May 312016
 
 May 31, 2016  Posted by at 9:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Jack Delano Long stairway in mill district of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1940

Mizuho Chief: Tax Delay Means Abenomics Has Failed (WSJ)
One-Minute Plunge Sends Chinese Stock Futures Down by 10% Limit (BBG)
The Big Short Is Back in Chinese Stocks (BBG)
You’re Witnessing The Death Of Neoliberalism – From Within (G.)
Australia’s Big Four Banks Are Much More Vulnerable Than They Appear (Das)
Ceta: The Trade Deal That’s Already Signed (G.)
Britain Is ‘World’s Most Corrupt Country’, Says Italian Mafia Expert (ES)
The Untold Story Behind Saudi Arabia’s 41-Year US Debt Secret (BBG)
Eric Holder Says Edward Snowden Performed A ‘Public Service’ (CNN)
Vague Promises of Debt Relief for Greece (NY Times Ed.)
Glitch In Greek Bailout Talks Fuels Fears Of Delay (Kath.)
German Unemployment Rate Falls to Record Low (BBG)
Majority Of Athens Homeless Ended Up On Street In Past 5 Years (Kath.)
More Than 45 Million Trapped In Modern Slavery (AFP)

Damned if you do, doomed if you don’t.

Mizuho Chief: Tax Delay Means Abenomics Has Failed (WSJ)

The chief of Mizuho Financial Group said Japan risks a credit-rating downgrade if Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delays a scheduled sales-tax increase without explaining how the government plans to cut its deficit. Yasuhiro Sato, president of Japan’s second-largest bank by assets, said Mr. Abe’s framing of such a decision would determine whether it sparked concerns about the government’s credibility regarding its plans for fiscal consolidation. “The worst scenario is [the government] will just announce a delay in the tax increase. That could send a message that Abenomics has failed or Japan is heading for a fiscal danger zone and then it will harm Japanese government bonds’ credit ratings,” Mr. Sato said in an interview, referring to the prime minister’s growth program.

Mr. Abe acknowledged for the first time Friday that he was considering delaying an increase in the sales tax to 10% from 8% scheduled to take effect in April next year. He said he would decide before an upper house election to be held in July, but Japanese media have reported that a decision could come this week. Mr. Abe has delayed the tax increase once, after the rise to 8% in April 2014 derailed an economic recovery. Consumer spending has yet to fully rebound, and some economists say the prospect of another tax increase next year is already weighing on spending. Mr. Sato acknowledged that raising the tax again would pose a risk to Japan’s economy. “There will be a risk in either case of raising the tax or not, so as long as the government demonstrates a clear road map for fiscal reconstruction, Japanese credibility likely won’t be hurt so much,” he said.

Some bankers say Japan could damage its international credibility if it fails to raise taxes on schedule. The tax increases are part of long-standing efforts to reach a primary government surplus by 2020. A primary surplus is a balanced budget excluding interest payments on government debt. Japan’s government debt is among the largest in the world relative to the size of its economy. Moody’s Investors Service said in a March report, “Postponing the next [sales-tax] increase regardless of the reason would pose a big fiscal burden for Japan.”

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Last year, “Volumes shrank by more than 90% from their peak”. But there’s simply money in shorting China; you can’t stop that.

One-Minute Plunge Sends Chinese Stock Futures Down by 10% Limit (BBG)

Chinese stock-index futures plunged by the daily limit before snapping back in less than a minute, the second sudden swing to rattle traders this month. Contracts on the CSI 300 Index dropped as much as 10% at 10:42 a.m. local time, recovering almost all of the losses in the same minute. More than 1,500 June contracts changed hands in that period, the most all day, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The China Financial Futures Exchange is investigating the tumble, said people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named because they aren’t authorized to speak publicly. The swing follows a similarly unexplained drop in Hang Seng China Enterprises Index futures in Hong Kong on May 16, a move that heightened anxiety among investors facing slower Chinese economic growth and a weakening yuan.

Volume in China’s stock-index futures market, which was the world’s most active as recently as July, has all but dried up after authorities clamped down on what they deemed excessive speculation during the nation’s $5 trillion equity crash last summer. Tuesday’s volatility had little impact on the underlying CSI 300, which rose 3%. “Liquidity in the market is really thin at the moment,” Fang Shisheng at Orient Securities said by phone. “So the market will very likely see big swings if a big order comes in. The order looks like it’s from a hedger.” Chinese policy makers restricted activity in the futures market last summer because selling the contracts is one of the easiest ways for investors to make large wagers against stocks. Volumes shrank by more than 90% from their peak after officials raised margin requirements, tightened position limits and started a police probe into bearish wagers.

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Xi Jinping is one nervous man right now.

The Big Short Is Back in Chinese Stocks (BBG)

Chinese equities are once again in the cross hairs of short sellers. Short interest in one of the largest Hong Kong exchange-traded funds tracking domestic Chinese stocks has surged fivefold this month to its highest level in a year, according to data compiled by Markit and Bloomberg. The last time bearish bets were so elevated, such pessimism proved well-founded as China’s bull market turned into a $5 trillion rout. While trading in the Shanghai Composite has become subdued this month amid suspected state intervention, pessimists are betting that equities face renewed selling amid a slumping yuan. The Chinese currency is heading for its biggest monthly loss since last year’s devaluation as the nation’s economic outlook worsens and the Fed prepares to raise borrowing costs, driving a rally in the dollar.

“Some macro funds are seeking opportunities to short index futures to play the currency movement,” said Wenjie Lu at UBS. “A higher chance of a Fed rate hike means there’s pressure for the yuan to soften.” Short interest in the CSOP FTSE China A50 ETF climbed to 6.1% on May 25, the highest level since April 2015, two months before Chinese equities peaked, and up from 1.3% at the end of last month. Bearish bets in the U.S. traded iShares China Large-Cap ETF jumped to a two-year high of 18% of shares outstanding on the same day, up from 3% a month ago. Even as Chinese equities rallied on Tuesday, traders were rattled by a sudden plunge in index futures. Contracts on the CSI 300 Index dropped as much as 10% at around 10:42 a.m. local time, recovering almost all of the losses in the same minute. The move had little effect on the underlying stock gauge, which rose 2.6% at the break.

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I think there’s more to it than that.

You’re Witnessing The Death Of Neoliberalism – From Within (G.)

You hear it when the Bank of England’s Mark Carney sounds the alarm about “a low-growth, low-inflation, low-interest-rate equilibrium”. Or when the Bank of International Settlements, the central bank’s central bank, warns that “the global economy seems unable to return to sustainable and balanced growth”. And you saw it most clearly last Thursday from the IMF. What makes the fund’s intervention so remarkable is not what is being said – but who is saying it and just how bluntly. In the IMF’s flagship publication, three of its top economists have written an essay titled “Neoliberalism: Oversold?”. The very headline delivers a jolt. For so long mainstream economists and policymakers have denied the very existence of such a thing as neoliberalism, dismissing it as an insult invented by gap-toothed malcontents who understand neither economics nor capitalism.

Now here comes the IMF, describing how a “neoliberal agenda” has spread across the globe in the past 30 years. What they mean is that more and more states have remade their social and political institutions into pale copies of the market. Two British examples, suggests Will Davies – author of the Limits of Neoliberalism – would be the NHS and universities “where classrooms are being transformed into supermarkets”. In this way, the public sector is replaced by private companies, and democracy is supplanted by mere competition. The results, the IMF researchers concede, have been terrible. Neoliberalism hasn’t delivered economic growth – it has only made a few people a lot better off. It causes epic crashes that leave behind human wreckage and cost billions to clean up, a finding with which most residents of food bank Britain would agree.

And while George Osborne might justify austerity as “fixing the roof while the sun is shining”, the fund team defines it as “curbing the size of the state … another aspect of the neoliberal agenda”. And, they say, its costs “could be large – much larger than the benefit”. Two things need to be borne in mind here. First, this study comes from the IMF’s research division – not from those staffers who fly into bankrupt countries, haggle over loan terms with cash-strapped governments and administer the fiscal waterboarding. Since 2008, a big gap has opened up between what the IMF thinks and what it does. Second, while the researchers go much further than fund watchers might have believed, they leave in some all-important get-out clauses.

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You kidding me? They’re overloaded to their necks in overvalued property loans.

Australia’s Big Four Banks Are Much More Vulnerable Than They Appear (Das)

Today they face little competition in their home market and have benefited tremendously from Australia’s strong growth, underpinned by China’s seemingly insatiable demand for the country’s gas, coal, iron ore and other raw materials. During the 2012 European debt crisis, Australia’s banks were worth more than all of Europe’s. But Australian financial institutions have made the same fundamental mistake the rest of the country has, assuming that growth based on “houses and holes” – rising property prices and resources buried underground – can continue indefinitely. In fact, despite a recent rebound in Chinese demand, commodities prices look set to remain weak for the foreseeable future. Banks’ exposure to the slowing natural resources sector has reached nearly $70 billion in loans outstanding – worryingly large relative to their capital resources.

If anything, their exposure to the property sector is even more dangerous. Mortgages make up a much bigger proportion of bank portfolios than before – more than half, double the level in the 1990s. And they’re riskier than they used to be: many loans are interest-only, while around 80% have variable rates. With a downturn likely – everything from price-to-income to price-to-rent ratios suggests houses are massively overvalued – losses are likely to rise, especially if economy activity weakens. Australian banks are also more vulnerable to outside shocks than they may first appear. Their loan-to-deposit ratio is about 110%. Domestic deposits fund only around 60% of bank assets; the rest of their financing has to come from overseas. While that hasn’t been a problem recently, Australia’s external position is deteriorating.

The current account deficit is expected to climb to 4.75% in the year ending June 30. Weak terms of trade, a rising budget deficit, slower growth and a falling currency are likely to drive up the cost of funds. If Australia’s economy or the financial sector’s performance falters, or international markets are disrupted, banks’ access to external funds could be threatened.

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“..only 18% of Americans and 17% of Germans support TTIP..”

Ceta: The Trade Deal That’s Already Signed (G.)

The US-Europe deal TTIP (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) is the best known of these so-called “new generation” trade deals and has inspired a movement. More than 3 million Europeans have signed Europe’s biggest petition to oppose TTIP, while 250,000 Germans took to the streets of Berlin last autumn to try to bring this deal down. A new opinion poll shows only 18% of Americans and 17% of Germans support TTIP, down from 53% and 55% just two years ago. But TTIP is not alone. Its smaller sister deal between the EU and Canada is called Ceta (the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement). Ceta is just as dangerous as TTIP; indeed it’s in the vanguard of TTIP-style deals, because it’s already been signed by the European commission and the Canadian government. It now awaits ratification over the next 12 months.

The one positive thing about Ceta is that it has already been signed and that means that we’re allowed to see it. Its 1,500 pages show us that it’s a threat to not only our food standards, but also the battle against climate change, our ability to regulate big banks to prevent another crash and our power to renationalise industries. Like the US deal, Ceta contains a new legal system, open only to foreign corporations and investors. Should the British government make a decision, say, to outlaw dangerous chemicals, improve food safety or put cigarettes in plain packaging, a Canadian company can sue the British government for “unfairness”. And by unfairness this simply means they can’t make as much profit as they expected. The “trial” would be held as a special tribunal, overseen by corporate lawyers.

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Would anyone doubt it?

Britain Is ‘World’s Most Corrupt Country’, Says Italian Mafia Expert (ES)

Britain has been described as the most corrupt country in the world, according to a journalist and expert on the Italian Mafia. Roberto Saviano, who wrote best-selling exposés Gomorrah and ZeroZeroZero, made the claim at the Hay Literary Festival. The 36-year-old has been living under police protection for 10 years since revelations were published about members of the Camorra, a Neapolitan branch of the mafia. Mr Saviano told the audience at Hay-on-Wye: “If I asked you what is the most corrupt place on Earth you might tell me well it’s Afghanistan, maybe Greece, Nigeria, the South of Italy and I will tell you it’s the UK. “It’s not the bureaucracy, it’s not the police, it’s not the politics but what is corrupt is the financial capital. 90% of the owners of capital in London have their headquarters offshore.

“Jersey and the Cayman’s are the access gates to criminal capital in Europe and the UK is the country that allows it. “That is why it is important why it is so crucial for me to be here today and to talk to you because I want to tell you, this is about you, this is about your life, this is about your government.” David Cameron came under pressure for the UK to reform offshore tax havens operating on British overseas territories at an anti-corruption summit earlier this month. Mr Saviano also weighed in on the EU referendum debate, warning a vote to leave the union would see Britain even more exposed to organised crime. He added: “Leaving the EU means allowing this to take place. It means allowing the Qatari societies, the Mexican cartels, the Russian Mafia to gain even more power and HSBC has paid £2 billion in fines to the US government, because it confessed that it had laundered money coming from the cartels and the Iranian companies. “We have proof, we have evidence.”

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How power rules.

The Untold Story Behind Saudi Arabia’s 41-Year US Debt Secret (BBG)

Failure was not an option. It was July 1974. A steady predawn drizzle had given way to overcast skies when William Simon, newly appointed U.S. Treasury secretary, and his deputy, Gerry Parsky, stepped onto an 8 a.m. flight from Andrews Air Force Base. On board, the mood was tense. That year, the oil crisis had hit home. An embargo by OPEC’s Arab nations—payback for U.S. military aid to the Israelis during the Yom Kippur War—quadrupled oil prices. Inflation soared, the stock market crashed, and the U.S. economy was in a tailspin. Officially, Simon’s two-week trip was billed as a tour of economic diplomacy across Europe and the Middle East, full of the customary meet-and-greets and evening banquets.

But the real mission, kept in strict confidence within President Richard Nixon’s inner circle, would take place during a four-day layover in the coastal city of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The goal: neutralize crude oil as an economic weapon and find a way to persuade a hostile kingdom to finance America’s widening deficit with its newfound petrodollar wealth. And according to Parsky, Nixon made clear there was simply no coming back empty-handed. Failure would not only jeopardize America’s financial health but could also give the Soviet Union an opening to make further inroads into the Arab world. It “wasn’t a question of whether it could be done or it couldn’t be done,” said Parsky, 73, one of the few officials with Simon during the Saudi talks.

At first blush, Simon, who had just done a stint as Nixon’s energy czar, seemed ill-suited for such delicate diplomacy. Before being tapped by Nixon, the chain-smoking New Jersey native ran the vaunted Treasuries desk at Salomon Brothers. To career bureaucrats, the brash Wall Street bond trader—who once compared himself to Genghis Khan—had a temper and an outsize ego that was painfully out of step in Washington. Just a week before setting foot in Saudi Arabia, Simon publicly lambasted the Shah of Iran, a close regional ally at the time, calling him a “nut.” But Simon, better than anyone else, understood the appeal of U.S. government debt and how to sell the Saudis on the idea that America was the safest place to park their petrodollars.

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Inappropriate, illegal, and a public service, all at the same time.

Eric Holder Says Edward Snowden Performed A ‘Public Service’ (CNN)

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder says Edward Snowden performed a “public service” by triggering a debate over surveillance techniques, but still must pay a penalty for illegally leaking a trove of classified intelligence documents. “We can certainly argue about the way in which Snowden did what he did, but I think that he actually performed a public service by raising the debate that we engaged in and by the changes that we made,” Holder told David Axelrod on “The Axe Files,” a podcast produced by CNN and the University of Chicago Institute of Politics. “Now I would say that doing what he did – and the way he did it – was inappropriate and illegal,” Holder added. Holder said Snowden jeopardized America’s security interests by leaking classified information while working as a contractor for the National Security Agency in 2013.

“He harmed American interests,” said Holder, who was at the helm of the Justice Department when Snowden leaked U.S. surveillance secrets. “I know there are ways in which certain of our agents were put at risk, relationships with other countries were harmed, our ability to keep the American people safe was compromised. There were all kinds of re-dos that had to be put in place as a result of what he did, and while those things were being done we were blind in certain really critical areas. So what he did was not without consequence.” Snowden, who has spent the last few years in exile in Russia, should return to the U.S. to deal with the consequences, Holder noted. “I think that he’s got to make a decision. He’s broken the law in my view. He needs to get lawyers, come on back, and decide, see what he wants to do: Go to trial, try to cut a deal. I think there has to be a consequence for what he has done.”

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Times editors’ curious timing.

Vague Promises of Debt Relief for Greece (NY Times Ed.)

European leaders congratulated themselves last week for reaching an agreement to provide more loans to Greece and eventually ease the terms of the country’s huge debt. But there is little to celebrate. Greece is bankrupt in all but name. The country has a debt of more than €300 billion, or about 180% of its GDP, a sum it cannot hope to repay in full. Most of that money is owed to Germany, France, Italy and other countries in the eurozone. After an 11-hour meeting last week, the eurozone finance ministers said that they would lend another €7.5 billion to Greece next month to help it pay off debt and grant it some relief, possibly including lower interest rates and extended payment periods, but not until mid-2018.

The reality is that Greece can’t be squeezed any harder. But the finance ministers are seeking still more spending cuts and increased taxes. They want to see a budget surplus of 3.5% of GDP before interest payments by 2018. A stable and fast-growing country might be able to hit that target, but it is preposterous to expect that from Greece. The IMF wants to see a more realistic surplus of 1.5%. Delaying meaningful debt relief until 2018 will further harm the struggling Greek economy. The Greek unemployment rate was 24.4% in January, and Greece’s economy shrunk in the first three months of the year. The I.M.F., which has also lent Greece money, recently estimated that at its current trajectory, the country’s debt would eventually grow to 250% of GDP.

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Forcing Greece into foolish measures: “..Schaeuble described the decision to raise value-added tax in Greece as “economic foolishness” but noted that Athens was obliged to take that route due to a revenue shortfall.”

Glitch In Greek Bailout Talks Fuels Fears Of Delay (Kath.)

There was fresh concern on Monday that there could be further delays in the disbursement of much-need bailout money to Greece owing to a disagreement between Athens and its creditors, who have demanded changes to prior actions passed in Parliament earlier this month. EU officials on Monday appeared to dismiss Greece’s refusal to implement some of these changes, saying that these are issues that have already been agreed with the Greek government. The country’s lenders had given the green light for the disbursement of a tranche of 10.3 billion euros last week, on the condition the government made amendments to recent legislation it passed on pension, bad loans and privatizations.

However, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos had informed the European Commission representative and the IMF in a letter last week that their demands could not be met, neither could Athens fulfill the demands enshrined in the bailout deal signed last summer to privatize ADMIE, the country’s grid operator, and to freeze the wages of essential services, like those of the coast guard and police. Greece desperately needs the new bailout money to pay state arrears as well as debt repayments to the IMF and European Central Bank in the coming weeks. There were reports on Monday that the government is planning to submit its own amendments on Wednesday to Parliament. If the disagreement between Greece and its creditors persists, then it is likely it will be discussed at the Euro Working Group on Thursday.

In comments on Monday, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble described the decision to raise value-added tax in Greece as “economic foolishness” but noted that Athens was obliged to take that route due to a revenue shortfall. “This is why Greece needs an effective public administration,” Schaeuble told a conference on fiscal sustainability, observing that Greek tax collection must be improved to bring in the higher revenues that are being targeted.

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Germany has exported its unemployment to Greece and Spain.

German Unemployment Rate Falls to Record Low (BBG)

German unemployment declined more than economists estimated, pushing the jobless rate to the lowest level since reunification. The number of people out of work fell by a seasonally adjusted 11,000 to 2.695 million in May, data from the Federal Labor Agency in Nuremberg showed on Tuesday. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey was for a decline of 5,000. The jobless rate dropped to 6.1 percent. The report comes two days before ECB officials convene in Vienna to set monetary policy and assess whether they’ve done enough to sustain an economic recovery in the 19-nation euro region.

The ECB is expected to keep its stimulus plan unchanged after President Mario Draghi announced an expansion of quantitative easing by a third to €80 billion in March and cut the deposit rate further below zero. Unemployment dropped by 8,000 in western Germany and declined by 3,000 in the eastern part of the country, the report showed. Growth momentum in Europe’s largest economy remains strong after gross domestic product expanded at the fastest pace in two years in the first quarter. German business sentiment rose to the highest level in five months in May and consumer prices unexpectedly halted their decline. The Bundesbank predicts the economy will retain its underlying strength, even though expansion will probably slow somewhat this quarter.

