Eight years ago the world was on the brink of a grand celebration: the inauguration of a brilliant and charismatic black president of the United States of America. Today we are on the edge of an abyss: the installation of a mendacious and cathartic white president who will replace him. This is a depressing decline in the highest office of the most powerful empire in the history of the world. It could easily produce a pervasive cynicism and poisonous nihilism. Is there really any hope for truth and justice in this decadent time? Does America even have the capacity to be honest about itself and come to terms with its self-destructive addiction to money-worship and cowardly xenophobia?
Ralph Waldo Emerson and Herman Melville – the two great public intellectuals of 19th-century America – wrestled with similar questions and reached the same conclusion as Heraclitus: character is destiny (“sow a character and you reap a destiny”). The age of Barack Obama may have been our last chance to break from our neoliberal soulcraft. We are rooted in market-driven brands that shun integrity and profit-driven policies that trump public goods. Our “post-integrity” and “post-truth” world is suffocated by entertaining brands and money-making activities that have little or nothing to do with truth, integrity or the long-term survival of the planet. We are witnessing the postmodern version of the full-scale gangsterization of the world. The reign of Obama did not produce the nightmare of Donald Trump – but it did contribute to it. And those Obama cheerleaders who refused to make him accountable bear some responsibility.
A few of us begged and pleaded with Obama to break with the Wall Street priorities and bail out Main Street. But he followed the advice of his “smart” neoliberal advisers to bail out Wall Street. In March 2009, Obama met with Wall Street leaders. He proclaimed: I stand between you and the pitchforks. I am on your side and I will protect you, he promised them. And not one Wall Street criminal executive went to jail. We called for the accountability of US torturers of innocent Muslims and the transparency of US drone strikes killing innocent civilians. Obama’s administration told us no civilians had been killed. And then we were told a few had been killed. And then told maybe 65 or so had been killed. Yet when an American civilian, Warren Weinstein, was killed in 2015 there was an immediate press conference with deep apologies and financial compensation. And today we still don’t know how many have had their lives taken away.
Democratic members of the US Congress called on Monday for the creation of an independent commission to investigate Russia’s attempts to intervene in the 2016 election, similar to the September 11 panel that investigated the 2001 attacks on the United States. Their “Protecting our Democracy Act” would create a 12-member, bipartisan independent panel to interview witnesses, obtain documents, issue subpoenas and receive public testimony to examine attempts by Moscow and any other entities to influence the election. The panel members would not be members of Congress. The legislation is one of many calls by lawmakers to look into Russian involvement in the contest, in which Republican Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in the White House race, confounding opinion polls.
Republicans also kept control of the Senate and House of Representatives by larger-than-expected margins. US intelligence agencies on Friday released a report saying that President Vladimir Putin of Russia ordered an effort to help Trump’s electoral chances by discrediting Clinton. Russia has denied the hacking allegations. A Kremlin spokesman said on Monday they were “reminiscent of a witch-hunt”. “There is no question that Russia attacked us,” Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee, told a news conference. Versions of the bill were introduced in both the Senate and House. In the Senate it has 10 sponsors. In the House it is backed by every member of the Democratic caucus, said Representative Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House oversight committee. However, no Republicans currently back the bill, so its prospects are dim, given Republican control of both houses of Congress.
One recurring lament throughout the theatrically dramatic campaign involving reports and emotional appeals by US intelligence agencies such as the CIA (whose primary function is the creation of disinformation) to ordinary Americans, that Russia had “hacked the US presidential election” is that for all the bluster and “conviction”, there has been zero evidence. And, as it turns out, there won’t be any, because according to the US State Department, US intelligence agencies were right to not reveal evidence of their proof that Russia interfered in US elections, and comparisons with intelligence reports that Iraq had WMDs were not relevant in the current year.
Asked by RT’s Gayane Chichakyan if Friday’s public intelligence report should have contained any proof of Russian intervention, State Department spokesman John Kirby said that no one should be surprised that US intelligence agencies were keeping evidence secret in order to protect sources and methods. “Most American people understand that they have the responsibility to protect their sources and methods,” Kirby said, adding it would be “irresponsible” to do otherwise. Actually, with the Iraq WMD fiasco strill fresh in “American people’s” minds, it is irresponsible to think most Americans are still naive idiots who will believe whatever the “intelligence agencies” will tell them.
Alas, none of that has filtered through to the appropriate authorities, and Kirby said that it was “up to the agencies to decide which information they share with the public. We rely on them to make that determination for themselves.” And, in this case, it meant sharing no information at all. The assessment in Friday’s report was made “by all 17 intelligence communities. All of them came to the same basic conclusion: that Russia interfered in the US election,” Kirby said. “All of our intelligence communities came to the same basic conclusion, over and over again.” They just couldn’t prove it, instead hoping that by repeating the same statement over and over would be sufficient.
A breakaway group of five moderate Senate Republicans pushed Monday to delay a bill repealing Obamacare until March — potentially enough pressure to force the party’s leadership to comply. The step is the latest sign of some Republicans’ growing uneasiness about their leadership’s plan to repeal the law with no consensus on a replacement as part of an effort to deliver swiftly on one of President-elect Donald Trump’s top campaign promises. Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee, Rob Portman of Ohio, Susan Collins of Maine, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska offered an amendment Monday to the budget resolution that would extend the target date for the committees to write an Obamacare repeal bill to March 3 from Jan. 27.
“As President-elect Trump has stated, repeal and replace should take place simultaneously, and this amendment will give the incoming administration more time to outline its priorities,” Corker said in a statement. “By extending the deadline for budget reconciliation instructions until March, Congress and the incoming administration will each have additional time to get the policy right.” With Democrats opposed to a straight repeal bill, Republicans can lose no more than one backer if they want to fast-track their approach before Trump takes office. Republican leaders in the Senate are hoping to adopt the budget resolution – which would allow an Obamacare repeal bill to pass with 50 votes and escape a Senate filibuster – early Thursday after a marathon session of amendment votes.
President-elect Donald Trump said on the campaign trail that Medicare should negotiate for lower drug prices. “God help him,” Acting Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Administrator Andy Slavitt said at the JP Morgan Health Care Conference in San Francisco on Monday. “He’s not wrong, but you need a lot of … to coin a phrase that’s been used, a fair amount of stamina if you are going to deal with the pharmaceutical industry on this topic.” Drug-pricing talk has been in the air at the JP Morgan conference, with a new administration about to take office and adding tremendous regulatory uncertainty to this sector. Despite critical comments made during election season, the president-elect has largely been seen by pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies as a positive, deregulatory force for their industry.
But the issue, still very much in the public eye, may not be off the table. Trump vowed to “bring drug prices down” in December comments to Time. The U.S. pays far more than other countries for pharmaceutical drugs, and has for a long time. “If [Trump] has the stamina he will see two things… the American public is being taken advantage of. And secondly, we are funding the R&D for free riders across the world,” Slavitt said. “And I don’t think the president-elect… is going to take too well to that.” While other countries use government negotiations to bring down drug costs, the tactic is often seen as anathema to the American free-market system. But, “this is a topic that will eventually be dealt with,” Slavitt predicted. “It’s easier to deal with this in 2017 than it will be in 2021 or 2022, when it is crippling the finances of health care.”
Jeremy Corbyn will use his first speech of 2017 to claim that Britain can be better off outside the EU and insist that the Labour party has no principled objection to ending the free movement of European workers in the UK. Setting out his party’s pitch on Brexit in the year that Theresa May will trigger article 50, the Labour leader will also reach for the language of leave campaigners by promising to deliver on a pledge to spend millions of pounds extra on the NHS every week. He will say Labour’s priority in EU negotiations will remain full access to the European single market, but that his party wants “managed migration” and to repatriate powers from Brussels that would allow governments to intervene in struggling industries such as steel.
Sources suggested that the economic demands were about tariff-free access to the single market, rather than membership that they argued did not exist. Corbyn’s speech and planned media appearances represent the first example of a new anti-establishment drive designed by strategists to emphasise and spread his image as a leftwing populist to a new set of voters. They hope the revamp will help overturn poor poll ratings across the country, particularly with a looming byelection in Copeland, Cumbria. Speaking in Peterborough, chosen because it is a marginal Tory seat that voted heavily in favour of Brexit, and which Labour is targeting, Corbyn will lay into May’s failure to reveal any Brexit planning, and say that Labour will not give the government a free pass in the negotiations.
After comparing the prime minister’s refusal to offer MPs a vote on the final Brexit deal to the behaviour of Henry VIII in a Guardian interview, Corbyn will say: “Not since the second world war has Britain’s ruling elite so recklessly put the country in such an exposed position without a plan.”
For the U.K. economy, the good news is that following the Brexit vote, the sky hasn’t fallen as many predicted; on the contrary, it’s been a period of unexpected fair weather. The bad news is that the benign outlook is encouraging a surge in borrowing, leaving households vulnerable if the Bank of England decides to tighten monetary policy. Andy Haldane, the chief economist at the central bank, said last week that as far as the British consumer is concerned, “it’s almost as though the referendum had not taken place.” That, he says, helps explain why the central bank’s gloomy prognosis of what a vote to leave the European Union would do to the economy has thus far turned out to be wrong. The nation appears to have been in celebratory mood this Christmas.
Credit-card company Visa said on Monday that U.K. spending jumped 2.6% in December from a year earlier, led by a 7.3% jump in hotels, restaurants and bars. In the final three months of 2016, overall spending posted its strongest growth in two years, Visa said. Britons have been loading up on debt. At the start of 2000, households had debts about equivalent to their disposable income. The ratio surged in the following years, peaking at 160% in the first quarter of 2008. As the financial crisis took its toll, people scaled back on borrowing, and the ratio had dropped to about 137% by September 2015. But it then rose for four consecutive quarters, with the most recently available figures showing a jump to 143% in the third quarter of last year:
As the chart shows, Brits are more indebted than their peers in either the U.S. or the euro zone. Perhaps unsurprisingly, while British households are still making their payments on secured loans such as mortgages, defaults on unsecured loans surged as the total debt burden climbed:
In their obsession with China’s falling foreign-exchange reserves, investors may be ignoring a more painful Catch-22: a growing shortage of bank deposits. Left unaddressed, the lenders’ liquidity squeeze could leave them dangerously exposed to fickle wholesale financing, while trying to ease the shortage could worsen capital flight. Take Bank of Jinzhou. With just 0.3% of the $22 trillion in assets of the 35 publicly traded Chinese lenders, the bank appears remarkably liquid. Its 57% loan-to-deposit ratio in June was below the median reading of 67%. The Hong Kong-listed institution’s 200 billion yuan ($30 billion) deposit base offered ample support to a loan portfolio only a little higher than half that amount.
Of late, however, liquidity in China has been a mere accounting artifact. Customers’ deposits aren’t sufficient to finance Bank of Jinzhou’s 213 billion yuan in shadow loans, which are debt securities that the lender classifies as receivables. To make up the shortfall, it has borrowed 142 billion yuan from other financial institutions. Of this, as much as 78% is short-term financing. After adjusting for shadow lending, S&P Global Ratings pegged Bank of Jinzhou’s loan-to-deposit ratio at the end of 2015 at 153%. Bank of Jinzhou is hardly the only Chinese bank flirting with illiquidity: Almost all are sitting on a pile of debt masquerading as receivables.
Just days after we reported that the US had begun deploying some 2,800 tanks, trucks and other military equipment to Germany, from where they would be transported by rail and road to Eastern Europe as part of a buildup of NATO reinforcements against “Russian expansion”, the next US deployment has made its way to Europe over the weekend, when some 4,000 US troops arrived in the German port of Bremerheven, on their way to Wroclaw, Poland under a planned NATO operation to “reassure the alliance’s Eastern European allies” in the face of what NATO has dubbed mounting Russian aggression. The American soldiers landed in Wroclaw, home to a key Nato and Polish air base in south-west Poland.
The troops will be followed by the roughly 2,800 tanks and other pieces of military equipment which are currently en route from Germany. The delivery of US Abrams tanks, Paladin artillery, and Bradley fighting vehicles, as well as supporting troops, marks a new phase of America’s continuous presence in Europe, which will now be based on a nine-month rotation. Why provoke Russia with yet another mass deployment? Because as NATO Major General Timothy McGuire told reporters, last week, when asked if the large deployment was meant to send a message to Russia, “The best way to maintain the peace is through preparation.” And while we are quoting, here is another good line from the movie Spice Like Us: “A weapon unused is a useless weapon.” The US military industrial complex is doing everything in its power to make sure a lot of weapons are used in the future.
The nation’s leading economists are suffering an identity crisis as many of the institutions they helped build and causes they advanced have come in for public scorn and rejection at the ballot box. The angst was on display this weekend at the annual conference of the American Economic Association, the profession’s largest gathering. The conference is a showcase for agenda-setting research, a giant job fair for the nation’s most promising young economists and, this year, the site of endless discussion about how to rebuild trust in the discipline. Many academic economists have been champions of free trade and globalization, ideas under assault among rising populist movements in advanced economies around the world.
The rise of President-elect Donald Trump, with his fierce rhetoric against elites, in particular, left many at this conference questioning their place in the world. “The economic elite did many things to undermine their credibility while people’s economic fortunes were taking a turn for the worse,” said Steven Davis, an economist at the University of Chicago. But a road map for regaining trust is elusive. “I used to think facts and analysis will ultimately carry the day but now I’m not quite sure.” [..] Surveys from the Pew Research Center have documented dwindling support for free trade. In 2014, 60% of Democratic voters and 55% of Republican voters supported such trade agreements. In an October survey, however, support among Democrats had fallen to 56% and support among Republicans had nose-dived to 24%.
Over a billion people moved out of poverty in developing countries in the last 25 years, lifted in part by global trade and other economic prescriptions, but those same policies created winners and losers in the West. Another Pew study last year compared views of whether it was good for the U.S. to be so involved in the global economy: 86% of scholars said it was good, and just 2% bad. Among the general public, 49% thought it was bad, and just 44% good.
The refugees and migrants, thousands of people from Asia and Africa who are wintering in Greece in the hope that their dream will come true and that they will move on to central and northern Europe (imagined as hospitable by need) are harboring no illusions about this country. Greece is a country with real problems: economic, social and now weather-related. These people have to put up with the same problems as we do but the place where they are doing it from is far more difficult: They have no safe accommodation, no money and limited freedom. The additional shows of solidarity that may have come with the holiday season (even if mere publicity stunts designed for the television cameras) were soon to be wiped out by the cold snap, which also affected the islands of the Aegean. There will be no such thing as halcyon days for these people.
Official assurances by government officials that the authorities managed to provide warm and safe shelter for all asylum seekers and migrants offer little comfort, as no amount of political will, or plain desire for that matter, can reverse the situation on the ground. The problems faced by the refugee population are not tackled by prohibiting photographers from documenting the situation inside the Moria camp on Lesvos island. You cannot remedy reality by banning its representation. Is it that we do not want to taint the nation’s image in the eyes of our European partners? But the image of Greece is only part of the bigger European image. What is now happening at Moria, or any other migrant camp in Greece or Italy, is not disconnected from the values and priorities in the rest of Europe, in Poland, Austria, Slovakia or Denmark.
European Union countries, which had pledged to take in 160,000 people from Greece and Italy, have so far absorbed below 5% of that figure. Just 6,212 lucky few have been relocated from Greece and 1,950 from Italy, making a total of 8,162. The inaction, the indifference and the amoralistic policy of Europe (which is also fed by electoral concerns and growing far-right intolerance) should not serve as an alibi for the Greek government. In dealing with the migrant crisis, the SYRIZA-led administration has reacted without a clear plan or good coordination with other governments. And one last thing: The decision of Lesvos’s hoteliers to close their doors to refugees and migrants is barely in line with all the idealized rhetoric about a community’s obligations toward a supplicant – and it seems even more out of line under the existing circumstances.
The European Commission says conditions for refugees on Greek islands and in other camps where they are housed in tents despite severe cold weather, is “untenable.” Heavy snowfall has hit large swaths of Greece, including the eastern Aegean islands where thousands of refugees are stranded. Giorgos Kyritsis, spokesman for the government’s crisis committee on migration, told Greece’s Skai television that just under 1,000 people remain housed in tents on the islands. The severe weather had been forecast well in advance, and the government has come under fire for not acting fast enough to ensure all refugees are adequately housed. Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said the commission “is aware that the situation is currently untenable, but we also have to be clear” that conditions in reception centers are the responsibility of Greek authorities.
