Dec 082016
 
 December 8, 2016  Posted by at 9:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »


Jack Delano Cafe at truck drivers’ service station on U.S. 1, Washington DC 1940

Trump Bull Market Bounty Tops $1 Trillion (BBG)
Trump Win Set Off $2 Trillion Shock Rotation to Stocks From Debt (BBG)
Wall Street’s Calling the Sheep to the Slaughter – Again! (Stockman)
The Fed Shouldn’t Be Driving US Economy – Trump Advisor Judy Shelton (CNBC)
China’s Banks Are Hiding More Than $2 Trillion in Loans (WSJ)
China’s Foreign Reserves Down 25% Since 2014 (BBG)
China: World’s Top Oil Market Is Starting to Lose Its Sheen (BBG)
The Great ‘Living Within Our Means’ Con (Abc.au)
Australia Inexorably Marching Towards Recession (Mitchell)
Federal Judge Effectively Ends Recount In Michigan (BBG)
Boris Johnson: Saudi Arabia, Iran ‘Puppeteers’ In Middle East Proxy Wars (G.)
General Strike Shuts Down Greece on Thursday (R.)
EU To Set Greece Deadline For Forced Return Of Asylum Seekers (Pol.)
Greenland’s Ice-Free Past Exposes Sea Level Rise Danger (AFP)
Giraffes Face ‘Silent Extinction’ (BBC)

 

 

Don’t be fooled. It’s just keystrokes slushing around. Nobody produced anything.

Trump Bull Market Bounty Tops $1 Trillion (BBG)

Donald Trump is doing to U.S. equity bears what seven years of economic stimulus rarely could: shut them up. Two years of paralysis has for now ended in stocks, with more than $1 trillion added to shares values since Election Day and the DJIA looking bound for 20,000. Both the Dow and S&P 500 Index jumped to fresh records Wednesday, joined by transportation companies and small caps, while banks traded at eight-year highs. Wall Street stock forecasters, more pessimistic than any time since 2013 as recently as September, are suddenly falling over themselves to push up targets and explain a market where measures of anxiety are near five-year lows. The average call of bank prognosticators is for the S&P 500 to rally 3.4% next year, with strategists at JPMorgan and Bank of Montreal calling for even bigger gains.

For investors, the question is how much credence to put in analysts whose futility in sussing out Trump’s impact on share prices was rivaled only by the inaccuracy of political polls prior to his victory. Not only has he not been the disaster many of them warned about, the rally since he defeated Hillary Clinton is now the biggest for any new president since Ronald Reagan. “What we didn’t expect was the speed and the magnitude of the so-called ‘Trump Trade,’” Doug Ramsey at Leuthold Group wrote. “The consensus hope, which we share, is that tax reform and regulatory roll-back will extend and maybe enliven an economic recovery that’s already long in the tooth.” To be sure, pinpointing Trump’s role in the rally is an inexact science, and a case could be made that his election is coinciding with the consummation of the Fed’s efforts. Among other things, annualized GDP rose 3.2% in the third quarter, the most in two years, while unemployment hit a nine-year low in November.

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“..the great reflationary rotation trade..”

Trump Win Set Off $2 Trillion Shock Rotation to Stocks From Debt (BBG)

Donald Trump’s election win sent a $2 trillion shock wave through global markets over the past month. That’s how much equities’ global market value has jumped. And that’s about the size of the loss in worth of the Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Index of bonds, over the worst month for global bonds in dollar terms on record. Other assets were roiled, too: the yen plunged the most in 21 years against the dollar. It all amounted to a complete reversal of the playbooks mapped out by a bevy of analysts and investors who had anticipated a Brexit-style rush for havens in the event of a surprise Republican presidential victory. Those projections did pan out – for about eight hours, when the yen and Treasuries advanced as the vote-count momentum favored Trump.

Then the great reflationary rotation trade started, as Carl Icahn started snapping up S&P 500 futures and other investors decided that the likely new U.S. leader’s promises to cut taxes, boost spending and slash regulation would revive inflation and economic growth. Oh, and potentially force more aggressive interest-rate increases from the Fed. How lasting a pattern the new market dynamics will be is an open question, with more than a month to go before Trump takes office and plenty of potential roadblocks to his fiscal and regulatory proposals in a fractious U.S. Congress. For now, eyes turn toward next week’s Fed meeting to set the tone for the outlook as far as monetary policy goes. “It’s astounding how big the move has been,” said James Audiss at Shaw and Partners. “It’s been incredible. Now it all hinges on the Fed and the pace of those rate hikes, but for now the markets are happy to be risk-on.”

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Stockman slams the whole thing. Not looking for (another) Washington job?

Wall Street’s Calling the Sheep to the Slaughter – Again! (Stockman)

I believe the shock of Donald Trump’s election will soon be vastly exceeded by an even more shocking shutdown of Washington governance within days of the inauguration. For the first time since the 1930s there will be a crash on Wall Street and a recession on main street, but the Imperial City will be powerless to remedy either. That’s because financial history is not circular; it’s cumulative and all the fiscal and monetary artifices, expedients and frauds that can be deployed by the state to maintain the illusion of prosperity and soaring financial asset prices will have finally been exhausted. With the Fed pitifully impaled on the zero bound for 96-months running, it has become evident to even the bubble vision cheerleaders that the massive monetary stimulus of the last two decades is over and done.

The only thing left in the Fed’s arsenal is sub-zero interest rates, and that option does not have even a remote prospect of getting off the ground. Donald Trump won the election against all odds, and that he did so on the back of a populist uprising that is unmitigated bad news for Wall Street. Brandishing whatever the present day equivalent of torches and pitchforks might be, the people will surely descend en masse on the Eccles Building if the Fed even hints at the possibility of imposing negative rates on savers and retirees. Nor can the market be rescued through the backdoor of some kind of antiseptic QE that showers gamblers with unspeakable windfalls and stir the populist political pot to a full boil. The obvious dead-end of monetary policy, in fact, is why there has been such frenzied rotation to the Trump reflation trade after the election.

