Oct 192018
 
 October 19, 2018  Posted by at 1:04 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


M. C. Escher Meeting (Encounter) 1940

 

It’s no surprise that China has its own plunge protection team -but why were they so late?-, nor that Beijing blames its problems on Trump’s tariffs. GDP growth was disappointing at 6.5%, but who’s ever believed those almost always dead on numbers? It would be way more interesting to know what part of that growth has been based on debt and leverage. But that we don’t get to see.

So we turn elsewhere. How about the Shanghai Composite Index? It may not be a perfect reflection of the Chinese economy, no more than the S&P 500 is for the US, but it does raise some valid and curious questions.

Borrowing from Wolf Richter, here are some stats and a graph::
• Lowest since November 27, 2014, nearly four years ago
• Down 30% from its recent peak on January 24, 2018, (3,559.47)
• Down 52% from its last bubble peak on June 12, 2015 (5,166)
• Down 59% from its all-time bubble peak on October 16, 2007 (6,092)
• And back where it had first been on December 27, 2006, nearly 12 years ago.

 

 

The first thing I thought when I saw that was: how on earth is it possible that in an economy that’s supposedly been growing 6%+ for a decade, stocks have gone nowhere at all? And obviously the role of the Shanghai index is different from that of the S&P, the DAX or the FTSE, but at the alleged Chinese growth rate, the economy would have almost doubled in size in 10 years. And none of that is reflected in stocks?

 

 

And if you think Shenzhen is a better barometer of ‘real’ China, Tyler Durden had this graph yesterday. Not the same as Shanghai, but similar for sure.

 

 

But other aspects of the Chinese economy are perhaps more interesting, I think. China’s mom and pop are not typically in stocks. In the Zero Hedge article I took that graph from, there is also this:

“There’s a liquidity crisis in the stock market, and pledged shares are again starting to sound the alarm,” said Yang Hai, analyst at Kaiyuan Securities. [..] The fear is that if Beijing does nothing, the self-reinforcing liquidation is only set to get worse: with $603 billion of shares pledged as collateral for loans – or 11% of China’s market capitalization, – traders are increasingly concerned that forced sellers will tip the market into a downward spiral.

[..] China in June told brokerages to seek approval before selling large chunks of stock that have been pledged as collateral for loans, while the top financial regulator in August warned the industry that it’s closely watching corporate stock pledges. Neither of those warnings appears to have generated the desired outcome, and the result is that two-thirds of Shenzhen Composite stocks are now at 52-week lows or worse.

[..] what are investors to do in this time of panicked selling? Why demand more bailouts of course, like begging the National Team to step in and rescue them (just like in the housing market): “If there are no real policies to cure the array of problems and ailments in our market, no one will be willing to take the risk,” said Hai. “Authorities keep saying that there is room for more polices, but where are they?”

“It’s high time the state stepped in,” said Dong Baozhen, a fund manager at Beijing Tonglingshengtai Asset Management. “The national funds cannot just sit on the sidelines and watch this atmosphere of extreme pessimism.”

It’s this clamoring for the state to come to the rescue of people who are losing money that would appear to define China today, where there is a stock market and housing market, and many ‘investors’ making lots of money, but where the mentality still seems to lurk back to days of old whenever things don’t only go up in a straight line.

There was another report recently of people demonstrating outside a property developer’s office because the firm had lowered purchase prices by 30%. Those that had paid full price now stood to lose that 30%. This happens frequently, and it can get violent. Mom and pop are not in stocks, they are in real estate:

Property accounts for roughly 70 per cent of urban Chinese families’ total assets – a home is both wealth and status. People don’t want prices to increase too fast, but they don’t want them to fall too quickly either,” said Shao Yu, chief economist at Oriental Securities.

The Chinese are thinking about leaders from Deng Xiao Ping to Xi Jinping that it’s great if they steer the country in a direction where everyone can get rich, but when things go awry, it’s still Beijing’s task to solve the problems if and when they occur. I would expect the same kind of thing in many western countries where people have borrowed heavily into housing bubbles, I don’t see mass foreclosures in Sweden, Denmark, Holland, but bailouts of people who grossly overpaid.

But the Chinese go a step further in their demands from central government. And that is an enormous problem for Xi going forward. One crucial facet of all this is psychological: when people count on being bailed out by their government, they will take much more risk, borrow more, with higher leverage etc. If you allow people things like pledging shares to buy more shares, or homes, and shares fall, you have an issue.

China’s well-known for companies buying each other’s shares to appear viable. It’s also known for local governments borrowing heavily from shadow banks in order for party officials to look as if they’re performing real well.

Now of course, if Beijing keeps on presenting all those growth numbers that look so solid, it’s asking for it. Moreover, the Party has lost control over the shadow banks, and it couldn’t act to regain that control if it wanted. It could initiate a program to forgive debt owed to national banks, but what’s owed to the shadows will have to be paid. We’re talking many trillions.

The Party has let the shadows in, because it made its own debt numbers look so much better. But when this whole debt balloon, on which so much of the GDP growth has rested, and the roads to nowhere and empty apartment blocks and cities, starts to pop, who are the Chinese going to turn to? For that matter, who is Xi going to turn to?

Yes, much of the western wealth has turned into a mirage, but in that respect, too, China has done what we did in a fraction of the time. Trump’s tariffs may play a role in a slowdown, but wait until the western economies deflate their debt bubbles and stop buying much of China’s products.

Bubbles vs balloons, that seems a proper way to phrase this. And for better or for worse, Jerome Powell is hiking interest rates. There’s your Needles and Pins.

 

 

Oct 172018
 
 October 17, 2018  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Georgia O’Keeffe Autumn leaves, Lake George 1924

 

Fed Minutes May Unlock Details About Jerome Powell’s Ultimate Plan (Y!)
China May Have $6 Trillion Of Unreported Local Government Debt – S&P (CNBC)
Jamal Khashoggi’s Killing Took Seven Minutes – Turkish Source (MEE)
Sears Didn’t ‘Die.’ Vulture Capitalists Killed It. (Kuttner)
On Theresa May, Danny DeVito and ‘Other People’s Money’ (Pettifor)
Britain Fell For A Neoliberal Con Trick – Even The IMF Says So (G.)
Venezuela Drops US Dollar, Will Use Euro For International Transactions (RT)
The World Will Soon Start Talking Like Trump (FP)
Supreme Court To Hear Case Linked To Who Social Media Can Censor (CNBC)
Record Number of Older Australians are in Financial Trouble. (ABC.au)
UK Restaurants And Cafes Throw Out 320 Million Fresh Meals A Year (G.)
Nature Will Need Up To 5 Million Years To Fill The Gaps Caused By Man (Ind.)

 

 

Trump’s discomfort is still understandable.

Fed Minutes May Unlock Details About Jerome Powell’s Ultimate Plan (Y!)

Wednesday’s minutes of the Federal Reserve’s September meeting, released at 2 p.m. ET, may reveal more details about the pacing of the central bank’s rate hikes, which have rattled investors and President Trump over the past week. Trump has repeatedly criticized the Fed in recent days, calling it “crazy” and “too cute” in various media interviews. Investors seemed to largely agree with this characterization — and sent the Dow Jones Industrial Average down over 1,300 points over a few trading sessions last week, as higher interest rates make stocks less attractive. The Fed has raised interest rates three times this year and has telegraphed a fourth hike as soon as December.

But Danielle DiMartino Booth, a former Federal Reserve advisor and CEO of Quill Intelligence, doesn’t expect Wednesday’s minutes to reflect the market’s recent worry over interest rates. “With Jay Powell, we have seen clean minutes,” she told Yahoo Finance, describing the minutes as a summation of the Fed’s thinking at the time of the September meeting. She said former Fed chairs Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen used to massage the minutes if they needed to update their outlook in the weeks following the Fed’s last statement. [..] A lot has occurred since the September 25-26 meeting, including a steep rise in bond yields and last week’s aforementioned market turmoil. “[Last week’s market] declines won’t cause Powell to push the panic button,” Booth said. “If you look at the past few trading sessions, much of the declines have reversed.”