January 10 : homeless man sleeps on Athens beach Photo: Eurokinisi
Alongside gold and developed market Sovereign bonds, developed market equities and bonds have been some of the hottest trades this year. According to Bank of America’s “Flow Show” report published at the end of last week, around $2 billion flowed into emerging market debt funds over the last week. This marks the seventh straight week of inflows into such funds. Over this period, more than $20 billion has been invested in emerging market bond funds, the largest amount on record. Meanwhile and $5 billion found its way into emerging market stock funds last week, taking the seven-week total to $14.6 billion for emerging market equity funds, a near two-year high.
Emerging market debt funds have become a hot commodity this year as the yields on developed market bonds plunge to levels that offer little in the way of return. Bond funds have attracted $138 billion so far this year. On the other hand, equity funds have seen outflows of $128 billion since the start of 2016 (all of these outflows come from mutual funds, low-cost equity ETF have attracted $52.5 billion of assets so far this year). It seems that emerging markets are only too happy to generate more debt to meet the increasing demand for investors. According to research from Bank of America’s quantitative fixed income strategist Jane Brauer, last year the total value of global emerging market outstanding debt rose to $18.2 trillion, up around $2 trillion year-on-year.
In local currency terms this gain is 24% but in US dollar terms, thanks to dollar depreciation, the rise in debt looks much more subdued at only 12%. For 2014 the total value of global emerging market outstanding debt grew by 12% year-on-year and on average the emerging market debt stock has increased by approximately 14% per annum since the year 2000. Unsurprisingly, China was responsible for almost all of the growth in debt last year. China total debt rose by $2 trillion during 2015. China domestic debt skyrocketed by 30% in 2015 in US dollar terms, with the government and financial institutions local debt components both increasing 36%.
China is at mounting risk of a Japanese-style “liquidity trap” as monetary policy loses traction and the economy approaches credit exhaustion, forcing a shift towards Keynesian fiscal stimulus. Officials at the PBOC have begun to call for a fundamental change in strategy, warning that interest rate cuts have become an increasingly blunt tool. They cannot easily stop companies hoarding cash or halt the slide in private investment. Sheng Songcheng, the PBOC’s head of analysis, set off a storm last month by warning that the economy had “started to show some signs of being caught in a liquidity trap”. He has since stepped up his pleas for action by the fiscal authorities to relieve the burden on the central bank, a Chinese variant of the parallel drama that is being played out in Europe and Japan.
Mr Sheng told China Business News on Monday that the country has a very low reliance on foreign borrowing and can easily afford to shore up the economy with a Keynesian boost. “China can let its deficit-to-GDP ratio rise to over 3pc or even 5pc in the long run. It can spur growth more effectively by lowering corporate taxes than by cutting the interest rate,” he said. The powerful State Council has now joined the chorus with calls this week for a $75bn cut in business taxes to boost confidence and channel stimulus to the productive economy. Caixin magazine said Chinese companies are hoarding record sums of “dead money” rather than spending it. The growth rate of private investment has dropped to 2.1pc over the last seven months, the lowest since the global financial crisis. The central bank is effectively ‘pushing on a string’, an expression coined by John Maynard Keynes in the 1930s.
The best-performing bank in China is in a struggling city in the northeast where weeds sprout alongside the concrete skeletons of high rises in an industrial zone that mostly looks like a ghost town. Steel plants have laid off tens of thousands of workers. Cranes stand idle on construction sites. Wipe away a spiderweb on a dirty glass door at an empty complex with smashed windows and there’s a notice from the local government demanding rent unpaid since November 2014. Yet the Bank of Tangshan’s financial statements hardly reflect these realities. Instead, this small lender reports the fastest growth of 156 Chinese financial institutions and the lowest level of bad loans, a mere 0.06%. Its profit jumped 436% in two years and assets soared almost 400% since the start of 2014 to 177.9 billion yuan ($26.7 billion).
It’s largely driven by shadow lending. The bank is the most prominent example of the off-loan-book wizardry that’s turbo-charging some of China’s small and mid-sized banks, creating opaque risks that could lead to failures, bailouts or liquidity shocks that jolt the nation and global markets in the years ahead. “It’s a mirage built upon risks,” said He Xuanlai, of Commerzbank. The Singapore-based analyst cited smaller banks’ use of so-called “investment receivables” — including asset management plans and wealth management products — to boost lending without facing requirements to bolster capital and loan-loss provisions. “It’s hard to assess the banks’ true asset quality.”
This form of shadow lending is so widespread that a survey of 26 banks by Moody’s Investors Service found that they’d quadrupled use of the products since 2012, with small and mid-sized lenders contributing an outsize share. The IMF estimates that Chinese banks held $2.3 trillion of shadow credit products at the end of last year, adding to a build-up that could pose “substantial risks” to the financial system. Some little-known Chinese banks have already been quietly bailed out, UBS said.
About 1.6m UK households are living in extreme debt, according to a report by the TUC, which says official figures underestimate the intense burden of repayment on many families and individuals. Contrary to official data, which suggests that households have been repaying debt accumulated before the financial crisis, the Britain in the Red report says households are finding it harder than ever to cope as wages have fallen. “More than 1m families with a household income below £30,000 are in extreme debt and ongoing wage stagnation is making the problem worse,” the report says. Total unsecured debt, including car loans and credit cards, but excluding mortgages, for UK households rose by £48bn between 2012 and 2015 to £353bn.
As wages declined, the real burden of repaying debt became tougher. The TUC said 3.2m households are in problem debt, defined as spending more than 25% of total household income on unsecured debt repayments. About 1.6m households are in extreme debt, paying out 40% or more of household income to creditors. The problem is growing fastest among the working poor, people with jobs but insufficient pay to stay financially afloat. OECD figures show that UK real wages fell by 10.4% between 2007 and 2015, making the task of keeping up debt repayments harder. In 2015, 9% of low-income households with an adult in employment were in extreme problem debt, almost double the figure of 5% in 2014, the report found.
Even a resurgent yen hasn’t dampened Japan’s stock rally over the past couple months, but that’s not necessarily because investors like the market. The Nikkei 225 index has surged around 10% since late June, even as the yen has climbed against the dollar, with the pair testing levels under 100. Normally this would be bad news for stocks as a stronger yen is a negative for exporters as it reduces their overseas profits when converted to local currency. So what explains the buoyant stock market? Analysts attributed the gains to the Bank of Japan (BOJ), not fundamentals.
In a report titled, “BOJ nationalizing the stock market,” Nicholas Smith, an analyst at CLSA, said that the central bank’s exchange-traded fund (ETF) buying program was distorting the market. At its late July meeting, the BOJ said it would increase its ETF purchases so that their amount outstanding will rise at an annual pace of 6 trillion yen ($56.7 billion), from 3.3 trillion yen previously. Those purchases were particularly distorting to the market because they focused largely on funds tracking the Nikkei 225 index, Smith said in a note dated Sunday, estimating that more than half of the BOJ’s ETF buying was likely in Nikkei-tied funds.
The Bank of Japan’s near doubling of its purchases of Tokyo shares is causing investors to worry the central bank will dominate financial markets, which could lead to price distortions as it continues to grease the economy. The BOJ’s buying spree will make it harder for investors to sift good companies from bad, and raises a host of other problems including misallocating capital, making equities trading more speculative and reducing incentives for companies to meet shareholder needs, analysts say. More than three years of massive monetary stimulus has already resulted in the central bank cornering the Japanese government bond (JGB) market and distorting interest rates. “The increased BOJ purchasing provides a very favorable demand environment for listed equities,” said Michael Kretschmer, CIO at Pelargos Capital in the Hague.
“Nevertheless, in the long run we strongly doubt these type of monetary gimmicks aimed at price setting of risk assets can have a sustained positive impact on economic growth.” The BOJ doesn’t dominate the stock market as it does JGBs, but its revved up buying of index-based shares has shifted attention to the central bank’s behavior and away from how companies perform. [..] Some liken the increased purchases by the BOJ – the only central bank in the world that buys stocks at the moment – to failed government efforts over more than two decades to prop up the market by pressing government-related financial institutions to buy after the bursting of the late-1980s asset bubble.
[..] With foreign investors largely staying away, disappointed at the lack of progress in Japan’s structural reforms, the BOJ is almost sure to be the biggest buyer on the Tokyo Stock Exchange for the foreseeable future. “The market is driven completely by the BOJ’s buying rather than views on each companies’ earnings,” said a fund manager at a Japanese asset management firm.
In a Fed Staff working paper released over the weekend titled “Gauging the Ability of the FOMC to Respond to Future Recessions” and penned by deputy director of the division of research and statistics at the Fed, the author concludes that “simulations of the FRB/US model of a severe recession suggest that large-scale asset purchases and forward guidance about the future path of the federal funds rate should be able to provide enough additional accommodation to fully compensate for a more limited [ability] to cut short-term interest rates in most, but probably not all, circumstances.” So far so good, however, there are some notable problems with the paper’s assumptions, as Citi head of G10 FX, Steven Englander, observes.
He writes that the paper’s basic framework is to take the standard US economic model used by the Fed, give it a negative shock big enough to push the unemployment rate up by 5%age points (big but not unprecedented over the last 50 years) and deploying the Fed’s policy rate, QE and forward guidance tools to see if they are adequate to get the economy back on track. Negative rates and helicopter money are not used. The two simulations assume: 1) the economy is in equilibrium initially with inflation at 2%, r* at 1%, so equilibrium nominal fed funds is 3%; 2) the economy is in equilibrium initially with inflation at 2%, r* at zero (secular stagnation) and equilibrium nominal fed funds at 2%.
He compares three policy approaches. The first assumes a linear world where fed funds can go into negative territory but there is no breakdown in the structure of economic relationships. It is probably not a realistic view of policy ineffectiveness at negative rates, but it is mean to be a baseline. The second just takes fed funds down to zero and keeps it there long enough for unemployment to return to baseline. “The third takes fed funds down to zero and augments it with additional $ 2trn of QE and forward guidance. A variation on the third policy response function doubles the amount of QE in the second simulation.” In other words, the Fed is already factoring in a scenario in which a shock to the economy leads to additional QE of either $2 trillion, or in a worst case scenario, $4 trillion, effectively doubling the current size of the Fed’s balance sheet.
Deutsche Bank is an unwieldy institution with headquarters in Frankfurt and about a hundred thousand employees in seventy countries. When it was founded, in 1870, its stated purpose was to facilitate trade between Germany and other countries. It soon established footholds in Shanghai, London, and Buenos Aires. In 1881, the bank arrived in Russia, financing railways commissioned by Alexander III. It has operated there ever since. During the Nazi era, Deutsche Bank sullied its reputation by financing Hitler’s regime and purchasing stolen Jewish gold. After the war, the bank concentrated on its domestic market, playing a significant role in Germany’s so-called economic miracle, in which the country regained its position as the most potent state in Europe.
After the deregulation of the U.S. and U.K. financial markets, in the nineteen-eighties, Deutsche Bank refreshed its overseas ambitions, acquiring prominent investment banks: the London firm Morgan Grenfell, in 1989, and the American firm Bankers Trust, in 1998. By the new millennium, Deutsche Bank had become one of the world’s ten largest banks. In October, 2001, it débuted on the New York Stock Exchange. Although the bank’s headquarters remained in Germany, power migrated from conservative Frankfurt to London, the investment-banking hub where the most lavish profits were generated. The assimilation of different banking cultures was not always successful. In the nineties, when hundreds of Americans went to work for Deutsche Bank in London, German managers had to place a sign in the entrance hall spelling out “Deutsche” phonetically, because many Americans called their employer “Douche Bank.”
In 2007, the bank’s share price hit an all-time peak: a hundred and fifty-nine dollars. But as it grew fast it also grew loose. Before the housing market collapsed in the United States, in 2008, sparking a global financial crisis, Deutsche Bank created about thirty-two billion dollars’ worth of collateralized debt obligations, which helped to inflate the housing bubble. In 2010, Deutsche Bank’s own staff accused it of having masked twelve billion dollars’ worth of losses. Eric Ben-Artzi, a former risk analyst, was one of three whistle-blowers. He told the SEC that, had the bank’s true financial health been known in 2008, it might have folded, as Lehman Brothers had. Last year, Deutsche Bank paid the SEC a $55 million fine but admitted no wrongdoing. Ben-Artzi told me that bank executives had incurred a tiny penalty for a huge crime. “There was cultural criminality,” he said. “Deutsche Bank was structurally designed by management to allow corrupt individuals to commit fraud.”
Real estate stocks were a buying opportunity a few years ago, but at this point Goldman Sachs says the area is too risky for investors. At the end of this month, Real Estate will separate from Financials to become its own sector in the S&P 500. While those stocks have outpaced the S&P 500 so far in 2016, analysts led by David Kostin at Goldman Sachs say there are a lot of challenges, and they are not recommending investors try to make up for the missed gains. “Real Estate has outpaced the S&P 500 by 156 basis points year-to-date, which has hurt large-cap mutual fund returns given their underweight allocation to the sector,” Kostin and company write.
One thing that could help the new sector, however, is that even if those fund managers just move from underweight to neutral, there could be a big inflow of funds. According to Goldman, close to half of large-cap core funds managers have zero exposure to the sector. The analysts forecast as much as $19 billion in new demand, as funds that aren’t currently in real estate try to play catch up. That may be good enough not to slap a sell rating on these stocks, but it isn’t enough to give them a buy rating. “Looking forward, we recommend a Neutral weighting to the Real Estate sector given slowing top-line revenue growth, average relative valuation, and risks from a higher interest rate environment,” they conclude.
For months, a California congressman has been trying to get Obama administration officials to reconsider U.S. backing for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. And for months, he has been given the runaround. Ted Lieu, a Democrat representing Los Angeles County, served in the Air Force and is a colonel in the Air Force Reserves. The brutal bombing of civilian areas with U.S.-supplied planes and weapons has led him to act when most of his colleagues have stayed silent. “I taught the law of war when I was on active duty,” he told The Intercept. “You can’t kill children, newlyweds, doctors and patients – those are exempt targets under the law of war, and the coalition has been repeatedly striking civilians,” he said. “So it is very disturbing to me. It is even worse that the U.S. is aiding this coalition.”
But he and a very few other lawmakers who have tried to take bipartisan action to stop U.S. support for the campaign are a lonely bunch. “Many in Congress have been hesitant to criticize the Saudis’ operational conduct in Yemen,” Lieu said. He didn’t say more about that. The matter has gotten ever more urgent since August 7, when the Saudi-led coalition relaunched an aggressive campaign of attacks after Houthi rebels in Yemen rejected a one-sided peace deal. More than 60 Yemeni civilians have been killed in at least five attacks on civilian areas since the new bombing campaign began. On August 13, the coalition bombed a school in Haydan, Yemen, killing at least 10 children and injuring 28 more.
Lieu released a statement two days later, harshly condemning the attack. “The indiscriminate civilian killings by Saudi Arabia look like war crimes to me. In this case, children as young as 8 were killed by Saudi Arabian air strikes,” he wrote. “By assisting Saudi Arabia, the United States is aiding and abetting what appears to be war crimes in Yemen,” Lieu added. “The administration must stop enabling this madness now.” Then, mere minutes after his office sent out the statement about the August 13 attack, another tragedy started making headlines: The coalition had just bombed a hospital operated by the international medical humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders (MSF), killing 19.
Nearly 15,000 emails recovered by the FBI from the private server used by Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state are set to be made public just before the presidential election in November, it emerged in court on Monday. The state department said it was reviewing 14,900 documents that came to light in the now-closed investigation into the handling of sensitive information that flowed through the server in question. That is a major addition to the 30,000 emails that Clinton’s lawyers considered work-related and returned to the department in December 2014. The FBI cleared Clinton of criminal conduct but found her to have have been “extremely careless”, and the saga continues to dog her.