The idea of a massive Trump stimulus was literally invented on the spot late on election night by Wall Street operators in order to attract gullible homegamers into the casino one last time. But the smart money will soon be done selling and the unvarnished Washington disaster looming dead ahead will come screaming back into view. Even if Donald Trump had a semi-coherent economic program, which he clearly doesn’t, there is not a chance that he could get it through the Congress.

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But it’s all that’s left! Shelton is another option for next Fed head.

The Fed Shouldn’t Be Driving US Economy – Trump Advisor Judy Shelton (CNBC)

The Federal Reserve shouldn’t be driving the United States economy because monetary stimulus is quite limited, Trump economic advisor Judy Shelton told CNBC on Wednesday. “What you want is productive growth and the kind of growth that is truly stimulated by tax reform, by regulatory reform, trade reform and important infrastructure projects to upgrade our ability to be more productive as a nation,” she said in an interview with CNBC’s “Closing Bell.” That’s what President-elect Donald Trump has pledged to do when he takes office, and the market apparently likes what it’s hearing. It has been rallying since Trump’s surprising win on Nov. 8, and on Wednesday the Dow Jones industrial average and S&P 500 hit all-time highs.

However, the Fed meets next week and it is widely believed it will hike interest rates. Shelton, though, doesn’t believe a small rate increase is going to derail the rally because it is already priced in. If there is turmoil, then “things are a lot more fragile than we thought,” she said. Shelton, co-director of the Sound Money Project at Atlas Network, is known to favor the gold standard and calls the U.S. monetary system an “anti-system.” She’s also been touted by some as a good candidate to fill empty Fed spots. Jim Grant, founder and editor of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, told CNBC recently he likes Shelton as a replacement for Chair Janet Yellen when she retires in early 2018.

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It’s time someone takes a look at who’s behind the shadow banks.

China’s Banks Are Hiding More Than $2 Trillion in Loans (WSJ)

In 2014, the Chinese city of Haimen on the mouth of the Yangtze River set out to build a large apartment complex and turned to Bank of Nanjing for about $29 million in financing. The bank was happy to oblige but it didn’t call the money a loan, according to people familiar with the matter. It was added to Bank of Nanjing’s balance sheet as an “investment receivable,” a loosely regulated category of assets that allows bank officials to set aside little or nothing for potential losses. Bank officials aren’t shy about the accounting sleight of hand, which is rampant across China. The bank had about $39 billion in investment receivables in the third quarter, nearly as big as its loan portfolio, and profits have climbed by more than 20% a year.

As of June, 32 publicly traded Chinese banks had a total of $2 trillion in investment receivables as of June, up from $334 billion at the end of 2011, according to a tally by The Wall Street Journal of the latest available information from data provider Wind. The investments are equivalent to 20% of the same banks’ total loans in dollar terms, up from 6% at the end of 2011. The 32 banks have about 70% of all the banking assets in China. The surge shows how Chinese banks are trying to keep the credit spigot open to support the country’s slowing economy. Structuring financing deals as investments instead of loans frees up bank capital and makes it easier to extend loan deadlines or new credit to borrowers. The strategy has been especially popular at small and midsize banks, said executives and analysts.

The epidemic of investment receivables has created a parallel buildup of debt in addition to China’s rising official debt levels, now 2.5 times GDP. “The rapid growth in banks’ off-balance-sheet and investment activities, in essence, means hidden credit risks and could threaten financial safety,” said Shang Fulin, China’s top banking regulator, in an unusually blunt speech in September. Economists at Swiss bank UBS estimate as much as $2.4 trillion (16.5 trillion yuan) was “missing” from the broadest measurement of credit disclosed by China’s central bank last year, up from $712 billion (4.9 trillion yuan) in 2014. The discrepancy is largely because Chinese commercial banks use so-called shadow lenders to mask loans as investments, the economists said.

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That’s a lot.

China’s Foreign Reserves Down 25% Since 2014 (BBG)

China’s foreign currency reserves, the world’s largest, fell the most since January after the yuan declined to an eight-year low. • Reserves decreased $69.1 billion to $3.05 trillion in November, the People’s Bank of China said in a statement Wednesday • That compares with the median forecast of $3.06 trillion in a Bloomberg survey of economists • Decline was biggest since reserves tumbled $99.5 billion in January • The fifth-straight monthly decline brings the reduction in the stockpile to almost $1 trillion from a record $4 trillion in June 2014. While authorities have begun tightening capital controls, a $50,000 limit that Chinese citizens are allowed to convert from yuan annually will reset at the start of the new year, potentially adding depreciation pressure on the currency.

“Containing capital outflows is the key to keeping China’s systematic risk in check,” Harrison Hu, chief greater China economist at RBS in Singapore, wrote in a note. “Market turmoil one year earlier showed the strong feedback loop between capital flight and currency depreciation can destabilize China’s financial system and lead to escalating systemic risk.” “A combination of yuan weakness and a peak in the mainland property sector is conspiring to increase capital outflows,” Bloomberg Intelligence economists Tom Orlik and Fielding Chen wrote in a report. “Another month of falling reserves does little to inspire confidence, especially as households await the renewal of their FX quota at the start of 2017. Even so, with the yuan steady so far in December and capital controls in place, there’s reason to hope China’s reserve buffer will end the year on a more stable note.”

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The teapots are full. Also, at some point capital flight and foreign reserves will become part of this.

China: World’s Top Oil Market Is Starting to Lose Its Sheen (BBG)

One of the biggest engines soaking up the world’s oil is starting to sputter. Growth in crude imports by China, the second largest consumer after the U.S., will probably slow by more than 60% in 2017, according to a Bloomberg survey of analysts including FGE and Energy Aspects. Private refiners that helped boost purchases to record levels are expected to be constrained by tighter licenses and increased scrutiny on their taxes. At the same time, the current space available for stockpiles may run out. While OPEC’s deal to curb output may help erode a glut and lift prices, Chinese imports remain key for any sustained recovery. It’s the biggest buyer in Asia, the world’s top oil market, and its insatiable appetite was a significant driver for crude’s climb to more than $100 a barrel in the past decade.