Read more …

The shadows. Not under Xi’s control.

China May Have $6 Trillion Of Unreported Local Government Debt – S&P (CNBC)

Unreported Chinese local government debt may amount to trillions of U.S. dollars, meaning the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio has hit “alarming” levels, S&P Global Ratings said in a report released Tuesday. The analysts noted a large gap between reported investment in local infrastructure and funding, as permitted by central authorities. As a result, the actual level of off-balance sheet debt could be several times more than what is publicly disclosed and range as high as 30 trillion yuan to 40 trillion yuan, or about $4.34 trillion to $5.78 trillion, credit analysts Gloria Lu, Laura Li and their team said in the report.

“And that’s a debt iceberg with titanic credit risks,” they added, estimating that the ratio of all government debt to GDP was 60 percent last year. To encourage economic growth in the region, local governments in China have invested heavily in infrastructure, often using financing structures known as “local government financing vehicles,” or LGFVs. Details about their size or nature tend to be unclear, and the S&P analysts said much of the hidden debt is in those vehicles. Beijing has been trying to move financing away from off-balance sheet sources, but has had limited success so far. In the future, S&P Global Ratings expects authorities will allow more defaults in local government financing vehicles, the report said.

Read more …

Very graphic. There was no botched kidnapping, and no rogue elements. Find a new line. It doesn’t look like this story can be stopped anymore. Turkey keeps leaking details.

Jamal Khashoggi’s Killing Took Seven Minutes – Turkish Source (MEE)

It took seven minutes for Jamal Khashoggi to die, a Turkish source who has listened in full to an audio recording of the Saudi journalist’s last moments told Middle East Eye. Khashoggi was dragged from the Consul General’s office at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and onto the table of his study next door, the Turkish source said. Horrendous screams were then heard by a witness downstairs, the source said. “The consul himself was taken out of the room. There was no attempt to interrogate him. They had come to kill him,” the source told MEE. The screaming stopped when Khashoggi – who was last seen entering the Saudi consulate on 2 October – was injected with an as yet unknown substance.

Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy, who has been identified as the head of forensic evidence in the Saudi general security department, was one of the 15-member squad who arrived in Ankara earlier that day on a private jet. Tubaigy began to cut Khashoggi’s body up on a table in the study while he was still alive, the Turkish source said. The killing took seven minutes, the source said. As he started to dismember the body, Tubaigy put on earphones and listened to music. He advised other members of the squad to do the same. “When I do this job, I listen to music. You should do [that] too,” Tubaigy was recorded as saying, the source told MEE. A three-minute version of the audio tape has been given to Turkish newspaper Sabah, but they have yet to release it.

Read more …

Killing companies and cutting 100s of 1000s of jobs is perfectly legal.

Sears Didn’t ‘Die.’ Vulture Capitalists Killed It. (Kuttner)

If you’ve been following the impending bankruptcy of America’s iconic retailer as covered by print, broadcast and digital media, you’ve probably encountered lots of nostalgia and sad clucking about how dinosaurs like Sears can’t compete in the age of Amazon and specialty retail. But most of the coverage has failed to stress the deeper story. Namely, Sears is a prime example of how hedge funds and private equity companies take over retailers, encumber them with debt in order to pay themselves massive windfall profits, and then leave the retailer without adequate operating capital to compete. Part of the strategy is to sell off valuable real estate, the better to enrich the hedge fund, and stick the retail company with costly rental payments to occupy the space that it once owned.

In the case of Sears, the culprit is a hedge-fund operator named Edward Lampert, once a senior merger guy at Goldman Sachs. In 2005, Lampert merged Sears with Kmart, loaded both up with debt, and used some of the debt on stock buybacks to pump up the share price and enrich shareholders, notably himself and his hedge fund. In a decade, 175,000 people at Sears/Kmart lost their jobs and revenue was cut in half. Various pieces of Sears were sold off. Lampert did just fine. Lampert’s hedge fund also became a prime a lender to Sears, making money off of commissions and interest charges as well as being a prime shareholder. The strategy ensures that the fund and its beneficiaries (including Lampert himself) get rich, even if they run Sears into the ground.

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“..at a time of private economic failure, it is vital for government to borrow and spend..”

On Theresa May, Danny DeVito and ‘Other People’s Money’ (Pettifor)

PEF Council member Ann Pettifor explains how all governments finance their spending (and its not from taxation). She deconstructs Theresa May’s address to the Conservative Party Conference with its deliberate framing of Labour governments as tax raiders. The use of the phrase “other people’s money” was not accidental. It was first used in the title of a famous work (1973) by Donald R. Cressy about the social psychology of embezzlement. The book was later made into a movie about a corrupt corporate raider, and starred Danny de Vito and Gregory Peck. Mrs May’s speech writer wanted to imply that Labour governments are tax raiders.

That is both a calumny, but also a lie – twice over. First because no Labour government has ever run out of money – not even Clement Attlee’s which started life with public debt at 250% of national income, and then spent enormous sums creating the NHS, affordable housing, a public education system etc. As a result of that spending, public debt as a share of GDP fell precipitously, because the Labour government increased the nation’s income, through well-paid employment. Good, well-paid employment in turn generated tax revenues – to pay for the borrowing, and pay down the public debt.

Second, no government – including today’s Conservative government – finances spending from taxation. Instead governments finance spending by borrowing from their own Bank, the Bank of England, or from capital markets. If that borrowing creates employment and increases income, then tax revenues accrue to HMRC, and is used to pay for the borrowing. To keep the public finances balanced at a time of private economic failure, it is vital for government to borrow and spend, to expand the nation’s income and thereby to generate the tax revenues needed to repay the borrowing, and keep the public finances in order.

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Most of the world has.

Britain Fell For A Neoliberal Con Trick – Even The IMF Says So (G.)

I want to address the most stubborn belief of all: that running a small state is the soundest financial arrangement for governments and voters alike. Because 40 years on from the Thatcher revolution, more and more evidence is coming in to the contrary. Let’s start with the IMF itself. Last week it published a report that barely got a mention from the BBC or in Westminster, yet helps reframe the entire debate over austerity. The fund totted up both the public debt and the publicly owned assets of 31 countries, from the US to Australia, Finland to France, and found that the UK had among the weakest public finances of the lot. With less than £3 trillion of assets against £5tn in pensions and other liabilities, the UK is more than £2tn in the red. Of all the other countries examined by researchers, including the Gambia and Kenya, only Portugal’s finances look worse over the long run. So much for fixing the roof.

Almost as startling are the IMF’s reasons for why Britain is in such a state: one way or another they all come back to neoliberalism. Thatcher loosed finance from its shackles and used our North Sea oil money to pay for swingeing tax cuts. The result is an overfinancialised economy and a government that is £1tn worse off since the banking crash. Norway has similar North Sea wealth and a far smaller population, but also a sovereign wealth fund. Its net worth has soared over the past decade. The other big reason for the UK’s financial precarity is its privatisation programme, described by the IMF as no less than a “fiscal illusion”. British governments have flogged nearly everything in the cupboard, from airports to the Royal Mail – often at giveaway prices – to friends in the City. Such privatisations, judge the fund, “increase revenues and lower deficits but also reduce the government’s asset holdings”.

Read more …

If they are successful others may follow.

Venezuela Drops US Dollar, Will Use Euro For International Transactions (RT)

Venezuela is abandoning the US dollar, with all future transactions on the Venezuelan exchange market to be made in euro, Tareck El Aissami, the country’s Vice President for Economy, announced. The sanctions, recently introduced by Washington against Caracas, “block the possibility of continuing to trade using the US dollar on the Venezuelan exchange market,” El Aissami said, adding that the American restrictions were “illegal and against international law.” The American “financial blockade” of Venezuela affects both the country’s public and private sectors, including pharmacy and agriculture, and shows “just how far the imperialism can go in its madness,” the vice president said.

Venezuela’s floating exchange rate system, Dicom, “will be operating in euro, yuan or any other convertible currency and will allow the foreign exchange market to use any other convertible currency,” El Aissami said. The vice president added that all private banks in Venezuela are obliged to participate in the Dicom bidding system. The government is going to sell 2 billion euros between November and December to allow the public to purchase the European currency “at a real, non-speculative rate,” he said.