On 5 August the FBI completed a transfer of several thousand previously undisclosed work-related emails for the state department to review and publish. Responding to the news, the Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus, said Clinton “seems incapable of telling the truth”. State lawyers told federal judge James Boasberg on Monday they expected to release the emails in batches on 14, 21 and 28 October and 4 November. The election, against Republican nominee Donald Trump, takes place on 8 November. Boasberg ordered that the department should aim for a more ambitious deadline. The judge set another hearing for 22 September, so progress can be reviewed.
Tom Fitton, president of the conservative legal group Judicial Watch, which brought the case under a Freedom of Information Act (Foia) request, tweeted: “FBI found almost 15,000 new Clinton documents. When will state release them?” Another federal judge, Emmet Sullivan, last week ordered Clinton to answer written questions from Judicial Watch. Her answers are not due until after the presidential election.
“The Oversight committee is slated to hold a hearing next month to look at the possibility of bringing perjury charges against the former secretary of state. FBI Director James Comey has been named as a possible witness.”
The FBI has handed Congress two copies of notes from its interview with Hillary Clinton about her private email server, but according to the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, the two sets of notes aren’t consistent with each other. “The … thing that is stunning to me, which I found out last night, is the FBI gave us one set of documents. Then we asked them, and they … gave us a second copy in a classified setting. But they’re different,” said committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz in a Monday morning interview on MSNBC. The Utah Republican said he had no explanation, and that he would have to seek one from the FBI. “We have a second set of documents that’s now different. You turn them page by page, and they’re different. I don’t know why that happens,” Chaffetz added.
Chaffetz said there was “new information” in the second set of documents, which has left the committee confused. “So we’re going back to square one. We’ve only had them for days, but still, the second copy is different from the first copy. Why is that?” he asked. Asked whether he would pursue perjury charges against Clinton for making misleading statements to Congress, Chaffetz demurred, but did criticize the FBI. “I’m stunned the FBI director came before Congress and testified that during their year-long investigation, they never looked at the under oath testimony from Hillary Clinton.” “You’re kidding me? You’re doing an investigation about the email scandal, and you never look at what she said under oath? Politicians lie, but when you’re under oath, you can’t do that,” Chaffetz said.
The Oversight committee is slated to hold a hearing next month to look at the possibility of bringing perjury charges against the former secretary of state. FBI Director James Comey has been named as a possible witness. It would the second time in as many months that Comey has been called before Congress to explain the investigation into Clinton’s emails.
The kingdom of Saudi Arabia donated more than $10 million. Through a foundation, so did the son-in-law of a former Ukrainian president whose government was widely criticized for corruption and the murder of journalists. A Lebanese-Nigerian developer with vast business interests contributed as much as $5 million. For years the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation thrived largely on the generosity of foreign donors and individuals who gave hundreds of millions of dollars to the global charity. But now, as Mrs. Clinton seeks the White House, the funding of the sprawling philanthropy has become an Achilles’ heel for her campaign and, if she is victorious, potentially her administration as well.
With Mrs. Clinton facing accusations of favoritism toward Clinton Foundation donors during her time as secretary of state, former President Bill Clinton told foundation employees on Thursday that the organization would no longer accept foreign or corporate donations should Mrs. Clinton win in November. But while the move could avoid the awkwardness of Mr. Clinton jetting around the world asking for money while his wife is president, it did not resolve a more pressing question: how her administration would handle longtime donors seeking help from the United States, or whose interests might conflict with the country’s own.
The Clinton Foundation has accepted tens of millions of dollars from countries that the State Department — before, during and after Mrs. Clinton’s time as secretary — criticized for their records on sex discrimination and other human-rights issues. The countries include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Brunei and Algeria. Saudi Arabia has been a particularly generous benefactor. The kingdom gave between $10 million and $25 million to the Clinton Foundation. (Donations are typically reported in broad ranges, not specific amounts.) At least $1 million more was donated by Friends of Saudi Arabia, which was co-founded by a Saudi prince.
Despite banks’ nudging toward online tools, many U.S. customers are not ready to give up regular visits to their nearest branch, complicating the industry’s efforts to slim down. U.S. banks have trimmed the number of branches by 6% since it peaked in 2009, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp data. The 93,283 branches open at the end of last year was the lowest level in a decade. Yet analysts who have examined the data say banks should have done more to offset the pressure on revenue from low interest rates and regulatory demands. The number of FDIC-insured banks has fallen by more than 25% over that time even as industry assets have grown, indicating room for greater branch consolidation.
Bank executives argue, however, that branches remain crucial for acquiring new customers and doing more business with existing ones. Closures, they say, would hurt revenue more than help reduce costs. “Our customers still want to visit us,” Jonathan Velline, Wells Fargo’s head of ATM and store strategy, told Reuters in an interview. “They’re still coming to our stores and our ATMs at pretty consistent rates.” Bankers across the industry share that view. They say online banking complements traditional services for U.S. customers, but few have gone fully digital.
What the world is witnessing, without actually paying much attention, is the death of our debt-based economy — that is, borrowing the means to thrive in the now from a future that can’t really furnish it anymore. The illusion that the future would always provide was a legacy of the cheap energy era. That era ended in 2005. The basic promise is broken and with it the premise for living as we had been. The energy available today, especially oil, is no longer cheap enough to run the industrial economies designed to run on it. Any way that you look at the dynamic, Modernity loses. With oil under $50 a barrel, and gasoline under $3 a gallon (back east), the public apparently thinks that the Peak Oil story is dead and gone.
But when it costs $75 a barrel to pull the stuff out of the ground, and the stuff only sells for $47 a barrel, the oil companies’ business model doesn’t really work. The shale oil companies especially have been gaming the system by issuing bonds that pay relatively high interest rates in an investment climate where almost nothing else offers enough yield to live on, especially for pension funds and insurance companies. Two little upward bumps this year in the price of oil toward the $50 range prompted a wish that the good old days of high-priced oil were coming back, that the oil business would be profitable again. The trouble is that high oil prices – say, over $100 a barrel, as it was in 2014 – crush advanced economies, so that demand for oil crashes, and with it productive activity.
Without productivity, the debts issued by companies (and even governments) don’t get repaid. There really is no “sweet spot” in this energy cost equation. A lot of wishful thinkers would like to believe that you can run contemporary life on something beside oil. But the usual “solutions,” solar and wind energy, don’t pencil out, especially when you consider that the hardware for running them – the photovoltaics, charge controllers, batteries, turbines, and blades, can’t be mass-produced and distributed without the very fossil fuels they are supposed to replace.
In Protesting the Treaty of Versailles ending World War I, John Maynard Keynes wrote: “The policy . . . of depriving the lives of millions of human beings, of depriving a whole nation of happiness should be abhorrent and detestable — abhorrent and detestable, even if it were possible, even if it enriched ourselves, even if it did not sow the decay of the whole civilized life of Europe.” Last year’s third bailout of Greece, imposed by Europe and the International Monetrary Fund, does to Greece what Versailles did to Germany: It strips assets to satisfy debts. Germany lost its merchant marine, its rolling stock, its colonies, and its coal; Greece has lost its seaports, its airports — the profitable ones — and is set to sell off its beaches, the public asset that is a uniquely Greek glory.
Private businesses are being forced into bankruptcy to make way for European chains; private citizens are being forced into foreclosure on their homes. It’s a land grab. And for what? To satisfy old public debts, incurred for tanks, submarines, the Olympics, big construction projects outsourced to German firms, and to hide deficits in health care, with creditor connivance — a quagmire of graft to support an illusion, that Greece could “compete” as part of the euro. Already in 2010 the IMF knew it was breaking its own rules by pretending that Greece could recover quickly, sustain a huge primary surplus, and repay its debts. Why? To help save French and German banks, which the IMF’s sainted managing director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, wanted to do, because he wanted to be president of France.
Europe crushed the Greek resistance in 2015. Not because Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, thought his economic plan would work; he candidly told the Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, that “as a patriot” he would not sign it himself. But Germany wants to impose its order on Italy and on France, where civil society continues to fight back. And Chancellor Angela Merkel could not admit to her voters, or to fellow Europeans from Slovakia to Portugal, that back in 2010 she’d saved Germany’s banks by saddling them with Greek debts that could never be paid. Greece was given collective punishment as a lesson. It was done to show that “there is no alternative.” It was done to stop any other attempt to develop, articulate, and defend a more rational policy. It was done to protect the power of the ECB, the German government in Europe, and the policy-making authority, in face of a long record of failure, of the IMF.
On a smuggler’s boat from Turkey two years ago, 19-year-old Rawan watched the passengers start to panic as a Greek coast guard vessel approached them head on, circling twice. Rawan heard two gunshots ring out from the Greek patrol. Fearing arrest, the driver of Rawan’s boat, a Turkish fisherman, turned the vehicle around to flee back to Turkey. Then Rawan heard more shots. When the bullet hit her in the lower back, at first she felt nothing. Then, Rawan says, it felt like fire. Rawan’s husband had made it to Germany a year earlier; both were fleeing their home in Damascus, Syria. Rawan and 12 other Syrians were headed for the Greek island of Chios on a small fiberglass boat, much faster than the inflatable dinghies that many refugees use for the 5-mile crossing.
Before the shots, Rawan heard “stop” blare over a loudspeaker on the coast guard vessel. She and four others were in the forward compartment of the boat, and more people were sitting in the back near the outboard engine. Rawan’s father-in-law, Adnan Akil, was also shot in the lower back, and Amjad A., another Syrian refugee who asked that only his first name and last initial be used, was shot in the shoulder. Akil says he clearly remembers the chain of events leading up to the shooting. One officer had a pistol, the other had a submachine gun. Akil, Rawan, and other witnesses say they heard one officer shoot in automatic bursts. “We were shouting and screaming for the driver to stop,” remembers Braa Abosaleh, another Syrian refugee who was on the boat that day.
When the driver didn’t stop, the coast guard rammed their boat from the back right side. Akil and Rawan remember the driver stopping the boat, pretending he was going to surrender. As the officers put down their weapons and approached, the driver fired up the engine again and turned back toward Turkey. This time, the coast guard shot directly at the fleeing boat.
Greek authorities hope that the construction of a new migrant reception center in Thiva, central Greece, which is set to be completed in the coming days, will ease congestion in camps on the country’s eastern Aegean islands, while plans are also under way to open a refugee facility on Crete. “The situation on the islands is only marginally under control,” a source inside the Public Order Ministry told Kathimerini on condition of anonymity on Monday. Authorities are said to be drawing up plans to create so-called “closed-structure” detention camps on the islands to separate individuals who are scheduled to be repatriated – as well as troublemakers – from those who have passed a first screening in their claim for international protection.
Meanwhile, migrants with a criminal past will be transferred from the islands to pre-departure centers on mainland Greece. About 300 individuals have already been transferred and another 100 are to follow in the coming days. Less straightforward are the government’s plans to construct migrant reception facilities on the island of Crete. Officials at the Ministry for Immigration Policy told Kathimerini that, by the end of September, local authorities are expected to propose sites where these facilities could be built. “Any plans are to take effect as of November, after the island’s tourism season has drawn to a close,” an unnamed official said.
“Japan 25 years ago and China now were both debt [and] currency fueled flood of cash into U.S. assets inflating both valuations and fears,” Josh Wolfe, co-founder and managing partner of Lux Capital, a $700 million venture capital firm, told CNBC via email this week. Like other skeptical investors, Wolfe believes there are “really two Chinas: A high growth tech and biotech driven economy conflated with a levered old asset state owned influenced burden of very bad decision making and governance.” China’s high debt, slowing growth and appetite for U.S. assets—the country already owns trillions in U.S. Treasuries and dollars—raises the stakes for tech companies if the country’s fortunes should suddenly reverse.
Of the nearly $60 billion that the National Venture Capital Association says was invested in U.S. startups last year, about a quarter of those flows came from one destination: China. Along with art and high end real estate, tech ventures have been the primary recipient of China’s largesse. Meanwhile, 2016 has already exceeded last year’s record flow of Chinese capital, according to recent figures from The Rhodium Group. Wolfe told CNBC that Chinese investors “are fleeing a virtual reality economy in China and funding virtual reality startups in the U.S. They seem to be choosing illiquidity and uncertainty, denominated in dollars over liquidity and certainty of devaluation denominated in yuan.”
China’s slowing economy has reverberated across the globe, sending commodities reeling and giving investors fright. That pain is far from over: The IMF warned on Friday that China’s real GDP could sink below 6% in 2020. If Chinese interest rates rise or liquidity tightens, the flood of money threatens to do “what all excesses do: reverse or stop,” said Lux Capital’s Wolfe. “As the China bubble pops, it has been commodities and commodity exporting countries in the first wave, then banks and non-performing loans, then it will be the assets they financed or were secured by.”
IMF staff said that 19 trillion yuan ($2.9 trillion) of Chinese “shadow” credit products are high-risk compared with corporate loans and highlighted the danger that defaults could lead to liquidity shocks. The investment products are structured by the likes of trust and securities companies and based on equities or on debt – typically loans – that isn’t traded, staff members John Caparusso and Kai Yan said in a report released Friday. The commentary highlighted the potential for risks bigger to the nation’s financial stability than from companies’ loan defaults. While loan losses can be realized gradually, defaults on the shadow products could trigger risk aversion that’s harder to manage, the report said.
The “high-risk” products offer yields of 11% to 14%, compared with 6% on loans and 3% to 4% on bonds, the commentary said. The lowest-quality of these products are based on “nonstandard credit assets,” typically loans, it said. In a separate document in a bundle released by the IMF, the Chinese banking regulator was cited as saying that banks’ exposures to “nonstandard credit assets” were a key concern, with moves already made to require higher provisioning against such exposures than for regular loans.
Bond markets are certainly displaying a lot of enthusiasm at the moment – and it doesn’t matter which bonds one looks at, as the famous “hunt for yield” continues to obliterate interest returns across the board like a steamroller. Corporate and government debt have been soaring for years, but investor appetite for such debt has evidently grown even more. A huge mountain of interest-free risk has accumulated in investor portfolios and on bank balance sheets. Globally, more than $13 trillion in sovereign bonds trade at negative yields to maturity. In spite of soaring defaults, junk bond yields have collapsed again as well. In short, insanity rules in the bond markets. A recent article in the FT informs us of “a wave of foreign demand for US corporate debt”:
“Record-low interest rates are no barrier for US companies finding buyers for their debt thanks to a relentless global quest for fixed returns that shows little sign of easing. The pace of US corporate debt sales – which has not been fast enough to quench investor demand – is expected to continue unabated driven by foreign buyers in a world where roughly $13tn of sovereign and corporate debt trades in negative territory. “It is a low return world,” says Ed Campbell, a portfolio manager with asset manager QMA. “You don’t have a lot of asset classes that are attractive and there is a flight to quality where the US is outperforming.” More than $2.3tn of dollar-denominated debt has been issued by companies and banks since the year began, including three of the ten largest corporate bond sales on record, Dealogic data show.”
This not only shows that “investors” (we use the term loosely) are insane, it also happens to be a contrary indicator. Foreign buying of US assets very often reaches record highs prior to major financial accidents. Is this really a “flight to quality?” Corporate defaults are currently at the highest level since 2009, with US defaults clearly leading the pack:
If Hillary Clinton is to win this November, she needs to motivate the electorate to come out to vote for something more than a justified aversion to Donald Trump. Particularly for younger voters and voters with families, she has to capture their imaginations with a bold, simple, and common sense proposal to address one of the most critical financial and social problems currently facing a generation: the student loan crisis. And she needs to do so in a way that can do the most immediate good for the nation at large. First, all outstanding student loan debt should be forgiven. Second, a new loan program should be created that is tied to incentives for college graduates to choose careers in public service and which indexes repayment to income.
Current outstanding student loans amount to 1.3 trillion dollars, roughly 10% of all household debt. Student loan debt is larger than either car loans or credit card debt. Forty-two million Americans hold student loan debt. Student debt has been a drag on younger generations’ incomes and has contributed to the stagnation in middle class earnings. The average debt at graduation has skyrocketed from $10,000 in 1993 to more than $35,000 in 2016. Furthermore, the federal government has set interest rates on student loans at twice the current market rate of other types of loans. Going to college should not be a profit center for Wall Street and the federal government.
By forgiving student loan debt—which is largely held by the government—a tremendous economic stimulus would be generated, whose beneficiaries are people, not banks. The cost is comparable to the stimulus program created in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, and, in this case, Main Street and not Wall Street will benefit. Quickly, more than two generations of Americans would be able to invest in homes and develop and support families. And the Americans who benefit are those who have obtained education and skills, but whose careers have been hobbled by an inordinate amount of debt.