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Obviously not a surprise for me, or Automatic Earth readers. And lest we forget: Norway does a lot of good in silence. But more austerity is definitely not going to fix anything at all.

Majority Of Athens Homeless Ended Up On Street In Past 5 Years (Kath.)

71% of the Greek capital’s homeless population has ended up on the streets in the last five years and 21.7% in the last year alone, a study by the City of Athens’s Homeless Shelter (KYADA), funded by the Norwegian government and other European countries, has found. According to the study, which was conducted as part of the “Fighting Poverty and Social Exclusion” program and whose findings were presented by Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis on Monday evening, 62% of the capital’s homeless are Greeks, the overwhelming majority (85.4%) are men and most (57%) are aged between 35-55. Of the 451 respondents questioned by KYADA workers from March 2015 until the same month this year, 47% said they ended up on the street after losing their job and 29% said they do not want to move to a shelter or other organized facility.

Less than half of the respondents (41.2%) admitted to using drugs, 7.3% to alcohol and 2% to both. Kaminis also said that in the one-year period, the solidarity program helped distribute 46,156 supermarket food coupons worth around 1.85 million euros to nearly 9,000 beneficiaries in over 3,700 families. “Through its social structures and strong alliances with agencies, partners and simple citizens, the City of Athens help give support to more than 25,000 residents,” Kaminis said at the presentation, which was also attended by Norwegian Ambassador to Athens Jorn Eugene Gjelstad.

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Who we are. Not including debt slaves.

More Than 45 Million Trapped In Modern Slavery (AFP)

More than 45 million men, women and children globally are trapped in modern slavery, far more than previously thought, with two-thirds in the Asia-Pacific, a study showed Tuesday. The details were revealed in the 2016 Global Slavery Index, a research report by the Walk Free Foundation, an initiative set up by Australian billionaire mining magnate and philanthropist Andrew Forrest in 2012 to draw attention to the issue. It compiled information from 167 countries with 42,000 interviews in 53 languages to determine the prevalence of the issue and government responses. It suggested that there were 28% more slaves than estimated two years ago, a revision reached through better data collection and research methods.

The report said India had the highest number of people trapped in slavery at 18.35 million, while North Korea had the highest incidence (4.37% of the population) and the weakest government response. Modern slavery refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot leave because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power or deception. They may be held in debt bondage on fishing boats, against their will as domestic servants or trapped in brothels. Some 124 countries have criminalised human trafficking in line with the UN Trafficking Protocol and 96 have developed national action plans to coordinate the government response.

In terms of absolute numbers, Asian countries occupy the top five for people trapped in slavery. Behind India was China (3.39 million), Pakistan (2.13 million), Bangladesh (1.53 million) and Uzbekistan (1.23 million). As a %age of the population, Uzbekistan (3.97%) and Cambodia (1.65%) trailed North Korea, which the study said was the only nation in the world that has not explicitly criminalised any form of modern slavery.

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May 102016
 
 May 10, 2016  Posted by at 7:07 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »


Alfred Palmer Women as engine mechanics, Douglas Aircraft, Long Beach, CA 1942

The World’s Most Extreme Speculative Mania Unravels in China (BBG)
Iron Ore, Rebar Crash Into Bear Market (ZH)
A Debt Bust Looms For China (Economist)
The Cold, Hard Facts Raining on China’s Commodity Parade (BBG)
In Historic -150% Net Short, Carl Icahn Bets on Imminent Market Collapse (ZH)
Trump Says US Will Never Default Because It Prints the Money (WSJ)
Zombies-To-Be and the Walking Dead of Debt (Steve Keen)
The Recession’s Economic Trauma Has Left Enduring Scars (WSJ)
Japan Will Leave Banks to Carry Out Their Own Stress Tests (BBG)
Trumptopia (Jim Kunstler)
Rousseff Impeachment Vote Annulled, Throwing Brazil Legislature Into Chaos (G.)
85% Of Fort McMurray Has Been Saved, Says Alberta Premier (G.)
Growth Crisis Threatens European Social Fabric, Warns ECB VP (Tel.)
The Choice For Europe: Rescue Greece Or Create A Failed State (Paul Mason)
Official Analysis Suggests Tough Talks Over Greek Debt Relief (WSJ)
Refugees Freed From Detention Centers, Trapped In Limbo On Greek Islands (R.)

The comparison to the Tulip Craze sounds apt.

The World’s Most Extreme Speculative Mania Unravels in China (BBG)

From the Dutch tulip craze of 1637 to America’s dot-com bubble at the turn of the century, history is littered with speculative frenzies that ended badly for investors. But rarely has a mania escalated so rapidly, and spurred such fevered trading, as the great China commodities boom of 2016. Over the span of just two wild months, daily turnover on the nation’s futures markets has jumped by the equivalent of $183 billion, outpacing the headiest days of last year’s Chinese stock bubble and making volumes on the Nasdaq exchange in 2000 look tame. What started as a logical bet – that China’s economic stimulus and industrial reforms would lead to shortages of construction materials – quickly morphed into a full-blown commodities frenzy with little bearing on reality.

As the nation’s army of individual investors piled in, they traded enough cotton in a single day last month to make one pair of jeans for everyone on Earth and shuffled around enough soybeans for 56 billion servings of tofu. Now, as Chinese authorities introduce trading curbs to prevent surging commodities from fueling inflation and undermining plans to shut down inefficient producers, speculators are retreating as fast as they poured in. It’s the latest in a series of boom-bust market cycles that critics say are becoming more extreme as China’s policy makers flood the financial system with cash to stave off an economic hard landing. “You have far too much credit, money sloshing about, money looking for higher returns,” said Fraser Howie, the co-author of “Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China’s Extraordinary Rise.”

“Even in commodities where you could have argued there is some reason for prices to rise, that gets quickly swamped by a nascent bull market and becomes an uncontrollable bubble.” In many ways, China’s financial landscape was ripe for another round of mania. New credit soared to a record in the first quarter, giving individuals and businesses plenty of cash to invest at a time when several of the country’s traditional sources of return looked unattractive. Government debt yields were hovering near record lows, while wealth-management products and company bonds had been rattled by a growing number of corporate defaults. Stocks were still too risky for many investors burned by last year’s crash, and moving money offshore had become harder as the government clamped down on capital outflows.

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Crazy stuff. And not done yet.

Iron Ore, Rebar Crash Into Bear Market (ZH)

Real demand for steel in China dropped at least 7% in April from the year before, according to Citigroup’s Tracy Liao estimates, so it should not be a total surprise that the frenzied speculative buying in Iron Ore, Rebar, and various other industrial metals in China has crashed back to reality as volumes plunge, dragging The Baltic Dry Freight Index with it as yet another government-manipulated 'signal' collapses into a miasma of malinvestment and unintended consequences. As The Wall Street Journal reports, to the extent that China’s industrial recovery explains why iron ore and steel prices have jumped this year, China’s latest trade data served as a reminder of how brittle this reason is.

China’s steel net exports rose 8.8% in April from a year before and 9.4% between January and April from a year ago. That raises the question: Why are mills exporting more steel when Shanghai front-month futures prices for rebar steel rocketed 48% between January and April, and signaled a potential rise in demand? [..]Real demand for steel in China dropped at least 7% in April from the year before, Citigroup’s Tracy Liao estimates, based on changes in exports and inventories. The drop was at least 5% between January and April from the year before.

That reinforces fears that easy money-fueled speculation is the prime mover of steel and iron ore prices today. That "Churn" is over…

 

Chinese futures prices in both commodities fell sharply again Monday.

 

With Iron Ore now down 22% from the meltup highs, entering a bear market…

 

And Steel Rebar down 25%, extending losses in the US session…

 

And The Baltic Dry Index now down 7 days in a row, down 14% from its "everything is fine in China" highs from 715 to 616 today…

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Even the Economist is waking up to what we’ve been saying for ages…

A Debt Bust Looms For China (Economist)

China was right to turn on the credit taps to prop up growth after the global financial crisis. It was wrong not to turn them off again. The country’s debt has increased just as quickly over the past two years as in the two years after the 2008 crunch. Its debt-to-GDP ratio has soared from 150% to nearly 260% over a decade, the kind of surge that is usually followed by a financial bust or an abrupt slowdown. China will not be an exception to that rule. Problem loans have doubled in two years and, officially, are already 5.5% of banks’ total lending. The reality is grimmer. Roughly two-fifths of new debt is swallowed by interest on existing loans; in 2014, 16% of the 1,000 biggest Chinese firms owed more in interest than they earned before tax. China requires more and more credit to generate less and less growth: it now takes nearly four yuan of new borrowing to generate one yuan of additional GDP, up from just over one yuan of credit before the financial crisis.

With the government’s connivance, debt levels can probably keep climbing for a while, perhaps even for a few more years. But not for ever. When the debt cycle turns, both asset prices and the real economy will be in for a shock. That won’t be fun for anyone. It is true that China has been fastidious in capping its external liabilities (it is a net creditor). Its dangers are home-made. But the damage from a big Chinese credit blow-up would still be immense. China is the world’s second-biggest economy; its banking sector is the biggest, with assets equivalent to 40% of global GDP. Its stockmarkets, even after last year’s crash, are together worth $6 trillion, second only to America’s. And its bond market, at $7.5 trillion, is the world’s third-biggest and growing fast. A mere 2% devaluation of the yuan last summer sent global stockmarkets crashing; a bigger bust would do far worse.

A mild economic slowdown caused trouble for commodity exporters around the world; a hard landing would be painful for all those who benefit from Chinese demand. Optimists have drawn comfort from two ideas. First, over three-plus decades of reform, China’s officials have consistently shown that once they identified problems, they had the will and skill to fix them. Second, control of the financial system—the state owns the major banks and most of their biggest debtors—gave them time to clean things up. Both these sources of comfort are fading away. This is a government not so much guiding events as struggling to keep up with them. In the past year alone, China has spent nearly $200 billion to prop up the stockmarket; $65 billion of bank loans have gone bad; financial frauds have cost investors at least $20 billion; and $600 billion of capital has left the country.

To help pump up growth, officials have inflated a property bubble. Debt is still expanding twice as fast as the economy. At the same time, the government’s grip on finance is slipping. Despite repeated efforts to restrain them, loosely regulated forms of lending are growing quickly: such “shadow assets” have increased by more than 30% annually over the past three years. In theory, shadow banks diversify sources of credit and spread risk away from the regular banks. In practice, the lines between the shadow and formal banking systems are badly blurred.

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Encourage speculation, then crack down on it. Credibility?!

The Cold, Hard Facts Raining on China’s Commodity Parade (BBG)

There’s nothing like facts to get in the way of a good yarn. Prices of everything from steel rebar to cotton are extending losses in China as a slew of bearish data hastens the reversal of a rally last month triggered by speculation that economic stimulus and industrial reforms would drive up demand and curb supplies. Steel futures in Shanghai fell the most since trading began in 2009 after inventories rose while iron ore in Dalian sank as much as 7.1%, extending its retreat from a 13-month high, after data showed Chinese port stockpiles expanded to the highest level in more than a year. Cotton on the Zhengzhou Commodity Exchange, which had surged to an 11-month high, slid 1.5% after China unloaded supply from its reserves. Copper lost 2.1% after the nation’s imports shrank from a record.

“Investors are looking at fundamentals more closely now,” Zhang Yu, a senior analyst with Yongan Futures, said by phone from Hangzhou. “While inventories were built up with the price surges, recent data couldn’t convince people that China’s real economy is bottoming and going to bring demand back.” The rally last month was accompanied by a surge in trading volumes, with as much as 1.7 trillion yuan ($261 billion) in commodity futures changing hands in a single day. That drew comparisons with 2015’s credit-driven stock market rally that preceded a $5 trillion rout, and prompted exchanges to raised transaction fees and margins amid orders from regulators to limit speculation.

As the exchanges stepped in, trading volumes shrank. About 20 million contracts of everything from eggs to steel changed hands on the Dalian Commodity Exchange, Zhengzhou Commodity Exchange and Shanghai Futures Exchange on Friday, down from a peak of 80.6 million contracts on April 22. “Bullish enthusiasm in Chinese commodities futures has been rapidly declining, especially after the exchanges pushed out massive measures to curb speculative trading,” Yu said.

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Where the smart money sits…

In Historic -150% Net Short, Carl Icahn Bets on Imminent Market Collapse (ZH)

Over the past year, based on his increasingly more dour media appearances, billionaire Carl Icahn had been getting progressively more bearish. At first, he was mostly pessimistic about junk bonds, saying last May that “what’s even more dangerous than the actual stock market is the high yield market.” As the year progressed his pessimism become more acute and in December he said that the “meltdown in high yield is just beginning.” It culminated in February when he said on CNBC that a “day of reckoning is coming.” Some skeptics thought that Icahn was simply trying to scare investors into selling so he could load up on risk assets at cheaper prices, however that line of thought was quickly squashed two weeks ago when Icahn announced to the shock of ever Apple fanboy that several years after his “no brainer” investment in AAPL, Icahn had officially liquidated his entire stake.

As it turns out, Icahn’s AAPL liquidation was just the appetizer of how truly bearish the legendary investor has become. [..] In the just disclosed 10-Q of Icahn’s investment vehicle, Icahn Enterprises LP in which the 80 year old holds a 90% stake, we find that as of March 31, Carl Icahn – who subsequently divested his entire long AAPL exposure – has been truly putting money, on the short side, where his mouth was in the past quarter. So much so that what on December 31, 2015 was a modest 25% net short, has since exploded into a gargantuan, and unprecedented for Icahn, 149% net short position.

[..] starting in Q3 and Q4, Icahn proceeded to wage into net short territory, with roughly -25% exposure, a number that has increased a record six-fold in just the last quarter! What is just as notable is the dramatic leverage involved on both sides of the flatline, but nothing compares to the near 3x equity leverage on the short side (this is not CDS). As a reminder, Icahn Enterprises used to be run as a hedge fund with outside investors, but Icahn returned outside money in 2011, leaving IEP and Icahn as the two dominant investors. According to Barron’s, the entire fund appears to be about $5.8 billion, with $4 billion coming from Icahn personally. Which means that this is a very substantial bet in dollar terms.

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There’s no bigger pleasure -and confirmation- than have Krugman criticize you.

Trump Says US Will Never Default Because It Prints the Money (WSJ)

Donald Trump fired back at critics Monday over what he claimed was a misrepresentation of his comments on debt of the U.S. government, saying he never advocated the U.S. default on its debt. “First of all, you never have to default because you print the money,” Mr. Trump said in a telephone interview with CNN that was reported on by Politico. In an interview with Fox Business’s Maria Bartiromo, Mr. Trump said that he had proposed that the U.S. government could buy back its own debt at a discount if interest rates rise. The price of earlier issued bonds often fall when interest rates rise. “Certainly I’m not talking about renegotiating with creditors,” Mr. Trump said. Mr. Trump was responding to a New York Times article that ran on Friday that examined a CNBC interview on the prior day.

The article stated that Mr. Trump said he “might reduce the national debt by persuading creditors to accept something less than full payment.” “I would borrow, knowing that if the economy crashed, you could make a deal,” Mr. Trump said in the CNBC interview. “And if the economy was good, it was good. So therefore, you can’t lose.” This provoked alarm from commentators who interpreted it as Mr. Trump saying he would attempt to force Treasury holders to accept less than payment in full. “The reaction from everyone who knows anything about finance or economics was a mix of amazed horror and horrified amazement,” New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote.

The market in U.S. Treasuries, which are considered to be among the safest assets in the world, appeared to brush off the report of Mr. Trump’s remarks. Yields on 10-year Treasuries were slightly lower Monday than they were a week earlier. “All I said was that if interest rates goes up, we’ll have a chance to buy back bonds, which is standard,” Mr. Trump said. Mr. Trump’s remarks Monday echo a point made by former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan a few years ago. “The United States can pay any debt it has because we can always print money to do that. So there is zero probability of default,” Mr. Greenspan said.

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Anything Steve is a must.

Zombies-To-Be and the Walking Dead of Debt (Steve Keen)

Using the dynamics of credit –which most other economists ignore– I explain why Japan, the USA and UK are among the “Walking Dead of Debt” and why China, Canada, Australia and South Korea are on their way to joining the Debt Zombies. This presentation is based on work I’m doing for a new 25000 word book for Polity Press entitled “Can we avoid another financial crisis?”, which should be published later this year.

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What official numbers seek to hide away. But we all know anyway.

The Recession’s Economic Trauma Has Left Enduring Scars (WSJ)

About one in six U.S. workers became unemployed during the recession years of 2007, 2008 and 2009. Today, nearly 14 million people are still searching for a job or stuck in part-time jobs because they can’t find full-time work. Even for the millions of Americans back at work, the effects of losing a job will linger, the research suggests. They will earn less for years to come. They will be less likely to own a home. Many will struggle with psychological problems. Their children will perform worse in school and may earn less in their own jobs. “The average effects are severe and very long lasting,” said Jennie Brand, a sociologist at University of California, Los Angeles. “There’s no quick recovery.”

U.S. economic output remains stubbornly below its potential level, as estimated by the Congressional Budget Office. And many people probably won’t be back on their feet by the time the next recession arrives. J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. economists recently predicted a new recession was more likely than not within three years. Anger about stagnant wages, among other things, has helped fuel the presidential runs of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. When the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University surveyed Americans after the recession about the causes of high unemployment, their top responses were cheap foreign labor, illegal immigrants and Wall Street bankers.

Labor Department data show 40 million layoffs and other involuntary discharges during the recession that began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009. The official unemployment rate peaked at 10%. Princeton University economist Henry Farber calculated that the rate of job loss from 2007 through 2009 was 16%. As in previous recessions, millions of Americans faced a phenomenon economists sometimes call wage scarring. People who lose a job, even during economic expansions, usually earn less money when they re-enter the workplace. They are out of work for a time and often take a pay cut as the price of returning to work at a new employer or even in a new career.

This time, the damage was exacerbated by the job market’s painfully slow recovery. Extended or repeated spells of unemployment mean more severe earnings losses, and recent years have seen an unusually large number of job seekers out of work for more than six months or stuck in part-time positions. “They had a much harder time finding a job, and in particular a full-time job, which immediately turns into an earnings decline,” Mr. Farber said.

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Better at making things up than the government.

Japan Will Leave Banks to Carry Out Their Own Stress Tests (BBG)

Japan’s financial regulator is stepping up oversight of its biggest banks while stopping well short of imposing the type of intrusive stress tests that have been adopted in the U.S. and Europe. Unlike the Federal Reserve and the Bank of England, which conduct annual examinations of the large banks they supervise, Japan’s Financial Services Agency has no plans to impose its own stress tests on the country’s lenders. Instead, it is looking for ways to verify the banks’ own reviews. “We’re considering if we can come up with a stress test-like setup,” Toshihide Endo, the director-general of the FSA’s supervisory bureau, said in an interview last month. “We don’t plan to impose external tests.”

Japan’s regulator has already signaled a different approach than overseas peers in the way it oversees the country’s banks, with FSA Commissioner Nobuchika Mori condemning a supervisory approach to bankers where the “sentiment of trust seems to have become a thing of the past.” Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc.’s President Nobuyuki Hirano cautioned global regulators against restricting the use of banks’ own methods for gauging operational risk, questioning the need for authorities to impose a standardized regime when they’re able to review internal models. Japanese taxpayers didn’t have to bail out lenders during the global financial crisis as the nation’s banks escaped the scale of losses incurred by overseas financial institutions.

The regulator may analyze big banks with international operations to see if they’re adequately reflecting risks such as oil price movements and the economic performance of emerging nations in their own stress tests, according to Endo. The FSA may start scrutinizing the stress tests of banks from as early as the second half of this year, he said. MUFG, Japan’s largest lender by market value, runs a number of stress tests on its balance sheet using different scenarios that include measures of interest and exchange rates, stock-market movements and economic growth, according to an e-mailed reply from spokesman Kazunobu Takahara. The impact from the different tests on the bank’s assets and profitability are then estimated, he said.