[..] Concern about teapots’ creditworthiness and lack of experience in international trade are challenges, while the implementation of higher fuel-quality standards could force some to shut. The Chinese government has signaled its intention to slow new quota approvals as it assesses whether the teapots made good on their pledges to close outdated refining units or build storage facilities, according to JPMorgan, which predicts the Asian nation’s oil imports may stop expanding in 2017. Stockpiling may also slow. In 2016, a lot of China’s imports went into oil storage, said Amy Sun, an analyst with ICIS-China. “Going into next year, due to the slow construction of new capacity and already full tanks in current facilities, there will be limited space for further growth.”

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“..the Government cannot run out of money, and at times like this — when it saves instead of spending — the only thing that can make the economy grow is if we do the borrowing. And, unlike the Government, we as individuals can — and will — run out of cash.”

The Great ‘Living Within Our Means’ Con (Abc.au)

The greatest lie ever sold is that the Australian Government can run out of Australian dollars. This is exactly the lie Treasurer Scott Morrison wants you to believe as he rolls out the same old deception — deficit bad, surplus good — ahead of next year’s budget. Social Services Minister Christian Porter is relying on this myth as he tries to sell more cuts to the dole and other welfare benefits: by giving voters the impression that welfare bludgers are sending the country broke and that they have to be made to suffer in the cause of “budget repair”. If you feel like there is a disconnect between your bank balance and what you see and hear on television, you are not taking crazy pills.

“Smashed avo” commentators like Bernard Salt paint everyone from Generation X through to “The Millennials” as ingrates who are incapable of saving, while the Government takes a victory lap claiming 25 years of “unprecedented economic growth”. In reality, Australia is experiencing its first quarter of negative economic growth in five years and the weakest wage growth since the last recession. Official figures released yesterday by the ABS showed a 0.5% contraction in seasonally-adjusted GDP growth for the September quarter, dragging the yearly growth number down to 1.8%. The figures fell well shy of market expectations, with Bloomberg having forecasted a 0.1% contraction over the third quarter down from its previous forecast of 0.2% growth. For its part, the RBA has kept the official cash rate on hold again this week.


The ratio of disposable income to debt for households (released November 2, 2016). (ABS, RBA)

Meanwhile, homes are less affordable, jobs are less secure, a growing number of people are forced into part-time work, and more and more people are struggling to pay their bills and must therefore cope with a greater burden of debt. “There are more than 15% of willing labourers not working in one form or another,” economist Professor Bill Mitchell said. Saying things like “we have to live within our means” is telling voters the Government — which issues the dollar — can run out of its own money. But this is literally impossible. Our means as a country are limited to what we can produce using our effort, our skills and our technology. The Government cannot spend without limit, or it will cause inflation. But the Government cannot run out of money, and at times like this — when it saves instead of spending — the only thing that can make the economy grow is if we do the borrowing. And, unlike the Government, we as individuals can — and will — run out of cash.

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Not enough space here to do Bill Mitchell justice. Thorough.

Australia Inexorably Marching Towards Recession (Mitchell)

The following graph shows the quarterly percentage growth in real GDP over the last five years to the September-quarter 2016 (blue columns) and the ABS trend series (red line) superimposed. Growth was negative in the September-quarter 2016 – minus 0.5% (annualised minus 2%). The annual growth figure of 1.8% is down from 3.1% in the June-quarter and shows how far the economy has slipped. It is now well below trend growth and well below the figure required to maintain stable unemployment (much less reduce it). The annualised growth from this quarter (if continued) means Australia will enter a deep and totally unnecessary recession that has been chosen by the Federal Government, which claims it is intent on pursuing a fiscal surplus.

The automatic stabilisers are already working against that and the ABS announced yesterday that Taxation revenue fell a further 15.3% in the September-quarter against a very small increase in spending. In the June-quarter, it was the large boost in public sector infrastructure spending that saved the economy from negative growth such was the overall weakness of non-government spending. As we will see soon, that contribution turned negative and so went the aggregate growth position. While exports continued to grow (with an uptick in the terms of trade), the external sector overall subtracted from growth. Add to that the fact that domestic wages growth is flat and household indebtedness is at record levels and you have a fairly sober outlook.

If the government sector persists in implementing its planned spending cuts then recession looms for the Australian economy. The graph clearly shows that the trend has been downwards for 4-quarters now and will hit zero by the time we learn about the current December-quarter data unless there is a dramatic shift in government policy. It must announce renewed stimulus or face recession.

The following graph presents quarterly growth rates in trend GDP and hours worked using the National Accounts data for the last five years to the September-quarter 2016. You can see the major dislocation between the two measures that appeared in the middle of 2011 persisted throughout 2013 and has reasserted itself in recent quarters. The GDP growth has driven by capital-intensive exports and more recently, capital infrastructure growth, which is one reason why labour productivity growth had been strong and employment growth weak. Just in case you think the labour force data is suspect, the hours worked computed from that data is very similar to that computed from the National Accounts.

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Hard to keep track of this circus.

Federal Judge Effectively Ends Recount In Michigan (BBG)

A recount of presidential election ballots in Michigan was effectively halted after a federal judge deferred to a state court finding that losing Green Party candidate Jill Stein wasn’t an “aggrieved person.” U.S. District Judge Mark A. Goldsmith in Detroit ruled Monday that the recount could proceed, then reversed himself Wednesday after Republican backers of President-elect Donald Trump persuaded a state appeals panel that Stein wasn’t qualified to initiate the process because she had no chance of winning the election. Stein’s lawsuit was based on claims of potential hacking of electronic voting machines and reports of foreign interference in the election, particularly by Russia.

Stein has “not presented evidence of tampering or mistake,” Goldsmith wrote in Wednesday’s ruling. Instead, she has made “speculative claims going to the vulnerability of the voting machinery – but not actual injury,” he said. Stein’s attorneys had argued the Michigan Court of Appeals misinterpreted state law when it accepted a claim by state Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, that Stein couldn’t petition for a recount because she wasn’t an “aggrieved person.” Goldsmith wrote that he was obligated to follow Michigan law, which permits a recount to an “aggrieved” candidate who stands a reasonable chance of winning an election “but for mistake or fraud.”

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Someone has to say it.

Boris Johnson: Saudi Arabia, Iran ‘Puppeteers’ In Middle East Proxy Wars (G.)

