Sep 182017
 
 September 18, 2017  Posted by at 9:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Pablo Picasso The old fisherman 1895

 

Muted Inflation A Trillion-Dollar Puzzle – BIS (R.)
Global Debt Underreported By $14 Trillion – BIS (ZH)
World’s Central Banks Can’t Ignore the Bitcoin Boom – BIS (BBG)
Dogecoin Creator On Cryptocurrencies: “Very Bubble. Much Scam. So Avoid.” (NYT)
The Future Of Cryptocurrency Is Not As It Seems (Eric Peters)
China’s $40 Trillion Banking System: “Largest Imbalances I’ve Ever Seen” (ZH)
Stockman: Trump’s Now ‘Blowing Kisses to Janet Yellen’
Spain’s Prosecutor Warns Over Catalonia Referendum As Leaflets Seized (R.)
After Single Payer Failed, Vermont Embarks On Big Health Care Experiment (WP)
Greek Government Told To Begin Online Auctions Or Face A Bank Bail-In (K.)
In Greece, Full-Time Work Is Not The Norm It Once Was (K.)
Hurricane Maria Heading For Caribbean (AFP)

 

 

Debt is the answer. They want you to think they don’t know that.

Muted Inflation A Trillion-Dollar Puzzle – BIS (R.)

The conundrum of stubbornly low inflation despite a pick-up in global growth and continued monetary stimulus is a “trillion dollar” question, the umbrella body for the world’s leading central banks said on Sunday. The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) said in its latest quarterly report that cheap borrowing rates and the rare simultaneous expansion of advanced and developing economies are driving financial markets higher, with signs of “exuberance” starting to re-emerge. U.S. corporate debt is much higher than before the financial crisis and a drop in the premiums investors demand for riskier lending has boosted sales of so-called covenant-lite bonds offering high yields. The BIS said this raises a question over the potential for another crisis if there is a significant rise in interest rates.

The body has called for a gradual return to higher rates, though central banks are being tentative because of persisting low inflation. “It feels like ‘Waiting for Godot’,” said Claudio Borio, the head of the monetary and economic department of the BIS, referring to a play in which the main characters wait for someone who never arrives. But the BIS says no one has yet worked out why inflation has remained so subdued while economies have approached or surpassed estimates of full employment and central banks have provided unprecedented stimulus. “This is the trillion-dollar question that will define the global economy’s path in the years ahead and determine, in all probability, the future of current policy frameworks,” Borio said. “Worryingly, no one really knows the answer.”

Read more …

The BIS is surprised by lack of inflation, or does it pretend that? And it’s also surprised by swaps and forwards? Really?

Global Debt Underreported By $14 Trillion – BIS (ZH)

In its latest annual summary published at the end of June, the IIF found that total nominal global debt had risen to a new all time high of $217 trillion, or 327% of global GDP…

… largely as a result of an unprecedented increase in emerging market leverage.

While the continued growth in debt in zero interest rate world is hardly surprising, what was notable is that debt within the developed world appeared to have peaked, if not declined modestly in the latest 5 year period. However, it now appears that contrary to previous speculation of potential deleveraging among EM nations, not only was this conclusion incorrect, but that developed nations had been stealthily piling on just as much debt, only largely hidden from the public eye, in the form of swaps and forwards.

According to a just released analysts by the Bank of International Settlements, “FX swaps and forwards: missing global debt?” non-banks institutions outside the United States owe large sums of dollars off-balance sheet through instruments such as FX swaps and forwards. The BIS then calculates what balance sheets would look like if borrowing through such derivative instruments was recorded on-balance sheet, as functionally equivalent repo debt, and calculates that the total “is of a size similar to, and probably exceeding, the $10.7 trillion of on-balance sheet dollar debt”, potentially as much as $13-14 trillion.

[..] “Every day, trillions of dollars are borrowed and lent in various currencies. Many deals take place in the cash market, through loans and securities. But foreign exchange (FX) derivatives, mainly FX swaps, currency swaps and the closely related forwards, also create debt-like obligations. For the US dollar alone, contracts worth tens of trillions of dollars stand open and trillions change hands daily. And yet one cannot find these amounts on balance sheets. This debt is, in effect, missing.”

Read more …

Who says they’re ignoring it? They’re frantically looking to control it.

World’s Central Banks Can’t Ignore the Bitcoin Boom – BIS (BBG)

The world’s central banks can’t sit back and ignore the growth in cryptocurrencies as it could pose a risk to the stability of the financial system, according to the Bank for International Settlements. It said central banks will need to figure out whether to issue a digital currency and what its attributes should be, though the decision is most pressing in countries like Sweden where cash use is dwindling. Institutions need to take into account of not only privacy issues and efficiency gains in payment systems, but also economic, financial and monetary policy repercussions, the BIS said in its Quarterly Review. The analysis comes at the end of a rough week for digital currencies, with JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon calling bitcoin a “fraud” and China moving to crack down on domestic trading of cryptocurrencies.

But with bitcoin and others gaining in popularity as payment systems go mobile and investors pour in money, central banks are beginning to delve into them and their underlying blockchain technology, which promises to speed up clearing and settlements. At the Bank of England, Mark Carney has cited cryptocurrencies as part of a potential “revolution” in finance. To better understand the system, the Dutch central bank has created its own cryptocurrency, albeit for internal use only. U.S. officials are exploring the matter too, though in March Federal Reserve Governor Jerome Powell said there were “significant policy issues” that needed further study, including vulnerability to cyber-attack, privacy and counterfeiting.

According to the BIS, one option for central banks might be a currency available to the public, with only the central bank able to issue units that would be directly convertible with cash and reserves. There might be a greater risk of bank runs, however, and commercial lenders might face a shortage of deposits. Another question to be resolved would be the question of privacy.

Read more …

“It’s going to be like the dot-com bust, but on a much more epic scale.”

Dogecoin Creator On Cryptocurrencies: “Very Bubble. Much Scam. So Avoid.” (NYT)

Jackson Palmer no longer thinks it’s funny to imitate Doge, the internet meme about a Shiba Inu dog whose awe-struck expressions and garbled syntax (e.g. “Wow. So pizza. Much delicious.”) made him a viral sensation several years ago. But if he did, he might channel Doge to offer a few cautionary words for investors who are falling for cryptocurrency start-ups, Silicon Valley’s latest moneymaking craze: Very bubble. Much scam. So avoid. Mr. Palmer, the creator of Dogecoin, was an early fan of cryptocurrency, a form of encrypted digital money that is traded from person to person. He saw investors talking about Bitcoin, the oldest and best-known cryptocurrency, and wanted to find a way to poke fun at the hype surrounding the emerging technology. So in 2013, he built his own cryptocurrency, a satirical mash-up that combined Bitcoin with the Doge meme he’d seen on social media.

Mr. Palmer hoped to use Dogecoin to show the absurdity of wagering huge sums of money on unstable ventures. But investors didn’t get the joke and bought Dogecoin anyway, bringing its market value as high as $400 million. Along the way, the currency became a magnet for greed and attracted a group of scammers and hackers who defrauded investors, hyped fake products, and left many of the currency’s original backers empty-handed. Today, Mr. Palmer, 30, is one of the loudest voices warning that a similar fate might soon befall the entire cryptocurrency industry. “What’s happening to crypto now is what happened to Dogecoin,” Mr. Palmer told me in a recent interview. “I’m worried that this time, it’s on a much grander scale.”

[..] Mr. Palmer, a laid-back Australian who works as a product manager in the Bay Area and describes himself as “socialist leaning,” was disturbed by the commercialization of his joke currency. He had never collected Dogecoin for himself, and had resisted efforts to cash in on the currency’s success, even turning down a $500,000 investment offer from an Australian venture capital firm. [..] Mr. Palmer worries that the coming reckoning in the cryptocurrency market — and it is coming, he says confidently — will deter people from using the technology for more legitimate projects. “The bigger this bubble goes, the bigger negative connotation it’s going to have,” he said. “It’s going to be like the dot-com bust, but on a much more epic scale.”

Read more …

Peters is the CIO at One River Asset Management. “Once private markets perfect cryptocurrency technology, governments will commandeer it, killing today’s pioneers. Then with every cryptodollar, yen, euro and renminbi registered on their servers, they’ll have complete dominion over money, laundering, taxation.”

The Future Of Cryptocurrency Is Not As It Seems (Eric Peters)

“Any other thoughts on the matter?” he asked. We’d spent quite some time discussing Bitcoin, Ethereum, and copycat cryptocurrencies popping up faster than North Korean nukes. I mostly listened, he knew far more about the subject; blockchain, distributed ledgers, mining, halving, hash rates. Unlike the S&P 500 realized volatility’s collapse to 8%, these new creations are realizing at 90%. Which makes them attractive to day-traders, adrenaline junkies, who launched 100 crypto hedge funds just last month. It’s the millennial’s wild west. Like all generations, they’ve discovered a new frontier, with few rules, seedy saloons, gunfights, corpses. As our earthly unknowns disappear, we find new ones in the ether. Which is where money belongs; it’s not real, it’s an abstraction, an age-old illusion.

As a golden myth captured mankind’s imagination, we built our societies upon a rare yellow metal. For 2,500 years we fought, killed, conquered. Until governments tired of the arbitrary spending constraints imposed upon them by a scarce element. So they invented today’s fiction, a printed promise, fiat currency. Seigniorage is the difference between that currency’s market value and its cost of production – that spread is a source of vast wealth and power. And in all human history, not a single government has willingly forfeited such a thing. Nor will one ever. Only after a hyperinflationary depression, confronted with revolution, do governments sometimes relinquish their power to print (Zimbabwe most recently).

Consequently, the future of cryptocurrency is not as it seems. Once private markets perfect cryptocurrency technology, governments will commandeer it, killing today’s pioneers. Then with every cryptodollar, yen, euro and renminbi registered on their servers, they’ll have complete dominion over money, laundering, taxation. They’ll track every transaction. Imposing negative interest rates in an instant. There will be no hiding, no mattresses. And in a deflationary panic, they’ll instantaneously add an extra zero to every account, their own especially.

Read more …

“..we’re on a $40 trillion credit system on $2 trillion of equity on maybe $1 trillion of liquid reserves.”

China’s $40 Trillion Banking System: “Largest Imbalances I’ve Ever Seen” (ZH)

KB: We’re in the such late stages of a game that is the largest global imbalance I’ve ever seen in my life. When you look at on balance sheet and off balance sheets, you look at on balance sheet in the banks, you look in the shadow banks. The number of total credit in the system, China is right at $40 trillion. Think about the number I just said. $40 trillion. And that’s using an exchange rate of call it 6.7 to the dollar, right? So it’s grown 1,000% in a decade. And we’re on a $40 trillion credit system on $2 trillion of equity on maybe $1 trillion of liquid reserves.

RP: Where do you get the equity and liquid reserves from?

KB: Well, it’s the amount of equity in the banks of China. It’s right at about $2 trillion. So that’s kind of a stated number. The reserves is my own calculation, right? The Chinese magically have leveled their reserves out around $3 trillion, which happens to be the minimum level of IMF reserve adequacy as defined by the IMF rule.

RP: So what have they been doing now? So, they were under pressure, and then everything kind of eased off, I guess, as the dollar started weakening a bit.

KB: Yeah. Actually, they’ve done three things. Well, so four things have caused this, quote, easing off that you refer to. Three have been driven by SAFE and the PBOC, one that’s been driven by our illustrious Trump. So the first three are, number one, they essentially halted all cross-border M&A. So if you look at the parabola of M&A coming out of China from 2012 to 2016, it reached dizzying heights in 2016. In 2017, it’s like 15% of the 2016 number and no new deals being announced. Now, they’ll always be some outbound M&A that’s driven by really policy at the Communist Party level, right?

They’ll always buy copper mines in Uganda. They’ll always invest in ports in Greece. They’ll always do things that are from a strategic perspective and a policy perspective. The things that the Communist Party needs to procure resources for its people over the long-term. But when you look at the rampant M&A of money leaving China, they just put a halt to it in November of 2016. And the second thing they did was they made it impossible for multinational corporations to get their profits and or working capital out of China. And that’s something that has been a problem for a lot of the multinationals that do business in China.”

Read more …

Perma bear.

Stockman: Trump’s Now ‘Blowing Kisses to Janet Yellen’

Stockman: Trump’s ‘Done Nothing in Nine Months’ and Is Now ‘Blowing Kisses to Janet Yellen’ (Fox Business, September 15, 2017)

Read more …

EU, UN, US, nobody stands up for democracy. Revealing.

Spain’s Prosecutor Warns Over Catalonia Referendum As Leaflets Seized (R.)

Spanish authorities on Sunday pursued efforts to block an independence vote in Catalonia, seizing campaign materials as the chief prosecutor said jailing the region’s top politician could not be ruled out. The government in the northeastern region is intent on holding a referendum on October 1 that will ask voters whether they support secession from Spain, a ballot Madrid has declared illegal. In a raid on a warehouse in the province of Barcelona on Sunday, police confiscated around 1.3 million leaflets and other campaign materials promoting the vote issued by the Catalan government. The haul was the largest in a series of similar raids, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Spanish prosecutors, who have ordered police to investigate any efforts to promote the plebiscite, said last week that officials engaged in any preparations for it could be charged with civil disobedience, abuse of office and misuse of public funds. More than 700 Catalan mayors gathered in Barcelona on Saturday to affirm their support for it. Asked if arresting regional government head Carles Puigdemont was an option if preparations continued, Spain’s chief public prosecutor said in an interview: ”We could consider it because the principal objective is to stop the referendum going ahead. “I won’t rule out completely the option of seeking jail terms… It could happen under certain circumstances,” Jose Manuel Maza was quoted as also telling Sunday’s edition of newspaper El Mundo.

Read more …

Promising.

After Single Payer Failed, Vermont Embarks On Big Health Care Experiment (WP)

Doug Greenwood lifted his shirt to let his doctor probe his belly, scarred from past surgeries, for tender spots. Searing abdominal pain had landed Greenwood in the emergency room a few weeks earlier, and he’d come for a follow-up visit to Cold Hollow Family Practice, a big red barnlike building perched on the edge of town. After the appointment was over and his blood was drawn, Greenwood stayed for an entirely different exam: of his life. Anne-Marie Lajoie, a nurse care coordinator, began to map out Greenwood’s financial resources, responsibilities, transportation options, food resources and social supports on a sheet of paper. A different picture began to emerge of the 58-year-old male patient recovering from diverticulitis: Greenwood had moved back home, without a car or steady work, to care for his mother, who suffered from dementia. He slept in a fishing shanty in the yard, with a baby monitor to keep tabs on his mother.

This more expansive checkup is part of a pioneering effort in this New England state to keep people healthy while simplifying the typical jumble of private and public insurers that pays for health care. The underlying premise is simple: Reward doctors and hospitals financially when patients are healthy, not just when they come in sick. It’s an idea that has been percolating through the health-care system in recent years, supported by the Affordable Care Act and changes to how Medicare pays for certain kinds of care, such as hip and knee replacements. But Vermont is setting an ambitious goal of taking its alternative payment model statewide and applying it to 70% of insured state residents by 2022 which — if it works — could eventually lead to fundamental changes in how Americans pay for health care.

“You make your margin off of keeping people healthier, instead of doing more operations. This drastically changes you, from wanting to do more of a certain kind of surgery to wanting to prevent them,” said Stephen Leffler, chief population health and quality officer of the University of Vermont Health Network. Making lump sum payments, instead of paying for each X-ray or checkup, changes the financial incentives for doctors. For example, spurring the state’s largest hospital system to invest in housing. Or creating more roles like Lajoie’s, focused on diagnosing problems with housing, transportation, food and other services that affect people’s well-being.

Read more …

The Troika is in Athens to turn on the thumbscrews.

Greek Government Told To Begin Online Auctions Or Face A Bank Bail-In (K.)

The possibility that banks will need for a fresh recapitalization grows with every day the delay in the implementation of online property transactions drags on. This might lead to a deposit haircut, along with generating a major crisis in relations between the government and the country’s creditors. Creditor representatives are accusing the government of delay tactics, for party political purposes, in starting electronic auctions. This puts the sustainability of the credit system at risk as it denies them a crucial tool in efforts to tackle the problem of nonperforming loans (NPLs).

The creditors have explicitly warned Athens about the prospect of a new recapitalization and the risk of a bail-in for banks and their depositors unless the auctions proceed quickly, as their representatives told notaries and banks in Greece during the presentations of the auctions’ online platform, according to the president of the Notaries’ Association, Giorgos Rouskas. The creditors reacted strongly when told that the first online auctions would not take place before early 2018 even though during the second bailout review Athens had committed to start the auctions on September 1. The government claimed the system is in place but the law provides for a period of two months between the submission of an auction request and its realization.

Seeing that the government is again trying to renege on its commitments, the creditors put fresh pressure on Athens, which backed down and said the system may open in the coming days for banks, so that the first online auctions can take place by end-November. In an interview with Kathimerini, Rouskas stressed that “the online platform is ready and all technical tests have been completed.” The onus is therefore on the banks now, which Rouskas explains have to register the repeat auctions or any new ones in the system, being the party initiating the auctions. They will then get a date based on the new system. “We have prepared the platform. It is now up to the lender, be that a bank or a private individual, to issue a request for an online auction scheduling, which notaries are forced to follow. This has not happened yet, but I believe we are very close to its implementation,” said Rouskas.

Read more …

Why Greece will not recover. Money supply way down, money velocity way way down.

In Greece, Full-Time Work Is Not The Norm It Once Was (K.)

Official data by the Hellenic Statistical Authority point to an increase in employment by about 250,000 jobs in the last three years (from the second quarter of 2014 to this year’s Q2), but that is only part of the truth. The figures also reveal a constant decline in average salaries, an ongoing increase in the percentage of employed workers who earn less than 500 euros a month – at least one in four gets less than that amount – soaring temporary work (either due to project-specific hirings, subsidies being paid for a restricted period, or time contracts), and a rise in the rate of part-time employment.

Senior and top officials are no longer offered such handsome pay packages, the primary sector is being abandoned and any new enterprises that are being set up are mostly in the field of restaurants, hotels and retail stores. Greeks can only find jobs such as waiters, cleaners, maids or sales assistants, which as a rule are of a seasonal character and fetch a low salary. The 40-hour working week concerns ever fewer workers nowadays, and without the subsidies handed out by the Manpower Organization (OAED) and the increase in tourism flows the unemployment rate probably wouldn’t have declined at all.

Read more …

The season is far from over.

Hurricane Maria Heading For Caribbean (AFP)

Maria became a hurricane Sunday as it headed toward the storm-staggered eastern Caribbean with 75 mile (120 kilometer) per hour winds, the US National Hurricane Center said. Storm warnings and watches went up in many of the Caribbean islands still reeling from the destructive passage of Hurricane Irma earlier this month. As of 2100 GMT, Maria was a Category One hurricane, the lowest on the five point Saffir-Simpson scale, located 140 miles (225 kilometers) northeast of Barbados, the NHC said, bearing west-northwest at 15 miles (24 kilometers) an hour. “On the forecast track, the center of Maria will move across the Leeward Islands Monday night and then over the extreme northeastern Caribbean Sea on Tuesday,” it said.

Hurricane warnings were triggered for St Kitts, Nevis and Montserrat, while lesser ‘watches’ were issued for the US and British Virgin Islands where at least nine people were killed during Irma. A warning is typically issued 36 hours before the first occurrence of tropical storm-force winds while watches are issued 48 hours in advance. Tropical storm warnings were, meanwhile, issued for Martinique, Antigua and Barbuda, Saba and St Eustatius and St Lucia. Barbuda was decimated by Hurricane Irma September 5-6 when it made its first landfall in the Caribbean as a top intensity Category Five storm. The NHC said Maria could produce a “dangerous storm surge accompanied by large and destructive waves” that will raise water levels by four to six feet (1.2 to 1.8 meters) when it passes through the Leeward Islands.

Read more …

Sep 132017
 
 September 13, 2017  Posted by at 9:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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Sergio Larraín Valparaiso Chile 1963

 

Greece Property Value Review A Hard Task (K.)
Creditors Set To Increase Pressure On Athens (K.)
US Threatens To Cut Off China From SWIFT If It Violates North Korea Sanctions (ZH)
Yuan Fixing Takes Center Stage, Again (BBG)
Cryptocurrency Chaos As China Cracks Down On ICOs (R.)
JPMorgan’s Dimon Says Bitcoin ‘Is A Fraud’ (R.)
America’s Fiscal Doomsday Machine (Stockman)
IMF Is Resisting A Moratorium On Barbuda’s Sovereign Debt Repayments (Ind.)
UK’s High Street Banks Are Accident Waiting To Happen (G.)
We Must Repeal The Authorization For The Use Of Military Force (Rand Paul)
Democrats Fought For 25 Years Over Single-Payer. Now Many Back Sanders (Sirota)
China Plans Nationwide Use Of Ethanol Gasoline By 2020 (R.)
Capitalism Can’t Save The Planet – It Can Only Destroy It (Monbiot)

 

 

As EU President Juncker this morning unveils his vision of more Europe all the time, here’s what Europe is really like:

42% of Greek mortgage loans are non-performing. Today’s sale prices are 70-80% lower than in 2008. And that’s before 200-300,000 homes will be forced onto the market this fall.

Greece Property Value Review A Hard Task (K.)

The government is facing a daunting task in adjusting the so-called objective values (the property rates used for tax purposes) to market levels by the end of the year, as its bailout agreement dictates. The huge slump in transactions and the forced sales of properties due to their owners’ debts do not lead to any safe conclusions for the values per area. One in four sales are conducted with prices that lag the objective value by 60-70%, and the prices of 2008 by 70-80%. The Finance Ministry must overcome all the obstacles to bring to Parliament all the necessary adjustments and regulations.

Moreover, once the objective values are brought in line with market rates, the government will have to maintain the same amount of revenues from the Single Property Tax (ENFIA) either by raising the tax’s rates or by introducing a new tax in the form of the old Large Property Tax. Furthermore, once the objective values are reduced by 40-50% to match the going prices, banks’ may see problems with their capital adequacy, as lenders will incur losses by having to revise the collateral they get. Mortgage loans in Greece amount to €59.44 billion, of which 42%, or €25.4 billion are nonperforming.

Read more …

Forget about more Europe, or you’ll wind up with a whole lot less Europe.

Creditors Set To Increase Pressure On Athens (K.)

Technical experts representing the country’s creditors started visiting the country’s ministries in Athens on Monday, paving the way for the third bailout review, which has long ceased to be viewed as a simple matter and is increasingly burdened with problems. Pressure for a satisfactory conclusion to the review will grow with the planned visit on September 25 of Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who will meet with Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos. Responding to a question by Kathimerini, Dijsselbloem’s spokesman said that the head of the Eurogroup will discuss eurozone issues and certainly the progress of the adjustment program. Government officials estimate that the discussion on the course of the review and the Greek program may be combined with the expiry of Dijsselbloem’s mandate at the Eurogroup chair at year-end.

The Dutch minister – whose last visit in Athens and his meeting with his counterpart at the time, Yanis Varoufakis, was quite eventful – would obviously like to leave on a positive note in regards to the Greek program. It has been rumored that he may seek another office in the eurozone. Sources from Brussels also say that the top European Commission’s top representative, Declan Costello, will also be coming to Athens in the next few days. In addition to the main cluster of 113 prior actions, of which 95 should be implemented by year-end, the creditors have expressed their objections and doubts about recent legislative moves made by the government, such as the labor law passed last Thursday.