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Where does the economy meet politics? Does anybody know?

Trumptopia (Jim Kunstler)

For years, it was easy to see the political storm clouds gather over Europe with its fractious coalitions and its ancient babble of conflicts. Marine Le Pen’s Daddy, severe old Jean-Marie, was on the scene in France decades before Donald Trump ascended to glory on the noxious clouds of America’s crapified culture, attended by heavenly hosts of Kardashian angels and the cherub Honey BooBoo. For all the strains in recent American life, the two-party system had seemed as solid as the granite towers of the Brooklyn Bridge. Not even the estimable Teddy Roosevelt could blow up the system when he tried in 1912 — though his Progressive (“Bull Moose”) Party carried California, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota, and he far out-polled the incumbent Republican President Taft, who garnered a measly 8 electoral votes (Democrat Woodrow Wilson won).

Ross Perot made an impact in 1992 — he certainly had a good point about NAFTA and “the giant sucking sound” of jobs draining out of the USA. But his popinjay manner didn’t go over so well, and at the critical moment in the general election he lost his nerve and withdrew, only to foolishly re-enter weeks later. Then there was the Ralph Nader in 2000, whose egoistic crusade arguably put George W. Bush in the White House. Since then, the country see-sawed between the long tenures of two Deep State errand boys from each major party, putting both parties in such a bad odor that Trump now rises on their mephitic fumes. Which raises the question, of course: what exactly is this Deep State? Answer: A leviathan of symbiotic rackets producing maximum incompetence affecting adversely the majority of citizens.

It’s a blood-sucking beast of a hundred-thousand heads draining the USA of its dwindling vitality, lying about its intentions while it advertises the pietistic certainties of the Left and superstitious shibboleths of the Right, leaving a smoking hole in the middle where the practical problems of everyday life used to be worked out by practical means. The Deep State is also the sum of unintended consequences and diminishing returns of a late-stage, bureaucratic, techno-industrial economy cannibalizing itself to stay alive. One obvious conclusion is that this economy has got to change before there is nothing left to eat, and no political figure on the scene, including Trump and Bernie Sanders, has a plausible vision of where this takes us.

Both really just assume that the engine keeps chugging down the track of ever more material wealth that can be distributed differently. The truth is, there will be a lot less material wealth of the kind we’re used to, and a lot less capital representation in the things we call “money.” In fact, the scene at hand today is just a spectacle of the shrewdest and biggest rodents scarfing up the table-scraps of a 200-year-long banquet.

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“..a twist that would stretch the credibility of a House of Cards plot..”

Rousseff Impeachment Vote Annulled, Throwing Brazil Legislature Into Chaos (G.)

Brazil’s new lower house speaker has annulled last month’s impeachment vote against Dilma Rousseff in a twist that would stretch the credibility of a House of Cards plot. The surprise move, which comes just days before the upper house was due to consider the motion, throws the legislature into chaos and could provide a lifeline to the embattled president. Waldir Maranhao, who took over as acting speaker last week, said a new congressional vote would be needed as a result of procedural flaws in the previous session. Maranhao is no friend of the government, prompting speculation that he may be acting on behalf of his predecessor, Eduardo Cunha, who was removed from his post by the supreme court on the grounds that he was interfering in a corruption investigation into his alleged kickbacks from the state-run oil company, Petrobras.

For the moment, however, uncertainty reigns. After last month’s lower house vote, the impeachment process was passed to the senate, where a committee recommended on Friday that the leftist president be put on trial by the full chamber for breaking budget laws. In a news release, Maranhao said the impeachment process should be returned by the senate so that the lower house can vote again. It remained unclear whether his decision could be overruled by the supreme court, the senate or a majority in the house. Brazilian markets fell sharply after the surprising decision was announced. Rousseff, who denies wrongdoing, has been fighting for her political survival for several months as opposition congressmen have pushed aggressively for her ouster.

The full senate had been expected to vote to put Rousseff on trial Wednesday, which would immediately suspend her for the duration of a trial that could last six months. During that period the vice-president, Michel Temer, would replace her as acting president. With appeals and counter-appeals still possible, Rousseff gave a cautious response to the news. “It’s not official. I don’t know the consequences. We should be cautious,” she said, but repeated her determination to keep fighting.

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Had the impression it was worse.

85% Of Fort McMurray Has Been Saved, Says Alberta Premier (G.)

Overwhelming and heart-breaking was how Rachel Notley, the Alberta premier, described the destruction left behind in the wake of a wildfire that continues to rage out of control in northern Alberta. “I was very much struck by the power of the devastation of the fire,” Notley said after touring the city of Fort McMurray on Monday. “It was really quite overwhelming in some spots.” Last week more than 88,000 residents frantically evacuated the oilsands city after shifting winds brought a nearby forest fire to the city’s doorstep. The fire swept through the city in a seemingly random path, leaving behind piles of rubble and twisted metal, burned-out pick-up trucks and charred swing sets in some neighbourhoods. In others, homes sat untouched, their green lawns sharply contrasting with the grey of the city’s worst-hit areas.

Some 2,400 homes and buildings were destroyed or damaged by the fire, said Notley. For the tens of thousands of residents now scattered across the province, many of them wondering whether they have a home to return to, Notley had good news. Some 85% of the city – around 25,000 structures – had been saved. “The city was surrounded by an ocean of fire only a few days ago,” said Notley. “But Fort McMurray and the surrounding community have been saved and it will be rebuilt.” But she cautioned: “That of course doesn’t mean that there aren’t going to be some really heartbreaking images for some people to see when they come back.” The fire has not completely released its grip on the city, said Notley. “There are smouldering hotspots everywhere. Active fire suppression is continuing.”

The wildfire continues to grow in the region, albeit at a much slower pace. By Monday it had swelled to 204,000 hectares – an area more than 22 times the size of Manhattan – but winds were pushing it east, away from communities. It now sits some 25km from the neighbouring province of Saskatchewan. Cooler weather helped crews continue to keep the fire at bay, away from Fort McMurray, Anzac and the Suncor Energy oilsands facility. Currently more than 700 firefighters are battling against the blaze, with another 300 expected to arrive in the area shortly. “This fire is burning out of control out there, it still is, but we are holding the line where we need to, at least for today,” said Notley.

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People like this are so utterly clueless it’s frightening.

Growth Crisis Threatens European Social Fabric, Warns ECB VP (Tel.)

The fragile global recovery could be derailed unless governments step up efforts to support growth and strengthen the European banking system, two central bankers have warned. Vítor Constâncio, vice president of the ECB, said policy inaction combined with declining productivity and weak demographics could lead to a dangerous spiral of lower growth, higher debt and reduced job prospects. This could create unrest in countries already blighted by sky-high unemployment, he warned. The world also faced the prospect of permanently lower growth, Mr Constâncio told an audience at a City Week conference in London. If this materialised, this could result in weaker spending by households and businesses. “There would also very likely be societal implications, as lower economic growth would not be able to create enough jobs for citizens and may exacerbate income inequality,” he said.

Mr Constâncio described the eurozone recovery as “continued” and “moderate”, but said it remained “subject to fragilities”. “While I expect the recovery in the global economy to gather momentum as the headwinds eventually dissipate, there are many factors which could potentially derail it,” he said. Mr Constâncio stressed that the ECB’s massive stimulus package was working, adding that policymakers would “allow some time for the package of measures adopted in March” – including interest rate cuts and an increase in its monthly asset purchases to €80bn, from €60bn – to take effect. But the central banker said government fiscal stimulus and action to boost productivity and “complete Europe’s banking and markets union” would also be needed to boost growth.

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All good and well, but there are strong forces in Brussels and beyond that deliberately seek to create a failed state. And they’re at least half way there.

The Choice For Europe: Rescue Greece Or Create A Failed State (Paul Mason)

Between now and mid-June the European political elite must give its answer to an existential question. Will it honour the deal it made to rescue Greece last July; or will it push the radical left government into default – effectively creating a failed state in Europe? That this is primarily Europe’s dilemma, not Greece’s or the IMF’s, is clear after Monday’s Eurogroup. The IMF boss, Christine Lagarde, warned the Europeans that the fund will not participate in further bailouts without a substantial debt write-off. In turn, the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, forced through the last of the main austerity measures demanded by creditors: reforms to the pension system that will leave worse off everyone who is receiving more than €1,000 a month, and demand much higher contributions from workers in future.

However, by delaying their approval until now, the lenders have managed, once again, to push Greece towards bankruptcy. Although growth is better than predicted, tax receipts are still dire and bailout disbursements suspended. Worse, and more insidious, the months of callous inaction have pushed the mood in Greek society into a dangerous place. A population that, two years ago, started demanding and giving printed receipts as an act of collective moral renewal, has given up on them once again. The most popular graffiti tag has become “all this political shit”. The only thing that can end the crisis is debt restructuring. One way or another, Europe’s creditors – the taxpayers of Germany, France, the Netherlands etc – have to lose money.

It may be dressed up by extending repayment dates; or it may take the form of the “haircut”, whereby the treasuries of northern Europe – and the ECB – write down the value of the €350bn they have lent Greece. But it has to happen. And that means Germany’s politicians must change their minds. The old problem in Europe was a transnational freemarket economy with no democratic government; a central bank obliged by treaty to impose deflation; and a Germany willing to take the upside of the project – 4% unemployment versus 25% in Greece – but never to lead it. The new problem is different: when the EU overturned the will of the Greek people last year July, it became, effectively, a political entity based on force, not law.

Those applying the force were the German elite and a collection of east European countries who have in common weak democratic traditions, mafia-infested economies and rightwing electorates still traumatised by the Soviet era. Then, in a second act of force, by overturning the Dublin Treaty and letting nearly a million refugees come to Germany, Angela Merkel destroyed the coalition that had imposed the defeat on Greece. Eastern Europe has defied Merkel’s call for refugee quotas and answered her appeal for humanitarianism by putting razor wire at every border choke-point. So, now it’s no longer about austerity: there is a three-way battle for the soul of Europe; between a beleaguered centre that’s seeing its consent to govern drain away; a resurgent nationalist and racist right; and a modernised radical left. The Greek request for debt relief poses to the European centre the question: which side are you on?

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No, it’s true. A team of highly overly paid EU economists has issued a report that ‘analyzes’ (note the first 4 letters) among other things what Greek debt could be 44 years from now. Your challenge: to name something even more useless than that. Hint: paint does dry at some point….

Official Analysis Suggests Tough Talks Over Greek Debt Relief (WSJ)

Greece’s debt may rise to as much as 258.3% of GDP by 2060 or fall to as low as 62.6% of GDP, according to an official analysis of the country’s debt trajectory that heralds tough talks ahead on potential measures to ease Athens’ payment burden. The so-called debt sustainability analysis, or DSA, was drawn up by Greece’s European creditors and has been seen by The Wall Street Journal. The wide divergences in the debt predictions are due to different forecasts on how much Greece’s economy will grow in the coming decades and how much money it can put aside to pay down debt. Under all but the most optimistic scenarios, the document points to serious concerns over Greece’s ability to repay its debt, which stood at 176.9% of GDP at the end of last year.

The results of “this analysis point to serious concerns regarding the sustainability of Greece’s public debt in the long term,” the document says. The document was distributed to officials from eurozone finance ministries Monday morning and will form the basis for a first discussion on possible debt relief among the bloc’s finance ministers Monday afternoon. To reach a deal, the ministers will also have to bring on board the IMF, one of Greece’s biggest creditors. The IMF has consistently had more pessimistic forecasts for Greece’s debt ratio and demanded far-reaching measures to cut the country’s payment burden. Here it has clashed with Germany, which has opposed further debt relief.

“Today we will only have a first discussion on what, when, if and how the debt sustainability or debt relief measures could take place,” said Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who presides over the group of ministers, on his way into Monday’s meeting. The debt sustainability analysis looks at four different scenarios for Greece’s economy and assesses how the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio will fare in each case for the decades up to 2060. The analysis shows that Greece’s debt could fall to as low 62.6% of GDP—almost in line with the currency union’s budget rules—in the most favorable scenario. But under the most pessimistic scenario, debt could rise to 258.3% of GDP by the end of 2060. Under the baseline scenario, which assumes that Greece will fully implement the terms of its bailout program, its debt will peak at 182.9% of GDP in 2016 and fall to 104.9% of GDP by 2060.

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Curiously blind how NGOs blame Greece for conditions, while it’s being squeezed dry by the Troika. As if when you work for Amnesty -and get paid for it-, you can’t figure out that Greece can’t even take care of Greeks.

Refugees Freed From Detention Centers, Trapped In Limbo On Greek Islands (R.)

Migrants and refugees are being freed from detention centres in Greece but remain trapped on its islands until their asylum requests are processed, exposing them to dire living conditions and even the risk of people smugglers, human rights groups say. At least 1,100 people have been released from centres on three islands and more will follow as their 25-day detention limit expires, police officials said. They are forbidden from travelling to the mainland, where most state-run shelters are. Some 8,000 people, many escaping the Syrian war, have arrived on boats from Turkey since March and are held under a European Union deal with Ankara designed to seal off the main route into Europe for over a million people since 2015.

Under the deal, those who do not seek asylum in Greece – and those who are rejected – will be sent back to Turkey. Asylum applications are piling up and rulings can take weeks. The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said it was supporting government efforts to create new spaces. “All parties are working very hard to meet the needs of the human beings present on Greek islands,” said Chris Boian, a spokesman in Greece. Asked if those stranded on the islands were vulnerable to human traffickers offering to take them to the mainland, Boian said: “The risk does exist and that is the one reason UNHCR advocates full access to asylum and expansion of the asylum service and alternative legal entry channels (to Europe).”

Human rights groups said the government was not doing enough to provide asylum seekers with shelter and medical care while they wait. On Lesbos, many head to an open, municipality-run site. Those who can afford it check into hotels. Others sleep in the open. “Every country that asks people to wait in a certain place has to provide them with basic facilities. That’s not done by Greece,” said Amnesty International’s deputy Europe director, Gauri van Gulik. “It’s either – you’re in prison, or you can sleep rough on an island..”. A government spokesman, Giorgos Kyritis, said the government was doing its best to support refugees and migrants in Greece at the open reception centres, nearly all of which are on the mainland. “The government cannot afford to support these people financially on an individual basis. It’s doing whatever it can to support them in the context of its limited capabilities,” he said.

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Mar 292016
 
 March 29, 2016  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »


DPC Provision store. Caracas, Venezuela 1905

US Consumer Spending, Trade Data Signal Sluggish Growth (Reuters)
Still The Land Of Opportunity? (BBG)
It’s Official: The Oil Surge Was Driven By The Biggest Short-Squeeze Ever (ZH)
Barclays Warns Commodities May Slump in ‘Rush for the Exits’ (BBG)
Oil Firms Slow Exploration to Weather Low-Price Era (WSJ)
Saudi Economy Shows Deepening Signs of Strain (BBG)
Can Anything Rescue Japan From The Abyss? (Tel.)
ECB’s Gloomy Price Outlook to Be Confirmed Just as QE Expands (BBG)
Europe’s Emerging Bubbles Need Structural Reform (Sinn)
Investors Are in Denial About China Troubles (Balding)
State-Owned Steelmaker Latest Chinese Company to Miss Bond Payment (BBG)
The Credit Card Loophole That Gets Around China’s Capital Curbs (BBG)
How Con Man Used China To Launder Millions (AP)
Central Melbourne Apartment Values Fall 30% (AFR)
The Great Nausea (Jim Kunstler)
Worst Bleaching On Record For Great Barrier Reef (AFP)
Germany Wants Refugees To Integrate Or Lose Residency Rights (Reuters)
Rich Countries Resettle Barely 1% of Syrian Refugees (AFP)
Nearly 1,500 Migrants Rescued Off Libya In Past 2 Days (AFP)

Wait a minute, just a few days ago we read that consumers keep the US economy going?!

US Consumer Spending, Trade Data Signal Sluggish Growth (Reuters)

U.S. consumer spending barely rose in February and inflation retreated, suggesting the Federal Reserve could remain cautious about raising interest rates this year even as the labor market rapidly tightens. Monday’s report from the Commerce Department also showed consumer spending in January was not as strong as previously reported. That, together with other data showing a widening in the goods trade deficit in February, indicated economic growth remained sluggish in the first quarter. “It speaks to the weakening in domestic economic momentum at the start of this year, further reinforcing the Fed’s cautious monetary policy bias,” said Millan Mulraine at TD Securities in New York.

Consumer spending edged up 0.1% as households cut back on goods purchases after a downwardly revised 0.1% gain in January. Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, was previously reported to have increased 0.5% in January. When adjusted for inflation, consumer spending rose 0.2%. Inflation-adjusted consumer spending for January was revised down to show it unchanged rather than the 0.4% rise that was previously reported. Given labor market strength and cheap gasoline, economists speculated that consumption had been hampered by a massive stock market sell-off at the start of the year which eroded consumer confidence. In a separate report, the Commerce Department said the advance goods trade deficit widened to $62.9 billion in February from $62.2 billion, rising for a fourth straight month as an increase in exports was offset by a gain in imports.

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You can’t run a functioning democracy in a class system.

Still The Land Of Opportunity? (BBG)

As the presidential primary season continues, much has been made of the appeal that candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders hold for the angry, disaffected working class. Everyone seems to agree that this group is in trouble, and needs serious help. But which Americans exactly are part of the working class? There is no set definition. You can define class by wealth, but a young worker starting out on Wall Street and earning relatively little is hardly lower-class. You can define it by income, although that will be distorted by local differences in the cost of living, and by age (retirees have little income but usually more wealth). You also can define it by educational status. But perhaps the most important definition is in people’s minds. Gallup periodically asks people to place themselves in one of five classes – upper, upper-middle, middle, working and lower. Here are the results for the five categories:

The percentages of Americans who consider themselves working class has stayed relatively stable. But the self-identified middle class has plunged by about 10 percentage points, matched by an even larger increase in the percentage of Americans who label themselves lower class. The self-identified lower class should probably be included in the working class that gets discussed in articles about Trump and Sanders. Why do fewer Americans identify as middle class? One obvious possibility is that the middle class has been spreading out, separating into a well-to-do upper-middle and an expanding working class. The evidence shows that something like this has been happening for decades now. Here is the U.S. Gini coefficient, a broad measure of income inequality:

Income inequality has been steadily increasing since 1970, with especially big jumps in the early 1980s and early 1990s. That certainly seems likely to reduce the share of people who feel like they’re in the middle. But we don’t see a divergence – what we really see is a downward drift. Why? Perhaps slow growth has made everyone in the U.S. more pessimistic. Or perhaps inequality itself lowers everyone’s perception of their own class. People making $25,000 might compare themselves to people making $50,000, but people making $400,000 might compare themselves to people making $2 million. One development is that the difference between the working and upper-middle class incomes has widened, but the gap between the upper middle and the rich has absolutely exploded. That could be making everyone more pessimistic about where they stand in the hierarchy.

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The plunge in demand takes a long time to seep into people’s minds.

It’s Official: The Oil Surge Was Driven By The Biggest Short-Squeeze Ever (ZH)

Two months ago, just before crude dropped to 13 year lows, we warned oil traders that there is “a constant short squeeze threat” because “oil shorts are at all-time highs”, adding that “we have seen extreme short positioning building up in the oil futures market. The quantity of short positions opened is at an all-time high for Brent, and still high for WTI futures.” We also warned that “a positive surprise could happen quite sharply, as short positions are likely to be squeezed by a profit-taking move. On WTI, the in-the-money short positions are really dominating at the front end of the curve while out-of-the-money long positions are dominating at the long end of the curve: the front end of oil curve could thus be more exposed to some profit-taking.”

It was, and just a few days later, the algos took this warning to heart and, courtesy of the most recurring headline (that of a “farcical” oil production freeze) as a recurring catalyst, unleashed an historic short squeeze. Actually make that a record short squeeze. Wait, that’s impossible: surely it was more than just shorts covering and oil rose because actual longs were piling in, one could say. One would be wrong, and it is now official: as crude soared 50% since Feb. 11, Bloomberg writes, the number of bets on increased prices has barely budged. “Instead, the upward pressure on prices appears to have come from traders cashing out of bearish wagers at an unprecedented pace. The liquidation of short positions during the last seven weeks covered by data from the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission was the largest on record.”

