s ruling coalition, demands to shut Germany’s own border are multiplying. Support for her open-door policy is waning abroad too. Even her ally Austria has announced an annual cap on asylum places.

Mounting political pressure around Europe to cut the numbers arriving, coupled with security fears about potential terrorists using the migrant trail, is leading to measures that could effectively redraw Europe’s border at the Balkans. In Macedonia, a small, impoverished ex-Yugoslav republic, officials warn that European governments are discussing a Plan B that would have the Macedonian-Greek border sealed off entirely, with the help of EU and Balkan countries further north. “We aren’t three months away, but weeks” from cutting off Greece, Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki said in an interview. “Actually, this is the second-worst option, because the worst option isn’t doing anything, and then each of the [EU] member states would be sealing off its own borders,” he said.

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“The last German politician under whom refugees were shot at was Erich Honecker..”

German Police ‘Should Shoot At Migrants’, Populist Politician Says (BBC)

German police should “if necessary” shoot at migrants seeking to enter the country illegally, the leader of a right-wing populist party has said. Frauke Petry, head of the eurosceptic Alternativ fuer Deutschland (AfD) party, told a regional newspaper: “I don’t want this either. But the use of armed force is there as a last resort.” Her comments were condemned by leftwing parties and by the German police union. More than 1.1 million migrants arrived in Germany last year. Also on Saturday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said most migrants from Syria and Iraq would go home once the wars in their countries had ended. She told a conference of her centre-right CDU party that tougher measures adopted last week should reduce the influx of migrants, but a European solution was still needed.

Police must stop migrants crossing illegally from Austria, Ms Petry told the Mannheimer Morgen newspaper (in German), and “if necessary” use firearms. “That is what the law says,” she added. A prominent member of the centre-left Social Democrats, Thomas Oppermann, said: “The last German politician under whom refugees were shot at was Erich Honecker” – the leader of Communist East Germany. Germany’s police union, the Gewerkschaft der Polizei, said (in German) officers would never shoot at migrants. It said Ms Petry’s comments revealed a radical and inhumane mentality. The number of attacks on refugee accommodation in Germany rose to 1,005 last year – five times more than in 2014.

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Not PC. “They” are the enemy, not “We”.

UK Labour MP Compares Cologne Attacks To Birmingham Night Out (Tel.)

The Labour MP Jess Phillips is facing calls to resign after comparing the organised sexual assaults committed by gangs of migrants in Cologne to the regular harassment of women on the streets of Birmingham. The city’s residents and business owners have hit back, saying her comments were “irresponsible, highly inaccurate and misleading”. Ms Phillips, the MP for Birmingham Yardley, suggested this week that the recent attacks in Germany are no different to the situation women find themselves in the centre of Birmingham. Her remarks have incensed locals who have called on her to resign from her post and “identify the error of her ways in what she said”. Mike Olley, manager of the West Side business improvement district, said that Birmingham’s Broad Street is “not like the Wild West”.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said that sexual harassment is “not an institutionalised part of what goes on there” On New Year’s Eve in Cologne, Germany, dozens of women found themselves trapped in a crowd of around 1,000 men, who groped them, tore off their underwear, and shouted lewd insults. German authorities have since said that almost all of the New Year’s Eve sex attackers have a “migrant background”. Superintendent Andy Parsons, Police Commander for Central Birmingham, said that Ms Phillips’ comments “aren’t born out certainly in terms of crime statistics”. He added: “But I also appreciate it’s not just about statistics. I’ve got recent experience myself policing New Year on Broad Street, it was extremely busy and the atmosphere was one of celebration rather than one of sexual overtones.

“In a night time economy …there will be activity that is alcohol fuelled – but is it fair to compare it to incidents in Cologne on New Year? I don’t think it is.” However, some acknowledged that sexual harassment is a problem in the city. Michael Mclean, chairman of Broad Street Pub Watch said that sexual harassment is “something that we see and if I turned round and said that we didn’t, I’d be lying”. He went on: “Does it happen? Yes it does. Is it true what people are saying relating it to the cologne sex attacks? Absolutely not. The correlation between the two is a massive over exaggeration.”

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Sutherland has consistently been that lonely civilized voice.

The EU Must Reassert Humane Control Over Chaos Around The Mediterranean (UN)

by Peter Sutherland, UN’s special representative for migration

The European refugee debate reached a new nadir with a proposal to expel Greece from the Schengen zone and effectively transform it into an open-air holding pen for countless thousands of asylum seekers. The idea is not only inhumane and a gross violation of basic European principles; it also would prove vastly more costly than the alternative – a truly common EU policy that quells the chaos of the past year. Six countries have already reimposed border controls, and the European commission is preparing to allow them, and presumably others, to do the same for two years. The financial price of this alone is enormous – in the order of at least €40bn (including costs to fortify borders and those incurred by travellers and shippers). It would be much less expensive, financially and politically, to establish a common EU border and coastguard, and a functioning EU asylum agency.

This has proved to be, effectively, a zero-sum game. The rush by member states last year to seal their own perimeters left them unable to help shore up the EU’s external borders. They failed to send Greece the personnel and ships it had been promised. As such, the need for national border controls has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. A selfish, unilateral approach to borders constitutes a repeat of the tragedy of 2015, when EU member states individually spent about €40bn to address the crisis after it had reached European shores. In early 2015, the UN asked for a small fraction of that to feed, house and school the four million refugees in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, but the international community and Europe failed to deliver (and many EU members still haven’t paid their share).

Unable to feed and educate their children, thousands of refugees ceded their savings to smugglers for a chance to reach Europe – precisely what you and I would have done had we been in their place. Europe cannot afford another such failure. The EU, working with the international community, must reassert humane control over the chaos around the Mediterranean. This entails immediate action on three fronts: first, raising the necessary tens of billions to allow refugees in frontline countries to live, work, and go to school there; states and the private sector must also help to create jobs both for refugees and natives through investments in the region and free-trade regimes.

Second, EU members must agree to accept several hundred thousand refugees directly from the region via safe, secure pathways and to match them to communities in Europe able to host them; failing to do this will alienate the frontline countries that bear most of the burden. Third, EU states must focus on creating a common-border regime, coastguard and asylum agency rather than return to the era of the Berlin Wall. The EU is hurtling towards disintegration, not due to some insurmountable challenge or outside force. It is instead succumbing to a self-induced panic that has paralysed its common sense. It is time to end the nightmare.

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