Sources say that the creditors have also expressed concerns about clauses related to the reduced value-added tax on agricultural supplies, the opening up of closed professions, as well as the civil service. A large number of the 95 prior actions the government must implement in record time have a high degree of difficulty, and government officials believe this may require revisions on family benefits, the operation of the sell-off hyperfund and its subsidiaries, the opening up of the energy market, etc.

Read more …

How would the US pay for all the shiny trinkets?

US Threatens To Cut Off China From SWIFT If It Violates North Korea Sanctions (ZH)

In an unexpectedly strong diplomatic escalation, one day after China agreed to vote alongside the US (and Russia) during Monday’s United National Security Council vote in passing the watered down North Korea sanctions, the US warned that if China were to violate or fail to comply with the newly imposed sanctions against Kim’s regime, it could cut off Beijing’s access to both the US financial system as well as the “international dollar system.” Speaking at CNBC’s Delivering Alpha conference on Tuesday, Steven Mnuchin said that China had agreed to “historic” North Korean sanctions during Monday’s United Nations vote. “We worked very closely with the U.N. I’m very pleased with the resolution that was just passed. This is some of the strongest items. We now have more tools in our toolbox, and we will continue to use them and put additional sanctions on North Korea until they stop this behavior.”

In response, Andrew Ross Sorkin countered that “we haven’t been able to move the needle on China, which seems to be the real mover on this, in terms of being able to apply the real pressure. What do you think the issue is? What is the problem?” The stunner was revealed in Mnuchin’s answer: “I think we have absolutely moved the needle on China. I think what they agreed to yesterday was historic. I’d also say I put sanctions on a major Chinese bank.That’s the first time that’s ever been done. And if China doesn’t follow these sanctions, we will put additional sanctions on them and prevent them from accessing the U.S. and international dollar system. And that’s quite meaningful.”

And to underscore his point, the Treasury Secretary also said that “in North Korea, economic warfare works. I made it clear that the President was strongly considering and we sent a message that anybody that wanted to trade with North Korea, we would consider them not trading with us. We can put on economic sanctions to stop people trading.” In other words, to force compliance with the North Korean sanctions, Mnuchin threatened Beijing with not only trade war, but also a lock out from the dollar system, i.e. SWIFT, something the US did back in 2014 and 2015 when it blocked off several Russian banks as relations between the US and Russia imploded. Of course, whether the US would be willing to go so far as to use the nuclear option, and pull the dollar plug on its biggest trade partner, in the process immediately unleashing an economic depression domestically and globally is a different matter.

So far Washington has been reluctant to impose economic sanctions on China over concerns of possible retaliatory measures from Beijing and the potentially catastrophic consequences for the global economy. Washington runs a $350 billion annual trade deficit with Beijing, while the PBOC also holds over $1 trillion in US debt. Ironically, the biggest hurdle to the implementation of the just passed sanctions may be the president himself. “We think it’s just another very small step, not a big deal,” Trump told reporters at the start of a meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. “I don’t know if it has any impact, but certainly it was nice to get a 15-to-nothing vote, but those sanctions are nothing compared to what ultimately will have to happen,” said Trump who has vowed not to allow North Korea to develop a nuclear ballistic missile capable of hitting the United States.

Read more …

Xi demands peace for the Party Congress. Brokerages have been told: no holidays during Congress.

Yuan Fixing Takes Center Stage, Again (BBG)

China’s yuan fixing is back in focus, with a run of surprises moving the market in recent days. The central bank set its reference rate – which limits onshore moves to 2% on either side – at a weaker than expected level for the third day in a row Wednesday. The rates, and the removal of a reserve requirement rule on the trading of foreign-exchange forwards, are fueling bets that authorities want to limit gains after the onshore yuan surged more than 4% against the dollar in the three months through Sept. 7. The People’s Bank of China set Wednesday’s fixing at 6.5382 per dollar, compared with the average forecast of 6.5355 in a Bloomberg survey of 19 traders and analysts. The authorities have had greater opportunity to sway the fixing either way since May, with the introduction of a “counter-cyclical factor” to the rate-setting mechanism.

“The PBOC still wants a relatively stable yuan,” said Nathan Chow at DBS. “Even if it strengthens or weakens, the pace needs to be controlled, and in an orderly and gradual manner. This will be easier for exporters to manage risks. The market expectation is that there should be no big changes or surprises before the party congress next month.” The yuan’s rally began to falter on Friday as the removal of the reserve rule made it less expensive to bet on yuan declines. The monetary authority weakened Tuesday’s fixing by the most in eight months following an overnight surge in a gauge of the greenback, pushing the onshore spot rate lower.

Read more …

“There are a lot of companies raising a lot of money for not very good ideas..”

Cryptocurrency Chaos As China Cracks Down On ICOs (R.)

China’s move last week to ban initial coin offerings (ICO) has caused chaos among start-ups looking to raise money through the novel fund-raising scheme, prompting halts, about-turns and re-thinks. China is cracking down on fundraising through launches of token-based digital currencies, targeting ICOs in a market that has ballooned this year in what has been a bonanza for digital currency entrepreneurs. The boom has fueled a jump in the value of cryptocurrencies, but raised fears of a potential bubble. “This is not unlike the dotcom bubble of 2000,” said a partner at a venture capital fund in Shanghai, who didn’t want to be named because of the issue’s sensitivity. “There are a lot of companies raising a lot of money for not very good ideas, and these will eventually be weeded out. But even from the big dotcom bust, you still have gems.”

“One of the reasons regulators stepped in was that the ICO fever extended beyond the traditional crypto community. The timing was an attempt to pre-empt this before it goes into a much broader mass market in China,” the partner said. Investors in China contributed up to 2.6 billion yuan ($394 million) worth of cryptocurrencies through ICOs in January-June, according to a state-run media report citing National Committee of Experts on Internet Financial Security Technology data. Pre-ICO roadshows featuring elaborate standing room-only presentations at 5-star hotels drew a diverse crowd, including grandmothers – a likely tipping point for regulators. The hype and subsequent crackdown came as China focuses on economic and social stability ahead of next month’s congress of the Communist Party, a once-in-five-years event.

Beijing is also waging a broader campaign against fraudulent fundraising and speculative investment, which analysts attribute to China’s underdeveloped financial regulation and lack of legitimate investment options. While several start-ups said the exuberance had got out of control and they had expected Beijing to act, they said last week’s move panicked investors and caused confusion.

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Worse than tulip bulbs.

JPMorgan’s Dimon Says Bitcoin ‘Is A Fraud’ (R.)

Bitcoin “is a fraud” and will blow up, Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, said on Tuesday. Speaking at a bank investor conference in New York, Dimon said, “The currency isn’t going to work. You can’t have a business where people can invent a currency out of thin air and think that people who are buying it are really smart.” Dimon said that if any JPMorgan traders were trading the crypto-currency, “I would fire them in a second, for two reasons: It is against our rules and they are stupid, and both are dangerous.” Dimon’s comments come as the bitcoin, a virtual currency not backed by any government, has more than quadrupled in value since December to more than $4,100.

[..] “It is worse than tulips bulbs,” Dimon said, referring to a famous market bubble from the 1600s. JPMorgan and many of its competitors, however, have invested millions of dollars in blockchain, the technology that tracks bitcoin transactions. Blockchain is a shared ledger of transactions maintained by a network of computers on the internet. Dimon said such uses will roll out over coming years as it is adapted to different business lines. Financial institutions are hoping blockchain can be adapted to simplify and lower the costs of processes such as securities settlement, loan trading and international money transfers. Dimon predicted big losses for bitcoin buyers. “Don’t ask me to short it. It could be at $20,000 before this happens, but it will eventually blow up.” he said.

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From Reagan’s Budget Director.

America’s Fiscal Doomsday Machine (Stockman)

Maybe the Democrats did win the 2016 election. Or at least the the Deep State and its accomplices among the beltway political class, K-Street lobbies and the media did. That’s because the media won a giant victory against something they deplore and despise more than anything else — the public debt ceiling. They sanctimoniously admonish that it’s a relic of the nation’s fiscally benighted past. They operate on a belief that this is an episodic tendency to threaten America’s credit and to offer Capitol Hill an opening to grandstand about the fiscal verities is a blight on orderly governance. So the Donald’s latest burst of impetuosity — agreeing with Sen. Schumer to permanently abolish the public debt ceiling — has descended on the beltway like manna from heaven.

Not Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter or even the Great Texas Porker, Lyndon Johnson, dared to utter the thought of it — at least not in polite company. Suddenly, and notwithstanding all the good he has done disrupting the status quo, the Donald has become the foremost enemy of America’s very financial survival. The Federal budget is a Fiscal Doomsday Machine. The depository of American wars and entitlements have run rampant. Under the pile drivers of a global empire and the retiring baby boom, it is rapidly propelling the nation toward fiscal catastrophe. That grim outcome is virtually guaranteed if the only remaining safety brake — the debt ceiling — is summarily abolished. Due to entitlements, debt service and the slow pipeline of appropriated spending there is no such thing as an annual Federal budget or accountability for how much Uncle Sam spends and borrows.

Instead, the $4.1 trillion that Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects the Federal government will spend in FY 2018, and the $563 billion it will borrow, reflects the dead hand of the past. Entitlements and other mandatory spending alone is projected to reach $2.566 trillion or 63% of total FY 2018 outlays. Another $307 billion will be required for interest on the nation’s $20 trillion public debt, while upwards of half the $1.22 trillion for so-called “discretionary” or appropriated programs also reflects funds appropriated years ago. Altogether, $3.5 trillion, or 85% of outlays, will be essentially baked into the cake before a single Congressional vote is taken on anything regarding the FY 2018 budget.

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They just want to lend more.

IMF Is Resisting A Moratorium On Barbuda’s Sovereign Debt Repayments (Ind.)

The IMF is resisting putting a moratorium on Barbuda’s sovereign debt repayments in the wake of the devastation left by Hurricane Irma on the tiny Caribbean island. Barbuda is said to have lost around 90% of its structures in the wake of the storm and the national repair and reconstruction bill has been estimated at $150m. The prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, has also said that around half or the island’s population of 1,600 is now homeless. Yet Antigua and Barbuda have debt with the IMF of around $15.8m and a coalition of US faith institutions have been calling on the Fund to pause the repayments of states battered by the hurricane. However, the IMF’s special representative to the UN, Christopher Lane, reportedly suggested late last week that the Fund would rather lend more money to the island, rather than stop collecting the repayments due.

“Our general view is that we’d rather put new money in than to have moratoria,” he said, according to Court House News. Stressing that were technical and political difficulties in simply stopping the debt collection he said: “We borrow money from our members who lend. So we’d have to get agreement from the lending parties.” “We might borrow money from the United States and loan that to Antigua. If we don’t get paid back on time, we’d have to make an arrangement with the source of the funds themselves. It gets a bit arcane, but there’s a number of constraints on how we operate. We’re like a bank. We borrow and lend.”

In a letter to the IMF managing director Christine Lagarde on 7 September the Jubilee USA network wrote: “We invite the IMF to implement an immediate moratorium on debt payments for countries severely impacted by the Category 5 storm until they have rebuilt and recovered.” “For example, the nation of Antigua and Barbuda has almost $3m in debt payments due to the Fund today and a debt payment moratorium could immediately be put into rebuilding Barbuda where almost the entire population is homeless.” The group also urged that further IMF reconstruction payments to Barbuda, and other affected islands, should be in the form of grants, rather than loans.

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All major banks are.

UK’s High Street Banks Are Accident Waiting To Happen (G.)

The UK’s high street banks are an accident waiting to happen and could struggle in another financial crisis, according to a report published on Wednesday to mark the 10th anniversary of the run on Northern Rock. The report criticises the annual health checks – stress tests – that have been conducted by the Bank of England since the crisis and concludes that the methodology used by Threadneedle Street is flawed and the tests not gruelling enough. [..] Kevin Dowd, a professor of finance and economics at Durham University and a long-standing critic of the stress tests, said the Bank does not use the correct measures to assess the health of the banking system. Dowd is also a senior fellow at the Adam Smith Institute, a rightwing thinktank. His analysis – which the Bank of England has previously rejected – focuses on the health check of the major lenders published last November.

Those tests were based on a number of hypothetical scenarios including house prices falling and the global economy contracting by 1.9%. Royal Bank of Scotland failed the test and Barclays and Standard Chartered would both have struggled to cope. Dowd argued that the scenarios were “hardly doomsday” and disputes the way banks’ capital strength is measured. “The stress tests are about as useful as a cancer test that cannot detect cancer. They seek to demonstrate a financial resilience on the part of UK banks that simply isn’t there,” said Dowd in the report. “Our banking system is an accident waiting to happen.” The Bank uses the value of assets as calculated by the banks rather than their value on the markets which, he argued, would give a more accurate assessment of their financial health. “It is disturbing that 10 years on from Northern Rock, the best measures of leverage – those based on market values – indicate that UK banks are even more leveraged than they were then,” said Dowd.

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“American warfare in 7 different countries..”

We Must Repeal The Authorization For The Use Of Military Force (Rand Paul)

As Congress takes up the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), I will insist it vote on my amendment to sunset the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force. Why? Because these authorizations to use military force are inappropriately being used to justify American warfare in 7 different countries. Sunsetting both AUMFs will force a debate on whether we continue the Afghanistan war, the Libya war, the Yemen war, the Syria war, and other interventions. Our military trains our soldiers to be focused and disciplined, yet the politicians who send them to fight have for years ignored those traits when developing our foreign policy. The result? Trillions spent in seemingly endless conflicts in every corner of the globe, while we find ourselves 16 years into the war in Afghanistan wondering what our purpose there even is any more, or if we’ll ever bring our troops home.

If we don’t get this rudderless foreign policy under control now, we’ll still be asking the same questions another 16 years down the road. It’s time to demand the policymakers take their own jobs as seriously as the men and women we ask to risk it all for our nation. Doing so means restoring constitutional checks and balances. Congress has no greater responsibility than defending our country, and the Founders entrusted it with the power of declaring war because they wanted such a weighty decision to be thoroughly debated by the legislature instead of unilaterally made by the Executive branch. Yet Congress has largely abdicated its role anyways, and its sidekick status was plainly evident when former President Obama proposed a new AUMF for the fight against ISIS while insisting he really had all the authority he needed – it being more of a “wouldn’t it be nice” afterthought than an acknowledgement of any required step.

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Not a lot of insight into what’s wrong with US Democrats.

Democrats Fought For 25 Years Over Single-Payer. Now Many Back Sanders (Sirota)

When U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ introduces his Medicare-for-All legislation on Wednesday, advocates of a single-payer, government-sponsored health care hope it will be the end of a bitterly fought policy battle that has roiled the Democratic Party for generations. Since Democratic President Harry Truman first proposed a government-sponsored universal health care system in 1945 — and since a Democratic president and Democratic congress first enacted Medicare and Medicaid in the mid-1960s — progressives have hoped that the United States would follow other industrialized countries by guaranteeing health care to all citizens. Indeed, many of the original proponents of Medicare hoped the system would ultimately be expanded to cover the entire country — as former Social Security commissioner Robert Ball wrote, “We expected Medicare to be a first step toward universal national health insurance.”

And although the intervening years saw the rise of Republican President Ronald Reagan, who derided “socialized medicine,” some Democrats continued to champion the idea. The party’s 1992 presidential contender Jerry Brown ran for the White House promising to support single-payer. But when Bill Clinton defeated him and won the presidency, the Clinton administration opted to back health care reforms that preserved the existing private insurance system — even as Hillary Clinton made favorable comments about single-payer. A generation later, Barack Obama also retreated from single-payer, and instead pushed the Affordable Care Act, which subsidizes the private insurance system.

Now, things appear once again to be shifting. Even as Sanders has declared that his Medicare-for-All bill is not a litmus test, Democrats from across the party’s ideological spectrum are flocking to his legislation. On the progressive side, Democratic senators such as Elizabeth Warren (MA), Jeff Merkley (OR) and Al Franken (MN) have signed onto the legislation. Within the party establishment, former Vice President Al Gore has expressed support, as has conservative former Sen. Max Baucus — one of the architects of the Affordable Care Act whom single-payer advocates saw as a nemesis. With polls showing rising support for government-sponsored health care, the party’s long civil war over the issue may be over, potentially allowing a more unified party to campaign on Medicare-for-All in 2018.

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China has hardly enough land to feed its people.

China Plans Nationwide Use Of Ethanol Gasoline By 2020 (R.)

China plans to roll out the use of ethanol in gasoline nationally by 2020, state media reported on Wednesday citing a government document, as Beijing intensifies its push to boost industrial demand for corn and clean up choking smog. It’s the first time the government has set a targeted timeline for pushing the biofuel, known as E10 and containing 10% corn, across the world’s largest car market, although it has yet to announce a formal policy. Mandates requiring that a minimum amount of biofuel must be blended into fuel for the nation’s cars, similar to the United States and Brazil, are currently set at a provincial level. “This news has greatly boosted confidence inside the industry,” said Michael Mao, analyst with Sublime China Information, adding that without government support ethanol would likely be too expensive to survive in the market.

Shares in biofuel producers rallied on the news, with Shandong Longlive Bio-Technology Co surging 10%, on track for its biggest one-day gain since December 2015. Major producer COFCO Biochemical Anhui Co, a listed unit of state-owned grains trader COFCO, was up almost 6%. A renewed effort to promote the nation’s fledging biofuels industry will be a further blow to major oil producers. On Saturday, the government said it has begun studying when to ban the production and sale of cars using traditional fuels. The news comes after the government said late last year it would aim to double ethanol output by 2020 amid growing pressure to whittle down mountains of ageing corn in state warehouses.

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Some good points, but needs much more work.

Capitalism Can’t Save The Planet – It Can Only Destroy It (Monbiot)

There was “a flaw” in the theory: this is the famous admission by Alan Greenspan, the former chair of the Federal Reserve, to a congressional inquiry into the 2008 financial crisis. His belief that the self-interest of the lending institutions would lead automatically to the correction of financial markets had proved wrong. Now, in the midst of the environmental crisis, we await a similar admission. We may be waiting some time. For, as in Greenspan’s theory of the financial system, there cannot be a problem. The market is meant to be self-correcting: that’s what the theory says. As Milton Friedman, one of the architects of neoliberal ideology, put it: “Ecological values can find their natural space in the market, like any other consumer demand.” As long as environmental goods are correctly priced, neither planning nor regulation is required.

Any attempt by governments or citizens to change the likely course of events is unwarranted and misguided. But there’s a flaw. Hurricanes do not respond to market signals. The plastic fibres in our oceans, food and drinking water do not respond to market signals. Nor does the collapse of insect populations, or coral reefs, or the extirpation of orangutans from Borneo. The unregulated market is as powerless in the face of these forces as the people in Florida who resolved to fight Hurricane Irma by shooting it. It is the wrong tool, the wrong approach, the wrong system. There are two inherent problems with the pricing of the living world and its destruction. The first is that it depends on attaching a financial value to items – such as human life, species and ecosystems – that cannot be redeemed for money. The second is that it seeks to quantify events and processes that cannot be reliably predicted.

[..] A system that depends on growth can survive only if we progressively lose our ability to make reasoned decisions. After our needs, then strong desires, then faint desires have been met, we must keep buying goods and services we neither need nor want, induced by marketing to abandon our discriminating faculties, and to succumb instead to impulse. [..] Continued economic growth depends on continued disposal: unless we rapidly junk the goods we buy, it fails. The growth economy and the throwaway society cannot be separated. Environmental destruction is not a byproduct of this system: it is a necessary element.


Illustration: Sebastien Thibault

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Sep 102017
 
 September 10, 2017  Posted by at 9:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Irma gets closer

 

‘The Most Catastrophic Storm Florida Has Ever Seen’ (G.)
Bahamians Freak Out As Hurricane Irma ‘Sucks Away’ Miles Of Ocean (RT)
Houston Residents Confront Officials Over Decision To Flood Neighborhoods (R.)
Stock, Flow or Impulse? (JPMi)
Signs, Signs, Everywhere A Sign (Roberts)
China Targets A $3 Trillion Shadow Banking Industry (R.)
China Studying When To Ban Sales Of Traditional Fuel Cars (R.)
How Democrats Learned To Stop Worrying And Love ‘Medicare For All’ (CNN)
Laughing on the Way to Armageddon (PCR)
Scotland and Wales Deliver Brexit Ultimatum To Theresa May (Ind.)
British Arms Sales To Repressive Regimes Soar To £5 Billion Since Election (G.)
Greek PM Vows Bailout Exit In 2018, Help For Workers, Youth (R.)
Greek Government Aims To Integrate Up To 30,000 Migrants (K.)
Astronomers Find Stars That Appear Older Than The Universe (F.)

 

 

But it looks like things could have been much worse. Still, do spare a prayer.

‘The Most Catastrophic Storm Florida Has Ever Seen’ (G.)

Florida faces the “most catastrophic” storm in its history as Hurricane Irma prepares to unleash devastating force on the state, including 120mph winds, life-threatening sea surges that could submerge buildings and an advance battery of tornadoes. “You need to leave – not tonight, not in an hour, right now,” Governor Rick Scott commanded in a press conference, 12 hours before the cyclone was expected to make landfall on Sunday morning. “This is the most catastrophic storm the state has ever seen.” The US national hurricane centre said in its 8pm Saturday update on Irma that “heavy squalls with embedded tornadoes” were already sweeping across south Florida. The US National Weather Service later said the first hurricane-force wind gust had been recorded in the Florida Keys, a low-lying island chain off the state’s southern coast.

Irma dropped to a category three hurricane but could regain its category four intensity as the bathtub-warm seawater of nearly 32C (90F) will enable the storm to build strength. It was forecast to hit the Keys first, then again near Cape Coral or Fort Myers, and then a third time near Tampa Bay on its path up Florida’s west coast. Weather stations in Marathon, a city in the Keys, reported sustained winds of 51mph (81kmh) with a gust to 71mph (115kmh) on Saturday night. In Florida’s south-west, officials expected sea surges as high as 15ft (4.5 metres), which can rapidly rise and fall. “Fifteen feet is devastating and will cover your house,” Scott said. “Do not think the storm is over when the wind slows down. The storm surge will rush in and it could kill you.” He said at least 76,000 people were without power as the 350 miles (560km) wide storm unleashes winds and rain on the state. Officials said the window for people in evacuation zones was shutting, with gas stations closing and bridges blocked off.

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Eerie.

Bahamians Freak Out As Hurricane Irma ‘Sucks Away’ Miles Of Ocean (RT)

Footage from the Irma-hit Bahamas freaked out social media users on Saturday as it emerged that seawater was missing from a bay as far as the eye could see. The scene turned out to be a rare natural occurrence tied to the outgoing hurricane. “I am in disbelief right now… This is Long Island, Bahamas and the ocean water is missing!!! That’s as far as they see,” @Kaydi_K wrote on Twitter. The eerie scene was shared over 50,000 times in one day and it spooked web users, many of whom suggested it resembled the sucking away of water before a tsunami. However, weather experts analyzing the scene put the blame on Hurricane Irma, which had just left a trail of destruction in the Caribbean and was about to land in Florida. The ominous-looking occurrence was in fact caused by a combination of low tide, low pressure and strong winds in the right direction, which literally pushed the water away from the long narrow bay. The phenomenon has been dubbed “reverse storm surge” by some of those explaining it online.