“The rally has come from shorts getting scared out of their positions, and you’re not seeing a lot of money coming in on the long side,” said John Kilduff at Again Capital, a New York hedge fund focused on energy. “It really calls into question the fortitude and staying power of the rally.” The details: “short positions on West Texas Intermediate crude, or bets that prices will fall, have dropped by 131,617 contracts since Feb. 2, the biggest liquidation in CFTC data going back a decade. To close out a bearish position, traders buy back futures and options, putting upward pressure on prices. In the same period, bullish wagers fell by 971. In the past 10 years, there have been only two other seven-week short-covering streaks, CFTC data show. The first started in September 2009 and the second in December 2012. Both were much smaller than the recent one and were accompanied by oil rallies.”

It gets better: as we showed previously, the irony is that as oil futures shorts were squeezed out, ETF longs actually declined instead of growing as absolutely nobody – except those who have to buy-in – believes this quote-unquote rally. Bloomberg notes that the rebound faltered a day after WTI prices touched a four-month high of $41.45 a barrel on March 22, tumbling 4% in New York after government data showed U.S. crude supplies surged the prior week to the highest level since 1930. Perhaps there are no more shorts left to squeeze, in which case watch out to the downside: “When energy markets get loaded to one side of the boat like that, you can have vicious reversals,” said Kilduff. And vice versa.

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The short-term consequences of highly leveraged long-term investments.

Barclays Warns Commodities May Slump in ‘Rush for the Exits’ (BBG)

Commodities including oil and copper are at risk of steep declines as recent advances aren’t fully grounded in improved fundamentals, according to Barclays, which warned that prices may tumble as investors rush for the exits. Copper may slump to the low $4,000s a metric ton, from $4,945 in London last week, while oil could fall back to the low $30s a barrel, analyst Kevin Norrish said in a note. The risk for raw materials is that investors seek to liquidate bets on gains quickly and in unison, with potentially highly negative consequences, Norrish wrote in the note entitled “Buffalo Jump,” a term that describes a cliff where Native Americans herded bison to their death. “Investors have been attracted to commodities as one of the best performing assets so far in 2016,” he said in the March 28 report.

“However, in the absence of any concerted fundamental improvements, those returns are unlikely to be repeated in the second quarter, making commodities vulnerable to a wave of investor liquidation.” Commodities are headed for a quarterly advance amid speculation that prices may now be bottoming after they slumped 11% in the final three months of 2015 and 14% in the third quarter. Oil and copper have recovered from multi-year lows seen in the January and February, and Barclays estimated net flows into commodity products totaled more than $20 billion in the two-month period in the strongest start to a year since 2011. “Given that recent price appreciation does not seem to be very well founded in improving fundamentals, and that upward trends may prove difficult to sustain, the risk is growing that any setback will result in a rush for the exits that could again lead commodity prices to overshoot to the downside,” he said.

Investors were increasingly taking short-term bets on raw materials, not the long-term buy-and-hold strategy for diversification and inflation protection that underpinned inflows in the previous decade, he said. In addition, as commodities are among the few assets that have risen in the first quarter, that may make investors keener than usual to close out bets on gains, he said. “Key commodities markets such as oil and copper already face overhangs of excess production capacity and inventories, but also now face another obstacle in the recovery process, that of positioning, which is now approaching bullish extremes,” Norrish said.

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The backdrop is overproduction.

Oil Firms Slow Exploration to Weather Low-Price Era (WSJ)

The world’s biggest oil companies are draining their petroleum reserves faster than they are replacing them—a symptom of how a deep oil-price decline is reshaping the energy industry’s priorities. In 2015, the seven biggest publicly traded Western energy companies, including Exxon Mobil and Shell, replaced just 75% of the oil and natural gas they pumped, on average, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of company data. It was the biggest combined drop in inventory that companies have reported in at least a decade. For Exxon, 2015 marked the first time in more than two decades it didn’t fully replace production with new reserves, according to the company. It reported replacing 67% of its 2015 output.

In the past, shrinking reserves could send investors and executives into a panic over a company’s future prospects. These days, with ultralow oil prices, “it becomes less important” to replenish stockpiles, said Luca Bertelli, chief exploration officer at Italian oil producer Eni SpA. Eni has shifted spending away from high-risk, high-reward projects in favor of squeezing more out of fields that are already producing, he said. That shift shows how producers are responding to low prices by pulling back on new exploration in favor of maximizing profits. The risk is that cutting back on new projects now, when prices are low, could lead to shortages and price spikes in the future.

Historically, energy companies spent heavily in the present to find resources for the future—new wells that would replace the barrels they pump every day. When they decide they can extract the oil and gas economically, firms book those resources as proved reserves, untapped inventories to be exploited at a profit down the road. The current oil glut has forced companies to cut spending wherever they can. So they have pulled back on exploratory drilling and spending on new projects. Across the oil sector last year, companies approved just six new developments, according to Morgan Stanley researchers.

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Caught in a vicious circle.

Saudi Economy Shows Deepening Signs of Strain (BBG)

The Saudi economy is showing deepening signs of strain under the weight of cheap oil. Saudi consumers withdrew and spent less money in February, according to central bank data released on Monday. M3, one of the broadest measures of money supply, shrank for the first time since at least 2000, when Bloomberg started tracking the data. While the kingdom still has one of the world’s largest foreign-currency reserves, cuts in government spending to shore up public finances are taking a toll on the economy. Growth may slow to 1.5% this year, according to the median estimate of a Bloomberg survey, the slowest pace since at least 2009. Saudi officials have repeatedly said that the nation can weather the slump in oil prices. Cash withdrawals through ATMs fell 8% after expanding for at least the previous five months, central bank data show. Point-of-sale transactions, an indicator of consumer confidence in the economy, dropped to 15.2 billion riyals ($4.1 billion).

And while bank credit to private businesses expanded about 10%, the growth likely reflects short-term borrowing, according to Monica Malik, the chief economist at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank. “The rise in credit doesn’t indicate business expansion,” she said. “Actually, project activity has fallen substantially. All in all, lower government spending is taking a deepening toll on economic growth, and we can see it in the data.” The government is seeking to plug a budget deficit that reached about 15% of GDP in 2015. Authorities have also raised energy prices. Malik said the contraction of money supply likely reflects the government’s withdrawal of domestic deposits and the drop in net foreign assets, which declined 38 billion riyals. The pace of the drop was the slowest since October as Brent crude prices rebounded during the month. Oil exports make up about 70% of the government’s revenue.

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What Abenomics ia all about: Leading a horse to water.

Can Anything Rescue Japan From The Abyss? (Tel.)

“Shunto” season has failed to grip Japan. The country’s annual Spring assault on wages seems to have passed with little more than a whimper this year despite being billed as one of the most anticipated economic events in Japan’s recent history. Translating as “spring wage offensive”, Shunto marks the annual Japanese ritual of wage bargaining between business groups and labour unions. This year’s negotiations have been preceded by months of feverish lobbying from prime minister Shinzo Abe who has urged the country’s business groups to raise wages and help smash Japan’s deflationary mindset once and for all. The issue has become the latest lightning rod in the country’s two decade struggle to ensure long-term economic prosperity. Higher salaries encourage consumption and are vital in raising inflation.

This in turn would help erode some part of Japan’s record 250pc of GDP debt pile. Abe’s calls have been echoed by some of the world’s most renowned economists. Olivier Blanchard, the former chief economist at the IMF and Adam Posen, a former BOE policymaker, have called for an unprecedented 10pc increase in nominal wages in 2016. In the last two years, average wages have risen by just 1pc. “What is needed is a jump-start to a wage-price spiral of the sort feared from the 1970s”, say Posen and Blanchard, who call for a “virtuous cycle” of wage growth, inflation, and lower debt to release Japan from economic stagnancy. But like so many of Tokyo’s radical attempts to extricate itself out of low growth and low inflation, the early signs show that Shunto has already fallen flat.

Car-making giant Toyota is reported to have agreed on a wage settlement which will boost its employees’ basic wages by just ¥1500 ($13) a month, despite recording bumper profits of ¥2.17 trillion ($19bn) last year. Overall, the fruits of 2016’s Shunto are set to be more meagre than those of last year. The March round of talks indicate wages hike demands from unions to be around 3.27pc this year, lower than the 3.74pc of 2015, according to analysts at UBS. This indicates the average eventual wage hike will be around 0.3pc in 2016 for the country’s 63.5m workers, down from 0.69pc agreed in 2015, calculate economists at JP Morgan. This reticence to raise wages puzzles economists. Nearly four years on from the start of the government’s Abenomics programme, Japanese companies are sitting on a record cash piles equivalent to nearly 50pc of the country’s entire GDP.

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The ignorance of the ‘experts’ is stunning.

ECB’s Gloomy Price Outlook to Be Confirmed Just as QE Expands (BBG)

As Mario Draghi prepares to ramp up debt purchases starting Friday in his biggest assault against euro-area deflation risks, he’s about to get another sense of the magnitude of the challenge. Consumer prices in the currency zone probably fell for a second month in March and the unemployment rate remained in double digits in February, economists forecast in Bloomberg surveys before data this week. Another report is expected to say economic confidence was unchanged in the 19-nation region in March. Policy makers led by the European Central Bank president are expanding monthly asset buying to €80 billion from €60 billion and introducing new measures to lift inflation that hasn’t touched their near-2% goal since 2013.

While the economy is growing, it’s not gaining momentum, and a slow decline in unemployment has failed to spur enough demand to counter falling oil costs and ignite price gains. “The data will confirm that the ECB was right to act, and also may even need to do more in the future,” said Nick Kounis at ABN Amro in Amsterdam. “Underlying inflationary pressures are extremely weak and going in the wrong direction.” Draghi said this month that negative inflation rates may be “unavoidable” in the coming months and it’s “crucial to avoid second-round effects.” That concern prompted the ECB Governing Council to cut its deposit rate on March 10 and add a new series of long-term loans to banks, which will begin in June. The expansion of quantitative easing will start April 1.

“The window of action was now, we had a weak start to the year, and we’re seeing that feeding through to the numbers,” said Anatoli Annenkov at SocGen in London. He doesn’t expect any additional major ECB action this year, as policy makers wait to see how their new actions feed through to the economy. “The key to the ECB for getting inflation back on target is that we do need to see growth really pick up, and the recovery to take it to the next level,” said James Nixon, an economist at Oxford Economics in London. “It’s really the corporate sector that’s just sitting around with its hands in its pockets.”

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Europe needs normal interest rates, not crazy experiments.

Europe’s Emerging Bubbles Need Structural Reform (Sinn)

The ECB’s latest policy moves have shocked many observers; while their goal – to prevent deflation and spur growth – is clear, the policies themselves are setting the stage for severe instability. The policies in question include setting the interest rate on the ECB’s main refinancing operations to zero; raising monthly asset purchases by €20bn to €80bn; and pushing the interest rate on money that banks deposit with the ECB further into negative territory, to -0.4%. Moreover, the ECB has launched a series of four targeted longer-term refinancing operations, which also carry negative interest rates. Banks receive up to 0.4% interest on ECB credit that they take themselves, provided they lend it out to private businesses.

These policies are, in essence, the latest in a string of attempts by the ECB to address the fallout of the collapse of the massive bubble that formed in southern Europe in the early years of the euro. This began with the announcement of the euro’s introduction at the 1995 EU Summit in Madrid, which caused interest rates to tumble. The inflationary credit bubble spurred in southern European countries by the persistence of lower interest rates undermined their competitiveness and drove asset and property prices to unsustainably high levels. When the bubble burst, the ECB tried to prevent the excessive prices from returning to equilibrium by using its printing press and promising unlimited coverage to investors. The latest ECB measures are more of the same.

Of course, when the financial crisis erupted in full force in 2008, following the collapse of the US investment bank Lehman Brothers, the ECB’s interventions were justified. But after the global economy started to recover during the latter part of the following year, the ECB’s moves became increasingly problematic, because they enabled countries to evade structural reform and hindered the necessary disinflation in the southern eurozone countries – or even halted it altogether, as in Portugal and Italy. Southern Europe had succumbed to the drug of cheap credit. But when private credit stalled and the symptoms of withdrawal began to appear, the ECB provided replacement drugs. Instead of treating the addiction, it created junkie economies that were unable to function without a fix.

[..] the worst effects of the ECB policy may be yet to come, if the eurozone’s still-sound economies also become credit junkies. There are already some worrying signs of this. Property markets in Austria, Germany, and Luxembourg have practically exploded throughout the crisis, as a result of banks chasing borrowers with offers of loans at near-zero interest rates, regardless of their creditworthiness. In Austria, property prices have risen by nearly half since the Lehman collapse; in Luxembourg, they have risen by almost one-third. Even Germany, Europe’s largest economy, has been experiencing a massive property boom since 2010, with average urban property prices having risen by more than one-third – and by nearly half in large cities. The country is undergoing a construction boom not seen since reunification. Real estate agents have only leftovers on offer.

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The entire world is affected.

Investors Are in Denial About China’s Troubles (Balding)

Back in 2009, as China unleashed a massive fiscal stimulus and investment spree in response to the global financial crisis, the rest of the world was all too willing to believe the impossible. Aided by consultant research predicting decades of explosive growth, companies placed huge bets on China and expected to ride the never-ending boom to riches. Amid the gold rush, they bulked up to sell China t-shirts or tons of iron ore. They urged their governments to sign free-trade deals with Beijing. Commodity producers heedlessly expanded capacity, believing that 10% growth would continue indefinitely. Consumer brands rushed to set up flagships in third-tier Chinese cities. Shipping companies scrambled to build new fleets to meet an expected explosion in global trade.

However, as with so many previous bouts of irrational exuberance, this time wasn’t really different. The ruthless rules of supply and demand still applied. And now, the longer that painful decisions are delayed, the harder they’ll become. Commodities firms, in particular, are learning that lesson the hard way. As prices rose with Chinese demand, they made large upfront investments financed by borrowing – often on a 20-year timeline, in the expectation that growth would last and last. Now, with China’s economy slowing and the prices of everything from oil to metals plummeting, the bills are coming due. Major iron ore firms, which had predicted that Chinese steel demand would keep rising until about 2030, are now looking at substantial overinvestment and deteriorating credit. Dairy farmers, who increased their herds with future Chinese consumer demand in mind, are feeling the pinch as milk prices plunge.

After years of ramping up production to fuel China’s expected growth, oil-producing countries from Saudi Arabia to Norway are facing grim decisions about their public finances. Russia is rapidly draining its sovereign wealth fund. Venezuela is pleading with China for loans – on top of the nearly $60 billion already doled out – to stave off collapse. Pundits are warning that the large debt load of U.S. shale-gas and oil producers could pose greater risks than sub-prime lending did a decade ago. No less so than China, the rest of the world needs to face up to some new realities. First, the golden age of Chinese construction is over. There’s now enormous surplus capacity in virtually every industry that requires fixed-asset investment. Companies can no longer rely on the “Beijing put” of new government stimulus to boost growth.

Iron ore producers and copper miners all need to begin a painful process of downsizing and deleveraging – just as China’s bloated state-owned enterprises do. Producers around the world haven’t faced up to the new normal. Second, companies of all stripes have to put in the effort to understand China better. Expectations of double-digit growth, regardless of how poor the performance, have vanished. Luxury brands that once hoped their Beijing flagships would smooth the balance sheets at European headquarters need to recognize that different markets require different strategies, and that shops in China won’t run on autopilot. They need to compete. Third, companies and countries alike need to face up to their own irrational exuberance. Whether it’s failing to diversify, spending recklessly on the back of high prices, or taking on too much debt, fundamental mistakes can’t be blamed on China. Doing so only delays the inevitable.

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“Dongbei Special Steel’s missed payment comes just four days after the company disclosed that its former chairman, Yang Hua, was found dead by hanging at his home..”

State-Owned Steelmaker Latest Chinese Company to Miss Bond Payment (BBG)

A state-owned Chinese steelmaker failed to make a 852 million yuan ($131 million) bond payment and expressed uncertainty about meeting a larger bill next week as the slowing economy weighs on debt-laden producers. Dongbei Special Steel, based in the northeastern city of Dalian, said it failed to repay the sum of interest and principal due Monday, according to a statement posted on the Chinamoney website. The company said in a separate statement that it also might not be able to repay 1 billion yuan due April 3 on a 90-day bill because of tight liquidity. The company sold 800 million yuan in one-year bonds last year with a coupon of 6.5%, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Chinese firms are struggling with surging debt burdens as Premier Li Keqiang seeks to weed out zombie corporations amid the country’s worst economic slowdown in a quarter century.

At least a dozen companies have defaulted on bonds over the past two years even as the central bank loosened monetary policy. Nanjing Yurun Foods, a sausage maker, and Zibo Hongda Mining, an iron ore miner, both said they defaulted on notes this month. Dongbei Special Steel’s missed payment comes just four days after the company disclosed that its former chairman, Yang Hua, was found dead by hanging at his home. The company said the death was under investigation by the relevant authority. Other Chinese steelmakers are also facing rising debt pressures. The northern city of Tianjin plans to set up a committee of creditors to help Bohai Steel “get out of trouble,” Caixin reported March 18. Minister of Human Resources Yin Weimin said Feb. 29 that about 1.8 million steel-and-coal workers would be laid off as the country cuts industrial overcapacity and reforms bloated state-owned enterprises.

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Overpaying for insurance. Now there’s a business model.

The Credit Card Loophole That Gets Around China’s Capital Curbs (BBG)

More than 800. That’s how many times Hong Kong insurance agent Raymond Ng swiped the credit cards of a mainland Chinese client buying HK$28 million ($3.6 million) worth of insurance policies in the city earlier this month. Dozens, maybe more. That’s how many other agents are using similar tactics as a way around new restrictions on insurance policy purchases by mainlanders that are often used to evade capital controls and get their money out of China, according to interviews with five Hong Kong agents working for Prudential, AIA Group and two smaller insurance companies. “There are always ways around new restrictions,” said Ng, 30, who started selling insurance and investment products to mainland Chinese four years ago, declining to allow his company’s name to be used.

“Chinese customers are accelerating the pace of moving assets outside China, especially through insurance products.” Multiple credit-card swiping to buy insurance products, even hundreds of times, isn’t illegal in Hong Kong, but it allows individuals to exceed limits on insurance purchases by mainlanders meant to control capital outflows from China. The widespread practice shows just how eager Chinese remain to move money abroad amid a weakening economy and expectations of further declines in the yuan, potentially putting pressure on authorities to impose stricter curbs. Since February, Chinese regulators have moved to control the booming business of citizens buying insurance in Hong Kong, first by putting a $5,000 limit on each transaction and later by limiting electronic transfers for such purchases.

Previously there had been no limit on the use of the country’s China UnionPay credit and debit cards for buying the policies, giving individuals wanting to move money abroad a convenient way around the country’s foreign-exchange controls. Multiple card swipes mean the new curbs lose some of their effectiveness. When it imposed the $5,000 limit, the State Administration of Foreign Exchange said it would “closely monitor” cardholders and insurers for cases where cards have been swiped multiple times, though the regulator stopped short of banning multiple card use to purchase individual policies.

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A great 21st century Great Con story. Which features, what a surprise, China’s shadow banking system.

How Con Man Used China To Launder Millions (AP)

Gilbert Chikli was rolling in money, stolen from some of the world’s biggest corporations. His targets: Accenture. Disney. American Express. In less than two years, he made off with at least 6.1 million euros from France alone. But he had a problem. He couldn’t spend the money. A tangle of banking rules designed to stop con men like him stood between Chikli and his cash. He needed to find a weak link in the global financial system, a place to make his stolen money appear legitimate. He found it in China. “China has become a universal, international gateway for all manner of scams,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Because China today is a world power, because it doesn’t care about neighboring countries, and because, overall, China is flipping off other countries in a big way.”