Boris Johnson accused Saudi Arabia of abusing Islam and acting as a puppeteer in proxy wars throughout the Middle East, in remarks that flout a longstanding Foreign Office convention not to criticise the UK’s allies in public. The foreign secretary told a conference in Rome last week that the behaviour of Saudi Arabia, and also Iran, was a tragedy, adding that there was an absence of visionary leadership in the region that was willing to reach out across the Sunni-Shia divide. At the event, Johnson said: “There are politicians who are twisting and abusing religion and different strains of the same religion in order to further their own political objectives. That’s one of the biggest political problems in the whole region. And the tragedy for me – and that’s why you have these proxy wars being fought the whole time in that area – is that there is not strong enough leadership in the countries themselves.”

The foreign secretary then identified Saudi Arabia and Iran specifically, saying: “That’s why you’ve got the Saudis, Iran, everybody, moving in, and puppeteering and playing proxy wars.” Johnson’s criticism of Saudi Arabia came as Theresa May returned from a prestigious two-day visit to the Gulf in which she lauded both the Saudi royal family for its visionary leadership, and the value of the 100-year-old alliance with the UK. Foreign Office ministers, aware of Saudi sensitivity to criticism and the strategic importance of the Gulf relationship, usually soft-pedal and focus on their path to reform. [..] The British defence industry is also heavily dependent on arms contracts with the Gulf states, and the Royal Navy has established a major naval base in Manama, the capital of Bahrain. Johnson is due to visit the region this weekend, when he will have to explain why he thinks the Gulf states are abusing Islam for political ends.

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It just goes on. And then one day this will not end well.

General Strike Shuts Down Greece on Thursday (R.)

Greeks went on strike on Thursday to protest planned labor reforms and painful austerity cuts demanded by the country’s EU and IMF lenders as part of a crucial bailout review. Passenger ships remained docked at ports, city transport was disrupted and local administration offices shut down as workers joined the 24-hour nationwide walkout called by the country’s largest private and public sector unions, GSEE and ADEDY. “The burden we carry is already unbearable,” said GSEE in a statement, calling lenders’ demands “irrational”. “The downturn must finally end,” its rally poster read. Workers and pensioners will march in central Athens later in the day. Turnout in street protests has been low since Greece signed up to a third international bailout in July 2015 after tough negotiations that almost forced it out of the eurozone.

Eurozone finance ministers said on Monday that Athens and its lenders needed to speed up the review which has hit a snag on labour reforms, including liberalising mass layoffs and reviving collective bargaining between employers and unions. Energy reforms and measures to plug a projected fiscal gap in 2018, when Greece’s bailout program expires, are also among thorny issues in the review which may resume next week. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras hopes a deal can be reached by the end of the year for the country’s bonds to be included in the ECB’s bond buying program by March 2017. [..] In parliament, lawmakers debated more tax hikes and spending cuts as part of next year’s budget, which projects the economy will grow by 2.7% and attain a 2% of GDP primary surplus – excluding debt servicing costs.

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The peaks of NIMBY.

EU To Set Greece Deadline For Forced Return Of Asylum Seekers (Pol.)

The European Commission will set Greece a deadline on Thursday to fix its migration system and resume taking in asylum seekers from March next year, which would put an end to its six year-long exemption from the EU’s “Dublin rules” on asylum. Under an agreement signed in the Irish capital in 1990, member countries which are the first point of entry for people seeking asylum in the EU have an obligation to process their application, and take them back if they have travelled on to other EU countries without authorization. Transfers from other EU countries to Greece were suspended in 2011, however, after the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights ruled that conditions in Greek facilities for asylum seekers were unacceptable.

A new 17-page proposal from the Commission, set to be adopted on Thursday and obtained by POLITICO, says: “It is recommended that the transfer of asylum applicants to Greece … should be resumed.” Forcing Greece to assume its responsibilities is part of a wider effort to reduce controls at many of the EU’s internal borders that were reintroduced in response to the refugee crisis, causing the temporary suspension of Schengen, the passport-free travel zone. Countries that reimposed border controls, such as Austria, Germany and Denmark, are likely to only remove them if they can send back asylum seekers to the country where they first set foot in the EU. The current state of the Dublin system will be on EU leaders’ agenda at their summit in Brussels next week.

Prior to that, their interior ministers meet on Friday to discuss arrangements for dealing with asylum seekers, as well as a controversial Commission proposal for a permanent relocation system in the event of unusually high levels of refugee arrivals. The Greek government has its work cut out if it is to respond to the Commission’s request for a report by mid-February on improvements in the standard of accommodation for asylum seekers and the management of the asylum process. “In terms of quality, many of the reception facilities in Greece still fall short of the requirements,” says the Commission document, adding that there are particular problems on the Aegean islands, where reception centers “are not only overcrowded but have substandard material conditions in terms of sanitation and hygiene.”

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Instability is the key word.

Greenland’s Ice-Free Past Exposes Sea Level Rise Danger (AFP)

The massive Greenland ice sheet has melted away at least once during the last 1.4 million years, according to a study published on Wednesday, raising fears that manmade climate change could provoke dangerous sea levels. Bedrock samples retrieved through more than three kilometres (two miles) of ice reveal for the first time that the island’s surface was exposed directly to the atmosphere in the not-so-distant past. It may have been a single period of up to 280,000 years, or several shorter ones, researchers reported in the journal Nature. But either way the evidence shows that the island was largely ice-free. “Unfortunately, this makes the Greenland ice sheet look highly unstable,” said lead author Joerg Schaefer, a palaeoclimatologist at Columbia University in New York.

Covering an area larger than France, Spain and Germany combined, the northern hemisphere’s largest ice block on land is kilometres thick and holds enough frozen water to lift the world’s oceans by more than seven metres (24 feet). Even a couple of metres would swamp cities that are home to hundreds of millions of people and planted with many of the crops that feed them. Hence the sense of urgency among climate scientists trying to figure out just how sensitive the ice sheet is to global warming, which has already pushed temperatures in the Arctic region 2ºC (3.6ºF) above pre-industrial era levels – twice the global average. The rate of Greenland’s ice loss has doubled since the 1990s. In the last four years alone, the ice sheet has shed more than a trillion tonnes of mass, according to earlier research.

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“..giraffes are war fodder, a large animal, extremely curious that can feed a lot of people..”