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“..homes may also be occupied by alligators, rodents and snakes due to the floods.”

Houston Residents Confront Officials Over Decision To Flood Neighborhoods (R.)

Angry Houston residents shouted at city officials on Saturday over decisions to intentionally flood certain neighborhoods during Hurricane Harvey, as they returned to homes that may have been contaminated by overflowing sewers. A town hall grew heated after City Council member Greg Travis, who represents parts of western Houston, told about 250 people that an Army Corps of Engineers official told him that certain gauges measuring water levels at the Buffalo Bayou – the city’s main waterway – failed due to a decision to release water from two municipal reservoirs to avoid an overflow. Travis’ words inflamed tensions at the town hall, held at the Westin Houston hotel, as the region struggled to recover from Hurricane Harvey, which dropped as much as 50 inches (127 cm) of rain in some areas along Texas’ Gulf Coast, triggering historic floods.

More than 450,000 people either still do not have safe drinking water or need to boil their water first. On Aug. 28, the Army Corps and the Harris County Flood Control District opened the Addicks and Barker reservoirs in western Houston to keep them from overflowing. They warned it would flood neighborhoods, some of which remained closed off two weeks later. Travis said the Army Corps official said they kept releasing water without knowing the extent of the flooding. “They didn’t understand that the bathtub effect was occurring,” he said. Residents attempting to return to flooded homes may have to contend with contaminated water and air because the city’s sewer systems overflowed during the floods. Fire chief Samuel Pena said people returning home should wear breathing masks and consider getting tetanus shots.

“We couldn’t survive the Corps – why should we rebuild?” Debora Kumbalek, who lives in Travis’ district in Houston, shouted during the town hall. Scattered heaps of discarded appliances, wallboard and mattresses can be still seen throughout the city of 2.7 million people, the nation’s fourth-largest. There were no representatives from the Army Corps at the town hall. The Corps released water at an intended maximum rate of 13,000 cubic feet (370 cubic meters) per second to keep those reservoirs from overflowing. However, preliminary data from the U.S. Geological Survey suggests that on at least two days, the average release rate exceeded that 13,000 level.

Many residents face lengthy rebuilding processes, and the majority do not have flood insurance. The Federal Emergency Management Administration will contribute a maximum of $33,000 per home in assistance to cover damages, a FEMA official said at the town hall, though for heavily flooded homes, damages will likely exceed that amount. Fire chief Pena said homes may also be occupied by alligators, rodents and snakes due to the floods.

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From JPMorgan. Central banks set prices for everything. But the impulse has turned negative.

Stock, Flow or Impulse? (JPMi)

Notwithstanding all the discussion of balance sheet reduction and tapering, the developed market central banks in aggregate are still very much in expansionary mode, with the G4 balance sheets still growing by more than $1 trillion per year on an annualized pace (see Chart). The strength of asset prices in the face of fundamental challenges serves as an enduring reminder for me of the importance of this positive QE flow. The link between QE flow and asset prices makes intuitive sense. The world’s stock of savings is held in two places: cash and everything else (“financial assets”). QE, by its nature, increases the supply of cash in the world, and simultaneously decreases the supply of non-cash financial assets, by removing government bonds, corporates, and in some cases equities from circulation.

Those securities are replaced in the financial system by cash of equivalent value. So, QE increases the ratio of cash to financial assets worldwide, and that ratio reflects the relative abundance or scarcity of cash available to purchase each unit of assets. QE’s influence on that ratio drives up the price of financial assets, all else equal. This rationale suggests that it is the flow of QE, i.e. the speed with which cash is injected and financial assets are removed, that influences the change in asset prices. Flow is positive, asset prices go up; flow is negative, asset prices go down. However, despite this simplicity (or maybe because of it) the relationship between balance sheets and asset prices is still a matter of intense debate.

Some clever analysis yields a compelling case that the impulse, rather than the flow, of global central bank balance sheets is likely to be the primary driver of asset prices. Whereas the “flow” of QE is the speed of balance sheet increase, the “impulse,” is its acceleration. If the speed of balance sheet growth is slowing down, impulse is negative. A carefully constructed dataset shows a remarkably good fit between QE impulse and change in spreads and stock prices. Unfortunately the fit is so good historically that it almost looks like data mining, and recently, there has been a material breakdown: global central bank QE impulse has already turned negative, most demonstrably back in Q2 of this year, and asset prices have continued to remain buoyant.

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Do low rates kill growth?

Signs, Signs, Everywhere A Sign (Roberts)

You don’t have to look very hard to see a rising number of signs that suggest the “Trump Trade” has come to its inevitable conclusion. Following the election, this past November the financial markets rallied sharply on the hopes of major policy reforms and legislative agenda coming out of Washington. Eleven months later, the markets are still waiting as the Administration has remained primarily embroiled in Washington politics with a divisive, Republican controlled, House and Senate. While there are still “hopes” the Administration will pass through tax reform, the failure to “rally the troops” to repeal the Affordable Care Act leaves permanent tax cuts an unlikely outcome. That hopeful outcome was further exacerbated with the deal cut between President Trump and leading Democrats to lift the debt ceiling and fund the Government through December.

That “deal” has effectively nullified any leverage the Republicans had to strong-arm a deal on taxes later this year. The markets are figuring it out as well. If you want to know where the economy is headed over the next few months, you don’t have to look much further than interest rates. Since interest rates are ultimately driven by the demand for credit, and that demand is driven by economic growth, their historical correlation is no surprise.

But like I said, if you want to know where GDP is going to be in the months ahead, keep a close watch on rates. I suspect, before year-end, we will see rates below 2.0%. As a reminder, this is why we have remained rampant bond bulls since 2013 despite the continuing calls for the end of the “bond bull market.” The 3-D’s (Demographics, Deflation & Debt) ensure that rates will remain low, and go lower, in the years to come. Think Japan.

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China’s too late.

China Targets A $3 Trillion Shadow Banking Industry (R.)

As a flood of unregulated cash swirls through the Chinese economy, Beijing has been taking aim at the trust companies whose unrestrained lending practices are worrying regulators. The trusts, at the heart of a vast shadow banking industry, are being pressured to step up compliance and background checks, and are being pushed towards greater transparency. But the fast-growing 20 trillion yuan ($3 trillion) industry, whose lending operations are cloaked behind opaque structures, will be tough to rein in, according to employees at some trusts. A regulatory sanction against one trust, Shanghai International Trust, and a legal case against another, National Trust, offer rare insights into the industry, and reveals just how hard it will be to police it. Shanghai Trust was fined 200,000 yuan for selling a product that violated leverage rules, according to a regulator’s notice in January.

Under these rules, property developers are only allowed to borrow up to three times their existing net assets. According to two people with direct knowledge of the case, an unknown sum was loaned by China Construction Bank through Shanghai Trust to Cinda Asset Management Company. Cinda then invested the cash. One of the sources said Cinda used the cash to acquire land, a sector rife with speculation that regulators have singled out as a “risky” destination for trust company loans. [..] The case against National Trust, which had revenue of 655 million yuan in 2016, involves wealth management products linked to the steel industry. The trust was sued in June this year by eight investors who allege it misrepresented the risks involved in products it sold them and failed to adequately assess the guarantor’s creditworthiness.

The trust skirted restrictions on loans to the steel industry by using the products to raise money to lend to a subsidiary of Bohai Steel Group, according to Tang Chunlin, a lawyer at Yingke Law Firm, who is representing the investors. The plaintiffs invested different sums in the wealth management products, which National Trust promised would deliver an annual return of over 9 percent. National Trust lent the money collected to a Bohai subsidiary, Tianjin Iron and Steel Group. National Trust has now defaulted on the product, according to Tang and Gongyu Zhou, one of the eight investors, because Tianjin Iron and Steel is unable to pay back its loan.The products were also illegally sold via third-party non-financial institutions, Tang and Zhou said.

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Let me guess. When lithium prices go to the moon?

China Studying When To Ban Sales Of Traditional Fuel Cars (R.)

China has begun studying when to ban the production and sale of cars using traditional fuels, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing comments by the vice industry minister, who predicted “turbulent times” for automakers forced to adapt. Xin Guobin did not give details on when China, the world’s largest auto market, would implement such a ban. The UK and France have said they will ban new petrol and diesel cars from 2040. “Some countries have made a timeline for when to stop the production and sales of traditional fuel cars,” Xin, vice minister of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, was quoted as saying at an auto industry event in the city of Tianjin on Saturday. “The ministry has also started relevant research and will make such a timeline with relevant departments. Those measures will certainly bring profound changes for our car industry’s development,” he said.

To combat air pollution and close a competitive gap between its newer domestic automakers and their global rivals, China has set goals for electric and plug-in hybrid cars to make up at least a fifth of Chinese auto sales by 2025. Xin said the domestic auto industry faced “turbulent times” over the years to 2025 to make the switch towards new energy vehicles, and called on the country’s car makers to adapt to the challenge and adjust their strategies accordingly. Banning the sale of petrol- and diesel-powered cars would have a significant impact on oil demand in China, the world’s second-largest oil consumer. Last month, state oil major China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) said China’s energy demand will peak by 2040, later than the previous forecast of 2035, as transportation fuel consumption rises through the middle of the century.

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As Hillary’s starting a book tour attacking Bernie, he’s gathering Democrats around him.

How Democrats Learned To Stop Worrying And Love ‘Medicare For All’ (CNN)

First, consider this: It’s the summer of 2019 and a dozen Democratic presidential candidates are gathered onstage for a debate somewhere in the Midwest. The network moderator concludes her introductions and tees up the opening question. “Who here tonight supports moving the United States toward a single-payer, or ‘Medicare for all,’ taxpayer-funded health care system?” Pause it there and rewind to January 2016 in Iowa. The caucuses are days away, and Hillary Clinton is fending off an unexpected challenge from Sen. Bernie Sanders. The discussion turns to single-payer, and Clinton balks. “People who have health emergencies can’t wait for us to have a theoretical debate about some better idea that will never, ever come to pass,” she tells voters in Des Moines, explaining her campaign’s focus on preserving and expanding Obamacare, while dismissing the progressive insurgent’s more ambitious pitch.

Go back even further now to the last contested Democratic primary before that, in 2008, and recall the lone and lonely voices in favor of single-payer care. They belonged to Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel. The pair combined for a delegate haul of precisely nil. Back to the present – a decade on – and after a chaotic months-long push by Republicans to dismantle former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, the prospect of Sanders’ “Medicare-for-all” program has emerged as the hot-button centerpiece of the Democratic Party’s roiling public policy debate. After a summer that has seen so many of the party’s most ambitious officials and brightest prospects line up in vocal support of what was so recently a fringe cause, consider again how the single-payer question will be received on a Democratic debate stage. Here’s a hint: Expect to see a lot of hands.

[..] .. in mid-July, Sanders returned to Des Moines, Iowa, for the first time since the 2016 election to water the grassroots. “Our immediate test,” he said, was to defeat the Republican plan. “But as soon as we accomplish that, I will be introducing legislation which has gained more and more support all across this country, legislation for a Medicare for All, single-payer system.” Robert Becker, Sanders’ 2016 Iowa campaign director, was in the hall that day. Between cigarettes, and before his old boss arrived on the scene, Becker sat back and diagnosed the bubbling dynamic. “Every time Paul Ryan, or someone who is trying to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, steps to the podium and starts talking about insurance rates and premiums getting higher and higher and higher, they’re actually making an argument for a single-payer system,” he said. “You don’t hear people on Medicare and Medicaid complaining about their co-pays.”

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But the feeding frenzy will continue.

Laughing on the Way to Armageddon (PCR)

The United States shows the world such a ridiculous face that the world laughs at us. The latest spin on “Russia stole the election” is that Russia used Facebook to influence the election. The NPR women yesterday were breathless about it. We have been subjected to ten months of propaganda about Trump/Putin election interference and still not a scrap of evidence. It is past time to ask an unasked question: If there were evidence, what is the big deal? All sorts of interest groups try to influence election outcomes including foreign governments. Why is it OK for Israel to influence US elections but not for Russia to do so? Why do you think the armament industry, the energy industry, agribusiness, Wall Street and the banks, pharmaceutical companies, etc., etc., supply the huge sum of money to finance election campaigns if their intent is not to influence the election?

Why do editorial boards write editorials endorsing one candidate and damning another if they are not influencing the election? What is the difference between influencing the election and influencing the government? Washington is full of lobbyists of all descriptions, including lobbyists for foreign governments, working round the clock to influence the US government. It is safe to say that the least represented in the government are the citizens themselves who don’t have any lobbyists working for them. The orchestrated hysteria over “Russian influence” is even more absurd considering the reason Russia allegedly interfered in the election. Russia favored Trump because he was the peace candidate who promised to reduce the high tensions with Russia created by the Obama regime and its neocon nazis—Hillary Clinton, Victoria Nuland, Susan Rice, and Samantha Power.

What’s wrong with Russia preferring a peace candidate over a war candidate? The American people themselves preferred the peace candidate. So Russia agreed with the electorate. Those who don’t agree with the electorate are the warmongers—the military/security complex and the neocon nazis. These are democracy’s enemies who are trying to overturn the choice of the American people. It is not Russia that disrespects the choice of the American people; it is the utterly corrupt Democratic National Committee and its divisive Identity Politics, the military/security complex, and the presstitute media who are undermining democracy. I believe it is time to change the subject. The important question is who is it that is trying so hard to convince Americans that Russian influence prevails over us?

Do the idiots pushing this line realize how impotent this makes an alleged “superpower” look. How can we be the hegemonic power that the Zionist neocons say we are when Russia can decide who is the president of the United States? The US has a massive spy state that even intercepts the private cell phone conversations of the Chancellor of Germany, but his massive spy organization is unable to produce one scrap of evidence that the Russians conspired with Trump to steal the presidential election from Hillary. When will the imbeciles realize that when they make charges for which no evidence can be produced they make the United States look silly, foolish, incompetent, stupid beyond all belief?

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The UK needs a national government. Or else.

Scotland and Wales Deliver Brexit Ultimatum To Theresa May (Ind.)

Wales and Scotland will formally lay down a challenge to Theresa May’s Brexit plans this week, warning she risks a constitutional crisis if changes are not made. Governments in both nations are expected to officially submit documents confirming their intention to withhold consent for the Prime Minister’s approach to EU withdrawal unless it radically alters. Conservative ministers have admitted to The Independent that pushing on without their backing could hold up Brexit, while politicians outside England warn it will strain the UK at the seams. The devolved governments claim Ms May’s key piece of Brexit legislation will see London snatch authority over key policy areas and give Conservative ministers unacceptably-strong powers to meddle with other laws.

It comes as MPs are expected to approve the EU (Withdrawal) Bill at its first Commons hurdle on Monday, but the Prime Minister faces a rebellion later on because even Tories want changes to the same clauses that are angering leaders in Cardiff and Edinburgh. On Tuesday the Scottish and Welsh administrations will officially start their drive to force concessions, by submitting ‘legislative consent’ papers in their assemblies that set out how the bill must change. Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones told The Independent Ms May’s bill will allow Whitehall to “hijack” powers during Brexit that should be passed to Cardiff. He said: “The UK Government is being rigid in its approach. It’s saying there is only one way. It’s acting as if it won a majority at the election in June. It didn’t.

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It needs a national conscience too.

British Arms Sales To Repressive Regimes Soar To £5 Billion Since Election (G.)

UK arms manufacturers have exported almost £5bn worth of weapons to countries that are judged to have repressive regimes in the 22 months since the Conservative party won the last election. The huge rise is largely down to a rise in orders from Saudi Arabia, but many other countries with controversial human rights records – including Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Venezuela and China – have also been major buyers. The revelation comes before the Defence and Security Equipment International arms fair at the Excel centre in east London, one of the largest shows of its kind in the world. Among countries invited to attend by the British government are Egypt, Qatar, Kenya, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Campaigners called on the government to end arms sales to the United Arab Emirates in light of its record on human rights.

They accused the government of negotiating trade deals to sell the Gulf state cyber surveillance technology which the UAE government uses to spy on its citizens, and weaponry which, they allege, has been used to commit war crimes in Yemen. The Saudis have historically been a major buyer of British-made weapons, but the rise in sales to other countries signals a shift in emphasis on the part of the government, which is keen to support the defence industry, which employs more than 55,000 people. Following the referendum on leaving the EU, the Defence & Security Organisation, the government body that promotes arms manufacturers to overseas buyers, was moved from UK Trade & Investment to the Department for International Trade. Shortly afterwards, it was announced that the international trade secretary, Liam Fox, would spearhead the push to promote the country’s military and security industries exports.

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What’s going to happen to Tsipras when Greeks find out he can’t deliver?

Greek PM Vows Bailout Exit In 2018, Help For Workers, Youth (R.)

Greece will exit successfully its bailout program in 2018 helped by strong growth, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Saturday, vowing to support workers, young Greeks and small businesses as the economy recovers. Addressing a Greek public worn out by austerity and skeptical after years of reform efforts have failed to fix the country’s woes, Tsipras said his leftist-led government would do whatever it takes to end lenders’ supervision next year. “The country, after eight whole years, will have exited bailouts and suffocating supervision. That’s our aim,” Tsipras said in his annual policy speech in the northern city of Thessaloniki. “We are determined to do everything we can.” Greece’s current international bailout, worth 86 billion euros, expires next year. Tsipras’ term ends a year later.

Tsipras said Athens would continue to outperform its fiscal targets and fight endemic tax evasion to create fiscal room for tax cuts that would alleviate the burden on businesses and households, long squeezed by the debt crisis. Greece has received about 260 billion euros in bailout aid from its eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund since 2010 in return for draconian austerity which has wiped out a quarter of its output and cut tens of thousands of jobs. Unemployment stood at 21.2 percent in June, the euro zone’s highest, with young Greeks the hardest hit. Greece’s economy is expected to grow by about 2 percent in 2018, a sign that sacrifices are bearing fruit, Tsipras said outlining initiatives to boost employment and fight a brain drain.

A march of thousands of workers was largely peaceful outside the venue where he spoke. Tsipras said the state would give financial incentives to employers to hire more younger workers and spend 156 million euros to subsidize social security contributions of employers who will turn contractors into full-time staff. Unregistered work and contract jobs have increased during the debt crisis, as businesses are desperate to cut costs. The government will also pay 100 million euros to subsidize unpaid workers in struggling sectors and businesses, he said, promising to fight labor law violations.

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In a country that has no jobs for its own people.

Greek Government Aims To Integrate Up To 30,000 Migrants (K.)

Authorities are preparing measures to integrate between 25,000-30,000 asylum seekers who are not entitled to relocation under the existing European Union program, Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas has said. Speaking to Ta Nea newspaper over the weekend, Mouzalas said that a three-pronged scheme is under way to integrate newcomers, involving a new registration process and the issuing of tax identification and social security numbers; school enrolment for children; and access to the local labor market. Asked about Greece’s recent decision to take back a small number of asylum seekers in line with the EU’s so-called Dublin rules, Mouzalas said that Athens had only accepted returns “from countries who helped us by consenting to up to 17,000 relocations and 7,000 [family] reunions.”

The minister said that a new agreement is currently in the works because the Dublin system is “dead.” Meanwhile, more than 350 police officers took part in a pre-dawn operation on Saturday at the Moria camp on the Aegean island of Lesvos to transfer an unspecified number of migrants to the pre-deportation center. These individuals, who have all received a final rejection of their asylum application, will be returned to Turkey. Moria has been rocked by riots twice in recent weeks in protest at the slow pace of registration and asylum processing for certain nationalities, as well as crowded conditions.

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Interesting mystery. No answers so far.

Astronomers Find Stars That Appear Older Than The Universe (F.)

If you understand how stars work, you can observe the physical properties of one of them and extrapolate its age, and know when it had to have been born. Stars undergo a lot of changes as they age: their radius, luminosity, and temperature all evolve as they burn through their fuel. But a star’s lifespan, in general, is dependent on only two properties that it’s born with: its mass and its metallicity, which is the amount of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium present within. The oldest stars we’ve found in the Universe are nearly pristine, where almost 100% of what makes them up is the hydrogen and helium left over from the Big Bang. They come in at over 13 billion years old, with the oldest at 14.5 billion. And this is a big problem, because the Universe itself is only 13.8 billion years old.

You can’t very well have a star that’s older than the Universe itself; that would imply that the star existed before the Big Bang ever happened! Yet the Big Bang was the origin of the Universe as-we-know-it, where all the matter, energy, neutrinos, photons, antimatter, dark matter and even dark energy originated. Everything contained in our observable Universe came from that event, and everything we perceive today can be traced back to that origin in time. So the simplest explanation, that there are stars predating the Universe, must be ruled out. It’s also possible that we’ve got the age of the Universe wrong! The way we arrive at that figure is from precision measurements of the Universe on the largest scales.

By looking at a whole slew of features, including: • The density and temperature imperfections in the cosmic microwave background, left over from the Big Bang, • The clustering of stars and galaxies at present and going back billions of light years, • The Hubble expansion rate of the fabric of the Universe, • The history of star formation and galactic evolution, and many other sources, we’ve arrived at a very consistent picture of the Universe. It’s made up of 68% dark energy, 27% dark matter, 4.9% normal matter, about 0.1% neutrinos and 0.01% radiation, and is right around 13.8 billion years old. The uncertainty on the age figure is less than 100 million years, so even though it might be plausible that the Universe is slightly older-or-younger, it’s extraordinarily improbable to get up to 14.5 billion years.

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Jul 202017
 
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Margaret Bourke-White Breadline, Kentucky 1937

 

Trump Ends CIA Arms Support For Anti-Assad Syria Rebels (R.)
Did the City of London Just Press the Panic Button on Brexit?
Single Payer Is The Only Real Answer, Says Medicare Architect (IC)
Deutsche Bank Expects Subpoenas Over Trump-Russia Investigation (G.)
Asia’s Coal-Fired Power Boom ‘Bankrolled By Foreign Governments And Banks’ (G.)
When Does a Home Become a Prison? (FAFC)
Saudi-Led Bloc Drops List Of Demands For Qatar (BBC)
Toronto Man Builds Park Stairs For $550, Irking City After $65,000 Estimate (CTV)
US-Style Mega Farms Invade The World (G.)
Australia Was Colonized By Humans 20,000 Years Before Europe (Ind.)
Child Refugees Denied Care Amid Suicide And Abuse In Greek Camps (Ind.)
UK Has Not Taken In Any Child Refugees Under Dubs Scheme This Year (G.)
The World Has Made More Than 9 Billion Tons of Plastic (CNBC)
World’s Plastic Waste Could Bury Manhattan 2 Miles Deep (AP)

 

 

The CIA will not like this. The press just can’t mention Putin enough. But a good decision.

Trump Ends CIA Arms Support For Anti-Assad Syria Rebels (R.)