A visionary con man, Chikli realized early on — around 2000, the year before China joined the WTO – the potential that lay in the shadows of China’s rise, its entrenched corruption and informal banking channels that date back over 1,000 years. The French-Israeli man told the AP he laundered 90% of his money through China and Hong Kong, slipping it into the region’s great tides of legitimate trade and finance. Today, he is in good company. Criminals around the world have discovered that a good way to liberate their dirty money is to send it to China, which is emerging as an international hub for money laundering, AP has found. Gangs from Israel and Spain, North African cannabis dealers and cartels from Mexico and Colombia are among those using China as a haven where they can safely hide money, clean it, and pump it back into the global financial system, according to police officials, European and U.S. court records and intelligence documents reviewed by AP.

In a regular briefing with reporters Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the government “places great emphasis” on fighting crimes such as money laundering and is working to expand international cooperation. “China is not, has not been, nor will be in the future a center of global money laundering,” he said. Chikli is widely credited in France with inventing a con that has inspired a generation of copycats. Chikli’s scam, called the fake president or fake CEO scam, has cost companies around the world $1.8 billion in just over two years, according to the FBI. And the damages are rising fast.

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Getting nervous.

Central Melbourne Apartment Values Fall 30% (AFR)

Apartments in central Melbourne are being resold at discounts of up to 30% from their original off-plan purchase price, sales data shows. Not all units have fallen in value – some have risen – but analysis of a handful of transactions shows many apartments have failed to hold their value between original purchase and resale, typically a few years later. One property where prices have fallen is 27 Little Collins Street, which includes 171 apartments in a 32-storey tower above a Sheraton-branded hotel, completed by developer Golden Age in July last year. A three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment occupying 140 square metres and with two car parks sold for $1,565,000 in August, a 28.7% discount on its November 2010 purchase price of $2,195,000.

A two-bedroom unit in the same building fell almost 23% in less than a year, when it was bought for $1,075,000 last April, having previously been purchased for $1,320,000 in June 2014. A number of smaller apartments without car parks suffered falls ranging from almost 4% to 8% between 2010 and their resale last year. Melbourne’s surge in new apartments led to predictions more than a year ago than an oversupply was likely to push prices down. While greater supply would limit rental income growth, as long as interest rates remained low there was unlikely to be a big correction in prices because buyers could still fund the gap between rental income and their mortgage payments, said BIS Shrapnel analyst Angie Zigomanis.

“Anyone who’s bought an apartment off-plan and then looks to onsell within a couple of years will probably be looking at a 10% decline, but [up to a] 40% decline – there might be the odd example – it’s definitely not going to be the norm,” Mr Zigomanis said. “At the broader level those price falls will be mitigated by lower interest rates and the fact that people aren’t necessarily going to be obliged to put their property on the market.”

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“When the grifters can’t cash their checks — or move their pixels into the accounts receivable column — they will be immobilized. Of course, if that happens, so will everything else, including your ability to buy any more frozen pizzas.”

The Great Nausea (Jim Kunstler)

[..] the latest meme spreading across the web wires is how deeply the voters divide by sex: men flocking around Trump (or Machine Gun Ted Cruz), and the ladies standing at each mighty column of Hillary’s azure pant-suit. Yes, a national war of the sexes. Just what we need with all our shit falling apart. This sorry diversion results not from the triumph of feminism, as widely believed, but actually from the failure of American manhood. Proof of that, of course, is the ascendance of Trump, this punch-line of a political leader with all the gravitas of a hood ornament. History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce – thank you, Karl Marx, O peevish mischief-maker squirming upon your fabled boils!

Finally, what will take the Deep State down is not some lance-wielding armored savior on a white horse but the awful undertow of financial implosion that awaits as the seasons of 2016 turn. When faith in our money and the instruments represented in it goes, look out below. There are so many rifts in the international banking system that the vista begins to look like the spring ice break-up on the Lake of Nations. When the grifters can’t cash their checks — or move their pixels into the accounts receivable column — they will be immobilized. Of course, if that happens, so will everything else, including your ability to buy any more frozen pizzas. Trump, Cruz, Hillary, and Bernie are signs that this poor paralyzed country needs to go through a convulsion to flush out all the toxic idiocy of this historical moment.

Trigger warning: it may be the messiest revolution in history when it finally comes, there is so much dross to clear out of the system. Trump and Hillary are like two giant fistulas obstructing the national bowel. Of course, a lot of sentient Americans do not want their nation dying on the toilet like Elvis. The indignity of it! In the name of the founding fathers, please, someone, fetch the enema bag. Events still lie hidden like bear traps on the path to “Decision 2016” as they like to say on the cable networks. Somewhere in London, Singapore, Shanghai, or New York, a 25-year-old coked-out Forex trader is going to tap the untoward keystroke that brings down a derivatives avalanche… or two brothers of Allah in some Berlin row-house will go forth one bright morning in vests of Semtex… and finally enough will be enough.

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The most vulnerable go first.

Worst Bleaching On Record For Great Barrier Reef (AFP)

Aerial surveys of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef have revealed the worst bleaching on record in the icon’s pristine north, scientists said Tuesday, with few corals escaping damage. Researchers said the view was devastating after surveying some 520 reefs via plane and helicopter between Cairns and the Torres Strait in the north of Queensland state. “This will change the Great Barrier Reef forever,” Terry Hughes, an expert on coral reefs from James Cook University, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “We’re seeing huge levels of bleaching in the northern thousand kilometre stretch of the Great Barrier Reef.” Just over a week ago, the Australian government revealed bleaching at the World Heritage-listed site was “severe” but noted that the southern area had escaped the worst.

Bleaching occurs when abnormal environmental conditions, such as warmer sea temperatures, cause corals to expel tiny photosynthetic algae, draining them of their colour. Hughes, convener of Australia’s National Coral Bleaching Taskforce, agreed in a statement that the southern reef had “dodged a bullet due to cloudy weather that cooled the water temperatures down”. But he said in the far north – the most remote and pristine areas – almost without exception, every reef showed consistently high levels of bleaching. “We flew for 4,000 kilometres in the most pristine parts of the Great Barrier Reef and saw only four reefs that had no bleaching,” he said. “The severity is much greater than in earlier bleaching events in 2002 or 1998.” Fellow James Cook University expert James Kerry said more surveys were to follow, but the damage seen from the air in the north was severe, often falling into the highest category of level four, meaning 60% of the coral was bleached.

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Not unreasonable. But. But they would have to be accepted in full as Germans, both by officials and by the people. Canada’s model is exemplary in this.

Germany Wants Refugees To Integrate Or Lose Residency Rights (Reuters)

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said he is planning a new law that will require refugees to learn German and integrate into society, or else lose their permanent right of residence. The initiative comes after voters punished Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives in regional elections earlier this month, giving a thumbs-down to her open-door refugee policy and turning in droves to the anti-immigrant party Alternative for Germany (AfD). Around 1 million migrants arrived in Germany last year – many fleeing conflict and economic hardship in the Middle East and Africa – and de Maiziere said around 100,000 more had arrived so far this year. Germany expected that in return for language lessons, social benefits and housing, the new arrivals made an effort to integrate, he told ARD television.

“For those who refuse to learn German, for those who refuse to allow their relatives to integrate – for instance women or girls – for those who reject job offers: for them, there cannot be an unlimited settlement permit after three years,” he said. De Maiziere, who belongs to Merkel’s conservatives party, added that he wanted “a link between successful integration and the permission for how long one is allowed to stay in Germany.” Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel welcomed the draft law, which is planned for May. “We must not only support integration but demand it,” Gabriel told mass-selling daily Bild. Gabriel’s Social Democrats, the junior partner in Germany’s ruling coalition with Merkel’s conservatives, also suffered losses in this month’s elections in three German states.

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“The United States [..] has meanwhile pledged just 7% of the nearly 171,000 considered to be its fair share, it showed. The Netherlands also stood at 7%, Denmark at 15 and Britain at 22, Oxfam said.

Rich Countries Resettle Barely 1% of Syrian Refugees (AFP)

Wealthy countries have resettled only a fraction of the nearly five million refugees who have fled Syria, Oxfam said on Tuesday, urging them to step up and do their share. The British charity called on wealthy countries to resettle at least 10% of the 4.8 million Syrian refugees registered in the region surrounding the war-ravaged nation by the end of the year. So far, rich countries have pledged fewer than 130,000 resettlement spots, and only around 67,100 people – a mere 1.39% of the refugees – have made it to their final destinations since 2013, Oxfam said. The charity issued its report ahead of an unprecedented UN-hosted conference in Geneva on Wednesday, where countries will be asked to pledge resettlement spots for Syrian refugees. As the brutal conflict enters its sixth year, most of the people who have fled are located in Syria’s immediate neighbours such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

But as the war has dragged on and conditions have worsened in the surrounding states, Syrians have increasingly set their sights on Europe, accounting for most of the more than one million migrants who risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean last year. They are also believed to be heavily represented among the more than 7,500 people, including many children, who have died trying to make the crossing since 2014. Wednesday’s conference, which will be opened by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, will aim to ensure “global responsibility sharing” for the crisis sparked by Syria’s brutal conflict, which has claimed more than 270,000 lives. “To date the response to calls of increased resettlement of vulnerable refugees has been disappointing, and the conference is an opportunity for states to mark a change of course,” the Oxfam report said.

The charity said its analysis showed only three of the world’s wealthy countries – Canada, Germany and Norway – had pledged more resettlement spots than what was considered their “fair share” according to the size of their economies. Five other countries, Australia, Finland, Iceland, Sweden and New Zealand had meanwhile pledged more than half of their fair share, while the remaining 20 nations included in the analysis fell far short, Oxfam said. Thus, France had only so far pledged to take in 1,000 Syrian refugees, or only four% of the nearly 26,000 considered to be its fair share, the report said. The United States, which has resettled 1,812 Syrian refugees and said it will take in 10,000 more, has meanwhile pledged just 7% of the nearly 171,000 considered to be its fair share, it showed. The Netherlands also stood at 7%, Denmark at 15 and Britain at 22, Oxfam said.

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The old new route is going strong. After a few days of – weather related- declining arrivals on Lesbos, numbers are rising there again as well.

Nearly 1,500 Migrants Rescued Off Libya In Past 2 Days (AFP)

Nearly 1,500 migrants, including many women and children, have been rescued in the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya over the past two days, the Italian coastguard said Monday. A total of 1,482 people were picked up in about a dozen rescue operations at sea on Sunday and Monday, according to the Italian coastguard which coordinated the search and rescue efforts. They did not release the nationalities of the migrants and refugees.

They said 730 people were rescued on Sunday and 752 on Monday. They did not provide a breakdown of the number of children and women on board. The UN refugee agency said last week that nearly 14,500 migrants had arrived in Italy via Libya since the start of the year, up 42.5% on the same period a year earlier. Libya has long been a stepping stone for migrants seeking a better life in Europe, with Italy some 300 kilometres across the sea. European leaders fear that a recent deal with Ankara to stem the flow of migrants arriving in Greece via Turkey will increase crossings attempts from Libya.

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Feb 042016
 
 February 4, 2016  Posted by at 9:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »


DPC Carondelet Street, New Orleans 1905

Oil Bears Closing $600 Million Triple-Short Fund Bet Adds To Tumult (Reuters)
Shell Confirms 10,000 Job Cuts as Profits Plunge 87% (BBC)
Bank Selloffs Replacing Oil Rout As Stock Market Pressure Point (BBG)
European Banks Near ‘Terrifying’ Crisis: Raoul Pal (CNBC)
Deutsche Bank’s Troubles Unmask Bigger Risks (AFR)
Kyle Bass: China Banks Months Away From ‘Danger Territory’ (CNBC)
Hugh Hendry: Major Chinese Devaluation Would Be Disastrous (CW)
The Great Skyscraper Bubble Is Ready to Pop! (Dent)
Investors Heading for Slaughter One More Time – David Stockman (Hunter)
US January Truck Orders Down 48% (Reuters)
Why The US Treasury Hides Its Saudi Investor (BBG)
Crippled EU Is No Longer The ‘Anarcho-Imperial Monster’ We Once Feared (AEP)
MPs Call For Immediate Halt Of UK Arms Sales To Saudi Arabia (Guardian)
Greek Pension Reform Sparks General Strike (BBG)
Drone Footage Reveals Extent of Devastation In Syria (Ind.)
EU Agrees Funding For Turkey To Curb Migrant Flows (Reuters)

Did oil soar on The Big Short?! Volatility, exposure, leverage, all the key words apply. Net asset value dropped $700 million in 2 days.

Oil Bears Closing $600 Million Triple-Short Fund Bet Adds To Tumult (Reuters)

This week’s roller-coaster ride in the global crude oil market was likely fueled in part by the sudden liquidation of a $600 million leveraged fund bet on falling prices, market sources said on Wednesday. Unknown investors in the VelocityShares 3x Inverse Crude Oil Exchange Traded Note (ETN) – which offers the ability to make a bearish bet on prices magnified threefold, with gut-churning ups and downs – bailed out early this week after jumping into the fund in January, ETN data show. Some 1.8 million shares worth more than $602 million were redeemed on Tuesday, the largest outflow from the ETN in the past year, according to data from FactSet Research.

The selloff suggests that at least some big investors are betting that the worst of an 18-month oil market rout is over after U.S. prices fell to $26 a barrel last month for the first time since 2003. Trading activity has also jumped to the highest levels on record. “Speculators are getting out of the down oil market. People start unwinding these positions because they think they have gotten their juice out of it,” David Nadig, vice president, director of exchange traded funds for FactSet, said. The DWTI note inversely tracks the S&P GSCI Crude Oil Index ER, which follows movements in the oil market. And because it offers investors three times the exposure, the impact on the underlying futures is magnified – as is the volatility in the ETN, whose price more than doubled in the first three weeks of January before halving again as oil futures rebounded.

The net asset value of the fund – one of a handful of exchange funds that allows investors to trade oil without the complexity of a futures exchange – fell from close to $1 billion to $417 million on Tuesday and to $322 million on Wednesday, according VelocityShares’ website. As a result, the mass exodus likely forced the ETN’s issuer, Credit Suisse, to quickly buy back short positions as investors redeemed shares.

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About to do the biggest takeover in its history. Who’s financing? Profit loss numbers are all over the place in different articles. Guardian said 87%, so being the sensationalist I am, I went with that.

Shell Confirms 10,000 Job Cuts as Profits Plunge 87% (BBC)

Royal Dutch Shell has confirmed it is cutting 10,000 jobs amid its steepest fall in annual profits for 13 years. It made $1.8bn (£1.23bn) for the fourth quarter of the year, compared with a $4.2bn profit for the same period the year before. Full-year 2015 earnings, excluding identified items, were $10.7bn, compared with $22.6 billion in 2014. The oil firm indicated it would report a massive drop in profits two weeks ago. The company reports earnings on a current cost of supplies (CCS) basis. Last week, shareholders in Shell, which is Europe’s largest oil company, voted in favour of its takeover of smaller rival BG Group. The company cut back hard on investment. Its capital spending for the year was slashed to $28.9bn, $8.4bn lower than in 2014. Shell sold $5.5bn worth of assets in the course of 2015.

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When can the bailouts start?

Bank Selloffs Replacing Oil Rout As Stock Market Pressure Point (BBG)

Breakdowns in financial stocks are becoming a little too routine for comfort of late. Dragged lower by falling interest rates and credit concern, the KBW Bank Index extended its three-day decline to as much as 7.5% earlier Wednesday — the fifth time this year a loss has exceeded 5% over such a stretch, data compiled by Bloomberg show. At times this week, losses from Bank of America to Citigroup have exceeded 10%. Daily drubbings in financials are rapidly supplanting anxiety over oil and its related shares as the equity market’s biggest headache. At 15.7% of the Standard & Poor’s 500, banks, brokerages and insurance companies are second only to technology companies as the biggest group and more than twice the size of energy producers.

“Crushing the banks like this is a macro narrative,” Michael Antonelli at Robert W. Baird & Co. in Milwaukee, said by phone. “It definitely puts a different tone on this selloff.” More than $350 billion have been erased in financial shares in 2016, the worst start to a year in data going back to 1990. The selloff in Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and Bank of America continued Wednesday, driving the industry down another 1.6% at 12:30 p.m. in New York. So far this year, the group has lost 13%, almost double the benchmark gauge’s decline. Volatility in bank shares is spiking to levels not seen since the financial crisis, deepening the rout that just sent stocks to the worst January in seven years.

Instances when the KBW Bank Index fell more than 5% over three days in 2016 have exceeded all the occurrences in the past three years combined. At 23% of trading days, the annualized frequency is greater than any year except 2008 and compares with a two-decade average of 4.4%. The losses came as the 10-year Treasury yield fell below 1.86% for the first time since April while credit rating agencies warned of rising debt defaults among American businesses. Moody’s on Wednesday said that the number of U.S. companies that have the highest risk of defaulting on their debt is nearing a peak not seen since the height of the financial crisis, just one day after S&P downgraded some of the biggest U.S. explorers, citing oil’s plunge.

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Deutsche. And then the French.

European Banks Near ‘Terrifying’ Crisis: Raoul Pal (CNBC)

With European banks sitting at multiyear lows, one widely followed market watcher said some of the biggest ones could go bankrupt. Former hedge fund manager and Goldman Sachs alumnus Raoul Pal said his scenario is one most investors aren’t looking at right now. Pal said the banking issues have the potential to overtake risks associated with China’s growth slowdown and cheap oil. “So many of these [bank stocks] are falling so sharply. I think people haven’t even caught up with what is going on, and that really concerns me,” the founder of Global Macro Investor told CNBC’s “Fast Money” on Tuesday. “I look at the big long-term share charts of them, and I think this looks very terrifying indeed. I have not seen anything like this for a long time.”

For Pal, negative interest rates are the chief reason why the bank stocks are in trouble. He said European banks have a tougher time coping in the environment than U.S. banks. The major European banks, he added, are already being stretched by global worries and issues within the banking system. He said the trouble could spread to U.S. banks. He suggested going short in this type of market despite a potential “free-fall” scenario.

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Deutsche’s derivatives holdings are so outsized they risk bringing the dominoes down in rapid sequence.

Deutsche Bank’s Troubles Unmask Bigger Risks (AFR)

At the Deutsche Bank annual meeting in Frankfurt in 2015 a disgruntled investor got up in front of the microphone and asked the board of directors if there was a financial scandal the bank wasn’t involved in. A month earlier, the bank had been fined $US2.5 billion by US and British authorities after a seven-year investigation for its part in rigging benchmark interest rates. Investors were baying for blood, as tougher regulatory requirements and litigation seemed to be taking their toll on the bank’s share price. At the time, stock in Deutsche Bank was closer to €30, well down from its pre-global financial crisis high of €177, while on Tuesday night shares in the bank fell to a fresh low of €15.54, prompting a new wave of worries. For a start, Deutsche Bank is trading on a price to book valuation of 0.34 times, which implies the market thinks that almost 70% of its loans are impaired and some nasty news is just around the corner.

The bank posted a €6.8 billion loss in 2015, thanks to a €12 billion write-down linked to litigation charges and restructuring costs, and it set aside more to cover any potential litigation. At a time when it seems like a cottage industry has sprung up in predicting the next financial crisis, there’s talk that although this current period of turbulence might not be the next crisis, it will certainly do until that next crisis does arrive. At the heart of these latest concerns is that investors are losing faith in what central banks can do. But the performance of big global bank stocks like Deutsche Bank has also sparked the selling. It was August 2014 when Paul Schulte, the chief executive of SGI Research, warned Australian investors that all was not well at Deutsche Bank and he still thinks the bank has several problems to deal with.

First, he said that more than any other global investment bank Deutsche had too many leftover assets from the global financial crisis – more than $US10 billion by his estimates – that are very illiquid and simply too hard to value. With regard to all the financial scandals mentioned at 2015’s annual meeting, he also thinks there are further fines to come, while Deutsche also seems to have a large book of commodity-related derivatives that are under stress from the collapses in most commodity prices. Schulte says there is still too much leverage at Deutsche and it is in the centre of a sclerotic system of Euro-paralysis, which prevents any dramatic sort of “TARP” program. “This has been brewing under everyone’s nose, because while people thought that the problem was periphery banks in Ireland or Spain, the actual problem is that Deutsche Bank, and the French banks with lots of toxic debt in commodities, are over-stretched, badly run, have no sense of risk management and are organs of state capitalism,” Schulte says.