Read more …

The price of success?!

The World Will Soon Start Talking Like Trump (FP)

[..] no one doubts that Trump, through his surprise election victory and unprecedented approach to governance, has redefined political communication. For better or worse, every future president and presidential candidate will seek to learn from, and at least partially emulate, Trump’s unique and successful methods in this. Because America often sets trends in political communication, we should also expect to see such Trumpian techniques adopted abroad as well. Of course, there is considerable disagreement about precisely what those techniques are and which aspects of them will endure and transfer into other campaigns. It is early days, but at least three aspects of Trumpian political communication are likely to endure.

The most obvious and most commented upon aspect of Trumpian communication is the president’s use of Twitter. Trump is quite simply addicted to the medium—and he has stuck to it despite warnings from his political advisors that it is unwise for a president to make unfiltered use of social media. [..] Trump [..] clearly values Twitter precisely because it provides him with direct access to voters, unencumbered by the press, advisors, the government bureaucracy, or even personal reflection. He provides breaking news on his feed not available elsewhere and provides insight into his thinking through tweets.

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Trump should do this.

Supreme Court To Hear Case Linked To Who Social Media Can Censor (CNBC)

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that could determine whether users can challenge social media companies on free speech grounds. The case, Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck, No. 17-702, centers on whether a private operator of a public access television network is considered a state actor, which can be sued for First Amendment violations. The case could have broader implications for social media and other media outlets. In particular, a broad ruling from the high court could open the country’s largest technology companies up to First Amendment lawsuits.

That could shape the ability of companies like Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet’s Google to control the content on their platforms as lawmakers clamor for more regulation and activists on the left and right spar over issues related to censorship and harassment. The Supreme Court accepted the case on Friday. It is the first case taken by a reconstituted high court after Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation earlier this month. [..] On its face, the case has nothing to do with social media at all. Rather, the facts of the case concern public access television, and two producers who claim they were punished for expressing their political views.

The producers, DeeDee Halleck and Jesus Melendez, say that Manhattan Neighborhood Network suspended them for expressing views that were critical of the network. In making the argument to the justices that the case was worthy of review, attorneys for MNN said the court could use the case to resolve a lingering dispute over the power of social media companies to regulate the content on their platforms. [..] While the First Amendment is meant to protect citizens against government attempts to limit speech, there are certain situations in which private companies can be subject to First Amendment liability. Attorneys for MNN have made the case that social media companies are clearly not government actors. But in raising the question, they have provided the Supreme Court an opportunity to weigh in.

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Interest-only mortgages.

Record Number of Older Australians are in Financial Trouble. (ABC.au)

Financial helpline counsellors are at “capacity” with record numbers of older Australians struggling in poverty, but they still urge those experiencing debt distress to not hesitate to call. The National Debt Helpline — a federal government-run financial counselling service — said it’s on track to receive a record number of cases through its call centres this year — many from older Australians who can’t meet their mortgage or rent payments. “The phones just never stop now,” financial counsellor Greg said. “They’re just going day after day, after day. “You put the phone down, you pick the phone up again.”

[..] For the first time, the National Debt Helpline has started fielding calls from Australians struggling to switch from interest, to principal and interest mortgage payments. “We are seeing an increasing number of older Australians calling us,” Ms Cox said. “Very occasionally we’re still seeing people who have just been granted a very large mortgage, even though they’re in their 50s or 60s, and one that’s set to go for a 25 or 30-year term.” Those sorts of lending practices can lead older Australians down a financial rabbit hole. That is when sickness can creep in and marriages break down.

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Our economies run on waste.

UK Restaurants And Cafes Throw Out 320 Million Fresh Meals A Year (G.)

Almost 900,000 perfectly edible, freshly prepared meals end up in the bin in the UK every day, new figures reveal, because they haven’t been sold in time by restaurants and cafes. This means that more than 320m meals are thrown away by British food establishments every year – enough meals for everyone in the UK five times over, according to food waste app Too Good To Go. While consumers are increasingly aware of the food wasted in their homes and by supermarkets, waste by restaurants is still largely overlooked. Figures from the government’s food waste advisory body Wrap state that the problem costs UK businesses over £2.5m every week.

The app – which allows users to “rescue” surplus meals at a discounted price – is calling on more food businesses and consumers to join forces to help cut waste. “No one leaves the lights on when they leave the house,” said Hayley Conick, UK managing director at Too Good To Go. “Yet, whether it’s in restaurants, food shops or our own homes, we don’t think twice about throwing away perfectly good food.” Separately, Britons are being urged to help cut their food waste at home by setting their fridges to a colder temperature to make fresh milk and other chilled foods last longer. The advice from campaign group Love Food Hate Waste comes as a new survey revealed that half the UK population do not realise that their fridge should be set at below 5C to maximise its efficiency.

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Not a timeframe we can oversee. So not a call to action.

Nature Will Need Up To 5 Million Years To Fill The Gaps Caused By Man (Ind.)

Mankind has taken the world to the brink of a mass extinction that could wipe out vast swathes life on Earth for millions of years, scientists have warned in a new study. Humans are killing off animal and plant species so rapidly that evolution is unable to keep up to fill the gaps left behind, the work suggests. Unless conservation efforts are stepped up, nature will require between three and five million years to recover the levels of biodiversity expected to be lost over the next 50 years, predicted researchers. There have been five previous mass extinctions in the past 450 million years, and scientists have warned climate change, poaching, pollution and habitat destruction are bringing about a sixth.

More than 300 mammal species have been eradicated by human activity, according to researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark and the University of Gothenburg. More are likely to follow them into extinction in the next few decades. [..] Instead of simply counting lost or threatened species, the study considered the amount of time each had spent evolving to reflect. The extinction of species with distinct lineages and few close relatives meant the loss of “unique ecological functions and the millions of years of evolutionary history they represented”, researchers said.

“Large mammals, or megafauna, such as giant sloths and sabre-toothed tigers, which became extinct about 10,000 years ago, were highly evolutionarily distinct,” said Aarhus University palaeontologist Matt Davis, who led the study. “Since they had few close relatives, their extinctions meant that entire branches of Earth’s evolutionary tree were chopped off.” Researchers suggested threatened mammals with long evolutionary histories should be prioritised for conversation. They highlighted Asian elephants, one of only two existing species of a once mighty mammalian order that included mammoths and mastodon, and which are said to have just a 33-per-cent chance of surviving the century.

Read more …

Apr 082018
 
 April 8, 2018  Posted by at 9:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Johannes Vermeer The Concert 1663
Stolen from Gardner Museum March 18 1990, the single largest art theft in the world. Never recovered

 

Richest 1% On Target To Own Two-Thirds Of All Wealth By 2030 (G.)
Britain Aims To Resettle Poisoned Russian Ex-Spy In The US (R.)
Facebook Admits To Deleting Messages From People’s Inboxes (Ind.)
Facebook Confirms It Scans What You Send To Others On Its Messenger App (BBG)
US Homeland Security Database Of Journalists, Bloggers, Media Influencers (JT)
China Cannot Use Its Treasury Holdings As Leverage. Here’s Why (EH)
Australia’s Central Bank Frets Over Chinese Shadow Banking (CBN)
China Risks A ‘Minsky Moment’ (Auerback)
No Brexit for a Eurozone Britain? (Varoufakis)
Legalised Cannabis Could Help Solve America’s Opioid Crisis (Ind.)
US Gene-Editing Ruling Delights Plant Scientists (G.)
Hybrid Swarm Of ‘Mega-Pests’ Threatens Crops Worldwide (Ind.)

 

 

At some point it will stop. But it’s just too tempting.

Richest 1% On Target To Own Two-Thirds Of All Wealth By 2030 (G.)