The Trump administration has decided to halt the CIA’s covert program to equip and train certain rebel groups fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, two U.S. officials said, a move sought by Assad ally Russia. The U.S. decision, said one of the officials, is part of an effort by the administration to improve relations with Russia, which along with Iranian-supported groups has largely succeeded in preserving Assad’s government in the six-year-civil war. The CIA program began in 2013 as part of efforts by the administration of then-President Barack Obama to overthrow Assad, but produced little success, said the officials, both of whom are familiar with the program and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The decision was made with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and CIA Director Mike Pompeo after they consulted with lower ranking officials and before Trump’s July 7 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit in Germany. It was not part of U.S.-Russian negotiations on a ceasefire in southwestern Syria, the two officials said. One of the officials said the United States was not making a major concession, given Assad’s grip on power, although not on all of Syria, “but it’s a signal to Putin that the administration wants to improve ties to Russia.” A downside of the CIA program, one of the officials said, is that some armed and trained rebels defected to Islamic State and other radical groups, and some members of the previous administration favored abandoning the program.

Before assuming office in January, Trump suggested he could end support for Free Syrian Army groups and give priority to the fight against Islamic State. A separate effort by the U.S. military effort to train, arm and support other Syrian rebel groups with air strikes and other actions will continue, the officials said.

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The real Macron.

Did the City of London Just Press the Panic Button on Brexit?

Oh the irony: EU capitals are trying to attract the very institutions that caused some of the worst financial scandals of the last ten years.

In a sign of growing desperation, the City of London Corporation, the enigmatic city within the city that serves as the ultimate bastion of privilege in the UK, is now trying to appeal to brute populist sentiment to defend its position as the world’s most important financial center. In a memo to the British Treasury, MPs, and financial institutions, the City’s Brexit envoy to the EU, Jeremy Browne, bemoaned that the French are pushing for the most damaging Brexit possible, even if France doesn’t directly benefit. The memo was duly leaked to one of the UK’s most anti-EU newspapers, The Daily Mail: “Browne’s recent meeting at the Banque de France was the worst he had had “anywhere in the EU”. The French, he said, “are crystal clear about their objectives: the weakening of Britain and the ongoing degradation of the City of London” and plotting to “actively disrupt and destroy” the UK’s financial sector when Britain leaves the EU.

France isn’t the only country aggressively trying to poach business from the City of London; so too are Germany, Spain, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and even Italy. But France differs from the rest in one key aspect, says Browne: it “sees Britain and the City of London as adversaries, not partners.” The recent election as president of Emmanuel Macron, a former investment banker at Rothschild & Cie Banque, has merely intensified this dynamic. Paris has promised to unfurl the red carpet for the City of London’s highest paid bankers by offering low tax rates and bank-friendly legislation, including scrapping a proposed financial transaction tax, while also seeking to grow as a clearing center. Clearing is a huge business for the City of London. The U.K. is estimated to handle 75% of all euro-denominated derivatives transactions, equivalent to around €930 billion of trades per day.

It’s also home to roughly 90% of US dollar domestic interest-rate swaps. The world’s largest clearinghouse for interest rate swaps, LCH, is based there and is majority-owned by London Stock Exchange Group Plc. LCH functions as a middle man collecting collateral and standing between derivatives and swaps traders to prevent a default from spiraling out of control. As Bloomberg reports, the role of clearing houses like LCH in global finance has become far more entrenched since the 2008 Financial Crisis and the inexorable expansion of derivatives trading. For years the French government, together with the European Central Bank, has wanted a piece of the action. Ironically, it was the European Court of Justice (ECJ) — the same court whose jurisdiction the UK government is now determined to elude — that, in 2015, stopped that from happening on the grounds that the ECB cannot discriminate against an EU member. But if the UK leaves the EU, and thus the ECJ’s jurisdiction, that ruling will no longer be applicable.

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They had the money but not the interest in the idea,” he lamented, “instead spending a year developing a complex bill that was DOA on [Capitol] Hill.”

Single Payer Is The Only Real Answer, Says Medicare Architect (IC)

Thanks to a pair of defections from more GOP senators late yesterday, the Republican plan to repeal and replace or simply repeal the Affordable Care Act is dead — for now. But the health care status quo is far from popular, with 57% of Americans telling Gallup pollsters in March that they “personally worry” a “great deal” about health care costs. Many health care activists are now pushing to adopt what is called a “single payer” health care system, where one public health insurance program would cover everyone. The U.S. currently has one federal program like that: Medicare. Expanding it polls very well. One of the activists pushing for such an expansion is Max Fine, someone who is intimately familiar with the program — because he helped create it.

Fine is the last surviving member of President Kennedy’s Medicare Task Force, and he was also President Johnson’s designated debunker against the health insurance industry. Fine, now 91, wrote to The Intercept recently to explain that Medicare was never intended to cover only the elderly population, and that expanding it to everyone was a goal that its architects long campaigned for. “Three years after the enactment of Medicare, in Dec. 1968, a Committee of 100 leading Americans was formed to campaign for single payer National Heath Insurance. The campaign leaders were UAW pres. Walter Reuther, Dr. Michael DeBakey, Nat. Urban League Pres Whitney Young and Mary Lasker, a leader in the formation and funding of NIH,” he wrote.

”The NY Times and other newspapers gave front page play to the announcement of the campaign for ‘Medicare for All’ but the Committee gained even more attention when, shortly before xmas, pres-elect Nixon, emerging from his doctor’s office in San Diego, denounced us as socialists who were trying to create a problem when none existed.” Fine noted that this movement towards single payer has “risen and fallen over the years,” reaching a high point in the early 70s when former Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy’s bill covering all Americans with government health insurance had 36 co-sponsors. But the Democratic Party decided to go a different direction, turning instead to private insurance to cover Americans.

Fine said he met with former First Lady Hillary Clinton’s health care task force in the early 1990’s, and advised them to incrementally expand Medicare, starting first with children and then lowering the age for the elderly. “They had the money but not the interest in the idea,” he lamented, “instead spending a year developing a complex bill that was DOA on [Capitol] Hill.”

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Deutsche already did a review and reported nothing suspicious. Does that make them suspect?

Deutsche Bank Expects Subpoenas Over Trump-Russia Investigation (G.)

Executives inside Deutsche Bank, Donald Trump’s personal bankers, are expecting that the bank will soon be receiving subpoenas or other requests for information from Robert Mueller, the special counsel who is investigating possible collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. A person close to the matter who spoke to the Guardian on the condition of anonymity said that Mueller’s team and the bank have already established informal contact in connection to the federal investigation. Deutsche’s relationship with Trump and questions about hundreds of millions in loans have dogged the German bank and the White House for months. They have also been the subject of intense scrutiny among some Democrats on Capitol Hill, who have demanded the bank turn over detailed information about the president’s accounts.

The requests for information from Maxine Waters, the top Democrat on the House financial services committee, have focused on whether any Russian entities may have provided financial guarantees for the loans that were made to the president or his immediate family members. The Guardian reported in February that the bank launched a review of Trump’s account earlier this year in order to gauge whether there were any suspicious connections to Russia and did not discover anything suspicious. Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and adviser in the White House; her husband, Jared Kushner, who is also a presidential adviser; and Kushner’s mother, Seryl Stadtmauer, are all clients of Deutsche Bank.

US media outlets have reported that Mueller’s investigation into possible Russian collusion with the Trump campaign will include a close examination of the president’s finances and businesses. While Deutsche Bank did engage in banking transactions with Russian banks as late as 2005, including some loan activity, a person familiar with the matter said the activity was not related to Trump’s accounts or his family.

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What a surprise. The same ones that signed on to the Paris Accord, by any chance?

Asia’s Coal-Fired Power Boom ‘Bankrolled By Foreign Governments And Banks’ (G.)

The much-discussed boom in coal-fired power in south-east Asia is being bankrolled by foreign governments and banks, with the vast majority of projects apparently too risky for the private sector. Environmental analysts at activist group Market Forces examined 22 deals involving 13.1 gigawatts of coal-fired power in Indonesia and found that 91% of the projects had the backing of foreign governments through export credit agencies or development banks. Export credit agencies, which provide subsidised loans to overseas projects to assist export industries in their home countries, were involved in 64% of the deals and provided 45% of the total lending. The majority of the money was coming from Japan and China, with the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) involved in five deals and the Export-Import Bank of China (Cexim) involved in seven deals.

All the deals closed between January 2010 and March 2017. The China Development Bank was the biggest development bank lending to the projects, imparting $3bn, with a further $300,000 in development funds coming from Korea’s Korea Development Bank. The lending comes despite the world’s biggest development bank – the World Bank – warning last year that plans to build more coal-fired power plants in Asia would be a “disaster for the planet” and overwhelm the deal forged at Paris to fight climate change. “Right now, several key countries supporting the Paris climate change agreement are actively undermining it by trying to expand the polluting coal-power sector in other countries,” said Julien Vincent, executive director of Market Forces.

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The upside down logic of the First American Financial Corporation. They need people to buy and sell, or their business is dead. Your home is a prison if you don’t sell it. But the supply shortage illusion is really gone, guys.

When Does a Home Become a Prison? (FAFC)

In most markets, the seller, or supplier, makes their decision about adding supply to the market independent of the buyer, or source of demand, and their decision to buy. In the housing market, the seller and the buyer are, in many cases, actually the same economic actor. In order to buy a new home, you have to sell the home you already own. So, in a market with rising prices and strong demand, what’s preventing existing homeowners from putting their homes on the market? The housing market has experienced a long-run decline in mortgage rates from a high of 18% for the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage in 1981 to a low of almost 3% in 2012. Today, five years later, mortgage rates remain just a stone’s throw away from that historic low point.

This long-run decline in rates encouraged existing homeowners to both move more often and to refinance more often, in many cases refinancing multiple times between each move. It’s widely expected that mortgage rates will rise further. This is more important than we may even realize because the housing market has not experienced a rising rate environment in almost three decades! No longer is there a financial incentive to refinance for most homeowners, and there’s more to consider when moving. Why move when it will cost more each month to borrow the same amount from the bank? A homeowner can re-extend the mortgage term another 30 years to increase the amount one can borrow at the higher rate, but the mortgage has to be paid off at some point.

Hopefully before or soon after retirement. Existing homeowners are increasingly financially imprisoned in their own home by their historically low mortgage rate. It makes choosing a kitchen renovation seem more appealing than moving.” There is one more possibility caused by the fact that the existing-home owner is both seller and buyer. In today’s market, sellers face a prisoner’s dilemma, a situation in which individuals don’t cooperate with each other, even though it is seemingly in their best interest to do so. Consider two existing homeowners. They both want to buy a new house and move, but are unable to communicate with each other. If they both choose to sell, they both benefit because they increase the inventory of homes available, and collectively alleviate the supply shortage.

However, if one chooses to sell and the other doesn’t, the seller must buy a new home in a market with a shortage of supply, bidding wars and escalating prices. Because of this risk, neither homeowner sells (non-cooperation) and neither get what they wanted in the first place – a move to a new, more desirable home. Imagine this scenario playing out across an entire market. If everyone sells there will be plenty of supply. But, the risk of selling when others don’t convinces everyone not to sell and produces the non-cooperative outcome. Rising mortgage rates and the fear of not being able to find something affordable to buy is imprisoning homeowners and causing the inventory shortages that are seen in practically every market across the country. So, what gives in a market short of supply relative to demand? Prices. According to the First American Real House Price Index, the fast pace of house price growth, combined with rising rates, has had a material impact on affordability.

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A weird turnaround in an already weird file. Tillerson?

Saudi-Led Bloc Drops List Of Demands For Qatar (BBC)

The four Arab nations leading a boycott of Qatar are no longer insisting it comply with a list of 13 specific demands they tabled last month. Diplomats from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt told reporters at the UN they now wanted it to accept six broad principles. These include commitments to combat terrorism and extremism and to end acts of provocation and incitement. There was no immediate comment from Qatar, which denies aiding terrorists. It has refused to agree to any measures that threaten its sovereignty or violate international law, and denounced the “siege” imposed by its neighbours. The restrictions put in place six weeks ago have forced the gas-rich emirate to import food by sea and air to meet the basic needs of its population of 2.7 million.

At a briefing for a group of UN correspondents in New York on Tuesday, diplomats from the four countries said they wanted to resolve the crisis amicably. Saudi permanent representative Abdullah al-Mouallimi said their foreign ministers had agreed the six principles at a meeting in Cairo on 5 July and that they “should be easy for the Qataris to accept”. This latest development does, on the surface, hint at a possible way out of the current standoff between Qatar and its neighbours. But it is unlikely to provide a permanent solution. The problem comes down to how countries choose to interpret “extremism and terrorism”. Qatar has long prided itself on giving voice to alternative views to the edited, government-approved ones aired by its conservative neighbours. Hence one of the reasons why Qatar’s Al Jazeera network has been such a thorn in their sides. However, the charge levelled against Qatar is that those alternative voices include people committed to the overthrow of governments in the region.

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Please pay $64.450 to comply with bylaws.

Toronto Man Builds Park Stairs For $550, Irking City After $65,000 Estimate (CTV)

A Toronto man who spent $550 building a set of stairs in his community park says he has no regrets, despite the city’s insistence that he should have waited for a $65,000 city project to handle the problem. The city is now threatening to tear down the stairs because they were not built to regulation standards. Retired mechanic Adi Astl says he took it upon himself to build the stairs after several neighbours fell down the steep path to a community garden in Tom Riley Park, in Etobicoke, Ont. Astl says his neighbours chipped in on the project, which only ended up costing $550 – a far cry from the $65,000-$150,000 price tag the city had estimated for the job. “I thought they were talking about an escalator,” Astl told CTV News Channel on Wednesday.

Astl says he hired a homeless person to help him and built the eight steps in a matter of hours. Astl’s wife, Gail Rutherford, says the stairs have already been a big help to people who routinely take that route through the park. “I’ve seen so many people fall over that rocky path that was there to begin with,” she said. “It’s a huge improvement over what was there.” Astl says members of his gardening group have been thanking him for taking care of the project, especially after one of them broke her wrist falling down the slope last year. “To me, the safety of people is more important than money,” Astl said. “So if the city is not willing to do it, I have to do it myself.” City bylaw officers have taped off the stairs while officials make a decision on what to do with it. However, Astl has not been charged with any sort of violation.

Mayor John Tory acknowledged that the city estimate sounds “completely out of whack with reality” on Wednesday. However, he says that still doesn’t justify allowing private citizens to bypass city bylaws to build public structures themselves. “I think everyone will understand that it will be more than $550,” he said on Wednesday. “We just can’t have people decide to go out to Home Depot and build a staircase in a park because that’s what they would like to have.”

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Result: reisistant superbugs.

US-Style Mega Farms Invade The World (G.)

Since the days of the wild west frontier, the popular image of American farming has been of cowboys rounding up steers on wide open ranches, to whoops, whips and hollers. Today, the cowboys on their ranches under wide open skies have been replaced by vast sheds, hulking over the plains, housing tens of thousands of animals each, with the noises and smells spreading far beyond their fences. The US has led the world in large-scale farming, pioneering the use of intensive livestock rearing in hog farms, cattle sheds and sheep pens. There are now more than 50,000 facilities in the US classified as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), with another quarter of a million industrial-scale facilities below that threshold. Around the world, developing countries in particular were quick to catch up.

Intensive farming of livestock offers many advantages over traditional open ranges, not least economies of cost and scale, more efficient healthcare for the herds and flocks, and ultimately cheaper food. According to the UN, globally CAFOs account for 72% of poultry, 42% of egg, and 55% of pork production. In 2000, there were an estimated 15 billion livestock in the world, according to the Worldwatch Institute. By last year, that had risen to about 24 billion, with the majority of eggs, chicken meat and pork produced on intensive farms. Ranching was never an option in the UK, but most people still expect farms to consist of green fields rather than vast industrial-scale sheds. The reality is an increasing number of livestock are “zero graze”, spending all or almost all of their time indoors in large warehouse-type facilities.

[..] at least 789 megafarms, meeting the US definition of CAFOs, now operate around the UK, with every region of the country hosting several such operations, many of them owned by foreign multinationals. These are the biggest in a wave of intensive farms that has increased by more than a quarter in six years. [..] Emma Slawinski, director of campaigns at Compassion in World Farming, said the problems of mega farms around the world included over-medication, where animals are given antibiotics whether they are needed or not. “Factory-farmed animals are regularly given antibiotics in their feed or water, because of the higher risk of disease when large numbers of animals are kept in these overcrowded conditions. There is strong evidence that this overuse of antibiotics in intensive farming is contributing to antibiotic resistance in human medicine.

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How is this new information?

Australia Was Colonized By Humans 20,000 Years Before Europe (Ind.)

Australia was colonised about 20,000 years before humans first arrived in Europe, according to new research. The discovery of the world’s oldest stone axes with ground edges, ochre used to make “spectacular rock art” and other artefacts in northern Australia pushes back the earliest known presence of humans to 65,000 years ago. Despite the relative closeness of Europe to Africa, where modern humans first evolved about 200,000 to 3000,000 years ago, the first concrete signs of Europeans are about 45,000 years old. In addition to their sophisticated axes, the people who first arrived on Australia’s shores may also have been armed with spears. The objects were found at Madjedbebe within the traditional lands of the Mirarr clan, an area of land that was excluded from the surrounding Kakadu National Park after a lease to mine uranium in the area was granted in 1982.

Representatives of the Mirarr said the research showed the “universal importance” of the area and called for it to receive the “highest level of conservation and protection”. Writing in the journal Nature, the researchers said: “The settlement of Madjedbebe around 65,000 years ago … sets a new minimum age for the human colonisation of Australia and the dispersal of modern humans out of Africa and across south Asia. “The final stages of this journey took place at a time of lower sea level, when northern Australia was cooler and wetter. “Our chronology … extends the period of overlap of modern humans and Homo floresiensis [the hominin species better known as hobbits] in eastern Indonesia to at least 15,000 years and, potentially, with other archaic hominins – such as Homo erectus – in southeast Asia and Australasia.”

In addition to changing the story of our species’ expansion across the globe, the new much older date challenges theories that Australia’s astonishing megafauna – a two-tonne wombat, giant kangaroos that were so big they couldn’t hop and a two-metre-tall bird – were quickly wiped out by humans. “Our chronology places people in Australia more than 20,000 years before continent-wide extinction of the megafauna,” the Nature paper said.

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Deterrent is still the favorite approach for Greece as well as the EU. Cowards.

Child Refugees Denied Care Amid Suicide And Abuse In Greek Camps (Ind.)

Unaccompanied child refugees are being wrongly identified as adults by Greek authorities and denied vital care in squalid camps, a new report has found. Human Rights Watch (HRW) interviewed children as young as 15, who said they had been denied special protections required under international law. The group found Greece’s legal age assessment procedure was not being “followed in practice” on the island of Lesbos, which has been at the epicentre of the Aegean refugee crisis. [..] Under Greek law, the government is supposed to appoint a guardian for each child to represent them in legal proceedings, hear their views and act in their best interests, separating minors into designated areas of “hotspot” processing centres.

The Greek Reception and Identification Service (RIS) is responsible for identifying unaccompanied children and other vulnerable groups, with support from the UN, Frontex border agency and EU, and referring them to social services and information. But HRW said the authority was “failing to meet its responsibilities” and sometimes “arbitrarily” recording ages above those given, sometimes using controversial dental examinations without any other evidence. Those classified as adults are left to fend for themselves at heightened risk of exploitation, trafficking and other abuse, including prostitution, aid workers have warned. “They live in official and unofficial sites with unrelated adult single men; are exposed to inhumane living conditions, including overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and frequent incidents of violence; and are unable to go to school or otherwise access education,” HRW said.

[..] When there is no space in safe shelters for unaccompanied children, authorities frequently detain them in police stations, immigration detention facilities and asylum processing centres, with 1,149 unaccompanied minors currently awaiting places. The uncertainty and distress provoked by the process is worsening an ongoing mental health crisis in Greek camps, aid workers said, having already warned of increasing rates of suicide and self-harm. [..] Greek officials told HRW that a thorough procedure is followed to establish the ages of asylum claimants [..] The group called on authorities in Greece to bring age assessments in line with international best practice, so proper accommodation, care, education, counselling and legal aid can be given to those who need it.

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Scandalous. But at least something UK and EU can agree on: let ’em rot.

UK Has Not Taken In Any Child Refugees Under Dubs Scheme This Year (G.)

Home Office ministers have tried to deflect cross-party anger as it emerged that not a single extra lone child refugee has been brought to Britain from Europe under the “Dubs amendment” this year. The immigration minister, Brandon Lewis, met accusations that the government was “dragging its feet” by disclosing he will visit Italy and Greece next week to follow up the invitation to refer eligible children to be brought to Britain. But during an urgent Commons question raised by the outgoing Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, he faced cross-party criticism that it was taking too long to process eligible refugee children in Europe to bring them to Britain. Home Office ministers have confirmed in written answers that only 200 children were transferred under Dubs in 2016 after the closure of the Calais camp and 280 local authority places remain to be filled.

The Dubs amendment, known as section 67, was passed in April 2016 amid a campaign to bring 3,000 lone refugee children stuck in camps in Europe to Britain. Ministers initially estimated local authority capacity at 350 but extended it to 480 in April after saying there had been “an administrative error” in the initial figure. Lily Caprani, of Unicef UK, said: “It’s unacceptable that we have seen no children brought under the Dubs scheme this year. As a nation we showed our compassion and our principles when we helped refugee children stranded in Calais, but we were told this was not the end of the story. We are seeing too many children still having to make dangerous journeys to reach safety.”

In the Commons, Farron said it was hard to see the government’s response as anything more than lip service and demanded to know when the “measly commitment” of 480 would be met. “I have visited the camps in Greece and elsewhere – something neither the home secretary nor the prime minister have done. I have met these children who, through no fault of their own, find their lives paused as ministers have chosen to ignore them,” said the Lib Dem leader. “Has the UK government even signed a memorandum of understanding with Greece to get these transfers under way? I know of two young people who signed a consent form to be transferred under Dubs over a year ago. They are still stuck in Greece.”

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Bringing carbon to the surface.

The World Has Made More Than 9 Billion Tons of Plastic (CNBC)

More than 9 billion tons of plastic have been made since the 1950s, and the vast majority of it has been thrown in the trash, says a new study. The paper says it is the first attempt to measure the total amount of plastic produced since the beginning of mass plastic production in the middle of the 20th century. A team of researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara, the University of Georgia, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, say that although plastic materials such as Bakelite were in use in the early 20th century, the material’s popularity began to rapidly rise after World War II, making it one of the most commonly used man-made materials. For example, the researchers estimated that the amount of plastic in use now is 30% of all the plastic ever produced.

While that has brought its benefits, such as lower-cost materials or capabilities like water resistance, our love of plastic has also produced a lot of trash. About 7 billion tons of it, by their estimate. And as of 2015, only 9% of the plastic waste produced ended up recycled, and another 12% was incinerated, the researchers found in their report. The remaining 79% has built up in landfills or ended up elsewhere in the environment. The team published their results in the journal Science Advances on Wednesday. To make their estimates, the researchers cobbled together datasets on global plastic production, such as global annual pure polymer (resin) production data from 1950 to 2015, published by the Plastics Europe Market Research Group, and global annual plastic fiber production data from 1970 to 2015 published by The Fiber Year and Tecnon OrbiChem.

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Production is not just growing, growth is still accelerating.

World’s Plastic Waste Could Bury Manhattan 2 Miles Deep (AP)

Industry has made more than 9.1 billion tons of plastic since 1950 and there’s enough left over to bury Manhattan under more than two miles of trash, according to a new cradle-to-grave global study. Plastics don’t break down like other man-made materials, so three-quarters of the stuff ends up as waste in landfills, littered on land and floating in oceans, lakes and rivers, according to the research reported in Wednesday’s journal Science Advances . “At the current rate, we are really heading toward a plastic planet,” said study lead author Roland Geyer, an industrial ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “It is something we need to pay attention to.” The plastics boom started after World War II, and now plastics are everywhere. They are used in packaging like plastic bottles and consumer goods like cellphones and refrigerators.