So far this calendar year shares in Deutsche Bank have fallen 30% but it’s not flying solo. Citi is down 22%, Goldman Sachs is down 16%, JP Morgan is down 14%, Morgan Stanley is down 23%, BofA is down 22% and Credit Suisse 22%. Shares in UBS are also down 20% in 2106, slipping 7% on Tuesday night after its latest profit numbers implied its strategy of moving away from the volatile investment banking business to focus on steady business of wealth management wasn’t working so well. That compares to a 7% fall in the Dow Jones and S&P 500, a 5% decline in the FTSE 100 and 11% drop in the DAX.

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“You can’t grow your banking system 1,000% in 10 years and not have a loss cycle. And your currency won’t stay strong when you go to rectify that balance.”

Kyle Bass: China Banks Months Away From ‘Danger Territory’ (CNBC)

Hayman Capital Management founder Kyle Bass has been ringing the alarm bells about China’s banking system and the yuan for months, and now he says the day of reckoning could be just months away. The premise of Bass’ bet goes like this: China’s banking system has grown to $34.5 trillion, equal to more than three times the country’s GDP. The country is due for a loss cycle as cracks begin to show in its economy. When that happens, central bankers will have to dip into China’s $3.3 trillion of foreign exchange reserves to recapitalize the banks, causing a significant depreciation in the value of the yuan, according to Bass.

On Wednesday, he said China’s export-import industry requires China to maintain $2.7 trillion in foreign exchange reserves to continue operating smoothly, citing an International Monetary Fund assessment. “They’ll hit that number in the next five months,” he said in an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.” “Those that think they can burn it to zero and they have many years ahead of them, they really only have a few months ahead of them before they get into a real danger territory.” Bass is best known for making a winning bet on the subprime mortgage crisis and later profiting from his call that the Japanese yen would fall in tandem with a projected round of monetary stimulus by the Bank of Japan.

Bass confirmed Wednesday he is devoting much of his fund to his bet the yuan will depreciate. He characterized shorts against the currency, including his, as totaling “billions.” The market will ultimately come to view a 10% yuan devaluation as “a pipe dream,” he said. “When you look at the size of the imbalance and the size of their economy, it’s going to go 30 or 40% in the end, and it’s going to be the reset for the world.” To be sure, China’s controlled devaluation of the yuan this year has sparked growth concerns that roiled equity markets around the world and contributed to the worst January for the Dow and S&P 500 since 2009. Bass said he has no doubt the People’s Bank of China has the ability to recapitalize the nation’s financial institutions should they need bailing out.

But the problem is that it will have to expand its balance sheet by trillions of dollars to do so, he explained. Right now, too few people are focused on China’s banking system, Bass said, but the narrative will swing that way this year. Bass ticked off a list of concerns about the Chinese economy, including industrial production at financial crisis lows and the lowest nominal fourth-quarter year-over-year GDP print in 40 years. “This isn’t an aberration. This isn’t a speed bump. This is China’s excess — let’s call it misallocation of capital — coming home to roost,” he said. “You can’t grow your banking system 1,000% in 10 years and not have a loss cycle. And your currency won’t stay strong when you go to rectify that balance.”

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‘China has already accumulated a large and growing share of global trade. A major devaluation would see this share expand further with the possible result of completely destroying manufacturing outside of China.’

Hugh Hendry: Major Chinese Devaluation Would Be Disastrous (CW)

China could potentially ‘destroy’ global manufacturing if it seeks to regain growth through further weakening its currency, hedge fund specialist Hugh Hendry has warned. In his latest market outlook, Hendry, who is founder and CIO of Eclectica Asset Management, said a move similar – or even beyond – what the Chinese undertook last summer would cause major ructions in global markets. ‘What could, should and is troubling the world is the potential for a substantial devaluation of the yuan: this would surely have disastrous outcomes for global diplomacy and economics,’ said the hedge fund specialist. ‘China has already accumulated a large and growing share of global trade. A major devaluation would see this share expand further with the possible result of completely destroying manufacturing outside of China.’

Hendry said this is purely a theoretical fear at this stage but, given the unexpected nature of some Chinese government policies, it cannot be discounted. ‘Even apportioning a small possibility to such an event has a significantly detrimental impact on the global economy via a reversion to protectionism and insular politics.’ A knock-on effect, Hendry said, is further extremist politics in the western world could come to the fore in response to the inevitable global downturn which a devaluation would cause. ‘At worst, we could see a mini-dark age of rampant protectionism, global trade coming to a halt, a significant decline in immigration and even restrictions on overseas travel.’

Hendry said this was the ‘extreme bearish’ view and one which would completely ruin the investment case for risk assets. While Hendry does not expect it to come to pass, he said it would not be wise to discount it entirely. One of the major reasons for this overarching concern, Hendry said, is the fact China has neither committed to full free-market economics and yet not overtly retained its fully-managed model. He said this has left many investors in an awkward middle ground. ‘In our minds the question is not one of capital flight but the extent to which commercial hedging of foreign trade has been brought into line. That is to say, to what extent Chinese exporters now hedge their overseas revenues into yuan,’ he said.

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Nice recount of one of our fave bubble tales.

The Great Skyscraper Bubble Is Ready to Pop! (Dent)

In 1928, construction on the world’s tallest building began in New York: the Bank of Manhattan Trust Building at 40 Wall Street. Today, it’s “The Trump Building.” When its developers learned that the Chrysler Building would be even taller, they added three stories to the Manhattan Building to secure the title of “world’s tallest.” Then the Chrysler Building came along and added a giant spire, beating it by just over a hundred feet. Of course, that didn’t last long either. Each of these buildings held the title for less than a year before the Empire State Building topped out at 1,454 feet, more than 400 feet taller than the other two. And then: the economy collapsed. The Great Depression hit. And it took decades for the global economy to recover – and it wasn’t until the 1970s before a taller building emerged.

Those buildings were the Twin Towers in the early 1970s, and the Sears Tower in Chicago in ’73. And then, right on cue, another major recession hit in the middle of the decade. Notice a pattern? It is no coincidence that in both cases, the construction of major buildings coincided with long-term economic peaks. It happened in the 1930s and again in the 1970s. Historically, there have been clear peaks in skyscrapers when the economy is at a high. It’s like when the party’s raging and the whole world thinks the economy will never go down, these mammoth hunks of steel pop out of the ground as if to say the high will go on forever! And I haven’t even said a word about where we are today… 106. That’s how many skyscrapers popped up around the world in 2015. It’s the largest number completed in a single year on record.

Before this decade, it was usually around 20 or 30. Now it’s up to five times that! Oh, but it gets better! The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat expects 135 skyscrapers to be finished in 2016, and another 140 in 2017. And get this: the Council says the number of “supertall” skyscrapers (300 meters or higher) has doubled from 50 in 2010… to 100 in 2015 – just five years in the most artificial global bubble in human history. No coincidence there, either! It should be pretty obvious: the more the global economy expands, the higher and greater the number of major buildings that go up. And they concentrate in the leading countries and regions of the world at the time. So it’s probably no surprise that China – a country that has overbuilt its infrastructure over a decade into the future, indebting themselves with tens of trillions of dollars – is dominating the current race for who will build the next tallest skyscraper in the world.

Right now, that title belongs to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, standing at 2,717 feet. It was completed in 2010. The second highest – the Shanghai Tower in China, at 2,073 feet – finished last year. But now China has plans to complete another project in 2017 – the Phoenix Towers in Wuhan, south-central China. The tallest will be the first ever to stand one kilometer high, or 3,280 feet. Oh, and it’s going to be pink! China’s not the only one in the current race. Saudi Arabia has plans to complete their own 3,280-foot Kingdom Tower by 2019 – just as oil has been crashing and its government deficits are swelling. It’s just a big ego game to these up-and-coming countries!

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“..it is very hard to see how this Baby Boom generation, with 10,000 of them retiring a day, can afford one more devastating crash in their stock holdings..”

Investors Heading for Slaughter One More Time – David Stockman (Hunter)

Former Reagan White House Budget Director David Stockman says retail investors are going to take, yet, another very big hit. Stockman explains, “The retail investor waded in again. The sheep lined up and, unfortunately, are heading for the slaughter one more time. I think it is very hard to see how this Baby Boom generation, with 10,000 of them retiring a day, can afford one more devastating crash in their stock holdings. That is, unfortunately, what we are heading for. That’s why I say it’s dangerous. When the bubble breaks, it will spill and flow throughout the Main Street economy.”

Stockman warns the next crash will be bigger than any other in history. Stockman, the best-selling author of “The Great Deformation,” says, “I think we have been building a bubble year by year since the early 1990’s. The earlier crashes that we are so familiar with, Dot Com and the Housing Crash, were only interim corrections that were not allowed to work their way clear. The rot was not effectively purged from the system because central banks jumped back in within months of the corrections and doubled down in terms of the stimulus and liquidity that they pumped into the market.” Stockman contends that “you simply cannot fake your way in this market any longer.”

Stockman explains, “I have pointed out that Wall Street continually tells you that the market is not that overvalued. . . . I have pointed out . . . actual earnings are down 15%. The market is expensive, it is exceedingly expensive, and it’s really . . . 21 times earnings. Therefore, the whole bubble vision on valuations of the market is terribly misleading. Even the Wall Street version of earnings is going to be hard to maintain when the global recession sets in, and then investors are going to suddenly discover that the market is drastically overvalued. They are going to want to get out, and they are all going to want to get out all at the same time. That creates the kind of selling panics that can take the market down. We have kind of been in no man’s land for the last 700 days. The market is struggling to stay above 1870 on the S&P 500. It first crossed that level in late March 2014. It has had 35 efforts to rally and break to new highs. None of them have been sustained. My point about all that is that’s the way bull markets die.”

Stockman contends, “We are nearing the end. I think the world economy is plunging into an unprecedented deflation recession period of shrinkage that will bring down all the markets around the world that have been vastly overvalued as a result of this massive money printing and liquidity flow into Wall Street and other financial markets.”

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Tyler Durden’s comment: “It’s probably nothing”.

US January Truck Orders Down 48% (Reuters)

U.S. January Class 8 truck orders fell 48% on the year, preliminary data from freight transportation forecaster FTR showed, indicating that 2016 could be another weak year for truck makers. FTR estimated that orders for the heavy trucks that move goods around America’s highways totaled 18,062 units in January. This follows on from a full-year decline in 2015 of nearly 25% to 284,000 units from 276,000. “It is not looking to be a strong year,” for the market, FTR chief operating officer Jonathan Starks said in a statement. Amid uncertainty over U.S. economic growth and a lackluster performance for retailers in the fourth quarter, trucking companies have been holding back on buying new models.

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Interesting little piece of history. Worth a read.

Why The US Treasury Hides Its Saudi Investor (BBG)

As Bloomberg reported last month, the U.S. Treasury makes public the precise holdings of more than 100 countries, but those of Saudi Arabia are essentially kept secret, lumped together with 14 other nations. This arrangement, which conflicts with contemporary conventions of financial transparency, has a peculiar – and very controversial – origin in the oil crisis of the 1970s. Saudi Arabia’s special status took shape during the Arab-Israeli War of 1973. When the U.S. provided military supplies to Israel, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Nations imposed an oil embargo on countries that supported the Jewish state, sending oil prices skyrocketing and wreaking economic havoc. In response, President Richard Nixon created the Federal Energy Office on Dec. 4, 1973, and installed William Simon, then deputy Treasury secretary, to be the nation’s first “energy czar.”

Simon, who rose to prominence trading bonds at Salomon Brothers, had acquired a reputation as a hothead. After the Shah of Iran claimed that the U.S. was still importing the same amount of oil after the embargo as it had previously, Simon described Iran’s leader as “irresponsible and reckless” and a “nut.” Although he grudgingly retracted these comments, Simon’s suspicion of Iran remained: He believed that the shah was a dangerous megalomaniac. This belief put him at odds with Nixon and Henry Kissinger, both of whom considered the Iranian strongman indispensable to U.S. interests in the Middle East. Simon’s sympathies lay instead with another oil-exporting nation: Saudi Arabia, which had reluctantly joined the embargo. As Simon sought to tame the oil crisis, the Watergate scandal engulfed Washington.

Then, in May 1974, Secretary of the Treasury George Schultz stepped down, and Nixon promoted Simon to the post. In the chaos of Nixon’s final days in office, Simon moved quickly and scheduled a trip to Saudi Arabia in August 1974, the month that Nixon resigned. Simon cooked up an ingenuous plan that aimed to achieve several objectives: It would find new buyers for U.S. debt in an era of rising budget deficits, ensure that so-called petrodollars would return to the U.S. and help cultivate a partnership with Saudi Arabia at the expense of Iran. The main component was a campaign to persuade Saudi Arabia to invest much of its surplus cash in Treasury bonds. The Saudis agreed, but with one caveat: The purchases had to remain secret, perhaps because they might call into question the kingdom’s loyalties to OPEC.

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The Brits think their EU thing is a big deal, for some reason.

Crippled EU Is No Longer The ‘Anarcho-Imperial Monster’ We Once Feared (AEP)

The point of maximum danger for British parliamentary democracy was 13 years ago, the high-water mark of EU hubris and triumphalism. Events moved with lightning speed from the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 until the rapturous closure of the EU’s “Philadelphia” Convention in June 2003, and always in the one direction of ever closer union. Whether or not you care to speak of a “superstate”, the thrust was entirely at odds with the principle of sovereign and self-governing nation states in Europe. Nobody can say the European elites lacked panache. In a fever of treaties they vaulted from the creation of the euro to a nascent foreign policy and defence union at Amsterdam in 1997. An EU intelligence cell and military staff were created in Brussels, led by nine generals and 57 colonels, with plans for a Euro-army of 100,000 troops, 400 aircraft and 100 ships to project power across the globe.

They launched a European satellite system (Galileo) so that Europe would no longer have to be a “vassal” of Washington, in the revealing words of French leader Jacques Chirac. They set up a proto-FBI (Europol) and an EU justice department, replicating the structures of the US federal government one by one. They were equipping the EU with the apparatus of full-blown state. When Ireland voted no to the Nice Treaty – legally rendering it null and void – the Irish were swatted away. Nothing would stop this juggernaut. The furthest reach was the EU Convention gathered to draft the Treaty to end all Treaties , the European Constitution. It was supposedly launched in order to bring Europe closer to its citizens after anti-EU rioters set fire to Gothenburg, and as we began to hear the first drumbeats of populist revolt.

The forum was immediately hijacked by EU insiders and used for the opposite purpose, a drama I witnessed first-hand as Brussels correspondent. The text asserted in black and white that “the Constitution shall have primacy over the laws of the member states”. The document was to bring all EU law – as opposed to narrow “Community law” – under the jurisdiction of the European Court (ECJ) for the first time, creating a de facto supreme court. The Charter of Fundamental Rights, described by one British minister as having no more legal authority than the “Sun or the Beano”, would become legally-binding, and with it Article 52, allowing all rights to be suspended in the “general interest” of the union – the Magna Carta be damned. It was to give the EU “legal personality”, enabling it to agree treaties in its own name.

It would create an elected president. It was the jump from a treaty club of sovereign nations to what amounted to a unitary state, or an “anarcho-imperial monster” in the words of ex-commission official Bernard Connolly. When the early drafts began to circulate I sent a message to Charles Moore, then editor of The Telegraph, alerting him that in my view Britain faced a national emergency. In hindsight, I need not have been so alarmed. It is now obvious that the EU had bitten off more than it could chew, and the Ode to Joy anthem at the closure of that giddy Convention marked the moment when the European Project flamed out as a motivating force in history and began descending into the existential crisis we see before us. The proposals were rejected by French and Dutch voters.

Although EU leaders slipped most of the text through later by executive Putsch under the guise of the Lisbon Treaty, this was a step too far. It has come back to haunt them. The refusal to accept the emphatic verdict of the people crystallized a long-simmering suspicion that the Project had escaped democratic control.

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Not going to happen

MPs Call For Immediate Halt Of UK Arms Sales To Saudi Arabia (Guardian)

An all-party group of MPs has called for an immediate suspension of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia and an international independent inquiry into the kingdom’s military campaign in Yemen. The call from the international development select committee follows evidence from aid agencies to MPs warning that Saudi Arabia was involved in indiscriminate bombing of its neighbour. The UK government has supplied export licences for close to £3bn worth of arms to Saudi Arabia in the last year, the committee said, and has also been accused of being involved in the conduct and administration of the Saudi campaign in Yemen.

In their letter to the international development secretary, Justine Greening, it urged the UK to withdraw opposition to an independent international inquiry into alleged abuses of humanitarian law in Yemen. A leaked UN report last week said Saudi Arabia was involved in breaches of humanitarian law, and in response the Saudis set up an internal inquiry, a move welcomed by the Foreign Office. The committee said it was astonished to hear the extent to which the government had watered down calls for an independent inquiry proposed by the Netherlands last September at the UN.

“It is a longstanding principle of the rule of law that inquiries should be independent of those being investigated. Furthermore given the severity of the allegations that the Saudi-backed coalition has targeted civilians in Yemen, it is really unthinkable that any investigation led by coalition actors would come to the conclusion that the allegations were accurate.” It said it was shocked that the UK government could claim there had been no breaches of humanitarian law and had significantly increased arms sales to the Saudis since the start of its intervention in Yemen. “We received evidence that close to £3bn worth of arms licences have been granted for exports to Saudi in the last six months. This includes £1bn worth of bombs rockets and missiles for the three-month period from July to September last year – up from only £9m in the previous three months,” the MPs said.

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The real issue is that over half of all Greeks depend on a pension, of someone in the family, to live. That includes many of the young unemployed. See the graph I inserted below (not original with the article). Entire families forced to live on a €500-€600 pension are not an exception.

Greek Pension Reform Sparks General Strike (BBG)

Socrates Vrysopoulos is an unlikely militant. The 38-year-old Greek banking and commercial lawyer is part of a month-old bar-association boycott of the country’s courts, in protest against the government’s pension-reform plans. He says they cripple small businesses and the self-employed, raising the tax and social insurance for a young lawyer with annual income of €20,000 ($21,900) by 27% to €13,800. “A reform is supposed to be a new scheme that helps you improve an existing situation,” said Vrysopoulos, who started his own law firm in 2011. “This is not a reform at all. It’s a way to get more money to repay your loans as a country.” Farmers are blocking highways and workers are joining the protest on Thursday as unions hold the first one-day general strike of 2016 and stage rallies against Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s pension proposals.

Self-employed doctors, taxi drivers and civil engineers are throwing their lot in with the protesters, while traffic is set to be disrupted with metro, buses, ferries and flights within Greece affected. The pension reform, needed to fulfill demands of the country’s institutional creditors, is becoming a thorny issue for the 41-year-old premier elected by the Greeks just over a year ago for his anti-austerity promises. Hanging onto a thin parliamentary majority and facing a revived opposition party that has leaped ahead in opinion polls by electing a new leader last month, the reform poses the biggest test to Tsipras’s political survival since last year’s bailout negotiations threw Greece’s euro-area membership in doubt. “Pensions are the sacred cow of the Greek political system,” said Platon Tinios, an assistant professor at the University of Piraeus and visiting senior fellow at the London School of Economics.

While the current changes complete the series of reforms started with the country’s first bailout in 2010, they provide few assurances Greece won’t need a whole new pension system in a few years, he said. Greece has almost 2.7 million pensioners, and the average gross pension for retirees is about €960 per month, according to the most recent available Labor ministry data. The sum total of pensioners and unemployed is higher than the 3.7 million currently working in Greece, according to the latest Labor Force Survey published by the Hellenic Statistical Authority. Last year, the state spent 22.7% of its ordinary budget to plug the hole in pension funds, according to the country’s Parliamentary Budget Office. The non-partisan office said in a report published last month that public expenditure for pensions equals 14.9% of Greece’s GDP, versus an average of 7.9% among member-states in the OECD. “Without changes, the social security system is unsustainable,” the Parliamentary Budget Office said.

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In case anyone was still wondering what they flee.

Drone Footage Reveals Extent of Devastation In Syria (Ind.)