This is a talk I gave to the Northern Ireland Big Ideas Event organised by NICVA: the “Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action” (http://www.nicva.org/event/big-ideas-…). Unfortunately I ran out of time to finish my presentation on why a “Modern Debt Jubilee” is needed to escape from the current economic state of credit stagnation, but I covered why it is this–and not “secular stagnation” that explains the prevalence of low rates of economic growth globally.
Our current political chaos has a simple explanation. The economic system is driving environmental collapse, economic desperation, political corruption, and financial instability. And it isn’t working for the vast majority of people. It serves mainly the interests of a financial oligarchy that in the United States dominates the establishment wings of both the Republican and Democratic parties. So voters are rebelling against those wings of both parties—and for good reason. As a society we confront a simple truth. An economic system based on the false idea that money is wealth—and the false promise that maximizing financial returns to the holders of financial assets will maximize the well-being of all—inevitably does exactly what it is designed to do:
1. Those who have financial assets and benefit from Wall Street’s financial games get steadily richer and more powerful. 2. The winners use the power of their financial assets to buy political favor and to hold government hostage by threatening to move jobs and tax revenue to friendlier states and countries. 3. The winners then use this political power to extract public subsidies, avoid taxes, and externalize environmental, labor, health, and safety costs to further increase their financial returns and buy more political power. This results in a vicious cycle of an ever greater concentration of wealth and power in the hands of those who demonstrate the least regard for the health and well-being of others and the living Earth, on which all depend.
Fewer and fewer people have more and more power and society pays the price. A different result requires a different system, and the leadership for change is coming, as it must, from those for whom the current system does not work.
The TransAtlantic and TransPacific “partnerships” are the economic and financial counterpart to Washington’s military and foreign policy push for world hegemony. TTIP and TPP are neither partnerships nor trade agreements. They are instruments of financial imperialism that, if they come into effect, subordinate the sovereignty of countries to the profits of global corporations. The reason the “partnerships” are negotiated in secrecy without public discussions and the participation of the national legislatures is that the so-called agreements cannot stand the light of day. The reason is simple. The agreements make global corporations immune to laws and regulations that can be said to adversely impact their profits.
It makes no difference whether the laws protect the environment, the safety of food and workers or are part of the social fabric. If the laws impose costs that reduce profits, corporations can sue the governments in “corporate tribunals” in which the corporations themselves serve as judge and jury. This is no joke. Public Citizen reports that the agreements would greatly expand the privileges given to foreign corporations by the North American Free Trade Agreement under which $350 million has been paid out by governments to corporations because of costs of complying with toxic waste and logging rules, with $13 billion in claims pending.
Economist Michael Hudson cites a British study that public provision of health care, such as the UK’s National Health Service, is a TTIP target on the grounds that not only health care regulations but also public provision of health care harms the commercial interests of corporations. TTIP and TPP are tools for disenfranchising electorates and overturning democratic outcomes and for looting taxpayers via damage suits against governments for the costs of complying with health, safety, environmental, and social laws and regulations. The agreements place corporations above the laws of countries. The agreements have the potential of producing a worldwide sweatshop with starvation wages devoid of environmental and safety legislation.
On Wall Street, where they used to make statesmen, they now barely make citizens. CEOs are consumed with short-term thinking, stock prices, quarterly profits. They don’t really believe that they have to be involved with “America” now; they see their job as thinking globally and meeting shareholder expectations. In Silicon Valley the idea of “the national interest” is not much discussed. They adhere to higher, more abstract, more global values. They’re not about America, they’re about … well, I suppose they’d say the future. In Hollywood the wealthy protect their own children from cultural decay, from the sick images they create for all the screens, but they don’t mind if poor, unparented children from broken-up families get those messages and, in the way of things, act on them down the road.
From what I’ve seen of those in power throughout business and politics now, the people of your country are not your countrymen, they’re aliens whose bizarre emotions you must attempt occasionally to anticipate and manage. In Manhattan, my little island off the continent, I see the children of the global business elite marry each other and settle in London or New York or Mumbai. They send their children to the same schools and are alert to all class markers. And those elites, of Mumbai and Manhattan, do not often identify with, or see a connection to or an obligation toward, the rough, struggling people who live at the bottom in their countries. In fact, they fear them, and often devise ways, when home, of not having their wealth and worldly success fully noticed.
Affluence detaches, power adds distance to experience. I don’t have it fully right in my mind but something big is happening here with this division between the leaders and the led. It is very much a feature of our age. But it is odd that our elites have abandoned or are abandoning the idea that they belong to a country, that they have ties that bring responsibilities, that they should feel loyalty to their people or, at the very least, a grounded respect.
German tech entrepreneur and alleged internet pirate Kim Dotcom will seek a review of a Federal Court decision which rejected his bid to keep hold of millions of dollars in assets held in Hong Kong and New Zealand, his lawyer said. A three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled two to one on Friday that Dotcom could not recover his assets because by remaining outside the U.S., he was a fugitive, which disentitled him from using the resources to fight his case. Dotcom’s lawyer Ira P. Rothken said his client would seek a review of the decision in front of the full bench and, if necessary, petition the Supreme Court.
“This opinion has the effect of eviscerating Kim Dotcom’s treaty rights by saying if you lawfully oppose extradition in New Zealand, the U.S. will still call you a fugitive and take all of your assets,” Rothken said in an email to Reuters received on Sunday. Dotcom has been fighting extradition from New Zealand over charges of copyright infringement, racketeering and money laundering in the United States related to the Megaupload file-sharing site he founded in 2005. A New Zealand court ruled in December he could be extradited, but an appeal hearing has been set for later this month. Dotcom responded to the Federal Court ruling on Twitter. “Did they think they can separate me from my kids without a fight? I fight corrupt US empire clowns all day, every day. Not even tired.”
In a side street in the heart of Athens, two siblings are hard at work. For the past year they have run their hairdressing business – an enterprise that was once located on a busy boulevard – out of a two-bedroom flat. The move was purely financial: last summer, as it became clear that Greeks would be hit by yet more austerity to foot the bill for saving their country from economic collapse, they realised their business would go bust if it continued operating legally. “We did our sums and understood that staying put made no sense at all,” says one sibling. “If we didn’t [offer] receipts, if we avoided taxes and social security contributions, we could just about make ends meet.”
They are far from being alone. A year after debt-stricken Greece received its third financial rescue in the form of international funding worth €86bn, such survival techniques have become commonplace. For a middle class eviscerated by relentless rounds of cuts and tax rises – the price of the country’s ongoing struggle to avert bankruptcy – the draconian conditions attached to the latest bailout are invariably invoked in their defence. Measures ranging from the overhaul of the pension system to indirect duties – slapped on beer, fuel and almost everything in between – and a controversial increase in VAT are similarly cited by Greeks now reneging on loan repayments, property taxes and energy bills.
Against a backdrop of monumental debt – €320bn, or 180% of GDP, the accumulation of decades of profligacy – fatalism is fast replacing pessimism on the streets. “Our country is doomed,” sighs Savvas Tzironis, summing up the mood. “Everything goes from bad to worse.” Close to half a million Greeks are believed to have migrated since the crisis begun, thanks to the searing effect of persistent unemployment (at just under 24%, the highest in Europe) and an economy that has shed more than a third of its total output over the past six years. The nation has been assigned some €326bn in bailout loans since May 2010 – the biggest rescue programme in global financial history. Yet the fear that it is locked in an economic death spiral was given further credence last week when Eurobank analysts announced that consumption and exports had also fallen, by 6.4% and 7.2%, in the second quarter of the year.
Greece has ceased to make headlines. A year ago, the TV cameras were trained on the protesters thronging the streets of Athens because there were fears that a crisis that had been steadily becoming more acute in the first half of 2015 could result in the single currency splintering. That threat was removed by a deal that involved a humiliating climbdown by the Syriza-led government. Greece received a bailout, but with harsh conditions attached. There were three obvious problems with that 2015 deal, which secured Greece its third bailout in five years. The first was that the new dose of austerity would make it more difficult for Greece to emerge from a slump just as severe as that which gripped the US in the 1930s.
The second was that Greece’s creditors were making unrealistic assumptions for growth and deficit reduction. The third was that sooner or later the Greek crisis would flare up again. It was a case of when, not if. It has not all been bad news over the past 12 months. Fears that yields on Greek bonds would soar after the UK’s Brexit vote did not materialise. Some of the tough capital controls that were imposed in the summer of 2015 to protect the banking system have been eased. There has been talk that by next summer it will be possible for the government in Athens to raise money in the world’s financial markets by selling Greek government bonds. All that said, though, the first two predictions have come true.
By last summer, Greece had suffered a five-year slump that was on a par with the damage caused to the US economy in the Great Depression. Yet the country’s creditors thought it was a good idea to suck even more demand out of the economy through spending cuts and tax increases. The result has been depressingly predictable. Far from there being a resumption of growth, the economy has continued to contract. Greece’s national output was 1.4% lower in the first three months of 2016 than it was a year earlier. Consumer spending was down by 1.3%. Nor, with confidence at rock bottom, is there much prospect of better times. Greece remains deep in recession.
[..] The IMF says that without debt relief, Greece’s debt could hit 250% of GDP by the middle of the century. Germany would prefer those discussions to be delayed until after its election in autumn next year. But the chances are that Greece will be back in the headlines before then.
Oh, irony. Just a few days after I wrote about Greece’s 15 minutes of fame in Meanwhile in Greece.., both the Guardian and the NY Times happen to notice the same thing. “..ceased to make headlines..” , “..Attention dwindling..”
Seven months after the EU shut the doors to large numbers of newcomers, Greece remains Europe’s de facto holding pen for 57,000 people trapped amid the chaos. Many are living in a distressing limbo in sordid refugee camps on the mainland and on Greek islands near Turkey. A year after the world was riveted by scenes of desperate men, women and children streaming through Europe, international attention to their plight has waned now that the borders have been closed and they are largely confined to camps. Anti-immigrant sentiment has surged since last year in many countries, especially as people who entered Europe with the migrant flow are linked to crimes and, in a few cases, attacks planned or inspired by the Islamic State or other radical groups.
Neither the prosperous nations of Western and Northern Europe, where the refugees want to settle, nor Turkey, their point of departure for the Continent, are living up to their promises of help. [..] The ranks of those in limbo are most likely to grow despite a deal to resolve the crisis that took effect March 20 between the EU and Turkey. While the number of migrants entering Greece has dwindled from nearly 5,000 a day last year, hundreds have started crossing the Aegean Sea again after the July 15 coup attempt in Turkey. Few of the resources pledged by the EU to assist the asylum seekers and process their applications have actually come through, leaving the Greek authorities struggling to cope with a daunting humanitarian and logistical challenge that has fallen from view in the rest of Europe.
European Union member states have sent just 27 of the 400 asylum specialists and 24 of the 400 interpreters they had agreed to provide to process claims for refugees like Mrs. Madran. So far, 21,000 migrants have been registered for asylum; 36,000 have not. A union plan to ease Greece’s burden by relocating tens of thousands of asylum seekers to the Continent has also fizzled, with European countries taking less than 2,300 people.
The bottlenecks have overwhelmed many of the camps, especially on the Greek islands, where migrants arriving after the March 20 deal are supposed to be held until being deported to Turkey. That program has stalled because of legal challenges and because Greece must process each asylum application first. So far, 468 of the more than 10,000 people who have arrived since the deal took effect have been returned. Turkish monitors assigned to assist were fired by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey after the coup attempt against him.
“The cost for Greece since the beginning of the Refugee Crisis “is more than €2 billion, the EU has allocated so far €330million – not to the Greek government but to NGOs, mostly NGOs from abroad..” Makes you wonder how much of that €330million has actually been used to help refugees, and how much on NGO operating costs.
I thought, EU members states were supposed to take 6,000 refugees per month from Greece – according to some forgotten EU Deal signed the European Commission and the EU member states. Reality teaches us, the deal will work the other way around. Member states will send refugees back to …Greece. Blame the Dublin III Agreement. Germany decided to send to Greece and specifically to Crete more than 3,000 refugees in first phase. Berlin considers that this number is “redundant” in its territory. According to local media ekriti.gr, the Greek government has adopted this German decision, while Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas chaired a revelant meeting in Herakleion recently and announced the transfer.
The refugees will start coming by plane initially in Heraklion and Chania in December. Mouzalas had said that they will come after the tourist season. Independent MEP Notis Marias also confirmed the transfer in an interview with Radio Kriti. The cost for Greece since the beginning of the Refugee Crisis “is more than two billion euro, the EU has allocated so far €330million – not to the Greek government but to NGOs, mostly NGOs from abroad,” ekriti notes. Meanwhile the influx from Turkey started to increase again, more than 650 refugees and migrants arrived last week. Athens is worried that Ankara will draw back from the EU-Turkey deal in October.
The sharp May hiring slowdown revealed in Friday’s employment report took a lot of people – including me – by surprise. It shouldn’t have. Things have actually been on the downswing for the U.S. labor market for months, according to the Federal Reserve’s Labor Market Conditions Index. The LMCI is a new measure cooked up by Federal Reserve Board economists in 2014 that consolidates 19 different labor market indicators to reflect changes in the job market. They calculated it going all the way back to 1976; the chart above shows its movements since the end of the last recession in June 2009. The May index, released Monday morning, showed a 4.8-point decline from April. As you can see from the chart, the index has now declined for five straight months — its worst performance since the recession.
The index does get revised a lot. When the January number was first reported on Feb. 8, for example, it was still modestly positive. Still, since the February number was released on March 7 the news from the LMCI has been unremittingly negative. Which probably should have told us something. Not many people were paying attention, though. Fed Chair Janet Yellen is apparently a fan of the LMCI, but I have to admit that I first learned of its existence Monday when Erica Groshen, the Commissioner of the BLS, mentioned it at a conference for BLS data users in New York. It was a good reminder, as were a lot of the other presentations at the conference, that the headline jobs numbers that get the lion’s share of attention – the monthly change in payroll employment and the unemployment rate – aren’t always the best places to look for information on the state of the jobs market.
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said the U.S. economy was making progress but was silent on the timing of another interest-rate increase, an omission viewed as a signal that a June move was off the table. “I continue to think that the federal funds rate will probably need to rise gradually over time to ensure price stability and maximum sustainable employment in the longer run,” Yellen said Monday during a speech in Philadelphia. Her comments were less specific than in her previous remarks in describing when she thought the Fed should raise rates again.
On May 27 at Harvard University, she said an increase would likely be appropriate in “coming months,” a phrase she didn’t repeat on Monday. Since then, the Labor Department reported U.S. employers in May added the fewest number of new jobs in almost six years, causing expectations for a rate increase to plunge. “She did not address the timing of the Fed’s next gradual move, which suggests to us that she is in no hurry,” said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Ltd, arguing that her comments on the payroll report “largely rules out a move in rates next week. July is not a strong bet either.”
Beijing has not just allowed shadow banks to grow much too big, it has used this growth to hide its actions behind. Local governments got most of their credit to build highways to nowhere from shadow banks. It’s really weird that the western press only catches on now.
Of all the topics sure to be come up in Sino-U.S. economic talks this week – from the problem of excess capacity to currency controls – the health of China’s financial sector will no doubt feature high on the list. Especially worrying are the multiplying links between the country’s commercial and “shadow” banks – the name given to a broad range of non-bank financial institutions from peer-to-peer lending platforms to trusts and wealth management companies. All told, the latter now hold assets that exceed 80 percent of China’s gross domestic product, according to Moody’s – much of them linked to the commercial banking sector in one way or another. That poses a systemic threat, and needs to be treated as such. There’s nothing inherently wrong with shadow banks, of course.
Largely owned by the government, China’s commercial banks focus primarily on directing capital from savers to state-owned enterprises, leaving Chinese households and smaller private enterprises starved for funds. Shadow banks have grown to meet the demand. At their best, they allocate capital more efficiently than state-owned lenders and keep afloat businesses that create jobs and growth. The line between good shadow banks and dodgy ones is increasingly fuzzy, however, as is the divide between shadow and commercial banking. Traditional banks often assign their sales teams to sell shadow products. This gives an unwarranted sheen of legitimacy to schemes that are inherently risky. Buyers trust that the established bank will make them whole if their investment goes south.