The world’s richest 1% are on course to control as much as two-thirds of the world’s wealth by 2030, according to a shocking analysis that has lead to a cross-party call for action. World leaders are being warned that the continued accumulation of wealth at the top will fuel growing distrust and anger over the coming decade unless action is taken to restore the balance. An alarming projection produced by the House of Commons library suggests that if trends seen since the 2008 financial crash were to continue, then the top 1% will hold 64% of the world’s wealth by 2030. Even taking the financial crash into account, and measuring their assets over a longer period, they would still hold more than half of all wealth.

Since 2008, the wealth of the richest 1% has been growing at an average of 6% a year – much faster than the 3% growth in wealth of the remaining 99% of the world’s population. Should that continue, the top 1% would hold wealth equating to $305tn (£216.5tn) – up from $140tn today. Analysts suggest wealth has become concentrated at the top because of recent income inequality, higher rates of saving among the wealthy, and the accumulation of assets. The wealthy also invested a large amount of equity in businesses, stocks and other financial assets, which have handed them disproportionate benefits.

New polling by Opinium suggests that voters perceive a major problem with the influence exerted by the very wealthy. Asked to select a group that would have the most power in 2030, most (34%) said the super-rich, while 28% opted for national governments. In a sign of falling levels of trust, those surveyed said they feared the consequences of wealth inequality would be rising levels of corruption (41%) or the “super-rich enjoying unfair influence on government policy” (43%).

Read more …

Once they have new identities, nobody can ever ask them a question again.

Britain Aims To Resettle Poisoned Russian Ex-Spy In The US (R.)

Britain is considering offering poisoned Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia new identities and a fresh life in the United States in an attempt to protect them from further murder attempts, the Sunday Times newspaper reported. It said officials at the MI6 intelligence agency have had discussions with their counterparts in the CIA about resettling the victims poisoned last month in the English city of Salisbury. “They will be offered new identities,” it quoted an unidentified source as saying.

The paper said its sources believed Britain would want to ensure their safety by resettling them in one of the so-called “five eyes” countries, the intelligence-sharing partnership that also includes the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. “The obvious place to resettle them is America because they’re less likely to be killed there and it’s easier to protect them there under a new identity,” it quoted what it called an intelligence source familiar with the negotiations as saying. “There’s a preference for them to be resettled in a five-eyes nation because their case would have huge security implications,” the source added.

Read more …

Some are more equal than others.

Facebook Admits To Deleting Messages From People’s Inboxes (Ind.)

Facebook secretly deleted private messages from people’s inboxes that had been sent by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the company has admitted. Messages disappearing from people’s inboxes was first noted by TechCrunch, who cited three sources whose inboxes had been tampered with. It is not possible for normal Facebook users to delete messages from other people’s inboxes, though Mr Zuckerberg and other executives appear to have had access to the functionality for several years. Facebook said in a statement that the self-destructing feature was added in response to the Sony Pictures hack in 2014 that compromised personal information of Sony employees, as well as copies of unreleased films.

The feature may also have been used to prevent potentially embarrassing messages from resurfacing, such as a 2004 message sent by Mr Zuckerberg that reportedly called users of the social network “dumb fucks” for trusting him with their data. “After Sony Pictures’ emails were hacked in 2014 we made a number of changes to protect our executives’ communications,” Facebook said. “These included limiting the retention period for Mark’s messages in Messenger. We did so in full compliance with our legal obligations to preserve messages.” The messages were also missing when the affected users attempted to recover them using Facebook’s “download your information” tool.

Deleting private messages from people’s inboxes without their consent may potentially go against Facebook’s terms of service, which make no mention of removing content unless it is a violation of the firm’s community standards.

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We spy on you for your own good. Trust us, we know better.

Facebook Confirms It Scans What You Send To Others On Its Messenger App (BBG)

Facebook scans the links and images that people send each other on Facebook Messenger, and reads chats when they’re flagged to moderators, making sure the content abides by the company’s rules. If it doesn’t, it gets blocked or taken down. The company confirmed the practice after an interview published earlier this week with Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg raised questions about Messenger’s practices and privacy. Zuckerberg told Vox’s Ezra Klein a story about receiving a phone call related to ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. Facebook had detected people trying to send sensational messages through the Messenger app, he said. “In that case, our systems detect what’s going on,” Zuckerberg said. “We stop those messages from going through.”

Some people reacted with concern on Twitter: Was Facebook reading messages more generally? Facebook has been under scrutiny in recent weeks over how it handles users’ private data and the revelation struck a nerve. Messenger doesn’t use the data from the scanned messages for advertising, the company said, but the policy may extend beyond what Messenger users expect. The company told Bloomberg that while Messenger conversations are private, Facebook scans them and uses the same tools to prevent abuse there that it does on the social network more generally. All content must abide by the same “community standards.” People can report posts or messages for violating those standards, which would prompt a review by the company’s “community operations” team.

Automated tools can also do the work. “For example, on Messenger, when you send a photo, our automated systems scan it using photo matching technology to detect known child exploitation imagery or when you send a link, we scan it for malware or viruses,” a Facebook Messenger spokeswoman said in a statement. “Facebook designed these automated tools so we can rapidly stop abusive behavior on our platform.”

Read more …

When Facebook looks at everybody’s everything, this should come as no surprise.

US Homeland Security Database Of Journalists, Bloggers, Media Influencers (JT)

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is looking to create a searchable database of hundreds of thousands of news sources, journalists, bloggers and “media influencers” for the federal government, a move a DHS spokesman called “standard practice.” In a job request posted last week to the Federal Business Opportunities website, the main contracting website used by the federal government, DHS wrote that it is seeking a contractor that is able to monitor up to 290,000 global news sources, track media coverage in up to 100 languages and can “track online, print, broadcast, cable, radio, trade and industry publications, local sources, national/international outlets, traditional news sources, and social media.”

The request also seeks the ability to build lists of journalists “based on beat, location, outlet type/size, and journalist role.” Data to be collected would also include an analysis of each news source’s “sentiment,” as well as geographical spread, top posters, languages, momentum and circulation. The database of “top media influencers” would include “present contact details and any other information that could be relevant, including publications this influencer writes for, and an overview of the previous coverage published by the media influencer.”

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Treasuries are the only thing China can buy with its -dollar- surplus.

China Cannot Use Its Treasury Holdings As Leverage. Here’s Why (EH)

When China builds a trade surplus, it accumulates dollars. And it has to do something with those dollars. That means its purchase of US dollar assets is non-discretionary unless it revalues its currency. Every time there is some kind of dispute between China and the United States, a litany of voices emerges to warn of spiking interest rates. These warnings are wrong-headed. We went through this very same exercise in 2010. And Michael Pettis’s commentary is useful in this context. Let me quote from Michael and explain what it means in today’s context:

“If China runs a current account surplus, it must accumulate net foreign claims by exactly that amount, and the entity against which it accumulates those claims (adjusting for actions by other players within the balance of payments) ultimately must run the corresponding current account deficit. And as long as China ran the largest current account surplus ever recorded as a share of global GDP, and the US the largest current account deficit ever recorded, and especially since China also ran an additional capital account surplus (i.e. other non-PBoC agents ran a net capital inflow), it was almost impossible for the PBoC to do anything but buy US dollar assets. Given the sheer amounts, a substantial portion of these assets had inevitably to be USG bonds.“

The source of acrimony between China and the US is China’s trade surplus with the US. Now, when China builds this surplus, it accumulates dollars. And it has to do something with those dollars. And so, for a large portion of that dollar hoard, the Chinese have decided to store it as Treasury bonds. We don’t have to argue the merits of the Trump trade position here. It’s irrelevant regarding China’s accumulation of Treasury securities or mortgage-backed securities. Note that now it is Germany instead of China that has the largest current account surplus. And the EU has drawn Trump’s ire for this reason.

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“..growing at an average annual rate of approximately 40% since 2009”

Australia’s Central Bank Frets Over Chinese Shadow Banking (CBN)

The Reserve Bank of Australia is concerned that the rapid expansion of China’s shadow banking sector over the past decade poses a threat to financial stability.The RBA estimates that China’s shadow banking sector currently stands at USD$7 trillion, or around 60% of GDP, after growing at an average annual rate of approximately 40% since 2009. This means China’s shadow banking sector is far largely proportionately compared to other emerging economies, and roughly on par with developed nations such as the UK and the US. The RBA points out that shadow banking has brought benefits to the Chinese economy, chief amongst them the provision of more innovative forms of financing to companies otherwise barred from the state-dominated banking system.