As attitudes and policies towards refugees harden across Europe, a video has emerged that exposes the utter devastation Syrians are fleeing from. Revealing in detail the consequences of the country’s five-year civil war, the drone footage shows the piles of rubble ruined buildings that Homs – previously Syria’s third largest city – has been reduced to. While the video reflects the utter desolation in a city that was once home to more than 650,000 people, peace talks aimed at ending hostilities remain frustratingly unproductive. Arguments over who should or should not attend the negotiations overshadowed the continuous damage wrought in a war that has seen over 11 million Syrians flee, more than half the country’s entire population. The video was shot by Alexander Pushin, a cameraman for Russian state television.

While his drone footage from Syria has been described as propaganda designed to promote Russia’s military involvement in the country, the startling scale of devastation it exposes is beyond question. Even as news emerged of nine people who died attempting to reach the relative safe haven of Europe, anti-refugee sentiment appears to be growing across the continent. Denmark recently introduced legislation that permits the seizing of refugees’ valuables, which drew comparisons to the treatment of Jews by Nazi Germany. Sweden is rejecting applications from 80,000 people who sought asylum in the Scandinavian country last year, while Finland also intends to expel 20,000 of the 32,000 applications received in 2015. Angela Merkel announced recently that Syrian refugees would be expected to return to the Middle East once the conflict is over, while British Prime Minister David Cameron dismissed those living in the squalor of Calais’ “Jungle” as “a bunch of migrants”.

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They want deals with Jordan, Egypt too. Anything to keep them out of Europe. Cattle trade.

EU Agrees Funding For Turkey To Curb Migrant Flows (Reuters)

European Union countries on Wednesday approved a €3 billion fund for Turkey to improve living conditions for refugees there in exchange for Ankara ensuring fewer of them migrate on to Europe. The EU is counting on the deal to lower the number of asylum seekers arriving in Europe after over a million streamed onto the continent in 2015, mainly by sea from Turkey, with figures indicating little sign of the flow ebbing so far this year. All 28 EU countries signed off on the proposal at a meeting in Brussels after Italy dropped its opposition to the plan, which was first agreed with Ankara in November. The bloc’s executive European Commission welcomed the decision on Turkey, currently home to an estimated 2.5 million refugees from the civil war in Syria next door.

“Turkey now hosts one of the world’s largest refugee communities and has committed to significantly reducing the numbers of migrants crossing into the EU,” said Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement. “The Facility for Refugees in Turkey will go straight to the refugees, providing them with education, health and food. The improvement of living conditions and the offering of a positive perspective will allow refugees to stay closer to their homes.” Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands, the current holder of the EU’s rotating presidency, said cooperation with Turkey on the migration crisis would also focus on targeting human traffickers who have arranged passage for many people.

[..] Struggling with its own weak economy and large debt loads, Italy unblocked the funding only after Brussels said it would exempt contributions to the Turkey fund in calculating EU countries’ budget deficits. Under EU rules, countries must keep their budget shortfalls low or face disciplinary action. Italy wanted to exempt more migration-related spending from its budget gap and sought to agree a figure of about €3.2 billion this year. The European Commission refused to endorse a lump-sum up front and said that any such spending would be analyzed separately after it takes place. But on Wednesday, Rome secured an additional declaration before agreeing to the fund, in which it says it still “strongly expects” Brussels will exempt from its deficit figures “the full amount of costs” it incurred from 2011 when a conflict in its ex-colony Libya started and triggered higher migration to Italy.

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Jan 022016
 
 January 2, 2016  Posted by at 10:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Earl Theisen Walt Disney oiling scale model locomotive at home in LA 1951

After a Tumultuous 2015, Investors Have Low Expectations for Markets (WSJ)
Will Corporate Investment and Profits Rebound This Year? (WSJ)
A Year of Sovereign Defaults? (Carmen Reinhart)
The Next Big Short: Amazon (Stockman)
The Real Financial Risks of 2016 (Taleb)
High-Yield Bonds: Worthy of the Name Again (WSJ)
Slowdown In Chinese Manufacturing Deepens Fears For Economy (Guardian)
Opinion Divided On State Of Chinese Economy, But Not Its Importance (Guardian)
‘Indigestion’ Hits Diamond Companies: Too Much Supply, Too Little Demand (FT)
Iraq Says It Exported More Than 1 Billion Barrels of Oil in 2015 (BBG)
The Federal Reserve’s Brave New Interest Rate World (Coppola)
Economic Sweet Spot Of 2016 Before The Reflation Storm (AEP)
New Year Brings Minimum Wage Hikes For Americans In 14 States (Reuters)
Swiss Bank Admits Cash and Gold Withdrawals Cheated IRS (BBG)
Edward Hugh, Economist Who Foresaw Eurozone’s Struggles, Dies At 67 (NY Times)
As 2016 Dawns, Europe Braces For More Waves Of Refugees (AP)

Watch out below.

After a Tumultuous 2015, Investors Have Low Expectations for Markets (WSJ)

After a year of disappointment in everything from U.S. stocks to emerging markets and junk bonds, investors are approaching 2016 with low expectations. Some see the past year as a bad omen. Two major stock indexes posted their first annual decline since the financial crisis, while energy prices fell even further. Emerging markets and junk bonds also struggled. Others view the pullback as a sensible breather for some markets after years of strong gains. While large gains were common as markets recovered in the years after the 2008 financial crisis, many investors say such returns are growing harder to come by, and expect slim gains at best this year.

“You have to be very muted in your expectations,” said Margie Patel, senior portfolio manager at Wells Fargo Funds who said she expects mid-single percentage-point gains in major U.S. stock indexes this year. “It’s pretty hard to point to a sector or an industry where you could say, well, that’s going to grow very, very rapidly,” she said, adding that there are “not a lot of things to get enthusiastic about, and a long list of things to be worried about.” As the year neared an end, a fierce selloff hit junk bonds in December, while U.S. government bond yields rose only modestly despite the Federal Reserve’s decision to raise its benchmark interest rate in December, showing investors weren’t ready to retreat from relatively safe government bonds.

For the U.S., 2015’s rough results stood in contrast to three stellar years. After rising 46% from 2012 through 2014, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 2.2% last year. The S&P 500 fell 0.7%. While most Wall Street equity strategists still expect gains for U.S. stocks this year, they also once again expect higher levels of volatility than in years past. Of 16 investment banks that issued forecasts for this year, two-thirds expect the S&P 500 to finish 2016 at a level less than 10% above last year’s close, according to stock-market research firm Birinyi Associates. Some investors say a pause for stocks is normal for a bull market of this length, which has been the longest since the 1990s. Including dividends, the S&P 500 has returned 249% since its crisis-era low of 2009.

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How could they? On what? “This recovery still stinks.”

Will Corporate Investment and Profits Rebound This Year? (WSJ)

In 2015, the American corporate landscape was dominated by activist investors, buybacks, currencies and deals. This year, the question is whether U.S. businesses will shake off the weight of a strong dollar and lower commodity prices to expand profit growth, end their dependence on boosting returns with buybacks, and turn to investing in their operations. The Federal Reserve had enough confidence in the economic recovery to raise interest rates in December, but it remains unclear whether global growth will be buoyant enough reverse weak business investment. Many big companies are reining in spending. 3M, with thousands of products from Scotch tape to smartphone materials, forecasts capital spending roughly unchanged from 2015.

Telecom companies AT&T and Verizon both plan to hold capital spending generally level in the coming year. Meanwhile, industrial giants like General Electric and United Technologies are aggressively cutting costs and seeking to squeeze more savings from suppliers. Capital expenditures by members of the S&P 500 index fell in the second and third quarters of 2015 from a year earlier, the first time since 2010 that the measure has fallen for two consecutive quarters, according to data from S&P Dow Jones Indices. Another measure of business spending on new equipment—orders for nondefense capital goods, excluding aircraft—was down 3.6% from a year earlier in the first 11 months of 2015, according to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

More broadly, only 25% of small companies plan capital outlays in the next three to six months, according to a November survey of about 600 firms by the National Federation of Independent Business. That compares with an average of 29% and a high of 41% since the surveys began in 1974. “Our guys are in maintenance mode,” said William Dunkelberg, chief economist for the trade group. “This recovery still stinks.” Profit growth for the constituents of the S&P 500 index stalled in 2015 thanks to a combination of a strong dollar and falling prices for steel, crude oil and other commodities. Deutsche Bank estimates total net income for companies in the index fell 3% in 2015, while sales declined 4%. For 2016, Deutsche Bank forecasts net income growth of 4.3% and a 4% increase in revenue.

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Given the reliance on dollar-denominated low interest loans, it seems all but certain.

A Year of Sovereign Defaults? (Carmen Reinhart)

When it comes to sovereign debt, the term “default” is often misunderstood. It almost never entails the complete and permanent repudiation of the entire stock of debt; indeed, even some Czarist-era Russian bonds were eventually (if only partly) repaid after the 1917 revolution. Rather, non-payment – a “default,” according to credit-rating agencies, when it involves private creditors – typically spurs a conversation about debt restructuring, which can involve maturity extensions, coupon-payment cuts, grace periods, or face-value reductions (so-called “haircuts”). If history is a guide, such conversations may be happening a lot in 2016. Like so many other features of the global economy, debt accumulation and default tends to occur in cycles.

Since 1800, the global economy has endured several such cycles, with the share of independent countries undergoing restructuring during any given year oscillating between zero and 50% (see figure). Whereas one- and two-decade lulls in defaults are not uncommon, each quiet spell has invariably been followed by a new wave of defaults. The most recent default cycle includes the emerging-market debt crises of the 1980s and 1990s. Most countries resolved their external-debt problems by the mid-1990s, but a substantial share of countries in the lowest-income group remain in chronic arrears with their official creditors. Like outright default or the restructuring of debts to official creditors, such arrears are often swept under the rug, possibly because they tend to involve low-income debtors and relatively small dollar amounts.

But that does not negate their eventual capacity to help spur a new round of crises, when sovereigns who never quite got a handle on their debts are, say, met with unfavorable global conditions. And, indeed, global economic conditions – such as commodity-price fluctuations and changes in interest rates by major economic powers such as the United States or China – play a major role in precipitating sovereign-debt crises. As my recent work with Vincent Reinhart and Christoph Trebesch reveals, peaks and troughs in the international capital-flow cycle are especially dangerous, with defaults proliferating at the end of a capital-inflow bonanza.

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Big call from Dave.

The Next Big Short: Amazon (Stockman)

If you have forgotten your Gulliver’s Travels, recall that Jonathan Swift described the people of Brobdingnag as being as tall as church steeples and having a ten foot stride. Everything else was in proportion – with rats the size of mastiffs and the latter the size of four elephants, while flies were “as big as a Dunstable lark” and wasps were the size of partridges. Hence the word for this fictional land has come to mean colossal, enormous, gigantic, huge, immense or, as the urban dictionary puts it, “really f*cking big”. That would also describe the $325 billion bubble which comprises Amazon’s market cap. It is at once brobdangnagian and preposterous – a trick on the casino signifying that the crowd has once again gone stark raving mad.

When you have arrived at a condition of extreme “irrational exuberance” there is probably no insult to ordinary valuation metrics that can shock. But for want of doubt consider that AMZN earned the grand sum of $79 million last quarter and $328 million for the LTM period ending in September. That’s right. Its conventional PE multiple is 985X! And, no, its not a biotech start-up in phase 3 FDA trials with a sure fire cancer cure set to be approved any day; its actually been around more than a quarter century, putting it in the oldest quartile of businesses in the US. But according to the loony posse of sell-side apologists who cover the company – there are 15 buy recommendations – Amazon is still furiously investing in “growth” after all of these years.

So never mind the PE multiple; earnings are being temporarily sacrificed for growth. Well, yes. On its approximate $100 billion in LTM sales Amazon did generate $32.6 billion of gross profit. But the great builder behind the curtain in Seattle choose to “reinvest” $5 billion in sales and marketing, $14 billion in general and administrative expense and $11.6 billion in R&D. So there wasn’t much left for the bottom line, and not surprisingly. Amazon’s huge R&D expense alone was actually nearly three times higher than that of pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb. But apparently that’s why Bezos boldly bags the big valuation multiples.

Not so fast, we think. Is there any evidence that all this madcap “investment” in the upper lines of the P&L for all these years is showing signs of momentum in cash generation? After all, sooner or later valuation has to be about free cash flow, even if you set aside GAAP accounting income. In fact, AMZN generated $9.8 billion in operating cash flow during its most recent LTM period and spent $7.0 billion on CapEx and other investments. So its modest $2.8 billion of free cash flow implies a multiple of 117X.

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“Zero interest rates turn monetary policy into a massive weapon that has no ammunition.”

The Real Financial Risks of 2016 (Taleb)

How should we think about financial risks in 2016? First, worry less about the banking system. Financial institutions today are less fragile than they were a few years ago. This isn’t because they got better at understanding risk (they didn’t) but because, since 2009, banks have been shedding their exposures to extreme events. Hedge funds, which are much more adept at risk-taking, now function as reinsurers of sorts. Because hedge-fund owners have skin in the game, they are less prone to hiding risks than are bankers. This isn’t to say that the financial system has healed: Monetary policy made itself ineffective with low interest rates, which were seen as a cure rather than a transitory painkiller. Zero interest rates turn monetary policy into a massive weapon that has no ammunition.

There’s no evidence that “zero” interest rates are better than, say, 2% or 3%, as the Federal Reserve may be realizing. I worry about asset values that have swelled in response to easy money. Low interest rates invite speculation in assets such as junk bonds, real estate and emerging market securities. The effect of tightening in 1994 was disproportionately felt with Italian, Mexican and Thai securities. The rule is: Investments with micro-Ponzi attributes (i.e., a need to borrow to repay) will be hit. Though “another Lehman Brothers” isn’t likely to happen with banks, it is very likely to happen with commodity firms and countries that depend directly or indirectly on commodity prices.

Dubai is more threatened by oil prices than Islamic State. Commodity people have been shouting, “We’ve hit bottom,” which leads me to believe that they still have inventory to liquidate. Long-term agricultural commodity prices might be threatened by improvement in the storage of solar energy, which could prompt some governments to cancel ethanol programs as a mandatory use of land for “clean” energy.

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Yield rises with risk. Risk leads to losses.

High-Yield Bonds: Worthy of the Name Again (WSJ)

By mid-2014, some were starting to wonder whether the high-yield bond market needed to find a new name for itself. U.S. yields fell below 5%, while European yields dipped beneath 4%, according to Barclays indexes. But at the end of 2015, the market once again has an appropriate moniker. U.S. yields are ending the year at 8.8%, the Barclays index shows, returning to levels last seen in 2011. They have risen by about 2.3 percentage points this year. European yields stand at 5% — not huge in absolute terms, but high relative to ultralow European government bond yields. Of course, for existing investors that has been bad news. The ride—including the high-profile meltdown of Third Avenue Management’s Focused Credit Fund, which shook the market in December—has been rough.

It has taken its toll on borrowers too. The U.S. high-yield bond market has recorded the slowest pace of fourth-quarter issuance since 2008, when the collapse of Lehman Brothers essentially shut the market down, according to data firm Dealogic. Global issuance has fallen 23% this year to $366.5 billion, the lowest level since 2011. The market is likely to face further tests in 2016. Defaults are set to rise, and companies may find it tougher to get financing. But at least investors will now get chunkier rewards for taking risk. Arguably, high-yield investors should always be focused on absolute rather than relative yields, given the need to compensate for defaults. From that point of view, 2015 was the year high-yield bonds got their mojo back.

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China will find it much harder to keep up appearances in 2016.

Slowdown In Chinese Manufacturing Deepens Fears For Economy (Guardian)

A further slowdown in China’s vast manufacturing sector has intensified worries about the year ahead for the world’s second largest economy. The latest in a string of downbeat reports from showed that activity at China’s factories cooled in December for the fifth month running, as overseas demand for Chinese goods continued to fall. Against the backdrop of a faltering global economy, turmoil in the country’s stock markets and overcapacity in factories, Chinese economic growth has slowed markedly. The country’s central bank expects growth in 2015 to be the slowest for a quarter of a century. After growing 7.3% in 2014, the economy is thought to have expanded by 6.9% in 2015 and the central bank has forecast that it may slow further in 2016 to 6.8%.

A series of interventions by policymakers, including interest rate cuts, have done little to revive growth and in some cases served only to heighten concern about China’s challenges. Friday’s figures showed that the manufacturing sector limped to the end of 2015. The official purchasing managers’ index (PMI) of manufacturing activity edged up to 49.7 in December from 49.6 in November. The December reading matched the forecast in a Reuters poll of economists and marked the fifth consecutive month that the index was below 50, the point that separates expansion from contraction. “Although the PMI slightly rebounded this month, it still lies below the critical point and is lower than historic levels over the same period,” Zhao Qinghe, a senior statistician at the national bureau of statistics, said.

Analysts said the latest manufacturing PMI pointed to falling activity, but that some hope could be taken from the improvement on November’s three-year low. The small rise “suggests that growth momentum is stabilising somewhat … however, the sector is still facing strong headwinds,” said Zhou Hao at Commerzbank. “In order to facilitate the destocking and deleveraging process, monetary policy will remain accommodative and the fiscal policy will be more proactive.”

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Can China let go of the peg and let the yaun plunge, while it’s in the IMF basket?

Opinion Divided On State Of Chinese Economy, But Not Its Importance (Guardian)

It was perhaps fitting that China’s latest lacklustre industrial survey was the first fragment of financial data to greet the new year. Economists are divided about the risks facing the vast Chinese economy, but agree that how they play out will have profound consequences for the rest of the world in 2016. The optimists point to China’s large and growing middle class, the vast foreign currency reserves that give Beijing ample ammunition to respond to any crisis that emerges, and the authoritarian regime that allows its policymakers to force through economic change. And official figures do suggest that economic growth may have stabilised at about 6.5% – considerably weaker than the double-digit pace that was the norm before the financial crisis, but not the feared “hard landing”.

Yet pessimists argue that the official figures radically overestimate the true pace of growth: using alternative indicators such as freight volumes and electricity usage, City analysts Fathom calculate that growth could be below 3%. And last summer’s share price crash, and the chaos that surrounded Beijing’s decision to devalue the yuan, suggested there is no reason to think Chinese policymakers are any more in control of the forces of capitalism than their western counterparts were in the run-up to the financial crisis. China’s latest five-year plan involves a conscious attempt to switch growth away from the export-led model that has driven its rise to the economic premier league, and towards more sustainable, domestic consumption-led growth.

But with many of the country’s powerful state-owned enterprises loaded up with debt, property bubbles deflating and the knock-on effects of the share price crash still being felt, domestic demand has so far failed to pick up the slack. The challenge of maintaining politically acceptable rates of economic growth may become tougher in 2016, particularly if the US Federal Reserve presses ahead with its bid to return interest rates to somewhere near normal. The value of the Chinese yuan is not allowed to move too far out of line with the dollar, under a “crawling peg” – effectively a semi-fixed exchange rate.

But as the greenback moves upwards to reflect the strengthening US economy and rising rates, it is taking the yuan with it, and making it harder for Chinese exporters to compete. As the dollar continues to appreciate, it may become increasingly tempting for policymakers to abandon the peg and let the currency plunge, returning to the familiar export-led pattern of growth. And if Beijing does devalue sharply, it would damage China’s exporting rivals, and send deflation rippling out through the global economy, increasing the risk of a lengthy period of economic weakness. China’s true fragility is impossible to gauge; but it matters.

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Not a good sign for gold.

‘Indigestion’ Hits Diamond Companies: Too Much Supply, Too Little Demand (FT)

De Beers was hoping its “Live your love today” campaign would entice Chinese consumers to buy diamond jewellery this holiday season. It is unlikely to be enough to turn round the miner’s fortunes. While auction prices set records for some big gems in 2015 — Lucara Diamond found one of the largest stones to date — the sector has had its toughest year since the global financial crisis as it struggles with too much supply and too little demand. Miners including De Beers, which is owned by Anglo American, and Canada’s Dominion Diamond have acknowledged falling revenues and lower prices for rough diamonds. In China, the big jewellers are suffering. Chow Tai Fook, the largest by market value, reported a 42% fall in net profits in interim results.