They are in pipes and other construction material. They are in cars and clothing, usually as polyester. Study co-author Jenna Jambeck of the University of Georgia said the world first needs to know how much plastic waste there is worldwide before it can tackle the problem. They calculated that of the 9.1 billion tons made, nearly 7 billion tons are no longer used. Only 9% got recycled and another 12% was incinerated, leaving 5.5 billion tons of plastic waste on land and in water. Using the plastics industry own data, Geyer, Jambeck and Kara Lavender Law found that the amount of plastics made and thrown out is accelerating. In 2015, the world created 448 million tons of plastic — more than twice as much as made in 1998.

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Jun 282017
 
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James Dean in a photobooth 1949

 

All Companies Hit By Ransomware Attack Used Bootleg Or Unpatched Software (WS)
Yellen: Banks Very Much Stronger; No Financial Crisis In Our Lifetime (CNBC)
There Is No Excuse For Janet Yellen’s Complacency (Steve Keen)
Yellen: “I Don’t Believe We Will See Another Crisis In Our Lifetime” (ZH)
Trio of Fed Speakers Warn on Valuations With Eyes on Tightening (BBG)
Car Loans, Credit Card Debt Push UK Back Towards Another Credit Crisis (Tel.)
UK Banks Ordered To Hold More Capital As Consumer Debt Surges (G.)
ECB VP: Slack In European Economy Looks Worse Than We Thought (CNBC)
Chinese Satellite Data Hint At Ominous Manufacturing Slowdown (ZH)
UK Government Refuses To Pay For Fireproof Cladding (Ind.)
Democrats The Only Thing Standing In The Way Of Single-Payer In California (CP)
Democrats The Only Thing Standing In The Way Of Single-Payer In California (CP)
The Human Tragedy Of Drug Abuse And Car Crashes (BBG)
Search Results Show Why Europe Is Mad at Google (BBG)
‘Google, Facebook Are Super Monopolies On The Scale Of Standard Oil’ (CNBC)
Greeks Work 203 Days Out Of The Year To Pay Taxes (K.)
Greek Garbage Collectors Reject Compromise As Trash Piles Up (AP)
At Least 24 Migrants Die Off Libya in 48 Hours, More Than 8,000 Rescued (R.)

 

 

Wolf Richter explains what happened yesterday. They’re all either thieves or extremely stupid/negligent.

Merck, Rosneft, Ukraine government, Ukraine International Airport, Maersk, WPP (world’s largest advertising agency), Mondelez etc. They’ve all been found to either use bootleg software or not having patched their systems with a readily available Microsoft patch.

All Companies Hit By Ransomware Attack Used Bootleg Or Unpatched Software (WS)

The Petya ransomware attack infected over 2,000 computer systems across the world as of midday today, according to Kaspersky Lab, cited by Reuters. Russia and Ukraine were most affected. Other victims were in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, and the US. When China starts up its computers, it will suffer the consequences for not staying in bed. The malware includes code known as “Eternal Blue,” which was also used in the WannaCry attack in May. Experts believe the code was purloined from NSA. The ransomware encrypts hard drives of infected machines and then demands $300 in bitcoin in order for the user to regain access. Petya takes advantage of the same vulnerability in Windows as WannaCry. But Microsoft released a patch to fix this vulnerability on March 14.

Patched computers were not affected by WannaCry, and are not affected today. The Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool detects and removes the malware automatically during the updating process. But that update isn’t available for bootleg copies of Windows – hence China’s disproportionate problems with the attack in May. And computers that are running legitimate versions of Windows but hadn’t been updated for whatever reason are vulnerable. Amazingly, when WannaCry hit, plenty of companies were mauled because some dude hadn’t updated their machines. Corporate and government networks were hit. You’d think after the hue and cry in May, all legit corporate systems would be updated, and bootleg copies of Windows would be replaced either by a legit copy of Windows or another operating system. But no. Rinse and repeat.

[..] These are big sophisticated companies, many of them with global operations, and therefore with global IT networks, not mom-and-pop operations. And yet the Windows machines in their networks hadn’t been updated and had remained vulnerable, or were using bootleg copies of Windows that couldn’t be updated, even after all the hoopla in May about this vulnerability. Just sitting here and shaking my head.

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Grandma goes nuts.

Yellen: Banks Very Much Stronger; No Financial Crisis In Our Lifetime (CNBC)

Fed Chair Janet Yellen said Tuesday that banks are “very much stronger” and another financial crisis is unlikely anytime soon. Speaking during an exchange in London with British Academy President Lord Nicholas Stern, the central bank chief said the Fed has learned lessons from the financial crisis and has brought stability to the banking system. Banks last week passed the first round of the Fed’s stress tests to see how they would perform under adverse conditions like a 10% unemployment rate and turbulence in commercial real estate and corporate debt. “I think the public can see the capital positions of the major banks are very much stronger this year,” Yellen said. “All of the firms passed the quantitative parts of the stress tests.”

She also made a bold prediction: that another financial crisis the likes of the one that exploded in 2008 was not likely “in our lifetime.” The crisis, which erupted in September 2008 with the implosion of Lehman Brothers but had been stewing for years, would have been “worse than the Great Depression” without the Fed’s intervention, Yellen said. Yellen added that the Fed learned lessons from the financial crisis and is being more vigilant to find risks to the system. “I think the system is much safer and much sounder,” she said. “We are doing a lot more to try to look for financial stability risks that may not be immediately apparent but to look in corners of the financial system that are not subject to regulation, outside those areas in order to try to detect threats to financial stability that may be emerging.”

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Steve explains that Yellen knows Minsky, but prefers to ignore him.

There Is No Excuse For Janet Yellen’s Complacency (Steve Keen)

Janet Yellen has been reported by Reuters as saying in London yesterday that “she does not believe that there will be a run on the banking system at least as long as she lives”: “Would I say there will never, ever be another financial crisis? You know probably that would be going too far but I do think we’re much safer and I hope that it will not be in our lifetimes and I don’t believe it will be,” Yellen said at an event in London. The only word I can use to describe this belief is “delusional”. The only way in which her belief could be justified would be in financial crises were truly random events, caused by something outside the economy—or just by a very bad throw of the economic dice. This is indeed the perspective of mainstream “Neoclassical” economic theory, in which Yellen was trained, and because of which she was deemed eligible—and indeed eminently suitable—to Chair the Federal Reserve.

This is the theory that led the OECD to proclaim, two months before the crisis began in August 2007, that “the current economic situation is in many ways better than what we have experienced in years”, and that they expected that “sustained growth in OECD economies would be underpinned by strong job creation and falling unemployment.”. It is the theory that led her colleague David Stockton, then the Director of the Division of Research and Statistics at the Fed, to dismiss the possibility of a recession after the crisis had begun, in December 2007—the very month that the recession is now regarded as having commenced: “Overall, our forecast could admittedly be read as still painting a pretty benign picture: despite all the financial turmoil, the economy avoids recession and, even with steeply higher prices for food and energy and a lower exchange value of the dollar, we achieve some modest edging-off of inflation.” (FOMC, Dec 2007)

So what we are getting from her is not merely her own personal complacency, but the complacency of an approach to economics which has always been grounded in the beliefs that (a) capitalism is inherently stable, (b) that the financial sector can be ignored—yes that’s right, ignored—when doing macroeconomics, and (c) that the Great Depression was an anomaly that can also be ignored, because it can only have been caused either by an exogenous shock or bad government policy, both of which cannot be predicted in advance.

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It’s a really crazy thing to say. Does she expect to be fired soon?

Yellen: “I Don’t Believe We Will See Another Crisis In Our Lifetime” (ZH)

If there was any confusion why the Fed intends to keep hiking rates, even in the face of negative economic data and disappearing inflation, it was put to rest over the past 2 days when not one, not two , not three, but four Fed speakers, including the three most important ones, made it clear that the Fed’s only intention at this point is to burst the asset bubble. First there was SF Fed president John Williams who said that “there seems to be a priced-to-perfection attitude out there” and that the stock market rally “still seems to be running very much on fumes.” Speaking to Australian TV, Williams added that “we are seeing some reach for yield, and some, maybe, excess risk-taking in the financial system with very low rates. As we move interest rates back to more-normal, I think that that will, people will pull back on that,

Then it was Fed vice chairman Stan Fischer’s turn, who while somewhat more diplomatic, delivered the same message: “the increase in prices of risky assets in most asset markets over the past six months points to a notable uptick in risk appetites…. Measures of earnings strength, such as the return on assets, continue to approach pre-crisis levels at most banks, although with interest rates being so low, the return on assets might be expected to have declined relative to their pre-crisis levels–and that fact is also a cause for concern.” Fischer then also said that the corporate sector is “notably leveraged”, that it would be foolish to think that all risks have been eliminated, and called for “close monitoring” of rising risk appetites.

All this followed the statement by Bill Dudley, who many perceive as the Fed’s shadow chairman, who yesterday warned that rates will keep rising as long as financial conditions remain loose: “when financial conditions tighten sharply, this may mean that monetary policy may need to be tightened by less or even loosened. On the other hand, when financial conditions ease—as has been the case recently—this can provide additional impetus for the decision to continue to remove monetary policy accommodation.” And finally, it was Yellen herself, who speaking in London acknowledged that some asset prices had become “somewhat rich” although like Fischer, she hedged that prices are fine… if only assumes record low rates in perpetuity:

“Asset valuations are somewhat rich if you use some traditional metrics like price earnings ratios, but I wouldn’t try to comment on appropriate valuations, and those ratios ought to depend on long-term interest rates,” she said. It was not all doom and gloom. Responding to a question on financial system stability, Yellen said post-crisis regulations (and $2.5 trillion in excess reserves which just happen to be fungible and give the banks the impression that they are safe) had made financial institutions much “safer and sounder.” “Will I say there will never, ever be another financial crisis? No, probably that would be going too far. But I do think we’re much safer and I hope that it will not be in our lifetimes and I don’t believe it will.”

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There were smokescreeens a-plenty too.

Trio of Fed Speakers Warn on Valuations With Eyes on Tightening (BBG)

When a trio of Federal Reserve officials delivered remarks on Tuesday, the state of U.S. financial markets came in for a little bit of criticism. When all was said and done, U.S. equities sank the most in six weeks, yields on 10-year Treasuries rose and the dollar weakened to the lowest level versus the euro in 10 months. Fed Chair Janet Yellen said that asset valuations, by some measures “look high, but there’s no certainty about that.” Earlier, San Francisco Fed President John Williams said the stock market “seems to be running very much on fumes” and that he was “somewhat concerned about the complacency in the market.” Fed Vice-Chair Stanley Fischer suggested that there had been a “notable uptick” in risk appetite that propelled valuation ratios to very elevated levels.

The Fed officials’ comments came amid a torrent of events that buffeted financial markets Tuesday, from an IMF cut to its U.S. growth forecast, Google suffering the biggest ever EU antitrust fine, a fresh blow to the Republican agenda in Washington and a global cyberattack. Still, selling in U.S shares accelerated around 1:30 p.m. as Yellen delivered her assessment of the market since the central bank raised interest rates June 14. “Asset valuations are somewhat rich if you use some traditional metrics like price earnings ratios, but I wouldn’t try to comment on appropriate valuations, and those ratios ought to depend on long-term interest rates,” Yellen said during a speech in London.

Investors are on guard for signs of a change in its economic outlook that could delay rate increases or when it will begin shrinking its $4.5 trillion balance sheet. Yellen said the Fed’s plans for the balance sheet were “well understood” by financial markets. Officials have said they intend to begin allowing the portfolio to roll off this year. In the end, Yellen made it pretty apparent that that her plans for continued monetary policy tightening haven’t shifted. “We’ve made very clear that we think it will be appropriate to the attainment of our goals to raise interest rates very gradually,” Yellen said.

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All the credit was the only thing that kept the country going.

Car Loans, Credit Card Debt Push UK Back Towards Another Credit Crisis (Tel.)

Banks are “forgetting the lessons” of the financial crisis, increasing the risk of reckless lending which could land them — and the wider economy — in trouble later, Mark Carney has warned. Credit card lending is booming and the Bank of England fears that banks are becoming complacent, assuming the relatively good economic times will continue indefinitely. As a result lenders are cutting down the amount of capital they put aside to keep them safe if those loans turn bad — something that could leave them in financial trouble if there is a recession and customers cannot pay back their debts. “I think it is forgetting some of the lessons of the past, or not fully learning the lessons of the past,” said Mr Carney, the Bank of England’s Governor. He said that the economy overall is performing well and total lending is not getting out of hand, but consumer credit is growing by more than 10pc per year, with credit cards and car loans growing particularly fast.

“Most financial stability indicators are neither particularly elevated nor subdued. Nevertheless, there are pockets of risk that warrant extra vigilance,” he said at the publication of the latest Financial Stability Report. “Consumer credit has increased rapidly. Lending conditions in the mortgage market are becoming easier. And lenders may be placing undue weight on the recent performance of loans in benign conditions.” As well as holding more capital against credit card debt and consumer loans, banks have also been warned that next month the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority will also publish new affordability rules to make sure customers are likely to be able to repay their debts.

The situation is deemed relatively urgent — one part of an annual assessment of the losses which banks could make in a hypothetical recession has been brought forwards this year. Instead of publishing the results in November, the consumer credit part of the so-called stress tests will be revealed in September. That decision reflects the short-term nature of consumer loans. Short-term loans can also pose a threat to financial stability because households take them less seriously than mortgages. Consumer debts only amount to one-seventh of the total of mortgage debt, but they account for 10-times the amount of bad loans which banks write off.

That also has implications for the wider economy — a household in financial trouble will cut spending deeply to make sure it can still pay the mortgage, but is less worried about credit cards. Mortgage lending standards are also under the spotlight. The Financial Policy Committee told banks in 2014 that they should assess whether borrowers could still afford their mortgages if the Bank of England’s base rate went up by three%age points. Most banks calculated this by adding 3%age points to their standard variable rates, but some lenders said that in this scenario they might not pass the full cost onto customers. Officials reject this interpretation and have ordered banks to add the full 3 points to their rates when judging the affordability.

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First you lower rates, then you take measures against the fully predictable consequences.

UK Banks Ordered To Hold More Capital As Consumer Debt Surges (G.)

The Bank of England is to force banks to strengthen their financial position in the face of a rapid growth in borrowing on credit cards, car finance and personal loans. The intervention by Threadneedle Street means banks will need to set aside as much as £11.4bn of extra capital in the next 18 months and is intended to protect the financial system from the 10% rise in consumer lending over the year. The Bank is also bringing forward the part of the annual stress tests on banks that scrutinises their exposure to consumer credit by two months to September. The Bank’s Prudential Regulation Authority and the City regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, will also publish next month how they expect lenders to treat borrowers in the consumer credit market.

The Bank’s half-yearly assessment of risk to financial markets also set out measures to rein in the riskiest mortgage lending, highlighted the risks associated with the UK’s exit from the EU and said commercial property prices were “at the top end of sustainable valuations”. While the Bank found risks to financial stability were neither “particularly elevated nor subdued” it warned that there “pockets of risk that warrant vigilance”. “Consumer credit has increased rapidly. Lending conditions in the mortgage market are becoming easier. And lenders may be placing undue weight on the recent performance of loans in benign conditions,” said Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England.

Carney said the decision to call on banks to hold more capital – which is largely a rejig of their current resources rather than raising new funds – was taken after domestic risks returned to “standard” levels. A year ago, after the Brexit vote, the Bank had relaxed regulatory requirements on banks – using new tools it was given after the financial crisis – and is now reversing that decision.

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“..if we adopt, as in the U.S., a broader concept of unemployment (which in the U.S. they call U6) then unemployment in the euro area is at 18% whereas it is at 9% in the case of the U.S..”

ECB VP: Slack In European Economy Looks Worse Than We Thought (CNBC)

The difference between current and potential levels of output in the euro area economy could be greater than the ECB originally thought, its vice president, Vitor Constancio, warned on Tuesday. “What we see, what we observe is that domestic factors of inflation starting with wage and cost developments and then also price decisions are not responding the way we would expect in view of our more common estimates of this slack. So we have to ask ourselves – are these measures of the slack of the economy correct?,” explained Constancio, speaking to CNBC from the ECB Forum on central banking in Sintra. The board had therefore begun to ask themselves whether other variables should instead be considered to establish a more accurate view of the current economic situation.

“The unemployment rate now is 9.3% according to the normal international standard of measuring employment …. But if we adopt, as in the U.S., a broader concept of unemployment (which in the U.S. they call U6) then unemployment in the euro area is at 18% whereas it is at 9% in the case of the U.S. which would imply that the slack is then bigger than we could judge some time ago,” he noted. “That being the case it justifies fully what the president (Mario Draghi) said at the end of his speech (on Tuesday) that we need persistence. If we want to bring inflation to our target of below but close to 2% then we have to persist in the type of monetary policy that we been adopting,” he added.

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Earlier, we saw Yellen vs Minsky. Here’s China’s Minsky moment.

Chinese Satellite Data Hint At Ominous Manufacturing Slowdown (ZH)

A reading published by San Francisco-based SpaceKnow Inc. which uses commercial satellite imagery to monitor activity across thousands of industrial sites signaled deterioration in the country’s manufacturing sector for the first time since August. The gauge, known as the China Satellite Manufacturing Index, fell to 49.6, below the 50 break-even level. The index incorporates satellite data from thousands of industrial sites across China. Satellite imagery has often proved eerily presceint in the recent past: In the US, satellite data analyzing activity in retailers’ parking lots pointed to significant activity weakness at core US retail locations, even as sentiment indicators were suggesting an uptick in sales following the election. Meanwhile, small- and medium-sized enterprises showed the lowest level of confidence in 16 months, and conditions in the steel business remained lackluster, according to Bloomberg.

Some other indicators have been slightly more sanguine: sales-manager sentiment stayed positive, and outlook of financial experts recovered. Still, data suggest that output in China’s economy slowed during the second quarter after a strong start to the year, with investment slowing, some credit becoming tighter and signs that curbs on the country’s property market are starting to have an impact. Should growth continue to slow, China’s leaders would find themselves in an awkward position, with the country’s twice-a-decade leadership transition expected to occur this fall when the 19th Party Congress convenes to appoint its new senior leadership. It’s widely believed that China’s President Xi Jinping will begin serving his second five-year term.

[..] [That] could be the spark that ignites China’s “Minsky moment” – the financial cataclysm that Kyle Bass and other perma-china-bears have been waiting for when China’s overleveraged market crumbles to dust – might finally be in the offing. Indeed, though China’s markets have been relatively calm recently, the PBOC’s attempts to tighten liquidity have sparked some instability in recent months. Back in March, the central bank had to engage in mini bailouts when a jump in interbank rates caused some small regional lenders to default on their interbank loans after money market rates shot higher. Meanwhile, China’s weakening credit impulse should give any China bulls pause.

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Completely nuts. Feels like they’re looking to get tossed out.

UK Government Refuses To Pay For Fireproof Cladding (Ind.)

Councils face bills running to hundreds of millions of pounds to make tower blocks safe after the Government said it would not guarantee extra money to pay for vital work to prevent a repeat of the Grenfell disaster. Ninety-five high-rise buildings in 32 local authority areas have failed safety tests, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said yesterday, with hundreds more blocks still to be tested. The findings prompted Theresa May to announce a “major national investigation” into the use of cladding on high-rise blocks, with every sample so far tested in the wake of the Grenfell found to be unsafe. But despite emergency fire safety checks being carried out nationwide under central government direction, councils will not be reimbursed for refurbishment work carried out.

A DCLG spokesperson said there was “no guarantee” of central government funding and that it would be “up to local authorities and housing associations to pay” for the work needed to ensure residents’ safety. The spokesperson said financial support would be considered on a “case by case” basis for those that could not afford to carry out the necessary work, but did not clarify what the criteria for that consideration would be. The announcement was met with severe criticism from some of the councils affected, with local authorities already having their budgets severely squeezed after years of austerity measures. Julie Dore, leader of Sheffield City Council, which is among the authorities to have discovered unsafe cladding, said “starved” councils would be forced to make cuts to other areas, including schooling, if central government did not help with costs.

“Local authorities have been starved of money over the past seven years. Our spending power has decreased,” she said. “There is no way we can afford to reclad our tower blocks. If we have to find that money, it will come from other projects, from investing in the fabric of our schools, capital investment in our infrastructure, the money has to come out of that. And it can’t really be done. “I say absolutely, categorically that the Government should pay. If they can find £1bn to send to Northern Ireland, that gets more spending per capita than anywhere else, to buy 10 votes, then these people, living in high-rise towers, deserve better.”

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There is no serious press left in the US to get to the bottom of this.

Democrats The Only Thing Standing In The Way Of Single-Payer In California (CP)

Nothing better illustrates the political bankruptcy of the Democratic Party—for all progressive intents and purposes—than California State Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon’s announcement on Friday afternoon that he was going to put a “hold” on the single-payer health care bill (SB 562) for the state, effectively killing its passage for at least the year. The Democratic Party finds itself in a bind in California. They hold the governorship and a supermajority in both houses of the legislature, so they can pass any bill they want. SB 562 had passed the Senate 23-14. There was enormous enthusiasm among California progressive activists, who [..] were working tirelessly, and hopeful of success. After all, Bernie’s people were taking over the California party from the bottom since the election.

I recall a night of drinking last year with an old friend who has been spearheading that effort, as he rebuffed my skepticism, and insisted that this time there would be a really progressive takeover of the California party, and single-payer would prove it. After all, once enough progressive pressure was been put on the legislators, the bill would be going to super-progressive Democratic Governor, Jerry Brown, who had made advocacy of single-payer a centerpiece of his run for President in 1992, saying: “We treat health care not as a commodity to be played with for profit but rather the right of every American citizen when they’re born.” Bernie foretold. Unfortunately, today that Governor is, according to Paul Song, co-chair of the CHC, “doing everything he can to make sure this never gets on his desk.”

And it won’t. Unfortunately, all the Democrats like Rendon, who “claims to be a personal supporter of single-payer,” will make sure that their most progressive governor is not put in the embarrassing position of having to reject what he’s been ostensibly arguing for for twenty-five years, of demonstrating so blatantly what a fraud his, and his party’s, progressive pretensions are. Thus unfolds the typical Democratic strategy: Make all kinds of progressive noises and cast all kinds of progressive votes, while carefully managing the process so that the legislation the putatively progressives putatively support never gets enacted. Usually, they blame Republican obstructionism, and there certainly is enough of that, and where there is, it provides a convenient way for Democrat legislator to “support” legislation they know will be blocked and wouldn’t really enact themselves if they could.

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Phones are as addictive as opioids.

The Human Tragedy Of Drug Abuse And Car Crashes (BBG)

More than 130,000 Americans are killed annually by preventable causes, and the number has been climbing at a faster rate recently because of opioid abuse and car crashes involving drivers distracted by mobile devices. The death count jumped more than 7% in 2015 to about 146,600, according to a report by the National Safety Council Tuesday. The council said lawmakers often overlook simple solutions that could avoid deaths on the roads or in people’s homes, while public attention is focused on events that are relatively rare in the U.S., like terrorist attacks or plane crashes. Vehicle mishaps and poisonings, driven by opioid abuse, killed more than 80,000 people combined in 2015. Preventable accidents cost society about $850 billion a year, according to the group.