Chinese households also benefited by obtaining access to investment products that provide competitive yields, in a highly regulated financial environment that provides few investment options.These benefits have also created problems, however, in the form of surging debt growth beyond the purview of regulatory scrutiny, riskier lending that is still inextricably linked to the Chinese banking system, as well as liquidity and maturity mismatches.These risks have been further exacerbated by the relative inexperience of China’s retail investors, and the perception that many financial instruments such as bank wealth management products enjoy “implicit guarantees. ”Beijing is well aware of the risks associated with exorbitant debt growth via shadow banking activity, launching a crackdown on the sector over a year ago as part of a broader deleveraging campaign.

The recently merged banking and insurance regulator has also flagged a continued focus on local government and state-owned enterprise leverage, alongside concern over the rapid increase in household borrowing.According to RBA analysts, however, Chinese regulators are still struggling to control breakneck credit growth in the economy.“Chinese regulators have been trying to mitigate these risks for some time, but it has been a challenge to design regulations that address these risks and are not easily circumvented,” said RBA officials in the Australian central bank’s March bulletin. In January China posted record growth in lending, which surged to 2.9 trillion yuan (approx. USD$458.5 billion) for a five-fold increase compared to the preceding month.

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What Xi can’t control.

China Risks A ‘Minsky Moment’ (Auerback)

The transformation of China’s economy, both in terms of GDP growth rate and poverty reduction since it started its transition to the market system in the late 1970s, has arguably been the biggest macroeconomic event of the past half-century. The model that has characterized the country’s high output growth rates has followed in the footsteps of the Asian “tigers“: first, its high growth rates of capital accumulation, driven by high investment-output ratios; second, a marked outward orientation through export-led growth policies; and third, the pursuit of industrialization (in particular the production and export of manufacturing goods), a key ingredient for fast growth and development. By almost every metric, China has advanced from economic backwater to the world’s second-largest GDP (and by some measures, is now the largest economy).

But in spite of signs of renewed economic activity in March, the country’s debt build-up has provoked increasing concern amongst Beijing’s policy makers, as it points to an underlying long-term financial fragility, particularly if trade war pressures intensify. Just last October during the Communist Party Plenary, Zhou Xiaochuan, then head of the country’s central bank, warned of a “Minsky moment“: “When there are too many pro-cyclical factors in an economy, cyclical fluctuations will be amplified. If we are too optimistic when things go smoothly, tensions build up, which could lead to a sharp correction, what we call a ‘Minsky Moment’. That’s what we should particularly defend against.”

To elaborate on Zhou’s statement, the economist Hyman Minsky described how once the debt “disease” goes metastatic, there will come a “Minsky moment” (a term originally coined by economist Paul McCulley) when euphoria gives way to concern and then to panic liquidation and credit revulsion. When that dynamic is in full flower, policy makers are powerless to avert it, no matter how much they want to bring the punchbowl back. Governor Zhou’s public warning was no doubt in response to recent rapid increase of debt which, according to Professor L. Randall Wray, “increased from 162% to 260% of GDP between 2008 and 2016,” and remains “a topic of discussion, if not deep concern.”

It may seem odd to warn of a Chinese slowdown, given the recent renewed surge in exports and the corresponding rise in both the manufacturing and non-manufacturing purchasing managing indices (both the manufacturing and service gauges remain above 50, and therefore indicative of robust economic activity). But these gains ought to be viewed against the backdrop of a more hostile external environment for Chinese manufactured goods. Discussing the recently imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum, the New York Times reported that Trump has already provided brief exemptions to “Canada, Mexico, the European Union, Australia, Argentina, Brazil and South Korea” (countries that “account for more than half of the $29 billion in steel sold to the United States in 2017”), which reinforces the idea that it is largely China that remains the major target of Trump’s economic nationalists.

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A nice thought experiment.

No Brexit for a Eurozone Britain? (Varoufakis)

“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” Prior to the 2016 Brexit referendum, I borrowed this line from the Eagles’ 1976 hit “Hotel California” as an argument against Britain exiting the European Union. I told audiences up and down Britain that if they voted to leave the EU, they would end up more entangled with the EU Commission than ever before. As British Prime Minister Theresa May is finding out, disentangling a member state from the EU is an arduous and complex undertaking. But how much harder would Brexit have been had the United Kingdom adopted the euro back in 2000?

For starters, the people of Britain would never have been consulted on whether they wanted to check out of the EU. In a hypothetical eurozone Britain, the very announcement of a referendum on membership would have triggered a bank run. Given Britain’s chronic trade and current-account deficits, an exit from the euro would have necessarily caused a decline in the international value of UK bank deposits. Foreseeing this, depositors would have responded to the announcement of a referendum by immediately withdrawing their euros in cash or by wiring them to Frankfurt, Paris, New York, or elsewhere. And, foreseeing that reaction, no British prime minister, not even David Cameron, would have dared announce a Brexit referendum.

Looking further back, what would the effect of 16 years in the eurozone have been on the relative strength of Leavers and Remainers within the Conservative Party? What would Britain’s economic circumstances have been like prior to 2016 had the euro been the UK’s currency? Would the political pressure to hold the referendum in 2016 have been weaker had Britain shared the same currency as Germany, France, and Greece? As with all counterfactuals, we are treading on thin ice here. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to sketch a plausible economic past for a UK that, hypothetically, entered the eurozone in 2000.

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Time to follow the money on pot.

Legalised Cannabis Could Help Solve America’s Opioid Crisis (Ind.)

Legalised cannabis use may help solve America’s opioid crisis, two scientific studies have suggested. Two separate peer-reviewed studies in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found significant drops in opioid prescribing in US states that had relaxed their cannabis laws. Both studies appear to offer insights into possible ways to solve a crisis that saw 17,087 people die from prescription opioid overdoes in the US in 2016. The crisis has its origins in soaring prescription rates after a new generation of opioids were marketed in the 1980s and 1990s with inaccurate claims that they could alleviate chronic pain with minimal risk of addiction.

The new research was accompanied by an opinion piece in JAMA Internal Medicine which said both studies produced “results suggesting that cannabis legalisation may play a beneficial role in the opioid crisis”. In the first study, researchers at the University of Georgia, Athens, looked at Medicare Part D prescriptions for people over the age of 65 between 2010 and 2015. It found that prescriptions for all opioids decreased by 2.11 million daily doses per year from an average of 23.08 million daily doses per year when a state instituted any medical cannabis law. When a state opened marijuana dispensaries, opioid prescriptions dropped by 3.7 million daily doses per year.

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Loophole. And a dangerous one.

US Gene-Editing Ruling Delights Plant Scientists (G.)

Researchers in the US have been given the go-ahead to use gene-editing techniques to alter crops and plants. The decision opens the door for scientists to create a new generation of genetically altered crops without serious restriction and paves the way for approvals for similar work in Britain and the rest of Europe. The decision – by the US Department of Agriculture – has delighted scientists who had feared that limitations on the creation and growing of genetically modified crops would also be imposed on crops created using far simpler gene-editing techniques. “I think this decision by American legislators will have all sorts of benefits in the long run,” said Professor Denis Murphy of the University of South Wales.

“This is a win-win situation because agriculture for gene-editing is cheaper, faster, simpler and more precise than the genetic modification of plants, in which a gene is taken from one organism and moved to another.” The European Court of Justice indicated in January that it does not think crops created though gene-editing techniques should be regulated by the rules that govern genetically modified organisms in Europe. “At the same time, Britain’s Acre – the advisory committee on releases into the environment – also seems to be sympathetic to this position,” said Professor Huw Dylan Jones of Aberystwyth University. “It is very encouraging.”