Giraffes Face ‘Silent Extinction’ (BBC)

A dramatic drop in giraffe populations over the past 30 years has seen the world’s tallest land mammal classified as vulnerable to extinction. Numbers have gone from around 155,000 in 1985 to 97,000 in 2015 according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The iconic animal has declined because of habitat loss, poaching and civil unrest in many parts of Africa. Some populations are growing, mainly in southern parts of the continent. Until now, the conservation status of giraffes was considered of “least concern” by the IUCN. However in their latest global Red List of threatened species, the ungainly animal is now said to be “vulnerable”, meaning that over three generations, the population has declined by more that 30%.

According to Dr Julian Fennessy, who co-chairs the IUCN giraffe specialist group, the creatures are undergoing a “silent extinction”. “If you go on a safari, giraffes are everywhere,” he told BBC News. “While there have been great concern about elephants and rhinos, giraffes have gone under the radar but, unfortunately, their numbers have been plummeting, and this is something that we were a little shocked about, that they have declined by so much in so little time.” The rapid growth of human populations has seen the expansion of farming and other forms of development that has resulted in the fragmentation of the giraffe’s range in many parts of Africa. But civil unrest in parts of the continent has also taken its toll. “In these war torn areas, in northern Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia in the border area with South Sudan, essentially the giraffes are war fodder, a large animal, extremely curious that can feed a lot of people,” said Dr Fennessy.

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Aug 032016
 
 August 3, 2016  Posted by at 8:23 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »


NPC O Street Market, Washington DC 1925

Bank Shares Plunge Across Europe As Stress Tests Warn Of Contagion (G.)
Bank of England’s Stress Tests ‘Worse Than Useless’ (Ind.)
Global Bond Market Rally Unravels as Japan Shows Limit to Demand (BBG)
HSBC Reports 29% First-Half Profit Slump (G.)
Bitcoin Sinks After Hackers Steal $65 Million From Exchange (BBG)
The One-Size Euro Might Not Be So Tight After All (BBG)
China Inc. Has $1 Trillion in Cash That It’s Too Scared to Spend (BBG)
China’s Trouble With Bubbles (BBG)
Investment In Greek Economy Fell 66% Between 2007 And 2015 (Kath.)
Pay Time: The Big Squeeze On Small Business (West)
Vancouver Enacts 15% Property Tax To Stave Off Chinese Investment Surge (AFR)
Furious Sheep (Dmitry Orlov)
Why Capitalism Has Turned Us Into Narcissists (G.)
What Kind Of School Punishes A Hungry Child? (G.)
Bodies Of 120 Migrants Washed Up On Libya Shores In Past 10 Days (R.)

 

 

“Once contagion spreads from Italy to Germany and then to the UK, we will have a new banking crisis but on a much grander scale than 2007-08.”

Bank Shares Plunge Across Europe As Stress Tests Warn Of Contagion (G.)

Bank shares across Europe have slumped, as investors digested the results of health checks on major lenders and the impact of low interest rates on their long-term health. Shares in Germany’s Commerzbank hit record lows after a warning that profits would be down this year. This compounded the findings of stress tests by the European Banking Authority watchdog last week, which left the Frankfurt-based institution in the bottom half of the results from health checks on 51 major lenders. The worst performer in the stress tests, Italy’s Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS), suffered a 16% in its shares on Tuesday and Italy’s biggest bank Unicredit fell 7% after heavy losses the day before.

The pan-European bank stock index was down 3.5% as the prospect of prolonged period of low interest rates makes it more difficult for banks to make profits. The Bank of England will conduct a bank industry assessment this year, which prompted the Adam Smith Institute – a leading thinktank – to publish a report calling for the abandonment of the “worse than useless” stress tests unless changes can be made. Kevin Dowd, professor of finance and economics at Durham University, and author of the report, said: “As the EU banking system goes into a renewed crisis, the UK banking system is in no fit state to withstand the storm. Once contagion spreads from Italy to Germany and then to the UK, we will have a new banking crisis but on a much grander scale than 2007-08.

“The Bank of England is asleep at the wheel again, and we will be back to beleaguered banksters begging for bailouts – and the taxpayer will be ripped off yet again, but bigger this time.”

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Stress tests are meant to be useless. Pure lipstick.

Bank of England’s Stress Tests ‘Worse Than Useless’ (Ind.)

The Bank of England’s annual stress tests of the UK’s banks, designed to ensure Britain’s lenders will not be at the heart of another destructive financial crisis, have been branded “worse than useless”, by a new report. Kevin Dowd, professor of finance and economics at Durham University, argues in a paper published today by the Adam Smith Institute that the Bank’s tests, which model various adverse economic scenarios each year such as a major fall in UK house prices or a Chinese property crash, have a series of “fatal flaws” and that the central bank is “asleep at the wheel”. “The purpose of the stress-testing programme should be to highlight the vulnerability of our banking system and the need to rebuild it. Instead, it has achieved the exact opposite, portraying a weak banking system as strong”.

Professor Dowd warns that the eurozone banking system is on the precipice of another crisis, which will also engulf the UK’s major lenders. “Once contagion spreads from Italy to Germany and then to the UK, we will have a new banking crisis but on a much grander scale than 2007-08” he said. “The Bank of England is asleep at the wheel again, and we will be back to beleaguered banksters begging for bailouts – and the taxpayer will be ripped off yet again, but bigger this time.” Among the flaws in the Bank’s testing exercise identified by Professor Dowd are the fact that the stress tests rely on analytical “risk weights” for banks’ assets, which have been much criticised for potentially underplaying the true riskiness of various assets such as mortgages and sovereign debt.

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A potential global earthquake.

Global Bond Market Rally Unravels as Japan Shows Limit to Demand (BBG)

The record-setting global bond market rally is coming undone. Bonds in Bank of America’s G-7 Government Index yielded 0.58% on average, the highest level in five weeks. The move is a rebound from the record low of 0.45% set in July. Japan led the selloff, and yields are rising from Australia to Germany. Global bonds surged from the end of June as the U.K.’s vote to leave the EU drove expectations the global economy would slow enough to keep the Federal Reserve from raising interest rates. Now investors and analysts are questioning whether yields dropped too far. Donald Trump said U.S. interest rates are artificially low, while Bill Gross said record-low yields aren’t worth the risk. A rally in long-term Japanese government bonds is probably over, according to PIMCO.