“Culturally, we’re numb to these things,” NSC President Deborah Hersman said in a phone interview. “Why are these deaths any less tragic or important? We should be talking about these things every day because they affect our families.” The toll from opioids is worsening, partly because so many patients become dependent on painkillers, often turning to street drugs like heroin. Almost one in four people on Medicaid, the U.S. health program for the poor, received powerful and addictive opioid pain medicines in 2015, Express Scripts Holding Co. said this month. The council said lawmakers should tighten oversight of the distribution of prescription medications and improve access to drugs that can reverse overdoses and treat addiction.

[..] “We need to make distracted driving socially unacceptable,” Tom Goeltz, whose daughter Megan was killed in a car crash last year, said at a news conference held by the NSC Tuesday. “This tragedy could have easily been prevented.” Goeltz, a Minnesotan who works to help industrial companies avoid accidents, said his daughter was pregnant when her car was struck by a distracted driver. “As a safety consultant with over 30 years of experience, I was powerless to save my daughter,” he said. “We all know people that have been killed on our roads. We all know somebody. How is this acceptable to us? We need to do more. You don’t want to be a part of this club.”

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“..Google has 90 days to come up with its own solution [..]. If it doesn’t do that, the EU will fine it up to 5% of the entire company’s daily global revenue.”

Search Results Show Why Europe Is Mad at Google (BBG)

Europe hit Alphabet’ Google with a $2.7 billion fine on Tuesday, saying it broke antitrust laws by favoring one of its search services over rival websites. The case centers around Google Shopping ads, which place color pictures, prices and links to products that consumers have typed into its search engine. The EU’s Competition Chief Margrethe Vestager said Google’s search algorithms should treat its own Shopping service the same way as other price-comparison sites. What exactly does this look like in practice? Here’s a walk-through of what the EU is so upset about. This is for desktop computer searches. On phones, there’s less digital real estate, leaving even less space for competitors. Before we start, it’s important to note that Google argues customers aren’t that interested in clicking through to other price comparison sites and want to go directly to retailers’ sites from Google. It denies any wrongdoing and is considering an appeal.

Google Shopping Today: The screenshot below shows results for a search in Germany for “gas grill.” Five Google Shopping ads take up the most valuable part of the page at the top. No other comparison shopping websites show up in the first couple of links. Scrolling down, you see the first result for a competing price comparison service – Idealo – come in at number six. There’s another at number 11, Moebel24. But that link is listed as an ad, meaning Moebel24 had to pay for that placement, even though it’s near the bottom of the page. The EU says this is bad because consumers click far more often on results appearing higher up in Google’s search results. Even on a desktop computer, the top ten results on page 1 generally get about 95% of all clicks on generic search results (with the top result receiving about 35% of all clicks), the European Commission said on Tuesday.

2014 Proposal: The EU’s Google investigation has been going for years. Vestager’s predecessor tentatively struck a deal with Google in 2014 for a hybrid model that set aside space in those top Shopping search boxes for other price comparison websites. But the agreement fell apart when competitors realized they had to pay for that placement. [..] What could Google do to satisfy Europe’s demands this time? Vestager said Google has 90 days to come up with its own solution, as long as it gives equal treatment to competing price comparison sites. If it doesn’t do that, the EU will fine it up to 5% of the entire company’s daily global revenue. [..] Google would have to sacrifice space currently occupied by its own Shopping ads to make the latter idea work, cutting into a highly profitably and growing revenue stream.

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US anti-trust laws are strong enough to counter this. But you need politicians to apply them.

‘Google, Facebook Are Super Monopolies On The Scale Of Standard Oil’ (CNBC)

Google shareholders won’t be phased by the EU’s $2.7 billion fine against the company for competition abuses related to its shopping business, Elevation Partners co-founder Roger McNamee told CNBC on Tuesday. “As a shareholder of Google you’re looking at this and saying: ‘We won again,'” McNamee said. The venture capitalist spoke hours after EU regulators fined Google a record €2.4 billion ($2.7 billion), ruling that the search-engine giant violated antitrust rules for its online shopping practices. Google said it will consider appealing the decision to the highest court in Europe. “Google, Facebook, Amazon are increasingly just super-monopolies, especially Google and Facebook. The share of the markets they operate in is literally on the same scale that Standard Oil had … more than 100 years ago – with the big differences that their reach is now global, not just within a single country,” he said on “Squawk Alley.”

The fine is not large enough to change Google’s behavior, he added. “The only thing that will change it is regulations that actually say you can or can’t do something.” McNamee said Google’s business model isn’t structured in a way that allows for competition. “The way that Google’s product works makes its anti-competitive behavior much more obvious — but do not underestimate how powerful Facebook’s monopoly has been to boosting Instagram and WhatsApp,” he said. The competition issue with the big tech companies extends beyond the EU into the U.S., he said. “They do stifle innovation. They stifle entrepreneurship. … You can see this even in Silicon Valley it’s very hard for any of the unicorn generation of companies to actually reach successful critical mass because, you know, one of their competitors gets acquired by Google and Facebook and then the category is over,” said McNamee. “I think it’s a big policy question the world is going to have to deal with over the next few years,” he said.

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The problem is not even the duration, France and Belgium are worse. The problem is what Greeks are left with after taxes are paid, which is much less than the others.

Greeks Work 203 Days Out Of The Year To Pay Taxes (K.)

Greeks will work an average of 203 days this year to pay taxes to the state and social insurance contributions, according to research conducted by the Dragoumis Center for Liberal Studies (KEFIM) to raise awareness about tax freedom day – the first day of the year in which a country has theoretically earned enough income to pay its taxes. In the case of Greece, this day will be on July 23, which means that Greeks will have worked 15 days more than last year, when tax freedom day arrived on July 7. The only two European Union countries in which tax freedom day will arrive after that in Greece are France and Belgium. Cyprus celebrated its tax freedom day on March 29, while Malta and Ireland did the same on April 18 and 30 respectively. Bulgaria was next on May 18 before Finland on June 22.

KEFIM, which conducted research into the topic for a third straight year, said citizens are working an increasing number of days each year to meet their tax obligations and, compared to 2006, Greeks now work two months more to this end. Referring to the results of the research, financial analyst and member of KEFIM’s scientific council Miranda Xafa said the “government managed to achieve a primary surplus by tax hikes and not through spending cuts.” Xafa also said that for every 100 euros a self-employed professional makes, 82 go toward tax and and other contributions. New Democracy vice president Adonis Georgiadis said that Greece had “lost another month because of overtaxation.” “Our aim when we become the government is to reverse the trend,” he said.

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Today is day 12 of the garbage strike. Weekend weather forecast up to 44ºC (111ºF). Some judge needs to declare a public health emergency, if Tsipras is too scared to do it.

Greek Garbage Collectors Reject Compromise As Trash Piles Up (AP)

Greece’s municipal garbage collectors on Tuesday rejected a government compromise offer and decided to continue an 11-day protest that has left mounds of festering refuse piled up across Athens amid high temperatures during the key summer tourism season. Municipal workers union head Nikos Trikas said the protest will go on as planned until Thursday at least, after an inconclusive meeting with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. The union is pressing the left-led government to honor a pledge to provide permanent jobs for long-term contract workers, and rejected Tsipras’ proposals as a “slight” but unsatisfactory improvement on past offers. Greek authorities have warned that the uncollected trash poses a public health risk ahead of a heat wave forecast for later this week.

Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura urged the union to reconsider, arguing that the protest “endangers public health, and is bad for tourism as well as the country’s international image.” The Athens Trade Association has also called on the two sides to reach a compromise, warning that piles of garbage would discourage tourists from traveling to the Greek capital. Tourism is a vital source of revenue for Greeces battered economy. Although not technically on strike most of the time, municipal workers have been blockading garages where municipal trash collection trucks operate from, as well as landfill sites across the country. Trikas said that unions will review their position Thursday, when they have called a 24-hour strike. He also pledged to increase emergency crews that the union has on duty to ensure that the garbage mounds do not mushroom out of all control.

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Where are Merkel and Macron? Why are their voters not demanding they tackle the issue?

At Least 24 Migrants Die Off Libya in 48 Hours, More Than 8,000 Rescued (R.)

Red Crescent volunteers recovered the bodies of 24 migrants on Tuesday that were washed up in an eastern suburb of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, as large-scale rescues were made in the Mediterranean. Residents in Tajoura district said the bodies had begun washing up at the end of last week. Several had been partially devoured by stray dogs, according to a local coast guard official. The toll was expected to increase as the flimsy boats used to carry migrants as far as international waters normally carry more than 100 people. Three migrants died in the Mediterranean on Monday night, a German aid group said, during Italian-led rescue operations in which thousands more were pulled to safety.

About 5,000 migrants were picked up off the Libyan coast by emergency services, Italy’s navy, aid groups and private boats on Monday, and rescues were continuing on Tuesday, according to an Italian coastguard spokesman. “Despite all efforts, three people died from a sinking rubber boat” and rescue boats in the area are struggling to cope, German humanitarian group Jugend Rettet said on Facebook. Jugend Rettet (Rescuing Youth) is one of about nine aid groups patrolling seas into which people traffickers have sent more than half a million refugees and migrants on highly dangerous voyages towards Europe over the past four years. “We reached the capacity limit of our ship, while our crew is seeing more boats on the horizon. Currently, all vessels are overloaded,” Jugend Rettet added.

About 72,000 migrants arrived in Italy on the perilous route from Libya between Jan. 1 and June 21, roughly 20% more than in 2016, and more than 2,000 died on the way, according to the International Organization for Migration.

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Jun 202017
 
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Pablo Picasso Dans l’atelier 1954

 

Putin: US Routinely Meddles In Russian And Other Elections (Zuesse)
Russia To Consider US Planes In Syria As ‘Targets’ (News.AU)
Absent Without Leave (Jim Kunstler)
Barclays and Four Executives Charged With Fraud In Qatar Case (BBC)
Two-Thirds Of Europeans Believe EU Should Take Hard Line On Brexit (G.)
Britiain’s Carmakers Face Brexit Cliff Edge (BBC)
UK Property Owners’ £2.3 Trillion Windfall ‘Created Huge Inequality Gap’ (G.)
UK’s Co-op Bank In Advanced Talks To Be Rescued By Hedge Funds (G.)
China Cracks Down On Online Moneylenders Targeting Students (BBC)
China’s “Ghost Collateral” Arrives In Canada, “Heralding A Crisis” (ZH)
Household Debt Sees Australian Banks Downgraded Again (ABCAu)
296 Earthquakes Near Yellowstone Supervolcano In Last 7 Days (Snyder)
Drug Prices Far Lower In Countries With Single-Payer Health Systems (IBT)
Could There Be A Bidding War For Whole Foods? (CNN)
Amazon Will Kill Your Local Grocer (BBG)

 

 

Funny how opinions of Russia revert to communism all the time.

Putin: US Routinely Meddles In Russian And Other Elections (Zuesse)

The neoconservative American Jan Wenner’s Rolling Stone magazine headlined on June 16th about these Showtime interviews, «10 Most WTF Things We Learned From Oliver Stone’s Putin Interviews», and sub-headlined: «From denying any involvement with U.S. election hacking to Putin’s love of Judo and Stalin, our takeaways from these truly baffling conversations».

Wenner’s reporter opened: “What’s the Russian equivalent of Kool-Aid? Whatever it is, it’s definitely red – and Oliver Stone has eagerly drunk it down. The trailers for The Putin Interviews, Showtime’s four-part series documenting conversations between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Stone, would have you believe that you’re going to hear some pretty hard-hitting stuff as the autocrat and the filmmaker face off, Frost-Nixon style. What we got instead was a series of softballs lobbed lovingly in the direction of one of the most powerful and dangerous men in the world. Except for a few moments, Stone seems serenely unconcerned with anything beyond flattering his subject – and engaging in some supremely one-sided exchanges about history and policy along the way.”

The term «red» in this context refers, of course, to communism, and alleges that Russia is still a communist country. To allow that type of smear to appear in any ‘news’ vehicle, is to expose itself as being actually a propaganda-vehicle, unless the allegation is backed up by solid documentation, which Wenner’s magazine didn’t do — Wenner’s magazine presented no documentation at all, for the inflammatory allegation. The magazine’s presumption was that their readers will simply believe what Wenner’s operation delivers, to be ipso-facto ‘true’.

But any such reader would be welcoming his own deception by Wenner’s propaganda-operation. Evidently, successful magazines can insult their own subscribers’ intelligence, so long as it’s done in ‘the right way’ — the subscribers won’t despise the publisher for trying to deceive them about such important matters as what countries to invade, or whether to invade, or why to invade. The U.S. military-industrial complex (MIC) can attract cannon-fodder for its operations, by means of such ‘news’ media to produce dupes for that MIC. During the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign, Mr. Wenner’s propaganda-machine had ardently campaigned for the neoconservative Hillary Clinton against the moderately progressive Bernie Sanders in the U.S. Democratic Party primaries.

And, then, once she (and her friend Debbie Wasserman Schultz who ran the DNC) managed to steal the nomination from her opponent, Wenner’s operation campaigned for Ms. Clinton against her Republican opponent Trump, who claimed (falsely as it turns out, in lies exceeding Clinton’s own) to be opposed to neoconservatives (whom he has actually loaded into his Administration). Trump now relies upon neocons for his support, but perhaps Wenner and Robert Kagan and other neoconservatives won’t be satisfied until the U.S. government takes control over Russia — which cannot happen except upon all of our dead bodies (WW III) — which is precisely what Hillary Clinton was aiming for (and maybe Trump is, too). That’s how insane the U.S. aristocracy (and its PR organs such as Wenner’s) now is – they’re pushing the world toward nuclear Armageddon.

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There will come a point when Russia’s had enough. But they won’t shoot down US planes.

Russia To Consider US Planes In Syria As ‘Targets’ (News.AU)

Russia says it will now consider US planes in Syria as “aerial targets” and cease communications via a military hotline in a rapid escalation of tensions between the two nations. The Russian defence ministry released a statement Monday afternoon, local time, condemning the US for shooting down a Syrian warplane that had dropped bombs near ground forces supported by the US. The ministry said it would now track all US-led coalition jets and drones found west of the Euphrates River in Syria and treat them as targets. This is a significant development because, while it is not uncommon for the two nations to criticise each other politically, Russia stays in contact with the US-led coalition via a military hotline to ensure there is no unintended military conflict between the two powers in the region.

The statement says that Russia will no longer use the communication channel, designed to avoid incidents in Syrian airspace. “The command of the coalition forces did not use the established communication channel for preventing incidents in Syrian airspace,” the defence ministry said in the statement. Russia said it would now “end co-operation with the American side”. “Any flying objects, including planes and drones of the international coalition, discovered west of the Euphrates River will be tracked as aerial targets by Russia’s air defences on and above ground,” it said. [..] The campaign has often put the US at odds with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which is leading its own attack against IS with air cover support from Russia. Syria is also in the grip of a civil war that has claimed more than 400,000 lives, according to the United Nations.

An American F/A-18 Super Hornet shot down a Syrian SU-22 about 7pm on Sunday. The coalition said the Syrian plane had dropped bombs near its allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces, which were fighting IS south of Tabqah. Russia said the shooting down of the plane was an act of aggression against Syria and called for a “careful investigation by the US command” into the incident. “Repeated military actions by US aircraft against the lawful armed forces of a United Nations member state, under the guise of a ‘fight against terrorism’, are a profound violation of international law and, in fact, military aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic,” the Russian Defence Ministry said. “As a result of the strike, the Syrian plane was destroyed. The Syrian pilot catapulted into an area controlled by Islamic State terrorists. His fate is unknown.”

The coalition said the Syrian warplane had been shot down “in accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defence of coalition partnered forces”. The deputy chairman of the Russian Senate’s defence committee, Frants Klintsevich, said there was “no defence” for the US shooting down the plane. “Blatant aggression and provocation. To provoke, above all, Russia. It seems that the US under Donald Trump is a source of a qualitatively new level of danger not only in the Middle East but also around the world,” he wrote on Facebook.

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“That well is going dry in the middle of the summer, and without any resolution to the debt ceiling debate, the country will not be able to borrow more to pretend that it’s solvent.”

Absent Without Leave (Jim Kunstler)

After nearly a year of investigating, the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, the DIA, DHS, et. al. haven’t been able to leak any substantial fact about “Russian collusion” with the Trump election campaign — and, considering the torrent of leaks about all manner of other collateral matters during this same period, it seems impossible to conclude that there is anything actually there besides utterly manufactured hysteria. Now, one might imagine that this intelligence community could have manufactured some gift-wrapped facts rather than just waves of hysteria, but that’s where the incompetence and impotence comes in. They never came up with anything besides Flynn and Sessions having conversations with the Russian ambassador — as if the ambassadors are not here to have conversations with our government officials.

You’d think that with all the computer graphics available these days they could concoct a cineplex-quality feature film-length recording of Donald Trump making a “great deal” to swap Kansas for Lithuania, or Jared Kushner giving piggyback rides to Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. But all we’ve really ever gotten was a packet of emails from the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta of the Clinton campaign gloating about how nicely they fucked over Bernie Sanders — and that doesn’t exactly reflect so well on what has evolved to be the so-called “Resistance.” The net effect of all this sound and fury is a government so paralyzed that it can’t even pass bad legislation or execute its existing (excessive) duties. That might theoretically be a good thing, except what we’re seeing are individual departments just veering off on their own, especially the military, which now operates without any civilian control.

Apparently General Mattis, the Secretary of Defense, pretty much decided on his own to dispatch another 8,000 US troops to Afghanistan to move things along there in the war’s 16th year. Or did he get President Trump to look up from his Twitter window for three seconds to explain the situation and get a nod of approval? Perhaps you also didn’t notice the news item over the weekend that a US-led fighter plane coalition shot down a Syrian air force plane in Syrian airspace. In an earlier era that could easily be construed as an act of war. Who gave the order for that, you have to wonder. And what will the consequences be? Reasonable people might also ask: haven’t we already made enough deadly mischief in that part of the world? With the US military gone rogue in foreign lands, and the intelligence community off-the-reservation at home, and the Trump White House all gummed up in the tarbaby of RussiaGate, and the House and Senate lost in the shuffle, you also have to wonder what anybody is going to do about the imminent technical bankruptcy of the USA as the Treasury Department spends down its dwindling fund of remaining cash money to pay ongoing expenses — everything from agriculture subsidies to Medicare.

That well is going dry in the middle of the summer, and without any resolution to the debt ceiling debate, the country will not be able to borrow more to pretend that it’s solvent. I don’t see any indication that the House and Senate will be able to bluster their way through this. Instead, the situation will compel extraordinary new acts of financial fraud via the central banks and its cadre of Too-Big-To-Fail associates. In the event, the likely outcome will be a spectacular fall in the value of the US dollar, and perhaps consecutively, the collapse of the equity and real estate markets.

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Actual bankers charged? Or is this just more of the sudden anti-Qatar campaign?

Barclays and Four Executives Charged With Fraud In Qatar Case (BBC)

Barclays and four former executives have been charged with conspiracy to commit fraud and the provision of unlawful financial assistance. The Serious Fraud Office charges come at the end of a five-year investigation and relate to the bank’s fundraising at the height of 2008’s financial crisis. Former chief executive John Varley is one of the four ex-staff who will face Westminster magistrates on 3 July. Barclays says it is considering its position and awaiting further details. Mr Varley, former senior investment banker Roger Jenkins, Thomas Kalaris, a former chief executive of Barclays’ wealth division, and Richard Boath, the ex-European head of financial institutions, have all been charged with conspiracy to commit fraud in the June 2008 capital raising. In addition, Mr Varley and Mr Jenkins have also been charged with the same offence in relation to the October 2008 capital raising and with providing unlawful financial assistance.

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The Greeks are the only ones who’ve seen the real face of the EU.

Two-Thirds Of Europeans Believe EU Should Take Hard Line On Brexit (G.)

Two-thirds of Europeans believe the EU should take a hard line with the UK over Brexit, according to a survey. 65% of those questioned in Belgium, Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Italy Austria, Hungary and Poland said the EU, while trying to maintain a good relationship with Britain, should not compromise on its core principles. The Chatham House-Kantar survey showed just 18% of people in the nine countries – compared with 49% of people in Britain – believed the opposite; that the European commission should aim to keep the UK as close as possible, at the expense of its principles, during the talks, which began on Monday. f those surveyed across the nine continental countries, 57% said the EU had been weakened by Brexit, while 46% felt Britain’s departure would be bad for the bloc. By contrast, 70% of Britons felt the EU would suffer from the UK leaving.

The survey interviewed more than 1,000 people in each of the 10 countries including Britain earlier this year before elections in the Netherlands and France and an economic uptick that have significantly bolstered pro-European sentiment. The election of pro-European centrist Emmanuel Macron in France has in particular given the bloc a boost. The eurozone economy, too, is now growing faster than that of the UK or US. Britain’s confusion over what Brexit strategy to adopt have also helped swing EU opinion. A Pew survey last week found markedly higher approval for the EU since the Brexit vote: 63% of respondents in the 10 EU countries had favourable views about the bloc.

The figures mark a sharp increase from spring last year, with favourable opinions up 18 points in Germany and France, 15 in Spain, 13 in the Netherlands – and 10 in the UK. Only 18% of continental respondents wanted their country to leave the EU. Overall, the survey revealed that more than half (58%) of people in 10 countries believed another EU country might leave the bloc within the next decade. Four-fifths of Greeks, hardest hit by the 2008 financial crisis, backed this view, compared with less than half of Hungarians and Poles. Asked about what they considered the EU’s greatest achievements, the freedom to live and work across Europe and the creation of the border-free Schengen zone came top among continental respondents (both on 17%), followed by European peace and the euro (13%) and the single market (8%).

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“..almost a million people were employed across the wider automotive industry.”

Britiain’s Carmakers Face Brexit Cliff Edge (BBC)

The government must secure a transitional Brexit deal to protect the future of the UK car industry, a trade group has said. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said Britain was highly unlikely to reach a final agreement with the EU by the March 2019 deadline. That meant carmakers could face a “cliff edge”, whereby tariff-free trade was sharply pulled away. It warned the industry would suffer without a back-up plan in place. The EU is by far the UK’s biggest automotive export market, buying more than half of its finished vehicles – four times as many as the next biggest market. UK car plants also depend heavily on the free movement of components to and from the continent.

The SMMT said any new relationship with the EU would need to address tariff and non-tariff barriers, regulatory and labour issues, “all of which will take time to negotiate”. “We accept that we are leaving the European Union,” said chief executive Mike Hawes. “But our biggest fear is that, in two years’ time, we fall off a cliff edge – no deal, outside the single market and customs union and trading on inferior World Trade Organization terms. “This would undermine our competitiveness and our ability to attract the investment that is critical to future growth.” UK car manufacturing generated £77.5bn of turnover last year and accounted for 12% of all goods exports, according to the trade group. It added that almost a million people were employed across the wider automotive industry.

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At least divvy up the monopoly money with a little sense of justice, you’d say. The fall will be hard enough already.