Shadow banks are also selling more and more products directly to commercial banks. Wealth management products held as receivables now account for approximately 3 trillion yuan of interbank holdings, or around $500 billion — a number that’s grown sixfold in three years. According to Autonomous Research, as much as 85 percent of those products may have been resold to other shadow banks, creating a web of cross-ownership with disturbing parallels to the U.S. mortgage securities market just before the 2008 crash. In total, the big four state-owned banks hold more than $2 trillion in what’s classified as “financial investment,” much of it in trusts and wealth-management products.
New Zealand is sitting on a half-a-trillion-dollar debt bomb and Kiwis are increasingly treating their houses like cash machines, piling on the debt as they watch the value of their properties soar. Reserve Bank figures show household debt, excluding investment property, has risen 23% in the past five years to $163.4 billion. Incomes have risen only 11.5%. Households are now carrying a debt level that is equivalent to 162% of their annual disposable income – higher than the level reached before the global financial crisis. Including property investment the total debt households owed as of April was $232.9 billion, according to the Reserve Bank. Satish Ranchhod, a senior economist at Westpac Bank, says the main driver has been low interest rates.
“Continued low interest rates have sparked a sharp increase in household borrowing at a time when income growth has been very modest.” And it’s housing loans where the growth has mainly come from. Housing loan debt has risen 23.4% to $132.83 billion. Student loans were up 22.9% to $14.84 billion and consumer loans are up 16.6% to $15.7 billion. Ranchhod said much of the rising debt on housing was down to investors, as more people jumped into the property market on the back of rising house prices. He also believed many people were using their home loans to make consumer purchases. “We think a lot of the increase in lending on housing loans will also be an increase in spending … people feel wealthy when the value of their home goes up.”
Hannah McQueen, an Auckland financial coach and managing director of EnableMe, said she had seen three clients in the past week alone who had paid for a new car by using the equity in their home to increase their mortgage debt. “It’s definitely on the increase … People think, ‘I’m worth so much more now …'”
The pound swung wildly on currency markets on Monday, reaching extremes of volatility not seen since the financial crisis, as City traders reacted to polls suggesting voters were increasingly likely to send Britain out of the EU this month. The poll boost to the Vote Leave campaign sent the pound tumbling by up to 1.5 cents to below $1.44, adding to a decline of 2 cents last week and indicating the degree of pressure on the UK currency since the remain camp’s lead in the polls began to evaporate. A dovish speech by the US central bank chief, Janet Yellen, hinting that poor jobs data meant the Federal Reserve was unlikely to raise rates this month, steadied the pound – despite her comments that a vote to leave the EU could hurt the US economy.
“One development that could shift investor sentiment is the upcoming referendum in the United Kingdom. A UK vote to exit the European Union could have significant economic repercussions,” she said. Sterling’s value has become increasingly volatile as fears of a Brexit have increased among investors. The index charting the daily swings in the pound’s value has risen to its highest level of volatility since the first quarter of 2009. It is double the level seen in April when the remain camp was ahead in the polls. Elsa Lignos, a foreign exchange expert at City firm RBC, one of many to warn that the pound would come under further pressure should the lead established by Vote Leave be consolidated, said: “Brexit is almost all that matters for the pound at the moment.”
Standard & Poor’s is downgrading the outlook for Royal Bank of Canada, a change it says reflects the lender’s increased risk appetite and credit-risk exposure relative to other domestic banks. The credit-ratings firm said Monday it was revising its outlook on RBC, Canada’s largest bank by assets, to “negative” from “stable,” but would leave its credit ratings untouched. The move comes less than two weeks after the Toronto-based lender reported a stronger-than-expected fiscal second-quarter profit but set aside bigger provisions to cover soured loans. “The outlook revision reflects concerns over what we see as RBC’s higher risk appetite, relative to peers,” said S&P credit analyst Lidia Parfeniuk in a release.
“We see one example of this in its aggressive growth in loans and commitments in the capital markets wholesale loan book, particularly in the U.S., with an emphasis on speculative-grade borrowers, including exposure to leveraged loans,” she added. S&P also pointed to RBC’s “higher-than-peer average exposure” to highly indebted Canadian consumers and to the country’s oil- and gas-producing regions, which have been hard hit by the collapse in crude-oil prices. S&P, however, affirmed RBC’s ratings including its “AA-/A-1+” long- and short-term issuer credit ratings. “RBC is one of the strongest and highest rated banks in Canada, reflecting our strong financial profile and the success of our diversified business model,” said RBC in an emailed statement. “This outlook change will have no direct impact to RBC clients,” it later added.
U.S. investigators are trying to determine whether Goldman Sachs broke the law when it didn’t sound an alarm about a suspicious transaction in Malaysia, people familiar with the investigation said. At issue is $3 billion Goldman raised via a bond issue for Malaysian state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd., or 1MDB. Days after Goldman sent the proceeds into a Swiss bank account controlled by the fund, half of the money disappeared offshore, with some later ending up in the prime minister’s bank account, according to people familiar with the matter and bank-transfer information viewed by The Wall Street Journal. The cash was supposed to fund a major real-estate project in the nation’s capital that was intended to boost the country’s economy.
U.S. law-enforcement officials have sought to schedule interviews with Goldman executives, people familiar with the matter said. Goldman hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing. The bank says it had no way of knowing how 1MDB would use the money it raised. Investigators are focusing on whether the bank failed to comply with the U.S. Bank Secrecy Act, which requires financial institutions to report suspicious transactions to regulators. The law has been used against banks for failing to report money laundering in Mexico and ignoring red flags about the operations of Ponzi scheme operator Bernard Madoff. The investigators believe the bank may have had reason to suspect the money it raised wasn’t being used for its intended purpose, according to people familiar with the probe.
One red flag, they believe, is that Goldman wired the $3 billion in proceeds to a Singapore branch of a small Swiss private bank instead of to a large global bank, as would be typical for a transfer of that size, the people said. Another is the timing of the bond sale and why it was rushed. The deal took place in March 2013, two months after Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak, approached Goldman Sachs bankers during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. And it occurred two months before voting in a tough election campaign for Mr. Najib, who used some of the cash from his personal bank account on election spending, the Journal has reported, citing bank-transfer information and people familiar with the matter.
It’s been said that Washington is where good ideas go to die. We don’t know about that, but some bad ideas are certainly hard to get rid of. Consider the persistent non-solution to the zombie-like status of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac known as “recap and release.” The plan is to return the two mortgage-finance giants to their pre-financial-crisis status as privately owned but “government-sponsored” enterprises. That is to say, to recreate the private-gain, public-risk conflict that helped sink them in the first place. Their income would recapitalize the entities, rather than be funneled to the treasury, as is currently the case. Then they could exit the regulatory control known as “conservatorship” that has constrained them since 2008 — and resume bundling home loans and selling them, as if it had never been necessary to bail them out to the tune of $187 billion in the first place.
Congress last year effectively barred recap and release, at least for the next two years. Coupled with the Obama administration’s firm opposition, you’d think that would put a stake through its heart. But “no” is not an acceptable answer for the handful of Wall Street hedge funds that scooped up Fannie and Freddie’s beaten-down common stock for pennies a share after the bailout — and would realize a massive windfall if the government suddenly decided to let shareholders have access to company profits again. With megabillions on the line, the hedge funds have been arguing high-mindedly that their true concerns are property rights and the rule of law; they have also made common cause with certain low-income-housing advocates who see a resurrected Fan-Fred as a potential source of funds for their programs.
Left unexplained, because it’s inexplicable, is how the hedge funds’ arguments square with the fact that there wouldn’t even be a pair of corporate carcasses to fight over but for the massive infusion of taxpayer dollars and the public risk that represented. The latest iteration of recap and release is a hedge-fund-backed bill sponsored by Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), which would set Fannie and Freddie, unreformed, loose on the marketplace again and do so under terms wildly favorable to the hedge funds. Specifically, shareholders would be charged nothing for the government backing the entities would retain, supposedly to save scarce resources for the capital cushion. But as the WSJ recently noted, capital could be “risk-weighted” so forgivingly that the actual cushion required might be considerably less than headline numbers suggest.
Trade is a hot issue in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. But correspondence from Hillary Clinton and her top State Department aides about a controversial 12-nation trade deal will not be available for public review — at least not until after the election. The Obama administration abruptly blocked the release of Clinton’s State Department correspondence about the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), after first saying it expected to produce the emails this spring. The decision came in response to International Business Times’ open records request for correspondence between Clinton’s State Department office and the United States Trade Representative. The request, which was submitted in July 2015, specifically asked for all such correspondence that made reference to the TPP.
The State Department originally said it estimated the request would be completed by April 2016. Last week the agency said it had completed the search process for the correspondence but also said it was delaying the completion of the request until late November 2016 — weeks after the presidential election. The delay was issued in the same week the Obama administration filed a court motion to try to kill a lawsuit aimed at forcing the federal government to more quickly comply with open records requests for Clinton-era State Department documents.
Clinton’s shifting positions on the TPP have been a source of controversy during the campaign: She repeatedly promoted the deal as secretary of state but then in 2015 said, “I did not work on TPP,” even though some leaked State Department cables show that her agency was involved in diplomatic discussions about the pact. Under pressure from her Democratic primary opponent, Bernie Sanders, Clinton announced in October that she now opposes the deal — and has disputed that she ever fully backed it in the first place.
John Oliver buys $15 million of unpaid debt for $60,000. And then forgives it. Now there’s an idea. Unless I’m very mistaken, that means $1 million could forgive $250 million in debt. $10 million, you free $2.5 billion in debt. Well, quite a bit more, actually, because now we’d be talking wholesale. People raise a millon bucks for all sorts of purposes all the time. Know what I mean?
Someone get this properly organized in a fund, and why wouldn’t they (?!), means: You donate $1 and $250 in debt goes away. Donate $100 and $25,000 goes up in air. 100 people donate $100 each, $2,500,000 in debt is gone. I’m not the person to do it, but certainly somebody can?! (Do call me on my math if I missed a digit..). It’s crazy people like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg are not doing this. Or even Janet Yellen. Not all that smart after all, I guess. $1 billion can buy off $250 billion in debt. Want to fight deflation?
The avalanche of new taxes that began this month will deal a devastating blow to household incomes, consumption and the prospects of the Greek economy in general. As the dozens of new measures are implemented, the market will also be forced to deal with the higher charges that will strengthen the lure of tax evasion. All this is expected to extend the recession and deter investment, while leading to more business shutdowns. Crucially, the disposable income of households will shrink anew due to the increase in taxation and the hikes in almost all indirect taxes and social security contributions.
Hundreds of thousands of families are cutting down on their basic expenses while many have run into debt over various obligations: For example, unpaid Public Power Corporation bills now total €2.7 billion. All that has resulted in major drop in retail spending. A consumer confidence survey carried out by Nielsen for the first quarter of the year shows that eight out of 10 Greeks are constantly attempting to reduce their household expenditure. Their main targets for cuts are going out for entertainment and food delivery, while they are buying cheaper and fewer groceries.
JHK: “As you may know, Kunstler.com is currently under an aggressive Denial of Service (DoS) attack. My web and server technicians are working to get the website and blog back up and live soon (though it’s going to cost a pretty penny). In the meantime, here is today’s blog. Please share this with any of your friends so they don’t miss out.”
The people of the United States have real grievances with the way this country is being run. Last Friday’s job’s report was a humdinger: only 38,000 new jobs created in a country of over 300 million, with a whole new crop of job-seeking college grads just churned out of the diploma mills. I guess the national shortage of waiters and bartenders has finally come to an end. What’s required, of course, is a pretty stout restructuring of the US economy. And that should be understood to be a matter of national survival. We need to step way back on every kind of giantism currently afflicting us: giant agri-biz, giant commerce (Wal Mart etc.), giant banking, giant war-making, and giant government — this last item being so larded with incompetence on top of institutional entropy that it is literally a menace to American society.
The trend on future resources and capital availability is manifestly downward, and the obvious conclusion is the need to make this economy smaller and finer. The finer part of the deal means many more distributed tasks among the population, especially in farming and commerce operations that must be done at a local level. This means more Americans working on smaller farms and more Americans working in reconstructed Main Street business, both wholesale and retail. This would also necessarily lead to a shift out of the suburban clusterfuck and the rebuilding of ten thousand forsaken American towns and smaller cities.
For the moment, many demoralized Americans may feel more comfortable playing video games, eating on SNAP cards, and watching Trump fulminate on TV, but the horizon on that is limited too. Sooner or later they will have to become un-demoralized and do something else with their lives. The main reason I am so against the Hillary and Trump, and so ambivalent on Bernie is their inability to comprehend the scope of action actually required to avoid sheer cultural collapse.
Completely crazy. Is Trump really the only person who can stop this? For the first time since the Nazi invasion of Soviet-occupied Poland began on 22 June 1941, German tanks will cross the country from west to east.
The largest war game in eastern Europe since the end of the cold war has started in Poland, as Nato and partner countries seek to mount a display of strength as a response to concerns about Russia’s assertiveness and actions. The 10-day military exercise, involving 31,000 troops and thousands of vehicles from 24 countries, has been welcomed among Nato’s allies in the region, though defence experts warn that any mishap could prompt an offensive reaction from Moscow. A defence attache at a European embassy in Warsaw said the “nightmare scenario” of the exercise, named Anaconda-2016, would be “a mishap, a miscalculation which the Russians construe, or choose to construe, as an offensive action”. Russian jets routinely breach Nordic countries’ airspace and in April they spectacularly “buzzed” the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea.
The exercise, which US and Polish officials formally launched near Warsaw, is billed as a test of cooperation between allied commands and troops in responding to military, chemical and cyber threats. It represents the biggest movement of foreign allied troops in Poland in peace time. For the first time since the Nazi invasion of Soviet-occupied Poland began on 22 June 1941, German tanks will cross the country from west to east. Managed by Poland’s Lt Gen Marek Tomaszycki, the exercise includes 14,000 US troops, 12,000 Polish troops, 800 from Britain and others from non-Nato countries. Anaconda-2016 is a prelude to Nato’s summit in Warsaw on 8-9 July, which is expected to agree to position significant numbers of troops and equipment in Poland and the Baltic states.
It comes within weeks of the US switching on a powerful ballistic missile shield at Deveselu in Romania, as part of a “defence umbrella” that Washington says will stretch from Greenland to the Azores. Last month, building work began on a similar missile interception base at Redzikowo, a village in northern Poland. The exercise comes at a sensitive time for Poland’s military, following the sacking or forced retirement of a quarter of the country’s generals since the nationalist Law and Justice government came to power in October last year. So harsh have the cuts to the top brass been that the Polish armed forces recently found themselves unable to provide a general for Nato’s multinational command centre at Szczecin.
Deep underground on a lush green island, Finland is preparing to bury its highly-radioactive nuclear waste for 100,000 years — sealing it up and maybe even throwing away the key. Tiny Olkiluoto, off Finland’s west coast, will become home to the world’s costliest and longest-lasting burial ground, a network of tunnels called Onkalo – Finnish for “The Hollow”. Countries have been wrestling with what to do with nuclear power’s dangerous by-products since the first plants were built in the 1950s. Most nations keep the waste above ground in temporary storage facilities but Onkalo is the first attempt to bury it for good. Starting in 2020, Finland plans to stow around 5,500 tons of nuclear waste in the tunnels, more than 420 metres (1,380 feet) below the Earth’s surface.
Already home to one of Finland’s two nuclear power plants, Olkiluoto is now the site of a tunnelling project set to cost up to €3.5 billion until the 2120s, when the vaults will be sealed for good. “This has required all sorts of new know-how,” said Ismo Aaltonen, chief geologist at nuclear waste manager Posiva, which got the green light to develop the site last year. The project began in 2004 with the establishment of a research facility to study the suitability of the bedrock. At the end of last year, the government issued a construction license for the encapsulation plant, effectively giving its final approval for the burial project to go ahead. At present, Onkalo consists of a twisting five-kilometre (three-mile) tunnel with three shafts for staff and ventilation. Eventually the nuclear warren will stretch 42 kilometres (26 miles).