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BBG: “Pretax earnings fell 45% to $3.61 billion from a year earlier..”

HSBC Reports 29% First-Half Profit Slump (G.)

HSBC has admitted it is breaching a US regulator’s order to bolster its defences against financial crime as it announced a slump in first-half profits. The UK’s biggest bank also announced a $2.5bn share buyback following the sale of its Brazilian business in a move intended to demonstrate its financial strength. As the bank reported a 29% fall in first-half profits to $9.7bn, it also made a series of legal disclosures that confirmed it had received requests for information from various regulatory and law enforcement authorities around the world in relation to Mossack Fonseca, the Panama law firm linked to tax-haven companies.

Among the legal disclosures is a reference to an order agreed in October 2010 with the US Office of the Comptroller of the Currency which required the bank to “establish an effective compliance risk management programme across HSBC’s US businesses”. “HSBC Bank USA is not currently in compliance with the OCC order. Steps are being taken to address the requirements of the orders,” HSBC said, without providing details. In February the bank had revealed an official monitor it installed after a $1.9bn fine over money laundering four years ago had raised “significant concerns” about the slow pace of change to its procedures to combat crime. “Through his country-level reviews the monitor identified potential anti-money laundering and sanctions compliance issues that the [department of justice] and HSBC are reviewing further.”

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Bitcoin has turned into a Chinese bubble machine. “Chinese exchange OKCoin was the largest overall bourse for trading in the digital currency, over 90% of which is denominated in the Chinese yuan.”

Bitcoin Sinks After Hackers Steal $65 Million From Exchange (BBG)

Bitcoin plunged after one of the largest exchanges halted trading because hackers stole about $65 million of the digital currency. Bitcoin slumped 5.3% against the dollar as of 10:17 a.m. on Wednesday in Tokyo, bringing its two-day drop to 13%. Prices also sank 6.2% on Monday, although it was not clear if that initial move was related to the hack. Hong Kong-based exchange Bitfinex said on Tuesday that it halted trading, withdrawals and deposits after discovering the security breach. The exchange said it was still investigating details and cooperating with law enforcement, but acknowledged that some bitcoin have been stolen from its users.

“Yes – it is a large breach,” Fred Ehrsam, co-founder of Coinbase, a cryptocurrency wallet and trading platform, wrote in an e-mail. “Bitfinex is a large exchange, so it is a significant short term event, although Bitcoin has shown its resiliency to these sorts of events in the past.” Bitfinex confirmed in a message to Bloomberg News on Wednesday that the hackers took 119,756 bitcoin, or about $65 million at current prices. More than $1.5 billion has been wiped out from bitcoin’s market capitalization this week, according to research from CoinDesk. “We will look at various options to address customer losses later in the investigation,” Bitfinex wrote in a blog post. “We ask for the community’s patience as we unravel the causes and consequences of this breach.”

The Hong Kong exchange was the largest for U.S. dollar-denominated transactions over the past month, according to bitcoincharts.com. Chinese exchange OKCoin was the largest overall bourse for trading in the digital currency, over 90% of which is denominated in the Chinese yuan.

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Between the lines you can see just how faulty the design of the euro is. It makes the rich countries much richer, but the poor so much poorer that the system MUST collapse. Greed is blind.

The One-Size Euro Might Not Be So Tight After All (BBG)

It’s a given that the euro can’t have the right exchange rate for all of its 19 diverse members, all of the time. Yet at the helm of the ECB, Mario Draghi may be making it a closer fit for more countries, more of the time. Angel Talavera, an economist at Oxford Economics in London, has calculated for Bloomberg Benchmark what would have been the equilibrium exchange rate for 8 euro-area economies between 2011 and 2015 ” the rate that would be best suited to an economy’s domestic and external profiles. Germany’s economic strength and positive balance of payments would warrant the euro trading at around $1.40, while Greece’s woes would require it to be below parity with the dollar.

At the beginning of Draghi’s term, the euro was too strong for pretty much everyone, and has typically aligned itself more to the needs of “core” economies, Germany included. That hasn’t been helpful. “What would normally happen with a country that has its own currency is that the currency will appreciate or depreciate over time to help correct those imbalances,” Talavera said. “In the case of the Eurozone obviously you can’t have both things happening, so those imbalances are not correcting, but rather amplifying most of the time.” His calculations bear this out. At the height of the sovereign-debt crisis in 2011 the spread between the optimal rate for Germany and Greece was $0.32. By the end of last year the gap had widened to $0.42.

Given the structure of the euro, though, there may be only so much that the current set of policies can do. According to Talavera’s Oxford Economics study, the ECB’s monetary policy has always been plagued by a paradox: while it has has been “generally right for the common currency area as a whole, it has proven to be wrong for most of its individual members most of the time.”

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Really? So what are their debts at the same time?

China Inc. Has $1 Trillion in Cash That It’s Too Scared to Spend (BBG)

Never before have China’s companies had so much cash and so little to spend it on. With investment opportunities sparse amid the country’s weakest economic expansion in a quarter century, Chinese firms reported an 18% jump in cash holdings during their latest quarter, the biggest increase in six years. The $1.2 trillion stockpile – which excludes banks and brokerages – grew at a faster pace than in the U.S., Europe and Japan, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. While there are worse problems than having too much cash, China Inc.’s unprecedented hoard is frustrating both policy makers and investors. Because companies lack the confidence to spend on new projects, government attempts to boost growth by pumping money into the financial system are falling short.

Stockholders, meanwhile, would rather see bigger dividends or share buybacks than a buildup of idle cash on corporate balance sheets. “This is actually becoming a bigger and bigger issue,” said Herald van der Linde at HSBC. “Cash is becoming a point of debate.” The impulse to hoard instead of invest is relatively new for a country where corporate risk-taking has been rewarded for much of the past 25 years. But as economic growth moves deeper below 7% from double-digit levels just a few years ago, the change in mindset has been stark. Growth in China’s private spending on fixed assets, which topped 10% last year, slowed to 2.8% in the six months through June, the weakest level on record. “The drivers aren’t there” for Chinese firms to invest, said Sean Taylor at Deutsche Asset Management in Hong Kong.