In the wake of hostile green campaigns, Britain imposed severe restrictions on GM crops two decades ago and few have been grown. The prospect that this fate would also befall plants created by the newer and simpler technique of gene-editing worried many researchers who feared a technology at which Britain excels would be banned. These fears are now disappearing, they say. “If we have our own domestic gene-editing industry then scientists trained at our universities will have something to work on here when they qualify,” said Murphy. “At present, our young scientists have to go to work in another country if they want to continue working on the topic.”

Gene-editing could lead to the development of domestic crops particularly suited to Britain, said Dylan Jones. “Loliums and clovers that are good for grazing could be improved to make them more hardy, for example,” he said. “It is very hopeful.” Genetically modified crops are generated through the introduction of foreign DNA sequences. Gene-edited crops are created by editing an organism’s native genome. Gene-editing is more efficient, cheaper, quicker and more precise. By altering the DNA make-up of a gene the characteristics of a cell or an organism can be changed.

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I don’t like calling living creatures ‘pests’, and the tone here is a bit sensational, but the core is resistance against pesticides. We must stop poisoning nature.

Hybrid Swarm Of ‘Mega-Pests’ Threatens Crops Worldwide (Ind.)

A pair of major agricultural pests have combined to produce a “mega-pest” that could threaten crops around the world. Losses from the original pest species, cotton bollworms and corn earworms, already amounts to billions of dollars worth of food. But a hybrid of the two, shows signs of rapidly developing resistance to pesticides and it scientists fear it could cross international boundaries undetected, wiping out all the crops it comes across. Bollworms and earworms are closely related. The bollworm has its origins in Africa, Asia and Europe while the earworm is a native of the Americas. Both are in fact moth caterpillars and they feed on more than 100 plant species including vital crops like corn, cotton, tomato and soybean.

A team of Australian scientists who discovered the hybrid mega-pests think the combination of international species could be creating a new strain with unlimited geographical boundaries. It is impossible to tell which individuals are hybrids just by looking at them, meaning by the time the hybrids have been detected it may be too late. [..] In Australia, a combination of pesticides is currently being employed to manage the nation’s bollworms, but chemical resistance is a major cause for concern. Bollworms are generally better at developing resistance than their earworm cousins, and are immune to the effects of many major insecticides.

However, within the “hybrid swarm” they studied in Brazil the scientists found creatures that were largely earworm in their genetic makeup, but with bollworm DNA coding for pesticide resistance. The scientists warned that the Brazilian case highlighted the threat that new “agriculturally problematic” strains of pest could soon spread throughout the rest of the Americas. “On top of the impact already felt in South America, recent estimates that 65% of the USA’s agricultural output is at risk of being affected by the bollworm demonstrates that this work has the potential to instigate changes to research priorities that will have direct ramifications for the people of America, through the food on their tables and the clothes on their backs,” said Dr Craig Anderson, one of the study’s authors.

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Apr 152017
 
 April 15, 2017  Posted by at 8:48 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Copenhagen 1965

 

US Urges China to Open Trade After Sparing It Manipulator Tag (BBG)
US: China, Germany Must Do More To Cut Trade Surpluses (AFP)
China Shadow Banking Rebounds In March, Household Loans Surge (R.)
Record High US Multi-Family Construction Set To Wreak Havoc On Rents (ZH)
Falling US Retail Sales Cast Doubt On Further Fed Interest Rate Rise (G.)
Leaked NSA Malware Threatens Windows Users Around The World (IC)
Hackers Release Files Indicating NSA Hacked SWIFT, Global Bank Transfers (R.)
The ‘Smoking-Gun’ Quote On The Recent Syrian Gas-Attack (Zuesse)
US Insurers Sue Saudis for $4.2 Billion Over 9/11 (TAM)
Understanding Land Value Taxation (Walker)
Le Pen Ready to Be ‘Crucified’ for France (BBG)
French Prosecutors Seek To Lift Le Pen Immunity Over Expenses Inquiry (AFP)
More Than 2,000 Migrants Rescued In Dramatic Day In Mediterranean (R.)

 

 

Step away from the confrontation and still get what you want. Maybe not that stupid.

US Urges China to Open Trade After Sparing It Manipulator Tag (BBG)

The U.S. stopped short of branding China a currency manipulator, but urged the world’s second-largest economy to let the yuan rise with market forces and embrace more trade. No major trading partner is manipulating its currency for an unfair trade advantage, according to the first foreign-currency report released by the Treasury Department under President Donald Trump on Friday. It kept China, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Germany and Switzerland on its foreign-exchange monitoring list. “China currently has an extremely large and persistent bilateral trade surplus with the United States, which underscores the need for further opening of the Chinese economy to American goods and services,” as well as quicker reforms to boost household consumption, according to the Treasury report.

Trump declared on Wednesday that he’ll back away from a campaign promise to name China a currency manipulator, a move that would have created friction between the world’s largest economies as they try to boost trade cooperation and address North Korea’s nuclear threat. Trump, in a Wall Street Journal interview, said China hasn’t manipulated the yuan for months, while accusing nations that he didn’t identify of devaluing their currencies and saying the dollar is getting too strong.

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Germany must increase domestic demand? How? Housing bubble?

US: China, Germany Must Do More To Cut Trade Surpluses (AFP)

Even though China has not moved to keep its currency weak in the past three years, the country “has a long track record of engaging in persistent, large-scale, one-way foreign exchange intervention, doing so for roughly a decade,” the Treasury Department said. That “distortion in the global trading system… imposed significant and long-lasting hardship on American workers and companies.” With a trade surplus in goods with the United States of $347 billion last year, and continued policies that restrict free trade and foreign investment, “Treasury will be scrutinizing China’s trade and currency practices very closely.” The large goods surplus “underscores the need for further opening of the Chinese economy to American goods and services, as well as faster reform to rebalance the Chinese economy toward greater household consumption.” Beijing also will need to prove that the recent stance of not trying to weaken the currency is “a durable policy shift,” even if the renminbi begins to appreciate again.

The Treasury Department said Germany should take steps, notably spending policies, “to encourage stronger domestic demand growth,” something the country’s trading partners and the IMF have been urging for some time. Increased demand “would place upward pressure on the euro… and help reduce its large external imbalances,” increasing domestic consumption, including of imported goods. Those imbalances include its $65 billion goods trade surplus with the United States last year, and what the department calls “the world?s largest current account surplus at close to $300 billion.” The report also called on Japan to do more “to revive domestic demand and combat low inflation while avoiding a return to export-led growth.” This would include more “flexible” government spending policies, and continued reforms to boost the labor market and increase productivity of the Japanese economy.

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“Social financing”. Sure. Sounds good, right? But it‘s all shadows.

China Shadow Banking Rebounds In March, Household Loans Surge (R.)

China’s banks unexpectedly extended less credit in March than in the previous month as the government tries to contain the risks from an explosive build-up in debt and an overheating housing market. But aggregate financing, which includes bank loans as well as off-balance sheet lending, surged in March and was a record in the first quarter, raising doubts about the effectiveness of official efforts so far to clamp down on risks in the financial system. A surge in household lending in March also added to worries about whether authorities will be able to get the frenzied property market under control, even as cities roll out increasingly stringent curbs on home buying.

The central bank has raised interest rates on money market instruments and special short- and mid-term loans several times in recent months, most recently in mid-March, to contain debt risks and discourage speculation, though it is treading cautiously to avoid hurting economic growth. Outstanding bank loans grew at the slowest pace since July 2002 in March at 12.4%, while M2 money supply growth hit a more than 6-month low, reflecting the moderately tighter policy stance by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC). On the surface, the level of March new loans fell, also suggesting authorities are making some headway in weaning borrowers off endless cheap credit and coaxing debt-laden companies to deleverage.

China’s banks made 1.02 trillion yuan ($148.15 billion) in new loans in March, data showed on Friday, down from 1.17 trillion yuan in February and well below the 1.25 trillion yuan that analysts had predicted in a Reuters poll. However, banks still extended the third highest loans on record for a single quarter, totaling 4.22 trillion yuan in January-March. The first quarter is usually the busiest of the year for Chinese banks, when they have a fresh annual quota and look to lock up key clients. Loans to households surged to 797.7 billion yuan in March, according to Reuters calculations using PBOC data, accounting for 78% of all new loans in the month. That was much higher than either January or February and even the 50% of new loans in 2016.