UK Property Owners’ £2.3 Trillion Windfall ‘Created Huge Inequality Gap’ (G.)

A £2.3tn windfall for those lucky enough to own their own homes during the property boom of the 1990s and early 2000s has opened up a deep and widening inequality gap between the generations, a thinktank has warned. Rising house prices that have enriched older generations have priced the young out of home ownership, said the Resolution Foundation, adding that the pattern whereby each generation was wealthier than the previous one had broken down. In a new report, the thinktank noted that the baby boomers born in the 20 years after the second world war were the big beneficiaries of rapidly rising house prices, but had amassed most of the wealth through no skill of their own. Wealth disparities would have “worrying consequences” for the living standards of younger generations, it added.

Laura Gardiner, senior policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: “Britain’s pre-crash property boom created a huge, unearned and largely tax-free £2.3tn housing wealth windfall for those old enough and lucky enough to be home owners at the time. But while the property bubble hugely benefited many of Britain’s baby boomers, it has also driven generational wealth progress into reverse by pricing younger people out of home ownership. “Property, pension and financial wealth can provide security and opportunities for families, as well as a decent income in retirement. The failure of younger generations to accumulate wealth in the way that earlier generations have been able to is therefore a huge living standards concern for us all.”

The report found that 82% of housing wealth increases between 1993 and 2012-14 were due to the property boom, which saw the average price of a residential property in the UK rise threefold, rather than through any active behaviour – such as buying, moving house or paying off mortgages. At the boom’s zenith in 2003, one in six of all working property-owning adults were earning more from the rising value of their homes than from their jobs.

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What a great idea! Take your money now?!

UK’s Co-op Bank In Advanced Talks To Be Rescued By Hedge Funds (G.)

The Co-operative Group’s stake in the Co-op Bank could fall dramatically under a rescue plan being drawn up by hedge funds. The UK’s largest mutual, which owns supermarkets and funeral homes, has a 20% stake in the bank, which put itself up for sale in February in a search for £750m of extra funding. But under a proposal being discussed by the bank’s controlling hedge fund shareholders, this stake could drop towards zero unless the group decides to pump millions of pounds into the loss-making bank. In April, the group wrote down the value of its stake to zero, taking a further £140m hit on its shareholding that had stood at 100% before the problems at the banking arm were uncovered in 2013.

Four years ago, hedge funds which owned bonds issued by the Co-op bank helped contribute to its rescue and they are again regarded as the most likely source for the extra capital the bank needs to appease the Bank of England. In an update on the sales process on Monday, the Co-op bank, which has 4 million customers, said it was “in advanced discussions with a group of existing investors with a view to a prospective equity capital raise and liability management exercise”. A liability management exercise would involve bondholders agreeing to convert debt into shares. In a previous update to the market, the bank had warned that it would need to undergo a liability management exercise regardless of whether it was sold, signalling that bondholders faced losses under all the options being considered. In the latest announcement, the Co-op Bank said it was still continuing with talks about a sale of the business.

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A few thoughts:

• A) China’s not all that different from the US, is it? Student debt is hot.

• B) This is largely shadow banking, and Beijing has very little grip on it

• C) Well, OK, haven’t heard this from the US yet: “.. borrowers were instructed to send naked pictures of themselves, with their identification cards, to the lender as collateral.”

China Cracks Down On Online Moneylenders Targeting Students (BBC)

China is cracking down on online moneylenders who target university students, following concerns about the largely unregulated industry. A recent government directive has ordered such lenders to suspend all activities wooing student borrowers. The move follows reports of exorbitant interest rates and unsavoury practices in the industry, including demanding “nude selfies” as collateral. Online peer-to-peer moneylending has grown popular in China in recent years. Known as “wang dai” in Chinese, it sees strangers providing small loans to others via websites and phone apps. The directive (in Chinese) was made by China’s banking, education and social security authorities, according to a copy released by the Jiangxi provincial government on its website on Friday.

It said the measures were needed to address moneylenders “making extortionate loans” and other behaviour that has “severely harmed the safety of university students”. The exact number of online moneylenders in China is not known, but one microfinancing portal called Wangdaizhijia lists at least 500 such platforms. In recent years some moneylenders and loan sharks have begun targeting university students in need of quick and easy credit, according to Chinese reports. Some students have since fallen prey to spiralling debt as a result of high interest rates. In some cases, borrowers were instructed to send naked pictures of themselves, with their identification cards, to the lender as collateral. They would threaten to release the pictures if the student defaulted on their debts. In December the naked pictures and contact details of more than 100 young female borrowers were leaked online, causing an outcry and shining a spotlight on the underground business.

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Silly to suggest this is some new development. China prints funny money, and blows bubbles with everywhere. Been going on for years.

China’s “Ghost Collateral” Arrives In Canada, “Heralding A Crisis” (ZH)

Two weeks ago, a key China-linked concern that made headlines back in 2013 and 2014 reemerged after an extensive analysis by Reuters reporter Engen Tham found that China’s “ghost collateral” problem, or collateral that was either rehypothecated between two or more loans, or simply did not exist, had not only not gone away but was still as prevalent as ever if not worse. The report, a continuation of extensive reporting conducted on this site, said that 60% of all loans issued in China’s system are backed by property, and that China’s property values are “wildly misleading, which is part of the reason that China’s credit rating was recently downgraded.” Reuters reported that Chinese lenders are prone to fraud with loan officers turning a blind eye to the quality of collateral and knowingly accepting dubious and even fraudulent documents.

Now, in a follow up by the Vancouver Sun’s Sam Cooper, the real estate reporter explains that China’s “ghost collateral” problem has jumped across the Pacific and is threatening the Canadian banking system. As Cooper notes, “as a result of the flood of money pouring from Mainland China into Vancouver real estate in recent years, some financial experts say they believe Canadian banks are directly exposed to shadow lending in China and the risks of so-called “ghost collateral”, collateral that may not exist or is used continuously to secure loans for multiple borrowers.” And the stunner: “Postmedia confirmed that Canadian banks are allowed by the federal regulator, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, to accept collateral from China to secure real estate mortgages in B.C.” “OSFI does not dictate what type of collateral (federally regulated banks) can accept,” spokeswoman Annik Faucher said. “Whether the borrower is foreign or domestic, OSFI (allows) financial institutions to compete effectively and take reasonable risks.”

The underlying reason for Canada’s growing, if paradoxical, exposure to Chinese collateral is due to an explosion of Canada’s shadow banking system. An investigation by Cooper found “massive and risky home loans are increasing in number across Metro Vancouver, while mortgage fraud cases are also on the rise, connected to the growth of so-called “shadow banking.” This is similar, if smaller in scale, to the gargantuan $8.5 trillion shadow banking market in China, where “shadow” lenders and creditors bypass conventional banks to provide and obtain funding, often at far higher terms than prevailing rates, an increasingly dangerous proposition at a time when Chinese interest rates, especially on the short-end, are suddenly spiking. The Vancouver Sun adds that as a result of tighter federal lending rules, borrowers trying to buy million-dollar-plus properties in Vancouver’s market “are increasingly taking out dangerous loans from shadow bankers in a fast-growing and poorly regulated financial market.”

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First of many. Canada, Denmark, Netherlands et al, there’s a long list.

Household Debt Sees Australian Banks Downgraded Again (ABCAu)

Global ratings agency Moody’s has downgraded the big four banks and eight other institutions over fears about the housing market. Moody’s cut ANZ, CBA, NAB and Westpac by one notch from Aa3 to Aa2. Bendigo and Adelaide Bank and Newcastle Permanent Building Society went from A3 to A2 while Heritage Bank, Members Equity, QT Mutual, Teachers Mutual, Victoria Teachers Mutual and Credit Union went from A3 to Baa1. Moody’s action comes a month after rival agency S&P Global downgraded almost all Australian banks over fears of “a sharp correction in property prices”. Moody’s said while it did not expect a sharp downturn in housing as its key scenario, it could not ignore the risk that high levels of debt and the rapid credit expansion could pose down the track.

“Whilst mortgage affordability for most borrowers remains good at current interest rates, the reduction in the savings rate, the rise in household leverage and the rising prevalence of interest-only and investment loans are all indicators of rising risks,” the Moody’s statement said. The agency worries that while Australians have been taking on record amounts of debt, wages have not increased, while underemployment has. It also did not like “the rising prevalence of interest-only and investment loans” which it believed were indicators of rising risks. Banks are carrying an arsenal of cash, as required now by regulators, in preparedness for any downturn in the economy or problems in the housing market but Moody’s indicates it is not sure whether it will be enough. “The resilience of household balance sheets and, consequently, bank portfolios to a serious economic downturn has not been tested at these levels of private-sector indebtedness,” it said.

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Yellowstone is a huge threat, but specifics must be viewed with extreme caution.

296 Earthquakes Near Yellowstone Supervolcano In Last 7 Days (Snyder)

I spend a lot of time documenting how the crust of our planet is becoming increasingly unstable. Most of this shaking is taking place far away from the continental United States, and so most Americans are not too concerned about it. But we should be concerned about it, because a major seismic event could change all of our lives in a single instant. For instance, a full-blown eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano would have the potential of being an E.L.E. (extinction level event). That is why it is so alarming that there have been 296 earthquakes in the vicinity of the Yellowstone supervolcano within the last 7 days. Scientists are trying to convince us that everything is going to be okay, but there are others that are not so sure.

The biggest earthquake in this swarm occurred last Thursday evening. It was initially measured to be a magnitude 4.5 earthquake, but it was later downgraded to a 4.4. It was the biggest quake in the region since a magnitude 4.8 earthquake struck close to Norris Geyser Basin in March 2014. This magnitude 4.4 earthquake was so powerful that people felt it as far away as Bozeman… “The main quake was centered about 5.8 miles underground. The quake and aftershocks occurred just over 8 miles northeast from West Yellowstone, according to the U.S. Geological Service. A witness reported that she felt the building she was in move. Dozens of people reported that they felt it in and around West Yellowstone, Gardiner, Ennis, and Bozeman”. But by itself that one quake would only be of minor concern. What is troubling many of the experts is that this earthquake has been accompanied by 295 smaller ones.

[..] I would like to try to describe for you what a full-blown eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano would mean for this country. Hundreds of cubic miles of ash, rock and lava would be blasted into the atmosphere, and this would likely plunge much of the northern hemisphere into several days of complete darkness. Virtually everything within 100 miles of Yellowstone would be immediately killed, but a much more cruel fate would befall those that live in major cities outside of the immediate blast zone such as Salt Lake City and Denver. Hot volcanic ash, rock and dust would rain down on those cities literally for weeks. In the end, it would be extremely difficult for anyone living in those communities to survive.

In fact, it has been estimated that 90% of all people living within 600 miles of Yellowstone would be killed. Experts project that such an eruption would dump a layer of volcanic ash that is at least 10 feet deep up to 1,000 miles away, and approximately two-thirds of the United States would suddenly become uninhabitable. The volcanic ash would severely contaminate most of our water supplies, and growing food in the middle of the country would become next to impossible. In other words, it would be the end of our country as we know it today.

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Never privatize basic needs. Always a bad idea.

Drug Prices Far Lower In Countries With Single-Payer Health Systems (IBT)

As the Senate has quietly been toying with the House’s proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act, a new study, from researchers at Harvard Medical School and the University of British Columbia, found evidence that single-payer systems may lead to lower pharmaceutical prices. Could that data impact U.S. health care reform? U.S. drug prices are so high that the researchers didn’t even factor them into the study, focusing instead on other developed countries. It’s common knowledge that drug prices have been on the steady rise, increasing faster than average wages; at issue is how to push prices back down, or at least slow their escalation.

Examining the roots of high drug expenditures in 10 wealthy countries with universal health care, the study, published last week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, discovered lower average drug prices in the nations with single-payer systems, which appeared to be better able to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical manufacturers. “There is some advantage to having a not-for-profit body, whether it’s a government body, a crown body… running a system without a profit motive,” said Steven Morgan, one of the authors and a professor of economics at University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health. “The blunt instrument of government regulation will not in itself lower drug prices.”

Using drug price and expenditure data for 2015, the researchers established that the 10 countries with universal health care systems examined in the study — New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Australia — exhibited relatively little variation in volume of drug price purchases, with a difference as large as 41%. But the disparities in drug prices told a different story, with the two ends of the spectrum differing by 600%. For example, the average price of drug treatment per capita, per day, in New Zealand, which has a single-payer system, stood at just $23, or a third of those of the nine others. Norway, Australia, Sweden and the U.K., the other countries categorized in the study as single-payer, exhibited average daily per-capita drug expenditures of $59, $91, $56 and $81, respectively.

Switzerland, which has a multi-payer, social insurance-based system, had an average per-diem treatment cost of $171, twice as high as the other nine nations. Its fellow multi-payer countries examined in the study — France, Germany and the Netherlands — paid, per capita, on average, $106, $97 and $49, respectively, per day on drug treatments. Canadians, whose health care system the study described as “mixed,” purchased roughly the same volume of drugs as citizens of the other nine countries, but would’ve collectively saved $1.7 billion if their drug prices were comparable to those of the nine other countries, the study noted.

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As long as there’s plenty free money…

Could There Be A Bidding War For Whole Foods? (CNN)

Whole Foods will eventually be part of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s empire. Or will it? Some Wall Street analysts are starting to wonder whether another retailer will come up with a higher offer and start a bidding war. Amazon announced on Friday that it was offering to pay $13.7 billion in cash for Whole Foods – a deal that values the chain of organic grocery stores at $42 a share. But Whole Foods stock closed above $42 on Friday, and it rose again Monday to top $43. That might not sound significant. But any price for Whole Foods stock that is higher than Amazon’s offer could be a sign that Wall Street thinks another company could swoop in with an even better deal. Barclays analyst Karen Short wrote in a report that she “would not be surprised” if other companies make offers for Whole Foods.

She raised her price target on the company to $48 – nearly 15% higher than Amazon’s bid. Short said in the report that “in theory, all retailers that sell food and compete with Amazon” could come up with their own offer for Whole Foods because they may “have too much to lose not to bid.” She said the likely bidders could include Walmart and Target, both of which have big grocery businesses, and the Kroger supermarket chain. She conceded it might be tough to outbid Amazon, but it could still be worth it to drive up the price and make Amazon pay more. Oppenheimer analyst Rupesh Parikh agreed. He raised his price target on Whole Foods to $45 after the Amazon deal was announced. He wrote in a report that “another bid cannot be ruled out” because other big retailers may want to do anything they can to prevent Amazon from getting even more powerful.

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The worst thing you can do is let your food supply be controllled from some point a thousand miles away. But then, Amazon has killed so much community already, and no-one sproke up. It’s labeled ‘progress’.

Amazon Will Kill Your Local Grocer (BBG)

Amazon’s done it to books. And electronics. And clothing. Now it wants to rule the grocery aisles. But Amazon still has a ways to go — the online retailing behemoth has taken a slow, yet calculated approach to attacking the grocery store. After years of testing the AmazonFresh program in its Seattle hometown, it began expanding the grocery delivery service to other cities in 2013. Today, it delivers fresh fruit and meat in parts of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, California, Washington and Maryland. It also delivers food through its Amazon.com website and its Prime Now program. And even though research from Cowen & Co pegs Amazon’s market share of food and beverages sold online in 2015 at about 22 percent, that overall online grocery market in the U.S. is pretty small.

Out of the $795 billion Cowen expects Americans to spend on food and drinks this year, it estimates only about $33 billion of it will be spent online. That’s because it has taken shoppers a long time to grow comfortable with buying their apples, chicken breasts and granola online when they can stop by a physical store on the way home from work and actually touch and smell the food they’re buying. Companies struggle to profit from the very expensive business of picking, packing and transporting fresh food to their customers. It’s much easier to mail a video game or book, which doesn’t have to be kept cold or free of bruises. But for Amazon, the grocery business not only brings more sales, it could also make its business more profitable.

People tend to buy groceries weekly or daily, so getting them hooked on delivery justifies sending trucks out more frequently. Then any general merchandise, like a book or toy, that Amazon sells along with the food adds to profits. And since Amazon will need more trucks for grocery delivery, it could reduce its reliance on shipping companies, which have contributed to soaring costs. For now, Amazon is likely to take added grocery costs on the chin, in hopes it will pay off down the line. Growing its AmazonFresh and Prime Now offerings suggests Amazon is gearing up for the long haul in grocery. Though traditional grocers are not likely to see sales migrate to Amazon right away, that luxury won’t last. And just like bookstores, your local grocer could be toast.

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Mar 302017
 
 March 30, 2017  Posted by at 9:05 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Carole Lombard 1926

 

Fed’s Williams Says Bank Lending Slowdown Doesn’t Worry Him Yet (YF)
Retailing in America: Game Theory in Reverse (DiMartinoBooth)
‘Deep Subprime’ Auto Loans Are Surging (BBG)
Margin Debt Hit All-Time High in February (WSJ)
US Oil Export Surge Steals More OPEC Share (CNBC)
Australia World’s Worst Money Laundering Property Market (TI)
Sydney, Melbourne House Price Gains Accelerate (AFR)
Auckland Housing Market Losing All Capital Gains Of The Last 12 Months (INZ)
House Panel Passes Bill To Audit The Fed (MW)
Hawaii Judge Places Indefinite Hold On Trump Travel Ban (BBC)
Paul Ryan Opposes Trump Working With Democrats On Healthcare (R.)
Democrats Against Single Payer (Jacobin)
American Empire Crumbling (Quinn)
The EU Cannot Survive If It Sticks To Business As Usual (Varoufakis)
Capitalism Inevitably Creates A ‘Sad’ Unfair World – Physicist (Ind.)
‘That Was Some Weird Shit’ (NYMag)
146 Feared Dead In Mediterranean, Boy The Sole Survivor (R.)

 

 

Today’s main theme just has to be W’s ‘That Was Some Weird Shit’. Here’s the graph to go with it.

Fed’s Williams Says Bank Lending Slowdown Doesn’t Worry Him Yet (YF)

A recent slowdown in bank lending has some observers concerned that the post-election pops in optimism are sending a false signal about the strength of the U.S. economy. To San Francisco Fed president John Williams, however, this decline is out of step with everything else credit markets are saying about the economy. “The big picture is: I don’t see any signs of a slowing either on the demand side or on the credit supply side,” Williams told Yahoo Finance on Wednesday. “Overall, the other indicators, everything we see, [says] economic conditions are good,” Williams added. “Confidence is good, and we’re not seeing any signs of bank lending standards changing fundamentally. So it’s hard to see anything, from my viewpoint, that [says] credit is less available.”

In recent months, the growth rate of commercial and industrial loans, as tracked by the Federal Reserve’s weekly H.8 report on assets and liability of U.S. banks, has been on the decline. This is viewed by many as a negative development in an economy where lending and borrowing activity serve as proxies for the economy’s overall health. But Williams also cautioned that lending data can reveal economic developments on a lag. For example, he noted to Yahoo Finance that in 2008 bank lending increased, which contradicted the notion that the financial markets were seizing up. Indeed, companies were unable to borrow by tapping the bond markets. However, the lending did increase because companies drew from existing lines of credit.

Right now, Williams noted that one story behind the drop in C&I loan growth going around is that oil and gas companies last year drew on lines of credit, boosting loan growth at the time. And thus the current decline in lending, which appears out of step with broader economic conditions, is occurring largely because of difficult year-over-year comparisons.

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Retail demise exposes banks.

Retailing in America: Game Theory in Reverse (DiMartinoBooth)

On March 21st, Sears Holding Corporation submitted a filing with its regulators that it has “substantial doubt” it can continue as a “going concern.” Don’t recall companies being charged with making their own death throes’ announcements from your Accounting coursework? You are correct. Meet the new and improved U.S. accounting rules that have just come into effect for public companies reporting annual periods that ended after December 15, 2016, Sears included. The change shifted the onus to disclose from a given company’s auditors to its management. It was telling that the Sears news fell on the very same day discount retailer Payless announced it could soon file for bankruptcy protection. That same day, the less ubiquitous Bebe female fashion chain said it too was ‘exploring strategic options,’ typically code for that same ill-fated Chapter in the court system.

[..] At the opposite end of the denial spectrum sits Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren, who is and has been publicly worried about an entirely different sort of challenge facing the real estate market. It’s no secret that apartment prices are soaring. Over the past year, prices have risen 11%, leading the broad market. While that increase may seem benign in and of itself, consider how the sector has fared over the course of the recovery: prices have recouped an eye-watering 240% of their peak-to-trough losses. In sharp contrast, retail has performed the worst; it’s only recovered 96% of its losses. Rosengren is rightly worried that the “sharp” increase in apartment prices could catalyze financial instability. He went on to say that, “Because real estate holdings are widespread, and the monetary and macro-prudential tools for handling valuation concerns are somewhat limited, I believe we must acknowledge that the commercial real estate sector has the potential to amplify whatever problems may emerge when we at some point face an economic downturn.”

If you would indulge a translation: The bubble in commercial real estate (CRE) could trigger systemic risk, which of course, no central bank can contain. The ‘macro-prudential’ tools to which Rosengren refers include rules and caps on banks’ exposure to CRE. Odds are, however, that the horse has already fled the barn. Over the past five years, CRE lending has been running at roughly double economic growth, a dangerous dynamic. The result: banks’ exposure to CRE has reached record levels. Last year alone, bank holdings of CRE and multifamily mortgages rose nine and 12%, respectively. More worrisome yet is that the most concentrated cohort – those with more than 300% of their risk-based capital at risk – is banks with less than $50 billion in assets; most have assets south of $10 billion. How exactly will small banks confront a systemic risk conflagration? That pesky potential presumably is what’s robbing Rosengren of sleep at night. He might just remember that small German lenders called Landesbanks were where subprime bombs detonated unexpectedly way back when.

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Anyone who can fog a mirror is back

‘Deep Subprime’ Auto Loans Are Surging (BBG)

About a third of the risky car loans that are bundled into bonds are considered “deep subprime,” a level that has surged since 2010 and is translating to higher delinquencies on the loans, according to Morgan Stanley. Consumers are falling behind on most subprime car loans, but deep subprime borrowers have deteriorated fastest, the analysts said. Sixty-day delinquencies for bonds backed by these loans have risen 3 percentage points since 2012, compared with just 0.89 percentage points on all other subprime auto securities, Morgan Stanley’s Vishwanath Tirupattur, James Egan and Jeen Ng said in a report dated March 24. “The securitization market has become more heavily weighted towards issuers that we would consider deep subprime,” the strategists wrote. “Auto loan fundamental performance, especially within ABS pools, continues to deteriorate.”

The percentage of subprime auto-loan securitizations considered deep subprime has risen to 32.5% from 5.1% since 2010, Morgan Stanley said. The researchers define deep subprime as lenders with consumer credit grades known as FICO scores below 550. The scale from Fair Isaac Corp. ranges from 300 to 850 and while there’s no firm definition of subprime, borrower scores below 600 are in general considered high credit risks. As Wall Street banks have found it tougher to profit under new regulatory regimes born out of the last subprime crisis, they’ve become more willing to underwrite riskier auto-loan asset-backed security sales. Investors, starved for returns with about $8 trillion of debt globally carrying negative yields, have in turn proven to be insatiable, further facilitating higher levels of risk in the market for the securities.

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The casino’s open for business.