[..] The waste is expected to have lost most of its radioactivity after a few hundred years, but engineers are planning for 100,000, just to be on the safe side. Spent nuclear rods will be placed in iron casts, then sealed into thick copper canisters and lowered into the tunnels. Each capsule will be surrounded with a buffer made of bentonite, a type of clay that will protect them from any shuddering in the surrounding rock and help stop water from seeping in. Clay blocks and more bentonite will fill the tunnels before they are sealed up.
It was the smell that really got to diver Richard Vevers. The smell of death on the reef. “I can’t even tell you how bad I smelt after the dive – the smell of millions of rotting animals.” Vevers is a former advertising executive and is now the chief executive of the Ocean Agency, a not-for-profit company he founded to raise awareness of environmental problems. After diving for 30 years in his spare time, he was compelled to combine his work and hobby when he was struck by the calamities faced by oceans around the world. Chief among them was coral bleaching, caused by climate change. His job these days is rather morbid. He travels the world documenting dead and dying coral reefs, sometimes gathering photographs just ahead of their death, too.
With the world now in the midst of the longest and probably worst global coral bleaching event in history, it’s boom time for Vevers. Even with all that experience, he’d never seen anything like the devastation he saw last month around Lizard Island in the northern third of Australia’s spectacular Great Barrier Reef. As part of a project documenting the global bleaching event, he had surveyed Lizard Island, which sits about 90km north of Cooktown in far north Queensland, when it was in full glorious health; then just as it started bleaching this year; then finally a few weeks after the bleaching began. “It was one of the most disgusting sights I’ve ever seen,” he says. “The hard corals were dead and covered in algae, looking like they’ve been dead for years. The soft corals were still dying and the flesh of the animals was decomposing and dripping off the reef structure.”
[..] When the coral dies, the entire ecosystem around it transforms. Fish that feed on the coral, use it as shelter, or nibble on the algae that grows among it die or move away. The bigger fish that feed on those fish disappear too. But the cascading effects don’t stop there. Birds that eat fish lose their energy source, and island plants that thrive on bird droppings can be depleted. And, of course, people who rely on reefs for food, income or shelter from waves – some half a billion people worldwide – lose their vital resource.
[..] What’s at stake here is the largest living structure in the world, and by far the largest coral reef system. The oft-repeated cliche is that it can be seen from space, which is not surprising given it stretches more than 2,300km in length and, between its almost 3,000 individual reefs, covers an area about the size of Germany. It is an underwater world of unimaginable scale. But it is up close that the Great Barrier Reef truly astounds. Among its waters live a dizzying array of colourful plants and animals. With 1,600 species of fish, 130 types of sharks and rays, and more than 30 species of whales and dolphins, it is one of the most complex ecosystems on the planet.
Coral off Lizard Island, bleached in March, and then dead and covered in seaweed in May. Photo: the Ocean Agency
Harris&Ewing Goodyear Blimp at Washington Air Post ,DC 1938
In yesterday’s State of the Union, Obama said The ‘Shadow Of Crisis Has Passed’, and the one and the only thing I thought was: ‘Good, so now we can tackle the crisis itself?!’. If speeches like the SOTU last night, and the reactions to it, make anything clear, it’s that the PR guys won the fight against critical thinking. Sure, there are people for whom that shadow has passed, but a president is supposed to be there for all Americans, not just for those who finance his campaigns and those of his successors.
And for most Americans, the shadow hasn’t passed at all, and the crisis certainly hasn’t. And hollow promises to help the middle class are not going to change anything about that. It’s an elite game, and all others are left to fend for themselves. For now that remains hidden behind the veil of over 50% of Americans receiving some kind of government benefit, but that won’t last. We may have some idea of how much richer the rich are getting, and even that is a stretch, but we have much less idea of how much the poor got poorer.
And the President, of all Americans, won’t tell us, he’d rather hail his ‘achievements’ as prepared and blown out of all proportions by his spin team. His political ‘adversaries’, who play their role of ‘hating’ him only halfway convincingly, won’t call him on the spin, because they have nothing to gain from trying to blow up the newfangled American Dream.
Their message looking forward to the 2016 elections is that they would do even better, but that doesn’t sound credible with the 5% GDP growth and 5.2% unemployment numbers the White House pulls out of its top hat. They’re just as dependent on spin as Obama is, and he trumped them on it. What are they going to do? Promise 10% GDP growth?
The GOP will look to drastically cut those benefits, and they know full well that that would cut growth numbers, not raise them. 5% growth is already so far out of left field that Obama’s spin doctors have the other side cornered on US economy. They have on international politics, too.
The White House’s ludicrous stance on Russia’s involvement in Ukraine, ludicrous because none of its accusations have ever been proven over an entire year, and the sanctions that were instated because of the hollow accusations, are a hard act to follow even for John McCain and his dementing octogenarian rabble rousers who crave nothing more than for that final grand scale deadly battle in their lifetime. Can we make in nuclear plese? After them the flood.
All they could do to better Obama from here is send in American boots on the ground in the Donbass, and they know that would be the least popular decision in many decades. But domestically, economically, and internationally, it’s back to the drawing board for the Grand Old Elephants all the time, they’re always a step behind. Must be frustrating. The Obama people have played them as much as they have played the American people.
Who, as should be obvious by now, have nothing to expect from either side, since both owe allegiance not to the flag or the Founding Fathers, but to the rich getting richer who fund them, without whom they’d have to give up their power plays and -dreams. Something a certain kind of people will resist at any price. The kind that floats to the top of this kind of cesspool.
Allow money into politics and the former will end up owning the latter, no exceptions. Money won’t support candidates with a conscience, only those who’ll do anything to advance their careers, who are as pliable as and spineless as a stick of wet gum, and those are all that will be left. If anything typifies American politics, it’s moral bankruptcy. One dollar one vote. 100 million dollars, 100 million votes. And then they insist on calling that democracy, a concept promoted by the media purchased the same way the politicians are.
All you need to do is get people to believe whatever it is you got for sale. And 99.9% of people are easily fooled. That’s how you define democracy in 2015: how many people can you fool? Which is the most convincing sleight of hand?
The Europeans are well down that same road. Mario Draghi is set to announce over $1 trillion in QE tomorrow, and none of it will ever reach the alleged target, the real economy. He set up his QE in a ‘proportional’ way, meaning most of that trillion will go to Germany and France, not the Greeks and Italians who need it most.
Draghi will buy government bonds, but that doesn’t help Europe’s businesses. And not just because they are far more dependent on bank loans than American companies are, who issue more bonds, but because demand, and spending, is way down. That’s what it means that Europe is in deflation. It’s not falling prices, it’s that people don’t spend, and they certainly don’t borrow.
Draghi is engaging in the classic central banker’s ‘pushing on a string’, and Goldman’s former banker and present day acolyte knows it. He’s created a situation in which another $1 trillion looks acceptable, necessary even, to the majority of the eurozone politicians. Who mostly are clueless about the effects of such expenditures. But who look at the US and think it must have worked over there; who fall for Obama’s spin doctor narratives as much as the America people do.
Draghi’s $1 trillion has long been priced in, it won’t do anything for EU economies but gut them even further, and it may be completely irrelevant as soon as this Sunday when Greece may well elect a government that has vouched to blow up the deals the Troika made with the technocrats the EU itself installed in Athens.
Not a pretty picture, is it, either in Washington or in Brussels?! Well, I can guarantee you it’ll get a lot worse before it gets any better. We’ve let the clowns come too far. Way too far.
Ben Shahn Ads for popular malaria cure. Natchez, Mississippi October 1935
I’m going to take a number of different sources to paint a portrait of China. I’ll take a great series of numbers from Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, whose analysis we can all do without, and leave the analysis up to David Stockman, who goes a long way but, in my proverbial humble view, seems to be stumbling a bit towards the end. That is to say, as I’ve written before, when I look at China these days, I see a bare and basic battle for raw power, economic as well as political power, between the Chinese government and the shadow banking system it has allowed, if not encouraged, to establish and flourish, and which now has grown into a threat to the central state control that is the only model Beijing has ever either understood or been willing to apply.
The Chinese shadow banking system, which you need to understand is exceedingly fluid and has more arms and branches than a cross between an octopus and a centipede, has become a state within the state. That this should happen, in my view, was baked into the cake from the start. Either the Communists could have maintained their strict hold on all facets of power and allow economic growth only in small increments, or it could, as it has chosen to do, push full steam ahead with dazzling growth numbers, but that would always have meant not just the risk, but the certainty, of relinquishing parts of their power and control.
As someone mentioned a while back, if you want to have an economic system based on what we call capitalist free market ideas (leaving aside all questions that surround them for a moment), the players in that system need to have a range of – individual – freedom that will of necessity be in a direct head-on collision with – full – central control. We bear witness to that very battle for power between Beijing and the ”shadows”, right now, as we see the most often highly leveraged shadow capital change shape and identity whenever the political leadership tries to get a handle on it through banning particular forms of borrowing, lending and financing.
There can’t be much doubt that the cheap credit tsunami unleashed in the Middle Kingdom has turned into an extremely damaging phenomenon, as characterized by massive overbuilding, pollution, but the government and central bank have far less power to rein it in than people seem to assume. The shadow system has made so much money financing empty highrises and bridges to nowhere that it will try to continue as long as there’s a last yuan that can be squeezed from doing just that. And when that aspect stops, it will retreat back to where it came from, the shadows, leaving the Xi’s and Li’s presently in charge with the people’s anger to deal with.
Increasingly over the past two decades, China has had two economies. That’s not an accident, it’s what has allowed it to expand at the rate it has. But that expansion is as doomed to failure as any credit boom, and given its sheer size, it’s bound to come crashing down much harder than anything we’ve seen so far in the “once rich” part of the world we ourselves live in. The odds of a soft landing are very slim, and one, but certainly not the only, reason for that is that Beijing has traded in control for faster growth. And that now the negative aspects of the growth process become obvious, it no longer has sufficient control to foster a soft landing.
On the way up, the interests of Beijing and the shadows were very much aligned for obvious reasons; going down, that is no longer true. Li and Xi will be held responsible for the downturn, the men behind the shadows won’t, because no-one will be able to find them. There’ll be middle men hanging from lampposts, but the big players will be retreating to London, New York, Monaco.
But I was going to let others do the talking today. Here are Ambrose’s numbers:
So now we know what China’s biggest property developer really thinks about the Chinese housing boom. A leaked recording of a dinner speech by Vanke Group’s vice-chairman Mao Daqing more or less confirms what the bears have been saying for months.
It is a dangerous bubble, and already deflating. Prices in Beijing and Shanghai have reached the same extremes seen in Tokyo just before the Nikkei boom turned to bust, when the (quite small) Imperial Palace grounds were in theory worth more than California, and the British Embassy grounds (legacy of a good bet in the 19th Century) were worth as much as Wales.
“In 1990, Tokyo’s total land value accounts for 63.3% of US GDP, while Hong Kong reached 66.3% in 1997. Now, the total land value in Beijing is 61.6% of US GDP, a dangerous level,” said Mr Mao. “Overall, I believe that China has reached its capacity limit for new construction of residential projects”.
• China’s house production per 1,000 head of population reached 35 in 2011. The figure is below 12 in most developed economies “even when the housing market is hot; no country has a figure of greater than 14”.
• “By 2011, housing production per 1000 people reached 30 in Tier 2 cities, excluding the construction of affordable houses.
• “Many owners are trying to get rid of high-priced houses as soon as possible, even at the cost of deep discounts.
• “In China’s 27 key cities, transaction volume dropped 13%, 21%, 30% year-on-year in January, February, and March respectively.
• Among the 27 key cities surveyed, more than 21 have inventory exceeding 12 months, among which are 9 greater than 24 months.
• 42 new projects for elite homes in Beijing will be finished in 2015, hitting the market with an extra 50,000 units that “can’t possibly be digested”.
• China will have 400 million people over the age of 60 by 2033. Half the population will be on welfare by then.“
• Nomura: “We believe that a sharp property market correction could lead to a systemic crisis in China, and is the biggest risk China faces in 2014. The risk is particularly high in third and fourth- tier cities, which accounted for 67% of housing under construction in 2013 … ”
• Land sales and property taxes provided 39% of the Chinese government’s total tax revenue last year, higher than in Ireland when such “fair-weather” taxes during the boom masked the rot in public finances.
• The International Monetary Fund says China is running a budget deficit of 10% of GDP once the land sales are stripped out, and has “considerably less” fiscal leeway than assumed.
• Credit has already grown to $25 trillion. Fitch says China has added the equivalent of the entire US and Japanese banking systems combined in five years.
David Stockman points out what may be the biggest bull in the China shop: because of the massive debt expansion it’s undergone, its economy is inherently unstable. And it’s nonsense to presume that Beijing can, in Stockman’s nicely puts it, “walk the bubble back to stable ground”. This is in part due to the sense of entitlement government policies have instilled in the population, and in part to the rise of the shadow banking system that the Communist party not only has far less control over than it likes to make us believe, but that it fights an active economic war with over control of the economy. Unfortunately Stockman’s analysis, good as it is, glazes over that last point.
China is a case of bastardized socialism on credit steroids. At the turn of century it had $1 trillion of credit market debt outstanding – a figure which has now soared to $25 trillion. The plain fact is that no economic system can remain stable and sustainable after undergoing a 25X debt expansion in a mere 14 years. But that axiom is true in spades for a jerry-built command and control system where there is no free market discipline, meaningful contract law, honest economic information or even primitive understanding that asset values do not grow to the sky.
Nor is there any grasp of the fact that the pell-mell infrastructure building spree of recent years is a one-time event that will leave the economy drowning in excess capacity to produce concrete, steel, coal, copper, chemicals and all manner of fabrications and machinery, such as backhoes and cranes, which go into roads, rails and high rises.
At bottom the fatal error among China bulls is the failure to recognize that the colossal boom and bust cycle that China is undergoing is not symmetrical. The much admired alacrity by which the state guided the export boom after 1994 and the infrastructure boom after 2008 is not evidence of a superior model of governance; its only proof that when credit, favors, subsidies, franchises and speculative windfall opportunities are being passed out freely and to everyone, when there are all winners and no losers (e.g. China’s bankruptcy rate has been infinitesimal), a statist regime can appear to walk on water.
But what it can’t do is walk the bubble back to stable ground. The boom phase unleashes a buzzing, blooming crescendo of enterprising, investing, borrowing and speculating throughout the population that cannot be throttled back without resort to the mailed fist of state power. But the comrades in Beijing have been in the boom-time Santa Claus modality for so long that they are reluctant to unleash the economic gendarmerie.
That’s partly because their arrogance blinds them to the great house of cards which is China today, and partly because they undoubtedly understand that the party’s popularity, legitimacy and even viability would be severely jeopardized if they actually removed the punch bowl. [..]
In short, the Chinese population “can’t handle the truth” in Jack Nicholson’s memorable line. They by now believe they are entitled to a permanent feast and have every expectation that their party and state apparatus will continue to deliver it. As a result, Beijing has resorted to a strategy of tip-toeing around the tulips in a series of start and stop maneuvers to rein-in the credit and building mania. But these tepid initiatives have pushed the credit bubble deeper into the opaque underside of China’s red capitalist regime, meaning that its inherent instability and unsustainability is being massively compounded.
The credit bubble is now migrating into the land of zombie borrowers such as coal mine operators who have always been heavily leveraged but now face plummeting demand and sinking prices owing to Beijing’s unavoidable crackdown on pollution and the rapid slowing of the BTU-intensive industrial economy. Moreover, the $6 trillion in shadow banking loans are the opposite of long-term debt capital: they are ticking time bombs in the form of 12-24 month credits that are being accumulated in a vast snow-plow of maturities that will only intensify the eventual crisis.
There’s no-one debating that Beijing walks a very tight line between growing its economy and bringing that growth back to earth. That would have been a severe challenge no matter what. But its biggest problem now is that there are many buttons and switches and levers in the economy that it effectively no longer even has access to. The shadow state within the state will, as long as there’s a profit in it, behave like water in the sense that you can build a dam at one place but it will find another route to flow down through. This Wall Street Journal article provides a nice example of the how and why of that process:
With credit tight in China, companies in industries beset by overcapacity are turning to an unconventional source for cash – other companies – in a new rising risk for the country’s financial system. These company-to-company loans, known as entrusted lending, have emerged as the fastest-growing part of China’s shadow-banking system, which provides credit outside of formal banking channels. Net outstanding entrusted loans increased by 715.3 billion yuan ($115.4 billion) in the first three months of 2014 from a year earlier, according to the most recent data from China’s central bank.