But the pain has been most acute for the trade’s “midstream”, the hundreds of cutters and polishers, mostly in India, which buy rough stones from miners and supply retailers. “The raw [rough] diamond price is still high but the polishers [like us] have to sell cheaper because of the drop in demand,” said Chirag Kakadia of Sheetal, an Indian diamond polisher, speaking at a Hong Kong trade show. “We are forced to purchase higher but sell lower. Our production has dropped 40% from 2014 but our sales are 50% less.” Companies such as Sheetal have been hit by a bout of what Johan Dippenaar, chief executive of Petra Diamonds, has described as industry “indigestion”, stemming from an over-optimistic assessment of demand from China.

Retailers that had geared up for years of growth were caught out by a slowing economy and an anti-corruption drive, with officials banned from receiving gifts. A person in the industry who asked not to be named said demand in Hong Kong and Macau had been “absolutely mullered” by the corruption crackdown. The lack of interest from consumers has left cutters and polishers holding too much stock. In turn, their need to buy from miners has declined, forcing down rough prices. Analysts said that, even if midstream groups wanted to restock, many would find it hard to do so. Much of the credit in the sector has been withdrawn as banks have grown wary of lending to businesses that are family-owned and tend to be opaque. The question is whether the market will bounce back or be altered for good.

De Beers, which has lost much of its power as a supplier but remains a dominant participant, says the industry does not face a long-term bust and once the temporary oversupply is dealt with equilibrium will be restored. Philippe Mellier, chief executive, told industry analysts in December: “This is a stock crisis, not a demand crisis.” De Beers has allowed midstream companies to put regular purchases on hold. “We just want our customers to buy what they need and not increase the stock problem,” said Mr Mellier. The miner has also cut production and closed two diamond mines. Consultants at Bain say the diamond pipeline should return to normal functioning once midmarket businesses and retailers clear excess inventories, provided that miners and polishers manage supplies adroitly.

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And now Iran will follow.

Iraq Says It Exported More Than 1 Billion Barrels of Oil in 2015 (BBG)

Iraq said it exported 1.097 billion barrels of oil in 2015, generating $49.079 billion from sales, according to the oil ministry. It sold 99.7 million barrels of oil in December, generating $2.973 billion, after selling a record 100.9 million barrels in November, said oil ministry spokesman Asim Jihad. The country sold at an average price of $44.74 a barrel in 2015, Jihad said. Iraq, with the world’s fifth-biggest oil reserves, needs to keep increasing crude output because lower oil prices have curbed government revenue. Oil prices have slumped in the past year as OPEC defended market share against production in the U.S. OPEC’s second-largest crude producer is facing a slowdown in investment due to lower oil prices while fighting a costly war on Islamist militants who seized a swath of the country’s northwest. The nation’s output will start to decline in 2018, Morgan Stanley said in a Sept. 2 report, reversing its forecast for higher production every year to 2020.

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The real rate rise is still substantially lower than 0.25%, though.

The Federal Reserve’s Brave New Interest Rate World (Coppola)

On December 17th, 2015, the FOMC raised interest rates for the first time since the 2008 financial crisis. To be sure, it had little choice. The Fed had been signalling an interest rate rise persistently for months, and had already disappointed markets twice by delaying rate rises in September and October. It had painted itself into the same corner as the ECB did over QE earlier in the year. The ECB signalled for months that it was going to start QE, and backed off several times, to the disappointment of market participants. Eventually, ECB was forced to start QE for the simple reason that NOT doing so threatened financial stability, because markets had already priced it in. So with the FOMC. Encouraged by broadly good economic data, and by the Fed’s approving noises, markets priced in a 25bps interest rate rise.

The FOMC was all but obliged to act, simply to avoid sparking a market rout. It was yet another fine example of markets being willing to let the Fed guide them along the road that they were already travelling. Since that small but oh-so-significant rate rise, the Fed Funds rate has obediently remained firmly within its new 25 to 50 bps corridor. Indeed, it has hovered persistently around the midpoint of the range. Given that the system is still awash with excess reserves and the Fed Funds rate therefore has little effect on bank lending, it is remarkable that the rate has stayed both elevated and stable. How has this been achieved? Yesterday, the FT reported that the Fed absorbed $475bn of excess reserves through overnight reverse repo operations in its last monetary operation of 2015, a record amount.

Overnight reverse repos allow certain non-bank financial institutions to place funds at the Fed overnight in return for USTs (yes, the ones bought in the Fed’s QE programs) and 25bps interest. The interest rate is no accident: it is the floor of the target Fed Funds rate range. These reverse repos provide competition for banks in the funding markets, forcing banks to offer higher interest rates on funds they lend to non-banks. The Fed said in December that it would make $2tn worth of USTs available as collateral for reverse repo transactions: it is actually needing to use considerably less to maintain the Fed Funds rate well above its floor. But reverse repos are only half the story. The Fed also set the interest rate it pays on excess reserves (IOER) to the top of the Fed Funds target range. This pulls the funding rate upwards, since banks will not lend reserves to each other at less than the IOER rate.

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Ambroze has been smoking. A lot. The sudden surge in China M1 in the graph looks like panic to me, and moreover, it hasn’t done any good either.

Economic Sweet Spot Of 2016 Before The Reflation Storm (AEP)

Sunlit uplands beckon. Almost $2 trillion of annual stimulus from cheap oil has been accumulating for months, pent up and waiting to be spent. It will soon come flooding through in a burst, catching the world by surprise. But beware: the more beguiling it is over coming months, the more traumatic it will be later as the reflation scare comes alive. Since the rite of New Year predictions is to stick one’s neck out, let me hazard hopefully that this treacherous moment can be deferred until 2017. The positive oil shock will hit just as austerity ends in the US, and big-spending states and cities ice the cake with a fiscal boost worth 0.5pc of GDP. Americans broke records with the purchase 1.7m new cars and trucks in December, a foretaste of blistering sales to come. There is a ‘deficit’ of 20m cars left from the Long Slump yet to be plugged.

The eurozone is nearing the sweet spot, a fleeting nirvana of 2pc growth, conjured by the trifecta of a cheap euro, budgetary break-out, and the end of bank deleveraging. Mario Draghi’s printing presses are firing on all cylinders. The ‘broad’ M3 money supply is growing at turbo-charged rates of 5pc in real terms. This is a 12-month leading indicator for the economy, so enjoy the ride, at least until the demonic Fiscal Compact returns at the dead of night to smother Europe once again. In China, the dogs bark, the caravan moves on. There will be no devaluation of the yuan this year, because there is no urgent need for it. Premier Li Keqiang has vowed to keep the new exchange basket stable. Armed with a current account surplus of $600bn, $3.5 trillion of reserves, and capitol controls, that is exactly what he will do.

The lingering hangover from the Great Chinese Recession of early 2015 has faded. The PMI services gauge has just jumped to a 15-month high of 54.4, and this is now the relevant index since the Communist Party is systematically winding down chunks of the steel, shipbuilding, and chemical industries. China’s money supply is also catching fire. Growth of ‘real true M1’ has spiked to 10pc, a giddy shot of caffeine not seen since the post-Lehman spree. Combined credit and local government bond issuance is surging at a rate of 14pc. The Communist Party cranked up fiscal spending by 18.9pc in November. Whether or not you think this recidivist stimulus is wise – given that the law of diminishing returns set in long ago for debt-driven growth – it will paper over a lot of cracks for the time being.

One thing that will not happen is a housing revival in the mid-sized T3 and T4 cities of the hinterland. It will be a long time before the latest reform of the medieval Hukou system unleashes enough rural migrants to fill the ghost towns. The stock of 4.5m unsold homes on the books of developers is frightening to behold. The epic dollar rally has come and gone. The world’s currency will drift down over coming months, and that will be a reprieve for the likes of Brazil, Turkey, South Africa, Indonesia, and Colombia. Those at the wrong end of $9 trillion of off-shore debt in US dollars may breath easier: they will not escape. The MSCI index of emerging market stocks will return from the dead, clawing back most of the 28pc in losses since last April, but only to lurch into a greater storm.

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Barely a start. But a strong sign of how much less ‘new’ jobs pay.

New Year Brings Minimum Wage Hikes For Americans In 14 States (Reuters)

As the United States marks more than six years without an increase in the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, 14 states and several cities are moving forward with their own increases, with most set to start taking effect on Friday. California and Massachusetts are highest among the states, both increasing from $9 to $10 an hour, according to an analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures. At the low end is Arkansas, where the minimum wage is increasing from $7.50 to $8. The smallest increase, a nickel, comes in South Dakota, where the hourly minimum is now $8.55.

The increases come in the wake of a series of “living wage” protests across the country, including a November campaign in which thousands of protesters in 270 cities marched in support of a $15-an-hour minimum wage and union rights for fast food workers. Food service workers make up the largest group of minimum-wage earners, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With Friday’s increases, the new average minimum wage across the 14 affected states rises from $8.50 an hour to just over $9. Several cities are going even higher. Seattle is setting a sliding hourly minimum between $10.50 and $13 on Jan. 1, and Los Angeles and San Francisco are enacting similar increases in July, en route to $15 an hour phased in over six years.

Backers say a higher minimum wage helps combat poverty, but opponents worry about the potential impact on employment and company profits. In 2014, a Democratic-backed congressional proposal to increase the federal minimum wage for the first time since 2009 to $10.10 stalled, as have subsequent efforts by President Barack Obama. More recent proposals by some lawmakers call for a federal minimum wage of up to $15 an hour. Alan Krueger, an economics professor at Princeton University and former chairman of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, said a federal minimum wage of up to $12 an hour, phased in over five years or so, “would not have a noticeable effect on employment.”

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Many such banks did the same.

Swiss Bank Admits Cash and Gold Withdrawals Cheated IRS (BBG)

Large cash and gold withdrawals were one way Bank Lombard Odier & Co allowed U.S. clients to sever a paper trail on their assets and cheat the Internal Revenue Service, the Swiss lender admitted, agreeing to pay $99.8 million to avoid prosecution. That penalty is the second-largest paid under a program to help the U.S. clamp down on tax evasion through Swiss banks. Total penalties have reached more than $1.1 billion as banks have revealed how they helped clients hide money and where the assets went. DZ Privatbank (Schweiz) AG will also pay almost $7.5 million under accords released Thursday. The U.S. has struck 75 such non-prosecution agreements this year, with the tempo and dollar amount increasing in recent weeks as it rushes to finish. Geneva-based Lombard Odier, founded in 1796, had 1,121 U.S. accounts with $4.45 billion in assets from 2008 through 2014, according to the agreement, announced Thursday.

The bank adopted a policy in 2008 to force U.S. clients to disclose undeclared assets to the IRS or face account closures. However, the policy authorized large cash or gold withdrawals, donations to U.S. relatives or charitable institutions, resulting in further wrongdoing, according to the statement. In 2009 alone, the bank processed 14 cash withdrawals of more than $1 million each for clients closing 11 accounts, according to the non-prosecution agreement. One client closed an account by withdrawing more than $3 million in gold, the bank admitted. “These withdrawals of cash and precious metals enabled U.S. persons to sever the paper trail for their assets and further conceal their income and assets from U.S. authorities,” according to the agreement. The bank also closed at least 12 U.S. accounts worth $15.7 million with “fictitious donations” to other accounts at the bank, Lombard Odier admitted.

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“..Mr. Hugh insisted time and again that economists and policy makers were glossing over the extent to which swift austerity measures in countries like Greece, Ireland, Spain and Portugal would result in devastating recessions..”

Edward Hugh, Economist Who Foresaw Eurozone’s Struggles, Dies At 67 (NY Times)

Edward Hugh, a freethinking and wide-ranging British economist who gave early warnings about the European debt crisis from his adopted home in Barcelona, died on Tuesday, his birthday, in Girona, Spain. He was 67. The cause was cancer of the gallbladder and liver, his son, Morgan Jones, said. Mr. Hugh drew attention in 2009 and 2010 for his blog posts pointing out flaws at the root of Europe’s ambition to bind together disparate cultures and economies with a single currency, the euro. In clear, concise essays, adorned with philosophical musings and colorful graphics, Mr. Hugh insisted time and again that economists and policy makers were glossing over the extent to which swift austerity measures in countries like Greece, Ireland, Spain and Portugal would result in devastating recessions.

Mr. Hugh’s insights soon attracted a wide and influential following, including hedge funds, economists, finance ministers and analysts at the IMF. “For those of us pessimists who believed that the eurozone structure was leading to an unsustainable bubble in the periphery countries, Edward Hugh was a must-read,” said Albert Edwards, a strategist based in London for the French bank Société Générale. “His prescience in explaining the mechanics of the crisis went almost unnoticed until it actually hit.” As the eurozone’s economic problems grew, so did Mr. Hugh’s popularity, and by 2011 he had moved the base of his operations to Facebook. There he attracted many thousands of additional followers from all over the world.

If Santa Claus and John Maynard Keynes could combine as one, he might well be Edward Hugh. He was roly-poly and merry, and he always had a twinkle in his eye, not least when he came across a data point or the hint of an economic or social trend that would support one of his many theories. His intellect was too restless to be pigeonholed, but when pressed he would say that he saw himself as a Keynesian in spirit, but not letter. And in tune with his view that economists in general had become too wedded to static economic models and failed their obligation to predict and explain, he frequently cited this quotation from Keynes: “Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is long past, the ocean is flat again.”

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3 million forecast for 2016.

As 2016 Dawns, Europe Braces For More Waves Of Refugees (AP)

Bitter cold, biting winds and rough winter seas have done little to stem the seemingly endless flow of desperate people fleeing war or poverty for what they hope will be a brighter, safer future in Europe. As 2016 dawns, boatloads continue to reach Greek shores and thousands trudge across Balkan fields and country roads heading north. More than a million people reached Europe in 2015 in the continent’s largest refugee influx since the end of World War II – a crisis that has tested European unity and threatened the vision of a borderless continent. Nearly 3,800 people are estimated to have drowned in the Mediterranean last year, making the journey to Greece or Italy in unseaworthy vessels packed far beyond capacity.

The EU has pledged to bolster patrols on its external borders and quickly deport economic migrants, while Turkey has agreed to crack down on smugglers operating from its coastline. But those on the front lines of the crisis say the coming year promises to be difficult unless there is a dramatic change. Greece has borne the brunt of the exodus, with more than 850,000 people reaching the country’s shores, nearly all arriving on Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast. “The (migrant) flows continue unabated. And on good days, on days when the weather isn’t bad, they are increased,” Ioannis Mouzalas, Greeces minister responsible for migration issues, told AP. “This is a problem and shows that Turkey wasn’t able – I’m not saying that they didn’t want – to respond to the duty and obligation it had undertaken to control the flows and the smugglers from its shores.”

Europe’s response to the crisis has been fractured, with individual countries, concerned about the sheer scale of the influx, introducing new border controls aimed at limiting the flow. The problem is compounded by the reluctance of many migrants’ countries of origin, such as Pakistan, to accept forcible returns. “If measures are not taken to stop the flows from Turkey and if Europe doesn’t solve the problems of the returns as a whole, it will be a very difficult year,” Mouzalas warned. “It’s a bad sign, this unabated flow that continues,” Mouzalas said. “It creates difficulties for us, as the borders have closed for particular categories of people and there is a danger they will be trapped here.”

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Dec 092014
 
 December 9, 2014  Posted by at 8:04 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »


DPC North approach, Pedro Miguel Lock, Panama Canal 1915

And on the Seventh Day, God sold his shares? What do you think, is He short the market? Short oil? Oil does look up a tad, but then the dollar lost about a percent vs the euro, so that definitely feels like a headfake from where I’m sitting. The dollar lost more vs the euro than oil gained against the dollar. Gold and silver have somewhat more solid looking gains, but that’s against the same feverish buck, so what does it really mean? We’ll have to wait and see.

Now, be honest, who’s getting nervous yet? WTI oil yesterday fell 4.5% and tumbled through $63. $63, brother, you remember when it was $80 and you were thinking wow, that’s a long way down? That’s when you took that suit to the cleaners, and that feels like just yesterday, don’t it, and here we are, it’s down another 20%+. Anyone worried about their Christmas bonuses yet? New Year’s?

The central-bank-propped-up stock exchanges didn’t even like what they saw anymore either yesterday, let alone today. Greece down -13%, Shanghai -5.4%, Argentina -7.1%, Europe on average -2.5%. And that’s on a weak dollar day… Think we’ll have a lot of those days? Think God is short the greenback?

Is oil going to break the whole facade? What do YOU think? You think that maybe we’ve had enough of this charade? Is this the one God, let alone the Yellens and Draghis on this planet can’t manipulate from their comfy seats? The Fed can buy Exxon and Conoco, and Draghi can try and support Shell and BP, or maybe the Bank of England should, but oil is a global thing, it’s not like Treasuries or Greek debt that you can just buy a $1 trillion handful of every week or so.

But maybe God found a way to keep some more of the stuff in the ground. Who was it again that said nature developed man only to get rid of a carbon imbalance on the planet, to get it out of the soil and back into the atmosphere?

God’s representatives on earth anno 2014, central bankers, can’t control oil anymore than they can consumer spending. Anything else, they’re fine. But that makes them weak, it’s their Achilles heel, the things they can’t control. It didn’t used to be that way, but today central bankers are like movie stars. Exactly because they did everything they could to keep asset prices up. These days, you never leave home without one. Or as the Rolling Stones put it 40 years ago (when central banking was something entirely different from what it is now):

When your spine is cracking and your hands, they shake
Heart is bursting and you butt’s gonna break
Your woman’s cussing, you can hear her scream
You feel like murder in the first degree

Ain’t nobody slowing down no way
Everybody’s stepping on their accelerator crude oil tanker
Don’t matter where you are
Everybody’s gonna need a ventilator central banker

US Thanksgiving weekend spending was down 11%, and movie theatre box office no less than 20%. Sure online sales and Netflix went up a notch, but come on, a 16 year low Thanksgiving box office and the second installment of the Hunger Games trailing 25% behind the first, how does that spell recovery to you? Think God liked part 1 that much better?

Americans, like everybody else, are down and out. Their spines are cracking and their hands are shaking, and they don’t have a central banker on their side. Their central banker has sold all she could to the ‘other side’, and now she has no choice but to let oil prices kill millions of jobs, unless somehow an actual supply and demand market rises from its zombie state, the same market she has been very complicit in killing off.

If you don’t have real markets, and nobody knows anymore what anything’s worth, the only thing left to drive the financial world is herd mentality. Lemmings have that too. The world is going to regret letting Yellen et al destroy the market principle, and price discovery. Capitalism as a system cannot possibly work without price discovery. It leads to the few making out – literally – like bandits in the night, to the many left with nothing but debt, and to imploding societies.

Oil is the one substance that can make them implode. Because our entire societies are built on it. And from it, too. The industry that drives it, drives everything. And bringing down its revenues by 40% and falling will break that industry, and the society it designed and built. When oil was briefly at $40 in 2008, that was less of a factor, because their was some resilience still left in the whole global economic make-up. Today, it’s whole different story.

The American miracle idea of energy independence is fully reliant on a shale patch that went over $100 billion deeper into debt every year for years running just to produce that not-so-miracle. Take away 40%+ of what revenue it did take in, and there is no independence left. All that’s left is fracking fluids in your drinking water, and a few trillion in debt that the Big Kahuna lenders will seek to unload upon the real economy.

Oil prices at some point will rise again, but by then, and when is anyone’s guess, the price fall we see today may have done so much damage to the very structure of our economies that far fewer people will be able to afford it.

Those box office and holiday sales numbers are only a first red flag for where we’re going. As are the snap elections in Greece (spinned by Brussels) and Japan: incumbents who feel they have an edge for now, and decide to grab the opportunity.

It’s panic and fear and most of all it’s volatility. That’s our foreland. A weaker dollar for a day, which lets oil prices breath a little, which in turn lets gold sit pretty while it lasts. Tomorrow could be very different all over again. But most of all, looking at the trend in a wider context, this means a whole lot more trouble for the 95% of people who live in the real economy. Much much more. There’s nobody left to protect them from anything at all that goes on. They’ve been sold out to the highest bidder and the lowest common denominator.

And they can pray to God, but I hear he might be shorting them too.