Margin Debt Hit All-Time High in February (WSJ)

Margin debt climbed to a record high in February, a fresh sign of bullishness for flummoxed investors trying to navigate the political and economic crosscurrents driving markets. The amount investors borrowed against their brokerage accounts climbed to $528.2 billion in February, according to the most recent data available from the New York Stock Exchange, released Wednesday. That is up 2.9% from $513.3 billion in January, which had been the first margin debt record in nearly two years. With margin debt, investors pledge securities, typically stocks or bonds, to obtain a loan from their brokerage firms. The money doesn’t have to be used to buy more investments, though it often is. The gauge tends to climb—and pull back—along with broader stock market gauges, which have been rising to fresh records in the wake of November’s presidential election.

Rising levels of margin debt are generally considered to be a measure of investor confidence. Investors are more willing to take out debt against investments when shares are rising and they have more value in their portfolios to borrow against. But experts say a steep rise can indicate that investors are losing sight of market risks and betting that stocks can only go up. Margin debt has a history of peaking right before financial collapses like the ones in 2000 and 2008. When stocks move lower, investors who are buying with borrowed money often must pull out of the market, exacerbating the decline. Before January, the previous record high for margin debt was $505 billion in the spring of 2015. Margin debt then started falling, months ahead of a summer swoon that sent major indexes down more than 10%.

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As demand falls.

US Oil Export Surge Steals More OPEC Share (CNBC)

As OPEC tries to keep oil off the world market, U.S. oil producers are pouring more onto it. The U.S. last week sent more than 1 million barrels a day of crude out of the country, the third biggest export week ever, and double the average amount exported in 2016. It is also the third time this year that U.S. exports exceeded a million barrels a day, an industry record. “It should be somewhat supportive of [U.S. oil prices] in the short run, particularly if the exports keep up. But it obviously is a challenge for the global market and a renewed threat to OPEC and their designs of keeping prices up,” said John Kilduff of Again Capital While the U.S. exported oil, it also exported fuel last week — a steadily growing business. The U.S. sold 1.1 million barrels of diesel fuel, in line with the recent average, but 608,000 barrels a day of gasoline, up from less than 400,000 barrels a day a year ago.

Analyst say the jump in exports means U.S. producers are grabbing more share at the expense of OPEC and its partners, at a time when the cartel and other producers are considering whether to extend their deal to hold 1.8 million barrels of oil off the market. But the U.S. may also be seeing the early signs of a potential rebalancing of its own supply picture, and that could ultimately help clear a logjam of domestic oil barrels. “What we’re now seeing in the U.S. is refinery utilization increasing, as the maintenance season draws to a close. At the same time, there’s good demand for gasoline and diesel which is helping get inventories under control. Those product inventories are less than they were this time last year,” said Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates. U.S. refineries supplied 9.5 million barrels a day of gasoline last week, up from 9.2 million the week earlier. Refinery runs increased by 425,000 barrels a day.

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Transparency International reports.

Australia World’s Worst Money Laundering Property Market (TI)

The real estate market has long provided a way for individuals to secretly launder or invest stolen money and other illicitly gained funds… According to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), real estate accounted for up to 30% of criminal assets confiscated worldwide between 2011 and 2013… In many such cases, property is purchased through anonymous shell companies or trusts without undergoing proper due diligence by the professionals involved in the deal. The ease with which such anonymous companies or trusts can acquire property and launder money is directly related to the insufficient rules and enforcement practices in attractive markets… This assessment identifies the following 10 main problems that have enabled corrupt individuals and other criminals to easily purchase luxurious properties anonymously and hide their stolen money in Australia, Canada, the UK and the US:

• Inadequate coverage of anti-money laundering provision
• Identification of the beneficial owners of legal entities, trusts and other legal arrangements is still not the norm
• Foreign companies have access to the real estate market with few requirements or checks
• Over-reliance on due diligence checks by financial institutions leads to cash transactions going unnoticed
• Insufficient rules on suspicious transaction reports and weak implementation
• Weak or no checks on politically exposed persons and their associates
• Limited control over professionals who can engage in real estate transactions: no “fit and proper” test
• Limited understanding of and action on money laundering risks in the sector
• Inconsistent supervision
• Lack of sanctions

Australia has severe deficiencies under all 10 areas identified in the research and is therefore not in line with any of the commitments to tackle corruption and money laundering in real estate made in international forums. In Australia, real estate agents are not subject to the provisions of the Anti-Money Laundering and CounterTerrorism Financing Act 2006. Other professionals such as lawyers and accountants who may also play a role in the sector are not covered either. This means that properties can be bought and sold without any due diligence on the parties. Currently there are no requirements for real estate agents or any professional involved in real estate deals to submit STRs, even if they suspect illegal activity is taking place, and there are no requirements or rules for verifying whether customers are PEPs or their close associates…

In Australia, Canada and the US, the current anti-money laundering framework shows a tendency to rely on financial institutions to conduct the necessary background checks on real estate transactions… there are no checks on cash transactions. In Australia, 70% of Chinese buyers pay in cash and they represent the largest proportion of foreign purchases in the country.

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How this does not scare very single person out of their socks, I can’t imagine.

Sydney, Melbourne House Price Gains Accelerate (AFR)

House price growth accelerated further in March, with gains in Sydney and Melbourne pushing higher than previous cyclical peaks, preliminary CoreLogic figures show. Data for the first 28 days of the month shows Sydney prices have risen 19% over the past year while Melbourne has posted a 16% gain, the company said on Thursday. The combined capital city average of 1.4% – the same pace of growth as February – suggests that the strengthening in the two largest cities offsets further weakness in other markets. “The early results come after a strong rebound in housing market conditions through the latter half of 2016 and into 2017,” CoreLogic head of research Asia Pacific Tim Lawless said. “The strong capital gain results are further evidenced by a continuation in low stock levels, high auction clearance rates and strong investment demand.”

In other data that will underpin property prices, official figures released on Thursday show Sydney’s population hit five million, and Melbourne is the country’s fastest-growing capital. Some caution is needed. A methodology change by CoreLogic last year exaggerated price growth in Sydney and Melbourne while also exacerbating the declines in the falling Perth market. CoreLogic has not yet revised the figures to account for the methodology and distortions will only drop out of the year-on-year comparison in June. It’s clear the market is buoyant, however. Even with lenders tightening loan conditions to investor borrowers, they are increasing discounts to owner owner occupiers to protect market share, Deloitte’s annual Australian mortgage report said on Thursday.

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Nice bubble you got there. Wouldn’t want anything to happen to it, would you?

Auckland Housing Market Losing All Capital Gains Of The Last 12 Months (INZ)

The Auckland housing market is on the verge of having all of the capital gains it made in the last 12 months wiped out. Prices of Auckland properties have fallen so much in the last few months that median prices are within a hair’s breadth of going into negative territory on an annual basis. They may already be there. In February the average price of Auckland homes sold by Harcourts, the country’s largest real estate agency, was $934,428, down 1.1% compared to where it was in February last year. While Harcourts’ average prices can be a bit choppy on a month by month basis, the figures do not appear to be an aberration. According to the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand, Auckland’s median selling price peaked at $868,000 in October last year and has declined every month since. In February it hit $800,000, down 7.8% from October’s peak.

But just as significantly, Auckland’s median price in March last year was $820,000. So even if the median price for March this year doesn’t fall any further from where it was in February, or if it increases by anything less than $20,000, Auckland’s median price will have declined to the point where it will be below where it was 12 months previously. Then it’s goodbye capital gains. The interesting thing about those numbers is that the downward trend they show is occurring at a time when Auckland’s migration-driven population growth is increasing at record levels and construction of new housing continues to fall miserably below the numbers that are required, exacerbating the region’s growing housing shortage. How can this be? As you might expect, the market is being influenced by forces converging from several different directions.

One of the biggest changes to affect the Auckland market over the last few months has been the relative absence of local ethnic Chinese buyers. It would be hard to underestimate the impact they were having on Auckland’s residential property market up until about the end of the third quarter of last year. They dominated some of what are often called the “big room” auctions where several dozen properties could be auctioned in a single day, and it wasn’t uncommon for them to account for around 70% of sales. Often they were competing amongst themselves for properties and their bidding could be fierce. Sometimes it seemed as if the prices they were prepared to pay knew no limits. Then late last year, just as the market geared up for the summer selling season, the Chinese tide went out.

Auckland now has a significant population of Chinese people, so there will always be some who are actively buying or selling properties. But the numbers are well down on where they were a year ago. Auctions that were packed with Chinese buyers this time last year are now much quieter and Chinese faces are often more notable by their absence rather than their presence. When they are buying, they are more likely to be buying a home for themselves or perhaps their children than a pure investment property, and their bidding has been far more cautious than it was just a few months ago. Often they will bid on a property only to let it be passed in, figuring that they may not face much competition from other buyers in post-auction negotiations. With the odd exception, the days of the bidding frenzy are over.

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All for it.

House Panel Passes Bill To Audit The Fed (MW)

A House panel on Tuesday approved legislation that would let a government watchdog audit the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy decisions, a move bitterly opposed by the central bank. The House Committee on oversight and government reform passed the measure by voice vote after roughly 30 minutes of debate. The bill was the brainchild of Ron Paul, the former House Republican and libertarian presidential candidate and sharp critic of the U.S. monetary policy. Versions of the bill have twice passed the House by wide margins but then stalled due to lack of support from Democrats in the Senate and the Obama administration. Analysts said the measure has a better chance to become law now that Republicans control both houses of Congress and the White House. Paul’s son, Rand, the Republican senator from Kentucky, has introduced a similar measure in the Senate.

Democrats in the committee were firmly against the bill. “This bill would open the floodgates to political interference in monetary-policy making,” said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat from the District of Columbia. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York, said the measure would lead to higher interest rates because it would undermine the market’s confidence in the independence of the central bank. Republicans said the measure was needed to rein in the Fed. “It is ironic that the arsonists that caused the financial collapse are now being given credit…for putting out the fire. Almost every macroeconomist concedes in retrospect that [the Fed’s] extended period of easy money led to the financial crisis,” said Rep. Thomas Massie, a Republican from Kentucky.

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What good could it do to go to the Ninth Circuit Court at this point?

Hawaii Judge Places Indefinite Hold On Trump Travel Ban (BBC)

A US federal judge in Hawaii has indefinitely extended the suspension of President Trump’s new travel ban. Judge Derrick Watson’s ruling means Mr Trump will be barred from enforcing the ban on six mostly Muslim nations while it is contested in court. In a lawsuit, the US state says the ban would harm tourism and the ability to recruit foreign students and workers. President Trump says his revised travel ban seeks to prevent terrorists from entering the United States. Judge Watson made the ruling late on Wednesday after hearing arguments from attorneys for the state of Hawaii and the US Department of Justice. The judge turned his earlier temporary restraining order into a preliminary injunction that would have a more lasting effect.

President Trump’s executive order on 6 March would have placed a 90-day ban on people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen and a 120-day ban on refugees. An earlier version of the order, issued in late January, sparked confusion and protests, and was blocked by a judge in Seattle. Other courts across the US have issued different rulings on Mr Trump’s revised ban, with a judge in Maryland halting a part of the ban earlier this month. Mr Trump has complained of “unprecedented judicial overreach”, pledging to take the case “as far as it needs to go”. An appeal against the Hawaii decision would be expected to go next to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals – the same court which in February said it would not block a ruling by a Seattle court to halt the original travel ban.

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Because working together is so last century?!

Paul Ryan Opposes Trump Working With Democrats On Healthcare (R.)

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, the top Republican in Congress, said he does not want President Donald Trump to work with Democrats on new legislation for revamping the country’s health insurance system, commonly called Obamacare. In an interview with “CBS This Morning” that will air on Thursday, Ryan said he fears the Republican Party, which failed last week to come together and agree on a healthcare overhaul, is pushing the president to the other side of the aisle so he can make good on campaign promises to redo Obamacare. “I don’t want that to happen,” Ryan said, referring to Trump’s offer to work with Democrats. Carrying out those reforms with Democrats is “hardly a conservative thing,” Ryan said, according to interview excerpts released on Wednesday.

“I don’t want government running health care. The government shouldn’t tell you what you must do with your life, with your healthcare,” he said. On Tuesday, Trump told senators attending a White House reception that he expected lawmakers to reach a deal “very quickly” on healthcare, but he did not offer specifics. “I think it’s going to happen because we’ve all been promising – Democrat, Republican – we’ve all been promising that to the American people,” he said. Trump said after the failure of the Republican plan last week that Democrats, none of whom supported the bill, would be willing to negotiate new healthcare legislation because Obamacare is destined to “explode.”

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Who’s left to represent actual Americans?

Democrats Against Single Payer (Jacobin)

Virginia Democratic senator Chuck Robb, one of the DLC’s founders, warned in 1989 that “policies forged in the economic crisis of the 1930s and the social and cultural schisms of the 1960s” were irrelevant to most Americans. Two years later, Bill Clinton’s issue director Bruce Reed, who doubled as policy director for the DLC, made sure to distance Clinton from single payer. The issue flared up again during the 2008 Democratic primary fight, where both Obama and Hillary Clinton tried hedging their bets. Clinton put forward a plan that was basically Obamacare while insisting that “Medicare for All” could still be on the cards under the right circumstances. Meanwhile Obama repeatedly flip-flopped, at one point telling an audience that “the Canadian model won’t work in the United States” and that “we’ve got to develop a uniquely American approach,” and nine days later hinting to a different audience that over time single payer may be on the table.

DLC leaders felt reassured however, telling the New York Times they were “pleased that none of the Democratic candidates supports a single-payer health-care system.” So Democrats’ attempts to quell their base’s clamoring for a comprehensive, public health-care system isn’t new. What is new is the open, public disparagement of such a goal — not just by Democratic leaders, but by leading liberal commentators, too. Ironically, this appears largely to have been due to the Sanders campaign — or rather, the challenge it posed to Hillary Clinton’s previously wide-open road to the White House. Needing to differentiate herself from Sanders’s unabashed progressivism, and to dampen popular enthusiasm for his message, Clinton began attacking his policies, despite her historic sympathy toward single payer.

Sanders’s proposals were “ideas that sound good on paper but will never make it in real life,” she told crowds; for good measure, she insisted that single-payer health care “will never, ever come to pass.” Two years earlier, she explained her opposition to the policy on the basis that “we don’t have a one size fits all; our country is quite diverse.” In January 2016, she warned breathlessly that Sanders’s plan would “end all the kinds of health care we know” and claimed it would “send health insurance to the states,” while her daughter warned that it would “dismantle Obamacare” and “strip millions and millions and millions of people off their health insurance.”

As late as October, Clinton’s team was still trying to distance herself from Trump’s accusation that she — heaven forbid! — “wants to go to a single-payer plan,” with her spokesman directing Politifact to an earlier fact-check confirming her lack of support for the policy. (Lest we mistake this for mere expediency, we can rest assured that at least some of the Clinton camp really felt this way: campaign manager John Podesta declared in an email to ThinkProgress editor-in-chief Judd Legum that Sanders’s “actual proposal sucks, but we live in a leftie alternative universe.”)

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Jim Quinn’s series on the similarities between Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy and Strauss & Howe’s Fourth Turning.

American Empire Crumbling (Quinn)

You can hear the creaking as the winds of this Fourth Turning winter howl through the branches of this dying empire. Trump may have forced the Deep State Second Foundation to reveal itself as they seek to destroy him, but the relentless decline of the American Empire continues unabated. Tinkering around the edges of a healthcare system designed to benefit mega-corporations and the Deep State will do nothing to reverse or even delay the decline. Slowing the growth of government when the national debt is already $20 trillion and headed to $30 trillion within the next decade won’t cure the rot in our tree trunk. Completely ignoring the $200 trillion of unfunded welfare state liabilities helps accelerate the inevitable collapse of this empire. Cutting taxes while expanding the war making machine known as the military industrial complex does nothing to reverse what is already in motion.

In addition to the absolutely quantifiable reasons why the American Empire will collapse, there are demographic, cultural, and societal trends which will contribute dramatically to the fall. The rapidly aging populace, with 10,000 Americans per day turning 65 years old, is the driving force towards national bankruptcy, as this inexorable demographic tsunami sweeps over the fraying fabric of welfare state promises. The onslaught of illegal immigrants and purposeful execution of a plan by the effete liberal elite to weaken our common American culture through the insertion of Muslim refugees into our communities, is undermining the shared values which built the country. The immigrants who built this country assimilated, learned the language, worked hard, and adopted our common culture. The hordes invading America at this time hate our values and refuse to assimilate. This Soros funded effort to create diversity havoc throughout the world is part of the globalization one world order plan.

As Europe disintegrates under the unrelenting wave of violent refugees creating upheaval, chaos, and spreading religious zealotry through viciousness, the next target is the mighty American Empire. Fighting in the streets between the normal law abiding Trump supporters and the Soros funded, draped in black, flag burning, social justice warrior criminals has begun. Widespread societal strife is just around the corner. When the next financial crisis, created by the Deep State to further their plans, destroys the remaining wealth of the barely surviving middle class, all hell will break loose in the streets. The 86% of the country occupied by red state, gun owning, Trump supporters will openly go to war against the condescending, left wing, violence provoking blue state liberals. Blood will be spilled in copious amounts. It always does during Fourth Turnings.

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It cannot survive, period.

The EU Cannot Survive If It Sticks To Business As Usual (Varoufakis)

Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, had for years opposed the idea of a Europe that proceeds at different speeds – allowing some countries to be less integrated than others, due to their domestic political situation. But now – after the colossal economic mismanagement of the euro crisis has weakened the EU’s legitimacy, given Eurosceptics a major impetus, and caused the EU to shift to an advanced stage of disintegration – Mrs Merkel and her fellow EU leaders seem to think that a multi-speed Europe is essential to keeping the bloc together. At the weekend, as EU leaders gathered to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, leaders of the remaining 27 member states signed the Rome Declaration, which says that they will “act together, at different paces and intensity where necessary, while moving in the same direction, as we have done in the past.”

The failure to keep the EU together along a single path toward common values, a common market and a common currency will come to be embraced and rebranded as a new start, leading to a Europe in which a coalition of the willing will proceed with the original ambition while the rest form outer circles, connected to the inner core by unspecified bonds. In principle, such a manifold EU will allow for the East’s self-proclaimed illiberal democracies to remain in the single market, refusing to relocate a single refugee or to adhere to standards of press freedom and judicial independence that other European countries consider essential. Countries like Austria will be able to put up electrified fences around their borders. It could even leave the door open for the UK to return as part of one of Europe’s outer circles. Whether one approves of this vision or not, the fact is that its chances depend on a major prerequisite: a consolidated, stable eurozone.

One only needs to state this to recognize the second paradox of our post-Brexit reality: In its current state, the eurozone cannot provide the stability that the EU – and Europe more broadly – needs to survive. The refusal to deal rationally with the bankruptcy of the Greek state is a useful litmus test for the European establishment’s capacity to stabilize the eurozone. As it stands, the prospects for a stabilized eurozone do not look good. Business as usual – the establishment’s favored option – could soon produce a major Italian crisis that the eurozone cannot survive. The only alternative under discussion is a eurozone federation-light, with a tiny common budget that Berlin will agree to in exchange for direct control of French, Italian and Spanish national budgets. Even if this were to happen, which is doubtful given the political climate, it will be too little, too late to stabilize the eurozone.

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“Professor Jeremy Baumberg, director of the NanoPhotonic Centres at Cambridge University, was distinctly unimpressed. “It seems to me an extremely poorly written paper, conflating many ideas in a rather unrigorous mishmash,” he said.”

Capitalism Inevitably Creates A ‘Sad’ Unfair World – Physicist (Ind.)

Capitalism is inherently unfair and will produce a world full of ‘sad’ and disgusting inequalities, but Communism is also “doomed to fail”, a leading scientist claims to have proved using the laws of physics. Professor Adrian Bejan told The Independent he was so excited by the “huge” implications of his theory that he kept having to pinch himself. A former member of the Romanian national basketball team, he is now an expert in thermodynamics and fluid mechanics at Duke University in the US, having written 30 books and more than 600 scientific papers. He now claims to have shown that physics can essentially explain economics. Inequality has been seen as a factor in the election of Donald Trump as US President and in the UK referendum vote in favour of Brexit.According to Oxfam, the richest eight men own the same wealth as the poorest 50% of the world’s population.

Professor Bejan said it was possible to explain how such inequality can develop by demonstrating that wealth moves around in a society like water in a river basin using the laws of physics. In a natural environment, water flows from small tributaries into larger and larger streams. And, according to Professor Bejan’s theory, the same is true of money. So, in a free market system, wealth will naturally flow from the poorest in the small tributaries to the richest in the wide rivers. Using this analogy, Communism is comparable to an attempt to restrict the flow of water to a network of equally sized concrete channels, which Professor Bejan said would inevitably be overcome by the forces of nature. But, just as humans do sometimes harness rivers to produce energy or divert them around cities, it is possible to alter the flow of money in society, he added.

And this is exactly what is being done by liberal democracies around the world with measures such as free education and healthcare, anti-trust regulations designed to prevent large corporations abusing their power, and the rule of law. “I want to see less inequality in the distribution of wealth. I get not just sad, but disgusted by it,” Professor Bejan said.

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Getting more popular by the day.

‘That Was Some Weird Shit’ (NYMag)

The inauguration of Donald Trump was a surreal experience for pretty much everyone who witnessed it, whether or not they were at the event and regardless of who they supported in the election. On the dais, the stoic presence of Hillary Clinton – whom candidate Trump had said he would send to prison if he took office – underlined the strangeness of the moment. George W. Bush, also savaged by Trump during the campaign, was there too. He gave the same reason for attending that Bill and Hillary Clinton did: to honor the peaceful transfer of power. Bush’s endearing struggle with his poncho at the event quickly became a meme, prompting many Democrats on social media to admit that they already pined for the relative normalcy of his administration. Following Trump’s short and dire speech, Bush departed the scene and never offered public comment on the ceremony. But, according to three people who were present, Bush gave a brief assessment of Trump’s inaugural after leaving the dais: “That was some weird shit.” All three heard him say it.

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On and on and on.

146 Feared Dead In Mediterranean, Boy The Sole Survivor (R.)

Dozens of people are feared to have drowned after a rubber boat carrying migrants and refugees from Libya sank in the Mediterranean. The sole survivor – a 16-year-old Gambian boy – told rescuers that 146 other people were on board when the boat sank. A Spanish frigate, the Canarias, found the boy hanging on to a piece of debris in the sea on Tuesday. He was transferred to an Italian Coast Guard ship and brought to the Sicilian island of Lampedusa early on Wednesday. “He was very tired when they found him. He’s resting now, so we’ll have more details later,” said the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) spokesman Flavio Di Giacomo in Rome, after speaking to staff in Lampedusa.

“The boy said they left Sabratha, Libya, a couple of days ago on a rubber boat with 147 sub-Saharan Africans on board, including five children and some pregnant women,” Di Giacomo said. In the past two days, rescuers have picked up more than 1,100 migrants at sea and recovered one body, Italy’s Coast Guard said. The Coast Guard did not comment on the latest shipwreck. So far this year nearly 600 migrants have died trying to reach Italy from North Africa, IOM estimates, after 4,600 deaths last year. Migrant arrivals to Italy are up more than 50% this year on the same period of last year. Early on Wednesday the Golfo Azzurro, a humanitarian vessel, rescued about 400 migrants – mainly from Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Gambia and Bangladesh – including 16 women and two children.

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