The increase in entrusted loans last year was equivalent to nearly 30% of local-currency loans issued by banks – almost double the portion in 2012. The jump is all the more pronounced since China’s total social financing, a broad measure of overall new credit, shrank 561.2 billion yuan over the same period, largely because other forms of shadow credit declined as Beijing sought to rein in runaway debt growth. [..]
Officials at the People’s Bank of China, the central bank, have warned that much of the intercompany lending is flowing to sectors where the regulators have urged banks to reduce lending: the property market, infrastructure and other areas burdened by excess capacity. In central Shanxi province, 56% of entrusted loans in the past few years have gone to power producers, coking companies and steelmakers, among others, according to a recent paper by Yan Jingwen, an economist at the PBOC. Access to entrusted loans allows struggling companies to hang on longer than they otherwise could, delaying the consolidation that the government and some economists say is needed in a swath of industries.
Big publicly traded companies with access to credit – such as the shipbuilder Sainty Marine and specialty-chemicals producer Zhejiang Longsheng – are among the most active providers of entrusted loans. These companies, instead of investing in their core businesses, lend funds at hand to cash-strapped businesses at several times the official interest rate.
In an analysis for The Wall Street Journal, ChinaScope Financial, a data provider partly owned by Moody’s Corp., found that 10 publicly traded Chinese banks disclosed that the value of entrusted loans facilitated by them reached 3.7 trillion yuan last year, up 46% from the previous year. Compared with 2011, the amount was more than two-thirds higher.
It’s only a matter of time before the Communist party tries to assert control over, and ban, theses entrusted loans. But the people who initiated them will simply move on to other forms of shadow lending, ones that they probably already have waiting in the wings. There are many thousands of party officials and heads of state enterprises who are many miles deep into leveraged debt and will grasp onto any opportunity to double down on their wages in order not to be exposed as gamblers, to hold on to their positions, and to avoid the tar and feathered noose. Beijing will let them, lest the Forbidden City itself fill up with tarred feathers, and try to deflate the balloon puff by puff. As the shadows simultaneously re-inflate it just as fast, if not more.
Still, once it’s clear that you’ve greatly overbuilt, overborrowed and overleveraged, the only way forward is down. The “water always seeks the least resistance” analogy holds up there as well. At some point, in economics like in physics, gravity takes over. And this time around the China avalanche as it moves down its slope has a good chance of burying the rest of the world in a layer of dirt and bricks and mud and mayhem too. So we might as well try to understand this for real, not quit halfway down.
With credit tight in China, companies in industries beset by overcapacity are turning to an unconventional source for cash—other companies—in a new rising risk for the country’s financial system. These company-to-company loans, known as entrusted lending, have emerged as the fastest-growing part of China’s shadow-banking system, which provides credit outside of formal banking channels. Net outstanding entrusted loans increased by 715.3 billion yuan ($115.4 billion) in the first three months of 2014 from a year earlier, according to the most recent data from China’s central bank.
The increase in entrusted loans last year was equivalent to nearly 30% of local-currency loans issued by banks – almost double the portion in 2012. The jump is all the more pronounced since China’s total social financing, a broad measure of overall new credit, shrank 561.2 billion yuan over the same period, largely because other forms of shadow credit declined as Beijing sought to rein in runaway debt growth. The growing popularity of such company-to-company lending offers a fresh – and to regulators, troubling – look at the rapid buildup of debt in China. In its latest report on the country’s financial stability, issued Tuesday, the central bank singled out entrusted lending as a problem, saying it is being used by banks to evade regulatory restrictions on lending. Banks, while generally not risking their own capital directly, act as middlemen in these transactions.
The Euro reminds us of the weather in London: One minute you are basking in sparkling sunshine, and the next minute the sky opens in a deluge reminiscent of Noah’s flood. Could it really be that peripheral countries’ interest rates are plunging and borrowing costs have converged to pre-crisis levels, Greece is issuing debt, and the euro crisis is over forever, but Mario “Whatever-It-Takes” Draghi is musing about starting QE now? Have policymakers lost touch with reality to such a startling degree that they now reach for the QE bottle like it is some 1850s cure-all nostrum, regardless of what is wrong with the patient? All we can imagine is the good doctor, handle bar moustache and full regalia, sitting behind his desk: “You have the vapors? Take this QE, you’ll feel better. Ma’am, you have a little hysteria? QE is just the thing! Sir, this QE will cure that headache! Son, you need some inflation, so QE is just right for you.”
There is nothing – we repeat, nothing – that is being done at present to enable Europe to perform better economically, to encourage its unemployed to get off the dole, or to empower its peripheral countries to deal with their underperformance on a sustainable basis. In this context, the bloc’s primary focus on generating inflation is nothing short of astounding. Indeed, one could analogize this currency union at the present moment to a labor camp in the middle of a frozen waste: It is really bad to be locked in, but if you are obedient, you will at least get your next serving of bailout gruel, whereas if you are not obedient, you will be cast out into the howling cold of devaluation and collapse. Lure them in, load them up with debt and whip them into line … is this the plan that the Brussels crowd devised in the 1990s?
This is obviously preferable to constant and terrible continental warfare, but is it sustainable? How will it end? The spectacle is akin to a hair-raising (albeit slow-motion) TV series. Two years ago, it was about to collapse. Today it is working. What will happen on the next episode? All of this talk may seem flip and sardonic, but it is really amazing that this currency union sans sovereignty has lasted so long – long enough to make Rube Goldberg drool with jealousy. Nobody knows how it will ultimately turn out, but we must admire in a sense the gall of politicians who think they can stay the current course and therefore must believe that citizens will stand for no growth and high unemployment forever. Below are some specific outcomes that must be assumed to justify continued stability in the Eurozone, given current pricing of stocks and bonds:
Italy’s current government will succeed in solving its problems in the promised 100 days, and there will be no talk of elections that might be won by the comedian (who wants out of the Euro).
The Spanish and Italian unemployed will wait patiently for the good jobs they want without causing any social unrest or political turmoil.
The higher trading value of the euro will not cause even more pain to the countries that would have already devalued their currencies more than 50% against the current euro price if they were not in the Eurozone. (Remember, if you cannot devalue, you have to increase productivity to be competitive with Germany and the rest of the world. Easy, right?)
Chevron Corp. reported a steep decline in its first-quarter profit because of lower global oil prices and bad weather that slowed oil production. Chevron said Friday that it earned $4.52 billion in the first three months of the year on revenue of $50.98 billion. Last year during the same period, Chevron earned $6.18 billion on revenue of $54.3 billion.
San Ramon, Calif.-based Chevron and other major oil companies are struggling to maintain production as they drain oil and gas from their fields around the world. At the same time, the cost of exploring new fields is rising as they have to venture into more extreme and remote conditions to access hydrocarbons. Profits are getting squeezed as these costs rise, because average oil prices have been roughly flat for about three years. Chevron is developing several enormous projects in Australia and the Gulf of Mexico that are expected to help the company expand its production in the coming years. But they aren’t producing anything yet, and analysts worry about Chevron’s ability to get the projects up and running on time and on budget.
In the first quarter of this year, Chevron’s oil and gas production fell 2% worldwide. In the U.S., production fell 4% as higher production of oil and natural gas in New Mexico and western Pennsylvania were more than offset by normal field declines elsewhere. Overseas, where Chevron produces the vast majority of its oil and gas, production fell 2%. Increased production from projects on Nigeria and Angola was offset by field declines and weather-related shutdowns in Kazakhstan.
Hundreds of multinational companies are lining up to establish operations in the UK, paving the way for thousands of new jobs and billions of pounds in extra tax revenues. Amid a renewed wave of mergers and acquisitions that has seen US drugs giant Pfizer’s renew its bid for rival AstraZeneca, KPMG, one of Britain’s biggest accountancy firms, said changes to the tax system aimed at improving the UK’s competitiveness were “paying dividends”. It said it was working with almost 100 multinational corporations that wanted to increase their footprint in this country.
PwC, Britain’s biggest accountancy firm, said it was in dialogue with “more than 100” multinational companies, while EY said last year that 60 firms were looking to complete global and regional headquarters relocations into the UK. EY estimated this would add £1bn to corporation tax revenues and create more than 5,000 jobs. Ministers said the revival would help to rebalance Britain’s economy and secure a self-sustaining recovery. “The UK is now very much top of the list for foreign companies looking to increase their activity in the UK,” said David Gauke, the exchequer secretary to the Treasury.
“A few years ago it wasn’t even making the shortlist. All sorts of industries are looking at the UK in a way that is very encouraging. “There is increasingly the sense that the UK is as competitive and as attractive as other jurisdictions, whereas previously multinationals might have looked at Ireland, the Netherlands and Switzerland.” The renewed appetite is in stark contrast to a few years ago, when almost two dozen firms, including advertising giant WPP moved their global headquarters abroad. Several, including WPP, have said they will move back to the UK following the tax overhaul.
With General Motors’ non-recall scandal raising fresh questions about the kind of company taxpayers rescued five years ago, and its lawyers back in front of a bankruptcy court this week to fend off class-action suits, Detroit is finding out just how difficult it can be to escape the stain of bailout. Another reminder was this week’s report from the Troubled Asset Relief Program special inspector general, indicating the losses on GM and Chryslers’ bailouts ($11.2 billion and $2.9 billion respectively) were higher than previous Treasury Department accountings. Be prepared, taxpayers, the worrying news on your two carmaker “investments” seems to be just getting started.
America’s auto market remains a precarious contradiction: loan terms are longer than ever and subprime penetration is approaching pre-recession levels, yet transaction prices are up. Gas prices, which usually spike in the summer, are heading toward 2008 levels again — yet trucks have been outselling cars for months. Even sales volume itself has to be questioned as inventory to sales ratios indicate that the automakers’ real customers, new car dealers, are choking on supply that factories count as sales. And you don’t have to guess which automakers have the most exposure on these issues.
So now we know what China’s biggest property developer really thinks about the Chinese housing boom. A leaked recording of a dinner speech by Vanke Group’s vice-chairman Mao Daqing more or less confirms what the bears have been saying for months. It is a dangerous bubble, and already deflating. Prices in Beijing and Shanghai have reached the same extremes seen in Tokyo just before the Nikkei boom turned to bust, when the (quite small) Imperial Palace grounds were in theory worth more than California, and the British Embassy grounds (legacy of a good bet in the 19th Century) were worth as much as Wales. Li Junheng from JL Warren Capital has translated his comments, which I pass on for readers.
“In 1990, Tokyo’s total land value accounts for 63.3% of US GDP, while Hong Kong reached 66.3% in 1997. Now, the total land value in Beijing is 61.6% of US GDP, a dangerous level,” said Mr Mao. “Overall, I believe that China has reached its capacity limit for new construction of residential projects. Only those coastal Tier 3/Tier 4 cities have the potential for capacity expansion. “I don’t see any possibility for a rise in home prices, especially in cities with large housing inventory, unless the government pushes out another few trillion. Beijing and Shanghai have already been listed among the most expensive cities in the world in terms of the medium central city property prices.”
Mr Mao said China’s house production per 1,000 head of population reached 35 in 2011. The figure is below 12 in most developed economies “even when the housing market is hot; no country has a figure of greater than 14”.
“By 2011, housing production per 1000 people reached 30 in Tier 2 cities, excluding the construction of affordable houses. A persistently high figure such as this should cause alarm,” he said.
China’s anti-corruption campaign is spreading terror through the Party cadres. They are frantically trying to offload properties in the top-end range of 40,000 – 50,000 yuan per square metre in case their ill-gotten wealth is exposed by spot audits. The numbers of flats and houses for sale has suddenly doubled. “Many owners are trying to get rid of high-priced houses as soon as possible, even at the cost of deep discounts. As a result, ordinary people who want to sell homes in the secondary market must face deep price cuts,” he said.
“In China’s 27 key cities, transaction volume dropped 13%, 21%, 30% year-on-year in January, February, and March respectively. We expect the trend to continue in April. The drivers behind the fall in price are credit tightening from the banks.”
“Most cities have seen an increase in the ratio of inventory to sales. Among the 27 key cities we surveyed, more than 21 have inventory exceeding 12 months, among which are 9 greater than 24 months. The supply of residential buildings is rapidly increasing month-on-month.”
Mr Mao said 42 new projects for elite homes in Beijing will be finished in 2015, hitting the market with an extra 50,000 units that “can’t possibly be digested”.
As for the demographic time-bomb, he said China will have 400 million people over the age of 60 by 2033. Half the population will be on welfare by then. “If China fails to develop technology as a driving force for its economic growth, the country will be in trouble.”
So there we have it. Vanke Group say the comments do not reflect the view of the company or indeed Mr Mao – which is odd – but they do not dispute that the recording is authentic. His words compliment recent warnings by Nomura’s Zhiwei Zhang that the problem is even worse in the smaller cities in the interior, as we reported last month: “We believe that a sharp property market correction could lead to a systemic crisis in China, and is the biggest risk China faces in 2014. The risk is particularly high in third and fourth- tier cities, which accounted for 67% of housing under construction in 2013,” he said.
Nomura said residential construction has jumped fivefold from 497m square metres in new floor space to 2.596m last year. Floor space per capita has reached 30 square metres, surpassing the level in Japan in 1988. Land sales and property taxes provided 39% of the Chinese government’s total tax revenue last year, higher than in Ireland when such “fair-weather” taxes during the boom masked the rot in public finances.
There is a huge problem in all this. The International Monetary Fund says China is running a budget deficit of 10% of GDP once the land sales are stripped out, and has “considerably less” fiscal leeway than assumed. The state finances are not what they seem.
This does not necessarily mean that China will spiral into crisis. David Li Daokui – former adviser to the Chinese central bank – told me the nuclear trump card of the authorities is the Reserve Requirement Ratio, currently 20%. They can inject up to $2 trillion into the banking system if need be by slashing the RRR to single figures. It was 6% in the late 1990s. The question is whether President Xi Jinping wishes to take his lumps now by pricking the speculative bubble and forcing capitulation – hopefully in a controlled deleveraging – or whether he will blink as his predecessor famously did in the summer of 2012 and let rip with another round of stimulus.
Blinking stores up greater trouble later. Credit has already grown to $25 trillion. Fitch says China has added the equivalent of the entire US and Japanese banking systems combined in five years.
On balance it is better for China to get the trauma over and done with sooner rather than later. But the rest of the world should be under no illusions as to what it means. This policy decision – should President Xi stay the course – is equivalent in global scale to the decision by Fed chief Benjamin Strong to pop the US speculative bubble in 1928, causing a commodity slump that was transmitted worldwide through the dollar based currency system (Inter-War Gold Standard) and which later snowballed into something far worse. The US was then the world’s rising creditor power, with foreign reserves above 6% of global GDP, almost exactly the same as China’s holdings today. When China sneezes … you will catch a cold, wherever you are.
China is a case of bastardized socialism on credit steroids. At the turn of century it had $1 trillion of credit market debt outstanding – a figure which has now soared to $25 trillion. The plain fact is that no economic system can remain stable and sustainable after undergoing a 25X debt expansion in a mere 14 years. But that axiom is true in spades for a jerry-built command and control system where there is no free market discipline, meaningful contract law, honest economic information or even primitive understanding that asset values do not grow to the sky.
Nor is there any grasp of the fact that the pell-mell infrastructure building spree of recent years is a one-time event that will leave the economy drowning in excess capacity to produce concrete, steel, coal, copper, chemicals and all manner of fabrications and machinery, such as backhoes and cranes, which go into roads, rails and high rises. The borrowing, building and speculating mania in China has obviously gotten so extreme that even the new regime in Beijing has been desperately trying to cool it down. But this will end up as a catastrophic failure—not the “soft landing” brayed about by Wall Street bulls who do not have the slightest comprehension of the difference between free market capitalism and the phony “red capitalism” that has been confected by the party-controlled apparatus of the massive, intrusive, bureaucratic and hierarchically-driven Chinese State.