[..] China’s total social financing (TSF), a broad measure of credit and liquidity in the economy, rocketed to 2.12 trillion yuan in March from 1.15 trillion yuan in February. For the first quarter, TSF reached a record 6.93 trillion yuan – roughly equivalent to the size of Mexico’s economy – and well above last year’s first quarter total. For analysts, that suggests a surge in off-balance sheet lending, likely in the less regulated shadow banking system, despite repeated attempts by authorities to target riskier lending in past years. Loans to companies totaled 368.6 billion yuan in March, less than half the amount of household lending, PBOC data showed. That could be an ominous signal for the economy, unless firms were finding other sources of funding.

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Bubble dynamics.

Record High US Multi-Family Construction Set To Wreak Havoc On Rents (ZH)

Softening apartment rents, particularly in the massively over-priced, millennial safe-spaces of New York City and San Francisco, have been a frequent topic of conversation for us over the past several quarters…Now, a new report from Goldman’s Credit Strategy Team, led by Marty Young, helps to highlight some of the key data points that suggest that sinking rent will likely not be just an ephemeral problem. To start, an just like almost any bubble, sinking rents are the symptom of a massive, multi-year supply bubble in multi-family housing units sparked by, among other things, cheap borrowing costs for commercial builders. Per the chart below, multi-family units under construction is now at record highs and have eclipsed the previous bubble peak by nearly 40%.

Rents have already started to rollover but we suspect the correction has only just begun.

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Consumer spending falls = money velocity goes down = deflation.

Falling US Retail Sales Cast Doubt On Further Fed Interest Rate Rise (G.)

Falling retail sales and lower inflation in the US have added to signs that the world’s biggest economy has lost momentum in recent months, casting doubt over how many more times the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates this year. Stronger takings at clothing and electronics stores in March were not enough to offset a continued drop in demand for cars, according to figures from the US government (pdf). As a result, retail sales fell for the second month running. The 0.2% drop was deeper than forecasts in a Reuters poll of economists and followed a bigger than previously reported decline of 0.3% in February. Sales were also hurt by lower demand for building materials in March, chiming with a sharp slowdown in construction hiring as parts of the US were hit by severe snowstorms. Petrol station takings also dipped in March as fuel prices fell.

The few bright spots were a 2.6% rise in takings at electronics and appliance stores and a 1% rise in clothing sales. The drop in fuel prices in March echoed a pattern seen in the UK following a fall in global oil prices last month. Cheaper pump prices were also a key factor in softer US inflation. A measure of prices in the US fell for the first time in more than a year, dipping 0.3% in March, according to figures from the Labor Department. It said falling fuel prices and mobile phone charges drove the decline in the consumer price index (CPI) and were only partially offset by rising food prices. As a result, inflation – or the pace of price changes over a year – eased to 2.4% in March from 2.7% in February. Core inflation, which strips out volatile food and energy prices, eased to 2% from 2.2% in February and was the weakest since November 2015.

The retail sales and inflation data follow news of a sharp slowdown in job creation in the US in March as the poor weather, a government hiring freeze and a faltering retail sector all appeared to put a chill on President Donald Trump’s promise to boost hiring. But the unemployment rate declined to 4.5%, the lowest rate in a decade. The latest indications that the economy slowed in the opening months of the year will give policymakers at the US central bank more to debate as they decide when to next raise interest rates.

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“Hacker Fantastic @hackerfantastic: This is really bad, in about an hour or so any attacker can download simple toolkit to hack into Microsoft based computers around the globe.”

Leaked NSA Malware Threatens Windows Users Around The World (IC)

The ShadowBrokers, an entity previously confirmed by The Intercept to have leaked authentic malware used by the NSA to attack computers around the world, today released another cache of what appears to be extremely potent (and previously unknown) software capable of breaking into systems running Windows. The software could give nearly anyone with sufficient technical knowledge the ability to wreak havoc on millions of Microsoft users. The leak includes a litany of typically codenamed software “implants” with names like ODDJOB, ZIPPYBEER, and ESTEEMAUDIT, capable of breaking into — and in some cases seizing control of — computers running version of the Windows operating system earlier than the most recent Windows 10.

The vulnerable Windows versions ran more than 65% of desktop computers surfing the web last month, according to estimates from the tracking firm Net Market Share. The crown jewel of the implant collection appears to be a program named FUZZBUNCH, which essentially automates the deployment of NSA malware, and would allow a member of agency’s Tailored Access Operations group to more easily infect a target from their desk. According to security researcher and hacker Matthew Hickey, co-founder of Hacker House, the significance of what’s now publicly available, including “zero day” attacks on previously undisclosed vulnerabilities, cannot be overstated:

“I don’t think I have ever seen so much exploits and 0day [exploits] released at one time in my entire life,” he told The Intercept via Twitter DM, “and I have been involved in computer hacking and security for 20 years.” Affected computers will remain vulnerable until Microsoft releases patches for the zero-day vulnerabilities and, more crucially, until their owners then apply those patches. “This is as big as it gets,” Hickey said. “Nation-state attack tools are now in the hands of anyone who cares to download them…it’s literally a cyberweapon for hacking into computers…people will be using these attacks for years to come.”

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Russia and China are close to launching their own competitor to SWIFT. Good timing. This is nuts.

Hackers Release Files Indicating NSA Hacked SWIFT, Global Bank Transfers (R.)

Hackers released documents and files on Friday that cybersecurity experts said indicated the U.S. National Security Agency had accessed the SWIFT interbank messaging system, allowing it to monitor money flows among some Middle Eastern and Latin American banks. The release included computer code that could be adapted by criminals to break into SWIFT servers and monitor messaging activity, said Shane Shook, a cyber security consultant who has helped banks investigate breaches of their SWIFT systems. The documents and files were released by a group calling themselves The Shadow Brokers. Some of the records bear NSA seals, but Reuters could not confirm their authenticity. Also published were many programs for attacking various versions of the Windows operating system, at least some of which still work, researchers said.

In a statement to Reuters, Microsoft, maker of Windows, said it had not been warned by any part of the U.S. government that such files existed or had been stolen. “Other than reporters, no individual or organization has contacted us in relation to the materials released by Shadow Brokers,” the company said. The absence of warning is significant because the NSA knew for months about the Shadow Brokers breach, officials previously told Reuters. Under a White House process established by former President Barack Obama’s staff, companies were usually warned about dangerous flaws. Shook said criminal hackers could use the information released on Friday to hack into banks and steal money in operations mimicking a heist last year of $81 million from the Bangladesh central bank. “The release of these capabilities could enable fraud like we saw at Bangladesh Bank,” Shook said. The SWIFT messaging system is used by banks to transfer trillions of dollars each day.

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“..if those analysts were properly consulted about the claims in the White House document they would have not approved the document going forward.”

The ‘Smoking-Gun’ Quote On The Recent Syrian Gas-Attack (Zuesse)

After detailed decimation of President Trump’s ‘intelligence’ ‘justifying’ his invasion of Syria, the MIT specialist on such intelligence-analysis, Dr. Theodore Postol, concludes:

“I have worked with the intelligence community in the past, and I have grave concerns about the politicization of intelligence that seems to be occurring with more frequency in recent times – but I know that the intelligence community has highly capable analysts in it. And if those analysts were properly consulted about the claims in the White House document they would have not approved the document going forward. I am available to expand on these comments substantially. I have only had a few hours to quickly review the alleged White House intelligence report.

But a quick perusal shows without a lot of analysis that this report cannot be correct, and it also appears that this report was not properly vetted by the intelligence community. This is a very serious matter. President Obama was initially misinformed about supposed intelligence evidence that Syria was the perpetrator of the August 21, 2013 nerve agent attack in Damascus. This is a matter of public record. President Obama stated that his initially false understanding was that the intelligence clearly showed that Syria was the source of the nerve agent attack.

This false information was corrected when the then Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, interrupted the President while he was in an intelligence briefing. According to President Obama, Mr. Clapper told the President that the intelligence that Syria was the perpetrator of the attack was “not a slamdunk.” The question that needs to be answered by our nation is how was the president initially misled about such a profoundly important intelligence finding?