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Moving into ever more and newer bubbles is the only thing that keeps China going.

China’s Trouble With Bubbles (BBG)

The collapse of China’s stock markets a year ago was eye-catching, but in the end, hardly earth-shattering. Despite the pain for millions of retail investors, the fact is that stocks remain a small part of the financial system in China. Their brief, giddy rise and spectacular collapse never really threatened the wider Chinese economy, let alone the global financial system. That doesn’t mean the rest of the world should rest easy, however. While equities remain subdued, bubbles are growing in bonds and real estate – two markets that play a much bigger role in the mainland economy. The question is whether Chinese regulators can handle a new crisis any better than the old one.

Faith that China can safely manage fast-growing, debt-fueled bubbles assumes its regulators aren’t just as good as their peers in the rest of the world, they’re better. Last year’s events should call that confidence into question. Throughout the first half of 2015, policymakers allowed leverage to grow unchecked. When the market peaked and margin calls accelerated the decline, the combined force of financial regulators, public security officials and the state press were powerless to stop the slide. The situation places a premium on policies, rather than personalities, that can prevent things from unraveling. China needs to find a way to tap the brakes on credit without sending the markets into a downward spiral. Tighter rules and larger capital requirements for wealth management products – a key source of risk – are a start.

But as long as loan growth continues to accelerate faster than GDP, it’s hard to argue that a true basis for stability has been established. For evidence the underlying problems remain unsolved, look no further than China’s other asset markets. One might’ve expected that after the trauma of the stock crash, Chinese investors would become a shade more cautious. Nothing could be further from the truth. The equity boom-and-bust was followed almost immediately by a similar cycle in the metal market, which saw steel prices surge almost 80%. Property prices in Shenzhen are up 64% in the last nine months. Leveraged bets in the fixed income market mean yields continue to creep down, even as default risks grow.

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Thank the IMF for this.

Investment In Greek Economy Fell 66% Between 2007 And 2015 (Kath.)

Investment in the Greek economy plummeted more than 60% between 2007 and 2015, according to data published in Eurobank’s weekly bulletin on Tuesday. According to the lender’s economists, fixed capital investment declined by €40 billion or 66.1% during the period in question. At the same time, Greece’s GDP fell €56.7 billion. The Eurobank document described the drop in investment since 2007 as “deep and prolonged.” The reduction in investment was mainly felt in the housing market (€23.8 billion euros), followed by machinery and equipment (€12.1 billion) and other types of construction (€2.3 billion).

Eurobank said some of the key reasons for the dramatic slide in the amount of capital being invested in the Greek economy were the increases and frequent changes in taxation, the rising cost of capital, the reduction in lending by banks, the rise of uncertainty, an inability to create an investor-friendly environment despite some progress in this area, and expectations of weak economic activity. The lender also notes that net fixed capital formation, which measures gross investment minus depreciation, has been in negative territory since the end of 2010. The most recent data show that the annual shortfall is close to €11 billion.

To underline how damaging the last few years, and the collapse in investment described earlier, have been for the Greek economy, Eurobank’s weekly report pointed out that unemployment in December 2007 was at 8.1%, meaning there were just 403,000 people out of work. By the end of 2015, the jobless rate had risen to 24.2%, with 1.1 million people without work. During this eight-year spell, 860,000 jobs disappeared.

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Time for Fonterra to collapse. It’s too big for its own good.

Pay Time: The Big Squeeze On Small Business (West)

US cereal giant Kellogg’s and New Zealand milk multinational Fonterra have put the squeeze on local suppliers by stretching their payment terms out to a crushing 120 days. Along with other multinationals such as Unilever and Nestle, Kellogg’s and Fonterra already had their suppliers on 90-day terms, a punishing delay for family businesses who have to pay staff and a slew of other costs within the month. The move to 120 days does not bode well for small business, already fed up with “being used as a bank”, as one framed it. “Small business is the engine room of the economy,” he said, declining to be named for fear of reprisals, “And we are bankrolling these multinationals. I’ve got staff, super, rent and electricity to pay: and GST and payroll tax to collect. I can’t tell my staff to wait for 120 days to be paid”.

Kellogg’s was ducking for cover when rung for comment, its media team refusing to return calls. Fonterra issued this statement via a spokesperson: “In 2011, we identified that international best practice was to pay vendors supplying goods and services on a 60 day global standard payment from the end of the month in which the invoice was received. Part of our 2015 business transformation was to speed up compliance to this global standard term. We have 20,000 vendors globally and 16,000 or 80% of them have had no change to their payment terms.” According to a Fonterra document seen by this reporter, however, the new terms are “1st of the month, 3 months following invoice date”.

As for Fonterra’s claim of “international best practice”, payment terms in Europe have been moving the other way, by law. Since March 2013, the maximum delay for companies in the EU to for pay for goods and services is 30 days, unless agreed by both parties in writing, in which case it may be 60 days.

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Get ready for the NAFTA law suits.

Vancouver Enacts 15% Property Tax To Stave Off Chinese Investment Surge (AFR)

As of Tuesday, foreign buyers of property in Vancouver, which like Sydney is one of the world’s hottest real estate markets, will have to pay a 15% transaction tax. Property prices in Vancouver trail only Sydney and Hong Kong on the list of the world’s least-affordable housing markets, a Demographia survey shows. Trying to correct that, the NSW government said two months ago that it would levy a 4% stamp-duty surcharge on foreign buyers beginning next year and also charge an extra 0.75% land-tax surcharge on residential real estate, where prices are buoyed by incoming investment from mainland China. British Columbia legislators passed the new law on Friday going into a three-day holiday weekend even as local property agents called for exemptions for deals made to buy but not yet complete.

The new tax means non-Canadian residents buying a $2 million home will have to pay an additional $300,000 in tax. “While investment from outside Canada is only one factor driving price increases, it represents an additional source of pressure,” British Columbia Finance Minister Michael de Jong said in a statement. “This additional tax on foreign purchases will help manage foreign demand while new homes are built to meet local needs. A surge in purchases by Chinese property buyers has resulted in driving up the value of more than 90% of detached homes in Vancouver to more than C$1 million ($1.04 million), compared with 19% 10 years ago. Vancouver’s average home price is Canada’s highest, at $1.2 million, the Royal Bank of Canada estimates.