At bottom the fatal error among China bulls is the failure to recognize that the colossal boom and bust cycle that China is undergoing is not symmetrical. The much admired alacrity by which the state guided the export boom after 1994 and the infrastructure boom after 2008 is not evidence of a superior model of governance; its only proof that when credit, favors, subsidies, franchises and speculative windfall opportunities are being passed out freely and to everyone, when there are all winners and no losers (e.g. China’s bankruptcy rate has been infinitesimal), a statist regime can appear to walk on water.
But what it can’t do is walk the bubble back to stable ground. The boom phase unleashes a buzzing, blooming crescendo of enterprising, investing, borrowing and speculating throughout the population that cannot be throttled back without resort to the mailed fist of state power. But the comrades in Beijing have been in the boom-time Santa Claus modality for so long that they are reluctant to unleash the economic gendarmerie.
That’s partly because their arrogance blinds them to the great house of cards which is China today, and partly because they undoubtedly understand that the party’s popularity, legitimacy and even viability would be severely jeopardized if they actually removed the punch bowl. Just look at the angry crowds which mill about when a bankrupt entrepreneur skips town and locks up his factory sans all the equipment; or when developers are forced to discount vastly over-priced luxury apartment units they sold to middle class savers/speculators; or when banks attempt to disavow repayment responsibility for “trust products” they sold out the backdoor through affiliates; or the growing millions of rural peasants who have been herded into high-rises without jobs after their land was expropriated by crooked local officials and developers trying to make GDP quotas and a quick fortune, respectively.
In short, the Chinese population “can’t handle the truth” in Jack Nicholson’s memorable line. They by now believe they are entitled to a permanent feast and have every expectation that they party and state apparatus will continue to deliver it. As a result, Beijing has resorted to a strategy of tip-toeing around the tulips in a series of start and stop maneuvers to rein-in the credit and building mania.
But these tepid initiative have pushed the credit bubble deeper into the opaque underside of China’s red capitalist regime, meaning that its inherent instability and unsustainability is being massively compounded. The billiard balls that have been bouncing around the table since Beijing attempted to throttle lending by the Big State banks a few years ago provides a dramatic example.
In round one the big banks attempted to avoid credit growth ceilings by taking a leaf out of Citigroup’s playbook, and opened up back-door affiliates which operated off-balance sheet in the world of so-called shadow banking. These affiliates peddled “trust products” which were essentially high yield CDs that returned double or triple the regulated ceiling on regular bank deposit accounts. And how were these back door affiliates to earn a profit when paying say 12% for funds? No problem! The loan departments of the big state banks kindly referred their shaky credits and borrowers desperately underwater to their back-door affiliates who then presented such dodgy supplicants with an offer they couldn’t refuse.–namely, 20% money for 12 or 24 months as an alternative to being shut-off by the parent bank
So the credit house of cards was just enlarged, extended and riddled with more repayment cliffs just around the next corner. From a standing start in 2010, trust product loans and other shadow banking credit extensions have exploded to upwards of $6 trillion.
But here’s the thing. The credit bubble is now migrating into the land of zombie borrowers such as coal mine operators who have always been heavily leveraged but now face plummeting demand and sinking prices owing to Beijing’s unavoidable crackdown on pollution and the rapid slowing of the BTU-intensive industrial economy. Moreover, the $6 trillion in shadow banking loans are the opposite of long-term debt capital: they are ticking time bombs in the form of 12-24 month credits that are being accumulated in a vast snow-plow of maturities that will only intensify the eventual crisis.
To be sure, the state banking regulators have belatedly launched a campaign to crack-down on the explosion of shadow banking loans, but already the proof of the inherent asymmetry in China’s bubble/bust cycle is in. New credit extension is now migrating to the last refuge of an aging bubble–namely, non-financial corporations are plowing vast sums of cash into speculative lending. As the following excerpts from the Wall Street Journal show, such lending has now reached epidemic proportions, and is a direct rebuke to the tepid and well-telegraphed efforts of Beijing to rein in China’s monumental credit bubble:
These company-to-company loans, known as entrusted lending, have emerged as the fastest-growing part of China’s shadow-banking system, which provides credit outside of formal banking channels.The increase in entrusted loans last year was equivalent to nearly 30% of local-currency loans issued by banks—almost double the portion in 2012. The jump is all the more pronounced since China’s total social financing, a broad measure of overall new credit, shrank 561.2 billion yuan over the same period, largely because other forms of shadow credit declined as Beijing sought to rein in runaway debt growth.
We have detailed the straitjacket into which the Japanese have been strapped for the past two decades numerous times in the last few years (in great detail here) but as Grant Williams leaned back in his most comfortable chair after reading an article about proposed changes to the GPIF (Government Pension Investment Fund), Japan’s public pension fund; the thought popped into his mind – “Japan really is totally f##ked.” What led him to that well-thought-out and eruditely expressed conclusion? Read on… In an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria earlier this year, Abe explained the true significance of the third arrow:
“What is important about the third arrow, structural reform, is to convince those who resist the steps I am taking and to make them realize that what I have been doing is correct, and by so doing, to engage in structural reform.”
Read that again.Yes folks, the important part of structural reform in Japan is to convince people that Abe is correct. If he can convince them he is right, they will have engaged in structural reform. Confused? You should be. This is how Japan works — or doesn’t. Immigration reform has been widely recognized as the only answer to Japan’s crippling demographic problem for well over three decades. Nothing has been done about it. How about the “Wage Surprise” — increasing wages on a national basis — hailed by Abe as the key to lifting Japan out of the doldrums, and a key feature of Abenomics?
Doh?! Markets will eventually tire of Abe’s continual promises that more is coming, so he desperately needs to somehow break the entrenched deflationary attitude in Japan. (WSJ): In a survey of 1,000 consumers on March 29-30 by broadcaster Fuji News Network, 69% said they had not made any special purchases ahead of the sales tax rise, and 77.4% said they didn’t feel an economic recovery was under way. Good luck with that attitude problem, Shinzo. This week we got a look at how Abe is faring with one of his promises, that of guaranteed 2% inflation. Core CPI (excluding food and energy) rose 1.3% in March — unchanged from the previous month and lower than analyst forecasts. Of course, that was taken as a sign that further easing by the BoJ would be forthcoming…
And round and round it goes… until it stops. The briefcase in Pulp Fiction ONLY works because we DON’T find out what is in it. Abe’s third arrow can be loaded into the bow, but it can’t be fired once and for all, because if it IS fired, the game is up. There will still be continual promises of more to come, and markets may buy into that for a while; but, like all central bank-induced “boom times,” Abenomics has a shelf life, and that is nearing an end. The changes at the GPIF are potentially disastrous, and Kuroda’s BoJ and Abe’s government are desperately trying to MacGyver their way out of an impossible situation, armed only with hollow promises and faith, when what they really need is duct tape and a Swiss army knife.
Abenomics is a plan by which to change Japanese behaviour; but as anyone who has spent any time in that wonderful, perplexing country will tell you, the Japanese do NOT change their behaviour — even when facing a demographic disaster. Sorry, but Abenomics is actually nothing at all.
The last two times when margin debt reversed and fell after a record-breaking spike, all hell broke loose. In 2000, it was simultaneous. In 2007, it was delayed by a few months. Today, on the surface, everything is still hunky-dory. The Dow is just fractions below its all-time high that it set on Wednesday. But beneath the surface, parts of the stock market are already coming unglued, and holders of momentum stocks have been eviscerated. The Nasdaq Biotech Index had beautifully shot up along an exponential curve. Then the hot air hissed out of it, and it swooned 21% in six weeks. The index includes big players, like Biogen, not just startups with big dreams and no drugs.
After some buying on the dip, the index closed on Thursday down “only” 15%. But that hasn’t saved smaller momentum stocks: Exelixis is down 58% from its 52-week high and 92% from its all-time high shortly after its IPO in early 2000; Halozyme is down 60% from its high in early January. And so on. In the social media space, the bloodletting has been ugly. The Social Media ETF SOCL is down 23%, but stronger stocks like Facebook (down 16% from its high a month ago) paper over individual fiascos, like Twitter, which has plummeted 48% from its peak last year to below its IPO price. Other momentum stocks are getting annihilated: Amazon down 25% since January, Netflix down 27% in just two months. From their peaks, Pandora crashed 39%, Gogo 63%, and Imperva, a Big Data security outfit, 65%.
Then there’s the “Cloud,” the single most hyped miracle-sector last year. Escalator up, elevator down. Workday, which sells cloud-based corporate software, went public in late 2012 and soared. Two months ago, it sprung a leak and the hot air hissed out of it. It’s down 36%. Veeve, which sells cloud-based healthcare software, has crashed 60% from its November high, shortly after it had gone public. Salesforce is down 22%. ServiceNow lost 30% over the past two weeks. LinkedIn reported a loss after hours on Thursday and got hammered. It’s now down 40% from its peak last September. Jive Software is down 71% from its high in 2012.
They aren’t just outliers. They’re included in the index of 37 publicly traded cloud companies that VC firm Bessemer Venture Partners put together and updates on a weekly basis. From the beginning of the data series in January 2012 to February 27, 2014, the index had soared 129%. But in the two months since then, the index gave up more than half of its gains and lost $58 billion in market cap!
Technology stocks may have suffered a sell-off in the last few weeks, but the U.S. market as a whole is still set for a dramatic correction this year, Marc Faber, the market watcher known as “Dr. Doom” told CNBC Wednesday. The editor and publisher of The Gloom, Boom and Doom Report said that he personally favors emerging market securities that are still “cheap,” adding that he had even made investments in Iraq last year. “We had already a big break in the market but we haven’t had yet the big break in the overall market,” he said.
In early April, the wider technology sector was hit by a selloff in momentum stocks which saw the Nasdaq Composite Index fall below 4,000 points for the first time since early February. Momentum stocks are fast-rising stocks which can unexpectedly reverse when investors fear they have overshot and a bubble is brewing. The Nasdaq Composite suffered its worst weekly hit since June 2012, and recorded its longest weekly losing streak since late 2012. Telecommunication, social media, and biotechnology companies were all part of the move lower, but Faber believes this selling will eventually hit the wider indexes, with energy and utility companies seeing a sharp pullback. Faber reiterated his concerns that equities were facing a crash that could be worse than the financial world saw in 2008.
“I believe it is too late to buy the U.S. stock market,” he said. Faber questioned the future returns of these U.S. stocks, highlighting that record low interest rates and high valuations mean companies will not be able to give back bumper returns to their investors. “In general, I think individual investors have excessively optimistic expectations about their future returns,” Faber said. The notable bear also underlined his belief that emerging markets provide a more suitable option for more profitable investments. He added that he has parked cash in countries such as Vietnam, Iraq, Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore.
Even the strongest job growth in two years isn’t enough to entice more people into the labor force, one of the biggest conundrums of the U.S. economic expansion. The share of the working-age population either employed or seeking a job declined in April for the first time this year, helping drive the unemployment rate down to 6.3%, the lowest since September 2008. At 62.8%, the so-called participation rate matches the lowest since March 1978. A shrinking workforce saps the U.S. of the manpower needed to boost the expansion to a higher level, keeping the world’s largest economy merely plodding along. It also undercuts the theory that sustained growth alone will be enough to attract more Americans, from students to people discouraged over employment prospects, back into the hunt for jobs.
“It doesn’t seem like the improving job market is really pulling people back into job-seeking,” said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in New York. “It is kind of a sobering message about the supply side of the economy and the economy’s potential growth rate.” The decline in participation from 63.2% in March came as fewer Americans entered the work force, while the number of people who have given up the search for employment remained close to the average for the last year. There were 783,000 of these so-called discouraged workers in April, compared with 835,000 a year earlier.
The number of people coming into the workforce — by either landing a job or starting a search for work — plunged to 5.84 million in April, the fewest since November 2008, according to figures from the Labor Department. The 14% decrease from the prior month’s 6.79 million was the biggest since 1995. Those leaving the labor force, which include retirees, people who choose to take care of family members and those pessimistic about finding employment, totaled 6.66 million, little changed from the 6.42 million averaged over the prior 12 months. “It wasn’t so much that more people left, it was that a lot fewer than average entered,” Karen Kosanovich, an economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, said in an interview.
While we expect much media coverage of the fact that as of the end of April, total jobs have risen to 138,252K or just 98,000 jobs shy of the December 2007 highs when the depression started (which means that the next jobs report will finally show a full recovery of the jobs lost in the past 6 years), another fact which will not receive nearly as much attention is that the cumulative increase in Americans who have, over the same period, dropped out of the labor force has more than “made up” for the job gains. In fact, it may come as a surprise to most, that since the peak of the depression in February 2010, when the job number dropped to 129.7 million and has been rising ever since, the average monthly number of job adds is 172K. And what about the average monthly number of people who drop out of the labor force since February 2010? 175K, or a virtually perfect mirror image.
Any “sensible” European Union citizen should oppose further sanctions on Russia because of the economic cost for Europe, EU Commissioner Olli Rehn said. “It would harm everybody, the Europeans and the Russians,” Rehn, the European Commissioner for Economic Affairs, said in an interview in Vienna today. Yet “it can only be avoided if Russia is committed to avoiding aggravation and escalation of this crisis,” he said. As EU governments weigh economic sanctions on Russia for failing to stop separatists in Ukraine, the slowing Russian economy is already having a “negative impact” on Finland and Austria, Rehn said. That economic fallout probably will spread to Germany, Poland and the Baltic countries, he said.
Ukraine’s conflict escalated as the army sent armored vehicles and artillery today in a bid to retake the eastern town Slovyansk, a stronghold of pro-Russian separatists. Russian President Vladimir Putin had demanded Ukraine pull back troops as his forces remain massed across the border. “Everybody should try to reduce tension in eastern Ukraine and thus try to prevent an escalation of this regional crisis into a European-wide crisis,” said Rehn, who is on leave from his EU post while running for a seat in European Parliament elections starting May 22.
Even before the U.S and EU imposed sanctions on Russia, the weaker Russian ruble cut sales at Finnish tax-free shops on the border by about 30% compared with a year earlier, Rehn said. The ruble declined 0.7% against the dollar today, trimming the Russian currency’s advance over the past five days to 0.5%. The ruble’s 8.3% retreat this year is the second-worst after Argentina’s peso among 24 developing-country peers monitored by Bloomberg. “From the standpoint of the European Union, I think it is important we show unity in this crisis,” Rehn said. “We have to stand united because if we were disunited, we know Russia would be very skillful in playing that game against European countries.”
A new study says there is a lack of both scientific data and preparedness on the part of private and public entities to properly address an oil spill in the Arctic Ocean, which global powers and industry expect to exploit for energy exploration. Climate change is thawing sea ice in the Arctic, opening up new opportunities for energy development. Approximately 30% of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and about 15% of its untapped oil lie in the Arctic. But the majority, 84%, of the estimated 90 billion barrels of oil and 47.3 trillion cubic meters of gas remain offshore.
Waiting for eager energy developers are some of the world’s most extreme weather conditions “and environmental settings, limited operations and communications infrastructure, a vast geographic area, and vulnerable species, ecosystems, and cultures,” the National Research Council wrote. The five countries with territorial claims in the Arctic – Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the United States – have stated intentions to develop these reserves, if they haven’t begun already. Yet the National Research Council’s new study – funded by US federal agencies and the leading trade group for the oil industry, the American Petroleum Institute – found that energy companies currently lack Arctic oil spill response plans, as it is their responsibility to address such an event.
That said, public entities often take the lead in spill response actions, yet the US government does not have infrastructure capabilities in place despite its rush to establish dominance in the region. “The lack of infrastructure and oil spill response equipment in the U.S. Arctic is a significant liability in the event of a large oil spill,” the report states. “Building U.S. capabilities to support oil spill response will require significant investment in physical infrastructure and human capabilities, from communications and personnel to transportation systems and traffic monitoring.”
The “significant investment” on infrastructure could come from public-private partnerships, the report suggests, though the politics of offering industry further subsidies may be problematic. Adequate research into what awaits industry in the extreme cold of Arctic waters is also lacking, the report said. There is little understanding of how the low temperatures would affect both spilled oil and commonly-used techniques to reverse the effects of a spill, such as the spread of chemical dispersants. The report goes as far as suggesting that the only way to know is to conduct a controlled oil spill.