The U.S. ‘news’media hid from the public Dr. Postol’s disproof of the Obama regime’s still-continuing assertions that the 21 August 2013 sarin attack was from Syria’s government instead of from the ‘moderate rebels’ (jihadists) whom the U.S. supported. Will they hide from the U.S. public his disproof of the U.S. regime’s latest such scam backing the actual perpetrators of a war-crime — will they do now as they did then?

This issue presents a challenge to the U.S. ‘news’ media, to finally show some integrity, some honor, and expose the operations of the gang at the U.S. government’s top, instead of simply continuing to pump that gang’s propaganda. Without the continuing cooperation of America’s ‘news’media, we would not now be heading toward World War III — global nuclear war. What would be the time when these ‘news’media will do their job, instead of do what they’re being paid to do, if that time is not now.

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Even more lobbyists needed?!

US Insurers Sue Saudis for $4.2 Billion Over 9/11 (TAM)

Last year’s Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), a bill which allowed Americans to sue Saudi Arabia in US court over their involvement in 9/11, has yielded another major lawsuit yesterday, a $4.2 billion suit filed by over two dozen US insurers related to losses sustained because of the 2001 attack. The lawsuit is targeting a pair of Saudi banks, and a number of Saudi companies with ties to the bin Laden family, accusing them of various activities in support of al-Qaeda in the years ahead of 9/11, and subsequently having “aided and abetted” the attack. The biggest target is the Saudi National Commercial Bank, which is majority state-owned.

The Saudi government heavily pressured the Obama Administration to block the JASTA last year, threatening to crash the US treasury market if it led to lawsuits, but overwhelming Congressional support still got it passed into law. While there were more than a few lawsuits already filed in the past several weeks related to JASTA, this is by far the biggest, and most previous lawsuits are still in limbo as the court and lawyers try to combine them into various class action groups. Historically, US sovereign immunity laws have prevented suits against the Saudi government related to overseas terrorism. With the release of the Saudi-related portions of the 9/11 Report last year, however, such suits were inevitable, and the federal government could no longer protect the Saudis from litigation.

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Everybody should know this.

Understanding Land Value Taxation (Walker)

Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, economists took a dim view of landowners. Influential theorists like Adam Smith, David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill saw them as a drag on economic activity, primarily because they reduced the value of other people’s economic activity (through rent) without any incentive to make an economic contribution themselves. In the late 1800s, American social theorist and economist Henry George started a movement arguing for a single land value tax (LVT) – on the unimproved value of land – to replace other forms of taxation. It was rooted in the idea that if economic activity (labour, trade etc.) is the source of tax revenues, tax inevitably becomes a drag on the very thing that creates it. And while productive members of society earn money to pay their taxes, landowners are unproductive earners who pay their taxes through land rent, which is paid by people who generate economic activity.

Rent and taxes are a ‘double whammy’ on productive people. While productive members of society earn money to pay their taxes, landowners are unproductive earners who pay their taxes through land rent, which is paid by people who generate economic activity. That means rent – like taxes – is a drag on the economy. But unlike taxes, which can be used to stimulate economic activity through public spending, rent disappears into landlords’ pockets. So apart from the relatively small economic impact from landlords’ spending, their rent takes value out of the economy and delivers little value back to it. Understandably, the Georgists (Henry George’s LVT supporters) are still going strong today.

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The Vichy comment looks odd; why go there? But do remember: French polls are meaningless by now.

Le Pen Ready to Be ‘Crucified’ for France (BBG)

Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen pulled all the stops to stem her slide in the polls, saying she’s willing to be “crucified” for her stance on absolving France for the wartime deportation of Jews, and pledging to protect the country from Islamic fundamentalists. In a wide-ranging interview Friday on France Info radio nine days before the first round of the presidential vote, the 48-year-old anti-immigration candidate expressed disappointment at what she said was U.S. President Donald Trump going back on campaign promises, while focusing mainly on well-worn themes that most strike a chord with her electorate: Islam, immigration, national identity and terrorism.

“I don’t want France to be damaged, to be humiliated, that it be held responsible when it is not responsible,” Le Pen said. “People can crucify me, I will not change my mind, I will always defend France.” The National Front candidate’s lead in the polls has been whittled away over the last few weeks, leaving her struggling to regain momentum. First-round support for both Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron slipped 0.5 points to respectively 23.5% and 22.5%, according to a daily rolling poll by Ifop on Thursday. Le Pen was at 26.5% in mid-March. [..] In the radio interview, Le Pen maintained her contention that France had no responsibility for the 1942 roundup of Jews in and around Paris by French police at the request of the German occupying forces to be sent to concentration camps.

The candidate, who first made that comment on April 9, was reverting to the long-established party line that shuns any hint of repentance. Le Pen said she is “extremely sensitive to the martyrdom of the Jews,” adding that the only issue was “juridical,” whether the Vichy regime was France or not. “I consider that Vichy was not France. French people can commit crimes without France being criminal.” In the interview, Le Pen criticized Trump for changing his mind on the U.S.’s global role after he said on Wednesday that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was “no longer obsolete” in fighting terrorism. “Undeniably he is in contradiction with the commitments he had made,” Le Pen said. Trump had said in January that NATO was “obsolete.” Among her key proposals is for France to quit the alliance.

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9 days before an election. They’re trying to make her win?!

French Prosecutors Seek To Lift Le Pen Immunity Over Expenses Inquiry (AFP)

French prosecutors have asked the European parliament to lift the immunity of the far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen over an expenses scandal, deepening her legal woes on the eve of the election. The move comes just nine days before France heads to the polls for a highly unpredictable vote, with Le Pen – who heads the Eurosceptic Front National (FN) – one of the frontrunners in the 23 April first round. The request was made at the end of last month after Le Pen, who is a member of the European parliament, invoked her parliamentary immunity in refusing to attend questioning by investigating magistrates. The prosecutors also made a similar request regarding another MEP from Le Pen’s party, Marie-Christine Boutonnet, who also avoided questioning.

Le Pen, who has denied misusing parliamentary funds, shrugged off the move. “It’s totally normal procedure, I’m not surprised,” she told France Info radio. The case was triggered by a complaint from the European parliament, which accuses the FN of defrauding it to the tune of about €340,000 (£290,000). The parliament believes the party used funds allotted for parliamentary assistants to pay FN staff for party work in France. In February, it said it would start docking Le Pen’s pay unless she paid the money back. The allegations appear to have had little impact on Le Pen’s campaign, dwarfed by the bigger scandal engulfing her conservative rival François Fillon.

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A day like so many others.

More Than 2,000 Migrants Rescued In Dramatic Day In Mediterranean (R.)

More than 2,000 migrants trying to reach Europe were plucked from the Mediterranean on Friday in a series of dramatic rescues and one person was found dead, officials and witnesses said. An Italian coast guard spokesman said 19 rescue operations by the coast guard or ships operated by non-governmental organizations had saved a total of 2,074 migrants on 16 rubber dinghies and three small wooden boats. The medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said in a tweet that one teenager was found dead in a rubber boat whose passengers were rescued by its ship Aquarius. “The sea continues to be a graveyard,” MSF said in a Tweet. The coast guard spokesman confirmed that one person had died but gave no details. MSF said two of their ships, Aquarius and Prudence, had rescued about 1,000 people in nine boats.

Desperate refugees struggled to stay afloat after they slid off their rubber boat during a rescue operation by the Phoenix, a ship of the rescue group Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS). Video footage showed rescuers jumping into the water off the coast of Libya to help them. “In 19 years of covering the migration story, I have never experienced anything like today,” said Reuters photographer Darrin Zammit Lupi, who was aboard the Phoenix. In one operation, the Phoenix rescued 134 people, all from sub-Saharan counties, he said. Those rescued by the MOAS and MSF ships were transferred to Italian coast guard ships, which had rescued other migrants, to be taken to Italian ports. According to the International Organisation for Migration, nearly 32,000 migrants have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year. More than 650 have died or are missing.

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