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“Should you be asked what does matter to you, concentrate on such issues as the candidates’ body language, fashion sense and demeanor.”

Furious Sheep (Dmitry Orlov)

you have to understand the way the electoral game is played. It is played with money—very large sums of money—with votes being quite secondary. In mathematical terms, money is the independent variable and votes are the dependent variable, but the relationship between money and votes is nonlinear and time-variant. In the opening round, the moneyed interests throw huge sums of money at both of the major parties—not because elections have to be, by their nature, ridiculously expensive, but to erect an insurmountable barrier to entry for average citizens. But the final decision is made on a relatively thin margin of victory, in order to make the electoral process appear genuine rather than staged, and to generate excitement.

After all, if the moneyed interests just threw all their money at their favorite candidate, making that candidate’s victory a foregone conclusion, that wouldn’t look sufficiently democratic. And so they use large sums to separate themselves from you the great unwashed, but much smaller sums to tip the scales. When calculating how to tip the scales, the political experts employed by the moneyed interests rely on information on party affiliation, polling data and historical voting patterns. To change the outcome from a “lose-win” to a “lose-lose,” you need to invalidate all three of these:

• The proper choice of party affiliation is “none,” which, for some bizarre reason, is commonly labeled as “independent,” (and watch out for American Independent Party, which is a minor right-wing party in California that has successfully trolled people into joining it by mistake). Be that as it may; let the Furious Sheep call themselves the “dependent” ones. In any case, the two major parties are dying, and the number of non-party members is now almost the same as the number of Democrats and Republicans put together.

• When responding to a poll, the category you should always opt for is “undecided,” up to and including the moment when you walk into the voting booth. When questioned about your stands on various issues, you need to remember that the interest in your opinion is disingenuous: your stand on issues matters not a whit (see study above) except as part of an effort to herd you, a Furious Sheep, into a particular political paddock. Therefore, when talking to pollsters, be vaguely on both sides of every issue while stressing that it plays no role in your decision-making. Should you be asked what does matter to you, concentrate on such issues as the candidates’ body language, fashion sense and demeanor.

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This reviewer misses the point entirely, as evidenced by stupid things like “A cheerful worker is as much as 12% more productive.”

Why Capitalism Has Turned Us Into Narcissists (G.)

It is no wonder that the notion of happiness has been taken into public ownership, given the remarkable spread of spiritual malaise around the globe. Around a third of American adults and close to half in Britain believe that they are sometimes depressed. Even so, more than half a century after the discovery of antidepressants, nobody really knows how they function. Work over which individuals have little control can heighten the risk of heart disease. (Co-operatives, by contrast, are apparently good for your health.) So-called austerity has made people sicker and driven some to death. Vastly unequal nations such as the UK and the US breed mental health problems far more than more egalitarian ones such as Sweden.

Illness, absenteeism and “presenteeism” (coming into work purely to be physically present) are estimated to cost the US economy as much as $550bn (£417bn) a year. There is evidence that a competitive ethos can trigger mental illness among the winners as well as the losers, not least in the case of sport stars. Despite the living disproof known as Donald Trump, the more you chase after money, status and power, the lower your sense of worth is likely to be. Given their pathologically upbeat culture, Americans tend to downplay their dejectedness, while the French, with their suspicion that happiness is unsophisticated, are more likely to under-report it. It is the kind of thing that cavorts at the end of piers wearing a striped jacket and red plastic nose.

Happiness is excellent for business. A cheerful worker is as much as 12% more productive. A science of human sentiments – what Davies calls “the surveillance, management and government of our feelings” – is thus one of the fastest growing forms of manipulative knowledge. So is market research into shopping, which now uses extensive face-scanning programmes in order to reveal customers’ emotional states. The more bright-eyed neuroscientists claim they are close to discovering a “buy button” in the brain.

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if you’re still wondering why Brexit happened after reading this, good luck and good night. Britain is a thoroughly sick nation. Not saying it’s unique in that. But…

What Kind Of School Punishes A Hungry Child? (G.)

Michaela community school in Wembley was widely criticised last week for placing children in “isolation” because their parents were late with lunch payments. The lunches are compulsory, with parents being charged £75 upfront for each six-week period. Fall even a week behind, and you may be warned that your child faces “lunch isolation”, where “they will receive a sandwich and a piece of fruit only”. That’s not counting the side order of segregation and humiliation. The child will spend the whole 60 minutes away from their friends, and “only when the entire outstanding amount is paid in full will they be allowed into ‘family lunch’ with their classmates”.

“A sandwich is fine – at least the child is being fed,” you might think. But a sandwich is not “fine”. The School Food Plan, by Leon founders Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent, states that only 1% of packed lunches, which typically comprise a sandwich and snacks, meet the nutritional requirements for school meals. It is easier to get nutrients into a hot meal. After the story broke, Michaela’s headteacher, Katharine Birbalsingh, insisted she was not punishing children for being poor: the sanction didn’t apply to pupils receiving free school meals (more than one in five of those at the school) or whose families had money problems. The problem was the small number of families who were “playing the system”, “trying to get other poor families to pay for their child’s food” and “betraying their children”.

We have heard these accusations before. Back in 2013, Lord Freud claimed that food bank users were simply abusing a free facility, thus demonstrating his lack of understanding of the obstacles between a hungry mother and a food bank parcel. A willingness to seek help, for example. Swallowed pride. A referral from a doctor or social worker. Perhaps the bus fare to the nearest centre, with children in tow.

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The.Beat.Goes.On.

Bodies Of 120 Migrants Washed Up On Libya Shores In Past 10 Days (R.)

The bodies of 120 migrants have washed up on the shores of Libya in the past 10 days, not from previously known shipwrecks in the Mediterranean, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Tuesday. A total of 4,027 migrants or refugees have died worldwide so far this year, three-quarters of them in the Mediterranean while trying to reach Europe, IOM spokesman Joel Millman told a briefing. That represents a 35% increase on the global toll during the first seven months of 2015, he said.

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